(1998) “OPEN THE GATE.” the front guard called. With a buzz, the gate slowly opened. “I hope to not see you back here, Chris.” The guard added as Chris stepped out.
The warm May afternoon seemed to energize his body. He wanted to run and do cartwheels through the streets. He could have but then quickly realized he didn’t know which way to go. He had no where to be, nobody waiting for him, not with good intentions anyway.
He knew his gang hung out on the eastern side of town, so he headed West, toward the river, toward the Oak Forest Park.
With his head down and his hands shoved into his pockets, he strolled down the street. ‘What now? Do I sleep in the park? I’ll have to find somewhere less conspicuous to sleep than a family park. Oh, grandma, I wish you were here to tell me what to do and where to go.’
Not even thinking about why, Chris turned left, the opposite direction of the park. As he realized his mistake, he looked up to find his bearings and found himself staring at the Coar City Christian Church. The bell chimed as if to welcome him urging him to enter.
Chris walked through the door and peeked around with the fear that he’d be caught even though he was doing nothing wrong. He shuffled up to the front as his eyes fell upon the three crosses displayed on the front wall. A strong sense came over him as he dropped to his knees.
“Ok!” he said out loud. “I have nothing left, so I will trust you. Do with me what you will. Whatever you see fit. I don’t care anymore.”
After what seemed like hours waiting for God to strike him down, to end his suffering once and for all, Chris rose to his feet and trudged out of the church. This time heading Southeast. He needed to find a place to lay his head. He could start again tomorrow, start what exactly, he didn’t yet know.
The only thing he was certain of was that the Coar City gang would soon know of his release and be after him. He had betrayed Joe-Z and the group, so severely that it could only be punishable by death. He had a target on his back the size of this city. He couldn’t avoid them forever. His only options were to fight or run. As the sun set on this day, his remaining choice for the night was to simply hide.
Homeless, hopeless and on the run, he huddled near a dumpster in the alley off of 5th Avenue for refuge.
Alone, cold and confused, he drifted off to sleep.
* * * *
A cold morning breeze swept over Chris making him wake without yet opening his eyes. ‘I don’t want to open my eyes.’ he thought, for he remembered that he was sleeping behind a dumpster with nowhere to go, with no one to care for him, with no hope.
Another breeze chilled him to the bone. He reached around hoping to find some newspapers, bags or anything that would suffice as a blanket in this heartless city that had turned it’s back on him.
‘City? Why was it so silent? Do I actually hear crickets?’ he thought as he reached around him.
His fingers found no answers to his questions but ran along sharp blades of dew moistened grass. The ground beneath him was cold like concrete but soft and supple, grainy but rich.
Chris forced his weary eyes open only to be blinded by the rising sun spread across the endless horizon. He slowly rose to his feet as he crept in a full 360 degree circle. The trash was gone, the dumpster was gone, the buildings, the concrete, the people, traffic and noise had all vanished.
Instead he rested his sights on a never ending prairie with flowing grasses. One direction was as flat as could be while the other had soft slopes covered with hundreds of trees. The rest of the landscape seemed to fall in between as the land flowed in soft hills as if blowing gently in the breeze. Scattered throughout the grass were thousands of large patches of flowers, purple and white, almost as white as the billowing clouds that speckled the immeasurable, deep blue sky.
The air was free from pollution and smog and only the crisp, cool scent of the natures morning filled Chris' head. He'd not smelled air this clean as far as his memory would go back.
The sun rising past the crest of the horizon made the trees and plants sparkle and perk up as if they were greeting the sun, thankful for the new day. They seemed to be reaching for it's warmth.
Chris looked around, full of confusion but couldn't quite ignore the splendor. Glorious or not, he needed to find his way out of here and fast.
In the distance he could see a wooded area that seemed to have a large gap in the middle.
“A road?” Chris said out loud, unsure. He decided his only option of finding his way home was to find a road and follow it until something looked familiar. He couldn't be too far from Coar City.
Chris took in a deep breath and began trudging through the tall grass that seemed to want to grab him and pull him down.
“I cannot believe they found me!” he fumed, stomping down the grass in front of him. “Joe-Z and his mindless followers must have drugged me and dumped me here in the middle of no where! COWARDS! They couldn’t confront me like men?”
Even though he could see his destination in front of him, it took miles to reach the tree line. He could feel the exhaustion from his anger and the walk through the tall weeds and grasses. It was as tiring as trying to run through water. He’d not eaten or had a drop to drink since his release and felt his body screaming for nutrients. He found the road and began following it towards the Northeast, as he figured from the position of the sun.
