Feb 17, 2011

When Strangers Come to Town

About a month ago I entered a Writer's Digest "Your Story" writing contest. They gave the opening line of the story, then you can take it in anyway you want as long as you keep it under 750 words. I really liked my story. I thought it was interesting and one of the best things I've written. Well, today I went on to see who made it to the top 5, and my story wasn't there.

I guess I can't be too disappointed. What I'm mostly upset about is that no one except some unknown selection committee will ever read that story. It won't be published for a national audience. And I was just thinking about how if I were a songwriter I could go to a venue and play my music. If I were an artist, I could enter my art in an art show. If I made films, they could be entered in festivals. At all these things at least I would be able to share with other people and they could decide whether or not they like what I do. Writing isn't like that. You submit your manuscript and if you're lucky one person reads it. If that person doesn't like it, it sits in an ever growing pile of manuscripts. No one of the general public will ever see it.

So, I decided that I will put the story up on my blog (at the bequest of some friends). Maybe some random person will come across my story. Maybe that person will like it, maybe he won't, but at least it will get read.

When Strangers Come to Town

It was on a bright, starry night that the traveling circus rolled into town. Needless to say, the townsfolk were livid. No outsiders had dared come to town since they ran off Bob Barley ten years before.

“I declare, some people have no regard for boundaries,” said Mrs. Simmons, the mayor’s wife.

“Yup, they’s just as well turn their trucks around and butt outta town,” agreed the local bartender Joe.

The sheriff said nothing, but nodded as he turned the page of his newspaper.

The circus didn’t butt out of town. They set up the big top and made themselves comfortable. The townsfolk avoided the circus folk like they would avoid a rabid dog.

All of them except young Tyler Poole. Tyler Poole had always been a queer member of town, with his big dreams of traveling the world and meeting new people. His school teacher called Tyler a “smart kind of kid but with the most ridiculous notions.”

The first time Tyler was seen at the circus, the mayor was informed immediately.

“Now, Tyler, you know we don’t take kindly to strangers in our town,” Mayor Simmons said. “People are starting to talk. Let’s make sure I don’t hear anymore of this circus business.” And the mayor left, thinking that was the end of it.

Two days later Tyler was seen buying one of those circus folks a drink. The townsfolk stared at them sitting at the bar, laughing like they were best friends. Joe the bartender wouldn’t have served them if Tyler hadn’t been paying.

The townsfolk were outraged as they watched Tyler through the windows of their stores, and homes. Every morning they gossiped in the diner as they watched him walk into the circus camp, and every night they huddled together in the bar when he walked back out. Sometimes, he even brought one of them into town.

Two weeks went by and the talk of the townsfolk got louder. Something had to be done about young Tyler Poole and those circus people. It just wasn’t natural. Mayor Simmons gathered the men in the bar late one night. Joe ran the taps as freely as the men ran their mouths.

“I don’t like it. What’s he doing there all day?” asked Pat the mailman.

“Can’t be nothing good,” said Joe.

The sheriff said nothing, but nodded as he turned the page of his newspaper.

“Exactly, so what are we going to do about it?” The mayor banged his pint on the table.

The men raised their voices, getting louder as they drank more. The mayor shook his head at all their suggestions. The night grew old.

“I say, we show those freaks what we think of ‘em!” Joe suggested. “Show ‘em how we feel about thems encroachin on our hospitality.”


“Let’s show them, mayor!”

The mayor nodded, and finished his last beer. “Let’s show them, men.”

In not very long, the men were walking through town carrying various items. Bats, car jacks, knives. The only man left behind was the sheriff, reading his paper.

The circus men came out, attempting to talk some sense in the townsmen. But a couple of broken windows, a dented truck door, and a smashed animal cage changed their minds. As the circus people ran about trying to salvage their livelihood, the townsmen destroyed it.

“Mayor, stop!” Young Tyler Poole stepped into a flashlight beam. He held his hands up.

“This is for your own good, son,” said Mayor Simmons.

The men moved closer, but Tyler stepped in their way. A murmur rose up from the crowd, the drunken men wavering. In a surge the crowd moved toward Tyler. He moved from man to man, trying to stop them, but he was thrown off and the crowd streamed past him.

The camp was destroyed by dawn. As the last circus truck left town, the men sent up a cheer. A yell pierced through and they turned to see young Tyler Poole lying in his own blood.

At the funeral the men held their hats in their hands. The women cried into their handkerchiefs. The minister read words from his worn Bible.

At the diner afterward, Mrs. Simmons said, “We tried to warn him. Foolish child.”

“He shouldna spent all that time with them,” said Joe.

The sheriff nodded his head and folded his newspaper. “Yup,” he said, “that’s what you get when strangers come to town.

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