Teresa Ovalle

Welcome to Me

Meet the Knolsby’s – Peata Riley

on December 14, 2015

On a path headed south I met a gun instructor. He was ahead of me on the trail. He was tall and massive across the shoulders. As he walked briskly through patches of sunlight, I caught a glint of steel through a hole in his knapsack and knew instantly that he was a gun handler. I had never seen a gun, except in pictures. I knew from my studies that only qualified gun handlers were allowed to carry guns.

“This is my chance,” I thought to myself.

I ran to catch up to him and asked abruptly, “Will you teach me how to shoot?”

He ignored me and walked faster. Although I was almost running, I kept his pace.

I spoke louder, almost shouting, thinking he did not hear me the first time, “Will you teach me how to shoot?”

He stopped and swiveled toward me. He grabbed my collar in both hands, raised me to eye level and said, “Shut your mouth and leave me alone little girl. You don’t want no piece of gun handling.”

I was shocked and scared. The man was mean looking, but ruggedly hansome. Annoyance crowded his face like aged spider webs. I said nervously, “Yes I do.”

He dropped me to the ground and said, “Why? What do you know about guns?”

“I know guns are dangerous. I know people are afraid of them,” I stammered, and continued, “but I also know that if I learn how to handle and shoot a gun properly, I can take better care of myself.”

The man looked down at me, contemplating what I said.

“How do you know about guns? And how did you know that I could teach you to shoot?” he asked harshly.

“I’ve read about guns in information hubs. I know a lot about them,” I said. “And I know that only qualified gun handlers can carry a gun. I saw the sun shine on the barrel of your gun through the hole in your bag.”

He looked surprised. He was careful man, but I caught him off guard.

The man continued to look down at me, but I could see that he was thinking. If the gears in his head burned any hotter, his hair would catch on fire. He was contemplating whether to teach a kid, a girl no less, how to shoot.

After several minutes he said, “No.” The man turned his back to me and walked away.

I am angry as I sit on the hard ground, watching him walk. This situation does not change my resolve. I will find him on another day and convince him to train me.

Until then, I have to find myself a living space. I pick myself up off the path and move away from town toward a farmer’s field that I passed along the way. Often, a farmer will allow passersby to stay in a small room in their house or barn in exchange for help in the fields. Although much of my time as a child was spent in the information hub, I am not afraid of a good day’s work.

As I walk about a mile, I take a left onto a gravel path that leads to a farmer’s outer buildings: the barn, a chicken coop, a goat’s pen and an outhouse.

I see no one as I approach the buildings. It is very quiet.

“Hello!” I call. “Is anyone here?” No one answers.

I am careful as to how close I get to the building; I do not want to disrespect the farmer and get shooed off the land before I have an opportunity to be invited in.

So I walk to the corner of the barn, but far enough away that someone could see me coming from two directions.

“Hello!” I call again. “Is anyone here?” I hear a muffled sound coming from the backside of the house, which is still several yards from me.

I walked toward the sound. Just as I’m about to turn the corner alongside of the house to the back yard, an older woman rushes around the corner and startles me.

“Oh!” I say in surprise.

“Oh!” says the woman. She is as startled as I am. “I’m sorry if I startled you. I heard someone calling and needed to finish hanging the laundry before coming to find the voice.”

The woman looks to be in her forties. She is slender and strong; her arms are tone from work on the farm. Her hair is shoulder length with streaks of gray. Her eyes are dark blue and match the sash on her cream colored dress. She seems kind.

“We usually don’t get visitors this late in the day,” the woman says. “I’ve never seen you before. Are you lost?”

“My name is Peata,” I begin, “and I’m traveling. I’m looking for a living space that I could use for an unlimited amount of time. I would help with any farm work you need help with in trade for room and board.”

“Please call me Ellie,” the woman says. “I’m Ellie Knolsby. My husband and I run this farm. My husband is in the hamlet fetching seed right now. Are you traveling by yourself?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’ve been traveling on my own for a couple of weeks now. I’m originally from Hamlet Vadnais.”

