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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Fiction

The Ark
Mary Wilson

Edie Benson was dialing the police again.
"The geese are on my steps, Milton."
"Yes, I guessed they were."
"They are leaving big piles all over my frozen steps, and I can’t even wash it off with the hose this time of year."

Milton Hayes, police officer and zoning enforcer, promised Edie they would be out just as soon as they could, given the weather, finished his last gulp of Folgers coffee, and made a stop in the restroom before putting on his heavy winter jacket. He would need to warm the cruiser since it was twelve below, and he used the time to radio his best friend, George McKenny, and ask him to meet at the Pearson farm.

Photo: © Sam North

The barn and a small white clapboard outbuilding were all that was left on the land. The Pearson farmhouse had been a casualty in the string of arsons that had tormented the county four years back. Luckily, old Mrs. Pearson had been at the eye doctor having her cataracts removed when the fire struck. Although she had been spared combusting with all her worldly goods that November day, the townspeople said it would have been kinder if the Lord had taken her to heaven with the house like a burnt offering, that even a fiery death would have been preferable to later finding Mrs. Pearson frozen in her nightgown on the spot where she was born, had birthed her own daughter, Mildred, and returned to die.

The nurses at the home theorized on how Emma had managed to sneak out and make it back to her homestead, a full five miles away, despite the arthritis in her knees, but more importantly, that fact that her vision had never fully returned after the operation.
Perhaps she had hitched a ride, some theorized, or maybe she had managed to stumble back with the help of some instinctual and recently activated homing center in her brain, the same way lobsters will crawl toward sea if they are taken miles inland.

The magnetic forces of the universe had steered the Pearsons to this particular spot, and now Milton and George were there, shivering under the full moon.
"Better get in the barn, George. That wind chill puts it close to negative 20."
Milton sparked a Coleman lantern.
"Sure is a lot of stuff in here," George said, surveying the contents. Couches, dressers, stereo parts, rusted mattress springs, an oxen yoke, piles of clothing, trash bags and boxes, were all stacked in knee to chest high piles bordering a winding path from one end of the barn to the other.
A white emaciated cat stood in front of the pair and meowed, believing its chances were better that these men would feed it and not eat it, but not really caring if the men put him out of his misery, for fun or mercy. Just he and the female calico were left of the twelve cats that Sean and Mildred had owned. Those two cats, and the geese.
"I’ll have to call the animal shelter." Milton said.
"Where are the geese? Mrs. Benson said there are geese."
The pair walked through the barn, Milton leading the way with the lantern he had gotten with his Marlboro miles.
"You shoulda saved those miles for an oxygen tank," George had told him when the package arrived.

Milton had become obsessed with finding Marlboro miles, even stopping his car in the town center when he saw a crumpled pack on the curb by the High School. Each Monday, the day before trash pick-up, Milton would stop by the gas station George owned to scour the trash for empty packs that Brian, the head mechanic, threw into the cans without removing the miles.
"I don’t know what you are more addicted to, Milt, the squares or finding the miles," George would say.

They heard the geese before they spotted them on the hay behind the ancient tractor.
"I thought Mrs. Benson said there was a whole flock, Milt."
Maybe there had been a flock, but with this cold, and little feed or protection for at least a month, the others had either starved to death, undoubtedly keeping the cats alive, or entered their next existence through the jaws of a coyote, Milt guessed.
By the hay was a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat on the top. Milton did not need to peer inside at the frozen excrement to know that the toilet seat had not found its way to the top of the bucket by cosmic coincidence or by the law of thermodynamics that said that all order goes to disorder, although this barn was a prime example of that law at work. He had seen this set-up before, the makeshift latrine. If the farm had been less than ten acres he could have cited the lack of a proper septic system, but for parcels over that amount the rule didn’t apply.
"Shame that Sean and Mildred were living like this. Why didn’t she rebuild with the insurance money?" George asked.

The insurance money, Milt informed him, had been used for Emma Pearson’s long-term care, and even if there had been money to pass down, Emma had willed the place to her grand-daughter, Sophie. Mildred Pearson was a squatter on her family’s land, a parcel owned by her blood line for nine generations back to Shay’s rebellion, when an ancestor had been sentenced to death and then pardoned for his role in the uprising.
"She must have gone south. Either way, I need to call the shelter."

The two geese followed them to the door, where the white and calico cats sat. George wondered what other animal pairs lingered unnoticed in the barn, waiting to be saved. He looked up at the giant hand-hewn beams, and thought that the barn was an ark, a refuge in the sea of frozen water that drifted in smooth waves by the side of the building.
"Poor Sophie," George sighed.

© Mary Wilson April 2004

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