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Richard Davidson Richard Davidson
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Family Plot

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She had a friend.

1 -    
        October is here and betwixt night and day, divided we dance like undulating serpents mingled with fire. The lightning storms of portents sunder the omens, like crypts to eternity. Eyeless ravens batter the Heavens, looking towards Hell, dropping to the Earth like locusts of old. Gargoyles stand silent sentinels, but the Gates have already been cast wide by the winds of plague. Where is humanity in this derelict repose, scattered like wisps from lovers’ tongues? Silent, mournful and full of hateful, bitter remorse, I ask you to not only listen to what I have to say, but to be mindful of all your transgressions. And then at the end, you too shall understand.
   It began one harvest day, with the moon askance within the sky like a puddle of rainwater. The sun'd just dipped below the edge of the Earth, before humanity'd plunged over that edge. I could see the gold through the rows, where the scarecrow haunted with his crooked smile. What I was doing out that time of eve I couldn't've told you, because not even the dogs'd taken to barking, yet a chill was under my skin nonetheless. It'd been one year since she'd died.
        That first night there weren't nothing except me and the moon, and before you knew it I went back inside to the warmth, but I couldn't sleep before I made some tea to settle my nerves, then blew out the candles.
        I dreamed that night of storm clouds settling over the lands, but as they blew closer, crows blew out of the clouds and then the rains came, black as sin, but much less delicious. When I woke in the dead hours of the night all atremble from my dream, I thought the rain had dampened me and my bedclothes, but I found myself covered in chillingly hot sweat. I got up in the murk to drink water and wipe my brow, but I couldn't go back to sleep. So I just laid there in the silence.
        In the morning, chores took my mind and I nearly forgot my nighttime chills. Nearly. But by noontime, something began gnawing at me. I couldn't put my finger on it, and I tried to pay it no more mind. Tried. By dinnertime, nearly driven to distraction, the feeling of gnawing was too strong to be ignored, try as I might. I didn't have the foggiest idea what it could be, for the house and acres were as quiet as ever. Finishing up my dinner, I set the dishes in the sink for later, and with my flesh crawling and my heart nearly pounding in my chest, I opened the screen door quietly so it wouldn't bang shut and went outside into the late afternoon.
        My peace was silenced by the low growl of one of the dogs some distance, away through the cornrows, a plaintive, mournful, portentous sound. I followed the sound, sweating in my coveralls afresh, after the day's toils.
        When I found the yammering and slavering dog, she was under the scarecrow all piteous looking, as if someone'd buried her bone 6' under the Earth. It was Stella, and she licked my hand with stern recognition when I proffered it, going down on my haunches, asking Stella in a soothing tone, "What's wrong girl, what happened?" but she didn't reply of course, but continues her pitiful low growl, signifying something was dreadfully wrong. But I sure as Hell didn't know what it was, until I looked up to find the bright full moon.
        I must've stood near that damned scarecrow near a thousand times, and never paid it no mind 999 times, but this time I sure should've. Because this time it wasn't the scarecrow there at all. The scarecrow'd been taken down and replaced by my dearest daughter; all strung up like that godforsaken scarecrow. She was no longer where I'd buried her myself one year ago. Someone'd dug her up, and trussed her up, decaying and loosely disheveled on the post, her blonde hair still glistening as always. I dropped to my knees in horror; try as I might to look away, I couldn't, and my damned eyes were drawn up to her face, where the crows'd been at their filthy work, already'd plucked out her eyes.
        I don't know how long I kneeled there. I finally realized Stella'd been quiet now for a long time, reassured by my idle hand stroking her. The sun'd sunk below the cornrows and a full moon lazily made its way up the sticky slate sky, and still I knelt there, while all around the nighttime insects buzzed and chirped.
       My mind, a haze full of such puzzled questions, swirled with half incoherent thoughts muddling together like lost ships at sea. For a time, I tried to think if I could take her down off the post. And then do what with her? Bury her in the same grave, in the family plot? My blood chilled at the thought, my heart racing. Whatever had put her up on that post would surely still be out there, somewhere. And now it was so dark I couldn't see to get her down without causing further damage.
