BumBuna O’Brien and the Evolution Oven (End)

They brought the boat aground on the far side of the island where there was a small cove and a cold, soft beach. Pierre hoisted his supplies over his shoulder and BumBuna O’Brien carried the stone head of Saint Pedro. They made their way into the trees along a footpath worn down by Pierre over time as he came and went. BumBuna O’Brien looked up, and the tops of the trees seemed so very far away to him — the light of day could barely break in as the canopy was so thick.

“How far is it?” he asked Pierre.

“Not far. Is the head heavy? Do you need to rest?”

BumBuna O’Brien lied. “No. He’s just being restless in this bag.”

The path wound on and on, into the deepest parts of the island, and then the trees retreated a bit and the ground opened and that is where BumBuna O’Brien saw the crooked little and gray-washed island hovel, crooked and shiny like ice in the mist.

“I know it doesn’t look like much,” Pierre said as he set the sacks on the porch. “But it’s comfortable enough. Quiet and peaceful, too. That’s the way I like it.”

BumBuna O’Brien stepped onto the porch, but Pierre held him back with his large hand.

“I think you should leave the head outside. I don’t feel good about bringing that thing into my house. It might be bad luck.”

“I’m not bad luck,” Saint Pedro said. “But I would like to be out of this sack. It’s itchy.”

“Where should I put it?”

Pierre pointed to a stump at the edge of the clearing.

“Put him there. I suppose he won’t be able to run off.”

BumBuna O’Brien carried him to the stump, set him free from the sack and set him upon the flat surface.

“I don’t like it here,” Saint Pedro said. “Why can’t I come inside?”

“Not now,” BumBuna O’Brien said. “You heard Pierre. He doesn’t like you too much.”

“What about you? Do you like me?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I guess that’s up to you.”

“You know, I could send you to hell if I wanted to,” Saint Pedro said to him, seriously.

BumBuna O’Brien blinked at him, then his head dipped, and he thought about how derailed his life had become. Even in the midst of trying to be good and peaceful and not stir up trouble, trouble always seemed to find him, get attached to him, like glue or magnets.

“I’m already in hell,” he answered, and then he walked away and went into the house, and there he saw a cozy little place, a bit worn down, but Pierre had made it livable.

The man was busy in the kitchen area, filling cupboards with cans and boxes and little bags by the light of a lantern. There was no electricity, only candles and the lanterns, and there was a wood-burning stove that was already beginning to glow, and now the fire crackled, and the place was getting warmer.

“Do you want some coffee?” Pierre asked as he prepared the pot.

“Yes. And I’m hungry.”

“Well, then come in, sit down. Make yourself comfortable.”

BumBuna O’Brien sat down at a round table in the middle of the room.

“Do you have any carrot cake?” he asked.

“No. But I have something better. Just picked it up fresh today. How do you feel about liverwurst sandwiches?”

“What’s liverwurst?”

“It’s liver sausage. You spread it on bread. I like to refer to it as the poor man’s pate. Here, try it.”

Pierre set down two plates at the table. BumBuna O’Brien stared at the bread, then he peeled the sandwich open to peek inside.

“It looks disgusting,” he said. “Like someone had a nasty blowout in there.”

Pierre laughed out loud, took a big bite of his own sandwich and chewed. “Nonsense. It’s delicious.”

BumBuna O’Brien took a small bite. He nibbled carefully. The taste and texture did not sit with him very well. He set it back down on his plate.

“I can’t eat this. Don’t you have anything else?”

Pierre was somewhat offended. He got up to pour himself a cup of the coffee. “You’re welcome to hunt yourself a fish or a squirrel if you want. Otherwise, it’s liverwurst. I’m sorry, but I have limited options. It’s a peaceful life, but not always easy and convenient. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable back where you came from.”

BumBuna O’Brien sensed that he had hurt Pierre’s feelings and so he got up and walked outside. Saint Pedro whistled for him to come over.

“What do you want?” BumBuna O’Brien asked.

“I just wanted to talk. What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m afraid I offended our host by not eating his disgusting sandwich.”

“That wasn’t very nice of you.”

BumBuna O’Brien snapped. “What the hell do you know! You’re just a stone head.”

“I know enough that it’s rude to complain about the food when in someone else’s home. You should apologize.”

BumBuna O’Brien sighed. His stomach grumbled. “I’m just not myself when I’m hungry.”

“I don’t like it here,” Saint Pedro whispered. “I don’t trust him. I say we take his boat in the middle of the night and leave this place.”

“We can’t do that. He’d be marooned.”

“Would you really care? Face it, you’re not the nicest animal in the world.”

“Why did you call me an animal? Do I look like an animal to you?”

“Every man is an animal. You’re savages. Pigs. The world has fallen because of you — you human animals.”

“You used to be human,” BumBuna O’Brien pointed out.

“I rose above it,” Saint Pedro answered. “Wait. Be quiet now. He’s coming.”

They saw Pierre Moose moving toward them. He was walking softly and carrying a big spear.

“What’s going on out here?” he asked.

“We’re just talking,” BumBuna O’Brien said. “What’s the spear for?”

Pierre clicked his teeth and rubbed at his sandpaper face. 

“Self-preservation mostly,” Pierre answered. “But I feel bad about you going hungry — thought I’d try to bag you some fish for supper.”

“You don’t have to do that. I’ll eat the sandwich.”

“I already finished it for you. Besides, I feel like doing a little fishing. Why don’t you get the fire pit going while I’m gone?”

Pierre looked at him differently. His cold eyes were suspicious now.

“I won’t be too long,” Pierre said, and then he went off down the path and soon he vanished.

“I don’t like this,” Saint Pedro said. “I don’t like this at all. He’s up to no good. I can feel it. We need to get out of here.”

“That’s not an option right now. If we went off in the boat at night, who knows where we’d end up. We’d probably drown.”

“I think he’s crazy.”

“Why?”

“What sane man lives alone on an island in the middle of nowhere?”

“Maybe he’s sane and the rest of us are crazy.”

“He’s upset. A lone man who gets upset is never a good thing. You should have eaten that damn sandwich!”

“Pipe down, Pedro. I’m going to do what he says and build the fire.”

“Well, then at least set me over on that log so I can watch you and not have to be alone.”

“Fine,” BumBuna O’Brien said, and he took the stone head of Saint Pedro and set it on the log. “Now just stay here while I get some firewood.”


BumBuna O’Brien went into the trees and gathered sticks and logs and branches. He dragged it all back to the circular fire ring little by little until there was a substantial pile. He went to work breaking down branches and piling the sticks. He put together a bundle of kindling and put it at the base.

“I don’t have any matches,” he said to Saint Pedro.

“Look in the house. He’s got to have matches in there.”

“Right.”

He went into the house, dug around and found an old coffee can stuffed with matchbooks. Then he thought he heard a terrible scream. He ran outside but saw nothing. He lit the fire and soon it was roaring. The day was fading as Pierre emerged in the clearing. He was dragging something large along the ground behind him.

BumBuna O’Brien looked up at the man who had seemed to have grown larger and sterner.

“Come here and help me with this,” Pierre ordered.

BumBuna O’Brien went over, but when he saw what Pierre had, he jumped back.

“What the hell is that!”

“A trespasser,” Pierre grinned.

“You speared him? Why in the world would you do that?”

“I told you, he was a trespasser. This is private property. I have a right to defend my island.”

“So, you just killed a complete stranger? Why didn’t you just tell him to leave for crying out loud?”

“I don’t have to defend my actions to you. My God, I’ve done nothing but help you! I’ve welcomed you here, to my home, and all you ever do is complain. Now, are you going to help me with this or not!?”

“What are you planning on doing with him?”

“He’s going to eat him!” Saint Pedro cried out.

“I am not!” Pierre yelled. “I don’t ever eat them.”

