Harry Crosses America
When Harry set out to cross America alone, on foot, it was with the intention of proving something to himself and to the world. He brought with him only the barest of necessities. In his pockets were ten dollars, a jacknife and a rabbit's foot, and on his back he wore a knapsack of reinforced nylon with a change of clothes, a rolled up windbreaker, a lighter, water bottle and a few candybars, a small assortment of toiletries, and, finally, extra videocassettes and a battery charger for the Hi-8 video camera he would carry with him to record his experiences.
At first glance, nothing in Harry's character would have led one to presuppose in him a tendency toward such romantic, adventurous and even reckless behavior. Twenty-eight years old and employed as a tax preparer at the nearby H&R Block on route 26 he was, in the universal sense, a nameless, ageless, occupationless sort of guy, ordinary and unremarkable in every apparent way. He was bright, but not brilliant. Not displeasing to the eye, but neither was he someone to turn heads. But one singular characteristic, indeed, did separate Harry from the indistinguishable and moribund mass into which he otherwise blended so well: He was possessed of an almost unshakeable faith in the higher nature of the human spirit.
In a nutshell, Harry believed that all people are fundamentally "good," and that beneath the socially propitious surface of greed, cynicism and despair they truly desire nothing more than to be able to show this and act on it. Though Christian by upbringing, he had renounced that religion's tenets from the moment, long ago in Sunday school, he had been taught the story of Adam and Eve. He simply could not accept the premise that man was inherently evil, much less that he had become so by dint of his own free will. The mere thought of it was anathema to him.
Instead, Harry adhered to what he fondly referred to as a "bruised apple" perception of the world. His logic went something like this:
When Adam ate the apple he took into himself the source of all knowledge. With knowledge comes perfection and with perfection comes goodness. Logic dictated, therefore, that Adam must have been good. And by extension, then, if Adam was good, contrary to the doctrine of Original Sin (one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the human race, Harry felt), as his descendants, so too must we all be. Wasn't it self-evident? Yet, Harry was no fool. Obviously there is evil in the world – this was where the "bruised" part came into the equation. In Harry's view every soul was as a seed, and contained within it the promise of absolute knowledge and perfection, like the idea of an apple before it is planted. But somewhere along the path to adulthood life's hardships and a general psychic negativity beat people down piece by piece, bit by bit until they grew into maturity with only the faintest resemblance and connection to the glory promised by the original seed. Bruised, then, we are, but not beaten. Within each individual, Harry was certain, lies a dormant, broken, suffering soul with no greater desire than to prove the good, the fundamental idyllic good contained within.
Not surprisingly, his friends, homogenously ordinary and unremarkable in their own right, mocked what they deemed to be a pathetically naive and unrealistic Weltenschaung. Of course they didn't call it "Weltenschaung" nor did they analyze it in a particularly sophisticated manner – they were far too ordinary and unremarkable for that. Rather, they fell back on ad hominem arguments over cards and beer at Peter's Place, the local hangout since it was the only bar for ten miles in any direction, in which they called Harry a dope, a moron, chronically stupid and told him to get A) real B) with the program, or C) a life. In a particularly lucid moment Peter, whom the others called Plato because he had once read "The Republic," although it was actually just the Cliff notes version, said to Harry,
"Forget this bruised apple bullshit Harry. What you have to understand is that Adam ate the apple because he was bored, see? Goodness is boring and Adam didn't like that so he ate the apple even though God told him not to. As a matter of fact, he probably did it solamente because God told him not to. Forbidden fruit, see what I mean? So that's that – and to tell you the absolute truth I would've done it too."
Harry responded with his own well-thought out ideas about the apple. "C'mon Plato," he said, "that can't be so because the apple was all knowledge, so even if he was wrong to eat it in the first place, afterwards he knew better. A truly knowing person can't possibly choose evil. The apple was what made us good…"
Plato cut him off. "Yeah, Harry, sure, but get with the program, because…"
"Because, well, maybe it was an orange."
