This is a short story I entered into a contest. I was very proud of it at the time, being my first story written in ages. In terms of genre, I'd classify it as Canadiana maybe? Looking back on what I've learned, there's much I would change if I was to write it again or edit it. I've left it in its original state so I have something to look back on later as one of my early works. I hope some of you enjoy the read, though. I welcome and encourage all comments and critique. Thanks for reading!
⠀⠀A blonde haired boy, no more than five, sat down sandwiched between two older boys on the concrete ledge of a flower garden, on the outer rim of a large flat concrete slab, overlooking a drained pool that was long since abandoned for use of swimming. From the cracks of the slab grew green moss and grass with yellow dandelions poking through now and again. The pool was overgrown with greenery, vines clawing their way up the sides of the pool, grasping, reaching out for a whiff of the hot Okanagan sunshine on their dark green leaves. Behind them and all around the boys were surrounded by mature trees and shrubs who offered shade. To their front, a green gazebo stood strong, and a view of the town below disappeared into a lightly dusty haze. Bees buzzed in the hot sun. Frogs called out with croaks and creaks from the bubbling creek ‘round the tall white house they sat near. The young boy wore a white bucket cap, red and white stripes on his shirt, light blue denim overalls with tarnished brown clasps, and holes in the knees, and grass-stained white Velcro sneakers. His cap kept the bright midday sun off his shoulders and neck, but did nothing to shield him from the cloudless and bright expanse of blue sky shining into his sensitive juvenile eyes, and this caused him to squint and grimace in discomfort. The two older boys, ten and twelve, wore a more casual denim jean with no belt, black t-shirts untucked. One wore a flimsy flip-flop and the other wore no shoes at all. They both had medium length darker-brown hair with mousy notes of grey and golden highlights that could be seen only in the sunlight.
⠀⠀The three boys brandished brightly coloured water guns. The two eldest had larger guns, with large bulbous tanks, big pump-action slides, with bright orange tips on the barrels. They were green, and blue, and white, and red, and yellow, contrasting heavily with their black shirts. Grins lit up their young faces as they posed with bravado, pointing the guns with intent to kill and destroy. The young boy in the red and white stripes had a translucent red plastic pistol, whose water stream was actuated by a tiny white plastic trigger. No tanks, pumps, bulbs, or military decorations adorned his puny instrument of water-war. Slouched over his chubby stomach, he looked not ahead with the same gusto of the older boys, but rather down at his toy with the same grimace he bared staring into the bright and cloudless sky.
⠀⠀“Alright boys, ready?” said a lady. Her face was kind and caring, she wore thin, round framed glasses, with a tint to them. “Randall, look here! One. Two. Three. Cheese!”. A disposable film camera clicked with a characteristic plastic-on-plastic sound. The flash went off despite the bright condition, and the high-pitched whine of the charging capacitor let the three boys know the photo was taken and the camera was primed and ready for another.
⠀⠀The two older boys took off running towards the back door of the big white house, water guns in hand, laughing playfully.
⠀⠀“Mom, I want a big gun too.” complained Randall. He couldn’t be bothered to say it with any conviction, nor really all that loud. His eyes were still squinted and glued on the dinky plastic weapon. “Why do Jon and Cory get big ones?”
⠀⠀“Well, Randall, wasn’t it nice of your cousins to share their toys with you?” his mom asked.
⠀⠀Randall didn’t answer and took off toward the house after his older cousins. He slunk in through the swinging screen door, kicked off his shoes, one then the other, and looked into the kitchen where he had entered. His socks slid on the polished black and white tile floors. To his right, Jon and Cory’s guns sat on a chair in the corner by the door. There was a lady standing at the kitchen island with some mixing bowls out, holding a wooden spoon. The island was covered in flour, some spilling onto the pristine tile. Her skin was rather grey, with wrinkled up eyes and a loose neck from a lifetime of smiling and sitting in the sun and smoking cigarettes. Her dry, thin lips curled upwards into a smile at the sight of Randall, exposing her yellowing crooked teeth. Her hair was short and white, thinning out it places, but had all the hold and curl of a fresh perm.
