THE MYSTERY CROP
Sleep never came naturally for Malici Brown. It began when he was a toddler. He’d keep his parents up, wailing late into the night. His mother grew resentful during these outbursts. She began to hate not only him, but her husband as well. She often found herself the one woken by the toddler and look over to see her husband pretending to sleep through the whole ordeal. Eventually, Malici curbed this crying behavior and made peace with his restlessness. When Malici was seven years old his mother finally convinced his father, he needed to be taken to Dr. Gourdon. The fight they had about the doctor’s visit only added to Malici’s sleepless state.
Dr. Gourdon was a large, rotund intellectual. He was frequently admired around the community for his intelligence, but this also alienated him . The dainty Pennsylvania Amish commune was not typically proud of any form of individualism, including exercising medical sciences brought in from the outside world. The Browns were often alienated as well; as Malici’s mother, Kerry Brown, was a converted outsider and they were the only family in the commune to have a single child household.
“He doesn’t act restless during the day, does he?” Dr. Gourdon asked. He spoke in a deliberate manner as he weighed what to say versus what not to say. He read the outsiders’ American textbook. Ones that dated centuries after he should be allowed to indulge himself. His neighbors agreed God destined them to be cut off after the year 1600. They saw technologies as a regression where his field demanded the advancement of technology. Dr. Gourdon recognized a modern medical condition sitting on the table in front of him.
Unfortunately for Malici, the Dr. Gourdon’s of generations past failed to notice the medical condition plaguing Malici. Thus, the Amish doctor couldn’t help Malici anymore than the doctor’s of the Lord’s time, 1600 A.D.
The physician diagnosed Malici with anxiety induced insomnia. He then proceeded to explain what insomnia and anxiety were to the patient’s parents.
“Like his nerves?” Joshua Brown, Malici’s father, asked. “I don’t understand, Doc. He’s so chiverious and strong in the daytime. We called him God’s lion when he was little. He never once looked nervous or like something was wrong with him.”
“Children can be very clever at hiding a wickedness like anxiety, Mr. Brown.” Dr. Gourdon let slip before he could stop himself. He wished he hadn’t used anxiety and wickedness in the same sentence.
“Are you anxious Malici?” The father almost shouted, spinning around to face his boy. The boy readjusted himself on the creaky, splitting, wooden table as Joshua gripped the boy’s shoulder without sentiment. “Do you think you’ve gone anxious on us, Malici?” The father hammered out the question, pronouncing “anxious” as if he didn’t believe it belonged on his tongue any more than it did in the dictionary.
“No sir.” The bobcat of a boy replied. His eyes looked alert and his shoulder tensed up when Joshua released it. The doctor began to suspect a horrible cover up of domestic abuse, but his fears were laid to rest when he realized the boy wasn’t afraid, but rather, cautious. Dr. Gourdon theorized that Joshua Brown had told the child to fear the doctors of the world. Malici looked up at his father and the boy’s mouth closed to a crease, revealing a healthy submission to the authoritative respect any seven-year old should possess for his father.
Fearing Joshua Brown wasn’t aware of his own strength, or even worse: he was fully aware and misusing his primitive fatherly influence over the boy to scare him from speaking. Dr. Gourdon requested to speak to the father alone. The petite, arching Kerry led the deep eyed Malici to the doctor’s kitchen where Malici looked through the recently cleaned windows and witnessed a man sanding a leather belt across the street. He grew an itch to be this man the longer he watched. He yearned to hold and stretch the unchiseled belt and to weave it up, down and side to side through the belt like a duck surfing rocky waters. These sensations were nirvana for the little Malici. His speculating of these stimuli overpowered his mother’s barking for attention. “Malici! This would be a stewardly time to…” her orders trailed off. The pitchfork of a woman gave the boy’s arm a little shake until he faced her with a loud “Huh!”
Oftentimes Dr. Gourdon suspected everyone forgot it was his fellow brothers and sisters of the Amish community that sent him to those American medical schools in the first place. Amish folk normally antagonized any form of outsider import, concrete or abstract, such as a medical license. This made the physician fear they never wanted his return but it was only later that he realized he was a social sacrifice. The Amish devote their entire lives to their faith, but they have to be alive to be obedient to the Lord’s laws. Thus, he doomed himself to save his commune.
“He’s simply more excitable than other boys.” the doctor offered. He finally compromised the diagnosis with Joshua Brown’s passive aggressive attitude, much to his dismay. “But he’s not to blame.” Joshua found Dr. Gourdon’s suggestion blasphemous.
To the surprise of the physician, Joshua Brown covered his face from the tip of his strong roman nose to his jawline. He was shielding a tear. The man’s eyes were the only visible feature the doctor could watch as Joshua snapped from sorrow to aroused anger. The Amish father was forcing himself to be angry, rather than broken. “It’s that God-forsaken New Jersey woman, isn’t it!” He confessed.
“Why, Mr. Brown I-”
“Pastor Red and my parents tried to warn me.” Joshua scrambled. “According to the pastor- I, I get a convert and- and she’ll always be a host for the devil!” Malici’s father spoke, fragmented. This jerk reaction of dribble occurred as the father’s stream of thought raced to what Dr. Gourdon already knew would be his question. “Can I still save the boy’s soul?” Joshua asked, not breaking eye contact. This brought about a tsunami of pity in the doctor’s heart. Joshua Brown squeezed his eyes together hard, as if God had stabbed him in the stomach.
“I’m only a doctor, Mr. Brown.” Dr. Gourdon piped in after a reflective beat. He decided minimizing himself would be the easiest way to avoid his own entanglement and inevitable downfall.
“Yes, forgive me, doc.” Joshua spoke as the emotional storm drifted further north and away from the man’s tear ducts. He regained his composure and spoke as if he’d come to this same conclusion that the doctor was the wrong person to have this breakdown with before the doctor removed himself from the questions. “This is a matter for the church.” The father concluded.
Once the escalation was over, the family met in the doctor’s kitchen where Dr. Gourdon was able to talk insomnia into the Browns patriarch's beliefs. Thus, the Browns gave him permission to prescribe Malici some weak, over the counter melatonin. However, the seven-year-old became twelve and the tolerance to the pills grew to the point where they became uselessly ineffective.
Dr. Gourdon struggled against Mr. and Mrs. Brown for updates on Malici’s case. Truly, it was the doctor’s only interesting case in the commune and he was genuinely concerned for Malici’s health. Thus, he suspected but couldn’t confirm the boy was still experiencing nightly insomnia. That is, until he spotted him one night at two A.M. passing his home along the streetside. He committed himself to keep an eye on Malici’s case. He would wake himself once a week at two A.M. to keep tabs on the boy’s still worsening condition.
At some point the local pastor, James Thomas Red, paid a visit to the doctor at the request of Joshua Brown. He politely told Dr. Gourdon his place. James Thomas Red’s speech was indirect and passive (as most clergymen are outside of sermons) but it was effective because of his incredible religious social protection. The only ‘direct’ statement from the pastor was muttered right before his polite but short goodbye. “Attitude is a highly sophisticated, subjective subject, Doctor. But God is all encompassing, is he not?”
“Indeed he is, Pastor.” Dr. Gourdon stammered out.
“The Church governs the spirit and you, my brother in Christ, govern the body.”
The night Malici turned fourteen he slept for a mere thirty-five minutes after two hours of revolving between the firmness of his primitive cot and the plush skin of his thin wool blanket. He spun like a bullet in a chamber, in deliberate circuits. He wore a thick wool sweater to bed as well. It was already early September and the temperature was dropping fast. Not that he or his parents ever knew the exact temperature. He did notice some little thermometer in Dr. Gourdon’s office, though. It was a thick cylindrical tube with little colored, jellyfish-like orbs floating in two families at the top and bottom of the tube. The boy wondered if any of Dr. Gourdon’s patients ever reported him for owning this contraband. Malici eventually quit the bed, changed out of his sweater and put on his coat to make his rounds.
Typically, he made it to the stables before he heard an outsider’s midnight church bells. The fragile chord defined the chilly dark vacuum of the nighttime sky.
To count the eerie, sleep-standing horses, Malici would have to climb up the fence’s cornerpoint and lean past the sidewall of the stable to it’s open fourth wall. It was as though Malici was taking his seat at the start of a play but the theatre had no curtains and he was just watching the actors, frozen in their first cue. The horses were massive, tan-brown, lumpy toadstools.
This became how Malici trained his eyes to see so well in the dark. After years of observing the horses in the daytime, he could memorize the slightly varying hues of their skin tones and markings. He searched them every night until he could differentiate between the four. This gave him the confidence to differentiate other colors and markings in the dark through their slight shading differences. Darkness reflected off every color differently. Malici grew to think of his advanced vision as his ‘night-sight’. Then, he left the herd with exaggerated steps through the tall grass and dill weed. This led him to a gradually towering hilltop. He reached what he thought was the peak only to spot another higher point. He truly never could distinguish the climax of the hilltop, day or night. He glanced over the east side of the community. There were many more hilltops on their side and they were much higher. Some broke the canopy of darkness and gained white streaks of moonlight. They looked like a pod of whales like the one swallowing Jonah in the painting at Malici’s church foyer.
This particular hill was the only of its height caliber on the west side of the community. It was the Clay’s property but Malici’s parents told him the Clays knew about his nightly antics and were content to let him roam. It was easier for the Browns to let the boy have his freedom at night than to go against their faith and support Dr. Gourdon’s push to get Malici on the right medication to cure his insomnia . On the south side of the hill was the Clays’ cabbage patch. On the north was the Millers’ potato and carrot crops. He usually stayed atop this hill until daybreak. He liked the twinkling of the city only fifteen miles north of his commune. In the winter, once the trees died, with his superb night-sight he recognized a variety of lights: streetlights, truck headlights, storefronts, and traffic lights. The traffic lights were his favorite. They were a slow trickle of green, yellow, red. Some nights he spent hours tracing the straight lines of roads and infrastructure of the city. Its design and size entranced him. He knew it was called Bransford, but his father called it Gamora.
Sodom was a boy only a year older than Malici. His name was Adam Jones and he too was an only son to his father. Adam’s dad, Denton Jones, bought and sold various goods to most of the members of the community, despite being an outsider. He was the only non-Amish you could ever find in the town square (a foot-weathered patch of moss encased loosely by the Hawke’s home, a small storage building, the church and the Miller’s bakery). Malici and Adam ran around together in their boyhood when Adam was old enough for his father to bring to the community but not old enough to aid in the sales process. Now, Malici only saw the boy when he was sent to their truck bed for various goods. When he did visit Adam his head would swell and the air would smell warmer and more like iron than earth. They still exchanged long pleasantries, but it wasn’t the same. Malici suspected the boy's father was the reason he didn’t see a lot of Adam anymore.
To relieve the eager beating of his heart over reminiscences of Adam; Malici made himself concentrate on less evoking systems of the night. He faced north and found himself tracing the outlying roads on the far sides of the valley the community was nestled in. The roads were built cautiously around the community, not venturing far from the base of the mountain and keeping its distance from the commune’s poorly defined borders. Occasionally a route would slip into the mountains, suddenly jutting up after a ninety-degree turn. These roads vanished amongst the thick canopy of the mountain’s untamed forests. Only two of the roads actually connected to his home community. The first was a two-way that went around a field of lettuce and stopped right at the community’s square in the south. The second was a narrow one-way that turned to dirt a half a mile before it reached the Miller’s potato and carrot fields on the far north side of the community. This is where a Bransford grocery store delivery truck loaded up various family’s crops for wholesale. Malici often aided in this as his own family sold their Asparagus crops to the outsider company. The driver and store manager would arrive at six AM every monday. The driver never left his seat and blasted the AC or heat along with whatever out-of-style rock group he was following that week. The store manager was usually pretty busy paying individual Amish farmers from a briefcase filled with American currency and paperwork. The farmers lined up, single file and were paid one at a time like how they give out meds in mental institutions.
This particular night, Malici spent hours watching the cars travel the spidery roads. They were hard to spot. Much of the area was heavily wooded (not quite so much as the surrounding mountains but still enough to call it wilderness) and the hill’s elevation was so high that Malici could only see patches of the asphalt roads through the leafy treetops. This made the cars almost impossible to spot in the daytime, but at night their headlights sometimes gave them away with a passing flash. A dancing headlight would saunter through a gap in the canopies. After years of observation, Malici became adept at finding these gaps in the dark, just like the horses. In search of these slants of light his night-sight improved exponentially. Even with his night-sight though, it was rare to witness more than a few cars on the spider web systems of roads. They just weren’t heavily traveled. The most Malici saw in a single night was five.
For now, the navy blue forest offered no alien lights for the boy to gawk over so he waited for the night motorists. It was a solid forty minutes before a pair revealed themselves for a flash of a second in a gap maybe a mile away. They were heading south and running parallel to the community. Moments after the headlights announced themselves they had passed the Amish settlement and were so southbound he could only see specs of their tail lights. To his surprise, it wasn’t long before a second vehicle drove into Malici’s night-sight. This car was also southbound but still far enough north of him that he could see its front. It was maybe two-thirds of a mile from the front entrance of the community. It traveled alongside the western mountain and Malici observed its deliberate pilgrimage through the veins of roads and expected it to cut further west up the mountain at any point. However, the car resided the temptations of these side roads and remained southbound. Then, it made a left turn, going east onto the one-way leading into the northernmost fields of the community. He surfed the last of the asphalt and drove significantly slower when the road turned to dirt and dust. He killed his headlights a few hundred yards before he reached the spot where the Bransford grocery store delivery truck loaded up all those Amish made goods. Malici feared he would lose the vehicle but it was now close enough that he could spot the dark outline of the square, clunky pick-up truck. The truck clearly wasn’t brand new and was painted three different shades of blue with highlights of rust. It pulled over in the same spot the grocery truck did. He didn’t feel right calling the truck old. Relatively, it was the most modern truck in town. Regardless, he could tell the owners took care of the truck and it sounded like it ran well. He also noticed several tall, wavy items in the truck’s bed. A driver and passenger emerged from the doors and swiftly unloaded the cargo. They hauled them down a footpath that ran at the edge of the Miller’s potato and carrot fields. Then they slinked through a thick treeline that ran right through the hill and further north at the end of the Miller’s carrot crop.
Malici correctly guessed their destination was the property Mr. Amos once grew cotton at. Unfortunately, Mr. Amos fell off a neighbor’s roof three years ago and died within an hour of sustaining his injuries. His wife and three daughters moved away a few months later, abandoning their faith. The field was currently unused but cleared and likely fertile. The community was hesitant to redistribute his land, though. Last week, Malici asked his father about the empty plots and he anticipated they would be given to someone in the spring.
Thus, Malici suspected almost immediately after the truck stopped that the abandoned field’s desolate and vulnerable qualities were attracting these intruders.
Outweighing the fear brought by the two strangers in a pickup truck from the north; curiosity reigned in Malici. Years of wandering had sedated any fear he could self-produce, but his curiosity knew no bounds. The boy began a clumsy run down the hill, travelling down the passage the treeline formed from the peak of the hill to the northern base.
He only stopped to examine the truck, though he was still fifty yards from it. It was likely produced in the late 90’s or early 2000’s, Malici deduced. This was evident because the hood was shaped in such a similar manner to the hood of the tradesman, Denton Jones’ Toyota (which he knew to be a 2003 model). He also noticed its Bransford county plates. This only boosted his confidence in his night-sight. He attempted to memorize the numbers, repeating them in his head, but he was too excited, and they became scrambled. He turned and looked for an opening to Mr. Amos’ old cotton field.
Hiding behind the thickest oak he could find; Malici tried to hold his breath and listen for the strangers’ footsteps or dialogue. It wasn’t long before one heavy set and one lighter became distinguishable from the screaming bugs of the night . Meanwhile, their voices spun through the field like a cat’s whisper walk. Malici struggled to make anything out though. After spending countless hours training his night-sight; it only then occurred to the boy he’d completely neglected his other night senses. Only the metal clang of a shovel being thrown atop another shovel reached Malici’s ears.
