The same old dirt path with the same old wagon wheel tracks and old footprints still lead to the old town with its old businesses and markets. Legend told of towns such as this that prospered and the fate that waited. Take old Clarkton. There was the stereotypical prospering town. Merchants came from all around to set up markets of their goods that everyone could have lived without purchasing but did. Surrounding farms produced the largest fields of corn, wheat, and pumpkin patches in the whole state. The Chickens and cattle continually sold well and provided well for the purchasers and their familiesónot to mention the sellers. No weather or criminal or new law could possibly knock this town over. That was until he walked in with his merchandise.
The people knew him by only one name: Salesman. This mysterious merchant had many reputations. Some say he convinced the Governor of Clarkton to give up the town. Salesman then destroyed it with a blazing fire caused by the mere snap of his fingers. Others say he tricked the people into giving him all their money by selling his cursed merchandise. Then, after he left, the farms were plagued by some mysterious force and died leaving the town to ruins. Others claim it was a giant tornado concocted by an angered Salesman when no one bought his merchandise that destroyed the small town. In any instance, where is Clarkton now? Good question.
A few of the old folks of the old town told the stories to the younger ears adding even more detail to this Salesman. They claim to have seen him sitting on a stump beside the old dirt path, with his rickety old cart and his young dog, to rest from their walk. Many people have tried to sit on the stump and when they do, Salesman would come over the hill and tall grass, along with his cart and trusty Labrador. The people who tried to invade his territory were never heard from again. And along with this, their names were erased with them. This offered understandable skepticism however, every time a traveler would stop to rest, they would avoid all stumps by the path.
Adam and Jesse were the boys of a farmer. Their mother had died of small pox and their father always had them on chores. They were a poor bunch. Neither boy had a decent pare of shoes or cloths. Their teeth were far from straight and their faces were constantly dirty. It raised few brows, however. After all, every boy in the area was like this. Jesse was a rather tall boy at fourteen. Adam had his red hair and freckled nose and cheek at nine. The older folks of the old town had filled their heads with tales of Salesman many a time. Adam took every word to heart, as his brother would work on improving the stories. Jesse and his friends were notorious for causing trouble with mere words but the younger folksólike Adamówere always taking the bate.
The two brothers strolled down the old path chewing on grass and kicking pebbles with their callused toes. Jesse had been feeding Adam with more tidbits on Salesman as they walked from the old town to their old farm. Adam, as usual, hung on every word.
"Whereís the stump that he sits on?" Adam asked his brother with open curiosity.
"Iíll show you it when we get there," Jesse answered keeping his brother in suspense.
"So what does he look like?" Adam asked with his boyish quizzical tone.
"Well," Jesse began, creating a picture in his mind that could fool his brother, "heís sorta tall, like over 6 foot. Heís got hair past his neck and itís all black. Heís even got hair on both sides of his ears but no beard, just the beginnings of one.
"HeísÖahÖhe wears this round green hat that sorta looks like those English shoe-shinerís hats with the small brim. Heís got this long tan coat and itís all wrinkled. And thereíre no pockets neither. Heís got brown Indian shoes and these yellow pants with holes in Ďem. Oh, and heís got gloves with no fingers on. He says itís to keep his hand warm but his fingers cold."
Adam pictured such a man in his head. Then Jesse immediately stopped him in his tracks and pointed a finger out in front of him
"Thatís the stump I saws Salesman sittiní on," he whispered to his curious brother.
"Wow," Adam whispered in awe. He felt he was looking upon a godly sight: the famous stump.
"I dares ya to sit on it," Jesse said insidiously.
"You first," Adam dared back. Adam was not stupid; he knew the legend.
"Suit yourself," Jesse replied. "Iíve gotta get home to do my chores. See ya later, little brother." With that, the older of the two ran off ahead of the younger leaving him to marvel at the old stump. And though it was of his nature to stay and watch, in amusement, his brotherís profound interest in some old stump, Jesse did run all the way home to do his chores. If heíd tricked his brother into one phony story, he could do it again.
