“There’s a whole world out there. You just have to look.”
My father has said that my whole life, but until about five years ago, I really didn’t care. That was the year I went to stay with my grandfather on his chicken farm.
Back then I was fourteen, and like most suburban teenagers on summer break, all I wanted to do was be lazy.
Every day I slept till noon, and then at night, I stayed up to at least 2 AM. In between those hours, I spent my time watching movies and playing video games. In fact, those two things were really all that mattered to me, at that point in time.
I wasn’t very popular at my school, so I didn’t have but one real friend, and he was gone that summer. And going out with girls wasn’t an option either. They weren’t interested in me, and consequently, I wasn’t interested in them.
So, like I said movies and video games were my life, and that was just fine with me. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t feel the same way.
Even before school was out, my dad was determined to plan a nice vacation for us to go on as a family*,* but every time he mentioned a destination, I wasn’t interested. Eventually, that idea was dropped; thankfully. Then as summer arrived, he and my mother switched their focus to planning weekend trips for us. Once again, not interested. This went on for a couple of weeks before my parents finally became fed up.
One evening, my dad came up to my room and told me that we would be eating dinner as a family. Never looking up from the *Call of Duty* game I was playing, I told him I was busy and would grab something later. Typically, my folks would eat with each other in the dining room, while I grabbed something quick and ate in my room. They tried to give me crap about it, but would usually back down and allow me to do my thing. This time that didn’t happen.
Obviously not at all happy with my response, my dad walked over to the entertainment center, reached down, and then unplugged the surge protector. The TV, the Xbox—everything went dark
“It’s not a request, Zack,” he said with frustration. “It’s an order. Now wash up and get your butt down there.”
Without another word, my father exited the room as I stared daggers at him. I had spent all day on that game, and with one pull of the plug, I had lost a good hour’s worth of progress.
“This is bullshit,” I said throwing the controller on the floor. It was just another excuse to push “family time” on me, and I didn’t give one crap about any of that*.* Still thoroughly pissed, I went into the bathroom and washed up before going downstairs.
My parents were already seated at the table when I got there.
“Have a seat, son,” my dad said motioning to the empty chair across from him. “Your mother has already taken the liberty of fixing you a plate.”
Looking down at the dish sitting in front of me, I was annoyed to see it contained pot roast, potatoes, carrots, and brussel sprouts. Who in their right mind eats this crap, I thought to myself.
“I think I’ll pass,” I said defiantly as I stood up. “I’ll just make myself a sandwich.”
A look of fury settled across my father’s face.
“You will sit back down, right now, young man,” Dad said with an angry, but calm voice. “You will eat everything that is on that plate, and in the meantime, you will listen without saying a word. Do I make myself clear?”
Looking at my mother, I hoped to see some sort of dissension in her eyes in response to my dad’s show of force. Instead, all I saw was a look of agreement. Apparently, I would find no ally there, so reluctantly, I did as I was told.
As I ate, my parents told me about how they were tired of me wasting my time on useless things. That I was letting life pass me by when I had a whole world out there just waiting for me. I listened to them go on and on like that for what seemed like forever, and then they dropped the bomb.
“Your mother and I have decided you will be spending the rest of the summer helping your Grandpa John on the farm,” my dad said with finality.
Grandpa John was my mother’s father. He lived a couple of hours away and had a pretty sizable chicken farm. My mom and her sister had grown up there, and they both claimed to have enjoyed their upbringing on the property, but I called BS. If it had been so great, why had they both settled in the city?
There was no damned way in hell they would send me to stay there, but as I saw the seriousness on my dad’s face, I had no choice but to wonder if he meant it.
My Dad continued. “Friday morning you’ll get up at a reasonable time and pack a suitcase with enough clothes and anything else you’ll need while away. This doesn’t include your laptop, cell phone, or anything else relating to video games, etc. You’ll only pack clothing and toiletries. That’s it.”
How could they do this to me, I wondered as I stared at the two of them? This wasn’t fair, and I decided I was about to tell them so when my dad held up his hand.
