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The Rake

After four years of training and study at Iowa Technical College, Ronald Smith returned to his hometown of Maple Hill, Minnesota, a tiny town of 200 which was situated ten miles south of the Canadian border. He pulled up to his childhood home, exited his car, and breathed in the cold, fresh morning air. Autumn was here. The leaves were already turning yellow and brown and were falling to the ground. The grass turned gold in the light of the rising Sun. He entered the house and announced his arrival. The family home was two stories tall and quite spacious, but humbly decorated. The furniture was basic and utilitarian, and the walls were covered in simple light blue floral wallpaper. Being the youngest of five children, he remembered when the house was a lot more lively, but eventually they grew up and ventured off on their own. A small part of him still missed his two brothers and two sisters, and he wished he could see them again.

His parents emerged from the dining room with warm smiles. His father was a roadway engineer, and it pleased him to know that his youngest son was going of to build even greater things. After exchanging pleasantries, he told them about his time at the college and how he was going to start working on spaceship parts in Texas. When he asked them how they had been, they got anxious looks on their faces.

"What’s wrong?" he asked.

"Strange things have been happening since you’ve left," his mother replied.

"Like what?"

"Objects have been coming to life and attacking people at night."

"You mean like ghosts?"

"I don’t know what’s causing it, but if you choose to go out at night, watch your back."

"Why didn’t you tell me any of this earlier?"

"We didn’t want to upset you during your time at college."

The house fell silent. To relieve the tension, the young man changed the subject by talking about the colonies the American Empire was planning to build on the Moon. When noon came, he went down to the local bar and grill, sat down at the booth, and had a burger, some fries, and a beer. He looked to his right and saw that those old pinball machines were still there. He remembered playing them with his friends years ago. It had been a while since he had spoken to them and he wondered what they were up to. Seated next to him was Bill Oak, an old Sioux who owned a woodworking shop. Bill recognized Ronald and they struck up a conversation about what he had learned in school.

"By the way," Ronald said, "my parents told me that inanimate objects are becoming animate and attacking people around here. Is this true?"

The smile disappeared from the Sioux’s wrinkled face. "Oh yes. And these attacks are most frequent during autumn."

"Do you know why this is happening?"

"It all started shortly after you went off to college. Are you familiar with that new park next to the Baron’s estate on the outskirts of town?"

"I noticed it when I came back. Is there something special about it?"

"Greg Barlow is responsible for that. He inherited the Barony of Maple Hill after the death of his father Matthew. As a gesture of good will, he commissioned the construction of that park for the enjoyment of the townsfolk. While digging the hole for the fountain, they uncovered a Sioux grave. The workers felt uneasy and wanted to stop construction, but Greg merely took the bones and put them on display in his house like some grim museum piece. Ever since then, random objects have been floating around and attacking people at night. Just last week, a man was smacked in the face with a frying pan. Greg always dismisses these attacks by saying it was the work of ghosts. On many occasions I told him to put those bones back, but he always brushed me away. He doesn’t care because the problem doesn’t affect him personally. It’s a shame because his father was much more compassionate than that."

"I see. Maybe I can talk to him."

"You can try."

Ronald went down to the Baron’s house. It was two stories tall and made of dull gray stone. He rang the buzzer. A few seconds later, the large, paneled door opened and a strong, bald man with a wide chin poked his head out.

"May I meet with the Baron?" Ronald asked.

"The Baron doesn’t just meet with any commoner who asks," the guard replied. "You’ll have to schedule it. Wait, weren’t you the kid who got accepted into the Iowa Technical College?"

Ronald nodded.

"Give me a minute." The guard went back inside the house and came back out a short time later. "He says he’ll meet with you tomorrow."

"Thank you."

Ronald turned to his left and saw the Baron’s park. He didn’t have anything else to do with his free time, so he decided to take a stroll through it. He was impressed by how well it was maintained. The grass was cut just yesterday. Bright yellow Keep Off The Grass signs were a common sight. Large oak trees lined the paved paths, and ornate lamps illuminated them. At opposite ends of the park were old artillery pieces seated atop stone pillars. A large fountain was situated in the center, and around it were four stone benches. Ronald took a seat on one of the benches and watched the Sun set. Night fell over the land and the stars revealed themselves. He looked up and imagined humanity colonizing not just the Moon, but exotic worlds beyond the Solar System, and by contributing to the construction of great spaceships, he would help make that fantasy a reality.

He turned his head and spotted something strange in the light of a nearby lamp. He squinted his eyes and saw that it was a rake, standing upright, floating a few inches above the ground. His confusion turned to terror as the gardening tool charged at him. It struck him with its worn wooden handle and scratched him with its many thin metal teeth. The young man screamed and ran into town, the rake hot on his tail. He sprinted down the deserted streets, and in just a few short minutes, he made his way back home. He slammed and locked the door, then he slumped to the floor and caught his breath. He rose to his feet again and looked out the window. The rake was nowhere in sight. His parents rushed down the stairs and asked him what was wrong. He told them what happened to him, and his mother comforted him by patting him on the back. He went to bed, but he barely slept, for he feared that the rake would break through his window at any moment. On the next day, he went to Bill Oak’s woodworking shop and relayed what had happened to him.

The old Sioux nodded. "Now you understand that this is no joke. It is fortunate that the Baron agreed to meet with you today. With any luck, we can convince him to take this matter seriously."

The young man scratched his chin, then said, "I think I have an idea."

Later that day, Ronald returned to the Baron’s house. A minute after speaking to the guard, Greg Barlow arrived to greet him. His short hair and twirled mustache were as gold as wheat. His large stomach looked like it was about to burst out of his bespoke three-piece suit. He stretched out his flabby arms. "Welcome, Ronald. I’ve heard good things about you. Come on in."