⠀⠀“Why hello there, Randall!” she said.
⠀⠀“Hi, Gramma.” he replied with a quiet sadness in his voice. His eyes were no longer squinted and the lines on his face relaxed and ironed themselves out into perfect flat and smooth peach-coloured skin.
⠀⠀Randall’s grandmother wiped her brow with her wrist, removing a few drops of sweat “I’m making you something special.”
⠀⠀“Where did Jon and Cory go?”
⠀⠀“I’m not sure, Kiddo, they came through here a minute ago, but they didn’t say where they were going.” she answered. “Why don’t you go and take a look upstairs to see if they’re playing up there.”
⠀⠀The boy Randall set off through the house in search of the older boys to play with but he got distracted when he heard some noises coming from the living room, and he went to investigate. His socks slid from polished pristine tile onto polished well-kept hardwood floors. Through the opening in the kitchen he saw the extensive living room. Further away he could see the piano room as well, with a shiny and black grand piano catching rays of sunshine from the front porch and reflecting and refracting them throughout the wide open room. To Randall’s left was an old man facing a television in a dark green corduroy recliner chair, reclined out with a light brown wooden handle sticking straight up that the old man had pulled on to lean back his throne. He was wearing a plaid blue shirt, pale and worn but without holes or fraying threads. He wore pale blue denim, well worn but still stiff and rugged, and long white socks. His lips curled over his teeth, stretching and warping to do so. His nose was large and pink. His eyes were sunken into his skull, skin pulled tightly as if the eyes were pulling the wrinkled skin back inside of his head. His hair was grey and full, medium length, rounded on top of his round skull. He had a black watch on, with a white face and a black leather strap. In his opposite hand he held a remote for the television. The TV was quietly playing the weather channel. Randall was going to say hello to his grandfather but noticed he was asleep in his chair. There was more noise still, piquing Randall’s curiosity as two grown Newfoundland dogs sniffed and sneezed and played gaily with each other on the other side of the sliding glass door, which lead out to the large porch, which circled the large white two-storey side-gabled home. In the shade of a decorative column, by the stairs leading down to an open green space, Buddy, the larger black dog lay on his back, forelegs curled in a submissive position while Missus, the brown and white dog sneezed and snarled and growled and wagged her tail and bowed while the two of them play-wrestled. The dogs’ collars jingled as they moved and rolled and circled in and out of the shade. Randall headed toward the door to see what the dogs were up to.
⠀⠀He slid the sliding glass door open with all his strength and passed through, out onto the porch where the dogs were now standing at attention. The little boy walked cautiously toward Missus and gave her a clumsy pat on the head, followed by another, and another. The dog’s head sunk down with each pat. Buddy came nearer now looking for the same affection his friend had been receiving. Both the large Newfoundland dogs were panting now and their tails wagged with vigour in excitement, slapping the wooden deck and the white painted column behind them. Randall lifted his other arm to pat Buddy’s head and gave both the dogs an affectionate and clumsy brush-down with his hands. Randall got some licks and nuzzles and nudges in return.
⠀⠀“C’mon, pups.” he said to them and he started walking down the steps in front of him and out into a wide open green lawn. The dogs followed him down, ran ahead and circled around him, tails wagging, panting heavily. Randall found an old tennis ball for the dogs, and threw the ball for the dogs to fetch. The two dogs fought over who could bring the ball back to Randall. The boy and the dogs played together ‘til the sun moved across the sky. The sun, once straight overhead, started to move down towards the trees, and the shadows became longer and longer. Randall was lying in the tall green grass keeping the attention of the two big Newfoundland dogs, who loved to play.
⠀⠀A man came out from the sliding glass door and onto the porch and began to watch Randall and the dogs play. He stood stout, with a slight slouch. He had on denim jeans and a matching heavy denim shirt with two breast pockets. His hair was dark and straight and neat. Brown dress shoes on his feet matched his worn leather belt, scuffed and stained from age.
⠀⠀“Randall!” he shouted out.
