Walker
Chapter 1

 

He stepped onto the road in the bright early early morning, just as the sun had finished climbing over the flat western horizon, before it had gained the power to warm the world with its light.  He wore no shoes and the pebbles of the road dug into his feet, but he paid them no mind.  He stood silently in the road, looking first to his left, then to the right, thinking about which way to go.  In both directions the dirt path stretched far beyond his vision, and both ways looked to be about the same.

     He stood there for a long time, undecided, and the sun continued to climb.  It soon reached that miraculous point at which its rays began to give heat, that point for which people and animals have given thanks forever, and as he felt the first touch of warmth on his right cheek, he felt which way was right, and turned towards the sun and began to walk.

     The morning all about him was alive.  Birds were all about, singing their beautiful songs and showing off their gift of flight as they went from tree to tree.  He watched them in amazement as he walked slowly by.  They were of all colors—black and yellow and red and green and blue—and their songs were the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard.  He constantly looked about himself, admiring without reservation or limit the world that surrounded him.  The sky was a clear, deep blue, and the green of the leaves of the trees rose strongly and gracefully before it.  Behind the trees to his left stretched long fields of deep, lush grass that ended only where the sky touched the earth.  The trees to his right didn't end—the forest stretched as far as his eyes could see.

     He watched the birds fly, he watched the squirrels climb and jump from tree to tree, he watched the rabbits feed on the grasses that sprang from the ground.  He saw several turtles making their way laboriously across the packed dirt upon which he walked and upon which nothing grew.  He watched bees lumber from flower to flower, and he watched a red fox come from somewhere inside the trees to his right, run along in front of them, and disappear back into them.  He watched it all with a growing sense of awe and wonder, and within him was a feeling that he had no words to describe, a feeling like none that he could remember.  But that was fine by him, for he didn't feel the need to put into words anything that he saw.

     About mid-day, the road became a little bridge, but only for a few moments.  It crossed over a stream that flowed softly and smoothly and surely between its low, grassy banks.  He left the road for the first time since he had stepped onto it and walked down the bank to look at this new wonder.  The water was pure, clear, and cold, as he found out when he stuck his hand into it.  He smiled at the feeling of the water flowing against his skin; it was very pleasant, much like the feeling of the breeze against the skin of his body.  He watched the sunlight glisten on the moving water, jumping from here to there and back again on the surface, dancing to the sound of the current in the silence of the unspoiled countryside.  An occasional small fish swam lazily by, allowing its course to be determined by the gentle flow of the current.  Sometimes they would even turn and swim against the current for a moment or two, though he knew not why.

     After a long while of watching the stream, he stood and climbed the bank back to the road.  He was confused for a moment, for though he faced the same direction as he had that morning, the sun now shone on his other cheek.  But he knew the direction in which he had been traveling, so he shrugged his shoulders and began to walk once more.  He crossed the bridge and continued on his way, and in his mind were the memories of the water, the fish, the magic of what he had seen and felt.  He reveled in the feeling of the sun on his naked shoulders, and saw with no small surprise that he was now preceded by his shadow, which had been following him all morning.  Now it slid along the ground beneath him and before him, much smaller than it had been when he had started his journey.

* * * * *

  The road kept on and on, always straight, always true.  The scenery about him changed slowly and silently, but often.  Far to his left, just above the horizon, a mountain range stood still and silent, watching him walk along.  He looked at the range often, for the sight of it gave him a feeling of elation, of freedom, though he wouldn't have been able to explain that feeling at all.

     Later in the afternoon, the traveler began to notice that his shadow was growing ever longer, and he felt the warmth of the sun diminishing ever so slightly.  He stopped and stood still.  He had wanted to walk towards the warmth, not away from it.  But he had chosen his course, and it seemed that his course was now leading him in a way he had not foreseen, even though it continued in the same direction.  The realization was disconcerting, but he didn't let it bother him for long.  He had made a decision, he had chosen the direction, and he would stay true to his way.  Things were as they were, and he felt no need to change them.  He started on his way, smiling at his shadow, which seemed to like his decision for it still led the way.  His shadow seemed not to be a big friend of the sun, for it used his body as a shield from it, molding its form to match his, gaining the most protection possible.  His shadow was quite intelligent, it seemed.

