UnApologetics & Borderless Media Collective

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I am pleased to announce my work with Borderless Media Collective and UnApologetics.

Borderless Media Collective is a magazine/website/podcast out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, that focuses on global issues at the local level. I am a contributing writer and will be writing articles for the website and the magazine. Once the website is up and running I will make sure to do a follow up post to let you know where to find them. If you’re a fan of National Geographic, Jacobin, or The Baffler then I’m willing to bet you’ll enjoy Borderless.

On the flip side, I have started a podcast and blog called UnApologetics with a few other like-minded guys. We are also Grand Rapids-based, but focus less on local journalism. Our episodes and articles cover pop culture, history, social issues and (sometimes) politics with a dirtbag left slant. Basically, it’s irreverence to hide the crushing existential horror and frustration. We will host local art (this means music, graphic art, fiction and poetry), but won’t push away independent artists from outside the area (well, except for fan fiction unless it involves Reagan, Trump and Pat Robertson).

You can find Borderless on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on their website. If you want mature, earnest reporting then you should check them out.

You can find UnApologetics on SoundCloud, our website, Facebook (and YouTube soon). If you want immature, but honest and earnest opinions then you should check it out.

Basically, this is a call to action. Corporate media is an embarrassment and the conventional local press is waging a noble, but depressingly futile battle against the degradation of journalism. Borderless and UnApologetics serve as bulwarks against the corruption and erosion, and I’m excited to be part of both projects.

A luta continua!

 

 

Writing Update: Price Changes, Revisions, and Patreon

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I feel like it’s been a minute since I’ve talked about In the Land of God. Has it? I don’t know, but it sure seems like it. Not that I expect you guys and gals and everyone-in-between to be keeping tabs on my one and only novel the way I do, but on the off chance you do and have some questions, here are the answers.

Revisions:

Thanks to a helpful aunt with a keen eye, I’ve made some corrections to the first edition of In the Land of God. Nothing too major, and nothing that fundamentally changes the plot, just some grammatical mistakes that slipped through the cracks, and a few added/removed phrases that worked/didn’t work. Also, due to a formatting change, I had to increase the price of the paperback to $12 (USD) to maintain the expanded distribution, but at the same time I’ve changed the price of the eBook. Which brings me to…

eBook Version:

If you have bought an eBook version of In the Land of God prior to Monday,  or purchased a paperback copy at any time, let me know here, or drop me a line at the following email address:

jonesada@mail.gvsu.edu

It’s a PDF copy of the novel, and it is e-reader friendly. For the paperback purchasers who want the revised version of the manuscript, all I ask is that you take a picture of your copy with the barcode and I’ll send that file your way. Again, it’s nothing drastically different in terms of content, just a better product.

Speaking of the eBook version, I have reduced the price to $0.99 (USD). I know that some would argue that lowering the price seems to indicate a cheapening of the content, but in my opinion it’s simple economics. You and I both know that if we see something priced at less than a dollar (even if it’s a cent) we don’t have too many scruples with clicking “buy.” And at the same time, I felt that it was fair to reduce the price of the eBook to $0.99 since I had to raise the paperback price by two dollars.

Patreon:

The final bit of business and what constitutes as “news” for me is that I have started a Patreon page. For those of you who don’t know what Patreon is, it’s basically a way for independent content creators to make a little cash on the side in the way of donations. Right now, if you pledge $1 you get a free copy of the eBook, and it keeps the content free. Now, for someone who might be thinking, “But Adam, is this going to mean the end of the blog?” (some might say, “Oh thank God.”) my answer is a resounding no. I do this for fun (and maybe getting some book sales). The $1 pledge comes down to being a token of appreciation. I will never, never, NEVER figure out a way to throw up a paywall. Without getting too deep into my personal ideology, I don’t think that people should be extorted when it comes to creative content. If you enjoy what you consume, then I think you should pay for it, but at the same time I don’t believe there should be barriers to independent creatives. It hurts the audience and it hurts the artist.

In the Land of God is available on Amazon as a paperback and eBook.

You can click here to get updates about In the Land of God on Facebook.

Like I said, I’m active on Patreon, and if you want to donate you can click here.

Feel free to leave comments below, or click on the blue bird to find me on Twitter.

Until next time!

A lute continua (the struggle continues)

Writing Update: Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters; eBook Giveaway; Print Discount

Writing Update: Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters; eBook Giveaway; Print Discount

In the Land of God is FREE on Kindle from March 14-18. 50% off with discount code on the Createspace store. Check below for details!

Update! As of tonight, In the Land of God has risen to the #11 spot in “Literary Sagas” under the “Top 100 Free” eBooks on Kindle, and #38 in the “Historical Fiction” category under “Top 100 Free.”

You know that saying about plans, and mice, and men and how they often don’t go exactly as planned?

Well if you don’t, I’m in a little situation like that. Not, “my challenged friend killed my employer’s son’s wife” situation, but something that made me say, “Dammit, me!”

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First the good news!

This past Wednesday I met with one of the people in charge at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. For those of you not from the Grand Rapids area (or if you are from the area and don’t know what that is), it is a place for writers to work and sell their work. I’ll be making In the Land of God available through them as well as the usual channels, and in due time it will be available on  their online store and at their location in downtown Grand Rapids. I’ll make sure to keep you all posted when that happens.

Speaking of availability, back to the bad news.

Last week, I mentioned that I would be doing a promotional deal for In the Land of God, and…

It didn’t happen.

Mea culpa.

To make it up to everyone, I will be running two separate promos.

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The eBook version of In the Land of God will be FREE from March 14 – March 18.

You can go to Amazon and download it for FREE from tomorrow through Saturday.

(The other promotion is for the print version.)

Go to the Createspace store and enter the following code for 50% off the list price.

2KGQ6Z4D

(Expires March 31)

Feel free to follow me here, or click on the Twitter logo up top to follow me there. You can also “like” In the Land of God on Facebook.

Also, feel free to leave a comment below, and if you pick up a copy of In the Land of God, reviews are always welcomed.

Thanks for reading.

A luta continua!

 

 

Laker News Interview about In the Land of God & Upcoming Deals

Below, you can watch the interview I did with Kyle Bindas from GVTV Laker News about In the Land of God. If you want to check out more of their work you can find them at that Facebook page, and on their YouTube channel.

The interview begins at 2:18.

In other news, for many of you who are still in college it’s spring break season. On Monday, keep your eyes peeled for a promo I’ll be launching in celebration of spring break for In the Land of God.

In the Land of God is available on Amazon as an eBook and paperback.

 

Writing Update – 2/24/2017 (New purchases & interviews, and New projects)

First off, I want to thank recent (and semi-recent) purchasers of In the Land of God. I also want to thank whomever left the recent five-star review on Amazon. I don’t know what is more affirming, seeing a new sale (hurray, people were willing to pay for my work!) or seeing a positive review of something I wrote (hurray, strangers don’t think my work sucks!)

I also want to thank Grand Valley TV for a chance to be interviewed by Kyle Bindas (which should be ready to watch in the near future), and the Grand Valley State University Book Club for the chance to speak at their meeting on the 16th. I honestly can’t decide whether the speaking event was exciting, or nerve-wracking. Maybe a little bit of both? Exciting-wracking? Nerve-exciting? I don’t know. You’d think a writer would be better at concision and precision.

Anyway…

Now that the Oscar-style thank you speech is out of the way, on to new business.

For those of you that don’t know, I wrote a post a while back about my next novel and an upcoming anthology of horror stories. To elaborate, the next novel that I’m working on (sort of) is a tragic romance set during a future global conflict. It is set over the course of a summer and consists of three, interconnected plot lines. One plot focuses on a soldier caught up in the war, a priest who is confronted with the reality of his nationalism, and a young couple fresh out of high school grappling with the harshness of their coming-of-age. I’m sure it sounds all very pretentious and gloomy, but hey, it’s a story I’ve been kicking around in my head since high school and I figure there’s no time like the present to write it.

The other project, the anthology of horror stories, will come from myself and the cover artist for In the Land of God, Micah Chapin. To give an idea of what it will be like, the plan is to have stories that range from Weird Fiction (a la H.P. Lovecraft sans overt racism), to existentialist horror, to apocalyptic horror reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s. I’ve written a few of the stories, and truth be told I haven’t talked with Micah about that project in a minute, but there’s more headway with that project than with the second novel.

Part of it is good old procrastination, and part of it is just…life getting in the way. Wrapping up my college career, work, and just living tend to be pretty big obstacles to getting writing done (not that I would trade any of them for more time to write. Although a Faustian deal for better time management skills would be alright. I kid.)

Perhaps the biggest reason those projects have gotten neglected is because I just banged out the rough draft of something I’ve never done before, and no, it is not fan fiction. After being inspired by Hamilton (it’s so damn good) and current events, I decided to try my hand at writing a play. Why a play? Well, why not? That’s not much of an explanation, though. Here’s a better one. I want my writing to have a cinematic feel, I think cinematic writing is easier for modern audiences to digest. That’s not a dig, the reality is we live in an extremely visual society, and we have for the better part of a hundred years. Why not make your writing accessible for your audience? Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t take a paragraph or two to wax philosophic, but the majority of the story should create a vivid film in a reader’s head. Plus, if I’m being honest, it’s more fun to write that way. Where were we? Oh, right, writing a play. Anyway, my takeaway from the rough draft is that it’s a completely different animal. The formatting is different, the conventions are different, even the process of getting the final product in the open is a different beast. I self-published In the Land of God not only because of principle, but because it was feasible to self-publish. You can’t really self-publish a play. I mean, you totally can, but the real name of the game is getting the play produced. That’s easier said than done, and it means either throwing my hat into the ring for a contest, or finding a theatre willing to produce the play. The other difference is that getting a play produced is different than getting a novel published. Sure, a novel relies on a lot of moving parts (an editor, possibly an agent, a publishing platform, people to get the novel into the hands of readers, readers in general), but a play, right out of the starting gate requires more people to make it a reality. It sounds like I’m pulling a 180 in terms of my philosophy, but in all honesty it doesn’t feel that way. I still love the independence of writing, but I also realize that it’s a different situation because it’s a different genre. Apples and oranges, spaghetti and pizza.