“Them,” BumBuna O’Brien wondered.

There was silence. Pierre looked at them. His eyes were wide with madness. “I don’t ever eat them,” he repeated.

“Then what in the hell do you do?” BumBuna O’Brien demanded to know.

Pierre’s head drooped. “I collect them,” he answered.

“I told you he was crazy!” Pedro yelled out from the log.

“No, it’s nothing like that,” Pierre said. “It’s like a hobby, really. I give dignity to them. I honor their memory by preserving their bodies.”

“I would like to leave,” BumBuna O’Brien requested. “Please take me back. I won’t ever say anything to anyone.”

Pierre slapped a hand to his forehead. “No! You can’t just leave. Not yet. Please. You must understand. It gets very lonely here. Let me just show you, both of you, and then you’ll get it, and then in the morning I’ll row you to wherever you’d like.”

“Don’t listen to him!” Pedro called out. “It’s a lie. He has no intention of ever letting us go.”

Pierre grew angry. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! You damn head!”

BumBuna O’Brien tried to soothe the tension. “All right, Pierre. Just settle down. You can show us. I understand.”

Pierre looked at him. “You do?”

“Of course. Loneliness is a terrible thing.”

“What are you doing?” Pedro demanded to know.

“Just give him a chance to show us,” BumBuna O’Brien snapped back. “If you don’t stop making things worse, you’ll go back in the sack.”

They followed him by torchlight as he dragged the body to an outbuilding behind the house. They heard the body hit the ground as he released his grip so he could fumble with the lock. They heard a chain rattle, then slide. A heavy door was moved to one side and the metal material made a loud clanging noise. Pierre disappeared into the darkness.

“Wait here,” he said.

Then one by one, lamps were lit, and an orange glow began to blossom forth from the blackness. And soon the reality of Pierre’s madness came to light as the bodies became visible. There was an entire group of them, nearly two dozen — men, women, children, even dogs — and they were stitched up neatly, clothed, with grotesque upturned smiles and shiny lake stones for eyes. Some were positioned in chairs, others left standing. Some were made to look as if they were engaged in conversation with each other. Some simply stared out into space.

Pierre came back to the entrance and pulled the body up and into the building. He let it drop to the floor near a large table.

“Come in,” he insisted. “Take a look around.”

BumBuna O’Brien stepped over the threshold with Pedro clutched tightly in his hands.

“Well,” Pierre wondered. “What do you think?”

“It’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Saint Pedro said, and BumBuna O’Brien quickly clamped a hand over his cold stone mouth.

“Go on,” Pierre encouraged. “Take a closer look.”

They moved forward, and then the metal door boomed closed behind them.

“I don’t want any wild animals getting in here and destroying my work,” Pierre said.

BumBuna O’Brien looked down at Saint Pedro. The stone head’s eyes were wide with fear. He kept his hand pressed hard over the mouth.

“That’s quite a collection of people you have there,” BumBuna O’Brien said.

“Thank you. Come here. Closer. I want you to meet my best friend in the world. He was the first.”

Pierre guided them to a tall man in the very front. He was dressed in fishing clothes and had a round hat atop his head. The face was full of fear despite the fact Pierre had stitched the corners of the mouth up.

“His name is Rick,” Pierre said proudly. “Go ahead, say hello. Don’t be rude.”

BumBuna O’Brien looked up at the frightening face and tried to smile. “Hello there, Rick. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

There was no reply.

“Ahh, he never says too much,” Pierre said. “He’s the quiet type. Actually, they’re all the quiet type.”

And then he came forth with an insane, seething snicker that sent shivers up and down BumBuna O’Brien’s entire being. Saint Pedro’s head slipped out of his hands and dropped to the floor with a thud.

“You fool!” the  head cried out. “You could have cracked me in half!”

Pierre suddenly reached down and scooped Pedro up. He held him before his face and studied him.

“Put me down you lunatic! Put me down!”

“You know,” Pierre began. “You really, really grind my gears. I don’t like that. You’re starting to upset my friends here as well, and I’m afraid I can’t allow that.”

Pierre quickly walked across the outbuilding to the door. He slid it open, tossed Pedro into the darkness, and slid the door shut again with a bang. Then BumBuna O’Brien thought he heard him pick something up. Then Pierre was walking toward him, slowly, calculating. BumBuna O’Brien was more afraid than he had ever been in his life.

And then it came, a searing pain right in his guts, the inability to breathe, and finally complete darkness.

Pierre sat in a chair in the outbuilding. He was eating a liverwurst sandwich and drinking a glass of milk as he admired the newest member of his clan. It was BumBuna O’Brien’s body, but in place of his own head was the stone head of Saint Pedro. The mouth was completely chiseled away now so that he didn’t have to listen to the incessant talking.

“Oh, my yes,” Pierre said. “You’re much more agreeable to my nerves when you don’t speak, my stone headed friend.”

The mouth didn’t move of course, but the eyes did, and they frantically darted from side to side as if Saint Pedro BumBuna O’Brien was screaming some never-ending scream.

END


BumBuna O’Brien and the Evolution Oven (2)

The next morning, they docked at Rocky Point, and it was indeed a rocky point that jutted out into the sea like a stony gray elbow. There was a tall white lighthouse and a small harbor, and an odd quaint village that rested neatly at the crest of a steep hill.

“I’ll be at the general store gathering my sundries and such,” Pierre Moose said, and he pointed. “You should find the padre at the big red church. I’ll meet you back here when you’re ready. Good luck with figuring out who and what you are.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you later.”

BumBuna O’Brien made his way up the hill and into the town. He saw the steeple of the red church and it pierced the sky like a holy needle threading clouds. He went to the door and pulled but it was locked. There was an old woman nearby sweeping the walk. She was hunched over and dressed in a sweater and had a purple kerchief over her head. She stopped and looked at him.

“Church is only open on Sunday,” she said with a tired, gnarled voice.

“I need to see the preacher; Reverend Abrams I believe. It’s rather urgent. Do you know where I could find him?”

The old lady pointed with a crooked arm.

“Out back there at the house. That’s where he lives. Not sure if he’s awake yet though. He’s a nightcrawler. Takes to drinking, too. But I suppose he’s the best we can get around here.”

“Thanks. I’ll see if he’s in.”

BumBuna O’Brien made his way around to the rear of the church and there sat an old white house, crooked and quaint, with a nice yard and a little stone fountain with a statue of some bearded saint pouring the water from a jug. He went to the door and knocked. Someone stirred inside. He knocked again.

“Hello?” he called through the door. “I need to speak with a minister.”

The door suddenly jerked open and there stood a pot-bellied man; unshaven, unruly, droopy in the eyes and jowls.

“Yes? Who are you?”

“My name is BumBuna O’Brien. Pierre Moose said you may be able to help me.”

“Pierre Moose? I don’t know anyone named Pierre Moose. It sounds made up. What did you need?”

“I need to speak to you about a spiritual matter, I think. It’s quite important to me.”

“All right, hold on. Let me at least put some clothes on,” the preacher grumbled.

He closed the door and BumBuna O’Brien sat down on the stoop and waited. He listened as the holy statue dribbled the water into the small pool. The sound made him suddenly realize he had to relieve himself. The door finally opened, and the preacher, now properly dressed in black with white collar, invited him in.

“Could I use your bathroom?” BumBuna O’Brien immediately asked.

“Well, I suppose. It’s down the hall there, on the left. Please excuse the mess. My cleaning woman has gotten lazy in her old age.”

BumBuna O’Brien relieved himself in a dirty toilet, flushed, and then came back out. The preacher was sitting at the kitchen table eating toast and sipping coffee.

“I hope you don’t mind if I eat my breakfast while we talk. Would you like some coffee?”

“No. Thank you. Do you have any carrot juice?”

