Fallow, by Ashley Blooms

They find the bottle in the barn.There are a lot of things there, whole piles of things: tractor-part things, tire things, cutting things and bolting things, all tired things, slowly fading toward the same color of rusty brown. The inside of the barn smells of stale hay and beer. Misty picks the bottle that is the least broken and William holds it between two fingers and lets the water drain from its open mouth onto the packed-earth floor. The base of the bottle has a deep crack running through it that snakes along the length, almost all the way through. The crack raises up a little, just enough to tear their skin if they aren’t careful.

They sit so their bodies form a triangle, William and his best friend Misty and her sister Penny. They sit in the corner of the barn, there among puddles of something that might be water. This way, no one can see them from the road. It’s William’s idea. The whole game is William’s idea.

The bottle spins and spins and they kiss what they are given. Wooden beams. Metal pipes. Once, for William, a grasshopper. The bottle seems to find only the gaps between them, the space that separates their knees from other knees. It doesn’t land on a Body, not the whole time they are playing, even though William moves them three times, convinced that it’s the ground or the shadows or the moisture from the puddles that is warping the bottle’s path, but nothing changes.

They decide there will be one last spin, and William reaches out, and William is sure this will be the spin that changes the game, when a car pulls into the driveway and a voice calls, “Penny! Misty!”

The girls are gone before William can ask them to stay. Only Misty pauses in the doorway to wave, and William waves back. He listens to their mother’s voice, to the rustle of grocery bags, the slam of a trailer door. He waits until he can hear the water in the creek near his house. Then he spins the bottle one last time. The glass clinks and grinds over the dirt, kicking up breaths of dust so small that you have to squint to see them. The bottle stops with the mouth pointing at William’s knee.

When the girls are gone, William sits by the barn door, which is always open, propped on two crumbling cinder blocks. He watches Earl, whose trailer sits behind William’s, by a field that Earl tilled many years before. In all ten years of William’s life, he has never seen a single thing grow in the field. There is a word for places where things don’t grow. William’s mother taught it to him. Fallow, she said, and said it again when William asked her to. He liked the way it sounded, a little like hollow, or holy. He said it to himself sometimes, at night, repeating it over and over just to feel the letters rolling on his tongue.

The fact that nothing has ever grown in the field doesn’t discourage Earl, who is bent double over the plow, driving it into the soil. The dirt gives on either side of the blade, opening up, gutted. The earth exhales a damp smell. Creek water and must. Earl keeps going. William spins the bottle again and again and it lands, every time, with its mouth pointed at his knee. Earl plows and plants until the sun begins to set and then he curses and walks to his trailer. Without him, the quiet takes over the field, and the crickets are born out of the quiet, bringing noise.

Earl pauses at his trailer door, squinting to see William in the shadows of the barn. “You ain’t supposed to be in there,” he says.

“I know.”

“Well.” Earl looks toward the trailer he rents to William’s mother. There’s no car in the driveway and no lights in the windows. “Just be careful,” he says. “There’s broken glass and God knows what. You’re liable to catch tetanus or some shit.”

William nods and he waves to make Earl go away, and Earl does, waving a broken chain in his hand, thick flakes of dust breaking from its links and falling through the sun-bitten air.

William buries the bottle in the fallow field. If anyone had asked him what he was doing, he wouldn’t have known how to answer. He doesn’t have the words to describe how the field reminds him of himself. The dark shape of it, the earth torn up and left to cool in the dark, a little steam rising. How it feels like maybe the field needs something only William has, and all William has is the bottle.

He waits until Earl shuts the screen door to his trailer, hemming out the darkness and the cool air that it carries. He waits until all he hears is his own breathing and the creek water running, until the two sounds are one sound, the same. Like all he has to do is walk to the creek and open his mouth and a whole stream full of minnows and rocks will come rushing down his throat, running over the bare bones of his ribs, collecting in his fishbowl belly where nothing could ever get out again. William can almost taste the water, sour and green and a little sweet.

