The Hungry Hiker

A Short Story by JannaTWrites:

September 2002

Darrin Yarling drummed his fingers on the steering wheel while he waited for the stoplight to turn green.  He was three miles away from his parents’ house and nervousness permeated his entire body.  Even as he lived it, he knew the previous night would change the course of his life.  Last night, he had proposed to his girlfriend, Trish Howe, and she accepted.

His parents would be surprised and confused, so he wanted to tell them in person.  The last they knew, he and Trish were no longer dating.  They had split up three months ago because she thought they were getting too serious.  After bumping into each other in the Home Depot plumbing aisle, and sharing one dinner together, Darrin proposed.  The words tumbled out before he could stop himself, but it felt right.  At twenty-five years old, he didn’t need their permission, but he wanted their blessing.

Darrin rolled the car to a stop in front of his parents’ house and stared at a man in overalls sanding the wood slats of their gate.  Since his dad was a carpenter, Darrin found it strange to see someone else doing work his dad had always done.  He noticed the man didn’t have a shirt on under the overalls.  And he looked quite dirty; and rough.  “What have they done now?” he muttered as he shifted the car into park.

“Mom? Dad? It’s Darrin,” he called as he opened the unlocked front door and let himself inside.

“In here,” his mom said.

Darrin figured she was in the kitchen because that’s where she spent most of her time.  It also helped that the smell of cinnamon and apples filled the air.  He guessed correctly.  “Hey mom.”  He gave her a peck on her cheek.  “Who’s the scary looking dude out front?”

“Darrin, you shouldn’t judge.  He needed some money and a place to stay and it turns out we have both.”

“You’re letting him stay here?  What’s his name?  Where’s he from?”

“Bo Le Roy.  He’s not from around here.”  His mom opened the oven and pulled out a golden-topped apple pie.

Darrin stared at the pie, momentarily forgetting his argument.  He shook his head.  “That’s too much.  A guy in overalls named Bo Leroy.  Are you sure it isn’t a fake name?”

“Why would it be?”

“Never mind,” Darrin said.  He could tell by the tone of her voice that he was about to step into an argument he would never win.  He’d been there before.  “Is dad home?”

“He’s in the workshop.”

“Cool, thanks!”

Darrin slipped out the back door, which was at the far end of the kitchen.  The workshop was a single-car detached garage that his dad had built a couple hundred feet from the house.  They still had plenty of yard space on their three-quarter acre horse property land.  Twenty years ago, it had been on the edge of town, but since then, Phoenix crept north and west, swallowing up the land.

The buzz saw hum turned into a low roar by the time Darrin reached the door.  With one whiff, he recognized the scent of pine.  He knocked, but didn’t expect his dad would hear him, so he let himself in.

“Hey, dad,” Darrin said when his dad looked up.

His dad turned off the saw and slid the safety glasses onto the top of his head.  “What brings you here?”

“I was just in the neighborhood.”  He jerked his head back toward the house.  “What’s with the guy working on the fence?”

“What about him?”

“Am I the only one who thinks he looks like a convict?”

“You can’t always tell.”  His dad sanded the wood’s cut edge with a strip of sandpaper.

“I don’t understand why you let strangers into your house, dad.  It wasn’t bad enough when Benny stole your truck?  Or what about Roger?  He messed you up pretty bad before taking all of your cash.”

His dad shook his head and chuckled.  “I don’t suppose he got very far on seventy dollars.  I heard he landed in jail after assaulting an officer.”  He blew the dust off the wood piece and ran his hand along the edge.

“You’re too trusting.  I worry that something bad is going to happen to you.”

His dad stared at Darrin.  “Do you remember all the pets we had in this house when you were a kid?”

“Yeah, it was like a domestic zoo.”

“It doesn’t just go for animals.”

“But you haven’t learned from your mistakes?”

His dad laughed.  “Son, love is never a mistake.  The error is never showing love again after you get hurt.”

“But what if you die?”

He shrugged his shoulders.  “God’s will be done.  Your mother has a caring heart and I’m not about to have her change.”

Darrin sighed.  “I’m not asking you to change her, just be more cautious.”

His dad looked at Darrin without raising his head or saying a word.

“Nice trim,” Darrin said after several seconds.  He nodded his head in the direction of the wood his dad was sanding.

“Thanks.”

