Dorian J. Sinnott
I’ll never forget that post at the far end of the field. It was old and rotted, wood splintered from years of weathering. Father said they used to tie horses to it after the plows returned at dusk. But we never saw any plows, nor any horses. All we saw was the post, and the circle of dirt around it where no grass ever grew.
I was only seven when the Fitch family agreed to take us in. I’ll admit, I was terrified at first. The gray, dreary orphanage had become so homey over the years, and looking back, it was all I had come to know. But for you, I know it was different. You were nearly twice my age, and memories of a world outside the walls were still fresh. You longed for freedom. All of us did. But there was something about the farms and fields that brought fear to my young heart. There were no streetlights around, no cars, no people. It was nothing like our temporary home in the city. On the farms, there was nothing but darkness. Silence.
On our first night at the Fitch home, I remember that silence. The stillness. There was no laughter from other children, no sirens in the distance. And there was no you. For the last three years, after the caregivers had turned us in for the night, you’d always let me sneak into your bed. But now, for the first time, I was alone.
Your bedroom was on the opposite end of the farm house, and the lack of light kept me from venturing the halls. The shadows were far thicker than in the city, heavy and foul. Endless. For the first few months, you’d tell me they weren’t anything to be afraid of; that shadows thrived out in the country, no different than flickering office lights in the city. But I was convinced otherwise.
There are shadows in the halls, I’d tell you. Ghosts in the walls.
Yet the only time you believed me was when I told you, there’s a monster in Father’s heart.
Before we came along, Fitch lived alone. He was a widower, his wife and young son passing from what he claimed was illness years before. He was always so quiet. Sullen. You told me it was grief; that having children in the house again most likely reminded him of his life before, perhaps even of his own son.
I know you tried. You tried with every bit of your might to comfort him, to please him. But the kindness was never returned.
Fitch made it clear to us that we were merely coming to live on his farm as extra hands—workers. He said the crops were full in the summer, and by winter, we’d be strong enough to do chores and manual labor. Me, on the other hand, he had time to wait on. And so, for that first summer, from sunrise to sunset, you’d be in the fields. Watching. Learning.
At first, you didn’t mind the chores. But as soon as autumn began to rear its head on the crest of dying summer, so too did the beast. Fitch’s stone-like exterior grew darker. More gruff. And that’s when the shadows fell heavier on the house than before.
I noticed only a few bruises at first, hidden under the sleeves of your flannel shirt. But as the weeks went on, they became darker. Deeper. Soon it was more than just on your arms. I spotted them on your back when you undressed in the late evening. And on your cheek. You’d always been the stronger of us—after all, you were the big brother. But I remember the tears. You tried so hard to hide them behind your puffy and irritated eyes. Pain poured out when it couldn’t withstand any longer. And so did heartbreak.
Even when there were no more crops to tend to as autumn began to fade into dreary winter, Father would have you in the fields. Learning. I’d watch from the frost covered windows. He’d stand over you, barking orders, having you dig. The frozen earth wouldn’t budge as easy as it had in the summer, and your cracked and blistered hands trembled with every attempt you made.
You had no coat; only your thinly worn out flannel shirt was left to cover you as you drove the shovel harder to the ground. I could see the tears pricking at your eyes again, even from behind the glass. With every failed attempt, Father only got more impatient. Angrier. I shielded my eyes when his demands became louder, and he grabbed your shoulders.
One night I managed the courage to slip into your room. Through the shadows and past the door to Father’s room. We knew he was usually fast asleep once the last light of day had vanished. A bottle of gin usually helped with that. I remember sitting at the foot of your bed that night, watching you with weary eyes. I wanted nothing more than to be away from the farm. To be back in the bleak orphanage.
“It’s not Father’s fault, Freddie.” Your words were soft. “I know he’s sad. He drinks. It’s not his fault. I… I just need to work harder.”
“But there are shadows,” I’d say again. “Shadows in the halls. Ghosts in the walls… And there’s a monster—”
“I know,” you’d say. “A monster in Father’s heart.”
You shifted under the covers, wincing from the marks left behind by your lessons. With a sigh, you glanced back at me before ushering me to my room.
“It’s called grief. That monster. He misses his wife. His son…”
I stopped in the doorway. “Bill… is he ever going to actually adopt us?”
“Next summer, maybe. If we work hard.”
Every day as autumn faded, you were back outside digging. I’d grown tired of watching from the window. I knew the routine well. It was always the same: you’d struggle with the shovel, barely breaking the frozen dirt beneath you. Then the words would begin, and the shouting, and the lashing.
It took until the first week of December for you to dig the hole as wide and deep as Father wanted it.
