Old Bill Burns had woken that morning feeling terrible, and had sat crumpled up and fetus-like on the living room carpet next to the space heater, hoping that he would not have to start the day, locked in morning dread that he had never come to understand over his sixty years. Would he once again stare down dark mystery of that fear? His ancient joints complained as he stood, knees and ankles cracking to absorb the waking world. He made his way through the assassin dark to the kitchen of the ninety year farmhouse, flipping a light switch to reveal a hobbled laminate tile floor and equally useless wooden table. With the light, his eyes blurred for a moment and a lone panic attack like a slap on the back of the head that was uncontrollable left a wall of fear seeping through his thoughts. He couldn’t make sense of the feeling, one of the many that he felt each day. Where did the feelings come from? What was their cause?

Bill traversed the creaking kitchen floor to the cupboards and pulled a door open revealing an uninteresting box of cornflakes which he sat on the wooden table. He then walked to the curve cornered refrigerator and opening the door, breaking the seal that let out an unheard gasp. He pulled out the dead weight of a gallon of milk from the top rack, the door shutting in disapprobation behind him. He poured the milk in a dreadful wave on the bed of flakes, unaware of the juvenile cereal habit. Although most of his neighbors lived a mile distant, they saw him enough to often find something young in him that seemed to flit in his eyes, and they couldn’t understand the innocent manner that seemed to bear none of the weight of a mature and aged man. They condemned him for that youth. He stared blankly at the whitewashed walls of the kitchen until the bordering walls started to fade and the white space lost gravity, a terrifying feeling as the wall seemed to pass through him in a wave of fear. He sat frozen for several moments. Where had the panic attack come from?

He began the morning chores, a journey of moments that started with the pre-dawn -darkness call of the rooster that put him into the motions of work. He started forking hay into the feed troughs. Naming the cattle as friends that were not grazing in the bottom land of the creek below the farmstead. He fed the chickens their corn and then gathered the eggs in the wooden carton of an egg plate designed for the purpose. The first hen squawked, feathers flying as he reached deftly under the bird. The commotion left feeding the cattle sedate work, and soon the entire hen house was in an uproar. He stepped down the chicken ramp into a new gray light to see the rooster strutting in front of the hen house, cocking its head sideways to look at him. The commotion of the hen house left behind, he made his way to the older and dilapidated barn, across from the white cattle barn, that was no longer in use. He could see a couple of large wasp hives built in the corner of the red building, and for love of the structure that had been handed down to him by his father, he considered burning the threat out. He returned to the house as the skies continued to lighten, their decree finishing the capsule of work.

Bill stepped into the front porch and mudroom of the house and removed his boots. He unhitched the chest flap of his overalls so that his plain white T-shirt hung to the waist on his wiry frame. He turned his moon face to the lone rickety door that rattled a little when he opened it and stepped into the soft white kitchen. He put an old steel camping coffee pot on the electric stove and watched the coils turn to glow magma colored. He imagined reaching out and pushing into the soft-appearing coils, and something about the idea beyond the physical threat terrified him. As he looked at the burner like a child, he felt another molten rain of panic start to fall on him as he himself started to fall, standing at the edge of a clifftop in a dream, wondering if he would smash and crack his bones on the rocky shores below. Where did the vision come from? Why the terminal ending?

He reached for the handle of the coffee pot and gingerly pouring the bitter liquid into a wide and low coffee cup, carried it like a baby to the table where he had eaten breakfast. He nursed the black liquid, woken by the taste after the exercise in the dark farmyard. He had pulled in the harvest a week ago and his thoughts cleared with relief. He watched through a window that shed the inside world and begin to light it with the brittle autumn sun born into the world and still babbling and immature. He wondered again at the punishment he had taken and what would become of the world after it had fallen on him. Time slowed and was punctuated by a single thought condensed of several emotions into a single point of perfect confusion more exciting than ambivalence. He stood to switch off the kitchen light, the lonely incandescence and the fading burner giving way to joyful sunshine, a brighter ‘aha’ moment that dwarfed the morning’s fears. He could not yet read the etchings of hope in that same moment, but he had a feeling he was sneaking up on the truth, and by its dimensions in his thoughts, it seemed a magnificent thing.

Bill scratched his chin, realizing that he had to shave and walked to the bathroom that joined onto the kitchen. He slowly started to scrape the razor through the odd clouds, leaving clean skin behind. He got to his adam’s apple and felt the regular caution of nicking the guiltless skin. As he continued he wondered again about the fear he had felt that day, and wondered why it had attacked him, being innocent. He had no control over the feelings and just felt them smashing at his unconscious and child-like way of looking at the wide horizons. Would he ever know the reason for the feelings? He finished shaving and wiped his face down with a hot moistened towel that for a moment blinded him and then felt the cool air against his skin. Would he ever know the truth that would allow him to eliminate the unbearable fear? He felt flummoxed and was on the verge of giving up on the idea. Why should it matter? The fears were unescapable. Another daily thought caught his attention before he could give into defeat.

With the harvest finished he decided that he should change the oil on the tractor, and hitching up his overalls once again, made his way across the yard to the machine shed where he kept the John Deer. He found a rusted barrel bottom he had used for the purpose and placed it underneath the formidable green beast. He got on his back, lying to the side of the barrel and unscrewed the metal gasket that kept back the flood of sticky oil. The dirty oil began to cascade from the engine, and slowly began to thin, testing his patience. When he was finished he hefted the barrel bottom and dumped the awkward weight of the dirty oil in a second, larger barrel, careful not to bleed it on his chest patch. He screwed the bottom gasket on and then found several quart cans, the first which he jacked open with a spout. He flapped open the hood of the tractor, a menacing wing of metal, opening a second oil gasket and up ending a can of thick oil, the large can becoming lighter. As he walked back to the farmhouse a light breeze had risen that closed out the job with an exhalation.

In the mud room, he scratched the back of his head and decided it was time to burn out the wasp nests. He grabbed an old string mop that had outlasted its time and a cigarette lighter that he used on the pilot lights in the house’s furnace and made his way back to the machine shed. He doused the mop in the oil barrel and stepping from the machine shed, lit it afire. He walked to the barn and edging forward, suddenly flared the nests, dropping the makeshift torch on the ground and running in a flight instinct for the house as the remaining living wasps gave chase. He flipped open the screen door as quickly as possible and let it clatter behind him as the angry wasps snapped against the wire mesh. The startled flight he had leapt to several moments previous brought to mind the panic of that morning, though the escape was constructed of a much more real fear. Or was it? Again he felt on the verge of an awakening, on the verge of discovering the truth. He looked through the screen again. The wasps had disappeared as had the stingers of fear that morning. He looked up at the old red barn and felt it pulling at him. He myopically opened the screen again, unable to notice the sound it made as it closed behind him. He walked slowly toward the barn as if in a dream. His senses sharpened as he closed on the old building and he picked out a ladder built into the side of the barn that climbed to the hay loft. The wooden slats creaked as he began to ascend. Stepping onto the platform of the hay loft he walked across the wooden boards floor, passing through specklings and spatters of sunlight that shone from the many holes in the roof, and collected dust in the wooden hall to show the progress of light. He found three bails of extra straw and lay back on them looking up at the ceiling of the barn. The chores and the oil change had drawn time out so that the skies were now lit with a noon sun and a breeze above the roof of the barn seemed eternal. He could almost sense the movement of the sun, and the holes in the roof allowed him to better guess at the endless sun on the other side. He guessed then at the true reason for the fear. He closed his eyes.

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