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When You're A Stranger by PythonPrincess

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Story Notes:
This story answers Pyro's Non Self Cert Challenge, and features our own Pyro from the Lost Cave!

The whole story managed to vanish somehow last night, when the site was down, along with everyone's marvelous feedbacks and whatnot. Fear not, at least I have all the back chapters plus the latest update!
Chapter 1- Welcome Home


Santa Carla, August 1988


The bus wove through the streets of Santa Carla, and a billboard along the road showed picturesque scenes of an idyllic, small, seaside town. But, when the Greyhound pulled into the bus depot, and Pyro got out and looked around, what she saw was hardly peaceful or idyllic. Just like the bus depot where she’d caught her connecting bus in San Jose, there were haggard looking bums slumped against the outside of the building here, dozing in the sunlight. Some luckless fellow was bumming change from the people that poured off the bus. Pyro sidestepped him and went inside the small depot. All of her bags were still on the belly of the bus, waiting to be unloaded. She only carried a small back pack with her that contained her walkman, a book, and some information she’d jotted down on a notepad before she’d left Arizona.

After a straight 24 hours riding buses, Pyro would have thought that she would be used to the tiny, cramped bathrooms on them. However, she couldn’t bear to bring herself to use them, she soon learned. Thoughts had troubled her mind. ‘What if we get in a wreck, and I’m on the can?’ She had held her water until they reached depots where the bus drivers would load more passengers and take smoke breaks. Then, she’d dash inside and use the depot facilities.

Now was no exception. Someone was supposed to be picking her up, but Pyro could see no signs of the land rover that she was told to look for. She only had a few minutes before her bags were unloaded, and she didn’t want them to be left unattended. It was pee now, or wait heavens knows how long until she reached the final destination on the last leg of her long journey. With a sigh, she made a beeline for the ladies’ room, only to immediately wish she had tried harder to use the can on the bus.

It wasn’t that it was filthy, although she wouldn’t call it clean. The stalls were supposed to be pay toilets, set up with change mechanisms on each of the three doors. Someone had long ago kicked them in, and now the change collectors were useless. So were the latches holding the doors shut. At least she seemed to be alone.

Inside the stall, things were no more encouraging. Graffiti was penned on every available wall. When she sat down, there was a sign, right at eye level that said: Don’t sit on this toilet seat…Santa Carla Crabs can jump ten feet!’
Scribbled right below it was another notice: Crabs aren’t the only things that bite around here!

“Nice,” she muttered to herself as she finished her business and cleaned up at the sink. Then, she scurried out of the bathroom as quickly as humanly possible, only to find that her bags were sitting in a miserable heap on a table by the door. At least no one seemed to be going through them.

When she gazed out the window, she noticed a beat up looking utility vehicle pulling into the parking lot. Was this the land rover she was supposed to be watching for? A woman with short, dark blonde hair climbed out. She wore a prairie skirt, a blouse, a sun hat, and lots of turquoise and silver jewelry. From her vantage point, Pyro could also make two other somewhat indistinct shapes in the vehicle. One was human. The other appeared to be canine.

The woman made her way towards the door. With a kindly smile, she gave the panhandler a single and then pushed her way inside. Pyro cleared her throat once the woman was near enough to hear her voice.

“Are…you Lucy?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes, that’s me. You must be…”

“Pyro. Just call me Pyro. Everyone does,” she offered, smiling sheepishly.

“Wonderful!” Lucy said, clapping her hands together, “Well, Pyro, I’m glad to see that you’ve made it safely. What a long ride you’ve had! My goodness, you must be exhausted!”

“I’m sure I’ll be feeling it pretty soon,” Pyro answered.

“Well, lets get those bags into the car. Hold on, I’ve brought some help.”

As Pyro gathered her bags up, Lucy went to the door and made a gesturing motion to the other passenger that was lounging in the land rover. A few moments later, a teenaged boy and a Siberian husky bounded towards the door.

“Sam, Nanook is going to have to wait outside. You know better,” Lucy scolded. Yet Pyro noticed that her voice was even tempered and rather calm.

“Go wait by the car,” the boy commanded to his dog. As if he understood English perfectly, the dog trotted off across the parking lot and took up a vigil near the driver’s side door.

“This is my son, Sam. He’s my youngest,” Lucy proclaimed as she introduced them. The boy smiled broadly. Pyro noticed a diamond stud twinkling in the earlobe of one of his ears. He wore jeans and a T Shirt, but over the T shirt was a loud button up shirt with some neon, geometrical designs patterned on it. His feet were clad in a pair of Nike Air sneakers.

Pyro smiled a hello to him as he shouldered two of her bags with relative ease.