“What’s it for?”

“A new curio cabinet for your mother’s thimble collection.  She doesn’t know, so don’t mention it.”

Darrin studied his dad while his dad smoothed the wood grain.  A labor of love.  Darrin hoped that in twenty years he would happily craft furnishings for Trish.  He looked out the side window and saw his mom taking a drink to Bo.  As his mom walked back into the house, Darrin noticed Bo didn’t get back to work, but instead stared at his mom until the door closed behind her.  His uneasiness returned.

“Dad, do you remember the camping trip we took when I was thirteen?”

His forehead creased and he shook his head.  “We went a couple times a year.  What about it?”

“There was that scruffy hiker that stumbled into our campsite.  He had crazy eyes and he smelled real bad.”

His dad grunted.  “Yeah, I remember.”

“You probably don’t know this, but I watched that guy all night.  I had my Boy Scout pocket knife out and kept convincing myself I could drive it into him if he attacked.”

“You did?”

“Yeah, I stayed awake all night running on adrenaline and Hershey’s.  I watched the door of our tent until my eyes hurt.  When the zipper started moving and I saw the shadow outside the flap, I couldn’t breathe.  My knuckles hurt from gripping that knife for so long, but my arm wouldn’t move.  After all that mental preparation, I failed.”

His dad shook his head.  “I wouldn’t call it a failure.”

“What was it then?”

He let out a sigh.  “You want to know a secret?”

Darrin shrugged.  “Yeah, sure.”

“That man scared me, too.”

“Really?”  Darrin wouldn’t have been any more surprised if his dad just revealed that he had been abducted by aliens as a young man.  “Then why’d you let him hang around?”

“I figured if I let him stay, I could keep an eye on him.”  He shrugged his shoulders.  “I didn’t sleep a wink that night either.  That was the first time I ever slept with a tire iron.”

Darrin chilled remembering his mother’s scream, the man’s scream, and the blood spraying inside the tent.  “Do you think you could still act that fast, if you needed to?”

“Well,” he paused.  “I don’t suppose I’d move as fast, but I think I could get the job done.”

Darrin looked out the window again at a barely-working Bo.  He remembered his dad didn’t get back to camp until just before dawn.  He had told him about how he drove the creepy hiker twenty miles to the nearest town, and got the lucky break of finding the gas station attendant who happened to be the brother-in-law of the town’s doctor.  He recounted his nervousness when the deputy hanging out with the gas station attendant started asking questions about the bleeding man, and his relief when the deputy sent him on his way.

“He died.”

“What?”

“The hiker.  He was dead by the time I got to town.”

“Oh.”  Darrin couldn’t manage to say anything else for several minutes.  His dad’s sanding filled the would-be silence.  “Why did you lie?”

“I never said he lived.”

“You didn’t say he died, either.”

“I didn’t want you dwell on his death.  I also didn’t want you to think of me as a murderer.  I’m sorry.”  His voice quavered.

Darrin reached out and placed his hand on top of his dad’s, halting the back and forth of the sandpaper.  “Thanks, Dad.”

Tears formed in his dad’s eyes and he turned his head to hide them.  A knock on the door startled them both.

“I’ve got lemonade.  You boys thirsty?”  His mom’s voice called outside the door.

Darrin opened the door and his mom came in with two glasses and a refill pitcher on a plastic tray.

“What are you guys doing in here?”

Darrin looked over and noticed that his dad had hidden the wood piece he had been working on.

“Just shooting the breeze,” his dad said with a forced smile.

“Through the trees,” Darrin finished, just as they did when he was a child.

His mom laughed.  “I haven’t heard that in years.”

“Mom, Dad,” Darrin said.  “I need to talk to you.”

His mom tilted her head to one side.  “Is something wrong?”

“Well, not wrong, really.  You just might be surprised.”

His mom’s hand covered her chest.  “You’re finally marrying Trish.”

“Wha-  How’d you know?”

“You guys were so in love, I just knew it was a matter of time.”

“She’s a good woman,” his dad said.

Darrin’s heart felt lighter, surrounded by his parents’ joy.

“Why don’t we go have some apple pie and celebrate the good news?” Darrin’s mom said.

Darrin and his dad moved to follow her out the door without a word.  His dad grabbed the tray of lemonade.

