Straw and Sawdust by Big Anklevich

Adam could see a light ahead. He made his way toward it, using his own dim flashlight to sweep the desert for obstructions. He’d lived in Reno for five years now, but he knew nothing about the rest of Nevada, nothing at all about the desert. There could be any number of deadly things out here. Do scorpions come out at night or only during the day? Coyotes come out at night, don’t they? Could a pack of coyotes take out a man? He sped up. The light ahead had to be from some sort of building. Hopefully they had a phone, a landline. Adam couldn’t get any reception on his cell out here. Even if no one was there it would at least offer him shelter from the coyotes. And the wind. He’d always heard that the desert got cold at night, but this was his first chance to experience just how true that was, and he had nothing but a T-shirt and shorts to keep him warm. Who would have thought that he’d need anything more in Nevada in August.

A form loomed up out of the desert. Adam squinted, and realized he was looking at a gate in a fence. He moved toward it, pulled it open, and stepped through. He could now see a shape forming itself around the light up ahead. It most definitely was a building. It looked like a farm house. Another minute of walking, and he could see the farm house well. It was smallish, but well maintained. People certainly lived here. Adam couldn’t believe his luck. Only a half-hour walk from where he had been forced to land his plane he found help.

He stepped up on the porch, and knocked on the wooden door. He waited for a full minute, hearing no sounds of stirring from within. He checked for a doorbell, but there was none, so he banged on the door again. He heard footsteps. The light that he could see through the window began moving. Adam stepped back from the door. Why would the light move? The door opened. A solid-looking, old man stood there with an old fashioned hurricane lamp in his hand. The man said nothing, but a look of surprise and wonder sprang to his face. It was such an overblown expression, that Adam nearly laughed out loud; it was like a cartoon character’s reaction.

“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you so late like this, Sir,” Adam began, “but I’ve been in an accident. I crashed my plane about a half an hour in that direction,” he pointed to the southeast, “and I was just hoping I could use your phone.”

The man stared at Adam a moment longer, and then actually shook his head, as if he was, again, a cartoon character, unable to believe what he was seeing. He spoke, “Phone? Uh, we don’t have that here. No one in the village does either.”

Adam’s brow furrowed. No phone, that was weird. “Oh, um,” Adam didn’t know what to ask next. The possibility that there would be no phones had never occurred to him.

“Why don’t you come in? You can stay here tonight, and tomorrow we’ll see what we can do to help you out. My name’s Ols, by the way.”

“Ols, nice to meet you. I’m Adam.”

“Oh, like our first father.”

“Um, yeah.” It took Adam a moment to realize what he was referring to. This Ols guy must be some kind Bible nut.

Ols brought a thin mattress out to the living room, along with some sheets, a blanket, and a pillow. As he made up the bed, Adam noticed a woman watching from the dark hallway, an old solid, Nordic-looking woman, a lot like Ols. She must be his wife.

“All right, young man, have a good sleep, and we’ll see what we can do for you on the morrow.”

“Thank you,” said Adam, and he laid down on the impromptu bed. The mattress was filled with straw, Adam noticed, and he wondered if he would be able to sleep on it. He also noticed that the cloth of the sheets and blanket was very rough. Maybe they spin it themselves. Do people still do that? After all he’d been through in the last few hours, he was just too worn out to think much about it. He drifted quickly off to sleep.

#

#

The smell of sizzling bacon and eggs brought him out of a dreamless sleep. When he opened his eyes, he found that he was again being watched. Four people, ranging from age ten to perhaps twenty stared at him as he woke. Their mouths, which already hung agape, opened wider when he woke.

The youngest turned to the others, “his eyes are black!” he said with wonder.

The oldest, a pretty blond girl with soft blue eyes, reached out a hand, and clamped it over the youngest boy’s mouth, “hush, Jens, don’t be rude.”

“Why does he look different than us?” the boy said, pushing her hand off of his mouth.

She clamped her hand down further, “hush!”

Adam smiled, he was feeling a little embarrassed, being gawked at like an animal at the zoo. “Hi,” he said, “I’m Adam. What’s your names?”

The oldest girl flushed, smiled shyly, and said, looking down, “My name is Yvette.”

The next in line, a teenage boy, said, “I am called Lars.”

Next was a younger girl, maybe twelve or thirteen. “My name is Ola.”

Last came the curious scamp. He was towheaded, like his brother and sisters. In fact, they all had exactly the same shade of hair. Same clear blue eyes too. If they weren’t all different ages, he’d guess they were sets of twins. “I’m Jens,” he said loudly.

His overloud declaration brought his mother into the room.

“Ah, I see you’ve awaken. Come for breakfast, all of you.”

Adam arose, and followed the family to the dining room. A rough-hewn table stood adorned with a hearty breakfast. Adam noticed that everything looked homemade, not the food, but the utensils, plates, and glasses. Do they blow their own glass? And how do you make your own silverware?

