I ran into some friends at a local store the other day, and they asked about getting a copy of my latest novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. I told them there’s going to be a book sale here this month because I’ve got to make room on my shelves—for more books, of course.
So watch this space, as the marketers like to say! And now on to Carding where it’s blueberry picking season.
The sun was still thinking about getting up when Christine Tennyson padded into the big barn in her rubber boots. She loved the solitude of early morning, the time of day that’s so full of peace and promise.
She knew the animals were aware of her presence—the hens dozing in their coop, the goats stirring in their hay beds, the cats patrolling for mice among the rafters—but they made no demands on her. Later, when the sun got a bit higher, Houdini would rouse his harem of nannies and their kids, and demand that someone open the barnyard gate so he could take them up to his favorite summertime pasture to feast on Queen Ann’s lace and early goldenrod. Then, after a late breakfast, the flock would retire to the shady spots at the edge of the field to wait out the heat of the afternoon before descending to sleep in the barn again.
Christine was glad the “Alpha Billy,” as she liked to call the obstreperous goat, had decided to keep his ladies and their children in the barn at night. She guessed that her husband, Lee, wasn’t the only one who’d heard the coyotes up in the woods.
Still clutching her large cup of honeyed tea, she climbed the open steps to the loft where they stored the farm’s sales paraphernalia—signs, cash boxes, wooden tables, event tents, canvas aprons, and the like. The whole family—Christine, Lee, and their two boys, Scott and Little Freddie—had spent all of yesterday dragging out the “You-Pick Blueberries” sign to the large berry orchard, setting up tables under their event tent, and stacking white picking buckets.
Being five months pregnant—Christine was sure it was a little girl this time—she’d been grateful for the help of Wil Bennett and his friends. Now heading into his senior year of high school, Wil showed signs of loving the farming life, and Christine wondered how his parents would feel about that. No one ever got rich running a small farm.
But it was a satisfying life.
She paused at the top of the stairs to let her eyes adjust to the dusky light that filtered through the chinks in the walls. She felt a little bad that she hadn’t remembered the scarecrow until this morning, and even though the idea was a bit silly, she hoped that Roy’s feelings weren’t hurt.
He was named Roy for Roy Rogers because that’s how old the scarecrow was. Its first cowboy hat was long gone, and Christine had finally replaced its flannel shirt last year. But the stuffed blue jeans were original, the final resting place for a pair worn by Lee’s Uncle Cedric from when he was a teenager.
Toeing her way toward the old trunk against the back wall, Christine heard a purr, and the boss cat, Big Yeller, jumped up on an old chair to ask for a back scratch. She was happy to comply, scooping the cat up to hold him against her chest. There was nothing quite like the sensation of a deep purr, and the tabby was happy to comply with Christine’s silent request.
She felt her baby roll over, obviously intrigued by the sensation, and the three of them took a moment to enjoy the pleasure together. Then the cat squirmed—he’d had enough—and Christine reached him down to the floor.
“Okay,” she whispered to the growing light, “let’s see how Roy fared over the winter.”
The trunk’s lid creaked as she pulled it up, raising a cloud of dust. She let it settle, and then hooked her hands under the scarecrow’s arms. Roy’s head bobbled—he needed more stuffing—but his embroidered smile was intact. Christine carefully prodded its large black-button eyes to make sure they were secure, and one popped off in her hand.
“Well, if that’s the only thing you need, that’s not bad,” she told Roy.
“Chris, are you in here?” It was Lee, standing in the open barn door.
His boots clattered across the floor, and then the face she loved more than any other popped up in the stairway’s opening. “What in the world are you…? Oh, Roy. Of course.”
“Can’t start the blueberry season without him,” Christine said as she handed the scarecrow off to her husband.
“Hmph, yeah, the birds would have to find another perch,” Lee said.
“Hey, hey, don’t say that,” Chris said. “You and I both know that’s not his job.” Her hand reached out to find the railing before she set foot on the steps. They were worn and irregular, and she knew Lee was watching to make sure she didn’t fall.
When they reached the barnyard, Lee stopped to take a close look at the aged scarecrow. “You have to admit that us Tennysons have some strange family heirlooms,” he said. “Hey, one of his eyes is missing.”
“In my pocket,” Christine said. “Why don’t you put him in the truck while I go get a needle and thread?”
Lee smiled at her then hoisted the bobble-headed Roy over his shoulder. Christine turned toward the house but then her head whipped around. It must have been a trick of the light but she swore that scarecrow had winked at her.
She knew all about the Tennyson family’s myths and legends, about magical Christmas trees and the like. There was something about the old family farm that just seemed to inspire tales of the bewitching sort. But a winking scarecrow? Seriously?
But then one of Roy’s arms rose higher than the other, and he waved at her. There was no denying it. Christine felt a pleasant chill slither over her shoulders, and she glanced around expecting…what?
Houdini bleated in the distance, and she heard the mutter of hens rising from their evening roosts. Christine drew in a rather large amount of the cool morning air, and laughed at herself.
“Okay then,” she said as she fingered the button in her pocket. “Winking scarecrows it is.”
Thank you for journeying with me to Carding, Vermont. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find four short stories in your inbox every month, one on the full moon, one on the new moon, and one each at the waxing and waning half-moons. In between, there will be other moments to share.
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The Carding novels are (in order of appearance):