|This Week’s Theme: What is the skeleton in your character's closet?|
For this exercise, I am using one of the minor characters from my new NaNo novel. This character will become a major character by the end of the third book in the series, but now he appears as an honorable, courageous father figure. Below is a scene from his not-so-distant past in rural Virginia, a scene leading up to his decision to join the Gold Rush and move to California.
"Cold night." The stranger's drawl oozed from his mouth in an exhale of pale steam and hung in the moonlit darkness. He wore a floppy, bumpkin hat and a thick, woolen coat that was two sizes too big for him. Bill Mitchell couldn't see the young man's shoes, but he was sure they would have holes in the soles.
"That it is," Bill replied.
The young man stood in the middle of the road, unmoving. His hat shaded his face from the moon's light, creating deeper shadows. Bill watched and waited, unable to spur his wagon forward with the man standing there. Becky, the horse, seemed content to wait and rest a while. The man coughed once, sniffed, rubbed the coat of his sleeve once across his nose. Neither man spoke for an uncomfortable time.
Finally, Bill broke the silence. "If you don't mind making way, I've got a ways to go tonight before I'm home."
The stranger waited a moment more, then spoke in his long, drawn-out words again. "Neighborly thing would be to invite a man in for some warmth."
Bill felt himself tense. The man had said it in a kind enough tone of voice, but it was a challenge nonetheless. Had this stranger appeared at Bill's door, perhaps he would have invited him in for a meal, offered that he could sleep in the barn for a night, given him food. But here on this remote track still miles away...
"I'm sorry, son," Bill said, "but I've got nothing to offer you tonight."
"Ain't that a shame," the man whispered, but still he did not move.
Bill climbed down from the seat atop the wagon, lifting his rifle as he went. "Son, I don't mean to be inconsiderate," he said as he stepped in front of the smaller man, "but I'd appreciate you moving on so my wagon can get past."
"Something good you got there? In that wagon of your'n?"
"Never you mind. Just step off the road and I'll be on my way." The night closed in around him, and he raised the gun barrel, pointing it at the stranger's chest.
"Now, that don't seem neighborly neither," the man said simply.
"We ain't neighbors."
The man still did not move, and Bill waited two minutes, then three. His throat was dry, and his hands were shivering in the early November night. Clouds were moving in across the moon, covering the sky, and the snow would come soon. He needed to move on. This stranger, a young man of perhaps twenty years, stared back at him from his ragged coat and threadbare pants and motionless boots.
Bill felt the cold in his bones now, and the weariness that had been settling on him all evening now weighed him down. "Please, mister, just step aside and let me pass."
Bill did not mean to do it. It must have been the shivering, the exhaustion, the cold, the darkness. But his finger squeezed the trigger on his rifle, and the shot cracked out in the silence, the bullet thudding deep into the man's chest. Bill dropped the rifle as the man crumpled to the road without a sound. Confusion and despair spread through him as he ran to the fallen stranger.
The man was dead, there was no doubt even in the darkness of the thickening night. Who he was, or why he chose that remote road on that night, Bill would never know. Quickly, Bill grabbed the man's feet and dragged him off the road and into the woods. Only a dozen yards in was a deep thicket, and Bill shoved the body under it. Within minutes he was back atop his wagon, riding quickly for home, his hands still shivering, but no longer from the November cold.
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