Anyway…

My point is, I wrote a play, and it feels pretty good to have done something and done it so quickly. It still needs work, and it needs to be expanded (it’s only about 61 pages long at the time of my writing this), but it feels like I have something. Part of me wants to embark on writing a musical, but at the same time I feel like a toddler that took his first steps and got so excited he signed up for a marathon.

If you have any comments, leave ‘em below, and you can follow me on Twitter by clicking the link up top. Also, if you have any tips when it comes to getting a play produced, feel free to leave them below (trust me, any help is greatly appreciated).

Thanks for reading.

A luta continua

In the Land of God is available on Amazon as an eBook and paperback.

 

In the Land of God Chapters VII – X; Interviewed for The Lanthorn 

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As some of you may know, I’ve been serializing my novel, In the Land of God. I’m planning on making the eBook available for free for a limited time in the near future, but for now, I’ll make it available this way. In the Land of God Chapters I – III and In the Land of God Chapters IV – VI are also available on this blog. If you’re interested in purchasing, it’s available on Amazon as an eBook and paperback.

Also, this past Wednesday I had an interview with my university’s newspaper, The Lanthorn, about In the Land of God. I’ll link that article as soon as it’s available!

Thanks for reading,

-Adam

P.S. Feedback is always welcomed in the comments section.

VII

 

In the days following the birth of Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham and Sarah wrote letters to the family back in Chicago. They wrote to say they would come up for Thanksgiving, and maybe for Christmas too. Abe and Eli told the other farmers, some of them simply offered congratulations, while others came to the farm to see the children and praise Sarah. The only farmer never to be told was Phil, but he knew. He watched through his back windows, saw the coming and going of happy people and he knew. The pariah kept away from the joy and purity. He scowled and retreated from the sight. Winter was coming and he had bigger things to concern himself with.

The last, shimmering bits of summer vanished with October. Eli and Abe hauled the bags of seed to the cellar, and made other preparations for the winter.

One day near Thanksgiving Eli came to Abe and said, “You know Abe, if you didn’t want to do too much traveling with the boys, you could always stay in Chicago for the duration.”

“What would you do?”

“I could stay down here, watch over the place.”

Abe nodded, “You could do that.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a train ticket. “Or you could come with us to Chicago.”

“No, no I couldn’t impose on you like that.”

“Well, it’d be more of an imposition for you to stay since I already bought you a ticket,” Abe responded with a smile.

Eli took the ticket and held it, “I don’t understand why you’d have me come with you. I’m not family.”

Abe looked like Eli had struck him, “Eli, you helped with the delivery of my sons, you helped build my house, you gave us this land. Why wouldn’t you be family?”

Eli looked down and shrugged.

“You are the closest thing to a good and true grandfather my boys will ever have. I want you to believe that, Eli.” Abraham paused then said, “You have become more of a father to me than my own father.”

Eli continued staring at his feet, and when he looked up at Abe he said, “Alright Abe, I’ll go to Chicago.”

At Thanksgiving, they took the train from Quincy to Chicago. Abe and Sarah introduced Eli to the family. The family members regarded him with suspicion and contempt until Abe explained everything Eli had done to help in New Canaan. It’s easy to see an idea or a formless group as the enemy, but when you see an individual some of that animosity goes away. It vanishes entirely when that individual helped people you care about. If people had more time, then maybe all conflicts could be gradually resolved by just one person doing a handful of good deeds.

When Christmas approached Abe, Sarah, Eli, and the boys returned to Chicago. This time around the family welcomed Eli like an old uncle or a distant cousin, someone they knew existed, but had never seen. For so many years Eli had lived his life as a satellite that orbited families. He had been involved with so many families in New Canaan, but had never been a part of them; a public fixture, and nothing more. With Abe, Sarah and their relatives he felt a sense of belonging he didn’t realize he had missed. He couldn’t remember a holiday he hadn’t spent alone.

Still, when the festivities ended and he was left alone with his thoughts, Eli thought about Phil, that another old New Canaanite. Eli, the adopted father and grandfather, with Abraham and Sarah who loved him, with Isaac and Ishmael who would grow to love him.

Across the pond, across the property line, and across that dead field there was Phil. Alone in his house, filled with bitterness and regrets. It didn’t seem fair, but maybe it did? Eli, who had suffered so much, now getting his reward. A modern Job. Sometimes in the middle of the night, Eli would go out the backdoor and stare at Phil’s house in the distance, so dark and cold. He never saw smoke rising from the chimney and often wondered if Phil planned on freezing to death.

In the morning, the haunting thoughts left him. He would help Abe chop firewood or tend to some other chore, or he aided Sarah around the house or played with the babies. Eli found himself thinking, not in a morbid or depressed way, but in a matter-of-fact and gracious way: If this is the end of my life, that would be alright.

 

VIII

 

 

Spring came and the sun warmed the earth. Greenery and color returned to the fields and farms around New Canaan. Farmers emerged from their houses like the animals in hibernation. Abe and Eli went out to their own field to break the soil and sow their seeds. For the first few months they waited with anticipation. Then the sprouts burst through the soil and the men rejoiced. It was a small victory in a larger war, and they knew it, but that didn’t matter. At dusk, as the light faded the field glowed with the life of the vegetation. The farm seemed to turn into a fantastic realm where the body and the soul of the land seemed not of this world, where good and magical things happened and could happen.

The creek and pond helped bring water to the crops, and the sunlight fed them. Each day the men rose at dawn to tend to this endeavor. As the crops grew higher, so did their spirits. Sarah listened to Abe and Eli talk at night about their expectations at harvest, and their complaints of being tired. On one hand it amused her to hear these two men complain about the hard work. They had never known such labor! On the other hand she admired their energy and loved them for it. They sounded like little boys filled with naivete and optimism before they became hardened and cynical in adulthood.

One morning, Eli rose before Abe and went on a small expedition to find something special, something that could serve as a symbol for the farm. It seemed outdated for a family to have a crest, but the romanticism of the idea compelled him to look for the thing. Once he found it he moved it to the backyard where it could get plenty of sunlight and be seen anytime anyone went to the field for work.

He joined Abe and Sarah for breakfast, and after that brought Abe outside to see the thing.

“Did you put this here?” Abe asked Eli.

“I did, it seemed appropriate.”

“What kind of tree is it?”

Eli knelt down and said, “It’s an oak tree, a small one, but an oak tree nonetheless.”

“Why did you do this, Eli?”

Eli stood up and said, “The oak tree is powerful and strong. It stands against storms and it means unity. I’m not very religious, but I remember in Genesis, Jacob buries the old gods by an oak tree; renewal, and the start of something new. This oak tree means power, strength, unity, and the burial of the old. It seems appropriate, don’t you think?”

Abe knelt down by the sapling and held the small branches in his hands.

“It does seem appropriate,” he stood up and put a hand on Eli’s shoulder. “Thank you for doing this Eli.”

“It wasn’t all that much trouble, but you’re welcome.”

“I’m not saying it just because of the tree, but for all of this.”

“I did it because I believe in this land. I believe in you, and Sarah, and now your boys too. When I’m gone, you’ll carry on. After you’re gone, your boys will carry on, and their children, and on and on.”

 

Harvest time approached and a heat wave rolled over New Canaan. As Abe and Eli worked in the field, sweat poured out of their bodies and soaked through their clothing. In the heat of the afternoons they gasped for breath. Sometimes Eli retreated to the house of the barn, taking gulping breaths and drinking all the water handed to him by Sarah. He was a strong man, and a good worker, but the fact remained: he was an old man.

After the sun went down and the men could work no more, they went inside and ate dinner in silence, too tired to have a conversation. They ingested the food in front of them like threshers; mechanically and without feeling. Their bodies powered down like machinery, and they fell into the kind of sleep that hard-working men know well.

 

Every night, Eli fell into a deeper sleep, and in the morning he had more trouble waking up. Abe and Sarah had never addressed Eli’s mortality. He was like time or the universe; a constant. His death seemed as distant and unfathomable as the end of the world. Despite only knowing him for such a short time, a world without Eli seemed inconceivable.

On the final day of harvest the men worked hard, faster, in the hopes it would be their final day of work, and after it they could rest through the winter. Both men launched into their work in a near frenzied state. They fixated on completion, forgoing longer breaks and never pausing to rest. In a single day they did a few days’ worth of work, but despite that they knew their reward would be waking up without more work to be done.

By the afternoon the field laid bare, and the crops were stored in the barn waiting to be brought to market. Both of the men stood in the barn in a daze looking at the fruits of their labor. They said nothing and just stared, allowing their bodies and minds to relax. Eli clapped Abraham on the back and nodded with a faint smile on his lips. Sweat poured down his face and his mouth hung slightly open.

These men had given the earth their labor and hope and desperation to prove themselves, and in turn the earth gave back a bountiful harvest. For two men that had never farmed before, they had done alright. The crops took up the majority of the farm’s space giving it a fresh, verdant smell.

They left the barn after basking in the glory of the work. Abe had finally mustered up the strength to say, “I’ve never worked that hard in my entire life.”

Eli nodded without responding and kept shambling forward. When they reached the oak tree, Eli fell onto Abe, his face white and small drops of sweat beading on his forehead. Abraham caught him and eased him down to the ground. He dragged him to house and leaned him against the wall.

“Sarah! Get us some water!”

Abe pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped off Eli’s face. The old man’s head lolled and his eyes drooped.

“Must’ve been in the heat too long,” Eli muttered.

“Or you worked yourself too hard.”

Sarah came out the back door with a bucket of water and handed it to Abraham. He dunked the handkerchief in the water and rubbed Eli’s face with it. Rivers of sweat and water ran down the valleys of his face and dripped onto his shirt.

“We need to get him inside, Abe,” Sarah said when she truly saw Eli’s condition. “He needs to get out of the heat and lie down.”

“I’m fine, just a little tired is all,” Eli said ignoring the concern. He motioned to Abe, “Make sure he gets some water too. He’d let himself go thirsty if the rest of the world needed a drink.”