Plato's argument troubled Harry. One could even go so far as to say it rocked his world. That is to say, suppose they had gotten it wrong and Adam had eaten an orange instead of an apple. Suppose he didn't have complete knowledge, afterall. Then wasn't it quite possible that man didn't have it within him to choose good over evil on a consistent basis? What followed was a tortured period of reflection and reassessment in which Harry questioned the very foundation of his cherished belief system, a period that threw him into an intractable depression from which he emerged only once he had resolved to test his assumptions once and for all, for confirmation or destruction, in the barebones laboratory of life and the Road. Solitary and vulnerable, with almost no material possessions to ease his way, Harry would throw himself into the belly of the beast – he would cross America and his only salvation would be other people.
Preparations ensued – planning a tentative route, deciding what to bring, notifying friends and the press, and numerous other small details. Finally it came to pass that on a spring morning, the crow of a rooster from next door rebounding wall to wall through his open window, Harry awoke at the crack of dawn on this the day he would embark upon his great journey. He sprang eagerly from bed and went to look outside. The sun, though low on the horizon, was shining brightly and scattered cumuli wafted gently across the sky. The rooster, planted stoically to one spot inside his fenced-in pen, continued to crow. In times past Harry had resented the creeching barnyard animal, but today he welcomed it; as if in his persistent squawk the rooster was sending him a personal message, as if he were bidding Harry, "Tread not softly upon this new ground you walk, but seize it; take it boldly and make it your own. Make it yours and the people of the ages will thank you – for you will be making it theirs also."
Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath of fresh air, and let rays of sunlight wash over him. All in all, he thought to himself, a promising beginning.
Dressed still in his underwear, he started outside to pick up the morning newspaper. His golden retriever, Jeremy, whined sleepily in the living room as he walked past. Fifty feet or so from the front porch, by the side of the highway, lay the familiar tabloid. A car zipped past as he bent to pick it up. Startled and slightly embarrassed at his state of undress, Harry hurried back toward the house. Once inside, he paused to remove the paper from its plastic wrapping. There it was, on the front page, bottom left, but front page all the same: "Local Man to Cross America to Show People Are Good."
Harry was ecstatic. He leaned against the jamb and clutched the paper to his chest. Visions of cheering crowds danced through his head. He saw himself standing on a podium, microphones thrust at him by all the major networks and national press. In the crowd he was able to pick out familiar faces that had once ridiculed him but now stood together with the rest celebrating him. "Tell us!" they cried, "Tell us!" A shriek rose above the maelstrom, "Harry, we love you!" He began to speak. He said, "You tell me you love me, but I say, love yourselves, for you are the true heroes here. I have shown you what there is inside, but that is only what was already there, what has always been there, and what will always be there!" The crowd cheered wildly. He continued. "I say, my brothers and sisters, be not afraid and be not ashamed! From this day hence fear and shame no more!"
Harry showered and dressed quickly. He fed the dog and breakfasted on cornflakes and orange juice. Then he packed. It didn't take long – he had laid everything out the night before and there was, afterall, very little that he would be bringing with him. He opened his wallet and took out his Mastercard, American Express and all the money but ten dollars. The rabbit's foot was an afterthought. When he reached into the top drawer of his dresser to hide away the credit cards and currency, he saw it there in the midst of a stack of socks and underwear. No harm, he reasoned, taking the charm and putting it in his pocket, in giving himself a little edge.
At 8 o'clock Harry was ready, except for the small matter of taking Jeremy across the way to drop him off with his neighbor Judy. A divorcee in her mid-thirties, whom Harry knew from Peter's Place where she was the regular bartender and on whom he had long since had a secret crush, Judy had promised to take care of the dog while he was gone. Harry lingered momentarily, making sure that he hadn't forgotten anything, and, then, satisfied that he hadn't, he hoisted the knapsack on to his back and strapped the booksized video camera around his neck. He called for Jeremy to follow and then, turning off lights as he went, Harry made his way from the house. Optimism notwithstanding, he locked the door behind him.
