The Fear Trials
Author's note: Please read and enjoy!
Early MorningThis is my favorite time of day. Early Morning. And paired with Autumn, my favorite time of year, the experience is even more enjoyable. Its always so quiet at this time. I feel completely alone in the world. That may sound daunting to some. May instill fear in them. But to me, its welcoming. Inviting. I’m left alone with nothing but my thoughts. No worries, no chores, no cares. Just me, alone.
Its my time.
I’m sitting on the fence that rests outside my families home, the wood
The sun peaks over the two hills that stretch far out in the distance, revealing a low level of fog that spreads evenly across the grassy plains. The dank smell of mist in the air sends a chill up my spine, exciting me as the season goes further into Fall. Its still quite dim outside, the earth so very silent. Dead almost. The only noises that accompany my slow, steady breathing are the early birds low chirping and the crickets synchronized chirping. When winter eventually arrives and the animals run off to hibernate, everything will be even more silent. So for now I will just enjoy the sweet hum of nature. To me, it’s a symphony.
I cherish these moments I have to alone. Try to appreciate everything I see and not take any of it for granted. A raindrop on a flower petal. A squirrel searching for food. A bird building its nest. Although I am just sitting on a fence, alone, in early morning, there is honestly no place else I would rather be than here, in this moment. I don’t have to explore the world, search its many breadths, to know that what I have right now is the most satisfaction I will ever get out of the life I was given.
My reverie, my splendid time alone, is unwontedly broken by the creaking of my homes kitchen door as it opens. I don’t even need to turn around to know who it is.
“Elizabeth!” I hear my mothers familiar voice call. “Get back to work! Since when do you think anyone in this family takes breaks?”
I turn around and see her craning her neck around the kitchen door, holding it open with one hip, while tying an apron around her slim waist.
Did I say no chores?
I look down at the large tub of hot water filled with my families dirty clothes that sits on the ground next to my dangling feet, steam rising from it into the cold morning air. The clothes all blend together, meshing into each other, becoming one big blur of pants, shirts, sheets and socks. It is my duty to scrub them down on the rusty wash board we have and hang them out to dry on the clothesline that stretches from one tree to the other. Squirrels often climb across it, knocking down whatever I had hung up, forcing me rewash and rehang them.
“Yes Mother!” I call back to her, singing the words, a mocking cheer in my voice.
“I’m making your favorite for breakfast, baby!” She calls, which entices me to turn around and look at her again. She’s stirring a big pot of what I know to be dough for biscuits. I also know that we have fresh churned butter. “But you finish that laundry first, and then you can come in and fix yourself a plate.”
“I wouldn’t dare to even think of coming in until every last stitch of these clothes are washed and cleaned to perfection.”
“That’s my girl!” She hollers back, completely aware of my playful sarcasm. She turns back in the house, the kitchen door closing with a loud thud that echoes, and once again I am alone, exactly how I like it.
It is most likely six in the morning judging from the suns placement in the sky, which is covered in streaks of blue and pink, the colors blending together, all looking like a painting. I was up and dressed at the crack of dawn, as I have been for the past two years, ready but not eager to start another day of chores. When you live on a farm like I do, work never seems to subside. Whether it be watering the plants, harvesting them, chopping fire wood, or in my case, laundry, something always seems to need tending to. My hands have grown rough and calloused from years of labor, always moving, always doing something.
The farm is nothing but trees, grass, birds… and grapes. Rows and rows of grape vines, line after line. My family owns a vineyard. My father does, more specifically. My grandfather owned it, and after he died, he passed it onto my father. I suppose after my father dies it will be passed onto me, but we have never discussed it at length. But I would be completely satisfied living here for the rest of my life, potentially passing it down to my children, if I ever have any. Which at seventeen is not a subject I would like to breach quite yet. Although for me it has been the most amazing place to grow up. Games like hide and seek and tag can only be elevated while playing them on the farm. Endless areas to hide, numerous places to explore, all within the safety of your own back yard.
The farm has proven to be a decent provider for our family. We are not poor by any means, but we are definitely not rich either. We have just enough. Food on our table, a roof over our head, clothes on our back. That is a lot more than many people I’ve seen. About once a month my father will harvest the grapes, with the help of his workers, and haul them into the village. He sells the grapes to different buyers, mostly bakeries and wine makers.
Once again, I hear the kitchen door creak open and I know once again my mother is ready to tell me to get back to work. I still haven’t budged of the fence since she was last out here. The clothes are still sitting in the pot, less steam now rising from it.
This time, I answer her before she can call out to me.
“I know, I know, Mother.” I say, hopping off the fence, wiping my dirty hands off on my pants. “Get back to work.” I imitate her voice. But when I turn around to, it is not my mother on the porch holding open the door. Its my father.
