The night of the day his strong teenage son had died in his bed, the farmhouse caught fire as if in sympathy to Farmer Dodd’s plight. He managed to put out the fire before it destroyed the building, but other embers continued to burn within his chest. His wife was inconsolable; she simply sat amid the combined ashes of son and home weeping, weeping, and biting her hands in despair.
Soon after, the fields grew dry and barren, and no normal crop would grow in the dust that remained.
Farmer Dodd decided to be proactive, to plan for the future despite his present state of despair. Burying his sorrow in the now fallow field of his heart, he began to plough the dusty fields by hand. Day after day he laboured, while his wife’s will faded and her body rotted in the easy chair she refused to leave.
Finally the day arrived when Farmer Dodd could plant the seed.
So he dug a small ditch in the south field, and took himself in hand. He watched in hope as his watery issue seeped into the dry earth, vanishing beneath the grey topsoil and into the strange-smelling mud beneath.
He tended the field night and day, pouring love and water over the seeded patch and sensing the ancient, latent power of the land as it strained beneath his feet. And within a week he could see the white pulpy mass of the crown of a head; this was followed by a tiny unformed face that quickly developed into features he recognised.
Two weeks later he harvested what he’d grown.
His new, undersized boy was unsteady on his feet and kept falling over, but the child could be taught to crawl, and then to walk. All it would take was patience and affection.
Mrs. Dodd left her seat at the burned-out hearth for the first time since the blaze. She came outside and took the boy in her arms. His eyes were flat and lifeless; they registered nothing as she clasped his strange floppy body to her breast.
The weary Farmer Dodd comforted himself in the fact that he could also teach the boy how to love – or at least how to fake it.
He stood in the field and watched his mended family head back towards the blasted shell of their home. He had always wanted more than one child: even when it became obvious that his wife would never conceive again, he’d held out the hope that a miracle might occur.
Dark clouds gathered and twisted into thick black spirals above him, and eventually it began to rain.
WRITTEN BY GARY MCMAHON
ILLUSTRATED BY MANON DELACROIX
Gary McMahon won This Is Horror Awards for Novel of the Year and Chapbook of the Year in 2011. He is author of the Thomas Usher series with Angry Robot and The Concrete Grove trilogy with Solaris.
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