The Child Who Became Ferren Reeve
by Rick Hollon, 3.49am May 10th 2022
The child who would become Ferren Reeve was pulled whole from the soil, there at the end of Murry Reeve’s field under the full moon of July. He was a knotted bundle of moonlight and bluestem caked over in clods of loam. Even when his teeth were freed and the earthworms brushed from his body, he had little to say. No one ever learned how he had been conceived or what had birthed him there in the seventh farm out from town. Murry kept the truth with him in a bottle until he died.
Ferren’s hands grew clever and spoke more for him than his tongue ever did. With them he shaped memories and clay, molding warm earth to suit any questions brought by the townsfolk. He held court from a wheelbarrow behind Murry’s barn in the shadow of a tallow lamp. His legbones grew an inch each night like the tallgrass beyond the eastern hills while Murry counted first nickels, then half- and silver-dollars from every tearful mother, each halfhearted engagée. Murry’s neighbors muttered but before long Murry bought them out coin by careful coin and swift trains bore them each away to quieter soil, where they could tut and fume in peace.
Murry had workmen erect a vast tent to shelter the congregants, but Ferren’s art worked best in the open rain. Ferren sat in a barrowful of earth from Murry’s field and listened to each of the townsfolk who parted the secret way behind the tent to pour their troubles upon him. Sometimes a field vole or a wayward carpenter bee would whisper him answers, but most times his swift fingers moved of themselves, pulling and rounding and preening the loam into an idol of a fallen lover, the augury of a wastrel husband, the jawbone of a weary mother-to-be.
Some found comfort in what his hands shaped and went away with warm tears and pressed an extra quarter into old Reeve’s fingers on their way out. Most only cried or stared numb at what the child molded them as something settled to ash deep inside. The crowds grew each night.
Come dawn, Murry bullied and cajoled the child into a bed in the root cellar, but the afternoon heat would find Ferren entwined in culm and coneflower at the field’s end, there in the wavering space between panicle and cloud, eyes weeping old dirt and fingers bloody from a rootless search in the ground. When Ferren made no move to escape Murry was content to leave him to sleep in the open air while he counted his coins and thumbed his deeds.
So it was that the bluebird found him.
“I brought you these,” the bluebird said, disgorging a palmful of grasshoppers. Ferren watched him blankly until, with repeated pecking, the bluebird persuaded him to swallow them. Claws and palps skittered down his throat. Ferren winced until they worked down into his stomach, where they burned.
The bluebird turned into a young man who parted the grass with restless energy, sawing his way to Ferren through the stems. His hair was the shock of a bluebird’s chest, his eyes dark and darting—a challenge, first, then turning aside, uncertain and shy. He planted his boots there in the bluestem and pulled Ferren to his feet. Ferren found he was taller than the bluebird by a sheaf. The bluebird’s throat was bare above open shirt, swallowing down the memory of song, a shadow of indigo, stubble soft as down on the curve of his jaw.
“I don’t want to be your death,” the bluebird said. His hand stole up to Ferren’s cheek, traced with a touch of reverence to the hollow of his throat. Ferren too had grown his own stubble, tough as the leavings of winter wheat. He felt the bluebird’s breath, hot as the sun on the September prairie, rustle the stalks of his hair.
Ferren touched the bluebird’s chest, only the tips of his fingers, but it was enough. Hearts rattled bird-quick. The two of them sat down, slow as the settle of seasons, facing each other. Ferren’s nimble hands stole into the earth and shaped his answer.
The bluebird wrapped clumsy fingertips around the image, dark eyes aswim. “I don’t want it,” he said, but slipped it into his pocket anyway, and flew off to where the orange of his chest was lost in the bygone neighbors’ abandoned wheat.
The next day the bluebird found Ferren in the same corner of the field. The bird became a man and stood over him, hands itching for feathers, dark eyes shut against his task. “I don’t,” the bluebird began, then dropped a knife at Ferren’s feet. He bolted for the sky before it struck the earth.
There—careful, careful. Ferren’s fingers brushed the roots at last, and skeined them upward to his soles, the base of his spine, the hairs on his chest, the root of his skull. He grit his teeth and cut them, rip and pull and a drop of blood into the soil. When it was done, he left the knife to rust in the field, and leapt with a bluebird’s lightness across the fence, leaving farm and father forever. Only blood followed him, pinprick bright for each footfall, to the end of his days.