Author: Ron Ripley
Editor: Emma Salam
Connor looked through the haze of tobacco smoke from his pipe at the morning light as it crested the horizon. A flock of turkeys moved through the tall grass, their dark feathers flush with the sun’s glow. The pair of toms that watched over the hens stood a little distance away from their harem, tails spread and waddles bright red.
Connor grinned, tipped his hat in salute to the birds and stepped off his porch. His knees and hips ached. Decades of farm work had punished his joints, worn down his muscles and beat upon his back.
Over the years, he had sold off bits and pieces of the land. Young folk, hell bent to make money on corn when you couldn’t even give it away.
Connor shook his head, settled his pipe firmly in his mouth and put his hands in the pockets of his work-worn overalls. His feet followed the same path he had tread every morning for thirty-seven years.
Sixty-two steps from the back porch to the right wall. Gray stones piled over generations to mark the pastures and the fields.
He reached it after a few moments and turned left. With the wall on his right, he followed it along the acres he still owned. Connor knew where each stone should be, the placement of every rock. Some, he had put up with his sons. Some, alone. And others, with his father, and his grandfather. He knew the wall intimately, and it helped him prepare for each day.
When he reached the far corner, he came to a stop.
Just beyond the wall, was the new road. Yet at the junction of stones, Connor found one had fallen, a rare, yet not unseen occurrence.
The stone was a roughly triangular piece of granite which glinted in the morning sun.
Connor grimaced at the pain in his hips as he squatted and picked up the stone.
He went to replace it and paused. In the granite’s former seat, he found a rosary.
Connor gently removed the religious item. Behind it, was a small envelope sealed in wax paper, and Connor withdrew it as well. With a shake of his head, he properly put the stone back in its place. He straightened up, winced at the audible ‘pop’ from his right leg, and held the rosary up to the morning light.
The beads were a pale gray, connected by delicate links of steel. The crucifix was of steel as well, the image of Christ potent and powerful. His suffering nearly unbearable to behold.
How did you get here? Connor wondered, turning the crucifix over.
On the back, he found an inscription.
Jonathan, come home to me safely. Mother. October 9, 1943.
Connor held the rosary in his hands and looked at it.
Why were you in my wall? He thought. Once more, he read the inscription.
Jonathan, come home to me safely. Mother. October 9, 1943.
Connor’s eyes widened.
Jonathan Farley, Connor realized. He remembered the funeral. He had been a boy and the Farley’s had lived on the next farm over. Jonathan had died somewhere in the Pacific. He had been killed by the Japanese.
But why were you in my wall?
He held the rosary in one hand and opened the envelope.
It contained a letter written on one side of heavy card stock, and was no bigger than a postcard. The penmanship was neat and precise.
To whom it may concern, the unknown writer began. I have placed this rosary, which belonged to my son, Jonathan, here in this wall. This part of the field was his favorite, and I always thought it a shame he had died before ever seeing the sunrise from it again. I have taken the liberty of placing his crucifix here in hopes that his spirit will be at peace. If you find it, I ask you to leave it. I am certain it would make his troubled soul happy.
Mary Farley, June, 1945
Connor read the letter again and shook his head.
Has it been here for sixty years?
He sighed and put it into his breast pocket, along with the rosary.
The wall’s mine, Connor thought stubbornly.
He shook his head and turned to the left.
The beads were surprisingly warm against his chest, as though they had been in the sun and not behind the rock. One of the toms looked up, watched him for a moment, then the turkey returned to the concerns of hens, food and predators.
Connor smiled, finished his walk, and returned to his house.
He poured himself a glass of water, carried it into the den with him and sat down to read the morning newspaper. There was little Connor considered newsworthy, but, like his walk, the paper was part of his daily ritual. As was the water, which he drank slowly.
Soon, he finished the paper, closed his eyes and thought about the stories he had read.
Heroin arrests in Nashua. A bank robbery in Nashua. The president of the local Chamber of Commerce in a bit of situation because of lurid emails sent to the coach of the Hollis High School’s cheer squad.
Nothing new, Connor thought.
The heat of the rosary in his pocket flared up, and his eyes snapped open.
It felt as though the beads were made of fire.
He snarled at the sudden pain, dug the beads out and held them in his hands.
Beads and steel and crucifix were cool to the touch.
For a moment, he looked at them with worry and wondered if dementia had decided to rear its ugly head.
It had with Janice, and now he had to visit his wife in the nursing home. The illness had made her too difficult to handle. Connor sighed, looked at the rosary and a memory flashed before him.
The funeral of Jonathan Farley, the whispers. Jonathan’s brothers speaking of the horrific deeds their older brother had committed. The human skulls he had mailed home. The rambling letters speaking of the atrocities he had witnessed and had participated in.
