FICTION: The Fellow Traveller


He came to an abrupt stop contemplating a rise in fortunes. Behind lay yellow corn fields and polka dot meadows smouldering in the haze of the setting sun and before him in the distance the alluring comfort of a farm steading. Just the job he muttered thankful to have finally stumbled on somewhere to rest now that dusk was fast eclipsing the daylight.   

His weary head drooped, his concentration on his feet; left right left right he advanced on the check-point, steeling himself for the customary taunts and humiliations bound to come his way. An armed man quite young and with bright ginger hair put down the loaf he was picking away at and stepped into his path demanding to know where he had come from. There was no real threat in his tone and the old man gave the name of the last village he had passed through without making eye contact with the militia man. He made no attempt at conversation having learnt the hard way to steer clear of trouble by remaining silent and keeping on the move. The younger man observed him then wordlessly he broke off a piece of the bread, offering it to the old man. The gift was accepted without thanks by the traveller who continued on his way but almost immediately heard the sound of running feet.

Ginger Nut, as the traveller branded the young fighter was up at his side, tugging on his shabby sleeve “Never let a chance go by, Grandpa, you can have a brew later, on me,” and he pressed an open packet of tea into the old lean hand.  

The traveller coaxed his aching limbs into one final effort to reach the farm steading anticipating a brew-up to slake the thirst that had been on him this past hour. As he fingered the squashed tea carton in his pocket his initial gratitude on receiving the gift dissipated when it struck him that far from being half-full the packet was half-empty.  


 A screech of rubber on dry tarmacadam startling and terrifying shredded the calm of the evening. The car shot out of nowhere; its headlamps dazzling as it spun round, reared up and ground to a halt on the grass verge.

The traveller gazed at it through rheumy eyes; the squeal of tyres echoing in his ears. His feet were itching to be on their way and slowly he resumed his journey the soles of his boots scraping their familiar rhythm on the metalled road. Then he hesitated. A sound captured his attention. A dog he thought – whimpering? He was scared of dogs. The militia used dogs and he could no longer run fast. Then the whimpering stopped.

His was a troubled life; an itinerant existence of perpetual escape; arriving and departing with nothing to delay him for long. He looked up into the inky blue sky and then in the direction of the farmhouse, very near now. There it was again. Instinctively, reluctantly, he turned and stared hard at the crashed vehicle and that was when he heard a faint cry, nearly inaudible – help me.    

The traveller considered the situation. The terrain was treacherous for the unwary and the creeping darkness added to his woes but two peeps of light from the farmhouse lit up his way like beacons on the high seas: one low and one high. He imagined a farmer returning home after a long day tending his animals having a bite to eat in the kitchen and the wife already upstairs preparing for bed. Having settled on making the steading his place of rest the old man was anxious to get there for that brew and bed down at last.   

The sound of sobbing brought the traveller’s attention back to the wrecked car and when he turned round he recognised Ginger Nut staring back at him from behind the cracked windscreen; face like a moon pressed up against the glass, ghostly white. Had the old man looked into the moon’s dark anxious eyes he might have noticed reflected in them the extinguishing of the downstairs light in the farmhouse but it was the moon’s mouth, fish-like, gasping silent sweet nothings that captivated him. It’s been a fine day, a right fine day, he mused absentmindedly. The moonfish mouth opened and shut which in fish language might have meant please…help…me.  

For the first time in months, the old man was moved, unprompted, to speak aloud.

“Don’t I know you?”

The moonfish gulped.

 The old man had forgotten how pleasurable it was to talk and so more words spilled from his uncompromising mouth.

“I’m a stranger in these parts and what a beautiful place it is. To think it’s taken me all this time to get here and I wouldn’t mind remaining here forever.”    

Straining on tip toes he peered inside the car and saw a red worm wriggle between the white moon’s blue-tinged lips and blossom into exquisite crimson petals on an ashen chin. It struck the traveller that once he had seen a dog this way – shot for a laugh by a sniper from one of the armed units that patrolled the country. He tilted his head to get a better look when an idea took root in his mind. It was, he considered, a fine vehicle despite the damage and those legs of his, well, hadn’t they done enough walking for a lifetime and another one after that? This was turning out to be his lucky day.

The old fellow gently dragged the young man out of the car and lay him down on the grass. Then he removed his own ragged jacket and carefully placed it on the blood-stained car seat. Squeezing in behind the steering column he tipped back the peak of his cap with the flick of a finger and looked across to the outline of the farmhouse. The remaining light went out as the car’s engine purred into life. Never let a chance go by, muttered the old man under his breath. Someone once said that to me and wasn’t it good advice?

He put the car into reverse, pressed down the accelerator and was gone. He did not hear the explosion or see the flames that engulfed him – nor was he aware of the fragments of razor sharp metal flying like silver birds across the blackening sky.

In the farmhouse the farmer and his wife were thrown from their bed by the blast. Later they cut out the picture from the newspaper that showed them standing next to their partly destroyed barn. The caption read: Couple survive shock bomb attack. The report told how one suspected terrorist had been discovered badly injured on the roadside but the vehicle’s driver who had taken the full force of the explosion could not be positively identified although a government spokesman said it had intelligence which pointed to him being a leading member of a rebel organisation operating in the region.



%d bloggers like this: