Steam rose from the tomato soup ladled into his bowl and Stanley eagerly bit into the grilled cheese sandwich on his plate. However, it was swiftly swatted away from his mouth.
"Where's your manners, boy?" scolded Gramps. Stanley's dad chuckled as the old man served him, then returned the pot to the stove.
"Whattya talking about, Gramps?" asked Stanley.
"What do you think he's talking about?" asked his father.
After a moment of deliberation, the boy's eyebrows raised as he realized his error. "Oh...grace."
Gramps nodded. "There you go." Three Reece generations, seated in the old man's tiny, dimly lit kitchen, thanked God for their meal and added a prayer for Stanley's departed mother. "Now you can stuff your face," Gramps added.
"Oh boy! Soup and sandwiches – must've taken you all day to make it," joked Stanley.
Spooning soup into his mouth, Gramps drizzled some down into his beard. "Well, since I offered to cook, I decided on my specialty. If it ain't good enough for you, you don't have to eat it, Muskrat."
"Just joking, Gramps."
Gramps peered at the boy under his busy gray eyebrows. Then under his breath, muttered, "Wiseass."
Mr. Reece plopped his baseball cap onto the armrest of his chair and smoothed his hair back. It was dark, with streaks of gray throughout. "Thanks for the meal, Garrett."
"Ain't no problem. I've got so much soup in the pantry, you'd think we were in the aftermath of a disaster."
With a mouth full of food, Stanley replied, "They aren't expired, are they? I don't feel like getting sick slurping old soup." He tossed a morsel under the table to Doris and the dog nearly inhaled it, then cocked her head in anticipation of more.
"Hell no, they ain't expired. You think I'd give you food that ain't no good?"
Stanley's father laughed again. "You worry too much, boy."
"I guess," giggled Stanley.
Breaking a moment of silence, Stanley's father said, "I came across the damnedest thing in one of the fields earlier." There was a pause as he bit into his sandwich. Stanley knew his father wasn't one for theatrics, so what he was about to reveal must've been difficult for him; he was not a man known to disclose his inner thoughts. He continued. "What I'm about to say will sound a little crazy..."
Stanley grew excited, but his father took a spoonful of soup, yet again delaying the information. Gramps and Stanley looked at one another, then back at Mr. Reece. The mystery settled over them like a thin mist waiting to be parted.
"Well?" asked Gramps.
Mr. Reece looked at each of them, then spoke. "I thought I had seen something moving in the corn stalks..."
"So did Gramps!" blurted Stanley, pointing to his grandfather. Mr. Reece glanced at Gramps.
"Maybe," divulged the old man.
"So, I walked into the field to check," Mr. Reece said, "and I came to an area of flattened stalks."
Gramps frowned. "Flattened?"
Mr. Reece nodded. "Two parallel lines...like tire tracks."
Stanley perked up. "Somebody drove into the field!" Doris, beneath the table awaiting another scrap from the boy, began wagging at the exclamation.
"No, son, there was no vehicle. Just tracks...and this was far from the road."
Now Stanley frowned, trying to comprehend. "Then how the heck did tire tracks get there?"
His father took a bite of sandwich. "Not sure. Has to be vandalism – a prank."
Gramps, his beard now featuring a bit of melted cheese in addition to the drop of red soup, replied, "Ain't never had any vandalism around here before."
"What else could it be?" asked Mr. Reece. "After supper I'll go out and rig a trail cam by the area, just in case they try it again."
"Damn," whispered Gramps. "How many were ruined?"
"Few dozen or so," said Mr. Reece. "Could be some kids from town out drinking."
"We should call the cops," said Stanley.
"I'll just sit out there in the dark with a flashlight and old Ruby," added Gramps, referring to his shotgun displayed over the small brick fireplace in the living room. "If they come back, I'll switch the light on – which'll scare the crap out of them - then show them I'm armed, and they won't never come back."
Stanley laughed, nearly ejecting soup through his nostrils. He coughed and Mr. Reece patted him on the back, smiling as he did. "Easy, son."
The boy relished his father's happiness, displayed only sporadically since his mother's passing. Then, recalling what he had witnessed by the creek, his demeanor sobered. "I saw something too...at the creek."
"Oh yeah? What was it?" inquired Gramps.
Stanley glanced at the old man, then at his father. "I don't know, but it was big and heavy and it ran up the hill on the other bank and into the upper field."
"Sure it wasn't your imagination?" asked his father.
Stanley nodded. "Nope. There were tracks on this side of the creek and then something was hiding in the bushes on the other side. Like it was watching us."
"What'd it look like?" asked Gramps.
Shrugging, Stanley added, "Don't know. I didn't see it."
"You said you saw it."
"Well, not really. But I saw the bushes moving as it ran away. Doris saw it too. She was barking her head off."
Gramps pointed at him with his spoon. "This is when you were going to find that meteorite. So maybe it was a creature come out of a space rock."
Mr. Reece grinned as Stanley's eyes grew wide with fascination.
"Maybe while in the water it was a snake kind of a thing and once it got on land, growed legs," explained Gramps. Stanley's wonder seemed to expand and engulf the room as the old man fashioned his tale. "Then it seen you and licked its jaws, thinking you would taste good. It was in the greenery, but it was watching you...waiting for the right moment..."
"BAM!" hollered Gramps while stomping his foot on the floor.
A cry escaped Stanley as he jolted backward into his chair, nearly toppling it. His sandwich was flung from his hand and Doris snatched it up. Gramps and Mr. Reece enjoyed the display of fright. After his initial anger burned off, Stanley too engaged in the laughter.
After dinner Stanley assisted Gramps in tending to the dishes, as the old house was without a dishwasher. Gramps washed, Stanley dried. Mr. Reece headed to the barn to retrieve the trail camera and headed for the flattened stalks.
Gravely injured, Gray clawed across the ground. His progress was painfully slow, and the voice was drawing closer; he mustn't allow himself to be spotted. Earlier, while drinking from the creek, the boy and his dog had almost seen him before he managed to escape. The flight up the hill had drained the remainder of his waning strength and the end was close.
At last he came to what appeared to be an old storm shelter protruding from the ground. There was a rusted lock clasped around the door handles and Gray broke it free with great effort. The doors squeaked open with more noise than he had hoped, and he dropped down inside. Dizzy, he reached up to close the shelter and gazed upon the late afternoon sky once more.
YOU ARE READING
LITTLE GREEN MENScience Fiction
As nineteen-year-old Alex Dash cares for his six-year-old twin siblings, Henry and Annabelle, he is forced to navigate a post-cataclysmic world full of hostile entities. Dogs that seem more aware than they ought to, sentient plant-life, nomads aiml...