Richards's fat finger jabbed into the side of the boy’s head painfully and Micah awoke with a start. "Micah” he grumbled, “it is time to get yourself out of bed.” He gave the boy another thump on the temple and continued, “You are a lazy slug, and need to show up at the breakfast table every once in a while” Micah sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. His stepfather’s face was beet red finger raising, as if to poke him again. “Kitchen, NOW" Crossing the room towards the exit Richard fingered his belt, eyeing him coldly, “Useless…" then huffed out of the small space, slamming the door behind him.
Micah hated this place, with its stupid bugs, and stupid lake. He hated Richard too, but he couldn't tell his Mom how mean Richard was again. Every time he tried, her reply was: "You just have to give him a chance, Micah," She would say, "He only acts that way because he wants what's best for you." Then she would shut down, as if in some distant land, and that would be the end of the conversation. Well, he had been giving him a chance for three years now, and it was NOT getting any better, nor did she care.
Micah sighed and pulled a sweatshirt over his head as he started towards the kitchen. He began to feel overheated immediately, but it didn't matter to him if it was 90 degrees and humid. He was not going to get bled dry by the dumb mosquitos today. The old door, swollen with heat and jammed shut after being slammed did not open. Bending his knees slightly he hurled his shoulder at it, forcing his way out and made his way down the hall.
"Good morning," he said as he entered. The smell of burnt biscuits permeated the kitchen air, mixed with the more appealing orders of sausage and eggs. Peeling yellow linoleum tiles covered the floor and the appliances were from the sixties, many of them not even working. The whole family was already seated at the giant farmhouse table. The massive piece of furniture looked out of place in the tiny room.
Micah sat down in his place, eyeing his family warily. Richard looked cold and distant, a scowl on his face, and his mother was subdued, eyes looking down. Bethany, on the other hand, was her normal happy self. She grabbed a handful of cheerios, shoving them into her mouth, and gurgled happily to herself. Picking at a stray piece of cereal still attached to those sticky arms, she tried to throw it at Micah, jerking her hand a couple times as the tiny bit refused to release.
Micah stifled a giggle, and tried to make his voice sound respectful and calm. His Mother's moods were so volatile, Micah was terrified to set her off. Some days she would just burst out crying, others it would be the belt. On rare occasions, she would hug him and apologize profusely for all the pain she had caused him, but those days were few and far between. The hugs, however, never came when Richard was around.
“Good morning,” he repeated pleasantly. “Good morning,” his mother finally replied reaching out her hand for them to say Grace. Richard was still quite but held out his as well. After the quick prayer, they released hands and ate the rest of the meal in an uncomfortable silence.
After everyone was finished, his mother started scooping up the dishes and placing them into the stained porcelain sink. Richad disappeared silently from the room and Micah was left alone with his mom. He knew better than to ask what was wrong, she would give him no answers. Micah already suspected it had something to do with the burnt food. He moved closed and gave her a small hug around the shoulders, “is there anything you need me to do today?” he asked quietly
Micah's Mother raised her eyebrow looking thoughtful and said: "the dock" she brushed her blond hair out of her face and continued putting dishes away, not looking up as she finished her thought
. "The old owners left a terrible mess out there, and I would love for you to clean it up and make it safer."
His Mom went back to her chores in the kitchen, seemingly forgetting her son had ever even been there, but when she turned around at the last minute, she said: "Richard headed to the church for a few hours, to get some work done, best finish up before he gets back."
Micah looked as Mother as he headed out the front door and around the house towards the dock. Her eyes looked empty, and he saw the dark circles and deep creases surrounding them. He loved his Mother, of course, and he felt sorry that she was so miserable, but he had always craved a deeper affection from her. Everything always seemed to be about making sure Richard was happy.
"Do this, so Richard doesn't get mad" "Do that, so you don't get the belt."
The twigs snapped as he followed the path to the dock, and the surrounding trees opened to a large clearing where the water met the dock. It was the first time he had walked to the lake since they arrived. The deep pine smell surrounded him, and he could hear the birds and other wildlife around him. Perhaps this home wasn't as bad as he had initially thought. Sure, the bugs were troublesome, but there was a feeling of tranquility and quiet in this place. The emotion stirred a part of his soul that had been silent for a while now. It was as though there was a hint of peace right in his grasp.