     Soon the day became dusk and a hush fell over the land, the hush of the countryside preparing itself for the oncoming night.  The traveler walked on, feeling the first chill in the air and liking the way it felt.  The colors left the earth slowly, gradually replaced by shades of grey or black.  A light breeze kicked up, brushing tenderly through the leaves of the trees with a soft rustle that brought a feeling of peace with it.  A few birds were singing their farewell to the day, and somewhere in the fading light frogs and insects began to fill the evening with their own songs.  The music in his ears was wonderful, and he felt happy.  And he kept on walking as the first stars appeared in the darkened sky before him, tiny points of light that couldn't be touched.  He stopped for several long moments and looked behind him at the last remnants of the day's sun, an orange-red glow that sat softly upon the silhouetted horizon.

     It didn't take long before many more stars appeared, and he could see and feel them all as he walked.  He felt as if each star were an eye, a friendly eye, looking down upon him to take care of him.  He walked a bit more slowly, taking more care because the road was nothing more than a shadow in the starlight.  He also wanted to hear all that he could of the sounds of the night, the chirrups of the crickets, the croaks of the frogs, the howling of some far-away something.  Several times he heard the flutter of wings as some creature flew above him in the darkness.

     Then, several hours after the night had fallen, the sky ahead of him began to glow again.  Not as it has done that morning, but somehow brighter, more focused—the light didn't spread all over, as it had before.  In a matter of minutes, the moon began to peek over the edge of the world he could see, and soon he was face-to-face with the most wonderful star in the sky.  It was huge and round, and it hung just above the horizon, rising very slowly.  The countryside around him became brighter, but the colors did not return; he wondered how such a thing could be.

     He walked and walked, on and on through the cool, noise-filled night.  He had plenty of company.  There were rabbits running all about, and he could barely see their forms as they flashed across the road ahead of him.  The owls were awake, and their calls flew through the pure night air like the call of a friend, letting him know that he wasn't alone.  The moon rose higher and higher, and he waited in vain for the warmth he had felt from the sun.  It somehow grew smaller as it climbed the sky and followed the course of the sun, but what the traveler liked best were the stars that shot from time to time across the picture before him, leaving their trails hanging for long moments across the heavens.

     When the morning had grown its coldest and the moon was falling in the sky behind him, the sky before him began to glow again.  This time, the glow was familiar.  He hadn't had any idea of what would follow the moon, but he knew inside that this was the return of the sun he had seen before.  The birds began to sing again in expectation of the coming day, and he felt the elation that they must be feeling inside himself.  He knew that daylight and warmth would soon be with him, and he found a feeling inside himself that he had never before known—a feeling of hope, of expectation, of anxious waiting, with just a little bit of impatience.  The day was coming, and he was joyful.  The glow grew brighter, and his smile grew wider as he watched the sky.  The colors returned to the world, and he began to notice once more the minute details that had been lost to his sight while the sky had been dark.  A forest was there, far off to his right, and the mountains that had watched him all the previous day were gone, left far behind.  The grass shone with wetness, and he stopped to examine a blade of grass, now covered with tiny, perfect drops of dew.  From where had it come?  He smiled as he realized that the important thing was not from where it had come, but simply that it was there for him to look at and admire and enjoy.

     He could see the birds once more as well as he could hear them, and having their company made him feel good.  The sky once again became a clean, clear, fresh blue, and one small fluffy cloud hung in the air to his right.  He watched it as it changed color from grey to orange to white, just as the sky before him changed.

     At some time during that morning, the traveler looked behind himself and saw what looked to be a tiny black dot, far, far away on the road where he had been not much earlier.  He continued walking, occasionally looking back and seeing that the dot had each time grown bigger since the last time he had looked.  After a long time had passed, he could finally make out some details, for the dot had come much closer to him and had become a horse, a cart, and a man.  The traveler wondered at the change—what didn't change in the world?—and he stood still at the side of the road, watching the three approach together.