Walking back to the house, Darrin looked through the shadows cast by the almost-setting sun and noticed that Bo Leroy wasn’t by the gate.  He looked around and didn’t see him anywhere.  When his mom reached for the handle to the back door, Darrin grabbed it.  “Wait.  Let me go first.”  Darrin picked up a hammer lying on the porch and stepped inside first.

Darrin heard his parents shuffle in behind him.  “What’s wrong with you?” his mom asked.

“Shhh!” Darrin held his finger over his lips.  He continued around a corner and through the kitchen and saw Bo standing at the dining room table with his back to him.  Darrin inched closer until Bo was within swinging distance.  Darrin’s arm wouldn’t let the hammer go and he felt like a helpless thirteen-year-old again.

His dad slid the tray of lemonade on the counter.

His mom gasped.  “Darrin!”

Bo turned around and flashed a yellowed semi-toothy grin.  “I brought you some flowers, ma’am,” he said, looking at Darrin’s mom.   He stepped aside and gestured to the marigolds in a tall glass of water.  “I hope you don’t mind I picked your garden.”

Darrin let his right arm fall to his side, the hammer still in his grip.

“Most people turned me away, but you showed me niceness.  Thank ya’ll for your hosp’tality.”

“Everyone deserves a chance,” his mom said.  She moved past Darrin to embrace Bo.

Darrin self-consciously hid his right arm behind his back.  He felt his dad’s arm drape across his shoulder.

“There are times we know God is watching over us,” his dad whispered in his ear.

Darrin thought of the hungry hiker and knew the wisdom of his dad’s words.  He admired this man who had loved him as his own for twenty-one years.  More than ever, he wanted to be just like him.

~

This is the second story I’m sharing about a character in my second novel. It takes place ten years before the novel story, and is an exercise in character development.  Please feel free to share any comments. If you don’t like the story or character, it is helpful to know why. Thanks for reading 🙂

If you missed the first character story, click here to view.

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12 thoughts on “The Hungry Hiker

  1. Debbie September 1, 2011 / 8:52 AM

    I read this with interest, Janna, because I had NO IDEA where you were heading with it! I found it interesting to see the contrasts between the young man who was so suspicious and his parents who were so trusting. Generally, it’s the young who seem to feel immune to bad things happening and their elders who have learned through experience that not everybody can be trusted. Is Darrin the character you’re developing?

    • jannatwrites September 1, 2011 / 7:44 PM

      Darrin is the character I’m developing. I like to break away from stereotypes, and the way his family is explains a lot about how he is in ten years when the novel begins.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on the story, Debbie. I appreciate it 🙂

  2. pattisj September 1, 2011 / 3:31 PM

    I enjoyed the story, Janna. 🙂

    • jannatwrites September 1, 2011 / 7:45 PM

      Thanks for taking the time to read it, Patti 🙂 I know the longer stories mess with blog reading schedules…

  3. Carl D'Agostino September 1, 2011 / 3:34 PM

    I rarely read things like this. I read it through, however, and enjoyed it. Something in this is refreshing and wholesome were my thoughts.

    • jannatwrites September 1, 2011 / 7:48 PM

      I’m glad you made it through…and enjoyed the story, Carl. This was one of the warmer, fuzzier stories I’ve written – stuff that my next story is not made of 😉

  4. nrhatch September 1, 2011 / 5:38 PM

    Nicely done, Janna!

    • jannatwrites September 1, 2011 / 7:49 PM

      Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate you reading it!

  5. Widdershins September 3, 2011 / 12:04 AM

    Great character building within such a short word count … I like it!

    • jannatwrites September 3, 2011 / 12:25 AM

      Thank you so much, Widdershins. I appreciate you reading and offering your opinion 🙂

  6. dorcas September 5, 2011 / 7:30 PM

    Lovely Janna!. I like the fact that it does not follow the known pattern of story line.But one question that arises in my mind is, can someone be this kind even after bad experiances. I love this line, ‘I’m not about to have her change.” . Guess that explains my question 🙂

    • jannatwrites September 6, 2011 / 8:49 PM

      Thanks for reading, Dorcas!

      The dad is not completely oblivious to the danger, but doesn’t want to change his wife. The mom feels like her purpose is to love others and doesn’t worry about death because God will determine when her time is up. The son is too logical to embrace her logic – that’s where their conflict is.

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