"Strangers in the Storm"

Copyright © Terry O'Brien

Julie Springer was driving on a deserted county road late at night, the road barely visible through the rain-covered windshield, when suddenly a man staggered out onto the road, into the glare of her headlights. She slammed on the brakes, stopping just short of him as he collapsed face-down in the middle of the road. Ignoring the rain, she jumped out of her car and ran to him.

"He's alive, but barely," she thought, hearing his tortured breathing as she rolled him over on his back. As she revealed his face, she gasped. His face looked more than human; more like an angel, his golden, curly hair and perfect face rivaling the sun-lit windows in her father's chapel.

In other circumstances, she could have stared at him for hours, but the loud rasping sound deep in his throat would not let her forget his situation. She quickly examined him for injuries, but found none. She hesitated then, wondering if she dare move him, or worse, if she could trust him in her car, when he shuddered and choked for breath. The sound convinced her. Struggling, she half-carried and half-dragged him to her car, where she lay him on the back seat. Then she turned the car around and started back towards town and the nearest hospital.

Julie kept glancing at the man in the rear-view mirror while she drove. She felt a certain attraction towards him, but she felt a certain amount of fear, as well. She wondered about him, even fantasized about him a little. Only when the lights of a passing car startled her out of her reverie did she realise how dangerous those thoughts were. She angrily turned her attention to the road ahead and concentrated on driving through the storm.

As she drove, Julie failed to notice his breathing gradually soften and become regular and deep. Soon, he opened his eyes. They darted quickly about, finally coming to rest on Julie as she slowed the car to stop at a red light. The man smiled faintly at the sight.

Julie stopped the car, looking down deserted roads to both sides and cursing absently at the delay, when the man slowly sat up and touched her on the shoulder. Julie started and quickly turned, staring wide-eyed at him. His smile widened, and he said in a mellow voice, "It's all right. I'm quite fine now. Thank you for rescuing me as you did."

At first she could only stare dumbly at him, almost hypnotized by his calm voice and shining blue eyes, but then he gently reminded her that the light was green, and so she turned and drove on, keeping half an eye on him in the rear-view mirror. He sat calmly in the rear seat, absently brushing the mud off of his clothing as he watched her.

Just beyond the stoplight was a small shopping center. Julie pulled into its parking lot and parked the car underneath one of the overhead lights. After shutting off the engine, she turned around in the seat and looked at him. The light from overhead barely illuminated him, yet for some reason she could see him clearly.

Julie started to speak, paused, started again, then stopped. She ran her hand through her still-damp hair, trying to think.

The man finished brushing the dirt from his clothes. Seeing her confused expression, he asked in his calm voice, "I suppose you are wondering what I was doing out on a night like this?"

She nodded. "The thought did cross my mind, I think," she replied.

He sat up in the seat, looking down at her. Julie started backwards, bumping the steering wheel. He smiled reassuringly. "I was losing a fight."

"A fight?" she wondered, seeing no marks on his perfect face. "You don't look ..." she continued, stopping as he smiled broadly.

"Not a physical fight, but a fight of the mind and spirit; of the soul, if you will. Since you did rescue me, you deserve an explanation. I'm sure I can trust you with it." For some reason she could not understand, Julie blushed at his calm assurance.

"That fight was a reflection of the greatest war of all: the war between the powers of Good and Evil, of Light and Dark, Order and Chaos." His voice rang inside the small car, and his eyes looked over Julie's head into the distance. Julie's eyes widened: the sound of his voice entranced her.

"This is a war fought on the battlefield of the mind and soul itself. Each side battles for the minds of all living beings, for they are the key to ultimate victory: when all minds are united in one power, renouncing and forgetting the other, then that other will be totally defeated.

"I am one agent in this war, one among the many that serve the powers. Your neighbor, the passer-by on the street, the man you elect, all may be serving the powers knowingly or unknowingly: their greatest deed or most infamous act, their smallest defeat or greatest victory, all may shape the course of the war."

He paused, looking down at her and smiling. "This war is also fought between agents of the powers. I was being defeated by an agent of the Enemy when you found me. By rescuing me, you saved my life. If you had not, I would have been destroyed. For that, I am in your debt."

Julie stared at his calm smile and serious eyes for a moment, then turned away. The sound of the rain on the windows faded away as the storm moved on, leaving in its place an eerie quiet. Julie felt as though the whole world had withdrawn from her, leaving her feeling very small and alone. She shivered, and clutched her coat tighter around her shoulders. Under the coat, her thumb rested on a long slender object, and she hesitated. Curiosity and uncertainty mixed in her mind; she could hardly accept that such a man before her could be what he claimed, yet she believed what he said.