The preacher eyed him strangely. “No. I’m afraid I don’t, but why don’t you tell me what you’re so concerned about.”

“Well, I fear I’m severely delusional. That’s what Pierre says. But I think he may be right. I’m afraid I just don’t know who I really am.”

“That’s not so unusual. Many people are unsure of who they really are.”

“But tell me. When you look at me, what do you see?”

The preacher sipped at his coffee and glared at BumBuna O’Brien over the rim of his cup.

“I see someone I’ve never met before. I see a stranger in my house.”

“I mean physically. What do you see?”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Am I a man?”

The preacher hesitated and looked at him strangely.

“Of course, you’re a man. Some sort of man. I don’t really see what you’re getting at.”

“I’ve lived my entire life thinking I was a rabbit.”

“A rabbit? If this is some sort of joke, well, then I’d rather not be a part of it.”

“So, I don’t look like a rabbit to you?”

“No. Of course not. That’s preposterous.”

“I really thought I was a rabbit.”

“Son, perhaps you should be seeking counsel from a psychiatrist, not a preacher.”

“You think I’m crazy?”

“No. But perhaps your friend was correct in his diagnosis of severely delusional.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do to help me?”

“What do you expect me to do?”

“Make me feel better about it. Can’t you heal me or work a miracle or at least pray for me?”

The preacher took one last crunch of toast and final gulp of coffee, and then looked at him square in the eye.

“A man is born. A man lives life. Then a man dies. You are a flesh and blood man. Don’t doubt that. I will pray for you, but I encourage you to seek the advice of a medical doctor. There are many medications available to those with such afflictions of the mind that you seem to be in possession of.”

“Pills? You want me to take pills? I came here for cleansing of the heart and spirit. I came here for a sense of peace and understanding, and this is what you give me? That I should take pills?”

“Please understand. I have limitations in what I can do. I’m not God himself. You came to me for advice and that is my advice. You need to be under a doctor’s care. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some things I must get done today. I wish you well.”


The preacher stood and went to the door and held it open. BumBuna O’Brien got up and walked out. The door closed behind him with a slam. He heard the lock slide into its casing. He went to the holy man statue and ran his hand over the stone. It was cool to the touch. He pushed on it. It wobbled. He pushed again, harder, and the statue fell. The bearded saint broke at the neck. His head rolled, then stopped. The holy face looked directly up at BumBuna O’Brien, gently smiling. Then the stone lips began to move.

“Aren’t you going to put me back together?”

BumBuna O’Brien froze. His heart started pounding hard within his chest.

“Don’t just stand there. Help me!” it said.

BumBuna O’Brien carefully leaned over the stone head and looked at it. The face was alive and human to him. He rubbed at his eyes and slapped himself.

“I must be going fucking insane!” he yelled out.

It was then that the boozy padre opened the door and stuck his head out.

“Hey!” he yelled. “What are you doing out there? Get out of here!”

Reverend Abrams stepped out from the house completely and that’s when he saw that the beloved statue was broken.

“Why did you do that!?”

BumBuna O’Brien looked back at him. “It was an accident. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t lie to me, brother. I was watching you from the window. You deliberately knocked it over. That’s vandalism and I’m calling the constable.”

The reverend hurried inside to ring the law and BumBuna O’Brien panicked.

“Shit! Shit! Shit! What do I do?”

“Run you fool,” the stone head said. “But wait! Take me with you.”

BumBuna O’Brien snatched the head up in his hands and it looked even creepier close up.

“What about your body?”

“There’s no time, and it would be much too heavy. I’d rather just be a head than lying dead somewhere in a pile of stones. Now let’s go!”

BumBuna O’Brien ran and ran and ran until he could run no more. When he was near the dock, he saw Pierre Moose there loading sacks into the little boat. He rushed to meet him.

“Come on! We need to get out of here,” BumBuna O’Brien yelled.

Pierre looked up, confused. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ll explain it later, but right now we need to go.”

“All right then. Well, get in, and what the hell is that?”

“It’s a head. Come on! Row!”

Pierre took his place and stroked the oars as hard as he could. “There’s a storm coming in. Things might get a bit rough out here. But don’t worry. I’ve done this countless times.”

The water was choppy, and the bobbing motion of the small boat was churning BumBuna O’Brien’s stomach like an old timer humping butter. He put his head over the side and spewed into the sea. Pierre rowed like a madman and there was no sign of the law at the shore and BumBuna O’Brien felt better about that. He set the stone head down on the bottom of the boat and held his head in his hands. Pierre thought he was crying.

“What’s wrong with you?”

BumBuna O’Brien looked up and tears were flying out of his face like Niagara Falls.

“I don’t know. I just got really scared back there. That preacher was no help at all. He was actually kind of mean.”

“Well, then I’m sorry I suggested him. I was just trying to help.”

“It’s not your fault. I’m just fucking deranged.”

“It’s all right now. We’ll be to the island soon and you can rest. You just need to calm down.”

“I’m not good at calming down. My nerves are on fire.”

“Are you going to tell me about the head?”

BumBuna O’Brien looked down at it as it gently rolled about at the bottom of the boat. The eyes were closed. The face was still, like stone should be.

“It spoke to me.”

“The head?”

“Yes.”

“That’s impossible. It’s made of stone. If it’s true, make it talk now.”

BumBuna O’Brien picked it up and stared straight into the face. There was nothing. It was just stone as it always had been.

“Hello? Where did you go. It’s okay, this is my friend.”

The eyes suddenly became human again and opened. The jaw twitched. The lips fumbled to speak.

“Where are we?” it said.

“We’re on a little boat heading to an island in the middle of nowhere. This is Pierre.”

The face stretched to look at the lean, gray man rowing the boat.

“Hello. Thank you for letting me ride along.”

“That’s incredible,” Pierre said. “How can it be? Stone does not speak.”

“He’s a holy stone,” BumBuna O’Brien said.

“I am Saint Pedro, the patron saint of migrant workers and loose Latino women. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“I never heard of a Saint Pedro,” Pierre said. “I think he’s bluffing. This is some kind of evil spell or curse. I think you should throw it over the side.”

“No!” the head of Saint Pedro protested. “Please don’t do that. I’m not a bad saint. I just do bad things.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Pierre.

“I mean, I am the imperfect saint. I am the sinful saint. I’m the most human of all saints. You’ll be able to relate to me.”

“Will you be mean to us?” BumBuna O’Brien asked.

“Of course not. Not on purpose anyways.”

“That’s not very reassuring,” Pierre said. “I think we should restrain him until we can be sure he’s not going to do us in.”

“How?” BumBuna O’Brien wondered.

“Put him in that burlap sack there and tie it tight.”

“That seems a bit drastic,” BumBuna O’Brien said. “He hasn’t done anything so far.”

“Just the same, I’d rather be safe than sorry. Here, look. You can see the island now.”

BumBuna O’Brien put the head into the bag and synched it tight. Then he looked out at the horizon and there he saw a mammoth island of dark stone and deep green trees blooming in a rolling mist. The cold waves slapped against the cliffs. The sky above hovered like a bruised womb of fog and cloud. It was menacing to him, yet it breathed sanctuary.

TO BE CONTINUED. THIS WAS THE SECOND OF THREE PARTS.


Child of the Cabbage (End)

Gracelyn Polk was on her stomach on a small bed in a girlish bedroom of pink. Her legs were bent upward at the knees behind her, socked feet crossed, as she lazily flipped through a teen magazine. A Who record spun on a small turntable in its own red box that could close with a gold latch, and it had a handle so a person could carry it around and take it to parties if they wanted to. Baba O’Riley filled the room as Moses the cat was curled like a furry crescent roll on the bed beside her. There was a yellowed and curling Ralph Macchio poster on the wall, some cheerleading memorabilia on shelves, a makeup table with an attached mirror next to a childish white dresser. There was a closet, door propped open by shoes, and it held unfamiliar clothes within it. A rectangular window with white curtains looked out upon an endless sea of cabbage, a metal windmill stirring screams in the distance.  

