Monday, June 21, 2010

Midnight Blade

     "All right, then. Meet us at the tree house at midnight. And don't forget your knife!"
     Todd nodded and walked away quickly. He could hear them laughing behind him, but he didn't dare turn around lest he lose his nerve. This time he was going to do it. He wouldn't have another chance.
     His grandmother would never understand. Todd had spent a couple of weeks with his grandparents in Fort Yukon every summer since he could remember. He knew the local kids almost as well as he knew his own neighbors, and he was comfortable playing with them. They had always teased him about having to go to bed early on the long summer evenings, but he had no choice. Grandmother retired promptly at 9:30 every night and arose at 5:30 each morning, no matter the season, and expected everyone under her roof to do the same. What Grandmother expected, happened.
     In the past couple of years, the teasing had intensified. "Come on, it's still light," they pressed.
     "You don't know my Grandmother," he mumbled, embarrassed at his fear.
     "Oh, we know your old lady," they smirked. "We live here, remember?"
     Todd sensed that there was more going on after his curfew than another game of tag. This year he was fourteen, nearly a man, and it was time to defy his grandmother.  Secretly, of course.
     Grandpa would have understood, and might even have given Todd a few hints. He had come to Alaska as a young man, looking for adventure. He had never struck it rich like the heroes of his old Gold Rush tales, but he always maintained that there was treasure in the hills, in the rivers. He had spent his summers hunting, fishing, showing the tourists how to pan for gold. Grandmother had sometimes allowed Todd to go along on day trips. He loved hiking the rugged country, listening to Grandpa's stories. But Grandpa had died last winter. This summer, Todd's mother sent him to help Grandmother pack up the house. She would be flying back with him, to live in an apartment near his family. He was working hard, without much time to socialize, but his friends cornered him on the way back from an errand. He made a commitment.
     How would he fulfill it? Grandmother's locks were famous in this small town, and her sharp ears would surely detect any attempt to open them. Todd slowed down, discouraged. As he reached the house, an old rain barrel caught his eye. Probably it was rotten, but he went to check it out. A thin layer of water lined the bottom, left over from last week's rain. Todd tipped the barrel over, and heaved it up again. It was actually quite sturdy, he found as his face reddened, but finally he positioned the barrel, upside down, beneath his bedroom window. He could just reach the sill. The barrel could be his ticket out.
     But how could he obtain a knife? Todd thought longingly of his own pocketknife. He had worked so hard to learn how to use a knife, how to oil it and hone it and pass it safely. Only after Todd had certified as a responsible blade user had his father presented him with a new knife. It was perfect, from the shiny red exterior to the tiny corkscrew inside. Todd proudly took his knife to Scout camp, where he used it to cut the rope for the clothesline, open his morning juice cans, punch a new hole in his belt, and trim the leather pouch he crafted. When he found the right branch on the ground, he shaved it into an ideal hiking stick, complete with his initials carved into the top. Todd felt like he and the knife had bonded. They were a team, inseparable--which is why the knife was in his pocket when his canoe tipped over. He hoped the fish admired the slick red rectangle at the bottom of their lake.  He could not have brought the knife through airport security, anyway. Where could he get another? Could he borrow a kitchen knife? No, his grandmother would notice, and be inconveniently curious.
     Todd breathed deeply, then walked around to the front of the house.
     "What have you been doing?" Grandmother asked as he pulled open the screen door. "Are you quite all right?"
     "Yes, Ma'am. Just, ah, watering the flowers."
     "Indeed." She eyed him narrowly. "Well, back to work with you. Please pack the clothes in your grandfather's study, and the contents of his desk. I've already removed the important papers." She handed Todd a roll of tape and two boxes that were clearly marked as "Donations."
     Todd did not know why Grandmother called this room a study. Grandpa had called it his den. He had spent the dark winter days holed up in here like a black bear, tying intricate fishing flies, poring over his maps, dreaming of expeditions past and future. Todd folded the familiar flannel, wondering if the new owners could love the outdoors as much as Grandpa had.

     "Off to bed with you," Grandmother commanded at precisely 9:23.
     Todd dutifully donned his pajamas and brushed his teeth. He listened carefully to his grandmother's ablutions.  When he heard the muffled flush, he slid his window open, then pulled the blackout curtain closed. Nervously reclining on the bed, he could not sleep. Todd sat up, took the knife from under his pillow, and cautiously polished the blade with his shirt. He hoped it was sufficiently sharp. He lifted the curtain to take a better look at the edge. There was no reflection. It would do.
     Todd's eyes flew open at 11:47. He could not believe he had really fallen asleep. He pulled on his jeans and a sweatshirt, patted the knife in his pocket, and poked his head under the curtain. How could he sneak through the neighborhood when there was still so much light outside? Even the sun was watching him over the treetops.  He hoped the neighbors were asleep. But first he had to get through outside. He hoisted himself up--and realized that he had not opened the window far enough. Gently lowering himself again, he opened it wider.
     Todd froze. Had Grandmother heard? No, there was no more sound. He climbed through the window, stretched down until his toes met the barrel, and scampered away. He ran through the back yards until he reached the trees. He checked his watch again, sure he would be late. But he still had a minute, just long enough to reach the foot of the old spruce.
     Brent was standing guard, looking more serious than usual. "You got it?" With sweaty hands, Todd showed him the knife. "All right."
     Todd climbed the rope ladder, heart throbbing, hands slipping. Brent climbed up behind him, and pulled the ladder into the tree house. Todd knew he was trapped. He looked up at the solemn youths surrounding a rough table. Then his mouth dropped open. Enthroned at the head of the table was his own grandmother.
     "It's about time you displayed some gumption, young man." She nodded curtly. "I trust you brought your grandfather's knife?" Todd nodded weakly. "Do shut your mouth, boy."
     Majestically, the old woman addressed the young circle. "Welcome to the annual meeting of the Summer Solstice Turophiles' Society."
     "What?" Todd gasped.
     "Cheese lovers," whispered Brent.
     "Rachel, will you pour?" Grandmother handed a bottle of sparkling cider to the girl on her right, then distributed cutting boards and bowls of crackers.
     "Todd, slice this Gruyere for us please."
     Relieved, Todd opened Grandpa's knife and set to work. Between slices, he exchanged smiles with his amused friends. He even saw, for the first time, the twinkle in Grandmother's eye that had attracted Grandpa's attention so many years ago.


  1. What a tale, never for one moment did I think that Grandma was involved. Good reading.

    Have a good week

  2. Wow! I didn't know what I was going to do at the end ~ laugh or cry. So I let a few tears form and I smiled broadly. What an incredible bit of writing!

  3. Lovely! Sqeezed a tear, too. :)

  4. ah- what a great tale and what a great great this!

  5. That was great! I didn't suspect her for a moment...

  6. Oh, Judi Dench must play the role of Grandma!

  7. Very good narrative pacing and characterization.

  8. Awesome. Grandma rules. I really like the flow of the narrative. You have a very engaging style that makes the reader want to read more. Very well done!

  9. Thank you! Dame Judi would do nicely. The images in my mind were of some of Miyazaki's feisty old women.

  10. Imaginative, creative, entertaining.