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When the Corn Died: Chapter Six
Where We Are with This Story
Well, let’s see if I can summarize in a paragraph or two.
The Harpers are battling a new infestation of grasshoppers on their farm in Iowa, a new infestation along with the general problems of living in the year 1933 and slowly drowning in economic woes during the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, their only son is trying to make his way home from Missouri. He and his buddy Lucas have decided that being home with family is more important than making some money working in the mines of Missouri.
So let’s see what happens next.
More fiction from yours truly
Last Train Ride
The two friends jumped off the slowing boxcar as it entered the switching yard. The skies began to lighten at five in the morning. The trick was to hit the ground running once you landed or else momentum would toss you ass over tea kettle. Peter landed fine. Lucas turned an ankle, let out a yelp and was limping noticeably as the train rounded a curve and disappeared from view.
“Dammit all to hell,” Lucas said as he leaned against a shed. “That hurts like a bastard.”
Peter leaned down to take a look at the offending ankle.
“Can you put weight on it? Do you think you broke it?”
“Nah, it’s not broken, but I won’t be running any time soon. Looks like I’ve taken my last train ride for awhile. No way I can run alongside a car and jump in it. I’m sorry, Peter. Looks like we’ll have to find another way home. How far do you think we are from Charles City?”
“The sign said this town is Union. If it is, then we’re a good fifty, sixty miles from home. Let’s get on up to the main road and start walking west. Sooner or later someone will pick us up in a car or a wagon. We’ll just keep hitching rides until we make it home.”
The Next Morning
Emma delivered the bad news in the morning. She was up before all of us, unable to sleep, roaming the fields alone with her thoughts. Losing a husband will do that to a person, leave them roaming the landscape, sleepless and disoriented. As the darkness was embraced by light in the east, and as we all stumbled into the kitchen rubbing away the sleep, Emma was tossing eggs and frying bacon.
“We didn’t get them all,” she told us. There was no need to ask who she meant by “them.”
“I was walking east of that section we burned, and each step disturbed more and more of them. My shoes squished some, but the sense I got was a lot more were there, laying in the darkness, waiting for the sun to rise so they could start feeding.”
There wasn’t much to be said. I looked at Evelyn and worry crossed her brow.
“I guess we all know what we’re doing today. Let’s eat up. When we’re finished, Emma, Timothy, grab more rags, as many as you can find. I’ll grab the gasoline and shovels. We need to dig a fire break so we don’t burn down the whole farm. Evelyn, if you can make some sandwiches it would be appreciated. We’re all going to be out there all day long fighting this battle.
By the time I got out to the fields it was light enough to see that Emma’s report was true. The grasshoppers were multiplying, or so it seemed. All the fire did the day before was move them to another section, and that section was being devoured before my eyes. I spent an hour walking the area until I got a feeling for where the fire needed to be set and contained. By then I was joined by the others.
“Okay,” I said. “Here’s what we need to do. I’m going to get the tractor and plow a perimeter trench. As I plow, Emma, I want you to drop gas-soaked rags in the trench. Space them out. Evelyn, take that five-gallon can of gas and spread it within the perimeter I’m marking. When we set fire to this I want it to go up fast, so fast those critters don’t have time to escape.
“Once we set the fire, we’ll all need to walk the perimeter and put out fires that spread outside the perimeter. With any luck we can keep this thing contained and only lose an acre or so. We can live with that loss. We can’t live with this spreading. Any questions? No? Well then let’s do this, and it might not hurt if we all said a few prayers while we worked. Young Timothy, you ride the tractor with me.”
Back on the Road
The boys snagged a ride with an old farmer half a mile outside of Union. He took them five miles further and then wished them luck as he turned north. They then set out walking a pace slowed by the injury to Lucas.
An hour had passed in this way when they heard an engine behind them. Turning, they saw a Ford pickup approaching, flat black with bright red wire wheels. There were two men in the cab and two more in the bed. The truck moved to the left, passed them by thirty feet and then came to a stop. The sound of the engine died as the two men in the bed jumped out and the two from the cab joined them on the road. They were all big men, early twenties, shabbily-dressed with faces chiseled by the hard times. Three were carrying baseball bats. One had a Winchester shotgun.
The one with the gun spoke for them all.
“We’ll be needing whatever money you two are carrying with you.”
Lucas always had a hot temper. It seemed like once a month or so, Peter was talking his friend down from some rant or talking him out of some fight. Peter often thought his friend had more guts than brains, and this was one of those times. Lucas limped a couple steps towards the men, hands out from his sides to show he wasn’t armed.
“We don’t have much money, Mister, about six dollars between us, but we sure as hell won’t be giving it to you and your friends. It would take more than the four of you to take money from Peter and me, so why don’t you get back in your truck and head on down the road?”
The guy with the shotgun just smiled.
“It wasn’t the four of us asking for your money, sonny. It was my friend Mr. Winchester doing the asking.” And then the silence of the Iowa countryside was shattered by the roar of the Winchester and Lucas, clutching at his stomach, fell to the ground.
Peter couldn’t believe it. He rushed to his friend’s side, but by the time he got there the road’s dust was stained red and Lucas was dead. Peter felt tears forming as the first blow from a baseball bat hit him in the back. He rolled onto his side as the blows increased in number, the blue sky blurred with motions, the pain increased and then, darkness.
The second of the "Shadows" series
Back at the Farm
It took us eight hours to plow the perimeter and burn about an acre of corn. It was dirty, hot, thankless work, and by the time the fire died down and we could safely walk to the farmhouse to clean up, we were all dead on our feet and drained of all emotion.
Or so I thought.
The phone was ringing as we entered the kitchen. Evelyn picked it up and listened, and as she listened I swear to God the blood drained from her face, as though someone had pulled a plug and it just flowed out of her. After a couple minutes of listening she said thank you, hung up and turned to me.
“It’s Peter Junior. He’s been beaten and he’s in the hospital about forty miles from here. He and Lucas were robbed on the road. Oh my God, Peter, Lucas is dead. He was shot and killed by the robbers. We have to go to our son, Peter. He needs us now.”
And That’s Where We’ll Leave It for Now
Stay tuned. I promise another chapter of the Harper story next week. Thanks for stopping by. The Harpers appreciate all of you nearly as much as I do.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)