Finally, the duo finished their mysterious business with the empty plot and began to make their way back to their truck. The fourteen-year-old was aware enough to recognize their retreat and held himself against the trunk. He watched with a healthy caution as the two men passed within twenty feet of him. “Goddammit!” One whined when he became entangled at his feet, nearly falling. The strangers struggled through the thicket and rushed down the footpath. Only after he heard their truck burp alive and drive northbound, did Malici venture out of the treeline to the empty field the strangers had been prodding around in. At first, the boy couldn’t make out any discernible difference in the field’s appearance. Did they bury their cargo? He pondered. If so, he’d likely never find it. Then, he spotted half a dozen three feet tall plants in the far corner of the plot near a well that Mr. Amos boasted he’d filled in during his boyhood. He trotted up to the small crop and held a leaf in his hand. The five-fingered leaf was unrecognizable to Malici. They looked like bulimic oak or maple leaves. While Malici was thrown in a corkscrew of questions about the men and their mysterious crop, he felt no moral distress at the night’s events that unfolded before him.
The next morning, while he was taking the last bites of his breakfast, Malici presented the leaf to his father and asked if he knew from what plant it hailed. Joshua Brown, who would be forty in a year, examined the leaf, perplexed. He didn’t often struggle to come up with an answer when the question was about agriculture, but this was beyond his realm of knowledge. He considered asking his wife, but she’d just silently slipped out to begin her morning chores. Instead, he continued to stare at the leaf as if it had a label hidden somewhere before grunting and rising from the head of the table. He returned the leaf back to Malici and let out a hearty morning sigh. “I’m not sure, Malici.” He offered as he ran his hand through his already balding hair; counting his missing men. “You ought to ask Pastor Red if you get the chance. But don’t make it a point to pester him, either. He’s a busy man. God’s probably given him an awful lot to do today.”
Finding the plant’s origin, and why two strangers toiled to hide it away, became a forerunning interest of Malici’s. Malici decided he would finish his chores early that day by working through lunch. This way he’d have time to see the Pastor before sun-down, Amish folks' least hectic time of the day.
Malici's plans were thwarted when his mother ran across the leaf by chance while cleaning his room. Having spent her teenage years in Trenton during the eighties she instantly recognized the five-tonged leaf and its purpose. She smoked it instead of weeding the zucchini patch. She managed to finish the rest of her chores but each seemed harder to start and even harder to stop once she got into the groove. Her momentum was off and she caught herself smiling or giggling to herself for the first time in nearly two decades. After a couple of hours, when the high decrescendoed, she became so sleepy she told Joshua she wasn’t feeling well and sprawled out on top of their blankets. She cried the next morning upon realizing she’d never go through her day with the same cheerful spunk.
Though the boy was disappointed he couldn’t find the leaf, Malici figured he could describe or even draw the leaf for Reverend Red with enough approximation that the pastor could identify it He scarfed down his dinner and asked his ghoulishly dissociated mother if he could go to the church before dark.
“Yeah…” She replied, broken like the Canterville ghost.
The community’s church was perhaps the only building Malici would call “nice”. It was by far the biggest building in the community and made with quality resources. Overall, Malici got the impression the church was the only building above the rules of the Amish. It was allowed to be individualistic, it was allowed to show off, and it was allowed to be insulated. Really, it was the only structure their religion allowed to make compromises for the sake of “comfort”. James Thomas Red, who oversaw the construction himself, lived in a small two room cottage connected to the back of the church. The cottage had one exterior door and one door that connected right to the sanctuary that only he could use. It was from this door that he emerged every Sunday at the beginning of his service, in full religious uniform, carrying all the pomp and circumstance pastors tend to maintain in front of crowds.
Malici couldn’t recall if the pastor ever entertained visitors in his cottages. Personally, he’d never seen anyone go inside, but a lot of people visited him at his cottage’s exterior doorway throughout the day. With this recollection came a bit of courage and Malici approached the door, knocking timidly as young boys do. The holy man was hesitant to answer the visitor’s non-verbal request, but finally did. Seeing it was young Malici Brown, he refused to fully open the door. In fact, the pastor hardly let the boy speak before a sudden, searing scolding spewed from the same lips as sermons. In ordering the boy to take his leave, some drunken spittle escaped from the holy man's mouth and coated the peach fuzz Malici imagined he was starting to grow around his lips.
Over the course of six months Malici shadowed the strangers as they tended and added to their mystery crop in the abandoned cotton field. Malici’s interest in the crop’s origins and purpose wore off and he simply became enthralled with the idea of being its overseer. In his mind, they worked under the same ambiguity of the Oak Ridge workers not knowing they were all contributing to a hydrogen bomb. Here he was, a single cog in the process of caring for this crop. Though he assigned himself to be the overseer (arguably one of the most important jobs), even this clearance didn’t grant him permission to see the whole picture. He liked to imagine the two strangers were in the dark on the whole operation as well.
One afternoon, when returning from checking the gates and counting all the livestock before it was time for bed (for everyone but himself), Malici’s mother approached him, driven by a foreign, un-Amish aggression, questioning the whereabouts of the leaf she confessed she’d found in his room, months earlier. It was news to Malici that his mother ever knew about the leaf. He felt an instinctual desire to lie. Really, he felt unsafe giving such a sacred nightly routine to the maw of such gentile aggression. He rattled off something about finding it on a walk back from the gas station at the Bransford city limit.“It was growing on a stalk alongside the highway.” He added. For weeks she looked for an opportunity, an excuse, to make a trip to the gas station alone with Malici, but she struggled to justify a reason that Joshua would permit. She later asked him if he could remember where the plant was if they were to re-walk the path as casually as she could force it to be.
At the conclusion of the sixth month, the crop reached its maximum size (Malici wondered whose job it was to decide its maximum size cutoff). It approximately took up the same soil surface as an average barn. It smelled slightly like skunk essence, and looked strong enough to survive the minimal winds of the protected valley. Oddly enough, the strangers planted a couple of rows of corn around the perimeter of the crop. It wasn’t until they’d completely encased the mystery crop that Malici realized the ring of corn’s purpose was to conceal the outsider’s crop.
After the crop’s initial planting was complete the two men visited less frequently. Instead of their consistent five nights a week, the men were only showing every other night. Not to mention they wouldn’t stay near as long as they previously had. Malici thought they were slacking on their job. Occasionally, they’d even unearth a stalk and steal it back to the truck. During these mini-harvest the strangers were deliberately delicate with the stalks, even more so than Amish farmers. Malici and his community took a lot of pride in what they grew. No crop was a guarantee. Some plants grew in abundance and some spoiled entire families. Thus, the amish were grateful and consequently, gentle. Yet somehow these men put more value than he thought possible into each individual stalk. It bewildered Malici. He’d been taught outsiders were not resourceful or wise people. Yet, here were two strangers, out-performing the Amish in a category they’d perfected for more than four hundred years.
Towards the end of the eight months, Malici noticed he was exponentially subtracting from his always evaporating hour of sleep. Throughout the night mental meetings with the two strangers and the mysterious crop’s project manager kept his mind in full momentum. In each of these meetings there was the tension of not questioning the concrete benefits of the crop. In fact, he refrained from any questions involving the crop or their operations. Instead, he pledged his loyalty to the crop and begged to become its guardian on the hilltop; its Gabriel. He concluded it was necessary for himself to meet the two strangers and attempt to establish an official role in the operation.
The following night he waited on his hilltop with no sleep whatsoever. His stomach churned with an eagerness especially difficult to find in the tame day-to-day lifestyle of the Amish. The tossing during his attempted hour of sleep and his perched, attentive posture on the hilltop could all be attributed to the suspense of waiting for those two strangers to surf up the road and park where they always did. He sighed a few hundred times and made several hundred laps around the Clay’s hilltop. Unfortunately, and out-of-character, the men didn’t show.
Bad-timing is something kids tend to take personally. Maybe it's their lack of experience with correlation not implying causation. Malici, being no exception, worried the strangers sensed his change in attitude. “He’s trying to meet up with us.” He pictured the strangers confronting the in-the-dark boss of the operation. “Well, I don’t know who the hell you are or what you do.” The boss would reply. “Hell, I don’t even know who the kid is, but shut it down. Shut it all down.”
Disappointment clung to him throughout the night and even hung around the next morning. It was only negated when his mother reminded him Denton Jones would be selling in the square today and that they needed a few things. He felt the universe was evening things out, almost like an apology for fate. His mother gave him just enough cash to buy a carton of peaches and a bottle of cough syrup, her two biggest indulgences.
After hurrying through his breakfast, Malici entered the square with the Father-Son Jones duo sales team. They looked like fry cooks and their truck bed was a grill balancing a hundred different entrees. Denton Jones, the father half of the team, stood at the edge of the truck bed, counting bills, directing orders and keeping tabs. Meanwhile, Adam Jones relayed the orders back to his father from inside the front of the truck bed and pushed the physical equivalency of these orders to the open hatch where Denton was waiting with an updated tab.
