Excerpt: On The Far Horizon

In advance of the publication of On The Far Horizon on August 31, here is a short excerpt from the short story Menthols and Pisco Sour:

She tasted of menthols and pisco sours. Jaime ran his tongue along her lips, savoring the flavor, before biting at her lip. He could feel her freeze a little at the sharpness of the pain, wondering if he was going to go further, and had to resist a smile. She was staring at him, looking up from the circle of his arms, where he pressed her in close.

Looking down at her and meeting her gaze, Jaime was unable to tell what exactly she was thinking. She was not lost in passion, not eager to see that he was either. No, she was watching him, a part of her reserved and standing off, to observe this. What for, he wondered, slightly unsettled. To cover his unease, he bit down on her lip again, harder this time, and was satisfied to see her wince and frown.

She had told him her name, but he did not remember it. They had met in some dive bar near Plaza San Martín in Lima, a dark and grubby place he sometimes went to when he wanted to be with the people, so to speak. It was across the street from a tourist hotel and sometimes he would meet American girls there, who were also deigning to visit the place, looking for a little danger. If only they knew, he thought.

This girl though, he had thought she was a prostitute, off the clock for the night. Or maybe not, maybe the bill would come due in an hour or two. She was light skinned, with mestizo features, and quite beautiful with long black hair, wide eyes and incredible tits. They were what had drawn his attention first. Her teeth were a little crooked and her clothes a little too tight and little too garish. Otherwise he would have expected to find her in one of the Miraflores clubs. Maybe, in a couple of years, if fate shone upon her, he would.

Tired of kissing, Jaime moved to pull down the shoulders of her dress and reveal what he was here for, but she pulled away from him. “I just need to go to the bathroom babe,” she said, patting his cock through his jeans. “Don’t unload this while I’m gone.”

He smiled and released her, or rather, she wiggled from his grasp. He walked over to the bed and sat on it, contemplating taking his clothes off, but decided not to. Let her take them off, that would be more fun. Absentmindedly, he flipped on the television, searching for a sports station while he waited.

They were in a hourly hotel, called El Encuentro, the sort of place where everyone ended up at some point or another. Boyfriends and girlfriends stealing away for that first time. Husband and wives who just wanted some peace from her parents and his children from the first marriage. Affairs, of course, and people like him. Impromptu customers.

As a result, the furnishings were very minimal. There was only a mattress and a sheet and two very flat looking pillows. Beside the bed there was a small table with a phone, and on the other side there was a large tub with jets. The place was immaculately clean. That was why he came here. It was something he looked for.

He flipped through the channels for a second time, unable to find anything to capture his interest. Even the porn channels weren’t exciting him. Where the hell was this girl?

As he looked up, determined to go to the bathroom and see for himself what as going on—maybe she was getting high; he didn’t like that, not around him—the bathroom door opened and she stepped out. The first thing Jaime noticed was that she had not taken off her dress to reveal those remarkable tits, which irritated him. The second thing was that she had a gun in her hand, which annoyed him even more.

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Excerpt: The Burned One

In advance of the publication of The Burned One on August 24, here is a short excerpt:

It was in a tiny corner of what was once the Austro-Hungarian Empire, near its southern extremities where conflict with its Ottoman neighbor was a constant, and where all the many blessings of modernity brought by the nineteenth century had yet to make their way, that the stories of the Burned One became a part of the local folklore. The origins of the tales are obscure. Few in these, even more modern times, can be found who can recall having heard them. In time, they will be available (if at all) only in the archives of the folklorists and anthropologists, who happened to find themselves in one of the five or six villages in the valley south of the Rudenka Mountains, two days journey north of the Danube.

I am here to record that I was one, though more an amateur than a true scholar. Not only that, I met the man himself in those mountains. Such a thing seems impossible as I write it now, but it is true. My memory has not failed. I have not gone mad or surrendered to hysteria. I am of sound mind and body, and the events that I recount here did, in fact, actually take place.

How strange a thing to be writing again after such an interval of years. I was a different person then than the one who puts pen to paper now. What compels me to return to it, after so long, I cannot say. So many things have changed, and so much has been lost in my lifetime, but perhaps I can save this small piece. Continue reading

Now Available: The Farthest Reaches

THE FARTHEST REACHES

SCIENCE FICTION

CLINT WESTGARD

A mission gone wrong in the vast depths of space. A strange artifact in a rancher’s pasture, that may or may not be of alien origin. A deadly contagion spreading like wildfire across the planet.

