Ordinary or strange, every story starts somewhere.
Where, though, isn’t always so clear. Maybe this story started with an animal in the road, or maybe with a patch of ice. Maybe Jake just fell asleep at the wheel. No one will ever know, because the car is already in the air when Mira Torres wakes in the passenger seat, and by the second time it rolls, she’s unconscious again.
When Mira comes to, it’s to a world of pain flashing through her should. Someone is dragging her by her left hand across cold asphalt, away from the car.
From the car accident. Jake is dragging her from the car accident. She opens her eyes, trying to remember what happened, and searches for a face. She finds only a the back of a hood flickering with yellow-orange light from somewhere behind them. The jacket he wears is torn in places, did it tear in the accident?
“Jake,” Mira tries to whisper but the words come out like sandpaper across cold molasses, thick, and slow, and rasping.
The hood turns and light eyes glint in firelight like two coals framed in tanned skin and shadow. Mira’s vision blurs as a mouth she can’t see in the shadows answers, calmly, “No.”
Mira struggles to make out more of the face, but the stranger is already turning away, dragging her through the snow, away from the flickering light. Something goes Whoompf! and a wave of hot air presses down like the breath of an angry giant.
Mira’s heart hammers, and she tries to pull away from the stranger, before she even recognizes the source of her fear.
“Jake!” she yells, even though it hurts to yell, and her breath comes out as a spray of vapor into the night.
The stranger pauses, takes in a deep breath, and turns back to her again. And again he answers, “No,” and shakes his head. His features are clearly, for just a moment, in the light of the blazing wreck, , but Mira’s eyes sting with tears and smoke, and his features swim like ink lines on wetted paper, blurring to nothing but a the orange glint of flames in eyes. He turns and continues.
Finally, they arrive across the grass median from the wreck, near enough that anyone who stops will see them, far enough to be well away from the wreck itself, beneath the shelter of an old tree.
“Help will be here soon,” says the stranger.
Mira nods, and tells him, “I’m cold. There’s a blanket in the—“ she stops. The blanket was in the car, with Jake, and the car’s on fire. She hugs herself and begins to cry. The stranger turns back to her, and, after a moment, she feels the weight of his coat on her pressing on her shoulders.
“Am I dead?” she asks. She doesn’t feel dead, but none of this seems real, either. She keeps expecting to wake up with a start, safe and warm beneath her blanket in the passenger seat.
The stranger’s looking out, down the road. It’s hilly country, and thickly forested in low trees, with enough pine mixed in the deciduous growth that even in winter headlights don’t travel far. He lets out a snorting huff of breath, and shakes his head.
“I’d feel like a real idiot if you were, after dragging you all the way over here from the car.”
Mira smiles, and sniffs, wiping her nose on the corner of the jacket sleeve. She pauses, remembering halfway through that it’s not technically her sleeve to wipe snot on, then decides she doesn’t really care right now and finishes the motion.
“Thank you,” she says. “I wish you’d had time to . . .”
She trails off and the stranger glances back. He’s younger than she expected. Now that she thinks of it, he has a young voice, and she doesn’t know why she thought he would be old. She decides he moves like an older man, slow and calm instead of the jerking enthusiasm with which young men greet disaster.
“Wasn’t a question of time,” he tells her. “It was too late before the car finished rolling.”
“Oh,” Mira says. It hurts. It hurts inside, and somehow that seems right, because everything on the outside hurts, too. The pain brings a little clarity, and she looks around. There are no other cars.
“Where’d you come from?” she asks.
The young man shrugs, “A long way from here.” He takes a moment to think about that answer, then nods to himself, continuing. “You’re just lucky that, right now, I’m here.”
The young man looks down the road, eyes moving as if he’s tracking something through the obscuring trees. Mira finds herself suddenly certain–irrationally, unshakably, unquestionably, certain—that the young man is not human.
“Are you an angel or a devil?” Mira asks.
That earns her another glance, and, for the first time, a quick flash of a grin.
“No,” says the stranger. He bends down, his face is near hers, and her vision clear, and the light of the moon on the snow and the fire from the car is enough to show his features clearly; they’re ordinary. Mira feels her certainty fade.
“Don’t be afraid,” says the stranger. “Help is almost here.”
The steam from his breath hangs in the still night air between them, just thick enough to rob the sharpness and clarity from his features once more, but Mira can see he’s smiling, slightly.
She says something else, and the stranger answers. Mira feels the darkness clinging to her, and the next time she wakes up, the flickering lights belong to a police cruiser and an ambulance.
“Miss, did this person who helped you give a name? A number, or something?”
“No,” she tells the earnest young man in uniform, as a paramedic wraps her in blankets. He’s holding a coffee in one hand, a little notebook in the other. His pen is tucked safely in the fold of his watchcap. Mira finds herself wondering where she can get one—a coffee, not a notebook, that is.
After a moment, she looks down to see she actually is clutching a hot coffee in her own hand, though she has no idea how or when it got there.
“Are you certain you were pulled from the car?” he asks her.
Mira nods, “I got here somehow.”
“I’m sure you did,” says the young cop, coughing into a gloved hand, quietly. “What I mean is, when I walked over to the car to check for—“ he pauses for a second, searching for a way to finish this sentence that won’t bring up Jake, and decides to go with, “—additional survivors, I only saw one set of prints, and no sign you’d been dragged.” He scratches at the back of his neck beneath a woolen watchcap, and says, “Look, maybe I missed it, and there’s been too many boots clomping around in the snow to make it worth checking at this point, but are you sure you want to make a statement now? Accidents like this can scramble your brains a bit. I can swing by the hospital tomorrow, when your bells are a little less wrung, maybe?”
The cop flips his little notebook closed and turns to go. Mira nods her head in agreement, and leans back. Her eyes fly open again as she remembers something.
“Wait. No. I asked him his name, it’s the last thing I did before passing out.”
The cop glances up at her, sets his coffee down, and flips his little notebook open again, “And?”
“He told me . . . He told me, ‘Well, Mira, most people call me Strange, at first, and then a little later, they call me, Stranger.’”
The cop raises an eyebrow, but writes it all down, and signals the paramedics to come take Mira away. The wind howls, and she pulls the fabric of the torn jacket tighter around herself.