⠀⠀The boy turned to face the man in a hurry and Buddy and Missus stopped what they were doing and faced him as well, tails still wagging. “Yeah, Dad?” he answered.
⠀⠀“Randall, it’s nearly time for bed now!” his dad told him. Randall started up the steps towards his father and onto the porch. The dogs stayed in the green grass at attention for a moment before starting to scout out the land by themselves. Randall tilted his head back to look up towards his father and his father looked down at him. He leaned forward slightly and said “I know you’ve had a long day. Your grandparents have set you up a bed in one of the bedrooms upstairs. Jon and Cory are going to say goodnight to you before they head home. You’ve got a big day tomorrow, don’t you? Do you remember what we’re doing tomorrow, Randall?”
⠀⠀“Horses?” Randall asked.
⠀⠀“That’s right, we’re going to take you out to ride one of your grandfather’s horses.”
⠀⠀“Horses!” Randall said again excitedly. He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet.
⠀⠀“Yes, Randall. Now brush your teeth, change into your pyjamas, and go to bed.”
⠀⠀The young boy headed into the house. He saw Jon and Cory inside standing by the door saying goodbye to their grandmother. He ran up to the two of them and gave Jon a hug, followed by Cory. “Goodnight!” said Randall.
⠀⠀“Goodnight, Randall!” his two cousins and his grandmother replied in unison.
⠀⠀Randall headed up the stairs to the bathroom, passing by a bighorn sheep’s head mounted on the wall, and a stuffed cougar in a menacing pose at the top of the stairs. He brushed his teeth, changed into his pyjamas in the bedroom at the end of the hall and climbed into bed.
⠀⠀The boy dreamt he was in an orchard alone with a beautiful brown horse, and the horse and the boy knew exactly what the other was thinking, and together they rode and played in the orchard among the trees together. Atop his steed, Randall picked a juicy red apple from a tree and ate it.
⠀⠀The very next morning Randall awoke early, eagerly anticipating his horse-riding adventure. Out of his bedroom window, Randall could see the sun coming up over the hillside to the east. Rays of red and pink poked through the partially cloud-covered blue morning sky. He could see his grandfather was already awake and working in his shop. His grandfather’s dark silhouette was moving to and fro about the shop floor. A single caged lamp hung illuminated in the centre of the space. The shop was packed full of scrap woods and metals, machine parts and plastic drawers, and mason jars, and tools.
⠀⠀The sun began to rise. The birds chirped, and the bees buzzed, and the frogs croaked, and the bright morning light began to fill the dining room. The young boy Randall, and his father, and his grandfather, and his mother, and his grandmother, ate breakfast together.
⠀⠀It was nine o’clock in the morning when Randall and his father headed out the door. The horses were waiting in a field down the dirt road a short ways away from the big white house. The two of them hopped into his fathers car and headed down the rocky pathway, kicking up a cloud of dust in their wake.
⠀⠀“Are you excited, Randall?” his father asked him as they bumped along the dirt road.
⠀⠀“I can’t wait to see the horses!” he answered.
⠀⠀“They’re beautiful creatures, Randall. They’re big and strong. Your grandfather’s horses are so well behaved too.”
⠀⠀“Absolutely. Some of the tamest animals I’ve known in my life. They’ve always been so kind and gentle. Horses been known to bite and kick, Randall. They can be stubborn as heck sometimes too. A horse will never do anything it doesn’t wanna do. But these horses now, these are some great beasts. You’re gonna love them.”
⠀⠀The car slowed down and Randall and his father came up to a gate in a fence and parked the car in a little nook just off the dirt road. In the middle of a large green field was a paddock and inside the paddock stood three tall horses. There was a grey horse who stood furthest away, paying no attention to the people who came near. A red and white pinto horse stood closest to Randall and his father, eating from an alfalfa hay bale placed by the fence. Finally there was a dark brown horse having a slow walk about the paddock with its head held low.
