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Dead Man Hollow

By:Mike O'Hare
Date: Thu,18 Sep 2008
Submitter:Mike O'Hare

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This is a short story; an experience. It came to me a long time ago and I remembered it as I awoke one morning. It is based around a place that became very familiar to me through one very special person in my life at the time. It is written in the first person singular, so it might take a short while to adjust to the writing style. Seeing as “The Meadow” has now been written, I thought it was appropriate and worth sharing, although this is a very different story.
For more details about “The Meadow”, please go to The Meadow home page


It’s a fine day; my goodness, it is indeed a very fine day. I’ve never seen the fields so green and the sun, well it’s shining so brightly in that cloudless sky. It’s about time that we are blessed with some good weather. Our part of the world sometimes seems to have been deserted by the farming gods when it comes to distributing the elements on a more equal basis.

That’s strange, there’s something unusual going on here. I’ve done this trip hundreds of times heading home, crossing the fields and meadows, so why should things feel so differently this time? The birds are singing as usual, but wait! No, they’re not just singing, they’re positively in full chorus. What a beautiful sound they make and why haven’t I noticed this before?

What’s that over there? It seems to be a mist covering the gorge, but it’s only hovering at that one place. I’ll check that out later; I don’t want to feel shrouded in mist on such a beautiful calm day as this. Hey, that’s it! It is calm. There’s not a breath of wind. Oh, if only the others could be sharing this with me. I can’t put my finger on any of this just yet. It’s not like me to leave matters unaccounted, so I must try to figure this out.

My only conclusion is that I feel good. In fact I feel very good indeed. I can feel so much sensitivity in my fingers as they skim across the corn ears and there’s a bounce in my step that I’ve never had since I was a kid. This feels very new, but who’s complaining?

Hello, there’s Matty, our neighbour, ploughing in the next field. He must be catching up on lost time, considering the atrocious weather we’ve been experiencing of late. Good grief, he must be unwell. He’s wrapped up for winter as he drives that tractor. He hasn’t noticed me waving to him. The poor guy should be tucked up in bed, judging by the state he’s in. Oh well, it’s no good me dwelling on all this. I’ll just have to put it all down to Karen’s great cooking.

Considering the problems I have to face when I get home, I should be grateful for such a caring wife. The farm can’t run itself and my working day is quite taxing and extremely stressful. I sometimes wonder if dad knew exactly what he was doing when he left the business for me to handle. Poor dad; I really miss him now he’s gone. Having said all that, it’s the administration that’s the greatest burden. Come back dad, all is forgiven! Heaven knows I need his help right now.

Our debts have risen over the years due to huge loans we took out on new machinery, bringing us into the 21st century. It was such a relief to get the first of three tax bills settled thanks to a good harvest last year. Long may it continue; I don’t need any more bad news. I only hope this marvellous weather holds out. Our targets are now focussed on maintaining the levels of livestock that we have at the moment.

Although we were lucky not to suffer that devastating outbreak a few years ago, we still suffer at the hands of the retail chains that indirectly screw us into the ground. The Establishment has a lot to answer for. Why can’t society have been moulded differently so that we can all get an equal share of the bountiful joys that should be available to all? It isn’t fair that the greedy few can gain so much control over the majority so that they can line their pockets. Maybe I should have been a politician. Nah! Why should I wish to be a puppet to the Establishment?

My goodness, surely I’m never home already? I’ve been thinking too much about the business methinks. How on earth could I have crossed the meadow, three fields, a stream and negotiated six fences without being aware of the whole trip? I must be hungrier than I thought. That’s strange, the gate’s open. I should be first home today, so who’s here? “Hello, hello, anyone home?”

“Is that you Michael? You’re late aren’t you?”

“Mum, is that you? Er …. yes, I am rather late now that you mention it. You know what it’s like these days, mum, I just can’t get around to everything so quickly now that dad’s gone.”

I think I need to sit down and figure out what’s happening here and why was I so sharp with mum? It’s certainly not the usual thing I would say about dad, especially seeing that I’ve just walked through the door. Matters should be a lot easier now. After all, it’s been three and a half years.

Mum and dad were so close that I was sure she would not be able to stand up to life without him. How wrong I was and thank goodness for that. As soon as she came to live with us, and despite her illness, she seemed to take on a new fighting spirit. For all the differences we had before, particularly between her and Karen regarding the kids and their welfare, she not only calmed troubled waters but she took on the mantle of being the greatest grandma in the world. How lucky I am now to have two angels around me. Why is mum looking at me with such a puzzled expression?

“Don’t worry Michael. You’re doing really fine and dad’s so very proud of you.”

How on earth can I answer her when I feel that lump build up in my throat? I must try and swallow before she gets upset.