Adam slowly approached the mystifying stump hesitantly as though it would attack him at any moment if he were not careful enough. To think, it was this stump the Salesman came and sat on all those many times. It was mind-boggling and very unsettling. It finally got the best of him and Adam could only do one thing after thatÖ
He sat on the stump as his brother had described. The young boy absorbed the invigorating rush that came over him. He then took immediate guard and looked about him up and down the old dirt path that lay in front of him. He knew what happened to people who sat on this wicked stump. Suddenly, the piercing sounds of wheels from an old cart bounced off the ground and rocks into Adamís ear. A figure of a tall man hunched over his cart with the wheels wobbling back and forth slowly appeared from over the tall grass. His long coat blew limply in the small breeze. His hat was tattered and dirtied changing its color from what appeared to be a brilliant green to a dark grotesque olive. The pitter-patter of a dog with his drooling tongue hanging limply from its mouth followed by the strangerís feet. The young Labradorís tail flew back and forth at a rapid speed as his master mumbled to himself. "Copper Kettles. Different kinds of tin," the stranger spoke to himself. His eerie smile curled up his grimy cheeks. The slow formation of a beard added to its haunting affect.
The cart was of an old molded wood that cracked as loud as the wheelsí screech. It held pots, pans, kettles, teacups, and everything in any type of metal imaginable with remarkable no rust formed on any of the merchandise. Compared to the man, these goods would easily make this man a king though he only looked to be a popper. Adam couldnít understand; if this was the powerful Salesman heíd heard about from so many people, why was he so dirty and poor?
"Copper kettles. Different kinds of tin," the man repeated again. His pooch followed his master intently, wagging his tail. Adam froze as the man made eye contact with him. His smile remained as if carved by a fine bladed artistís knife.
"Young boy," the traveler spoke in a distinct southern accent, "I believe you have my seat under your pants."
"S-s-sorry sir," Adam stuttered in fear. He immediately stood up and stepped three paces back from the stump. The traveler slowly approached and, parking his cart next to it sat heavily down on the vacant stump. He removed his hat and, using it as a fan, waved it in front of his face, drying the beads of sweat so to cool his tired hot cheeks.
"Thank ya, boy," the man replied. "I needed this. See, Iíd been walkiní a hundred Ďn ten miles now. Itís tough on the old heals, Ďspecially with these here moccasins, I tell you what."
"Yes sir," Adam replied unsteadily. The Lab laid in the shade of the cart lying his head on his front paws. "That sure is a good lookiní dog you got there, sir," Adam commented.
"Thatís my traveliní companion," the man replied. "His nameís Snitch. He likes heariní me talk. By the way, my nameís Salesman." The stranger extended his hand out to Adam. The boy merely stared at it in horror. He was in the presence of the Salesman.
"Well gee, boy," the merchant said, "ainít ya gonna shake it? It ainít gonna hurt ya." His hand wore a dirtied tan leather glove with the fingers ripped off. Adam hesitantly extended his hand out and let Salesman do all the shaking. They released their grips shortly after. "See, that wasnít bad, was it?"
"Sorry, Mr. Salesman, sir," Adam timidly responded. "Itís justÖ"
"Oh, youíve heard tell all those stories," Salesman finished. "I understand. I get that a lot. Take it from me, boy, none of itís true, not a word.
"If itís all the same, sir, Iíd best be gettiní home now," Adam said, slowly backing away.
"Aww, come on boy," Salesman whined yet still maintaining his unearthly smile. "It hurts to think you donít trust me. Iím just a traveliní merchant tryiní due with what I got." His eyes then narrowed and his brow turned in. He then stood and turned to his cart digging through its contents. The Lab looked up at his master in curiosity as well, his tongue dangled from his mouth.
"I see you donít believe me," the traveler began, still searching through his merchandise, "so Iím gonna show ya Iím good." He stood back up and turned around to Adam holding a copped urn. It was rather small and there was no real detail to it however its shine reflected the sun sharply causing Adam to squint as he marveled at it. "This is for you," the man said, handing the boy the urn. Adam took it cautiously.
"Thatís kind of you, sir," the boy said, "but I donít have any money to give you for it. ĎSides, I got no use for a-a-whatever this is."
"Ah but you do, boy," Salesman began, sitting back down on the stump. "See, this hereís a magic urn. It will give you wishes. You just tell it to give you what you want, no matter what the size or cost and youíll get it. Go Ďhead. Try it."
Adam thought far a second then looked at the urn and said to it, "I wish for a sugar stick twelve inches long." He waited a second or two but he saw nothing appear or change. He then looked to Salesman curiously. "What happened? Whereís my sugar stick?"
"Open the top," the man said. Adam cautiously opened to lid letting it hang from its hinge. Inside stood, straight out the top, a long brown pastry glistening in sugar. Adamís eyes grew wide. He pulled out the stick; it stood longer than the urn. He bit off the tip and savored the taste.
"Itís got cinnamon on it too," Adam, remarked happily. "Howíd it know?"
