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American Contemporary Fiction

Cadence sung softly as she dug clover and dandelions out of her spring garden, “And little Sir John sprung up his head, and so amazed them all.”

This season’s early spring crops had surpassed expectation. She pushed in the trowel and wiggled out a turnip, holding it up for inspection. These had been transplanted from the greenhouse barely two weeks earlier but would be ready in days. Her newest compost mixture clearly made a difference, but for the second consecutive season, she had planted nearly a month earlier than expected.

“No climate change my butt,” she chuckled, cracking a sardonic smile, and continued singing her favorite harvest song, a composition penned and performed by the 70s band Traffic.

She set the turnip aside and moved on to adjacent rows of radishes, spinach, and peas, finding similar results. The spinach was so far along she decided to harvest it all and prep that area for a second planting. After several hours of gardening in the early April sun, she was happy and satisfied with her work. Gone were the weeds, and the rest of the spring garden would need just a bit more time.

And there they made a solemn oath, John Barleycorn must die,” she finished in a clear, beautiful voice.

Carrying the bushel of spinach back to the house, Cadence made some quick mental calculations. Her family’s produce was highly prized at the town market, and if she could coax bumper crops and pick a second spring planting, there would be plenty to sell. The added income would take some of the pressure from her parents.

“Caaaddyyyyy,” called her brother as he rounded the corner of the house and saw her. “Lunch my lady,” he said primly, bowing awkwardly while tripping over his own feet and landing heavily on his backside.

Cadence couldn’t resist her brother’s silliness and erupted in giggles as they came together. “And you, dearest Tig, are a buffoon,” she laughed.

His eyes widened, and he pointed to the overflowing bushel of greens. “Wow…already?” he remarked, and added as he stood, “If we have harvests like that all year…”

And before he could finish, “I know. It would mean a lot to all of us,” Cadence interjected. “I know you and dad have a lot going on, but do you think maybe you can help me this year?”

After seeing the bushel, Tig had already decided as much. “Your merest wish is but a command to me dear sister,” he said in a terrible English accent and performed a curtsey, which set Cadence giggling again.

Tig loved hearing his sister laugh, and his heart warmed as he locked arms with her, took the bushel, and added, “Laughter is my gift.”

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Dinner that evening featured a wonderfully rich spinach soufflé. Tig and Cadence outlined their plans with their parents. Cadence went through the process and laid out the numbers after Tig estimated the hours which would be needed. Mom and dad couldn’t have been more proud, and they both agreed to lend a hand. It was obvious that this could improve their finances if all went as planned.

Tig stole a glance towards his sister, who was smiling with such joy that tears welled in the corners of her bright green eyes. She looked back at her twin with embarrassed pride for suddenly being the center of attention. Tig leaned over and gently kissed away a tear that had escaped down her cheek.

“You are the best of us Cady,” whispered Tig as he wrapped her shoulders in his arms.

With that and all eyes showing their admiration, she broke down in laughter and tears. Mom, dad, and brother all held one another in a family embrace of kisses and hugs. Mom held her daughter’s face in her hands, wiping off her glistening cheeks.

“We’ve got a lot of spinach to put up, and all these tears are going to make it soggy,” mom said softly as she gently touched her forehead to her daughter’s. “We’re so proud of you. Now there’s work to do before bed.” 

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The hour before dawn often found Tig in the barn tending to the chickens and goats. The animals were his pride and joy, and he cared for them with compassion. They needed to be raised with care and no small amount of love, but in turn, he had to remain mindful that they were part of the family’s food source and income.

Tig stood in the middle of their tribe of goats, closely inspecting them for general health issues. “You know why it’s so hard to have a conversation with you guys?” he deadpanned. “Anyone?” The goats continued chewing their cuds, staring at the boy indifferently.

“Because you’re always butting in.” One of the goats flatulated loudly.

Tig’s laughter boomed loudly inside the closed barn. “Aw, c’mon, that was funny,” he said and opened the door to the outside corral, prodding them a bit to get them moving. “Go get some exercise ladies.”

The chickens were next. He noticed several young hens had pecking injuries on their necks and quickly identified the culprit. This particular bird had been aggressive since it was young, recently killing two juveniles. He wouldn’t let that happen again.

“You again henzilla?” he asked as he separated the aggressive bird. “You, my anti-social friend, are invited to dinner tonight.”

Tig scattered his special feed generously and slid open the hatch to the outside pen. The chickens seemed restless but reluctant to leave the coop. “What are you guys, chicken?” quipped the boy.

Cady had been leaning against the fence watching her brother. “Does PITA know that you’re abusing the animals using dad’s bad jokes as a torture device?” she asked him and smiled as she handed him a thermos of tea.

