AGATHA’S BARN: A CARPENTER’S FARM STORY (part 1)

agathas_barn_logo

Welcome to “Agatha’s Barn” by Michael Bailey. This is a tie-in to Carpenter’s Farm, the serial novel by Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box, Inspection, Malorie, and others. Created with permission, and free for all to enjoy during this strange time (Josh loves it, and we hope you will too). Featuring illustrations throughout by Glenn Chadbourne.

Read new chapters of Carpenter’s Farm each Monday, Wednesday & Friday. Catch up here (at least the first five or six chapters) before reading the following.

20200401_194322


jars_01

There is Agatha.

jars_02

There was Agatha.

Right?

jars_03

Father’d taught her how to use a hammer right, how to tweeze a nail between two fingers with one hand, tap-tap, then pull away and drive it in hard with the other. Father’d taught Agatha to look out for herself, how to tomboy, how to bury things deep in wood.

Like this, he’d say, eyes asquint, tapping the head, setting the nail in place and you’s (she always imagined the letter ‘W’ splitting apart) use a comb or fork to keep your hands lookin’ like mine all tore up and he’d hammer the soldier into the pine, three-quarter’s way, sometimes flush. If he missed and headstone-tipped the nail, he’d crater it flat, out of anger or irritation. Cigarette dangling. Kool, always. His breath a warm left-out beer. Red and white Budweiser cans, always. He’d go through a case of each over a weekend—the only “quality” time she ever spent with him after Mother’d died of pneumonia.

The 16-penny nails sometimes took five or six swings, but she rarely missed, driving them straight. Pencil dives, she’d imagined with that innocent child mind all those years ago, making perfect-round little splashes, sap or soaked-in rainwater rising to the surface. Good, Aggie, like that. There you go (sipping Bud, smoke in her hair), and don’t tell anyone ’bout this or no one will ever take you as a proper woman. Some took seven or eight; same as her age, for all she could remember. He’d ‘growed her up,’ as he’d say.

But the reclaimed wood she hammered into now smelled not wet and piney, but stunk of dry rot and bad memories, of jagged dinosaur-back mushroom shelves on wet left-out firewood. Earthy. Like her father. Like the soil beneath his fingernails. They went in despite the cries. The sound of life long dead dying again. Stripped youth, aged by force.

Father’d taught her more than one should ever learn from a parent.

Agatha thought of tipping his headstone and smiled.

jars_04

“You’re new here,” the man behind the counter said. He had a boyish demeanor about him and a short mop of brown hair, like he’d rolled out of bed that way. Mouth crooked.

She’d read enough Stephen King and’d seen enough book jacket photos to imagine what he must’ve looked like as a teenager, and this guy in his blue apron seemed much older than that but a doppelgänger nonetheless, his mind perhaps held back a dozen or so years.

Agatha nodded.

“That’s a nasty shiner,” he said.

“You got any recommendations—”

“—for the shiner?”

She wasn’t fond of make-up, of prettying up, of covering bruises. The hard lessons of life had taught her to speak true. Never hold back. Never flinch. Especially with the face.

“Whiskey,” she said, “or bourbon, I don’t care. All I see on the shelves that’s brown is Knob and Old Crow. And this,” she said, pointing at what Chris had done, “is what happens when you let your guard down, when you give another power over you. Anything good?”

Bookman’s General had what could be expected from a general store in mostly-nowhere, Michigan, but apparently had bottled shit-water for booze. The gray-green building dilapidated as all get-out, surrounded by fields of endless agriculture. Inside: dusty-bottles, as though no one in the small town drank out of anything other than aluminum.

His smile cracked. “Blanton’s,” he said, “but it’s pricey.”

“What’d’you consider ‘pricey’?”

“You look like you could use a good drink, so I’ll sell it to you at cost. Never had it before, must be good. Some fellow special-ordered, never returned, so I’ve been holding onto that bottle some time. Six … ty.” He stretched last word and put an inflection at the end, either a non-question becoming a question, or whittling the price down because of the bruise.

“Where can I find it?”