“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say about it, son. This is for your own good. You spend *way* too much time on these things, and you need a break from them. Besides, maybe you’ll learn something from the experience.
Fat chance of that happening, I thought. “Will I at least get paid for this?” I asked with contempt.
Dad shook his head. “Your Grandpa wanted to, but your mother and I told him that wasn’t necessary.”
Wow. Not only was my summer ruined by having to go to *Podunk Land,* but I had to do it for free. I couldn’t believe this shit.
Finishing my food as fast as I could, I left the table, and then returned to my room. I thought about turning on my game again, but even that had lost its appeal for the time being. Instead, I went to bed.
Laying there, I thought about everything that had just happened. I was being royally screwed. How could my parents be so terrible? I continued to stew over it when a new thought crept into my mind.
They were bluffing.
They were probably mad because I was uninterested in their desire for family fun, and were now trying to scare me straight. Well, it wouldn’t work. Besides, most likely when Friday rolled around, the whole thing would be forgotten anyway. In the meantime, I’d play along with their game, and then call them out when it didn’t happen. My folks thought they were so devious, but I knew better. Things would be just fine, I thought as I fell asleep with a triumphant grin on my face.
It wasn’t a bluff.
When my father came home Friday afternoon to my still unpacked suitcase, he wasn’t too thrilled.
“Get it done, Zack,” he told me, exasperated. “Your grandpa is expecting us for dinner.
Disbelief washed over me. They were actually serious. Begrudgingly, I began throwing things into the large piece of luggage, and I was almost finished when a stroke of brilliance hit me.
I might not be able to bring my computer, Xbox, or cell phone, but I had one more trick up my sleeve. Walking over to my desk, I dug in one of the drawers and pulled out an old Nintendo DS. It had been a birthday present when I was younger but had been forgotten once I received my first smartphone.
Unzipping the suitcase’s liner, I grabbed one of my t-shirts and rolled the DS, a case of games, and the charger up in it. Then, I placed the whole bundle inside before re-zipping the case’s liner. Mom and Dad would never know it was there.
A few minutes later, I came downstairs with my luggage; announcing I was ready. My father eyed me skeptically.
“I think I better check your suitcase,” he said coolly.
With arrogant confidence, I picked up my luggage, laid it on the couch, and then gestured at it with my hands in an exaggerated *be my guest* motion. Frowning, my dad began his search.
He found nothing in any of the outer compartments but the usual toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant. Then, moving on to the main section, Dad unzipped it and began removing its hastily packed contents. Once empty, he stared down at the suitcase as if disappointed by his lack of findings. With swelling pride, I watched as Dad began re-packing my things, but then he hesitated. Moving aside the things he had already replaced, my father unzipped the liner, saw the bundled-up shirt, and removed it. My heart sank as he unrolled it.
Without a word, Dad looked at me and shook his head. Then, setting my game and its accessories aside, he repacked the suitcase and then told me to load it in the car.
The entire trip I spent sulking in silence as my parents cheerfully talked about the scenery and how good it was going to be to see Grandpa. Trying to tune them out, I thought about the man as well.
Grandpa John and I had never been particularly close, and it had been over a year since I had seen him last. We talked on the phone occasionally, but it was never for more than a couple of minutes at a time. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the man or anything, I just didn’t have a connection with him. To be honest, I guess I felt like he was way too old-fashioned for my blood. But the worse thing about the old man was his insistence on calling me by my full name; Zachary. I hated that with a passion.
After what felt like the longest two hours ever, we pulled into Grandpa’s driveway to find him sitting in an old rocking chair on the front porch. Standing, he watched us park, and then came to greet us as we got out of the car.
“There’s my little girl,” Grandpa said happily as he folded his sun-marked arms around my mother. “How’re ya doin Elisabeth?”
“Pretty good, Daddy,” she replied beaming. “How’ve you been?”
“Makin it, I guess, Sweetheart,” Grandpa said as he released Mom. “Daniel?” he said then, looking at my dad, and then extending his hand. “How’s life been treatin’ ya?