        I rose slowly, looking down, away from my daughter's ruined face and led Stella back to the house. Now you may disagree with my actions. How could any reasonable father make the decision I've made? Let me assure you, I was second guessing myself.
        I went to bed, fully intending to find a solution at first rays of sunlight in the morning.
   Try as I might sleep, I couldn't do it, and in the small hours I cursed and got up in the pitch black, fumbled for a lantern. I dressed with trembling fingers. That's when I heard it, without mistake, just outside the house. My daughter's laughter. As if she'd just picked flowers for her mom and brung them right fresh home. Half mad, I flung open the door casting the lantern out into the night. But there was naught there, even the dogs were silent. Just my imagination? I almost called her name then, but the syllables died on my lips. I stumbled down the porch steps, holding the lantern out in front, its light so dim against the huge maw of darkness. As I steeled myself for the trip back out into the cornrows, there, to my left, my daughter's laughter again. This time I saw her, just outside the light. Skipping and dancing her way through the taller grass. She dashed off into the cornrows. My heart skipped a beat. I almost dropped the lantern.
        I stood there frozen. Frozen with indecision. My breath hung in the chilly October air with crystal clarity, each puff and pant. Yet my lungs labored with each breath. Slowly, with imprecise faltering steps, I advanced towards where my daughter'd disappeared into the cornrows. The hairs on my flesh standing. My pulse increasing with each hesitant footfall.
        Nothing looked out of place. The wobbly light from the lantern washed the darkness away. Nighttime noises, crickets and cicada like a far off roaring ocean. The thunder of my heart in my ears drowned out everything, seemed to dull my other senses as well. With one hand I held the lantern, with the other I brushed the corn aside, checking for any sign that anyone'd just passed: a trampled blade or bent stalk. Nothing. Lost, but too scared to follow where I thought I aught to go, I stood and slowly spun round, perhaps unintentionally, trying to cast the light in all directions.
        As time passed, the nighttime sounds returned louder to my ears, but I didn't let it fool me. I expected anything at this point. I walked back through the yard to the left of the house; back towards where I'd first found my daughter, where the scarecrow should've been. Up on the post. As I went, I gained more confidence with each step, back through the wider aisles of rows. Certain now I would find my daughter back there. Or the scarecrow. Maybe this’d all been my imagination, spurred by the one year anniversary of all that horrible business...and my guilty conscious. Some nights it tormented me, haunted my dreams, when I did manage to get some sleep. I'd always tried to be an honest man, and the malfeasance warred within my soul.
        I tromped through the corn, suddenly not caring what damage I caused, or how much noise, making my way to the scarecrow. I convinced myself now that somehow it’d all been my imagination. That my daughter was back in the family plot where I’d buried her a year ago. That the scarecrow would be exactly where it ought to be, up on the post.
        Nothing was there except the post. Not my daughter. Not the scarecrow. I couldn't describe exactly what I felt, as something akin to relief washed through me. I don't know why, I suppose because I didnt find Margaret there. I let out the air in my lungs. The only mystery here was what’d happened to the scarecrow; mayhap just one of the dogs, maybe Stella herself, had somehow chewed the scarecrow and had torn it down.
        Troubled, but no longer completely beside myself, I headed back into the house. I stomped up the steps, suddenly feeling my age, weary to the bones. Despite myself, I bolted the door, and then drew all the shades and shutters, trying to lock the outside world away.
       Sleep didn’t come that night. But at least when I didn't sleep, I didn't dream. I miss those, because I dream too much now.
        Sometime way passed sunrise, my restless slumber came to an end, but even still abed I didn’t move yet, listening. Near silence. The animals would be hungry, my conscience told me. I should get up and feed them, not cower under the covers like some child. I remeber'd Donald when he was a child, he'd had terrible nightmares, and if it weren't for dragging him out from beneath his bed sheets we wouldn't've never got him out of bed. My berating wouldn't never do no good, for his nightmares never abated.

