Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Stephen hurled a burning oil-lamp at the two figures looming over his mother’s coffin. The demons burst into flames, twisting and screaming as they sent lumps of charred and rotted flesh flying about the parlor. The white-haired hag on the ancient stairs hissed a warning as Stephen covered Camille’s face with his jacket and they crashed through a glass window onto a sagging porch. “Run,” he shouted.
“No, we should go back inside and politely thank our lovely host,” Camille snickered. Stephen’s prom date was already three steps ahead of him. “We don’t want to appear rude,” she yelled over her shoulder.
A large combine, sending cut, translucent, pod-shaped vegetables up a conveyor belt and into a truck-bed, stopped at the end of a row. The shadowy driver leaped from the harvester and scuttled forward on rotted legs that clacked as it jumped rows. Fleshless skull eye-sockets tracked them from under a black hood. Stephen gripped Camille’s hand as they fled around the side of the decrepit house and sprinted toward a straw-stack. The wretched old woman crooned from the doorway. Her carefully constructed English words were now being distorted by her anger. “Run Johnny-cakes run. I’ll fetch my furcă and a mic of butter … and then we’ll have cina.”
Stephen and Camille covered themselves with loose straw, seconds before a group of hooded workers carrying scythes and pitchforks, searched everywhere for them. “We can’t delay a harvest of souls for two delicioase bites that show up neinvitate,” the old woman complained to the largest. “Back to work you skags! I’ll have Bluthund nose-out their locuri de ascundere (hiding places).”
“As you desire, Teroare,” the largest monster bowed, then led the others away.
“Do you really want to stay for dinner?” Stephen whispered under the straw. Camille’s fingernails digging into his flesh was answer enough. They listened as the searchers moved away and Stephen dared a peek. Teroare appeared across from the straw stack moments later clutching a curved horn from some unknown animal. She clambered up a mound of mossy field-rocks, placed the end of the horn in her wrinkled mouth, and blew three shrill blasts that sounded like ice breaking on a frozen lake. “Come to me Blunthund,” she screeched. "Vino la mine!"
Teroare lurched through an apple-orchard toward a well with a thick rope dangling from a hand crank. The old hag stuck her head inside the rock-lined shaft and her raspy voice echoed inside. “Come out Johnnycakes and we’ll have us a quick nibble …” Her voice spewed hate and venom. “Stay! and you’ll ripen like goat cheese.”
“We have to move!” Stephen nudged Camille.
“What?” Camille sputtered. “She hasn’t found us.”
“But she will,” Stephen told her. “I’ve a feeling whatever creature she summoned is very good at sniffing-out … Johnnycakes.”
Stephen and Camille ran to the shed the old woman had just vacated.
The small out-building was filled with farm-tools, bones and fertilizer. A skull, placed on a workbench, held down a stack of papers at one end of the room. Camille lifted the bone and read from a notebook. “Isn’t your mother’s name Louise?”
“Yes,” Stephen shivered as he thought about the body the horrible creatures had carried into the house.
“Well, according to this, your mother isn’t dead, and she won’t be until after she’s been planted and then harvested.”
Stephen snatched the notebook and scanned down a list of names. “You’re right,” he gasped as he comprehended the book-keeping. “Here is a listing for Lavar Hicks. His soul was planted on July third and harvested on July fourth of last year. That’s the day he got ran over by a freight-train at Townsend railway crossing. People in Cloverdale had a double-reason to celebrate Independence Day. Hicks was a dirty bastard, he’d shoot any animal that wandered onto his property. It was rumored that he kept kittens in a cage to lure curious dogs to their deaths.”
Camille cracked open the shed-door and peered out. Her gasp made Stephen drop the notebook. “What is it?” He moved beside her.
Teroare stood on a wooden barrel fastening a rusted chain to a towering two-legged brute that looked as if it might be a cross between a bear and a bull. Shaggy, filthy, matted-hair sprawled over a black wrinkled snout with flaring nostrils that sniffed the air in all directions. A pair of upward curving horns looked as sharp as pitchfork tines. Blunthund opened his mouth and roared, showing rows of enormous teeth. Nested birds flew in all directions from the orchard. “Where’s Lavar Hicks when you need him?” Camille moaned.
“She’s already looked here once,” Stephen said. “But that doesn’t mean her pet won’t poke his ugly snout inside.” He dragged a bag of steer manure from a stack and opened it. “You look so pretty,” Stephen grimaced. “I hate to do this.”
“You certainly are different,” Camille mused as she smeared handfuls of the sterilized cow-poo on her dress and arms. “Most of my prom dates just give me a corsage.”
Stephen glanced outside. The beast was rampaging through the straw-stack throwing clumps of straw with its claws. Stephen poured the rest of the fertilizer around Camille as she sat on the floor and then dumped another over them both as he sat beside her. He let the empty sacks fall on top as if the fertilizer had spilled of its own accord.