Firmly gripping Grandpa’s hand, Dad gave it a hearty shake. “As good as can be expected, John. Been working like a dog, mostly,” he said with a grin. “You know how it is.”
Grandpa laughed merrily. “That I do, Danny boy. That I do.”
The whole exchange was annoying, and I hated how my parents could slip back into their former country-fried personas so easily. It was ridiculous.
The three adults exchanged a few more pleasantries and then turned their attention to me.
“Well, Zachary,” Grandpa said as he fixed his sun-worn gaze on me. “I sure hope you brought your work gloves, son. We’ve gotta good bit of work to do this summer.”
The old man and I continued staring at one another for a moment, but then he chuckled and gave me a strong pat on the back before turning his attention back to Mom and Dad. “Whatcha say we all go in and get somethin in our bellies. Dinner’s just about done.”
It had been a long road trip, and l was more than hungry, so I gladly followed the three adults into the house. Unfortunately, my appetite shrank as I saw what was on the menu: meatloaf, steamed broccoli, and salad. It was going to be a long summer, but if anything, I’d shed some pounds, because there was no way I was eating “old people” food the whole time.
“Better get used to it, boy,” Grandpa said after seeing the look on my face. “Ain’t no fast food around here. Just what I grow in the garden.”
After dinner, I sat in silence as the adults chatted back and forth. Other than the fact my parents were still dead set on me staying while they left for home the next morning, I had no interest in anything that was being said. More than once, I felt my grandfather’s eyes on me.
“Zachary, if you’re bored with all this conversatin, there’s probably a good book over on the shelf there you can read,” the old man said finally.
With disinterest, I looked at the man. Who in the hell would want to read a damn book? But it was better than nothing, so I stood up and walked over to the shelf anyway.
A good many of the books in Grandpa’s collection were by some guy named Louis L’Amour, and the covers showed images of cowboys and crap like that, and most everything else looked like religious stuff. No thanks there. Finally, I picked a book about some kid named Huckleberry Finn, and then sat back down at the table.
“That’s a good one,” Grandpa said proudly. “You’ll like it.”
Giving him and my parents a skeptical look, I opened the book.
The next morning, my parents left as Grandpa and I stood on the porch watching, and once out of sight, he put a callused hand on my shoulder and squeezed, gently.
“Well, we’ve seen em off, son, but the day’s wastin. We better go see what Ezekiel’s got going.”
With that, Grandpa stepped off the porch and I followed after him.
Ezekiel, or Zeke as he liked to be called, was a man Grandpa John had hired to help around the farm. He was in his mid to late thirties, and had been working for my grandfather for the last year or so. He seemed okay, but something just felt off to me about the man.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked Grandpa later on as he showed me around.
The old man thought about it for a minute. “There ain’t nothin wrong with him, per say,” Grandpa said; drawing out the words with his thick drawl. “Zeke’s just slower’n the rest of us, is all. But, he’s a damn workhorse, he is. So, I can’t judge the fella cause he has a different way. You shouldn’t either.”
I thought about that as I watched the younger man hoe the garden, and it stayed on my mind over the next few days as Grandpa and I worked with him. I had dismissed Zeke almost immediately because I thought he was weird, but to my grandfather, none of that mattered. He only saw a person that was a hard worker.
After that first day, I found myself asking Grandpa questions about a lot of things. I didn’t always understand some of the words he used, but the direct way he had of answering my queries was interesting to me.
“I just don’t see the need to beat around the bush, is all,” he stated when I asked him about it.
We were picking vegetables in the garden and I looked at him, confused. “What does that mean Grandpa?”
The old man grinned. “It means I don’t like to bullshit people, Grandson,” he said with good humor. “Look, Zack. Every man deserves an honest answer, but not many of em are willing to listen.”
This hit me like a ton of bricks for two reasons. One, it was the first time Grandpa had actually called me Zack, and two, I realized I was one of the people he was talking about.
Besides the no-nonsense way he had of saying things, I found out Grandpa was extremely patient too.