“Go and freshen up son, and then we’ll all have a good chat. It seems so long since we sat down together don’t you think?”

I don’t understand ‘we’ll all’. Karen, Christopher and Emily are not yet back from London. Thank goodness it’s the school holidays. We’re in the final stages of negotiations for the sale of some land that we need to part with. If successful, we’ll just about break even. Karen has a diplomacy about her that leaves me looking more like a member of the Spanish Inquisition, so this is her department and she’s taken the kids for support as she visits the lawyers. Good luck Karen. If anyone can clinch this deal, you can.

“Here, drink this Michael. It’ll warm you up.”

Where on earth has this tea come from? It tastes absolutely out of this world. Everything is happening so quickly, as though time no longer exists.

“Thanks mum. I really needed this. By the way, Karen and the kids are due back shortly, so please leave some of that wonderful cooking; it smells absolutely gorgeous.” I must try and get some sleep. Maybe afterwards things will become clearer.

“George is going to find it hard from now on, Michael, so I want you to give him all the support you can. Dad and I have always watched over you both. Now we have you to help.”

Why is she so concerned about George all of a sudden? He has always been able to cope, so what’s new? He’s three years my junior and has been helping on the farm for two years since leaving university early to help out. I feel guilty about this, but as he says, it was his decision and besides, being a linguist at the U.N. was probably an illusion compared with the reality of being a very competent farmer. I’d be lost without my little brother.

“Why are you so worried about it mum?” Hmmm, this food she’s just put down tastes delicious. In fact it’s more than that; it’s like tasting things for the first time, like that magic moment when we were very young.

“Dad can probably explain things better than I son, so why don’t you wait until you see him.”

What on earth is mum talking about? It’ll be a long time before that happens, I assume. Hopefully, I can relax a little now that I’ve finished that fantastic meal. I must get my head into gear so that I can understand what mum is trying to say to me. Ah, that sounds like George coming in the back way. He usually showers and changes before leaving for home and his family. “George! Come through and enjoy some of mum’s marvellous cooking”.

Whatever is wrong with him? He looks as though he has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and why would he put down his boots and just leave the room without saying a word? I can’t think for the life of me what I have said to upset him.

“What do you think is bothering George, mum?” She’s looking at me with those protecting eyes again.

“Your brother loves you very much, Michael. You know that don’t you?”

That’s one hell of a statement that mum has just made. Does she think that I no longer love my own brother? I don’t want to get embroiled into a heated conversation right now, so I think I’ll just nod to appease her. I’m feeling so relaxed that all I want to do is savour this moment. What perplexes me is the fact that some things are not OK and yet I feel so good and detached.

I don’t want to pursue the matter further until I’m ready. Ah, that seems to have done the trick. Now that she’s gone into the front room, this will give me the chance to sit and try figure out the strange atmosphere that seems to exist around the place. It’s hard work trying to concentrate, so I think I’ll just let my thoughts drift for a while and stay here by the window. It looks like a mist is beginning to form over the meadow, just like the one over the gorge.

How strange! I only hope that the good weather holds. Karen and the children are due back anytime and I’m beginning to feel a little restless. I hope they’re OK. Perhaps mum has been trying to tell me something in her own sweet way. Is this the reason for all the unrest around me? Is she looking for that right opportunity to tell me something? I’m so relaxed that I can feel myself drifting. Oh well, no use in fighting it …

That’s strange; the clock on the mantle piece has stopped. I wonder how long I’ve been asleep. I must pull myself together, so I’ll just sit here while I compose myself. Those mists are still hovering in the same places. In fact they haven’t moved. Now that’s very strange as mists usually drift with the wind, but seeing as it’s so calm today, maybe that is why.

Perhaps I’ve only slept a few minutes. They don’t seem to be shifting at all, nor is there movement within the trees. It’s absolutely calm; perhaps too calm. How many times do I have to ask myself what’s happening? Hello, it looks as though there’s some activity emerging around the mists. I must try to get a closer look. Not now though, someone is coming back into the room.

“Hello son”!

No, this can’t be. “Dad, is that you? Is this really you?” I must be dreaming. Yes, that’s it, I’m dreaming. So that’s what this is all about. Now it all makes sense, thank goodness. OK, so I’m dreaming, but I still feel good and this seems so very real. So why fight it? Why not enjoy the experience? What a great tale I’m going to have for Karen.

“Hello dad, it’s great to see you. How are you?” He looks so fit and young looking. I’m so pleased for him, even though this is a dream. It looks as though he’s coming to sit beside me. Why does he keep staring at those mists outside?

“Your mum’s asked me to explain a few things to you son.”

This is how dad used to talk to me as a child. This is so good. The dream is fulfilling every positive moment I wanted so much to experience in my life and I’m in no hurry to see it ended. “That’s OK, dad. Go ahead.” I hope I haven’t startled him in any way. I can see that he is concerned, but I still feel so great that it’s a shame to break this feeling and, after all, this is my dream.

