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“Mr. Penny’s Farm” by C.J. Goodin

Mr. Penny was a retired farmer living on his unkept land on Tibbitts Hill. He didn’t have much beyond his coffee, pipe, and gun. Once known for lively stories down at the bar, Mr. Penny now sits on his porch rocker all day. Ever since the incident, he just sips his coffee, smokes his pipe, and peers past his overgrown field, filled with deserted automobiles, at his old paint-peeling barn.

On the rare occasion, a visitor would hail the old farmer. As it happens, today, a sales rep from Tamberlane Supply attempted to sell Mr. Penny on the preventative benefits of a new metal joint lubricant.

“Hi, the name’s Chris. Chris Mungalow of Tamberlane Supply, and I would love to show you our exciting new lineup of products, especially for an agricultural expert like yourself!” Chris offered a handshake to Mr. Penny, who just rocked in his chair and puffed on his pipe. The farmer didn’t offer his hand in return, but the salesman powered through with a smile. He looked around and saw the farmer’s large barn in the distance. Pointing at it, Chris continued, “I see your old barn over there, and all old barns got squeaky doors, amirite? We have a new penetrating fluid with very low viscosity. It’ll fix all your hinge-type problems. We could walk over, and I could show you.”

“You might not want to do that,” Mr. Penny said to the salesman. Chris looked back, confused, as Mr. Penny took another large puff.

“Oh, don’t you worry, I’ve seen some old barns, and trust me, I get that they can get messy. The first thing we gotta do is fix up those hinges. Tamberlane Supply’s new formula will have that old barn just open herself up to you,” Chris remarked with an insincere smile.

“Whelp,” Farmer Penny said as he sat up in his chair, “Let me tell you something, farming on this rocky New England soil is something that no one’s ever bragged about. It’s hard. Few crops, difficult summers, and unbearable winters. This used to be a plantation for ships masts, you know? Then, as the wooden ships became less popular, they had to rely on apple and grape vineyards to make ends meet. Which is what I used to do.”

“Fascinating story, Mr. Penny,” Chris said as he gestured for the old farmer to stand. “We should go check out that barn now.”

The farmer continued, “It all came to an end, though. One morning, hours before that annoying old rooster crowed, I heard a terrible sound coming from the barn. When I opened her up, I couldn’t see nothing but a single small mouse scurrying about. It scampered off deeper into the barn. Then I heard the last squeaks of the rodent, followed by something growling with hunger. I ran outside and quickly shut the door behind me to not let, whatever it was, out.”

“Sounds like you got quite the pest problem. Lots of old barns do. You know Tamberlane Supply pest products are offering twelve percent off this month,” Chris suggested as he pulled a can from his bag to show off.

Mr. Penny ignored him and raised a hand in the air, “My annoying rooster began to crow not long after. I threw him in the barn to see if it was just my imagination. I just watched through a small crack in the barn door. The rooster just clucked around unbothered. I felt silly. I must’ve just misheard something falling and got scared and confused.”

“So I thought to myself, ‘I better get old rooster out of there while he’s still close and don’t have to chase after him.’ Just as I opened the barn door a little wider to grab him, a large lumbering creature rushed forward from the back of the barn. Beyond anything I had ever seen, it was made entirely of frayed flesh. A tattered tapestry floating phantom. Bruised and pale skin that dissolved and reformed into tentacles, antlers, teeth, and eyes.”

“I ran out quickly and slammed the door shut. The old rooster crowed in a panic-once, and then was replaced by the sound of chewing. I ran back into the house, grabbed my shotgun and a box full of shells, and called Rufus over.”

“Who’s Rufus?” Chris asked.

“My dog. Don’t interrupt my story. I grabbed my gun, My hands shook as I loaded it. I headed toward the barn and listened for the creature but heard nothing. I slowly slid the door open with the tip of my gun to look around. Of course, it was dark, I couldn’t see much. I couldn’t hear or see anything, so I sent Rufus in to sniff out whatever it was.”

Chris stood staring at the old man, who seemed to have gotten lost in a trance as he looked at the barn.

“Suddenly, some strange pallid tentacle flew through the darkness, latched on Rufus, and dragged him into the dark in the back of the barn. All I could hear was Rufus whining. I unloaded two shots in its direction and tried to reload as I backed out from the barn. I couldn’t see or hear Rufus anymore and threw the lock around the door.”

“It ate your dog?!” Chris replied and paused a moment. “For more advanced pests, Tamberlane can enlist some local professionals to use our products to help you with the old barn. I’ll even throw in a new padlock.”

Mr. Penny ignored him as he continued, “I boarded up the outside and called the sheriff, and I told him, ‘Sheriff Thompson’, I says, ‘get down here. Something horrible is in my barn. It killed and ate Rufus.’ That’s what I told him, and he told me, ‘you got a bear is what you have. You’ll need to call the Regional Department of Fish and Game.’”