The war had claimed Jonathan in more ways than one.
I doubt looking at the sunrise would have eased his soul, Connor thought, and then he set it down on the coffee table. He stood up, finished the last bit of water and returned to the kitchen to refill the glass. His steps were slow, and he worried again about dementia.
He reached the sink and froze as something crashed in the den.
Connor stood immobile, one hand above the faucet, the other wrapped around the glass.
A soft, low noise reached his ears, and Connor stiffened.
Someone’s crying, he realized.
Someone’s in my house.
He put the glass down, opened the silverware drawer and pulled out the small, snub-nosed revolver he kept tucked in the back of it. He reached a little further back, found the box of shells and quickly loaded the weapon.
With a snap of his wrist, Connor locked the cylinder in place, cocked the hammer back and held the pistol out protectively.
He carefully walked back to the den. He tried to remember if he had heard anyone on the front porch, or if he had foolishly left any of the windows or doors on the first floor unlocked.
Nothing came to mind.
The sound of the person’s sobs grew louder, and Connor’s heart beat quicker.
A few steps away from the doorway into the den, he stopped and took several long, deep breaths. He forced himself to calm down, inhaled through his nose one last time, exhaled, and quickly went in.
A man knelt in front of the couch with his back to Connor.
Fine sand was strewn about the room, as though an entire section of beach had been transported into the house. The man was in the center of the sand, and Connor realized the stranger wore a faded, olive drab uniform.
“Who are you?” Connor demanded, keeping the pistol up and pointing at the young man’s back.
The stranger’s shoulders shook, his head bowed.
Connor worked his jaw nervously, tried to figure out how the young man had gotten in, how sand had gotten in.
“Who are you?” Connor snapped.
The stranger’s head lifted up, and he sniffed loudly.
“Did you see what they made me do?” the man whispered.
“Son,” Connor said, “I’ve got a gun pointed at your back. Unless you want me to put a bullet in you, you best answer my question.”
“Did you see what they made me do?” the sobbing man repeated.
“Son,” Connor said again, and the gun went off in his hand.
He staggered back, surprised, shocked and horrified. He looked at the man and waited in fear for the blood to appear on the stranger’s back.
Nothing at all.
Then something finally did.
Connor could suddenly see through the disturbed stranger. He could see the couch.
Connor saw the bullet hole in the piece of furniture.
The man stood up and turned around.
He was a handsome, young man, perhaps eighteen or nineteen years old.
He was also stunned, as though he couldn’t quite believe what had happened.
He was Jonathan Farley.
The stunned look slipped away, replaced by fierce anger.
“I wanted to watch the sunrise. And they came over. Hundreds of them,” he hissed. “Look at what they made me do.”
And it was then Connor saw what Jonathan had in his hands.
In the left hand, was a huge fighting knife. The steel was dark red with blood. Looped around the hand and the weapon’s hilt was the rosary Connor had found in the wall.
The young man’s right hand tightly gripped the short, dark hair of a severed head. Dead eyes looked up, the mouth was slightly agape, and blood dripped from the ragged strips of skin around the neck. Each crimson jewel struck the nearly white sand and vanished.
“Look what they made me do,” Jonathan said. He held the head up higher for Connor to see better.
Connor couldn’t respond. He could only stare in horror at the grisly trophy.
The young man looked at it, shook his head sadly, and then cast the item off to the side where it thumped against the leg of Connor’s roll-top desk.
Jonathan brought the crucifix up to his lips, kissed it and let it go.
Connor watched as it swung freely from left to right and back. A messianic pendulum.
The young man pointed his knife at Connor and once more began to weep.
Before Connor could ask him why the tears had started again, the young man lunged at him.
Frantically, Connor turned around and tried to run, but his boots could gain no traction on the curious sand scattered across the floor.
He felt a hot hand on his shoulder, and a second later, something terribly cold plunged into his back. Connor tried to breathe, but the air rushed out of his mouth. He sank to his knees and coughed as the chill, foreign object was removed from him.
The burning hand guided him to the floor. Connor was rolled onto his back as he struggled to breathe.
Jonathan knelt beside him as tears spilled down his pale cheeks.
Connor felt fingers work their way into his hair, squeeze and pull down and back.
His throat was exposed, and he could see the young man raise up his left hand.
The last thing Conner saw was how the crucifix caught the morning light and glowed within it. The blade of the knife was red with fresh blood.
I should have left it in the wall, he thought. I should have left the damned thing in the wall!
The ghost plunged the knife into Connor’s neck and sawed at the flesh.
“Look what they make me do,” the young man whispered, weeping. “Look at what they make me do.”
* * *
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