Collapsed in sand I was dying, and mouth was dry. On a dune a striding object silhouetted toward me, look of a man and an animal—a warthog-man. In delirium I felt him drag me. I came into shade and plants at oasis water’s edge, the warthog-man held my head over the water to drink.

The warthog-man brought back life to me in the next days. He fed plants to me, his bird friends fanned me. He did not speak my language. At night he did not sleep, I saw him looking into the desert. One day the warthog-man gave me a camel and provisions. He stared from his oasis at me riding away, back to civilization.

Still Eating Oranges

I was an invincible knight. Arrows and blades pinged off my armor like pebbles and castles crumbled before my strength. But even an invincible knight has to make that scratch.

So I got myself recruited by a local prince (I can’t give names) to defend his fief. He realized pretty quick that I was more efficient than his whole army put together. To save money, he downsized and put me to work alone. Bandits and such stopped even bothering to harass the villagers, let alone the castle. But the fired knights weren’t happy about their drop in class and pay, and they conspired to overthrow the prince and lock him in his own dungeon. I knew about this and could have stopped them, but I thought they had a point. So I didn’t show up for work that day.

Pretty soon another nameless prince hired me. He had more imagination. His first plan was to use me to annex the neighboring fiefs, but I let him know that, despite my reputation when I was younger, I didn’t do that stuff anymore. So he used me as a deterrent. He put all his defense spending into his economy, and converted his land and people into a production machine. He cornered every goods market. His neighbors were crippled. The work was easy and the pay was good, but I felt guilty. So I left one night.

I didn’t make any friends working for princes. Most people stayed away. Even the princes themselves only had me over for dinner once or twice. I kept to myself, eating apples under trees and such. I didn’t really enjoy fighting, anyway. Poetry was better. So I gave up on the soldier idea. I took a job as a milkman for a little hamlet, far away from anyone who recognized me as an invincible knight. The brisk mornings were nice.

Still Eating Oranges

As I drove home from work that night I passed a wreck but everyone was safe, and I listened to the radio. At home I parked and walked to the dark back of my house. When I opened my door, the hanger for coats on the door’s other side had a small man hanging there by his hands and looking at me. He dropped down to the floor and said, “Hello.” I almost said something but he wasn’t there, just my coat on the floor.

I went to my bathroom, which was closed and had a door hanger, and I opened it a small man was hanging by his hands and looking at me. He dropped down to the floor and said, “Hello.” My robe was on the floor and I didn’t say anything. In my bedroom the first thing I noticed was that the stitched bird on the pillow was upside-down. Things were falling on the floor. My wife was asleep and I climbed in, too. Outside my window that night objects kept dropping down, blocking the moonlight.

Still Eating Oranges

Three went forward: the distant man, the man on the cup and Animal Boy. The man on the cup scraped down the sidewalk to catch the distant man, falling behind on rough patches, closing in on flats. His cup was green and small plastic but a good vehicle. Between the parked cars and in the street nearby roamed Animal Boy, small and kind but silent, friend of the man on the cup.

But the distant man turned a corner and left. Animal Boy disappeared, too. The man on the cup was frantic: Animal Boy! Animal Boy! But he couldn’t find him. He scraped, retracing his path, checking between cars. Everyone was gone. He started to scrape home, slowly. But Animal Boy came back.

Still Eating Oranges

And then. Thrash against the pane a slick slack legfinger, he in his bed afraid, object against glass chattering. A face in window chattering and breaking in and lurching in, a marked sad face. He in his bed afraid. Body enters and leans whispers—gone. He in his bed chattering, wind blowing in through the window hole, and then nothing.

The next morning he moved away and lived happily ever after.

Still Eating Oranges