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By Car (Carolyn Reynolds)
Heat had taken the town and had held it in its grasp, its hand to the throat of the town’s people, throughout the entire month of August. With the rising degrees and the clammy and ominous onset of the humidity well known in this river town, the demeanor of the citizens had taken a turn. Tempers seemed about to erupt at the slightest provocation.
Into this smoldering little town the storyteller rode. He was handsome with an easy smile that illuminated his face. He made his living through the telling of his tales, amazing and astounding all who heard with his complex and compelling stories of places long ago and far away. He rode in atop a coal black stallion whose energy he controlled with an ease and flair. Together, they cut a compelling picture as they trotted into the heat and steam of that August morning.
"Well who the hell does he think he is?" snarled one of the area tuffs as he stood outside the town’s tavern talking with his buddies. It was a little early for the drinking to have started, but the sweltering heat made as good an excuse as any.
Inside the sheriff’s office a high-pitched voice was pleading her case, "If you don’t do something to put a stop to this, somebody else is going to disappear, you just mark these words!"
The sound of her voice was drifting outside the open windows of the jail office turning the heads of several passers by. Two ladies looked at each other and shook their heads and frowned as their shoes clicked along the sun-drenched boards.
As the sun made its way higher into the cloudless sky, the storyteller hitched his steed to a rail outside the tavern and entered wiping his sweating forehead with a handkerchief as he approached the bar. "Something long and tall and wet and cool," he ordered from the bartender, smiling as he did.
An overheated bartender did not return the smile, but did return to his customer with a mug of beer. Silently he slid it across the bar already sticky from the heat, and collected the coins in payment.
"So, what kind of flim-flam malarkey you trying to sell, mister?" came the inquiry from one of the round tables behind the bar stools.
"Just come on down to the river bank after the sun sets and bring the family along. You’ll see I’m just a simple storyteller spinning my stories for the enjoyment of any who choose to hear."
"Harummp. . . . yeah I just bet," came the surly response.
The stranger at the bar turned back to his beer, his handsome smile reflected in the back bar’s mirror. Bartender continued his half-hearted attempt at wiping the sticky bar without saying a word. The Storyteller finished his beer and wiped his lips with his ‘kerchief, smiled to the bartender and left the building to return to his horse. "Come on, boy, let’s get you a drink, too," he said as he led his snorting horse over to the drinking trough at the end of the row of buildings on the street.
Man and horse were both refreshed, at least as much so as the rising temps and blazing sun would allow. The storyteller unlaced his saddle bag and drew out some flyers and made his way up one side of the street and down the other. With a smile he asked each shopkeeper permission to post a sign outside to advertise his show this evening. His easy way and slow smile seemed to win over even the most skeptical of the lot, and he soon had his posts finished.
"That’s strange, don’t you think?" the hotel owner asked his wife after the stranger had posted and moved on.
"What’s strange, dear?"
"He didn’t inquire about a room for the night. I find that strange for any intenerate, specially somebody doing a night show."
She didn’t reply, but her gaze followed the stranger as he made his way back to his horse, saddled up and set out in a trot down the river road.
Something seemed to affect the town as the rider was lost from their sight. Suddenly the sun didn’t seems as bright or the temperature as ominous. The lady came out of the sheriff’s office muttering to herself as she climbed up into her wagon and snapped her horse to a trot. "Just you wait and see, you hear me. Somebody’s going to disappear, then you’ll wish you’d heard me, yes you will," she shouted aloud as she made the dust rise into little whirls with her exit.
Sheriff made his way down the street checking out all the posted advertisements for the evening and tipping his hat to the ladies along the way. He’d already decided he’d go tonight himself and just see what that woman was harping about. But to think this guy was anything other than a flesh and blood man just like he was went against his very grain.
Everyone in the shops and on the street seemed to be talking about the storyteller. Even the skeptics laughingly said they just might as well go check it out, it might even be entertaining, and the river usually offered up a breeze on a hot August night.
Inside the milliner’s shop the hat maker was deep into conversation again with her sister. For some reason Gabriel wanted to go and hear the storyteller and Fredonia was running out of excuses not to take her. Gabriel, after all, never asked for much, and maybe it’d be a distraction for the both of them to attend.
"We’ll go, Gabby, but you have to do as I say or we’ll never get to the beach you know."
"Yes, I’ll do anything you ask of me, Fredonia, don’t I always? But something just compels me to go and hear his stories.
"You watch the shop for a few minutes for me, and I’ll see who I can round up to ride with us. We’ll take a quilt to sit on, but you’ll have to be willing to be carried down from the wagon to it. There is no way anyone could push that wheelchair of yours through the sand." With that said, Fredonia made her way up the sidewalk’s boards with the sturdy gait that had always been her way. A determined woman she’d been since their parents died leaving her to care for Gabriel.