“Sam, this is our new housemate, Pyro,” Lucy said.

“So, you’re from Arizona, huh? Live anywhere close to Phoenix?” Sam asked.

“Tucson, actually,” Pyro answered, pulling her one remaining bag off the table.

Going into the duffel bags, her luggage hadn’t looked like much, but it sure felt like a ton of bricks as she carried it out to the car. Sam managed his burden with no complaint. The dog trotted up beside him, valiantly trying to sniff at her bags. Sam shooed him away and piled them in the cargo area of the land rover, and Pyro followed suit with her own bag. She was shown the front seat of the car, while the dog and the boy climbed in back. Despite her best attempts to keep up her end of a decent conversation, Pyro felt her eyelids drooping when Lucy started up the car. After 24 hours with little sleep, she truly was exhausted.

Jolting and jarring woke Pyro up from her brief doze. The passenger seat in the old land rover had little in the way of shock absorbency. She pulled her eyes open and realized that Lucy was driving up a dusty, rocky, unpaved road. At the end of this road, which actually served as a long driveway, sat an impressive sized house. But the house isn’t what immediately grabbed Pyro’s attention. It was the décor on the outside.

She blinked her eyes as she took in the sight of a carven wood totem pole, a junky looking military surplus vehicle that looked like it was a World War II veteran, and a…coyote? On second sight, Pyro realized the animal was stuffed. There were many other strange artifacts laying around also; far too many for her to take in all at once.

Lucy stopped the land rover beside the surplus truck

“Awake, I see? Good, but I’m sure you could still use a nice nap before dinner. Let’s get your bags inside, and I’ll show you your room,” she said. Lucy’s voice, as far as Pyro could tell as of yet, seemed to be perpetually cheerful. She’d been the same way on the phone, when Pyro had contacted her about renting the spare room that Lucy had advertised in the Santa Carla Sentinel.

“That would be great. I guess I really am zonked. I feel like a zombie,” Pyro replied, trying to inject some good nature into her tone. If she had the energy, she might have asked about the odd decorations gracing the front of the house. But for now, all she could think about was stretching out on a bed and catching a few Z’s.

“Say, did you happen to notice a strange smell when you first came into town?” Sam piped as he opened the rear door to climb out.

“Strange smell? What sort of strange smell?”

“Ah, nothing. If you’d smelled it, you would know what I’m talking about.”

Pyro shrugged. She’s smelled lots of strange odors on the bus, ranging from B.O. to a gang of teenagers smoking a joint in the rear seat.

Nanook led the way as the three trudged up the steps of the broad wooden porch leading to the glass paneled French doors. The stain of the wood on the doors and immediately surrounding them was a slightly different shade, Pyro noticed. The wood itself looked newer, as if someone had made repairs not long ago. Quietly, she wondered if the old house had been besieged by termites. From what she’d read, they liked moist environments the best.

The interior of the house was dim, and Pyro blinked as her eyes adjusted to the extremes in lighting. Then, she blinked again. If the decorations on the exterior of the house were bizarre, the ones inside were ten times more so. The most commanding thing in the room was a huge, stuffed lion, with its fangs bared and its front claws extended. Everywhere she looked, there were antlers, deer heads and animal skulls mounted on the walls. The furniture was old, but well preserved. A woven Indian blanket covered the back of the couch. As far as she could tell, it was hard to guess that a woman actually lived here. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Myers himself did instead.

“Welcome to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is actually my Grandfather’s stuff. He’s into stuffing things,” Sam explained helpfully.

“Yeah, I guess,” Pyro muttered.

Two wooden sliding doors concealed another room right off the living room. These doors suddenly slid open, and an elderly man with a grizzled, white beard peeped out.

“I see our company is here,” he grunted.

“Yes, Dad, this is the young lady that is renting Michael’s room. She likes to be called Pyro,” Lucy said.

“Hmmmph. Well, be sure Pyro knows the rules,” the old man stated.

“Of course, Dad. But she’s had a long trip. I’d like to get her settled.”

The old man said nothing. Then, the doors slid shut as suddenly as they’d opened.

“Rules?” Pyro asked with some alarm.

“Yeah, rules. We have rules around here, at least so Grandpa says. The most important thing is to never eat anything off the second shelf in the fridge. That’s his. Oh, and don’t peel the label off the TV guide when it comes in the mail. He’s really particular about that….but here’s the real kicker…,” Sam explained as he led the way up the stairs to the second floor.

“The kicker?” Pyro asked, feeling her curiosity pique in spite of her exhaustion.

“Yeah, the real kicker is that we don’t even have a TV. He just thinks that if you read the TV Guide, you don’t need one…”

“No TV?” Pyro echoed.