“Goodness, girl,” Ellie says, “you are brave traveling so far from home.”

“We don’t have a room you can use for any length of time,” she begins as she looks at the horizon and the dipping sun, “but it’s late and I can’t send you away now. You can stay in the loft in the barn tonight and leave in the morning.”

“Thank you so very much, Ellie,” I say, relieved that I won’t be out at night. “What can I do to earn my keep for the night?”

“I assume you came in on the path,” Ellie says.

I nod.

“You passed the chicken coop,” she says. “As you enter the coop, there is a basket hanging on the hook on the right side of the door. Fill it with eggs and take it to the market in the hamlet tomorrow. Trade the eggs for the items I will have ready on a list for you in the morning.”

“We don’t need an extra hand right now,” Ellie continues, “but the next farm down the road does. The path to the Holberly’s place is a half mile past ours down the road on the right side. As you head to their farm tomorrow, drop off the supplies you’re getting for me on way.”

“I will do as you request,” I say. “Thank you, again.”

“Go get cleaned up and join me for dinner in an hour,” Ellie says. “Johan won’t be back before dark, so I don’t expect him until morning. You’ll see the torches and fire ring just inside the barn to your left. It will be dark after dinner, so be sure to set you bedroll now and bring a torch with you to dinner. I want you to have lighting back to the barn after dinner.”

“I will see you in an hour,” I say.

Ellie heads to the house. I head to the barn.

Instead of just one huge barn door that so many other barns have, the Knolsby’s installed a smaller, person-sized door surrounded by mesh. The mesh is odd, but the smaller door makes entry into the barn much easier. I pull the door open and step into the smell of fresh hay, horse manure and a slight breeze coming through the windows. I am pleasantly surprised. The outside of the barn is weathered, but the inside is in pristine shape. The floors are immaculate, the stalls are clean – except for several horse nuggets in one stall – and the amount of sunlight in the barn is impressive.

I look to the left to see the torches and the fire ring. I lift the lid and look inside. The fire ring is a smart idea. When a fire ring is installed, it must be clear of anything that will start a fire beyond the ring, so its placement is important. This fire ring has its own place in a bump out of the barn near the door. The ring is about two feet deep and about a foot wide. It’s lined with rock or stone to keep it from scorching the earth. The stone retains much of the heat and does not transfer it to the ground. I look closely and see a small drainage hole near the ring’s one side to help keep the embers dry during heavy rain. I am impressed.

I look to my right, past the door and find the ladder to the loft. I move up the ladder, lugging my knapsack and bedroll behind me. Once in the loft, I look at my surrounding. The loft is almost the entire length of the barn. It is u shaped to allow better lighting to the lower level and it is plenty tall for me to stand upright.

I now understand where the extra light is coming from. Most barns are dark with little light coming through except when the door is open. The Knolsby’s put windows in the normal areas along the horse level, but they included several windows in the loft of the barn. Rather than one large loft door, which is custom in most barns, the windows in this barn are placed across from each other. The windows offer light for most of the day all year long. In the heat of the summer, the windows can be opened to air out the loft and to cool the barn. The windows can be opened either across from each other to offer a cross wind or opened separate from one another to control the breeze. I’ve seen this concept in books, but I’ve never seen it in an actual barn.

Near the far left corner, there appears to be a room with a door. I venture over to door and open it. Inside is a small living space. It’s just long enough for a fully lengthened bedroll, and just wide enough for a tiny pot-bellied stove in one corner, a small desk and chair along the wall and behind the door, a small shelf.

I thought it was odd to have wood stove on a second floor, especially in a barn with lots of hay. I would think it would be a fire hazard. I notice that the stove sits on heavy slate, but when I look closer, I see that the entire wall behind the stove is also covered with slate. The slate keeps the heat in and lessens the chance of a fire.

Not only are the Knolsby’s smart people, they are kind. They built this room for the casual traveler who is in need of a place to stay.

