Like any animal, Pigs need water. Which is why I was up at 5 a.m in the first place.
That and I didn’t want to start the morning with a whipping. I’d been getting too many of those already. No need to tempt fate again.
Since the first winter snow, it was like this every morning. Before anyone else was up, I had to go to the barn and break the ice on the pigs’ trough. Then grab some eggs from the chicken coop so mom could make breakfast.
We didn’t have cows. Just pigs and chickens.
I was glad we didn’t have cows.
We’d visited a friend’s dairy farm a bunch of times when we lived back in Florida. And boy it stunk. Plus their whole family had to get up at 4a.m. every morning. Summer, winter, didn’t matter. Cows needed to be milked. And they had a ton of them.
So when we moved to the little farm up in the Appalachians, I was glad we didn’t have cows.
Pigs and chickens were enough.
Once I’d gotten my warm clothes on, and made it out of the house I didn’t mind 5a.m. so much. Between the moonlight glistening on the high mountain snow and the sound of the creek coming from behind the barn and down through the front yard, I’d gotten to where I could find may way to the barn door without ever turning on my flashlight.
I’d pretend I was a ninja. And if I made a sound that made the pigs squeal before I got to the rusty latch on the barn gate, I was dead and the mission was over.
I’d send myself back to the porch, wait until the pigs settled down and start all over again.
I finally got to where I could go weeks without spooking the pigs. Those were peaceful moments of being in total control of my destiny.
Everything rested in my eleven year old hands. By my own skill I controlled whether I lived or died.
And after a few months, I’d become a master ninja.
You see, we’d only been in the mountains since the summer, just a month or so before school started.
Mom said we were up here because there was work. But that was until winter came. Coming from Florida, you could work construction in the winter. But up here, with heavy snows. The work got scarce. So all three of us were home together more.
And I didn’t like so much. It was more peaceful when he wasn’t around.
“Boy? You finish your chores and get the eggs?
He wasn’t my dad. He was my mom’s husband. I didn’t see my real dad that much, but from what I’d seen and heard of other kid’s dads, is that a dad was supposed to teach you and encourage you. They were supposed to build you up not tear you down.
Of course dad’s had do some disciplining. All kids need discipline, it helps them learn to respect authority and mind the boundaries. The good ones. The ones that will one day keep you of trouble.
Like no lying, stealing, and cheating. Things like that. Not breathing, being in the wrong spot at the wrong time, being a bother, or leaving a candy wrapper in a favorite chair.
No, those should be teaching events. Not disciplining events. At least I thought so.
The only problem is my mom’s husband didn’t think so. He wasn’t into the teaching and growing you up kind of discipline. His discipline was punishment, pure and simple.
He used it to dominate the environment and keep me in your place. Sure it might shape my behavior in the short run, but only out of fear. Not out of respect or anything.
My real dad. Even though I didn’t see him much, he never hit me. Maybe once, but if he did I don’t even remember it. He had this way about him. If you messed up, he’d give you this look. A look of utter disappointment. And because he was such a nice man, too nice maybe, you would beg for a whipping.
Anything but seeing the disappointment in his face.
Not so at my mom’s house.
He just wasn’t so nice. Especially now that winter was harder than expected, and money was getting tight.
At least that’s what I overheard mom telling to grandma on the phone last week.
She also said there was no “big project” up here. And that we’d only moved up here to the mountains to get away from all their friends back in Florida.
There were a lot of them. Their were always people over at the house. They’d all stay up late drinking, smoking, and talking. ‘
And in the morning, I’d always look of the little rolled up dollar bills they’d leave behind. I could usually find three sometimes four dollars worth.
Most of the people were pretty nice, never did anything to me, which was good. A few were pretty scary. But I’d mind my own business. And go to my room. At least back in florida I had a room.
Up here in the old farmhouse I didn’t have one. I slept on mattress at the foot of the stairs. That was where the pot belly stove was. They put me there because it was the warmest room in the house. And when winter hit, that was a good thing.
They slept upstairs. Heat rises you know.
I hated that stove. Not because I had to sleep next to it, but because of the firewood. Every night, it was the same thing.
He’d yell from upstairs, “Boy… you get that firewood stacked for the night?”
I’d always say I had. Even if I hadn’t.
I’d say yes then run to the stove and check to make sure. Every once in a while I’d forgotten. Then I’d have to run outside and grab a cord of wood and try to make it back before he came down after his bath.
Usually I’d make it back. But when I didn’t. I’d get a double dose. One whipping for lying and saying I’d done it, and a second one for not doing it in the first place.
Punishment was quick.
There was no need to go behind the woodshed, or the barn, or anywhere else there was no one around for miles so he’d march me right out on the porch.
But this night was different. Instead of a trembling frame and teary pleas there was a calm resolve.
My senses quickened.
I could feel the crisp winter air burn my nose and lungs until they both became a harmonious breath. My ears were filled with the sound of water lapping over countless rocks in the creek.
My boots hit the snowy porch without a sound. Every step became a silent dance. First toe then heel as I made my way to the end of the porch and confidently grabbed the railing.
It was as if my body had been prepared for this very moment. As my drawers hit the porch and the cold wind blew across my backside, everything became clear.
I was a master ninja, and tonight was not my night to die.
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Me …
“River Flows in You” – Composed and Performed by Yiruma
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Jinn Zhong, Dogwood Daniels and Me) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Sundays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.