Blunthund’s enormous head squeezed through the doorway moments later. Nostrils as large as gopher holes sniffed the air and dripped moldy ick on the wood plank floor. Teroare tugged on the chain trying to pull the beast back. “I’ve already looked in there,” she spat. “I’ll not have you dripping snot on my record books.” The creature crinkled its long nose in distaste, and peered around the room with dark murderous eyes for a long moment. The homicidal gaze of the brute lingered for what seemed an eternity on the piled fertilizer before the creature backed out.
Camille’s head popped up from the dried dung a second before Stephen’s. “Feelin' down and dirty, feelin' kind of mean..” Camille sang the words to the Foreigner hit-song with whispered falsetto as she brushed away the gunk.”
“I've been from one to another extreme,” Stephen laughed as he added the next line and then rose and staggered toward the door. He didn’t make it. He slipped in a puddle of Blunthund’s gooey slime and landed on his back.
Camille stood over him and giggled. She could tell he wasn’t seriously hurt. “Most guys don’t fall for me until after we’ve had our first kiss-” she lifted him to his feet. Her cheeks were smudged with grime but her eyes were as bright as sapphires glistening in water. Stephen brushed a clump of dust from her chin and then his lips touched hers.
“My God! It’s the Axegoon Murderer!” Camille later gasped as she and Stephen watched the demonic farm workers from behind a group of trees. The giant harvester had finished reaping the field only an hour before and already an enormous machine towing a trailer filled with coffins was moving up and down the rows digging enormous round holes in the soil and dropping black boxes, like the one Stephen’s mother had lain in, vertically into the ground with a loud thump as each one was covered and compacted. The hooded figure that had startled Camille, was dragging a large axe as he lurched up and down the freshly furrowed fields ahead of the planter obviously making sure the rows were planted straight.
“That’s my mother!” Stephen and Camille watched as a slightly charred coffin with Transport Des Morts carved on the side was inserted into the ground.
“We can’t help her now,” Camille told him. “We have to leave while we can.”
The two hadn’t walked far when they heard the sound of an engine running. They watched from behind a clump of bushes as one of the large trucks that had been receiving produce from the harvester backed up to a moon-lit pond. Giant hydraulics lifted the truck-bed and began to empty thousands of human-shaped translucent pods between the gaping jaws of an enormous fish that had wiggled half-way out of the water. The green monster grinned as it displayed rows of spear-like teeth from a mouth as large as a railroad tunnel.
“So that’s what is going to happen to my mother after she’s harvested?” Stephen turned and started back.
“We can’t go back!” Camille protested. “We’ve narrowly escaped getting caught twice. It will be morning soon. The fog is lifting. I’m sure we can find our way out of this hellish part of Comanche County and bring back the police!”
Stephen pointed to several rows that had already been planted. Leafy stems were sprouting from the ground under the moonlight. A few already were developing the strange seed-pods that resembled the humans from which they spawned. “The time from planting to the harvest must be less than an hour this time of year,” he said. “That’s my mother out there. If I don’t put a stop to this, her soul will grow into nothing more than a few nibbles for a gluttonous fish.”
“Alright, I’m with you,” Camille gulped as she followed. “But we can’t just go running out in the fields. I think these dead land farmers must do something to the people before they plant them, make them sick or something. That’s what will happen to us if we get caught.”
“Do you have any ideas about how we’re going to get my mother out of there?” Stephen was confused and frustrated and he knew Camille had a better mind for figuring things out.
“I think I might have,” she told him. “Do you still have that lighter?”
“It’s disgusting how many people have been planted and harvested in Comanche County in just the past year,” Camille said as she tore pages from the notebook. They were both inside the shed the old woman had retrieved the horn from; the shed where she kept her records. Stephen was dragging everything he could find, that would burn, into a pile next to the doorway.
Camille noticed several stacks of similar notebooks under the workbench as she blew dust off from a cover and looked for more paper. “This has been going on for years,” she gasped. “The date on this harvest entry is April nineteenth, seventeen thirty-four!”
“That’s impossible,” Stephen said as he smashed a wooden pallet and broke the boards into kindling. “There were only Sioux, Blackfoot and Crow Indians and maybe a few snow-bound trappers living in this part of Montana in the eighteenth century.”
“You’re right about that,” Camille gasped. She began to read some of the entry names out loud: Running Fox, Laughing Buffalo, Sky Spirit, Afraid of Bears … these aren’t your typical Irish potato-famine immigrants that these ghouls have been planting for hundreds of years.”
Stephen twisted one of the empty fertilizer bags around a broken rake handle and made a crude torch. “I hope this plan works,” he said as he lit the dry paper.
‘It should,” Camille told him as she tore pages from an even older record book that looked like it had been written with a faded brown liquid; perhaps blood. “You remember how all the workers came running when we escaped from the farm house. What do you think is going to happen when one of their buildings catches fire?”
“Get ready to run,” Stephen said as he pulled Camille to the doorway. “We don’t want to be here to find out.
The pile of kindling caught fire quickly, too quickly! Seconds later the small fire was a roaring inferno and beginning to spread. Stephen heard Camille scream just as he started to turn.
Teroare, the white-haired hag from the house had Camille gripped tightly by the neck with her bony fingers. ‘I’ve never had this much probleme with a meal before,” she hissed as she reached for Stephen. “The bodies we receive here are but vessels for the soul without form or substanţă. I have hungered for fresh umane flesh for many long centuries.”
