“A Strange Day in July” – (My Version)

Hey all, I actually have a “short” story for you all today… enjoy… however I doubt that I’ll be reading this one out on Vlog My Blog.  Our English teacher recently asked us to write a short story from the ‘suggestions’ listed in “The Mysterious of Harris Burdick” written by Chris Van Allsburg back in the 1980s.  It’s a picture book with a title and line of text on each page.  We were to write a story using whichever page we wanted, but we had to title our story the same as the page, and somewhere in the story we had to include the line.

I chose ‘A Strange Day in July’ and the line I had to use was, “He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.”

Enjoy.

A Strange Day in July – Version by Ben Nelan

I miss my granddad.  He taught me so much, opened my mind, showed me a world that I could never have experienced without him.  But now that he’s gone, so much has been revealed; the patterns he always told me about, they’re all there.  The rules that he made now make complete and unquestionable sense.  Let me run you through it; I want you to know about him too. I want you to know about his wisdom.

It was Friday afternoon, the 20th of July.  My sister Sophie and I had survived another long week of school and had come home to our granddad’s house.  We’ve been staying with him ever since our parents ‘ran off.’  Granddad told us that they had things to sort out and that they’d be away for a little while.  Seems strange, from memory he said the same thing when Grandma disappeared a few years ago.  Grown-ups must have an awful lot to sort out.

My granddad’s property is very large; if you can imagine a lush, swamp-like farm with long-grassy fields and a large wooden panel house overrun with vines and weeds sitting in the middle of it; you’re still not getting the full picture.  This place is beautiful beyond description; there is nothing that can capture it.  Granddad works a lot with wood, his property is mostly surrounded by forests and twirling trees but he only ever uses the wood from trees that have already fallen down.  All of the fences on the farm are natural. They’re rough wooden fences that look like they were grown by the complexity of nature itself.  On most of the corner posts there is an engraved message that says things like, “Nature is our purpose,” and “Watch as the sunrise flows through the mist and the leaves of the forest, and you will feel the truth.”

Every afternoon, just like this one, my granddad and I would walk out to the lake; a 3 minute walk. In fact, the lake is even within eyeshot of the house.  Yes, the view from inside staring out to nature is good but from behind glass you’re just putting yourself in captivity.  That’s why I can’t understand why my sister didn’t want to come to the lake with us this particular afternoon. Normally she too enjoys coming with us to the lake; I don’t know what’s with her today.  Granddad and I walked through the long damp grass; the ends of our jeans getting wet. I looked up towards the forest. The sun was setting and streams of golden light were shooting through the tops of the trees; the wind was cool and moist.  Before we knew it, the journey quickly absorbed by our engrossment with the nature around us, granddad and I stood at the lake together for the last time.  We normally come to the lake, he and I, we skip a stone each, but never more than one.  Granddad says that it’s disrespectful to nature to throw stones into the lake consecutively.  “Skip anymore than one stone and you’re being greedy Albert,” he had told me when Sophie and I had first visited the lake with him. Grandma was around then.  The restriction on ‘skipping stones’ didn’t bother me though because the trip for me wasn’t about the stones; it was about being with granddad.

“It’s a pity Sophie couldn’t join us,” granddad said. “I’m sure a few minutes outside bathing in this beauty would clear her problems up.”
“Hey granddad?” I inquired.
“Yes Albert?” he replied, still smiling relaxingly, staring out across the lake.
“Have you ever been interested in photography?”
Granddad let out a laugh. “Yes, once.  Nearly drove me crazy, it did.”
“Why’s that?” I say, following granddad’s gaze across the horizon.
He took a large breath of the fresh air and replied, “Because I could never capture… this,” he said, beckoning towards the lake, the trees and the sky as it turned into a golden purple.
“What the camera captures isn’t what I feel here.”
I smiled. He’s right; it’s never the same.

“Better get back to the house; the mosquitoes will be around soon,” he said.  It’s evident that he would want to stay out here even if mosquitoes were eating at him but I think he’s worried about Sophie back at the house.  Together we talk, all the way back to the house, opening granddad’s wooden fences.  ‘If you listen, feel, see, hear, taste.  Nature will let you in,’ is engraved into the gate.  I think granddad should have his own quotes calendar.

