The Stranger

We could all see him coming a mile away. By the time his horse was trotting up the main street everyone in town was out, trying to get a look at him. With the crowd assembled I couldn’t barely see him step down. Between the assembled legs in front of me I could see him pace before I was suddenly yanked back.
 
Ducked behind everyone was my mother, a worried look painted on her face. She whispered a need to go, to run. Before she could stand and pull me away from the street the stranger boomed my name across the crowd. He stood and looked at the crowd squirm. After a moment he spoke up again, this time softer.
 
“Come out here, I ain’t gonna bite you. I’ve got a debt and I mean to pay it.”
 
He looked out across the squirming crowd as he paced before suddenly stopping. The crowd seemed to part around me as he stepped forward. As he approached, my mother pushed me behind her, her hands still shaking. Suddenly they were face to face, and there was nothing but silence. Finally, he broke it.
 
“You have to let me through.” He sounded sad as he said it. “At least let him decide.”
 
“Fine. Make it quick,” she spat back at him. She jerked to the side leaving me exposed. For the first time since he had rolled into town I could see him without anything blocking the way. He knelt down, meeting my eye.
 
“I knew your father,” he started. “This belonged to him.” he pulled a thick wad of parchment from a breast pocket and turned it over in his hands. It looked old, but not particularly damaged, like it had been well cared for. I stared at it as it moved from hand to hand, able to make out the tell-tale makings of a map.
 
“It would be wrong of me to keep this. All the secrets it holds belong to you now. I’m not saying that it will be easy, but then, nothing ever is.” With that, the map stopped turning, and instead hung between us, waiting for me to reach out and grab.
 

Take the map                    Turn it down

 

Take the map
 
I took it hesitantly, but as I began to unfold it and look over the new world that sprawled in front of me I began to move faster and faster, eyes darting back and forth. I looked up to see my mother glaring daggers into the stranger’s back as he strode back to the horse he’d come in on. Just before he reached it he turned back to look at me.

“Maybe I’ll see you on the road, kid.” He tipped his hat and climb up onto his steed’s back. He was out of sight in moments, and so the crowd began to disperse. A few whohad witnessed what had happened tried to get a peek at the treasure I held in my hands, but none dared to ask to see it up close. Even my mother left eventually, whispering about inheriting my father’s foolishness. Eventually I was alone with it, left to examine every landmark it detailed.

I didn’t know what it led to, only that it led somewhere, and that was enough for me.
 
Turn it down
 
I turned from the stranger in front of me to my mother, looking at their faces, both frozen in anticipation. I shook my head emphatically, backing away. I had expected the man to be angry at my choice, but instead he wore a glum smile.

“Well, I gave you the choice, can’t say I didn’t try. Well, kid, I guess I won’t be seeing you any time soon, will I.” With that he calmly took a step back before turning to get up on his horse. As soon as he was gone, my mother suddenly grabbed me tightly, holding me to her chest.

She sobbed into my hair, and I put my arms around her. I was there to stay.