Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Pocketwatch


***This is a guest post written by Brandon M., I know him personally and I finally convinced him to post this here on my blog. A very wonderful ''short fictional story'' that makes you entertain for a minute. Enjoy :). ***
 
The Pocketwatch
 by: Brandon M.
Stepping out onto the porch, James McCullen sighed a weary sigh and stretched. It was five in the morning, 1930, and the sun had just started to rise over the horizon. A biting chill from the northwestern mid-morning air greeted his long face with a sting. He raised his lanky arms and rubbed his face, forcing his eyes into focus. He gazed out into the field in front of the farm; neatly tilled rows of brown earth that stretched as far as he could see. He stooped down as he ascended the stairs. Even though he was only 18, James was already 6'3', and had he not been homeschooled, he would have been a giant among his peers.
James felt along the pockets of his white button up shirt and blue overalls for the familiar bulge of his grandfather's pocketwatch. Finding it, he reached into his left pocket and pulled out the watch. It was pure gold, aged and knicked from years of use. An image of a farmhand was engraved on its front. He pressed the button on top and the watch face sprang open with a metallic "clank!". 5:05 A.M. He gently caressed the backside of the flap with one long finger, reading for the 100th time the strange numbers and symbols carved into it by his grandfather. A pair of lines and the word "302N". He never knew what it meant, as he had inherited it when his grandfather died.
The farm was miles from town, a long rectangle cut out of the edge of a forest. James' grandfather had built it from hand, which was many years of work. James could still remember pleasant summer evenings as a child, visiting his grandparents. He would sit on the stairs in front of the home, facing the field. His grandmother, who smelled faintly of the night's supper and fresh flowers, would bring him lemonade. Then, with a wisened smile warm enough to heat the entire valley, disappeared into the house, her grey dress fading into the darkness. His grandfather would work the field until nightfall. He was a large man, broad shouldered and sinewy from years of hard labor. His skin was leathery and wrinkled from years under the sun, with greying hair stuffed underneath a soiled hat. His movements were purposeful yet tired, the movements of someone entering their twilight years. James would spend hours watching his grandfather, smelling the sweet earthy air, the complete silence of country life only broken by the occasional raven or the heavy rap of his grandfather's rake on the soil. Rows and rows of vegetables stretched into the horizon, so many James often wondered how grandma and grandpa managed the work by themselves.
James could remember one evening most vividly. He was about 9 years old, and the oppressive sun had finally retreated beyond the horizon, and his grandfather had finished the days' chores. James was sitting in the same spot on the porch stairs, as he had so many nights before. His grandfather came trudging toward the house, a slight limp in his left leg. Smiling wearily, he sat heavily on the stair beside James. "What do you think?" James' grandfather began, nodding toward the endless rows of green. "It's amazing!" James replied energetically. "This will all be yours someday, kiddo." his grandfather replied. "When your grandmother and I pass away, I want you to keep this farm going. Our family has been here for generations, living off the land. This is where we belong." James sat wide-eyed at his grandfather, absorbing every word. James' grandfather grinned a bit, and raised one dirt-encrusted hand, ruffling his grandson's hair.