He had paid some attention in school to know that the sun rises in the East, rests overhead at noon and sets in the West. If only he'd taken some wilderness training as a boy, the scouts would have taught him what to do in a predicament like this.
After what seemed like hours, he spotted something up ahead. A house. A shack more like it, it could not have been larger than the apartment Chris grew up in. It was built out of logs which were notched out and criss-crossed in every corner. From what Chris could see from the road, the house had only one door and one window. A similar looking building lay across the yard but had a larger door and a fence around it that appeared to be made of nothing more than tree branches and twigs. A rope was tied from the tiny front porch to the door of what Chris guessed was a garage or a very small barn.
As he approached the house he noticed a clothes line, a tiny shed that appeared to be only large enough to stand in, a wooden barrel and a small, un-kept garden. The rest of the property was surrounded by tall grass as far as the eye could see.
Chris stumbled up the two steps to the door, noticing that there was no door handle. Instead there lay a rope coming from a hole at the top of the door. He knocked despite his confusion with an ounce of fear mixed in. He knocked again, a little harder. With the extra force, the door swung open only enough for Chris to pop his head in.
“Hello?” he softly called.
The room smelled of kerosene and smoke as the fire in the fireplace dwindled down. A large kettle sat in front of the fireplace next to a high back arm chair. The only other furniture in the room was a bed in the corner that had only one leg. The other three sides seemed to be attached to the walls. A dining table with two chairs sat on the opposite side of the shack. On the table sat a kerosene lamp, a small wooden box and a pipe. The one door and one window had indeed been the only in this tiny huddle, the smallest house Chris had ever seen.
“Hello?” he managed to choke out.
Obviously no one was in the house. Using the rope, he pulled the door shut and turned to look into the wilderness that stood between him and home, wherever home was. He wasn’t sure if he had a home in Coar City. His mother didn’t want him, his father had vanished, his only friends were his fellow gang members who had banished him to this remote place. If he went back, they’d kill him for sure. The only person that would help him or show him any love had left him over thirteen years ago. A tear formed in the corner of Chris’ eye as he tried to shake the thought of his grandma out of his head. Even if he found a phone, who would he call?
‘I guess I need to find out where I am first.’ Chris thought.
He made his way down the two steps and down the narrow drive. Half way to the road he stopped short and turned his head to hear better. Silence. He turned to walk again and stopped. He kept hearing a faint jingle, like metal on metal. It was coming from around that second building, the garage. Chris apprehensively but desperately made his way to the building.
“Hello?” Chris almost shouted.
“In back.” Came a gruff voice shouting back at him.
Chris made his way around the building to see a man hooking two horses onto an old wagon. He’d seen these wagons before but only on TV.
The tall slender man wore a long sleeved brown shirt under his overalls which tucked snuggly into his boots. His brimmed hat shaded his face as he turned to Chris.
“Just let me finish hookin’ up my schooner and I’ll be right with ya.”
Schooner? Who was this guy? Chris studied his face to see if there was any hint of crazy in this man. There has to be a reason he’s choosing to live this way. Other than the dark, sagging eyes, full dirty beard and dusty face, he didn’t seem completely out of the ordinary. Still, Chris took a step back as the man turned to him.
“Now, what can I do for ya, son?” Son? He had a lot of nerve! “I haven’t seen you around these parts, you new to this area?”
What parts? All there is here is area.
“I’m just passing through.” Chris finally answered. “actually, I was just wondering if I could use your phone.”
“Phone?” the man said, looking confused as he scratched his beard.
“Well, I noticed there are no wires going to your house but I was hoping you’d have a cell or something, I’m really lost.”
“Cell?” ‘Ugh, maybe this guy was out of his mind!’
Their silence made the man speak up again. “Son, I’m not sure of these contraptions you speak of, but if you’re lost, I can see what I can do to help. I’m Louis Kinsley.” he said, holding out his right hand.
Chris hesitantly reached out to shake his hand.
“I’m Chris Scholt. Actually, could you just tell me where I am?”
“Well, you ain't more than two miles east of the Oak Forest River, near the town of Coar, Christopher.”
“It’s CHRIS! Wait.. What? I can’t be two miles from the river in Coar City.”
“City? Well, it is growin’ a bit, but we are far from bein’ a city. I have heard the boardin' house was going to be rebuilt bigger and better, there’s talk of that bein’ done by the fall of 1870. I own the Livery in town, I’d love to do some expandin’ on that.” 1870? This man was insane! “Would you like a ride into town, son?”
“NO! Thank you.” Chris crept slowly backward and turned away almost running down the drive. “Wherever Joe-Z dumped me, it’s crazy-ville for sure.”