You are reading Fiddleblack #13
The first night the kids got onto my farm, they spray-painted gigantic, white cock and balls on my red barn. They left my goats and pigs alone, but wrote, in red, “fuck me Ken” on five sheep and “fuck me ferst” on another. They put red and yellow spots on my pure white cow. They spray-painted the head of another bright yellow and took the time to color the white spot on another’s forehead neon blue. They took a white can to my black cow. Her fur said, “suck my rainbow.”
I keep to myself and get along with my neighbors. I called the cops, who wouldn’t arrive for hours, while I found the tracks these punks left behind on my driveway. I started at the barn where I could see three or four sets of footprints, two or three of them probably tennis shoes, one of them with a distinct diamond-shaped pattern. Last night was the first Friday night after school let out. They must be drunk, pent-up meatheads. Following one set of footprints off the driveway and behind my house, I found one of the dudes had split from the others to leave a green peace sign on the back of my house, near the living room window. Less offensive, I know, but it didn’t make any sense at the time.
I disliked how one of them had possibly cased my house while I slept. A dog would’ve known about all of this first, when it was happening. Maybe even before. But I’m allergic. I looked past the house to the tilled, black soil ready for me to plant soybeans. My farm is downhill from the road. The field curves up to meet it. I could see tire tracks marring the fines lines my disc left in the soil, but I went back to the driveway and followed their tracks down through the wet ditch and into the field, at which point there were clearly four sets of tracks leaving and returning from the place in my field where they parked their car, out of sight of the road.
I started to see this group of four young men, one in his letterman jacket, another in a hoodie and two in baseball caps worn downward so you couldn’t see their eyes. One must have had the duffel bag full of the paint, insulated with towels and socks to muffle the clanks as the boys moved. He was the one who tagged rail cars near the grain elevators in town. The smarter one, I thought, but coming here wasn’t his idea. Still, they needed him. I wondered if I could find any evidence. And, as I walked, I kept my eyes open for spray cans, gloves, cigarette butts, gum wrappers, or anything else the bozos might have lost in the dark. I found the spot where they hid their car—ballsy coming onto private property like that—and I looked hard for anything telltale, but I didn’t find anything dropped in the dark. Not any cell phones, billfolds, final papers, failing report cards, wrappers from condoms, or gas station receipts.
A few hours later the cops came and even though they thought it was kids, they had to ask questions: No, I didn’t have any enemies. No, I hadn’t had any bad dealings with anyone, any bad blood, and I didn’t know who might want to harm me or my property, and that was the damn truth.
The rest of the day, planting soybeans in the fields around my house, I started to see every car on the road a bit different. I thought I might hum “Suspicious Minds” as I looked on, and I chastised myself for thinking the King was writing about vandals instead of women. One white car kept driving down my road. The second time I saw it drive by slow, I wondered why it was circling. The third time I saw the white car, I felt sure they were inside, driving by and gloating, scot-free. The fourth time I saw it drive by, I got in my truck, followed, and passed to see who was inside. My neighbor’s daughter was getting driving lessons from her mother. I knew that car.
The next night, headlights against my bedroom window awakened me. Headlights never came from that angle. I parted the curtain to see an SUV ripping up my bean field. I’d been thinking about these jokers, and in my mind they came into focus, these four, three of them really, football players that got shoved into playing track now because it’s a spring sport, and the last guy, the sprinter and graffiti guy they got to know. I could see the case of Bud Light on the floor behind the driver’s seat, between the shotputter’s legs, and all the crumpled cans on the floor, the toady guys egging on the driver. I sold a cow to his brother or father sometime years ago and it wasn’t like they didn’t like the animal or said I was a faggot. But, guess what, the boy’s a faggot hating himself as much as he must have hated me and he comes to my farm now to let me have it. As far as I cared, he could take it up the ass from his cowpoke daddy. I got my black sweats and T-shirt on.
I went to find shotgun shells. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to scare them off with a shot in the air, take aim at the windshield and fire or run out there with the gun and threaten them by aiming it, giving them a chance. Last week I used the last shell on a weasel and bought some more, but they weren’t in my gun cabinet. I had to turn on a light, but I didn’t want them to see I was coming. I didn’t want them to drive up here or drive away, and the longer I looked, the less I trusted myself with the gun. I grabbed my cell phone and a flashlight and went out into the field, where their SUV had gouged my bean rows like the dirt track of a monster truck rally.
I was barefoot, and the soil was cold as I ran, up to my ankles, faster than I would’ve in shoes, the battery rattling inside the flashlight. If they had a gun, they could shoot me. If they didn’t see me, they could hit me, or if they did see me, they could run me down. In an hour I would know I was terrified, but right then I wanted that license plate number.
