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The Barn
Greg Farnum

He parked the car at the side of the road and walked the quarter of a mile through the woods to the spot where the trees stopped and the land sloped gently down to the main highway. After some kicking and scuffing with his boots he found a comfortable spot in the brush and sat down, his knees pulled up toward his chest, to wait. He checked his watch, then checked it again; it should be soon, he thought. It was. Far off he saw them rounding the bend. The waiting was harder now. When the column reached the stretch of road nearest him, about 150 yards from where he was sitting, he raised his hunting rifle to his shoulder and calmly loosed a bullet into the middle of the two parallel lines of marching soldiers. He lowered his rifle to his lap and sat there. The soldiers stood as if suspended, then the entire column fell to earth. There were shouts. Carefully he began to skitter backwards. Then the woods exploded in bullets and he found himself moving at great speed on his belly, on all fours and in a crouching run that sent him bursting through the bushes face first. Soon he was at the car and fumbling for his keys, an act which struck him as wildly out of keeping with what had just taken place. He wedged his rifle partly on the floor of the car, partly on the seat, and drove off.

Then it started. The act of driving was so ordinary, so exposed. If he saw a roadblock up ahead he couldn't just duck into the woods. He would have to...what? He made a conscious effort to keep his hands on the wheel, to keep his speed down, to keep the car on the road. Then the exertion of slithering and running through the woods kicked in and joined the emotions that made it hard to keep his hands on the wheel and something seemed to rise up through his body and into his skull: I'm going to die of fright, he said to himself. Then he realized how far-fetched that was, to literally die of fright. Then he realized it wasn't far-fetched at all.

Each second that the car stayed on the road, though, drained that phrase of its power and eased his fear, and eventually the car came to a halt in front of his house. He got out and stopped. He couldn't leave the rifle in the car, yet he was afraid to take it out. He couldn't just leave it there in clear view of anyone who happened to peer in the car window, yet...why not? That was the frightening part, the question; when he'd set out earlier in the afternoon he'd had an iron clad plan, now it had vanished like an unremembered dream. Any choice he made seemed no better or worse than any other.

On his way to the kitchen he glimpsed his wife reading a magazine on the couch in the livingroom. She didn't look up. He opened the refrigerator, grabbed a bottle of beer and drank it quickly and felt a little better. He went out the kitchen door and circled round the back of the house to the car. Making a conscious effort not to look around, he removed the rifle and walked to the root cellar. Fortunately the root cellar door wasn't locked. He leaned the rifle against a sack of potatoes, emerged from the root cellar and went into the barn to hide.

A couple of minutes later he got up from the hay bale wedged into a corner of a vacant stall and went back into the house. He walked through the front door and, again passing his wife who still refused to look up, went into the kitchen. He grabbed all the beer in the refrigerator and, arms full, tried to let himself quietly out the kitchen door. He dropped one can which banged down the wooden steps. He froze for a moment; then, convinced his wife hadn't heard, he made his way back to the barn. Back on the hay bale he set the bottles in an orderly array on the floor. It was only after he reordered them, then reordered them again, that he opened one. He was ready to hide and wait.

Into the next beer, he realized he should be thinking about the rifle. He should have it with him. He was defenseless. But what defense would the rifle really be if the army or the police cornered him in the barn? "What are you doing in here?" they might ask. "Escaping from my wife," he could say. They might buy that. They'd laugh at that. He opened another beer.

He lit a cigarette. Could burn the barn down, he said to himself. At least that way they'll never find me. The sun began to fail. He zipped his coat. That gave him an idea. He got up and walked the length of the barn to where the old blanket was stored. Back on the hay bale, wrapped in the blanket, a cigarette burning in his left hand, he numbered the full bottles and cans on the floor with his right hand. He picked one up and opened it. The last of the light slid through the barn's partially open door. The sound of birds reached his ears and as he listened it was punctuated by the soft rustling and shuffling and snorting of his underpopulated barn. He opened two beers and lit another cigarette. His breathing was regular now. The birds reached their just after sundown crescendo. He cradled the two bottles against his stomach and exhaled. "This is more like it," he whispered

© Gregory Farnum 2001


Or Buy his novel THE EVENT

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