Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Down on the Farm

City kids should never be left to roam a farm. Daddy warned us about minding where we walked and being aware of enormous, dangerous equipment, but my sister and I pelted from one place to another, poking our noses wherever they didn't belong.

Of all the stupid things we did, nothing beat our brilliant idea to play in the grain bin. The previous day, we’d been tasked with shoveling oats into the augur. Ankle deep, there was no escaping the grasshoppers – metallic blue, brilliant crimson, and virulent green – that jumped up out of the wagon, only to be eaten by free-range chickens. When the grain got low, we helped the bugs over the side, just to watch the birds flock and squabble.

Funny how fast you can adjust to things that used to creep you out.

With everyone somewhere else, we scrambled up the augur like a twisted ladder, until we could see inside. The granary was filled with corn, oats, and wheat, the smell and texture richer than expected. Thick walls separated each section, with a framework of cross-beams above it all.

Years of gymnastics training made that series of thick wooden joists irresistible. I dared Yancy to walk from one end of the building to the other.

She grinned at me. “Piece of cake.”

And it was, for her. She was graceful, all long legs and lean muscle. I thought she was the most beautiful girl. I envied her dark auburn hair and pale green eyes, so sensitive to the light she almost never went out without sunglasses. Just made her look cooler. She was two years and a whole world older than I, and in my eyes, she could do no wrong.

In her eyes, I was the baby sister who tagged along and ruined everything.

But not when we were at the farm. We had a united front, because we were the closest thing the other had to a friend way out there in the middle of nowhere. We stole eggs and hid them under featherbeds to see if they hatched. (They didn’t.) We conspired to get farm hands to let us ride on the trailer while they bailed hay. I could pretend she wasn’t watching their muscles bulge under thinning flannel or the way that one smiled and winked at us and that I wasn’t watching the hook and pull, hook and pull, hook and pull, mesmerized by his movements.

“Come on!” Yancy stood in a near-perfect arabesque. “Unless you’re a scaredy cat.”

Nothing worse than being thought a coward by the sister I worshipped. Even if it was stupid and she was mean to me and sometimes a bitch – though I would never use that word, because she’d kick my butt and then tell on me. So out I went, less steady on my thick legs, unsure of my balance. But I made it to where she'd been. She had advanced to the other side and was egging me on.

Sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel blinds you.

I hurried, wanting it to be over, thinking this wasn’t as fun as I’d expected it to be. The toe of my sneaker caught on a join. Flailing, I tried to regain balance, grace be damned. For a second, I almost made it. Then I was falling, my scream stuck in my throat so it came out a whistling wheeze, anticipating a pain that never came.


The grain was soft and warm and smelled like bread. Saved by wheat. I laughed. When she realized I was okay, Yancy laughed, too. I mimicked treading water, only instead of staying on top, I sank down with every stroke. Waist-deep, I finally realized I was stuck in quicksand.

Yancy said she’d go find rope. Heading back the way we came, she fell, too. That’s when we both started screaming. With a grand total of 12 people on a thousand acre farm, chances of being heard were slim, but we had to try.

Even though I tried to stay still, I kept sinking. Yancy kept my spirits up, in between bouts of yelling. She was still murmuring encouragement when I slipped under the grain and suffocated.

There was no walking toward the light, no release from whatever earthly burdens a 12-year old might have. It felt like an elephant sat on my chest, then beat me with its trunk for good measure. It hurt like hell.

I don’t know how long I was dead, but coming back was almost worse. The sun was too bright. My skin felt raw. The ache in my chest went deep. My father was pale and shaky, and Grandma was swearing in two different languages at once. Yancy was crying over me at the same time she was blaming me for the whole thing.

Three days later, when I was finally allowed to walk around on my own, I went into the barn – so enormous you can see it from miles away. I climbed up to the hay loft, where it was peaceful and I could be alone with my thoughts, and where there was nothing I could fall off of or through.

I should have stayed indoors and worked the jigsaw puzzle with Mom. Because there, at the end of the loft, stood my great grandfather, still wearing his butcher’s apron, telling me in broken English why he hanged himself and how sorry he was Grandma found him there.

“O-o-okay,” I stuttered, unsure what he wanted. And then he disappeared.

I fled the barn as fast as I could, but it didn’t change anything. No matter where I go, ghosts find me, looking for someone to hear their confessions, so they can head off to the place I didn’t get to go. After a while, I stopped trying to avoid them and made it my business.

So, that’s how it is I can do what I do. Now, tell me why you think your mother is haunting your bathroom.

This was written for the Write What You Know challenge over at Terrible Minds. Most of this happened, and the picture really is of the family barn where my great grandfather died.


  1. I'm glad you survived! This tale is written with truth anyway, but to know is hard, the near-suffocation, following the sibling worship/rivalry.
    The ghosts thereafter ... yeah, I can see that too.
    But scary, very scary.
    And what an impressive building.

  2. Yolanda Bailey9:12 AM

    Awesome, Becca! I do remember it a little differently, but of course, you are writing a "story" and you made it much more exciting and poignant. Keep up the good work, Sis, and come back to the farm soon!! Love, Yola

    1. Oh, it was definitely different! We were younger and less at odds than we'd be in our teen years. I did, however, think you were the prettiest, coolest girl in the world. :)

      I figured you wouldn't mind the fictionalization. It was such an interesting "adventure" - mostly because we survived it.