Luke Tarpals and his brother Hand were standing in the ancient woodland that forms part of their late father’s estate. It is now held in trust for the two of them, as their mother wanted no part of the financial and other responsibilities of owning and managing a two-thousand-hectare patch of countryside. Her firstborn, Cool, was with her husband when their quad-bike tumbled down the ravine that forms the eastern boundary of the Tarpals estate, an event that neither of them survived. Rightly or not, she blamed the estate for their deaths, and could no longer bear to have anything to do with it.
Traipsing together through the undergrowth, the boys came across a man they had never seen before. Dressed in blue-grey and carrying binoculars, his presence rang alarm bells in the boys’ minds.
Approaching the stranger, Luke asked, “What’re you doing here, Mister?”
“Hush,” Hand whispered to his sibling, “let’s go.”
“No,” Luke replied in a hushed tone, “this is our land. We get to say who can walk on it.”
“What’s it to you?” the man asked finally.
“This is private land,” Luke replied confidently, “and unless you have a good reason for being here, you are trespassing.”
“It’s a free country. Right to roam and all. Besides, what’s it to you? You’re probably trespassing, too.”
With an unaccustomed display of bravado, Hand said, “I hardly think one can trespass on one’s own property.”
“Ooh, get her,” the man mocked, “one cannot trespass on one’s own property. How do I know it’s yours? You got papers to prove it? If not, bugger off and leave me alone. I got work to do.”
“What kind of work?” Luke asked, “and why don’t we know about it? No work is undertaken on the Tarpals estate without our knowledge.”
“Well, maybe what I’m doing is above your pay grade to know about.”
“Nonsense. Our land, pay grade doesn’t come into it.”
“It does if it’s a matter of national security.”
“Is it?” Hand asked.
“Is it what?”
“Is it a matter of national security?”
“No, but it might be, for all you know.”
“Just tell us why you’re here, then we can let you carry on,” Hand said.
“Unless it’s something illegal,” Luke added.
The man sat on the ground, his back to a tree. “Come here, lads;” he said. The boys approached. He tapped the ground beside himself, at which the boys also seated themselves on the leaf-litter. “You wanna know why I’m here?”
“Yes,” the boys chorused.
“And why I’ve got these binoculars?”
“Well, I’ll tell you. I’ve been coming here every day since your dad and brother met with their accident—”
“Why?” Luke asked.
“Let me finish. You see, although the accident was nothing to do with me, I feel kind of responsible for it. I been coming here, keeping an eye on her every day since. Just to make sure she’s okay, you know?”
“But how can you be responsible, if it was nothing to do with you?” Hand asked.
“I suppose you’re old enough and strong enough to know the truth. You’re certainly inquisitive enough! Here goes. Prepare for a bit of a shock, perhaps.”
“Go on, then,” Luke said, impatiently, “tell us.”
“Okay. Your mother and I go back a long way, lads. She and I were sweethearts even before she met your dad. We both thought that we were meant for each other and that we’d end up married and having kids. Then along comes Mister Landed-gentry Tarpals, your father, and sweeps her off her feet.”
“That must have been horrible for you,” Luke suggested.
“It was, lad, it was. Fair knocked me off my feet for a while. I left the area, lived all over, doing whatever job I could find, as long as it paid enough for food and a roof over my head. Anything to be away from the source of my pain. Then, after a while, I thought no, why should I let that man ruin my life? So, ten years ago, I came back. As it happens, your father was away for a couple of weeks—”
“Was that when Dad was at the big conference?” Hand asked.
“I think I remember someone visiting. Was that you?”
“It certainly was, Hand. I stayed for four days. Got to know your mother again after all those years.”
“I don’t remember it,” Luke said.
“It was before you were born, Luke.”
“But you never came again,” Hand said.
“We both thought it best. Your mum was happy with your dad; I didn’t think it right for me to spoil that for her. Her happiness meant more to me than my own.”
The boys looked at each other. The physical differences between them had never mattered to them before, but now they were wondering. Cool and Hand both took their looks from their father, while Luke looked more like Mum, and yet…
“Is there something you want to tell us?” Luke asked.
The man chuckled. “I think you’ve just realised what your father worked out. Now do you get why I feel responsible for his accident?”
“Do you mean…”
“Yes. I’m your father, Luke.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 169, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.