The headlights were coming toward me out of the dark field, the moon covered, no light filtering down to help my eyes adjust. Their lights hadn’t found me yet, so I ran to the side of the widening beam and managed to stay in the dark. My feet were already chill in the soft, loose soil. The truck turned around, its beams shifting away from me and I took my chance. I ran diagonally toward the point where I thought I might meet the truck, fifty feet away, as it slowed, and by the time it had picked up speed from its slow turn, I was close to the bumper and clicked the flashlight on.
Mud coated the license plate, freshly and thoroughly smeared. The windows were tinted. The driver swerved in surprise, noticing me in his mirrors. He hit the gas and sped away from me, but the car did a 180 and had me locked in his headlights. I told myself pranksters aren’t killers. The brightness widened and for a few seconds I thought he was going to mow me down. Then, having gotten a good look, he swerved away. I watched the truck bottom out against the ditch, get up on the road and tear out, headed south. Chicken-shit piece of shit.
I knew I had to call the cops again and didn’t want to have to answer all the same questions I did yesterday. Instead I called Ross, my ex, a conservative asshole who adored me but only me. We talked for two hours. When he said I’m really worried about you, I tried to lie. When he said you have to take matters into your own hands because the pigs don’t want to help guys like us, I said I know. When he said I’m coming over with my gun, I said I miss you.
I could not have foreseen Ross taking time off from his county job and being back in my bed every night that week. I knew what he was after. We’d tried each other a few times before, and things never went right. They weren’t going to. He spent his days in his newly appointed capacity as watchdog of my property. He painted over the graffiti on the barn and tried to scrub the colors off the animals but only muted them to fainter crayon.
On Monday afternoon, some opened mail appeared in my mailbox, with a rubber band around the envelopes.
On Tuesday morning, Ross found tracks in my driveway and a dead cat in the ditch by my mailbox. Someone had shot it. Was it the hoodlums dumping the cat as a sign and turning around? It was getting hard to dispel any fear, and all answers were turning to yes.
On Wednesday we worried what was going to happen next.
On Thursday a beat-up Pontiac drove up to my house. I was out in the field replanting everything that had been ripped up when I saw him turn into my driveway and head to the house. I didn’t recognize the car and stopped my field work to investigate. By the time I got there, Ross had already started.
“This is Larry,” Ross said. “He heard from Tom Quigley you might have goats for sale. Tom said just stop by.”
I didn’t remember saying anything to Tom about goats. I had talked to Tom about a couple cows that I’d since sold. My intuition kicked in. I felt sure he was one of the vandals.
“Sure, Larry, how many are you looking for?”
“One, maybe two. My little sister wants to raise some goats to take to the fair.”
“You want a mama or some kids then.”
“I think so. Tom said you know about goats so I’d take your recommendation.”
Ross and I led him around. He didn’t know anything about goats, but looking around the whole time at everything with a curiosity that made me uneasy.
When he drove off, I said, “Goddamn, Ross.”
“He sure was checking out the place. Wears tennis shoes, not boots. I bet we’re going to be seeing Larry real soon.”
By Friday night, Ross had persuaded me of a plan of action. We were going to camp out in my hayloft and wait for the trespassers. From the hayloft, we could see the road and all the fields clearly. If they were using any headlights or flashlights at all, we’d know where they were and then, when they got close, we’d fire our guns into the air and scare the living shit out of them. I was a little scared of the plan and Ross was cranked up.
“They come on your property that you own and—”
“We’ve talked this to death already.”
“Can I finish a sentence without you interrupting me? Can I? They come on your property that you own and they got no rights left. Even if this country thinks we’re worth nothing, you still have every constitutional right to shoot these fucks in the head. That part’s clear in the constitution.”
“I’m not shooting anybody in the head.”
“How many are there? How big are they? There were four last time, you say. Will they bring their buddies? Last thing they’ll expect is two faggots with guns.”
“You’re not going to shoot anybody in the head either.”
“Somebody threatens you, I’ll shoot him in the fucking brain.”
“Hey, look, they’re here.”
It was near midnight. Headlights were moving slowly down the road along my property.
“They’re looking for a place to park.”
“Don’t do that.”
Now the headlights were moving even slower, taking a good look.
“We’ll stay in the dark, they can’t see us, we take a couple of shots in the air. Safe and clean and they get a reason to thank Jesus after they clean the shit out of their panties.”
The headlights stopped at the bottom of my driveway.
“I think they’re getting out. I see them there.”
The dome light came on, but I couldn’t see who was inside.