“Karen’s on her way, son.”

He’s looking at those mists again. I can see vehicles coming towards the farm. Perhaps this is Karen at last or is it still my dream? I’m so confused. It looks like two taxis, as I don’t recognise the cars. George is still here and he’s going towards the first car. “So George hasn’t left yet, dad?” That’s fairly obvious. Why did I ask that?

“No son, he’ll be here for a while.”

The second car has now pulled up. It’s Karen and the kids in the first car. Thank heaven they’re safe. Even dreams have to have a happy ending, if this is indeed still my dream. Things seem so solemn. You would think that George hadn’t seen his sister-in-law for years instead of days, the way they’re embracing. Now it looks like Elizabeth’s turn, seeing as she’s leaving that second car so quickly.

She’s still carrying little Edward, so I hope she’s careful. George is so proud of his only son. When he was born 18 months ago, it was touch and go as to whether he would survive. Elizabeth got into difficulties and he was born almost two months premature. Now I have such a wonderful little nephew to enjoy. I can feel the emotion out there; it’s running so high. If this is still my dream, I’m going to try and change its course.

“Dad, this is a sort of reunion, isn’t it? So why all the glum faces? Is someone not telling me something?” He’s starting to worry me. He’s staring at the frame above the fireplace. How I love that picture; mum and dad in their best outfits at George’s and Elizabeth’s wedding. It has pride of place, as it’s usually the last thing I see before dozing around the fire after a good meal in the early evening.

Mum was determined that nothing would spoil that day, even though she’d recently discovered she had breast cancer. She suffered bravely for three years before yielding to this atrocious disease. Oh my God, what is happening? Somebody please explain to me what is happening! I was just talking to mum before I dozed off and entered into this dream, so how can this be? Dad knows something. He doesn’t put his hand on my shoulder unless he has something profound to say.

I remember feeling so glad that mum lived long enough to enjoy the early months with her new grandson. A year on and Edward is starting to take on his father’s features. I can understand things that are happening in this dream, but I can’t figure out how I could have spoken with mum before this. Dad’s got that fatherly look in his eyes; I know he’s going to say something.

“Do you remember those days when you were a lad Michael, and we could never find you? We always had to go out looking until we got wise to your secret place.”

He’s on about my most favourite spot in the whole world – Dead Man’s Hollow. This was the name given by us kids to the small gorge that separated the farm from the stream that ran alongside the meadow. We would play for hours on end here. We even built our tree house in the old oak that hung so majestically over the gorge and would double as a Tarzan swing.

Later on, it became a short cut for the tractor I could so skilfully use. At least ten whole minutes or even more, could be saved when travelling from the fields when I was so eager to get home. Why should ten minutes make such a difference? Almost everything on the farm had a nickname. The tractor was called ‘Nellie’, after my mother’s sister who was an old boiler. I hope by now she has forgiven us, especially how ‘Nellie’ became such a fond member of the family.

We should have scrapped her years ago, but how can you punish such good service she had given? She was my pride and joy and I would prefer to use her rather than the more modern tractors that were left to the farm staff. I became so skilful as a driver that only I could negotiate that large oak root that prevented the others from crossing the gorge.

Wait a minute! I’m beginning to remember. It rained heavily last night and there was a pond left in the belly of the gorge. I knew I’d get a soaking today if I wasn’t careful when crossing. Perhaps I shouldn't have gone into the field at all. It was a mud bath. Regardless, I knew the work had to be done and I was so positive that Karen was going to be successful with the land sale, so much so that I had prepared a surprise meal for her return today. I was determined to get home in quick time.

That look in Dad’s eyes speaks volumes. He always had a knack of bringing things to our attention without uttering a word. I feel so good within myself that it’s hard to accept the logic that surrounds me and yet I must face it.

“We should have cut out that dead root years ago.”

Dad sounds like he’s almost apologising for its existence.

“If only the tractor had been more modern and had a winch hook fitted.”
His words 'if only' are beginning to haunt me. What’s going on here and how many times must I repeat this question to myself? Here comes mum.

“Is everything OK?”

Mum knows I have a mind full of questions. I hope her presence will help lighten the load a little now.

“Yes mum, everything’s OK now.” I must savour this moment, now that we’re together again. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you both.” I never dreamed that I would be able to see mum and dad together again. The way we’re embracing tells me I have a lot to do.

My thoughts are back to those childhood days. I wonder which one of us named that gorge Dead Man’s Hollow. Mum and dad don’t have to tell me that Karen, George, Elizabeth and the children will one day need my support, the same way as they have given me theirs. I only have to wait.

It is indeed a very fine day.
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