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Friendly Fire

by Desiree Guerrero 5 months ago in Short Story
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Up Before the Sun

A man of few words, and even fewer acquaintances, Thomas Williams lived through enough excitement for a lifetime, in his opinion. He had served his country as a young man, which gave him the opportunity not just to see the world, but also to meet the woman he would later marry and grow old with. Williams reached the rank of Navy Captain at the young age of 48 when he retired from service to spend his remaining years with his wife and only child, a daughter named Elizabeth.

It was a mere seven years later when Captain Williams would find himself living alone nowhere near where he had lived with his family. The memories of his late wife and only daughter were everywhere he looked in his family home and just too much to bear. He had thought the hardest thing he'd have to face in his life was seeing his brothers in arms dying next to him in combat, but having to identify your wife and only child would be beyond words.

Thomas realized the only way he could go on without his hearts was to keep himself constantly busy and occupied with chores and tasks. As life would have it, Thomas was pleasantly surprised to find out about a piece of land left to him by a distant relative. The land he inherited, to his surprise, was a farm.

A farm seemed like the most logical way to keep both his mind and body occupied. In his mind, this could only age him faster, which he hoped would reunite him more quickly with the two women he loved most…his hearts.

Like clockwork, hours before dawn, Thomas would wake to wash himself and eat breakfast so he could get to work on his morning chores before the sun could make its first appearance every morning. His routine began by walking around each of his animals' habitats to be sure all his friends were healthy and happy, but most of all that the fencing and all that protects them was still in working order

And so it went every day: hours before dawn Thomas would wake, wash, eat, start and finish his morning inspection/feeding, finishing just as the sun would rise. Every day after his morning chores his day would vary depending on what needed to be done, either around the farm or for the harvest seasons. If anything needed to be fixed, he would make a mental note to himself during his morning rounds, to come back after feeding with his tools to get to work. Then Thomas would busy himself with his favorite part of the day as he would grab the feed for each group of animals and watch them race to gather around where he would be to scatter feed or fill up their feeders. While the people in town told him otherwise, Thomas insisted on naming his animals. As he only had a small piece of land and thus not a lot of animals, naming didn’t prove to be all that difficult. He knew he wasn’t supposed to grow too attached because of what inevitably happens to all farm animals, but Thomas couldn't help himself.

Thomas was accustomed to being and working alone by now, finding companionship in his animals. And it appeared that Thomas’ newfound kinship with animals wasn’t exclusive to his farmland friends as he began to notice a beautiful flier, not common to the local farms. In fact, Thomas became fond of his nocturnal friend. While he would only see the beautiful bird as it slept; Thomas felt an unexplainable kinship to the animal who chose to call his home, its home too. Much to his chagrin, Thomas wouldn’t see his sleepy friend for days, likely finding a perch to sleep on in the small wooded area of his land. Thomas created a kind of game to add to his routine. A small-scale search to spot the bird.

As Thomas did his barnyard chores pondering if he would see his tawny brown buddy within their wooded area, he searched the ins and outs of his land. Until one day when Williams noticed something particular while feeding some of his livestock in the barn. Apparently his little friend had found a new perch to sleep on, inside the barn. While Thomas was no ornithologist, he began to come up with his own reasoning for this change of sleeping arrangements. He thought, 'maybe his old place was getting too crowded?' 'Perhaps there was some kind of territorial take over?' Whatever the reason, he thought it odd that out of all places, the owl decided to sleep on the wooden gate of Thomas’ favorite cow, Martha.

The next morning, Thomas looked forward to seeing his owl, especially since he knew where it'd be. As Thomas entered the barn his stomach dropped and his heart began beating faster than it ever had before. Martha laid on the ground dead, with his owl nowhere to be found. 'It had to be the work of another farmer jealous of all the financial success he was having with his farm, which was driving out older farm families.’

The tawny barn owl seemed very indecisive about its sleeping place, as a few months after being out of sight, he reappeared on the roof of one of Thomas’ chicken coops. Uplifted by the sight of his feathery friend Thomas continued with his new nightly ritual that began after the death of Martha. Thomas checked in on every animal’s sleeping quarters before he turned in for the night, making sure every gate to close was shut and being sure to lock every lock possible. Thomas had also begun spraying the ground around his animals' habitats to catch would-be killer's prints.

Thomas, up before sunrise, again noticed something that caused his heart to beat what felt like a hundred times per second...footprints. He followed the muddy prints created by the mystery miscreant leading to the exact chicken coop his owl buddy had called bed for the prior night. He tried not to get overly panicked as he gathered the bird seed in the barn and set off around back to the coops. Thomas breathed a sigh of relief when he arrived to hear the clucking sound of hungry chickens awaiting their food. As he grabbed handfuls of food and began to scatter the feed across the grounds, he watched as all the chicken raced out of their coops, all except one. His heart, that had finally returned to a normal pace once again, began to beat with ferocity. When he reached the coop where the boot print ended; he crouched to check inside and suffered what felt like a punch to his gut. His chickens, while still in their sleeping positions, were obviously lifeless.

All of this had become too much for Thomas himself to deal with, but he knew without proof the authorities couldn't do anything. That evening Thomas went into town and talked to the most tech-savvy guy he knew. With the help of the electronics store manager, Dale, Captain Williams set up video cameras to watch over his prize winning pigs. As Thomas made the most money from his hogs, both from shows and then meat as they got older, he had become very concerned over their well-being. To top everything off, Thomas had lost sight of his nocturnal neighbor and thought perhaps he was hurt too. Fortunately, the owl showed up once more to his recollection when he woke up to find him on the fence near the favorite sleeping spot of Williams' winningest hog. That night Thomas was nervous for the safety of all his animals, but excited at the possibility of catching the creep on video. Thomas, up before dawn, began his chores while checking for prints around all the animal habitats. Again, Thomas found boot prints, this time leading to his most prized hog. His heart beating erratically, Thomas sprinted to the pigsty. To his horror he was one pig down. While most of his pigs were there, he also noticed some puddles of blood. Worried his big pig was hurt somewhere out there, he grabbed a lantern from inside the barn and ventured deep inside the more wooded area of his property, hoping his pig was just hurt and lost. After about an hour of searching he didn't find his hog, but did find a hollow his friendly owl was burrowed in.

For whatever the reason, Thomas took this loss almost as hard as he would a distant relative. He wouldn't stand it anymore, he was going to confront the coward killing his livelihood while he slept. That night Thomas wore his long johns, and multiple layers of clothing, which he hoped with his warmest blanket would keep him warm as he was going to sit in the rocking chair on his front porch all night, rifle in hand, ready to confront his prowler. Thomas felt optimistic about his plan, a feeling fortified when he realized he was going to have a friend nearby to keep him company. His elusive owl companion, who had been out of sight for its longest time yet, just before dawn came to perch itself on the wooden balustrade, giving Thomas just the umpf he needed to see this through. While the sun began to set and Thomas set up his base, gathering his anything to make his chair more comfortable, but more importantly making sure his rifle was loaded, cocked, with his scope free of any blemishes. That night Thomas Williams stayed up until the early hours of the morning while the moon was still at its peak. And the sun rose…

Short Story

About the author

Desiree Guerrero

Born/raised in California I competitively participated in Speech& Debate for 8 years. I also obtained a B.S. in Chemistry. During graduate school for my masters/teaching credentials, brain surgical complications led to permanent disability.

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