Everything here looked handmade. The children’s clothes, homespun cloth sewed into rough dresses or pants and shirts; the furnishings, the cupboards and so on and so on everywhere he looked. Some of it was finely crafted, but most looked like the work of someone who made it because it was needed not because it was their craft. Strange folks, he thought, are they some sort of survivalists? Am I in some sort of religious cult? Are they hiding away from the world out here in the desert? Is that why everything is homemade?

The mother bowed her head, and the children followed suit. She asked a blessing on the food, the household, and the family. Adam felt a little uneasy during the prayer; his family was not religious. Her prayer continued, and she asked for a blessing on Adam, thanking God that his plane came down safely, and asking that he could be returned to his home and loved ones soon. She finished the prayer, and the family began eating. It was delicious. As he ate, Adam noticed that everyone at the table was staring at him, but when he met their eyes, they looked down, embarrassed.

Halfway through the meal, Ols burst in the door, dressed and dusty with work already.

“Ols, dear, come sit down and have some breakfast,” said the mother.

“Certainly, Hedda,” he said, and plunked down in a chair. He grabbed bowls and plates and loaded his own dish with a hearty helping of everything. He began shoveling food in, chewing rapidly. He looked at Adam several times through this, but each time Adam returned his gaze, Ols looked down, almost ashamedly. Finally, he spoke.

“Adam, I’ve been trying to figure out how we can get you home all morning. I went out to look at your plane, but I couldn’t get close enough.”

Couldn’t get close enough? Adam was about to ask him why, when Ols plowed on.

“Anyhow, I figured after breakfast, I’ll hitch up the horse and we’ll go over to Ingmar’s farm and see if he has any ideas.”

Breakfast wrapped up, and all the children helped their mother with the dishes. A hand-pump contraption, like something Adam had seen in old movies, supplied water to the sink. Ols told the children to take Adam outside and show him around the farm, while he continued getting the word out about the village meeting.

Yvette led him out into the yard, the other children trailing behind like baby ducklings. It was growing abominably hot outside, but they all wore long pants, sleeves and skirts. Adam was pretty certain that he had landed in a nest of bible nuts. He thought they might even be a wayward sect of Amish. As Yvette showed him the barn, the livestock, the plows, and the rest, he noticed that they didn’t have any of the modern trappings of farming. No monstrous combine, no tractors, hell, not even any electric lights. As far as he could tell, Ols plowed his land by hitching the plow up to a mule and whipping it across the field. Not that Adam was an expert at farming, but he was still certain that gas-powered tractors had been the standard for 70 or 80 years, maybe longer. Why was this place living in a bubble out of time? He didn’t want to be rude, so he tried not to mention his puzzlement.

Yvette and the other children treated him very strangely as well. They all stared at him continuously; sometimes they would reach out and touch him, as if they expected that their hand would pass through him. Adam supposed that they seldom saw strangers, but so many of the comments coming from the children baffled Adam.

“He has dark eyebrows!”

“Why doesn’t he look like us, Yvette?”

“Isn’t his dark hair amazing?”

“He’s so short!”

“Why is his skin so white?”

Even people who saw strangers infrequently knew that there were other types of people in the world. It wasn’t like he was a black man in an all white country club or a white man in an African village, either. He was a dark-haired white guy in Nevada. Not really all that rare. How could these kids be so mystified by him?

At the same time, Adam was completely mystified by everyone he’d met here. They all looked a little bit too similar–closer than any non-identical twins looked. It was weird, but like twins, they were only similar in looks, not in actions. They all seemed to have their own personalities, and he got on very well with these kids, especially the oldest, Yvette. She was absolutely beautiful, in a clean fresh, country fashion. And she seemed to be unable to look away from him (although how much of that was him and how much their strange fascination with his different looks, he didn’t know). He knew he wouldn’t be here too long, but he wished there were some way he could get to know her better.

#

#

Ols brought a horse drawn wagon around to the front of the farm house, and beckoned for Adam to climb aboard. Yvette came running out of the house, and begged her father to allow her to come along. When he relented, the other three children appeared and begged for the same privilege. Soon, the whole family and Adam were loaded into the wagon, heading to the closest neighboring farm.

The entire ride, everyone in the family took turns staring at Adam. Then Jens decided he wanted to sit next to Adam. He shoved his way into the space between Adam and Yvette. Then Ola did the same on the other side. Adam was bummed when Yvette had to move to the other side of the wagon to balance out the load.

The unusual comments kept coming from the kids, and they all found reasons to touch Adam as he sat in the wagon. At first he didn’t realize what was going on, but it soon became apparent as their excuses to do so grew more and more flimsy. Adam was feeling increasingly claustrophobic as this continued, until he finally had to speak up.

“Okay, guys,” he said, “Um, I need you to give me a little space.”

He had tried his best to be as inoffensive as possible, but he could see that they were embarrassed all the same. At least they slid a little bit further away, and gave him room enough to breathe.

They arrived at Ingmar’s farm, and Ols leaped down from the wagon. He knocked on the door, which was opened by a man who could have been a mirror image of Ols, except that mirror images are at least reversed. Ols began explaining Adam’s arrival and predicament to the man, as all the kids jumped down from the wagon’s bed.

Adam caught Yvette by the arm, and asked, “Is this your Uncle? Your dad’s twin?”

