Null Pointer

JixeWriMo'20: Prompts


JixeWriMo'20 Prompt #7: A crotchety old man defends his yard from kids.

James Winthrop Frayne tossed his newspaper down on the table. The Belden kids were encroaching on his property again. It was bad enough that he had to allow them to infringe on the strip of property that the town and the courts had deemed actually belonged to Crabapple Farm. But the rambunctious rug rats couldn’t seem to keep away from his yard. It was hard for him to care about anything now that his beautiful Nell was gone, but the land had been in the Frayne’s blood for generations. He’d die defending it.

He grabbed the broom and stomped out to rid his property of intruders. The cross parts of him, that just wanted to be left in peace with his memories of his bride—and his guilt for not being able to save her—wanted to shoo them off with his shotgun, but even the oldest—Brian, was it?—was too young to be properly cowed by the sight of it, and his soul wasn’t lost enough that he’d actually fire it, even in the air. So, broom it was.

He stalked out across the yard, yelling at the kids to stay off his property for the millionth time. He beat at the bushes with the broom and then close enough to the three children to startle, without ever making contact. The younger two giggled like it was a game of tag, squealing and running away from the broom, only to come back. Finally, the older boy got the message and herded the younger two back down the hill.

James leaned on the broom, watching them go with a scowl.

Satisfied the Belden children were gone again, James walked up the hedgerow a few steps and crouched down. The brush erupted in a flurry of feathers, but he’d already angled the broom to protect his face from the chickens. He hated chickens; he’d never wanted them. They produced eggs, but they had to be gathered from wherever the chickens hid their nest, unlike a good goat or cow, which would come back to their human to produce their useful milk. They could be butchered for meat, but even that was quite the chore, with the nervous system that didn’t die at the same time as the bird, and all the feathers. Plus, professional butchers would take care of your cow for you, because that was big enough to be worth their while, but at least the butchers around Sleepyside expected local farmers to be able to handle their own chickens. God, he hated the chickens. But Nell had wanted them. Nell had loved them.

So, he kept them, in her memory. And he protected the nest of the idiot bird that built a nest in the bushes right where the Belden rascals liked to play. Now that the hens were clucking around the yard, he could see the nest. The egg was safely nestled in the branches and leaves of the nest. Carefully, James reached in and lifted the egg out, rolling it carefully in his hands to check from cracks or damage.

He felt a bump on his booted foot and replaced the egg. He got to his feet and stepped away before telling the hen that had pecked at his foot, “Alright, you can have it back. Maybe, next time, you’ll build your nest in a safer place. Like the henhouse.” Honestly, they had spent good money on a perfectly safe place for then hens to lay, somewhere that was free from children and natural predators, and that would have made it easier for Nell to collect the eggs, but, no, the birds weren’t smart enough to use the henhouse; they had to go make a nest out where they were vulnerable. And he had to protect them. For Nell.

At least this hen had been brooding this egg for two weeks already. One more week, and her chick would hatch and he’d have another child running around his property, terrorizing him. Sometimes he wondered why he kept the chickens anymore. He could sell them, give them away, butcher them, so many options that wouldn’t have his old joints creaking as he got down on the ground to check on yet another poorly placed nest.

Satisfied that the chickens and property were safe for the moment, James and his broom returned to the house. He put the broom in the umbrella stand by the door, right next to the shotgun, and went back to the table and his paper. He tried to focus on the day’s news, but it got harder every day. It just didn’t feel like any of it mattered, not if his Nell wasn’t here to share it with him. The world could go to hell in a handbasket, for all he cared. As far as he was concerned, it already had, the day an unassuming copperhead bit his Nell and he failed to get her to the antivenin in time.

There was nothing left in his life, except a decaying home, an equally decaying body, a gaggle of broody hens, and ten acres of land that wouldn’t save him any more than they’d saved his beloved Nell. The outcome for him, the land, the house, the hens…it was all inevitable. Why did he bother to keep fighting? The sooner he succumbed to his fate, the sooner he would be reunited with his bride.

But then who would look out for Nell’s chickens, and their chicks, and their poorly placed nests? And he could still hear Nell’s voice, scolding him any time he waxed morose or pessimistic. She had no patience for it. If he hurried along his destiny to get back to her, peace in heaven would be disrupted as she gave him an earful that they’d hear on earth, if not below it. It wouldn’t do him any good to hurry on to heaven and his angel, if she wouldn’t have him because he’d been an idiot without her and gotten himself killed. But that didn’t mean he had to resist his fate, either, and, at his age, the time would come and he’d be reunited with his Nell, though hopefully not any of her chickens. Still, he supposed, he’d even put up with the chickens for an eternity with Nell.


Author's Notes:

This is JixAnny'20 Picture Prompts Challenge, and also inspired by one of MacJest's JixeWriMo'20 daily prompts. I appreciate the inspiration, ladies!