“I’ll get one after we get you inside.” Abe helped Eli to his feet. He went to put Eli’s arm around his shoulders, but Eli gently shoved away Abe’s arm.

“I can get there on my own, I’m alright, just need to get inside…”

Sarah said, “I’ll go make sure his bedroom window is open and that his bed is ready.”

Abe nodded, “Thank you Sarah.”

She walked through the back door while Abe and Eli followed behind. They stopped in the kitchen so Eli could lean against the table. He took shallow breaths and closed his eyes as sweat dripped onto the wood surface.

“Will you able to make it up the stairs alright?”

Eli swallowed and said in a hoarse voice, “I can, just make sure you’re behind me if I fall down again.”

He stood up and walked through the living room to the flight of stairs. Halfway up the stairs Eli stopped and placed one hand on the wall and one hand on the railing. Abe rushed up behind him and put his hands on Eli’s shoulders.

“I’m alright, Abe. I just needed to catchy m breath is all.”

He kept going, bent over and using the railing to pull himself along. When he reached the last step he fell forward landing on his hands and knees. Abe jumped up the last few steps and helped Eli to his feet. Sarah stood in the hallway and watched as Eli shuffled toward his bedroom. He walked over to the bedroom Isaac and Ishmael shared. They slept in their cribs, unaware of the tension and grim mortality that hung over them.

“They’ll grow up well, I know they will,” Eli said in a whisper. He turned around to face Abe and Sarah, “Let them see what they can accomplish if they work together, if they love each other. It’d be too awful to let this place go to waste.”

“We will Eli, we’ll raise them right.”

Eli put his hand on Abe’s shoulder and said, “I know you will.” It seemed to be a blessing from Eli, ensuring that the farm continued after his death, after Abe and Sarah’s deaths, and even after the boys’ deaths in the distant future.

When they got to Eli’s room, Abe and Sarah eased Eli onto his bed. He took slow breaths and stared at the ceiling. Sarah stood behind Abe and leaned forward to say, “Should we get the doctor?”

“I don’t need a doctor, I just need rest,” Eli said. “Don’t worry yourselves getting me a doctor.”

Sarah walked over and knelt at Eli’s bed. “If this about being weak or not looking like a man-”

Eli waved his hand, “No, no it’s nothing like that. I just want rest is all,” he closed his eyes and continued. “Getting old wears on a man. It wasn’t the work we did today, but the work of being alive. Breathing, feeling your heart beating, it becomes work on its own. It tires me, and I think I just want to rest.”

He opened his eyes to look at Abe and Sarah. Tears rolled down Sarah’s cheeks, and Abraham clenched his jaw trying to remain strong for his wife. Eli reached out and squeezed Sarah’s hand then Abraham’s hand. He smiled a little and said, “As selfish as it sounds, I’m glad someone’s crying for me. It’s nice to know someone will miss me when I’m gone.”

Sarah walked over to the bed and took hold of Eli’s hand. He smiled at her and placed his other hand on top of her hand. He looked to her and then Sarah and said, “I didn’t think I’d be this lucky.”

Sarah let herself go and flung her arms around Eli, openly sobbing. Eli patted her on the back and said, “I’m not dead yet.”

She regained her composure and returned to Abe’s side. He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to him.

“I’m not dead yet,” Eli repeated, “It’ll be alright when I do go, because I know that you two, your sons, you’ll all take care of this land. You two will remember me, and I know you’ll make sure the boys know of me.”

Abe and Sarah nodded, knowing Eli’s imminent death was at hand.

“That’s not my biggest concern, though. This land, this farm, all of it is your legacy now, and someday it can be your sons’ legacy too. Don’t let them take it for granted, because they might. All good things deserve sacrifice, toil, and the belief that they are good. Promise me you’ll make sure they know this farm is a good thing.”

Abraham and Sarah choked out, “We promise.”

Eli reached out and took Abe’s hand. He said in a quiet, but forceful voice, “Don’t let this be an empty promise.”

Abe shook his head and held onto Eli’s hand. “It won’t be,” he replied in a whisper.

Eli nodded, “I know it won’t, I just want to make sure you believe it won’t be.” He laid his head back and closed his eyes. “Now, if you don’t mind I’m going to get some rest. If you could just wake me up for dinner, I’d appreciate it.”

Abe and Sarah made their way to the door, but before they left Eli said, “Abe, don’t go looking for trouble with Phil, he isn’t worth it.”

“I won’t.”

There was a pause, then Eli said with his last bit of strength before falling asleep, like a man’s gasping breath before going underwater, “I love all of this, and all of you. I just wanted you to know in case…”

Sarah broke in before he could say it, “We love you too Eli.”

Abe wanted to return it, but couldn’t find the words to speak. Eli nodded without opening his eyes. Sarah went out the door first, and Abraham looked at Eli one more time before shutting the door. The sound of the door meeting the frame echoed down the hall, its finality deafening.

 

Later in the day, while Sarah put the finishing touches on dinner, Abraham went upstairs to wake up Eli. He opened the door and saw Eli lying in bed. His chest didn’t rise or fall and his body looked stiff, but relaxed. The color had retreated from Eli’s face, and the skin appeared waxy and gray.

“Eli?” Abraham said from the doorway. “Eli!” Abraham took stiff steps over to the bed. He put a shaking hand on the old man’s chest, expecting to find warmth and a heartbeat, but found neither. Abe pulled back his hand, then with both hands shook Eli, crying his name, “Eli, Eli, Eli!” Abraham sobbed and blood pounded in his ears.

Sarah heard Abraham’s cries, and she went upstairs to be with her husband. Throughout the afternoon she had prepared herself for this, the act of making only two dinners instead of three had helped her process the coming tragedy. When she went into Eli’s room she found Abe kneeling at the bedside, his head on the bed, and his body heaving with the cries.

Sarah stroked Abraham’s hair, and let it rest on the back of his neck. She leaned down and pressed her ear to Eli’s chest to confirm the reality for herself. There was no heartbeat, or raspy breaths, or rumblings coming from this body. The symphony of life had stopped playing, and now all there was, was haunting silence.

She knelt down beside Abe, and said in a shaky, saddened voice, “You need to go let the sheriff and doctor know.”

Abe either didn’t hear her, or ignored her.

“He knew it was coming, and at least we got to say good bye.”

Abraham raised his head and faced her. “I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”

She put a hand on his face, and she allowed herself to cry too.

The harvest had been achieved, but at a price. Like Eli said, all good things require toil and sacrifice, and in this case Eli had given work and his body to the earth. Crops filled the barn, enough to sell some and keep the rest for themselves. Was the trade worth it, though? Eli would have said it was worth it, but that was no great comfort for Abraham and Sarah.

Abe went into town and came back with the doctor and sheriff. After only a few moments upstairs the men returned to the living room. The doctor and sheriff shook their heads.

“After a while I thought he’d be around forever,” the sheriff said. “The way some of these people talked about him you’d think he was practically God himself.”

The doctor, only a little younger than Eli, said, “He was good to this town, gave people good land at fair prices, and remembered every person he sold land to. You’d have to be a real son of a bitch to not like him, or a real son of a bitch for him to not like you.”

After a pause the doctor said to Abe, “What do you plan on doing with the body? There’s a cemetery in town where he can be buried.”

Abe shook his head, “No, he loved this land and deserves to be buried here.”

“Well, how far will he be buried from your field?”

“I’m sure it’ll be far enough away from the field,” the sheriff interjected. He turned to Abe and said, “That’s fine Abraham, it would be the right thing to do for him.”

 

Word spread throughout New Canaan about Eli’s death the day after it happened. On that day Sarah prepared the body, and Abraham went into town to get materials to build a coffin. When he arrived at the general store the owner greeted him at the door.

“I’m guessing you’re here to build a coffin?” the owner asked Abe.

“Afraid I am.”

The owner waved Abe inside and led him into the back workroom. A mostly complete coffin sat on the ground. It needed sanding and some lining, but it was basically ready for Eli’s body.

“It’s pretty hard to keep things quiet around here as is, and when you came into town like that I knew something had happened. It’s a damn shame to lose him. I thought I could do him one last favor by making this for him,” the owner said motioning at the coffin.

Abe shook the owner’s hand and said, “Thank you.”

“It could still use some touching up, but the bulk of the work is done.”

“I appreciate that, and I know Eli would’ve appreciated it too.”

The two men loaded the coffin into Abe’s car, and before Abe left another man approached him; the town’s minister.

“You’re Abraham, right?”

“That’s me.”

The two men shook hands.

“I hope this isn’t too forward of me, but I haven’t seen you on Sundays, so I assume you’re not much of a religious man?”

Abe smiled a little bit and said, “No, not really. Are you going to try and convince me to be one now?”

The minister waved his hands and said, “No no no, that’s not what this is about. I’ll always welcome a lost sheep back to the herd, but that’s not why I wanted to talk to you. I know Eli wasn’t very religious either, but he meant a lot to this town. I’ve heard you’re planning on burying him on your land?”

“I think it’s what he would want.”

“Of course. Would you mind if I spoke at it? I’ll keep the focus on Eli, and nothing else.”

Abe considered the proposition for a moment then agreed to let the man speak.

“When will it be?”

“I was thinking tonight around sundown, no use in putting it off.”

“Then I’ll make sure to let people know. Expect a large crowd.”

When Abe returned to the farm he walked around his property searching for a fitting place to bury Eli. His gaze fell on the small oak tree and decided it only seemed right to make that the grave. He began digging, and after a while a few neighboring farmers and their wives arrived. The men helped Abraham dig the grave while the wives helped Sarah prepare Eli and take care of the boys.

By the late afternoon, every New Canaanite that could be there had gathered near the oak tree, all except for one man, but nobody expected him anyway. Abe and a few of the men brought the coffin out to the grave. The minister spoke honestly and briefly, celebrating Eli’s time in New Canaan and all the good he had done with his time on Earth. A few of the farmers and shopkeepers echoed those sentiments before Abraham’s eulogy.

Abe stood beside the coffin, and the way Eli looked took him by surprise. The old man appeared alive, but it was fake life; too clean and too polished to be real. Abraham placed a hand on the edge of the coffin, then began his eulogy.