“Yeah. Sucks, don’t it? I’ve been without MTV for a whole year! You wouldn’t happen to have stashed a TV in any of your bags, would you?”

“Uhhh, no. I’m afraid I forgot that at home,” she replied.

“Oh, well. So much for hope,” Sam replied half seriously.

Lucy brought Pyro to a bedroom and showed her inside.

“This was my son, Michael’s bedroom, but he’s away at college in Phoenix this year, so now it’s your room for as long as you stay,” she explained. The cheerful edge to her voice was suddenly laced with melancholy.

Pyro knew, from the phone interview she’d conducted with Lucy last week that she had a college age son who’d recently vacated his bedroom. Now, she would be renting it while she began her own college career at the University of Santa Carla.

Several weeks earlier, Pyro had started purchasing copies of the Santa Carla Sentinel at the largest newsstand/bookstore in Tucson. It was the only store in town that carried it, but it was essential that she read the classifieds on a regular basis. Though she had been awarded a generous scholarship and was also slated to receive financial aid for her tuition and book costs at the University, she quickly found that it would be too expensive to live on campus at any of the dormitories. Since Santa Carla was a tourist town situated on the California coast, rents on studio apartments; even ones some distance away from the University…(and even those reputed to be in the seedier parts of town) were astronomical. Pyro had arrived at the conclusion that she’d have to find a bunch of roommates to share an apartment with, or she’d have to rent a room from someone advertising a rental in their own home. Luckily, she found that many folks in Santa Carla with a spare room were advertising for tenants. It was one way to meet the cost of living in such an expensive place.

Pyro had noticed that Lucy’s ad for a room rental was cheaper than most. During the phone interview, Lucy had confided that she was renting the room at a less expensive rate because her home was located in a less settled area. However, she assured her that the public transit was excellent, and she’d have no trouble catching a bus to the campus each morning. Ultimately, it was Lucy’s mannerisms that sealed the deal. She was polite, easy going, and to top it all off, she had moved from Arizona not long ago herself. They had slipped into easy conversation during the call, which convinced Pyro that they would get on well as housemates.

When Pyro had first walked into the oddly decorated house, she began to wonder about her choice. However, the room she was shown to was devoid of any stuffed critters. It had been aired out, the sheets and blankets freshly changed, and the furniture dusted. The bed was a double size; just right for one person to sleep in and not feel cramped. A set of French doors led out onto a balcony, and a small walk in closet would hold any of the clothes Pyro couldn’t fit into the dresser. An adjoining door led to a bathroom that she would share with Sam. All in all, it was a nice set up.

“I hope you like it,” Lucy told her, “Feel free to put up any posters or pictures that you’d like. If you need more pillows or blankets, let me know. We have a couple of extras in the hall closet.”

“Oh, this should be fine,” Pyro said, examining the coverlet on the bed and the two plumped pillows beneath it.

“Well, nights get rather cold here, so don’t hesitate to let me know if you need anything.”

What she really needed right now was a nap. Sam placed her bags near the dresser.

“Say, do you like comic books? If you do, I have a whole collection. Anytime you wanna read one, just ask. It gets pretty boring around here without a TV. My room is on the other side of the bathroom,” he offered.

Pyro smiled weakly at him. She didn’t want to tell him that she wasn’t in to comics. Most likely, she’d be into her school books once the semester started in two weeks.

“That’s okay. I’m sure I’ll have lots of heavy reading to do before too long,” she replied.

“Yeah, school. Don’t I know. It’s a drag,” Sam bemoaned, “I’ll be a sophomore…I sure hope it’s better than being a freshman was last year!”

Pyro grimaced. She’d be facing the Freshman Blues very soon, and she hoped that her first year of college would be better than her first year of high school had been.

“Would you like me to wake you up for dinner?” Lucy asked.

“Yeah, that would be great,” Pyro answered.

“Okay, then, nighty night…I hope you have a nice nap. We’ll be getting out of your way then.”

With that, Lucy made a motion to Sam, who seemed to get the hint. Together, the two of them filed out of the room. The dog was the last to leave. He observed her with his cool, blue eyes for a few moments and made a move to start sniffing at her bags again before Sam whistled for him. Dog toenails clicked on the hardwood floor as he trotted out of the room after his young master.

Pyro flopped on the bed and gazed around the room solemnly. She was by herself now, and suddenly, she felt very alone. Still, she felt she had made the right choice moving in with Lucy, who seemed very nice. Sam was alright, too. She hadn’t been aware that Lucy’s father lived there too, and she wasn’t sure if she liked him yet…or if he liked her. Only time would tell.
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