⠀⠀After some time of staring at the animals, Randall’s father said that it was time to get him up and riding. He equipped the pinto horse with reigns and halter, and a red leather western saddle. He brushed her with confidence and care, and fed her a carrot from his pocket. “When you’re up on that horse, it can sense what you’re feeling, Randall. If you’re calm, she’ll be calm too. You can grab onto the saddle horn and I’ll lead you around for a bit.” his father explained.
⠀⠀His father lifted him onto the pinto horse. Randall grabbed the horn like he was told and held on tight. He was smiling and shaking from the excitement of it all. The boy’s father lead the horse around by the halter at a slow pace and circled him a few times around the paddock to warm Randall up to the horse. The kid was feeling more confident now and wasn’t shaking anymore. His father watched him, smiling, remembering his first time with horses when he was a young boy.
⠀⠀Randall’s father told him he was ready to lead the horse around himself if he wanted. Randall nodded. He explained how to talk to the horse, and how to ride her around. Randall, on his own, started off and the horse walked nice and easy for him. He picked up the pace a little, and slowed the horse with the reigns with ease. Randall rode all around the perimeter of the paddock. He lifted his arm in the air and made a fist that he pumped up and down like he had seen cowboys do. After some time his father stopped the horse, pulled Randall down, and said it was time to head back to his grandmother’s house. They said their goodbyes to the horses and the two of them headed back to the house.
⠀⠀Back at the house Jon and Cory were waiting for Randall. The three boys took the opportunity to play a game of hide and seek before dinner time.
⠀⠀“You’re ‘it’, Randall. Close your eyes and count to twenty and then come find us.” said Jon.
⠀⠀“Jon, let’s go.” said Cory, as their socks patted against the hardwood floors.
⠀⠀“One… two… three...” Randall started counting. He was in the living room facing the corner where the television stood. The two boys had scattered. Cory went upstairs and Jon took off towards the kitchen. “four… five...” Randall counted aloud and he heard several doors opening and closing. Buddy and Missus were running around the house. The TV played the same old weather channel and Randall could hear his mother and grandmother talking in the kitchen but couldn’t make out what they were saying. A gust of wind ripped through the house as a screen door swung open. The house creaked and whispered almost as if to interfere with Randall’s senses in their game of hide and seek. “eighteen… nineteen… twenty! Ready or not, here I come!” he cried out, opening his eyes now.
⠀⠀Young Randall started off slowly on his hunt for the other two boys. He turned around and started his search by checking behind the couch to his front, and behind the armchair that his grandfather often sat in. With no sign of either boy Randall continued his search on the ground floor of the house. He headed toward the grand piano at the far side of the house. There was a stand in the corner with a lamp sitting on it. The lamp wasn’t lit. Randall checked behind there, whipping his head around the corner as if to catch anyone hiding by surprise. He staggered about the ground floor of the house, looking intently with a sharp eye for any sign of his cousins.
⠀⠀The house was quiet now with no sign of anyone stirring. Randall was completely focused on his task of finding either Jon or Cory. The young boy no longer heard the collars of Buddy or Missus jingling, and he tuned out the birds chirping and the frogs croaking. He was no longer aware of the hum of the television. As the boy made his way toward the spiral staircase – as he intended to check for his cousins upstairs now that there was no sign of them on the main floor – he heard a voice cry out from a small vent in the floor.
⠀⠀“Randy…” the high pitched falsetto voice quietly rang out in a soothing tone. “Randy…” it continued.
⠀⠀Randall looked down at the floor by the base of the stairs to see a small metal grate. He bent over at first, then fell to his knees, he placed his hands on either side of the vent and looked down into it. He heard nothing more for a second and then he placed his ear over the metal slats.
⠀⠀“Hey Randy, can you hear me?” said the voice. It echoed and warbled through the tin.
⠀⠀“Hello?” Randall replied inquisitively, talking into the vent. “Who is this?” Randall had forgotten entirely about the game of hide and go seek.
⠀⠀“It’s me, Randy. It’s Richie. Your brother.” the voice answered.
⠀⠀“I don’t have a brother.” he replied.
⠀⠀“Yes, Randy, you probably don’t remember me because you were so young.”
⠀⠀“Mom never said anything about you.”
