The road wasn't on the map, but somehow they always find their way to my house when it’s time.
She came in the morning. I was on the porch, eating my breakfast of pancakes and tea. When her car drove up the road, I immediately smiled to myself. Her look of confusion was exactly the same as all the others.
The engine stopped when she pulled into my driveway. Slowly, she got out, and looked around. I could tell she had no idea where she was.
“Hello there, can I help you with something?” I asked her while hobbling down the porch steps. Sometimes they knew why they were here and sometimes they didn’t.
She didn’t reply. She was trying to get a signal on her cell phone. I wanted to inform her it wouldn’t be any use to her here, but instead I repeated my greeting.
She finally acknowledged me. “Can you help me? Somehow I got lost. Something is happening that is very important but…”
She trailed off. I felt sorry for her. I feel sorry for anyone who finds their selves at my doorstep. Her long blond hair blew around her in the morning breeze. She was young, maybe eighteen or nineteen. Either way, she hadn’t been driving very long. It was easy to get lost.
I spoke gently to her. “Come, sit with me, and we’ll figure out how to get you out of here.”
She hesitated. I laughed at her watchfulness. She would be a hard one to trick.
“Come on,” I told her. “I am an old gentleman, who wouldn’t even hurt a fly, much less a pretty young thing like you. Besides, it was you who wandered on to my property.”
“I guess you’re right,” she said, reluctantly.
“Of course I am. Come have some tea with me. I’ll help you find your way again. Do you have your map?”
“Map?” she asked. “I have my cell phone. It has a GPS on it, if I could just get service!” With that, she thrust her arm up into the air, waving around that little contraption as if it could save her life.
“No service out here,” I told her. “You might as well be signaling God. Come on. Grab your map.”
I turned back to the house. I knew she would follow me. They always did.
By the time I had sat back down at the table and poured her a cup of tea, she had rushed up on the porch behind me. She grasped the map in her hands.
I gestured to the chair. “Sit down. Drink some tea. Tell me what’s wrong.”
She plopped down in the chair across from me. “Ok, I don’t know what is happening, but I need help. Something is going on… something bad. I am lost. Somehow I ended up on this road. I need to get home right away.”
“Why? Do you remember?” I asked her.
She paused. “I can’t.”
I nodded. “That’s ok. Lots of people forget things.”
“And you want to know what else is odd? I have this map on my front seat, like you said I would, and I can’t even remember how it got there! It’s a map of my home town, but it’s strange, like it was made just for me! See?”
She pushed the map across the table.
“It’s nice,” I offered.
“But look! My house is identified on the map. It says ‘my house’ and it was printed right when the map was printed! Nobody wrote that in with a pen!
I shrugged. “You can print anything you want nowadays.”
She dragged it across the table and looked at it. “But why would I ever need a map of my hometown? I live there.”
“Well, you’re lost now, aren’t you? Have a drink of tea and let’s look at the map together.”
“Where am I? I mean, what’s your address?” Hailey asked.
“Why is that important?”
“So I know where I am.”
I shrugged. “My road isn’t on this map.”
“You’re not helping me much.”
“What is so important about going home?”
“I don’t know.” I watched her try to remember what happened. “Someone needs me.”
“My brother. And my mother, I think. I really can’t remember right now. I need to get help. I can’t even remember what I’m doing. I need a doctor.” She paused. It was coming back to her now. “Maybe there was an accident.” She shook her head, as if trying to remember.
“You’re right. There was an accident,” I told her. “This morning, driving to school, there was a truck. It didn’t even see you pull out from that side street.”
She remembered and the horror of the situation terrified her. “No!”
“I’m sorry, Hailey.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Now, don’t be afraid. I told you I was here to help you. And I will. Here’s the deal. If you want to get home, all you have to do is get in your car and drive away. Use your map. It will help.”
“What about mom? And my brother, Trey?”
“Well, I’m sorry to tell you, Hailey. They’re going to die.”
“No! How can I save them?”
“Well, if you want to save them, you can. All you have to do is call to them, and they’ll come. They’re wandering around in the woods right as we speak.” I paused to take a sip of my tea. “Of course, it’s going to cost you. If I let you drive away with your family, I want your soul. You can have it as long as you live, but when you die, it’s mine.”
Faint voices could be heard in the background.
Hailey stood up. “That’s them! I can hear them!”
I waved my hand over her tea. “They’re ok. They’re better than fine. A-ok. Drink your tea. Take a moment to think about what you want to do.”
“I want my family and I want to leave!”
“Well, if that’s what you want to do… go ahead. Just know your soul is mine when you die.”
Hailey sized me up. I realize there was something different about this one. She had a lack of fear in her eyes. She was brave. And, really, she was such a cutie. She picked the map up off the table and tore it in half.
“Forget it. No deal. I’m leaving with my mother and my brother. You cannot have my family. You cannot have my soul. It is mine. I am not giving it to you.”
She kicked the table. What was left of my breakfast spilled all over. Her mug of tea, which I so carefully poured, shattered to the ground.
“Now look what you did,” I told her. “Ruined my breakfast and made a fine mess for me to clean up! Oh, well.” I made a big show of sighing and shrugging. “You’re free. Your mom and Trey are waiting for you in the car.”
Her head swiveled around. Her mother and brother were waiting in the car. Trey smiled and waved.
She turned her attention back on me. “Are you the devil?” she asked.
I stuck out my hand for her to shake. “Call me Damien. The devil is more of a job description.”
She shook my hand with a powerful grip. “Am I really free to go?”
I nodded. “Once you ripped the map up, I become powerless.”
“No tricks. I promise. Go on with you now. I have a mess to clean up and you have reality to get back to. Good luck with your recovery.”
“You think you just found this road by accident?”
“All three of you are on the brink of death. You’ll survive. Long recovery, though.”
Hailey nodded. She walked down the steps to her car, then paused and turned around. “Sorry you didn’t get the souls you wanted.”
“Hailey, I’m a very old man who will live forever. I have plenty of souls already, and I will trick people out of plenty more. You’re a good kid. Have a great life. Come visit me after you die.”
Her eyes got large. I had to laugh at her again.
“Not to join my eternal soul collection. Just to share a cup of tea.”
“Will do, Damien. See you later.”
She jumped into her car. I stood on the porch and waved as they drove away.
I started to clean up the mess. I picked up the ripped map and balled it into garbage. It wasn’t destroying the map that made her powerful. It was the tea, or lack of it, I should say. Silly girl. If she would have drunk her tea like I asked her too, she wouldn’t be driving away. She would have had to make a choice. Oh well. When she dies, I hope she comes back to share a cup with me. Maybe she’ll bring her family along too.