The Farmhand

by Gareth Durasow

Dad’s up to his armpit in a cow’s fistula when I tell him what Hector’s been saying at school, what he’s been calling me since I told him about the farmhand.

He rinses his arm under the standpipe. ‘You weren’t supposed to tell anyone,’ he grumbles, and goes to feed the pigs.

After supper, I’m blowing the yolks out of goose eggs when my phone spasms on the table: COME TO THE BARN.

And then: BRING YOUR PHONE.

I put on Dad’s cap lamp. Its clumsy light leads me down the yard, past the burn barrels and heaps of horseshit, and takes me to the doors I’ve had nightmares about since I was old enough to dream.

The boar is tethered to a pole in the ground. He’s so old his forehead has buried his eyes. He breathes like a blocked bathtub. Dad said not to name them, but this one has HECTOR painted across his side in thick red capitals. He says, ‘I want you to film it,’ and unbars the doors to let out the dark, where the farmhand unfolds like a Swiss army knife.

It screams in the key of flank-gorged spears, and I know well enough to wait until the noises have stopped before looking. Even so, I look too soon. It’s wearing the empty pig like a feedbag.

Dad asks, ‘Did you get all that?’

I scrub the footage back. Time skips like a scratched vinyl and the pig is restored, frame by frame, sliver by sliver.

‘Yes,’ I manage, and swallow a soup spoon’s-worth of hot sick.

‘Send it to the little bastard, and then fetch the wheelbarrow.’

*

Whenever I can’t get back to sleep, I write in my dream diary.

I was using a cotton swab to clean the wings of an injured bat when the noise started. It was like our old internet—a robot’s impression of a seashell in your ear. I asked Dad, ‘Can you hear that?’

‘It’s the pigs,’ he said. ‘They’re frightened.’

I followed the noise to the barn and stepped inside, onto acres of mirror.

Silence, like I’d interrupted something.

The pigs were lying on their sides, but the strange floor created the illusion of them having been balanced in mid-air— and with it, the threat that the spell could break, and smash them like ornaments.

I recognised Hector, one I shouldn’t have named, and ran to him on the footfalls of my upside-down twin. I ran until I had to jog and jogged until I had to take off my boots and carry them.

When I was stood over him, that’s when I realised the mirror’s appalling trick of the eye, and the boots fell from my hand onto their reflection with a grotesque slap. After that, I stumbled from one far-flung carcass to the next, trying to figure out which was the rest of Hector.

Now, like a good insomniac, I wait for my turn to fall asleep again. I listen to the near silence: the pendulum knocking like a hanged man in a wardrobe; the nautical clatter of things swimming through the pipes. It tells me all I need to know; Dad isn’t back from the barn.

*

When the door opens, he looks like he spent the night under a horse. I talk through my yawn: ‘You should’ve asked me to help you.’

He’s feeling his way along the chimney breast, the spines of his books.

‘What’s wrong, Dad?’

He’s at the fish tank, lifting the lid. He delves inside and gropes around the algal bloom. The fish panic as clumsy hands scramble after them, trawling hell for leather through the gravel. By the time he’s finished, the water is a squall of dirt and scales, and every one of them is on the carpet jack-knifing for breath.

‘How much have you had to drink?’

It speaks in the voice of wrong radio frequencies—‘You weren’t supposed to tell anyone’—and with both hands parts Dad’s face, like a body bag, to show me what took residence in the place he used to spit and swear from.

I take the stairs three at a time, and the farmhand follows at the pace of sand through one’s fingers: a man-shaped eclipse at the end of the hall. Every doorknob betrays me, hemming me into the corner where it daubs on my flesh the only letters it knows how to write, in the only colour it knows to write in.

The first one is H.

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