Adam immediately struck Malici as someone special in their first meeting at the age of ten and eleven. The tradesman’s son’s eyes were the only eyes Malici found himself contemplating days later. He could materialize images of Adam’s iris, cones and marble of a pupil from scratch, his own eyes closed. This is one of the few abilities Malici took any tinge of pride in (besides his position within the mystery crop operation). See, imagination isn’t quite something the Amish endorse, so Malici’s dabbling in the subject was a rarity for him.
Nodding to Denton Jones as he passed, Malici headed to the side of the truck bed, where he could exchange a few pleasantries with Adam between orders. “Hello, Mr. Jones.” Malici offered the usual greeting which, in line with the typical dynamic between Denton Jones and Malici Brown, was without return or acknowledgment. Denton Jones held off on making his suspicion of Malici vocal for the present.
The two boys shared their typical small chat. They didn’t have anything intimate or even borderline authentic to discuss, they were tweens after all, but when all they could do was talk a little; you know they did. While their subject matter lacked a pro bono element most relationships are built on, the way they addressed each other with such glee, and over irrelevant side-talk, proving the authenticity of their meetings.
Then, in a flash of subconscious inspiration, Malici yearned to split his chest cavity and reveal his waning heart. He wished to share with Adam his most intimate secret; the mysterious crop. His mind raced through all the scenarios. In some Adam blew the entire enterprise and in others they spent countless summer nights being watchmen over Mr. Amos’ new Lazarus crop.
In a matter of minutes Malici vomited the facts in the least cohesive way and tried to piece together the program of the mysterious crop after the fact. He found himself getting caught in loops as he explained but eventually felt he’d done a decent job. Adam’s expression radiated a trickle of interest.
“Me and Dad are going to my Aunt’s tonight but I can sneak out tomorrow.” Adam suggested the boys spend the following night exploring the anonymous crop.
After agreeing on the time and place to meet, Malici returned to the truck’s opposite end. He allowed the elderly matriarch of the Clay family to pass him and got behind her in line. She placed her order in a familiar, casual tone. “God bless ye, Jones.” She wished the outsider tradesman farewell before shuffling away. Denton Jones was an anomaly as no other outsider received a crumb of respect from the Amish community. For someone as deeply embedded in generations of shunning and distant distaste for the secular, outside world as Mrs. Clay to be friendly with an American tradesman never failed to arouse, in Malici, a sense of respect for Jones. The trader achieved this in increments over the seven years he spent standing at his truck bed, selling the Amish community whatever goods they couldn’t acquire on their own. Three springs ago he was the sole source of fruit after a blizzard’s coattails carried over to mid-April. This combined with him being a deeply religious christian capable of spewing out casems of scripture defrosted many boundaries that a non-Amish usually couldn’t. His years of service, respect, patience and humility now culminated in his acceptance by the most exclusive religion in the continental U.S. These virtues of his were not lost on Malici. However, the boy felt a certain coldness in the American that seemed only to confront him. Adam’s father had long suspected something was off about his son, but he believed he was not yet lost. Malici became an enemy of Adam’s walk with God; in Denton Jones’ opinion. When the trader spoke to any other Amish man or woman he was a sunflower, facing the sun and blossoming. Yet, he grew thorns around Malici.
“You here for more cough syrup?” Denton Jones asked, unceremoniously.
“And a carton of peaches, please, sir.” Malici squeaked.
“Geez, your mom sure goes through a lot of this stuff.”
Malici took the little brown bag and thrusted the man a ten dollar bill. “My mother told me to tell you to keep the change.” Denton took it, but acted as if he hadn’t.
“Didn’t she just buy a bottle last week, too?” Jones continued. “She was also asking for things no christian woman should ask for.”
Any implications made about Kerry Brown were entirely lost on Malici. He was aware of his negative attitude, though, and brought the bag close to his chest, gripping it with both hands, like an elderly woman clutching a purse. He turned and hiked back home without wishing the trader goodbye.
Luck was on Malici’s side Wednesday night. Not only did he manage an entire hour of sleep, but the two strangers actually showed up earlier than usual. Malici said a quick prayer, thankful to God that he wasn’t still counting the horses. Malici slipped into a cycle of overflowing eagerness to heavy dread then back again. His feet refused to take him to the treeline, where he originally planned on meeting the men. He hoped to cut them off before they reached the anonymous crop. This way, they were just two strangers and not yet incriminating themselves by tending the trespassing garden. Malici theorized this would make them feel more at ease. Unfortunately, his feet didn’t quite buy into the plan. They decided it was best to stall until the men were occupied with their stalks.
Twenty minutes after the duo exited their dusty pickup, Malici pulled his brains from the soles of his feet. They became light, pedaling down the hillside, staying hidden in the treeline. This was the same treeline that climbed the northside of the hill and opened up into a patch of woods on the hill’s peak like a river’s mouth into a bay. Malici continued to slink through the treeline forest longways until he reached the thinner section where the men usually crossed. Then, he dashed into some low brush and squatted. He considered using a particularly wide White Oak nearby but decided it would be ineffective. He rose trembling like a snake being soothed out of a basket by the flute and inched his way towards the cloudy farmers. Less than a dozen slow paces later, Malici was out in the open, standing amongst the missing cotton and vulnerable. It was only a matter of seconds before one of the two strangers caught him in their peripheral and turned from their occupations. The thinner man was the first to do just this.
“What the fuck!” He still whispered, dedicated to being unnoticed. A finger protruded towards the kid. “Who the fuck is that!”
“Oh, Goddammit.” The other sputtered, spinning towards the scene. His hand jumped to his waist, a jerk reaction Malici recognized. There was something so primitive about the unnatural invention of guns. Malici’s mind wept like a child and his soul questioned his mind’s decision making.
“Wait! Wait, Mikey!” The first man spoke up and Mikey realized where his hand was perched. Yet, he hesitated to move it, only exchanging a grasp for a hover. “It’s just a kid.”
“What’s the difference? He'll still tell the first person he-”
Malici’s mind ceased crying and fear pushed him to pipe in at this moment.
“No! I haven’t told anyone about you guys or the plants. Not my dad or my mom.” The acknowledgement of the men’s operation tempted them to glance at the crop. Mikey struggled to cover a panic crescendoing in his brow. “I’ve just been watching all this time. I didn’t tell anybody. Not even Adam.” The lie prompted Malici to cut his speech short. He feared he’d given himself away. He forgot he already broke the no contact rule once before now.
“What the hell are you watching us for, kid?” The thin stranger asked.
The boy ran through the brief odyssey with the outsider farmers. Initially he rambled and repeated certain sections but he eventually calmed down and told the story in a linear way. Afterwards he was short of breath and the nerves returned.
“You catch all of that?” The stranger asked Mikey, his eyes were the physical manifestation of the word ‘stressed’.
“Yeah. Enough of it.” Mikey replied, still eyeing Malici.
“Stay put, and I mean it or you’ll be in a lot of trouble with me and my partner. We’re just going to have a little chat real quick.” The other said.
The boy never considered disobeying the men. He put his hopes in the words of the taller, thin but tone farmer. His heart dissolved when he heard the very man he thought was on his side wheeze out a ‘Christ’ to the other as if God’s son had just disappointed him innumerably. While the two men deliberated what he could only assume was his fate, Malici attempted to count the stalks to calm his nerves. He gave up at fifty-five. His teeth rattled, but he wasn’t cold.
“Okay kid. Listen to me good if you want to walk away from here and play with your fucking Legos again.” Mikey began. The other took over, noticing Mikey’s words intimidated the boy to the point that he couldn’t listen.
“What’s your name, boy?” The lean stranger needled.
“I’m HD. How old are you?”
“He’s old enough.” Mikey interjected.
HD proceeded to detail just what they wanted from the Amish insomniac. The basic outline of the agreement was: Watch over the crop, report anybody who came across it to them, and keep the crop a secret.
“One last thing.” Mikey added. “I don’t want to hear you asking us what the crop is for. Just keep that shit to yourself. You’ll find out when you’re older.”
With this comment, HD grimaced.