“I didn’t know Eli for as long as many as you did, and part of me feels like I don’t have the right to say this eulogy, but Eli made a powerful impact on my life, on my family’s life, in a short time.

I don’t know how many of you know this, but he gave me this land if I agreed to let him stay with us and help us. Where we came from that sort of trade is unheard of, impossible even. He barely knew us, yet he trusted us enough to make that deal. I think that speaks to Eli’s character and this town’s character. This is a good, decent place and Eli was a good, decent man.

Eli helped build this house, helped bring my sons into this world, and as his last good act helped this farm have a bountiful harvest. I can’t think of too many people that would do so much for people they haven’t know that long.”

Tears formed in Abraham’s eyes, and he wiped them away with the back of his hand.

“Everyone here loved him, I know it. Sarah loved him, I loved him, and my sons will grow to love the man they never met. He loved New Canaan too. He came from a wealthy family, and he could have stayed there just to get bitter and angry, but he didn’t. Eli came to New Canaan and gave up his old life.

I don’t know much from the Bible, but there’s one verse that always stuck with me: ‘Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, and be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.’ Eli embodied the spirit of those words, and because I loved that man and have grown to love New Canaan, I will too.”

Abraham and a few of the other men placed the lid on the coffin. They lowered it into the grave and covered it with dirt. In due time the coffin would rot along with Eli’s body, and it would be returned to the earth to feed it. After the burial the crowd stood around for a bit then left to return to their homes.

One well-dressed man stayed behind and approached Abraham.

“Are you Abraham?”

“I am. What do you need?”

The man pulled an envelope from his coat and presented it to Abe.

“I’m with the bank in New Canaan, and this belongs to you.”

Abe took the envelope and opened it. He read the contents and his eyes widened.

“When did he do this?”

“A while ago when he sold his office. He came in and wanted to make sure you were his heir. He didn’t have any complicated accounts, but if you have any questions feel free to come in.”

Abe didn’t know what to say. He stood there holding the envelope and responded with, “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

The bank man nodded and said, “Sorry for the loss. He was a good man.” He turned around and walked away.

Sarah read the amount on the paper and put a hand to her mouth. Abe had tears in his eyes, and he used his sleeve to wipe his face. Sarah put her hand on Abe’s arm and said, “He really must have cared about us to have done that so long ago.”

Abraham broke down and sobbed. He held onto Sarah and allowed himself to let go.

With everyone gone Abe and Sarah stood by the grave holding each other. They missed Eli, but at the same time tried to stop mourning. Eli’s body had gone into the ground he loved, and he would continue to help the farm. His body would feed the oak tree, and his body would feed the soil to make the harvests strong and continue helping the people of New Canaan.

A calming breeze whispered across the farm. It rustled the leaves and gently disturbed the water. Abe thought he heard Eli’s voice on the wind; comforting and reassuring. A reminder that Abraham and his family would go on without Eli.

 

Around midnight the moon hung in the sky bathing the land in white light. A figure crept around the pond and along the eastern edge of Abraham’s property. He broke away from the tree line and walked across the backyard to the freshly dug grave. The man looked up at the house and scowled at the dark windows. He decided it was safe to stay a moment.

Phil stood by the grave then sank to his knees and cried on top of it. He whispered apologies, regrets, and begged for forgiveness. His body shuddered and he tried to stifle his cries.  He pounded the ground and whimpered like a lonesome ghost left alone in the world. Phil took a few deep breaths and rose to his feet. He pressed the palms of his hands to eyes then wiped his nose on the back of his hand. He shoved his hands into his pockets and began the long walk back to his farm.

Once he reached the pond he turned around for one last look at Abe’s farm. He saw Abraham’s house, the new barn, and the harvested field. In his mind’s eye he saw Abraham’s children asleep in their beds, and Abraham in bed with his arms around Sarah. Phil hated Abraham because he envied him.

“Hope the whole damn place burns down someday,” Phil muttered. He spat on the ground and continued back to his farm, to an empty bed and a house occupied only by him and his memories.

 

IX

 

 

After Eli’s death Abe brought the crops to market. They sold well and insured Abe would have enough money for the next season. The winter passed, and the next spring Abraham worked in the field on his own. Every night he stopped by Eli’s grave to inform him of the day’s progress and life’s little events; Isaac’s first words, Ishmael’s first steps, a funny joke he heard in town, or a petty complaint.

Abe confided in Eli almost as much as he confided in Sarah. He asked Eli for guidance and in response the leaves rustled, the pond stirred, and there seemed to be extra life on the farm. Eli wasn’t there, but at the same time his spirit seemed to linger. Not in a haunting way, but like something ancient people used to recognize and thank for its presence.

The next harvest was successful, and every harvest after it was also successful. Abe and Sarah knew the harvests were simply the rewards of hard work, but sometimes they couldn’t help but attribute some of their prosperity to Eli’s perceived presence. He was the force that spurred the crops to grow stronger and faster. He was the extra rain and the wind that pushed the clouds away after the rain. He was the fertility of the soil and the eruption of color that happened every spring. Abe and Sarah knew it wasn’t Eli, but they couldn’t help but hope that maybe it was.

As the years went on the boys grew. Ishmael walked first, but Isaac talked first. Ishmael grew up enjoying the world while Isaac became curious with the world. Isaac asked questions and demanded answers whereas Ishmael was content with his existence. Isaac’s knowledge grew, even at a young age, and he began seeking applications for his knowledge. He formed great plans, confident in their outcome, and enlisted Ishmael’s help. Most of the time these plans failed, and Ishmael tried to convince Isaac of the predictable results, but when Isaac believed in a plan he refused to back down. Once he had an idea he charged in and expected Ishmael to join him.

If they failed, or got in trouble, Ishmael immediately began the process of apologizing and asking for forgiveness. Isaac, even as a small child, tried to work his way out of problems. He argued with Abe and Sarah, gave them reasons for the actions, and knew just how far he could go before he needed to relent. Despite their differences, Isaac and Ishmael loved each other. They thrived because of their individual traits, not in spite of them. The only significant problem was that sometimes Isaac had contempt for Ishmael’s obedience and complacency, and Ishmael felt that Isaac used him as a pawn in his schemes and not a partner. This only became an issue when a plan went awry and severe consequences seemed inevitable.

 

One hot summer day during the seventh year at the farm Abraham decided to take the day off. Isaac and Ishmael were young, but old enough to help their father, so when their father took a day off they got the day too. They gathered their fishing poles then filled a can with dirt to store their worms.

The two boys walked out to the pond and sat down on the shore near the fence. They sent their lines into the water and hoped for a bite from a fish that had fought its way to the pond. As the afternoon wore on their focus shrank.

“There aren’t any fish here,” Isaac finally announced.

“Maybe we’re just in a bad spot?”

Isaac stood up and wiped the dirt off his pants. “I don’t think there’s any fish in this pond.”

Ishmael frowned and said, “It’s a big pond, Isaac. There be a big fish sitting on the bottom waiting to come to the surface.”

“It’s a big pond, but not that big. We might as well go home.”

“Let’s just try on the other side of the pond, closer to the house. If we don’t get anything then we’ll pack up and go home.”

Isaac sighed, “Ishmael, I’m hot, there’s no fish, and come to think of it pa wouldn’t want us this close to the fence anyway.”

“So we’ll just go to the other side!”

Isaac placed a small hand on Ishmael’s thin shoulder and said, “It’s a waste of time to keep staying out here.”

Ishmael threw off Isaac’s hand and shouted, “It’s not a waste of time!”

“You’re being dumb and not listening to me.”

Ishmael balled his hands into fists. He looked down and said, “Don’t say I’m dumb.”

‘Well, you sure are acting it.”

Ishmael shoved Isaac onto the grass. Isaac picked himself up and shoved Ishmael back. The brothers usually got along well, but their petty and insignificant disagreements always escalated into fights. Isaac bent down, picked up the fishing poles, and threw them onto the other side of the fence.

What’d you do that for?!

“You were being dumb about the fish, so I decided the matter for us.”

“Those were our fishing poles Isaac…” Ishmael said as his voice trailed off.

“Well…that’s too bad, I guess…”

Ishmael sat on the grass on the verge of tears.

Isaac took a deep breath and relented, “Fine, I’ll jump over the fence and get the poles back if it means that much to you.”

“Wait, you’re going to jump the fence? After you were worried about being near the fence now you’re going to jump it? How much sense does that make?”

Isaac shrugged and walked over to the fence.

“Pa said to never go over the fence.”

“Pa isn’t here, and I’ll be right back.” Isaac grinned at his brother then said, “Besides, I’m not going over the fence, I’ll go around it.”

Isaac ran parallel to the fence until he reached the tree line where the fence ended. He ran along the fence until he was across the fence from Ishmael. He rummaged around in the brush and once he found the poles he tossed them over the fence. No sooner did he find the fishing poles that Phil South appeared.

“Gotcha little bastard,” Phil growled. “I’ve been watching you two waiting to see if you’d come onto my property.”

Isaac yelped as Phil grabbed him, and he tried to struggle out of the old man’s grip.

“I told your pa to keep himself and his family off my property. Guess he forgot to mention that included you.”

“Let go of him!” Ishmael yelled at Phil.

Phil glared at Ishmael, “What are you gonna do?”

Ishmael stared at Phil and Phil tightened his grip on Isaac’s arm. He walked over to the fence and broke through the wire, ignoring the barbs shredding his clothes and skin. Phil threw Isaac onto the ground and glowered at the two boys.

“What right you think you got to come onto my property?”

“I just wanted to get our fishing poles back, I didn’t mean anything by it.”

Phil slapped Isaac across the back of his head hard enough to make Isaac’s ears ring.

 

“You think that’s a good reason to trespass? I guess I need to teach you boys respect since your pa didn’t teach it.”

Ishmael charged at Phil and headbutted him in the groin. Phil doubled over, and as he was bent over Isaac grabbed a fishing pole. He swiped it at Phil, the hook slicing across his face. Phil bellowed and clutched his face while screaming obscenities at the boys.

Ishmael grabbed Isaac’s hand and shouted, “C’mon!”