William buries the bottle at the edge of the field. The solid door to Earl’s trailer is still open, and the thought of Earl appearing now that he’s had time to drink scares William a little. But burying the bottle only takes a minute. The soil is loose and dark and warm between William’s fingers, and when he is finished, the earth is smooth, like the bottle isn’t there at all, or like it has always been there.

William lives with his mother, who is beautiful, and younger than any other mother William has ever met. Her name is Shannon. She has white-blond hair and a scar in the crook of her arm and even that is beautiful–in the way that it raises up from the rest of her skin, in the way that it curves, in the way that it never changes.

She comes home that night even later than usual. She is smiling though, and she smells like peanuts and sugar. She tells William this is the best date she ever had. That he was tall and wonderful and worked in the mines. That he was in line to be a boss. That he called her kitten and took her dancing, like out of a movie, like a real cowboy.

“Have you ever been dancing?” she asks.

William shakes his head. He is sleepy and a little hungry, but more than anything, he is glad that she is home, glad for her noise, which fills up all the empty corners of the trailer. Even the stained yellow carpet seems prettier, golden, as she stands on it barefoot, reaching out her hand to him.

“Dance with me.”

She is a little drunk. A little stumbling. She steps on William’s toes and William laughs. He rests his head in the center of her breasts and closes his eyes and lets her twirl him in slow circles around and around the living room.

William wakes the next morning to the sound of voices. The sound of car tires. A honking horn. He walks barefoot onto the back porch. The air is heavy and mist clings to the tops of the trees. There are more cars outside than he has ever seen and more people, too, gathered around the fallow field. William is shirtless and he feels as though his teeth have been replaced by stones that he has spent the night grinding, grinding into dust.

Earl is at the center of the crowd, kneeling before something William has never seen before, but somehow recognizes. The object stands at the edge of the field where William planted the bottle and, for an instant, William can feel the bottle in his hand, a phantom weight, cool and steady. He makes a fist and the feeling is gone.

The crowd shifts to allow more people in. The thing in the field is taller than any of them, even Earl, who is the tallest man William knows. It has a head-shape sitting on its shoulder-shape, but it has no legs and no arms, either. It is as smooth as the shadow that William casts behind him in the middle of the day, but this shadow is made of bright green glass that shines when the sunlight breaks through the clouds and everybody makes church-sounds, low mmms and ahhs. Most of them are people William has seen before, at Sunday school and at basketball games and at Save-a-Lot on the first of the month. He knows them all, even remembers most of their names, but no one is looking at him. They are looking at what William made. Even though he couldn’t have known what would happen, some part of him believes he had known that something good would come from the bottle, from him. Something beautiful. Something that would draw sixty people into a muddy yard on a weekday morning to stare open-mouthed at a statue grown from fallow ground, and William stares, too. William never wants to stop.

They gather in the yard between the trailers, William and Misty and Penny. The crowd has thinned and Earl is building a new fence around the fallow field. The sound of hammer and wood echo across the bottom so it sounds like the whole holler is being rebuilt.

Penny says, “I don’t know why everybody’s so crazy about it. It’s creepy. Ain’t it creepy?” She looks at William and Misty, who are looking at the field. Penny is starting high school in the fall and she’s never talked so much. Now that she knows the sound of her own voice, she can’t help but say things. Like the minute she stops talking it will be the last, and she has to make sure it’s the right word, the right sound. She says, “And ain’t nobody knows where it comes from neither. I don’t hear nobody asking about that. What if somebody planted it on purpose? What if it’s some kind of poison? Mrs. Crawford said it could be a bomb. Or chemicals. It could be some toxic mineral grown up from the mines.”

“I think it’s kinda pretty,” Misty says.

William says, “I think it kinda looks like me.” Especially here, from a distance. All the indents are in the right places—his eyes and his mouth, his ribs and toes. It could be William if he were taller, a William made of glass.

“I don’t see it,” Penny says.

“Maybe from up closer,” Misty says. Penny goes to find out, and calls for Misty to join her, but Misty says William’s name instead and when William turns to look at her, he can’t see anything. Misty’s face has become the yard and the sky and everything in between. Her lips are on his lips, pressing, soft. William blinks when she pulls back.

