The thirteenth unicorn, p.9
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       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.9

           W. D. Newman


  All of the goats came running to the gate when they heard Louise’s old car rumbling up the driveway. She parked the car under the big magnolia, beside the house, to help keep the interior cool. They did not have an attached garage, just a metal carport, and George always kept his hay rake and baler parked in there. As soon as Louise got out of the car, all of the goats began bleating. They knew it was petting time and, more importantly, feeding time. Ben and Casey followed their Grandma over to the woven wire fence where she cracked the gate open just wide enough for all of them to slip through. As they walked up the hill to the goat house, the little goats were running and prancing all around them. Some of them would shake their heads, some would sprint around in circles, and some would leap high into the air, kicking their feet out to the side. It was as if they all were saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” Louise stopped at the goat house and, paused a moment, to pet all the little goats clamoring for her attention. Then she opened the door and motioned Ben and Casey inside, while all of the goats scrambled around to the other side of the building.

  “Where are they going in such a hurry?” asked Ben.

  “They are going around to the stall door to wait for me to let them inside. I feed them in here.”

  The interior of the goat house was surprisingly cool, for such a hot day. The building was divided into two sections. The section they were in had a wooden floor made of wide, rough cut planks. There were bales of fresh green hay stacked in the corner and, beside the hay, a large metal barrel full of corn, oats, and molasses. The partition that divided the building was a half wall, about four feet high. In the center of this wall, was a narrow door that allowed access to the other side, where a low manger ran the length of the wall on the left, and a hay rack transversed the wall on the right. The floor on this side was covered with fresh wood shavings, and in the center of the floor, stood a little black goat with a swish of white hair on the top of her head. Laying in the shavings beside her, were two tiny baby goats, both coal black. Casey took one look at the baby goats and squealed with delight.

  “Oh, Grandma, they are so precious! Can I hold one?”

  “Me too!” Ben chimed in.

  “Absolutely,” said Louise, “this is what I brought you up here to see. Just be gentle with them.”

  Ben and Casey opened the stall door, and crept up to the little goats. They eased down into the soft shavings and, very carefully, scooped them up into their arms.

  “Have you named them yet?” Casey asked.

  “No, I figured I’d let you two name them.”

  “How can we tell them apart? They look identical.”

  “One of them is a billy goat and the other one is a nanny.”

  “So what does that mean?”

  Ben looked up at his Grandma and rolled his eyes. “Great day, Casey, don’t you know anything? It means that one of them is a boy and one of them is a girl.”

  “Oh,” said Casey. “Well, I want the little girl. And I’m going to name her Tinkerbell and call her Tink.”

  Ben rolled his eyes again and Louise laughed.

  “Well, I’m going to name my goat Arnold.”

  “Arnold?” Casey asked.

  “Yes, Arnold. He’s going to be Arnold, the goatinator - the biggest, baddest goat in town.”

  “That is so lame!”

  “Not as lame as Tinkerbell!”

  “Kids, kids!” Louise interrupted, “they are both fine names. Arnold and Tink. Now, no more arguing. Let’s head back down to the house so you two can wash up. I’ve got some work to do in the garden first and then later on, after I’ve cleaned up too, we’ll go visit the Langstons’. They actually live within walking distance so, if you two hit it off with Joey and Jenny, you can spend a lot of time with them this summer.”

  “Who is Joey?” Casey asked, with sudden interest.

  “Joey,” Louise replied, “is Jenny’s older brother.”

  “How old is he?”

  “He’s a couple of years older than you, dear. A very sweet young man, and handsome too.”

  Casey got a far away look in her eyes and Ben, knowing what she was thinking, playfully poked her in the side.

  “Are we walking over there?” Ben asked, as Casey, not so playfully, punched him in the arm.

  “Lord, no. I meant that it was walking distance for two children, not for an old Grandma. We’ll drive over there this evening, when it’s a little cooler.”

  Louise dug a plastic scoop out of the metal barrel and filled a bucket to the top with sweet feed. She took the feed into the stall and spread it from one end of the long manger to the other, so that all of the goats could have some. Then she gathered up several bats of hay to place in the hay rack and added some fresh water to the pail beside the door. Satisfied that everything was in order, she opened the stall door to let the rest of the goats inside, and they all scrambled to the manger for the tasty oats and corn.