These and other stories explore the impossible choices faced by those who have lost everything and the fine line between faith and disbelief, reality and dream, silence and a scream. There are no simple answers in The Farthest Reaches.

A mindbending, universe expanding collection of science fiction stories that will take you to the edges of imagination.

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Now Available: The Horns

THE HORNS

HISTORICAL FANTASY

CLINT WESTGARD

It is the year 1625, in Cartagena, and nothing matters more to Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias than his honor.

When he discovers his wife has betrayed him with another, he kills her in a rage and receives a curse in return. The next morning he awakes to discover horns upon his head.

Strive though he might, he cannot rid himself of them. And so begins a journey to discover the person who can.

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Excerpt: The Farthest Reaches

In advance of the publication of  The Farthest Reaches on July 27, here is a short excerpt from one of the stories in the collection, Dream Logic :

She suspected, though she had no proof one way or the other, that this fallen realm in which her dream had her trapped was underground.. Perhaps it was the ever-present shadows and darkness, the days as the nights, whole and unchanging that led to this belief. Her existence here was immutable unmarked by any sense of the passage of time. She imagined a world of caverns, hollowed out and reconstructed into this strange habitat that seemed to her without purpose. A dream within a dream, she realized, and perhaps it was just the dream state thwarting her senses and not allowing her to comprehend all that she saw.

The last words of the voice came to her mind, dimly and half-remembered, as though that were the dream and not this. She was following one of her usual trails toward a dispenser that she was knew was still working. After that, if her dream went as it normally did, she would go above to one of the higher rings where there was a large room filled with desks with screens. Some of the screens still worked, after a fashion, and she would sit and watch them flashing their information and images, until she grew restless and started moving again.

This time, compelled by the words, she continued on along the ring, chewing on the block of foul tasting food the dispenser had given her. She often felt ill after she had eaten the food, though this dispenser seemed to agree with her more than the others. It was clearly degrading, as everything here was, and part of her knew that it was only a matter of time until all the dispensers failed entirely. Would her dreams allow that to happen, would her mind compel the machines to continue to work or would the logic of situation play out as it should? And what then?

Not wanting to dwell on that, disliking the sensation of dreaming and yet aware that she was in a dream, she pressed on, ducking through corridors. Rather than taking one of her usual paths, the ones she knew were safe and abandoned, she went to those areas that the Fallen inhabited. Not all of them were unhazardous, she knew, so she went with care, always checking each door she passed through to make sure it had not sealed behind her allowing her no escape.

One of the machines confronted her as she went, looming up out of the darkness, demanding her authorization. Its voice was disturbingly similar to the one that questioned her when she was awake, though they all sounded more or less the same. The flat monotone, parched of emotion.

“The area is contaminated. Please exit immediately. You are not authorized.”

She ignored it, ducking around its bulky frame and moving down the black corridor, the machine sounding an alarm that no longer functioned. The corridor ended at a door that was jammed, which she pushed and pried apart just enough so that she could slip through. She waited a moment to ensure it did not close on her and then turned to go further down the corridor, her path illuminated by a blinking red light along the ceiling. Was this the alarm the machine had started after her breach into his realm, she wondered, or was it from some earlier calamity?

There were a few doors off the corridor, but she knew by the shape and the markings on them that there would be nothing of interest in them. They were small rooms that had perhaps been used for storage or for those who had left to sit in and pass their days. Now they would be empty, or filled with the uninteresting refuse of the decay. At last she found what she had been looking for, a larger door than the others with symbols above its frames. It was open, its automation having failed, and she stepped through into a large chamber.

It was cavernous, the ceiling stretching up past the far reaches of her sight. There were giant tubes, fragile seeming cylinders, and pipes that curved and wound around on themselves, sheltered behind protective glass. Some glowed with dim activity while others were dark. The flashing red light was brighter here, more insistent, if that were possible. She ignored all of that, ducking around the artifacts of this previous age, looking for one of the Fallen. They would be here, she knew, the smell of them was undeniable.

