He could hear them, all around him on the road, theirootsteps moving sotly across the dirt and stones. Someell in a disciplined rhythm. Others came at odd intervals,a scrape here, a shue there. Close. Far away. Another, andanother. More and more until they were like alling rain, thepatterns indistinguishable in the greater torrent o noise.The sky was lit by a hal-moon and a ew weak stars; thetrees on both sides o the road were black and leaess. Hecouldn’t see the walkers yet, but he could hear them.When the closest ootsteps ell into a rhythm with hisown, Michael glanced to his let. A young man walkedbeside him. A boy, really, in a ragged hunting jacket, tat-tered breeches, toes visible through the holes in his boots.He carried a musket in his right hand; his let rested onthe powder horn slung at his side.They walked awhile, and Michael said, “I know he’sorbidden you to speak. But you can speak to me, i I oeryou something in return.” Michael removed a bundle romthe pack hanging over his shoulder. “That’s a law that’solder, more powerul, than he is.”The boy gestured with his musket. “Most olk here can’ttalk at all, sir, even i they wanted to.” He regarded thecloth-wrapped bundle in Michael’s hands. “But I’ll speakwith you awhile. My name is Nathaniel Wilson.”Thick clouds rolled in, reducing the moonlight to a vagueglow. “I wonder,” Michael said then, “i you could tell mehow you came to be here.”He shrugged. “Same as yoursel, or anyone else, sir. TheMan-eater.”“What I mean was, how did it happen?”The boy considered this. Then he said, “It’s not a goodthing to speak o him, sir. These are his trails, his woods.And he hears what’s said. He’ll come around to me again,eventually, like he always does. But I have no wish to makethat happen any sooner than it needs to.”“I understand.” Michael looked at the bundle he held,then at the boy.The boy licked his lips.“All right. All right. I’ll tell how it happened.“I was barely out o common school when the Revolu-tion came, sir. I joined the militia gladly. But by winter
time I was orgetting about liberty and just hoping all mytoes would stay on my eet. And then one day in Februaryit got strange warm. Me and some o the other lads werelet behind to guard the powder house. These boys, sir, Ididn’t want to learn their names, knowing they’d be deadsoon, or I would.“Late aternoon, black, porridgy clouds rolled in, and withthe sun so low in the sky it got to be like twilight out. Andthen the cannons started. Far o, at frst, but they were takingour distance, we knew it. We looked to each other, fngeringour muskets, and wondering who would be the frst to breakand leave the powder to some bunch o Redcoats. And thenI was running away, hell-bent and cowardly.“Came the loudest crash o all, sir, with a light so brightI thought my eyes would catch fre. When my head cleared,I saw the powder house in ruins, the lads scattered aroundall broken. It wasn’t cannon that did it, sir. It had beena lightning strike, and I could still see the smoke risingrom the ground. Then I saw something else, and I had towalk closer to be sure, my legs quivering like a little babylearning to walk.“It wasn’t black powder that had been in the barrels inthat power house. Every one o them was split open now,and every one o them had been flled with sand. Just sand.They used to do that to ool the British, so they wouldn’tsee how desperate we were.“And that’s when I saw the Man-eater, though I didn’tknow what he was. He looked like just this tall, lanky el-low, dressed sort o like a minister, with a thin ace and atoothy grin. It startled me to see him there, and I tried toraise my gun, but my hand shook bad. ‘I’d get out o here,i I were in your boots,’ he said in that gravely voice he has.I sort o stared at him or a moment, and then I hal-ran,hal-stumbled away. When I couldn’t run any arther, Ijust dropped to the ground. I could see those thick cloudsabove, and now and then a lightning ash, and in a mo-ment I knew that people like me could fght all the wars wewanted, but there’d always be another one coming. Eventhe wind and the clouds and the lightning were fghtingagainst each other, pounding at each other because i onewent higher, another had to be lower.