I unfold my bedroll and unpack a clean set of clothes. I lay down briefly and relax for a quick minute.

I did not see a washroom in the lower part of the barn and I desperately need to wash, so I get up and move to the ladder.

At the bottom of the ladder, I turn to look into the barn again. I see the handle to a water pump at the end of the barn, past the horse stalls on the right. That will work perfectly for today.

I walk over to the water pump to see that the handle is visible to the barn, but the pump itself is hidden from view. There is plenty of room to maneuver large buckets in and out of the water pump area, but there is also hidden space that allows for bathing privacy. This is another example of the Knolsby’s thoughtfulness to a stranger.

I disrobe and wash. The water is cool and it splashes from the pump into the washing tub. Once the tub is full, I ease myself in and wash. I do not have time to relax, but it feels good to remove the dirt from my body. I get out of the tub, dry off, and put on a fresh set of clothes. I don’t look great, but I feel great.

Before I empty the tub, I wash my dirty clothes. I head back to the room in the loft. Just to the right of the room, I notice two wires cross a space of about 10 feet. It takes me a couple of minutes to realize that the wires are a crude clothesline. What didn’t the Knolsby’s think of? I hang my clothes to dry.

It’s almost time for dinner. I move to the lower level of the barn to grab a torch for my later passage from the house to the barn. I step outside and look at how the outer buildings are laid out on the property.

From the barn entrance, the chicken coop is to the right and the goat’s pen is to the left. The coop and pen are spaced equal distance from the barn’s entrance, about 15 yards. Connecting the chicken coop and the goat pen to the barn is a fenced and lightly covered path.

The house is about 30 yards from the barn. The porch is large and looks to be mesh covered, or fenced. A fenced and lightly covered path also runs from the house to the goat pen and the chicken coop. Each building is connected by this protected path. A person can move from one building to another without fear of the dark. Even the outhouse to the back of the barn is connected by a fenced path. I find this very interesting, and very smart.

As I move closer to the porch, I realize that what looked like mesh was actually a wire mesh that covered the sides and front of the porch. I opened the screen-type door before I could reach the house door. How interesting. I knocked on the house door and to my surprise, a man answers.

“Uh, hello,” I say. “I’m Peata. Ellie invited me to dinner. I hope I’m not intruding.”

“I’m Johan,” the man says. “Welcome.” He gestures me to come in.

I enter the house. It’s small, but well thought out. In the middle of the house stands a large fireplace. It looks as though each room is connected by the fireplace. I think the intent of the fireplace is to keep the entire house warm during cold weather. Ellie or Jonah can add wood to any opening from any room.

The dining and kitchen area is to the right of the fireplace, with the tiny table just inside the front door to the right. The kitchen is near the back right of the house with a door leading outside. To left of the front door, is a small room with two rocking chairs, a few books, two end tables with lamps and a large covered wooden box in one corner. I assume that a bedroom is to the back of fireplace, near the kitchen. I look up and notice the same high windows that are in the barn.

“I was able to leave the hamlet in time to make it home before dark,” Johan says. “Ellie told me you’d be joining us for dinner. We’re having chicken stew with a vegetable medley.”

“That sounds wonderful!” I say, excited for a home cooked meal. Jonah motions for me to take a seat at the table near the wall.

Jonah walks into the kitchen to help Ellie bring the food to the table. The food smells wonderful. I smell the chicken crisped by butter and an unusual seasoning mix coming from the vegetables. Travelers cannot be choosers. I will try just about anything a person is willing to share with me.

The food is passed around the table; each person serves themselves. Jonah and Ellie bow their heads for a silent prayer. I join them. I am thankful for everything at this point.

I lift my head to see Ellie and Jonah looking at me. I must have prayed a bit longer then they did. Ellie and Jonah share a glance and a smile and begin eating.

It’s very quiet during dinner. Not a question is asked. The meal is to be enjoyed; conversation is for later.

I am the first to finish. I desperately want more food, but I do not want to be rude.