The young man entered and the Baron showed him around. A large chandelier hung from the ceiling in the entryway. Elegant crown molding lined the tops of the walls, and equally pleasing baseboard lined the bottoms. Above the baseboard was finely crafted paneling, and above that was green damask wallpaper. All the wood was stained and varnished. A long red carpet covered the stairs, and another square carpet of the same color sat in the center of the room. Greg spoke at length about the landscape paintings which hung from walls and the fine pottery which sat atop short cabinets. He then walked to the other side of the room to a glass case, inside of which was the skeleton which was exhumed during the construction of the park.

"There’s something unique about these bones," Greg said, "something magical. An archaeologist told me that this long dead individual was once a shaman of some sort. He wanted to put the remains in the museum at Minnesota University, but I insisted on keeping them as a memento mori of sorts."

Ronald knew it would be rude and foolish to enquire about the strange things which happened shortly after the bones were unearthed and request to put them back in their proper place, so he nodded quietly. A while later, the Baron invited him to dinner and he accepted. Greg sat at one end of the table. To his left was his chubby wife, and to his right was his equally round son. Ronald sat at the other end. The chef made garlic butter steak and potatoes. As they ate, the Baron explained his family’s history. He spoke of how his great grandfather served in John Brown Jefferson’s army during his reunification of America, and how he was given the Barony of Maple Hill as a reward for his loyalty and hard work.

Upon finishing his steak, Ronald looked out the window and saw that the Sun was setting. "Say, would you mind showing me around the park? I want to learn more about it."

The Baron got up and grinned with delight. "I would love to."

The two men exited the house. Greg pointed out that the artillery pieces on display dated back to the American Warlord Era. He praised his gardener’s work, then remarked how his rake would mysteriously disappear from the shed one day and come back the next. Ronald held his tongue. Night finally arrived and the lamps turned themselves on. The two men sat on a bench next to the fountain.

"Oh, how rude of me," the Baron said. "I have spent too much time talking about myself. Please, tell me about your engineering studies. When will you start working on spaceships?"

"Soon, I hope," Ronald said. "I already have a house in Texas picked out. I’ll try to find myself a wife after that."

The Baron looked up, and upon seeing the waxing gibbous Moon, he pointed at it. "Imagine the cities we can build there. Imagine the riches that lie beneath the surface. If I ever live to see the day, I hope to go there myself. Perhaps I can buy a plot of land there. I wonder if you can grow food in Moon soil. Imagine growing Moon potatoes or Moon wheat or Moon yams. Imagine having a Moon farmer’s casserole. The possibilities are endless."

The air grew exceptionally cold. Greg’s nose began to run. He pulled out a tissue to wipe it, but the wind snatched it away and carried it towards one of the lamps. He got up and ran after it, huffing and puffing. He crouched down, grabbed it, and put it back in his pocket, but upon standing upright, he noticed a rake floating in front of him. He squinted in confusion. "Wait, isn’t that my gardener’s rake?"

The tool struck him in his bulbous gut. It was then he realized it was possessed by a ghost or some other supernatural entity. He screamed and ran away. Ronald sprung to his feet. The rake flew at him and tried to scratch his face with its metal teeth, but he ducked and darted off. The house’s door flew open. The guard bolted out, leaped down the stone steps, and landed on his feet. Greg and Ronald ran past him. The rake approached with the speed of an angry wasp. The large man had a hard time comprehending what he was looking at, but he still put up his fists. He threw a heavy punch, but the gardening tool spun out of the way and swatted him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. It then brought its wooden handle down in an arc and delivered a blow to his head, knocking him to the ground. The guard rolled, jumped back to his feet, and ran back into the house, shutting and locking the door behind him. Greg slowly approached the window and gazed cautiously at the empty street and the dark grassy field beyond.

"Where did it go?" he said. "It vanished as quickly as it appeared. What is going on here?"

"The dead are angry with you, Greg."

The Baron spun around and saw Bill Oak standing at the base of the stairs. He pointed a finger at him. "How did you get in here? I thought I told you not to bother me again."

The old Sioux approached. "The ghost of the ancient shaman is sending you a message. Return his bones to their rightful place or you will be haunted for the rest of your days."

Greg’s jowls jiggled as he shook his head. "No, no. You must be pulling some sort of elaborate prank on me. Who did you pay to have all this done? Who pulled the strings of that rake? Please don’t tell me Ronald is in on the act."

Bill furrowed his brow. "Do I look like the kind of man who would joke about this sort of thing? You have ignored this problem for too long. You must set things right before they get worse."

The Baron’s wife and son came down the stairs. "Greg," she said, "are you okay? We heard screaming outside."

The boy pointed at the old Sioux. "Who’s that guy?"

"We were attacked by a ghost," Ronald said.

"A ghost?" the woman said. "How dreadful!"

Ronald nodded. "It’s true. It possessed a rake and attacked us with it."

Bill pointed at the skeleton in the case. "And it was caused by those bones. They are angry. They want to return to their resting place."

Greg gave him a glare. "Hey!"

The chubby woman furrowed her brow and pouted her lips. "I knew it was a bad idea to bring that skeleton into the house. Greg, you need to put it back where it belongs."

"But I like my fountain."

The woman’s glare intensified. The Baron sighed and lowered his head. "Okay."

On the next day, he had the fountain removed and put the bones back into the ground. He then placed a stone cross atop the grave, and from that day forward, all paranormal activity in the town ceased.


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