Excerpt from “Walkers”

Author Joseph J. O'Donnell

by Author Joseph J. O’Donnell


Monday, August 18th, 10:00 p.m.

It was a pleasant summer evening. The stars were out and no moon had risen to obscure their beauty. William Schmidt, or Willie as he was known to his friends, was standing in his driveway preparing for his evening jog. “God tonight is beautiful,” he thought, as he performed his leg limbering exercises against the bumper of his little blue pick-up truck.
As he did this he glanced over to his former neighbor’s house across the street. It had been several years since that family moved away. They had helped their neighbors fight for road improvements, but Willie had personally seen to it that they would cease their intervention and leave the area. “They were foreigners.” Willy thought at the time. “They had no place here.” ‘Foreigner’ was the name Willie gave to anyone who did not have family roots in this Appalachian area of Pennsylvania.

The hillbilly mentality did not necessarily localize itself to the southern part of the mountain chain. Willie and the rest of his family belonged to a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The white supremacist group was strong here and their passion about it was fierce among the local families. Most of them were tightly connected because of the constant intermarriage among their kin.

Willie was a corporal with the local army reserve unit and liked to keep in shape. He repaired cars for a living and received a lot of night-owl repair jobs on the side. This was a reward for the extra-curricular work he performed for the local government bosses connected with the Klan. Whenever someone bugged them the word was passed to Willie to drive them out of town. Willie had a particular way of harassing people on a daily basis that resulted in his achieving his goals. Whether through obscene telephone calls, damage to personal property, bodily harm, or threats toward his targets’ children, Willie was always capable of getting his way.

He wasn’t a manly sort of guy. Even his physical appearance could only be described as short of stature. His demeanor, though, was that of the little man at the local tavern taking his courage from a bottle, and looking for a fight. His friends used to describe him as a twenty-two caliber revolver loaded with a forty-four caliber bullet. Others who knew him only thought of him as an oddball or a loose cannon.

Willie thought he had been as thorough with his former neighbors as with any other job that was handed to him, but these people were smart and escaped his hostilities. Willie was frustrated that he could not have given them his customary send-off salute. He recalled how he harassed their kids and demolished their mailbox on a regular basis. However, even the after-midnight phone calls he had made and the rifle shot he fired at their roof once weren’t enough. He did savor his neighbors’ concerns after he tossed a five pound bag of sugar and a prank-like explosive device which, when hooked to a car’s engine whistled and smoked, onto their lawn as a warning. The fact that these people sold their house under his nose, then moved out during the middle of the week, undetected, and irked him greatly.

“All’s well that ends well,” Willie had thought. The fact was that they were gone and his mission was complete. As a reward, the local government bigwig gave him a couple of his farm tractors to repair.
Willie grinned to himself and set off down the darkened road for his nightly work-out. The terrible condition of the street’s surface, and its lack of lighting, made Willy feel a little more superior. This is what his former neighbor advocated for repairs. He had no moral feeling of what he did. For him he had created fear from others, and fear only equated into respect. That was the only thing that was really missing from his life for him.

As he tread past the last house on the right, he came onto a section of roadway on which no house stood on either side. The road narrowed here and only opened up about a hundred yards down where another house stood. That property was only accessible from
the street running alongside it.

Here the thickets and vines grew close to the six-foot-wide rutted track. Only four-wheel drive vehicles dared to navigate this terrain. During bad weather, even that was a problem. Willie stopped to tie his sneaker. He thought he had double-knotted them back by the truck, but his right one must have come loose.

He listened to the breeze as it rustled the shrubbery on either side. “It’s good to get out of the house at night,” he thought, as he kneeled down to tie his laces. Lately he had awakened often during the night, after having unsettling thoughts about his former neighbor. Once or twice he swore he saw him standing at his bedside, but after he cleared his eyes he had seen that no one had been there.

Suddenly the sound of the breeze seemed to have changed. It was almost as if it had gone dead silent, yet a pattern had emerged within it.
“Little man”, the sound seemed to say as if the breeze had changed into a voice of its own. That was the exact phrase his former neighbor used to describe Willie the last time he talked to him.

Willie froze suddenly and glanced around quickly to eye his surroundings. When he saw that there was no one there, his confidence returned. Those bad dreams he had been having had nearly driven him crazy lately, and he was hoping that he wasn’t having a latent guilt trip.
Willie began to jog again and picked up the pace to shorten the distance to the next house. Suddenly he heard that voice again calling to him. “Little man,” it seemed to say from behind him.

Willie whirled around a little frightened now. He pulled a small revolver out that he had tucked into a waistband holder. He had always kept one on him, especially since these nightmares started. Willie had a lot of enemies, and he always felt braver when he toted his firearm.

When he saw that nothing was there, he turned back and replaced the pistol in its holster. He was losing his nerve, he thought. He promised himself that he would have a beer or two when he got back to the house to make him relax.

As he turned to continue his run, he suddenly felt himself lifted into the air by his throat. He reached out to grab whatever picked him up but could only grab empty air. He tried to reach for his gun but felt as if it had been slapped out of his hand.

“Little man,” the wind had said with a clear and auible sound this time.
Then he saw his former neighbor’s face materialize in front of his own. Extremely scared now, Willie tried to scream, but he felt the grip on his windpipe tighten.

Terrified, he stared at the vision before him and immediately felt a tearing pain ripping down the length of his torso. He watched in horror as the area from his chest to his groin opened outward, spilling his bodily organs onto the ground below.

“Little man,” the sound of the voice said again, drawing his attention to the apparition before him. The face seemed to smile as he stared at it in disbelief. It was the last thing Willie would ever see as his body began to twirl in the air. Then he dropped to the ground with a sickening thud. Willie writhed in pain for a moment or two, and then he died under those stars at which he had gazed at only a short while ago.

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