A short story by Michael R. Lockridge
“Nice ride.” Said the man behind the counter of the Quick Stop. “What, exactly, is that?”
He handed the bag to his tall, thin customer.
“That is a reproduction Gypsy caravan.” Said Marcus Windsel, with obvious pride. “I built it myself. Mostly from drawings, and old photos.”
“Cool.” Said the man behind the counter. “Be sure you clean up after that horse of yours.”
Marcus nodded, and stepped outside.
Just two days ago he had put the finishing touches on two years of work. Fabrication, carving, assembly and painting. After a great deal of research.
He walked over to his horse, patting him gently and offering him a carrot just purchased from the convenience store. The horse accepted the gift placidly.
“Well, Wanderer, we are on our way.” Said Marcus, as he stepped up onto his drivers seat. Before he took the reins, he consulted his map one more time.
“Where you going with that thing?” Asked another customer. The man had stopped for a pack of cigarettes and a newspaper, but figured he might get something interesting here to tell his cronies in the park. Anything new to spice up the well-worn conversation.
“Everywhere!” Said Marcus. “I plotted a course on which I can run this rig out of town. I can get at least a hundred miles out, from what I have plotted so far. From there, who knows?”
“So, uh, you a Gypsy?” Asked the curious customer. “You don’t look like a Gypsy. Not that I would really know.”
“I think so. At least, my Grandfather referred to himself as a Traveler.” Answered Marcus. “See this medallion up here on the wall? I inherited that from him. Some kind of family heirloom. Anyway, Gypsies were often called travelers. I always thought of myself as a Gypsy, and now I am living the dream.”
“Pretty.” Said the customer. He was looking at the brightly painted carvings, as well as the medallion pointed out by the so-called Gypsy. “Where you learn to drive this thing?”
“I went to a ranch in Wyoming. There is a camp for learning to drive horse teams.” Answered Marcus. He expected to answer lots of questions on his travels. He knew that his creation was colorful, creative and unusual. He relished the prospects.
“Well, gotta go.” Said the customer. “Good luck, young fella.” He waved, tucked his paper under his arm, and sauntered off toward the park.
Marcus took up the reigns, gave them a snap, and clucked his horse into motion. He pulled sedately out into the street, and turned to follow the careful markings on his map.
He moved along the blue highways for hours. People waved, often standing along the street to watch him pass slowly by. He answered shouted questions as his horse plodded along. At lunchtime he cooked his first meal inside his unusual recreational vehicle. It was proving to be a great first day.
Houses grew sparse as the day passed into late afternoon. The road narrowed to two lanes, and he was thankful for the thin traffic. His colorful rig did not delight all passing drivers. It was slow, and therefore irritating. Still, the day continued to live up to his expectations.
He was a traveler, just like the grandfather he venerated. He did not know the old man well, having seen him seldom. Still, his memory was like a bit of magic, inspiring this wonderful journey.
Well before sunset Marcus found himself a camping spot. Little more than a turnout, and closer to the road than he would like, but still adequate. Cut back into a hill, the turnout felt safe and private. He set the brake, and stepped down.
Marcus unhitched Wanderer, and led him to a patch of grass on the hillside. He hobbled the horse, to prevent him from living up to his name.
“A camp fire would be nice.” Marcus said, wistfully, as he made his way back to the caravan. Not practical, so close to the road.
The van looked marvelous in the waning light. Once inside, he prepared his evening meal. After dinner, he sat outside for a little while. He imagined himself one in a long line of travelers. He grew weary, and took himself to bed.
The next day he awoke just before the rising of the sun. He stepped outside to take care of some business, and look after Wanderer. He found Wanderer behind a small stand of trees. He was leading the horse back when he noticed the man sitting on the bank, near the van.
The man seemed to be fascinated by the medallion mounted on the caravan. He paid neither Marcus nor the horse any mind at all. Just sat and stared. Marcus noted the rather fox-like appearance of the man. Pointed face, sharp eyes. Hair a bit shaggy. When he finally turned and looked at Marcus, the similarity became a bit spooky.
“Do you know Artemus Wendel? I see you have his medallion on your conveyance.” Said the strange little man. “Oh. Pardon me. I’m Yarmoth Dunst.” He stood, and offered his hand.
“My grandfather.” Said Marcus, rather absently, as he offered his hand in return. He was rather distracted by the man’s tail. Furry, like a fox.
The man shook Marcus by the hand, and then followed his gaze. The tail swished from side to side, then was still. The foxy eyes returned to look over Marcus once again.
“Hmmm.” Said Yarmoth. “I can see that Artemus did not complete your education. Did he give you the medallion? I mean, with his own hand?”
“No.” Marcus answered. “It came from my father. Both he and my grandfather are gone. They went on a journey several years ago, and never came back. My father had left the medallion in my care.”
“Ahh.” Said Yarmoth. “So, you don’t know.”
“I thought we were Gypsies.” Said Marcus. His voice was just above a whisper. “Grandfather was a Traveler.”
Marcus had dropped the horse’s lead. Yarmoth picked it up and tied the animal to the van.
“I think we could both use a cup of tea.”
He guided Marcus to the entrance of the van, and helped him inside.
Marcus let the little man, if man he was, make the tea. Soon they had steaming cups in on the table in front of them.
“I am afraid that you are in error regarding any Gypsy heritage.” Said Yarmoth. “Fine folk. They have often been kind to me. They are travelers, but not Travelers.”
Marcus continued to look rather blank.
“Your grandfather was my friend. We are Travelers.” Yarmoth continued. “The medallion is a talisman. It thins the line between wheres. When used properly, a talisman like your medallion permits passage between worlds.”
Marcus continued to look confused.
“Have you heard of Stephen King?” Yarmoth asked.
“Did you ever read his Gunslinger novels?”
“Uh. Yeah. A while ago.” Said Marcus. “Why?”
“Remember what Jake said, when Roland dropped him?”
“Oh.” Said Marcus. “Oh.”
“I shall go with you.” Said Yarmoth. “You have already crossed your first barrier. We need to find your grandfather, so that he can teach you what this is all about.”
The foxy little man took a sip of tea. Marcus just sat, and looked confused.
Marcus sat for a moment longer, thinking on how his adventure had taken a rather sudden turn. The adventure he had planned had just become infinitely more interesting.
He looked at his new friend, and smiled.
“Well, Toto. I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.” He said.
It was Yarmoth’s turn to look confused.