Then there came a gentle knocking at the door and Gracelyn reached to lower the volume on the record player. “Come in.”

The door opened with a creak and Farm Guy looked at her uncomfortably and smiled. “I just wanted to see how you were getting along in here,” he said, his head slowly moving around, scanning memories with his crystal blue silicon eyes, filing them in the proper slots. “Room okay?”

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “Thank you for… Everything.”

Farm Guy put his hands on his hips. “Absolutely. I love having you… Say, I thought I might take a walk out into the cabbage before dinner.”

Gracelyn scrunched her face in distaste. “You aren’t going to pick any, are you?”

“I’m not much for cabbage either,” he said, moving toward the window and peering out, his tall body awkward in the small bedroom. “It’s gross. That’s why I find it so strange that a whole field of it shows up in my backyard.”

“Do you think it’s a good idea… To go out in it. Because I don’t think you should.”

“I was hoping you’d come with me,” Farm Guy encouraged, walking closer to the bed, and looking down at her. “Might make us both feel better. You know — when we don’t find anything out of the ordinary.”

“But what if we do?”

He waved a hand in the air to discount her worry. “Nah. All we’re going to find is a hell of a lot of gross cabbage. That’s it. Trust me.”

She moved herself so that she was now sitting on the edge of the bed. Moses the cat got up, arched his back like Halloween, then curled back down into a snoozing ball. “Do you know anyone named Astron Puffin?” the girl asked.

A look of intense pondering came over Farm Guy’s face as he considered the question. He snapped his fingers suddenly when something came to his mind. “Cabbage farmer from over in Hillsdale.”

“That sounds like him.”

Farm Guy shook his head. “Odd sort of bird he was.”

“How so?” Gracelyn wanted to know.

“He was one of those fellas always going on about spaceships and little green men from Mars… Hell. He was a little green himself come to think of it.”

“I hardly think the little green men are from Mars,” Gracelyn interrupted. “They’re smarter than that. Mars is a dead planet and unable to support life as we know it.”

“Are you sure about that?”

She cocked her head to think about it. “I think so. Astronomy was one of my favorite subjects in science class. And besides, no intelligent life would want to be neighbors with Earth.”

“You got that right… Maybe you should do a report on Mars.” He waited for a reaction from her, but none came. She just sat there, thinking, jabbing her teeth into her bottom lip. Waiting for something. “Well, anyways, wherever they’re from, he sure was weird about it.”

“Did you know him well?” the girl asked.

“No. Barely at all. A random acquaintance who drifted in and out of the community of cabbage. Which I was not part of. I just knew a few of the guys. What does he have to do with you?”

“He had been following me around, at school mostly, watching me. He even showed up at my old farmhouse where I was staying, too.”

“He did? What on Earth for?”

“I don’t really know, except that he was always going on about being friends with me and wanting to protect me, and how he didn’t want to be alone… Like you said, he was an odd sort of a bird. I found him to be a bit pushy, too, and just not right.”

Farm Guy looked at her, his face flushed with a serious tone of knowing something that she knew as well but was left unspoken. “Well, thank God you’re here with me now. That’s downright unsettling.”

“But that’s not all, Mr. Guy. Sometimes I think I hear him out in the cabbage. At night. Yelling. Scared. Lost. But calling for me.”

Farm Guy sighed deeply, returned to the window, and looked out for a few moments. He made sure it was locked before he turned back around. “Let’s go for that walk.”


Astron Puffin sat in the endless cabbage field, knees drawn up, legs locked into position by his thick arms, his head down, his mind now mumbling. A crow flew across the sky, its aching caw causing Astron to look up. The cold sun was somewhat blinding. He looked at the cabbage around him. He studied their green, veiny heads and leafy wings and their seemingly unbreakable bond to the earth. Astron shook his head and scoffed. They were his only audience, and so he began to talk to the cabbage.

“Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like you’re a car, and you’re completely out of control and you go off the road and you crash into someone’s house… And I mean right through the living room, and all of a sudden there’s all this broken glass flying everywhere and bricks and wood and pieces of wall and everything is chaos, and everything is a mess, and, in the process, you even end up killing some lonely old man who was just sitting there in the house all by himself watching Johnny Carson on television or maybe reading his Bible in the glow of a soft lamp… And then suddenly, a car comes crashing through the wall and it’s all done for him. It’s all blood and dust and shattered bones and the entire history of one poor soul is snuffed out like a lipstick-stained cigarette in a dirty orange glass ashtray in a smoky dive bar.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” came the voice, the same voice from the spaceship but now coming out of one of the heads of cabbage that had turned to face him like a real head. The strange eyes widened, and the green lips moved again. “I see you’re startled, but think nothing of it… We have more pressing matters. The man is coming.”

Astron scrambled backward in the dirt. “The man?”

“And the girl is with him.”

“Gracelyn?”

“It’s time to stop the clock.”

The head dissolved and a rusty pitchfork with blood-stained tines suddenly materialized in the mist of gravity and quickly dropped out of the air and landed in the dirt before him with a deathly rattling thump.

“Something from your barn,” the voice from the cabbage said. “Do you remember it? Do you remember what happened back on the farm? Do it again.”

Astron went to pick it up. It felt right in his hands. It felt familiar. He began to walk toward the big, yellow house again. And this time, he was getting closer to it with every step he took.


She held his large, rough hand as they meandered down a perfectly straight row of the cabbage field. Gracelyn turned to look back at the house. “How far are we going?” she wanted to know.

“We’ll know when we get there,” Farm Guy assured her. “But don’t worry about that. Look around. Enjoy this beautiful day as it comes to an end.”

“You said that so decisively. What’s going on?”

Farm Guy suddenly stopped. He went down to his knees before her and took the girl by her arms. He looked far into her muddied golden eyes, the technology of her pupils gently sparking, the bloodshot lines merely delicate wires. “You have no idea what you are, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why you go on while all the others don’t. Why some wandering god on the other side of the moon left you all alone here… It’s because you’ve never been alive. And if you’ve never been alive, you can’t die.”

She reached out a finger and poked him in the face. “You don’t have real skin.”

“No. I don’t.”

“We’re the same.”

“Yes. We’re the same,” he answered.

And just as Farm Guy rose back up before her, Astron Puffin charged out from some invisible place and he was howling like a madman, the pitchfork straight out in front of him, the tines hungry for new flesh and blood and the bringing of death.

Farm Guy moved like lightning shot from the fingertip of a god in the inhuman way he was made, reached out, snatched the handle of the pitchfork, and swung it around. He cocked it back quickly, and then violently thrust it forward into Astron Puffin’s chest, two or three of the tines surely piercing his heart.

The world somehow slowed as Astron dripped to the ground like a slew of heavy mud. Farm Guy yanked the implement back out, threw it to the side. Astron fell forward, face-down. Gracelyn turned and ran away, deeper into the cabbage.  


He found her sitting all alone on a big abandoned wooden crate looking off into the distance. The day was dying on the crest of the darkening hills, a moon was eager to make its entrance alongside the black stars and ruby red planets.

“I had to do it,” he said from behind her. “He would have tried to hurt you, take you apart piece by piece… And I just couldn’t have allowed that, but I’m sorry you had to see it just the same.”

“You didn’t move like a man. It scared me.”

“I didn’t mean to scare you.” He went to sit beside her on the abandoned wooden crate. “It’s getting dark. We should probably head back to the house soon.”

She ignored what he had said. “Did you know that even after a star dies, its light can be seen for a million years?”

“Is that right?”

She looked at him in the fading light, twisted her mouth. “I think so… Do you think it will be the same for us?”

