Chapter 31

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Stanley approached the old man's bungalow with a sense of awe and mystery, as always. The place was like an abandoned structure. The yard was a wreck, with tall grass that reached up to Stanley's knees; the lawn looked like it hadn't been mowed in a month. Stanley always offered to cut it for him, but he insisted on doing the work himself, with a push-mower that looked like it was forty years old.

The shutters were rusty and loose and Stanley figured a good storm would likely tear them right off of the house. Once yellow with white trim, the home now sported a yolk-like color, with algae festering within the slabs of vinyl siding.

Doris ran up the front steps onto the tiny porch. At the door, she lifted her front paw and scratched. Bearing the imprints of many previous visits, the once-white door eased inward and Doris cautiously entered. Stanley followed and was engulfed by the dimness of the living room. When his eyes adjusted, he moved toward the kitchen, where he heard Doris's nails on the linoleum tile floor. Advancing through the dining room, Stanley felt like the air was heavy, foggy...like years of cooking fumes had been permanently trapped in the house, creating its own little atmosphere.

The kitchen was markedly brighter. Shards of sunlight parted the stagnant culinary vapors and illuminated the kitchen table, where an old coffee tin lay on its side, having spilled its contents: not ground beans, but rusted nails, nuts, bolts, marbles and a heap of intertwined rubber bands across the surface. Gramps was standing at the window, the one that faced the corn fields. He was so still that Stanley wondered if it was possible for old people to die standing up.

Doris whined with delight as she pranced around Gramps's feet, but he paid her no attention. Stanley said nothing but stared at the old man with growing dread. Maybe his heart had just stopped working, right here in the kitchen. There was a cup of coffee on the counter. Gramps always took it black. No cream, no sugar. He said he learned to drink it that way in the army. Stanley supposed this was true, although he had no way of validating it. Gramps said that in the army "...you got what you got and you didn't complain. When you were lucky enough to get a treat like hot coffee, you accepted it and were thankful." Then again, Gramps was known to embellish a story or two in his time.

No steam rose from the dark liquid, indicating that Gramps may have been in this position for a while. Stanley moved behind his grandfather, who now seemed like some unknown entity that had crept into the house from the woods. Some kind of space creature, right out of one of his comic books. It was well documented that they could shape-shift, or change forms to look like anything they chose, blend in. Maybe this wasn't his grandfather at all, but some extraterrestrial that had donned his skin as a disguise. As this idea ripened in the boy's mind, his pulse quickened.

At the counter, Stanley noted the spilt sugar bowl on its side. He touched the coffee mug. It was cool. Of course, it was - an alien wouldn't know what to do with a cup of coffee. Gramps had probably been in the middle of fixing it when the intruder caught him by surprise. Maybe it was the kind that infiltrated the brain. It might take hours or days before it discovered how to manipulate the limbs of its host.

Doris had stopped winding between Gramps' legs and curled up into a ball on the floor and sighed. Stanley crept back around the being by the window, toward the splayed blinds. Before peering outside, he looked back at the old man. His lips were slightly parted and appeared dry. His white beard was in need of a trim and it had crumbs embedded in it, just below his mouth. Looked like toast.

At the window, Stanley saw the dirt road that led to the right – east – up to his home. To the left and west, the road ran downhill, where it became a tiny bridge that spanned a narrow creek before climbing upward again. It eventually led to a small clearing by a fishing pond.

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