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. 1)

Photographer: Reuben R. Sallows (1855 – 1937)

Gracelyn Polk sat in the Cabbage Junction Public Library reading about the Napoleonic Wars from an old, oversized book.

She sat at a large table by herself surrounded by high shelves filled with thick and important volumes, just like the one spread open wide before her. Her muddied golden eyes intensely scanned the large pages, and then she licked at a fingertip and turned to the next ones.

“I see. How interesting,” she said aloud to herself.

Sunlight streamed in through long, narrow windows situated at the top of the outside walls. The beams bathed Gracelyn in a yellow, angelic glow as if she were dead and doing her homework in Heaven.

But Gracelyn Polk was very much alive, and had been for 413 years now, even though at the moment, she was really just a girl of 11 and the smartest sixth grader at Cabbage Junction Primary School.

She looked up at the ceiling and smiled to herself as she thoughtfully spoke to the air. “I just love history. It’s just so fascinating – especially when you’ve lived through so much of it as I have.”

When the girl decided she had had enough of the Napoleonic Wars, she closed the big book, clumsily lifted it, and returned it to its waiting space on a nearby shelf. She slapped her hands together as if knocking off dirt. “My, my. Books are so heavy and take up so much space… And so much paper.”

She suddenly felt very small surrounded by all the high shelves of books. It was very quiet in the library as it should be. She glanced up toward the windows and could tell the light of day was beginning to fade. A red wasp angrily danced against the glass. She retrieved her cell phone from a deep pocket in her pink sweats and pulled it out. She held it up before her face, smiled, and took a selfie. “I don’t know why I do that,” she said to no one. “I’m such a hot mess.” She looked at her phone again – no messages, no calls, no energy. Gracelyn sighed, snatched up her backpack from the large table, strapped it on and walked toward the exit.

As Gracelyn approached the circulation desk near the front doors, she smiled, waved, and cheerfully called out, “See you later, Mrs. Costilla,” and walked out with a bounce.

Mrs. Costilla didn’t reply. Her bones remained still and silent, gathering the gently falling dust from the comfort of an office chair, just as they have done for a very long time now.


Gracelyn pulled her bike out of the bike rack, got on it, and started to ride down the middle of Main Street. There wasn’t any traffic – only silence and wind. Her burnt-sienna hair flapped and flowed behind her like a torn flag on a motorboat as she passed by the husky downtown buildings of red brick and large windows. A horribly dressed and bald mannequin slept dead on a bed of broken glass in front of the Cabbage Junction Thrift and Antiques store.

When Gracelyn came to the intersection of Main Street and White Chocolate Road, she turned left. The neighborhood there, called Vinegar Village, was cluttered with old houses, most in shambles, yards overgrown, streets empty, odd smells in the air. Her legs pumped faster because she didn’t like the area. It scared her. “Avoid the dream,” she said to herself. “Avoid the dream.”

As the neighborhoods thinned, the landscape became more pastoral – farmland, fields, and wide pastures cradled by forest walls of dark green. The sky above, wide and bluish yellow. She turned right on a gravel road and toward the big white house that rested at the end of it.

She set the bike down in the grass near the front porch painted battleship gray on the floor and peeling wedding-gown white on the spindles and caps. She bounded up the few steps to the front door. She stood on a faded welcome mat as she fished for a key from her pocket. She inserted it and turned it, then her small hand grasped the doorknob and pushed forward.


The Creamsicle-colored cat, Moses, stared at Gracelyn with wide lemon-lime eyes as he squatted on the dining room table just a few feet from her as the girl did her homework. He resembled a wide loaf of bread. The girl was surrounded by jar candles for light, and she warned Moses of the danger. “Don’t come any closer, my dear kitty, or your fur is liable to catch fire, and that would be a terrible thing.”

Moses quickly turned, jumped down and trotted off into an unknown darkness in another room. Gracelyn shook her head and laughed. “What a smart kitty,” she said, and then she picked up half a peanut butter and mint jelly sandwich from a plate by her side and bit into it and chewed as she studied. “The Romans were amazing engineers,” she said aloud to the quiet house as her eyes danced across the words in the book. “I wish I could have been there to see it all. Perhaps someday.” She reached for her can of Elf brand grape soda and put it to her mouth and drank until it was completely drained. “Damn that’s good,” she said, and she threw the can over her shoulder, and it landed on a growing pile of other cans behind her.

Moses reappeared and rubbed himself against her legs below the table. “I know, dear kitty. I need to find more, or I may not have anything delicious to wash down my meals with. If only I could build a soda pop aqueduct, like the Romans.” She sighed. “But I’m afraid that would be nearly impossible without any help.” The cat purred loudly and uttered an instructive meow. “Yes, yes. I’ll get to the recycling as soon as I can. But I’m very busy, you know… With school and studying and everything else. It’s not easy being a young girl in a world such as this. Be patient, Moses kitty.”

TO BE CONTINUED