Ah, the house is warm. The moment we walked through the carved, wooden door, we felt the difference in temperature.  Sophie is sitting in front of the fireplace.  Looks like she kept it going while we were out; she’s just staring into the flame.  “How are you going Sophie?” grandad asked, walking over to her.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Sophie said, her eyes still fixated on the dancing fire.  Granddad stood still with the bright glow of the fireplace casting a shadow across his facial features and then the smile on his face seemed to melt away.
“Sophie,” he said as tears began to roll down her face, “you don’t know how hard it is; it was for the best.”
“They’re our parents’ grandad!” Sophie shouted, standing up and facing him, “We’ve been staying with you for months, thinking that they were ‘just sorting things out’ when really they’ve been lying together speechless under kilograms of dirt at the Lakeside Cemetery!”
Granddad’s eyes closed; a tear ran down his face.  Sophie stormed off upstairs to the guest bedroom, and I slowly moved towards the floor, using nearby furniture to lower myself gently.  I too closed my eyes, trying to recover from the shock.

I got out of bed early this morning.  Normal people would probably stay in bed all day after hearing the kind of news I did last night.  I would have too, but I saw the streams of light from the morning sun shining through the window, I needed to come out; I needed to just breathe.  The morning is crisp; the air is cool and rejuvenating.  No man-made impurities in this air, it’s fresh from the trees, just how nature intended it to be.  I smile for a moment; I was beginning to sound like granddad, talking about the nature, and feeling its emotional effects.  I slowly walk around the lake, taking in every sound, every beat.  Nature feels so different when you just experience it by yourself.  Your head clears, it’s you and the trees and the wind.

That’s when thoughts about my parents began to cloud my mind. Lakeside Cemetery. That’s what Sophie said last night. How long have they been there? How long have they been…?

Tears begin to stream down my face.  I think I’ll talk to granddad, he always knows what to do, what to say.  I know why he didn’t tell us; He’s just trying to keep us safe. Things like this could change people forever.  When can you when is it possible to reveal this kind of information without affecting someone’s life?  I make my way back to the house, pushing open granddad’s hand-made front door and walk into the kitchen.  “Granddad,” I call out, my voice contained a little bit of emotion. I didn’t mean to.  I tune my ears and try to listen for his voice.  I rush upstairs and go to his room. I knock on the door and wait for a sleepy groan of acknowledgement.  I look around the hallway while I wait; some of grandma’s knitting is framed on the wall, like a painting.  There are also a few puzzle’s that granddad made awhile ago on the wall as well.  He liked putting puzzles together, especially outside.  Whenever he bought a puzzle, he’d always buy two; one to glue together and put up on the wall like a trophy, and the other to revisit if he ever was in need of something to do.  One of the puzzles on the wall I made with him when I was 6 years old.  We spent all day working on it. Grandma brought us chocolate chip cookies and milk; the cookies she had been making with Sophie.  “Solving puzzles requires energy,” she would say with a grin as she placed the tray on the outside bench. Sophie would look up at grandma and smile, then they’d both walk back inside to share another recipe.  The reason I remember that day so well is because we lost one of the puzzle pieces; we couldn’t find it anywhere.  Grandad went inside and searched through the shopping bags, through his bedroom, through my bedroom. Together we even retraced every step, walking for about an hour to the local store to where it had been bought it from, but we still didn’t find it.  We eventually gave up, sitting at the outside bench with an unfinished puzzle; staring around like a hawk trying to spy the missing piece somewhere on the ground.  It was getting dark, and granddad decided to throw in the towel.
“Oh well,” he said exhaustedly, “sometimes there are mistakes at the factory, perhaps it wasn’t even in the box to begin with.”
Granddad picked up the puzzle and walked inside.  We sat down in the lounge room and grandma came around with a cup of tea for granddad and sat down in the seat opposite him. “So how did the puzzle go boys?” she asked, grinning like she usually did, though this time she seemed rather sly.
“We’re off by one piece,” granddad said, “They must have left it out at the factory.”
“Oh is that so?” grandma said looking over to Sophie who was silently giggling.
Granddad smiled. He was clever and he had caught on to their little game.  He chuckled to himself and let out a breath of contentment.

I knocked on granddad’s door again.  “Granddad,” I called, “Are you awake yet?”
No response.  I slowly opened the door. Grandad was still in bed.  I walked in and stood in front of him.  “Granddad, it’s really nice outside today; we should go to the lake again.”
Again, there was no response.  I moved around the bed, until I was looking into his face.  My legs gave way and I fell to the floor with a loud thump.  Granddad wasn’t breathing, his face was pale and cold and his eyes stared emptily out the window.

