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Oculus

SFS 1: Old Barn Challenge

By Sarah SniderPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 8 min read
2
istock

Frannie absently scratched at her neck disturbing the sweaty curls that stuck to it. The trail she walked was old but following the faint path allowed her the opportunity to think. The last week had been miserable, she was hot and hungry and filthy, but she was safe. Her days were filled with relentless walking and parched landscape, the nights were uncomfortable out in the open and the quality of sound in the darkness was fearful without the barrier that even a thin blanket would provide. She had hoped that at some point she might find some linens hanging on a line snapping cheerfully in a soft breeze, but the intense humidity kept the clothes lines empty. This disappointment had Frannie wrinkling her brow and deciding her number one priority was to find a place to shelter.

*

The weak path continued to wind Frannie through tight undergrowth. She had let her eyes lose focus as she walked, her soft and regular breath a metronome propelling her forward. Thorns scraped at her arms, and she stopped to catch her bearings. Taking the last sip from her canteen she looked around to find the source of the scratch and with a groan of relief she saw before her wild black raspberry bushes on either side of the trail. Hastily she plucked the berries and pressed them into her mouth. The bright acid of the juice danced across her tongue, staining her fingers as she ate. In Frannie's mind, the berries were a gift from the path, a reward for her trust. She resumed her march while collecting the glittering fruit in her now empty canteen. As she walked the trees began to thin and nestled in a small field of wild grasses Frannie saw a faded old barn that seemed to be limping in place. The old structure, squat and leaning just a bit to the side, seemed a little strange in the small glade. Her eyes darted back and forth taking in the entire scene; the grass seemed completely undisturbed, there was no sound but her breathing and the birds in the forest, no scents other than the smell of her sweat and the meadowsweet growing somewhere nearby. The barn could be her sanctuary, its hayloft window open and watchful like a great spirit's eye. With the light beginning to dim she carefully made her way through the tall grass, making sure to re-arrange the sticky blades when her body displaced them enough to be noticeable.

*

Frannie's hand shook a little as she grabbed the rusted handle of the door. Dread had made its home in her stomach and now even the simplest things felt momentous. She chided herself for being afraid of the shelter she'd wished for, wiped her damp hands on her pants and pulled the door open. Mercifully, the hinges did not shriek as she entered into the semi-dark. Dust motes twirled lazily in the air as she stood allowing her eyes and ears time to adjust to the new space. Satisfied that she was alone, she carefully closed the door letting her hand trace the raised whorls in the wood. The smooth satin texture of the grain surprised her as did the coolness of the barn. Frannie had assumed that the place would feel close and hot like an oven, and she sobbed a little before she caught herself; afraid of shattering the magic of the afternoon silence. With an effort she collected her emotions and tucked them away for later. She needed to use what remained of the light to situate herself before nightfall.

*

With careful steps, Frannie toured the barn. It looked like someone had lived in the tucked away place once, but that it had been long since abandoned. A heavy trunk in the corner opened with a puff of stale cedar, and to her delight an ancient quilt laid inside neatly folded. Frannie's fingertips brushed against it and the comfort was almost electric. This was hers. Not wanting to break the spell by rummaging through, she resumed her inspection of the room. She spied a small door set into the floor and gently pulled it open holding her breath in anticipation. Grabbing her penlight out of her backpack she clicked it on and swept the beam across the small room. She didn't stifle her sob this time, it was full of canned food. What looked like glistening peaches in syrup, pears in juice, pickled beans, and gherkins. Surely some of it was still good, she thought, had to be good. Her stomach growled in agreement. Distracted by the wonder of the place she turned her attention to what looked like old crates covered in a canvas tarp, and underneath was a real gift: a bed. The tarnished frame held a thin but clean mattress, she patted it and was grateful that only a little dust rose from it. She started to pummel it all over, at first softly, but then with more energy than she thought she had left. Frannie wiped at her eyes, her dusty hands taking fat tears with them, and then sneezed. The noise startled her and for the first time in a week, she giggled at the absurdity. Just as her quiet laugh escaped, the last of the afternoon light speared through the hayloft window directing a glorious shaft of sunlight on her body like an ancient oculus looking down. Stay, Frannie. In that bright moment she wasn't quite sure if she had spoken to herself, or if the barn had suddenly come to life and whispered in her mind. No, not a barn, she thought to herself, my guardian angel.