       How he’d grew up so big and strong was always a wonder to me; must've been my daily list of chores muscled and toughened him up, I always reckoned.

      Rising, I found I was still dressed from last night, so I immediately set about a coffee pot in the kitchen, noticing how much sunlight was streaming in through the edges of the curtains and drapes. But on top of that, how utterly quiet everything seemed. I could hear nothing outside, as if the house'd been flung into some abyssal cavern where sound dared not venture.
        With coffee cup in hand, I opened the door to peer out into the brilliant sunlit yard, so empty now. Sometimes I forgot how empty. Just like everything else in my life. Just like me. I went outside, covered in the sunlight, to begin feeding the animals, and became lost for a bit, lost myself in my chores, the nighttime chills banished in the diurnal escape. Until I noticed Stella was nowhere to be found when I filled her food dish. Stella never missed a meal.
Dumbfounded, I put my hands to my mouth and called out, the sound shattering the still quiet. But no matter how much I hollered, the dog didn’t appear. And then a thought came into my head. Stella off somewhere chewing that scarecrow. She’d maybe been the animal that’d torn it down off the post. I tried to pay no nevermind, and let Stella be no matter where she’d run off to, and continued my chores. But try as I might, I couldn’t get the image out of my head of Stella tearing down the scarecrow from the post. Maybe she was close to where the post stood, gnawing away like an unburied bone.
        Hollering the dog’s name here and there, I cut through the golden rows amid the shimmering sunlight. I could see moisture rising as steam off the crops like a fine mist, but the rest of the world twisted and disappeared outside my narrow aisle, shimmering warped in the heat. Over the tops of the rows I could see coming into view where the scarecrow should be, but now that I was paying attention to it this time, I only saw the empty post. Nothing hung from the post. But I'd been looking up, and nearly stumbled on something.
        I looked down. Some sort of animal dead at my feet. It'd been slaughtered. My heart pounded in my chest, thinking some feral beast had somehow dug up Margaret, eaten half her decomposed corpse, then left her here. Had Stella done that?
        But this wasn't human, this animal had fur, and from what I could tell, wasn't so much eaten either. Rather somehow it'd been pulled inside out. The intestines riddled all across the dirt, strung out like serpents. Amid the carnage, I spied something metal glinting in the sunlight.
        Wrinkling my nose against the pungent scent of rotting carcass, I stooped to look, and to my horror, recognized the piece as my own handiwork. It was Stella's dog collar, her name on it. I recoiled, standing up bolt straight, nearly vomited on the mess that used to be my hound dog.

       Bile rising, I stumbled back down the cornrows, now so glad that I couldn't see the tilting outside world. Tried just to find my way back to the house, wondering what sort of animal'd do that to Stella. But not eat any of her. And in the back of my mind, gnawing away like an old nightmare, wondering where the hell Margaret's body’d gone if it wasn't hanging up there on that scarecrow's post.
        I reached the yard and heaved a sob towards the heavens. Huge grey scudding clouds'd obscured the sun now, but it was humid as ever. The air hung thick like steam from a teapot. I remember the wife'd often run steam through the teapot when Donald caught a cold, or later when Margaret was with flu. Ironic when the wife caught her pneumonia, the trick with the teapot steam did as little as the town doctor.
        It was then I noticed her. Margaret. Standing where she'd disappeared last night to the entrance of the cornrows, some fifty feet from where I stood in the yard. Half concealed in shadows, her blonde hair hung with the moisture, curling like it always did when it was wet. Her white dress clung to her skinny frame, staring at me, her eyes tiny pinpricks of orbital white.
        This time I did call to her, Maggy, across the yard. If she heard me she showed no sign. Continued to stare at me. Transfixed, unmoving, like one of those gargoyles on the mausoleum. I took steps toward her. And I could see tears in her eyes. Thirty feet to her. She didnt move. Maggy, I whispered. Maggy. Twenty steps from her. I thought I could see goosepimples on her flesh.  Ten steps from her, and she turned and was gone into the waiting arms of the cornrows. I ran after her, calling to her to wait, pleading with her. Wait, I tumbled into the cornrows, my arms flailing to part the stalks, to find any trace of her. But she was gone.