They ran around the pond and through the field back to the safety of their home.

 

Isaac and Ishmael burst through the back door and ran into the living room. They both tried to tell the story and the words blurred into a loud mess of sound.

“Boys!” Abe yelled, holding up his hands. “Tell me what happened, one at a time.”

“We were fishing at the pond and we got into an argument,” Ishmael started.

“I got angry and threw the poles over the fence, but I felt bad about it and went around the fence to get them back,” Isaac continued. “I don’t know where he came from, but after I found the fishing poles Mr. South grabbed me.”

Abraham stood up and clenched his jaw and said, “What happened?”

“I tried to tell him I was just trying to get our fishing poles, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“He hit Isaac, and I hit him back-”

What?!” Abraham roared.

The boys recoiled and Sarah came down from the second floor.

“We’re sorry we got the fence broken and went on Mr. South’s property-” Ishmael said, but his father stopped him.

“That’s still our land, Ishmael. Did he follow you?”

The boys shook their heads. Sarah came over and said, “Are either of you hurt?”

“Not really, he slapped me in the back of the head, but I’m alright.”

Sarah looked at Abe with hate in her eyes and he returned the sentiment. She took the boys by the hand and led them out of the living room and upstairs to get them into different clothes.

Abe walked into the kitchen, and just as he pulled out a chair to sit down there was a pounding on the back door. Abraham took a deep breath to calm himself and he walked over to the door knowing who he’d find standing behind it.

“Open the damn door!” Phil screamed.

Abe took a breath then opened the door. He braced himself, expecting Phil to lunge at Abe and start throwing punches. Instead he just stood there, seething. His eyes were wild and he had a fresh, thin cut across his face.

“I know why you’re here Phil,” Abe stated.

“So, does that mean your boys are gonna apologize for trespassing and attacking me?”

Apologize?” Abe laughed, “If anyone should be apologizing it should be you. You trespassed on my land and hit my son.”

“You listen here-” Phil started as he tried to step across the threshold into the house. Abraham shoved him back and Phil stumbled backwards and almost fell over.

“I made it clear to you that if you ever came on my property I would kill you. Not only did you come on my land, but you struck one of my sons.”

“You won’t kill me though, you’re a coward,” Phil said. He tried to sound confident, but his voice shook and all of his strength had left him.

Abraham grabbed Phil by the collar. He smelled the whiskey and sweat and grimaced.

“If I’d had my gun on me I would’ve shot you where you stood. I’m not a coward, you just got lucky.”

Abe threw Phil off the back steps and he landed with a solid thud. He got on his hands and knees and scowled at Abraham.

“If I see you on my land again, I will kill you, Phil South.”

Phil said nothing in reply. He stood up and glared at Abraham, his eyes filled with hate. He spat on the ground and began the walk back to his farm. Abraham hoped he’d never have to see Phil again, but he knew fatal violence was coming and all he could do was prepare.

 

X

 

 

Sometime around midnight there came a clicking sound from the back door. Abe sat in the dark living room with Eli’s loaded revolver sitting next to him. His breath caught in his throat when he heard the lock being worked, and he felt the blood pounding in his ears. Abraham wrapped his hand around the revolver’s handle and felt the coolness of the metal hammer on his thumb.

Earlier that night when he made the decision to stay in the living room Sarah had tried to reason with him.

“Abe, I know you’re worried about him coming here, but you can’t stay up all night with a loaded gun next to you.”

“Why can’t I?”

Sarah sighed, “Because it’s not reasonable.” She sat down next to him and put a hand on his lap, “I know you just want to protect us, but how long will you do this? You can’t let this fear consume you. It’ll take you away from the farm, it’ll take you away from your family.”

Abraham said nothing as he studied the revolver.

Sarah stood up and said, “Stay up if you feel you need to, but Abraham?”

He looked up at her.

“If he comes here, do not hesitate.” She kept her voice stable, but it possessed a raw power. It was the kind of order that could not be ignored, and Abraham took the words to heart.

When he heard the noise at the door he flew upstairs into his and Sarah’s bedroom.

“Sarah!” he said in a harsh whisper.

She bolted upright in bed, “What’s wrong Abe?”

“Get the boys in here and lock the door.”

Before Sarah could ask any questions he ran down the hallway then down the stairs. The person at the door threw their body against it. Abe pointed the gun at the door and cocked back the hammer. He waited for the moment the intruder crashed into the kitchen. The pounding on the door matched his heartbeat; earnest and throbbing. He gripped the revolver’s handle and slid his finger around the trigger.

The door burst open with a crash and Phil South stumbled into the kitchen brandishing his shotgun. Abe’s body reacted unconsciously to the sound and he pulled the trigger. Phil cried out as a bullet hit him in the shoulder. The pain caused him to pull the trigger on his shotgun and fired one of the barrels into the wall above Abraham’s head.

Abe squeezed off another round that hit Phil in the leg. Phil screamed and gripped his wounded limbs, hurling curses at Abraham and his family. Abe took cover behind the wall as Phil fired again, the shot peppering the wall. Abraham’s ears rang from the gunshots in the small space, and smoke filled the kitchen. He heard the click-clack of two shotgun shells hitting the kitchen floor. Phil was reloading and Abe needed to act.

He popped out from behind cover. Phil looked up at him, his eyes wide and full of terror, like an animal looks at a predator it can’t escape. Abe pulled the trigger and the third round hit Phil in the chest. The shock faded and Phil realized he’d been mortally wounded. He grunted and dropped onto the floor, the shotgun breached and almost ready to fire.

It registered with Abraham and he ran over to Phil and yelled his name. Blood pooled beneath Phil’s body, and there was a black and red hole in the center of his chest. Abe knelt beside him frozen with shock, but his mind raced to find a way to save Phil.

Phil looked at Abe, his eyes filled with hatred and sorrow. He grabbed one of Abe’s hands and pressed it against his chest, the warm blood coming up between Abraham’s fingers. Phil began to tremble and blood bubbled from his mouth. He stared at Abraham, demanding that he watch Phil die. Phil’s grip loosened, his eyes glazed over, and he died on the kitchen floor.

Abe stood and went upstairs to let Sarah know he was alright.

“Sarah?”

“Abraham?”

“It’s over now, you can open the door.”

He stepped back from the door and Sarah entered the hallway. She looked at his bloody hand and the revolver in his other hand.

“It’s not mine.”

“Is he…?”

Abe nodded without looking at Sarah.

He walked downstairs and Sarah followed him. They went into the kitchen and she gripped Abraham’s arm when she saw Phil’s body in the kitchen. The blood had made a large black stain on the floor and his skin had already started to turn pale. His eyes were glass orbs reflecting the moonlight coming through the window.

Abraham made a sound in his throat upon seeing the corpse and Sarah grabbed his arms. She turned him away from the corpse and said, “Look at me.” He complied and she said, “Don’t you dare think you killed an innocent man. He was going to kill you, he was going to kill us. You did what you had to do.”

Abe nodded, but said nothing in reply. He broke away from Sarah’s grip and walked over to Phil’s body. When he’d thought about this situation he always imagined himself feeling triumphant, standing over Phil’s body, with a smoking gun in hand. Instead he felt pity and sympathy. Phil had been a man, drunken and aggressive, but a man nonetheless. Abe closed Phil’s eyes and returned to Sarah.

“I’m going to go into town to tell the sheriff what happened, I won’t be gone long.”

Sarah kissed Abe and squeezed his hand. She watched as he turned around and went outside, and she continued watching until she saw him return.

 

The sheriff made no formal investigation, and he took Abe at his word. After Abraham explained the situation the sheriff simply shrugged and said, “Sounds like he offered you no other choice. I can send out the doctor to pick up the body.”

Perhaps to redeem himself Abraham suggested, “What if I bury him on my land?”

The sheriff had regarded him with a strange look and said, “You trying to start a graveyard on that farm of yours?”

Abraham shook his head, “No, I just thought…well, maybe since I…did what I did then I could at least do that.”

 

“Huh, well if you want to you’re more than welcome. Seems a little funny though, burying your attempted murderer on your property.”

When Abe was done with the sheriff he went to the pastor, told him of what happened, and requested that he be at the burial. The pastor rubbed some of the tiredness from his eyes then scratched his chin, “I won’t lie to you Abraham, I didn’t care much for Phil, and I don’t exactly believe he deserves a proper burial. But if it would mean something to you then yes, I’ll come and say a few words.”

Abraham thanked him and returned to the farm. He and Sarah hauled the body out of the kitchen and laid it beside the oak tree. In seven years it had grown and become much more than the scrawny thing Eli had planted. The next day, Abe busied himself with gathering material to make a coffin while Sarah cleaned the kitchen. Isaac and Ishmael watched from a distance and occasionally stole glances to look at the dead man in the backyard.

At one point Ishmael turned to Isaac and asked, “Did we make that happen?”

“No Ishmael, I don’t think so,” Isaac replied, but he said it more to comfort himself than to comfort his brother.

Abraham returned to the farm and built the coffin in the barn. He hadn’t done a good job with it, some of the nails stuck out in odd places and it looked uneven, but it would suffice. He had also purchased a sheet to wrap around Phil.

In the heat of the afternoon he dug the grave next to Eli’s and a few of his neighbors came over to help him. The consensus being that they came to confirm Phil’s death and to help Abe with the digging. The pastor came and performed a short sermon that focused more on the capacity of forgiveness than on Phil. Nobody else said anything. They lowered the coffin into the ground, shoveled dirt on top of it, then departed. Most of the farmers held the belief that Phil should have been left to rot in the wilderness and their brief attendance was already more than he deserved.

With all the farmers and the pastor gone, Abraham stood beside the grave. At certain points in the day it would be bathed in sunlight, just like Eli’s, and at other times it would enjoy the shade of the tree. Abe knelt in the dirt and wept over the grave. Perhaps it was just the breaking of tension produced by hate, or simply the heartfelt reaction of a good man, but either way he cried. He whispered to the dirt, “I’m sorry,” then stood up and returned to the farm house.

