If anyone asked, he would pretend to be hard pressed to recall how long he’d been here. The summer days were measured by the sound of laughter skittering across the nearby lake, the summer nights by screams echoing through the trees. In between, he cooked meat, stirred sauce, served tourists and locals alike, and fretted. He’d become adept at recognizing those most likely to be lost. He did his best to warn them away, but those meddling kids never listened. They already knew everything, why would they listen to him? What did he know? Too much.
Now and then, Doris from the post office would stop in for some take out. She’d watch him at a table full of kids, nearly in tears with frustration at their insolence, their arrogance that there was nothing for them to fear.
“Why do you bother, Herb? It never helps. People are going to do what they do.” Herb would heave a sigh, and throw some extra coleslaw in a container. He knew that Doris’ husband Bert loved his slaw.
“What else have I got to do, Doris? Besides pulling pork and what’s left of my hair out? At least the summer is almost over, and things will be quiet again.” He cast a glance at the skies out the window, the soft paling blue a sure sign that Autumn was on the way. Doris cast a glance at his full head of thick hair and snorted.
“I know that you worry about these kids, Herb, but I worry about you, not letting anyone help you. This burden you’ve taken on, this feeling of responsibility you have for strangers who don’t know how to keep themselves from driving headlong into trouble, it’s too much for one man to carry. I’m starting to see grey hairs at your temple. If I knew how old you were, I’d say it was aging you prematurely.” He made himself busy reaching for napkins to thrust at her along with the bag of BBQ, in an attempt to evade her fussing and probing.
“What I take on is my business, Doris. Now you get that home to Bert, before it cools and the sauce congeals.”
He watched her drive away and turned back to the now empty table the kids had been sitting at. Half drank sodas and plastic baskets smeared with barbecue sauce the only evidence they’d been here. As though they were already ghosts.