     The horse, the cart, and the man all looked to be old and tired, the traveler saw as they came closer.  He was amazed that the horse had four legs upon which to walk, while the cart had wheels to roll upon.  As for the man, he had legs but he didn't seem to use them at all; instead, he sat on the cart while the horse pulled the two of them.

     "Whoa!" the old man said to the horse, pulling gently on the ropes that were in his hands and tied to some metal in the horse's mouth, and that was the first word that the traveler heard.  The old man sat on the cart, looking at the traveler; the traveler stood on the roadside, looking at the old man.  The man's skin was darker than his own was, and looked to be much tougher than his.  He wore grey clothing—a simple shirt, pants, and even shoes, and his eyes were bright and friendly as they regarded the man on the roadside.

     "Lovely day, ain't it," the old man asked with not a hint of any inflection that might have made the statement a question.  He looked up at the sky with love and took a deep breath of the clean, fresh air, then exhaled slowly, smiling.  The traveler smiled back.  He didn't understand the words, but he knew what the man had said.

     "Looks like you could use some clothes," the old man continued, reaching into the back of the cart and pulling out a small bundle.  "You're in luck.  These are my son's things, and he's just about your size."  He threw the bundle to the ground before the traveler, who kneeled down to pick it up.

     He untied the string that held everything together, and the clothes fell out upon the ground.  Before him lay a pair of pants, a pair of underpants, a pair of socks, a pair of shoes, and a shirt.  All were about the same grey tint as the clothes the old man was wearing.

     He looked at the man on the cart to see how he was dressed, then looked down at the clothes that lay before him.  They were simple clothes, both on the man and on the ground.  He picked up the pants and put them on, then did the same with the shirt, dressing himself as the old man was dressed.  When he finished, he was left holding a pair of underpants, and he didn't know what to do with them.  The old man roared with laughter—friendly laughter—and he reached down to his own pants and pulled the waistline down at the hip.

     "Here's where they go, my friend," he said, and the traveler immediately liked the sound of that word, though he didn't know why.  He pulled off his shoes and socks and pants, put the underwear on, then put the pants, socks, and shoes back on.

     "A lot more work than you needed," the man said, amused, "but the same result, I suppose.  Now you're all set.  You ain't going to shock any poor woman out of her teeth now.  You want to ride to wherever it is you're going?" he asked, patting the seat beside him.  The traveler shook his head instinctively—he would continue walking.  He approached the horse, rubbing his hands gently over it flanks, its neck, its back.  He felt its power, its age, its dignity—the dignity of a being who had worked hard all its life and earned everything it had gained.  He saw the same dignity in the old man, he saw a lot of life and power, but he also saw something in the man that the horse did not have—he saw the smile, the laughter, the spark in the eye, the love of life, the enjoyment of being alive.

     "Well, then," said the old man, "I'll be on my way."  He slapped the reins softly against the horse's back, and the animal began to move forward.  "It was nice talkin' to you," he said, and laughed again.  "Not that you did a whole lot of talkin' yourself!  It's a nice day for walkin', though—enjoy yourself!"  The traveler stood where he was and watched the first person he had met ride slowly away on the road in the direction the traveler himself was going.  After a couple of minutes, the old man turned around and waved.  The traveler copied his action and waved back.

     When the three had once again merged into a single dot, the traveler started walking again, following them, following the road.  He walked slowly at first, trying to get used to the clothing he now wore.  The shoes on his feet fit well, but they hadn't yet been broken in and his feet began to hurt as he walked.  It was the first pain that he felt, and he didn't like it.  After some time of suffering, he stopped, took the shoes off, and laid them down at the edge of the road.  After several moments of consideration, he took the socks off, also, and put them atop the shoes.  Then he continued onwards, leaving them behind.
   
   

A novel of life and learning; Walker's fascinating journey will remind you of all that is good in this world.
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