It Could've Been Worse
By: Gabriella Balcom

After parking his tractor in the barn, Fred turned it off and wiped sweat from his forehead with his handkerchief. The heat wasn't the only thing bothering him, though. His workday had been much longer than usual. It had been harder than most, too, what with the strange holes he'd discovered on the acreage he'd plowed and readied for planting yesterday. Priding himself on his down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach to life, he knew he hadn't overlooked them, and holes couldn't just appear out of nowhere, but there they'd been. Strangely, they reminded him of pictures he'd seen of moon craters.

Over the past few months, other farmers in town had discovered the same thing, some of them suggesting asteroids had fallen. Fred had snorted at that idea. He had a different, more logical theory, suspecting pesky neighborhood kids were to blame, finding a new way to pull pranks.

They'd certainly cost him valuable time today, forcing him to till the ground again. He'd worried about loose pockets of earth deep down, or something else he couldn't see, so he'd gone over the same area several times before leveling it back out.

Fred stepped down from his tractor and felt something move under his feet. Losing his balance, he fell, landing on a rake. He yelled out at the sudden pain in his stomach as the tines punctured his skin. Stumbling to his feet, he felt light-headed and swayed. When he raised his shirt and gingerly touched the small wounds, his fingertips came away red.

"Dang," he muttered. "Well, it could've been worse."

Fog rolled into the barn–a typical occurrence, given the nearby lake–and wafted past him. It reached the rake and hovered, drifting back and forth above the bloody tines.

The movement reminded the watching man of a cat rubbing against a scratching post or luxuriating in a patch of catnip or sunny spot on the ground. But he snorted at his own whimsy and turned his attention back to his belly.

Fred, dabbing at his wounds with his handkerchief, didn't notice the fog changing color from a translucent gray to a faint reddish tinge.

He trod heavily toward the open doorway, but gasped, stopping abruptly. His eyes widened, and he reached to touch his back where a scythe was embedded between his shoulder blades, his sweaty, light-green shirt darkening.

The nearby wall covered with tools and farm equipment shimmered faintly, and a machete flew from its hook, striking Fred's right shoulder with an audible thunk. A hoe rose from where it leaned against a pile of pallets, flipping blade-side up. It soared toward the man, the blade impaling his forehead, and blood ran down his face.

More tools left the wall, striking and slashing Fred's body. A pair of shears pierced his neck, going straight through to the other side.

His mouth gaped open in a scream, but all he could manage was a faint gurgle. He collapsed on the ground, blood pooling around him.

Tools dropped beside him, landing in the blood, and the red pool grew smaller and smaller until no trace of it remained.

A thump signaled a door shutting somewhere close by.

"Where are you, Fred?" a man called from outside the barn. "You big lug, you haven't forgotten our plans, have you?"

"You ready for a nice, cold beer?" another man asked. "We are."

All the tools rose from the ground. Soaring through the air, they re-positioned themselves where they'd been previously just as Fred's buddies walked into the barn.

The End


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