Once, when no one was looking, Walter was nice.
While riding his bike around the block, he saw a praying mantis on the bumpy sidewalk. His first instinct, of course, was to aim directly for the bug. As luck would have it, he turned too quickly and his front wheel slid up against the three inch lip where the roots of Mrs. Aiden’s oak tree had pushed up the sidewalk. Down went the bike, down went Walter, and he found himself lying belly down on the cold concrete with his legs tangled in the frame of the bike. The offending front wheel spun slowly a few inches above the ground.
The praying mantis hadn’t moved. It stood on its four rear legs, front limbs up, a miniature green centaur. Walter scowled and his face grew red. He kicked at the bicycle, trying to dislodge his legs.
“Stupid bug! You’re gonna get it!” Walter spat. He reached to the edge of the sidewalk and pulled up on the corner, where the tree root had cracked it. Walter knew about that corner; he had dug out underneath it so that he had a place to hide things. Soon, though, it would be a grave for a smashed green bug.
Walter raised the chunk of concrete over his head, a jagged corner protruding from his hand like a primitive dagger. He narrowed his eyes and tensed his arm, ready to slam the concrete down on the mantis, but then a strange thing happened.
The mantis turned and looked at Walter. It cocked its head, just like E.T. from the movies. Little circles of light reflected off the bug’s eyes, as if they were polished. It stared at him.
Walter froze. He could almost hear it asking him not to smash the chunk of concrete down. Intelligence shone from the bug’s eyes; it looked smarter than Walter’s kid sister, which, of course, wasn’t saying much. But it was unexpected. Walter lowered the concrete chunk down slowly and put it back in its place on the edge of the sidewalk.
The praying mantis inclined its head forward slightly when Walter finished placing the broken corner. Walter nodded back, imperceptibly. He stood up, picked up his bike, and started wheeling it home, to the other side of the block.
That night, at dinner, Walter’s parents noticed a scrape on his arm.
“What happened to you, Walter?” his mother asked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, mom. I just wiped out on my bike today.”
“Oh no! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Don’t worry, mom. It happens all the time, especially in front of Mrs. Aiden’s house. There’s a chunk of sidewalk that sticks up there, and I hit it wrong with my bike.”
“Well, you had better slow down, young man! You’re going to wind up really hurting yourself.”
Or someone else, Walter thought.