Misty smiles. “Come on,” she says, and takes off running through the grass.

“Where’s your mother?” Misty asks.

Side by side, bent double so their faces are barely a foot away from the earth, they are looking for worms. Misty’s back yard is the shadiest. The ground is always damp because the trailers have no gutters, so there is nothing to protect the earth from the rain. The ground grows soggy, the soil darkening. Misty’s trailer is farther away from Earl’s, too, which didn’t matter once, but it matters now. Even here, they can still hear the voice of the crowd, can hear someone shout, “Step back!” as William reaches down and digs his fingers into the earth.

“Did you hear me?” Misty asks.

“Dunno,” William says.

“You dunno where she is or you dunno if you heard me?”

“Dunno.”

They find three more worms, all fat and wriggling, their segmented bodies writhing until they are dropped into a Dixie cup half filled with dirt.

Misty says, “My dad hasn’t been home in three days.”

“He working?”

Misty shrugs.

“Don’t he always come back?”

“So far,” she says.

William picks at the dirt under his fingernails. He watches Misty part the dirt with her hands. She is gentle with it. She runs her finger back and forth across the ground until, slowly, the backs of worms appear.

“What’s Penny say?” William asks.

“What’s Penny always say?”

“Something dumb?”

Misty smiles. “Something dumb.”

They walk the worms to the creek. Outside Earl’s trailer, the crowd has thickened. William wants to join them, to hear the things they are saying about the green statue, which has grown another few inches since it appeared two days ago. He wants to hear them talk about how beautiful it is and how strange, how they have never seen anything like it before in their lives, but it seems to scare Misty–the people all knotted together, some they know but plenty they don’t, and the way that Earl drinks right there in front of everyone instead of waiting until he’s inside his trailer like decent folk.

William and Misty go fishing instead. They sit side by side on the muddy ground, trading worms. They catch nothing but faded Pepsi cans and mosquito bites and when they retreat across their shared yard at dusk, the crowd is still there, still watching the fallow field.

Sometimes, late at night, William’s mother crawls into bed with him. Her breath is hot against his neck. It feels like a fever does, only it’s on the outside of his Body instead of the inside. She makes their shapes fit—her knees behind his knees, his back against her front. No spaces. No gaps. Even her words gum together when she speaks. They stick in places that they shouldn’t, the places where they are meant to come apart. She says things like:

“I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t never trust a man.”

“He pushed me down. We was thirty miles from anywhere, what was I supposed to do?”

“It’s like glass. Like your whole Body’s made of glass.”

“I never wanted to marry him. I never even wanted to kiss him, but when has that ever stopped a man? They take things. That’s all they know how to do. Take and take and take.”

“Don’t ever be like that, William. You promise me?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“I’ll be your father, all right? I’ll be the man.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You know he hit me? Your daddy? That’s why he never comes around no more, because I told him I would kill him if he ever did, and I meant it.”

“Promise me, William. Promise.”

“I’m sorry.”

They play spin-the-bottle again. This time, it’s only Misty and William. They sit in the barn where it’s growing dark. They spin the bottle and it lands on William every time, even when he is the one spinning it. To play fair, he kisses the back of his hand, the curve of his knee, the space between his fingers. Misty kisses him, too, and each time, William presses harder into the kiss, and holds it for longer. He thinks of his mother and wonders if he is doing it right.

Outside, it begins to rain, and the thin crowd grows thinner. Fat drops of water slick down the sides of the green statue, which still stands alone. Umbrellas pop open, making a roof over the crowd, and the ground dries under them in pale brown circles that overlap and crisscross and disappear when the people shift from one side of the field to the other. After a while, Penny comes walking through the crowd looking for Misty, but Misty isn’t anywhere that Penny is looking, and the bottle spins and spins.

Certain things don’t grow. This, William knows for sure.

Every night for a week he goes out to field after his mother is asleep. He waits until the house is quiet and he can hear the cricket song through the thin walls and the thinner glass of his window. It is less quiet outside, where he isn’t the only one awake. There are bullfrogs and whippoorwills under the deep white moon.

