I haven’t posted a story on here in a while, but given the nature of this one, I decided to share it as a Halloween treat. Happy Halloween, everyone!
I’d like to thank those that offered their expertise when I asked for it on Facebook, particularly Molly and Brett who even went so far as to take the time to read the resulting story before posting. Without your insight, experience, and knowledge, I fear this story would have fallen flat. Thank you.
The telltale signs of autumn covered the ground in a thick mat of oranges, reds, and browns. Grampy took a deep breath and let it out, savoring the musty smell of wet leaves on the crisp, post-rain air. The kids ran around in his back yard, excited about something or other. He was content to just take a seat on his favorite log by the cold fire pit and watch them, but recalled his daughter’s insistence that he actually spend some time with them.
“Hey, boys,” he said, waving them over, “Why don’t you come on over here and have a seat?”
Both came over silently and they sat side by side on the log opposite him: obedient but not thrilled.
“What are you two doing over there?”
“Collecting acorns,” the older one said, his little brother nodding.
He looked at them hard for a moment then furrowed his brow and asked “What’s an eggcorn?”
“Grampy!” the older one said exasperated, “I said ‘acorns.’”
“Oh,” he said with a grin, shooting the younger kid a wink, “and what do you want with them acorns? Practicing to become a squirrel?”
The two boys giggled, but the older one said, “no.”
“What then? Just start’n a collection?”
The two boys looked at each other and an unspoken word that was obviously grounded in mischief passed between them, then the older on said, “for a project.”
“Ah,” Grampy said, nodding as if that cleared it up, “and which project might that be? Your ma say’s you’ve been playing T-ball, though I don’t see how a pile of acorns fits with that.”
“It’s for birds,” the younger one said, avoiding the irritated glare of his older brother.
“To feed ’em?”
“No.” Whether it was for breaking under the old man’s interrogation and betraying his bond of silence with his brother, or because he knew what he was about to confess was wrong remained to be seen, but it was clear that he was very ashamed. He fidgeted in his seat and stared at his hands. “For the slingshot.”
“Ah,” Grampy said, nodding, “I see now. Why don’t we leave that for a while.”
“Are we going to make a fire?” the older boy asked, his eyes on the fire pit, all too eager to change the subject.
“I mean,” Grampy said, his brow furrowed again, “I reckon we could put one together, but what’d you want it to say? Your cat run off?”
The boy sighed and rolled his eyes, “Fires can’t talk.”
“Ohhh,” Grampy said, grinning, “you said ‘fire.’ Thought it was weird that you’d want to make a flyer.”
“What’s a flyer?” asked the younger boy.
“It’s like a sign you make to hand out to people or put up around the neighborhood. Ever see a lost dog poster, or a piece of paper talking about a yard sale?”
Both boys nodded in unison.
“One of those.”
There was a quiet moment as they all stared into the empty fire pit, then the older boy shattered it with “So, are we going to make a FIRE?” he almost yelled the last word like an idiot trying to talk to someone that doesn’t speak English.
“No,” Grampy replied, “wood’s all wet and we only have a little while before your ma comes back to get ya.”
The kid grunted, but didn’t give any other indication that he’d been spoken to.
“Mom says you’re full of stories,” the smaller boy said.
Grampy grinned; that’s probably not how she’d worded it, and he was pretty sure that’s not what she thought he was full of, but he nodded. He’d been known to spin a yarn or two.
“Can you tell us a story?”
“Sure,” he said, rubbing his hands together, “what sort of story you wanna hear?”
The younger boy opened his mouth to speak, but the older one yelled right over him, “A ghost story!”
Grampy furrowed his brow a bit and looked down at the empty fire pit, then back up at the boy.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“Okay, I probably know one or two of those.” He again looked to the fire pit and rubbed his hands together, then started in. “Your Gramy and I, God rest her soul, used to live up north of here a ways. This was back before your ma or your uncle were born. We had a little dairy farm. Goats. Bought it from a fellow my pa knew on the cheap and took it over.
“Tried for a few years to turn a profit from it, but ended up selling for about the same I paid for it and, as I’m sure you know, we moved back down here and I started working in my pa’s car dealership instead.”
He looked at the boys. The younger one nodded, he knew that Grampy sold cars when his ma was a girl, but the older boy didn’t respond.
“During the time in question we musta had about 80 lamancha and it would have been fall because it was breeding season but there was no snow on-”
“What’s breeding season?” the younger brother asked.