Micah saw the Canoe right away. It was turned upside down near the shore. The wood on the outside looked slightly worn, but he saw no apparent leaks. Moving closer, he turned the boat onto its side and discovered to his delight; a paddle tucked neatly under the craft. The beginning of an idea formed in Micah's mind as he scanned the lake. His Mom and Richard did not know about this Canoe. If he could find somewhere on the other side of the lake to go, he could dock the Canoe nearby to have an escape whenever needed.
He reasoned he had about 90 minutes before his mother would come looking for him, just enough time to explore a little. Micah got to work quickly, setting the alarm on his watch to go off in 45 minutes. The reminder would give him plenty of time to get back, stash the boat, and get back to the house before his stepfather returned.
He pushed the vessel off the shore, and the old Canoe slid easily into the water. It still looked as though it was safe enough to use — no leaks or water. Micah stepped in gingerly and used the oar to launch the boat. It glided serenely across the water as he scanned the lake for a destination.
A bird called in the distance, and he heard the echo of people from the westerly shore. He veered away from this because where he wanted to go would have no people. Micah paddled lightly but purposefully. Left, right, left, right. It was almost meditative. Noise from the shore became softer and softer until he realized he could not hear anything. A slight sense of fear sat in his belly, the sound of the birds should still be there, wind at the very least, but it was completely and utterly silent.
He pulled the paddle into the Canoe, drifting lightly on the water. In the distance, he could see something small swimming towards him. It was about the size of a tiny dog, bobbing in the water as in moved closer. A thought tugged at his memory, but he pushed it away. The animal stopped about 10 feet from him, just staring, eyes dark as the night. Micah leaned over to get a closer look, the boat precariously tipping as he met eyes with the creature.
The small mammal was about 10 feet from him now, treading water comfortably. Micah could see now that it wasn't a dog at all, but a miniature version of a wolf. Its eyes were dark, but if you looked closely, you could see specks of blue light swirled within.
Between them, in the depths of the water, there was an eerie blue light floating midway between him and the lake floor. It was both hypnotizing and terrifying. Micah felt a deep sense of peace as he continued to gaze at it. Letting his mind wander to happy times, He was three sitting in his Father's lap, opening a Christmas gift, his mother nearby, laughing at his joy. The scene in his mind, wrapped itself around him like a gentle hug, as he leaned closer towards the light.
"BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP" The sounds of the watch alarm broke him from the stupor, he stood in surprise, forgetting he was in a canoe and causing the boat to rock violently from side to side. Micah sat down abruptly, steadying himself, and taking a breath. How long had he been there, just staring into that light?
"The light!" he thought, looking down into the water again. It was gone. He lifted his eyes, hoping, but the tiny wolf was gone as well. How strange this had been, but for the first time Micah was a little bit excited for his new home.
Unfortunately, he had not yet found a good secret hiding place. Micah paddled briskly back towards the dock near his home. Reaching shore, he dragged the craft into the brush, about 30 yards from their dock.
Scanning the area, he was able to locate several loose branches and some old debris. Strategically, he draped it over the Canoe and wandered back toward the dock. Perfect, unless you knew it was there, no one would ever see a canoe hidden there.
Micah worked diligently for the next 30 minutes or so, doing the chores his mother had initially sent him to do. Pulling old branches off the dock and the surrounding area was the simple part. The garbage and refuse that littered the backyard was worse. He worked quickly, trying to fit an hour and a half worth of work into thirty minutes, ending the session with four bags of garbage, and a large pile of brush.
He was raking the last of the brush away when he saw his mother walking down the path, Bethany on her hip. A small smile hinted on her face, and she said. "Good job, Micah."
His pride swelled. He felt slightly embarrassed about how good it felt when his Mom told him he did a good job. He was a teenager, he wasn't supposed to care what his Mom thought, but he did anyway. She reached out, squeezed his hand, and they walked back to the house together.