Klonar placed his empty teacup on the side table and sat forward in his chair.
“Well, I guess I’ll be going then. Thank you for the tea.”
He began to get to his feet when King Willy uncoiled like a spring from his sleeping position and barked in Klonar’s face. Willy’s voice was deep like rolling thunder and the bark itself was short and clipped, laced with menace and authority. The soundwave hit Klonar like a physical force, pushing him back in his chair.
For a moment, everyone was silent and frozen, watching while Klonar and Willy locked gazes. Then John cleared his throat and started gathering up the teacups.
“I guess you’ll be staying then. Have you had breakfast?”
Much to Klonar’s relief, King Willy settled himself back down in front of the fire and seemed to go back to sleep. He couldn’t shake the feeling though, that the other dogs were watching him carefully, waiting for his next move. A nervous giggle sounded to his left. It was Peter. He seemed about to say something but changed his mind. On the far side of the room Klonar noticed the boy had turned his head and was looking directly at him for the first time since he had entered the room. A faint sparkle of curiosity animated the boy’s otherwise lifeless eyes. Then Klonar realised that John was waiting for an answer.
“Uh, no, I’ve not eaten”, he answered hesitantly, his eyes checking warily on King Willy. Willy seemed to be sleeping deeply but appearances could be deceiving.
John grunted in reply and went off to the kitchen. Soon, the smell of eggs and bacon was wafting through the house, making Klonars empty belly rumble. Sam looked up at Peter and made a strange, conversational howling sound. He answered her back and rubbed her ears with a happy smile.
“Comon then, lets get you lot fed.” As Peter bustled his wiry frame out of the chair, all four dogs came to life and followed after him as he exited the room. Now it was Klonar him and the boy. Slowly, every so slowly, Klonar eased out of the chair. The boy watched him, eyes widening slightly. Klonar hesitated for a moment, feeling torn between leaving and filling his empty belly. Maybe there would be another opportunity to leave later, after breakfast.
As he sat there debating, the boy got up out of his chair and came towards him. He didn’t say anything, he just stood there in front of Klonar, looking at him, with a strange searching expression on his face. It gave Klonar the heebe-jeebies to be looked at like that, and a wave of discomfort snaked down his spine. What did the boy want?
Klonar scowled at him, hoping the boy might back off and give him room to stand; the child was practically standing on his toes. Then he noticed a photograph above the fireplace, just over the boy’s right shoulder. It was a woman. For a moment, Klonar’s breath caught in his throat. She was beautiful, yes, but that wasn’t what had Klonar entranced. He had seen her somewhere before. Memories stirred, but the images and feelings were faint, as though clouded with fog. A small sound came from the boy and Klonar looked back at him, startled. The child raised his hand, as though offering Klonar something. A small crumpled piece of paper was tucked in his fist.
Klonar reached forward and gently prised the paper from the child’s hand. It was a photograph of the same woman featured on the wall, but in this photograph she was younger, and laughing. A stab of something painful shot through Klonar’s heart. Strange sounds clouded his mind and rang in his ears. It was almost as though he could hear the lady laughing and it seemed as though she were laughing at him, Klonar, the man no-one ever dared to laugh at.
Angry now, he pushed the photo back into the child’s hand, perhaps a little more roughly than he should have, and stood up, forcing the child to step backwards. That’s when John came back in with the food. John was surprised to see his grandson standing so close to Klonar. The boy’s head was hung and his arms were rigid as though he was upset. Darting a quick glance to Klonar’s face, he could see the man looked guilty, angry, confused. He wondered what had passed between the two of them and sighed inwardly. He didn’t like this stranger in his house.
He locked eyes with Klonar and something passed between them in that moment. Klonar knew he was being warned. ‘Don’t mess with my grandson’, the look said. Behind John, he could see skinny Bones, Willy’s sidekick, watching him from the doorway. Further back in the shadows was the faintest glint of bared teeth catching a stray shaft of light. They looked like King Willy’s teeth but he couldn’t be sure. The fight or flight feeling that had spurred him to action just a moment before deflated and his shoulders sunk. John noted the back-down with mild satisfaction and shoved the food unceremoniously towards the stranger.
“The dining room is that way”, he said and called the boy over to him with a wave of his hand. The boy went. John put a hand protectively on the boy’s shoulder, watching to see what the stranger would do next.
“My name is Klonar”, said the stranger.
“Thank you for the food.”
The aroma was wafting up into his nostrils and soothing his soul. He knew he had offended his host and he felt so grateful for the food. It had been many months since he had been given a hot meal. With an apologetic smile for both grandfather and grandson, he turned and headed towards the dining room, a group of dogs in tow.
Peter had wandered in behind the dogs and now looked curiously at his friend John. What had happened in his absence? John wore a slightly disturbed, haunted expression on his face, and his hand was settled on the boys shoulder. The boy curled in against his grandfather’s body as though upset.
“Everything okay John?”
John shook his head and gestured slightly that they should go sit on the back porch together.