Synopsis: Roge Kiser has escaped his adoptive family by bus and found himself stranded in frostbitten Buffalo Rind, North Dakota. His dirty sweatshirt and jeans are the only protection he has from the bitter cold. He needs a place to stay.
The day’s sunlight was beginning to wane and the temperature began to plummet further. He attempted to stay comfortable by briskly walking in and out of nearby businesses. Each time he would walk into a business Roger would walk over to the batteries and other items near the doors. After a few minutes of soaking in as much heat as possible, he would shrug or act like he forgot his wallet.
The act was getting old. “Most of these places are closing. Once the sun goes down, I won’t be able to bend over without breaking in half.“
With teeth chattering uncontrollably, Roger decided to address his lack of residency. He dug the classifieds from a dented garbage receptacle, and shook the snow off. He knew this was most likely a waste of time. He had no money.
Every listing required a substantial deposit and several references. The only resources he had in his duffle bag were Nole’s phone, a kazoo he bought with his only cash, several completely useless Tour Exciting North Dakota! brochures, a quarter recently found under a bus seat, an assortment of items from the carry-on case, and a jar of freezing urine.
Then Roger found a listing that began, “No hope? Have you lost your way? Does the world seem foreign? Find help for life’s problems at Saint Vanilla’s Cathedral.”
Another frozen sigh escaped Kiser’s chapped lips. “I suppose I have indeed reached charitable proportions.”
He compared the address with the map of Buffalo Rind on the back of an Alien Days bulletin. The church wasn’t far from where he was now.
Roger began walking and invested little attention to the sidewalk before him. After four careless steps, his dragging feet tripped on something jammed into the sidewalk and he almost fell.
Roger glanced down to find a penny resting on its side. The edge of the coin was remarkably stuck in the narrow crevice between sections of the concrete sidewalk. About six inches away, another two pennies were stuck in a similar posture.
“Well, isn’t that remarkable.” Kiser reached down and pried the coins loose from the bits of snow that clung to them. “What are the chances of this lost coin landing on its side? And then finding two more just the same!”
He spun one of the copper discs between his index and naughty finger and continued on his way.
Roger saw the church well before arriving there. In fact, he spied it as soon as he had left the business district. The tall brick spire was easily the most important landmark visible other than the grain elevator that rose behind him.
At first, Kiser’s journey took him past a series of drab homes surrounded by moats of ice and snow. The only impressions of life came from a few stunted evergreen trees. Then the land began to slowly rise and the parade of homes became more dignified and stately. More were made of brick and the cleared driveways became longer.
The last block before arriving at the cathedral was almost completely given to a home fantastically more noble than its peers. The regal structure was three stories high with a steeply sloped roof. Maroon shaded brick, rare for this region, held the mansion together with black trim lining each window and gable. A high cast iron fence secured the abode and it’s even, snow laced yard.
The land rose subtly giving this home a pedestal or throne upon which to silently observe its domain. The rest of the homes, many nice enough on their own, appeared before this home and the cathedral across the street as pennant worshipers quiet and reverent in the presence of betters. Only the occasional pickup disturbed the neighborhood’s demeanor.
“Wow.” Despite his rush, Roger stopped to admire the home. “I wonder what kind of money you have to have to live here?”
An extra gust of bitter cold pushed Kiser to continue toward the church.
It was a massive, brick and stone structure with a single spire facing the same street as the front of the mansion. Tall evenly spaced stained glass windows dominated the side facing Roger. A thin layer of undisturbed snow covered the high pitched roof. Behind the church were several associated buildings made with the shade of brick. Kiser guessed these to be the vicarage and church school.
Thankfully, Roger noted, it was still celebrating the Christmas holiday. Holly laced the outside of the church, and all the evergreens were beautifully decorated with tinsel and lights. From where Roger stood he could see the side of a simple, rustic nativity scene, which put to shame the ridiculous scene downtown.
Roger crossed the street and marched up the steps toward the front doors. The ten foot, heavy wooden doors were closed tight with a notice attached to a brass clip. The posted paper read, “The sanctuary and offices are closed for year end cleaning. If you are in need of assistance, please see Minot across the street.”
Kiser turned back toward the beautiful home. It was hard to hide his excitement. “I guess I will get to find out who lives there after all.”
He now had a perfectly good excuse for disturbing the owner of this estate but his dirty jeans, sweatshirt, and unkempt hair couldn’t make the best impression. But with no other options and a rapidly darkening sky, Roger marched back to the front of the home’s iron gate.
He unlatched the gate and gave it a gentle push. The hinges squealed in alarm as it drifted open. Roger hesitated cocking one eyebrow and looking to either side before stepping up the couple steps to the yard. Before him was a beaten and icy path to the front porch with an undisturbed layer of snow on either side.
Kiser heard the movement and sensed the danger at once. There was a rustle in the thick row of hedges near the foundation of the home. Then a trio of large Dobermans exploded from the greenery with a rush that disturbed the powder around and on top of it. They raced toward the gate like darts. There was no barking but to Roger’s sense of self-preservation the intent was no doubt his dismemberment. With little time to spare, he leaped back, grabbed the gate, and swung it back into its original position.
The dogs came to a halt inches from the black bars and began staring at Roger. All three dogs appeared identical and dangerous. The dogs were both thin and well muscled a perfect ratio of speed and strength contained in a sleek brown and tan body. Each feature of these animals seemed stretched from their legs to their muzzle, torso, and ears. Each kept a posture that was tense and still. Their unhurried breath was the only thing that made any noise. For a minute, Roger wondered what his next action should be.
“Well, are you going to bark at me or what?”
The middle dog answered with a series of sharp barks. They did not sound angry just to the point with a very consistent cadence.
The alert must have reached the mansion. A porch light came on and the front door opened. An elderly man appeared from the house. He stepped outside, but stayed on the porch. He was wearing a flannel and overalls. Roger could see that he was attempting to determine his visitor’s identity.
Eventually, the old man took a guess, “Oswego? Oswego is that you? Well c’mon then! Offer the dogs a penny, and they will leave you alone! Then hurry on up here! You should know that by now you brainless prop! I’ll be back in a minute.” He opened the door and rushed inside.
Roger was confused but the old man seemed authoritative enough. He dug in his pockets and found the pennies. He then tossed the three coins through the barricade. The dogs each licked one up, and scampered off toward the back of the home.
This time, the gate opened silently.