 

In the Land of God Chapters IV – VI

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For those of you who don’t know, I published a novel (see above). For those of you who know that, but don’t know this, I’ve started to serialize it on my blog as a way of a) drumming up publicity and b) providing it free to readers who couldn’t otherwise read it. In the Land of God Chapters I – III are already available, and I plan on continuing this until it’s available in its entirety on my blog (or until there are cries of, “Please, stop!“) If you like what you read, it’s available on Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback.

IV

 

 

Since they had moved to New Canaan, Abraham and Sarah had planned on returning to Chicago for the birth of their child. Near the end of the harvest season Sarah’s belly had grown to the point that she didn’t believe it could grow anymore. When Abe wasn’t tending to Sarah he was making preparations for the next sowing season. He had bought the necessary equipment, but lacked a crucial part: the seed.

He could have bought from a supplier in town, but he had a better idea. One night after dinner he turned to Eli and said, “How would the people around here feel about selling me seed?”

“That depends. How much are you willing to pay, and how much do you need?”

Abe showed Eli the projections he’d scratched on a piece of paper.

“Well Abe, you need quite a bit, that much is plain to see. That part shouldn’t be a problem, most of these farmers have a surplus after the harvest. The real problem is they’re going to charge you a lot.”

“I’m willing to pay it.”

Eli shook his head, “No, you’ll pay more for their seed than you would pay the supplier in town. They’ll do it out of spite, try to send you a message, it’s not financially responsible.”

Abe leaned toward Eli, “The money’s not an issue, this is about building friendships. I can’t have an entire town of people hate me and my family. I thought if I did this, maybe it could build some trust.”

Eli leaned back in his chair, “Even so, they’re going to sell you the lowest quality seed they have.”

“It doesn’t matter. I believe that if I show them I’m willing to work with them, then maybe they’ll work with me.”

Eli sighed and handed back the paper to Abe, “I’ll tell you one thing Abe, you’re a Romantic and an optimist. Fine, I’ll write up a list of people. We’ll go out tomorrow and see what happens.”

“Thank you Eli. Maybe if you come with me it’ll look better.”

Eli smiled, “Well, for most people, but I can think of one person that won’t want to see me.”

“Who’s that?”

“Don’t worry about it. Go, be with Sarah, I’ll write up that list.”

After Abraham left the living room Eli went into the kitchen to begin working on the list. He started with his closest friends in New Canaan, then worked down to acquaintances, then farmers he knew by name, and at the far bottom of the list he wrote one name: Phil South. He considered scratching it out, or tearing off the bottom of the paper, but decided to leave it. Abe needed to learn sooner or later, better this way than through conflict.

 

Phil South had moved to New Canaan shortly after Eli. He came with a wife, a young son, and a drinking habit. He came from a wealthy family, and unlike Abraham that privileged lifestyle imbued him with a pernicious laziness. When Phil arrived in New Canaan he bought some land from Eli, the same land that Abraham and Sarah now occupied.

The New Canaanites had tried to welcome him into the community, but he rejected them. Their poverty, their ignorance, and their work repulsed him. He came to New Canaan with the hope that with a little money and influence he could build an empire, then employ the locals to do the work for him. This never happened. The New Canaanites, despite their lack of education understood disdain and arrogance. Phil rejected them, and in turn they rejected him. Phil and his family became pariahs, left alone to either die, flee, or make amends.

Phil never swallowed his pride, so the shops in town never worked with him. His tools became rusted and useless, so it became hard to work the field. He knew nothing about farming, so most of his crops died or grew up weak and shriveled. On top of all of that his drinking problem never abated. The only shopkeeper that dealt with him was the owner of the general store, and that was because Phil bought a fifth of whiskey every other day.

All of these things caused Phil to be unsuccessful. He tried to sue Eli, claiming that Eli had sold him fallow land, but given the circumstances nobody believed him. He lost the case and became a laughingstock. At best known as the town drunk, and at worst known as the rich, arrogant city-boy that couldn’t have a single, good harvest.

After awhile his wife left him. She fled in the night while Phil was in a drunken stupor, at least that’s what people said. Nobody knew exactly where she went, but there were rumors that she’d gone back to the city to be with some rich suitor. Phil and his son lived together on the farm after that, but once the son turned eighteen he left too, never to return. Most assumed he had run away from home, off to join his mother in the city, but two men knew the truth: the postmaster and Eli.

Any hope for Phil vanished after his son left. He didn’t bother with growing any crops, and in short order the house fell into disrepair. As Phil collapsed, so did the integrity of his property. Weeds sprang up, thorns choked out the other plants, and he rarely left his house except to get food and drink. He took no interest in the outside world, except one summer when he heard the growl of a motor in the distance. Over the next few weeks he peeked out his windows or watched from the backyard as an old man and a young man cleared the land south of him and built a farm.

 

The next day, Abe and Eli got into the car and began making the rounds. They zoomed from farm to farm, negotiating with each farmer. None of the men seemed receptive, but they couldn’t turn up a good deal. It didn’t matter to Abraham that the farmers marked up the price, what mattered is he was establishing connections; a name with a face, a human attached to a concept. It didn’t hurt that Eli came with him.

By the afternoon, Abraham’s car struggled to haul two grown men and the bags of seed in the back. They had to stop back at the farm a few times to unload the seed, refuel, and check on Sarah. Near the end of the day they had only one name left on the list of farmers.

“Looks like Phil South is the last name on the list, who is he?” Abraham asked Eli.

Eli kicked the dirt with a boot and said, “Eh, he’s the farmer to the north, just across the pond.”

“Let’s go talk to him, I’ve talked to everyone else, might as well get him too.”

“We have enough seed Abe, I don’t think we need to talk to Phil.”

“This isn’t about getting more seed, I’d just like to meet him and if he’s willing to sell then I’m willing to buy.”

Abraham walked toward the car and Eli grabbed Abe’s arm. “Abraham, are you sure you want to meet him?”

Abe studied Eli, wondering what the old man hid from him. “Of course I want to meet him, he’s my neighbor. Why shouldn’t I meet him?”

Eli sighed. “No reason Abe, no reason.”

Abraham went inside and told Sarah about meeting with Phil, while Eli paced outside hoping for Abe to change his mind. Abraham returned and noticed Eli’s anxiety.

“You ready Eli?”

He nodded and said, “Let’s drive there. I don’t think Phil would appreciate us walking across his property.”

Abraham shrugged and prepared the engine. He climbed into the driver’s seat and Eli into the passenger’s seat. They drove away from the farm, across the bridge that spanned the creek, and up the next road. When they arrived at Phil’s farm, the first thing Abraham noticed was how sad everything looked. The farmhouse’s peeling paint and broken window on the second floor. The barn threatened to collapse, its roof sagging and defeated. Rusted tools and farm equipment were scattered around the dusty, weed-infested yard. The field beyond the house contained nothing save dirt and a few withered stalks of dead corn.

“Doesn’t seem to farm much,” Abe stated.

“No, no he doesn’t.” Eli paused, “Park on the road, Abe, it’ll be better if we do.”

Abraham shrugged and agreed. They stepped out of the car and began walking up to the decrepit house.

“We don’t need to do this, Abe.”

“I want to, he’s my neighbor and he deserves to know me.”

Eli shook his head and said no more.

Before they reached the house the front door swung open. In the doorway stood an old man. His face worn, wrinkled, and tired. His hair was white and patchy, and he squinted his eyes even in the late afternoon light. He appeared weak and ready to collapse like everything else on his property, but he also seemed ready to fight; a beaten dog filled with enough will to hate. The old man leaned against the door frame and scowled at the men approaching the house.

“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” he growled, his words dripping with whiskey.

“Phil, it’s me, Eli,” he responded with caution. “Your new neighbor, Abe, came with me. He wanted to meet you.”

The two men walked up to the front porch. Abe extended his hand to Phil, but Phil scowled at the gesture. Abraham let his hand fall to his side and he stepped back.

“Eli…” Phil said, his voice trailing off. His eyes grew tighter as he probed his brain trying to attach a memory to the name.

His eyes widened as he recognized the name, “You rotten, old bastard,” he growled. “What business do you have being on my property? Coming for more of my money?”

“That’s not what we’re here for,” Eli responded, keeping his voice even and calm. “Abraham here just wanted to introduce himself, and see if you wanted to maybe sell him some seed.”

Phil laughed, “You think I’ve got seed to sell you? Hell, does it look like I’ve got seed to sell you?” His humorless smile vanished, “Besides, I wouldn’t sell to you two anyway.”

Eli glanced at Abraham hoping he kept his mouth shut, and Abe stayed quiet. He raised his eyebrows and folded his arms over his chest.

“So, you wanna be a farmer, city boy?” Phil asked Abraham. “You gonna be a farmer like the rest of us?”

“That’s the plan.”

Phil scoffed, “Why the hell would you wanna do something as damn stupid as that?”

“I didn’t want to raise a family in a city. I thought it’d be safer, and easier to raise a family in the countryside.”

Safer?” Phil said with an incredulous laugh. “Oh, that’s funny city boy!”

Abraham pressed his lips into a thin line and took a sharp breath through his nose.

“You think it’s so bad in the city, so trying. Wait until your crops fail, wait until you get a debt you can’t pay off, and wait until these people turn their back on you.” He pointed at Eli, “This one sure will, I’ll tell you that. You won’t last a season down here.”

“Is that so?” Abe retorted.

Phil smirked, “I know it, I bet Eli here sold you bad land like he sold me bad land.”

“Listen here you lying son of a bitch,” Eli snarled. “I didn’t sell you bad property. You’re just a miserable drunk that was too lazy to make a go of it.” Eli looked into the house seeing the filth and piles of garbage, “I’d be surprised if you could wipe your ass on your own. I thank God your wife and son aren’t here to see what you’ve turned into.”

Don’t you dare talk about my family like that!” Phil screamed. “Don’t you ever bring up my wife or son!” His voice broke as he spoke the words. “You’d never understand that kind of suffering…”

“You don’t have a monopoly on that suffering!” Eli shouted back at him.