*

With care, Frannie laid the quilt on the worn mattress, tucking her backpack neatly under the bedframe. Rubbing her hands together gingerly she gazed around her room and saw a washtub sink and pump. Confident now in her belief that this place was an oasis, she worked the old pump handle. At first there was only the squeak of a disused machine, then a burp, and then a gurgle of rusty water poured into the sink. Frannie watched as, like a miracle in reverse, the deep red water turned clear and sparkling underneath her hand. She splashed her face with the cool liquid, like a baptism. Letting her clothes drop in a puddle at her feet she washed all the sweat and salt and dirt and fear from her body. She piled her clothes in the sink and roughed them up against the built-in washboard, without soap they wouldn't get too clean, but it was enough. When she moved the quilt, she had found an old sheet with delicate rosebuds printed on it, and she grabbed it now to wear as a dress as her clothes dried. Laying back on the bed, her body aching and raw, she closed her eyes and wished this moment could last forever.

*

Frannie's sleep had been dreamless and deep, only waking when the sunlight seeped in through the cracks of the boards. Her clothes hadn't dried completely overnight. The slight dampness wasn't as bad as being drenched in sweat, and she had managed to wash enough of the dirt and funk out that they smelled far fresher than they had. She splashed her face with glorious water and ate the dark berries in her canteen so she could refill it. Digging into the small pantry, she chose peaches and moaned while she ate the sweet and soft flesh, slurping the heavy syrup from her fingers. The fact that the peaches were still good worried her a little bit, so she decided to scout the area to make certain there weren't any houses too close by. It was important to her that she stay careful and smart. Her fondness for the place had her making her bed and tidying up the areas she had disturbed. She rinsed out the empty peach jar and left it to dry upside down in the sink. Courtesy was important, too, just in case she was found by whomever owned this slice of heaven. With a little regret, she let herself out of the barn to explore the small clearing.

*

As she walked the trees began to thin and nestled in a small field of wild grasses Frannie saw a curious old barn that seemed to be limping in place. The old structure, squat and leaning just a bit to the side, seemed out of place in the small glade. Her eyes darted back and forth taking in the entire scene; the grass seemed completely untouched, there was no sound but her breathing and the birds in the forest, no scents other than the smell of her sweat and the meadowsweet growing somewhere nearby. The barn stood like a sentry, its hayloft window open and staring like a great cyclops eye. An odd feeling overcoming her, Frannie carefully made her way through the tall grass, making sure to re-arrange the sticky blades when her body displaced them enough to be noticeable.

*

A small tremor shook Frannie's hand as she grabbed the rusted handle of the door. The familiarity of the movement caused her to pause briefly, her brow furrowing. Fear circled itself in her stomach like a restless dog and now even the most ordinary things felt suspicious and strange. She chided herself for being foolish, wiped her damp hands on her pants and pulled the door open. Mercifully, the hinges did not shriek as she entered into the semi-dark. Dust motes twirled lazily in the air as she stood allowing her eyes and ears time to adapt to the new space. As her gaze adjusted, she saw that everything was as she had left it a moment ago. The tense realization had her jerking back involuntarily. Impossible, she thought. Frannie's heartbeat raced as she backed away slowly toward the door, not once taking her eyes off of it as she stepped outside and closed it.

*

As she walked the trees began to thin and nestled in a small field of wild grasses Frannie saw an odd little barn that seemed to be hunching in place. The old structure, squat and leaning just a bit to the side, looked like a gargoyle in the small glade. Her eyes darted back and forth taking in the entire scene; the grass stood completely still, there was no sound but her quick breaths and the chirping of birds in the forest, no scents other than the sharp smell of her sweat and the cloyingly sweet smell of flowers growing somewhere nearby. The feeling that she had been here before had become distressing, and the barn was now the last place she wanted to go. The hayloft window, black and staring, pinned her in place with it's monstrous eye. She couldn't stop herself from making her way through the tall grass, pulling weakly on the sticky blades trying to slow her arrival at the entrance.

*

Frannie's stomach twisted as she grabbed the rusted handle of the door. The compulsive movement caused her hand to twitch, and although she tried to fight, her slight feet carried her inside. A scream bubbled up within her, the room was the same as she had left it, every time that she had left it. How many times had she done this, how many times more would she? Dust motes twirled lazily in the air as she stood, shock swallowing her thoughts whole. Stay, Frannie.

Fantasy
2

About the Creator

Sarah Snider

I am a great lover of poetry, magic, mystery and science. I am passionate about sharing what I know about herbs and herbal medicine.

She/Her

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