It wasn’t long till Fredonia had her two helpers lined up to ride along with them to the river. Jack the livery station keeper had always had an eye on Gabriel, so his answer was quick. She had to work a little harder on the bartender, but even his grouchy demeanor softened a bit when it came to Gabriel. Lucky for me she isn’t ugly, Fredonia said to herself as her determined stride carried her back to the shop and Gabriel.
"All is set up for you, Gabby, just make sure you cooperate with the gentlemen."
"I wouldn’t dream of being a problem to you, Free, really I wouldn’t," and Gabriel’s sweet smile even melted Fredonia a bit. "I could do more, if you’d just let me. I could teach, Free, I could teach children right back in our rooms if you’d only let me," and Gabriel couldn’t keep the sigh out of her voice as much as she tried.
Fredonia chose to ignore. She always thought it better to ignore than to argue when she knew she was the stronger sister and Gabriel could never out do her in any argument. After years of learning their places, it seemed unnecessary to make noise outside of those places.
The day seemed to drag on through the afternoon, supper was fixed and served in the kitchens across the town, and it appeared all were impatiently waiting for the setting of the sun over the river and the storyteller’s time to enthrall them all. Slowly the signs of families readying themselves for the evening on the river became visible. Wagons were loaded up with families and quilts and blankets to sit on, and the sounds of children giggling in anticipation of some entertainment filled the street.
The two gentlemen appeared at the quarters behind Fredonia’s shop. Gabriel smiled sweetly at them as they helped her rise from her wheelchair. Bob the bartender and the bigger of the two men easily picked her up in his arms and carried her out to the wagon. Jack took her from him as he lifted her into the back of the wagon, and he settled her down onto the quilts folded there.
"Thank you both," she softly said, pushing back the urge to shed a tear at her helplessness.
And they were off down the street, following along with the growing parade of wagon loads of towns folks headed for the river. As the line of wagons approached the field up the bank from the beach, the glow from the storyteller’s bonfire could be seen on the horizon. The smell of wood smoke filled the air and the crowd quietly gathered quilts from their wagons and began making their way down to the waiting bonfire.
The two men managed Gabriel out of the wagon and Bob carried her effortlessly down the hill and gently sat her down on the quilts Fredonia had already spread onto the sand. They sat with the others, quietly waiting for the storyteller to appear. The adults talked with those around them, and all could hear the twitters of children as they played into the cooling evening. Lots of comments on this change in the weather drifted on the breezes as they softly rustled through the honeysuckle scenting the air with that long to be remembered freshness.
Then he appeared, moving from behind the bonfire. This stranger so new to the people who sat before him now smiled as they applauded his entrance. Without wasting a moment he launched his first story of bravery and heroism of a little boy fighting a terrible beast and emerging at the end of the story whole and triumphant. The faces of the children were awash with the wonder of the storyteller’s words.
He immediately would go from story to story, and as each unwound through his words others in the audience would appear moved from his words, people identifying with various heroes and heroines doing their deeds throughout the ages. The evening flowed on with the continuous flow of the storyteller’s tales until he announced he had one final story to share. All eyes were on him as he opened his story of a brave damsel and her gutsy decision to pursue her own life despite all that seemed to be against her. As he concluded the story, telling all listening the success of the heroine in claiming her life, smiles were spreading as they applauded the storyteller.
Though tired from the evening, all in attendance seemed to be discussing the tales as they gathered up their children and quilts and started back up the bank to their wagons to begin the trek back home. Bob again carried Gabriel back to the wagon. Amidst the talking of so many, nobody really noticed how quiet Gabriel had become.
* * * * * * *
"I always admire this horse of yours, every time you pass by me on your way to the schoolhouse," Dr. Woods commented to the new schoolteacher their town had recently hired. As he talked to her, Dr. Woods held the rein while he gently stroked the nose of the handsome horse.
"Thank you so much," she replied, "he is a wonderful companion and a steadfast friend it seems." Dr. Woods attentively stood by as she mounted the horse and road off toward the schoolhouse at the end of the street.
"Whowee, you’d think that mount rode straight out of the depths of hell!" another passerby commented to the doctor as they watched the pretty lady on the handsome horse canter down the street. Both men smiled and walked off together to start their day.
She dismounted, then as she was about to hitch her horse, he turned his head toward the east and looked uphill to the little grove of trees at the top of the rise. Snorting, his gaze fell on something that seemed to excite him.
She smiled and petted her horse’s smooth black neck. It wasn’t necessary for her to follow his gaze, she knew what he saw would not be visible to her. "We know, don’t we, boy. We know where the angels walk."
With a smile and a little skip in her step, Gabriel made her way into the little schoolhouse and readied it for the upcoming day.