The thirteenth unicorn, p.5
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.5

           W. D. Newman
 
CHAPTER 2

  ALDERMAN'S FARM

  Charles flipped on his turn signal and eased the Honda into a narrow, unpaved driveway on the right side of the road. The wheels crunched loudly on the gravel as they cruised through a stand of loblolly pines toward a small hill in the distance. When they topped the hill, the driveway continued on through several curves and crossed two old wooden bridges. The bridges were built from big logs and thick planks which were coated with tar. Beneath the bridge, a small stream bubbled merrily along as it wound its way through turkey ferns and mountain laurel. Charles stopped the car on the bridge to let the kids get out and look over the sides for crawdads along the shady banks. When his stomach started growling, he called the kids back to the car and continued down the road. Finally, a meadow emerged on the left and there, on the other side of the pasture, nestled at the foot of a hill crowned with giant oaks, beechnuts, and hickory trees, was Grandpa and Grandma Alderman’s house.

  The Alderman farm was the kind of farm you would expect to see on a calendar or in one of those country living magazines. The house was a typical two story white farmhouse with wrap-around porches, while the barns were painted dark red and trimmed with white. The main barn was actually bigger than the house and had a cavernous hay loft where Grandpa stored his winter hay for the cows, horses and goats. Ben and Casey had loved to play hide-and-seek there when they were little. The bottom floor of the barn contained a tack room, a feed room, and four stalls. Ben loved the smells of leather, mink oil, and saddle soap that permeated the tack room, and also the sweet smell of molasses coated oats and corn that filled the feed room. On one side of the barn was Grandpa’s tool shed, and on the other side was Grandma’s chicken house. Her laying hens were Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Barred Rocks -- the kind that laid big brown eggs with dark yellow yolks. Also, Grandma had a goat house in a small pasture located behind the barn. Although she claimed that goat milk was soothing to her stomach, everyone knew they were her pets.

  Charles pulled the Honda around to the side yard where some guineas were scratching in the dust beneath an ancient magnolia. The tree’s dark green foliage was ablaze with huge white flowers. The smell, though cloyingly sweet, brought back a nostalgic wave of childhood memories. He eased the car under the shade of the magnolia, switched the ignition off and tooted the horn. A moment later, George and Louise came bustling out of the house to greet them. Louise was a slightly plump and bespectacled lady with a kindly face and gray hair pulled back in a bun. She was wearing an apron which meant that lunch was probably on the table. George was tall and lanky with his face, neck, and forearms tanned a leathery brown from many days in the field. He was wearing what he always wore -- blue denim Kentucky overalls and a John Deer ball cap. Charles had asked him once why he always wore a John Deere ball cap, when he did not own a John Deere tractor and George simply responded that he liked the green and yellow colors. Louise was the first one down the steps, wiping her hands on her apron, as she practically ran to meet them.

  “Ben, Casey, give me a hug!” she cried.

  Ben and Casey ran into their grandma’s open arms while Charles unloaded the luggage from the trunk of the car. George paused to hug the kids too, then helped Charles gather up the luggage.

  Inside the house, the aroma of batter fried pork chops and freshly baked biscuits filled the air. “Just leave the suitcases here in the den and we’ll unpack later,” Louise said. “Let’s eat lunch while it’s still hot.”

  After lunch, Louise and the kids unpacked, while Charles helped his dad hook up the mower to his tractor. Ben and Casey were put in the two bedrooms upstairs. The bedrooms faced each other from across a short, narrow hallway and each one had its own bathroom. Ben’s room was a hodgepodge of mismatched furniture. There was an old brass bed in the center of the room. On one side of the bed, a small pie safe with punched tin doors served as a nightstand; on the other side, sat a huge rocking chair with thick blue velvet cushions. At the foot of the bed was a large twelve drawer dresser, made of tiger maple, where Ben stored away his clothes. Casey’s room had a matching bedroom set that consisted of a sleigh bed, a night stand, a chest of drawers and a small dresser. The set was solid oak, and according to Louise, over one hundred years old.

  After unpacking their luggage, the remaining time they had together was spent on the front porch enjoying quiet conversation and the relaxation that always follows a big meal with close family. Louise made a pitcher of lemonade for everyone to enjoy while they passed the time. Charles sat on the old porch swing, with Casey on one side and Ben on the other, his arms around them both. It abruptly dawned on Casey that while this summer would probably not be fun for her, her dad was not looking forward to it either. She began to feel sorry for her dad and suddenly realized how much she was going to miss him. Ben must have been thinking the same thing as they both snuggled closer to him.

  George and Louise were sitting in their rocking chairs -- two old ladder back chairs, with rickety cane bottoms that had seen better days. Louise sensed what Ben and Casey were thinking and tried to take their minds off of things by rattling on and on about how much fun they would have over the summer and all of the different things they would do.

  “Casey, a new family moved into the old Gibson farm a couple of years ago and they have a daughter your age. Her name is Jenny. She’s really sweet and I just know you two will get along so well together. We’ll go visit real soon so you can meet and get acquainted. And Ben, George tells me the fish are really biting now. He caught a mess of catfish in the pond last week. Eight, wasn’t it, dear?”

  “Ten!” George shot back. “And I threw three back in.”

  The pond was a small spring fed pool of water about a hundred yards behind the house. George had built a short dock off the dam and kept it stocked with bream and catfish. Ben loved to fish, but hardly ever got the opportunity, so he was eagerly looking forward to catching a few. Casey was glad to learn of another girl her age living nearby and was eager to meet her. Who knows, maybe she would even have a handsome big brother too.

