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Shaken Loose

by Emmie Christie

1045 words
Listen to this story, narrated by the author

Sometimes in the night, when the dogs stopped barking at the cars along Route 40, the house ceased settling, and the wind came to a rest in the branches of the old maple by the farmhouse, Rachel sensed them.

She would rise from her bed with the sense of familiarity, her mind a wandering muddle of half-dreams. She slipped on her bathrobe, the tattered plaid with the upchuck stains from Whitley, and peered out of the window.

They always migrated in pairs, lumbering through the bare cornfields, outlined against the stars. In bed, Jarrod would sigh and turn over and stop snoring for a while. It wasn’t his fault; he couldn’t sense them. Neither could the dogs. All the better.

But as her hair silvered and wrinkles webbed the corners of her eyes, they migrated more and more often. Six or seven times a year. Then ten or eleven. She tried to untangle her dreams. Visions from deep in the earth, simpler joys and deeper sorrows, rising through the soil into sunlight. Her bare feet sensed the rocks, the dirt, the family tree.

One night, the light came on in Whitley’s bedroom, warning her of his sprouting mind. She went to find him by the open window.

“You must not speak to them,” she said, as he stared out at the huge moving shapes.

“What are they?”

Rachel folded her arms around herself. “You can feel it, right?”

He rubbed his shoulder. “They’re a—a part of the Earth?”

She turned him away from the window.

“Why are they so big?”

“Go back to bed. We’ll talk more in the morning.”

But she didn’t bring it up in the morning. She narrowed her eyes at him over their oatmeal, and he left to feed the pigs and the chickens. He liked the chickens, he’d even named all of them—hilarious, since they’d soon eat them.

The less he knew, the better. She’d existed so long alone before finding him, before harvesting him, a pebble in the night. Her little brother. If she told him too much, what if he couldn’t stop wondering?

• • •

Jarrod died 119 years later, even after all her efforts to sustain him. Near the end, he asked, “Did I make you happy, for a little while?”

She cried and said, “Yes, yes of course.” He’d figured it out at some point, it seemed.  

Whitley had taken to rubbing at his knees, as if he sensed the age in them and wondered at their elasticity. Maybe he’d cottoned on after the fifteenth dog had died. Well, good thing she’d never let him play with any kids or taken him into town. She’d had enough trouble convincing the locals that she just looked very much like her mother. Her grandmother before that. And so on. A kid that age? They’d run her out in no time.

After Jarrod’s funeral, she drove to town to buy essentials. She wanted apples to make a pie. A pie sounded nice, with some nice rough soil, maybe a deep vein of silver.

Did Jarrod sense anything, buried in the richness of the earth? Or would he just decompose, isolated from the roots of the world? Ugh. Seeing death did this to her every time.

The giants rose in front of her. They lumbered through their neighbor Seamus’s yet-to-be planted bean fields. They’d never come in the day before.

Rachel pressed hard on the gas pedal and did not look, trying not to give away that she could see them. Their forms had solidified, no longer outlines against the sky, but living faces, like Mount Rushmore—only more definition—had stood even taller and gone on a jaunt. They turned their heads and watched her car pass. Maybe they would think was a strange beetle.

She got her pie ingredients with shaking hands and drove home as fast as she could. They were no longer in the neighbor’s field, they had walked on—

No. They were at her farm, leaning over the house.

She’d watched them for so many years alone. But they could see Whitley now, and find him, even as she’d tried to hide him. Idiot!

She stamped the gas pedal. Fishtailed into the gravel drive.

Whitley, her smiling baby brother who named the chickens, who never complained. He must have daydreamed while doing chores. They only ever came when she couldn’t sleep. They visited the wandering minds.

“Whitley!” She shouted. He turned.

The giants turned, too.

“Come here. Get away from the house.”

“They go in pairs,” he said. “Don’t they, Mom?” The chickens milled around him, pecking at the dirt. He didn’t notice. “They go in pairs, because they’re lonely.”

Rachel swallowed. “That’s not—that’s not important. What’s important is that you listen to me. Get off the ground.”

He stepped towards her. The two giants swiveled their immense heads back and forth. One of them made a noise like a huge mill stone at work, trying to make words. She shuddered. Whitley rubbed at his shoulder, then his form shifted, his legs growing, pushing him higher, and his arms lengthening, and his neck elongating, and his chest expanding, and—

She screamed and rushed to her brother—his body no longer little. She couldn’t lose him; she couldn’t live on Earth without Whitley. She couldn’t live alone again. Not again!

The half-dreams came clearer to her now. Her own body shifted and molted in response. Her skin grew, her organs, her bones all increased, just like she had always known would happen if she got too close to them. She shouted in protest, shouted in the language of stone, in that rattling grind of something once buried deep in the Earth, made of the Earth.

“It is good to see you, children,” her father said, “See you as you as you truly are.”

“We planted you both so very long ago!” her mother said. “We have wandered the surface, waiting for you both to come of age. Now we have much to do.”

The bigness of her form felt right, like being able to take a full breath, her feet connected to the deepness and solidity of Earth. Shaken loose of humanity. Now she had her family.

What had she been so afraid of?

Emmie Christie’s work tends to hover around the topics of feminism, mental health, cats, and the speculative such as unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in Intrinsick Magazine and Allegory Magazine and she graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. She also enjoys narrating audiobooks for Audible. You can find more about her on her website, emmiechristie.com, or on her Facebook page @EmmieChristieFiction.

Issue 33

August 2021

3LBE 33

Front & Back cover art by Rew X