Owning a farm had been Perry’s dream. After he died, earning a down payment on the old place he and Dara looked at and coveted from the windshield of the road had required years of hard work at the diner, but Dara was determined to own it, and her frugal management of the tiny amount of life insurance money, along with some endless nights behind a coffee counter, finally paid off.
The most imposing structure on her newly acquired 177-acres was a barn built in 1878, and when the trees lost their leaves in the fall, it was tall enough to be seen from I-70, a mile away. Every time he passed it, whether he was on the phone with her, or she was in the truck with him, Perry would say, “There’s our barn, baby.”
Massive and full of dark places, some of the beams retained original bark-dry tree trunks held in place with wood pegs. Quakers had erected it to hold 50 head of cattle with dirt floors beneath a cathedral-like hay loft. Perry had fully intended to park a Freightliner in it and finally have a shop big enough to work on his beloved truck. But Perry was gone, and the Freightliner he loved so much was, too.
A cow barn or truck shop no longer, a myriad of tiny creatures now called the barn home. Bats hung from the rafters, raccoons raided the loft, snakes slithered from beneath wet stone slabs, and mice multiplied by the millions. Wasp nests clung to walls and a hornet hive too big for a grown man to wrap his arms around dominated the highest peak.
She was happier than she could remember being for a long time. Though much work needed done, Dara was certain she could handle it. Renovations on the house were almost finished, she could soon channel funds into barn repairs. Eradication of stinging pests came first, then maybe purchase of a cow or two. Being busy helped her forget how much she missed Perry. She was finally able to put her grief aside and focus on their future – hers and Donna’s.
These plans played out in her mind as the daughter Perry never knew played in the yard. She was six months pregnant and full of hope the last time she had heard his voice. He was robbed and beaten to death inside a rest area bathroom for eleven dollars and a cell phone, and she never heard his voice again. She refused to succumb to the pain of the senselessness and forced her attention to the little girl clambering on the tire swing.
They had both fallen instantly in love with the tire swing; the girl had spent countless hours twirling and humming to herself in it.
“Hey, does Mommy get to swing?”
“Mommy, you’re too big to swing. Don’t be silly. Push me.” Green eyes smiled.
Dara often feared the delicate rosebud might never grow old. She stood behind the swing and pushed her little blossom, Donna, watching her hair trailing in the breeze like golden smoke.
“Mommy, there’s a man in the barn who watches us.”
Dara jerked the swing to a stop and pulled the girl close. “You are never to go into the barn. You know that, it’s dangerous.” She looked toward the huge barn doors. “There’s no one living in the barn, honey. Don’t be silly.”
“I don’t go in the barn, Mommy. I never go in the barn. Even the man says not to go into the barn.”
“How does the man talk to you if you don’t go into the barn? I watch you from the window when you play, I’ve never seen anyone else out here with you.”
Donna wiggled and squirmed and begged to be pushed some more. “Mommy, just push me! The man doesn’t come out of the barn, he just tells me things in my head.”
Dara held her breath a moment, heart racing.
“What kind of things does the man tell you, honey?”
Dara felt a cold chill, a prickly sense of déjà vu.
“Mommy, PUSH! He tells me that one day you will come into the barn and be with him forever. He loves you, Mommy, he’s Daddy and he has a big truck and watches over us and he’s waiting for you… now PUSH meee!”