The Land

The sheriff came out to talk to me this morning.

He said the Barrett boys had come in, complaining that I had poisoned them somehow. Sheriff said their faces and hands were dark blue and they couldn’t scrub that blue off for love nor money. He also said not one of those five boys could explain where they were or what they were doing when they got turned blue…nor could they clearly explain why it was all my fault.

So, I did what I do. I asked the sheriff to bring as many men as he liked and the Barretts to come take me to wherever it was they that had been ‘attacked’ by whatever it was that had turned them blue.

The sheriff chuckled. We’d been through scenarios like this many times with these men. They were well-known trespassers and poachers, on my land and many of the farms around me as well. More than once, I’d made this offer and one or more of the Barrett’s had incriminated himself and others of his family enough to merit jail time.

Sheriff said he’d bring everyone by Wednesday next.

I agreed I would be ready.

Wednesday at noon a party of nine arrived. The sheriff and his two deputies and the five Barrett brothers who were not currently serving time for one thing or another. I noted that the father was not there. That meant he knew his boys had been up to no good and did not condone their behavior. Old Mr. Barrett and I talked on many occasions. He was a great man. His sons, well, they had a lot of growing up to do yet, even though the oldest was near thirty and the youngest was nearly twenty.

None of the boys wanted to face me. They looked anywhere but at me. Each one was a shiny azure blue, head and hands, as far as I could see. It was priceless. The sheriff told them to show us the way and we all mounted up on our rides.

We hiked the horses along at a slow but steady pace. There was no need to rush and risk the horses. It took a good forty-five minutes to ride out to the South field. I had known the fences up there needed a bit of work. I keep the South open for the wildlife. It’s all trees and natural pasture. It’s a rare thing for me to graze the sheep or the cattle out that way. When I do, I always supplement the wildlife for the grazing out that way, so that no one goes hungry on my ranch, wild or domesticated, if I can help it.

The men drove us out to the center of one clearing, where the remnants of a campfire and some deer stands could be seen. There was no hunting permitted on my land. Not at all. I had signs up all over at the edge of my property. If these guys had been out here, that meant I would have to go replace my signs, as they tore them down every time they trespassed on my land. Their mother once told me they must do that out of guilt. If they tear down the signs, they don’t have to see them and they aren’t reminded about their bad behavior. She would pay for every sign and the time it took me to replace them, every time. I didn’t always charge the parents because I felt bad about it. They deserved better, but still.

I had to giggle when I saw where we were though. I knew why they were blue. I also recognized that I was going to be in the clear…and those boys were going to be a lot more blue once this interview was over.

The horses didn’t like the place and made nervous noises…so we led them away and tied them up a distance away. That left all ten of us walking through the summer-browned grasses.

‘So,’ I winked at the sheriff. ‘What did you all boys get up to here?’

Not a one would speak to me. I guess they were afraid their blue tongues would swell up in their heads and fall out. They might. They just might.

The sheriff cast a deadly gaze at them. ‘Spill it.’

It turns out that the boys had indeed come to poach deer and maybe to set the woods on fire to clear some of the brush that accumulated, to make it easier for them to come hunting later on. They hunted for two days straight and never saw a deer. That surprised me. To not even see a deer, when I knew there were several large herds in the area. The Barretts must have made quite a loud nuisance of themselves. When they decided to light the forest up, something had come at them from somewhere and blasted them with some sort of goo. The goo knocked out the torches and, well, that was also what stained their hands and faces. Only the story got better. Apparently, wherever the goo hit, it went through clothing and everything else to stain whatever was underneath. The one middle brother said he’d been to the doctor and the blue gunk was in his blood, staining his muscle tissue and his bone tissue.

I almost laughed when the two deputies took a couple big steps back away from the boys and away from me.

The sheriff looked at me and asked me what my story was.

I told him.

I didn’t plant anything here. You can dig around here and look if you want. Take plants back to study if you must. I had set no new traps. There was nothing here. I had barbed wire up eight feet that apparently these nice fellows had cut. I had signs all over saying no trespassing, no hunting, the usual bit. And then I laid it on them. I had however given the land itself permission to do whatever it needed to do to protect itself and those that lived upon it. Anyone who came here with clean intentions had nothing to fear. Those who came with ill intentions would be dealt with by the land.

One of the Barretts choked on his laughter, before the one beside him punched him in the arm, hard.

Sheriff asked if there was a cure.

I shook my head. I had no idea, since I wasn’t entirely sure what the problem was, or what the method of attack had been, or anything like that.

A couple of the Barretts started grumbling to themselves. Talking bad things about me, not quite loud enough to be heard clearly.

I heard the rustle beneath our feet as clearly as a stampede of horses coming at me. I could tell Sheriff and his deputies heard it too. They had hands on guns and were ready to draw.

Black tentacles flicked up from the grasses and spat wads of … something … at the Barretts. The arms aimed for eyes, for stomachs, for mouths. As the men hit the ground, the undergrowth vanished from wherever it had come from, as if it had never been there at all.

The Barretts were groaning, rolling all over the place. We four stood over them, a bit back, to watch what happened. The wad grew, diving into every little skin fissure and pore it could find, swelling the men up as it moved. Whatever it was, it was alive…and it was angry. It dove down throats. It blinded eyes. Stomachs grew as if fast-forwarded pregnancies were in action. For twenty minutes, we watched all this. As the men calmed down, the deputies searched the ground. They pulled shovels from their packs and dug around where they had seen things spring forth. Nothing was ever found.

Sheriff led the Barretts away, taking them off to jail, again, for their crimes they themselves admitted to committing. The fence was mended, and I added another layer on the inside to make it that much harder. New signs went up.

No one ever asked about what happened out there again. Not even when those boys started dying, one by one. Every autopsy came back the same…whatever the unidentified blue mess was, it had invaded and shut down every internal system and organ they had. They say the Barrett boys died painless deaths, terrified out of their minds maybe, but never a single complaint of pain. Just killed dead, silently.

The land protects its own, one way or another, around here. Now they all understand.

I don’t get bothered much anymore.

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