        Violently, I thrust my way back to the yard. My mind gnashed and I cursed oaths to cut every stalk of corn down until I found Margaret. But somehow, implacably, I knew I wouldn't find her. She wouldn't be found. She didn't want to be found.
        Hauling the door open to the house, I cast myself on the bed. And I despaired. My memory, usually so reliable, began to play tricks upon me, so that I couldn't quite ecall the chronology of some events in my life, the exact order of things.
        I don't remember if I wept then, but I remember the silence. What I really wanted to hear was Margaret coming through the house, fresh picked flowers or roses for her mother, before her mother got sick with the pneumonia. Margaret always came with some gift for her mommy, while I and Donald tended to chores with the farmhands.
        Remember when I told you it began in October, under a harvest moon. Maybe I lied. Maybe that's not where it began at all. Maybe that's where it ended. Or tried to end, anyway. Because it doesn't end. It never really ends.
        Finally I got up and ate cold stew from some night before, warmed up on the cast iron, a meager portion. Then, exhausted, I went to bed and slept. And as if in a trance, I dreamed. I dreamed Margaret was on my bed, watching me sleep, and crying her soft silent tears.
        When I woke up in pitch blackness, a felt a determined seed growing in me. I threw open the front door in the dark, and further darkness outside greeted me. I couldn't even see the stars wheeling overhead, nor the accursed moon. In the black, I fumbled for my boots and went to the shed. I knew right where the lantern was that hung on a peg. I lit it with one of the matches I always carried in my coveralls and the world exploded into view. I clutched the lantern, and with the other hand I gathered up a spade and a shovel and inexorably made my way through the yard and up the hill to the family cemetery.
        It was colder now than I expected. The clouds’d parted to reveal muted grey blue light from the Heavens. The naked moon above hung like a harlot with her pale legs spread amid the stars of human frailty. I was gasping as I began the ascent, leaving the cornrows behind, entering the waist high grasses, which grew haphazardly on the hillside, the wind brushing idly like fingers. I wasn't as young as I used to be, and despite my determination, I didn't climb the hill fast. And the lantern in my hands careened and wobbled with my efforts.
        This hill was old; how old, I didn't know then. There existed a history here before my family arrived to claim the acreage. And casualties from the War of Secession, from my family and others. Too many to fathom, but I was more intimate with my own family's history. The lineage going back to Boston and beyond. But that night, as I stood panting a few seconds on the hilltop, leaning on the shovel sunk in the soil for support, I was only concerned about my recent history. I gazed out across the bleak darkness at the markers in the murky nighttime until I’d caught my breath.
        I found the marker I was looking for easily, as if I'd just been here yesterday, even in this blue black night, my eyes nearly blind to every shape and hue that fell outside the lantern's light. Setting that lantern down, I noticed the bleak and harsh shadows the gravemarkers cast. Then I thrust the shovel downward into the soft earth, digging towards infinity, even as the shadows stretched towards eternity.
        With spade and shovel, I began my dig into Margaret's grave, awash with indescribable emotions, my psyche bleaker and darker than the omniscient nighttime. And as I dug, flooded with memories, the wind gusted up further and a dim lazy rain began to fall.

       I remember the first time I was out here, years ago, ruminating over past family members buried amid the strangers of the War. Somehow, I'd found solace among the deceased. Quietude. I’d always meant to study the history of those killed in battle, but I’d never found the time. The farm chores always pulled me away.
        When the pneumonia seized the wife, nearly four years ago, we'd made a somber pilgrimage here, to have the ceremony. Townsfolk'd come, along with most of the farmhands. I'd led the procession, holding Margaret's hand. She'd cried so much beforehand, there were no more tears during that walk, but then at the ceremony itself she cried like she’d never cried before. I'd wondered then if she was old enough to really understand. Even after her mother'd passed, Margaret continued to pick flowers for her, bringing them to me or putting them in water herself. She made sure that everyone understood the flowers were for mommy. Donald was old enough, he understood he'd never see his mother again, and the cheerful boy he'd once been altered into a sternly coarse young man.

