It was in the eighth year of her life that Becky truly became obsessed with The Tall Man. His coming, his arrival, was all she had to fear in the world. He could be upon her at any moment. Becky turned her mind away and sat Indian-style on the floor, playing with her dolls. She wondered if she would ever feel safe.
No one believed her, of course. She told her mother. She told her father. Always the same: a pat on the head. A soft reprimand in soothing tones. What an imagination! Now go on, dear, back to your coloring.
The Tall Man had no color. He existed jet-black, black as night. Not black like her friends at school. Scary black. And he was dressed all in black, scarecrow-thin and wiry, wearing a stovepipe hat like Abraham Lincoln…
Becky put the images away. If she wasn’t careful, they just might scare her to death. Becky had such a little heart to combat such huge terrors.
“Don’t you have someone who’s coming to get you, one day?”
Becky asked this question of Mitch, sort of her friend, at the next day’s recess.
“I guess I do,” Mitch said. “I guess we all do. Most of us, anyway. We’ll all be murdered, someday. Almost everybody is.”
Becky nodded. The world was out to get all of us, she knew. The Tall Man was the one sent for her.
“Don’t your parents say they’ll protect you?”
“Sure,” Mitch replied.
“But you don’t believe them?” Becky said.
“Kids die every day. Parents can’t do nothin’.”
Becky thought Mitch was very wise.
That night she sat on the floor of the living room in front of the TV. It was only 8:30 but her father, a working man, had gone to bed. Working men needed sleep. Her mother dozed on the couch. Becky felt alone. The door stood locked. An old movie played upon the screen, from back when the world existed in black and white. People kissed. That was nice and simple. They did a lot more, now.
Becky went down the wrong roads in her head and made the dolls forgotten in her hands. The Tall Man would approach from down the street, walking uphill toward their house. They lived in a nice neighborhood with lots of houses built close together. The Tall Man would walk down the middle of it all.
He would round the corner at the bottom of their street. One long leg would appear, bent at the knee joint like a spider’s. It would stretch way out into the middle of the intersection. It would be wearing Sunday pants and a shiny black shoe. It would take forever to plant its foot. Then the rest of him would peek around the house on the corner, creepy crawling. The Tall Man would know right where she was.
About six months ago Becky stopped looking out through windows. It was too dangerous, not worth the risk. One night The Tall Man would be looking back in from behind the hedges.
What scared her the most were his manners. It was a funny word her parents used: courteous. The Tall Man, for all his awkwardness, would be courteous. He would tip his hat at the ladies. He would wear a tuxedo.
Becky sensed him out there right now, bending his back to fit beneath the street lamp so that the light would shine on his face. His face didn’t have expressions. Even if he could speak, she didn’t want him to. He might have an accent.
There was no time to wake up her parents. He would bend down to look right in the window. A tarantula that forgot its fur. He would tip his hat. Courteous. Becky would die of fright.
She couldn’t keep her eyes closed forever. Becky said goodbye to her parents. She would miss her dolls. And even Mitch at school.
Becky opened her eyes, slowly.
The Tall Man was there.
What an imagination!
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