Algernon Wasp had been sitting in a Big Boy restaurant in Manistique, Michigan when the big blue bomb blew. He had been eating a hamburger and a house salad with Thousand Island dressing when the shaking began and there was the sound of a great howling wind and a deep rumbling thunder. People screamed when all the windows shattered. Algernon had ducked under the table as the debris rained down like real rain. When the dust finally settled, Algernon crawled out and wandered outside among the rubble and the moans and the cries.
A cluster of people, a church group he guessed, were on their knees in a semi-circle, and they had their folded hands thrust up toward the heavens. They were begging God for mercy. They were inviting the Son to finally come down and roam among them, to save them, to lift them up to the Promised Land. They called upon the Holy Spirit to cleanse the world of wickedness. But wickedness had already come and gone.
Algernon groaned in despair as he looked around at the state of the new world… And like Charlton Heston in the Planet of the Apes when he came upon the ruined Statue of Liberty, he too fell to his knees and he screamed out as he slammed his fist against the pavement, “You maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
He later wandered the few blocks back to his hotel, The Happy Hole Inn, and guests were gathered outside, and they were looking up at the sky and pointing and were amazed by how it had taken on such a bruise-blue hue. Like technological sheep, they all had their cell phones in salute position, and they were recording the end event to later post on their social media sites of choice. He scoffed at them. “What are you all looking at!? How many likes are you fools hoping to get!? You idiots! This all your fault…” And he went around pointing to each of them. “And yours, and yours, and yours. You’re all too stupid to live!”
He waved them away in disgust and went inside the hotel and to his room. The roof was gone and when he looked up, the sky was churning like sick guts. He gathered his things, checked out, and began walking to wherever his feet would take him.
And where his feet took him was an amber colored bar in downtown Manistique. It was quiet inside except for the television that blurped in and out with news of the end of days. Two other men sat at the bar and watched along with the bartender. He finally noticed Algernon and asked him, “What are you doing here, mister?”
“I need a drink,” Algernon answered. He tapped a finger against the bar top as he sat down. “Suds.”
The bartender poured him a beer and set it before him. “No charge, mister. It looks like we’re all in for a rough time.” He motioned with his thumb. “Listen to these two idiots.” He shook his head.
“This is all because of the god damn liberals,” one of the men at the bar grumbled.
The other man nodded in agreement. “That’s right. If it weren’t for all these sissies and all their gay stuff, we’d be eating apple pie and living our best lives right about now… Not watching the world come to an end on CNN.” He motioned abruptly with his hand. “Come on, Wilbur. Can you ate least put it on Fox News so we can get the truth.”
Algernon laughed out loud. He finished his beer and tapped his fingers on the bar to indicate his desire for another.
The two men turned to look at him. “You got a problem, mister?” one of them asked.
“I have all sorts of problems,” Algernon added. “Try not to be another.”
The man that lastly spoke to him got up off his bar stool and walked right on over to where Algernon was. He took his hand and slapped at Algernon’s beer mug and knocked it over. “You wanna fight me or something?” He was close to his face when he spoke and his breath was annoying.
Algernon sighed as the barkeep cleaned up the spill and gave Algernon a fresh beer. “You start something, Lloyd, and I’ll throw you out. Then you’ll have to go home to that ugly wife of yours.”
Algernon chuckled. “He’s lucky to get that.”
The man put a rough hand on Algernon’s shoulder and Algernon reacted immediately with a rigid brush of his arm to knock the man away. “Don’t touch me!”
“Well, you look pretty gay to me. I figured you’d like it.” He laughed. His friend laughed and came over as well. “Kick his ass, Lloyd,” the friend said.
“You’re the one here with another man,” Algernon replied. “I’m flying Han Solo.”
The two men made faces of confusion and backed away. “Let’s just leave this one alone,” one of them said. “Han Solo my ass.”
After the two men settled back in their seats, the bartender brought Algernon a bowl of hot beef and noodle soup. “Here you go. I didn’t want it to go to waste and you look like you could use it.”
“Thanks,” Algernon said, and he smiled. “I appreciate it.”
“So, did you use the Jedi mind trick on those two buffoons?” He laughed.
Algernon chuckled. “You got to have a mind first.”
Just then the power went out and the only remaining light was the blue hue of the day coming in through the windows at the front of the bar.
“Sure as hell is eerie,” the bartender said. “What you plan on doing?”
“I don’t know. My wife recently passed, and I was on a sabbatical. I wanted to see all the places I’d never seen but wanted to… And now this happens. Nuclear war.”
