The Walking Stick
An old man takes his daily walk down the road.
A Short Story
Floyd H. Smith, Jr.
The Walking Stick
Back and forth, back and forth. That’s the way it went most of the time on the front porch of Otis P. Olman’s house. Otis spent a lot of time sitting in the rocking chair. Which, by the way, he had built himself several years ago. He didn’t have much else to do these days. With the years catching up to him, and the arthritis in his legs, he was pretty much confined to the chair. It takes him awhile, but with the help of his walking stick, he still manages to take a stroll down the road that runs in front of his house. He chose to take his walk in the early evening when it was cool. Giving himself enough time to get back before dark.
“This chair is not rocking very smooth today”, Otis said aloud. “ It feels like there’s something under one of the rockers”. Not wanting to move, he decided to take a look and see what was causing the bumpy ride. “Well, I’ll be,” he said. “I thought I heard something”. The cat that was laying on the porch beside him had managed to get it’s tail under the rocker. “I’m real sorry”, he said to the cat. “I hope I didn’t hurt you too bad”.
I guess Otis wasn’t your ordinary old man. In fact, some people thought him rather strange. His appearance probably didn’t help either. He had a long, gray beard. And his gray hair was down to his shoulders. He didn’t like barber shops, if you could still call them that. Years ago, on the few occasions that he did go to a barber shop, the barber seemed compelled to talk the whole time he was in the chair. Otis wasn’t much on conversation, so he decided that his hair would just have to grow long. The kids in the neighborhood were scared of him, and referred to him as “The Old Man”. When he took his evening walks, they would run and hide behind the bushes and watch from a distance as he walked by. They made up stories about him. How that unusual stick he always carried had magical powers and could turn little kids into certain creatures. The stick was different from other walking sticks. This stick was custom built by Otis P. Olman himself. It was of large diameter, and had an odd- looking handle. Otis was proud of the stick. He had built it especially for these walks down the road.
Otis had built his house many years ago on a hill back off the road. He had always wanted to live in the woods, but since that wasn’t so, he planted his own trees. He planted trees everywhere. As the years went by, and the trees grew, his house was pretty much in the woods now. You could barely see the house from the road through the trees. Vines hung from the trees, and grass and weeds had grown up around the house. The place kinda looks like one of those spook houses you see on television at Halloween. With the house in need of paint and the grass and weeds out of control, there is a bit of mystery about the place.
After consoling the cat, and making sure it was okay, Otis decided it was time for his walk down the road. During the day he kept his coat and hat on a nail on the porch. It saved him a few steps from going into the house after them. He put the hat on first. The hat was old and out of shape and the rats had chewed a hole in the brim on one side. It was comfortable and he liked it. After taking the coat from the nail and putting it on, Otis thought to himself, “Get ready kids, here I come”. The coat was nearly floor length and black in color, with a hood attached to the collar. The wind hurt his ears, and if the wind blew, he simply pulled the hood up over his head. He got the stick which was leaning against the wall. “Now, I am ready to go”, he said. With the beard and long hair, the hat and coat, and the odd- looking stick, Otis probably did look like something out of a monster movie.
As he started down the steps of the porch, Otis misjudged the first step. He did a couple of cartwheels, then landed in the grass at the bottom of the steps. He sat there for a minute and checked himself for damage. “Those circus people don’t have nothing on me”, he said. Standing up and dusting himself off, he was ready once again.
The kids would be down there hiding in the bushes. They didn’t know that he knew they were there. On one of his previous walks, Otis had caught a glimpse of them before they had gotten concealed behind the bushes.
When Otis reached the road, he headed in the direction he always took. Down the hill, around the curve, past the bushes, and back again. As Otis walked slowly along, he thought what joy it is, that children bring to the heart of an old man. He really did look forward to these walks, but didn’t know how much longer he could keep taking them. When Otis came along side the bushes, he chanced a side glance. Yeah, they were there alright. He thought he could hear them giggling. Or maybe it was there teeth chattering. No matter, they had made his day, and he had made theirs. Otis reached his stopping point and turned around and headed back. When he reached the bushes again, he didn’t chance a side glance, but kept his eyes on the road ahead. The walking stick was always lighter on the way back. Maybe there really was something magical about it.
Upon reaching the steps to the front porch, Otis made a mental note. “I really should build some hand rails for those steps”. He walked up the steps, being careful not to make a repeat acrobatic performance. As he walked across the porch, the cat jumped out of the rocking chair and ran around the side of the house. “I don’t blame you little fellow”, he said. “I guess your tail still hurts”.
The next day was pretty much like the day before. It was mid-afternoon and Otis was sitting in the rocking chair. It was cooler than yesterday with a light northerly breeze. The cat was in Otis’s lap. All was forgiven. Sitting there in the chair was nice. And it wasn’t hot. “A good day for a walk”, he told the cat.
“You can have the chair to yourself until I get back”. After donning his usual attire, and picking up his stick, Otis walked to the steps. Then he remembered what he was supposed to have done. “I’ll start on those hand rails first thing in the morning”, he said.
Otis turned to the left when he reached the road. The routine was unforgettable, even at his age. Down the hill, around the curve, past the bushes, and back again. It was a little earlier than usual and the kids wouldn’t be home from school yet. But that didn’t matter, the deed would still be done.
Just as Otis entered the curve in the road, a car came speeding toward him. It came on him so sudden that he couldn’t get out of the way. The car hit him in the hip and knocked him into the ditch. The car sped on down the road. The driver either didn’t know that he or she had hit someone or didn’t care.
When the kids got home from school, they played in the yard, but kept there eyes on the road for “The Old Man”. After a long time of playing, one of the kids said, “I wonder where The Old Man is”? “ He should have walked by here by now”. “I don’t know”, said one of the other kids”. “Let’s walk down the road and see if we can see him coming”. “What’s that in the ditch”? “It’s The Old Man”! One of the kids shouted. “Quick, go call 9-1- 1″.
With his experience with the car, Otis received a broken hip and numerous cuts and abrasions. He most likely wouldn’t be taking walks anymore.
As the days went by, the kids missed The Old Man. They would walk down the road to see if they could see him coming. One day, while walking down the road, one of the kids saw something in the ditch. He shouted, “Hey, look at this”! “It’s The Old Man’s stick”! They all gathered around. “It’s got a trigger on the handle, just like a pistol”. “Point it over there”, one of them said. “And pull the trigger”. With the stick pointing in a safe direction, the trigger was pulled. A quarter fell out of the end of the stick. The trigger was pulled again and another quarter fell to the ground. “This stick is full of quarters”, exclaimed the kid that pulled the trigger. “You know what this means”, he said. “Yes”, said another. “It explains all the quarters we’ve been finding on the road.
Floyd H. Smith, Jr.
January 29, 2002