But That Thy Blood Was Shed for Me

cornby Carly J. Hallman

My brother, all 250 pounds of him, leans, scratches his arm. He’s gone and ripped off another mole. Examines the blood beneath his nails. Performs a flicking motion, ridding of nothing physical, but everything’s symbolic to a college-degreed asshole like me, isn’t it?

His latest boyfriend, Dan, drove out here to the farm. Rolled up in a white F-150 like king of the goddamn range. Those two disappeared for hours into the fields to do whatever it is they do. Left to my own devices, I nursed two-and-a-half Coronas and stared at a Diane Keaton movie on VHS like a real man. No cable out here, no internet, no nothing. Set the half-empty bottle on the floor beside the sofa. Drifted off into that purgatory between hallucination and dream. Awoken by voices. Out on the back porch, through screens and glass, two men in the midst of a solid fight.

A crow lands on the railing. It raises its head, its beak pointing with urgency to the glowing sky, as though up there contains anything worth seeing.

Our great-great-grandparents, who came to America on a boat, who purchased this farm, who resigned us to this fate of feeding an insatiable beast. I often wondered if they knew about the curse when they made their deal. If they even cared. If after years of suffering, they felt that nothing could taint the prospect of such wealth. Or if continued misfortune came as unwanted to them as it had to us.

I step inside to get my brother a band-aid and a stiff drink.

Dan and my brother tore through their past, present, and future in hushed voices while I rubbed my crusty eyes, straightened my old people’s blanket, and feigned interest in beautiful actors making beautifully scripted and entirely fixable mistakes.

Years before, my brother and I raced through these golden fields. Shouted and sang. Shimmied up trees. Gobbled fresh-picked fruit until our bellies ached. Heard disembodied cries bubbling up from the cave’s mouth. Watched as the fish in the front pond devoured our golden retriever, leaving only clumps of fur floating on the water’s glassy surface. Lounged at our parents’ feet as they discussed fleeing, heading west. “Wouldn’t that just piss Her off more?” My brother and I would pick at the loose strings in the rug and communicate to each other telepathically. We’d started thinking of the farm as a her. “Aren’t we the only ones who can feed Her?” Our parents couldn’t hear our ESP, but we knew, watching the way they’d blink repeatedly, stare at nothing, and rock in rhythm in their chairs, that our concerns were collective.

One sweaty Sunday, we found a skeleton on the barn’s roof. Sucked-clean bones, wearing our mother’s favorite church dress, the one with polka dots. Only hours before, she’d sat next to us in that dress, in the pew, knelt, stood, fanning herself, belting out, “Glory to His Name.”

At our mother’s funeral, our father spoke from a pulpit to an audience of just a preacher and the two of us. “Love,” he spat, “is a goddamn trap.”

There were seven of us, once.

Our father sent us away, away from these fields, sheds, abandoned engines, pits, ponds. My brother to the engineering university, me to the liberal arts one. I graduated, he didn’t. No matter. He landed a job in oil and gas, made more money than I could ever dream of, helped me make my student loan payments. I found work at a downtown bookstore, donning dark-rimmed glasses and deluding myself into believing I possessed a secret that the rest of society didn’t possess so that I wouldn’t be lured into suicide’s arms every time my joke of a paycheck appeared in my employee cubby.

With us in the city and our mother and brothers and sisters dead, Dad tried his best to fight Her off. He summoned priests and shamans and New Age healers and people from the Department of Agriculture. He believed he could succeed, that the time was finally right. I picture him on the porch, silhouetted against a purple summer sunset, gazing out on the land as though not a fool, but a hero.

Just us, a raggedy preacher with bourbon breath, and a blown-up photo on a craft store easel, of our old man in his younger years, long before he married our mother and inherited his own demise.

After the funeral, we shoveled mashed potatoes in our faces. Biscuits. Fried okra. Telepathically, my brother communicated, “We’re the last ones.” He asked me what I thought would happen after we were gone—end of the goddamn line. Lines don’t actually end, I told him as I chewed my steak, you’d know that if you’d finished college, everyone knows that, it’s something to do with modern math.

Dan’s F-150 is still parked in the drive. Out the window, I notice now what my brother must have already seen, what he must already know, what he must’ve known would happen all along. A skeleton dangling from an apple tree in the not-so-far-off distance. It is everyone we love. It is wearing men’s trousers. It is wearing Dan’s boots.

We’ve returned to the farm as either warriors or goners. I return to that porch with a band-aid and a stiff drink. My brother peels away the crinkly Johnson & Johnson wrapper, takes a sip of whiskey, and mumbles something uncharacteristically poetic about the terrible tragedy of hope.


Carly J Hallman’s favorite monsters (aside from evil farms) include dolls, clowns, mob bosses, demonic beings, mummies, and the unbreakable human spirit, among many others. She lives in Beijing, China. Follow her on Twitter at @cjhallman
%d bloggers like this: