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Because fiction authors just do it better!     

Wounded Crows Don't Fly


Chapter 1

The Idealist

 

     The crisp air bit at my face as I stepped off the train and onto the platform that March day in the year 1959. A bag in each hand, I carried the third draped over my right shoulder by its strap. Being the only person to get off at this small, isolated farming town that seemed to be deserted, I looked around the station for a sign that indicated a public telephone. The train groaned and creaked as it pulled away and seemed to be the only thing in the town that represented modern civilization. I stared at it moving down the track. The last hope of changing my mind was now departing, leaving me in the middle of forgotten fields, lost souls and discarded dreams. At the closed station window, just a copy of the train schedule was taped to the glass and a note that read, "To purchase a ticket go to Crane's hardware store." The structure seemed to be standing on pure luck, as it hadn’t been maintained for years. Weather-beaten, wood-planked sides, missing shingles, and windows so dirty that you could barely see through them were all an indication of a building long ago abandoned. After all, who would come to this place on purpose? I thought.

     After locating the telephone, I paged through the directory looking for a cab company. There were not many choices in the small Nebraska town, but after locating the only one, I dialed the number and informed them of my location and the destination. I wanted to be sure they would drive me all the way out to the farm. After hanging up, I meandered to a bench outside the station and slid the travel bag strap off my shoulder as it had been cutting into my skin. I placed it beside the other two bags, and after brushing the snow and dirt from the bench, sat down to wait for my ride.

     Remembering back to my youth and life on the farm, never would I had imagined coming back to work in the fields, care for the animals, and maintain the rundown buildings. But here I was, with a degree in physics and mathematics, going to work the farm like I had never left this forgotten land. The sound of the cab brought me back from my reverie, and I picked up the bags and brought them to the curbside. The driver promptly put them into the trunk and closed the lid as I settled in the back seat. After starting the engine, he turned his head slightly to confirm the destination.

     "The Zartner place, huh?"

     "Yes, that’s right," I reaffirmed.

     "Well, sit back and relax some, that there’s a long ride," he said and pushed down the handle of the meter.

     We drove through the countryside passing one farm after the next. I stared out the window at the fields of winter wheat lined up one after the other, an endless reminder of how I had once been its servant. Resting my head against the car seat, I closed my eyes. In what seemed like a short time the engine went silent and the driver announced our arrival. I hesitated and looked out the window reluctant to get out of the car. The house was old and weathered, and looked as though it could cave in at any moment. As I stepped out, the familiar scent of the land filled my nostrils with past memories that I thought had long been discarded. Staring in disbelief at the condition of the farm, I couldn’t help but think how it was life’s cruel and ironic humor that had brought me back to this place.

     "You gonna need anything else?" the driver asked as he placed the luggage on the front porch.

     "No. No thank you," I replied and paid the fare.

     The cab pulled away leaving behind a rising dust cloud and me standing on the porch. My brother had a full-sized sable Collie, who came running out of the barn barking to let me know I was intruding on his home. He moved slowly toward me not quite sure if he remembered who I was. My hand slowly reached out to him.

     "Hello, Hemingway. Have you been keeping the farm going?"

     He recognized the sound of my voice. Taylor and I always had similar sounding voices and the dog put his ears back, then with his tail wagging came to greet me. I reached down and scratched behind his ears while staring out into the empty fields. The landscape blew a chilly northern wind into my face as if to welcome me back in a sarcastic manner. Picking up the bags, I grabbed the handle of the screen door, which squealed like a screech owl when it opened. Hemingway followed me inside. After placing the bags inside the door, I looked around the house. It had a musty odor and a dampness that seemed to hit from every direction. I wanted to turn around and walk right back out and take the train back to Boston, but I had made a promise and that promise I would keep. A man who can not be held to his word is not a man. And what kind of brother would I have been if I had not stayed to work the farm?

     Walking into the living room, I observed that almost everything was the same as the last time I was here. The walls held remnants of yellow paint that peeled at various places. Like a middle-aged man, the ceiling could no longer conceal its sagging belly, too weak to continue the fight with gravity and too old to care. The spacing between the floorboards seemed to widen with every passing hour and as the sun bled through drab, faded blue curtains hanging by thin air, I thought how it seemed time had no meaning on the farm.

     The wooden desk in the corner of the living room stood like a monument that had seen its prime and now is ready to be replaced by future generations. I noticed a leather notebook along with various pages that had been scattered across the desk’s top. Picking up the binder, I opened it to the first page; "Journal" was written across it. I set it back down and continued through the house picking up and inspecting various pieces of the past. Then sitting down at the desk, I picked up the journal again and turned to a page.