The Lord of Life sat in a morbid café on a Sunday afternoon unsunny with rain and cold and a gray veil that seemed to cover everything. He was cold and his heart hurt, and his eyes felt like lead as they pointed to the prophetic pink moon that hovered over a landscape of stone and saguaro. He sighed over the carnage playing like a film in the white ball he held in his hand.
Mummy practitioners of velvet voodoo moved through the air like bellows of cauldrons filled to the brim with coffee and lava and all the hopes and dreams of multi-colored birds and souls. The meat meters ticked away, wishes spinning in a velodrome, the whizz of wheels, the pumping of veins encased in skin, the round and round and round of another yellow child at the edge of the city lagoon where the bum prophets read from their Office Depot plastic binder manifestos on all the injustices of the cruel metal world that loves money more than men.
That messy-faced child in the banana gown wanders the world and now sits in the sand on a cold beach beside a cold body of water the size of a sea. The waves churn a lonely beat out there. A repetitive strong lull. The child with the hair the color of the Black Knight exoplanet, the deepest known black in the universe, beset upon her pear warm face, periwinkle eyes behind orange-colored glasses, plastic, venomous, she recalls the ear candle torture at the Victorian red brick home in a place like Boston or New York or Applesauce City in the far northern regions of the upper upperest Michigan.
Someone played the piano in the parlor, soft and melodious notes, while the girl sat on an antique chair with the scent of chaotic history, her head tilted, the gray-haired woman with the scent of a funeral parlor leering above her with the waxy stick of fire. “But it burns, it hurts, it scalds, it gives me nightmares beneath the cloud-raddled moon,” the girl whined.
“Hush now, Rosalina. Hush your overworked puppy mouth and let me proceed with the procedure.” She peered into the girl’s ear canal and grunted. “Ahh, the demons are on the run. I can see them!”
So, under the cover of night and crawling out from the comfort of a warm bed in her attic bedroom and out onto the rooftop where she saw a sea of other rooftops and stars and smoke and gallantly shining lights of gold and green and corpse blue, she ran away to another day… And that is where and when she looked out at that cold body of water the size of a sea.
A woman dressed as a cocktail waitress, a peacock blue fabric that glints in the sun, walks along the same beach slowly, a semi-automatic rifle perched atop her shoulders behind her neck. She is wearing dark sunglasses and a facial smear of makeup. A police uniform type hat rests upon her head, raven-black hair spills out from beneath it and falls down the sides of her face like thin curtains. There is a lost valley in her rosy eyes when she raises the shades. She sees the girl named Rosalina in the banana gown sitting there in the sand staring out at the water. She stops, cocks her head at the wonder of it. “What are you doing here?” she asks in her husky yet feminine voice. “Are you thinking of wandering out and getting carried away to the arms of Neptune?”
The girl named Rosalina rubs at her nose before turning her head and looking up at the woman. She immediately notices the assault rifle. “Are you going to shoot me?” she asks.
The peacock policewoman smiles for a moment. Then she brings the rifle down and into position. She aims it at the girl and peers across the sight. “Is that what you want? For me to shoot you?” Her finger trembles near the trigger.
“Nah,” the girl halfheartedly says. “Shooting kids is so old school. Get it… Shooting kids, school.” She tries to laugh. “It’s just become such an acceptable art form these days. I was hoping you could be more creative.”
The woman lowered the rifle then swung it around to a place across her back. “Okay… I won’t shoot you. But are you lost?”
“Lost? No. I’m not lost. I just don’t want to be found.”
The woman maneuvered her body to be able to sit down in the sand beside her. “Why don’t you want to be found?”
The girl licked her lips before she spoke. “Because they’re so mean to me. They’re trying to burn my brains out.”
“Who on earth would do something like that? Your parents?”
“No. The foster people. I’m with them because my parents have,” and she looked up at the sky. “Gone on to the realm of the other side.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
The girl studied her intently for a moment. “You’re too pretty to be a police person.”
The woman smiled. “I’m not really a police person. I’m a member of the New American Peacock Brigade. We’re anti-government female vigilantes. Do you know what that means?”
“You’re rebellious,” the girl quipped. “You kill based on random conspiracies without any factual basis.”
The woman laughed. “Something like that… What’s your name?”
The girl hesitated for a moment, perhaps still untrusting of the intruder and possible sycophant. “Rosalina. I’m kind of Mexican. What’s your name? Your real name.”
“My name is Magda. Magda Balls.”
The girl laughed. “That’s a very weird name.”
The woman turned to look out at the cold water that is always there, like interstate traffic. “I know… But you haven’t said. How did your parents die?”