“Have it in storage. Frozen peas are back that way,” he said and pointed, then disappeared into some back part of the store. He returned carrying not a bottle but a box, which he opened on the counter in front of her, and in the box a brown cloth bag, and in the brown cloth bag a roundish honeycomb-like bottle. “Small batch,” he said.

Batch number and other information were inked by black pen on the label, by hand. Adorned on the stopper: a metal horse in full run, a rider holding on for dear life.

Running, Agatha mused, like me.

“I’ll take it,” she said. “You have any Mason jars, like for canning?”

The man in the blue smock showed her where to find them.

jars_05

She labeled the first quart “shame” and filled it to the brim with 16-penny nails. She labeled another “forgiveness” but didn’t fill it with anything just yet. No one to forgive, maybe not ever. She imagined someday filling the jar with names. Another she labeled “pity” and on a scrap of paper wrote Aggie and slipped it inside. The third jar she labeled “Mother” and filled with the memories of her, the empty jar carrying an impossible weight. Each Agatha sealed with a lid, screwed on the rings. She dug a hole behind the barn, not so deep. Mother’s second vacant grave.

20200401_194353

She found paint cans on shelves as old as the willows surrounding the farm; the wood planks held long-dead stories of trees, she imagined, and in one of the dented cans a dollop of sludge, brown as dried blood. She finger-painted her mother’s name on a rock, childlike, to serve as a headstone—using her mother’s maiden—and flipped it over (just another insignificant rock among rocks), smoothed out the dirt after burying the “Mother” jar.

Only the two of them’d ever know this secret place.

Movement in the tree line of willows shot adrenaline through her as she made her way back to her work, and faint weeping. Aggie’s pulse (she always thought of herself as Aggie when anxious) sent a war drum beat out her chest. The silhouette of a man with hands held to his side faded into black between trunks, as if taking a step back. Caught and then gone.

No, not him, she told herself. Not Chris, not Father.

She’d left her car at home, a beater Honda Civic cancerous with rust and oil-clogged piston-lungs, and had fled on bike instead—the old Schwinn angled against a wall in the barn. No one could have followed her. She’d left no trace, other than the empty Mason jar back home (not her home) once filled with cash labeled “freedom” in Sharpie over a tear of duct tape. She’d hidden her savings behind cleaning supplies in the garage, the jar itself inside an old Folgers tin.

“I see you,” she called to the woods.

The trees swayed in the breeze, leaves whispering, dangly arms groaning.

Agatha, not Aggie, scribbled “fear” on a label she adhered to the fourth jar. She dropped a handful of nails inside, raining metal against glass, and kept a lone nail in her palm as she hefted the hammer and stood. The tool becoming a weapon, and she held it as such.

She walked toward the spot with purpose, got within a stone’s throw of the woods. There, she waited as the chaos in her chest calmed to smooth rhythm and blues. Imagination, she knew. These woods were miles from town, the home on the property, as well as the barn, abandoned by its owners long ago, left to the putrefaction of nature to retake occupancy of the land. The nail bit into her palm, but she didn’t mind, squeezed a bit harder.

Staring into the striped camouflage of shadows and trees only created more illusion, not one shape, but countless. Many, then none at all. Branches oscillated by wind.

Alone once again. Jitters, is all, she told little Aggie.

She returned to her task of gathering reclaimed wood, piling neat stacks outside the barn. And until she patched the holes in the roof and secured the doors, she’d sleep there within a tent under its drooping rafters. If anyone happened upon the farmhouse in their travels, she figured, they’d stop there first, the main house, knock on the door, look through the windows, which would give her plenty of warning, too, to slip into the cover of the woods.

She pulled nails from her jar of fears and reinforced the doors.

jars_06

Agatha setup camp inside the barn. She sat outside her tent awhile, a hard wind testing the hinges, invisible hands pushing against the wood and rattling the handles. The moon shot flashlight beams through holes in the roof, periodically flickered by fast-moving cloud. She’d have to see to that in the morning, but for now sipped straight from the neck of the bottle, enjoying her shelter despite the frigid air. She thought of her poems, which was her initial escape. A few stanzas in particular resonated in this hiccup of thought, though she’d slipped the entire poem into a library’s copy of Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters for someone else to find:

Blink not to forget
            but to cover individually
            with pleasant-past
                        / blink

When you close your eyes
            their lives inverted silhouettes:
                        hidden in memory
                        hidden from the children
                        hidden inside
            washed away by a sleeve
            they are gone

The whiskey kept her warm, or the bourbon, or whatever the stuff was, and so she drank enough to give her a buzz, which didn’t take long. She tried to remember more lines, but most were gone, lost in her unpleasant-past. She never kept poetry, always slipped it somewhere else.

