A Stranger Came to Call
(From Writing Club)
Fog settled over the countryside just as a stranger appeared at the front door of a well-kept farmhouse on the edge of a dried up cornfield. When he knocked on the door the sound echoed and kept time with the footfalls within.
The door swung inward to reveal a thin woman, her graying hair a match to her tired eyes. She pulled her bulky sweater around her shoulders and squinted at the stranger against the fading September sunlight. “Yes?”
“Hello.” She peered up at the tall man, as if trying to recognize his face. “May I help you?”
When he didn’t elaborate she glanced over her shoulder, as if seeking reassurance from the warm light of the kitchen behind her. “Who are you?”
“A traveler. In need of respite and a meal, if you have one.”
Wary eyes flickered from the top of his head to his toes. She took in his carefully brushed tweed and the hint of leather loafers from beneath his pants. He kept his hands in his pockets, his stance unthreatening. “Come in, then.” She stepped back to offer him the room. He had counted on the generosity of these country people. He also had no doubt that she kept a loaded shotgun on the other side of the kitchen counter, tucked away by her cured cast iron and her grandmother’s prized baking dish.
She followed him down the hallway and into the kitchen, where she pointed to the kitchen chair and told him to sit with a wave of her hand. He sat, and folded his hands carefully on the tabletop where she could see them.
“Where are you from?” She reached into the old icebox and took out a covered dish; his mouth watered instantly at the smell of red meat. She plated up the casserole and heated it quickly in her large microwave oven.
He took the fork from her hand and said a polite ‘Thank you’ as he tucked into the meal. He wiped away the last greasy smudges of her cooking and pushed the plate away a few moments later.
“You were hungry,” she observed.
“Yes, and thank you again for your hospitality.”
“Now it is my turn to offer you something in return.”
Her eyebrow went up, but she did not comment.
“May I show you something?”
She nodded and he reached into his inner jacket pocket, removing the small velvet bag that housed his greatest treasure. When he poured the diamond into his palm her eyes widened.
“Now where did you get that?” she asked, entraced despite herself by the flash and sparkle of the gem.
“Never mind the wheres or hows.” He held the diamond out to her. “Only that it now belongs to you.”
“To me?” She took a step back, sensing danger.
“I want to give it to you. In payment for the meal.”
“I can’t take that.”
He stood, standing closer to her, the diamond directly under her nose. He let his voice fall into that low, lulling drone that captivated and controlled. “You must. I insist.”
“If you insist,” she said docilely.
He almost felt sorry for her, the poor sheep. But he could not bother himself with her fate now, he had his own sad destiny to meet. “I must go.”
“But wait!” She held the diamond cupped in both hands, and already it was precious to her. “I don’t even know who you are!”
He left the way he’d come, striding across the cornfields toward the setting sun. She was in the doorway, backlit by the warm glow from her cozy kitchen. When he was far enough away he allowed himself a sad smile. “No, you don’t,” he answered the poor woman to whom he’d just bestowed eternal damnation. “No one does.”