~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~
A Seed in His Hand
The black wheels spun, and whorls of golden grit snapped at the retreating bus, driving the diesel creature back from where it had come. Clarissa watched the dusty pack, its quarry now gone, sink back onto the whitish concrete road. Asphalt had not yet made its way to this remote place and even the concrete was hard weathered and full of cracks, as if the locale suffered its existence in deference to it rather than welcomed it. So there Clarissa sat, in the shade of a great elm upon a weather worn wooden bench in a place that the ticket had simply called, ‘intermediate stop.’ There was no town here, no place of essential public interest. No presidents had grown up here, or statesman, or famous scientists. It was a place that simply compelled one to stop. A missile full of compressed devastation would have been forced to pause if it flew over this place and ponder the purpose of its flight.
Clarissa looked about her sun-streaked surroundings. This was farm country. Green or golden fields bordered the road she sat by, punctuated here and there by the odd grove of trees. The air was fresh with just a faint hint of a horsey barnyard odor to remind her that she was not in the city anymore. About her she heard birds singing and the wind rustling; the branches of the elm and flowing crops of the fields. Apart from that, there was a great stillness; a pregnant silence behind the background sounds that if one listened to very carefully, one could hear every last fiber of life growing.
Clarissa leaned back and suddenly exhaled deeply. She let it all out in that breath; every last thing that had caused her to run to the bus station blindly on that hateful day and demand a ticket to the most remote place possible. She exhaled the awful dead end grinding job that was all she could get despite her degree. She exhaled the bill collectors hounding her for payments made to alleviate things she had no control over. She exhaled the gaggle of friends she had solely because she was supposed to have friends. She exhaled the downer boyfriend she was supposed to have who was growing ever distant and so caught up in his own issues that he rarely spoke to her save to express his discontentment over one thing or another. All the pitch and tar and oblivion of her life she breathed out with eyes closed so as not to see the vile creatures that writhed in that spiritual discharge. Then, she breathed in the warm air of this place; this place of growing things and stillness.
She felt better now with her cares and concerns temporarily offered as sacrifice to the winds. But she was still herself, alone, in the middle of a grand place but still shy of purpose and reason. She stood, filling her lungs deeply with the country salve that spread an aura of peace into every bone and drop of blood in her body and looked about her again. There seemed to be only two ways to go from where she stood. Up the concrete road or down the concrete road. Clarissa sighed and stepped onto the road with a touch of regret. She turned back to the worn wooden bench for a last look at its sun bleached countenance, and saw behind it a track. It was a path stamped into the ground that led over the small green hillock behind her. She approached where it began at the base of the great Elm, and saw that it had been crossed many times by horses’ hooves and human feet. Two small impressions at the outset of the path betrayed the fact that from time to time something wheeled followed its course. But the tracks were too small and flat to be tires. Perhaps a cart of some sort had passed here before. Clarissa pondered the track for a short while. The wind carried a fresh whiff of the horsey smell and the faint bleat of a sheep from beyond the hillock. Clarissa’s foot took an involuntary step forward and she looked down at the traitorous limb in surprise. Her brown shoe looked back at her innocently along the bridge of her slacks. Clarissa was about to turn round, but remembered the road and the fruitless choice it offered. Up the road, or down the road. It made her bitter. ‘Fuck the road,’ she thought as she followed her feet up the track and over the hillock.
A warm breeze rose up to greet Clarissa as she reached the pinnacle of the slope, and looking down she could see an old style farm enclosure. There was a yard fenced in by a rough hewn timber cattle fence grayed with age and wear. Dun colored chickens scratched about in the dust as goats and sheep mingled about or drank from a water darkened trough. There was some sort of small stable with wide double half doors and a tool shed or workshop on one side. Clarissa could see a team drawn plow leaned up unharnessed against the building, its gleaming blade making plain the care given to maintain it. There appeared to be a golden brown leather saddle resting on the crossbeam of the cattle fence deeper in the enclosure. Just behind the stable Clarissa could make out the bright gray of the stone cylinder and burgundy roof of a well. The path led down the hillock to the gate of the enclosure. The gate was supported on either side by two high timber posts which held up a sign upon which was the shape of a great golden boar, its bristles shining in the sun.