Night sighed exhaustively, blowing in a storm. Before she knew it, the first droplet of rain slapped her cheek. The peas had done their work and had since thawed, and so she ate them directly from the bag, not enjoying the shriveled things, but survival-eating. Peas, peace. They went as well as they could with the cold can of raviolis purchased from the general store.

She’d bought a can-opener there, a pack of lighters, nonperishables, bottled water, all she could carry on her handlebars without tipping. Paid cash. Traceability the last thing she needed.

Ever wonder why a woman sometimes has two black eyes? Chris often said, usually around “friends” as a joke, always long after her visible bruises healed. ’Cause she didn’t listen the first time. He’d think it funny, hilarious. Isn’t that a hoot?

Fuck him.

In the rain, she wrote his name on a slip of paper, put it in the pity jar next to her own, then moved everything inside the tent. The tearing zip of the zipper flap reminded Agatha of the Levis her drunken father had once swung at her one night. Their jagged teeth had breadknifed into her arm. Still had the scar. ‘Fell onto a rake playin’ in the yard,’ you’ll say if anyone asks and that’s what she always said when asked, until her memories shaped the lie as truth.

Blink not to remember
            but to let go
            of the loss
                        / blink

Part of her remembered the rake, part of her the jeans. The round spots on her knuckles, were they not remnants of icy burns of warts removed, or from another kind of Kool?

She had cozied into her sleeping bag, trying to think of happier times, curled tight and mind adrift, when a gunshot shot her upright with a bright spark of light. The round buried deep into her gut and she found herself holding the wound, but it was only her bladder. She’d fallen into microdream, passing hours in an unrealistic time-shift. Lightning. Not now, she told herself, hold it ’til morning, but both the water and the whiskey wanted out of her. She waited for the rain to let up, but it only came down harder, machine-gun firing heavy onto the failing roof, then falling as heavy drops against the thin canvas of the tent. Aggie needed to pee. Agatha told her to just use one of the damn jars, “But not in here,” she said aloud.

Wasn’t so bad outside the tent, though muddy streams had formed around the hay she’d spread across the barn floor. Another flash splintered brilliant white through every crack and knot hole, one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand and then the boom, a mad god’s bass drum pounding. The largest hole in the roof had created a waterfall in the back of the barn, but the slope of the ground, from what she could tell in the strobed light, drained water away from the structure, so no immediate need to worry about flooding.

“This is ridiculous,” she said as the barn doors jiggled.

Open this goddamn door!

Her father, only a memory now, but always there.

She thought of the fear jar, how many more nails she’d need to add to it in the morning, how many more’d be required to secure this place. She thought of the forgiveness jar, how it would always remain empty, like Mom’s coffin, how it didn’t belong with her, not here.

The barn creaked and swayed with the wind, every nail crying out in separate agony, yet holding the place together somehow, and oh how that reflected her once frail and fragile form.

Let me in! and the fists pounding—

washed clean by endless tears
            they are never gone
            in death they still run:
                        into the earth
                        down drains
                        from thoughts

Let me in! and the fists pounding—

The barn door burst open, the wet breath of the storm knocking Agatha onto her backside, the pants she’d slept in wicking the puddle beneath her. Far across the dead field, revealed by the open maw, the farmhouse stood sentinel as lightning flashed behind it, a black stamp signifying its existence. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand and then the boom, the storm moving away, it seemed, yet still in a frenzy.

