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Hobo Signs

Ree Young has been writing and publishing for the last couple decades. A recently retired college professor, she is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and lives in the forests of central North Carolina.

Just before the next day began, a small man with sparse, light hair, a thin mustache, and rusty eyes, dressed in clothes that looked borrowed from someone larger, tapped at my door. “Need a ride home,” he said, his voice slurred, harsh, and high, pure alcohol turning to mist between him and the screen door. I told him I just couldn’t do that, but if he’d keep on walking east a couple miles, he’d come to the highway. Instead he lowered himself into the porch rocker for a rest and asked if I would call a certain number for someone to come pick him up. He said they knew him well.
So, I called the number, and the man who answered did know him. Sounded exasperated, too, like a parent with a wayward child.
When I came back to the front door, he was rocking away. He smiled and thanked me. He explained how some strange men in a pick-up--crew cab and 4x4, they’d bragged, with a 6.0 liter V8--had given him a lift. They'd poured him out a tin cup of something clear as ice, sweet and sharp all at the same time. He said that drinking it made his soul feel as if it had supernovaed. Educated talk for a raggy drunk, I thought. Then they dropped him off in the middle of nowhere, which was right here at my place.
Just then, a big black sedan pulled up in the drive. Two dark-suited men got out and waited. The small man stood with some effort and then navigated down the steps into the early morning light. Over his shoulder, he called another thank you. Then he stopped, turned back to me, and said, “You’re a kind-hearted lady, ma’am, for helping out a stranger. I’ll be sure to tell my friends.”
He left the rocker swaying and lit by a faint glow. I guess enough sips of the prime brew still found around these low hills can bring a glow to anyone, maybe even pass from flesh to wood. What I didn’t notice till after he’d gone, though, was the little figure of a cat he’d somehow carved into one of the rocker’s armrests while I’d been on the phone. I recognized it as a sign that hobos used to use to let the next traveler know there was a welcome and a helping hand at a place. Cute, but I’d never seen the hobo cat before with 6-legs or two tails.
Later that morning, the television newsman claimed UFO reports had come in from some locals the night before. Those yahoos talked of shining lights flitting down the back roads… same old hooey on a slow summer night with boredom rising like a full moon, I thought. That is, until a week later at dawn, another small man showed up and asked for directions and a glass of water, sitting in my porch rocker while he waited.
I don’t know how many more will come by. I’ve thought about getting rid of that rocker, but I somehow can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe I’m curious or a fool…or maybe I am just a kind-hearted woman, after all. The rocker still flickers from time to time, and the funny-looking cat seems to grin, but only when the air hangs warm and dry, and stars seem to race each other across a predawn sky.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Author Comments

Most, if not all, fiction has its foundation in fact. This story was based on a real event. I will let the reader decide which part of it is fiction, and which part is fact.

- Ree Young
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