WEDNESDAY: Prairie Crossroads


Copyright is held by the author.

SUMMONING THE Devil is against Christian teaching. Standing out where the section roads crossed, Calvin pressed away the idea. But the lifeless homestead, the endless prairie, weighed on him. He’d turned 19 the day before, yet supper this night was no different than any other. Nothing was ever going to be different.

As his family ate in silence, he stared at them across the kerosene-lit table. Father was sure their prayers were enough to stop the cattle fever and gave no thought to quarantine. While Momma pined for the chance to go to town, to make a new friend. She did nothing all day but chores. He glanced at Mary. He knew his sister lay with the boy from the next homestead. The shame of it did not much trouble Calvin. It was the plain stupidity of the boy.

On an excuse to check on the stock, he fled the table and drifted out through the paddock. He let himself out the gate onto the section road, taking care to hook the wire loop back over the post to secure the cattle. The sky was indigo and moonless. Star-shine lit Calvin’s way, silvering the wheat stalks bending in the breeze.

Soon he was supposed to marry Sally Earl or one of the Martin girls. Put up a house and settle on the back section. Raise wheat and cattle. Live out a pious life here among his people.

He blew out a long breath.

The wind and the steady chirr of cicadas blunted away the features of the prairie, and of his life. They ever had and ever would.

He dropped to his knees in the dust, and began in a whisper.

“Where are you, Devil? Let me bargain with you.”

His voice grew to a shout into the wind.

“I’ll trade my soul for anything. The things in the picture shows. A life in a city. Away from here, anywhere else.”

His voice softened.

“Help me, Devil. Please.”

The roar of the cicadas became a silence. The Devil did not answer. A chill had crept in to his knees from the cold soil.

Calvin stood and dusted off his trousers. He squinted back at the low kerosene flicker of the homestead. He heard his breath in the night air. He could not go back, not to retrieve the books the schoolmaster had given him, not to say goodbye, or he would never be able to leave.

He re-checked the gate. One of the nails holding the wire loop was loose. A strong wind could unlatch the gate. He picked up a rock to hammer the nail back in. Sparks disappeared into the darkness as he struck the nail. He stepped out the gate and closed it and looped the wire back over the post. He tugged at the gate once more and found it snug.

He didn’t look back at the farmhouse. He turned for the depot. The road ahead faded into darkness, but for now, star-shine was enough.


Image of John Mahaffie

John B. Mahaffie is a futurist with a love of the past. He writes short fiction and flash, and is at work on a novel. John’s fiction is often set in history. He lives and works in Washington, DC. His stories have been published online in Reflex Fiction, Brilliant Flash Fiction (where he was also in their 2014-19 anthology), Lowestoft Chronicle, Syncopation Literary Journal, The City Key, and Literally Stories.