He could smell the hay drifting through the still air as the straw he was laying on scratched at his neck. He opened his eyes and rubbed the dirt and crust from the corners. He hadn’t bathed in weeks and couldn’t tell the difference between him or the barn he had just slept in.
He stood up and carefully slide his boots on wincing slightly as he did. He was a tall, slender young man with reddish brown hair, eyes like the sky, and skin tanned like leather. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shadow cross through the cracks of light in the barn siding. He snatched his hat and dashed to the back of the barn, hiding behind a couple of barrels of feed. ‘Shit’ he thought to himself, realizing he left his rifle on the bed of straw. He heard the barn door open and light flooded the darkest corners. From the other end of the barn a man shouted,
“A farmer can smell the difference between a barn and a trespassing beggar!”
‘I ain’t no beggar!” said the young man as he stood up.
“Maybe. But you is a trespasser! Now, you best come out with your hands to Jesus or I’m gonna walk down there and blow your damn head off!” The young man stepped into the light and began to walk toward the man holding the shotgun. As the young man got closer, the farmer relaxed and lowered his gun.
“Ah hell, you ain’t nothin but a boy. A dumb one at that too.”
The young man furrowed his brow while looking at the farmer. “You left your rifle on the straw boy. Gotta be smarter than that in this world. You got a name son?”
“You got a last name?”
“Alright Reid Coleman, follow me. Let’s get you some grub. Thinking my dog weighs more than you do right now. The old lady should be just finishin’ up breakfast.”
The farmer turned and walked out the door. Reid grabbed his rifle running his finger over the small slash carved in the stock and promising himself to never leave his rifle again. He exited the barn and followed the farmer toward the house, noticing he had a slight limp in his walk. The house was small but looked solid. There was a certain lack of noise that Reid immediately noticed when he got closer to the house. The dog was barking, and the wind was blowing the chimes, but Reid couldn’t place the missing sound.
He entered the house behind the farmer and was immediately hit in the face with the mouth-watering smell of bacon. To his right was a middle aged woman in a light blue dress and dirty white apron, setting up breakfast for two at the kitchen table.
“Honey, we have an unexpected guest for breakfast.” said the farmer.
The lady turned around, startled at first, but put her hands on her hips as she looked Reid up and down, “Well if I’m being honest, he looks like he could use more than just breakfast!”
Reid grinned sheepishly, “Yes, ma’am.”
The farmer sat down at the table and grabbed a piece of bacon, “Don’t be shy son, get yourself some food. You’ll need it if you plan on working for that roof over your head that you invited yourself to.”
“Yes, sir” Reid said, as he leaned his rifle against the table and sat down. He gazed at what seemed like a mountain of eggs and bacon in front of him. Trying to be polite, he grabbed a couple of pieces of bacon and eggs. He took one bite and could not help but shovel the food as fast as he could. It had been a full week since he had any real food. Reid imagined that this is what heaven must taste like.
He was nearly finished, when he realized he didn’t know either of their names, “Pardon me, but I don’t know either of your names.”
“Well I suppose you’re right.” said the farmer.”I’m Ed and this is my wife Laura. Suppose I forgot to introduce myself over being alarmed by a stranger in my barn this morning.”
“Now Ed, he’s just a boy.” Laura said.
As Ed and Laura carried on their conversation, Reid looked around the place. He saw a bed on the other side of the house and a couple of dressers, along with a fire place and pair of rocking chairs. However, Reid again noticed the odd silence. Still not being able to place it, he turned his attention back to the conversation “Hey Ed, don’t mean to interrupt but I figure I best get to paying you back for that roof over my head.”
“Suppose you’re right again.” said Ed “We got some fence that needs fixin’. I assume you know how to ride?”
“Yes, sir.” said Reid.
Ed stood up and started gathering his things for the day “Well we best stop wasting day light then.”
Reid grabbed his rifle and they headed out to saddle the horses.
On their way out to where the fence needed fixed. Reid couldn’t help but think about the silence again. ‘What was it? I don’t understand what’s missing. He had a dog. He had horses. He even had a milking cow. Something just isn’t adding up.’ Reid snapped out of his daydream and looked over Ed.
Ed just smirked and said “Now you look like a boy who is about to ask a bunch of questions”.
“Well with all do respect, you have a great place, but it’s missing something. With all the noise around your farm, it sure is quiet.”
Ed lost his smirk and his face turned to stone “Been that way for some time now. Ever since I’ve had this hitch in my giddy-up. I’m guessing that was going to be the next question for me. The truth is, the silence and this damn limp happened all at the same time. I’ll make a long story short for ya. Life ain’t fair and sometimes it will spare you over the lives of your children just to see if you’ll get back up after it’s done pounding you into the dirt.”
That was it. there was no laughter, no kids yelling, nothing just silence. “Ed, I’m sor-…”
“Don’t worry about it kid. Been that way for some time. Truth is, I’m used to it now and I’m okay with that. But I’m not okay with what I see when I look in your eyes. Something tells me you’re a hell of a lot more grown than what you been puttin’ off. See, I noticed a limp in your walk and a silence about you too. Not because you been walking so much in those boots. It’s because you’ve been running in them. And your silence ain’t cause you’re shy. It’s cause you seen and done some shit that you can’t un-see and can’t undo”
Reid’s heart dropped. Ed had him pegged from the beginning.
“What you’re running from, I don’t rightly care to know about. But what I do know, is that if you keep running it will catch you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will eventually. And when it does, I don’t want you anywhere near here. Tonight, you take that horse you’re riding, and you get the hell outta here. I think you have a good heart son, but you and that rifle of yours has heaven and hell behind it and whichever one is chasing you, I don’t any part of it.”