Grousing and grumbling like a badger with the redass, I stumbled out of the house into the pre-dawn gloom. Buddy's old squirrel dog Oscar thumped his tail but didn't bother opening his eyes. A seasoned veteran of these early mornings, Oscar knew the drill and would catch his extra winks while he could.
Now Oscar's a pretty stupid name for a dog, I know, but then he ain't my dog, so there you go.
I fetched my Wolverines from the utility shed alongside the carport and took my time sitting on the back door steps to struggle into them. The hogs weren't going anywhere, and I needed to wake up better. The boots didn't fit worth a damn, but I'd bought and paid for them myself and was determined to wear them out. Mamma thought me ignorant for spending so much money on a pair of work boots, but I'd bought into all their ads and had to learn for myself.
Boots done, I took a minute to lean my head back against the storm door and close my eyes. I felt hard done by. These were supposed to be my best years, but my folks meant to work me to a nub before I finished high school. I sighed, thought once of my warm bed, rose reluctantly, and wandered out to the storage shed.
The April air hung chilly and wet. Thick, shining mist grazed the pasture, and the yard lay slick with dewfall. Water dripped from the eaves of the shed. Inside, I muscled down a croaker sack and poured the dark, pungent feed for the hogs, then carried the buckets back to the pump house. The pump engine shuddered to life making the rickety old pump house shake like a wet dog. My hose spit and coughed until well water bullied the air from the line to run cold and clean, if a little bit red. I mixed the feed into a rich porridge with a stick I found handy. Grunting with effort, I lifted the two five-gallon pails and trudged through the garden plot to the pasture gate and beyond. I whistled for the dog and closed the gate behind me. Oscar ambled along sort of canterways, his back end a little more awake than his front, and moving just that little bit faster. He stopped once inside the garden to stretch his scarred, thin body free of kinks, shook himself hard, then scooted under the barbed wire and caught up with me near the chicken coop.
Our trek across the pasture to the sty took forever. Though not more than two hundred yards from our house to the edge of the woods where we kept the pen, it seemed miles. The bucket handles bit my hands. I moved slowly, not wanting to slosh the feed onto my boots and pants legs and waste it before it got to the pen. At the sty the pair of hogs were ready, grunting with impatience.
"Bite me," I told them.
The feed sludged into their trough, and the nasty bastards went after it with snout, ears, forelegs and all. I checked their water and convinced myself that, dirty and brown though it was, it didn't reach out and poke me one, so they could live without a water change until afternoon.
I stood at the pasture's edge checking out the new day. I saw no sign of the cattle and figured they were off sleeping in the wash down by the tung trees. The hogs snuffled and snorted in the trough behind me while Oscar rooted in the undergrowth for his morning news. The dog's body went rigid and his tail wagged furiously at some particularly tantalizing scent: deer most likely. He ranged quickly back and forth across the ground, then bellowing like a drunken judge, charged off to investigate.
I grabbed the buckets and took back for the house. Our chickens were just beginning to rouse themselves, and only a few were out yet busy-bodying around their run. The roosters played coy and had yet to crow. I peered through the wire at the chickens. It was Buddy's job to feed them.
Sure enough, my little brother was already in the shed going for the corn. I put my buckets down and walked over to help him with the heavy sack. The feed drummed sweet and golden into the tin pail raising a cloud of corn dust that tickled our noses. We put the sack back on the ground and Buddy nodded thanks.
Excerpted from Magee's Blue #3, (c) 2000 by Donald Whittington. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Authorlink Press. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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