"You call yourself an agent. Are you... human?" she asked, turning back to him.

He smiled a sad smile, as ancient memories flickered behind his eyes. "I was, once, a long time ago," he said tiredly, "but I gave myself wholly to the power I serve, and now I am something far greater, and far lesser." He gestured with his right hand, and golden light shimmered in its path. Julie watched with incredulous eyes as the light blazed and faded away.

That same hand reached out and touched her cheek. She started, then relaxed. His hand felt gentle and warm, matched only by the warmth and gentleness she saw in his eyes. "It has been years since I have had any feelings towards anyone, feelings I thought long dead," he said, as a bolt of lightning staggered across the sky, momentarily lighting up his sad smile. "Your kindness in rescuing me has resurrected those feelings, from the ashes of what I once was. I remember now how it felt to be a man."

That smile faded as he pulled his hand back. "But in spite of these feelings, I must do this," he continued, speaking over over the whip-crack sound of thunder. "The war will continue, and I must fight for what I believe in. I cannot leave you behind, with you knowing what you know now. Even if I had not told you, you would still be in great danger, for the agent of the Enemy would seek you out and destroy you. At least, this way will be painless."

With that, he held out his other hand, index and little finger pointing out, the other fingers clenched into a fist. The motion drew Julie's eyes, which widened slightly in fear. Before she could do anything else, a bright golden light flashed from that hand, sweeping over her body.

The light faded as quickly as it touched her. He started in surprise as she calmly drew a slim black rod from inside her coat and leveled it at him. Blue light flowed from the rod, surrounding and crystalizing around him. He struggled inside the light, but all power and all movement was denied, save for his voice.

"No human could survive that power!" he said in a hushed voice. "No human could trap me. Yet you are not of the Enemy. I would have know that as soon as I had awakened. What are you?"

She nodded. Her face became a blank mask, save for her eyes, which were bitter. "I am not of your Enemy, but I am the enemy of the both of you.

"For too long have the powers and their agents used our world as a battleground. Your manipulation of the world has caused more grief and bloodshed than mankind by itself could ever create. Your war ignores the innocents, who pay as dearly and more than yourselves. Now the innocents shall fight back."

She twisted the rod with her free hand and it glowed again, its blue light playing over his body. When it was done, nothing of him was left. Then Julie opened the car door, leaned out, and threw up the remains of her dinner.

Shivering, Julie leaned back into the seat and breathed deeply. When her shivering had finally subsided, she reached into her purse and pulled out a small box. It glittered in the dim light, reflecting her tired features on its shiny surface, but as she clenched her fist over it, it began to pulse with a beat not unlike her own heartbeat. "You heard it all, I suppose," she said to the empty air.

A quiet voice replied from above and behind her right shoulder. "We did. Your performance in this matter left much to be desired. You have neglected much of your training." Julie bowed her head in acknowledgement.

"Our enemies can appear at any time, in any shape, doing any task. You were taught to recognise them, and to strike them down without mercy.

"You did not recognise the agent at first, although the signs you were taught to observe were plainly visible, and when you did recognise him, you hesitated. You allowed your curiosity and the agent's appearance to outweigh your training. The penalty for that is all too often death.

"Learn from this encounter: remember what our enemies are, what they believe in, and what they do. Remember what we are fighting for, and who we are fighting against."

The voice paused, and Julie looked up.

"Still, you have survived," it continued, speaking more softly. "We cannot fault that; to survive their first encounter is the true test of an agent, and you have passed. We congratulate you on your first kill."

"Thank you," Julie replied.

"In the service of humanity."


Nodding, she replaced the box in her purse. Setting back in her seat, she breathed a great sigh of relief. Then she started the car and pulled out of the lot.

As she drove down the highway, she brushed back her hair from across her eyes. A new light shone in those eyes, and new lines were beginning to form around them. The war of the ages had another side, and that side now had a new agent.

As she drove away, thunder rumbled and lightning flickered around her. The storm was returning overhead.

This was one of my first pieces of fiction published, in the Amber fan group's fanzine. There were to be two more stories concerning Julie and the now three-part war: I started them but since I could never sell this story again (or highly unlikely to do so) they have lapsed.

I think it would make a nifty Twilight Zone story, though, if they were still producing them. I can hear the final words of the story: "The War between Light and Darkness has a new player, springing from the place where Light and Darkness meet, to form the Twilight Zone."

Copyright © 1998 Terry O'Brien {dragonmage@sprynet}