      When Margaret passed, it was nearly only Donald and me made the procession. Some of the townsfolk and farmhands attended, but mostly they'd dispersed, the wife'd been the glue to hold everything together, and after she'd passed everything'd unraveled. Again Reverend Stillwater done the ceremony, and I remember him having such a hard time composing himself to give Margaret’s eulogy. I failed to compose myself. Only Donald seemed so immune, so numb to what'd happened. I too for Margaret dug the first and last, before everyone gave their parting condolences and forlornly went back to town, leaving only Donald and me at the house. Before Donald left too.
        I reached the wooden childsize coffin with the digging, my pulse quickening as the rain continued to fall like tears. Slithering down the steep incline, with my scrabbling hands I uncovered the last remnants of soil barring me. With cold trepidation, I used the spade to pry open the lid and I saw what was inside; my tears became one with the rain.
        The coffin was empty. Except for Margaret's brown teddy bear. She'd slept with it since she'd been a baby. Her mother'd sewn it when she'd been pregnant with her. We’d buried Margaret with it. My knees nearly buckled as my mind spun, the indolent rain continuing to fall. I looked heavenwards, my face upheld towards the showers, but heaven'd abandoned me. Then I saw her, standing on the edge of her open grave I'd just dug, looking down on me. Her blonde hair shimmered in the lantern light, her white dress rippling in the wind. She was crying soft tears, and I thought maybe she wanted her teddy bear. I bent down and seized the toy to give to her, taking my eyes off her for one instant. When I looked back up, she was gone. Clutching the toy, I scrambled out of the bare earth, calling Maggy Maggy, proffering the teddy bear, but she was nowhere to be seen.
        I returned to the open grave I'd dug, the spade and shovel strewn upon the coffin. Did I keep the teddy bear with me, or return it to the coffin? I had no intention of closing the coffin and recovering it with soil just now, so I kept the toy with me, and somnolently returned to the house, collapsing with exhaustion as the sun rose in the East.
        Somewhere during the following day, my slumber was disturbed by heavy pounding on the house's front door. My tongue worked the dead cotton from my mouth as the thunderous knocking hammered my head. I thought surely the spirit of Margaret wouldn't make such wicked noise. She never had in life or death. I thought of pulling the pistol out from the desk drawer, but thought better of it; perhaps it was just some concerned neighbor, or one of my disgruntled farmhands come sniffing 'round for his paycheck.
        I threw the door open, ready to tell whomever stood there to get lost. Donald scowled at me on the front porch, in rumpled and wrinkled traveling clothes, his think blonde hair unkempt, but his blue eyes blazed.
        'What are you doing here?' I barked, but my own voice betrayed me and it came out a plaintive croak, barely above a whisper to my ears.
        'You thought you'd never see me again?' He'd been taller than me since he was fourteen, but maybe I'd never noticed as much as I did now as he looked down at me. 'You'd hoped you'd never see me again!' I stared up at him, and I was reminded of looking up at Margaret from down in the dirt last night, my addled mind spinning.
        ‘You woke me up,’ I muttered, ‘I need coffee,” but I still stood transfixed. Finally I swept inside, and he followed me, while I rummaged the cupboards. I didn’t offer him a chair, and he didn’t sit, which kept more even more uneasy.
        'The yard looks like hell,' he commented dourly, 'Did you sell all the animals?'
        'You didn't come all the way from Omaha to ask me that.' I said. I'd found the coffee and began heating it up in the pot, my back still to him.
        'No,' he said then, and what he said next nearly chilled my blood, 'but Maggy came to see me last night.'
I whirled around to face my son. 'Maggy?' I repeated, only managing to utter those two syllables.
