A seven-year old boy stands next to a pond in a field, fishing. The pond is flanked by tall grass and cattails. In the distance, towering pecan trees mark the edge of the property. Dragonflies dance on the air. The boy sings quietly so as not to disturb the fish. He is alone but for a black bull grazing nearby and a dog asleep on the grass next to a stump that held a bucket of worms.  It’s hot. Dusk approaches.

In the distance, a screen door creaks open and slams. The boy grows impatient. It won’t be long before he’d be called in. Then, the bobber sinks. The boy stands. The bobber rises, and sinks again. The boy jerks the pole above his head. The dog looks up. “I got it.” The boy whispers. Then, “I got it!” The fish fights and the boy frantically reels the line.

“Boy!” a man yells in the distance.

The boy glances in the direction of the voice – then quickly back to the fish, which took some line despite his grip on the reel.

“Boy, where the hell are you?” the voice calls again.

Oh man, the boy mumbles to himself. Oh man, oh man, oh – the line snaps and the dog sits up.

“Boy if you don’t get your ass in here now, you’re gonna have hell to pay!”

The boy steps from around a giant live oak tree and shouts back, “I’m here…Dad.” Except, this wasn’t his dad. This was a man who sometimes came to his mother’s house to pick him up and take him away to this place for the weekend. This amazing and terrifying place.

“Boy!” the man yells again. Angrier.

“I’m here. I’m coming.” The boy gathers his bucket of worms. The dog is gone. The boy emerges from around the tree in full view of the house.

“Did-ja catch anything?” The man yells.

The boy starts to walk the hundred yards or so back to the one-story ranch styled house that sits in the dead center of a twenty acre lot surrounded by nothing but woods and water for miles. The man, who made him call him Dad, built the house by hand. And from what the boy could tell, he used the trees that were once on the property, for lumber. Trees that were once part of a family.

On one side of the house was a pasture for the beasts and on the other, there were crops. To the boy, the best place here was the pond. A place where he couldn’t be seen or heard from the house.

“Well – what-ja catch?” The man yells again. He’s holding a glass with ice. The boy has learned that this is never a good thing.  A glass with ice meant the man was even stranger than when he was drinking from a cup with ice. Cups meant delicious sweet tea or lemonade. Glasses meant something else. Something meaner.

“You know what?”  The man yells. “I want you to stop right there.” The boy stops. “Now put down your pole.” The boy places the pole and bucket of worms on the ground. “So you didn’t catch anything again, did you?” The boy shakes his head.

“I’ve showed you boy. I’ve showed you how to catch them catfish back there.” There is a long pause as the man tilts the glass back to drink again. And even though the boy was still fifty yards from the house, he could hear the ice clink against the bottom of the glass – signaling the draining of the drink. “You know what? It’s time you learned a lesson.”

Sweat appears on the boy’s forehead. In the distance, above the house, heat lightning crackles in the sky. A cool breeze sweeps past him.

“Take off your pants.” The man demands.

The boy stands, unresponsive.

“Take off your goddamn pants. Now boy!”

The boy’s heart races as he fumbles for the top button of his dungarees.

“Get em off!”

The boy drops his pants and stands naked from the waist down in a treeless field that long ago was partitioned into efficient sections to serve specific purposes. Corn on one side. Pasture on the other. A barn used to slaughter the beasts and clean the food harvested from the field. And a little used pond that represented nothing good to the man.

“Now run. Run like the wind boy. See how fast you can get on this porch before that big ol’ bull chases you down. Look – there he is!” He said pointing and laughing. “Run!”

The boy starts running – leaving his pants, pole and worms behind. He looks, but the bull is nowhere around him. He then hears the creaking of the screen door again. It was his stepmother.

“What in the world are you doing to him?” he hears her ask the man as he gets closer and closer to the house.

“Nothing.” The man says laughing. “Just having a little fun.”

“You’re an asshole, Jim.” The woman says as she leaves the porch and runs in the direction of the boy, who is now crying.

The screen door slams again. As the woman reaches the boy, she takes his hand and leads him back. “It’s ok Jimmy. It’s ok.” She holds the pants open for him to step into. “Are you hungry?” The boy nods. She buttons the top button.

From the house the boy hears the unmistakable sound of fresh ice clinking against the bottom of a glass. It was only Friday. He both misses and hates his mother.


Jim Mitchem

Three Tips for Taming the Year of the Rabbit
The Visitors Must Die

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.