Heartlands: Changes

Other entries from Heartland County

It’s a warm Summer evening in Harwaven. Shawn stumbles out of his room, tipsy from a sip of a mysterious prismatic liquid. He grabs a light hoodie and shimmies his way out the door in cargo shorts and Vans, fidgeting with the bottle in his pocket. His sister, Amanda, grabs his hood before he gets outside. “You know, if you’re drunk, you should probably stay inside. It’s after curfew for minors. You’ll get in a lot of trouble if you get caught, Shawn,” Amanda whispers, pulling him back into the house. Observing Shawn’s clear, droopy eyes and goofy smile, Amanda shakes her brother. “I swear to god, you better not have drank Dad’s Macallan again!” she exclaims in a low roar. “I can’t keep you out of trouble if you keep doing things like this. Can’t you be lowkey about it?”

Shawn giggles and pulls the glistening water bottle from his jacket pocket. “This, Mandy. This. No clue what the hell this, but you need to take a sip of this. It’s not alcohol,” he declares, shoving the bottle in Amanda’s face. He pops the plastic top. “What’s that smell like to you?” he asks Amanda, waving the rim under her nose. At first, Amanda tries to push his hand away, but the scent of cedar, sunblock and flowers tugs at her nostrils. She pauses. Shawn chuckles and examines the surprise, delight and caution on Amanda’s face. “I know, right?” Shawn asks, before Amanda speaks. “We found this is a random field out in the woods. After doing some digging, Arnold and I think… this is gonna sound crazy… but, we think this might be something supernatural.”

“Are you — Like, Gaelic Gal, Fairy Spit? — You are so, fu– Oh my god, Shawn — You realize Marnie just makes shit up, right?” Amanda inquires, snatching the drink from her brother. She stomps and pouts, controlling her volume. “I can’t believe you! You found a water bottle in a field and your first thought is ‘Oh, gee, der, Arnold drank some. Der, I should too.‘ Are you fucking stupid, Shawn? You don’t know what the hell this is!” Amanda whispers, intense and assertive. She marches into the kitchen and stands over the sink, while Shawn chases after her. He grabs Amanda’s wrist as she tilts the bottle over the drain. “I’m pouring this out. This is how you get addicted to shit, Shawn. Have some common sense. Mom and Dad didn’t raise us this damn stupid,” she mutters, struggling against her younger brother. Her efforts are in vain. A prominent JV linebacker and the most celebrated high school wrestler in Harwaven, Shawn overpowers Amanda with ease.

“Just dip your finger in it and taste it, Mandy. I’m telling you this is like magic. You will literally see colors that don’t exist and be able to see them…” Shawn says, pressuring Amanda. He seals the bottle and waves it around again. Amanda remains silent. Shawn shrugs and slides the bottle back into his pocket. “Suit yourself. I’m gonna go out by Harwaven Lake and watch the fairies and pixies dance,” he remarks, accepting Amanda’s reluctance. He pulls his hoodie back over his head. “I’m out, Mandy. You’re welcome to roll up though, seeing as how you’re so quick to leave once you get your chance.” Shawn walks outside and pops his air buds into his ears. “Thought so. Go ahead and abandon me, Mandy,” Shawn mutters. He pushes the front door open and hits the play on his phone:

♫♫♫ Where have you been?
Been searching all along
Came facing twilight on and on
Without a clue
Without a sign
Without grasping yet
The real question to be asked
Where have I been? ♫♫♫

Amanda sighs. “Well, that escalated quickly,” she wonders, sitting at the kitchen table, looking at the china in a glass pantry, and reflecting on all the conveniences she’s going to miss in college. Her eyes trace the rack filled with Mel’s recipe books and knick-knacks. She reaches for a beverage case on the bottom shelf and grabs one of Wes’ warm beers. Is that really what Shawn thinks? Amanda asks herself, popping a bottle open. I should probably go after him.