The dog scampered happily in front of him. Impulsively, Harry toyed with the notion of bringing him along, but the thought quickly passed, not only because he feared for Jeremy's safety, but also because he welcomed the opportunity to see Judy in a personal setting without a transparently manufactured reason. What's more, he reasoned, by leaving the dog with Judy and having her get to know him, he might be able to establish a point of connection that could be used in the future to enhance their relationship.
Judy saw Harry coming up the driveway and came out of the house wearing a loose-hanging bathrobe. Harry blushed. She noticed his discomfort and cinched the garment more tightly around her waist. "Hey," she greeted him.
"Hey." Harry's half-averted eyes were stuck somewhere between staring and abashedness. The dog played on the ground around Judy's feet and she reached down to pet him. Her cleavage, visible now from above, made it impossible for Harry to say anymore without further prompting.
She spoke. "So, you're really going to go through with this thing, huh?"
Harry gulped. "Guess so." He paused, not knowing where to look. Judy stood up and Harry was able to sputter out another sentence. "So, you'll take care of him?"
"I said I would didn't I?"
Harry shuffled uncomfortably. "Yeah, guess you did… Thanks."
"Besides, I can use the company. Hell," she laughed, bending down again to hug Jeremy and receiving a lick in return, "I bet your dog here could give me more satisfaction than my ex ever did." An embarrassed smile played across Harry's face. "Oh, don't you worry," she reassured him, I won't so misuse your poor innocent puppy dog." Then, by way of apology, she added "Look, you want some coffee before you go? I've got some brewing inside."
Harry was grateful for the reprieve, but didn't want to embarrass himself any more than he already had, so he politely refused her offer. "No thanks," he said, "I, you know, have a long road ahead of me."
An awkward silence ensued in the six foot space that separated them
Again it was Judy who provided the way out. She shook her head as if in disbelief, but she smiled also. "You're just about the darndest fool I ever met, Harry," she said. Bridging the gap, she came over to him and kissed him on the cheek. "That's why I like you… Be safe, okay?."
Harry was jubilant for the second time that morning. He started toward the highway with a rubber-band knotted around his insides. Then he stopped suddenly. In his excitement he had completely overlooked the public relations aspect of the moment. He wheeled around and saw Judy already walking toward the house with Jeremy. Briefly, he considered whether or not to call her back – the way they had parted just now had been so perfect it bordered on sublime – but this was business. "Hey, Judy," he shouted and held up the videocamera, "I almost forgot. Do you think you could -?"
"Sure, Harry, sure," she answered, with that same bemused smile. Harry retraced his steps and gave her the camera. Not missing a beat, she turned it on and began to ask questions in mock interview style. "People everywhere want to know, Harry Peterson: Why?"
Although caught off guard, Harry's previous shyness was nowhere in evidence; he had spent days practicing his response to just such questions. "Well, Judy," he replied confidently, "I'll tell you. You see, I've believed for some time now that institutional forces, the popular news media, and other sources of information and learning in our society have engaged in a concerted, if not purposeful, attempt to vilify and devalue the human spirit. Unfortunately, it seems, we have come to believe ourselves that this ostensible truth is actual. My goal here today and over the course of this impending journey, is to prove the falsehood of that contention and in doing so to have some small part in restoring to the people of the world their faith in themselves and in those around them."
"And how will you do that?"
"As you can clearly see, I'm traveling light." He twisted to show his knapsack to the camera. "I will be depending, for food, shelter, and the relief of any other needs that may arise, on the kindnesses of people I meet along the way. When people do good, they feel good and when they feel good, they do good – people do unto others as they've been done unto, and that sort of thing. It's just a beginning, of course, but one must start somewhere."
"Thank you, Harry. The world waits eagerly on the successful outcome of your quest."
"No, thank you, Judy." Harry emphasized `you', then pointed into the lens and spoke to an imaginary audience, "And thank YOU."