A brief look of alarm passed over her face, then she reined it in, and said, “Not exactly, but we are related.”

Adam’s unease only increased, as Ingmar’s wife came to the door to stand beside him. Another mirror image, this time an exact replica of Ols’s wife. Then their children began appearing. They only had three, but once more, they were exact duplicates of Ols’ family. There was a daughter that was identical to Yvette, although she might have been a year or so younger, and she also wore her hair in a different fashion; a son that, down to the freckles on his nose, matched Lars; and a second son that exactly matched Jens.

Adam’s mind boggled.

“Adam, would you come over here for a minute, please?” called Ols from the doorway.

The children came out onto the porch to see their friends, but stopped in their tracks when they saw Adam. He walked past them, and each one reached out and touched him as he went. Their behavior spooked him even more than it had when the other children had done it, before he’d seen that everyone had a doppleganger living at the next farm.

“Do you know how to ride a horse, Adam?” Ols asked.

Adam took a deep breath, fighting back his fear. He looked at the two identical men, and said, “No I don’t. I’ve never ridden a horse before in my life.”

“What about a wagon? Can you handle a wagon pulled by a horse or a mule?” This question was asked by the other…the mirror image of Ols, Ingmar.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Adam said, trying to be politic, “I’ve had even less experience driving a wagon. I’ve got a driver’s license, and I even have a pilot’s license, but I don’t know animals whatsoever.”

“Well, here’s the problem with getting you out of here, Adam. None of us can take you out…because, well…we just can’t. Um, we’re willing to give you a horse and a cart to drive out of here with, but if you can’t handle it, you’ll only be in more trouble than you were in before you found me. The desert out here can swallow people whole.”

Adam squirmed under the stare of the other man. The man’s eyes were bulging and his mouth was agape. Adam found it hard to even pay attention to what Ols was saying.

He pulled his wits together enough to respond. “And nobody here has a car? Or a truck? Or anything like that?”

Ols shook his head.

“Well, maybe, if you could give me several water containers, and some good directions, maybe a compass, I could walk to the closest town?”

Ols turned to look at Ingmar, who shook his head.

“It’s probably a hundred miles from here to the nearest town, Adam. I don’t think it’s wise to attempt something like that.”

They went on for a few more minutes, but could not come up with an idea that worked, although several possibilities that seemed perfectly suitable were never entertained. For some reason it was not possible for someone from the village who knew how to handle a horse to take Adam to the nearest town. Finally, Ols gave up. He loaded everyone into the cart, and they set off for the next farm, belonging to a man named Bjorn.

When Bjorn appeared at the doorway, looking identical to Ingmar and Ols, Adam knew that something was going on. This was definitely not a normal town. It was way beyond what simple inbreeding could account for. Something unnatural was happening here.

The meeting occurred almost in identical fashion to their visit to the last farm. The same ideas were tossed out and found inadequate. The same perfectly feasable ideas were rejected. The whole time, Bjorn stared at Adam in amazement.

Adam was starting to understand their amazement with his looks. If everyone here was just a doppleganger to each other, then he could be the first person they’d ever seen with black hair. Maybe they didn’t even know a person could have black hair. But that’s not possible is it? he thought. There must be some kind of reasonable explanation for the fact that they all look exactly alike.

“We should get the rest of the village together, have a meeting. Maybe if we put all our heads together, we can come up with something to help Adam out,” said Ols.

So it was decided. They sent several of the children hustling off in different directions to roust the village, and Ols, Adam, and Yvette climbed back aboard the wagon, and returned to their farm. The meeting was set for noon the next day. Adam really wanted it to be sooner, because he was becoming increasingly disturbed. Ols commiserated with him, but said that he simply had too many things to do at the farm to devote any more time to Adam today. Adam couldn’t object, Ols was feeding him, housing him, and taking care of any other needs he might have. If he returned to civilization a day or two later, he felt sure his employer would understand, considering the fact that he’d been in a plane crash, after all.

When they arrived back at the farm, Ols rushed off to take care of his chores, and Yvette and Adam wandered around, talking. Adam was happy to be left in her company. Not only was she quite pretty, but he felt safe in her hands as well. If she turned violent, he assumed he could overpower her easily enough.

They sat on old fence posts, swinging their feet back and forth.

“You look exactly like that girl at the other farm, Yvette,” Adam said.

Yvette looked down.

“How is that? You said she’s not…well even if she was your cousin, there’s no way you could look so similar.”

“I shouldn’t say,” was her reply.

He felt bad wheedling at her like this. He liked her a lot, for more than just because she was pretty. She’d been sweet and kind to him, and even strived to treat him like a normal person, unlike her brothers and sisters, who’d all ogled him, touched him, and talked about him behind their hands. It seemed likely, though, that she was the only person he would ever get the story from.

“Well, she might look like you, but you’re a lot sweeter than her.”

“You don’t even know her, Adam, she’s really sweet too.”

“I can’t believe that she could possibly be as sweet as you. I’ve known a lot of different girls back in the city, and none of them were even close to as kind and sweet as you are.”

She smiled, and looked down again. Her shyness was very becoming as well.

