Autumn Leaves

By Andrew Looney

One day near the end of October, the kids were out playing tag in the street. It was a school day, and after ditching their books, the kids went running outside into the crisp autumn afternoon. "Come back when it gets dark!" their mothers admonished.

The kids ran up and down the street, hiding behind parked cars and the trunks of trees.

"Hey, who's that?" shouted one of the kids.

"Who?" asked another.

"Him!" the first replied, pointing.

Up in the branches of a nearby tree, the kids spied a man wearing a red plaid shirt. He had bright red hair, and he was sitting on a branch, high up in the tree. When the kid first noticed him, he'd been shaking the tree branch, as if attempting to dislodge the few leaves that still clung to it. Now however, the man with red hair sat very still, looking pensively down at the group of children.

"Who are you?" one of the children shouted up at him.

The man looked around as if he thought the child was addressing someone else. Then, he suddenly moved. He climbed down the tree as swiftly as if it were an ordinary flight of stairs. In an instant he stood before the group of kids. He stood for a moment, as if making ready to speak... and then he turned and ran off down the sidewalk.

The kids chased after the man in the red plaid shirt. They ran along the sidewalk, down the street towards the park. The October air was cool and smelled like pumpkins; the breeze blew the treetops and made the branches rustle and sent leaves skittering across the pavement.

The kids kept chasing the man in the red plaid shirt. They were catching up to him, but he was now very close to the park. A few more yards, a few more feet, up to the gate, and in! Right behind him, 5 or 6 kids pounded along, screaming "Hey, come back!"

The man looked over his shoulder at his pursuers and then he suddenly stumbled. He tripped on a tree root and went sprawling onto the ground, landing on his face­

The kids came running up to him.

The man they'd been chasing was gone. On the ground where he'd landed they could see his red plaid shirt and the blue jeans he'd been wearing, but the man was gone. Nothing else was there on the ground except for a pile of dead leaves. It was as if you had raked up a big pile of leaves and arranged the pile in the form of a man lying on his stomach with his arms outstretched, and then you'd sort of dressed the man-shaped leaf pile up in a pair of jeans and a red flannel shirt.

The kids stood still, looking at the pile of leaves. Then a sudden gust of wind blew through the little park, and it picked up and scattered the leaf pile, blowing the leaves across the park, leaving behind only the man's shirt and jeans, lying rumpled at the base of the tree.

No one said anything. One of the boys kicked at the shirt, dislodging a few leaves which blew away on the wind. The sun was going down, and the sky was dark blue above them and orange to the west.

"It's getting dark," said the boy with freckles, "I have to go home."

In a distant corner of the park, one of the girls thought she could discern a woman, wearing an orange and brown dress, with long flowing red hair, sitting high up in the branches of a tree, shaking the branches to dislodge the leaves. But when the girl looked closer, the woman was gone.

"I'd better go home too," said the girl who had a pony tail.

The kids turned and walked slowly back up the street.

This story appears in My Secret World. Copyright © 1985 by Andrew Looney.

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