McAllen Farm and the Mysterious Place
Thomas McAllen struggled to lace up his stiff, second-hand boots with the dented toe. He tied the strings and took a few tentative steps. The boots would work for now.
Putting his hands on his hips, Thomas took a deep breath, filling his lungs with crisp mountain air as he surveyed his grandmother’s farm.
Gladys McAllen, Thomas’s grandmother, lived alone on the side of a small mountain in the Old South. She was a kind, but hard-working woman; the kind of grandma that looked like she could beat the tar out of you, but never did. Her mountain haven consisted of acres upon acres of untamed forest with a small farm nestled in the middle of the land.
Chickens strutted around the farm and a few goats meandered in a large pen, the latter occasionally bleating and chewing their cud. The goat pen was next to the white barn that housed a horse named Willard Van Trapsdale III. Kittens pounced around rusty machinery, scurrying out of sight whenever Thomas happened upon them. There was a little garden at the back of Gladys’s farmhouse, filled with beats, zucchini, and other such vegetables that Thomas would rather avoid eating.
The land basked in the easy silence of solitude. Every once in a great while a battered pick-up truck would rattle past the farm’s long, twisting driveway; but besides that, there was not any nearby traffic to speak of. One of the loudest sounds on the farm was the sharp crack of acorns impacting the barn’s tin roof on their way from the tree branches to the leaf-strewn ground.
‘The loudest noise,’ thought Thomas, ‘is the obnoxious barking of Grandma’s dumb old dog!’ Thomas winced against the dog’s thunderous howling. “Prince!” he barked back at the black canine. “Knock it off already! Seriously, do you have to murder my ear drums every time I walk outside the house?”
The guard dog cocked his head and emitted a low hrmm that sounded exactly like a cranky old man. Prince sauntered away without another sound.
At the sound of laughter, Thomas turned to see his older brother, Derrik, treading up the hill from the barn. “Hey dog-whisperer,” Derrik teased. “I was beginning to wonder if you would ever get out of bed today.”
Thomas stretched and replied, “Nothing wrong with taking advantage of our vacation to sleep in.”
“True,” Derrik agreed. “Except when Grandma gives us permission to take the four-wheeler out for a spin.”
“Are you serious?!” Thomas gasped excitedly. “She said we could drive it?”
Derrik smiled. “Now you know why I’ve been anxious for you to get up.”
Letting out a whoop so loud that it shook the mountains, Thomas raced down the slope that Derrik had just climbed. His old boots threatened to throw him off balance, so Thomas checked his speed on the rest of the steep incline.
Grandma Gladys was at the bottom of the hill, carrying a bucket of chicken feed. From her mud-caked boots and her torn jeans to her auburn hair gathered in a short ponytail, she was every bit a farm girl. She rested a calloused fist on the side of her slim waist while she watched Thomas descend the hill with Derrik plodding behind.
“Good aftahnoon, sleepah,” Gladys called to Thomas, her New England accent very pronounced as she substituted her “er’s” for “ah’s.”
Knowing full well that it was not yet afternoon, Thomas ignored his grandmother’s teasing and slowed to a halt beside her, panting heavily.
“Gonna drive the faw-wheelah up the trails?” Gladys asked with a grin.
“Yeah!” Thomas exclaimed as he shifted in his uncomfortable boots. “Thanks for letting us, Grandma!”
“Well, sure, you’ah welcome,” Gladys replied. “Just remembah that dinnah’s at five, so make suah you boys ah back heah by then, or else I’m gonna staht worrying ‘bout you.” Because she had resumed her walk toward the chicken coop, Gladys spoke over her shoulder.
As Derrik came up behind him, Thomas whispered in a creepy tone, “And beware the Black Banshee!” Thomas laughed, but seeing Derrik’s serious face, he cut his joviality short and asked, “What?”
Shaking his head mournfully, Derrik replied, “Tommy, the Black Banshee is real, you know.”
Thomas was fooled for only a moment. “And so are dragons and unicorns! Come on, Rick, I know you way better than that! You can’t dupe me, dude.”
“Maybe,” Derrik returned, giving Thomas a friendly punch on the arm. “But I can still outrun you! Last one to the four-wheeler is the last to ride!”
*The peaceful stillness of the forest behind McAllen Farm was broken by the roaring motor of a four-wheeler.
Thomas clung to the small vehicle while rich fall colors rushed past in a blur. As he bounced down the path through the woods, Thomas was again amazed by the beauty of his grandmother’s mountain. He didn’t consider himself to be a city boy, but the beautiful forest and the quiet farm were definitely more rural surrounding than what he usually lived in. It made him silently thank God for His wonderful creation.
A change in the foliage caught Thomas’s eye. He brought the four-wheeler to a halt, dismounted, and stepped into the forest.
Just off the nearly overgrown path, beneath a shower of red, orange, and yellow leaves, stood a white gazebo. The wooden structure was elaborately carved with swirling patterns. A brass clock hung on the pillar farthest from the entrance. As Thomas climbed into the gazebo, he suddenly felt a heavy loneliness that seemed to haunt the mysterious place. Thomas cleared off the layer of leaves that blanketed a wooden two-person swing hanging on one side of the gazebo. He sat down and stared around him. It was even quieter than his grandmother’s farm, but not nearly as peaceful. A chill breeze made Thomas shiver in his sweatshirt, and an oppressive feeling came over him, as if an old anger was bearing down, seeking vengeance.
Shaking his head, Thomas told himself he was crazy and glanced down at his watch. ‘4:45,’ he thought, ‘Better get back so I don’t miss pizza.’ Gladys was not much of a cook, but she knew how to do takeout.
Thomas climbed onto the four-wheeler and zoomed back down the path, leaving the eerie gazebo behind him. But he did not mean to forget about it; in fact, he resolved to question his grandmother about it at the first chance he got. After he showed Derrik, of course.