There, alone in the field, William buries his new shoes and a plate from the kitchen and a pair of mismatched earrings that he took from his mother’s dresser. Nothing comes of these. When William tries to dig them back up, they are gone. He is more careful now, about what he offers to the field. He only wants to give something that will give him something in return.

The crowd that has been visiting the field every morning is growing restless. They’ve stopped taking pictures. They’ve stopped bringing their friends. Maybe they’re wondering if the field was special after all, or if it was all a mistake. Misty’s mother says the crowd will find something new to be excited about soon, and that scares William, the thought of things going back to the way they were. So maybe, if William buries the right object, then the right statue would grow, and Misty would love it, and his mother would love it, too. They would have dinner on the back porch, the three of them, together, and they would listen to the crickets trembling in the grass and they would say how beautiful the statues were. Their delicate bodies and glowing edges. Like angels, winged and glorious. Like God. And then William could tell them about burying the bottle, how it had been him all along.

William wants to show Misty something. He has been thinking about the right way to do it for a while now. It can’t be raining outside and Penny can’t be there and neither can their mothers, and it has to be before dinner, too. All these things are important. He thinks for days and every time he thinks about it, it makes the palms of his hands itch like they can already feel it, like the William from four days from now is telling him it is all right to do this.

William takes Misty to the barn again. He swept the floor the day before and the barn smells like damp hay and leaves. It isn’t a bad smell.

“I want to show you something,” he says. William lies down on the ground and tells Misty to lie down beside him.

“Why?”

“Because,” he says. “That’s how it works.”

Misty pushes her hand into her back pocket and pulls out a handful of firecrackers. “Why can’t we just light these?”

“This is better.”

“You want me to go get a bottle?”

“No. Lay down.” And, when she still doesn’t listen, William says, “If you don’t want to play, then go on home.”

Then he closes his eyes and lets the sun turn his eyelids bright red. When Misty lays down, he tells her to close her eyes, too. He tells her about the tattoos on his mother’s boyfriend’s back. How the boyfriend plays with the hem of her shorts. How he comes up behind her and puts his mouth on her neck. William rolls onto his side and leans over Misty. He talks the whole time that he is pushing at the button on her shorts. He talks about black ink bleeding into blue ink, about wings on things that shouldn’t have wings, about green light and bodies made of glass. William only stops talking once he rests his hand between Misty’s legs. He moves his fingers back and forth to feel the skin beneath her underwear shift and give. They lie there, side by side on the dirt, waiting for something to happen.

William tears a soft piece of wood from the barn’s door. He plants that, too.

In the morning, there is a new statue. This one is shorter than the glass man, though much wider. This statue is a hand made of gold–five fingers and an unlined palm. The fingers curl gently toward each other. The index and thumb almost meet, like there is something the hand means to take hold of, something that William can’t see, or can’t see yet.

“It kinda looks like me,” William says.

They are on the porch together, William and his mother. There is a small mirror balanced on the rail and Shannon is bent double in front of it. She has one eye closed as she puts on mascara. She is wearing a dress that ties around her neck. William can see the skin between her shoulders, the way it moves, bunching and releasing. She makes a low sound in her throat, a skeptical sound, like when William wakes up late for school and tells her that his stomach hurts, he has a fever, his tongue is a boulder that could weigh the world down, and he can’t imagine going to school today. Not like this.

He says, “It does. Just look at the nose.” He touches his own nose, flattens it into his cheeks. “And my head. The little lump on the side of it.” He touches this, too.

“Which one are you talking about?” Shannon asks.

There are three statues now. William planted a scrap of Misty’s shirt and it grew almost immediately, bronze and tangled, something that might be a heart or a pair of lungs, something internal, something that would be slick with blood if it were anywhere else but here, in the field.

“The green one,” he says, and she says, “I don’t see it,” even though she isn’t even looking at the statue, but at the curve of her own eye in the mirror.