The girl looked down between her knees and began to breathe heavily. Then she started to cry and whimpered through the tears, “They were killed in a hot-air balloon accident in Arizona. My pa ended up nearly unrecognizably broken on top of a saguaro cactus. My momma was smashed to pieces on some beautiful red rock. They said the blood blended in just fine.”
“That’s terrible,” Magda said to her.
The girl turned to look up at her and scowled. “Of course, it’s terrible. Dying in a hot-air balloon crash is a very terrible thing.”
“Don’t you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No. I’m a lonely only.” The girl reached into her pocket, retrieved a pack of cigarettes and tapped one out. She stuck it in her mouth, reached into another pocket for her lighter and set flame to the tip. Her lips clamped down on the white stick and she drew in a drag. Exhaled. Coughed.
Magda Balls was slightly shocked. “Do you really think you should be smoking? How old are you?”
“I’m 10.2… And I don’t need a lecture from an anti-everything female vigilante.”
Magda Balls put her hands out in the air in a gesture of backing away. “Okay… Sorry. I suppose it’s none of my business.”
“Right. It’s none of your business.”
“So, are you just going to sit out here forever? Do you have food? Clothes? Anything?”
Rosalina motioned her head toward the Lidsville backpack in the sand. “I’ve got what I need for now. I’ll just steal stuff if I need anything else.”
“And I thought I was rebellious… Or at least you did,” the woman said with some confusion.
“Right. Whatever.” The girl took another drag off her cigarette and exhaled and sighed at the same time before tossing the cancer stick in the sand. The red-hot tip glowed momentarily and then blacked out completely like a vaporized thought. “I guess I should probably move along.” She stood, brushed the sand from the various parts of her, and reached down for her backpack. “It was nice meeting you I suppose. Good luck with your ridiculous reign of terror.”
“Wait,” Magda called out.
The girl stopped and turned. “What is it?”
“My place isn’t too far from here… If you want, well, I have a pretty comfortable couch. You’re welcome to it until you figure things out. I mean, I just hate to leave you to the dangers of the world.”
Rosalina scrunched her face as she thought about it. She looked all around, and the world did seem very big and scary to her. She knew she was tough, but maybe she wasn’t tough enough.
Magda could hear the wheels turning inside the girl’s small head. “I have Netflix and internet and lemonade and nuts and board games and bubble bath and… I suppose I have everything you could need or want.”
“And you’re not going to try to burn demons out of my brain?”
Magda stood. She was tall compared to the girl. She reached out her hand and cupped Rosalina’s chin. “Absolutely not.”
They trailed after me and I readied my rifle as I walked. It was the only light on in the entire town and it cast an odd yellow glow against all the ruin. It was a narrow building made of brick like the others and there were two large windows in the very front. We took cover across the street and tried to study the place. The light inside was very bright and I thought I saw someone sitting in a chair and reading a newspaper. “My god,” I said. “It looks like a barbershop.” And that’s when we noticed the barber pole at the side churning red, white and blue in the yellow light like cake batter. “I can’t believe it.”
Rob started walking out into the street toward the shop without any care. “Wait!” I snapped. “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to get a haircut,” he said.
“You’re crazy. You’re good as dead if you do that,” Daisy warned him.
“You’re both wrong. This is an answer to my wish. You remember, Ed, I said I wanted a haircut and here it is, a place in the middle of deathly nowhere, a barbershop. Someone’s listening to me. It must be apocalyptic God or something.”
“You’re delusional,” I told him. “Delusional and downright stupid if you go over there.”
He smiled at us oddly and he turned and just kept on walking, right up to the shop. We saw that he was looking in and then he pushed the door open, and the light swallowed him up.
“We have to go after him,” Daisy demanded.
I pressed a finger against her fish lips. “Shhh. Let’s be really quiet and check it out.” We crept out into the glow and up to the building, one to each side, and we peered in through the glass. Rob Muggins was sitting in a barber chair of chrome and burgundy vinyl and a man was wrapping a cape around the front of him. I looked over at Daisy and even though I knew she saw the exact same thing as I did, I couldn’t really believe it. I pointed to the door, and we went in with our guns drawn.
A little bell rang, and the barber looked up at us and smiled. “There will be no need for weapons in here,” he politely said to us. “I don’t cause any trouble. I just cut hair.”
He stood on a booster stool and held a pair of scissors and comb over Rob’s head and started to snip away very carefully. He was a very odd-looking man of small stature with a dead-serious emotion in his cleanly shaven olive-toned skin. His hair was jet black and combed back very slick and neat against his scalp. He looked up at us again. “Were you here for a haircut sir?” he asked. Then he looked at Daisy and smiled with apology. “I’m sorry miss. I don’t cut women’s hair. Far too much emotion involved in that endeavor,” he explained.
