And The
Traveller 4

The Wild Rose

It was cold and damp as the big red truck picked it's way along the narrow twisting two-lane road.  Fog rolled in like a blanket, so thick you could almost chew it.  Jake strained his eyes to see ahead and dropped another gear.  A bead of cold sweat trickled the back of his neck and the already tense muscles in Jake's shoulders and back twitched with its touch.  This was the first time Jake had ever gone to the East Coast after a load of fish and the first time he had encountered a true pea-soup fog.  Jake muttered under his breath, cursing dispatch for begging him to do this pickup and himself for being dumb enough to listen.  Never again, he promised himself and half smiled.  A trucker's life was full of "favors" for dispatchers that turned around and bit you.

He cast a quick glance sideways at his buddy Traveller.  Old Traveller had had himself quite a time getting aquainted with all the cats that hung out at the fish plant, even if he did have to convince one big old tom that a trucking cat was no pushover.  Right now Traveller was perched on his dashboard seat peering intently at the swirling grey fog.

"I sure wasn't expecting this old buddy", Jake said to Traveller.  "When we get out of this mess I'm gonna have to have a sleep just to get my nerves settled down again."  "Maiow", agreed Traveller.  Jake squirmed in the seat to try and relax his back muscles a bit and flexed his fingers, which were cramping from holding the wheel so tightly.

 As they rounded a curve the fog cleared for a space and there in the middle of the road stood the figure of a young girl flagging him down.  Jake gave a startled cry and yanked the truck towards the shoulder to miss her.  He jammed on the air brakes and fought the big rig to a shuddering stop.  Traveller dug his claws into his perch and hung on tight.  For a few seconds the two friends just sat there trying to get their pounding hearts under control.

Then there was a tapping at the door and Jake reached over and wound his window down.  The pale face of the young woman stared back at him.  "Please mister", she said, "I'm in trouble and need a ride out of here."  "Sure", answered Jake, "this is no place to be stranded, climb in."  As she walked around the front of the truck to the passenger side Jake looked at Traveller, who was watching the girl very intently.  "I know old man", Jake said, "but we can't leave her out here".  "Mrroww", replied Traveller non-commitedly.

As the girl climbed into the truck Jake got a better look at her in the cab lights.  "Can't be much more than a teenager", Jake thought as he took in the slight figure.  Her blonde hair hung wetly over a pale face.  There were muddy smudges on her face and her clothing.  "Is there anyone else with you?" asked Jake.  "No, just me", she said.  "Did you have car trouble?" Jake asked as he selected a gear and started the rig rolling again.  Then he remembered that he had seen no sign of a car.  "No, no car", came the soft reply.  "Well how did you get away out here then?"  "I was left here."  "Alone?" came Jake's surprised reply.  The girl bowed her head, "Yes, all alone."  "How long have you been out here all by yourself?"  The girl's voice was barely above a whisper, "It seemed like a long time, a very long time.  Please mister, I don't really want to talk about it, I just want to get to the truckstop about 20 miles up the road.  My Mom works there and I just want to see her."  "Sure miss", said Jake gently, "I didn't mean to pry.  We'll get you to your Mom just fine.  Don't you worry now."

Silence settled into the truck again.  As they rolled along Jake kept glancing over at his strange passenger.  She just mostly sat there looking down at her folded hands.  Traveller sat on his perch in front of her and never took his eyes off her.  Then suddenly he gave a soft Meow and reached out one paw towards her.  The girl looked up at Traveller, then smiled sadly and took Traveller's paw in her hand.  Traveller immediately began a gentle purring and hopped into her lap.  She looked startled for a moment but quickly began stroking Traveller's head and talking softly to him.  Traveller looked straight into her eyes and smiled a happy kitty smile.

After a few minutes she turned her head to look at Jake.  "You have a good cat here", she said.  Jake grinned, "He's more like a partner actually, my best friend."  "I remember what that's like", she replied in a wistful tone, "I used to have a cat I loved very much.  But that was before....", and her voice trailed off again.  She turned her gaze back to Traveller and resumed the smooth stroking.  Jake felt a wave of pity for this obviously unhappy young woman.  He could tell there was a lot of pain behind those sad blue eyes.  His glance caught her hand as she ran it over Traveller.  "That's a very pretty ring you're wearing."  She lifted her hand and looked at the ring.  "It's a gift I got for my Mom on her birthday.  I never got to give it to her."  Then she turned her face back to the window.  "There's the truckstop up ahead", she whispered, "I'll leave you there."  Sure enough, the lights of a little truckstop shone through the darkness and Jake started gearing the big rig down.