Phil roared and hurled himself at Eli. The two men slammed onto the porch, clawing and punching at each other. Phil flailed around, his drunk swings no match for the directed, powerful assault unleashed by Eli. Phil kicked Eli in the stomach and broke free. He scrambled inside, reached around the corner, and grabbed something out of sight. Abe rushed over to help Eli to his feet, and as he did he heard a metallic click from the doorway.

Phil stood in the doorway, pointing a double-barreled shotgun at Abe and Eli. Abraham ducked and tackled Phil throwing him back into the house. The gun dropped to the floor and discharged with a thunderous boom. Both slugs went into the ceiling raining down dust and debris on the two men. Abe landed three quick punches on Phil’s face; the young man’s strength and adrenaline a vicious combination.

Abraham jumped up while Phil laid on porch clutching his battered face. He moaned as blood poured through his fingers and he sputtered unintelligible curses. Abe and Eli ran back to the car, looking over their shoulders every few seconds to see if Phil had regrouped. Abe cranked the engine while Eli stared at the porch, waiting for Phil to get back on his feet.

The old man rolled onto his knees, then slowly stood up.

“Abe, he’s back up!”

The engine roared and Abraham swung into the driver’s seat. He and Eli looked at Phil, and Phil  glared back at them. Blood soaked the front of his shirt due to a broken nose and punched out teeth. He stood still, a grimace on his face, allowing the haunting silence to fill the distance between them.

Abraham shifted the car’s gears and drove away from the farm, retreating to the relative safety of him farm, leaving behind a cloud of dust, tire tracks, and the genesis of a future conflict.

 

When Abe and Eli got back to the farm, Abe helped Eli inside and sat him down at the kitchen table.

What happened?” Sarah asked as she entered the kitchen.

“We’re alright, just get us some water and a damp cloth,” Abe responded.

After she returned and Eli collected himself they told her about what happened at Phil’s farm.

“Shouldn’t we do something, Abraham?”

“Go to the sheriff?” Eli asked. “No, they don’t get involved with feuds like this. They’d tell us to stay away from him, and him to stay away from us. They’d probably be annoyed that we bothered them over this.”

“He sounds dangerous though!”

Abe shook his head, “I think he’s just a crazy old drunk. Nothing worth being concerned about, right Eli?”

“I think you’re right Abe, but nevertheless it wouldn’t be unwise to take some precautions.”

“What kind of precautions?”

“We’ll put up a fence on the other side of the pond. Nothing too complicated, just a barbed wire fence to let him know he’s not welcome on this property.”

Abraham nodded, “Alright, we’ll go into town tomorrow.”

Later that night, while Abe and Eli sat at the kitchen table having a couple glasses of whiskey Abe confessed to Eli, “I wish we could just kill him and get it over with.”

Eli’s eyes widened. He never knew Abe to be a violent or drastic man, and the confession came as a shock. Rather than chastise Abe he said, “It would be easier, but it wouldn’t be justified.”

“When would it be justified?”

Eli took a drink and considered his response. “Well, if you caught him trespassing on your property I suppose then that wouldn’t raise too many questions.”

Abe nodded, satisfied with the answer.

“But Abraham, listen. It may not seem like it right now, but taking a man’s life, even the life of a man you hate as much as Phil, it’s not a trivial thing. Even if you believe it to be justified and righteous, you still took a man’s life, and nothing can bring that man’s life back. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

Eli gave Abraham a sad smile and said, “Have you killed a man?”

“I haven’t.”

“Then you don’t understand.”

 

The following day, Abraham and Eli went into New Canaan. In the months that had passed since Abe and Sarah’s arrived in town the general attitude toward Abe had changed significantly. None of the farmers or shopkeepers scowled at the first sight of Abraham. Instead, they smiled and nodded or at the very least tipped their hat at him. He had yet to grow anything, which meant he wasn’t their complete equal, but they at least saw him as a fellow human being.

They entered the hardware store and t smelled of wood, metal and oil, clean and grounded aromas. An old man sat in a chair holding a newspaper, and the owner stood behind the desk.

“Abe, Eli, what do you need?”

Eli approached the counter, “You have any fence posts and barbed wire?”

“Thinking about getting livestock?”

“No, we’re just…making sure a neighbor knows his boundaries.”

The owner smirked, “Having problems with Phil South?”

Abe stepped in, “No problems, just some extra security.”

“Heh, well I doubt a fence is gonna stop him, but if you want to build a fence then I’m happy to sell to you.”

The owner gathered the materials and Abraham moved to pay him.

“You don’t owe me anything,” the owner said. “You’re an alright city boy, and I don’t wanna see anything happen to you. Phil South has been trouble since he moved here. Maybe if the drunk sumbitch’ll think twice about causing trouble if he slices himself trying to get through a fence.”

Abraham put his wallet back in his pocket, “I appreciate that.”

The owner waved his hand dismissively, “It’s not a problem. We have to take care of our own, don’t we? Besides, who else will?”

Abe smiled and nodded, “No one, I suppose.”

“If you want some extra protection I can sell you one of these,” the owner said, motioning to the various polished revolvers in the glass case.

“That’s alright,” Eli said, “I have something already.”

Abraham and Eli left the store and on their way back to the car Abe turned to Eli and asked, “What did you mean back there, about having something already?”

“I’ll explain after we get the fence set up.”

 

Back at the farm they hauled the wire and posts to the northern edge of the property. Eli held each post while Abe hammered them into the ground. The echoes sounded like gunshots ringing across the empty field. Once they set up the fence posts they unrolled the barbed wire with care, ensuring they didn’t cut their hands on the razor-sharp barbs.

In the distance they saw a figure emerge from Phil’s house. The figure began walking across the  open field, stopping every few steps to watch Abraham and Eli, a dark specter haunting their work; watching, observing, and planning his next move against the farm.

“Just let it be, Abe. There’s no point starting trouble if he isn’t causing trouble. He’s just watching us.”

“I don’t trust him.”

“As you shouldn’t, just ignore him. If we don’t bother to notice him then maybe he’ll go away.”

Abe and Eli returned to their work, trying to ignore Phil’s slow advance toward them. With the fence completed it stretched from the west tree line to the east tree line forming a concrete northern border.

Phil walked across the tall grass on the other side of the fence and approached the fence. He leaned on one of the posts and said, “I see you put up a fence, hope it’s not on my property.”

“It isn’t Phil, it’s a good twenty feet behind the property line. That means you’re on my property.”

Phil shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looking past Abe and Eli at the farmhouse.

“Suppose your woman’s pretty much ready to have your kid.”

“Phil, what the hell do you want?” Eli asked, stopping Phil from goading Abe into conflict. “You don’t want anything to do with us, and we don’t want anything to do with you. So unless you have a good reason for being here, I suggest you leave.”

Phil laughed and held up his hands in mock surrender. “I didn’t come here to start a fight, I just came to investigate what you two were doing near my property.” He paused then added, “A man’s got the right to do that, don’t he?”

Eli and Abe stared at him without replying.

Phil chuckled, “Are you two still sore about our little altercation yesterday?”

“You attacked Eli and tried to shoot us,” Abe said through clenched teeth.

“Well, you two did barge onto my property and got me all agitated.”

“We came over so I could introduce myself!”

Phil leaned back and said, “Huh, you city boys have a funny way of introducing yourselves.”

He smiled, waiting for Abe’s reaction. The heavy silence begged for a reaction. Someone needed to break the tension.

“Phil, get the hell out of here,” Eli said in a commanding voice.

“What are you gonna do Eli? Take me to court? Or maybe you’ll run away if things get too tough like you done before. What are you two gonna do to me?”

“I’ll kill you,” Abe said, his eyes fixed on Phil, his left hand gripping the sledgehammer. “If I see you on this land again, I’ll kill you, and I won’t think twice about doing it.”

Phil’s mouth spread into a toothless grin and he squinted his eyes, “Fine, that’s fair.” His grin turned into a scowl and he snarled, “But if I ever see you, or anyone from this farm on my land-”

“Just go, Phil,” Eli said.

Phil stopped talking and gave a slight nod to Abraham and Eli. He turned to walk away then spun around and kicked the nearest fence post. Abe lunged forward, but Eli grabbed his shirt to stop him.

“Better fix that post,” Phil muttered as he walked back to his house.

Abe and Eli watched him leave, repaired the fence post, then walked back to the farmhouse.

 

V

 

 

After eating lunch, Eli said to Abe, “Go out to the barn and I’ll meet you out there.”

Abe did as instructed and went out to the barn. It still smelled of new wood with the earthy aroma of the dirt faintly accompanying it. He sat down on the ground and leaned back against the wall. It was cool in the barn, and only a little light came in through the loft window and the gap between the barn doors.

A few minutes later the barn door swung open and Eli came inside carrying a small, polished wooden box. On the top of it was an etching of a bald eagle clutching arrows and an olive branch. Eli walked over to Abe and sat down beside him. Eli opened the box and extracted a shiny revolver, the kind issued to a young officer in the Grand Army of the Republic.

Eli held the gun in his hands, examining it, turning it over, opening the chamber and giving it a gentle spin.

“Did I ever tell you I fought in the Civil War?”

Abe shook his head.

“I was a lieutenant in the Army. My parents had money and they knew the right people. They got me a position as an officer and because of that I got one of these.” He held up the revolver for Abe to see it better.

“I never even shot the damn thing. I…ah, got hurt before I could even shoot it.”

Abe cocked his head, “The war ended before you recovered?”

Eli shook his head, “No, I got discharged once I recovered. The Army decided I’d given enough to my country already.”

“How did you get hurt?”

“I got hurt in such a way that it didn’t kill me, but it killed my future.”

Abe thought about what Eli meant, then finally understood. “Oh, that explains why-”

“Why I never married? That’s right.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you, Eli.”

Eli shrugged and said, “Me too. But that’s not why I wanted to talk to you.” He handed the revolver over to Abe, “I wanted to talk to you about giving you this.”

What? Why?”

“I’m an old man, Abe. There’s no telling when I’ll go, and I wanted you to have something to protect yourself and your family with. I’ll teach you how to use it, so in case something happens you’ll know what to do.”

Abe let the revolver sit in his hands, he treated it like a holy relic too delicate to be touched.

