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The Twilight Caravan

Abraham Taylor woke in the early hours of the morning feeling rather young. Younger, in fact, than he had in fifty years. A wave of timeless calm flowed softly through the room, carrying him into a half-dream drama from a time when his late wife Lilian was alive and singing. Her beautiful songs of youth whispered softly to him. Then the play was interrupted and the room slowly materialized again.

Looking out the window, Abraham noticed that the sun was not up, and rolled over with his face buried in his pillow. That was something he had not done for a long time and he had lost the knack; sleep would not come. With a grumble, more out of habit than dissatisfaction, he arose and slipped into some cloths.

In the moonlit kitchen, Abraham made a small breakfast, bread and milk. He ate in silence, and then, after a moment's reflection on blurred memories of a distant past, he walked softly through the living room, opened the door, and looked out across the empty street. The air was mildly cool. Still beyond the touch of winter, yet colder than one would venture into without a jacket. Abraham took his overcoat from the closet and stepped out onto the porch. He gazed off down the street at nothing in particular and then started walking.

Unhurried footsteps carried him through the silent roadways, past the shops and houses, and beyond the edge of town. A bit farther on, a small stream ran beside a green strip of grass on its blind pathway through unknown rivers and far off lands. He strolled alongside the slow water, speculating as to its destination. How many more bridges, waterfalls, and miles of desolate land to cross before if finally reached its place of rest in tEventually, Abraham came to an old dirt road that circled back to town around a small lake. He walked silently through the night, gazing up into the stars. A small dust cloud rose behind him which soon rejoined the earth, leaving hardly a trace of the old man's passing.

After a time, the sound of horses' hooves tugged him back to reality. In the distance, a stage coach appeared racing madly across the moonlit road. The sound of drunken laughter danced to the drumming of hooves and wheels. It continued nearer, showing no sign of slowing, and Abraham stepped carefully off the side of the road. As the coach roared by, the driver saw him and brought the horses to a halt.

"Need a lift to town?"

"No, thank you."

"Funny place to be walkin' in the middle of the night. You sure you're okay?"

"Quite fine, thank you. Just out for a breath of fresh air."

"Looks like you've got a death of fresh air between you and town. I'll give you one more chance, and then you're on your own."

The head of a man who was obviously quite drunken emerged through the coach window. "Hey, we're goin' to a real' wild party in town! You look like the kind of man who likes a good party. Three whole days of anything goes. Why don't you join us? It'll be a holiday you'll never forget . . . unless, of course, you don't remember any of it come Monday!" At this, the man collapsed back int the coach, overcome by hysterical laughter.

Thinking back, Abraham remembered reckless days in his youth when he might of climbed into the coach. But now he was old. It seemed strange that a young man would invite him to a party--such people rarely spoke to him at all. No one spoke to him much anymore, so the company was tempting. . . But no, this was going too far. After all, the man was drunk. "No," Abraham said to himself, "I don't think I'll be making this one."

Somehow the man in the coach heard him. He recovered from laughing and poked his head back out the window. "Aw, come on. You're never too old for a party," the man yelled, and another man inside the coach yelled it too.

"That's true," Abraham agreed. "All the same, I think I'll sit this one out. Thank you, and goodnight."

"You're missing the chance of a lifetime," one man in the coach grumbled and the other man laughed.

The driver spoke again. "On second thought, I can't guarantee that those two won't bite, but I could come back in case you get tired of walking."

"Thank you, but no thank you. I'll be alright."

"I'll be back in a few, driving slower," the driver said, and with a crack of the reigns, they vanished into the night.

"Chance of a lifetime," the drunken man had said. The words "chance" and "lifetime" seemed a bit passe to Abraham and they were soon forgotten in favor of the stars and fresh air. Abraham continued slowly around the lake.

As twilight crept silently across the sky, a small caravan of travelers appeared in front of him, silhouetted against the low horizon. they moved slowly, and soon he was walking beside them. "Hello," called a man, apparently their leader. "If you're going our way, we invite you to join us."

"Thank you," Abraham replied, "I'm only going as far as town."

"Nobody only goes as far as town," the man laughed. "It's all or nothing, one way or the other. Still, you're welcome to join us. We wouldn't want you to go on without knowing what your choices are."

Abraham couldn't quite make sense of the present conversation, so he introduced himself instead. The men and women in the caravan introduced themselves and they walked a few minutes in silence. Something about the group attracted Abraham. He felt good with these people, as if he'd found some forgotten childhood friends.

"Where are you all headed?" he asked Jonathan, the apparent leader.

"We're headed to a place a long way from here, where coaches of drunken devils don't run you over in the middle of the night." They all laughed and Jonathan spoke again. "As I recall, Zacharias just finished telling us a few things about his life. Does anyone else have a story for us?"

While the others in the group searched their memories, a young man named Aaron took the cue. "Well, there's not a lot to say. I grew up like any other kid, except that I fell short in mischief making and ended up with more of mom's apple pie. I got through school, spent six years working on the family farm, and then , at the age of twenty-three, I got in a stage coach wreck."

Abraham waited for the story to continue, but Aaron had evidently said all he was going to say. before he could figure it out, an old woman began to speak. "When I was fifty-seven, I said to myself, 'Abby, this is no way to live a life.' So I gave up the nights on the town and turned back to the Lord for forgiveness. It was too late for the body; the liver was gone already, but it didn't matter anymore." The rest of the group smiled and nodded in agreement.

For a time, Abraham walked on, oblivious to the conversation continuing around him. He wondered at the strange disposition of the group toward such unusual stories. By the time he returned to the outside world, the group had passed beyond town, and was continuing down the road, somehow keeping just ahead of the dawn.

A woman had just finished telling how her house had burned down as Abraham became aware of the group. There was a moment of silence, and he was overcome by a feeling of terrible loneliness and longing for his lost wife. The group looked at him sympathetically, and he began to speak.

He told stories of their younger days. Camping out in the hills, Christmas at her parents' home, and the songs that fell so sweetly from her lips. "And then one winter, she got sick, terribly sick . . ." Suddenly he just wanted to sit down and cry, and never move again.

The group looked on sympathetically, and a woman spoke softly to Abraham. "Was she a good woman? Did she serve the Lord?" Bewildered at these strange questions, Abraham nodded to the affirmative. The lady continued, "Then there's no need to fear. You'll be with her again."

Abraham looked at the smiling group and again felt horribly alone. Still, there was something there from which he could not detach himself. They all fell silent and walked for a long while, each involved in his or her own private drama.

After some length of time, the first rays of sun finally crept over the horizon. the travelers returned to their common world, finding themselves at the gateway of an ornately decorated fence. The aged gatekeeper, dressed in white appeared with a large book. He opened it and the group listened carefully as he began to read.

"Aaron Johnson, Patrick Adams, Marian Clayton, Abraham Taylor, . . . Abagail James. Is there anyone who's name I did not read?" He paused a moment, and then, opening the gate, said, "It's good to see you've all arrived home safely."

© 1986 Antone Roundy

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