He pulled into the lot and backed Big Red into an open slot.  The girl just quietly sat there still stroking Traveller.  As he set the brakes with a hiss of air Jake looked over at her.  "Just wait a second while I check Red out and I'll walk in with you.  I could use a coffee and I'd like to meet your Mom."  She just bowed her head again and closed her eyes.  Jake saw a single tear run down her cheek.  As he stepped down she looked quickly at him.  "Mister", she said, "thank you for stopping.  You've been kinder to me than you know."  As he met those sad eyes Jake's heart swelled and tears welled up in his eyes.  "I'll just be a second", he rasped in a voice that was suddenly strained with emotion, "then I'll see you safe to your mother's arms."  Jake was blinking back tears as he quickly made his circle check.  As he rounded the back of the trailer he saw the passenger side door standing wide open.  An unexplainable feeling of dread rushed over him and he ran to the open cab.  There was no sign of the girl.  Jake spun and looked around the parking lot.  It was completely empty, nothing moved.  A soft "Maow" turned him back to the truck.  Traveller was sitting there pawing softly at something in the seat.  Jake stepped up and looked in.  There on the seat lay the girl's ring and a single red wild rose.  Jake and Traveller looked at each other in silence for a minute.  Then he picked up the ring and the rose and ran towards the restaurant with Traveller hot on his heels.

Jake rushed into the restaurant and looked quickly around.  There was no sign of the girl and only a handful of people there.  A big man in white who was obviously the cook stood up from the counter where he had idly been sipping a cup of coffee.  "What's your problem Mac?", growled the cook, "What's the idea of busting in like that and scaring everyone?"  Jake took another look around.  Besides the cook there were only two customers who were obviously truckers, a tired looking cop having a late night break and two waitresses.  On a second look one of the waitresses caught Jake's eye, there was something about her.

"Look folks", Jake said, "I'm sorry if I startled you.  I'm just looking for a young woman who flagged me down up the road."  He glanced at the waitress again.  "She told me her Mom worked here."  The place went totally silent for a few minutes, broken only when the waitress gasped and broke into tears.  The cop stood up and approached Jake with an unfriendly frown.  "Look buddy, I don't know what your game is but you better sit down and explain yourself right now."  Jake looked around at the angry faces and the sobbing waitress with a sinking feeling.  As he was being hemmed in by unfriendly men a grey blur shot by him.  It was Traveller, who had quietly slipped in behind Jake and had been sitting and watching.  But now that his friend was in danger Traveller decided to act.  He leaped up on the counter, his ears flat and eyes shooting fire he glared at the men and gave a low throaty hiss.  In spite of themselves the men stepped back a pace and gave Jake a chance to collect himself. 

He scooped Traveller up in his arms and faced the cop.  "I think we both have things to talk about", he said and seated himself at a table.  The cop sat down opposite, gave Traveller a wary look, and said, "OK, I'm listening."  Jake went through the events of the past minutes and watched the hard look in the cop's eyes turn to a look of wonder.  Jake finished his story and he set the ring and the rose on the table.  As everyone sat looking at the display a trembling hand touched Jake on the shoulder.  He looked up into the saddest eyes he had ever seen.  The woman placed a photo on the table before him.  "Is this the girl you say you saw?", she said softly.  Jake looked down at the photo and the face that looked back at him was the same as the one that sat beside him for the past miles.  Traveller nosed the photo and broke into a gentle purr.  "Yes, that looks like her, Jake answered, "but the girl I saw was much paler and looked somewhat older.  I guess the sadness in her face could account for that."  "That's my daughter", the waitress replied, "she disappeared around a year ago."  Jake reached out and took the woman's hand.  "I don't know where she went ma'am, but I do know she wanted to see you."  He reached out and picked up the ring.  "She was wearing this.  She said it was a birthday gift that she wanted to give you."  He placed the ring in the woman's hand.  Traveller picked the rose up between his teeth, walked across the table and laid it down in front of the woman.  He looked up at her and mewed softly.  "This rose was lying on the seat with the ring", said Jake, "but the girl was gone."  The woman gently petted Traveller and picked the rose up.  "My little girl's name was Rose, I used to call her my Wild Rose."  She had a cat she loved very much, but after Rose disappeared her cat just wasted away.  She died about 3 months later in her sleep, lying on Rose's bed."  Her voice broke and she turned away, her body shuddering with sobs.

Jake looked back at the cop who was sitting there with lowered eyes.  "I don't understand", Jake said, "if everyone knows this girl, why aren't we out looking for her?"  "Yeah, you don't understand", replied the cop, "follow me outside and I'll explain."  Jake and Traveller followed the officer back out into the parking lot.  It was still cold and empty.  The cop stopped, lit a cigarette and looked at Jake.  "Rose was a wild young girl.  Not bad you understand, just headstrong and hard to control.  She hated this place, said she wanted more than this.  Finally she ran away and was gone for months before anybody heard from her.  Then one day her mom got a call from her.  Rose said she was coming home for her Mom's birthday.  Ellie, her Mom, was thrilled.  But Rose didn't show up and of course that crushed poor Ellie all over again.  Rose wasn't real popular with Ellie's friends that day.  But Ellie was still hoping.  That night we got called to an armed robbery at a store in town.  The robber shot the cashier and two customers, killed the cashier.  Anyway, after a high-speed pursuit involving half the police force, we cornered the guy but he decided to try shooting his way out.  He didn't survive.  But when forensics checked out the getaway car it turned out to be registered to Rose.  We found a whole lot of bloodstains inside the car.  They turned out to be Rose's too.  I was the one who had to tell Ellie."  He stopped speaking and stood silently for a few minutes.  Jake and Traveller waited for him to resume.  "We never found a trace of Rose after that.  No body, no anything.  We figured she's dead judging by the amount of bloodstains we found.  Ellie still hoped for months but she'd started to accept it.  Then you walked in tonight."