Malici once again insisted he was the only Amish awake at this hour and that nobody visited the empty plot during the daytime, despite its proximity to where the Bransford grocery truck loaded its goods. Mikey and HD still appeared reluctant.
The men jeered when they left the boy in the patch of cannabis. They began to grow to the idea of having gained a new tool, a night watchman.
The boy hiked back up the northside of the hill and conspired that if he got more sleep, the mystery crop, Mikey and HD would disappear. Then his family would abandon their faith and become just strict Christians. If he slept normally his father would have a secular thought every once in a while and Adam would be a neighbor boy.
The following morning the town awoke to discover the disappearance of one of its own. Dr. Gourdon was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Clay was the first to find his three room abode vacant when she arrived for her eight A.M. appointment and noticed, from a distance, his front door was ajar, waving on its hinges. Her son was one of the first to pliage through the abandoned home. It was completely de-personalized. Only medical equipment and files (things Mr. Clay was hesitant to touch out of the combined fear of breaking the expensive instruments and a general ignorance of the outsider technologies) remained. Joshua Brown and a few others aided him in sorting the equipment and searching for any of Dr. Gourdon’s personal items. They found none.
“Was he staying somewhere else, or something?” Joshua Brown asked aloud at one point.
For many reasons, Malici knew Dr. Gourdon wouldn’t stay in their small Amish community for much longer. He’d unwillingly become the town’s devil’s advocate ever since he was selected from his generation to be sent to the outsider American medical school in Harrison, Pennsylvania. He left underprepared. They told him he would only be gone for four years. He was the first to learn that would only cover his undergraduate. When he came back that Christmas and corrected their misconception he pleaded to be replaced. His desire to return to the tight-knit Amish life he was voided as he was already using foreign, outsider slang. His generation chopped the future of his soul up as collateral. He was sacrificially shunned, similar to the sin-eater in early appalachian culture. In fact, Malici overheard his father voice his distaste for the physician to his mother for no reason other than his secular influence. “I didn’t think he'd even come back.” He would grunt at the height of these ravings.
At the dinner table that afternoon, Joshua Brown gave a rerun of his opinions of Dr. Gourdon with the new airing of his lack of surprise at his loss of faith.
“You know those schools are what did it to him.” Joshua Brown gesticulated with his fork. “American schools. We sent the man to American schools. We might as well have given him a Satanist bible to study.”
“It was more of a retreat from medicine, don’t you think?” Kerry Brown offered.
“Now, why would you think that?” Joshua asked, curious, but certain the answer wouldn’t satisfy him. His tone was confrontational, yet final all at once.
Kerry was reluctant to answer. Her hesitation showed in her mousy, hunched, looking at her knees appearance, but her confidence showed in her theory, nonetheless. “He left his medical equipment and all of those books. And you know Doctors. They’re nothing without their books.”
“The first thing he’ll do out there is get new books. And you thought the books he had were bad? Wait until you see what he’ll be reading next: The Qaran, that Mormon chapter of the Bible, Joyce Carol Oates.”
“How’s he going to buy new books? All he has is that degree. Real hospitals want doctors with experience. He hasn’t spent a day doing internships or residencies at any American hospitals. He may not have a formal degree. Even the low-paying places like a walk-in or urgent care wouldn’t take him.”
“Well, I don’t know about all of that.” Malici’s father invalidated his wife’s theory.
“What’s a walk-in?” Malici asked his mother. She seldom answered these questions that her Non-Amish past knew the answers to. Joshua’s glare commondered this needling.
“A walk-in means they walked into the place. Their injury isn’t so bad if they can walk in. So they go there instead of going into surgery.” Joshua answered the question in a tone tough enough to illicit silence from the boy. “Either way, the man has turned away from the people who poured every ounce of good into him and towards the evil that’s made him sour. He’s left God and us for ‘the live now, die later’ society of Americans. And that, Malici, is the worst thing you could ever do to God.”
The sounds of eating died away and the family made a swift transition back to chores. Before Malici and his father left to tend to the animals one last time before nightfall, Kerry Brown offered a final insight into Dr. Gourdon’s case. “You know, he may have left his medicine books, but you said you all couldn’t find his KJV.”
Dr. Gourdon’s disappearance occupied the gossip of the town all day. Malici was quick to grow bitter towards talk of the missing physician. He became ill hearing the same condemnations being made against the man who supposedly abandoned his faith and people. More oppressive, however, was his restraint in not revealing all he knew about the subject to the ears who’s mouths preached condemnation. To be in the know and personally involved in something heavily debated but being forced into not using your knowledge to correct this spread of disapproval is perhaps the greatest trial somebody Malici’s age could face. Unfortunately, Malici could tell nobody he was the last to see Dr. Gourdon before his departure. Yes, the Clays, his father and Pastor Red were entirely permitted to speculate and condemn the mystery and Malici could do nothing but try to ignore their ravings.
Seeing Dr. Gourdon awake at three A.M. the previous night jarred Malici’s searching eyes. Often throughout these long nights Malici would think he spotted particular individuals, especially his father and Pastor Red, and become frightened of the consequences for his wanderings. However, these little twinkles of a familiar figure were always just little misconceptions and Joshua Brown would turn back into a leaning fence post. Yet, the doctor remained himself and moved as none of these previous visions had. Malici also feared that seeing the doctor would disturb the buffer of his night-life as he had never allowed anyone from his day-life to enter his night-life. After their talk, though, Malici realized how unfounded this fear was.
He spotted the plump, still short physician making a light-footed retreat from his cottage carrying only his shoulder bag, a newspaper and some loose papers. Even though the fleeing doctor nearly ran right upon Malici the boy spotted him first due to his night-sight. This is when the oppressive day-religion began to seep through Malici’s skin and made his stomach curl as if there was a change in atmospheric pressure. This inevitable collision sent him into a state of panic. In this mindset, Malici forgot the doctor’s non-Amish tendencies and he just became another blank Amish, ready to drag him to the morning hours. Finally, the doctor made out Malici in the dark walkway and lit up. He trotted up to him in the way that heavy people tend to do, revealing their gradually weakening joints.
The boy was still caught in surprise when Dr. Gourdon began his spiel. He missed the first few statements. “-But I’m glad I ran into you. I really want to give you these.” The physician said, digging through the shoulder bag. His speech became slow and deliberate as he focused on finding the pill in what must be a hastily thrown together ‘leaving town’ luggage. “They will practically cure your insomnia. I watched them do just that for a boy with the exact same symptoms as you in this trial in Syracuse.” Dr. Gourdon rattled off, thrusting the pill bottle into the boy’s hand.
If Malici hadn’t just made a deal to stand watch over the mystery crop he’d become infatuated with, Malici would have asked Dr. Gourdon to take him along as a stowaway. Instead he just accepted the pills; which his new deal forbade as well.
While Malici and his father called the horses to the barn, to put them away for the night, Adam wished his own father a goodnight and shook with excitement under his comforter. They had lived in the Bransford home for eight years since Denton Jones’ first wife (and mother to Adam) left them. They downsized to the roomy but affordable two bed, three bath house in a decent suburb. The unique layout of the house was defined by the sole hallway that split the house in half and connected to every room. Thus, Adam could distinctly determine when his father retired from the living room to bed. He gave him another forty-minutes to fall asleep and simply walked out the front door. Adam had never broken his father’s rules and something about his first offense felt wrong, but Adam wasn’t one to turn back. Either way, he intended to learn something about himself.
The first night of Malici’s watch began without his hour of sleep. Nerves ate this time away like termites slowly crunching fallen timber to dust. He was roaming in the cool dark before ten. The four horses seemed to just be drifting off to their dreams when Malici came by to count them. He rushed through these mundane routines and found himself atop the Clay’s hill with the static crop being his only companion. The excitement of purpose soon wore off and Malici meandered about the hilltop and played in the treeline. At one point he harassed an owl from its perch in a Dogwood.
He returned to his father’s barn to recount the horses at his normal rate, hoping to wind himself back down from his previously high energetic expectations. Then, he travelled east of the hill to glimpse Dr. Gourdon’s former cottage. He wasn’t sure what he expected from this, but the previous night's scene played out in front of him, in imagined silhouettes. The doctor, again, fled with his future shoved under his armpit. Malici suspected one of the older Miller boys would be given the home once he married. Perhaps this unlucky young man would be trained to become the commune’s next physician. This time he would be trained by Dr. North, an Amish doctor who was trained by his father, who was trained by yet another Amish doctor, continuing the paradoxical cycle. Dr. North lived an hour away in another Pennsylvanian Amish community. He was sent for that morning and would hopefully be in before the weekend to attend to Mrs. Clay and the other elders Dr. Gourdon once routinely visited.
