This is the second part of the short story, "The Wooden Leg." For the first part, click here: The Traveler
There was a story she was told of an old man, older than words, living lonesome in woods, who now and then, loved a little smoke to smoke and a little child to eat. No wonder stray excursions to forests were strictly forbidden. But the girl had her own worries and had better things to believe in than the tale. Moreover, it is preposterous to believe in everything that the others say. She knew that well.
But, when an old nose is quite near, and one has not quite gotten hold of one’s fear, old tales sure do pop up in one’s head. Furthermore, jittery jingles inspired by those terrible tales one remembers, as clearly as they were first sung.
We don’t go visit the forest
No one wants to be in a fix
Nor be eaten by the Old Man
Who has till eaten thirty-six.
It was good that her mouth was open. It was good that she was shivering. It was good that she fell, for she knew a thing or two about falling in forests – one doesn’t get hurt. But she was scared too and she knew a thing or two about falling in fear – one does get hurt. She fell, nevertheless. She had a semblance of feeling miserably cold. Her eyes didn’t open, and after a while, when they did, the old nose was there.
It was right there, pretending to see, grimacing like a face. It did not come as a wild surprise to her when the voice of the old man turned out to be unmistakably nasal.
“Who are you?” he inquired, not in the least trying to hide his frustration. The girl remained mum. Though, it wasn’t her fault: she was in a room of curious proportions, and she was awed by the sheer oddity of it. In front of her was the window from which the old man would have watched her. It wasn’t where it traditionally ought to be, the middle of the wall, but was carved out starting from the ceiling downwards. There, below it, was a pile of logs arranged to make a stable platform, almost seven feet high and four feet wide, for the lone task of carrying a rickety wooden chair that could reach to the window – a proper rickety wooden chair, not that substandard iron and plastic rubbish – and a thing which closely resembled a small four-legged table (only difference being, it lacking one leg.) The arrangement was as precarious as one would never want a seating arrangement to be. But one can never be sure of the ways of a lonely old man in frigid winters.
“Who are you, child? You know how to climb respectable people’s houses, you don’t know how to answer them? Who are you?” the respectable old man yelled at the little girl, to which she replied in hesitation: “I am hungry. Do you have something to eat?”
The old man moved away from her. The Old Man was hungry too.