Days pass and William and Misty play together like they always have, at the creek and in the woods. They find a thicket of blackberry bushes and dig out a hole beneath it. It is cooler under the thicket, dim with golden light crisscrossing their faces, and they can pluck berries from over their heads any time they want. They can eat until they’re full, and they do, until the berries are gone and the thicket grows hot under the sun.

Some days it’s like nothing has changed. Like there are no statues growing in the field and no crowd of people growing around the statues. Like there is no barn, either. Like William knows nothing about the color of Misty’s skin under her shirt and how it’s different from the rest of her, different from anything he’s ever seen before.

The man who took William’s mother dancing, the miner, is gone. This man is a mechanic. Blond, not brown. He wears a heavy gold cross around his neck.

William’s mother says, “He’s right in the next room.”

“Come on, he’s asleep,” the man says.

“You don’t know that. He could be listening.”

“Then we’ll be quiet.”

“I don’t—”

“Shhh. You’ll wake him.”

The man in the next room, the mechanic, laughs. And maybe if he didn’t laugh, things would have been different, but he did, and they aren’t, and William lays in bed and listens to the sound they make, this man and his mother, and he tries to imagine what it looks like from their side of the wall.

William goes to the barn and waits for her. When she doesn’t come, William goes to the yard and waits for her there. Misty said she would meet him. She promised. William waits until his hands get cold, and then he walks home, feeling tired and hungry and something else. Something like anger, only smaller and meaner. Something with neat rows of teeth that fit behind his own so he feels both like himself and not himself.

William walks around the trailer, not wanting to go back inside, not wanting to sleep. Earl is sitting by the field in a lawn chair with a cooler and a bottle of beer.

William says, “Hello.”

“‘lo.” Earl looks at him with bloodshot eyes. “What you doing up?”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Me neither. Have a seat.”

William sits on the grass next to Earl. They look at the field, where many things have grown, so many things that there is little room left for much else. Copper things and bronze things and hulking stone things and shallow golden things that bend and dip into other things, so you can’t tell where one ends and another begins.

“You ever drank?” Earl asks.

“No.”

“Good,” Earl says. “Don’t never start.” He takes a long drink and William watches the skin of Earl’s neck moving like there is a hand inside of his throat that reaches up to his mouth and pulls the alcohol down, its fingers unwinding against the back of Earl’s tongue, the tips of its bitten nails reaching out to catch the scant inch of light that appears as Earl’s mouth opens and then closes again.

“Have you seen Misty today?” William asks.

“I ain’t seen a soul since that lady from the news this morning. It was the damnedest thing. She said some people up at the college wanted to do some soil tests. Water tests, too. They want to know what’s going on,” he says, and his voice is hoarse. “I told them to come on down, they can do whatever they want so long as they pay me for it and they don’t scratch up any of the growings.” He finishes his beer, reaches in the cooler for another. He pops the top on the arm of his chair. He says, “You want to know a secret?”

William shakes his head.

Earl says, “I didn’t plant nothing. Not a damn thing.”

“I know,” William says.

“People keeps asking me how I got it to grow. They think I’m welding them myself, even if it don’t make any damn sense.”

“Misty thinks they’re ugly.”

“They don’t want to believe nothing I say, but it ain’t me. It never was me.”

“I thought they was pretty at first, but now I ain’t so sure. You think she thinks I’m ugly?” William asks.

The lamps Earl installed over the field start to flicker and buzz. The statues glow under the light, letting it glint off their hard edges and soft edges like sun on water. Even as they watch, something begins to grow. It starts near the back of the field. It twists up slowly, three strong bars of bronze that grow straight and narrow, until some meet in the middle while others keep growing and curving. It’s hard to tell what the statue will be before it’s finished, but William still guesses: a blue gill, a seashell, a broken back.

“Maybe it’s God,” Earl says.

“Maybe.”

Earl says, “Don’t you never start drinking,” as he lets another empty bottle fall.

William doesn’t move, and Earl doesn’t say another word. The bronze braids itself into a bridge with heavy slats and a thick rail, where a hand might hold as its Body walked across, staring down at the spaces between the boards, at the earth so far below. The bridge stops halfway, at the very peak of its curve, where it should fall to the other side of the field, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t.