The Bransford church’s midnight bells rang but tonight the wind went against the chords and they were shredded instead of being carried to Malici’s patient ears. He found himself once again bound to the hilltop, eyes committed to the roads. His pupils jumped with the occasional headlights tangoing between the canopies of the valley. The ambiguity of the crop and its keepers began to perish as Malici waited for Mikey, HD, Adam or whoever would come. After meeting Mikey and HD they became human, or even less. Before, they were figures, or even spirits, coming and going in the dark. Now they were two Americans. They’re outsiders, Malici thought. The image of them became bitter with the association of that word. He tried to shake the sinful foundation outsiders are built on but couldn’t. It was the first time Malici, all by himself ironically, had carried his day-religion over to his night-life. Malici nearly cried, his escape was becoming a commitment. He was now encased in the workings of these outsiders. His night-life hung between being dead dull and a prison comparable to being Amish.
Only the crop itself remained a mystery for Malici. This slither of suspense is what kept Malici on that hilltop. That and Adam’s promised appearance. With this, Malici tried to push the crop to the backburner of his mind. He feared he would oversaturate the last ambiguous aspect of his nightly routine.
After a few minutes of watching car lights pierce the horizon, Malici finally noticed a car traveling down the same road Mikey, HD and the Bransford grocery truck used. Malici suspected it was the usual pickup truck until it sped through a gap in the treetops and Malici saw that it was shaped differently. Soon, it was parking where the road turned from asphalt to dirt. The same spot Mikey and HD parked their truck.
The gray of the compact car sent Malici’s heart into a frenzy. He looked like an ametur jazz pianst being asked to improvise for the first time. He just began this watchman’s post and was now being thrown into his first challenge. With his mind racing he tried to slow down his breathing.
A tall but lean figure emerged, alone from the driver’s seat. It took nothing from the truck and strolled straight to the footpath Mikey and HD used to get around the Miller’s potato and carrot patch. It crossed the treeline and was at the mystery crop within minutes. There it waited, hands on both its hips.
They were definitely facing the hill, Malici thought, paranoid, but correct. It was only when the figure waved at him did a calming epiphany settle over Malici. He sprinted through the thicket, sorry he wasn’t already at Mr. Amos’ former cotton field.
“Sorry to scare you, kid.” HD said once Malici emerged from the treeline. Though, HD suspected the boy wasn’t really afraid. He was too unaware to be afraid. “But I had to come without Mikey.” It wasn’t until HD pointed it out that Malici realized how strange it was to see HD alone. He spoke differently, as if he had different priorities being solo. “Now, you gotta listen to me and you’ll get out of this without a scratch. Alright, Micheal?”
“Yeah, yeah, Malici.” HD repeated, running a hand down the back of his neck. “Kid, I think we both know you’ve gotten yourself wrapped up in something you shouldn’t have. But don’t get yourself too riled up. We’re not after you.” HD took a breath. He was scattered and trying to find his stepping. “First of all, you haven’t told anyone about me, Mikey or the dope, have you?”
“Yeah, yeah. This little plot of weed.”
“Well, I never could find out what kind of plant you’re growing.” Malici responded.
“Kid, this really isn’t the time to play dumd. I’m trying to be real easy....I’m gonna tell yah, kid-” HD attempted to formulate his next sentence; unsure of what to say first. Instead, he took another breath and began again. “Kid, you should know who you’re talking to. Now, I know you think I’m a dealer or work for one, or something, but I’m actually undercover. You understand?” HD flashed his badge but could read the confusion on the boy’s face. “My real name is Detective Bassel. We’ve been trying to bust Micheal Sterling, our buddy Mikey, for two years now. And we’re really close to getting him with some charges that’ll stick. Now, running into you has made us bump up the arrest date about a month but we should be alright.”
“So you’re a police officer?”
“Yes. You know about Bransford?” HD asked at a slower rate. The boy nodded ‘yes’. “That’s where I live.”
“Where does Mikey live?”
“That doesn’t matter. Now, listen close because I’ve got a lot of instructions for you if you’re going to get out of this scot-free.”
“Am I in trouble?”
This question shocked the detective. He realized the boy’s genuine innocence. HD concluded the boy was unlike any Non-Amish boy by a long shot. He felt like the kid was disadvantaged due to his strangeness. “Not if you do what I say… Do you really not smoke this dope when we’re not around?”
“Sir, my father doesn’t allow cigarettes.”
At this point HD peeled back the bad cop routine and took on a more didactic role. He explained that Mikey was to be arrested in three days. Starting tomorrow night, police would be stationed on the south side of the Clay's hill with Malici. The boy struggled to understand why they’d bring more people into their intimate knowledge of this secret. “Unfortunately, there isn’t enough notice to get a full crew here tonight.” HD added. “Mikey is expecting me soon, too. So we’ll be back before long. Now, I don’t want you telling Mikey about any of this, you understand? You’ll get me and yourself in a real mess. To Mikey I’m just HD. Got it? HD, not Detective Bassel.” HD explained as if Malici didn’t speak English.
Finally, HD warned Malici that a rival dealer was suspected to have a mole in Mikey’s gang. Thus it was very possible that cohorts of this rival dealer knew where the crop was hidden. “If they come here, don’t even let them see you. These guys are the real deal. And they’re dangerous. Just let them take what they want and we’ll settle it out later. If you can, try to get a good look at them.” HD ordered.
Only then did Malici understand HD was the anonymous boss of the crop. Malici had no further questions. He estimated HD had set the entire operation up a thousand times on paper. A composer, creating a score, HD manipulated the beliefs and perspectives of those around him to create the perfect, desired scenario. Malici wished to do the same, one day, but currently saw it as an impossibility.
“I’m telling you all of this to protect you. You better have listened because you’ll get yourself in a lot of trouble or maybe hurt if you don’t do what I say.” HD concluded, parting ways with the Amish insomniac.
After he left Malici had only an hour to roll these ideas around before he heard the crunch of leaves and twigs under tennis shoes. A fourteen-year-old Adam pushed his bike up the hill to meet Malici, who watched him do so with a surprised smile. At least something was going according to plan.
The boys snacked on some pretzels Adam brought and Malici caught his friend up to speed. It wasn’t long before the exhausted Adam needed to rest for a moment. He hadn’t quite planned on combating sleep after the long bike ride. Malici wondered when Adam should sneak back so as to not be caught by his father upon waking, but Adam worried himself with no such questions. The visitor fell asleep on the south side of the hill in order to not be visible when Mikey and HD returned.
Just as Malici expected, another car’s headlights began to shoot through the tree leaves. Only, it pulled into the clearing where the Bransford grocery truck loaded its goods and revealed itself to be another compact. It parked a solid fifty yards into the dirt road, passing where Mikey and HD usually parked. The figure that emerged from the driver’s side was much shorter than HD but thinner than Mikey. They cut through the Miller’s potato and carrot fields instead of using the footpath that went around. The new stranger was unaware of the path of crushed vegetation he left behind him. He also took significantly longer than Mikey or HD to cut through the treeline as he went through a thicker passage.
Malici rushed to stir Adam awake.
Adam rose from the southside of the hill and joined Malici at the peak. Malici attempted to gauge Adam’s fear but, in doing so, realized he couldn’t accurately read his friend. Just like the crop Adam was a mystery.
“Could it be HD again, but, like, in a different car?” Adam suggested.
“I don’t think so. HD said he was bringing Mikey and this guy is alone. You stay up here. I can’t let them know I brought you.” Malici said.
“So it definitely isn’t Mikey?”
“No, this guy is way too tall and thin to be Mikey.”
“Well, if it isn’t HD or Mikey then they don’t know about your deal. They wouldn’t know that I’m not supposed to know about this place.” Adam argued.
Malici pondered Adam’s point. He couldn’t find any holes in it, but that didn’t mean it was a good plan. “It could be dangerous.” Malici added.
“Then wouldn’t you want backup?”
The Amish insomniac had already recapped HD’s plan to Adam; who clarified many points back to Malici. In fact, Malici believed Adam understood the situation better than himself as he had the advantage of knowing what an undercover cop and ‘dope’ was in the first place.