“It’s, well… how much has your ma told you about where baby animals come from?”
The older one spoke up then. “Oh, is this the ‘when a man and a woman love each other very much’ thing?”
“Yes. Like that. But with goats, they don’t have to love each other. They just need to be able to reach each other when the time’s right. Does that make sense?” He looked at them each in turn, while nodding and they nodded back, obviously pretending to understand. He didn’t push the issue; they’d learn about all that soon enough and it should be someone else that had to explain it to them.
“Anyway, it was fall and the goats were extra noisy-”
“Why were they noisy in the fall?” interrupted the younger boy.
“Is it because of all the breeding?” asked the older one, looking alarmed.
“It’s because when they want to breed but aren’t able too, because the billies and the nannies are kept apart, they start bleating all the time. Yelling at each other, yelling at me, yelling at your Gramy. Horrible creatures that time of year, really. Especially the billies. Dear Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, billies are a horrible, nasty lot of monsters.”
The older boy nudged the younger one with his elbow. “Hear that, Billy? You’re a horrible, nasty-”
“Shut up, Buck.” He looked suddenly to be on the edge of angry tears.
“Now, now boys,” Grampy said, “let’s be nice. There are multiple meanings to ALL our names. In fact, Buck, you’re named after me, so I know all the dirt on that name, but I’ll save you the torment and keep it to myself if you can be nice to your brother.” He looked hard at the older boy until the boy nodded.
“Good. Now what was I- Oh, yeah. So the nannies are sorta yelling all the time and one gets used to that sort of racket, and I could sleep through damn near anything. Now, I tell you this so you know what level of ungodly racket they must have been causing that night when they woke me up. Every single one of em musta been hollar’n as loud as they could. It was so much racket that the windows were rattling in their frames and I thought for sure the end times had come and that I better start say’n my prayers.”
The boys were captivated now, staring at the old man, eyes wide.
“So as I’m pulling on my pants, your Gramy, she jumps up and starts doing the same. Of course, I don’t know what I’m about to run in to, so I yell ‘No, you watch from the window, that way if something goes wrong you can call fer help.’
“Well, out the door I go, grabb’n that old shotgun on my way. ‘Goats!’ I’m yell’n, ‘What ya see?’ and, of course, your Gramy followed me.”
“I get out to the nanny’s pen and they’re all out of their shed and running around hollar’n, but appear to be focused on the billy pen. Now, the billy pen was much further away from the house, on account of them stinking and the fact that it could ruin the milk, for reasons I’ve already said. So it’s all the way on the other side of the property.
“I tell you what, never in my life did I wish those stinky bastards were closer as I did when sprinting over there, listening to them screaming. As I got closer I could see something laying motionless on the ground outside in the pen and hear a scuffle going on inside the shed. Closer still and I start hearing this vicious growl among the desperate braying of the billies.
“I get up close, yelling ‘Get outta there!’ and as I turn the corner to be able to see into the shed, what do you think I find?”
Both boys shook their heads in silent shock.
“Go ahead,” Grampy instructed, “take a guess.”
“A monster?” asked the younger one.
“Had to have been a werewolf,” said the older boy.
“You’re part right. It was a wolf.”
“I had two shells in the shotgun and I fired one off into the air, then pointed the gun at the beast, but he didn’t need to be told twice. He took off, bounding over the fence like it was nothing, leaving behind three dead billies. One outside, two in the shed.
“What do you think of that?”
“Wow,” said the younger boy.
“Wait. So there was no monster or ghost, it was just a regular old wolf?” the older boy demanded.
“Not sure why you expected monsters. You know there’s no such thing, right?”
“Yeah, but I asked for a ghost story.”
“Ohhh,” Grampy said with a laugh, “I though you said ‘goats story’ and I asked myself ‘why on earth would-‘”
“Grampy!” the boy cut him off, exasperated.
“I think I hear your ma roll’n into the driveway, better go and meet her.”
The older boy didn’t hesitate to run into the house, but the younger one stayed right where he was, looking at the old man. After a long hard look, he said “I didn’t hear my mom’s car until after you pointed it out.”
The old man’s grin widened.
“How did you hear that if you couldn’t hear that Buck said ‘Ghost Story?’”
Grampy laughed and said, “You’re a smart kid, Billy. Now run along and give your mom a hug.”
He watched the kid run into the house.
“’Goats story,’ “ he laughed, shaking his head, “You old coot.”
Then he got up and walked in after them.