 

*****

     Taylor worked patiently fitting together the last run of copper pipe and then used the torch to weld the seal at the joint. He had already dug the trench from the water tank to just outside the kitchen window, and all that was left was to lay the pipe in the trench and connect the fitting to the icebox. After finishing the welding, he took off the welder's shield he borrowed from Mr. Crane and set it to the side. He tightened the brass fitting to the icebox joint and stood up.

     "That should just about do it. Now if this contraption would only work," he said aloud and hurried across the yard to the water tank. The windmill turned and pumped water from the natural spring over two-hundred feet below. Its steady creaking noise was an indication that it was working and turning the shaft. Taylor reached down and opened a valve. The water began to move through his freshly laid copper pipe and he walked along side the trench inspecting for leaks. When he approached the house and looked at the fitting leading into the kitchen he smiled.

     "Look at that. No Leaks! And Henry said I’d be wasting my time."

     A few hours later, he opened the icebox and took out a cool pitcher of lemonade. After pouring a tall glass, he enjoyed the cold refreshment while sitting on the porch imagining what exciting tasks tomorrow's day would bring. With his journal opened, he logged another entry.

 

July 23, 1937

The possibility that I could achieve perfection in some diminutive task has been an incessant anguish. Although there is no real proficiency of anything in particular, the day is spent imagining an elevated physics theory, a new electric invention, a literary work of art, or a musical masterpiece. I have but one veritable skill, that of an obsessive idealist.

It is the fate of such an enthusiast to observe the timelessness in the movement of a clock, to see beyond the perimeter of an unadorned page, and to deliberate the meaning of vacuity. This burden to search out such intangibles is a lonesome one, however it is not without its accolades. Failure upon failure does not matter when the possibility of achieving a dream is near.

This day, like so many before it came with new and exhilarating possibilities; a chance to test the skills of a scholar with no diploma. Armed with only the will to differentiate from others who are all too aware of the boundaries of their existence. They have long succumbed to the notion that destiny has been etched into time’s granite and it can not be altered or polished.

*****

     Staring at the page, my mind was a complete blank. I unbuttoned my coat and hung it on the back of the chair. Then read it again. What was he talking about? I wondered if Taylor had finally gone insane. He had always been a bit odd. Ever since we were kids, Taylor would come up with the strangest things like the time….

 

***

     "Martin! Martin, come over here!"

     "What? What do you want now?"

     Martin stopped Old Grey and released the shoulder harness to the plow. Walking through the wheat fields, he searched for where Taylor was calling, but couldn’t see him anywhere.

     "Where are you?"

     "I’m over here!" he called. A leg rose up out of the field like a waving flag marking a newly discovered land.

     Martin pushed his way over to him through July’s wheat. It had grown taller than normal that year with the steady rain and warm weather. It was a good crop and had kept Martin busier than usual. When he reached the place from which Taylor had called, he pushed the stalks to the side and found him lying on his back staring up at the sky with his arms spread out from his sides.

     "What are you doing, Taylor?"

     "If you lie here and stare at the moving clouds, when the wind blows the wheat it feels like you’re moving backwards!"

     "Are you mad? I have chores to do and so do you! You better get up before Father comes out here and then you’ll see how it really feels to move backwards!"

     Martin was angry because he always had to do most of the work. The little scrawny Taylor had to do only menial chores and usually screwed those up. Martin had to be the responsible one. Martin had the broad shoulders and could carry the extra weight. Martin was the smart one. Martin, Martin, Martin! How he loathed hearing his name called every minute of the day. For once, he would like to be the irresponsible child and just sit around counting the clouds or watching the birds fly across an endless sky.

***

 

     Looking around the old, dilapidated shack, I wondered how anyone could live this way for so long. The smell of rotted wood, musty curtains, and old books hung in the air like an abandoned library. I stood up from the chair and went to the window to push open its frame. A cool breeze rushed by my face and blew one of the pages off the desk. I started to turn when I noticed scratch marks in the wooden window ledge. Upon closer inspection, I could see that something had been carved into the wood, probably with a pocketknife, and had been done quite some time ago. The letters were barely readable, and I squinted to make out what was there.

     "Martin came fo—Martin came to," I read the first words with some difficulty and squinted harder at the remaining scribble. Then I saw it. My eyes burned and I tried desperately not to lose my composure, but as I closed them a tear fell. I wiped it away and stared at the etched words. "Martin came to visit today 3/22/1935."

     I ran my fingers over the shallow grooves thinking back to the day when I had come home during my last year of college to bury our mother. Father had passed on several years earlier, and it had just been Mother and Taylor to take care of the farm. I had to get away from the Nebraska country life, so upon receiving a scholarship from Boston University, I made my way to the East Coast as fast as that train would take me there.

 

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