Clarissa wondered if it was private property. It looked so quaint and old fashioned that she wondered if it might be an Amish farm. But then there was that boar on the sign. It was so bright and vivid that she doubted it would be the adornment of the Amish. The wind stirred again, kicking up a breath of the fresh black loam that was nourishing all the fields around. It tripped the precariously balanced wooden latch on the gate, and it slowly swung open. That was all the reason Clarissa needed. She would go down and close the gate. Surely the farmer wouldn’t want his animals getting out. Clarissa started down the hill, knowing that the loose cattle fence did little to keep the animals in to begin with, but having all the reason she wanted. The path became softer as she descended the hillock, the soil changing to a darker hue and a moister content. The smell of the animals came strongly to her now but it was not unpleasant; it was different. Thinking about it, it smelled as if one had pulled the asphalt, exhaust fumes, and garbage smells of the city she lived in inside out and gotten this aroma of growing plants and living animals.
She approached the gate and a number of the animals looked up to view the approaching stranger. Eyes great and small whorled in sockets to discern this city dweller smelling of pain, frustration, and the smoldering of an uneasy heart. The goats blinked warily, the chickens ceased their scratching, the animals at the trough perked up with fine droplets clinging to their chins, and a few sheep took to bleating a brief warning to the air all about.
Clarissa’s hand stroked the rough wood of the gate and a few small bits of the worn wood came off in drowsy splinters rolling with the grain of her hand and falling onto the dark earth below. It struck her how warm the gate was. It was as if every golden ray of the sun had landed and found a home to its liking and stayed. Even after her initial touch, the beam of the gate remained radiating heat into her hand.
The gate creaked in a welcoming manner as Clarissa got a firm hold and began to close it. But just before the latch was shut she slid sideways around the wooden way barrer and stepped into the yard. Clarissa pulled the gate shut behind her and dropped its wooden latch into place in a more redoubtable manner than it had been before. A few animals gazed at her mutely but most of the rest had gone back to their routine, contented that she was nothing new to this place.
Stepping into the yard, Clarissa was impressed with the place close up. The animals were in perfect condition with not so much as a scratch on any of them to indicate any ill health. They were well fed but not doddering. Clarissa walked over to where the saddle lay. Looking closer she saw that it was a masterpiece of work. Well oiled leather stretched in many layers all about it, and each and every face of it was intricately carved with whorls dancing in intricate patterns and knots. Here and there she found a beast shape in the weave, and also strange characters that seemed to be letters from some lost language. Clarissa was entranced. Her eyes grew distant as she drifted away into the earthen hued world spiraling and speaking before her, so much so that she did not feel the warm wind which rose at her back and the calm voice which broke her reverie.
“Nice isn’t it?” sprouted words in a factual baritone behind her.
Clarissa whirled to face her unexpected visitor. Behind her was a tall man in an old faded t-shirt the color of honey. He was well built and tan down to his very bones. His hair was the dirtiest blond Clarissa had ever seen from the look of where it poked out from under his broad brimmed leather hat or stuck up like corn stubble in his close cropped beard. He wore faded dungarees which clung loosely to his legs. His simple dark belt wore an empty scabbard which Clarrisa assumed could have held a machete or some such blade from its size. His feet were covered in simple leather shoes which looked handmade with neither rubber sole nor nylon lace.
“I… um.. the gate was… I’m really sorry… I didn’t mean,” Clarissa anxiously stammered, but the man just smiled. Her lips froze and she saw that the look in his eyes bore no accusation, indignance, or anger. He just kept smiling at her with both his full lips and his dark green eyes.
After a moment he spoke, his aura of mirth never vanishing for an instant. “You’d be surprised at just how many people never even make it over that hill. Some aren’t even curious enough to leave the road to come find this place.” He stepped to her side and leaned back comfortably against the fence, raising a leg to rest one foot on the lowest beam.
Clarissa half shied away from the man, still unsure of what to make of him but she recovered and resolved not to show her unease. She smoothed her voice down to a comfortable tone “What is this place? Is it your farm?”
