The Messenger

The messenger came one night, very late.

He was out of breath and could speak only in a hoarse whisper. His skin was stone-cold from the wind and rain he had run through. We offered him tea and soup, but he would have none. He would not even sit, he said his message was urgent, that there was a terrible danger at his farm.

His voice became quiet, and only those standing next to him, leaning close could hear what he said.

Speaking louder again, the stranger pleaded for every able-bodied person to go with him back to his farm. My father and the others were reluctant, and some looked afraid, but the man seemed so desperate that my father and the other men and the women agreed to escort the man back home.

Then, the man’s eyes rolled back and he collapsed on the floor from exhaustion.

My father helped him into a chair and someone got him some water, which he tried to drink, but it only dripped down his chin. Uncle John ran out the door, exhorting the others to go with him to the man’s farm, and they followed.

My father suggested the man was too weak to return and that he should stay to get back his strength. My father then left, leaving me, just a little child, in my chair, with only my grandmother to attend me and the man.

I listened to the horses galloping away and watched the strange man’s eyelids flutter between wakefulness and unconsciousness. When the room was quiet I asked my grandmother what the man had said when his voice had become so quiet.

Her hearing was not good, but she understood my question and had been sitting very near the man, hearing every word he had said. She replied, “The man said that a desperate stranger came to his house last night and begged anyone who could to return with him to his farm. All the adults left, and during the night terrible screams were heard in the distance, but by morning none had returned.”

I sat still for a moment, then asked, “If all the adults at the farm left, and none returned, who is this man?” My grandmother frowned and looked at the man, whose eyes began to open.

He looked at me from across the table and put his hands on the armrests of his chair to push himself up. He smiled at me, and winked.