Friday, September 10, 2010

In the Barn

Dr. Carter Dietz swore as he slammed the phone down on the cradle. He wanted to scream. He hated dealing with the self-serving bureaucrats who ran the university's grants and contracts department. How was he supposed to finish his research on time if they refused to release the project funds to purchase the needed equipment? What did it matter if the request fell outside of their definition of capital expenditures? Wasn't the money was his to spend as long as it went toward the project? Apparently not. And they had the audacity to leave him a voicemail rather than talk to him in person when he had been calling their office repeatedly or over a week. Did they just conveniently forget his cell number?

He swore again, mentally chiding himself for losing his temper. He would be fifty in a week. His heart wasn't as strong as it should have been and his blood pressure was sure to be elevated. If he didn't want a heart attack he better calm down.

Carter took a moment to compose himself, using the breathing techniques he had learned during his last trip to the health clinic. They seemed to help.

His heart rate was just about back to normal when the phone rang. Oh no, not those idiots from GAC again. The tension in his shoulders immediately returned. He checked the caller ID. The number surprised him. It was his neighbor.

"Carter Dietz," he said as he picked up the receiver.

"Dr. Dietz? Hello, this is Mabel Jones."

"Hello, Mrs. Jones. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I know it's not my business, but that old barn on the west side of your property, the one that butts up against mine? Something strange is going on out there."

"What do you mean?"

"I heard some loud noises about ten, fifteen minutes ago. Figured it was just your boy and some friends. But when the eerie lights started coming through the cracks in the siding I got scared. I called your house, but no one answered. Thought about calling the sheriff, but if it is your boy I didn't want to get him into trouble with the law. Bryce has been a good boy to me. But I thought you should know, strange things are happening."

Carter sighed. Mrs. Jones was a good neighbor. She was always looking out for things. It probably was Bryce messing around with his friends. He'd have to go take a look, just to ease her mind. He glanced at his watch. He was shocked. Was it 8:30 already?

"I'll check it out Mrs. Jones. Thanks for calling me."

Carter tried Bryce's cell, but there was no answer, and Lily didn't pick up at the house. That was odd. Bryce wouldn't have answered if he was messing around doing something he shouldn't, but Lily should have been home at this hour.

Well, nothing for it. It was time to head home anyway. Carter grabbed his briefcase and headed out the door.


Thirty minutes later he was pulling onto the drive that lead back to the house. They had purchased the old farmstead five years ago when Carter took the job with the University of Kansas. The house itself was in good shape, a classic 1950's style farmhouse with front porch, three stories and all the country charm you would expect from homes of that era. The rest of the buildings on the property hadn't managed the time so well. The garage was functional, as was the barn that sat opposite the house across the drive. The family used those buildings regularly, and Carter had even gone through the effort to repaint them.

The old barn was the exception. The old barn had been built before the other buildings, a casualty of the redistribution of properties that had occurred in this area in the mid-fifties. It had originally belonged to the farm that occupied the place where Mrs. Jones now lived. When that farm had been split into pieces and sold, the barn ended up as part of this property, but too far from the house to be worth maintaining. It had fallen into disrepair and was now considered generally unsafe. Carter had agreed to let Bryce attempt a restoration, but it was slow going. The electricity was working now, and Bryce had shored up some minor structural issues, but until the local building inspector declared the space safe for occupancy, Carter had forbid Bryce from allowing anyone else into the building.

Carter exited the car and looked around. The lights in the house and the new barn were out and there were no other cars present. How very strange. He checked his watch. It was just past 9:00. Where could they be?

A noise off to the west drew his attention. Was that a door slamming? The only thing off that direction was the old barn. As he looked that direction a flicker of light played out above the tops of the trees that obscured his view of that corner of the property.

Mrs. Jones' words came back to him. Loud noises and eerie lights coming from the old barn. Could Bryce and his friends really be doing something out there? It was the answer that fit the evidence. Carter found his temper rising. If that boy had friends in that place there would be hell to pay, especially if they were doing what so many teenagers liked to do on Friday nights in this rural community.

Carter grabbed a flashlight from the garage and trekked out to the old barn.


Carter emerged from the stand of trees and stopped to observe. The old barn stood about fifty yards ahead of him. He had heard several sounds of a door slamming and seen several more flashes of light during his approach. Now that he could see the structure it was evident there were lights inside. He could see the same flashes through the cracks in the siding that Mrs. Jones had described. He cast his eyes a bit further down the way where he could see Mrs. Jones house. It was some distance away. The woman may be older than dirt, but she had excellent instincts. Something was definitely going on here. He was going to get to the bottom of it.

Halfway to the barn a movement in the shadows to the right of the door caught his eye. "Who is that?" he called out. He hadn't meant to sound so angry, but there was no mistaking his tone. The figure froze, and then the lights in the barn went out.

Carter trained the flashlight beam at the spot where the movement had been.

