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Alone in a Crowd (standard:other, 3114 words)
Author: EutychusAdded: Sep 18 2003Views/Reads: 2173/1431Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
During a weekend bike ride, a father and son pause to visit with a reclusive old man.

“Hey Dad, what's that noise I hear whenever we start to go up a hill?”
the son asked with an intentional tone of sarcasm. 

“That would be my knee, smart guy.” 

“Wow, you crack like an old man.” 

“Well this old man still has half his water left. How much do you have?”
Dan asked and reached down to the carrier between the seat and pedals 
for the half full bottle. It had taken him two summers of consistent 
weekend riding to acquire enough stamina to consume fewer liquids per 
mile than his son and he took pleasure from the accomplishment. 

“Oh, a couple sips.” 

“You'd better use it wisely. We're still two miles from the BP station
in Parkman.” 

“But you'll share, won't you.” 

“Oh I suppose so. But we better wait until we get to the top of this
rise,” he said and shifted into a lower gear. The road between the 
circle in the center of the township and the traditional rest stop in 
Parkman was a series of long uphill grades followed by short, steep 
downhill runs. As they reached the top of the rise, they coasted to a 
stop and the bottle was passed. A moment later and a number of miles 
per hour faster, Dan flipped a few tablespoons of water at his son. The 
laughter and the coolness that evaporation caused were both 

They took advantage of gravity downhill and coasted uphill until effort
was again required. When they reached the next high point in the road, 
Dan found himself cautiously considering the house not far from the 
edge of the blacktop. Far to the east behind the house stood a small 
grove of very tall pine trees. He knew that among those trees also 
stood about a dozen tombstones marking graves and calling to memory a 
story associated with them. 

At a moment in time a century and a half earlier, a dispute over the
execution of a will had resulted in a sudden need for three additional 
stones. Though the story he had learned in his own youth regarding the 
incident was by far more interesting, it bore little resemblance to the 
truth he had uncovered while researching some land records in the 
county courthouse several years earlier. Before he got the chance to 
mention the story to his son and thereby learn if the story had been 
passed in all its embellished inaccuracy to another generation, the 
subject of the empty water bottles was resurrected. 

“Do you think the people who live here would let us fill our bottles?”
Michael asked. 

“I don't know if anyone even lives here, Mike,” he said. Over the years
he had seen evidence of an occupant, but he had never actually seen 
anyone. It was as though the place was now the home of some sort of 
hermit who chose not to allow himself to be seen, and that assumption 
gave Dan a strange feeling about possibly intruding. 

“Sure they do. At least he does,” Michael said and pointed back towards
the garden where tasseled corn and clusters of small, green tomatoes 
clung to their respective plants. 

“He who? Where?” 

“Right there,” Michael said and pointed intently. 

Dan followed in the indicated direction and suddenly saw an ancient man
sitting where he felt certain he had looked a moment ago and seen 
nothing. He shook off a disquieting sensation, brushed down the hair on 
his neck and suggested that they get going. 

“Dad, I'm thirsty,” Michael said and started walking in the direction of
the old man. Dan began to follow slowly at first and then more quickly 
in response to a possibly irrational fear for his son's safety. 

“Hey mister,” Michael called out, caring nothing for the ceremony that

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