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It’s been a while since I’ve taken on a short story project. I’m back, and here’s part one of my latest project: 

Contrary to my own rules, I decided to take a table outside the café.  First, it was simply a gorgeous day, like one of those perfect days you see pictured in any travel magazine.  More than that though, was that the seating area inside the little bistro was, for lack of a better term, uncomfortable.  Not in the seats themselves, nor in the atmosphere.  As a matter of fact, it was as though this was the place the whole town would meet collectively for morning coffee.

That was it, though.  I wasn’t really a “people person”.  Not that I don’t like people; I like them fine and have always prided myself on my courtesy and compassion toward others.  I just couldn’t allow myself to feel comfortable around people anymore.  Not since I had to leave Germantown.

So there I sat at that little table, contrary to my own rules.  I only had five of them, and I insisted on following them every day: 1) Do everything possible to stay out of public view; 2) Don’t stay in any town longer than thirty-six hours (if an occurrence happened, it could be far less); 3) No relationships; 4) No mirrors; and 5) Do everything I could to find Grail.

That last one was the reason I was on the quest in the first place.  Every time I got to a new town, I would find a place with free computer access — a library, the motel where I was staying, a college campus — and start scouring the news.  Local mostly, but sometimes I’d see a story from a town or two away that might help.  It had all been rather exhausting, though there was an element of intrigue, too.

Betraying my rules, I scanned the local paper in full view of the public, but kept it high enough to my face as to not grab the eye of a local.  I was trying to catch a glimpse of any article that might tell me how close Grail and I were to one another.  We were never more than a couple hundred miles apart. Sometimes we were only blocks away from each other. I longed for the day our encounter would supersede another occurrence.

“Doug?” asked the voice above me, and I was startled by the interruption.  “Doug Richards? It’s been at least a year,” he said with elation, I presumed to me.  I supposed, too, that the occurrence had once again superseded the longed-for meeting.

Keeping the paper at face-level, I replied.  “I’m sorry, sir. We’ve never met.”

“It’s me Doug; Jim Hannock. We worked together at Shea and Lockhart,” he continued to insist.

Drawing the paper close enough to my face to smell the newsprint, I said the line I had already been forced to repeat in one version or another a half dozen times before.  “I’m sorry sir; you have me confused with some other gentleman.”

“My apologies,” he shook is head in disbelief, gave a double-take, and skulked away as if his mind had made up the relationship with Mr. Richards in the first place.

To spare him, and those in the community to which I had been a guest for less than twelve hours, I would again move on to another town, this time taking Mr. Richards’ face with me.  Apparently, rules were made to be followed.

(To be continued…)