The Smiling Barn
You can go back again
There is this barn in the middle of a field. It is surrounded by tall bluestem grass and an electric fence. The only safe way to access the barn is through a locked metal gate. From the dirt road, where I used to ride my bike on as a kid, you can see the majestic red of the Barn rise above the grass. The white trim of the upper section made it look like the Barn was smiling, inviting you to visit. On a couple of occasions in my youth, my friends and I would sneak across the electric fence, sometimes feeling the electric consequence jolt me in areas I don't think is appropriate to speak about. We made our way to the large red structure and stared up at it. The door was locked and the windows boarded up. We never got the courage to force our way into the barn, but we felt drawn to it like we are supposed to enter it.
In our youth, children were told stories about the barn from our parents or older kids saying that it was haunted or that someone was murdered inside it and their remains are taking up residence there. Others warned us of witches and cults using the barn to summon demons and choreograph curses. Some have claimed to have entered into the barn and feeling cold, hearing strange noises, and then running out within seconds of entering. I never believed any of this. Well, I wanted to not believe any of this, but as I said, every time I would see the barn smile at me, I was drawn to it.
The owner of the barn was an old man named Horacio Renatus. Nobody has ever talked to him, well that I know of. He lives in a small cabin south of the barn just outside the electric fence and near the metal gate. If you didn't know any better you would think that the cabin was like a guard shack for the Barn, maybe it was. We would see Mr. Renatus enter the barn sometimes and then seconds later leave it and return to his cabin. He would be seen in town once a week buying the necessities of life and that was it. Since I was old enough to venture out on my own, I have known Mr. Renatus, well "known" is the wrong word, maybe "was aware of " is the better term. Today that changed.
I am thirty-five now and I don't live in town anymore. I moved to the city years ago and I only come back to visit my parents and some old friends from time to time. I am divorced and have two children, Janie, eight, and Mildred, seven. I don't see them much, not by my own choosing. I made some mistakes over the last five years I don't feel comfortable talking about. I'm feeling lost lately, and I have found myself being drawn to the barn again like I did when I was a boy.
After breakfast with my parents, I decided to take a walk down the old dirt road I used to ride my bike on. The one that led to the Barn. After about 30 minutes, I could see the roof jutting through the horizon in front of me. The barn looked like it was rising from the abyss of grass, the closer I walked towards it. Finally, I saw the smile greeting me, welcoming me back. I decided to visit old man Renatus, if he was still there.
As I rounded the corner towards the entrance of the field, with the barn, I saw the cabin. I stopped, enchanted by it. The cabin, even in its simplicity, felt extremely foreign, like it didn't belong here. When I say "here", I don't mean, my hometown, I mean like on earth. I forced my feet to move and I walked up to the cabin and knocked on the door. The door slowly creaked open, as one would expect in a story like this.
"Hello, Jeremy." Mr. Renatus greeted me.
"Um... how did you..."
"I've been expecting you." Mr. Renatus walked past me and towards the metal gate. I followed him. What else was I supposed to do? He unlocked the gate and handed me the key. "Keep this safe."
"Why are you giving me this?" I asked. He remained silent and walked toward the big red smiling barn. As he approached the barn he pulled out another key from his jeans and unlocked it. He also handed it to me. "Keep this safe."
"But... " Before I could say anything more he waved me off and opened the door. He finished opening the large Barn Doors and he entered. He paused about 10 feet in and turned around. The smell wasn't what I expected, it wasn't of hey or animal. It was sweet almost like someone baking, mixed with a floral aroma. It immediately seduced me into tranquility that I have never felt. There was a pulsation flowing through me, almost magnetic. It was like something had reached inside of me and was pulling me forward.
Mr. Renatus turned around smiled and said, "Take care of her and enjoy her. You must keep her to yourself." He winked, turned around, and walked further into the barn. As he moved closer to the center, he became, well, the only way I can explain it is, blurry. I rubbed my eyes, but he continued to become more blurry, and then as he reached the back door of the barn, it inexplicably flew open, and he was gone.
"Mr. Renatus!" I shouted. I wanted to run towards the back of the barn, but I was petrified. I exited the front door and I felt the release of the pull. I ran around to the other side and I was standing in the open back door. Now, instead of a pull, I could feel a push. It was like a warm flow of air gently pushing me, with some sort of energy accompanying it. I walked around to the front again and I stood in the same place Mr. Renatus stood before becoming blurry. I took a step forward and a tunnel formed and spun around me with visions of my past swirling. I saw my parents, my friends, school, work, my ex-wife, my two children. I saw myself riding my bike and playing sports and games. I watched a memory of my 4th birthday that had a star wars theme. As I continued forward, I could feel myself being pulled apart, but I couldn't stop. Something or someone was in control pulling me forward. Now, along with the memories swirling around me, emotions flooded my brain with every moment I saw, I could feel them, every moment as I concentrated on them. I laughed out loud, I started to cry, I felt scared, alone, and I felt overwhelming joy. One memory pierced through me. I saw the woman I eventually would have an affair with and the emotion of shame punched me in the gut. I couldn't get it out of my mind and then a white light flashed and I was standing in front of her.
"Hi, Jeremy. So, are you coming out with us after work?"
I just stared at her. I didn't know what happened. I didn't remember how I got there. My head suddenly was pierced by blinding pain. I winced and I had memories of what happened next. I would go to the bar after I called my wife and told her that I had to work late. I drank and played darts. I ended up in the woman's apartment. I remembered my wife finding out. I remember me walking out of the house. I remembered my drinking problem. I remember the Judge giving me visitation only and denying custody. I shook my head.
"Jeremy, are you ok?" The woman touched my shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Um... I can't go out tonight, but thanks for the offer."
I drove home. I ran into my house, saw my wife in the kitchen. I could hear my children upstairs playing. I walked up to her.
"How was your day?" She asked. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her. Those memories of what happened next slowly faded and all that was left was a smiling barn. Tears streamed down my face.
Years later, after my children were adults and starting their own lives, I was sitting with my wife in the living room watching TV. She laid her head on my shoulder. A vision of a smiling barn popped in my head. A barn I haven't seen since I was a child. From behind, I felt warm pulsating air flow around me. It felt like I was being pushed off the couch. I turned to my wife. She wasn't reacting. She looked up at me. "What?"
"I love you." A white light flashed. I was now standing outside the back door of the smiling barn. Tears flowed down my face. I locked up the barn, walked back to the metal gate, locked it, and returned to the shed. I sat down at a table, where a journal with my name engraved in it laid. I opened it up and took the pen set next to it and started to write.
I was only allowed to leave the cabin once a week. I couldn't speak to anyone. I was only able to walk to a store for supplies. On that one day, I could visit the barn if I chose. I visited the barn thousands of times, until one day a new journal appeared on the table when I returned from my "trip." The name Kathleen was engraved on the front.
As I was inspecting the new journal, I heard a knock at the door. I walked over to it. I opened it and said, "Hello, Kathleen."