The `interview' finished, Harry quickly taped goodbye reaction shots of Judy and Jeremy waving, then he had Judy shoot him walking away and waving back at them. All in the name of posterity, he reasoned to himself, feeling guilty at the cinematic deception. He said goodbye again, this time remembering Jeremy as well, and finally he was off.
An hour later, the sun halfway to its zenith, found Harry at the point in the road where it divided, branching east and west. He turned on the camera and pointed it down at his feet as he went, then he panned it upwards to the split in the highway. "Our experiment now begins in earnest." he announced, again with his future audience in mind. But he wasn't satisfied so he repeated the procedure. This time he quoted Robert Frost. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood," he recited with feeling, "and I took the one less traveled by." He pressed the `off' button and walked silently for a short way, then he began to whistle and skipped a couple of times as he veered left and westward.
As midday approached, Harry had as yet had very little contact with people. Occasionally, a car speeding past him on the highway would greet him with a honk of the horn, but other than that there had only been the odd wave here and there to a child playing in a far off field or a farmer on a sloth-like tractor. It was an exceptionally warm day for this early in the year and sweat dripped down Harry's forehead and into his eyes. He wiped away the wetness with the sleeve of his shirt and chided himself for not having had the foresight to bring along a bandana or handkerchief. There was a small embankment directly to his right and Harry sat down to rest. He took off the knapsack and removed the water bottle and a Snicker's bar. As he snacked, he surveyed the scene in front of him – a few trees, a meadow, cows grazing in the distance, the road disappearing arond a nearby bend – and that pretty much summed it up.
For the first time, Harry considered the possibility of a wholly unanticipated, though not unpredictable, component of his endeavor – complete, unmitigated boredom. As a diversion he trained his camera on the cows. "John and Jane Cow," he asked them rhetorically, "any sentiments on the dilapidated, forlorn and pathetic state of human existence?" The cows, however, were too far away or too disinterested to respond, so Harry did it for them. "Well, Harry, I feel we, and I think I'm speaking for Jane Cow here as well, can pretty succinctly answer that question with a heartfelt `Moo'"
He fell backwards to the grass with a sigh. Clouds passed overhead and he tried to pick out shapes for a short while. Then, overcome with a renewed sense of mission, he sat up, finished the candybar, took a final swallow from his water bottle and, throwing it back into the his knapsack along with the candybar wrapper – he didn't want to litter – returned to the road.
He passed time by mulling over his accomodation options for the evening. He had planned his route carefully so that he would pass through many towns and populated areas and, in keeping with the spirit of his mission, as darkness approached he would go from house to house asking for a place to spend the night. He would happily settle for a barn or the basement of a church, he wasn't proud, and he was more than willing to perform services around the household in return for his keep. If worse came to worse he could sleep by the side of the road or even venture into the woods and, if it were cold, fashion a makeshift lean-to and blanket from leaves and fallen branches – he'd read how to do that in his survival handbook.
The issue of food was another matter altogether. Harry didn't place much stock in his ability to capture wild game, survival handbook and all, nor did he have great optimism as to his ability to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous wild berries, mushrooms and the like. For food, at least, short of going through garbage cans or stealing, he would be almost entirely dependent on other people. Of course, there was always the good old "I Will Work For Food" sign and then one must always keep in mind…
When Harry emerged at last from his reverie, it was already late afternoon. He calculated he had come about twenty miles since the morning and his knowledge of the area told him he must be approaching the next town. Lost in his thoughts, he had forgotten the heat and only now began to notice it again. This discomfort, compounded by thirst, hunger, and a pain in his feet, led Harry to the sudden realization that he was absolutely miserable. He paused for refreshment, but found his water bottle had not been closed properly and all the water had leaked out. He looked around. No houses or streams were in sight, so he would have to wait to refill it. Disgusted, he put it back into his bag and took out another candybar. To his chagrin he found the heat had melted the chocolate so completely that he had to lick it off the wrapper.
