Last Harvest

Melody Corbbet is called home by her sister, Samantha, after the death of her father. Upon arriving back in the small Oregon town of Sheridan where she grew up she finds the farm house and orchard of her childhood in ruins. Not only are Mel and Sammy left with a property in shambles but the place is infested with the troubled spirits of those whose lives were cut short due to unexplained accidents and unfortunate deaths, they also must confront their own reasons for having stayed away for so many years.

 

The murder mystery novel "Last Harvest" by G. M. Barnard is now live on Amazon! Available as paperback or Kindle.

The essay below tells how it was that I came to write Last Harvest and some of the influences for the story and charaters in the book.

 

Dad's Place

It didn’t become apparent to me that Dad’s place was haunted until after his grisly accidental death out next to the hangar on his private airport. Sure, now there was Dad lurking about, but as time went along, I noticed others.

At first I set about the task of getting rid of the disembodied intruders in the kindest of ways thinking this was the best way to help them find their way to wherever it was they needed to be off to. I cleaned, painted, planted, mowed, and tended the tiny rundown house and property in an effort to sell it and at the same time usher off the lost souls left behind.

As time would tell it wasn’t only me that could sense these unhappy beings.

Dad’s ten-acre property included a battered house built in the early 1920s, a decade-old red hangar/workshop/apartment out back (the roof of which leaked like a sieve), a sweet little greenhouse (unusable due to many nests of yellow jackets), a large area to park small aircraft complete with tie-downs, and a private grass airstrip. Five acres Dad had leased to a farmer who was growing hay. The rest needed to be mowed twice a week in the spring and once a week in the summer.

One warm autumn afternoon my youngest daughter Kate and I were standing in the yard back of Dad’s house looking at an area about half an acre in size which Dad never mowed. Cattails, blackberry bushes, and tall grasses of several varieties grew shoulder high. Dad often parked broken-down vehicles there. Abandoned cars, the gas truck that delivered fuel for the planes used for skydiving, pickups, old boats (some on wheels, some not), trailers of all sizes, campers, you get the idea.

I pointed to the area in question and asked Kate, “Why didn’t Dad mow that part out there? And what’s up with all the old junkers?”

Kate turned to me and at the same time we both said out loud, “Because that is where all the bodies are buried.” We didn’t laugh but looked at each other seriously. “There’s my book,” I told her.

We spent the rest of the day sitting on the floor in the living room sorting bills, bank statements, and other estate-type papers while we outlined the story that was to become my book, Last Harvest.

I never mentioned to Kate about the ghosts nor did I tell her that her grandfather was still hanging about, mostly in his bedroom but from time to time in the hangar when too much stuff was getting moved around or thrown away. It was at those times that I could feel his anxiousness, his despair, his hopelessness, and lastly, his realization that his condition was not reversible.

It was these strong emotions, flowing like a rushing river in spring, that I tapped into to create my plot and characters. Sitting in Dad’s orange velvet rocker on long rainy afternoons and lonely winter evenings, curtains pulled back in front of the window that looked out on Rock Creek Road, I would write chapters on my laptop.

During the day, when the weather was nice, I would do yard work, clean out overgrown flower beds, and replant them with something cheerful that I hoped would bloom the next summer. I’d mow the lawn around the house with an almost new electric push mower I’d found in the greenhouse, then cut the rest of the grass with a riding lawn mower I named “The Goat.”

When The Goat would brake down, I’d call Dad’s mechanic, Jeff, who would come right out to fix it. Jeff also helped me price the tools, motorcycle, Paraplane, airplane, and car parts as well as the ’76 Chevy sidestep pickup which I sold on Craigslist.

To pay him back for his time I took Jeff and his wife Suzie to dinner at the local Chinese food place in Sheridan. The same one where Dad and I had enjoyed many Sunday dinners. Suzie asked how it was going out at Dad’s, me being there most of the time by myself.

Making a joke I said, “It’s going well, except for the monsters.”

Her face turned pale as she dropped her fork in her plate. “You feel them too, don’t you!” she gushed at me in a whisper. She was intent on my answer.