“So, is it a secret then?” He asked. “Is it some kind of sordid family secret?”

“No,” she smiled, her teeth dazzlingly white.

“But you can’t tell me?”

He continued on like this for nearly an hour. Alternating compliments with questions. His persistence finally paid off.

“I can’t tell you, because, well, if I do, bad things will happen,” Yvette said.

“Why would bad things happen?”

“Our town isn’t like other towns. Our ancestors that first settled this area warned their children to stay away from the outside world.”

“Because you are all the same?”

“Yes.”

“Why are you all the same?”

“I don’t know. Why are you different? I’m just as amazed at how different you are from me as you are at how we are all identical.”

“But everyone in the world is different. There are billions of people in the world and they are all different,” Yvette looked dubiously at him. “Well, there are twins. Sometimes, an egg splits, and you get identical twins, but there are just two…maybe three identical people. You’ve got a whole town full of them. It’s impossible.”

“Well, we all look the same, but we have different personalities. So, we’re not the same.”

“Okay, Yvette, there’s this thing called cloning. Instead of your normal, a man and a woman have sex and make a baby, they take genetic material…um, you don’t know what that is do you? They take a piece of a person, and use it to grow a new person, and they have the same DNA so they’re basically identical twins with the original person. They are clones. Is that what you are? Clones? But you need a lot of science to make that stuff work…” Adam trailed off. He thought he’d had an insight, but he realized that it was still impossible what he was seeing.

“No you don’t,” Yvette said. “You don’t need any science. I’ve never heard this word ‘clone’ before, but yes, Adam, that’s what we are. We’ve always called ourselves golems, but I suppose it’s the same thing.”

Adam had never heard the word golem before, unless she was actually referring to Gollum, the character from those Lord of the Rings movies, but he couldn’t see any relation between this beautiful woman and that freakish, computer-animated creature.

“I don’t understand,” Adam said.

“My dad and mom made me, Adam.”

“Well, of course they did, that’s what happens for everyone, Yvette.”

“No, it wasn’t like you said, a man and a woman have…what was it?”

“Sex?”

“Yeah, I don’t know that word, but that’s not what happened. My mom and dad made a mannequin out of burlap sacks stuffed with straw and sawdust. Then my mom put some of her hair in. They caught a bird, and used its soul to make me.”

“What?” Adam was stunned.

“They cast a spell on it, and I was born. My parents made me, like those clones you talk about. We call ourselves golems, because we’re made from inanimate pieces, but we’re not really golems, because we have souls as well. You don’t have to have science; magic works as well.”

“You’re messing with me aren’t you, Yvette.”

“No, Adam, it’s the truth. Our ancestors came from Sweden 130 years ago. A man named Jorgen and his wife Hetta. Hetta knew a lot of folk magic that had been passed down to her from her mother. On the ship, during their passage, she met a Jewish magician who taught her of golems. She combined her own magic with that of golems, and created the spell that made us.”

Adam couldn’t understand why Yvette would spin this yarn. It was obviously crap, but she seemed genuine. She was a completely different person than he’d thought, if she could tell a tall tale like this with that guileless look on her face. It couldn’t be true. But there had to be some sort of explanation behind this all.

“But why make these…golems?”

“They were lonely. All the other settlers who had come to our village gave up and left. They couldn’t have children in the normal way, so they made them with a spell.”

“I’m sorry, Yvette. Do you really believe what you’re telling me is true?”

“You think I’m lying? That’s probably why were not supposed to talk about it. I guess people won’t believe us.”

“Or they’ll fear you,” Adam said.

“What?”

“Well, people are always afraid of what’s different. I have to admit that I’m a little afraid myself. You seem normal and real and everything, but you just told me you’re made of straw and sawdust.”

“I was, but now I’m as real as anyone else is.”

Adam reached out and touched her hand. It felt normal–soft, white skin, not burlap and straw.

“You seem as real as anyone else is, but…” Jeez, he’d wanted to try to get her into the barn for a roll in the hay. She was the hay. It seemed like something too silly or crazy to be believed, but the evidence was right in front of Adam’s face. These people were all exactly the same, all cut from the same cloth, or burlap, or whatever. Straw and sawdust?

Yvette and her family had been nothing but kind and helpful to Adam, yet he was suddenly afraid in their presence. How could he get out of here right away?

The first of the other children, who had been sent to the homes in the village to tell them about the meeting, drifted back into the yard.

It was Jens, the youngest. “Hi, Adam, Yvette.”

His appearance put an end to their conversation. Yvette hopped down from the fence post she was sitting on, and went to her brother. Adam watched them as they spoke about the family that Jens had visited. In his mind’s eye, two forms made of sacks of sawdust wiggled and capered. They’re like living scarecrows, like the guy in the Wizard of Oz. Adam shivered. It was getting dark now, and cooling off, but the shiver was for something else entirely.