William takes Misty back to the barn. It’s midmorning and her mother is grocery shopping and Penny is with a friend and there is only Misty left, sitting on the front porch with her legs kicking over the edge. This time, William tells her to undo his pants. When she won’t, he undoes them himself, and he takes her hand and lays it against him. He does the same thing to her. It is just like the first time, except now he is being touched. Now she is the one who starts. Now they are both the same.

William’s mother makes dinner. She puts on a white blouse and dark jeans. She gives him a radio. A present, she says, from Paul.

“Who’s Paul?”

“You’ll get to meet him soon. He’s real nice. It’s impossible not to like him. He’s just got that way about him, you know?”

She puts more food on William’s plate than he has seen in weeks, maybe in his whole life. Green beans and corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes, roast beef, and rolls, the kind that you pull apart from the can and fold into little shapes. William eats three before he touches the rest of his plate.

“This is good, Mama. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, baby.”

She smooths his hair across his forehead and tries to tuck it behind his ear, the way she likes to see it, but it isn’t quite long enough. She barely eats, taking from William’s plate as she washes dishes and wipes counters and checks the phone.

“I feel like I ain’t hardly got to see you with all the extra shifts I’ve been covering,” she says. “It’ll pay off come Christmas though, just you wait.” She sits on the edge of her seat and smiles. She picks at a thread on the plastic tablecloth and the more she pulls on the thread, the more the plastic comes apart. “Then you’re always outside playing with those girls every time I come home. I checked on you in bed the other night and you wouldn’t there.” She keeps pulling and pulling at the string. “Where was you?”

“I don’t know. Sleepwalking, maybe.”

“That don’t sound like you.”

“Do we have any more beans?”

“I just worry, is all. You’re ten now. It might not seem too old to you, but you’re getting to be of age and I don’t want you making decisions like I did. I don’t want you to end up in a place like me, grown before you’re ready.”

“I know.”

“Is there anything you want to tell me?” she asks. “Anything at all, baby. You know Mama wouldn’t think bad of you for nothing in the world.”

The phone rings. William waits as it rings again and again, seeing how long it will take before she gets up. She looks over her shoulder at him as he pushes away from the table, and says, “Remember what I said. You promise me?”

William closes the door to his room. He locks it, too, and later, he doesn’t answer when she knocks. He pretends to be asleep. He lies with his head on his pillow and stares at the ceiling as she tells him that she loves him and that she’ll never leave him and that everything, everything that she does, is for him.

Misty stops coming outside to play. When William asks Penny where she is, Penny shrugs. “She’s sick. She says her head won’t quit hurting. I thought she was faking at first, but.” Another shrug. “She don’t eat much. She cries a lot. She thinks I can’t hear her, but we sleep in the same room, you know? I have to hear her.”

“Did she say anything about me?”

“No,” Penny says. “Why?”

“Have you seen the new statue?”

“God, there’s another one?”

They go to the field together. The bridge still hasn’t finished itself. It doesn’t seem to want to be a bridge at all.

Penny says, “I wish someBody would just burn them all down, you know?

“No,” William says.

He is staring at all the statues together. There are so many now that it hurts his eyes trying to hold them all in one place. Misty hasn’t even seen all the things that he’s made for her. She hasn’t mentioned them, not even once. William’s vision blurs and he looks down at his own two feet.

He says, “I still think the green one kind of looks like me. Through the nose.”

He turns his head, but Penny is walking back through the yard. There is someone standing in the front door of her trailer, but the sunlight glints on the glass so that William can’t see who’s looking back at him.

Earl sits in the lawn chair every night. He had the test results from the college framed and hung them from a wooden fence post, the stark white paper and fine print saying things about the field that most of the people couldn’t understand. But it means that nothing was found. That the statues are statues and nothing else. Just metal and lead, just grown. There is nothing in the soil or the water or the air to explain where the statues come from and that, the crowd says, makes the field a miracle. Earl doesn’t say much at all.

