Wednesday, October 31, 2012

16823--Barlow's Barren Land

The sun hung low against the orange sky as another day drew near its end.  John Barlow stood on the porch his great-grandfather had built. Abe Barlow had started the farm and his family had worked it ever since. John Barlow grew up working the land with both his parents and his grandparents. Time had overtaken them until John was the only one left above ground. When he worked the land he liked to feel that something of them all remained within him.

Standing at the top of his porch steps, John Barlow watched as an uninvited pickup truck drove onto his farm from the main road.  With the late afternoon light being what it was and that the truck was bouncing along the dirt driveway largely obscured by his fields of wheat, Barlow could not tell whose truck was approaching.  Following the cloud of dirt rising behind it, he could only tell how close it was and that it was coming in fast.  Seeing heads occasionally bouncing above the level of the crops, he was sure that he was about to have several visitors.  For a moment, he considered greeting them with his shotgun in-hand, but decided he could handle whatever was coming without it.

“Barlow!” the driver of the dirty red truck shouted out to him as it skidded to a stop outside the farmhouse.

“Ellis,” he responded to the agitated driver, “where you and these boys off to in such an all fired hurry?  Billy sellin’ nickel beers down at the bar?  No, wait, I know: there’s another buffalo downtown and you’re gonna watch the sheriff try to run him out.”

“No,” one of the men in the back of the pickup said, “we’re on our way over to old Sitwell’s and we figured you’d want to come with us.”

“Old Sitwell’s?” Barlow asked.

“Yeah,” Ellis said.  “Harlan’s wife saw that hag out near their farm two nights ago and today all their cows’ milk done dried up.”

“What? You think she made that happen?” Barlow asked.

“How about the day I tilled the field I left fallow last season,” Pete Wilson spoke up from the passenger seat, “the very day, the corn in the next field dried up.  Then, overnight, all the grain in my silos disappeared. An it ain‘t like we‘re the only ones.  There‘s some kinda curse over this whole area.  Look at your own field, Barlow,” the man said, pointing at the scorched acreage north of the farmhouse.  “You gonna tell us that just happened by itself?”

“A meteor fell on it, Pete,” Barlow told him.  “Sometimes that stuff happens.”

“Maybe,” Wilson said, “and maybe not.”

“Well, those two city fellas said it was,” Barlow said, “and I don’t see ‘em writin’ checks with all them zeroes for any rocks that come from around here.”

“Yeah, Lord gave me a field full of rocks ain’t nobody payin’ for,” Ellis said.

“OK, so it was a space rock, so what?” Wilson asked.  “Just because you got some money for it don’t mean it wasn’t part of a curse.”

“Alright, so you think she can drop rocks on us from space,” Barlow proposed, “and you’re on your way to do what?  You gonna tie her up and take her into town for a trial and get her to confess?  You think she can cast spells to wither your crops and cattle and you’re gonna go scare her outta town?”

The men in the truck fidgeted and looked about sheepishly.

“What happened to you, Ellis?” Barlow asked.  “Your fields catch fire?  The barn collapse?”

“No, but…Carol told me she saw lights in one of the fields,” Ellis told him, “and…somebody dancing.  Then, she left me.”

“Well, that’s weird,” Barlow said, “but weren’t you two fightin’ all the time, anyway?”

“Things wasn’t that bad,” Ellis insisted.

“Alright, sure,” Barlow said.  “So, y’all gonna blame Georgia Sitwell for all your ills?”

“That old witch--!”

“Is the same age as us,” Barlow reminded them.  “She went to school with us!  Maybe she was weird, but we’re not in high school anymore, guys.  We’re grown men and sure as shootin’ too old to be actin’ afraid of the dark.”

“Well…” Ellis said.

“If you see Georgia out walkin’ near your land,” Barlow said, “try bein’ neighborly.  Offer her a ride.  Say ‘Hello’.”

“Not if she’s wearin’ that creepy cape,” Harlan said.

“It ain’t a crime, Harlan,” Barlow said.  “Maybe she’s just cold or she thinks it’s gonna rain.  Try askin’ her.  She might tell you.”


“Y’all go on home,” Barlow said.  “Sounds like you’ve got some things to tend to and so do I.”

“Alright,” Ellis said, putting his truck back into gear.  “We’ll see you soon, John.”

“Alright,” Barlow said, giving a nod.  “You boys stay sane.”

The truck vanished in the distance as the sun dropped below the horizon.  Conversely, as darkness fell and the wait began for the respite of the moon’s silvery light, a glow rose behind Barlow.  The screen door opened for a slender blonde, though she never laid a hand to it.  What little clothing she wore, a diaphanous weave of silk and dew, barely seemed to touch her, instead hovering and swirling just above her radiant flesh.

“You were right,” she said to Barlow, “that one and his wife don’t belong together. Now, if we could only find someone to suit you…”

“We’re like soap operas to you folk, aren’t we?” Barlow asked her.

“You say the strangest things sometimes,” she smiled.  “You should try the honey,” she said, taking another sip from the jar he had brought her.  “The bees made it extra-sweet today.”

“Soon, thank you,” he said.  “Your gifts have brought me such bounty I have to milk the cows and collect from the hens again before dinner.”

“I know how you like the eggs and the extra creamy milk,” she told him, running a hand through his thick black hair.  “It was the least I could do after all you’ve done for me.”

“Good hospitality’s just the way I was taught,” Barlow said.  “Flaming rock falls out of the sky and wipes out your home, a neighbor helps out.”

“And I’ve been feeling a little stronger every day,” she said.  “Your family’s always been good to our folk.”

“Truth be told,” Barlow said, “I think my grandpa was always partial to the moon dances.”

“He was.”

“I’m sorry the others didn’t learn better,” Barlow said, half-mesmerized by her sparkling glow.

“That’s their fault, not yours,” she said. “The price to be paid for their offensiveness is theirs. You were very kind in defending the woman they hate.”

“I don’t think she’s ever hurt anyone her whole life,” he said.  “She may be odd, but she’s certainly no witch.”

“If I’m going to help you with the rest of the harvest,” she pointed out, “you’re going to need a bigger barn or another silo.”

“At the risk of sounding unappreciative,” he said carefully, “if we only harvest what’s left on my land, the barn should just be able to hold it.  I don’t want you hurting yourself with overexertion while you’re still healing.”

“Oh, John, that‘s so thoughtful,” she said, glowing a little brighter as she touched a hand to his cheek. “Thou art sweeter than honeyed cakes and forever friend to the fey.”

“You’re too kind,” he said, smiling broader at her irresistible radiance.

“That means I’ll have extra time tonight to decide which one of those guys loses his hair, which one becomes impotent and which one gets warm skunky beer for the rest of his life," she said with a mischievous gleam in her violet eyes. "Think about it. You can give me any suggestions when you come in for dinner.”

Barlow chuckled softly as he walked off toward the barn, pondering, “I don’t know what those idiots ever did to piss off the faeries, but I’ll bet they’d have been better off if they were trying to negotiate with a witch.”


  1. Another teriffic story!
    I loved it!
    And I'm glowing green with envy.
    Good for you!
    Louise Sorensen
    louise3anne twitter

    1. Bless you. I'm pushing myself to get some shorts done between writing novel chapters. The aim is to keep myself from feeling like I'm not posting enough here or like I'm not doing enough writing in general.

      I've always considered great hat tips to writers to be either "How did xxx think of that?" or "Wish I'd written it." You honor me.

  2. Phoenix, this story crossed my feed unexpectedly just this moment and it brings me great comfort to read this when all seems naught. Titania would be pleased :)