Author's Note: This is the first part of my entry for the Village Square Forums writing contest under the theme War and Peace. Although this story may not be the most serious interpretation of the theme, it's an idea I've been wanting to work with for a while, and I couldn't think of a more suitable time to use it. Please enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Harvest Moon or its characters.
It was five o'clock, and the man was at the table, a fresh mug of black coffee resting in front of him. He was clearly in the latter years of his life, streaks of gray running through his coarse beard and what was left of his thinning red hair, but had he been more suited to it, he might've chuckled at the thought. As it was, though, he remained as stern as ever and his bushy brows were left pinched over two dark blue eyes in deep concentration.
The room was small with only a bed and a bookcase on one side and a kitchenette on the other. It was really all he needed- being as he lived alone- but while he sat there, he couldn't help thinking that there was something out of place. The trouble was he couldn't seem to name just what it was.
A loud knock at the door was all it took to break whatever spell had come over him, and muttering to himself, the man rose up from his chair and shuffled into the shop that made up the larger part of his actual home.
With just a pull of string, a single bare lightbulb flickered on overhead and filled the room with a warm glow. Despite this, however, there was a thin layer of ash that covered everything from one wall to the other, and it gave the place a look of being dried out and brittle which was completely at odds with the reliable and sturdy appearance of the man who had worked there for the greater part of his life.
Having finally come to the door, he wretched it open with one large hand, and there, standing out in the autumn frost, was a small boy glaring up at him on the front step.
The boy's blue eyes were as cold as ice, but he said nothing as he stood there waiting and all but daring the old man to turn him away. He wasn't a very memorable child, dressed in only a bagged t-shirt and jeans that were two sizes too big and a baseball hat that fell over his eyes and hid his bright red crop of hair. However, there was something about him which seemed painfully familiar to the man.
"Mind tellin' me what you think you're doin' here, son?" he asked the boy plainly, his voice gruff and ragged with the impatience of old age. "Not like kids these days to be up this early in the morning..."
"Just stepped off the ship," another voice, this one far gentler than the last, replied. When he glanced up from the boy, he found a young man in a blue cap and matching uniform standing beside the child. "Says he's your grandson... Came here to live with you by the sounds of it."
The elder's parched lips were left slightly parted as if the words were just on the very tip of his tongue and ready to be heard, but he said nothing while he continued to stand at the door in the crisp morning air. It was only after the officer went to speak again that he seemed to find his voice which had become all the more hoarse and bitter with the sudden and unwelcome news.
"I ain't got no grandson, Harris," he growled, glaring down his sharp nose at the boy. The child narrowed his eyes and bit his lip, but he kept quiet, no doubt more afraid than he was willing to let on. "You know that."
"Well, I've got a letter here from-"
"As far as I'm concerned, Harris, I never had a son, either. Especially not one the likes of him..." the old man muttered as he took a step back inside and went to close the door. "Now I've got work to do, so get that boy out of here. This ain't no place for a kid like that to be messin' around."
"Saibara..." the young man sighed, closing his eyes in an attempt to remind himself to be patient with the other. "There's no where else for me to take him, and like it or not, you're the only one who can take care of him."
"I ain't got time for 'im. Take 'im to the inn and let Doug put 'im up till the ferry leaves tomorrow."
"He hasn't got the money for a room or the trip back," the officer explained. "I can try to give his father a call, but I don't know if it'll do us any good."
"Not my problem," he grumbled, laying his hand heavily on the door. However, just before he managed to close it, the heavy wood jammed up against a leather shoe. He jerked his head up and glared at the younger man, but though his voice was low and threatening, he only repeated himself as if the problem was the officer hadn't heard him. "I said it ain't my problem."
"Well, Saibara, it's certainly more yours than it is mine," the other replied cooly, slipping his foot out of the way of the door once again. "Just keep him here until I get a call through to your son. That's all I'm asking."
Although he was more than willing to just slam the door and be done with it, he could only sigh and let the boy in, but not before giving the officer one last glare and a stern warning. "If he ain't out of here by tomorrow mornin', I'll send 'im back myself."
"Glad we could come to an agreement," the other agreed with a smile. Then, with a tip of his hat, the young man turned and returned to his regular beat which left the two unwilling companions to stare at one another and wonder just how they got in that predicament.