The other two children arrived back shortly, and soon after that, their mother called them all in for dinner. The entire time, Adam was walking on eggshells. Now that he knew what was going on here, he couldn’t look any of them in the eye. He ate his dinner, then complained of fatigue, and asked to go to bed as soon as possible. He didn’t know what else to do. What he really wanted to do was flee out into the desert, but he knew that he wouldn’t likely make it back to civilization alive. He was still entertaining the option of making a break for it when everyone went to sleep. Maybe he could boost one of their horses and carts. What was he thinking? He wouldn’t even know how to hitch the horse up, and he sure couldn’t ride one. What could he do?

He lay in bed, staring at the rough hewn ceiling. These people were freaks of nature, and they were holding him captive. He couldn’t stand it any longer. He pulled his covers off, dressed silently, and tiptoed to the front door, carrying his shoes in his hand. He slipped the door silently open, and snuck out onto the porch. He sat for a moment on the steps to put on his shoes, and then he dashed out of the farmyard. He jogged for what seemed like a mile or two, then slowed to a walk.

He trudged through the dark, feeling safe at last, now that he was away from the freakish golems. A sage bush brushed his leg, causing him to jump in fright. Fear of the golems quickly gave way to the fear of snakes, scorpions, and coyotes. Was the dark night likely to be inhabited by dangerous creatures? There was no moon in the sky tonight, so he could barely see ten feet in front of himself. Would it be too late when he saw them coming? He wasn’t an exceptionally fast runner. Maybe this was a mistake, he thought.

He couldn’t really explain why he was running. He was just afraid of those people–those things–back in the house. They were some sort of unnatural zombie scarecrows or something. He shivered again at the thought. They seemed real in every way he’d seen so far; to the naked eye they were human, but, as in fairy tales and stories throughout history, the monster lurked just beneath the skin. Did they have skin? It had felt like skin, not burlap, but was it actually burlap, and the magic disguised it, or was it really changed to skin?

He trudged on. In his mind’s eye, he saw Yvette’s shy face, confessing the secret, then looking down in embarrassment. He felt bad running out on Yvette. She didn’t deserve his disgust or fear. She was decent, kind, and loving. Her father was admirable as well. He was all those qualities and more–Hard-working, good-mannered, helpful. In reality, none of them deserved his disgust or fear. Everyone had treated him so well. How many doors would he have to knock on back in Reno before someone would say, “Come on in, sleep the night on my living room floor, and tomorrow we’ll feed you, and try to find you some help.” Probably a thousand, he thought. Yet these people were convening a town meeting, involving every person in the village, to solve his plight. So different from what he knew. Maybe it was because they weren’t real people, just golems, that they were so selfless.

Before he’d heard their secret, he was becoming accustomed, even enchanted, by their quiet, slow lifestyle. He really liked Yvette too. It was so wrong of him to run off in the middle of the night and spurn their hospitality and help. In the end, if he didn’t go back and accept that help, he’d probably die out here in the desert.

He’d expected to see some sort of search for him before now. His plane had never made it to its destination, so they knew there must be some problem. Maybe all he had to do was wait a few more days and help would come to him. And Ols and his family were good folk. He owed it to them to at least see them as people. What was he, after all? Was he like one of those Ku Klux Klan racists that saw people who were different than him as less than human? These people were indistinguishable from humans. He couldn’t tell the difference. He supposed that they, in fact, were human. It didn’t really matter how you made something if it turned out right in the end, did it?

He turned around, and headed back to the farm.

#

#

He heard Ols banging around in kitchen early in the morning. Despite his aching legs from last night’s walk, he got out of bed, and went in with him. Ols was surprised to see him.

“What are you doing up so early, Adam?”

“Well, I’ve never been on a farm before, so I thought I should take advantage of my opportunity while I’m here. Can I help you with your morning chores, or at least watch?”

“Sure, Adam, come on, I’m going out to milk the cows as soon as I eat myself a piece of bread and butter.”

They both walked out to the barn, chewing on homemade bread and home-churned butter. It tasted natural, and marvelous. Milking a cow was not as easy as Ols made it look. Adam squirmed every time the cow moved. He expected it to kick him in the head with its large powerful-looking legs any time. He managed to squeeze a pail of milk out of one cow, but once he’d decided he was done, Ols took his place and squeezed several more cups worth that he’d not gotten. Adam didn’t mind, he was just proud of himself for what he had managed.

The two of them spent the morning going from one chore to another. After milking, Adam pitched hay for the cows to eat, then he fed and watered the chickens, gathered the eggs, slopped the pigs, and on and on. It was amazing to him how much work there was to do on a farm. Just as amazing, though, was how much he enjoyed doing the work. He’d spent his life behind one desk or another. First in school then at a job. He’d never really worked a day of labor like this in his life. It was invigorating to use the muscles in his body for something other than pushing up a barbell or running on a treadmill. Bodies were meant to work, he realized, and it felt good to do so.

As they worked, Adam noticed that Ols stared at him.

“Do you stare at me because I look different than anyone in this village does, Ols?”

“I’m sorry,” Ols said, “It’s not polite to stare. I should watch my manners.”

“Yvette told me what goes on here, why you are all the same.”

“She what?”

“She told me. You’re made by magic. You’re golems.”

“Okay, so, what are you going to do?”