He chuckled, breathed in deeply. “I don’t know. But it would be nice to see each other if there ever was a time we were very far apart. Maybe you should do a report about it.”

“Maybe I will, but not tonight.”

They hopped off the crate and walked back toward the big, yellow house, now the color of a moonlit bruise, window frames aglow, the light brought forth by the servants of memories moving around inside.

END


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 8)

Farm Guy quickly got up from the table, went to the refrigerator and yanked open the door. He was pretending to look for something, but he was really trying to avoid her muddied golden eyes drilling into him for an answer.

“Why would you ask me something like that…? Why don’t you die?”

“I want to know,” Gracelyn said.

He pulled himself away from the blue-white glow of the refrigerator and closed the door, a small plastic bottle of cranberry juice now in one hand. He twisted the cap off and drank some. He made a face like the juice was overly delicious. “You’re too young to die,” he blurted out, and he took another gulp of his juice. “You’re too damn young.”

“But what if I’m not?”

He stared at her, unable to immediately give her an answer.

“You know something, don’t you…? About why I have so many birthdays.”

The man looked at her through the bottom of the plastic bottle of juice as he finished it off, her face painted the color of red wine. Then he asked her, “How long has it been?”

“Nearly 414 years,” Gracelyn said without hesitation. “I can’t make it stop.” The girl paused. “How long has it been for you?”

He looked at her like she was crazy, and then turned away like he was hiding something. “What are you talking about? I’m 74 years old. 74. End of story.”

“I’ve read a lot of books at the library… Things about reincarnation and other such oddities, but it’s not that. I’m always the same person. I’m never a bear or a tree or even someone else. It’s always just me. At least it seems that way.” She looked up at him, a refined sadness in her eyes. “It’s not fair. No one should have to live forever.”

Farm Guy let out a chuckling scoff. “Tell that to Noel Gallagher.”

Gracelyn crinkled her face. “Who?”

The man waved a dismissive hand at her and reclined his back against the kitchen counter. “He was in a band — way, way back and they had a song… You know, music. Oh, never mind. It’s not important.”

“You’re trying to avoid the subject, aren’t you?”

“You’re too gosh darn smart. Come outside with me. I want to show you something.”


Astron Puffin had been walking through the cabbage field for a very long time, and it seemed to him that he never got any closer to the big, yellow house on the horizon jutting up from the earth like an erection. At first, he thought he had simply misjudged the distance, but as he went along, he sensed there was something terribly different about this cabbage field. He stopped. He listened to his rapid breathing as he looked around. He started to panic. The cabbage was so vast, so deep in his sightline that he felt he was drowning in it.

“Hello!” he suddenly cried out. “Is anyone out there!? I seem to have lost my way in the cabbage!”

The house was still there, taunting him from a vast distance that never seemed to close. It was almost as if everything in the world was slowly backing away from Astron Puffin as he tried to get closer.

He lifted his head heavenward and looked for them. “I told you I never wanted to come back!” he screamed out at the sky. He wiped at his brow with a thick, hairy forearm. It was cool outside, like autumn slowly browning in the oven, but he was sweating. “Come back!” he yelled. “Don’t leave me alone like this!”

The sky remained empty. There was no answer, and Astron fell to his knees within the row, the smell of the rich soil smacking his face, the distance around him ever expanding.


Farm Guy and Gracelyn stood on the edge of the same cabbage field and looked out across it. The field was immense, a sea of bulbous and winged vegetation that nearly vibrated with energy.

“Cabbage?” the girl said, turning to look up at him. “You brought me out here to look at cabbage?”

“It’s not just any cabbage,” Farm Guy said with a serious tone. “It’s… Different. This field, it changes, it’s alive somehow.”

“Of course, it’s alive,” Gracelyn pointed out. “They’re plants.”

“Not alive like that… Alive like, it breathes, it has a soul, it speaks.”

“The cabbage talks to you?”

Farm Guy began to pace along the edge of the field, his hands moving around out in front of him as he tried to explain to the girl. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve heard voices out there.”

“Voices?”

“Like… Like someone is trapped and they want me to help them.”

For the first time since she met him, Gracelyn started to doubt the stability of her new friend. “But what does any of this have to do with why I have so many birthdays?”

“The cabbage. It, it never dies… It just keeps living. Like you. Like us, I suppose. No one ever comes to pick it, no one ever tends to it… It thrives on its own.” He held out his arms wide before him. “And it just seems to keep getting bigger. It’s almost as if it’s expanding endlessly, like the universe.”

“I knew it. So, how long Mr. Guy?” Gracelyn asked with a firmness. “How many birthdays have you had?”

He looked down at her, worried and concerned, but willing to confess. “704.”

“Shit,” the girl said unexpectedly. “You must be tired.”

Farm Guy chuckled at her attempt at humor. He sat down on the ground with an old man groan. “Oh, my. Yes. I’m tired. But I keep waking up. There must be a reason… Don’t you think?”

The girl sat down beside him. “I don’t know, but I don’t think I want to be alone anymore.”

He gave her a comforting glance. “You mean you want to stay here with me?”

“Would that be, okay?” she hoped.

“Aw, hell. I suppose that will be okay.”

FINAL EPISODE COMING SOON


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 7)

Gracelyn Polk stood in front of her social studies classroom and cleared her throat as she looked down at the paper she held in her hands. She moved her head up, addressed the empty desks with her eyes and smiled.

“For my report on the person I most admire, I chose someone that I just met. You may wonder why that is and how could such a notion come to be… The truth of the matter is, I’m often quite lonely. I don’t have a lot of friends and my family is all long gone. I don’t really know where they went or why. But here I am, before you today.”

She paused and looked out at the empty room. She started to feel foolish but went on with her speech regardless.

“My new friend’s name is Farm Guy.” She chuckled. “No, it’s not a joke this time. His name really is Farm Guy and I know that sounds awfully peculiar, but once you get to know him, it fits somehow. He’s a very nice man and a very smart man, too. He knows a lot about life and history and how to build things… And how to make the most delicious chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. And he’s nice to me. And in a world such as this, I suppose that’s the best thing a person could be… And worthy of my admiration. Thank you.”

Gracelyn waited for the applause that never came and then went over to the large desk at the front of the room that once belonged to a teacher. She opened a drawer and pulled out a red marker. She yanked off the cap and sniffed at the tip, careful not to get any ink on her nose. “I just love the smell of markers,” she said aloud to herself. And then she moved her hand down to her social studies report and wrote A+ at the very top and circled it twice. She held it up in front of her, smiled with pride, and then went back to her own desk.


Astron Puffin looked down on planet Earth as it spun there on its fragile thread in the cradle of space.

“It’s set to snap,” said a strange voice from behind him — a deep voice, a slow voice, like a tape recording playing back on the wrong speed.

Astron turned his head. “And then where will the world go? Doesn’t it have to go somewhere?” he asks the one that looks different but is the same — his skin an oddly green color, but richer than that of himself, the eyes the brightest blue there could ever be, strange hair.

“It will drop out of the universe like a Price Is Right Plinko chip… And there will be no prize.”

Astron let a small, haunting laugh escape from his throat. “Price Is Right?”

“Come on down,” the alien said in his slow, monotone, deep voice.”

Astron turned away to look out the incredibly large window again. The Earth was still there. “I don’t ever want to go back,” he said. “Please don’t ever take me back.”

But then Astron’s eyes were closed for him, and when he opened them back up, he was lying on his back in the middle of a cabbage field. It was a very large cabbage field, seemingly endless except for the low hills at the furthest edges, the color of green mist. The air around him smelled of good dirt. He looked up and the sky with its dying sun was there — an ocean of blue filled with the white sails of cloud ships. He stood up and looked around him, turning slowly in a circle like a searchlight. It was an unfamiliar place to him for it was not his own farm. Deep in the distance he saw something that jutted up out of the horizon. It was a house — a large and welcoming house of yellow. He decided that was the direction to go in.