Ross led me out of the hayloft and down around into the dark behind my house. The dome light went off, but the car was still sitting there. Ross and I raised our guns like we planned. First he let off a shot into the clouds and then I did. That’s when the cop turned on his light, which started to strobe across the driveway. He couldn’t see Ross and me in the backyard so we went into the house, set the guns down on the table, and came out the front like the cop would expect.
I turned on the charm and talked my way out of it, but the cop chewed my ass.
Our vigil continued for over an hour. A car sped down the road, then quickly slowed down before my driveway. The headlights clicked off, but I could see the tail lights as they took a field road onto my property, back to the place they were before.
“There they are, coming our way,” Ross said. I raised my shotgun but he waved it down and said, “Wait until they’re closer.”
I lowered it and watched them try to sneak into the yard without being seen. We saw the guy in the letterman jacket, the other a jean jacket—neither were Larry. But to our surprise, two of the vandals were girls, barely thirteen by the look of them, having hooked up with a couple graduating seniors who couldn’t get laid with girls of their own age.
“Losers,” Ross said. “Wait,” he whispered as one of the boys opened the barn door and the rest followed him inside.
I aimed my shotgun out the window, toward the moon, and fired. Ross smiled wide and nodded. From below I heard one of the girls shriek and one of the boys say, “Shit. Fuck.” Ross waited a few more seconds, then fired out the window and yelled “This is private property. You bitches better run.”
“Ross,” I scolded. Clearly, he had been planning to say that all along.
This time two girls shrieked, the barn door banged open, and I heard one of the boys squeal in panic as he charged through the electric fence that he couldn’t see in the dark.
Next I heard the fence snap and he cried out, “Oh my god, Rich, help me.” But the girls were running down the driveway, and his buddy, Rich, the guy in the jean jacket, bolted through the yard and behind my house.
Ross fired again and one girl started to cry.
“Stop that shit,” I said, tossing my gun to the haybale. I shimmied down the ladder of the haychute, heard the boy say in a voice starting to choke up, “Help me, get these off me.” I grabbed the flashlight next to the barn door and hurried to him.
Later I’d find out the boy was a linebacker for the football team. After hearing the second shot, he charged out the barn door and into the fence as fast as he could and kept running, the idiot. Four electric wires and two regular strands of barbed wire had come loose and entangled him. By the time I got there, he’d twisted himself worse, but the juice, located on the other end of the barn, was still on. Every few seconds, he got another shock.
Ross fired a third time and I said, “Damn it, Ross, turn off the juice, the boy’s hurt.”
I shone the flashlight on the kid. It was a total mess. He was on his stomach in the pasture’s dirt and manure. Barreling through, he had gotten his legs and torso through some strands, but not others, and now they all hampered his escape. The barbed wire had popped loose on one end and curled around him. Then it had dug into his face and torso.
He was trashing and turning, already badly gouged. The barbed wire coiled around his abdomen and neck and trapped his left arm.
“Be still, son.”
He got shocked again, his hands scrambling at wires, and tried to crawl away, dragging them. The wires slipped his grip and twanged back in place.
“It got my eye,” he sobbed, right as he got zapped.
“Son, you’re gonna have to be still or you’re gonna hurt yourself worse.”
“Get it off me. Please fucking help me.”
He was trying to get his arms out of the letter jacket caught in the barbed wire, but he couldn’t maneuver. His body convulsed with the fence’s pulse.
“I can’t. I’ll get shocked too,” I said and then turned my head toward the barn to yell, “Hurry up, Ross.”
“You’re not going to help me? Please.”
“Just a few more seconds.”
He tried to get up onto his elbows, but the barbed wire dug in, and he clenched his teeth with a groan. He took another jolt, dropped down to his belly, dug his hands into pasture and tried to pull his body forward but ripped himself again. He kept trying this maneuver. I don’t have a worse memory than waiting for Ross and watching that kid tear himself up. I swear Ross took his sweet time.
When Ross finally cut the juice, I moved quick to the boy, leaned down, and rolled him over to get a look, though he winced in the barbs. Willing to be turned, he went helpless in my grip. His face looked like a wild animal got his head in its mouth. I worried he’d opened up his gut with all that thrashing around, but he hadn’t. His arm shaking, he raised his hand and touched my waist.
“Be still,” I said once more, beginning to unsnarl him.
Michael Walsh is the author of The Dirt Riddles, winner of the Miller Williams Prize in Poetry, as well as the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His chapbooks include Adam Walking the Garden and Sleepwalks. His poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Chattahoochee Review, DIAGRAM, New York Quarterly and other journals.