Henry knelt and jammed his hand into the ground. He pulled out a fist full of dirt.
It was bone dry. His crops were dying. The animals on the other side of the farm weren’t faring much better. Climate change had taken quite the toll on his small farm.
I can’t catch a fucking break around here.
He stood and wiped his sun-burnt forearm across his brow. Henry could feel like sweat trickling down his spine. He had been turned down for a loan just a few months ago.
He glanced over at the greenhouse he couldn’t afford to complete. His feet felt cemented to the ground. He looked down at the dying grass under his boots.
The weeds don’t even want to grow.
Henry tried to swallow but his mouth was as dry as the cracked ground underneath him.
His parents knew hard times. But nothing like this. Banks would give them money when they needed it. And sooner or later, rain would come.
Henry prayed. He believed. He asked his friends and family for help. He swallowed his pride.
But everyone in his life has given up on his farm. His family had been career farmers since they came to this country two hundred years ago. And now the farm was nothing but dust, dying plants, and underweight animals; a barren wasteland.
On top of it all, his wife was gone. She was one of the first to give up on him.
At least I’ve still got the farm.
That’s what he used to think. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Henry walked to the back of his farmhouse and jumped into his ’85 F150. It wasn’t a fast ride, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Plus he really didn’t have a lot of money at the moment, so needlessly using up gas didn’t seem like it was in his best interest.
The nursing home was really nice. His father had worked hard to save up just enough money to spend his final years in this place.
Henry walked down the hall and took a right and then a left. Two doors down and on the right, he found his old man watching a rerun of Matlock. His hair was as white as snow. His skin was loose and wrinkled, especially around his throat. His faded blue eyes didn’t have much life left in them.
When he saw his son, a small, frail smile formed on his face. Henry smiled back, despite the rancid stench of decay that lingered in the halls.
His father’s ancient pajamas were as faded as his eyes.
Henry sat slowly, like he was the old man living in a nursing home. His feet ached. His boots were old and falling apart. But he didn’t have the money for new ones. Maybe once the rain came…
“What’s wrong, Junior?”
And then the rain came.
First one droplet. And then another. Although it wasn’t the rain Henry had been hoping for. His tears fell one at a time at first. Then they became a steady stream.
“The crops are dyin’. The animals are starvin’. Katie left me. I’m out of money. I’m out of damn-near everything, Pop.”
“At least,” his father said before going into a brief coughing spell. He cleared his throat, reached over, and patted Henry’s hand. “At least you have your health.”
And then he laughed. It was weak but it was enough to make Henry laugh, too. For a brief moment, he was able to let everything wash away with his tears. None of his problems mattered for a second. It was the respite he desperately needed.
“You have something else, too.”
“You know the big book in my old office?”
“Yeah. I remember it.”
“You should read it. It’s our legacy. How our family has managed to get by for generations.”
“All of our family secrets are in a book? Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Because you weren’t ready to know. Not until now. And every secret has its own consequences. Only a truly desperate man will be willing to pay them.”
Henry leaned down and kissed the quivering, freckled hand that still was laid upon his. “Thanks, Pop. Everyone has lost faith in me. In our family. In our farm. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to make you and everyone else proud. I hope our secrets can help.”
A few minutes later, he left the nursing home and traveled back to the farm house. He opened the door, dust flying off the wood in a fine mist. The hardwood creaked with every step back to his father’s office.
This was the first time he’d been in here since taking his dad to the nursing home.
The large book was bound in leather. When he opened it, the leather creaked just as loud as the hardwood floors when he walked on them. The first page was written on a type of paper he’d never seen before and the date at the top was written in Roman numerals.