We ended up calling emergency services and from there, an ambulance arrived, as did Uncle and Aunty Gene; the only relatives in our family that didn’t seem to be ‘working things out.’  They drove the two and a half hour drive from their house to collect us from granddad’s farm.  We were now in their care. They’ve looked after us once before but they are negative and selfish.  Most of all, they’re living in some cooped up suburbia with kids that ride around in gangs on bicycles and scooters, mouthing at you as you’re sitting in the front yard trying to listen to nature through all of the racket.
“Hey Albie boy,” said Uncle Gene, “Don’t worry ‘bout your granddad. He’s had his time, just like mine did.”
‘I’m sorry Uncle Gene, but you cannot simply dismiss the pain of my grandfather’s passing from my life like that.  Have you any sense whatsoever?’ I think to myself.
“Uncle Gene has prepared ya rooms for you back home,” said Aunty Gene; “Even got the telly in there so you can watch the football together. We’ve booked ourselves into a local motel, so pack up then we’ll sleep there for the night.  We’ll all leave tomorrow morning, get away from this place.”
Uncle Gene blinks a few times, his wooden eye rolls inside his eye socket. He lost his original one by playing with fire when he in his teens years. He seems to think that it means he’s a man by having it.  Stupid more like.
Sophie and I hesitantly started packing.  I didn’t want to leave the farm, I wanted to stay there.  It’s what granddad would have wanted.  It’s what I would have wanted.  The moment we’d packed, Uncle and Aunty Gene dragged us out of there like it was a quarantine zone.  Off we went, in their shabby car.  The boot of their car rattles around loosely up and down the entire trip.  In little under half an hour we’d reached the local village’s motel.  Sophie and I went to our room, sat down on the musky bed and took a breath of the cold stale air.  The room was bland.  Yellow stained walls, hard grey carpet, and a cheap single bed with a springy metal stand on either side of the room. Sophie slumped down onto her bed and said the first thing she’d said since the other night.
“I shouldn’t have yelled at granddad,” she cried, lowering her face into her hands. I let out some tears too, looking out the window trying to see the sunset.  I needed it to comfort me, but all I could see was the dirty graffitied brick wall of the alleyway.
“Isn’t this great?” said Aunty Gene coming into the room, she took a cigarette out of her purse and lit it.  No Aunty Gene, this isn’t ‘great.’

