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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