The farmhouse disappeared, swallowed by the black storm’s hungry mouth, and in its wake a soft yellow rectangular glow remained. A window, lit by candle or oil lamp. No electricity in the house, Agatha knew, because she’d let herself in one of the windows the day before, had searched every cabinet and cupboard for food. Lifeblood of water ran through its groaning pipes at a trickle, clear and minerally with a subtle taste of clay—perhaps fed by well or natural spring—but no power, no beating heart of electricity pumping through the veins of its old framework. No power in the barn either, despite switches and sockets.

Someone’s in the farmhouse. Squatting, like me.

Rolling light fluttered from one cloud to the next, and in that long moment Agatha scanned the property for cars, for signs of life. Nothing but unkempt crops, dead fields, an empty driveway. As the sky darkened and the rain hammered down as heavy nails, the light inside the farmhouse went out. No, not out, someone at the window, barely perceptible.

                        / blink

Her bladder let out into the mud, but what did it matter now?

She stared ahead, unable to focus.

The lightning blinded Aggie temporarily—the frightened girl still hiding inside her—and absorbed the woman in the window entirely (she knew in her every fiber it was not a man), and then all turned dark. She made it to eleven-one-thousand before thunder rumbled. The belly of a hungry dragon flew within the clouds, then suddenly a spotlight shone upon her. Agatha—her stronger, adult self—ran to the barn doors, pulled one side closed, then the other, and they tried pulling back. She slid the bolt latch hard, the sound of a new round loaded into a rifle, as the mess she’d made ran down her leg.

Get ahold of yourself; her mother this time, buried inside a jar, but there.

The gap between the doors was enough to peek through. Between every new flash, she watched the house, straining for what wasn’t really there, convincing herself that what-wasn’t-really-there wasn’t now heading her way, about to spring out of the darkness. She tested the doors, but the latch held strong, making her wonder if she’d forgotten earlier to latch it. She pulled, but the swing doors only slightly swung. No way they’d’ve opened on their own.

She thought of her father, lights out, sneaking inside her room, inside other places.

More nails to hammer, so many more nails.

Father’s dirty fingernails.

You’ve wet’cherself; her father this time, buried twenty years, but still there. Best clean up ’fore your mother finds you dirty like this, he’d said / said now, haunting past and present. He’d died after Mother, which wasn’t fair. She’d simply vanished, no body ever found, Father not the slightest concerned. Burying nothing, an empty casket, offered no closure.

Agatha stripped out of her clothes, trembling, imagining eyes peering between every slat and through every weather-worn knot hole, and from above, as well as below. Only her pictures at the funeral, she recalled, and showered by way of rainwater pouring through the roof. She washed her soiled clothes the same, then shivered in the cold until mostly dried-off as the rain eased, moved elsewhere. Another slug of Blanton’s warmed from the inside, settled her anxiety. Naked in her sleeping bag, dreams eventually found her, the sleep-conductor waving his magical wand and composing his horrid dreams, and soon after she woke in panic to the morning.

jars_07

With everything wet, she let the sun dry the world, and enjoyed the body heat trapped inside her cocoon. Perhaps six or seven o’clock, she figured (always o’clock as she was raised and never a.m. / p.m.). No use hurrying out to fix the roof, slip-sliding off or crashing through.

The jar labeled “shame” called her attention. ‘Accident’ went inside on strip of notepaper, along with ‘Anxiety’ and multiple What-dad-did thoughts, simply written and placed in the jar as the numbers ‘7’ through ‘13,’ sometimes duplicates, her age for whatever bad thing wanted to surface. The glass jar quickly filled. There were enough bad things to warrant multiple containers, the little strips of paper smashed in layers. The jar labeled “forgiveness” called her too, though she had nothing to put inside. “You’ll forever remain empty,” she told the jar. The jar said nothing back to her. The others she’d filled with nails, one 16-penny for every thought—each entirely forgotten, to be repurposed to hold together this temporary shelter.

Agatha spent the next hour on poetry, managed to write a few stanzas of free verse, letting it flow as it may. She thought of this one in particular as “Paper Earth” and like the other’s she’d written over the years (she had written and hidden hundreds throughout the world), for as long as she could remember, came from a mysterious pool of streaming thought:

We make our way to the writing ground,
paper-white, as far as any eye can see,
where exhausted trees no longer shed.

What time is it, but does that matter,
and can life be measured such a way?