“Oh ho! It is to laugh…tell me you didn’t wake up to make me this tea,” he said.

“Not even with the expectation of hearing a quote from Donald Duck. I woke right after you did," she answered.

“That was taken from the work of the venerable Daffy Duck,” replied Tig smugly, a crooked smile on his lips.

“I guess I’m not up to speed on my cartoon duck quotes,” she laughed. “I thought I’d get up early because mom and dad need us this afternoon to help mark that timber for harvest. The rest of the week is just as busy and you know their rule about getting our work done,” she said and finished, “and I’m still hoping to get to that dance in town on Friday.” She shook her hips, twirled and shimmied, ending in a deep bow.

Tig rolled his eyes as he poured a deep draught from the thermos. “These bourgeoisie mating rituals are beneath you. Whatever will dear James think of you stepping out on him?” said Tig with an exaggerated eyebrow wiggle.

Cadence squealed and began slapping her brother’s shoulder playfully. “I am NOT stepping out,” she said laughing. “He’s planning to be there, and dancing is NOT a mating ritual.” Now they both broke out in laughter as the slapping became more energetic and began stinging Tig’s arm.

A few feet away in the goat pen, as if on cue, the billy had suddenly began enthusiastically humping a young nanny. “See what dancing does to men, you hussy?” TIg said with a teasing grin, slowly backing away while pointing accusingly at the copulating pair.

Shrieks of laughter from both twins echoed around the barnyard as Cadence chased her brother with a look of spirited menace.

Their parents had arrived moments earlier and stood watching the scene unfold in rapt amusement. “Are you two taking this show on the road, or is it going straight to streaming?” asked dad.

Tig hesitated and glanced towards his parents. It was all Cadence needed to tackle her brother and pin him down. “I’m 3 minutes older, lest you forget,” she said, lobbing a closed fist punch to his offended shoulder and straddled him with a look of delighted triumph on her face.

“The longest 3 minutes of my life, both of you,” said mom. “Let’s get moving you two buffoons. This is going to be a long day.”

“Dancing is kind of a mating ritual,” added dad glibly, which earned him a short jab to his shoulder.  

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The week passed with the weather turning sour, featuring frequent blowing rain and cooler temperatures. The dance was postponed until the following weekend, blunting Cady’s mood a bit, though her workload gave her little time to brood. Their chores lessened during foul weather, but their lessons increased. Both children were homeschooled and took their education seriously, absorbing the material like sponges and always yearning for more.

The family lived on and worked 500 acres of mixed used land. In addition to their cash crops, they grew fifty acres of renewable pampas grasses, harvested yearly and sold for biofuel; sustainably logged primary and secondary growth hardwoods and conifers, resulting in several thousand board feet of top graded lumber annually; and also managed 2000 feet of shoreline and associated fishing easement on an undeveloped freshwater lake, with the entire acreage resting upon a large, unmined copper deposit.

During the warmer months, the local college was allowed access to the land, as it is home to flora and fauna not normally found in the general area. It was not uncommon to find students and research assistants lunching with the family at the main house. In addition, the state agricultural extension was encouraged to use the land as a resource to teach renewability and sustainability practices through the university’s environmental studies program. The stewardship and land-use practices were used as a model in the county and the state, and the family was admired and respected by the local community and loved by their immediate neighbors.

Though environmental responsibility and a sustainable land use plan sometimes inspires, there were business interests in the county and state that were influenced by profit only. Driven by avarice and tempted by millions of potential dollars trapped underground, the local court was kept active staving off aggressive and sometimes hostile attempts to steal portions of the land by the use of adverse possession or prescriptive easement transfer.

The day prior to the postponed spring dance found mom and dad in town, with yet another legal victory in hand.

“Will they never stop?” mom asked as they walked down the steps of the county courthouse.

“As long as that copper remains where it is…no, they won’t,” answered dad in a distracted tone. “They’ll keep trying, so we’ll have to fend off squatters and keep anyone from trying to cut in a road or a fence.”

“That last bunch was a rough crew,” observed mom. “They gave Cady and Tig quite a scare. I’m glad you went out there when you did.”

“I know. I’m going to make sure the kids always carry a weapon when they’re away from the compound by themselves,” dad said, clearly troubled.

Mom knew her mate well and could sense there was more on his mind. She reached out and linked his arm into hers, leaning in with her shoulder and resting her head against him as they slowly walked. Softly she asked, “What else is bothering you?”

“That last bunch we caught out at the southern edge was trying to clear trees for an easement from the road. They’re part of that investment group from downstate. I heard they were pretty ruthless, buying up what they can and trying to steal or swindle what they can’t,” dad answered.

Mom hugged him tighter and said confidently, “We’ll keep them out, we’ve done it before.”