I waited until Uncle and Aunty Gene were asleep.  They’ll know where to find me; they can pick me up in the morning if they’re as worried about me as they claim.  But I need this.  We need this. I crept over to Sophie’s bed and shook her.  “Sophie,” I whispered, “Sophie.”
“What is it?” she moaned, opening her eyes.
“Come with me, back to the farm,” I said, and I didn’t need to say any more; she instantly calmed the moment I said ‘farm’.
We walked in the dark for a little over 40 minutes before finally reaching granddad’s farm.  Pretty quick, we must have been keeping quite a pace.  We breathed deeply; the air at the farm is so clear, so refreshing.  Sophie and I walked down to the lake; the full moon slowly rising out of the clouds, as if awakening to our presence.  I sat down at the water’s edge and gazed across the glassy reflection of the moon in the lake.  How it slowly rippled in the wind.  Sophie sat down as well, and we both absorbed the magic.  It felt like granddad was here with us.  I nearly turned around to ask him a question, but then I remembered.  I grabbed a rock and stood up.  I angled it with my fingers, clasping it gently, not too hard.  My arm then swung down and then up slightly, skimming the stone perfectly across the surface of the water, making it to the other side of the lake.  Just like granddad used to; I could never do it the way he did.  How can I do it now?
“Oh nice one, show-off,” said an uninviting voice from behind me.  It was Uncle Gene. He was panting quite a bit, and I was surprised we didn’t hear him earlier.  Perhaps he was holding his breath to make the revelation of his presence more dramatic.  Obviously he’d followed us here from the motel.
“There I was, out for my evening smoke when I saw you two running off like irresponsible misfits,” he said eyeing us both off with his one eye, “think you’re smarter than us city folk Albie? Aye?”
I didn’t say a word; neither did Sophie.  He was ruining our moment, our time.  It was our farewell to granddad before we were taken away to the world of ignorance.  Uncle Gene swaggered over to the lake and kicked a bunch of stones into the water with his boot.  He then leant down and picked up another bunch of stones, resting them all on his left arm.
“Watch and learn Albie you stupid dope,” he said conceitedly, throwing a stone violently at the water. It didn’t skim at all and it landed with a splash in the centre of the lake.  He didn’t acknowledge his failure; he simply grabbed another stone from his arm and went to throw it.  That’s when I stopped him.
“Stop! Don’t throw that stone,” I said, gesturing him to stop with my hand.
“Why not? So you can gloat about your skimming achievement? Don’t think so. You’ve had heaps more practice, I need to get some in for it to be a fair fight.”
“No,” I said. “Granddad said never to skim more than one stone at a time.”
“Oh screw him kid! I don’t care what that crazy old man said, it’s a bloody pond moron.”
Sophie’s head fell back into her hands just as it had back at the motel.  Uncle Gene just smirked at me menacingly before throwing the second stone at the water.  Just like the first one, the stone splashed into the water.  Uncle Gene was already losing his patience with this activity, and I was losing my patience with him. He took another stone from his arm, dropped the rest that he had in reserve and stared at the water.  “Crap rocks,” he mumbled. I glared at him; the anger building up inside of me.  I pictured running up to him and hitting him across the face. He has no peripheral vision on the entire left side of his face; it would give me an advantage. Uncle Gene took a bit of a run up this time.  He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.  Uncle Gene paused and looked at the rock on the side of the lake.  I did too.  The stone had skipped across the water, in the opposite direction… It had come back towards him.  Uncle Gene finally looked up at me and grinned, as if it were part of his plan all along.
“Hah, see.  Go on, you try and skim it backwards moron. I bet you’re stupid granddad never did that,” he said egotistically as he threw another stone at the water. Sophie stood up and ran off towards the house.  I’d had it with him.
“You’re the moron, Arthur!” I yelled at him. I was evidently very angry, if I was calling him by his first name, I’d never done that before. “My granddad was a great man, a man that you could never ever hope to amount to. He was wise, he was observant.  You, Arthur are an ignorant idiot, with no care in the world. Before you go mouthing off and carelessly flapping your mouth around like the boot of your car, how about you pull your head out of your arse and wake the heck up!”  The grin on Uncle Gene’s face dropped. I could now see the blood boiling up to his head.
“What the hell did you just say?” menacingly walking towards me. “Do you want to repeat that?”
“You heard me. Clear out your damn ears!”
He storms towards me lifting his dominant arm up at me, the same arm he’d been skipping stones with.  He’s now upon me but before he could strike, a rock came flying from the direction of the lake straight into his hand.  It hit his hand hard, and he let out a scream before falling sideways.  He cursed angrily, spitting with rage, yelling out into the darkness.
“What the?!”
Another stone came flying out from the lake. And another. They all flew at Uncle Gene, one by one, skipping across the water straight at him. I backed away, as Uncle Gene was hit again and again. The lake seemed to glow red. It seemed as though every stone granddad and I had ever skipped, declared war on him. About five minutes later the stones stopped.  A pile of stones now rested in the place where Uncle Gene had been lying in agony.  I can’t see him anymore. I hear the sound of a motor. Looking up I see a car driving down the driveway with its headlights on.

Uncle Gene is in the local hospital.  Doctors say that he should have died; the amount of damage he sustained was far more than you naturally should be able to survive.  It’s almost as if something kept him from dying, simply so that he could live through pain.  It sounds really harsh; I’m still not sure what happened that night.  It seemed that the lake was skimming stones at him… What was that?
It turns out that the car I saw driving down the driveway was grandma.  She had read about granddad’s death in the newspaper and had come back for us.  Unlike our parents, grandma actually was sorting things out. Apparently grandma had left for a short time because the vines on the house had attacked her while she was doing some weeding.  She had been sent to a medical centre in the city where they had the appropriate equipment.  My head was swirling… If I had two children under my care how would I explain that grandma was attacked by a plant and hospitalised?  Everything granddad said to us makes sense now; I see the reasoning.  Grandma was pretty sore; she’d been out of hospital for about half a week when she got the bad news. You’ll be glad to know that the vines haven’t attacked her at all the time that she’s been back in her house. That’s… comforting.  Sophie is really happy to see grandma, as am I, but there’s something that made me much happier. When we were leaving the local hospital yesterday, I noticed that Uncle Gene’s wooden eye had something engraved into it. I’d never noticed it before, but it definitely suits him.  I smiled as I walked away.  Granddad did always like engraving things.

 

Teacher’s Comments

Absolutely fabulous, Ben.
I particularly like the twists.
A wonderful read, and well above the standard expected.

Effective characterisation -> details are selected to acute distinct characters.
Convincing dialogue -> introspection and reaction to other characters.
Language -> Creates a sense of place and atmosphere. Precise and sustained use of language.

Generally, a highly cohesive piece of writing, showing continuity of ideas and tightly linked sections of text. 

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