“Yes,” I said, looking down at the table, my mind racing with uncontrollable blurry vision flashes of someone meeting their sad end. “I’m trying to take all that energy, or at least some of it, to write a murder mystery.” I went on to explain the plot. Suzie shared with me her experience when she first came out to the skydiving center the day Dad hired Jeff.

Suzie explained that the day she and Jeff arrived to Dad’s skydiving center she could feel a strong negative energy. So strong, in fact, she didn’t get out of the car. She didn’t see anything or anyone, but she could sense anger, hopelessness, and despair. She left Jeff there as he had been hired on but drove back to Idaho with her kids promising to return when “things got better out there.”

That dinner ended on a rather flat note. I wasn't happy I had to return to Dad’s place by myself.

Some time later, while on the phone with my oldest daughter, Marggret, I mentioned seeing a… something the day before. I had been on The Goat mowing the lawn. Every time I came around this one turn, I could see it out of the corner of my eye.

Marggret asked me, “Was it tall, wearing a dark robe, with a hood, rushing toward the door of Betty’s old workshop?”

My breath caught in my throat, I blinked. “Mom, Mom, are you there?” Marggret asked.

“Yes, that’s the fellow. Who do you think he is?”

“Well, the school on the hill used to be a Catholic novitiate. I always thought he must be a monk or priest. Every time Grandpa would send me out to the workshop to tell Betty dinner was ready that guy would jump out. He scared the daylights out of me.”

“I don’t think he likes me using the area behind Betty’s workshop as my burn pile. Every time I come around that one corner, he appears to be rushing to the back of the workshop toward the burn pile, then he disappears.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Not sure at this point. I’ve got the place up for sale but no serious buyers yet. It needs a charm, a spell, no, a blessing. Something to lift the sadness off. Maybe I’m dealing with more than souls who have lost their way. I offered to hold a summer barn dance in the hangar to the local Rotary Club. They could use it as a fundraiser. I thought the music, dancing, laughter, would send away the malevolence but the Rotary Club didn’t take me up on the offer.”

I ended the phone call by telling my daughter I couldn’t wait for either the place to sell or the bank to foreclose.

The first full moon in April I said a blessing in the back yard over a little bonfire. It was simple and short with wishes of love and hope for the future. Nothing changed except Dad’s energy got weaker.

I was still spending four days a week out at Dad’s. I became more nervous about staying out there alone and couldn’t sleep most nights, certainly not in any of the bedrooms, even though the front attic room had been mine in high school. At night I lay on the couch with a huge flashlight I had bought. Every now and then I'd get up and check the locks on the doors and look out the window in the kitchen.

In July I held an estate sale out of the hangar. Then I let a junk man and his wife take away the rest. I showed them the area behind the workshop, where I had my burn pile and where there was still plenty of stuff that needed to be moved out. They stood there, staring into the space, then looked at me with questioning faces. They moved slowly into the back area as if not wanting to wake a sleeping bear or... worse.

“Be careful of the yellow jackets,” was all I said. In my book it is where the bodies are buried.

August came and still no sale. I only had until the end of the month before the bank would take the property per the reverse mortgage contract Dad had taken out eight years earlier.

I was standing in the front room, half dressed (bathrobe and a pair of jeans), looking out the front window, when I saw a car roar down Rock Creek Road, hit the ditch in front of the driveway at top speed, fly up, roll twice in the air, land on its hood, bounce, and land right side up on its tires in the front yard.

Barefoot in broken glass I called 911, while one of the guys from the business next door comforted the woman in the car who amazingly was still alive but only barely. After the EMTs had taken the woman away and local law enforcement had gotten my statement the neighbor asked me, “What is it about this place?” I didn’t have an answer for him.

My last day out at the old place was August 28, the day of Dad’s death one year earlier. The mortgage company had given me exactly one year, no more and no less, to sell. Not having been sold, the property now went to the bank. I loaded my car with my personal things and drove away from my childhood home in tears.

There wasn't anyone to pick the late ripening blackberries that year. By September the grass was overgrown. Most of the potted plants had been removed by sneak thieves and "well meaning" neighbors so the deck on the front of the house was bare except for one lone chair which looked out on the sunset.

The utilities had been turned off, mail rerouted, and keys to the house and hangar given to those who agreed to keep an eye on things.