“It won’t break if you hold it by the grip,” Eli chuckled.

Abe’s fingers curled around the grip and he put his index finger on the trigger. Eli took Abe’s hand and said, “First lesson: don’t put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to pull it.”

Eli stood up and said, “Come with me outside, I’ll show you how to shoot it.”

The two men exited the barn. The sun had already made its way toward the horizon, a clear sign that fall and the winter approached. Storm clouds moved in from the west, the massive thunderheads gray and reaching high into the sky, one last storm for the season. Abe noticed the approaching storm, and despite not being a superstitious man he found it unnerving and symbolic of something. Storms could renew, but they could also destroy, and he wondered if the storm foretold of renewal or destruction.

Eli led Abe over to the line of trees next to the creek. He pulled a knife from his pocket and etched a target into the trunk then stepped back to inspect his work.

“It wouldn’t be good enough at West Point, but it’ll do for us.”

He walked back over to Abe and took the revolver from him. Eli pulled six shells from his pocket and methodically loaded them into each chamber. He held the gun with two hands, his forearms tensed, but relaxed at the elbow, his feet shoulder width apart. Eli exhaled and squeezed the trigger. The gun’s muzzle erupted with light and smoke and sound. He worked with the recoil allowing his arms to become parallel with his body. A bullet slammed into the tree sending splinters of wood flying in every direction.

He lowered the revolver and handed it over to Abe.

“It may look easy, but if you’ve never fired a gun before it’ll take some getting used to.”

Abe mimicked Eli’s stance, took aim, and fired. The bullet skipped off the side of the tree and hit the tree next to it. He lowered his arms and said, “Helluva kick on this thing.”

“You’ll get used to it. Try again.”

Abraham did as commanded. He took aim and fired again, this time the bullet struck one of the outer rings of the target.

“Better, at least you got inside the target this time.”

Abe fired two more shots, each one closer to the center of the target. The clouds darkened the sky over the farm, and a few errant rain drops hit the leaves at the top of the trees. Abe took aim one last time, centered on the target and pull the trigger. The bullet hit the center of the target causing a spider web of cracks to form. As soon as the noise of the gun dissipated, the sky seemed to return fire with a loud crack of thunder.

Eli inspected the target. “Good shooting for your first time. Now let’s get inside before the storm really hits us.”

They walked back across the open field toward the house, Sarah stood in the back door with both of her hands on her round belly. She ushered the two men inside and sat them down for dinner. With the dishes cleared away, and Sarah in the living room, Abe and Eli went out on the porch to enjoy the last storm of the season.

Eli turned to Abe and said, “I never really told you about my life before New Canaan, did I?”

“No, you haven’t.”

Eli rubbed his cheeks with one hand and said, “I guess I owe it to you to tell you about that.”

He leaned back in the chair and began his story. “I grew up in an old mill town in Massachusetts. My parents were wealthy people, claimed they could trace our lineage back to before the Revolution. Phil’s parents were…” he paused, mulling over how to continue the story, “They were wealthy people too. Phil and I were best friends. We did everything together, went everywhere together, and shared just about everything.”

He sighed before continuing, “The only thing he ever knew was out of bounds was this land, and my fiancée. She and I loved each other, Abe. That’s a rare thing in wealthy circles, but we did. We had plans to marry, but the war interrupted us.

My parents thought it would be fashionable for me to be an officer in the Army. It’d impress their Abolitionist friends, they’d look like good patriots sending their son off to fight the rebels.” Eli shook his head, “They didn’t give a hoot in hell about any of that, they just knew it would be good for their business. So, like I said, I became a lieutenant and went off to war.”

“What about Phil?”

“He was too young, his family…cared about him. I made it to the front and the first time I saw combat I got hurt, like I told you. Once I recovered and got home, I broke off the engagement. After that, I couldn’t stand to be around and have that constant reminder of what I’d been denied. I took my inheritance money and headed west.

On the way, I stopped in New Canaan, and thought it’d be a good place to settle down, so I did. Time passed, I started my business, and Phil contacted me. Said he’d gotten married and wanted to move here, so I told him I’d help him. I’m sure you’d understand my surprise when he showed up his arm around my old fiancee.”

Abraham sighed and leaned back in his chair.

“I wanted to stay professional about things, but I just couldn’t. I sold him the property, but I refused to help him. As a result, his farm failed. I guess it was my way of getting revenge. When he started telling people I’d sold him bad land that was it. I took him to court and won, but by then our friendship had already ended. That was just me twisting the knife a little more.”

Abraham nodded and looked down at the floor, listening to the gentle roll of thunder and the raindrops hitting the puddles. “I’m sorry Eli. It’s one thing to be betrayed by a stranger, but a good friend? The only thing worse would be a family member.”

“I always felt cheated. Like his life was supposed to belong to me, like his son was supposed to be my son, like I was supposed to share my bed with his wife.” Tears formed in Eli’s eyes. “After his wife left, people said she got sick of Phil and walked out, but I know the truth. When his son left and didn’t come home people said the same thing. I knew the truth and it damn near killed me.”

Abe paused for a moment before asking, “So, what happened to them?”
Eli patted Abe on the knee and said, “I’m sorry Abe, I’ve dug up enough skeletons tonight. I’d rather not dig up those too.”

“I understand…and I finally understand why this land meant so much to you.”

“It felt like, if I could just be close to them it would be like I was a part of their life,” Eli said in a choked voice.

The two men sat on the porch listening to the rain and the thunder and watching the flashes of lightning.

Eli turned to Abe and said, “Why did you come to New Canaan?”

“Sarah and I came from wealthy families in Chicago, bankers and industrialists. I never saw it, but I knew how they ruined lives, cared for people like they were just accounts, and how they cared more about their accounts than they cared about people. I knew that I didn’t want to raise my child around that.

I heard there was property for sale down here, and it seemed far enough away from that terrible business. I know it’s not perfect here, Eli, but at least down here I feel like I can be human, and more importantly my child can grow up feeling human. I always felt like an asset, and I know Sarah felt the same way. We didn’t want that life anymore, and we didn’t want that for our family.”

“I think you made the right choice coming down here. You, and Sarah, and I, we all grew up in that environment, and no child deserves that. It may not be easy for them, but it’ll be better for them.”

 

VI

 

 

The storm continued late into the night and grew in intensity. When Sarah got into bed she winced from the sharp pain that radiated through her abdomen. She hid it well, and dismissed it as a strong kick from the baby. Sometime around midnight she woke up from a peel of thunder and an agonizing pain that shot through her stomach. She sat up in bed and clutched her stomach.

Abe sat up beside her and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.”

The lightning flashed and the thunder roared and she groaned.

“I think the baby’s coming.”

“I’ll send Eli for a doctor.”

Sarah cried out then caught her breath, “No, the baby’s coming now. I need you to help me downstairs.”

Abe helped Sarah out of bed and onto her feet. Eli appeared in the bedroom doorway.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s having the baby.”

Eli’s face turned white, then he said, “I’ll go downstairs and boil some water.”

He retreated from the doorway, ran down the stairs and into the kitchen. Every few feet Sarah bent over and cried as new pains rippled through her body. They reached the bottom step and Sarah almost collapsed.

She moaned, “Just let me have the baby here.”

Abraham hoisted her up and half-dragged her to the kitchen. Eli waited in the kitchen, his sleeves rolled up, and a pot of boiled water next to him. He helped Abe to lie Sarah down on the kitchen floor. She hiked up her dress and spread her legs.

Outside the storm raged on. Wind shook the house and rain lashed at the windows, the force of it threatening to destroy the house and everyone in it. Sarah’s cries matched the thunder, and every time she screamed louder the thunder rose to the challenge. Eli held her hand and wiped her brow while Abe knelt between her feet. Sarah tried to focus on staying calm and leveling out her breathing. She wasn’t sure if women had heart attacks during child birth, but she didn’t want to risk it.

She looked up and said between breaths, “I didn’t think it would happen this soon, is it too soon?”

Abe shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

Eli tightened his grip on Sarah’s hand and said, “Don’t think about that, just focus on having the baby.”

She pushed, and pushed, and pushed until she thought she might pass out, then relief washed over as the baby left her. A small creature coughed then began crying. Before she had time to smile fresh pains gripped her body. She dug her fingers into Eli’s arm and pushed again, this time unconsciously, followed by another tidal wave of relief. Another miniature cough followed by more crying.

Abe wrapped his two sons in the same blanket, gently wiping their faces with a wet, warm towel. They squalled, their faces contorted and mouths agape. Eli helped Sarah to lay her head down. She wanted to see her children, but she needed the rest. The wind died down, becoming a gentle breeze, the thunder became a dull rumbling in the distance, and the rain a light tapping on the roof.

“Sarah, we had twins,” Abe said in a breathless voice. “They’re boys, two sons.”

Abe, usually not an emotional man, allowed tears to flow down his cheeks and catch in his beard. He held the babies to his chest and wept. Eli came over to him and patted him on the shoulder, and he cried too. He cried out of happiness and sorrow, overjoyed to be here for the birth of these beautiful things, and grieving that they could not be his own sons.

In a weak voice Sarah said, “I want to see them.”

Abe brought the two babies to her. She placed them on her chest. Their crying had lowered to a whimper. She placed one on each breast and they ate. Each boy looked the same: black hair, softness around the eyes like their mother, the rest of their face strong like their father. Despite their sameness, something set them apart. When the first boy came he cried, but it seemed out of a known necessity. When the second boy came he cried, but it seemed to be different than instinct. It seemed like an outpouring of emotion before any human knows emotion, a primordial wail.

“What should we name them?” Abe asked. The question directed at Sarah, but it also included Eli’s opinion.

Sarah petted the first boy’s head and said, “Isaac.” She switched hands to pet the second boy, but she frowned, “I don’t know about him.”

“Ishmael,” Eli said. Sarah and Abraham looked at him. “Ishmael. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael.” He shrugged, “Just seems appropriate.”

Abe and Sarah looked at their sons.

“Isaac…and Ishmael,” Abe repeated in a whisper. Sarah smiled and said, “The sons of Abraham: Isaac and Ishmael.”