After some searching she managed to find one. He leaned against one of the glowing cylinders, seeming to rest his head against it as he stared off into the distance. In spite of his faraway gaze she felt his eyes upon her, no matter where she stood as she considered her approach. At last, realizing that he would already have seen her anyway, she walked up to him directly. The heat coming from the cylinder on which he rested was tremendous. Instinctively, she crouched down as she moved forward, as though that would protect her from whatever force lay within the tube should it somehow be loosed.

Nothing happened as she came face to face with the Fallen man. The cylinder did not explode, as she had feared, nor did the man rise up and seize her. He continued to stare off into the distance, a leering grin marking his face. She eyed him warily, still unconvinced that this was not some manner of trap that he had lain for her. When he made no motion at all, after she had watched him for several minutes, she moved within range of his grasp, poised to flee at the first instant of motion.

None came and then she wondered if he were waiting for her to speak, to make plain her intentions. How did one address the Fallen? She had no idea, the machines mostly did not respond to her, perhaps it would be the same here. In this realm it seemed she had forgotten the tools of speech, though words still seemed to form as thoughts in her mind. She wet her lips and reached out to touch the man, thinking that if there were no words to speak, then this gesture might be enough.

Her hand had just brushed the cloth of his uniform when one of the machines seized her.

“You are not authorized. The area is contaminated.”

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Excerpt: The Horns

In advance of the publication of The Horns on July 20, here is a short excerpt:

In the year 1625 of Our Lord, in Cartagena, that magnificent and redoubtable coastal fort in the Viceroyalty of Peru, Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias awoke one day to discover horns upon his head. They were long and narrow, curving slightly upward from his forehead, not unlike an goat’s. Or a demon’s, as his servants and slaves whispered to each other upon seeing it. Most of them fled his house in the days that followed, for they had a premonition of the trials that awaited him.

These began, if there is such a thing as beginnings and endings, the day prior, when Don Santiago met some acquaintances on the streets beyond the Plaza de los Coches, where he had come from looking at some slaves on offer at the market. The full heat of the day was upon them and they elected to retire to a nearby tavern to take some sustenance there. One of the men, a notorious cocksman named Armando Gonzago, told the other men a salacious tale of his latest conquest, who he had been with that very morning while Don Santiago was at the slave market. So tempestuous was their lovemaking, Armando claimed, that they broke the baluster on the bed. All three men laughed at the thought of the poor cuckold who would return home to a broken bed and his wife’s poor excuses. Which he would no doubt believe, for Armando noted he had been so oblivious to this point that he did not suspect anything was amiss.

The three men finished their oruja and said their goodbyes. Don Santiago went about the rest of his day, giving little thought to Armando’s tale. It was evening by the time he returned home. As he let one of his servants wash his face with a damp towel, his wife called out to him that he would need to see to the repair of their marriage bed, whose baluster had somehow become broken.

Don Santiago went still at her words. “How did it become broken?” he said.

I only noticed it this afternoon,” she said, as though that were an explanation.

As if in a dream, Don Santiago recalled other instances of her evasions from his questions, other times when she had offered no explanation for strange incidents and absences. An incredible anger began to build inside him. His whole body seemed to tremble, as though assailed by a tempest. Words failed him.

When he recovered himself somewhat he strode into the bedroom to investigate and saw that, indeed, the baluster had been snapped in half. He strove to peer through the dim mists of his memory to that very morning when he had risen from bed. How had the baluster appeared then? Solid and whole, just as the frame itself. Now here it lay upon the floor, as broken as his trust in everything his wife told him.

Don Santiago called her into the room, demanding that she explain herself.

I don’t know. It was fine this morning, but when I came in this afternoon I found it so. Perhaps,” and here she lowered her voice, so that only he could hear, “the servants were about where they should not have been.”

Don Santiago stared at her, numb and cold, all emotion having fled. He turned to look at the mestizo boy who attended him when he was at home, but the boy would not meet his gaze. A terrible shudder overcame him, as though a spirit had passed across his grave. He bent down to seize the offending piece of wood and turned back to his wife, who studied him with a bemused expression on her face.

His rage returned to him, overwhelming, coursing through his veins like a torrential river. He struck his wife with what remained of the baluster, knocking her stunned to the floor. A trickle of blood ran from her head down between her eyes. Blow after blow he rained down upon her, until she lay upon the floor in an ever-growing pool of blood.

Servants were screaming, footsteps sounding throughout the rest of the house. Don Santiago could not hear them over the thunder of the pulse in his ears. His head ached and he felt exhilarated beyond belief. He looked from his wife to the mestizo boy who remained standing, his lips quivering wordlessly, too afraid to move lest he draw his master’s ire.

The baluster was still in his hand and he tossed it to the floor beside his wife, gesturing to the boy. He would not come, still staring in mute horror.

Here boy,” Don Santiago said, “listen. Go summon the Alcalde quick.”

The servant would still not move and Don Santiago had to drag him from the room to send him on his way. When the boy was on gone, he turned back into the bedroom trying to gather what remained of his thoughts. The Alcalde would need clear evidence that his had been a righteous fury, justified by his wife making him a fool and a cuckold. As he pondered this, he looked upon the broken form of his wife and saw her mouth opening and closing oddly, as though she had lost all command of it. Her body writhed on the floor, as if she were in the throes of an awful ecstasy.

One of the other servants tried to come tend to her, but Don Santiago chased her away with the baluster, forbidding anyone else coming near in a voice that sounded tinged with madness. He sealed the door to their chambers and crouched beside his wife. As he stared into her dying eyes, he tried to think of something to say, a fitting closure to their lives together and her utter betrayal of his honor. But his wife surprised him by speaking before he could.

I curse you, Don Santiago Alvarez de Armias, a feckless lover and inattentive husband, for all time. You will never rest easy again.”

With those words she died, before Don Santiago could summon a response. He remained crouched at her side, her curse reverberating in his ears. Though she had perished, he could have sworn he felt her hand upon his head and he leapt back from her in horror, falling to the floor at the edge of the bed. It was in this position that the Alcalde discovered him.

After, as he prepared for bed, Don Santiago would think that the strange moment—the seeming possession of his wife by an enraged spirit—had been fortuitous in the end. The Alcalde had arrived and witnessed the whole bizarre scene, with Don Santiago’s expression one of fear and madness. It was all of a piece with his claim, that he had been seized by an inordinate anger, a rage beyond all meaning, at his realization his wife had so utterly betrayed him.

He had answered the Alcalde’s questions, the notary scrawling his answers, as someone saw to the removal of the body. His servants cleaned the room as best they could and, when the Alcalde was done with his interview, everyone left him alone in the bedroom. Don Santiago stared at the bloodstained floor and his bloody clothes for a time, before snuffing out the candles and going to bed. The darkness seemed to swim around him, alive and sinister, before he at last drifted off to sleep.

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Now Available: The Woman Who Didn’t Speak

THE WOMAN WHO DIDN’T SPEAK

SCIENCE FICTION

CLINT WESTGARD

In a failing colony, one woman will do whatever it takes to survive.

Soon after their arrival on the planet, everything starts to go wrong. Crops fail. Strange fevers afflict the colonists. Terrible storms rack the settlements. All the while their supplies slowly dwindle.

In the face of such calamity many retreat into despair, refusing to leave their homes. Others embrace an optimism, oblivious of all facts. Marjiana chooses a different path.

A story that asks what you would do when there is no hope to be found in the farthest reaches of space.

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Now Available: The Dane

THE DANE

WESTERN

CLINT WESTGARD

Nels Sletkolem is having a red letter day. The Dane has just sold his cattle and has a bumper crop ready to harvest. This year is shaping up to be his best yet since he came to Sunnynook to homestead.

But as he brags of his success to anyone who will listen in the Sunnynook Hotel, someone from his past is lurking. They will be coming to see the Dane’s debts are paid.

And they will only accept payment in blood.

The story of when a past best left forgotten comes to call.

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Excerpt: The Woman Who Didn’t Speak

In advance of the publication of The Woman Who Didn’t Speak on June 29, here is a short excerpt:

1

There was no light in the sky when Marjiana rose from bed. The red sun—which she had yet to grow used to in the fifteen years she had lived on this planet—remained hidden from sight behind the horizon. It did not feel like home this place. Not even after all this time living here, not to mention the extended journey to arrive at this destination. It was still a place she had come to, not a place she was from.

And also the place she would be spending her remaining days, however many they might be. For there was no leaving here, no matter how much they all might wish to.