“Nothing, I guess. I’ll hang around here until you guys can figure out a way to get me home, or until someone comes looking for me.”

“Oh.”

“Are you afraid of discovery? Is that why you can’t take me to a town in a wagon or whatever? It would only be one of you with me, so there wouldn’t be any questions, I’d think.”

“Not quite, Adam, it’s part of the spell. It’s only good within about ten miles from the spot where the spell was cast. If we go further, we’ll die.”

Now it was Adam’s turn to be at a loss for words. “Oh,” he said.

“Is someone going to come looking for you?”

“Well,” said Adam as he tossed another pile of hay down from the loft. “Usually, when a plane doesn’t arrive at its destination, they start looking for the lost pilot. Steven Fosset was lost in the Nevada mountains for months before his plane was found, so you never know how long it will take, but my plane is just sitting there on the desert floor, so I don’t think it’ll take them that long. Sooner or later, someone will come.”

“That’s not really good news for us, Adam. We’re supposed to stay away from outsiders. My daddy told me that, and his daddy told him that. It’s worked for us so far, but you’re here now, and you know our secret. Will you tell others?”

“I don’t see the point of doing that.”

“I hope that’s true, Adam. Tell me, you ran out last night, but then you came back. Why did you come back.”
Adam felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He thought he’d been quiet enough last night that no one had known he had gone anywhere. “Well, after Yvette told me about everything, I’ll admit, I was scared. You guys aren’t natural, you’re something else. I didn’t have a good reason, but I was scared, and so I made a run for it. I knew I stood a better chance of survival here with you, but I ran for it all the same. But as I ran away out there in the dark desert, I realized that you’re not really different. Were the same, no matter how we came about to begin with. I could tell that from my experience with you. I had no reason to be afraid of you, and alone in the desert I’d surely die. Was it worth it, to die of thirst in the sand because of a sort of prejudice? I figure it wasn’t, so I came back.”

“That’s nice, Adam. I’m glad to hear it.”

“I was right, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you aren’t going to harm me or anything, now that I know your secret?” Adam asked.

“Adam, I’ve been taught since I was young that a man should only do to others the things that he would like others to do to him. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that before, but out here, we all live by that. Even if it might mean that someone will come along and destroy us, we won’t be trying to kill them back in return. Jesus said, “turn the other cheek,” and I think he meant it. No, Adam, we won’t hurt you in any way. We don’t even know if we really have souls, but we follow the commandments all the same, because it’s just the right thing to do.”

“And, you and I, were the same, right? I mean you’re as human as I am, even though you were created differently. Like, when you get cut, you bleed, right?”

Ols leaned his pitchfork on the ground, reached up with his hand, and scraped it across a tine. His finger opened up, it wasn’t a bad cut, but blood apeared on his fingertip.

“That’s what I thought,” said Adam. They finished up their chores in silence, then went in for breakfast.

#

#

Matt looked in the window of the downed plane. Things were pretty shaken up in there, but the pilot wasn’t inside. He could see the remains of a trail of footprints heading away from the plane.

“Hey, Tim, you see this?”

Tim, one of the two others in Matt’s search party, strolled over, and looked where Matt was pointing.

“Yep, I see it. Looks like our missing pilot headed off in that direction looking for help, huh?”

“Go tell Rob to park it. We’re gonna follow these tracks to see how far they lead us.” Rob was the helicopter pilot. Hopefully, thought Matt, this guy, Adam, hasn’t gone far, or died in the desert already.

#

#

After a bumpy ride, Adam and the others arrived at a building that looked like an old west trading post. Yvette explained to Adam that it was exactly that. Local farmers brought all their surplus things–blankets, candles, glass, clothes, or whatever they’ve made, and they traded them with the other farmers for things they lacked.

People milled around the store, waiting for the meeting to begin. As they approached, Adam’s mouth dropped open. He knew what to expect, but he hadn’t been properly prepared to see it. He could see that there were, in fact, only two different people in the whole town–a man and a woman. About fifty people stood here, but they were all the same person at different stages of life.

Straw and sawdust and the soul of a bird, thought Adam for the hundredth time. He was again assailed by the urge to hop from the wagon and run into the desert in search of safety and…normality.

But he’d made his choice. These people were different from what he knew, but they were good people. They deserved his trust at least. He hopped down from the wagon, and joined the crowd.

It was like Ols’s family’s reaction, only tenfold. Everyone in the crowd gasped when they first saw him. They all rushed him, reaching for him, touching his face and body. Adam wondered if this was what it was like to be a rock star, like the Beatles or Michael Jackson in the height of their fame, when people mobbed them, screaming and grasping. Or was it what it was like when Cortez arrived in the new world, and the locals mistook him for their great white god, descended in the flesh. Whatever it was, Adam couldn’t wait for the town meeting to start, and this treatment to stop.