Gracelyn set her bicycle down in the front yard of Farm Guy’s big, yellow house. She bounded up the front porch steps and excitedly knocked on the white door with the inset frosted glass window. It wasn’t long before it opened, and the man was standing there in a plaid shirt and denim pants. A bright smile came over his face.

“Well, well, well,” Farm Guy said. “If it isn’t the infamous Gracelyn Polk.”

“It is me. I wanted to bring your cookie container back and I have something to show you.”

“Then please come in,” he said, spreading out a long arm before him in a gesture of welcoming. His eyes then quickly darted around the outside world with a hint of suspicion before he closed the door behind them.

Farm Guy took a seat in his favorite living room chair while Gracelyn sat on a small sofa across from him. The girl looked around the cozy room that reminded her of Christmas when there was a Christmas. A fire crackled gently in a large fireplace, even though it wasn’t extremely cold outside. The heartbeat of an old clock pulsed in rhythm atop the mantel. The view out a large window was lonely. She saw old pictures of other people scattered about the room on walls, tables, and shelves. Some of the people looked strange, different in an unexplainable way.

She set her backpack to the side, unzipped a pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper. She stood and took it to him.

“What’s this?” he wanted to know.

“I did a report about you.”

“A report? About me?”

“That’s right. And as you can see, I got an A+.”

Farm Guy reached to his chairside table, fished for a pair of reading glasses, and placed them on his face. “I’m going to have to take a look at this very closely,” he said, smiling and tipping his head forward, eyes looking out from above the frames of his readers. He held the paper before him and began reading it, his eyes half squinting as they intensely glided across the words. He let out brief snorts of wonder and charmed humility as he went along. When he was finished, he set the paper aside and withdrew his glasses and looked at her.

“What do you think?” she eagerly wanted to know, sitting on the edge of the sofa now.

“I’d have to say that’s just about the finest report I’ve ever read,” he answered. “And I don’t say that just because it’s about me. Do you mind if I keep it?”

“It’s all yours.”

Farm Guy got up from his chair and made his way out of the room. He motioned to her to follow. “What do you say we take this in the kitchen. I’ll hang it up on my refrigerator. Come on. How about some peanut butter cookies?”


Gracelyn sat at the kitchen table with a tall glass of milk and a plate of peanut butter cookies set before her.

“Can I ask you something?” she said.

“What’s that?” the man said as he stood, his back to her, admiring the girl’s report that he had just attached to his refrigerator with a Las Vegas souvenir magnet.

“How do you have all this stuff?”

“What do you mean?”

“The milk and the cookies… And the good electricity. Everything. I mean, it’s all just like a regular house from how it was before. Where does it all come from? How does it work?”

Farm Guy turned to look at her quizzical young face, her upper lip now striped with milk. He went to sit at the table across from her and struggled to think of a suitable answer, a serious tone morphing his face. He reached for and then handed her a napkin. “Do you believe that life extends far beyond what we experience here?”

She wiped her mouth and thought about it. “Do you mean on this planet?”

“Yes. But not only on this planet… I mean all around us. Even here. Right next to us right now in this very room. There’s so much more happening around us than we ever even acknowledge.”

“You mean you get all these things from somewhere else?”

He leaned back and studied her. “I suppose that’s a pretty good way of putting it,” he said, moving his head around to look at everything. “It all comes from somewhere else.”

“And what about you?” Gracelyn questioned. “Do you come from somewhere else?”

He looked at her intently, tempting to reveal himself completely, but at the last moment pulling the punch.

“Of course, I do. I’ve lived in many other places. Haven’t you?”

“Absolutely… At least it seems that way,” the girl said, and she tilted her head to the side and gazed at him with wide eyes “Can I ask you something else?”

“You can ask me anything.”

“Why do I never die?”

TO BE CONTINUED


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 6)

Author’s Note: If you’re interested in seeing the notes used to frame this chapter of the story, you can visit this POST.

The next morning, Gracelyn Polk felt well enough to go back to school.

She slowly pedaled her bike in the morning glory goodness, looking up at the yellow metal sky and its crumbling sun. She thought about Astron and what he had said — about there not really being others at the school and that it was an empty place full of ghosts. He made her feel foolish. He made her feel as if she was wasting her time.

“I don’t care what he says,” she spoke aloud. “I still need a good education. And there’s nothing wrong with having a vivid imagination. I can play school if I want to play school. Whatever else am I going to do with my days?”

As Gracelyn came upon the unsettling neighborhood of Vinegar Village, she suddenly stopped. She looked off to her left, down one of the tree-lined streets there. It was the general Midwestern place found in the great picture book of the American dream, now dreamless. The homes ran in a row down each side of the boulevard, typical two-story architectural teeth erected by lost hands inside a broken jaw, darkened square windows of dusted glass looking out on buckled and broken sidewalks pierced by immortal weeds of green.

She heard a noise coming from a place where there was usually never a noise. She tried to stop breathing so that she could hear better through the distance. The noise rang out softly in a consistent rhythm — it was a clinking or tapping sound, metal upon metal, then metal upon wood, she thought.

“Someone’s hammering on something,” she told herself. “But who would be building in this dark age?”

She got off the bike, steered it out of the roadway and set it against a shrub row at the edge of the right-side sidewalk. She looked up at a white street sign attached to a tall, black lamppost at the corner. At the top, higher up then the sign, the post had a faded white covering the shape of an inverted tulip shielding a long dead bulb. The sign read: VINEGAR VALE, and then in smaller letters boulevard was abbreviated as BLVD.

She slowly slinked along the cracked sidewalk, peering through breaks in the shrub rows to catch glimpses of empty front yards, watched upon by the sentinel vacant homes that looked like tombstones because of how they sat all in a line like that — silent and dead and merely shells for memories blasted away. The hammering noise grew louder as she went. When she got to the end of the block, she peered across the intersection and saw a man mending a fence at a big yellow house there on the corner. It was much bigger than the other houses around it, much grander, Gracelyn thought, and not nearly in a state of disrepair as the others. Someone was caring for it. Someone had never left, or maybe someone returned. She stood at the opposite curb while the man continued to work. It wasn’t long though before he completely stopped hammering and straightened himself like something had suddenly caught his attention. He looked to his right. He looked to his left. He looked up at the sky — and then he turned around.

He gazed at her for a moment as if he just didn’t know what to make of the girl standing across the street and watching him. He holstered the hammer in a toolbelt he had around his waist. He reached into a pocket in his blue jeans, withdrew a red cloth and wiped at his face.

“Are you lost?” the man finally called out to her.

“No. I’m on my way to school.”

The man readjusted the straw-yellow cowboy hat atop his head and squinted at her with a look of wonder and confusion. “School?”

“Yes, sir. School.”

The man made a puzzled face. “There’s no school here… Or anywhere.”

“I make my own school. It helps to keep my mind occupied with something.”

The man shook his head in agreement, tossed a glance over his shoulder at the house and said, “I know what you mean.” He made a motion to her with his hand for her to come closer. “Let me get a better look at you,” he said.

Gracelyn looked both ways before she crossed the street that didn’t require looking both ways and went to him without hesitation. She stopped before him and looked up because he was tall. He had sentimental eyes, Gracelyn thought, Bear Lake blue and contemplative. His face was somewhat drawn and speckled with whiskers the color of salt. She wasn’t afraid of him at all. She felt safe for once.

He looked her over and smiled. “And who might you be?”

“Gracelyn Polk.”

The man nodded and twisted his mouth in an act of considerate thinking. “I never heard of a Gracelyn Polk.”

“Oh, it’s okay if you’ve never heard of me. I’m not famous or anything.”