  The afternoon wore on. Soon, Charles stood up and stretched.

  “I hate to go guys, but it’s time I hit the road. I need to be at the airport at least an hour before my flight leaves.”

  Everyone stood up with Charles and followed him out to the car. George and Louise hugged him and then stepped back to give the kids some privacy to say their goodbyes. As Charles leaned over, Ben and Casey threw their arms around his neck and squeezed. Charles pulled them close and hugged them tightly.

  “I’m going to miss you guys.”

  “We’re going to miss you too, Dad,” Casey said.

  “A bunch,” Ben added, wiping his eyes.

  “Listen, you guys will have so much fun here. The summer will be over before you know it. And I’ll call you every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. How’s that?”

  Ben and Casey nodded.

  “Well, I’ve got to go. You kids behave and don’t drive Grandpa and Grandma crazy, okay?”

  Ben and Casey nodded again. Charles kissed them both, then got into the car and started the engine. He backed the car up and rolled his window down.

  “I love you guys!”

  “I love you too, Dad!” Ben and Casey replied in unison.

  Charles put the car in drive and slowly pulled off, waving goodbye out the window, as he drove down the driveway. Ben and Casey stood in the yard and waved until the Honda, with a plume of dust behind it, was out of sight. The silence of the afternoon descended like a soft blanket and, a moment later, Louise’s hands were on their shoulders.

  “What would you two like to do today?” she asked.

  “I’m kinda tired,” Casey answered.

  “Me too,” Ben said.

  Casey turned and looked up at her grandma. “I think we’d like to bum around in front of the TV for a while… if that‘s okay. Maybe even take a nap”

  “That’s just
fine, sweet heart. You and Ben run inside and make yourselves right at home. George is getting ready to mow the front pasture and I’ve got a few chores I need to do out here anyway. Maybe, later, we can all run into town to pick up a few things and get some stuff to make some home-made ice cream. How does that sound?”

  “Sounds great, Grandma,” Casey smiled. “Come on Ben, race you.”

  Casey was the first to the door. She always won their races, but Ben never gave up trying to beat her. The television was located in the den, the first room in the house. The den was a comfortable room, not large, not small, but as Goldilocks would have said, “Just right”. As you walked in, to the right of the front door, were two oversized leather recliners with an end table and a lamp between them. On the opposite side of the room was a rock fireplace with a thick wooden beam for a mantle and, to the right of the fireplace, a built-in cabinet, that housed the television. Ben and Casey plopped down into the recliners and turned the TV on. Casey flipped through the channels and eventually settled on Animal Planet reruns of The Crocodile Hunter.

  “I’m thirsty,” Ben said. “Think Grandma has any sodas in the fridge?”

  “Go look,” Casey replied, “and bring me one too.”

  Ben got up and went into the kitchen located in the rear of the house. He opened the refrigerator and found a dozen sodas lined up on the bottom shelf in the door. He retrieved two cans of Pepsi and walked over to the kitchen sink to wash the tops off. This was a habit that annoyed Casey to no end, but Ben would not put his lips to a canned drink until he washed the top. As he reached over to turn the water on, he happened to glance out the window over the sink and saw Louise standing in front of a patch of bamboo that grew at the edge of the back yard. She was looking around as if checking to make sure that no one was watching her. Ben leaned over the sink and peered out the window. He felt as if he was spying on his grandma and a twinge of guilt passed over him. Louise, apparently satisfied that no one was watching her, turned and disappeared into the dark green foliage of the bamboo. A minute passed. Casey yelled from the den.

  “Where’s my soda?”

  “I’ll be there in a second,” Ben yelled back.

  “I hope you’re not washing the tops of the cans! That is so lame!”

  Another minute passed and Louise emerged from the bamboo patch, brushing her dress off with one hand and checking her hair with the other. She hastily looked around, then hurried off toward the goat house.

  Ben watched her leave, then looked at the bamboo and tried to mark the spot where she had gone in. What was she doing in there? Ben knew by the way she was acting she did not want anyone to see her going into the bamboo, so he couldn’t ask her. He figured if she did not want anyone to see her going into the bamboo, then she would not want anyone else going into the bamboo either. Curiosity was killing him. He hastily washed the Pepsi cans off and hurried back into the den.

  “Did you get lost in there?” Casey asked.

  “No,” Ben said, “but I did see the strangest thing.”

  Ben told Casey what he had just witnessed in the back yard. Casey, intrigued by his story, stood up and walked to the front door. She looked through the screen, at the goat house, on the hill behind the barn. The door to the goat house was open. Grandma was probably inside feeding her goats. She’d probably be there for a while, making sure that every goat got some attention.

  “Come on,” Casey said, “let’s check it out. We can be back in five minutes and no one will know.”

  Ben looked up at the goat house. Again he felt a twinge of guilt, but curiosity won out. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s go.”

  They slipped out the screen door, scampered down the front porch steps and tore around the house towards the bamboo patch. The bamboo grew to the edge of the yard and suddenly stopped, as if an invisible barrier prevented it from spreading any further. The canes grew so close together that it seemed impossible for anyone to enter.

  “Where did she go in?” Casey asked.

  Ben turned toward the house to look at the kitchen window to get his bearings. He moved to the left a little, looked at the bamboo and then back at the house.

  “Right here. This is the spot.”

  “Well, what are you waiting on? Go!”

  *****

 
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