The Walking Man drew down the black serpent of tar and gravel. His footsteps echoed silently between the pleasant alder on his left and thorny Osage orange on the right. The only thing he could hear was the distant patter of a lazy creek and the constant, rhythmic chatter of the cicadas.
Simple, slow thoughts challenged the muggy heat for the Walking Man's attention. Simple thoughts, about a dusty room and the sweet smell of lilac, warm sunlight through a canvas covered window and afternoon naps on the veranda.
The Walking Man increased his pace. The faster he walked, the hotter it got. The heat challenged his thoughts for his lonely attention. The heat so riveted his attention that he failed to notice the child until he was almost abreast of her.
She sat on the bank of the creek where it ambled closest to the road. Her denim short pants were cinched tight with a short length of rope. Her gingham top bore the stains of a deceased table cloth. Despite their recent plunge her feet where so black he doubted she ever wore shoes, if she even owned any.
The Walking Man turned his head and peered, but never slowed as he walked by.
Jenny watched as the walking man approached. She sucked on her sweet plum and gazed at his long stride. When he got close enough she looked at his eyes, and gasped. His eyes made her tummy feel strange. It felt all fluttery, like the time she fell from the loft in the barn. She waved, but he didn't seem to notice.
As he passed Jenny spit her plum pit into the creek and hopped up, running to catch up to his long pace. “Hey mister,” she piped, “my name’s Jenny, what’s yours?”
The Walking Man stopped so suddenly she almost ran into him.
“Where you going mister? You sure are in a awful hurry. My momma says people who’re in so much of a hurry they can’t stop to say hello oughta be whupped for rudeness. Course my momma just likes any excuse to whup people.”
As she spoke, Jenny shielded her eyes against the sun and looked up into the tall mans eyes, secretly hoping it would make her tummy feel funny again, like the time she saw the rattler in the pump house. She dug in her pocket for another sweet plum and offered the fruit to the Walking Man. “You want a plum mister? I picked em this morning, and theys real sweet. I got them from ol Mrs. Varneys…” And it was then that Jenny saw the Walking Man’s eyes again.
This time it scared her. Her eyes got all teary and her lip started to quiver.
She still held the plum out, an offering of safe passage. “J-just take the plum mister, don’t hurt me, I’m sorry if yous mad. I didn mean nothing.”
As he passed the girl, he heard her rise behind him and begin to follow. He felt her eyes on his back and heard her begin to speak. She cried out to him, “Foul trespasser of a woman’s innocent desire!”
The Walking Man stopped and turned. At a second glance he stared through to the center of the little girls essence and saw the core of her demon nature. He feared her wrath, yet knew it was deserved. He awaited her accusation with bated breath of a man who knew his time was short.
She shouted, “How dare you befoul even the slimmest portion of the very earth you desecrate with your constant stride! You cannot turn aside the responsibility of your actions with your repetitive and cowardly retreat! Fear is your ally, and your greatest weakness. Take this poison and end your treachery.”
The walking man took the pungent and rotten fruit and as he pocketed the wormy offering the demon girl vanished while his gaze was averted.
The man took the fruit and Jenny fled without another word. The man had looked straight through her, his gaze seemed to penetrate her very soul and it frightened her into a breathless flight back home, to the security of her mothers kitchen. She didn’t see the walking man drop the plum or the tears that ran down his craggy cheeks.
The walking man turned about and continued walking. Simple memories rushed back. An old rope swing. Sweet fresh butter. A gray cat. A woman. A child.
The Walking Man increased his pace.