“I’ll bet you have!” Stephen wiggled free from her claws, stepped back and then thrust the burning torch into the woman’s face. Camille jerked free.
Teroare screamed as she twisted and danced in the flames. A smell like rotted apples left in a pile by a lazy farmer and finally set ablaze filled the air.
Strangely, Teroare softly sang a child’s lullaby as she began to be consumed.
My rulouri are ten for a penny.
Any less … and I haven’t any.
The pret you pay for anything.
Is equal to all durere you bring.
Stephen and Camille were watching from the trees when the first workers started to arrive at the fire. Several of the hooded workers tried to stomp out the flames and were sent running in all directions when the black robes they wore caught fire. Teroare was nothing more than a large glowing ember as she floated toward the stars. Still her lingering song could be heard on a gentle night breeze:
“I lăsaţi you now but I’ll be back.
Sun go backward, day turn black.
Sleep in pat with open eye.
To see me vin before you die.
Blunthund, the hairy beast Teoare used as a tracking animal, hoisted a massive dripping, three-hundred gallon livestock water-tank, that must have weighed over a ton, into the air and carried it in his bulging arms to the inferno. Undercover of the resulting blast of steam, Stephen and Camille dashed into the fields.
“I don’t see your mother!” Camille moaned as she searched up and down the rows. Most of the fast growing plants were already producing pods, tiny growing faces that resembled the people who were going to die when the harvest came.
“Here she is!” Stephen shouted. The commotion of the workers trying to put out the fire on the other side of the steam curtain concealed his voice. Stephen gasped. “All three of her!”
Three, three-dimensional figures growing from what looked like a strange Okra plant captured Louise Richards’ facial features in exacting detail, two younger but the last looking pretty much the same as when Stephen had last seen her only hours before.
“It’s too late to dig up her soul vessel,” Camille said remembering how the old woman had described Stephen’s mother lying in the box. “I think her essence now resides in these pods.”
The steam was lifting; the workers almost had the fire under control. Several of the demons were beginning to look toward the fields. Stephen closed his eyes for a moment afraid that he would make a mistake. A look of grim determination came into his eyes. He picked all three pods and put them in his jacket pocket … and then they ran.
It was growing light on the eastern horizon as Stephen and Camille made their way through the trees. “I must say you really know how to treat a girl on a first date,” Camille giggled.
“I’m so sorry,” Stephen apologized. “What on Earth are your parents going to say?”
“I think they will be sad for a while, but nothing in this world lasts forever, not even grief.”
“What are you talking about?” Stephen was beginning to get nervous. Camille linked her arm with his.
“This whole night has been strange,” Camille said. “Too damn strange!” She leaned over and kissed Stephen. “I’ve felt like I was in a dream the whole time and I still do but it’s the kind of dream that I’m sure we are not going to wake up from.”
“I’ve felt kind of the same way,” Stephen stammered. “But more nightmare than dream!”
“How often in your dreams do you watch the sun rise?” Camille asked him.
“It takes a lot more than sleep to make that happen,” Stephen agreed.
A vivid spot of illumination appeared on the dark horizon. It grew in intensity and magnitude until the entire eastern sky was glowing brilliant white. Stephen’s favorite songs filled the air with unbelievable stereo ambiance and so did Camille’s. Each listened to the special harmonies of angels singing along to the rhythm of their own heartbeats and desires.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” Camille said.
And then they walked into the light.
“You found them?” Louise Richards’ hopeful expression turned to fear when she saw the look on the policemen’s faces.
The first officer removed his hat and stepped respectfully into the kitchen without being asked. The other followed a few steps behind. “We found your car on Canyon Road,” he stammered. “It appears your son …” He gulped as he looked at a tiny notebook in his hand. “And a Miss Camille Foster failed to negotiate a turn, probably because of the heavy fog last night and crashed through a barbed wire fence.”
“Are they all right?” Louise felt like putting a hand over the officer’s mouth … she didn’t want to hear what it was that he didn’t want to say. She felt as if she might faint and felt the other officer support her arms as he led her to a chair.
“The car they were riding in struck a concrete irrigation-canal levy…” tears flooded from the policeman’s eyes, “…and they were both pronounced … dead at the scene.
Hours later, Louise sat in her kitchen staring out the window. On A Cloud Garden, Cloverdale’s only funeral home, had just delivered Stephen’s blood-soaked suit in a plastic bag along with his other belongings. Louise forced herself to remove the clothing from the bag. She was so weary now, when earlier in the night she’d miraculously recovered from her illness and felt like she had the energy of three women. The blood would have to be cold-water soaked from the jacket and pants before they could be laundered. There was just not enough money to bury her son in anything else.
She felt a lump in the jacket pocket as she opened the lid to her washing machine. Three chunks of Okra and a Bic lighter appeared in her hand. Stephen was always lighting the old gas burners, but she wondered where the odd vegetables come from. “What a strange thing for Stephen to have in his pocket,” Louise said as she held the seed pods up to a dim light bulb.