A cold chill ran over Jake.  "I don't know what to tell you officer, but I saw that girl sitting in my truck as clear as I see you now.  She did have smudges of mud on her face and clothes, but everything else is exactly like I told you.  Traveller here even sat in her lap most of the way.  I don't know what else to say."

The officer stood quietly looking off into the dark for a minute or two, then he turned to Jake with an odd look on his face.  "If you can spare a little time would you be willing to take me back to where you first saw her?  We can take my cruiser so it shouldn't take long.  There's just alot of things that need to be cleared up about tonight."  Jake looked directly into the cop's eyes and saw no betrayal there.  Traveller put one paw on Jake's leg and gave a soft Meow.  Jake looked down at his partner, then back at the cop.  "Well, there's your answer officer, let's go."

The three drove silently back over the road that Big Red had covered just a short while before.  The fog had started to creep back in to add to the sense of unreality each of them felt.  Finally, Jake pointed and said, "Over there."  The cruiser pulled over onto the shoulder and all three sat there looking out at the wet trees with a curious sense of reluctance to step out.  A movement to one side caught Jake's eye and he turned his head.  "My God", he breathed, "look it's her, the girl I picked up.  How'd she get back here?"  The cop grabbed the mike to his PA system and called to the girl, "Miss!! Rose!! Stay right where you are.  Don't move."  The figure of the girl turned and moved back into the bushes.  Jake and the officer both jumped out of the cruiser.  Suddenly Traveller shot between Jake's legs and leaped into the bushes where the girl had been.  Jake shouted and ran after Traveller.  The cop grabbed his flashlight and followed.  They wound their way through the brush and the fog and suddenly stepped into a small clearing.  Traveller was in the center of that clearing, digging madly at the base of a small bush and crying loudly.

"What the heck ails your cat?" the cop asked.  Jake walked over and knelt beside Traveller who was now sitting under the bush looking up into Jake's face.  He suddenly bent down and looked closer at the dug-up soil.  "You better come see this officer", he said.  The cop had been peering at the surrounding bushes, looking for some sign of the girl they had seen just moments ago.  He walked over and shone his light where Jake was pointing.  "That's cloth", he said and knelt to dig a little deeper with his hands.  He drew back startled as his fingers found the bones of a skeletal hand.  Traveller laid down on the edge of the hole and let out a soft mournful cry.  The cop turned to Jake, "I think we'd better call this in."

Within a couple of hours the site was a bustling hive of activity.  Jake, Traveller and the officer all sat silently in the cruiser, each thinking his own thoughts.  They looked up as the Medical Examiner and one of the detectives walked out of the bushes and approached the car.  "It's definitely the remains of a young girl", the detective said sadly, "there's a bullet hole in the skull so it's a homicide for sure."  He held out his hand. "We found this on the wrist of the skeleton.  We won't need it to identify the remains, so I thought you'd like to take it to Ellie."  He gently placed the object into the officer's palm.  It was a golden ID bracelet and on it was engraved the name Rose.  The cop closed his hand on the bracelet and gave a choked sob.  He turned to Jake with tears streaming down his cheeks.  "This'll hurt Ellie bad", he whispered, "but at least she'll know now.  She'll have closure and a body to bury."  He bowed his head and collected himself.  "I don't know what to think.  If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it.  God knows how I'll be able to make out my report."  He shook his head and gave a sigh.  "Come on, I'll take you back to your truck."

Neither man said much on the drive back to the truck stop.  Jake and Traveller both went in and sat with the cop as he told Ellie about that night's events.  Jake was watching this unfold when his attention was drawn to Traveller who was idly pawing at something on the counter; the beautiful flower that the girl had left in the truck.  He gave a slight sigh and when everyone looked at him he picked the flower up in his fingers.  "I just realized something.  The bush where Traveller found your daughter ma'am, it was a rose bush, a wild rose bush."

A few minutes later Jake carried Traveller out to Big Red.  As he unlocked the door and sat Traveller on the seat Ellie's voice turned him.  She reached out and took his big rough hand in hers.  "I just wanted to say thank you", she said in a voice made husky by crying.  "Rose must have known you two were special.  Thanks for bringing my daughter home."  Then she kissed Jake on the cheek and retreated back to the restaurant.  Jake stood and looked after her for a long minute, then climbed back into Big Red.  He looked at Traveller and Traveller looked back at Jake.  Jake sighed.  "Well old man, this is one run we're going to remember for a long time.  But I guess we better get ourselves back on home."  With that he fired up the big diesel and Traveller hopped up on his perch on the dash.  Jake was just reaching to release the air brakes when he froze.  Across the parking lot stood the figure of Rose.  She was clean and smiling now and she waved to him and Traveller.  In her arms lay a cat.


Story and Art Copyrighted © By Wayne Pond


Traveller Story Part 1
Traveller Story Part 2
Traveller Story Part 3

Angel's Story

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