That was a thought best not dwelt upon, especially not first thing in the morning, lest it cast a shadow over the rest of the day. There were shadows enough in this place without bringing more into this world. Life was hard enough as it was.

She did not turn on any lights in the house, preferring to move about by feel, and wanting to preserve their reserves of electricity for necessities and emergencies. A splash of cool water on her face after brushing her teeth was the only luxury she allowed herself. That and the coffee she set to boil atop a gas burner . It was not real coffee, but she had mostly forgotten the taste of the real thing. This was near enough, and even the supplies of it were dwindling.

Day by day all their supplies were dwindling. And what would remain when they were gone?

Another thought best put aside. There was a long day’s work ahead and Marjiana did not need to join those who had succumbed to the settler’s melancholy, remaining in their homes, leaving their fields to ruin, waiting for starvation or the elements to release them from their suffering. Not that it wasn’t tempting. But she had four mouths to feed—five if one counted Kjessel, and she supposed she had to. He was her husband, after all.

When the coffee was ready she drank it, savoring each drop, closing her eyes to listen to the stillness around her. Neither Kjessel nor any of her sons were awake, and none of them would be until after the sun rose. None of the neighbors were up and out in the fields either. The quiet—so strange, at first, after a lifetime spent on a planet with birds and insects, or on the vessel that had brought them here, where there had been a constant hum and hiss of systems at work—was now something she treasured above all else.

It was the one thing she would take from this failed world, if she could. Given there was no leaving here, it was her only solace.

She could hear someone stirring in one of the other rooms and, taking that as her signal, she rose from the kitchen table and went out to the fields to begin her day’s work.

2

Garuhj, the hetman, welcomed them all to the main square of the settlement, embracing many of the women and clenching the hands of the men, beaming from ear to ear. He had been elected hetman in the fifth year of the settlement, the first time the crops failed. They had failed twice more since then, to say nothing of the rhesus fevers, which had killed more than half of those in the settlement. Yet his beaming countenance remained unchanged.

Even now, as the crops began to show the first signs of the strange rot that no one could determine the cause of, Garuhj maintained his outward optimism. Marjiana suspected his own thoughts were not so positive, but the hetman was a politician above all, and versed in projecting confidence. She considered him a thing to be suffered, no different than the rot and the fevers, another of the burdens of this place to be endured.

Welcome Marjiana. Danjiel. Codij. Jeriem. I hope you are all well. Kjessel is not joining the celebration?”

Marjiana shook her head.

He’s not well,” Danjiel said, a little too quickly.

The hetman did not notice, his gaze already going beyond them to the next family of settlers he was to greet. In the celebration that followed, Garuhj gave his usual speech, marked by his typical platitudes and his claim that hope was necessary, in spite of all that had gone wrong.

When we set down on this day, thirteen years ago, it was to an uninhabitable rock. We knew there would be trials and tribulations, and no doubt there have been. Not all of us have survived them, and we would be remiss if we did not remember them. But we need to honor their memory and sacrifice by recognizing what we have achieved, which is so much.

Where once there was a barren windswept landscape, now there is soil, there is air and there is water. All the necessities we require to survive. Instead of looking at all those places where we have struggled and failed, we should look at what we have achieved, and recognize that we have it in us to survive here.”

Garuhj’s eyes flashed with emotion as he spoke. He truly believed. But the celebrations that followed were tepid, everyone only too aware of the failures of the colony. For they were in evidence all around them. The cloudless sky that promised no rain yet again. The thin soil they trod upon, from which little could grow, and which seemed to contain the germ of the rot that ate at what did.

Even the food at the celebration was a sign of failure, for it was taken from the ever-dwindling supplies the vessel that had brought them here had carried. Intended to tide them over during the first lean years after the terraforming was complete, they had been unused initially during those bountiful years, only to become absolutely necessary now.

As Marjiana and the boys prepared to take their leave of the celebration and begin the walk back to their home, about a kilometer from the central square of the settlement, Garuhj intercepted them, barely hiding his concern.

Leaving so soon?” he said. When no one replied, he added, “What’s this I hear about you not speaking anymore?”

Marjiana did not reply, shrugging and motioning her one hand slightly in dismissal in reply. The hetman blinked, unsure how to respond.

She started a month ago,” Danjiel said, flushing red under the hetman’s gaze.