"Bryce, if that's you I'm going to...."

His voice petered out as the flashlight beam revealed the figure. He almost didn't see him, dressed in black as he was, a hood pulled over his face. It was the reflection of the light off the scythe that gave him away. Slowly the hooded head turned his direction. The eyes glowed red.

He dropped the flashlight. He didn't mean to, his fingers just lost their grip.

It was Death.

No wait, that was ridiculous. Death? He scooped up the flashlight and aimed it back at the same place. There was no one there.

Of course there was no one there. Death? His eyes had been playing tricks on him. He moved the beam to the barn door. It was closed, but the padlock was missing. A ha! Bryce and his friends must be inside. Who else would have the key?

Carter strode briskly to the barn. "Bryce, that's enough. Quit fooling around with me, son. You and your friends need to come out here now." He reached out a hand and threw open the door.

"Carter Dietz....." The voice floated out of the barn, deep and resonant. He could feel it through his shoes. He froze.

"Carter Dietz, your doom awaits...." A figure snapped into view in the barn. He could only see it in silhouette as bright lights lit it from the back, but the red eyes were unmistakable. Death. His anger drained from him, replaced by pure terror.

"Carter Dietz, your destiny is before you. You're...getting old."

Carter cowered before the figure as it approached. Wait, old?

The main lights for the barn suddenly came back on. "Surprise," yelled an army of voices, "Happy Birthday!"

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Across the hayloft a large black sign had been strung with white lettering. It read, "Happy 50th Birthday." Tables and chairs had been set up in artful configurations. Black balloons and streamers were everywhere. A crowd of his family and friends filled the room, but Carter's eyes were on Death. The figure pulled back its hood and pulled off the mask with the glowing eyes.


"Hey, Dad," Bryce said as he sauntered up. "I got you good, didn't I."

"Bryce, no one is supposed to be in here." It was the wrong thing to say, he knew, but it was the only thing that would come out. A surprise party?

"I gave him permission," Lily said as she approached from the side. She kissed him on the cheek. "Happy Birthday, Carter."

Carter looked from his wife back to his son. "You organized this," he asked Bryce.

The boy nodded.

"But where are all the cars?"

Lily answered. "They parked at Mrs. Jones place and walked over. We had her call you at 8:30 after most of the guests had arrived."

Bryce grinned, uncertainty showing on his face. "So, what do you think?"

Carter looked around. Smiling faces looked back from all around.

"I think it's wonderful," he replied, "_IF_ you have cake."

Bryce pointed to the small tombstone situated on a nearby table. "It's even chocolate."

"Ah, but you always say you can't eat cake, sweetie," Lily said, a mocking smile playing about her mouth. "With your cholesterol problems it may very well kill you."

"I've already had one run in with Death tonight. Look how that turned out." Carter mussed his son's hair. "I think I'm willing to risk another."

Smiling, they moved further into the barn.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Back to School

"It's been a good summer, Tim. We had a lot of fun, didn't we?"

I nodded my agreement as Keri and I went through the doors to the school.

"I'm going to miss having you with me," she continued. "Things will be different without you around."

I felt the same way about her. Life at school was one great bother, but life with Keri had been grand. I slept terribly at school, what with the poking and prodding and knocking all the time. At Keri's, I slept when I felt like it and played when I felt like it. At school, I was fed well, but I heard the same lecture hour after hour. At Keri's, I sometimes missed a meal -- twelve year old girls are so easily distracted -- but I was entertained by the most wonderful variety of music, DVDs, and television programs.

I twittered. Back to the school grind.

Mrs. Fredin looked up as we entered her classroom. "Well, Keri, welcome back! I see Tim is looking fine. How was your summer?"

"It was dicing," Keri replied with a grin. Mrs. Fredin raised an eyebrow, but I knew that 'dicing' meant 'a lot of fun.' I was happy to see I was more current on the popular slang Keri's group used than Mrs. Fredin was.

"Why don't you put Tim down in his place and you can tell me all about it."

Keri deposited me by the bookcase. I looked around. Last year's poster about the human eye had been replaced by a newer one featuring the human cardiovascular system. The tinker toy model of DNA was still in the corner, along with the plastic skeleton the kids so enjoyed. I twittered again. It did feel good to be home.

Keri's talk with Mrs. Fredin was short and she was soon on her way. As she approached the door she called out to me, "See you 'round, bird brain."

"Bird brain," I chirped back. It was our secret greeting.

Mrs. Fredin gasped. "He talked!"

"Yeah," Keri said. "I taught him."

"That's wonderful," Mrs. Fredin said. "It's always hit or miss whether parakeets will talk. Can he say anything else?"

I chirped out another phrase before Keri could respond. This time both of them were shocked. I gave my best parakeet shrug by cocking my head slightly to the side.

Hey, I only repeat what I hear. Not my fault we watched a lot of South Park.