"The urn can do anything," Salesman replied. "But ya canít be too greedy with it. Anyone who is may not like whatís coming to him or her. Make sure no one misuses it keep it safe. If ya need my help again, just sit on the stump." The merchant the stood up and took hold of his cart again.
"But mister," Adam began, "what ifÖ" He cut himself off as he looked up and noticed that the traveler had vanished. Adam was stunned. How could the man have disappeared so quickly and quietly and without him seeing?
A week had passed since Adamís encounter with the mysterious Salesman. He had taken his urn and hid it in his pillow so his brother would not find it. If he was caught and word spread that he had made contact with the infamous Salesman, he would surly have to go again and get Salesman in needless trouble.
That night, Jesse and Adam lied in bed in their shared room. Jesse began telling other stories he had heard about Salesman from the old men at the tavern. For instance, it was reported that a trail of the travelerís dogís saliva was found coming from the stump. He was then seen strolling past the old Wilson farmówhich was just two miles from the old town. Rumor then had it Salesman was heading for the old town to do business of his own. Some of the residents were reported to have shut down their shops early to pray it was not true.
Adam just listened with half a heart. He knew Salesman could not have been heading for the old town; he had been walking in the opposite direction when Adam met him meaning he had to have passes the town a week ago. Adam just silently fell asleep to his brotherís wild stories.
The next morning, the brothers woke at the sound of the roaster as they did every morning and walked into the dining room to have their breakfast of eggs and grits. Their father sauntered in through the back door. His expression was grave and he sat down in front of his two sons. The father explained the mutilation of their only chickens by a roaming weasel and the escape of their hoarse during the windstorm the night before. Without the chickensí eggs, they were forced to start selling their own precious corn for tax money. Jesse was scolded for blaming Salesman for their luck. Adam argued that going to market on Sunday was no good for business. But their father informed them if they couldnít get money Sunday, tax collectors would take the farm. They had no choice but to pick the corn that day and sell it on the Sabbath.
That day, the three walked up and down the acre of corn patch inspecting every stock for any cobs that were just ripe enough to pick and there were very, very few. It got to the point where the boysí father decided to dig up his most youthful stocks to sell them whole. It was desperate.
The boys easily went to bed early that night. The work had them tired enough to go to bed before the sun set. But before Adam went to sleep, he had made a decision. When he was sure his brother had completely fallen asleep, he pulled out his urn and held it tight. Concentrating, he spoke to it: "I wish we can make enough money tomorrow to get our horses and chickens and goat back and we can grow all out corn back too. I donít want loose the farm." He then heard rustling from his brotherís bed as Jesse fidgeted in his sleep. Adam quickly shoved the urn into his pillow and went to sleep.
The following morning at market, a swarm of people mingled through the town. People from all over the state came up to the boyís stand purchasing everything. Adam had to handle the stand at one point so his brother and father could go back to the farm and retrieve more goods. With the money they were making, they could easily afford twice as many supplies and livestock and still pay off the taxes to the house.
Finally, the last corncob remained. Adam watched every man to see who the next customer would be when a tall man with a long coat and dog by his side approached. His olive hat covered his face and his hands were shoved in his pants pockets. He walked to Adam and took out his hand holding five polished silver coins. His hand wore a glove with no fingers.
"Gíday, boy," the strangerís southern accent greeted. "I wish to purchase yer last thing a corn there." Adam concentrated hard on the man until something clicked in his head.
"Salesman," he whispered.
The man looked up; his sinister grin still curved on his sinister rough face. "It suren is nice to see you finally used the urn Iís gave ya," he said in a sneering tone. "It wandered what Iíd have ta do to get you to pull it out of yer pilla."
"You did this?" Adam asked quietly so not to grab any needless attention. Salesman just shrugged his right shoulder. "Oh sir, I wasnít beiní greedy. I just wished our family could get fixed so we wouldnít have to move. Thatís all; I swear."
"I ainít objectiní none," Salesman said. "I just want my corn over there."
"Please sir," Adam began, taking the cob and handing it to the traveler, "take it for free. Itís the least I can do to repay you for the urn."
"Yer a good kid, boy," the merchant replied taking the vegetable, "but you ainít the one whoís gonna be payiní me and it wonít be with just corn neither." He dropped the coins on the table and turned away. The boy watched as a crowed of people passed between him and the mysterious traveler. When it cleared, Salesman had vanished. How did he do such an unfathomable act? And how did he know where Adam kept the urn?
