This story is by Bob Evenhouse and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
On a good day, John Sil could harvest half an acre of cabbage. But this was not a good day. It was cold and rainy and squishy. This made bending down and cutting heads of cabbage hard work and slow going. To top it all off he could feel the frost coming. He could feel it in his bones.
They were behind. Three acres behind and at this rate they would lose all three to the freeze. In the plot next to John worked his mother, shaky and feverish, with John’s two-day-old brother strapped to her back. In the row opposite was his eight-year-old sister Meg. His father lay on the couch indoors sprawled out like a king.
A fire began to burn in John’s mind. He tried to push the boiling hatred away so it would not distract his work but it was near impossible.
“Ah!” His mother cried out. John dropped his bag of harvested cabbage and ran back to her.
“You all right?” John said helping her up. Her dress was soaked and when he grabbed her hand it was like touching ice. John felt her forehead and the heat bit his hand.
“That’s enough Ma.”
“No, I can help,” John shook his head. “But we can’t stop,” she replied and tried to get to her feet. Baby George started to cry.
“George needs you to be healthy and strong,” John said. She looked at him. John knew he’d won the argument. “Besides Meg and I got this. Right, Meg?” Meg waved in acknowledgment and kept working. His mother didn’t say a word but stood and walked slowly toward the house.
John watched the front door to their home open and close. Then he went back to work.
The rain fell, the temperature too until John couldn’t feel his fingers anymore.
“John,” a voice called to him. It sounded like a bark. John knew without looking that it belonged to his father.
John faced him.
“Yes, sir?” he said with all the venom he could muster.
“I’m off to a meeting,” he said. John stared. He tried to make his eyes shoot fire, arrows, whatever the gods would give him, but his father stood there with rain running down his hooked nose, and auburn beard. He blinked his blue eyes dully. “I want you to come with me,” he said.
“Do you even understand what is happening here?” John ripped a cabbage from the earth and threw it at him. His father did not move but let it bounce off his chest. “If we do not finish the harvest today you will not eat. Your family will starve! Your wife, your new son, and little girl will die. We need you here!” John finished pointing to the ground.
John gripped his sickle tight as he stepped forward.
“I understand your frustration,” his father said. “But it is important that you come. The Council wishes it.”
“The Council? You know what? You were a good father. No, a great one. I used to tell my friends how lucky I was. But since you were elected one of the Thirteen, I’ve seen a drunkard care better for his family.”
His father swallowed hard.
“Son. Now is not the time. Meg!” He yelled above the driving rain and wind, “You get indoors now, understand?” Meg didn’t hesitate she was inside before another raindrop fell on her. “I am not going to a usual meeting tonight. I am going to the Watchtower. As my son, you are bound to my wishes. You must come. Now.”
John’s hand that gripped the sickle shook like a leaf. Not from the cold but from the intense desire to lift the tool and cleave his father’s skull it two. But his father said it. He must obey. The Law said any child that disobeyed his parent shall be put to death. John thought of Meg, baby George, and his Ma and dropped the tool. He fell in behind his father who squelched toward the three hundred foot tall evergreen trees.
The pine trees groaned. Wind whooshed across the tops in a deafening roar. John looked up and watched the canopy churn like a wild ocean. Down the ancient road came an icy blast of wind. The cold entered John’s nostrils and brought tears to his eyes. His father moved onward, unflinchingly.
John watched his father lay on the couch for days on end literally doing nothing at all. Now, he marched with a pace John could barely keep. While John milked the cows, mended fences, cooked meals, and maintained the land, his father slept, read, or gave John orders.
John thought about turning back. He would tell The Council that the harvest was in trouble and feeding his family more important than obedience but then the Watchtower emerged from the forest like a sentinel: silent, majestic, and massive. It shot upward through the tops of the trees and higher still.
It was only seven hundred yards from their homestead to the Watchtower but felt like ten thousand. Though a strong young man John gulped for air and bent over at the foot of the spiral staircase. His father gripped the railing.
“Come, John,” he said and mounted the steps, taking two at a time.
John’s legs burned. His calves felt like a weight was added to them with each step but he had to keep going. If he hurried, he could get back and harvest half an acre before everything froze.
Then the trees faded away. They were down there, somewhere beneath him in the swirling snow. John climbed the last few rickety steps and gained the platform.
In the roaring wind, it was hard to hear anything but John counted twelve men huddled and talking.
“Took you long enough,” one of them, Erus, yelled above the howl.
“I needed to be ready,” John’s’ father replied.
“Ready for what?” John asked. The council rounded on him with glaring eyes, balled fists, and clenched jaws. John took a step backward.
“One is here,” one of them said. John’s father fell to his knees and held out his hands as if pushing against an immense weight.
“There are more,” his father yelled. “Sound the alarm.” At once a council member grabbed a chord and a chilling toll rang in John’s ears.
“A lot more,” his father said. “One is here already.”
“One of what?” John said before he could stop himself.
“That,” said a council member pointing to the west. A mountain moved. At least that is what it looked like. John’s father stepped to the edge of the platform and made a movement with his hands. Blinding light shot from his father’s outstretched hands. John covered his eyes then splayed his fingers. A brilliant blue flash erupted from his father like a bolt of lightning.The mountain in the distance paused and then crumbled to the ground.
After the light ceased his father fell to one knee.
Disbelief washed over John.
“What just happened?” John said in horror.
“The next one comes,” his father said. He stood once more and followed the same ritual. Another mass, this one with a visible head, torso, and arms imploded. The blast was intense, shaking the platform. John’s father fell to his knees panting.
“Do something,” John said scolding The Council. The men looked to one another.
“There is nothing we can do,” Erus said. “He is the only one that repels them.” For the next hour, John watched his father transform from a hardy woodsman to a weathered old man. After the sixteenth creature, over five hundred feet tall, shattered into nothingness, John’s father passed out.
“I feel no more,” one of the council said. The group gave a sigh. John bent down and passed a hand over his father’s mouth. He was barely breathing. He had lost weight and age blotches formed on his head and hands.
“Let him rest,” John said.
After a few moments, the weather abated. The storm lessened and the snow became a memory. John heard the call of a robin and knew the harvest was saved.
John helped his father down the stairs and carried him home. He placed his father in his favorite chair, covered him with four thick, wooly blankets, and placed a book on the table next to him. John baked some bread and set it next to his father with a jug of cool water.
Then John went back to the fields.