        'She didn't speak,' he said. Donald’s face the color of ash, his eyes a furnace, his words coals, 'she didn't speak at all. She came to me last night, and at first I thought it was a dream. The saddest dream I've ever had. She was crying, and she led me outside my apartment, and she pointed West towards the house here.’ His voice carried the mournful wind. ‘And I looked to follow where she pointed, but when I turned back, she was gone.'
        I scowled and glowered. 'So you came all the way from Omaha to tell me you had a bad dream,' I grumbled, 'I'm always busy on the farm tending to the crops and the animals, I don't have time for your nonsense.'
        'Nonsense?' Donald repeated, the word poison on his tongue, 'I think about Margaret all the time, about what happened, about what you did, and you call it nonsense?' He took a step forward. 'And I don't see anything outside for you to take care of any more. Everything looks overgrown. Where’re the farmhands?'
        Temper flaring, I rasped, 'I don't have time to explain all circumstances to you. You're still a petulant child. I can't assuage your guilt that caused your bad dream. And you know as well as I that your mother isn't here any longer to comfort you at her breasts like a baby.'
        He came closer, waving a finger at my chest. 'I came to see what the hell is going on here because I saw Margaret last night. I know mother is dead, I helped you bury her, and I kept my mouth shut all these damn years,’ he yelled. ‘I am not asking you or anyone else to absolve me of my guilt, I don't have any guilt. You were my dad, and I was just a child. Now I know who is guilty and who is not.'
I stared at the blue fire burning in his eyes. I trembled so much but I tried to hold my composure and calmly sip my coffee from the cup though it moved too much. 'You were there when we buried Maggy, too.' I said sternly, 'I don't remember you even shedding a tear.' Ignoring him, I tried to scoot past him; my chores couldn’t wait for his gibberish. But I didn’t make it to the door.
        'I cried myself to sleep every night,' Donald said, his voice lowering dangerously, barely above a whisper, 'sometimes I'd cover my head with a pillow, but it never drowned out the noises completely.'
        I didn’t listen to his prattle. The coffee was good black and strong. Where were my work boots?
        'The only guilt I have is that I didn't try harder to stop you,' Donald whispered, 'the only guilt I have is that Maggy heard us fight, when family never should be fighting. Look at me,' he demanded, but I didn't. I had chores to get to, and none of what he was saying made any sense. I could see him when he was sixteen, when Maggy was eight. He'd come to me after I'd finished with Maggy. He'd stood in the doorway to my bedroom for a long time, after I’d noticed him just. Then he'd told me to leave her alone, that I was hurting her. I told him I'm not hurting anyone, to go to sleep, that we have chores in the morning.
        'Papa,' he'd told me in the darkness, his voice trembling, 'I hate you for what you're doing, and I am sure she hates you too. And if mom were here, she'd say she hates you too.'
'Shut up, boy,' I’d told him, getting up from the bed, 'shut your damn mouth before God and everyone hears you. Shut your damn mouth.'
        'I'm not going to shut my mouth, papa, until you tell me you're going to leave her alone, or help me God, I will kill you, papa.'
        'Shut your damn mouth, you stupid child,' and I’d struck him hard across the face, and that's when he attacked me. Nearly tackled me to the floor in a rage, fingers clawing my face. The pungent scent of his anger, could taste his hot tears. As we fought, we heard Maggy screaming for us to stop. To stop. She stood in the doorway crying. Yelling for us to stop. And if she hadn’t heard and come, we might’ve just killed each other.
        I sipped my coffee while I busied myself, getting ready for my daily chores, reaching for my worn out boots. 'Look at me,' Donald commanded again, his voice had a ring to it, like Reverend Stillwater when he sermoned about his fire and brimstone. Only I wasn't compelled to look at Donald. I didn't dare.
        I took my coffee cup and myself outside in the crisp autumn air. Judging by the sun overhead it was far past morning. I didn't care, except I was so late getting to my chores. The overcast aluminum sky threatened a storm as I walked across the yard into the barn, to feed the animals. Probably I should clean the barn as time permitted. The lists of chores I have to do on a daily basis always seem insurmountable. The sky cracked open outside, a roll of thunder followed by the steady pounding of rain on the barn's roof.