Johan must have seen me eyeing the chicken.

“Go ahead, Peata,” he says, “have another piece.”

I do. I eat is slowly and savor every bit. It is fantastic.

“This was wonderful, Ellie,” I say. I look at Ellie and then at Jonah. “Thank you for allowing me to stay with you this evening and thank you for inviting me to dinner.”

“Our pleasure,” says Ellie and Johan in unison. They smile. I smile.

As I turn back to Jonah, I look past him and realize that it’s completely dark outside. My heart races and panic sets in. How am I going to get to the barn from here? It’s only about 30 yards, but it’s dark outside.

Jonah saw the look on my face change from thankfulness to fear and turned his to see what scared me so badly. He turned back and smiled.

“Don’t worry, Peata,” he says reassuringly, “I’ll walk you to the barn. We’ve incorporated a fenced and covered pathway for night walking. It’s safe. I will show you how it works.”

My fear does not subside.

“But Jonah, I cannot have you risk yourself for me,” I say worriedly.

“You didn’t hear him,” Ellie says. “We are safe to walk from the house to the outer building, even to the outhouse, in the dark.”

“But how is that possible?” I question Ellie. “How can you,” then I remember my earlier survey of the property. I remember the fenced and covered paths between the buildings. I begin to calm.

“Did you not notice them earlier,” asks Johan.

“I remember now,” I say. “Actually, I’ve noticed a number of creative architectural marvels you’ve added to your buildings. Where did you get the ideas?”

“What did you notice,” ask Johan with curiosity.

I went through my list of discoveries since I arrived.

“How interesting,” says Johan. “You are an observant young lady, Peata. You surprise me. Someday, we will sit and you will tell us your story. There is more to you than meets the eye.”

I smile. There is more to me than meets the eye. A lot more.

“It’s time to get you to the barn,” says Ellie.

We gather at the door and step onto the porch. I am standing in the dark. I feel exposed. My heart races. Open darkness is the one thing in which I am most afraid.

Johan senses my tension and puts a hand on my shoulder.

“Take your torch and reach it into the fire ring here,” Johan points to a hole in the mesh that allows the torch to reach the fire ring. I do as he commands. The torch catches fire. Ellie makes her and Johan’s torch ready, as well.

“Now we simply move through the screen door and into the covered path,” says Johan. “Ensure you stick your torch through the opening of the path, between the top of the fence and below the covering. Every few feet, you will see a stud, pull your torch in while passing the stud and stick it back out on the other side. Keep moving, but don’t rush. Nothing can get you in here, Peata. We are safe.”

I want to rush to the barn. It takes ever ounce of energy for me to walk at Johan’s and Ellie’s pace. Johan’s hand on my shoulder helps, but the fear is still raw. Monsters scare me. On day, if I get the opportunity, I will ask Johan and Ellie how long it took them to overcome their fear. I am curious.

We arrive at the barn and move through another set of screen doors that allows access to the barn. Once inside, I am fine. I begin to relax.

Johan takes a lantern from the wall and lights it. He hands it to me.

“It’s dark up in the loft, Peata,” Johan says.

“I am completely comfortable with enclosed darkness,” I say, “but open darkness draws fear out of every pore in my body.”

“As it does so many others,” Ellie says. “I will see you in the morning with my list for you to take to the hamlet. Good night, Peata. Sleep well.”

“Thank you both so very much,” I say. “And I will see you in the morning, Ellie.”

The barn doors are locked. I head to my temporary living space. The room is warm and even though the window in my room has wire mesh, I keep it closed. Even though my brain tells me that I am safe, my fears are not ready to let the dark night seep in so easily. I lay down on my bedroll, exhausted. I blow out the lantern and close my eyes. As I fall asleep, I hear faint scratching on the barn wall below me. The sound is from my past. The open darkness is on the outside. I am safe. I fall asleep quickly.

Peata Riley is a fictional character who lives in the future. Peata is the vehicle the author uses to spin a tale of common threads separated by temporal dimensions. Enjoy.