#

#

Tim was in the lead; he was probably the best hunter of the bunch so it was most likely that he’d be able to follow the tracks. He stopped walking suddenly, and made a strange grunting squawk. Matt caught up to him, and saw what he’d found that had caused him to make the noise. Their faint trail of footprints had suddenly been joined by a large mass of other footprints. It looked like a large group of people had found the guy. Matt, Tim, and Rob conferred, and decided to follow these new prints. They would be simpler to track, for there were many of them, perhaps six or eight people had made these tracks. Matt squinted, and thought he saw a building in the distance in the direction the tracks were headed. Maybe there was some farm out here that had taken their guy, Adam, in.

#

#

Adam stood on the porch of the trading post with Ols, and stared out into a pool of identical faces. He fought the urge to shiver. Ols explained the situation, and asked for suggestions of what they could do.

“Does this outsider know about us?” shouted someone from the crowd.

“He’s seen us! How can he not know?” shouted another.

“We can’t let him leave here,” shouted still another.

“He’ll tell everybody.”

Ols raised his hands, trying to settle the crowd. Adam gulped. This meeting was not going the way he’d expected.

“That’s enough, everyone,” Ols yelled. “What are you folks doing? You’re going to make our guest here think we’re not good Christian folk.”

The growl of angry voices subsided to a murmur.

“Yes, we here have a secret that we keep from the outside world. We live the way we do to avoid their scrutiny. I’ve spent a day or so with Adam, and I think he’s a trustworthy man. If we ask him not to tell others about our secret, I think he will honor our request. Adam?”

Adam stepped forward and raised his voice to the crowd. “Ols is telling the truth. I’ll honor your request. I’ve spent time with Ols and his family, and it’s been wonderful. They are good people, and I’d never do anything that would hurt them.”

“How can we know he speaks the truth?” shouted someone in the crowd.

Does he know about us?” shouted another.

Ols raised his hands, and the crowd quited again. Adam had assumed, because Ols and his family had been so peaceful and friendly, that this meeting would be about how to get
Adam on his way, not about the possibility of not allowing him to leave.

“Yes, I know your secret,” Adam said, and a gasp sounded through the gathered throng. “I was frightened and confused at first, but it’s okay, I’ve come to terms with it. I promise that I will never reveal your secret to anyone. However, we need to figure some way to get me out of here, because eventually, searchers are going to come looking for me.”

The crowd erupted into panic at that revelation.

“Come looking for you?”

“People are coming here?”

“It’s what Jorgen and Hetta said would happen!”

“Send him away!”

“Let him fend for himself out in the desert.”

Fear glazed the eyes of two men who stepped forward and grabbed Adam by the shoulders. Ols tried to pry them loose.

“No, Erik, Gregor, take your hands off him!” shouted Ols, “This isn’t right. We’ll be okay. Don’t be afraid.”

A gunshot rang out, and the crowd immediately silenced and looked around for the source. A woman screamed when she saw, with the rest of the assembled town, three men, all holding rifles standing in behind the crowd. Matt, Tim, and Rob, the search party, had followed the trail of footprints to the village, and walked in on what seemed to be a mob about to run amuck.

“What the hell is going on here, folks?” Matt asked, undeniable authority in his voice.

Adam looked at the anxious faces in the crowd. The fear that had set the crowd off, had descended upon them before they could even try to throw Adam out of town. He hoped that the searchers wouldn’t notice, in the tension of the moment, that every face looking back at them but his was identical. But it was not to be.

“What’s going on here, Matt? Look at them? They’re all the same!” Tim, standing on Matt’s right, appeared ready to run. He lowered his rifle, pointing the barrell at the crowd. Rob, looking more confident than Tim, lowered his rifle as well. Adam could see Matt’s face changing from confident leadership to fear, apparently he’d just realized that he wasn’t just dealing with a mob scene, this was an unnatural, science fiction mob scene.

Tim’s trigger hand shook, and Adam knew that if he didn’t act, this scene was going to devolve into something truly horrible. He stepped forward.

“Are you from the search party? Are you guys looking for me?” he asked.

Matt nodded slowly. His gun was still pointed skyward.

“Oh, that’s so great,” Adam said, “These good people were just trying to figure out how to get me out of this back woods town and back to civilization, but now that you’re here, we won’t need to do any of that.”

“So you’re Adam Hirch?” Matt said. “That’s great. There’s a lot of people wondering what the hell happened to you.” Matt set his rifle butt down in the dirt, holding it now by the barrel.

“Thanks for coming,” Adam said, smiling. The situation seemed to be diffusing, but Tim and Rob had not lowered their rifles, their barrels, like cyclops eyes, still staring menacingly at the gathered villagers.

“We got a helicopter parked off that direction, near where your plane came down. I suppose we should head out.”

“That’d be great,” Adam said, “Let me say goodbye to these folks, they’ve taken good care of me while I was stuck out here.” Adam turned to Ols, and spoke in a much lower tone. “We’ll have to make this quick, Ols. Those guys look like they still might panic and start shooting at any moment. Thanks so much for everything. You’re a good man, and you have a wonderful family.” Adam stuck out his hand, and Ols took it in a crushing grip.

“Thank you, Adam, for coming, for helping, for trusting us, and everything.”