By the time he had rounded the corner, the old man was already back inside and ready for work, and yet the boy only dared to peer in the doorway. His eyes were wide as he watched his reluctant host tie a heavy leather apron around his thick waist, but he didn't have much time to gawk before being called inside. "What do you think you're doin' just standin' there, boy? Get in or get out, just close the damn door."
"My name is Gray," he muttered, slamming the door behind him.
"I don't give a shit what you're name is, but you damn well better not slam that door again," the man warned, his back still turned to him. "Now sit your ass down until Harris gets back here for you."
"What are you doin'?" he asked, choosing to ignore the other's apparent sour mood. Saibara only grunted as he shuffled towards the forge, but just before he got there, he had a sudden thought.
"Boy, get over here." Gray, who had been sitting on the stool over by the counter, only stared at him. "I said get!" Not a minute later, he was at the old man's side, and after giving the him a stern glare for taking so long, the old man handed him a dust pan and pointed to the gaping mouth of the forge. "If you're just gonna stand around here, you should at least try to make yourself useful." His suggestion was only met with another blank stare. "Are you deaf, boy? Get to it."
"Isn't this your job?"
"Don't get smart with me. Just do what you're told."
At first, the boy looked as if he was ready to argue, but after meeting the man's dark gaze, he seemed to think better of it and got to work. Of course, it was only after he felt he made it clear that this kind of work wasn't his idea of fun by muttering to himself, "This is bull shit..."
Not even a second after he said it, he was given a swift smack to the back of the head.
"Watch your mouth!" the other barked, glaring down at him. The boy didn't even seem to hear him since he was too busy nursing the knob on the back of his head, but he went on anyway. "You sure as hell don't need to be swearing at your age." Gray kept quiet as he returned to the forge, brush and dust pan in hand, but once the old man's back was turned to him, his lip curled back into something of a snarl. However, even this didn't go unnoticed by the older man. "I said to watch your mouth ."
"But I didn't-"
"Like hell you didn't. Now get to work, or I'll put you back on that damn ferry to wait till mornin'." Although he wanted to argue, the boy ultimately decided against it, and with a heavy sigh, he poked his head into the forge and began scraping away.
"God damn that son of mine... Figures he'd up and leave me with this kid." Gray stayed quiet being as he was too busy staring at the green lump that had been set in front of him by the older man to pay much attention to the other's grumblings. He'd heard what was said, of course, but after hearing more or less the exact same thing for much of his young life, it was certainly nothing new. Now that green thing on the other hand... that was something he just couldn't ignore.
"What is this stuff?" he asked, jabbing it with a sooty finger. "It looks like grass..."
"Thems turnip greens," the other corrected him. "Better eat 'em up." Or I'll put you on that damn ferry and send you home myself, the boy finished bitterly in his mind. He stared at the pile for a while longer, still thinking to himself that it looked suspiciously more like a haystack than anything edible, but after an angry growl from his gut, he finally picked up his fork.
With one last once over, he shoved the first bite greedily into his mouth. However, when he tried to chew, he winced as what felt like bits of sand gritted between his teeth. Even if it hadn't been for that, though, the taste alone would've been more than enough to make him refuse another bite. It was somewhere between spinach and rhubarb- neither of which he liked much anyway. Of course, it wasn't really something that anyone would expect a kid to eat...
Aside from his grandfather, that is.
"Must not be hungry then, eh?" He looked up at Saibara as he sat down across from him with a steaming bowl of soup, but before he could even say a word, his stomach growled agin. "Well, it's either that or nothing, boy." He glanced over at the bowl and narrowed his eyes. Gray could only watch as the man took a spoonful and slurped it down, but not before a drop slid down his lips and onto his beard. "Gotta learn to eat your greens before you can have any of this, or else you're gonna be no use to no body."
The boy only glared at him, eyeing the man enviously, but Saibara paid no real attention to him. Instead, he simply finished his meal, and without a word, he turned to begin washing the dishes- save for the plate of greens and the pot on the stove.
Once he was finished there, he walked right past his grandson and over towards the bed, and only then did he turn to talk to him. "Well, whenever you're ready, there's a mattress here for you on the floor." With one glance over towards the stove, he added, "But you'd better not touch that damn pot until you finish those turnips." When the boy glared at him from under the brim of his hat, he just scowled right back. "Got it?"
Satisfied, the old man began to undress himself for bed, but when he went to take off his briefs as well, Gray quickly turned back to the offending hay stack. After all, he'd seen grass clippings before and figured they were a whole lot better to look at.
Even if they were just as wrinkly looking.