        Donald came in the barn, into my field of vision, as a flash of lightning lit up everything outside the barn, switching the shadows of the rafters, illuminating the barn in stark contrast. He’d found Margaret’s teddy bear. He held it in his hand, thrusting it out accusatory, as if I'd done something wrong.
       'What is this?' He bellowed over the storm. 'This is Maggy's teddy bear. Her favorite one,’ he shouted, ‘the one she always slept with. The one we buried her with. How do you have it now? How is it on your bed? In your house?' He came closer. I could see his sixteen year old self rushing towards me to tackle me. I braced myself for it now, but he only yelled, waited for me to give him some sort of answer.

      'Shut up,' I spat at him, 'you have no idea. You gave up all rights to this house and me when you abandoned me, left me all alone.' I took a slow and deliberate drink of coffee, 'now since you're not aiming to help with the chores, get out of my way,' and I was going to take another drink of coffee when in one smooth motion Donald reached out and struck the cup from my hands, shattering it on the floor, a clap of thunder shaking the barn around us, the rain crashing on the barn’s roof.
        My mind spun; just another thing added to my list of chores I'd have to clean up. But still Donald wouldn't let me get to it. 'I told you,' his voice filled with venom, ' to tell me why you have Margaret's goddamn teddy bear in the house!'
        My eyes locked with his, I could see the depths of the furnace in his soul. 'Don't use the Lord’s name in vain, boy,' I hissed at him, and I slapped him hard, another splash of lightning etched his face in my memory. Tears rimmed his eyes. I moved to slap him again, but this time he caught my arm at the wrist, twisted it, shoved me backwards. I landed amidst the tools and old horseshoes and the rain clattered against the roof and I remember wondering how long the rain would last. Donald stared piteously down at me for a moment and then offered a hand up. I let him help me up, my other hand held a heavy horseshoe, and when I was on my two feet, looking up at him, I swung that horseshoe as hard as I could. Slammed it into the side of his head. He crumpled. But I wasn't done. I bashed the horseshoe into his head until the terrible lights in his eyes were extinguished, as the thunder and lightning continued their eternal war with one another the rain pounding, drowning out all I heard and saw.
        Finally, panting and weary, I pulled myself up and continued on with my chores. I think the rain’d finally stopped.
        As the day was coming to a close, the sky'd already shed everything it was going to. Stars twinkled between crimson clouds, the sun sliding down the edge of the world, the laughing moon full and proud. The day's chores finally done and dinner in my belly, I returned to the barn to clean up what I could in the time remaining. A lantern lit the barn meagerly. I hauled the ruin of my son and slumped him over the wheelbarrow with a curse. I hung the lantern over one handle and clumsily made my way out across the yard and up the hill, through the tall peaceful grass.
        The world turned a beautiful burgundy as I begun to dig in Donald's section of the family plot. I lamented the fact that he wouldn't have a coffin or ceremony or Reverend Stillwater to eulogize ornately, but there weren't nothing to be done for it. As I dug, I wondered idly who'd have the lucky task of putting me six feet under when my time came.
       I tumbled Donald rather inadequately down the steep of still earth to his final resting place. Regrettably, I couldn't think of anything proper to say by the time I reckoned I'd better cover the earth again. I had chores to get done tomorrow, after all, and I man needs some sleep.
        That done, I decided to fill in poor Margaret's plot, without the teddy bear. Nothing to be done for that either. I wasn’t going back to the barn now to look for the teddy bear where Donald had carelessly dropped it somewhere.
        I loaded the spade and shovel on the wheelbarrow and trundled my way back, my body and soul encompassed by a deep serenity. I felt whatever awful events had occurred might’ve finally come to an end.
       Numb and devoid of thought I ambled back to the house, the silence only broken by the occasional squeak of the wheelbarrow and squawks from nocturnal animals and insects.