The man chuckled and looked around at the present-tense world he was in. “Fame doesn’t matter anymore — it never did.”

Gracelyn nodded up at the big, pretty house of bumble bee yellow. “Do you live here alone?” she wanted to know.

The man sighed with the stab of a quick, dark memory. “I do. Yes, I do.” There was an awkward silence between them and then he put his hand out to her. “The name’s Farm Guy, by the way.”

Gracelyn reached out and shook his hand. She crinkled her face. “Farm Guy?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s your name?”

“That’s my name.”

“So, your first name is Farm, and your last name is Guy?”

“You would be correct.”

“That’s not really a name… It’s more of what you are, but then again, this isn’t really a farm.”

Farm Guy laughed. He liked her. “Do you want to see my birth certificate?”

Gracelyn seriously thought about it for a moment. “No. I believe you.”

He smiled. She liked his smile. It was peaceful and comforting, like a quiet grandfather maybe, she decided.

“You know, I think I’m tired of working on this darn fence for a while. Would you like to come inside for some milk and cookies?”

Gracelyn was happily shocked. “You have milk?”

“I do.”

“You have cookies?”

“Chocolate chip. Made them myself,” Farm Guy boasted.

Gracelyn chewed at her bottom lip and looked at the big house again, trying to decide. “I really should get off to school. I’m already going to be late.”

“Well, I know school is important… But I’d like you to. Been a while since I’ve had some company in the big old house… And the milk is cold, and the cookies are… Out of this world.”


Gracelyn sat at a round table topped with a tablecloth that reminded her of a picnic she once took when she was very young — like a checkerboard, but with blue and white squares. There was a glass vase in the middle of the table and inside the vase were yellow flowers that looked wild. The kitchen smelled like good cooking. It was a very nice house, at least the parts she had seen were. It was very clean and neat and smelled like a good, happy life. She just couldn’t understand why it was here or for what reason. It didn’t fit, but it did. Then again, it didn’t matter, because at the moment she needed it.

Farm Guy set a tall glass of milk in front of her. She quickly reached out a hand and felt the cold, wet glass, and drew it to her mouth and took a gulp or two. The man set down a cookie jar that resembled a white pig wearing a black top hat who was sitting down on his rear end like a person. He had a wide smile and a big belly. Farm Guy lifted off the head by the top hat and set it aside.

“Go ahead,” he said. “Help yourself.”

Gracelyn eagerly thrust her hand inside the pig’s cookie jar guts and pulled out a big chocolate chip cookie. “I haven’t had a cookie in… Seems like forever,” and she bit into it, closed her eyes, and slowly chewed, savoring every sweet moment.

Farm Guy pulled off his straw-yellow cowboy hat and hung it on a peg near the back door in the kitchen. His head was mostly bald except for a short crop of hair around the sides and a sparse patch of mowed down receding fuzzies up top. He pulled out a wooden chair across from her and watched as she enjoyed the snack.

It was then a serious look came over his face and he said to her, “Do you understand what happened to the world?”

Her eyes were fixed on him as she bit into another cookie. “I only know the world got too hard for people to live in… Most people.”

“You’re right,” he said. “You’re a smart girl.”

“That’s because I still go to school.”

The man gave her a soft smile and nodded his head.

“But what I don’t understand,” Gracelyn began. “Is why. Why did the world get so hard to live in?”

Farm Guy took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. He reached a long arm to the cookie jar and pulled one out, put it toward his mouth and nibbled on it as he searched for an answer for her.

“I suppose in a nutshell, the answer would be that people became too hard on people.”

“You mean they didn’t care about each other like they should have?”

“That’s a big part of it. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about the world, but I know quite a bit. And what I know makes me sad as I sit here and look at you.” He sucked at his mouth and looked around the bright kitchen. “You shouldn’t even be here. Not like this. You should have a different life. A better life.”

“But I don’t mind being here with you… Like this. It’s nice for once.”

Farm Guy held a fist in his hand and looked into her eyes. “We were too hard on the world, and it turned on us. Think about a cat. What happens if you pull on a cat’s tail really hard… Even if it’s the nicest cat in the world?”

Gracelyn polished off the last bit of the milk in her glass and looked at him. “The cat gets mad.”

“That’s right. The cat will turn on you. It will hiss and screech and try to scratch at you. I know it’s a simple answer, but that’s sort of what the world did to us. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” Gracelyn quickly answered.

Farm Guy sighed and got up from the table and went to the kitchen window and looked out. “I sit alone in this big house quite a lot and it gives me too much time to think about how we messed everything up. There was just too much greed, too much selfishness, and everyone’s priorities all askew… Do you know what askew means?”

“Like crooked?”

“Yes. Crooked.” He quickly moved back to the table and sat down again. “Think about this and you’ll understand more about what I mean by priorities all askew. Imagine there’s a man on one half of the world and he’s a rich man, a fat man, a fancy man, and he’s having dinner at a fancy restaurant with other rich and fancy people… And they order all kinds of drinks and appetizers and big dinners, and they all eat and eat and eat until they are so stuffed with food, that they are sick to their stomachs and can’t even finish it all.”

“They’re being pigs,” Gracelyn blurted out. “Like your cookie jar, but not in a good way.”

“Sort of, sort of like pigs. But then imagine that on the other side of the world, the same gosh darn world we share with each other, there’s other people that are wandering around in the dirt of their country and they look like skeletons because they don’t have enough food to eat… They don’t have enough to eat while the ones on the other side of the world have so much to eat, they end up throwing it away. It ends up in the garbage. Think about that.”

“It’s terrible.”

“It is terrible… And these poor people lie down at night but it’s too hard to sleep because they’re starving and starvation hurts. How can we even have a word such as starvation when there’s food just being tossed away?” He made a motion with his hand and had a look of disgust on his face.

“You know what I used to think about?” Gracelyn said.

“What’s that?”

“I always wondered this… If the people on the poor side of the world didn’t have enough food, why didn’t they just build themselves a restaurant and go to it and eat?”

Farm Guy looked at her and smiled. “You know, I used to think the very same thing.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Seems like a logical solution, right?”

“It does to me.”

“The only problem was,” Farm Guy began. “There were too many horrible people sitting in these high towers of polished glass and steel and they didn’t want the poor people to have restaurants because the poor people couldn’t pay for the food. And these horrible people who didn’t care sat at long tables in fancy rooms, and they talked about and plotted how they could squeeze more out of every man, woman, and child, until they died and left this Earth. And this was all very important to them, mind you, they took it very seriously. And instead of feeding and helping others less fortunate, they built great electric temples to house their food and their products as if they were gods, and they convinced the people they needed to worship what was ultimately useless. Miles upon miles upon miles of these temples were built, all over the world, and the people who worked in them were stuffed into a uniform and inducted into a culture of selling and serving. It was sold as an exciting career with unlimited growth potential… But it was ultimately a form of slavery. And it consumed them daily, sucked away their life just so they could suck out the lives of others… It was a tragic cycle of profit over people. That was their battle cry and that was a god damn big problem for the human race. Always was.”

He looked at the girl with some concern, hoping he wasn’t giving her more than she could handle, but Gracelyn sat attentive and wide eyed. “Do you know how I know all that, what I just said?” he asked her.

“How?”

“I used to be one of those fools in the towers of polished glass and steel.”

“You were?”

“I was… And in the end, I lost everything that was important to me.”

“Is that why you’re all alone.”

“That’s why I’m all alone… Not that any of that matters anymore.”

“But you’re not alone now. I’m here.”

Farm Guy brightened. “And I’m so glad you are.”

Gracelyn wanted to hear more. “What else about the world went wrong?”

He chuckled sadly. “Too much. More than a lifetime could tell.”

“The wars?”