When the boys reached the bottom of the hill they decided to hide in the thicket a while longer to watch the stranger browse through the crop. First, he stripped the row of corn away completely to expose the mystery plants. He was unskilled and clumsy with this task. Much of the un-treated soil clung to his clothes. It also took him twenty minutes longer than it should have, Malici thought. Then he started ripping up the stalks that HD called ‘dope’. He unrooted a baker’s dozen and split the harvest in two; carrying each half under his arms. When he began his retreat for the treeline Adam whispered to Malici, “It’s now or never.”
Malici stepped out of the thicket as a skydiver exited a plane, without thinking. Before he knew what to say he was in the open, facing the stranger head on just as he confronted HD and Mikey the previous night. Adam followed close behind, equally brave. Startled by the ambush, the man dropped the stalks and made the same hand to hip motion Mikey had. Only this man seemed more worried than Mikey. The intruder realized he’d left his gun in the passenger seat when he felt his empty waistline. He was soon relieved, however, when he observed that his attackers were just children, tweens maybe. Meanwhile the boys used their eyes; which they were horrified to learn was their only weapon. Scanning the man up and down a couple times, like a copier runs an original, Malici searched for any distinguishing characteristics he could give to HD. He had smudged face tattoos that even Malici’s night-sight failed to clarify. He also had long dreads, but Malici knew HD needed something more. Finally, to his great relief, he found the facial feature that would send this man away. He had a zig zag scar like a heartbeat’s pulse on a monitor right above his lip, taking the place of where most men had a moustache.
“You fuckers are with Mikey’s crew, ain’t yah?” the stranger asked.
“No.” Malici meowed, his knees quivering. “We just live here.”
The stranger, a rival drug dealer named Julius, wasn’t a part of any crew either. This slight commonality let his shoulders untense a bit. He was just a former burger-flipper who recently broke into the marijuina market and wasn’t doing too bad for a local no-name. He’d only started selling a couple of months ago when his cousin, the mole in Mikey’s gang, informed him that his boss had a decent little plot of weed in the Amish commune. Julius asked himself if Mikey would really hire kids to protect his product? And if he’d arm them? It was while exploring these uncertainties Julius felt an empty plastic Coca-Cola bottle and set of headphones in his jacket pocket and devised a hail mary.
“So you’re both Amish then?”
“Yes.” Adam lied.
Julius considered shouting a threat but didn’t want to push the act. He pulled the coke bottle with headphones hanging halfway out of it from his pocket and wielded it at the boys. “I’ve got a fuckin bomb here! So stand back!” Julius barked, praying neither boy could recognize a bomb. Amish think anything with wires is scary, right? Julius wondered.
While this did succeed in intimidating the boys more credit goes to Julius’ tone and volume than his visual gag. Both boys (Amish or not) knew the bottle contraption Julius was swinging around was nothing like a bomb. They figured the plastic weapon was only more proof he was mentally unhinged and dangerous. Malici and Adam understood they were far under armed and backed away up close to the treeline.
They refused to turn their back to the criminal and the boys stumbled over rocks and organic divots a couple of times. Julius likewise continued to face the boys even as he scooped down to retrieve the dropped stalks. Then he sidestepped the shin-high roots in the thicket. He cleared the treeline and he spun into a sprint. This time he took the footpath going around the Miller’s potato and carrot crops. “Later Faggots!” He yelled back at the boys, standing almost at his vehicle, as if he hadn’t been the one to slink away.
The night had aged to three-thirty when Denton Jones woke up from a bad dream about his own father. To settle himself, he went to the kitchen for some water or maybe coffee, if he felt up to it. The unique layout’s signature central hallway allowed Denton to check on his son in a mere passing to the kitchen. Usually he would crack the door and peep his sleeping son without stopping but tonight he came to a stuttering halt. He nearly lost his balance in the process as his feet instinctively went forward while his parental eyes directed the rest of him to his only son’s empty bedside. Within minutes he had his coat on and had already called his ex-wife, neighbor, and mother. Within seven minutes he was driving his pick-up towards the Amish commune on a strong hunch.
Sometime before three-thirty, Malici spotted yet another lone compact through the trees. Adam saw it too. He held a stick longways and imagined he was a sniper, aiming for the driver. The vehicle sped down the asphalt road and kicked up dirt when it parked where HD and Mikey usually did. This time, Malici recognized HD’s compact.
“You should go back to your hiding spot.” Malici advised. “It’s HD.”
“What are you going to tell him? Is he alone?”
“Yeah. It’s just him. And, I don’t know yet.”
Adam ran low, arching his back forwards until he was covered by the massive hill. He rested on the south face of the hill, trying to imagine the scene the pile of dirt centuries old was hiding from him. Malici trotted down the treeline and formulated a plan he was so proud of he wished his father knew. Of course, his father would never understand the context of the whole ordeal. He met HD at the same entrance to the treeline they’d confronted Julius at.
“Change of plans, kid.” HD rattled off, out of breath. “Mikey’s gone awol. We think he’s making a break for Canada. So, everything has to go down tonight.” HD trailed off as he noticed the tattered corn stalks lying about and the vacuum of dope in one corner of the plot. It was as if a rat had come along and treated itself to a corner bite of the product. “Tell me you saw who did this, kid.”
“Yeah.” Malici reported. Then he hesitated. “There were two of them.”
“Did you get a good look at them?”
“Yeah, one was about your height but he was a little more fit and younger. He was also African American and like, really dark. He had dreads, face tattoos and a little scar right here.” Malici finished by putting his finger under his nose, longways, how a child typically portrays a mustache.
“Jesus, you saw all that from the top of the hill?”
“It’s my night-sight, sir.”
“Shit, kid. I told you not to mess around with these guys. They’re serious. Killing children is nothing to them. . . I do know who you’re talking about, though. He’s a low-level dealer in south Bransford named Julius Delories. I guess that means his cousin told him, which would make him the mole. Luckily, I know just where he’s going. Tell me about this other guy.”
“The other man was Denton Jones.”
“Who is that? And how the hell do you know him?” HD questioned.
“He’s a tradesman. The only one we really let stick around the commune. He drives a gray Chevy truck and he lives in Bransford.” Malici recalled.
“That’s enough for me to get a warrant for him. Good job. You just busted-”
“Oh! And they had a bomb!” Malici inserted. Then, the boy understood the depth of the hate Denton Jones cultivated for him even though Jones only let slants of it show in his eyes. He could hear the echoes of Julius yelling “Later faggots.” The rage was like a dust storm, building up from nothing but the ground and spreading itself all throughout the boy, who would spew it into reality. He added to this fib to accommodate the newfound anger in him. “Julius and Denton both held one apiece. But Julius also said he had one up his ass.”
“What?” the dumbfoundead detective rebutted.
“They threatened me with the bombs and Julius, the other man, said he had a third bomb in his rectum, sir.”
“Okay...I’ll make the necessary calls then. Wait here.” HD ordered, retreating to Mr. Amos’ filled in well to talk to whoever held the other end of the little box’s line. Malici was sure he had heard “line” used a lot when people talked about telephones. The detective returned and put a hand on Malici’s shoulder. “You did good, Mel. You’ve done your community a big favor, bud.”
“What’s going to happen to the crop?” Malici asked, sounding small and like a little boy for the first time since HD met him.
“There’ll be officers over here in about an hour. And they have to take it away.”
“But you told me to watch it! You said I had to protect it!”
“It isn’t your burden anymore, buddy.” HD attempted to assure the boy. “Where do your parents live? I’m walking you home.”
Both the boys were afraid to admit Adam’s stowing away and subsequent witness to the entire night’s escapades. Thus, Malici didn’t give up Adam’s place and Adam didn’t come out of hiding. Adam assumed Malici would return as soon as he could. He only hoped Malici’s judgement of HD was correct.
Concern morphed into rage as Denton Jones turned onto the little winding route that he took almost every morning for his trading in the Amish commune. He’d passed through the decent sized town of Bransford while everyone was still asleep. A few breakfast based restaurants did show signs of life as employees were driving into work. They were mostly line chefs, grunts who just made sure to get the biscuits started before the early birds came in. The town’s police station was silent and still. Denton incorrectly assumed he needed to wait twenty-four hours to file a missing person’s report. Besides, if he was right about who his son was with, he didn’t want anyone involved who absolutely didn’t have to be. He prepared a speech for Malici’s parents.
