Strangers Among Us

“A stranger in town is like a white dog, he gets noticed immediately.” ~African Proverb

As our school bus starts down the hill, we can see the shape of something stretched across the road., green persimmons arranged into a huge letter E.

“Well damn, what is this?” sputters William, the bus driver.

We remaining seven kids start throwing out ideas all at once.

“E. Evil.” William offers his viewpoint. We kids fall silent.

He lets off the three siblings and heads around the bend to my driveway. Just as he’s breaking to let me off, we look over to the power lines that just happen to run through our property. A man, maybe in his mid-twenties is sitting beneath the lines smoking a cigarette. He has sandy brown hair with bits of sunlight streaking through, and it’s kind of ruffled and scruffy though it can’t be any longer than collar length. The strange thing is he is dressed completely in white, kind of what I’d expect maybe a doctor to be wearing. (At that time, I did not know the term scrubs. And no one in our neck of the woods wore all white.) When the man notices we are looking at him, he jumps to his feet and runs into the woods between the road and my house.

William pulls the handle that completely shuts the door. The emergency lights stop blinking and the beeping ceases. My cousin and I are scared speechless.

“Ya’ll know who that is? I ain’t never seen him before.”

In unison we nod our heads no.

“I ain’t letting’ you off here, girl. That might be the man who put that “evil” sign in the road. I’m gonna’ drop you off at the next stop with your cousins.” Don’t you go home ‘til ya Mama and Daddy get there. Ya hear?” We trust William to keep us safe. Still, feeling his concern feeds our fear.

I mutter ok and the bus starts rolling past my driveway. My cousin and I get off at her house along with her niece and nephew who live beside her. We go inside jabbering a mile a minute about this stranger near my house and the “evil” warning he placed in the road. We entertain her mom for a good hour with sinister tales of what this man is most likely up to. The forced closure of her lips hint at amusement while her scrunched brows emit concern. She agrees to let my cousin take me home in the VW bug we often use to zip through the family property.

As soon as we get to my drive, we see the stranger a few feet closer to our property line. He runs towards the quarry as we pass him. We do a quick turn and go back to her house. When my parents get home from work, she takes me back again. This time we don’t see the stranger.

I blurt out all the details over dinner.

“How do you know the E stands for evil?” asks my dad.

“Well, what else could it be?”

“Maybe, it just means east.”

“I wonder who it can be. I haven’t heard anyone mention visitors or anything about seeing a stranger in these parts.” My mom offers. She inquires again about his white clothes and concludes that he must certainly be an escapee from the mental hospital in a neighboring city. According to my mom, all strangers are either escapees from the mental hospital or prison because no one chooses to roam through the middle of nowhere.

I don’t sleep well that night or maybe even for a week or more. I am a bundle of nerves waiting for the school bus. In fact, I listen for the bus with the door open and run as hard as I can to the road when I hear it. In the evenings I hightail it inside and lock the door behind me. Eventually, the fear wanes, and the memory of the stranger fades as we never see him again.

It is only natural to fear what one does not know. Through the years there were other strangers that drifted among us, but those we saw more than a glimpse. We learned their stories and accepted them into the fold we called community.

46 thoughts on “Strangers Among Us

  1. It’s funny how kids’ imaginations will spin a tall tale from a single ‘odd’ occurrence. Of course, to a kid, “E” couldn’t possibly mean East – that’s too obvious and there’s no story there!

  2. It’s funny how you recognize a “stranger”. I’ve never lived in a place small enough to have “strangers”. We just don’t know everyone.

    Did you ever hear the man in white’s story?

  3. I grew up in the 50′s, and occasionaly a drifter or ‘hobo’ would drop by, offering to sharpen your knives or do odd jobs in exchange for something to eat. To me, as a little girl, they were scary because they were unkempt and usually carried a sack full of ‘who knows what’. I remember hiding under the bed as Mother sat a stranger at the kitchen table and fed him without showing any fear or distrust. I’ve always associated bravery with the ability to accept a stranger because my mother was the bravest person I ever met.

    • My grandparents were like that…had peddlars and drifters come through and they always offered a meal, small job, place to sleep. Don’t remember many “complete strangers” coming around.

  4. Faaaaabulous story, Suzi!

    I was GLUED to your every word! And I could actually feel your fear of the unknown in this situation, because I would have felt the same thing.

    Living in a city, I often encounter strangers. So it’s like one BIG strange encounter – HA!

    Love the photo!

    Have a terrifice Tuesday, my friend…X

  5. I grew up in a big city. We were told not to talk to strangers as kids, but we saw them everyday. I too would have been unnerved to see somebody dressed in white scrubs in an isolated area. But we didn’t have a lot of isolated areas.

    When my granddaughter Abbey Rose was about 4, she started being “sceered” of the bad man. Now Abbey lives in a very small town in a farming community outside of Sacramento. What bad man she was “sceered” of, I never figured out. Still, in the country, an outsider is a lot more noticeable. And even if they mean no harm, they are eyed with suspicion. This is a cool and eerie story, Susicate. And I’m glad the Evil (or Eastern) stranger dressed in white didn’t “get” you!

  6. I was positive you were writing a fiction story. It seemed a departure from your usual posts, but I figured you had a reason. Then it turned out to be a true incident. I was that surprised.

    I think parents are wise to caution their children about strangers but not to overdo it. Some children I have met had an unhealthy fear of anyone they don’t know. A few of those grew up to be fearful and distrustful adults.

    However, this strange situation certainly would engage the fear of the unknown in youngsters. Glad you came through it okay.

    Just as an afterthought – this would make a GREAT flash fiction story. Just finish the ending in an eerily appropriate manner ;)

  7. who is this stranger who wanders into my world – unknown, different – seeking something – I know not what! Safe am I in the bosom of my home, yet wondering still – was he looking to harm us, or seeking a long forgotten kind face?

  8. I can’t believe I never heard that story before. Weird because you know that there aren’t many strangers around there that stay a stranger for long! And why our driveway? That”s even weirder….Coulda been one of those cult guys! Yeah…that WOULD have been weird…..

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