by Kevin J. Doyle -
Lloyd loved family walks in the park. He’d play chase with his mom and then talk to her about something cool - like how school next year will probably, no, definitely be harder than last year. Other times, he and his dad would kick a soccer ball back and forth. Except lately, his dad usually spent their walk time pushing his little sister in a stroller while feeding her popcorn. Or chasing her across the grass to stop her from fish flopping into a pond. But no matter what, every one of their family park walks ended with ice cream from Gus’s Snack Shop, which was always awesome! Yes, it was only fun, games, and cool treats until one day, just a short while ago, one of these park outings changed Lloyd’s life for good.
He and his family were at a new park near their house. It had only been open a couple of weeks, and they’d already been there at least eight times. It was, by far and without a doubt, the best park Lloyd had ever visited. But on this day, it was somehow even better. The birds, ducks, squirrels, and frogs he could see and hear seemed to be more... active. Excited even. And all the flowers, trees, and plants were bursting with fuller color than ever before. The reds were hotter, the blues swayed like ocean waves, and the greens were velvety soft. Yellows and oranges exploded like permanent little fireworks that never burned out. All the play equipment appeared tidied up and there was a shimmering glow throughout the whole area. The park was bubbling with anticipation for something....or, perhaps, someone.
Not too far along their walk, Lloyd’s mom had someone important from work call her, so she had to talk on her cell phone. And his little sister was not digging her popcorn, was refusing to laugh at their dad’s bad singing, and she didn't even want to gleefully gallop across the grass. Which meant his dad would be on carrying duty for the whole walk. So Lloyd was just strolling along behind everyone, using a stick to trace a line in the mud beside the sidewalk.
It was then when he first saw an odd character in a dark blue suit skipping along under some nearby trees. Under the man's suit were a ruffled white dress shirt and a thin, dark-blue, poorly-tied necktie. His shoes were old, beat-up, black and white checkered sneaks. He had a scruffy brown beard and a bad case of bed-head. Lloyd stayed on the sidewalk but did his best to follow the interesting fellow. However, he quickly learned that tracking this guy was going to be a tough task.
The man did not stick to any path and seemed to know nothing about straight lines. He hopped from rock to tree to bush to tree to rock to bench and back to the ground without missing a beat. He never disturbed anything about the plants around him and was always extremely careful to avoid stepping on any flowers. Lloyd wasn’t certain, but he was pretty sure the trees, bushes, and bright blooms were turning to watch the strange guy pass by. If anything, the surrounding plants were certainly rustling a bit, though there was barely a breeze. Sometimes, the man would be skipping along the top of a nearby rock wall, which bordered the sidewalk, so Lloyd would jump on and hop along behind him. Occasionally, the guy would peek over his shoulder at Lloyd, but he’d never stop moving.
Was he supposed to try and catch him? Lloyd thought about that question and several others. What was the man doing in the park? Where was he going? What would happen when he arrived there... where ever “there” was? Lloyd’s mom was still on her work call, and his dad remained distracted by his fussy little sister. So he just kept following the blue suited fellow in hopes of finding some answers. Then suddenly, things took a mysteriously magical turn.
The man jumped from a flower bed onto a tall rock and then did a front flip onto a wide tree branch. The tree he landed in responded by shaking like a wet dog to release a shower of apple red, sunset orange, and sandy yellow leaves. The guy caught some of the leaves in mid-air and used a stick to scribble on each one before releasing them to float to the ground. Lloyd ran about under the tree branch and caught each falling leaf with writing on it. There were seven of them. By the time he’d gathered them in his hands, the fellow was on the move again. He hopped down from the tree to a park bench, cart-wheeled over a rose bush, did a spin jump over a small cluster of short pine trees, and continued to crazily move through the park. Tree to rock to ground to bush and on and on. Lloyd clutched the leaves to his chest and kept on following the odd little character.
Luckily, they soon came to one of the park’s big ponds where Lloyd’s mom and dad decided to pause and rest. His dad continued trying to entertain his whining little sister, and his mom sat on a bench so she could focus on finishing up her work call. Lloyd looked up as the blue suited man leaped from tree branch to tree branch until reaching the opposite side of the pond. Then he splish-splash-belly-flopped right into the water and swam about with the birds, fish, and frogs as if they were all best friends! Here, too, it seemed all of nature was gathering around the odd little guy, greeting him and laughing with him. The fellow began pulling various kinds of food from his pockets to toss to some of the surrounding critters. Lloyd just knew those must be magic pockets because none of his coats could instantly produce flies, bread bits, fish food, and bird seed. He watched the man joyfully wade around in the pond and feed the animals for a moment before realizing it was a good time to sort out the mystery of the leaf writings.
He laid the seven leaves out so he could see what was written on each. Lloyd thought a couple of the images might be “I”s, “L”s, or “O”s, but none of it looked like any writing he’d ever seen. A loud splash distracted him, and he looked up to see the man do a back flip cannonball from the edge of the pond back into the water. As before, Lloyd was almost certain all the surrounding wildlife was actually clapping and chuckling. Suddenly, Lloyd heard a new sound, a sort of breezy cough. He looked back and forth, but there was no one nearby. Then, as he looked back down at the leaves, one of them blinked! Lloyd stood up in surprise and immediately recognized what was on each leaf. They all had different parts of a face drawn on them!