It wasn't the leather pants that got my attention, nor was it the clear pale eyes seemingly underlined with impeccably smudged eyeliner. It wasn't even the messy waves of hair that fell to the shoulders of his jacket, or the perfectly formed smoke rings that he seemed to create without thought.
It was the fact that he was standing on my car. He was standing on my car in snakeskin cowboy boots smoking a cigarette and staring at the stars. He seemed to be drawn in deep thought, ostensibly not even registering my presence when I jangled my keys and cleared my throat.
He kept his gaze to the sky, inhaling another hit and letting the smoke pour slowly back into the air. It hovered for a moment around his head, and then scurried into the breeze when he finally spoke.
"I'm aware this is probably your car," he said, an ambiguous accent flavored his smoky voice. "But I seem to have a slight problem." He turned to look at me, startling eyes catching mine for the briefest of moments before turning back to the night sky. "I seem to be lost."
Despite myself, and more importantly despite the extreme strangeness of the situation, I found myself calmly intrigued…and maybe a bit acerbic.
"We'll have to get you a telescope, I'm sure you're home planet is invisible to the naked eye." I said, raising an eyebrow.
He didn't laugh. Nor did he get off my car. The heels of his boots didn't seem to be doing any damage, so I was willing to give him a little more time.
"Stars are for navigating, so I've heard." He paused, scanning the cloudless sky one last time, hand fiddling with a dangling strap on his knapsack. "Thing is, I can't find the arrow sign that says 'You are here'."
What a very strange person, I thought. My mind reached out trying to find the logic in the situation, thinking that I needed to know something about this guy before I decided what to do next.
"Who are you?" I asked, thinking the easy question was the best to start with.
"I'm not sure," he said, eyes falling from the sky to the row of trees that marked the end of the picnic area. "That's another part of my problem."
If that question wasn't easy, this promised to be a long night.
"You don't know your name?" I blinked. "You don't know your name, you're lost, and you're standing on my car in a rest stop parking lot, in the middle of the night," I said, more to myself than to him.
He finally brought his eyes back to me, tossing his cigarette to the ground. "Seems so," he said. His accent seemed Boston one minute, and Scotland the next.
"I'm guessing you're far from home," I said, and held my hand out for him. "First thing we need to do is get you off my car."
He took my hand, smooth fingers sliding over mine and causing a wave of recognition. Recognition wasn't the right word; I don't know the word for it. It was something akin to déjà vu, but delivered with a two ton wrecking ball. You can't make sense of it, there's no logic behind it, but it knocks you on your ass. I was on my mental ass when his next question came, that's the only reason I can come up with for my answer.
"Will you help me?" His feet made a crunching noise on the gravel as he landed lightly beside me.
"Yes," I said. "Get in."
The night swam past my car at a comfortable 60 miles per hour on the freeway. I was driving aimlessly, unsure of what the next move was supposed to be. It was approaching midnight on a Thursday. My car packed with everything I needed to get away for a little while. Including the strange nameless man that every young woman needs on their soul searching road trips.
The man in question had been silent for the last fifteen minutes, sitting comfortably in my passenger seat, eyes blankly searching the passing scenery.
"I don't know what to call you?" I said, gripping the steering wheel too tightly.
He turned, eyeing me for a moment. "I don't know what to call you," he said. "I don't know if I have a name."
"My name is Corinne," I told him, and wondered if he heard the waver in my voice. The insanity of the situation was creeping up on me, spider legs of fear tickling the small of my back and the center of my chest. "You have to have a name."
He didn't say anything, turning instead to look at the various bags that I had packed in the back seat.
"Where are we going?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I was planning on going north," I took a deep breath, willing the unwarranted arachnids of panic away. "I wanted to try and find some inspiration for my writing."
"You're a writer?" For the first time since I'd first found him, the man seemed interested in something. He appeared to come slowly out of his little tunnel of confusion. I hazarded a glance at him; he was turned fully toward me, eyebrows drawn upwards.
A defeatist scoff found its way from my throat. "I like to pretend I'm a writer." I turned back to the road. "I wrote all the time when I was young, knowing that it would be what I did for the rest of my life." I smiled, seeing in the rearview mirror that my eyes were overcast gray, showing the true nature of my smile. "Five years straight of writer's block later and I'm finally allowing myself the realization that I'm not a writer."
He sat silent for a beat, then fished in his jacket pocket. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
I shook my head, trying not to feel wounded that I received no response from my gloomy tale. "No, just crack the window."
"I'm hungry," he said, lighting up his cigarette. "We should stop for food."
Indignant elephant feet stomped every last fear spider into oblivion. "I'm not hungry," I said, clenching my jaw.
He stared at me, face impassive. "You are too," he stated, quiet lilt sounding decidedly Irish…or maybe it was Kiwi. Damnit. "Didn't you promise to help me, Corinne?"
"I want you to write my story," he said, cutting me off.
I swerved, barely missing a small rodent that had attempted to kamikaze across the road. "What?"
"I have no name, and no past," he said. "I need both – you're a writer, I was hoping you could help me."
It felt like he'd just asked me to be his best man, or bare his children, or pull the plug on his grandmother's life support.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the neon sign of an all night restaurant/truck-stop shining just off the road on the right.
I turned in the seat, facing him and meeting his eyes directly. Another part of my brain was trying to decide how old he was, and coming up blank. He was uncertainty incarnate on so many levels…and I was supposed to write about his unknown past?
"Are you crazy?" I asked him.
"I might be," he said, not missing a beat, a slight twinkle in his eye. "I'm not sure yet, you'll have to tell me after you've written it."
Despite my better judgment, stories began to spring forth, flashing behind my eyeballs just out of sight, but with persistence enough for me to know they were there.
"Okay," I said softly, sighing. "Let's get food."
AN: I wasn't sure how to categorize this story. There's shorter stories within the story, so the gauntlet of genres will probably be run. I LOVE reviews of all kinds. hint hint