Half an hour later there was still no relief in sight. Limping now, Harry wondered if he would even be able to make it to town. Amazing, he marvelled to himself, how distance expands when travelled on foot rather than by car! He had driven along this same stretch of highway, what, dozens, hundreds of times? Always it had seemed a quick jaunt through a teeming suburbia. Instead, he found himself in a vast and endless desert and all that was missing, as far as he was concerned, were the vultures. How wretched to set out with such high hopes and aspirations only to be utterly defeated the very first day!
His spirits revived, though, when he rounded the next bend. Up ahead he saw a bridge and a soft murmur hinted at water running underneath. A hop, skip, and a hobble later he was dunking his head and soothing his blistered feet in a cool, stone-littered stream. He started to laugh and for the third time in a day Harry was overcome with joy – a joy that came not only from the water, but also from his realization that the evils of man could scarcely match in severity and callousness the brute indifference of nature. And clearly, as regarded that, he had shown his mettle. He felt invincible, blessed. Still, the sun was getting lower and he had yet to secure food and shelter for the night. Blessedness aside, Harry didn't expect any loaves of bread to fall from the sky – not yet, anyway – so he cut short his enjoyment, quickly filling his water bottle, putting on his shoes, and climbimg the fifty feet back up to the highway.
He was halfway across the bridge, when he saw the pick-up truck approaching from the opposite direction. It's broken muffler, actually, announced it well before it came into view, wobbling slightly and moving slower than its rumbling engine led one to believe. Inside he saw three men squeezed together on the front seat. He waved to them as they roared past. A squeal of brakes startled him and he jerked round as the truck came to a sudden stop. It shifted into reverse and backed up. At the wheel was a mustachioed man dangling a beer out the window and appearing a little perturbed. But the man next to him leaned over and smiled broadly at Harry. "How you doin' today?" he shouted.
Harry felt a quiver of excitement. Finally, he thought, my first contact! Events certainly seemed to be taking a turn for the better. Maybe he would even be able to finagle a place to stay for the night. Well, perhaps not – they seemed to be headed the wrong direction. Nevertheless, it was contact all the same. "Just fine." he answered. "And yourself?"
"Fine. Fine." The man let out a short guffaw. He jostled the driver. "Yeah, we're just fine today, ain't we Percy?" Then he turned to the right and muttered something to the third passenger, a large, bearded man with a red face, who also
Percy grudgingly acknowledged Harry with a raised beer can. "Yeah, that's right… We're fine." he said, and, as he spoke, the large man eased himself out of the passenger side door and lumbered around the front hood of the pick-up. He had a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a newspaper in the other. He raised the paper up and gestured to it with the neck of the bottle.
"Hey, boy, you that guy crossing America to show that people are good?"
Harry beamed with pride. "Yes. That's me."
"Well, hell, boys," the man said to the other two still inside the cab, "we got ourselves a real celebrity here! It's in the paper even. Just imagine that." He started towards Harry. "C'mon boys, come on out and meet the man!"
Percy grimaced. "Aw, Gabby, let's just get on down the road. We got the girls waitin' there -"
"Percy, you ain't never no fun," interrupted the man who had intially greeted Harry. He started to push a reluctant Percy from the truck. "Now go on like he said and meet the man!"
Harry felt uncomfortable being so directly the center of attention, but, he figured he'd have to get used to it. However, he didn't want to be the source of any friction between people he might meet. Best to be friendly and diplomatic.
"Look," he said to Gabby who was almost upon him, "I sure don't want to make trouble for your friend there. If you've got someplace-"
Gabby wouldn't hear it. "Hell, you ain't makin' no trouble boy. It's a pleasure, a real goddamned pleasure to make your acquaintance." He casually tossed the newspaper to the ground and put a greasy hand forward to shake Harry's. Harry reciprocated the gesture and immediately felt his knuckles crack.