Only the ghosts from the past remained. Left to stand watch and wait, and hope, for those things only ghosts wait and hope for. 

Dad's place sold to a local family that December. They wanted me to come out and tell them about the property but I told the real estate agent, no, let them find out for themselves.

Visit Amazon to find Last Harvest in paperback or Kindle versions. Here's a chapter to get you started.

Chapter Seven

Friday, October 3, 2014

Sammy marched around the back yard in a drizzling rain. It was just barely the beginning of October and it had rained every day she had been home. It felt good on her hot face and as she moved around from the back yard to the front yard of the house she began to notice where she was and what was out there.

It was clear that Dad hadn’t mowed any part of the property in many months. The areas that had once been flower or vegetable gardens hadn’t been worked or tended to in a very long time. Sammy went to the back yard again and headed to the barn. Weeds surrounded the old structure as high as her head. The side door to the barn was half opened and hanging on just the bottom hinge.

Sammy pushed her way through and found herself in a dark, foul-smelling space with cobwebs in almost every corner. Light came through the boards and she could hear the rain on the tin roof. She noted that it was still somewhat dry inside so the roof must be holding out okay.

All the animal stalls were empty, old tack from horses long gone hung on the gate posts. The center of the large barn was filled with an old tractor and an even older pickup, their tires flat, their paint replaced by rust. Sammy smiled as she recalled times from her childhood riding on that very same tractor as her Dad drove it out to the orchard pulling a trailer filled with large baskets on their way to pick that autumn’s harvest of apples and pears. It was almost that time of year now.

Sammy left the barn and walked over to the orchard. It wasn’t as large as she remembered, maybe only ten acres. Some of the trees were dead and had fallen over. Others suffered from massive insect infestations. The weeds had taken over here as well. It made her sad to think about how this orchard had once looked. Back in the day this had been a well-tended farm. Spring smelled so sweet with pink and white blooms on the trees. By autumn the orchard was heavy with fruit ready to harvest. Now there were only a few random apples and pears here and there that appeared ripe.

If this had been twenty years ago, Sammy thought, she and Mellie would be out here right now picking along with neighbors and local people. Locals would u-pick and pay her father. Women laughing and chattering about the applesauce, apple butter, and pies they planned to make or the pears they would put up in jars. Children running this way and that, some climbing the trees to pick the fruit that was out of reach. The men lifting, carrying, and loading the heavy baskets in the trunks of cars or the back of pickups.

And Dad, well, he would be weighing the fruit, taking money and making change. Talking and telling stories the whole time, completely in his element. At one point there for about ten years running Dad had an apple press. He and some of the men from town made apple cider. Now, that stuff was good, sweet and crisp tasting. They tried their hand at making hard cider as well and it was a big hit until a few of the wives and a now long-gone preacher, Pastor Jake, put an end to it. Pity, thought Sammy, as she recalled stealing a bottle of hard cider and the flatbed truck with Mellie. Driving crazy on old country roads and listening to ’90s hits, like the country-western song Thunder Rolls, on the local radio station. Yes, there were some good times.

Sammy found herself smiling, standing in the rain in the middle of a dying orchard. She sighed and looked around. Then the artist in her took over. She could draw this place in pen and ink. Black, white, and some mossy green tones. Grays and muted blues for the sky.

“That’s the ticket,” she thought out loud. If she got started right away, she could get maybe five full pieces done before December and have them ready for her holiday show in Seattle. She could work right here and use Dad’s old place as inspiration.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, Sammy thought she saw a figure, moving in the shadows, over by the row of abandoned cars. But it was more than just a thing in motion, it was a feeling of hopelessness and dread. The orchard felt darker, heavier. The air thick with the smell of dead leaves. Fog started to move in, covering the ground as it inched toward the barn.

She shivered and started to walk back to the house. She turned around twice to look behind her as it felt like she was being followed. But she saw and heard nothing. It was that jump in heart rate, that dryness and bad taste in her mouth, and an impression of shortness of breath that made her break into a run.

Sammy slammed into the back door of the house and raced into the kitchen.

“Girl, you are as white as a sheet. What happened, Sammy, you see a ghost out there?” Mel said laughing.

“Ya, well, maybe,” Sammy said, shaking. She went in the bathroom and got a towel to dry her hair.