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,
P.S. Feedback is always welcomed in the comments section.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.