“This place is the farthest you can get from where you were. It’s the place where you have to pause and look back and make choices.” He looked over at her and saw one of her eyes comprehending and the other arched in confusion. “And yeah, it’s my place. Well it’s part of my place I have another house further yonder,” he said while gesturing at the nearest piece of limitless horizon.
“Oh,” said Clarissa, finding herself more and more at ease with the man’s mannerisms. “It’s… really nice here.” She too leaned back and copied the man’s recline on the other side of the saddle.”
“Aye,” he said, “and what about you my Lady? Where do you come from?”
“The city,” said Clarissa coolly as a look of consternation passed over her face.
“Ah, not too fond of the place then,” stated the man.
“Well it’s just that it’s…” Clarissa paused turned her head and leaned towards the tanned man, “I’m sorry I don’t even know your name.” She extended her hand.
“Fey,” he said giving her hand a firm shake and offering her a broad smile, “Farmer Fey, raiser of crops and lord of the harvest.”
“Clarissa,” she said smiling back. “I, well I have a lot of issues going on there. That’s why I came here today.”
“To get away,” said Fey glancing skyward.
“Umhmmm,” said Clarissa likewise turning her face to sky and sun. “I’m trapped in a job I hate, with a bunch of friends I don’t know why I hang out with, and I have a boyfriend who’s about as supportive as scaffolding held up with toothpicks.” Clarissa half blushed, not looking at the man and not believing she had just barked that out in front of a total stranger who probably didn’t care about her problems anyhow.
Fey chuckled. “Well I don’t blame you. If I was there, I’d want to get away too.” He paused briefly, “Sounds like you’re in bad soil.” He turned to her and gave a knowing and empathetic look that convinced Clarissa immediately that this man, somehow, did care. He cared very much and for the life of her she didn’t know why.
Clarissa swallowed and blinked. “Bad soil?” she said, drawn back from her glimpse at the man’s concern for her.
“Well you know how things grow right?” Clarissa drew in a wavering breath and prepared herself to give him an answer she thought the man wanted to hear. “Hut,” said the farmer as he stepped in front of her and reached above her head. “Here.” She felt his hand brush her hair as he drew it back. In his palm was a strange seed. Clarissa smiled; she’d seen that trick pulled off by hundreds of grandfathers pulling coins from behind grandchildren’s ears. Though this was the first time she’d known it to be done over someone’s head. The seed’s coat was the color of an almond and it was lined with an amazingly complex system of ridges and creases. It was large, the size of a walnut, but seemed a bit battered, and in some areas there looked to be cracks forming. “Come here,” Said Fey taking a few strides away from the saddle and towards a truly lopsided fence post which was darker than the others. “Here,” he said kneeling down and pointing to a patch of dust. “Now this is some truly bad soil.” Fey plunged his hand into the grit and scooped out a handful of abrasive sandy chaff with some long curvy bits of flotsam in it that Clarissa thought looked like fingernails. Fey placed the seed in the pit he had made and dropped the unwatered mass of dirt on top of it. “Now,” he stated, “if that poor seed puts out roots in this soil those sandy fangs all around it are going to bite it as it grows. It will starve in the hollow dust surrounding it; there’s no nutrition there.” He paused and motioned at the way a nearby cloud was passing in the sky,” The way this post leans and the way the rain comes blocks a lot of water from reaching this spot so that seed is going to thirst. It’ll come up sure as anything. It’s a strong seed. But it’s not going to grow. It’s going to come up wanting, screaming for food, water, and sun. And that post’s going to do it’s best to block as much sun as it can, as that sand starves it, and the water can’t reach it. It’ll grow up a half tree, always wondering what it would have been like to be enriched and full of water and sun. It will grow till it dies and falls over, never reaching its full potential. Now…” said Fey sinking his bronzed hand into the grit and recovering the seed,” there’s this soil over here.” He stood and walked to the gate of the enclosure, opened it, and stepped in front of one of the two posts supporting the great sign of the golden boar. He pointed down to a scrabby patch that looked no better than the chaff under the dark post.
“I don’t see a difference,” admitted Clarissa with a small uncomprehending frown.