“That’s right… The wars. They elevated orange fools to positions of power and gave madmen weapons of mass destruction. And countries started stepping over lines just to kill and destroy and take, and for what? For what purpose? I never understood it. Never. And nobody did anything about it. Nobody cared.” He pointed a finger at her. “The gross evil came in the fact that we invested in war and killing and destruction. Billions upon trillions of dollars to rape each other to death with guns and bombs, to rip the earth apart and cover it in blood, and for what?… And all this goes on right under the nose of some caring creator?” He scoffed and looked at her. “I’m sorry if that was all a bit strong.”

“It’s okay. I can take it.”

“How old are you?”

“11. Nearing 12.”

“You come across much older than that.”

Gracelyn looked down, almost ashamed. “I guess in some ways I am.”

“But all we had to do, was cling to love and we didn’t,” Farm Guy continued. “We nurtured it so little. In our small circles, our big circles, across the entire globe. There was so much carelessness in the simple act of kindness.”

Farm Guy grew tired of listening to himself carry on in such a dark way. He glanced up at the clock on the wall, and then back to Gracelyn. “I’m afraid you’re really going to be late for school now,” he said. “You can just blame it on me.”

“It’s okay. I’ll just look at my time here with you as an… Educational experience. I may even do a report about you.”

“A report about me?”

“Sure.”

“I look forward to that,” he said, and he stood up and went to get a plastic food container out of a cabinet. He filled it with chocolate chip cookies, snapped on the lid, and handed it to her.

“To take with you.”

“Thanks,” she said, and she got up from the table.

“No problem at all. You’re always welcome to come back if you want more.”

“You’ll be around?”

“I’ll be around.”

“That’s good. I was worried I might never see you again.”  

Farm Guy opened the back door and saw her out. He watched her for a long time as she walked away, as long as it took for her to completely fall away from his sight.

 TO BE CONTINUED


Child of the Cabbage (Ep. 5)

A bastard chill struck a prophecy of a coming autumn as Astron Puffin sat on a fallen tree deep in the woods. He was looking down at his small but thick hands. He turned them slowly before him, and it was hard to imagine that those were the same hands used to crush their throats. But he had to do it, he rationalized, or their fate could have been much worse.

He remembered the day the strange men had come to his cabbage farm in their protective suits and told him they were there to shut everything down. They went into the house and destroyed all the pipes and cut all the wires. He remembered how they talked about the jail maximus and how it was burning and how all the lions were escaping from the zoo. There was so much chaos. Everything was falling apart. Then they just kept coming back and taking his wife and daughter behind closed doors — locked closed doors. He tried to shake the sounds of the thumping walls and their cries from his head.

Astron yelled out in the silence — hoping the bad vibes would shoot out of his soul like an exorcism. He looked up and the trees looked down. He saw the mustard-stained blue sky interwoven with the scraggly branches. And then the ship appeared again, to do its analyzing of a world it could no longer save. Astron watched the red-glowing disc hover slowly and silently above. There were quick, bright flashes — like old time flashcubes on those cameras that used film. He wondered if the visitors, these immortal observers, would suck him up again into the belly of their craft. He half-hoped they had never returned him to Earth as he bowed his head and waited to become weightless. But then, just as they had smoothly and silently appeared, they vanished. A crow berated him from a nearby branch, and then it too flew away. Perhaps every other living being in the universe had given up hope on man.

Astron suddenly remembered and reached into his pocket and pulled out Gracelyn’s drawing. It might give him a sense of purpose and peace, he thought, as he carefully unfolded it and then held it before his eyes. He would go to her again, he decided, even if she still rejected him as a friend, or a guardian. If the strange men in the protective suits ever came back, it would be better if she wasn’t alone — it would be better if he wasn’t alone as well.

Gracelyn was in a sleepy daze on the old living room couch when the knocking started. She had been halfway dreaming of meandering through the throngs of people on the streets of Paris during the French Revolution — or maybe it was merely a conscious memory. She darted straight up and listened as the knocking became more persistent, trying to figure out where exactly it was coming from. Her head turned toward the front door and she got up and stood before it. Dead and gone loneliness floated in the morning gray-gold cloud filtering into the foyer from brightening spaces throughout. She watched as the door rattled slightly with each pound of someone’s fist.

“Who is it!?” she said, a threatening tone in her voice.

The knocking stopped and there was a brief silence before he spoke.

“Astron Puffin. From the school.”

“I’m not going to class today. I don’t feel well…. So, you can’t force me to go. I’ll make up my work later.”

“I’m not here to make you go to school.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I can protect you,” Astron offered.

“Protect me from what?”

“You know what. The things of this new world.”

Gracelyn paused for a moment, thought about it. “I don’t need your protection. I’m very capable of taking care of myself.”

“You’re a young girl… Alone.”

“And I’ve done just fine for myself, haven’t I.”

“You’ve been lucky.”

“Luck has nothing to do with it,” Gracelyn snapped. “I’m smart. I’m resourceful. I’m strong. Probably stronger than you.”

“Do we have to talk through the door like this?” Astron looked about the grounds around him, thinking he felt something, someone in the air. “I’d rather be inside if it’s all the same to you.”

Gracelyn moved toward the door, stood on her tiptoes, and brushed aside the curtain that covered a small window. She looked out at him. Astron smiled. Then she unlocked the door and let him in.


Astron looked around the old farmhouse as she led him to the living room. He pulled off his knit cap with the long point that hung over to one side of his head, a puffy ball on the tip.

“You can sit there,” the girl said, pointing to the couch. “I don’t have much, but would you like an apple?”

Astron nodded. “I can’t believe you live in this big old house by yourself,” he said to her as she trailed off to the kitchen.

“Why can’t you believe it?” she asked as she returned to the room and presented him the apple. He took it, rubbed it against his shirt, and bit into it.

“All the space. All the memories,” he said as he chewed the apple, a bit of juice leaking from his mouth. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

She sat down on the couch, but as far away from his as she could be. “I’m used to it. I’ve been doing it for a long time.”

“How long?” he wanted to know.

She pressed her lips tightly together and considered the question. “A lot longer than you could imagine.”

“Why don’t you like me?” Astron asked point blank.

She looked at him, puzzled by what he said. “It’s not a matter if I like you or not. It’s a matter of survival. I barely know you… And why are you being so forceful about this friendship thing, or whatever it is you’re searching for.”

“You let me in… So, you must trust me, at least a little bit.”

“Have you been here before?”

Astron looked at her but didn’t immediately answer.

“You have, haven’t you?”

“No,” Astron assured her. “I haven’t.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out her drawing. He unfolded it, laid it out on the table before them and tried to smooth it out with his hands.

“Why do you have my drawing?” Gracelyn asked. “Why did you take it?”

“I like it. It brings me some sort of peace… It helped me find you. Here.”

Gracelyn stood up, angry. “You had no right to take that! It was for my art class, and I was going to be graded on it. Now I’ll fail! I’ll fail because of you!” She snatched her drawing from the table. “And now look at it. You’ve made a mess of it! I’ll probably have to do another.”

“You’re all alone at that school, don’t you realize that?” Astron blurted out, raising his voice to her for the very first time. “There is no school anymore. There are no other students or teachers or anyone. It’s an empty building full of ghosts.”

Gracelyn looked at him, her eyes wide and on the verge of being wet. “I want you to leave.”

Astron sighed, clasped his thick hands against his thighs, and got up. “I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he breathed. He turned back to her before he got to the door. “If you need anything, you can come find me. Even if you don’t want to.”

“I won’t need you… For anything.”

“I’ll be at the school if you change your mind.”

Astron tugged on the front door and went out. She went to the open doorway and watched him walk away. He threw the apple off to his left side, like he was skipping a stone across an unmuddied lake, before a bright light appeared in the sky, and in half of a blink of an eye, he suddenly vanished.

TO BE CONTINUED