  “They won’t hurt the babies?” Casey asked.

  “No, sweetie, the babies are fine. I keep them in here with the door closed, so that nothing else can harm them.”

  “Like what?”

  “Wild dogs and coyotes, mostly.”

  “You have wild dogs and coyotes around here?” Ben asked, with wide eyes.

  “Oh, yes, but you don’t need to worry about it. They run away from people.”

  “Oh,” Ben said, rather dejectedly. “I was hoping to see one.”

  Louise tousled Ben’s hair and they petted the goats once more before leaving the barn. On the way back to the house, she stopped at the tool shed and retrieved a hoe.

  “You kids run on inside and wash your hands and find something to do. I’m going to hoe out some tomatoes while the goats are eating and then I’ll have to go back up and close the stall doors when they are done. I should be finished in about an hour then we’ll get ready and go call on the Langstons.”

  Ben and Casey went inside and flopped into the recliners. An Andy Griffith marathon was playing on the ‘TV Land’ channel. Andy and Barney had a billy goat in the court house. The goat had eaten some old dynamite, and Barney was trying to calm it down by playing his harmonica. They watched a couple of episodes until Louise came in, hot and sweaty, from working in the garden.

  “Whew-wee, it’s hot out there. Let me get a drink of water and take a quick shower and we’ll head out.”

  An hour later, they were back in the old Galaxy cruising down the driveway. The Galaxy did not have air conditioning, so in order to stay cool, the windows had to be rolled down. There were also small triangular windows on the front doors, that acted as vents. These windows pushed open to the outside and, as you drove down the road, they directed air into the car at a surprisingly high velocity. Ben used to think this was the coolest invention ever and could not understand why all cars did not have these window vents on the front doors. Until he found out that they also directed bees into the car at high velocities as well. Not high enough to kill the bees, but just high enough to really aggravate them. Louise turned left out of the driveway, drove for about three miles, and made another left turn onto an old dirt and gravel road.

  “Here we are kids. This is the Langstons’ farm.”

  “I thought you said it was within walking distance,” Casey remarked.

  “It is. You see, their farm adjoins ours. You walk across the back pasture, cross the fence, follow the ditch on the other side up the hill and through the woods, and you come to one of their pastures. You’ll be able to see their house as soon as you come out of the woods.”

  At the end of the driveway was a long brick ranch-style house with two massive water oaks in the front yard. A tire swing hung from the tree on the left, a picnic table sat under the tree on the right, and a field stone walkway ran between the two trees, leading the way to the front door. Louise rang the doorbell. Inside, soft chimes floated through the house announcing visitor
s. A moment later, the front door opened to reveal a petite and very pretty young woman, wearing an apron. Her sandy brown hair was pulled back in a pony tail and there was a smudge of baking powder on her cheek.

  “Louise! What a pleasant surprise, come in, come in. Are these your grandkids that I’ve heard so much about?”

  “Yes, this is Ben and this is Casey. Ben and Casey, this is Mrs. Langston.”

  “Oh, jeeze, Louise. You kids call me Rebecca.”

  Rebecca led them into her kitchen and motioned for them to sit at the table, while she removed her apron and peeked inside the oven. “I’ve got some cookies in here and they should be ready in about five more minutes. What would you guys like to drink?”

  “Do you have any coffee on?” Louise asked.

  “I sure do. What do you kids want? We have milk, tea, lemonade and Coke.”

  “I’ll have a Coke, please,” said Casey.

  “Lemonade,” said Ben.

  “Rebecca, where’s the rest of the family?” Louise asked.

  “Sam had to make a run to Maine. He’ll be back Sunday. Joey and Jenny are down at the pond fishing. Oh, my heavens, what am I thinking. You kids don’t want to sit around the table with two old hens like us. Come here.”

  Rebecca took them out the kitchen door onto a large deck in the back yard. She put her arm around Casey and pointed to an old gate in a picket fence, at the corner of the yard. “Go through that gate and follow the path. It will take you right to the dock. Oh, wait one second before you go.”