“The first thing you do when you take a seed out of bad soil,” said Fey kneeling, “is to turn the earth.” Fey’s hand sank deep into the scrabby looking patch and rolled it over. Black loam graveled to the surface from beneath the dust above. Clarissa’s look brightened, understanding. “You need to change things up. If you plant in the same kind of soil that was killing you before you still won’t grow well. Fey’s hand tilled the soil and came up dark with clodded tinsels of soil clinging to his fingers. “There.” He thrust the strange seed into the black earth, pushing it down with his fingers until it was well covered but not too deep. “Then,” he said, reaching around the post and producing an old tin watering can that Clarissa had not seen there before, “you send in the rain.” Crisp cool droplets fell from the perforated spigot onto the rich soil below painting lava flats of mud from which no dust dared stir. “And now,” said Fey turning a friendly smile towards Clarissa, “you let it hunger for the sun.” Fey stood up and Clarrisa straightened. “The seed is strong,” he beamed, “it was just in bad soil.”
Clarissa and Fey talked a while longer. He showed her his great horse which was in the stable; a massive beast full of muscle and vigor hungry for the speed of an open plain. Fey let the horse out and chatted with her about the running of a farm with no modern equipment. She found it fascinating and informative. She asked about his vacant scabbard, and he said he had given the blade to a friend but felt sure he would have needed it one day. The day began to wane and Clarissa suddenly heard the sound of a bus rumbling up the lonely road in the place where all things paused. Fey noticed it too and said he had to be getting home to his wife. Before she left, he took her hand and told her not to worry and to remember the steps of moving a seed from bad soil so it could finally grow. They parted with warm smiles and promised to see each other again. Clarissa ran up and over the hillock, worried about catching the bus but there it stood, paused, with the odd city face glaring out in incomprehension and whisking back and forth from the country to view to a flickering watch. Clarissa climbed aboard and sank into a seat, weary from the reverie of the day that, as she came to consider it, had lasted rather a long time considering all the things she had done between her flight from the affairs of her life to her present seat on the vehicle of her return. She was pondering that when she looked out her window, and saw in the fields a very tan man in a honey colored t-shirt, riding a great horse. She saw him raise his hand and wave before he vanished into the red gold of the fields under the light of the setting sun. Clarissa waved back and smiled.
She returned home to all the things she had left behind. The smell of the asphalt and exhaust choked her at first but they were part of her world now. Things did not remain as they had been for her for long. She started looking for a new job that she could actually stand to work for and at length found one. It didn’t pay as much but she never woke up with her first thought being how much she dreaded going to work. She let her gaggle of acquaintanceship friends go. At first she fobbed off invitations and arranged an evening class at an inconvenient time for them so they finally stopped asking after her as she faded from their world. She let her boyfriend go too and for once reveled in herself. She understood that it was fine to be with someone but it was a not a thing she needed to have in order to be herself. Her world changed and she met new people. Among those, she found a few kindred spirits who were not abrasive to her course and nourished her goals.
One night, while Clarissa was waiting outside of a crammed bus stop it began to rain. It was a cool, crisp, and gentle rain which rapidly started to soak into everything it touched. Clarissa had nothing to fend it off and cast a chagrined look up at the sky. There was no thunder or lightning but only a persistent and steady rain bubbling out od pinpricked clouds. Clarissa sighed heavily and looked back earthward. Suddenly, the rain slid to the side and deepened the timbre of its drumming.
“That should help keep you dry my lady,” said a pair of eyes. Clarissa turned her head to the side. There was a man there holding his umbrella over her head while standing half in the rain himself.
“But you’ll get wet,” she said, smiling. “Here,” she pulled him close so that they were both under the umbrella, safe under the rain. They talked for a long time as buses came and went. She asked him about the pendant he wore in the shape of a stylized inverted hammer.
The ticket salesman at the bus station punched her ticket. He hated his job and all the people in it. The gal he was helping seemed nice enough though. She seemed tuned to a different station; one that didn’t rattle the sound of vehicles, horns, and a million people talking all the time. “So why are you going there?” he said in a weary sounding voice while nodding at the ticket. “There’s nothing at that stop.”
The woman smiled at him, her eyes far away, already at her destination. “I’m going to visit an old friend and thank him for his help. I also want to see what sort of tree has sprouted under the sign of the golden boar.”
© Matthias Wilson