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The twins were at home, holding things together while their parents were at the county seat. The day was long and exhausting, and Tig was thoroughly spent. Cadence was buoyed by the prospect of the dance later that evening. She was looking forward to seeing her friends, acting like a teenager, and meeting up with James again. The two had met in town over a month ago but were active friends on social media. She planned on saving a slow dance for him.

Cady trudged towards the cellar at the back of the house, pulling a wagon half-full of turnips. As she rounded the edge of the back fence, she came upon Tig standing perfectly still, scanning the forest edge behind her. She stopped and turned to look over her shoulder, catching a brief glimpse of movement just inside the tree line.

“Did you see that Cady?” Tig asked.

She wasn’t sure what she saw. “What are we looking at?” she asked.

“I cleaned out the chicken coop and the goat pen, and as I was dragging the crap over to the compost pile, I thought I spotted someone watching you in the garden. I wasn’t sure because of the shadows, so I kept looking and then saw what looked like someone walking away quickly, just as you came around the corner.”

Cadence stared with her brother, goosebumps crawling up her legs. “I saw…something move,” she said, uncertainty in her voice. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a deer?”

“If it was a deer, I think it walked away on two legs.” Tig’s answer hung in the humid air for a moment. He saw the worry on his sister’s face. “I didn’t see clothes or a face or anything so you’re probably right,” he added, looking Cady in the eyes and trying to believe what he said. “Those guys we ran into last week at our southern fence line spooked me a little I guess. I’m seeing ghosts now.”

Cady tugged at Tig’s arm, keeping his attention on her. “Let’s finish up our day. We’ll turn on the cameras until mom and dad get back.”

The twins cleaned up, washed up, and fed themselves. Tig was ready to curl up with a book. Cady was ready for a night on the town. They sat together reviewing the last hour of recorded security footage, uneventful save for a lone whitetail yearling trying in vain to get into their garden. Cady looked at her brother with mock suspicion. “You had me going there little brother. I was half expecting that doe to get up and walk away like a person.”

Tig’s exhaustion and uncertainty got the better of him and he let the issue pass. Mom and dad returned with no mention of their conversation and concerns, only wanting their children to spend the night free of worry. They would address it all in the morning.

Tig curled up in the family room with a Neil Gaiman novel, and Cady drove away, promising to be back before midnight.

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The dance was packed with people, Cady had never seen a turn out like this. The band kept everyone dancing as she caught up with all the latest gossip and shared her latest news with her closest friends. She spotted James about an hour later, standing across the room talking with some men she had never seen before. He saw her shortly after and came over, the same smile on his face that had won Cady over last month. They danced, they talked, and they sipped the punch that her best friend Sailor had spiked earlier that evening.

“Would you like to take a walk outside and cool off a bit,” asked James.

The dance was in full swing and Cady was covered in a sheen of perspiration. “Yes please.”

They walked and chatted and laughed and talked about the most recent TikTok video from their favorite contributor. Though they had only seen each other once before, Cady felt comfortable and they soon arrived at the edge of the parking area. James pointed out a new Chevy pickup truck and they leaned against it, shoulder to shoulder.

“I really like your new truck,” mentioned Cady.

“I really like your garden,” said James.

The night had Cady’s head swirling with the effects of the punch, and she answered before she realized, “Oh I know, right? The turnips are ready and next…wait! What did you just say?”

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The search for Cady lasted nearly a week. Hundreds of local volunteers and out-of-state rescue teams, pledged their support and resources to assist. Her body was eventually found on the family property, near the exact spot where the twins had encountered the men trying to clear trees. She was completely nude and had been repeatedly assaulted. The cause of death was asphyxiation. Her windpipe had been crushed. A scarf she had worn to the dance was found around her neck and used as a garrote. 

It was believed someone was sending the family a violent message. The downstate land holding company was investigated, but no solid connections were ever made. Only one suspect stood out. James had disappeared, however, and a search of his social media accounts was traced to an IP address on a computer which had been reported stolen almost a month prior. Aside from a complete description of the boy from many at the dance, he was never found.

The bonds that held the family together were broken. Every day, there were little tugs at the open wound which refused to heal. It festered until they could no longer find the effort to protect the land that had inadvertently deprived them of their brightest light. Within the subsequent weeks, the animals were sold and the house was shuttered. The acreage was put in a charitable trust to the university, forever protecting it from development. Conditionally, Cady’s prized garden was to be planted each season, the harvest donated to the local food pantry. If Cady’s murder was an orchestrated act of intimidation, the results were most likely not what was intended.  

An engraved sign was later installed on the gate to the garden. It read simply: ‘Cady’s Harvest’.

April 17, 2021 02:28

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