At the lake, Shawn sits on a concrete bench, spreading his arms out and inhaling the summer air. He swats away a few gnats and smiles at fist-sized people with butterfly wings dancing and playing over the water’s surface. A short man takes a seat next to him. “Lovely, en’t it, boy-o,” the man says, pressing dry purple leaves into an odd-colored wood pipe. Shawn stares at the strange man and notices the name “Lars” inscribed with magic on the pipe’s stem.

“What do you mean?” Shawn asks, trying to identify if he’s tripping or actually seeing a talking gnome. He examines the man’s modernish tunic and curly red beard.

“Names, Lars, laddie. And, I mean, the wee folk. I ken ye can see ’em by the look on yer face. They aren’t meant for human eyes, but I s’pose here ya are. Far be it from me to stop ye, but I will have to take that drink from ye, ye ken? I mean, ye know?” Lars responds, scratching his wrinkled forehead with his large hairy hand. Resin in the pipe glows as Lars inhales through the mouthpiece, smoking the aromatic purple leaves. Dense white haze dances into the breeze, fading into the summer night air. Shawn sighs and takes a quick, waterfall sip from the bottle and hands the drink to Lars.

“Thank ye. I reckoned ye weren’t gonna’ give no trouble. I’m glad I was right, Shawn, boy-o,” Lars declares, taking a sip himself. “This drink is purified river water mixed with Fairy Spit. How many sips have ye had?” he asks, adjusting himself on the stone bench and taking another hit of his pipe.

“Well,” Shawn begins, as footsteps slide over the moist grass behind him and Lars. “Probably about two ounces worth over the past few days. Is that bad?” he asks, unfazed by the potential answer. His eyes trace a bright trail behind a twirling a fairy. It zips around the sky, spinning and pirouetting with childlike exuberance between clusters of wee folk.

“Well, if you had more than a ounce of the Fair Spit, ‘en yer mind is permanently attuned to them. As attuned to ’em as humans can be, at least. Ye’ll be seein’ tha wee folk for the remainder of yer life more or less. So, I s’pose ye better get used to ’em,” Lars says, crossing his burly forearms. “As pretty as they are, these little arses are quite the buggers. Just make sure ye don’t undo a fairy’s prank, unless ye personally know ’em. They retaliate in nasty ways. Puttin’ mud in yer drinks. Fish in yer pockets. All sorts of nonsensical tomfoolery.” Lars looks at Shawn. “Laddie, don’t take this the wrong way, but yer life is too short fer ya to look so burdened. What ails ye? A lass give you to the boot, or som’thin’?” he asks, ambivalent about the can of worms he might be opening. Humans are a needy, sympathetic lot and taking up their problems doesn’t always help them, Lars has learned over his years. Try as he might, however, he fails at fighting his soft spot for humans, especially human children going through the awkward years of their brief lives. After a long pause, Lars says, “Dinna fash yersel, boy-yo. Iffin’ ya prefer to be stoic, then so be it. Pride is still som’thin’ I struggle wit’, even at me age. Ye’d do best to find an avenue fer yer pains that doesn’t involve outside relief, ye can.” He jumps off the bench.

“My sister is going away for college, the girl I like is going to be a foreign exchange student next semester and my best friend might be moving. I’m scared of everyone leaving me. I just don’t know what to do. I feel like everything just finally got back to normal since Covid too,” Shawn responds, staring at the ground. Lars pauses. Standing with his back to Shawn. His pipe glows as he takes a puff and exhales dense smoke. The silence stretches between them. Lars continues walking forward.

“I wish ye the best, laddie, I really do. Change is part of life. Probably not what you wanna hear, but the fact is, life be a series of segments. When one ends, a new one begins. Appreciate the change, lest it pass ye by and ye find yerself dwellin’ on missed opportunities,” Lars says, the thick smoke surrounding him. Shuffling on the grass gets louder and Shawn turns in the direction of the steps approaching.

“Shawn,” Amanda calls out. Her silhouette becomes more visible around the dimly lit lake. Shawn waves when she gets closer. “Who were you talking to?” she asks, from several feet away. “I saw smoke and heard voices. For a minute, I could’ve sworn their was another person next to you.”