For a few days after that, the chores stopped. Father retired to his room and only made himself known for dinner. We spent the days together like we used to, playing board games and laughing over old memories. That was the first I’d seen you smile in months.
But your smile vanished just as quickly as it returned. You came to my room one afternoon, pale, with a look of dread on your face. I remember asking what was wrong. Are you sick? You told me we needed to leave. Back to the orphanage—anywhere.
I didn’t ask why. I didn’t get a chance to. You tossed a box of photos on my bed, silent. When I asked where you found them, all you could muster was, “wall”.
I fingered through the photos, carefully taking note of their contents. Children. So many children. About your age. All the photos weren’t on the farm, however. They were photos taken at various orphanages and children’s homes. All children taken in for “work”. But what caught my attention was the fact that they all had been crossed out. Thick, black marker struck across their faces. As if they were unworthy, and must be forgotten.
I didn’t know how to finish my sentence. Even at a young age, I knew very well what was going on. It was then my fingers stopped on the final photograph. The photo of Fitch’s wife and young son. The marks were old, but the ink was still dark and thick across their faces. Thicker than any of the others.
You wasted no time in gathering a few items in a knapsack, then waiting for dusk. At first, you told me to stay and wait, that you’d be back with help. But I begged to go with you. I pleaded. When you finally gave in and agreed to let me come along, your plans were foiled.
Father stood in the doorway, having overheard everything you proposed. His eyes were red and irritated, most likely from drinking, and his tone was deep. He called you an ingrate for wanting to run away, after all he had done for you. For us. How we were never going to be worthy of being his children. How no one had ever been worthy of being his children.
He dragged you outside through the cold night air. He shoved you to the ground before the hole you dug and threw the shovel beside you.
“Dig.” Was all he said. “You keep digging until I say you can stop.”
And so you did. You dug harder and deeper than ever before. Your calloused hands split open, staining the shovel in a sticky red. But you never stopped. Not until Father watched the sun rise over the fields. And then, he stepped in and yanked the shovel away. I couldn’t hear what he said through the tightly shut windows, but he stared at you—so closely—and I saw you flinch.
Once again, I watched as he dragged you, further into the fields. To the post.
Father always told us to never play near the post. He said it wasn’t safe, that the ground there was weak and we might fall through. He said, that’s why the grass never grew around it. Weak spots.
There were tears rolling down your cheeks as you begged him to forgive you. Yet, Father didn’t listen. Using the thick leather reins from a horse the farm no longer had, he bound your hands to the post. You squirmed and pleaded, wrists burning as the tight binds dug deeper into your skin with each movement you made. Your blood smeared against the wood—and for the first time, you noticed that yours wasn’t the only one. The post was more than just withered and splinted. It was stained in blood. Through the cracks, old and soiled.
After Father took you to the post, I never saw you again.
He told me that you were to stay out there all day, all night, as punishment. That this was the only way you’d learn your lesson. That you’d be strong. Strong for next summer. He told me you would be untied when morning came, and so I waited. I watched out my bedroom window, until the darkness flooded the fields, and there was nothing but blackness to stare back at me.
At dawn, you were gone. The leather reins had been removed, and you were nowhere to be found. Father was up early, making coffee, mixing it with his gin. He didn’t speak a word to me, and his expression was stoic. I went into the fields that morning, hoping that you had escaped in the night; that you had cut the reins free and gone to get help like you promised. But in the chill of the winter air, I felt the sting of solitude. I knew you weren’t coming back.
Father joined me outside not too long after that, with a wooden post in hand. He carried it over to where you dug the hole the night before—only now, it was filled back in. He secured the post into the dirt, and then hammered it down, deep, with the shovel. When he finished, he wiped his brow, and looked at me for only a moment.
“Don’t play near the post, my boy,” he said. “The ground’s weak. You might fall through. Couple years’ time, I bet the grass won’t be growing.”
At nightfall, I waited for Father to fall asleep before taking my knapsack and leaving the house. The shadows and darkness were thick as I crossed the field, careful not to tread near the posts, in case the soil dragged me under. I must have been silent, or Father under a heavy gin-induced sleep. He never woke, and he never looked for me.
I traveled as far as I could before I was picked up by an older couple. They told me I looked as though I’d seen the devil. At this point, I’m not sure I hadn’t.
It’s been almost twenty years, and I’ve moved back to the city now. I’ve always felt comfort in those lights and sounds. The shadows are few and far between.
I’d read in the papers some time back that children had gone missing near an old farm. Something about them being found buried in mass graves. I tried not to think of it. But still, sometimes I stay up late thinking about you. About the cold air that night. About the shadows, the ghosts, and the monster. And I still think about the farm. Graves. About Fitch. But, more than anything, about that post. The one at the far end of the field, old and splintered. The one where the grass around it never grew.