Rain will soon seal everything together,
forlorn-fallen tears cementing in layers,
where blackened trunks stand as sentinels.

What to write, fill the thoughts of few,
as each word cuts deep, every last thing.

We wait patiently for the clouds to part,
expecting the hands of angry gods,
yet humankind’s fingers do the pointing.

Who’s fault is this, and should we care,
one way or the other, and is it too late?

Countless stories are carved in the earth,
until every last broken finger is bled,
not-so-forever tales of what once was.

We were here, some layers will read,
existence recorded semi-permanently.

But well before the expected rainfall,
Father’s clock of life will tilt, tilt, tilt,
as Mother lets out her sighing breath.

You were never here, She will whisper,
and His hourglass will flip, begin again.

She ripped the paper from the notebook, folded it once in half, twice, thrice, then set it inside an unlabeled jar, sealed it like the others. What to call this one, she wondered, meaning the container. “The other voice?” she said, considering. “The pool?” she said. “Un-Aggie, or Anti-Agatha?” You’re not right in the head, talking to yourself like this, she thought, which meant it was time to get out of bed. She dressed into dry clothes from her backpack. She had only a few outfits on her, figured that’s all she’d need until deciding where to go. Wisconsin, maybe.

The uncertain fears from the night before she pounded as nails into planks to cover the larger gaps where siding had otherwise dilapidated or had weathered away as fine as stardust. The roof could wait, she knew, and so could replacing the soaked hay. What mattered now was confirmation of the main house being empty, that she was truly alone on this farm.

As an afterthought, she took out the poem and slid it into her pocket instead. She’d hide it in the world like she had all the others. No sense keeping it. No sense keeping the forgiveness jar either, if nothing’d ever go in it, so she took that with her too, and left the barn.

20200401_194341

The storm had slicked the earth, every surface glimmering.

Hammer at her side, she and the forever-unforgiven jar of nothing went to the house. She imagined different conversations, what she might be asked, how she might respond if someone were there. On my bike and riding past this place when the storm hit, she’d say. The hammer? Oh, I found that in the barn. Protection, she’d say, but from what? I camped in your barn, sir, to get out of the rain, see, and—

No one was home, though. Not a car in sight. The place deserted for years, perhaps. Dead weeds—wet dead weeds now, finally watered—sprouted around the place. Haunted, came to mind, which sent a shiver down her spine from what she’d thought she’d seen the night before, that little rectangle of yellow light, but as she approached, curtains at that window were drawn at a diagonal, as if one side of the rod holding them had fallen.

Would have seen a triangle of light, she wondered, not a square. And no movement inside, for nothing inside (besides spiders and other bugs) had stirred for some time. Years.

The front door would be locked, she knew, because it had been locked the day before. The only way in, she knew, was the kitchen window on the opposite side. She went to the door anyway, set the jar down, and knocked. The doorbell only depressed. No electricity.

You were never here, Agatha mused, one of the lines of the poem in her pocket.

She knocked again.

“Hello?”

See, no one’s here, Agatha told her younger mind. She then used the back of her fist to pound against the door, loud enough for anyone in the house to hear. She recalled grade school chalkboards, little Aggie licking that same part of her hand, pressing it against the chalky green to make a wet baby-foot image with her spit, then licking the tip of her finger and tasting the chalk and making five little toes. Baby feet. You’ve got baby feet, child-of-mind. No one’s here.

Aggie dared her older self to try the knob, teasing her that it would turn and the door would open because someone was waiting for her—a dare as juvenile as closing one’s eyes in a bathroom while holding a candlestick and chanting Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary and opening them to find you’ve conjured her apparition as a witch or ghost in the mirror, an impossible act of catoptromancy.

Still locked, she discovered, as expected.

Yet to be absolutely certain, she’d need to go inside, again.

The kitchen slid open with ease, allowing entry by an old-fashioned weighted window. She placed the forgiveness jar on the counter next to the sink, levered herself inside. A rat scurried across the floor, but rats’re cowards unless cornered, so it didn’t bother her. Aggie’s mom’d had a pet rat, Silky, one of younger Agatha’s earliest memories. Put it back in the damn cage, her father’d say, and mom’d say “Cages are meant for criminals, for those who do bad things,” though Aggie wouldn’t learn the difference between the two for a while.