It was the day after my parents had left, and the old man had just told me we were going to clean out the chicken coop. Shaking my head, I told him I didn’t play in crap and didn’t plan on starting anytime soon. Grandpa just looked at me, turned, and then started for the barn.
“Come on, Son,” he said over his shoulder. “Coop ain’t going to clean itself with us standing here yacking.” I stood there for another second, and then followed.
I continued testing the man’s patience by dragging my feet as we worked, but it never phased him. Later on, I asked why he never got mad when I gave him a hard time.
“Life’s too short to get bent outta shape over nuthin,” Grandpa replied. “Besides, I was your age once. Spent more time than I’d have liked workin on the farm for my Pa. Course, I’d have rather been out chasin tail, and gettin in trouble, but things had to get done. So, I know a thing or two about bein frustrated.”
Hearing that coming from my grandfather, was a revelation. Maybe we had more in common than I’d originally thought.
As the weeks went by, I got used to and even started to enjoy my time on the farm, and I also began to get very close to my grandpa. During the day, he and I, along with Zeke, worked hard. But once the day’s labor was done, we spent our evenings playing cards and dominoes, or I would sit and listen to the old man tell stories.
“It’s good for a man to take in a little leisure after he’s put in a long day workin,” Grandpa told me the first night we sat down for our after-dinner activities. This, and the occasional trip to the creek to go fishing, became my favorite part of being there. Not because it was something fun to do, but because my grandfather made it more so.
If there was one thing in those first few weeks that bothered me, it involved Zeke. Even though I had let go of my initial misgivings about the man, something still bothered me. While Zeke usually had lunch with us during the day, not once did he join us for dinner, let alone participate in our evening card or domino games. Instead, the man stayed holed up in the small camper trailer, in which he lived on the backside of the property.
“He just likes to be to himself,” Grandpa told me when I asked him about it. “Don’t let it worry you none, Zack.
I tried to heed Grandpa’s advice and drop it, but I just couldn’t. Thankfully, a distraction presented itself soon enough. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of Grandpa’s flock.
We usually gathered eggs at dawn, and I had decided that I would take the task on myself. It was during one of these early morning trips that I found the first two dead chickens, or what was left of them anyway. As I opened the door to the laying room that morning, I was met with two slimy piles of goop.
“What the hell is *that*?” I said aloud.
Shining the flashlight down at the mush, I was stunned to find a conglomeration of shattered bones, feathers, and green slime. As I continued to look down at the sludge that was formerly a chicken, I felt my stomach churn and fought the urge to vomit. I made it just outside the barn before it came up, and once I had regained my composure, I ran to the house to get Grandpa.
“Beats any damned thing I ever saw,” the old man said a few minutes later as he inspected the remains himself. “We better take a count and see if there’re any more birds missin.”
In total, three birds had been killed. The remains of the two, I had found in the laying room, but the other, we never located. The whole thing baffled both Grandpa and me, but it was only just the beginning.
Over the next two weeks, it became a regular occurrence to find that anywhere from one to three chickens had succumbed to the same fate, and eventually, the growing loss of the birds began to take its toll on my grandfather. He became withdrawn, and his former patience all but disappeared. More than once, he’d became short with me over the smallest things, but I couldn’t blame the man. The chickens were his livelihood, and with each passing day, that livelihood was being dealt a massive blow. Something had to be done about it for my grandpa’s sake, and soon enough I came up with a plan.
One night later that week, I waited for Grandpa to go to bed. When I was satisfied he was asleep, I grabbed a flashlight and headed out to the barn. The building’s hayloft had been modified so that my grandfather could go up and look down on the flock from above, but tonight it would serve as a good vantage point in which to spy on any would-be intruders.
Entering the barn, and then climbing the ladder, I laid down prone on the dusty loft floor. The entire laying room was visible from where I was positioned, and nothing should be able to see me from the ground. I just had to be quiet and wait.
A couple of hours passed, and I was just about to give up my vigil when I heard the barn door open. Momentarily, Zeke entered the room carrying an old lantern. At first, I wondered what he was doing there, but then I realized he was probably just checking on things, or so I thought.