He stifled a cry and managed a reply. "Likewise," he said, and tactfully tried to pull away. Seemingly, though, this was the other man's cue to squeeze his hand even tighter.
"Gabby's the name," he said, "and let me tell you, I'm just tickled. I ain't never met a real live celebrity before."
Harry winced. His arm swung through the air like a wet noodle and tears welled up in his eyes. He knew it wasn't either manly or polite to ask for his hand back; nevertheless, he was on the verge of doing so anyway, when inexplicably, yet thankfully, Gabby released him from the vise-like grip. Harry shook his hand and breathed an obvious sigh of relief, but this was as lost on the big man as had been the look of pain on his face just moments before.
The other two men by now had also made it across the road. Gabby introduced them. "These are my buddies, Percy and Bob," he said. "What'd you say your name was?"
"Harry. But I didn't"
"What's that?" asked Bob, eyeing his video camera.
"I didn't… Say my name that is."
"Well, don't that beat all," said Gabby. "I guess you didn't." An unmistakeable undercurrent of hostility shot through his voice. Harry wasn't at all sure he liked the way this encounter was shaping up. He forced a smile. "Yup, that's me. Harry. Harry Peterson. I'm not really a celebrity, though. I'm not really anybody at all to tell the truth. But it sure was nice of you guys to stop and say hello," he said in that kind of tone one uses when one is trying to say goodbye. It soon became clear, however, that noone was going anywhere just yet, so Harry resigned himself to continued conversation. "You know," he went on, "you're the first folks I've even talked to."
Gabby was back to being friendly. "That a fact?" he asked.
Percy swallowed the last of his beer, wiped his mustache and threw the can off the bridge. Harry started to say something, but thought better of it as Bob, still eyeing the camera and now the knapsack as well, put his arm around Harry's shoulder. "You really that guy crossing America?"
"Yeah, that's me," answered Harry, flattered despite his reservations about the situation.
Gabby gave him a playful punch. "You know what, boy? You're just about a hero, a real hero."
Bob echoed him. "That's right. A hero." He gave Harry a squeeze. "Say, what's that you got around your neck there? Looks like one a them video cam-thingamajiggies."
"Sure it is," said Gabby. "`Ol Bobo's got one a them. He showed me how to use it even."
"That right?" Bob laughed. "Makin' yourself a documen-tarry, Harry? Maybe put it on TV?"
Harry shrugged with an edge of sheepishness. "Maybe."
"That'd be fine. Hey, I got an idea. How about you take that thing off and give it to Gabby here and he can take a picture of you and me."
Harry hesitated, remembering what Gabby had done to his hand and imagining his camera in a similar state. Percy seemed to read his mind. "Now Bob, can't you see the boy don't want to give over his camera to a red-neck like Gabby? Hell, he just about squeezed Harry's hand into pumpkin paste a minute ago."
Harry was shamed by the truth in Percy's words. He felt like a traitor to his own cause. Why was he here in the first place talking to these people if all he had to offer was suspicion and mistrust? It occurred to him that this was a test no less than his physical suffering had been earlier. And if so, to this point he was failing it miserably.
"Oh, no. I don't mind. Really," Harry said to Percy, and he meant it. Taking the opportunity to shake loose from Bob's arm, he took the camera from around his neck and gave it to the bear-like man in front of him. "Go ahead, Gab, man, give it your best shot." Gabby fumbled with the controls, which were dwarfed by his huge paws, and, a bit worried, Harry added, "Just treat it like you would a woman." Bob and Percy both snickered and Harry, not sure this had been the best suggestion, modified his request. "Or, well… like you would a truck…" Then seeing the battered pick-up across the road, he tried again, "…or a favorite shotgun."
"Don't you worry, Harry," Gabby reassured him. "We got it all under control here." He put the camera to his eye and aimed it at Harry. "Pow!" he cried, and snorted. "Shot you. Get it?"