His frustration peaked when he thrust his right hand under his own ass to retrieve a pencil he was disgusted to discover he sat on the entire ride over. He grit his teeth and cursed. The driver’s side window rolled down and he flung the pencil out into the Pennsylvania woods. He was only going ten miles per hour over the speed limit but still failed to notice a state patrol car in his rush. The state troopers were a couple of HD’s guys, stationed at the county line just in case someone tried to get through. They pulled out of the little incove they’d been waiting in and pursued Denton. The lights’ flash surprised Denton, but he wasn’t too worried. He hadn’t wanted the police involved but he figured they couldn’t hurt. I bet they’ll even give me an escort, Denton thought.
Once the officers approached each side of the father’s car, guns drawn, this notion fled his mind. “Officers!” Denton Jones began, “I’m looking for my son-”
“Are you Denton Jones!” A state trooper asked, still keeping a cautious distance, from behind the pickup’s rear bumper.
“Yes sir.” Denton stepped out of his truck; certain the situation would desculate if he did. “My son, Adam, is-”
Denton’s eyes became the size of bowling balls when the officer closet to him used his taser.
A mere twenty minutes after Malici and HD crossed over the Clay’s hill, Mikey’s pickup truck came battling through the hilly country roads and sent yet another cloud of dust and dirt into the clean morning air. The sun was just beginning to rise to clean up the mess the mystery crop’s entire operation became. He braked hard, nearly colliding with HD’s compact. He quickly searched the empty vehicle before taking quick, uncharastically graceful steps down the footpath and through the treeline. When he reached the plot, he began to use the little red gasoline jug he’d brought with him.
Watching the scene from atop the hill, Adam recognized Mikey from Malici’s description. He tried not to let a reasonable fearfulness take control as he trotted down the treeline, slower without Malici’s guidance through the thick, thin forest. He once again hid behind the wide White Oak and spied on Mikey for a moment. The man was built like Danny-DeVito and looked like he was dancing as he poured the gasoline onto the crop. Then, Mikey uprooted a single stalk and threw it back to the treeline, close to Adam’s hiding spot. The marijuina gasoline cocktail molested Adam’s nostrils and made him gag. It reminded him of the smell at his grandmother’s cremation.
Mikey’s expression was only regret when he pulled out a little fire-starter wad of papers. He heaved his shoulders as he sighed. The crop was supposed to make him a rich man and he’d done everything right. Once Mikey lit the fire-starter he turned and ran back to the treeline, stopping to gently retrieve the stalk he’d so carelessly thrown. Adam hadn’t expected Mikey to finish so soon and was directly in his escape path. The two met each other awkwardly; one filled with a founded fear and the other with remorse.
“Hey there Matthew.” Mikey said, trying to sound familiar despite the rush in his voice. He couldn’t see Adam well as the sun was yet to rise completely beyond the horizon and the fire’s flames were still infant. He assumed the boy was Malici. After all, Mikey couldn’t just conjure an image of Malici’s face from nothing but memory. It was always dark when they met. “Sorry about the dope, kid.” Mikey ripped off a flower from the stalk and put it in Adam’s awkward hands. “Here. For your troubles.” Mikey nearly took off. “You haven’t seen that rat bastard, have you?”
Adam shook his head, afraid a verbal answer would disclose his true identity. Mikey didn’t trust the answer. Something about the already strange kid was off. All his flight reaction instincts took control and he almost ran back to the pickup. Adam exited the thicket and watched as a second stalk became infected with the flame of the first.
The last chords of one of the two same John Mayor songs the radio plays hung in the air before dissipating to the opening beats of a new DaBaby song. Julius, who’d ignored the previous song out of preference, cranked the volume knob. He took a whiff of his car and couldn’t smell the weed. He was proud of his air-sealing methods. It’s one of the reasons he’d avoided police and stayed in the business while his colleagues served ten in Huntingdon.
He was only twenty miles from the first Harrisburg exit when the first state trooper started following him. Within ten minutes one became four and Trippie Red was drowned out by a chorus of sirens. The five of them were the only vehicles on the interstate at five in the morning. The rookie dealer was able to out-maneuver the first roadblock, weaving into the shoulder while not losing too much speed. The second roadblock only three miles further north caught him. The road spikes penetrated and destroyed his tires inside out like wasp eggs decimate their host caterpillars. His car came to a bumpy, jarring halt.
Amidst the mortal fear of his future, Julius stepped out of his car and followed the lead officers’ instructions to lie down. His pursuers joined the three patrol cars at the roadblock and blocked his possible escape route back south. A heavily armored SUV unloaded five men in SWAT-armor who filed in a formation thirty yards from the downed Julius. The dealer became panicked when he recognized that all the police officers and swat members refused to approach him. The city cops and state troopers stayed behind their squad cars, guns drawn. The lead officer barked at him through a megaphone some fifty yards away as if he were moderating a football game.
Julius tried to take a deep breath and succeeded on his third try. It felt good to breathe in a situation like this. In this moment of clarity he understood the officer’s strange precautions. He recalled the two Amish boys he’d threatened with a Coke bottle. The five SWAT officers were actually members of the bomb squad and pushing his way. First, they handcuffed him. Then they dowsed him a strange orange fire-retardant that burned his skin like a ghost pepper burned a tongue. “I don’t have a bomb!” Julius pleaded, crying.
“Bend over!” A bomb squad member ordered, putting on a pair of blue latex gloves. Another officer unzipped the restrained Julius’ pants.
HD didn’t get far in his explanation. He spent most of the time trying to get Joshua and Kerry Brown to understand what undercover law enforcement was. They were barely awake as they hadn’t changed their sleeping schedule by half an hour in nearly fifteen years. Before HD even got to the crop, drug rings and Malici’s role in it all the Clays were in the streets screaming about a fire. HD’s stomach dropped and he took off as if he’d never met the Browns before. Malici glimpsed him barking orders into his cell phone before he slipped out the door. Malici’s parents put on an extra layer and followed their son to the hilltop where they met Adam and the Clays. The outsider boy informed Malici that HD already reached his compact and they watched him slam his car door shut and race towards Canada to find Mikey. This is when other members of the community strolled to the hilltop, including Pastor James Thomas Red.
Malici first took in the sight of the burning plot. He expected more of a resistance from the stalks. They remained straight and steady instead of writhing around like amputated spider legs.
While everyone dissected the smell, the elderly Mrs. Clay began to cough, then hack, which her grandsons couldn’t help but cackle at. Within minutes the entire community was high on the hilltop. Pastor Red enjoyed the escape for a brief moment before the liquor he’d consumed earlier that night clashed with the vapors of the drug and he got the spins. Mr. Clay helped him home after he vomited in Adam’s previous hiding spot. Malici watched as the duo walked ten paces and breaked for the holy man to hurl. They made at least four vomit pit stops before they got to the base of the hill.
With the expectation of James Thomas Red, everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was the first time many of them had dissociated from their labor-centered reality. Many held back laughter and split into big smiles Malici had never seen before.
Kerry Brown was rolling in the grass, trying to ignore her husband, son, community and life. She dissected her transformation from a high school senior in New Jersey to dressing like Betsy Ross and wondered how much a bus ticket to Trenton would cost.
Feeling the leaf in his pocket, Adam rushed to Malici’s side. “This is for you.”
Accepting the token, Malici became without a purpose again. He had no mystery crop or foreign farmers to watch at night.
In that vacuum a new interest formed. He couldn’t look away from Adam’s eyes. No, it wasn’t lust. That wouldn’t take hold of the boys for another couple of years. It was a desire to just be around him that Malici couldn’t quite focus on. He decided to commit himself to taking the pills Dr. Gourdon left him. Maybe he’d move into a Bransford suburb, near Adam’s.
Joshua Brown happened to witness the boys’ lingering exchange. It became clear to him, watching his son’s eyes not break from his friend’s similar glaze. Neither boy seemed afraid of this development. They look natural, almost, Joshua thought. Is my son gay? He asked himself. “Like in the Bible?” He accidentally asked aloud. He wasn’t sure. He’d never met a homosexaul before. He laughed.
Doesn't sound good.
Maybe include a passage about the secrecy of his night routine. Like the parents know but it's a don't ask don't tell
This seems out of place. Important but shouldn't go here
It's early Sept. would there be loud bugs?