Very Strong
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The Journal of the Walk, Wednesday, September 23rd

I was walking for two hours today before the change turning came. With a bit of effort, I managed to point myself to the forest. It seems harder to reach this time of year. Maybe it's the changing of the leaves.

I was on a small trail, and the light was filtered through the red and orange oak leaves far above me. There were birds singing, and I relaxed a bit. The birds are wiser than men, and know when it's safe to sing.

I had gone only several steps before I noticed the signs. There were deep marks in the treetrunks, made by claws and teeth. Spiderwebs big enough to catch deer stretched from tree to tree off the path. I was in the deep woods. I would need to tread carefully until the turning came again.

I carefully stayed on the path. My friends in the shadows say the paths are safer, and offer some protection from misfortune. I don't know about that, but I know I can run more easily along a beaten path than through the underbrush.

I walked slowly, for nearly an hour, before I heard a low sighing up ahead. It sounded like a great beast, like an elephant or a rhinoceros, but different. More human.

I considered turning back, but the birds were still singing, and I've never gone wrong in trusting their judgement. I moved forward.

There was a man walking along the path toward me. No, a giant. He stood as tall as two men, and his grip could have fully encircled my waist. His head was shaggy, and his eyes were mournful. He looked down at me through unwashed bangs. "Will you sit with me?" he asked.

I agreed, deciding it was best to be polite. I don't make it a point to annoy strangers, especially powerful ones. He took a dried and salted haunch of venison from his pouch and tore a piece off for me. It was tough, but I hadn't eaten in a day. I took it gratefully.

The huge man looked so sad, I asked if he were well.

"I am well. I'm very strong," the large man said. I thought he was merely boasting.

"Why are you in the deep woods?" I asked. "Aren't you afraid the creatures here might try to hurt you?"

"No. Some try, but they have not hurt me. I came here for the monsters. It was many years ago," said the large man. "I was younger then. But I was very strong."

I managed not to roll my eyes.

The large man sat down on the ground, cross-legged. "I was walking through the world, looking to see what I could do. I helped people. I could help them because I was strong.

"One day, I found several houses. In the houses people lived. They were good people, but they were not so strong as I. I helped them. I stacked firewood for them. I made a bridge. I lifted rocks from their garden. It was good. I was good, because I was strong.

"I played with the children. I loved them best, and they loved me. I carried them on my shoulders, and lifted them to the trees. I was careful to be gentle with them, for I am very strong.

"Then the bandits came. They were many, and they were strong. Not like me, but strong. And many. They were so many." The large man held his hands out wide.

"I ran to meet them. For I was strong. I fought them. They stabbed me with swords, but I was strong, and I did not die. I hit them, and they did die. But they were many, and not all were fighting me. When I finished, the village folk were dead. The children were dead. I did not die. I am very strong.

"I followed the bandits as they left. I fought them again, and again. Many died. I did not die. I found where they had lived, and I fought them there. They all died there. I did not die.

"I looked for other bandits. More powerful bandits. I fought them. They shot me with arrows. They stuck me with spears. I did not die. I am very strong.

"I fought the strongest bandits in the land. Many died. I did not die. I am very strong.

"There were no bandits left who were strong. So I went to where there was a wicked king. I fought his soldiers. They had guns and cannons, and they shot me. I did not die. I am very strong.

"I killed the king and all his armies. I was called a hero. I left. I found an ogre. He was strong. He hit me with his club. I did not die. I am very strong.

"I killed the ogre. I found a dragon. The dragon was strong, and had armor, and fire breath besides. He raked me with his claws and burnt me with his breath. I did not die. I am very strong.

"I killed the dragon. I found where there were more monsters. I fought the monsters. I did not die. I am very strong.

"I went where the monsters came from. I have been here for many years now. I have fought many monsters. I have fought many men. None have killed me. I am very strong."

He reached up and took a branch as thick as a horse. He broke it in one hand. "I am very strong," he repeated. "So very, very strong. And very, very tired."

He stopped speaking, and I said nothing for a time. Then I thanked him for his food, and said that I hoped he would rest soon. He smiled sadly back to me, and that was how I left him, sitting by the side of the road.

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