“Oh…” I say. And immediately my attitude makes a noticeable change. “Hi Pop.”
He’s standing leisurely, a slight slouch in his shoulders from years of hard labor, a stern look on his face, his forehead creased. He’s a tall man. Broad shoulders, thick muscles. The only feature to give away his true age are the fine lines that spread across his face and the slight hint of gray in his black hair.
“That laundry should have been done by now, Liz.” He says, calling me by my nickname. The only person that ever calls me by my full name is my mother. His voice is rough and dry, a good match to his demeanor.
“I know. I’m sorry.” I say, picking up the wash board and sticking it into the lukewarm water, whose temperature has gone down significantly since I first brought it out here from insides fireplace. “I’ll get it done soon, Pop.”
“We don’t take breaks in this family.” He says, no cheerful tone in his voice, opposite of my mothers.
“So I’ve been told.” I mutter so he doesn’t hear me as he goes back inside. The door makes another loud thud, echoing around me.
I’m alone again, yet now it feels different. Tainted somehow. Its not the same peace I had 5 minutes ago. I do not like being scolded by my father. I feel like he’s correcting my wrong doings. The relationship I have with him is much different than that of my mothers. Maybe that is how it is in most families. Maybe not. I’ll never know. All I know is how this one is. And in this one, my mother is my friend, my father is my disciplinarian. She is playful and friendly, a perfect counterpart to his serious, hard character.
I once had a good relationship with my father. It was easy going and cheerful. We had a natural chemistry. I used to sit on his lap while he told me stories in his rocking chair. He used to lift me up on his shoulders so I could pick apples from trees. He used to call me Angel.
But we don’t do things like that anymore.
Now, I try to act mature around him. Older than seventeen. I’m tall and slender, getting most of my genes from my mother. Although I am slim, my body is strong. My arms are toned and capable from years of working on the vineyard. I also have the same long brown, wavy hair as my mother, with hints of auburn in it when seen in the sunlight. I have the same hazel eyes as her as well, along with a light, fair skin tone. Living on the farm, constantly being outside in the sun has still not turned my pale complexion into a tan one like it has my fathers. I’ve always been very fair which is one of the reasons why he used to call me Angel.
I hear the familiar sound of gravel crunching underneath a pair of heavy boots, and immediately a smile spreads across my face. I don’t need to trun around to know who is walking up the road.
“You’re late.” I say smiling, hanging up a wet sheet on the clothing line. The sheet flaps in the cool Fall breeze as Clive comes around me to help pin it up.
“You’re not gonna tell on me are you?” He asks jokingly, eyeing me suspiciously.
“I doubt I’ll have to.” I say. “I’m sure my father has been counting every second you’ve been late, deducting from your pay.”
He laughs. “Oh man, you’re probably right.” He says, not nervous at all.
Clive works for my father on the vineyard and he the closest and only friend I have. When he first started, he was a scrawny twelve year old boy with big red curls and freckles covering most of his body. He was a fast learner, quickly realizing that my father has a no-nonsense attitude and doesn’t care to chit chat. What he wants is someone who will show up on time and get their work done without complaint, and that is what Clive has proven to be.
Like me, after years of tough labor on the farm and working outside, his body has grown strong, lean, and muscular. Although he still has red curls and freckles. And even though he’s late, I know my father will have a tough time being upset with him. Its almost impossible to be mad at Clive. He is so friendly, so likeable, that even the most stern people have trouble being angry with him. While I have always been quiet and timid, never too quick to trust anyone, Clive is open and warm, always the first to start a conversation.
“Shouldn’t this laundry be done by now?” He says, picking up a wet pair of pants from the tub and wringing them out.
I roll my eyes, irritated that yet another person has criticized me about the laundry, and give him a look.
“Oops.” He cringes. “I’m sure I’m at least the third person to tell you that today.”
“Its ok, Clive.” I say. “I’m more worried about what my father is going to do when he finds out that you strolled in… I’d say, twenty minutes late.”
“Nah.” He waves this off. “I can talk my way out of any situation.” He jokes, even though this is most likely true.
This is one thing I like about Clive. With him, I don’t have to worry about how I am acting. I don’t have to be perfect. I can be me.
“Why were you late?” I ask, curious. While Clive is care free, he is also very professional. He never shows up late.
“There was something happening in the Village.” He says, helping me hang a blanket. “Some girl one of The Shadows caught.”
“And you stop and watch?” I ask, a notable hint of disapproval in my voice.
“I wasn’t the only one watching. There was a crowd.” He moans, as if a crowd justifies his behavior.