I settled the tools and wheelbarrow back in the barn hoisting the lantern up on a nail. As I turned back to grab it, I found the stuffed teddy bear underfoot. I lifted my boot and looked down at it. A splash of blood now marred the brown fur. I picked it up and clutched at it, and in doing so remembered how we’d found Margaret clutching it, the morning she’d passed away. Donald and I found her still in bed, the morning after Donald and I’d fought, after she’d cried and begged us to stop. Donald had put her to bed, had somehow managed to get her to stop crying. In the morning we’d called her to breakfast, but she’d never risen out of bed. We found her holding the teddy bear to her breast, silent and peaceful. The doctor never could determine the cause of death, but I’d always figured she’d died from a broken heart for not having her mother. Donald was the last person to see her alive. He’d announced to me he was moving to Chicago shortly after Margaret's ceremony, but you and I both know he only made it as far as Omaha.
He'd always come up short.
       I left the barn with Margaret’s stuffed bear, went into the house and threw myself into bed.
       The next morning came bright and productive. For a time I thought things’d returned back to normal. The days passed with my chores getting done. And as the days passed, I thought more and more how I might finally find the time to straighten out the things that I never had time to straighten out.
        Maybe a fortnight'd passed since I'd laid Donald in the bare earth. I’d just gone to bed after a long and fruitful day of chores. I even rewarded myself a brandy for catching up so well on my chores over the past week. I’d settled into bed, and I remember sleeping so peacefully, dreaming such fluid and beautiful dreams. Then, like a jolt, I awoke to a terrible hammering on the front door. Snapping awake, fear gripped me. I clattered to my feet. Something outside heaved against the lock on the door. Somehow I managed to light a lantern. A huge shape outside pounded to get in. A famished bear, I thought, gone mad with starvation and rage. I fumbled for the pistol, checked that it was loaded. I knew it wouldn’t be much good against such a huge furious animal. Then the monster broke in, tearing open the door. I dropped to my knees. But it wasn’t a bear. I cowered, the flaws of nature open for me to see. My own Donald lumbered forward, his face a lopsided ruin where I'd done my damage. Pus and maggots crawled and oozed across his skin and brow, but in his terrible dead eyes the furnace yet burned.
        The pistol trembled in my hands. Donald shuffled towards me, arms outstretched towards me, a horrible slathering noise coming from his mouth. As he reached for me, I brought the pistol to my own head. A pungent rotten earth smell filled my nostrils as the horror of Donald clutched at my flesh, grasping my throat. Behind Donald, a figure walked in, and I saw Margaret in silhouette. She made no sound, a blank expression upon her placid beautiful face. Donald’s strong fingers squeezed my throat. The gun still aimed at my head, I found Margaret’s eyes, and stared into them as I pulled the trigger, my last vision of my daughter.
        So you see. I leave you a cautionary tale, for the dead only slumber and living is such a delicate, transitory state. There is no humanity, it is only illusions, and the gates will remain open and the evil in all of us shall be laid bare like the maw of the earth.

       The brand new BMW pulled up the farmland road between the massive cornrows to the farmhouse. The twin children slept in the backseat, cradled in their car seats.
"It's beautiful out here," Lucy commented to her husband, of the breathtaking scenery, the idyllic pastoral location.
        "It is nice," Kyle remarked, just what they were looking for. A big farm to raise their children in peace, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. "Just don't seem too eager in front of the real estate agent, or she'll prey on us like vultures."
        "I'll try," his wife promised, "but I really like it. All updated house and barn, and maybe we’ll be able to hire someone to help us with the upkeep."
        Kyle pulled the car up to the farmhouse and parked beside the real estate agent's Tahoe. With both doors open to provide plenty of air, they let the children sleep.
        As husband and wife joined hands and breathed in fresh air, a dog ambled up to them, all kissing and licking.
"Even comes with a farm's own hound dog," commented Lucy searching the collar for the thin handmade dog tag. "Stella," read Lucy, and they continued on their short walk through the yard to the house, where the real estate agent waited for them inside.

                                           The End

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