His grandfather pulled his hand back and paused for a moment, as a thought swept over him. "Here." he said, reaching into his pocket. "I want you to have this". He reached into his pants pocket, and fumbling around for a moment, pulled out a beautiful gold pocketwatch, its long chain snaking out of the pocket. James cupped his hands together as his eyes grew large. "This...for me? This is your watch!". His grandfather chuckled lightly. "I want you to have it. It's very dear to me. Beyond this farm, I don't own much. I lead a very simple life. I've had that watch for as long as I can remember. Keep it with you, and always remember you're my special grandson." James embraced his grandfather, as the old man grinned and patted him on the back.
A cry of a crow snapped James back to reality violently. A murder of crows had formed a few feet away, picking at the earth. "Get out! Scat!" James cried, picking up a nearby rock. Throwing it with all his might at the birds, they took wing with a cacophony of cries. "Idiot." James muttered to himself, shaking his head. "How in the hell am I supposed to get this farm going if i keep daydreaming". His anger swelled briefly, as he kicked a mound of dirt, before returning to tilling the soil. He wasn't used to the quiet country life, and his short fuse didn't help.
James grew up in the city, as his father had big dreams of becoming a businessman. Those dreams were shattered at the coming of the great depression, and times became hard. Things only became worse, as in the fall of 1929, his grandfather passed away, his grandmother passing a year before that. With no jobs available and no way to pay rent, his parents and he packed up and moved into the home built by his grandfather.
James furrowed his brow. Only the occasional weed or bit of grass dotted the barren fields. What vegetables did grow were weak and barely bore fruit. Having little money and nothing else to live off of, the farm was a source of survival for James and his parents. Yet, no matter what they tried, nothing seemed to grow. His father grew up on the farm as a child, and James spent many summers here, yet they never knew what his grandfather did to make the farm prosperous.
Time after time James and his father tried different methods to produce enough to sell, or even eat. Yet, no matter what they tried, little seemed to help. Running a hand through his straw-colored hair, James shuffled around the back of the house to the barn, where the tools were lying from the day before. He heard the rattling of pans and the sound of coffee being made, signaling his parents had woken up. He bent over with a groan and picked up a bag of seed and flung it over his shoulder. With the balance afforded him by countless mornings working in the field, he reached over and picked up a shovel with his free hand. Pushing open the barn door with his back, he turned in time to see his father leave the front porch to walk to town, to spend another day looking for work. "Bye dad!" James yelled. His father raised his hand and replied something that was carried away by the wind as he faded into the distance.
As the day went on, James grew frustrated at how futile his efforts over these longs months had been. His back ached, His fingers cracked, and his hands were covered in cuts. He paused and stretched in the mid-afternoon sun. "Dang it" he said to himself. His anger swelled a bit, but he quickly forced it away. Weary, he struck the shovel hard into the earth and headed inside for lunch. Stooping under the doorframe, he went to the kitchen table expecting lunch. Instead, he found the days mail tossed haphazardly onto the table, one envelope ripped open. Reaching for the opened envelope, he became aware of sobbing coming from his parent's shut door. "Mom?" he breathed quietly. Opening the letter, his blood froze cold in his veins. It was a forclosure notice from the bank. He didn't understand many of the more complicated words, but he understood what forclosure meant, and even worse, how long they had: 30 days.
James' arms began to shake uncontrollably. "This..no..I..we..." he stammered. His face grew hot and his eyes began to water. Throwing the letter down hard on the old wooden table, he burst out of the house, the screen door slamming violently on its hinges. He crossed the field in long strides, running heedlessly to the trees lining the north side of the farm. He stopped to catch his breath at a large pine tree. James clenched handfuls of moss that clung to the bark in his anger, head down in rage. He began to pant heavily, the hopelessness of the situation overwhelming him. "How did you do it?" he yelled to himself. "How in the hell did you make this work, grandpa?". As rising swell of anger threatened to engulf him, he tore the clumps off moss he was holding onto off the tree. His rage ebbing slightly, James began to walk away, when something caught his eye. Behind the growth he had torn off, an irregular cut was etched into the tree trunk. His anger momentarily giving way to curiosity, James began to pull more of the moss away. What he had thought was a cut was actually an arrow, cut deep into the wood by what looked to be a large bowie knife.
James ran his hand over the arrow in the tree, feeling the grooves. As he did, he couldn't shake the feeling he'd seen this before. His mind raced, digging deep into his memory. "What on earth is this doing on the edge of grandpa's fa..." he stopped short. A chill of recognition tore up his spine, shaking him to the core. "Grandpa!" he yelled. He fumbled quickly into his pocket for the old pocketwatch, dropping it in his excitement. He picked it up and eagerly pressed the button. Seeing the familiar etchings inside the flap, he held it up to the arrow in the tree. The seemingly random scratches next to the numbers lined up with the arrow in the tree. "These aren't scratches" James exclaimed to himself, "it's an arrow...". His voice trailed off as his mind tried to grasp what it all meant. Time and use had dulled the arrow inside the watch, leaving all but "302N" left inside the face. "What were you reminding yourself of, grandpa?" James said whispfully. His eyes widened as recognition hit him. "302N... 302 north!" He cried aloud. He knew what he had to do. Looking back at the farm once more, James headed into the woods.
The woods were thick with trees and underbrush, making moving deeper into the forest difficult. James fought back the growing excitement rising inside him as he forced his way deeper in, scaring off the occasional rabbit or frog underneath. Every so often, he would catch the sight of a trail underneath him, seemingly guiding him forward. James figured this must be the path his grandpa took to whatever he did in the forest. After months of no one traversing it, the forest began to take back the path. Weeds, vines and leaves obscured the way, making it difficult for James to stay on track.
Pushing onward, the foliage became more dense. The thick canopy of trees obscured the sun, and a cool breeze snaked its way through the forest floor. Ahead, the trail stopped suddenly, ending at a thick patch of bushes. James reluctantly tried to peer through them, unable to see past the dense mass of green leaves. "Where am I supposed to go?" James said flatly, looking around for an alternate path. Seeing no other options, James decided to continue forward. Steadying himself, he took a deep breath and pushed inside. The overwhelming mass of leaves assaulted his skin, their surprisingly sharp edges sending tiny shocks of pain through him. He could see nothing, so he closed his eyes and tried in vain to brace his face against the onslaught of branches and leaves. Just when he thought he might be swallowed up by the brush, his next foot failed to find ground, and he was sent tumbling down a hillside. The world spun around him in a blur as he fell helplessly downward, body slamming against jagged rocks and the unforgiving earth time and again. After what seemed like an eternity he finally hit bottom. James laid there in a daze, badly bruised and scraped. His breath was stolen from him, and only with supreme effort was he able to regain his ability to breathe.
James gingerly tried to get up, and as he did, a shockwave of pain ran up his left leg. He looked down through blurred eyes to see his leg bleeding in several places. It wasn't broken, he noticed with a swell of relief, but he was fairly certain it was badly sprained. Despite the throbbing pain from all over his body, he began gently rolling over to his stomach. James began to raise himself up gingerly, when he stopped. Ahead lie a sight that struck him dumb. His heart raced and his pulse quickened. A small clearing stretched out in front of him. And in the center, what his grandfather had left behind. It lay surrounded by spears of light, formed by the occasional break in the canopy. All of the pain, worry, and suffering he and his parents had gone through, the hardships, the wasted days, were all because of the simple missing piece to the puzzle that lie before him. Lifting one bruised hand to the familiar bulge in his left pocket, James smiled a knowing smile, and laughed.

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