“Well, what was she caught doing?” I ask, a pang of guilt creeping up in me for even asking.
“Oh, now look whose so curious.” He mocks me.
“Just tell me.” I say, not in the mood to be berated.
“I think she was caught stealing. A necklace or something.” He ponders. All of the laundry is hung up. Now, we are just standing, talking.
“She put up quite a fight.” He continues, leaning against the fence. “It was impressive. Kicking her legs, flailing her arms, cursing The Shadows. It took two of them just to carry her away.” He says, holding up two fingers. “I’ve never seen anyone with that much…”
“Boldness?” I finish for him.
“Exactly!” He says.
“And that is why you’re late? Because you had to stand and watch some poor girl get dragged off. I say, rolling my eyes.
“Don’t judge me.” He laughs. “You would have stopped to watch to. That’s girl had a heart of steal, I’d say.”
“Or she’s just stubborn as a mule.” I correct.
For a minute we just sit, not talking. I can tell Clive is replaying the scene in his head.
“So what happened to her?” I ask, breaking the silence. I’m not much for gossip, but this story does interest me. I rarely hear news from the Village, mostly by choice, but also because I never leave the farm.
“I’m not sure.” Clive says, his voice dropping. He looks concerned now. “Most likely a punishment far worse than the actual crime.” He says, dragging his fingers through his hair.
“And that is why I stay as far away from the Village as I can.” I say, folding my arms.
“Smart girl.” Clive says.
He picks up the tub of dirty water from the laundry and drags it next to a tree and pours it out for me.
“I think…” He says, carrying the tub back, almost put of breath. “That you owe me some of your pay for helping with this.”
I look at him, raising my eyebrows.
“My father doesn’t pay me to work.” I say. “I do it for free.”
“Oh right.” He says. “You’re such a saint.”
The sun is now further in the sky, beaming down on us, warming my skin against the cool Fall air.
“Lets go inside and get breakfast.” I say. “I’m starving.”
We walk up the stairs of the front porch, each wooden step creaking under our boots. I open the door and we step inside. When I go to sit down at the table, I see a plate of food already set out on the kitchen table for me.
“Thanks momma.” I say, kissing the top of her head resting one hand on her shoulder, her hair tickling my nose. She grabs my hand and gives it a squeeze.
“Morning, Pop.” I say, my father sitting at the end of the table.
“You finish that laundry?” He asks, not looking up.
“Yes.” I say quietly, and sit down. I grab a knife and slice a pat of butter and place it on my biscuit. The butter starts to melt, and I take a bite. Delicious, as usual with my mothers cooking.
“I helped her with the laundry.” Clive says, hopping on the counter, grabbing a biscuit, and propping his feet up.
My mother looks at him. “Not in my house.” She says. “Shoes stay on the floor.”
Clive immediately drops his feet to the floor. I shoot him a look, annoyed that he told my father that he helped me with my chore. I know my father doesn’t really care, but it still makes me feel like he will be disappointed in me. He just looks at me and shrugs his shoulder, not understanding why I would care that he said that.
“Clive?” My father says, looking over at him.
Clive quickly swallows what food he has in his mouth. “Yes sir?” He answers.
“Why were you late?” My father asks, not in an accusing way.
Clive thinks for a second, clearly coming up with a false excuse.
“I just thought since I’ve been doing such a good job around her that I deserve to sleep in a few minutes.” He jokes, smiling. “Wouldn’t you agree, Marcus?” He asks, calling my father by his first name. I look over at my father, unable to determine what his reaction might be.
But, he just chuckles, and at that I am stunned. I would never have the courage to joke with my father. And I if did, I know he would tell me not to joke around, but to take things seriously. Which I always am around him.
“You two know that we’re going into the Village today, right?” My father asks, looking at me and Clive, and my heart sinks. I’ve been dreading this.
“Yes.” Me and Clive say simultaneously. His voice sounds fine. Mine sounds nervous. I hate the Village.
“Well,” My father continues. “We gotta collect the grapes first and then haul them into town. I’ll need your help today Liz since Albert can’t make it. His wife just had a baby and he needs to stay home to help take care of her.”
Albert is my fathers other worker.
“I know, Pop.” I say. “I’ll be th…” But my sentence gets cut off by something else I’ve been dreading. This comes from the upstairs of our house.
A blood curdling scream. Shrieks so loud and painful they send a chill up my spine and make my skin crawl. I immediately get up from the table and bolt from the kitchen.
“Liz, get back here!” My father calls with authority, his voice booming, but this time, I don’t listen to him.
I stomp up the stairs, taking them two at a time, my breathing heavy. I reach the room that I know to be the one the screams are coming from, place my hand on the doorknob, and turn.