The farm prospered well after that. Two more horses were added to the farm, twice as many chickens came, and the healthiest corn in the history of the farm was harvested. The family was happier than could be imagined. Adam hadnít used the urn since for fear of over using it. He had already received everything conceivable to his familyís standards. Anything moreóto himówas too much.
Jesse noticed his little brother becoming less and less interested in the legends of Salesman. He became suspicious as to why. Had his brother been effected by his cursed ways? Was his brother in conjunction with Salesman? Or did his brother find out the stories he had been fed were fake?
Suddenly, and without warning, the boysí father took ill. He was confined to his bed and his chores had to be done by the brothers. The boysí aunt came to care for her sick brother and there was little light at the end of his tunnel.
Adam found this to be another perfect time to pull out the urn. This was not greed; this was love. He ran into his room one day after lunch and took the urn from his pillow. He held it tightly in front of him and said to it, "I wish my father to get better. I love him and we need him."
Then, I tight grasp on his wrist caused Adam to drop the urn on his bed and gasp in shock. Someone had caught him and was forcing him to turn around. As he did, he met his brotherís fiery eyes. Jesse picked up the urn and held it just out of reach of his brotherís hand.
"Give it back!" Adam demanded.
"Where did you get this?" Jesse charged. "How could you afford this?"
"I didnít buy it," Adam answered, still struggling to get free of his brotherís grip. "Someone gave it to me."
"Who?" Jesse ordered, squeezing his brotherís wrist tighter.
"I-I-I canít tell you, Adam responded fearfully.
"Iím going to tell Aunt Clare you stole this," Jesse threatened.
"No!" Adam pleaded. "No, Iíll tell you who gave it to me." He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Salesman did."
"Liar!" Jesse accused. "There is no Salesman!"
"Yes there is!" Adam argued. "Heís not bad. He gave me that urn to make wishes. Thatís how we got all that money from market."
"Where did you meet him?" Jesse demanded.
"I sat on the stump," Adam answered. "The one you pointed to."
Jesse looked one last glaring time into Jesseís eyes. He then released his grip and stormed out of the room, the urn in hand. The older brother continued out the door toward the old path. The little brother pursued after until he caught up and pulled on his brother to halt.
"Donít go," Adam pleaded. "Please donít."
"Hey, if he can give you something like this for free, he can surely give me something too," Jesse replied. He then pushed Adam down on the dingy ground and ran down the old path. The little brother left his brother to meet his fate.
The next day, the fatherís health was improving dramatically. Though he was still weak, there was no doubt he would recover fully. However, Jesse hadnít returned from his trek the day before. It was not like him to leave and not return for supper. Aunt Clare was becoming concerned and told Adam to go searching. The boy knew exactly where to go.
The little brother hurried down the old path to the familiar stump and without hesitation, sat upon it. Immediately, the eerie sound of the old decrepit cart and the words "Copper kettle. Different kinds of tin," grew from beyond the hill. Salesman and his dog appeared pushing his raggedy cart with its luminous merchandise. Adam quickly stood up with no dawdling. He glared at the manís snarling grinning face as it made contact with his. Salesman parked his cart as he had before and sat down on the stump once again using his hat for a fan.
"Whereís my brother, Salesman," Adam demanded without preamble.
"Who?" the traveler asked him teasingly.
"My brother came to find you," Adam retorted. "What did you do to him?"
The merchant reached his hand into his pants pocket. "Remember I told ya you werenít gonna be the one repayiní me fer that urn?" he asked. Adam nodded. The traveler then pulled out a pouch and held it in front of Adamís eyes. "Well, yer brother did and very well too. Iím sure some mother is makiní good bacon on him now." He shook the bag. The haunting sound of change was heard from it. Salesman laughed in a terrifying tone. Adam turned closing his eyes; the vision of what his brother had become shook his mind and body. The laughter added to the petrifying image. The boyís head filled with rage and he whirled around but when he opened his eyes, the man was gone. The only thing that remained was the haunting laughter fading, a puddle of dog drool, and the wavy tracks of the cart.
From that day on, stories of Salesman diminished. The old town was repaired and with its old look went the old folks and their tales. The old path was soon fixed and marked and all the trees by its side were cut so the infamous stump disappeared among its brothers. There was no talk of the whereabouts of Jesse only that he ran away and never returned home. Adam just remained with the farm until his fatherís dying day. The farm was left to time and Adam just walked away as if nothing happened. He never forgave himself for letting his brother go to his fate that even he did not deserve. And if ever asked about his thought of Salesman, he responded with the same words: "Whoís Salesman?"