Sunbeams yellowed the room and brought warmth to the old house, turned cobwebs invisible. She called out another hello, and the house answered silence.

She’d checked the kitchen the last time through, cabinets and drawers: silverware and plates, glasses and mugs, all one could expect in a kitchen, pots and pans, an abandoned coffee maker. But no food; scavenged over the years by squatters, maybe, by high-schoolers and college kids daring each other to the door, some making it inside and devouring, or devoured.

Room by room this second time through, she found more nothing; or, more appropriately, lots of things no longer with purpose, perhaps waiting for purpose. Things, waiting.

The place was fully furnished, but abandoned. Everything covered in off-white sheets to collect dust, as if every lamp and couch and cushion required rest without its occupants, or pretended to play ghost while dressed in linen.

Aggie pushed her onward.

She found the window in question, curtain rod tilted as she’d seen from outside. She set it right, then looked out the window at the barn, imagined an older version of herself staring across the field at her older self staring back. Come nightfall, she’d be the silhouette. Behind her was the candle, aged-yellow like the wallpaper. She smelled the wick, unburned for years. The small room had a porcelain toilet and tub like the bathroom of her youth, no shower. A splash of déjà vu: a familiar crack in a tile by the door, the same wooden-framed mirror hung slightly kinked.

Similar, she convinced herself, but not the same as back home.

And then it all came rushing in at once, the not-so-long-ago past. Chris pounding on the door. Picking the lock with a hair pin and barging inside as she cried on the throne. The red in his face, eyes wild. His smoky red aura of hate. The way he grabbed her wrists, both in one of his giant mitts, twisting, her bones grate-grinding as he pulled her into the adjacent room, tossed her with ease against the wall where she feta-crumbled to the floor. Say his name three times in the mirror under the glow of candlelight and he’d come for her again, and again, and again …

jars_08

Father’d taught her how to use a hammer right, how to look out for herself, how to tomboy, how to bury things deep in wood. But Chris’d wanted more than tomboy, and had taught her the past could be repeated, that adult life could mirror one’s youth.

Like this, he’d say, forcing her down, pulling her hair back, setting her mouth just right with ever-strong fingers, the ooh’s anything but fake (she always imagined the letter ‘O’ splitting her mouth apart one day), and cry again or clamp down’n I’ll rip your fuckin’ jaw right open as he’d have his way with her, any ol’ way, sometimes in a rush. But finally Agatha’d had enough and headstone-tipped the nail that was his head, cratered him out of anger and irritation alike with the hammer. Eye dangling. Cool as always. His breath a panicked gasp. Red spattered against the white, always. Thought-flashed like this in her mind, always. And she’d left him that way, a little damaged, a little dead but not quite. She’d ridden away from him on bike.

It had only taken one swing, like father’d taught her, and she hadn’t missed. Cannon ball, she’d imagined with that far-but-innocent adult mind only days ago, making a perfect-round splash of hot gore, not so little, the sap of his mind rising to the surface. Good, Agatha, just like that, she’d told herself, then. There you go, breathe (sipping panic-attack wisps of air, then guzzling deeper wheezes), and don’t tell anyone ’bout this or no one will ever take you as serious. If her father’d ‘growed her up’ at seven or eight, Chris’d ‘growed her up’ at twenty-seven even more so. She imagined she brought his IQ down to single-digits with a single swing.

Stripped age, youth by force.

Chris’d taught her more than one should ever learn from a spouse.

Agatha thought of tipping his headstone and smiled.

20200401_194305

jars_09

She stayed in the farmhouse until full dark, the passing of time immaterial to death, as light is insignificant to night. Light is insignificant tonight, little Aggie mused. Her older, wiser self lit the candle in the bathroom mirror with one of the lighters she’d purchased from the general store, from the Joe Hill or Owen King lookalike, and made her way to a shelf next to the fireplace and pulled a copy of their father’s novel Lisey’s Story—about the language of love, of all things—and slid her poem between the pages for another to find, maybe someday, maybe never. The empty jar labeled “forgiveness” found a new home as well, placed in the pantry on an equally empty shelf. Someone might find a use for it, or it might go unnoticed until the very end. She returned to the mirror, stared through herself at the small yellow window behind her.