Once, William thinks he sees Misty. Earl has taken to having open house nights on certain days of the week. It draws more people, somehow, the thought of needing permission. The line stretches down the road, out of the holler and out of sight. William likes to stand in the crowd and listen to the things the people have to say about the field and about God, about how beautiful it all is, how perfect. That’s when he sees Misty standing at the edge of the woods, near the creek. She’s wearing a dark shirt, her hair pulled back in a low ponytail. She’s alone and she looks small between the trees, smaller than he’s ever seen her.

William yells her name. He pushes through the people, fighting against the bodies, ignoring the complaints. He runs across the yard and between the trees. He wants to tell her that he is sorry. He wants to ask her to help him burn down the barn. He wants to play in the creek with her and hold her hand. He runs through the dark, shouting her name, but there is nothing but trees and leaves and dark, wet earth. He finds the hair tie lying at his feet when he turns around. William buries that, too.

William goes the fallow field one last time. It’s been a week since he last saw Misty. A week since anything new has grown. Earl is snoring in his lawn chair, yet William still walks around to the other side of the field to avoid him. He has to get down on his knees and crawl through the fence to reach the field. It is so crowded with statues there is barely room to move. William wedges himself between the unfinished bridge and a heavy hand that reaches toward the sky. He climbs up a series of concentric golden circles and uses the elevation to find one small patch of empty earth, there behind the first statue of green glass.

William is winded now, breathing hard. He is crying, too, but only a little. Only small tears drip from the tip of his nose and fall onto the rich brown earth, and the earth takes that, too, and will use it. William rips his shirt on a barb from a stone statue and there is a scrape on his leg that he doesn’t remember getting, but the wound burns now.

William makes his way to the empty spot of earth. This is the only way he can set things right. He has planted bottles and wood and coins and all manner of small things and they have come back. They have been bigger, too, and better than they have been before. They have been something worth looking at. And he will be, too. He will cover himself whole, close his mouth and his eyes, and let the dirt do its work. He will come back changed. Misty won’t be afraid of him anymore and his mother won’t bring another man home. This will fix the wrong inside of him and everything will be okay.

William starts to dig, and he doesn’t stop, not even when his fingernails bend backward and chip away. Even when he hits rocks and has to pry them from the earth and toss them over his shoulder. Even when the rocks become heavy roots tangled together like vines, thick and twisting away in all directions. The sun is bright and hard above him when William finally stops digging. He is standing on a bed of roots, under which a great chasm stretches. The air coming up from the darkness is musty, but warm, and he doesn’t know how the ground has been holding itself up all this time.

“Hello?” he says, and a voice answers, but it is not his own. It’s his mother walking through the grass, calling his name. William looks into the darkness beneath him, at the place where the dark becomes something else, not light exactly, but close.

William reaches up to the surface. He takes a handful of dirt and pulls it down. He doesn’t stop bringing the earth down around him until he can’t hear his mother anymore. He doesn’t stop until he is planted, whole, in the dark earth.

Ashley Blooms was born and raised in Cutshin, Kentucky. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming from Strange Horizons and On Spec. She’s currently a first reader for Tor.com, fiction editor of the Yalobusha Review, and pursuing her MFA as a John and Renee Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi. You can find her online at: ashleyblooms.com.

More Melancholy:

Now We’ve Lost, by Natalia Theodoridou  – The war is over, we hear. We’ve lost. We look at each other in the dark. What does this mean? We’ve lost so much already. What is it we’ve lost now?

The Invisible Stars, by Ryan Row – He first learned to speak sitting outside their windows at night. A veil of kitchen or living room light above, watching the shadows of suburban rose bushes and apple trees drift in the yard as he listened. Family dinner. A TV. A radio. Two lovers screaming at each other. An old man talking to a brightly colored bird. The words were too soft for his mouth, and his mandibles ached as he whispered a garbled, carapaced version of human speech to himself and to the washed-out sky. In the direction of his lost home.

Black Planet, by Stephen Case – Em did not dream the world. When the lights went out and the absence of her brother in the room across the hall became palpable, it was simply there, hanging in the space above her bed. She would stare at its invisible form, spinning silent and unseen, until she slept.

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