There were three chairs against the wall and Daisy sat down. “It’s okay. I’ll just watch.” The barber smiled and went back to work. There was a small radio on the counter behind him and it played old time music very softly. The barber began to whistle along as he cut Rob’s hair.
“What are you doing here?” I finally asked him.
He stopped cutting and looked at me. “What do you mean? This is my barbershop. I cut hair.”
“But there’s no hair to cut,” I pointed out. “This place is dead.”
The barber seemed confused. “I don’t understand. I’m cutting this gentleman’s hair right now. What’s the problem?”
“Don’t you know what’s out there?” I moved to one of the windows and gestured. “This place is deserted. Why are you here?”
The barber clicked on an electric clipper and moved it carefully against one side of Rob’s head. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m here every day. I cut people’s hair. This is my life, my livelihood. I have an apartment right upstairs if you want me to prove it to you… I’m sorry, who are you again?”
“My name’s Ed. Ed Dick. This here is Daisy and the man you’re snipping on is Rob Muggins.”
The barber chuckled some. “Odd names,” he said. “But good to know you all just the same. I like my customers to consider me as a friend and not just a barber. It’s the personal touch that matters most,” and he looked over at Daisy and flirtatiously worked his brow up and down for a moment.
I looked over at Daisy and she looked at me. I could tell she was feeling unsettled.
“Do you have any food and water?” I asked the man.
He chuckled. “Of course, I do. I’m not a savage. If you don’t mind waiting until I’m done with this gentleman’s haircut, it would be wonderful to have you all upstairs. I haven’t had many guests lately.” He clicked off the clippers, leaned back and studied his work. “That looks pretty fine,” he said, and he hopped down off his stool and spun the chair around like a carnival wheel so Rob could see himself in the mirror.
“Wow,” Rob said, admiring himself. “That’s a damn fine haircut. What do you guys think?”
Daisy got up, walked over, and looked at him. “You clean up pretty well Mr. Wall Street,” she said.
I felt a twang of jealousy in my guts. “But he needs a shave,” I suggested. The barber studied Rob’s face. “Hmm… I really like his beard, but I suppose I can do that,” he said.
We all felt a bit nervous as he reached for the straight razor and some fluffy cream. He lathered Rob’s face and then very carefully scraped the blade across it, clearing away the stubble every so often as he went. When he was done, he wiped Rob’s face clean with a warm wet towel. “After shave?” he asked as he held up a glass bottle containing a blue liquid. Rob nodded. The barber smiled as he patted his face. “It might sting a bit,” he cautioned.
The barber undid the cape and Rob got up out of the chair and ran his hand over his head and across his face. “This feels great,” he said.
The barber shook out a towel and smiled. “Okay… That will be 23 dollars.”
Rob instinctively reached for his pockets, but they were empty. “I’m sorry. I don’t have any money.”
The barber was confused. “No money? Then why did you come in here for a haircut? Give me a break. I’m trying to run a business here!”
Daisy sensed his oncoming tirade and tried to calm him. “We’ve been traveling for a very long time. Don’t you know what’s happened to the world? There is no more money.”
“No more money? Ah blah, that’s a bunch of rubbish. I’ve got a till full of it.”
I stepped forward to get a closer look at him. I wanted to see if he was real. His eyes looked weird. “Who are all these people who come for haircuts?” I asked him. “Don’t you understand? There’s no one here.”
The barber grabbed a broom and pan and started to sweep up Rob’s fallen locks. “You keep saying that, and I still don’t understand. I get plenty of business from the hill people and the ranchers and the water barons. They come all the time.”
Daisy stepped in front of me. Her arm fell back a little and her hand accidentally swept over my crotch. “We’d love to see your apartment. And maybe we could work something out to pay you for the haircut.”
The barber looked at her porcelain face the color of flour and noticed the ring in her nose. “That’s a funny thing,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that on a woman before. Okay, let me just lock up and we can head upstairs. But I don’t want any funny business.”
The stairs were old, and they creaked as we went up. The hall smelled of cooked meat and dust. He looked at us and smiled as he fumbled with the key in the lock of a red worn door. “My apologies, but the place isn’t as tidy as I like,” he said. “I’ve been busy with other things.” He got it unlocked and pushed it open. It looked old and charming. I couldn’t understand why he was worried about what the place looked like. Everything was in order.
“Please, come in and sit down,” he offered. “Would anyone care for a grape soda?” We all heartily accepted. “Good,” he smiled. “I’ll make us some cheese sandwiches as well.” He fiddled with an old phonograph before disappearing through a swinging door that must have led to the kitchen. Scratchy weird music began to fill the room.