“Agatha, Agatha, Agatha,” she said to the woman in the tent: her reflection.

jars_10

The next morning she hammered the rest of the “shame” and “pity” nails into the roof of the barn, careful with the ladder and with her footing. She drove every nail straight, most in a single swing or two, rarely three. A few small craters, some cracks in the reclaimed wood, but she wasn’t staying long. The weak barn needed another week, long enough for her bruises to turn from purple to yellow to gone. And then she’d be gone.

Black shapes watched from the woods, peering between willow trunks then slipping back. Black shapes watched from inside the farmhouse.

Agatha visited her mother each morning, knelt beside her, flipped over the rock. “Hi, mom,” she’d say (her parents always mom and dad, never Mom and Dad). “I know you’re not really there, but are we ever? I’ll never forgive dad. And I’ll never forgive you for leaving me with him, for what you let happen. And I’ll never forgive Chris for what I let happen. And I’ll never forgive myself for what I’ve done …” She’d usually trail off, then, her mind pulled to the woods or to the house, or to her unfinished work on the barn.

The roof still leaked during hard rains, but not as much.

She still cried nightly, but not as much.

jars_11

“Shiner’s looking better, barely noticeable,” the man in the blue smock said. It was a decent walk to Bookman’s, but nice after the change of seasons. “Last of the rain for a long while,” he said.

She’d left her Schwinn leaning against the wall in the barn, brought her backpack this time, took only what she needed, and bought from him only what she’d need. She’d left the tent, her sleeping bag. She’d left the Blanton’s there as well for someone else to find. Once pulled from the barrel and bottled, whiskey, or bourbon in this case, never went bad. Days or years or generations from now, someone’d stumble on the bottle, pull off the metal horse stopper and take a slug, and it’d be just as good. Not much in life was that certain. One’s time tended to spoil.

Where she’d go, she didn’t know. She only knew that her new path started at the edge of the woods, at the willows, for the shadows there continued to call for her, and she could no longer ignore them, lest she stay in the barn forever, haunted by their hiding and seeking.

Not to mention the new ghosts who’d recently taken over the farmhouse, perhaps a bunch of kids dared to touch the door, to ring the doorbell, to knock. One in particular, Oliver, seemed as though he’d stay a while, maybe until the end of summer, maybe forever.

“How was it?”

“How was what?”

“The spirits.”

Agatha smiled. “Best I ever had. You got any books?”

He pointed behind her at an old spinning rack of paperbacks.

Inside an old dog-eared copy of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, she slipped in a folded piece of paper, a snippet of a poem she couldn’t quite finish during her short time there:

The shell,
same shade as the rest,
begins to crack.

Life explodes,
reborn.

jars_12

There was Agatha.

jars_13

There is Agatha.

Right.


Agatha’s story continues here:

agathas_barn_logo_pt2


I hope you enjoyed this strange tale, Glenn’s illustrations, and every other piece of writing, art, music, poetry, or what-have-you inspired by Josh Malerman’s Carpenter’s Farm currently (and soon-to-be) popping up around the Internet. Since this pandemic started, I haven’t been able to focus on writing anything other than poetry, so thank you, Josh, for getting me out of this rut! After reading the first four chapters of his novel-in-progress, and Shane Douglas Keene’s chapter-by-chapter corresponding poems, (seriously, read them), I reached out, asked if Josh would mind if I wrote a tie-in short story, he said to go for it, and so I hashed out this story in a single day. I started writing at around noon on a Saturday and multiple drafts / edits by midnight.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed!

The story continues soon …


Support Independent Writers / Editors / Publishers

If you feel like making a donation to Written Backwards (even just a dollar), know that your money will be going to a good cause: helping an independent writer, editor, and publisher survive in this cruel world.

$1.00

Written Backwards can be contacted via email at written@nettirw.com, or reached on social media at facebook.com/nettirw or twitter.com/nettirw.

  1. April 13th, 2020

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: