THE PALE FARMER • by Rich Matrunick

The moon caught the garden in its grasp, outlining the vegetables in blue twilight. Victor strode between the rows, his hawk eyes scanning the crop. Slowly he bent, fingers drifting towards the soil, hovering over a burgeoning weed. His eyes closed, his mouth pressing silent letters, the weed wilted away from his hand, curling into a dried husk.

“Can’t you say ‘abracadabra’ or something?” Martin called from the porch. “It doesn’t all have to be so stereotypically dour.”

Victor shook his head, rising from the crouch. He started back towards the lighted porch of the farmhouse, towards the strange sight of Martin waiting in a rocking chair, chess board stoic upon the adjacent side table.

“I should remember that dour is your job,” Victor replied.

“I feel I’ve been quite clear with my issue: Either you’re completely bat-shit crazy, or I’m, in all actuality, a talking can of corn. So I don’t exist, or I can’t even tug at myself for fun. Not sure there’s a winner in there.”

“You exist, Martin,” Victor said, taking his seat in the neighboring rocker. He folded his hands under his chin, eyes studying the chess board.

“You don’t know that. You get out here in the open, miles and miles from the next farm, and you start to get lonely; pretty soon the nearest canned good starts chatting you up about the weather.”

Victor slid a pawn forward and then leaned back in the rocker. “You exist, Martin. You’ve beaten me at chess.”

“Clearly I’m a symbol of hope for corn-kind everywhere.”

“Go, Martin,” Victor grumbled.


Victor stirred his hand, the black knight sliding along the chess board. He leaned forward in his rocker once more, hands folded under his chin, staring at his white army.

“I’m not crazy, Martin. I’ve beaten it.”

“Oh, you certainly have,” Martin laughed. “No obsession in you anymore, no sir.”

“I haven’t touched a human in over a year. I’m free.”

“I say you’re a smoker with no nearby convenience stores. For shit’s sake, you’ve got a garden, Victor. What are you growing out there anyways, beets?”


“You spend your obsessive nights killing every last weed, toiling over each inch. And, I must ask, given the great tomato incident of oh-eight, what exactly will you do with these beets when they’re ready?”

Victor just sighed, moved his white knight, and then rested back in his chair.

“Should I expect another puke storm?” Martin asked. “That stuff’s not made for you anymore, as much as you’d like. There’s no freedom out here, just new obsessions to fill the void.” He paused. “Bb4.”

Victor slid the piece for him.

“You know what we really need?” Martin continued. “A test: something to prove your supreme mastery at your… condition. There’s bound to be a good sheep around here somewhere.”

The sound of tires hitting the gravel driveway caused Victor to look up, the car’s headlights flashing towards the barn. Victor didn’t move as the car parked, nor did he move with the rustling of a map behind the steering wheel.

Victor, instead, glanced back towards Martin.

“Don’t look at me. You’re the one bringing cans of corn to life. Maybe she’s yours?”

“No… no, I don’t think so.”

“Well, coincidence be praised! Best go see if she needs to use your phone. Wouldn’t want her lost way out here – could be kind of dangerous.”

Victor bit his lip and rose from the chair; the crunch of his footfalls upon the driveway breaking the still of the night.

“And better make sure it’s not a vegetarian!” Martin called out from the porch. “Or some freak with a can opener instead of a hand!”

Victor ignored him, continuing towards the idling red sedan. He paused at the door, the driver seemingly oblivious to his presence. He coughed; she did not notice. He rapped his knuckles on the driver side window; the woman gave a startled jump.

“Sorry, so sorry,” she said, winding down the window. “I’m not quite sure where I am, exactly. I’m trying to make it back to highway six, but this map doesn’t seem to have the road we’re on.”

“No,” Victor started, “its, not…”

“Hey! You don’t happen to have a phone inside I could use real quick. My cousin doesn’t live too far away, and I’m sure he could give me directions the rest of the way in.”

Victor stood, dumbfounded, his head shaking ‘yes’. She cut the engine, rising gracefully from her seat, her long blond hair spilling down her back.

“I appreciate it a lot,” she said, eyes twinkling, smile pursed upon full lips. She absently ran a hand through her hair, her fingers tracing across her lithe neck.

“Yeah,” Victor nodded again, the words not quite matching up with his movements. His head pounded with a steady, undulating beat. His breathing deepened. He tucked a trembling hand into his pocket.

She shifted uneasily at the silence.

“Is the phone in there?” She asked, gesturing to the house.

“Yeah.” Victor tried to continue, to exchange some further pleasantry, but his feet started to absently move, and his eyes… his eyes hung upon her neck. His teeth hurt, throbbed.

“I appreciate this, I really do,” the girl said as she walked beside him. “It’s a funny thing, I normally wouldn’t trust, well… you know.” Her smile flashed up at him, curious and unashamed.

“I have that effect on people.”

The screen door creaked open as Victor gestured her inside. He licked his lips, running a tongue over his teeth.

For the first time in a long time, Martin was strangely silent.

Rich Matrunick occasionally finishes stuff that he’s started. You’ve been warned.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Didn’t quite understand all the nuances, but this was a very creepy tale with several layers of meaning.

  • Superb writing! This story gave me the chills. Five!

  • Don’t know what’s wrong my vote isn’t showing. I gave Rich Five Stars.

  • Jorta

    So: Martin is no metaphor; just a silent and cooperative straight-can to Victor’s lonely musings (pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist)…and, I daresay, Victor will be unable to resist either. Poor fellow – can a vamp ever really reform? Second time I read it was even more fun.

  • Most people take their cell phones when they go for an unfamiliar drive. Maybe you could put in a line where the woman says, “My cell phone ran out of batteries” or “I can’t get a signal out here” or something. Then it would make more sense that she needed to use his phone in the house.

  • Sarah

    I agree with #4.

    The only thing that bothered me was “his head shaking ‘yes'”.. in my book, shaking=no, nodding=yes I guess this is a pet peeve.

    Otherwise, fantastic storytelling!

  • Sarah

    Wow, Erin..

    Perhaps the story takes place before cell phones were invented and/or common. Believe it or not, that means it could take place as recently as 2001 or so. I’m 32 and I didn’t get my first cell phone until 2004.

    In fact, the whole setting would have been disrupted at the mention of a cell phone. I was picturing the story was taking place back in the ’50s or so.

  • ajcap

    Funny about the cell phone problem. Guess it depends on your age but the victim not having a cell phone never crossed my mind.

    I also agree that nodding=yes, shaking=no.

    I liked that we didn’t find out what Victor’s problem was until the end, and only by suggestion. Great showing. Martin couldn’t move his own pieces…was Victor talking to himself? Playing chess against himself? The girl never acknowledges Martin. Very interesting and creepy read. Enjoyed it.

  • Oh yes — I enjoyed this one a lot. Creepy but humorous, weirdly wacky, and an ending that leaves me eager to find out what happens next. Wonderful story-telling Mr. Matrunick.

    Like ajcap (#8), I loved that Martin didn’t make his own chess moves and turned ‘strangely silent’ at the end. And like Jorta (#4), I enjoyed it more the second time through.

    I am NOT a vampire story guy — I fell off that wagon a long time ago, after Anne Rice’s ‘Interview’. But this one was wonderfully understated and humorous and completely effective. You snuck this one in on me, and deserve extra kudos for getting me to like something in spite of the bias I’d normally have against it. Well done.

    Five stars from me.

  • Stephen Rosenthal

    At least Victor tried to go straight, straight to the jugular. Great Story.

  • DeborahB

    Wacky, wonderful and weird. Creepy, too. Well done. I didn’t get the meaning of the talking can of corn, except for Victor to have something to bounce thoughts off and would have liked to have had a “wow” moment concerning Martin. Besides that, it was super.

  • Rob

    Well written and very well constructed to give out just enough info– but not too much.

  • The girl herself could have been a hallucination, displacing the earlier one. Or the vampire’s influence could have given her a blind spot about other ways of dealing with her predicament – could even have led her into it, come to that.

    Oh, and I still don’t have a mobile phone, and I prefer my old, rotary dial telephone to modern ones that only have slim line hand sets; I am awkward and have trouble holding implements with my fingertips rather than gripping them, or using touch sensitive interfaces rather than keys that have to be pressed in. It’s not Luddism – I have trouble using a pen or pencil because of those issues, and it also took me a while to master moving an old-fashioned gear lever or a rifle’s bolt action with a single, angled force that let them float laterally, instead of making a sequence of individual straight line movements. I am ambiclumsy.

  • Excellent, as always, Rich. Great story.

  • ajcap


    I wonder what the great tomato incident involved…

  • Jen

    I loved this story, the characteization of Martin was perfect, I could “hear” his voice.
    Alos loved Victor’s craziness, for som reason I pictured him more as a serial killer than a vmapire but maybe I’m missing something?

  • greencosmo

    I loved the premise of story and the lead up to the ending was very suspenseful. It took me a while to get into the story and figure out what was going on with Martin. I also thought that Victor a was garden variety serial killer, but looking back the neck references do point towards vampire.

  • I enjoyed the story the first time through, but it was on the second read that the vampire references jumped out at me:

    – The “pale” farmer in the title
    – Its night-time, not day
    – He’s got enough ‘magical’ power to kill weeds with an incantation and not needing to touch them
    – The ‘tomato incident’ and beets – both ‘blood red’ vegetables, perfect for a vampire trying to go vegan
    – The ‘hunger’ and ‘obsession’ and his reference to not touching a ‘human’ in years
    – His ability to be ‘unseen’ by the girl
    – His ability to be lull her into a flase sense of security
    – His fixation with her neck
    – His ‘teeth hurting’as he looked at her neck

    Subtle and effective.

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone. I’m not a big ‘vampire story’ fan myself, so this was my little spin on the concept.

    @ Chris Fries:
    Well done, sir. I wasn’t sure that anyone would catch the red vegetables reference…

  • The girl not having a cell phone didn’t bother me, either.

    I liked the concept of strung-out Victor hallucinating his nights away. Vampire withdrawal, I suppose. Like others I found Martin’s voice especially well done.

    Nice job with this, Rich.

  • J. Chris Lawrence

    Excellent read Rich! As far as I am concerned, a flawless piece. I look forward to reading more of your work down the road.

  • Rashard Mendenhall

    Great read! The talking can of corn provided a nice contrast to balance the characters out. Hope the lady brought her running shoes!

  • Great Story. I totally did not get the vampire thing until I read the comments & re-read.

    One small tweak: “I should remember that dour is your job,” Victor replied. This line should belong to Martin – unless you want to tell us that BOTH the can and the farmer are dour. I more “got” the can as a smart-ass, sarcastic type. Re-read your opening and see if you haven’t mixed it up a bit – it threw me, and should be an easy fix.

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