⠀⠀“She misses me too much.”
⠀⠀“Why does she miss you? You’re here now.”
⠀⠀“I’m a ghost, Randy. I died in this house four years ago. She can’t see me, Randy. Only kids can.”
⠀⠀“Where are you?” Randall asked.
⠀⠀“I’m not sure, Randy. I’m lost. I need your help.”
⠀⠀“What kind of help?”
⠀⠀“I need you to find me, Randy! Only you can bring me to life again.” the voice answered.
⠀⠀“How will I know it’s you?”
⠀⠀“We’re brothers, Randy. You’ll know.” he answered. “My time’s almost up, Randy. I can’t talk much longer.”
⠀⠀“Wait!” Randall cried out. “I don’t know where to look.”
⠀⠀The voice, quieter now, answered “Follow your heart, Randy.” and quieter still it repeated “Follow your heart.”
⠀⠀“Hey!” said Randall. “Hey! Wait! Richie! Come back!” he called out with his hands cupped around his face, funnelling the sound down into the vent, but the voice had faded away with his last words and the vent remained silent. “Follow your heart.” Randall repeated to himself.
⠀⠀Randall remembered the game of hide and seek going on and continued on his hunt for his cousins, keeping in mind to look out for his brother’s ghost all the while. He headed to the stairs, and up the spiral staircase. He passed the cougar and the bighorn sheep, completely indifferent to the menacing poses of the stuffed beasts. He looked around the hallway, peaked his head into the bathroom, and there was no sign of either cousin. He looked into the first bedroom, checked under the bed, and still nothing. He headed over cautiously to the bedroom that he was staying in. He saw his bed was unmade and there was a bump under the covers. He sneaked up to the bed as quietly as he could. A big smile lit up the boy’s face. He grasped the duvet with both of his hands and with a swift pull he ripped the covers off his bed revealing two pillows underneath stacked to look like a person. Randall was panting now from the burst of energy and his own excitement. He was on high alert and hyper-vigilant now, and his heart pounded in his chest and his ears rang. A small creak sounded from inside the closet doors. Randall’s head quickly snapped to face the closet. He slowly and cautiously approached the closet doors.
⠀⠀The boy took a minute to catch his breath and calm his nerves, and after a pause he swung both bi-fold doors open as hard as he could. From the shadows and between the boxes and hung up clothes of his grandfather lunged a figure yelling at the top of its lungs. Randall screamed in response, letting out a shrill noise of genuine terror. He threw his hands in front of his face and cowered back scrunching his face and squinting his eyes. Cory stood there, close to Randall, and began to laugh.
⠀⠀“Randall, it’s just me. You found me.”
⠀⠀Randall caught his breath but still seemed on edge from the fright.
⠀⠀“Did you find Jon yet?”
⠀⠀Randall shook his head. “No.”
⠀⠀“Let’s go find him then.”
⠀⠀The two boys took off. They headed back down the hall, past the cougar and the sheep, and back down the stairs. They passed by the living room and headed into the kitchen. They headed out the kitchen door and onto the concrete slab and outside by the empty pool Jon was lounging in the afternoon sun.
⠀⠀“We found you!” Randall called out.
⠀⠀“What are you doing out here?” asked Cory.
⠀⠀“I was hiding outside on the porch under the window but I got bored.” Jon answered, walking up to the two of them. “Did you have fun, Randall?”
⠀⠀“Cory scared me.” he answered.
⠀⠀Jon laughed heartily, throwing his head back “Yeah, he does that! You gotta watch out for this guy.” he said, nudging Cory with his elbow.
⠀⠀“I heard a ghost.” Randall interjected.
⠀⠀“A ghost?” asked Cory. “What kind of ghost?”
⠀⠀Jon tried to hold back a smile by biting the inside of his cheek.
⠀⠀“He said he was my brother.”
⠀⠀“What was his name?” asked Jon, still stifling his grin.
⠀⠀Jon gave Cory a slight wink, and Cory took notice and answered “Oh,” he paused briefly “we don’t talk about Richie anymore.”