Mr. Penny took another puff on his pipe and deepened his focus on the barn.

“Mr. Penny,” Chris the salesman implored, “Tamberlane Supply would love to do business with you….”

“When the local agent from Fish and Game appeared and asked about the bear on the property, I told him, ‘I don’t know what’s in my barn, but that ain’t no bear!’

“’Yup, sure,’ is all the agent told me and made his way to the old barn, where he smelt around. ‘Doesn’t smell like a bear. Are you sure it’s bear?’ The agent asked me. I told him, ‘No, I like I said, it’s not a bear! Something horrible in there ate my dog!’”

Chris gave Mr. Penny an annoyed but puzzled expression, “Ya… that’s pretty bad.”

“Well then, I gave him the key and made our way to the barn. So he went in and kept sniffing and crying out that he didn’t smell or hear nothing. I just stood outside a moment from fright, but the second I got the courage to follow, all I could hear was some wild cries of the unholy beast salivating over its recent morsel, and I ran back outside again and locked the door.”

“Called up the sheriff again. ‘Sheriff Thompson,’ I says. I says, ‘I called the Fish and Game, and who they sent were eaten up in my barn!’ He told me to keep it together and sent his deputy on by the following morning. I just watched from the porch. Ain’t no way I’m going back toward that barn. The deputy asked me where I last saw the agent, and I pointed at the barn and tossed him the keys. He made his way in, then not a minute later, I heard a loud cry from him, just like the Fish and Game agent. All I could do was sip my coffee.”

Chris spoke up to get a word in, “I’ve been enjoying the Tamberlane Supply’s Alchemist morning brew myself, and it’s very rich with….”

“Once I finished that cup, I gave the sheriff another call. I says to him, ‘Sheriff Thompson, now your deputy is gone too.’ The sheriff huffed on the phone and made his way here. He noticed the deputy’s car and demanded to know where his deputy was. I just pointed to the barn. I told him, ‘It’s not a bear in there, some kind of monster. It doesn’t seem to want to leave. I didn’t see what happened to the agent or the deputy, but I can’t imagine that it was good.’”

The salesman tried to interject, “Mr. Penny, I think….”

“So the sheriff drew his firearm and headed toward the old barn, and I just focused on drinking my coffee and smoking my pipe. It was about the time I finished my cup that I heard the sheriff’s screaming.”

The salesman again tried to interject, “Mr. Penny, I really think Tamberlane Supply….”

“Next, I called the state attorney general, only to have the assistant he sent get gobbled up in the barn as well. It wasn’t an hour later that ten state troopers arrived on the scene, all to be directed to the barn. By that evening, the governor had the farm on lockdown. Soon, scientists, federal agents, and people in stiff black suits brought all these vehicles and littered my farm.”

“Please, Mr. Penny, the barn?” Chris implored, motioning his body toward the old structure beyond the field of derelict vehicles.

“Soon, a plan was hatched. OPERATION NOODLING, they called it. Everyone on the farm, the military, agents, and scientists, would charge the barn at once and overwhelm the creature.

Chris opened his mouth to speak.

“All of them were gone by morning,” Mr. Penny jutted in.

“Just gone?” Chris asked in disbelief.

“I mean to say, I didn’t see them the next morning. The only thing left was all their vehicles and equipment. I could only hear their screams as I lay in bed that night. Like the others before, it was filled only with cries of terror and moans of agony. I only heard the cacophony of horrid screaming and gnashing teeth. Blood gargling, desperate cries of being eaten alive over and over throughout the night. Trepidatious lamentations cut short by a vile dark ravenous specter.”

Mr. Penny puffed on his pipe and blew out a small ring of smoke, then continued, “All night, I stood at the ready, waiting for death to come out from that barn. Eventually, the sun came up. I stayed in the house all day and night before finally passing out from exhaustion. I ain’t been in the barn since. By and by some government agent made their way here and forced me to sign paperwork saying I saw nothing, and that’s been the end of it.”

The salesman watched as the blown smoke ring slowly dissolved in the breeze.

“Of course, all that was some years ago, and nothing has happened since. No more agents, no more officers, no more rooster or dog. Since the silence, I’ve sat here on this porch with this rifle and waited for whatever is gonna come out of that barn.”

Once the ring dissipated, Chris looked back at the old farmer.

Mr. Penny took a small sip of his coffee before speaking again, “But I’m sure it’s gone now, if you’re still interested in testing that there lube on the barn, it’s just passed the sheriff’s car, FBI cruiser, and the Department of Fish and Game van. You can’t miss it.”

Chris paused, looked at the barn in the distance, and then back at the farmer sipping from his coffee.

C.J. Goodin is author of GRANITE SHORES, a Vocal+ Fiction Award Finalist, and a lover of long walks on the beach

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