“It’s a mile at least. You can barely walk to the mailbox.”
With bloodshot eyes and shaky hands Uncle grabs his jacket, fedora, and homemade walking stick. He stops at the front door and turns back to Matt. “Let’s go.”
Uncle’s breathing is labored. He’s bent at the waist, leaning forcefully into the locust walking stick. He looks straight ahead through the forest path, the afternoon sunlight waning. Shredded mulch covers the pathway, creating a soft, spongy surface. The freshly mulched path silences their footsteps, further emphasizing Uncle’s wheezing.
“You need to stop and rest,” Matt says.
The pair trudges along silently at a snail’s pace, Uncle’s wild eyes fixed on his goal, with Matt using his peripheral vision to monitor the old man. He listens to the desperate wheezing, trying to decipher the point of danger and thinking they passed it long ago.
They reach the end of the trail. Uncle stops on the sidewalk; he leans on his walking stick, gasping. The stick starts to wobble. The old man’s legs sway. Matt embraces his uncle as his legs give way, and the walking stick falls. Uncle turns and puts his arm over Matt’s shoulder, allowing his nephew to support half his weight. Matt walks him to the bench by the basketball court. The old man grunts and slumps down on the metal bench. Matt retrieves the walking stick.
“I gotta get up,” Uncle says, groaning, as he tries to push up from the bench.
“Please sit down … just for a minute,” Matt says, as he guides the old man back to his seat.
Uncle’s labored breathing subsides. They look past the basketball court to the neighborhood of nearly identical single-family homes on plots of land barely big enough for the extravagant monstrosities. The homes are covered in faux brick facing and vinyl siding. In front of each are squared hedges and rounded shrubs growing in a sea of fresh brown mulch with dark green grass, chemically treated, clipped and edged to perfection, and bordered by concrete sidewalks. Beyond the enormous vinyl boxes are endless rows of townhomes, only slightly smaller in footprint. Each three-story townhome has a micropatch of grass with a sad solitary six-foot-tall twig of a tree. The sun is low in the sky, casting rays of orange-yellow light on the neighborhood. Lights are on; a late model SUV pulls into a garage, but not a single person walks the streets.
Uncle sighs; his eyes water. “Gimme my stick, will ya?” He groans as Matt helps the old man to his feet. “That’s why I didn’t wanna sit down. I wasn’t sure I could get back up.” Uncle offers a pained smile. “Now which one is it?”
“It’s at the end of the cul-de-sac, the model home,” Matt says.
“They all look the damn same to me.”
“What exactly are we going to do? Shouldn’t we make a plan?”
“I just want to look that bitch in the eye and see what she’s made of.”
“That doesn’t sound like a plan.”
Title: Against the Grain
Author: Phil Williams
Genre: Contemporary / Coming of Age / Political
A tyrannical high school principal.
A young anarchist with nothing left to lose.
One way or another, this place is goin’ down.
Matt Moyer is an orphaned teen growing up on a primitive farm in the Pennsylvania coal region. He’s homeschooled by his eccentric and philosophical great-uncle, who’s a stickler for logic, reason, and intellectual honesty. Despite his uncle’s reverence for veracity, inconsistencies arise regarding the old man’s shady past and the teen’s parents.
Through a harrowing sequence of events, Matt is forced to attend a public school. The feral teen finds it difficult to cope with the hypocrisy, propaganda, and misinformation that adults and children so readily accept. Faced with the possibility of expulsion, arrest, and ostracism, he must make a choice. Will he choose the easy lie or the hard truth?
Adult language and content.
Phil M. Williams is an author, activist, blogger, and consultant. He lives in Central Pennsylvania with his wife, Denise, where he writes and tends his permaculture farm. He is the author of Fire the Landscaper, Against the Grain, Stone Lake, and co-author of Farmer Phil’s Permaculture. His new releases can be read for free at PhilWBooks.com.