Adam then turned to Ols’s children, giving them each a quick hug. When he reached Yvette, she wasn’t satisfied with a simple hug. As he moved in, she leaned forward and kissed him hard on the mouth. It sent butterflies dancing in his stomach. He hugged her to him, and squeezed as tight as he could. It was their last interaction, but their first kiss. Adam regretted how it had turned out. He wished the knowledge of her origin hadn’t spooked him so much. Things could have been better.

“Thanks for everything, Adam,” Yvette said.

“Thank you, Yvette, for trusting me. I hope I didn’t disappoint you too much.” Adam turned to the search party, stepping down from the trading post’s porch. “Okay, I’m ready.”

Matt barked a command in a sharp voice, “Rob, Tim, let’s go.”

Perhaps it was the way he yelled it, combined with Tim’s nervousness in the situation, but when Matt yelled Tim’s name, what Adam had been desperately trying to avoid happened. Tim flinched, and a shot rang out from his rifle. The bullet struck one of the villagers in the chest. She fell backwards, and the spell that animated her broke. Her body transformed from flesh and blood back into straw and sawdust. A pile of burlap sacks landed on the ground, and a live bird suddenly flew away from falling shape.

Tim’s nervousness turned instantly into panic. “What just happened? What just happened?” he repeated again and again. “I didn’t mean to shoot, it was an accident!”

“Matt, that person just turned into rags or something. What the hell is this?” shouted Rob.

Tim was beyond waiting for an answer, however. He cocked his rifle, and shot another villager. Again, the spell broke as the bullet tore his body apart. A rodent of some sort scurried away from the man-shaped mass of burlap sacks.

Tim screamed, “They’re monsters, Matt, they’re monsters!” The villagers screamed, and began to scatter.

Rob fired his first shot, and another villager went down in a mass of burlap and sawdust. Adam turned and ran to Yvette. Ols was grabbing his children and running for cover. Yvette stood, mouth agape, unmoving. Adam took Yvette’s hand and yanked her along behind him. Another shot rang out, and another spell was broken.

“Yvette, we’ve got to get out of here. Where can we hide?”

“I don’t know, Adam!” Yvette screamed, “There’s nowhere!”

She was right. Most of the villagers had run around to the back side of the trading post, since it was the closest cover, and one of only two buildings in sight. Others were hiding inside of it. Adam couldn’t be certain, but he guessed, now that the search party knew what they were dealing with here, they would shoot every one of these unnatural people.

His suspicions were confirmed when he heard their leader shout, “They went around back. Don’t let them get away!”

Adam saw the family’s cart sitting a hundred feet from the trading post, the horse dancing skittishly. It would be a long dash through open, unprotected space, but he knew that if he stayed here with Yvette, they’d die along with the rest of the town. The men might be surprised when Adam didn’t dissolve into sawdust, but by then it would be too late.

“Come on,” he said, pulling Yvette along with him, dashing for the cart. Gunshots rang out everywhere, and Adam felt ridiculously exposed. One bullet passed close enough to him that he could hear it whiz past his ear. Then he was jumping into the cart behind Yvette. He grabbed the reins, snapping them down on the jittering horse’s back. The cart shot forward, and within minutes the sounds of the fighting faded away. Adam wondered if that was because they were far enough away that they couldn’t hear, or if everyone was now dead.

#

#

Yvette had a good hiding place at her farm. A root cellar under the barn, with nothing but a trap door as an entrance. They sat, huddled together, in the dark for hours. At one point they heard footsteps in the barn above. Several hours later, they decided it was safe enough to come up and see what had happened.

First, they returned to the trading post. They found no one alive there. Piles and piles of burlap sacks filled with straw and sawdust littered the ground inside and out of the building. Nothing moved. Once Adam thought he’d seen someone, but on further investigation he only found a small, gray rodent. It brought tears to his eyes. Yvette sobbed continuously. Now she knew why their first ancestors had told them to stay away from the outside world.

They went to the other farms, wandering through them in search of any survivors. In the end, they found one little four-year-old girl, the only survivor aside from themselves. She was crying, and wandering her farm in search of her parents. She had been at home napping through the whole ordeal. Her older brother had been left at home to tend her during the meeting, but he was now nothing more than a pile of cloth and dust. The search party had found him, but apparently missed the sleeping child.

They brought her with them as they made their way out to where Adam had crashed his plane days ago. The girls waited behind him, stopped at the spell’s border. The helicopter had gone, taking its bloodthirsty force with it, but they had set his plane on fire before leaving, and it was now no more than blackened cinders.

Adam, Yvette, and the child followed his footprints from earlier in the week back towards Yvette’s farm. Adam had briefly entertained the idea of staying in this village with Yvette before he learned what she was. Her nature had originally scared him away, but now he knew that there was no other decision to be made. He certainly wasn’t going to leave here without these two girls, and the girls couldn’t follow him, or they would break the spells that kept them alive.

Before this all happened, he would have been horrified at the possibility of a life spent farming the desert in Nevada. Now, he could think of no better way to spend his life. Perhaps he and Yvette could even make a few golem children of their own to be brothers and sisters to this orphan that they had just inherited. He was certain, no matter what happened, that once they overcame the horrors of this day, they would live out their remaining days in happiness.

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