Harry laughed to show he had gotten it. Gabby, surprisingly agile for his size, began to move around, pointing the camera in all different directions – first at Bob who made faces, then at Harry again, then at the pick-up truck; next he moved to the railing and shot a bird's eye view of the water, then he had Percy in his sights looking inattentive and picking out earwax with his finger.
"So," asked Harry, loosening up a bit. "Where are you guys from?"
Gabby ignored him. "Whoowee, boy," he said, zooming in on Percy's finger in his ear. "This is a heck-load of fun. I gotta get me one a these."
"Give me a try with that ya hog," demanded Bob. Before Harry could stop him, Bob had the camera and was holding it upside down.
"Here, why don't you let me show you how to use it," offered Harry, moving towards him. "If you're not careful -"
"Aw, shut up Harry. It's upside down on purpose."
Harry stopped in his tracks, taken off guard by the sudden rudeness. "I was just trying to help," he managed feebly.
"Don't," snapped Bob. "Taking that goddamned condescending attitude with me. I know upside down when I see it. Here, take back yer damned toy. Ya ruined it for me." He threw the camera back at Harry.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it."
Gabby interceded, putting on a front of joviality. "Don't pay Bob no mind, Harry. He's just funnin' with you."
"Yeah?" Harry was hopeful again.
"Yeah, that's right," Bob said, "I'm just funnin' with you." He threw a look at Gabby who responded with a raise of the eyebrows and an affirmative nod.
Off to the side, Percy was getting impatient. "We goin' yet?"
Bob answered. "Sure, we're going… But, you know what?" he said as if just remembering something. "We didn't even get poor old Gabby here into your flick. Let's get a shot of him so he can be famous like the rest of us."
"Of course, I'd like that," said Harry. Although it was quite clear that he and these men would never become fast friends, he was hoping they might at least part on a positive note.
"Thanks, Harry," Gabby said. "You're a real sport."
Harry checked focus through the viewer as Gabby waved and smiled. "By the way," he said, not expecting much, "you folks wouldn't have any ideas about where I might put up for the night, would you?"
"Sure," Bob replied, a little far off sounding. "I think we oughta be able to rustle you up a place."
Only moments before Harry would have flat out rejected the notion that anything good could come from this encounter, but now, through perserverance and good faith, he had extracted the first tangible confirmation of his bruised apple theory. Excited, he lowered the camera. "Really?" he asked, but Bob had disappeared. He looked to the left. Nothing. He looked to the right. Not there either, but Percy, eyes averted, had a pained look on his face. Harry wondered why, but only for an instant, for, just as he twisted his gaze a third time, his field of view was filled by a fist hurtling through the air. It caught him full on the nose and Harry felt himself falling backwards over a body kneeling on all fours behind him. The last thing he thought before he hit the ground, ludicrously enough, was that at least now he knew where Bob was.
In a semi-conscious state Harry felt tugs on his body and knew that his attackers were pulling his knapsack off and emptying his pockets. He thought he heard faint echoes of laughter and he was able to make out a few words "… fun … dumb … rabbit's … luck … swim," in what was otherwise an indistinguishable babble where all sound ran together. The world went black for a moment and Harry was back again with the cheering crowd and microphones.
"Tell us! Tell us!" the people wailed and a voice exclaimed, "Harry, we love you!" This time he looked closer and saw it was Judy who had cried out. She was naked except for a fig leaf that covered her private parts. Harry's heart ka-thumped and skipped a beat, then he heard himself speaking. "Fear and shame no more!" he was saying. "Fear and shame no more!"
The tugs intensified and pulled Harry away from the crowd. He was back on the bridge. Before him, suspended in a tangerine haze, the sun floated over the horizon. Suddenly, he had a sensation of freedom, like he was flying almost. The laughter and voices faded away and were replaced by a soft murmuring. He was in a garden, a soft stream trickling through. There was a luscious red apple in front of him – it had a bite missing. Knowledge and a placid calm engulfed him.
He never felt the rock that bashed in his skull when he hit bottom.
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