  Rebecca ran inside and a couple of minutes later, popped back out with two bamboo fishing poles and a big brown paper sack. “Here are your fishing poles. I put some drinks and some fresh cookies in the sack. Just introduce yourselves, then catch some fish and have fun!”

  “Thank you, Mrs. Langston,” said Casey.

  “Rebecca! If we are going to be friends, I want you calling me Rebecca. Okay?”

  After thanking Rebecca, Ben and Casey took the sack and fishing poles and lit out for the pond. The trail wound its way down through the woods between ivy covered banks and opened up into a small glen, where sunlight glimmered on the surface of an emerald green pond. A short dock jutted out into the pond from the center of the earthen dam and, on the end of the dock, with fishing poles in their hands and feet dangling in the water, sat Joey and Jenny Langston.

  Joey and Jenny laid their poles down and stood up when Ben and Casey walked out onto the dock. Ben spoke first. “Hi. My name is Ben. Ben Alderman. And this is my sister, Casey. We’re George and Louise Alderman’s grandkids.”

  Joey walked forward and stuck out his hand. “I’m Joey and this is my sister, Jenny.”

  Ben shook his hand, while Casey stood back, practically drooling on her sneakers. Joey was a handsome boy with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and muscles that Ben had always dreamed of having. Jenny, Ben noted, was no eyesore either. She had the same dark hair and dark complexion as her brother, but her eyes were the color of the summer sky above them.

  “How long are you guys visiting?” Jenny asked.

  “We’re here for the summer,” said Casey. “Here, your mom sent these with us.”

  Jenny took the sack and opened it. “Awesome! We were just talking about how good a nice cold Pepsi would be right now. And cookies too! Let’s eat.”

  Ben and Casey took off their socks and shoes, rolled their pant legs up, and joined Joey and Jenny on the end of the dock. The water in the small pond was rather warm, but the Pepsis were cold and refreshing and the cookies were absolutely delicious. The next half hour was spent getting to know everyone. How old are you? Where are you from? Where do you go to school? Casey and Jenny were the same age, while Joey was two years older.

  “Are the fish biting?” Ben asked.

  “Yeah,” Joey replied. “Look at this.” He unhooked a small cord from the dock and pulled a stringer out of the water, with four fat bream dangling by their gills.

  “Cool,” Ben said. “Mind if I try?”

  “Sure, we’ve got plenty of worms,” said Joey, reaching into his tackle box. He pulled out a blue plastic container, popped the lid off and set it on the dock between them. “Night crawlers. Big, fat, juicy ones.”

  Casey wrinkled her nose, but wanting to impress Joey, she screwed her courage up and asked for a worm too. They spent the next hour fishing, talking, laughing and having fun. When they wound their lines up to leave, they pulled a stringer out of the water with eight bream, three bass and one catfish.

  “What are we going to do with those?” Casey asked, pointing at the stringer of fish.

  “Clean them and cook them,” Joey answered. “Hey, why don’t you guys come over tomorrow and we’ll have a fish fry!”

  “Yeah,” Ben exclaimed, “that would be a blast. We don’t have to clean the fish, do we?”

  “Mom will clean them for us. She’ll cook them for us, too. All we have to do is eat them.”

  “Well, I can do that!” said Ben. “I love fish.”

  “What can we bring?” Casey asked.

  “Bring yourselves and your appetite.” said Jenny.

  “No, we’ve got to bring something. How about a chocolate cake for dessert?”

  “Mmmmm, that would be awesome,” Joey said, rubbing his stomach. “I bet you make a great chocolate cake, too.”

  Casey smiled and tried very hard not to blush. “Chocolate cake it is then.”

  The sky was beginning to darken to a deep purple and a couple of stars had opened their eyes to catch a glimpse of the final minutes of this last day of May, as Ben and Casey, with their two new friends, made their way back up the trail to the Langstons’ back yard. New friendships had been forged this day and as the sunlight faded, so too did all thoughts of Camelot and the mysterious Merlin Tree.


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