I went to a window, pulled the cranberry-colored curtains aside and peered out. The moon was higher now and the landscape littered with desolation. I turned to see Daisy sitting close to Rob on the couch. She seemed attracted to him now. She put a hand on his thigh as they whispered to each other about the place.
A few minutes later, the barber came back out carrying a tray with grape soda and cheese sandwiches. He set it down on an old coffee table and invited us to eat and drink. I squeezed in between Daisy and Rob on the couch and stuffed a sandwich in my mouth. The barber took a chair across from us and watched.
“Is the food all right?” he asked. Our mouths were full, and we were very pleased. I sucked down my grape soda and belched loudly. Daisy elbowed me.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I haven’t eaten in a while. It’s so good. But, where do you get your food?”
“Little elves bring it to me,” the barber joked, and then he crossed his hands in his lap and smiled. “I’m glad you appreciate good soda and cheese.”
“Thank you so much,” Daisy creamed. “This is all so wonderful.”
Rob clomped on a sandwich between sips of the soda. “Yeah. It’s great of you to help us out like this.”
“Well, I try to live a godly life. You know, do unto others …”
I looked around the room and noticed there were no photographs of other people. “Do you have a family?” I asked him.
“No,” he answered somewhat sternly. “They all died in a terrible house fire many years ago. I grew up an orphan.”
“I’m so sorry,” Daisy said to him.
“I’ve learned to carry on.”
“Do you know about the monsters?” I blurted out.
He turned to look at me, it was a cold stare. “I don’t know what you are talking about. There aren’t any monsters here.”
Daisy leaned forward and looked at him. “Don’t you know about the end of the world, and all that has followed?” she asked.
He blinked at her in confusion. “I heard a rumor about a terrible war, but that’s all. I enjoy my life here as a simple barber. I don’t want to know about such things.”
I adjusted my hat and rubbed at my rough face. “The monsters are a product of social disease. There’s no cure. They have no heart or soul.”
He looked at me with the same puzzled emptiness. “Sometimes they wander in and out, but I just turn off all the lights and pretend to be dead.”
“So, you have seen them?” I asked pointedly.
“I’ve seen others, yes, if that’s what you’re getting at, like you were talking about, but they are not my customers. Those people are real. You speak of phantoms.” He suddenly got up and changed the record. He seemed uncomfortable.
“Where are you from? Originally,” I asked. He turned to look at me over his shoulder after plopping down fresh vinyl on the phonograph. It spun slow and rough. “Chicago,” he finally answered. “I was born in Chicago.”
I thought he was lying. “What part?”
“Arlington Heights. My father came here from Appietto on Corsica many years ago and opened his own barbershop. That’s why I do what I do. Then he burned to death.”
I could tell he was getting uneasy about the subject. “I was hoping we could rest here if that would be all right. We’ll leave you in the morning.”
He studied us one by one. “You want to stay the night?”
“You’ve been more than generous,” Daisy began, “But we understand if you don’t want strangers sleeping on your floor.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Just one night?”
“We’ll head out in the morning,” I said, answering for her.
“Okay, you can stay,” the barber said as he lifted the arm up off the record and carefully set it in its resting place. “But I’m getting tired now. I think I’ll go to my room and rest, but please, make yourself comfortable. We can settle things in the morning. I hope you sleep like angels in the hay heap of a warm barn.”
I was hoping Daisy would lie down next to me but instead she rolled herself out on the floor right next to reincarnated Rob Muggins. I thought I heard them kiss, but I might have been mistaken. Whether it was real or not it still hurt my guts and heart. The place was too quiet, and I struggled to sleep. I wanted to be on top of Daisy and thrusting against her, but I felt her interest was rapidly waning. Maybe I was too old for her. Maybe I was too rough around the edges. What kind of life would we have together anyways? The world was a ruined place. I focused my eyes on a slit in the drapes as they grew heavy. I started to see some stars twinkling above the dead land. I was starting to feel sad and hopeless but tried to find peace in the thought of the coming morning. I finally fell asleep and dreamed of nothing.
The barber tip-toed to a table in his bedroom where sat an old phone and he picked up the receiver. He worked the dial with the tip of a crooked finger. It rang on the other end — four times before someone picked up and breathed.
The barber whispered in the grim darkness. “Yes, they’re here now. I think it would be a perfect opportunity to come get them. I’m sure you’re very hungry.”
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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
“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?”
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?”
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?”
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 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?”
“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?”
“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 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.
“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.”
“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.
“I used to be one of those fools in the towers of polished glass and steel.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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
Aaron Echoes August
An online journal of fiction, essays, and social commentary.