I watched the man look around the room, and then he began walking up and down the rows of nesting boxes. After a bit, Zeke set his lantern on the floor, reach into one of the boxes, and then brought out one of the large red birds. The sudden interruption of its slumber caused the chicken to panic, and the bird began to cluck frantically while flapping its wings. The other birds began to stir nervously, but before they could get too worked up, Zeke reached up and snapped the captive chicken’s neck. The dying bird beat its wings a few more times and then became still. From my hiding place, I watched with shock as the farmhand took the dead bird by the feet, and then held it above his head while staring up at it. With several sickening pops, Zeke’s bottom jaw began to unhinge itself, while the rest of his mouth stretched out into a gaping maw. Once fully extended, I noticed row upon row of sharp quill-like teeth circling the cavernous hole that was formerly Zeke’s mouth. With horror, I watched as the man began lowering the chicken into the horrible orifice, and as the bird slowly disappeared down his gullet, Zeke’s throat and chest bulged out grotesquely. As the bird continued its descent, the muffled sound of flesh and bone being torn from one another emanated from deep inside the hired hand.
By this point, everything in me screamed RUN, but the thought of what that hideous mouth might do to a human kept me paralyzed a little longer.
The chicken had now reached Zeke’s stomach, and the man’s torso convulsed violently as it digested the bird. Shortly, the man’s spasms stopped, and with his gruesome mouth still wide open, the farmhand vomited up the undigested remains. Unable to turn away, my own gorge began to rise, and I fought hard not to puke. In the meantime, Zeke had moved on to another nesting box.
There was no way I wanted to stick around for the second course, so deciding to take advantage of Zeke’s momentary distraction, I started my getaway. Unfortunately, in my rush, I kicked over the flashlight. Terror filled every ounce of my being as I watched it roll over the edge, and then fall to the floor below.
The crash of it stopped Zeke as he was reaching for another bird. He looked momentarily down at the busted flashlight, and then up toward where I hid. He searched the darkness of the loft with wide, non-human, eyes, and I froze, hoping like hell he couldn’t see me. With panic-laced anticipation, I waited to see what Zeke would do next but was relieved when the farmhand turned, and then ran out the door.
For a long while, I just sat there; afraid to move. I wanted to go get Grandpa, but what if Zeke was still lurking around somewhere outside? The thought of that and what the man might do if he caught me, made me stay where I was.
Eventually, the first rays of the dawning sun crept through the barn windows, and I figured it was finally safe to leave the loft. As I climbed down, I scanned the barn for any sign of Zeke. Seeing nothing, I ran back to the house.
“Been out checkin the flock, have ya?” my grandfather asked wearily as I came through the kitchen door.
I only nodded, having no idea what to tell him.
“Well, what’d ya find?” he asked impatiently.
Wondering if he’d even believe me, I made the quick decision to keep quiet about Zeke, for the moment anyway.
“Just one last night,” I told him nervously.
Grandpa only nodded his head and went about making breakfast.
We never saw Zeke again after that night. The man, or whatever he was, had fled without taking any of his belongings. The suddenness of the man’s leaving seemed to leave Grandpa with a feeling of confusion, but to me, it was a blessing. With Zeke gone, my grandfather would never have to know about what I had witnessed.
The final two weeks of my stay were uneventful. Thankfully, no more chickens died, but even though things more or less went back to normal, the experience in the barn had stunted my newfound love of the farm. Needless to say, I was glad when my parents came to pick me up. They couldn’t believe how much I had changed, and they were right. After that summer, video games and movies just didn’t interest me as much. Instead, I put my focus on other things, such as spending time with my family and getting closer to Grandpa. It was a good thing considering he died two years later.
After Grandpa John passed, I found myself thinking back to that night at his farm and what I had witnessed with Zeke. What was he, and were others like him? I decided I needed answers, and since then, I’ve scoured the internet and searched countless books. While I’ve yet to find out exactly what the farmhand was, one thing is certain. My dad was right; there really is a whole world out there, and it can be scary as hell.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in