What other symptoms does she have? Has the doctor seen her?”

Oh, she has no symptoms. She just chooses not to speak,” Danjeel said as Marjiana nodded.

Garuhj seemed unsure of himself. “I will ask the Fenon to come by.”

Marjiana frowned and shook her head, with a finality anyone might have understood.

Of course, I understand, but what about your sons?” the hetman stammered.

It’s no problem,” Jeriem, her youngest, said. “We understand her fine.”

Garuhj looked as though he wanted to say more, to argue that Jeriem could not possibly be telling the truth, but a look from Marjiana stopped him short. She led her sons back home, aware as she left the celebration that a number of those present had been watching her conversation with the hetman very closely.

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Excerpt: The Dane

In advance of the publication of The Dane on June 22, here is a short excerpt:

Nels bellied up to the bar, pushing past two young bucks. He shouted to Harold for a beer, slapping his hand on the table. “Goddamn Harry. Goddamn.”

“You’re hot as a poker,” Harold said, grinning as he filled a mug with lager. He handed it across the counter to Nels. “What’s got you fired up anyway?”

“Today is a red letter day, my friend. My wallet is full and I am going to drink my fill. That I guarantee.” He spoke with the faintest of Nordic accents, that the few Swedes in the area found unplaceable. They had never met a Dane from Slesvig, as he was quick to say.

“Good for you, Nels,” Harry said, reaching across to give him a slap on the shoulder.

Nels nodded his thanks and took a long pull on his beer, wiping the suds from his mustache. He was well known in Sunnynook, but then everyone was. It was a homesteaders town of about a couple hundred, bigger than most of the others in the area because it was on the railway and had a station house and an elevator. Farmers from thirty miles or more would bring their grain and cattle here to ship and sell.

That was what Nels had been doing as well, selling his cattle, to somebody down near Hanna. For a hell of price, as he kept thinking to himself, while he slapped the counter of the bar in rhythm to a song that only he could hear in his head. If harvest went off half as well as the cattle, well he’d be looking at his first great year here in the five since he’d settled.

He was a latecomer, compared to most everyone else. Most of the families had been settled here fifteen or twenty years. They’d built up their lands—or in the case of a good many, failed and buggered off somewhere else—and turned their sod shacks into sturdy houses. Nels was still working on that.

He was only one man himself, so he only needed one room, as he always said. And the cold of the Canadian prairie wasn’t so bad. No worse than his winters in Denmark. The damp there got into you worse, he told everyone. Went right to the bone and you couldn’t get it out, no matter what you did.

Not that he wouldn’t mind one of those catalog houses, ordered up and the plans and pieces sent in on the train. And if this year went like he thought it might…well, hell, he might be building next summer.

He finished off the last of his beer and waved at Harold for another, just as Wally Lindback tapped him on the shoulder. Nels turned to look him over and shook his hand. “What are you doing here, boy? Aren’t you too young to be in a place like this?”

“Dad would kill me if he found out,” Wally said, with an agreeable shrug.

Nels laughed. “I’ll spot you a beer.”

“Thanks,” Wally said. “Saves me asking. You seem flush tonight.”

“Been a hell of day, Wally. Hell of a day. Sold the cattle. Got a fine, fine price, I don’t mind telling you.”

“That’s great. And you got that crop coming too.”

“Still have ta get it off,” Nels said, though his grin said he thought that would be no problem. He waved the bartender over and ordered a beer for Wally and another for himself.

“Dad’s still broken up about his,” Wally said, a shadow passing across his face.

Nels frowned. “Yeah, that’s a hell of thing. That’s farming though. And he’s not the only one. Hail took a lot of good crops this year. Not mine for once though, not mine.”

Harold brought the two beer over and Nels passed one on to Wally, peeling off some bills to pay the tab. He raised his glass and Wally followed suit.

“Yeah,” Wally said, taking a sip of his beer while he looked past Nels at the others in the bar. “I wouldn’t maybe go telling everybody about your good fortune. They’re liable to get jealous.”

“Oh folks here are good,” Nels said, unconcerned. “Most are good farmers like your dad. They understand that some years will be good, some bad. You learn to roll with what life gives you. Can’t do otherwise.”

“Yeah,” Wally said, taking another drink. “Yeah.” But he did not appear to believe it.

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