Under the knob

It was early when the old man woke him up, rudely in his opinion.

“Let’s go, we’ve got water to change and pigs to feed.” He heard the man say. It was still so dark he could barely see an outline of what looked for all the world like a monster come into his room, but the thought was fleeting and the old man was already walking away, out of the room and into the kitchen. Teddy could smell coffee brewing as he pulled on a pair of jeans and started feeling around his dark room for the shoes he’d kicked off the night before.

When he emerged into the much brighter kitchen he discovered that the old man’s wife was also awake and busying herself at the country stove across the room, probably with breakfast if he had to guess. He turned as the old man grunted at him, pointing at the kitchen table. There were fresh biscuits on one of the ugliest plates Teddy had ever seen before. He’d tried to figure out what it was the night before, but it had escaped him. Now as he looked at it in more detail he supposed it was some sort of rooster, with a large garish red tail and plumes of feathers splayed across the surface of the plate in what was probably intended to be a decorative manner. Instead it looked more like someone had puked red paint onto the plate, finger painted it around until it vaguely resembled a rooster, and then and trapped it there against its will. It wasn’t like Teddy was any sort of decorator type by any means, but he knew ugly when he saw it, and the rooster plates certainly qualified.

The old man was still standing in the opposite doorway, watching him over the brim of his coffee cup, as Teddy grabbed a biscuit and added some grape jelly to the mix before taking a bite. He thought it was kinda weird, but his mother had warned him that the old man would take some getting used to. He wondered how long that would take, but beyond the general grouchiness the old man seemed harmless. Teddy figured if it came down to it he was faster than the old man. He could always run if he needed to. Besides, it had been less than a full day since he had arrived. Maybe the old man would get tired of his staring and find something else to do with his spare time.

“Oh, there you are!” The old man’s wife said as she turned around with a skillet full of crackling bacon. “I thought you might sleep till noon!” She smiled, and she was kidding, he knew. It wasn’t even five o’clock in the morning yet according to the cuckoo clock hanging on the wall. Teddy grinned at her. She’d been nice to him from the start, unlike her husband, and he figured he might as well return the courtesy, even if he wasn’t sure just where he stood with her yet.

The old woman smiled, almost like she knew what he was thinking, and dropped a couple of fresh pieces of bacon onto his rooster plate before doing the same to her husbands. “I’ve got eggs coming right up, do you like yours scrambled?”

“Yes m’am.” Teddy replied.

“Well ok then, coming right up!”

The old man moved silently over to the table, pulled his chair out and sat down, reaching for a biscuit and the tub of butter as he did so.

As he continued eating, Teddy mentally took stock of his predicament. He was, for all intents and purposes, trapped out in the middle of nowhere on the farm where his mother had grown up. His mother had insisted that he leave his iPod, his PSP, and his computer at home, leaving him with nothing but a bookshelf full of musty old books that had belonged to his mother in what he could only assume had been a complete other lifetime. Her old room, such as it was, had become his until she returned for him in the fall.

What was worse, even than not having the PSP, and looking at the horrible faded pink walls in his mother’s room, was being stuck here with her parents.

His grandparents, he now realized. A couple he had never met, nor even thought about until his mother had decided that his last summer before starting high school would be a perfect time to send him out to their farm.

Teddy figured she had plans of her own that didn’t include his being around, because otherwise he could have just as easily done what he did every summer, which was stay at home, sleep in, and spend his days on the internet or down at the neighborhood pool with his friends.

No, she had sent him here for a reason, however misguided it might be, he just didn’t know what it was yet.

“You said we need to change water?” Teddy asked.

“Mmhmm.” The old man grunted scooping a knife full of butter onto his knife.

“What are we changing it into?”

The old man stopped in the middle of applying his butter and stared at Teddy, almost as if he was looking right through him.

“You being smart with me, boy?” The old man growled menacingly. Suddenly it dawned on Teddy just how large the man was. He was easily over six feet tall and had huge gnarled hands that reminded him of nothing so much as a weathered old oak tree. If he got those hands on him, it wouldn’t matter how fast Teddy could run, he was in for it.

“N…no. I was just wondering, that’s all.” Teddy took a huge bite of his own biscuit then, hoping to return to the previous silent treatment as soon as possible.

“Better not be.” The old man warned. “Got no time for smart mouthed kids around here. Your momma should have told you that before she brung you here. Got no time for that at all.”

As they locked eyes Teddy thought the old man might take the still hovering butter knife and stab him with it, but thankfully the old woman, his grandmother, returned to the table with a skillet full of eggs.

“Oh, Ned, stop it. He didn’t mean anything by it and you know it. He can’t help being brought up hundreds of miles from the farm. It’s a whole new world!”

The old man held his gaze for several more seconds just to be sure, and then returned to buttering his biscuit with a grunt. Teddy, for his part finally managed to breathe again and started in on the eggs she had delivered to his plate.

No electronics, no friends, no contact with the real world, and only his crazy old grandparents for company.

It was going to be a long summer.


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