“What are you talking about?” Shawn asks, shocked. “He’s right here,” he says, confident. He points in Lars’ direction, stunned when he looks and sees no one. “He was just here. A gnome. A gnome named Lars.”

“A gnome… are you serious?” Amanda asks, groaning. She places her hands on her hips. “Okay, whatever the hell you’re drinking, stop. You said some weird shit at home and you’re, like, seriously tripping. Cut it out. I don’t care what it is and I don’t want to try, but I swear to god you better stop. I’ll Mom and Dad.”

Shawn smirks, then sighs and frowns. “I can’t have anymore even if I wanted to. The gnome I was talking to took it from me. He said it was Fairy spit and some special water,” he says, leaning on the stone bench and sighing. Shawn tilts his head back and closes his eyes.

“Okay, gnomes, or whatever — I don’t care how you got rid of it, Shawn, but you better not be lying. Promise me you don’t have it,” Amanda demands, waving her finger at Shawn.

“Jesus, Mandy. I don’t, god! Why would I say I don’t have it if I actually did. I’m not five, dummy!” Shawn screams. “You’re so damn bossy. Mind your own damn business, college girl. Just have your shit packed so you can leave and finally stop hogging the freakin’ bathroom every morning.”

“Oh my god, you’re so immature. You’re a dummy, dummy! How the hell do you drink something from a water bottle your boy finds in the woods. That sounds like some dummy shit, if you ask me, Shawn!” Amanda shouts, annoyed. She huffs and gives Shawn a dirty look.

“Well, no one asked you, Amanda!” Shawn yells, crossing his arms and waving a middle finger at his sister.

Amanda plops herself beside her brother. “Are you going to stop acting like a little girl and tell me what the hell is wrong? And, please don’t say anything about gnomes and Hogwarts stuff. You’re high on whatever that garbage was. Probably lean. You didn’t and don’t see anything weird because that stuff doesn’t exist,” she says, speaking quickly and authoritatively. “So what is it?” she asks again, expecting an immediate response. Shawn sits still for a moment, then finally breaks.

“Sam’s moving,” Shawn mutters. “She’s moving to Montana. Her dad’s a trauma surgeon and they offered him some sweet deal to go work at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula. Apparently, her parents already picked the house and made the moving plans. She found out yesterday when the movers came and she told me this morning.”

“Look, Shawn, I – I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to hear this, but there’s a reason Mom doesn’t like you hanging around her. I think it’s a good thing she’s moving away. That girl is a little thot, just saying. She’s always making out with someone at the house parties I’ve seen her at. She probably has mono or something gross,” Amanda says, unapologetically. She puts a hand on Shawn’s shoulder. “But, I guess you can’t control who you like. And, that sucks. It really does. It’s not the end of the world though.”

“Arnold might be moving too. His brother, Brad, is a cop in Detroit somewhere and his parents want to live near him. They’re from there, so most of their family’s already there, but his Mom’s been pressuring his Dad to move back. Apparently, Brad’s having a kid, so they’ve been throwing it around,” Shawn reveals, clutching his elbows. He tries not to cry. “Everyone’s leaving me. You’re abandoning me too. I can’t deal, Mandy. I have no idea what the hell I’m going to do. I take SAT next year. Arnold, Sam and I were supposed to take them together. It’s not fair.”

Amanda rubs Shawn’s back, attempting to comfort him. “From here, Detroit is like a 10hr drive. It’s a short, cheap flight too. You, Sam and Arnold are also almost seniors. Just try to go to the same school and stay in touch. If it’s meant to be, then it’ll be. I can’t speak for Samantha, but I know Arnold won’t break off from you just because he’s moving. You’ll be 18 soon enough and free to go.”

“Oh my god, I hate when you say shit like that. ‘Free to go‘ like we’re slaves or something. Mom and Dad are super chill with everything. What’s your rush in leaving? You’re always running away from shit and changing like every two seconds, Mandy. It’s not normal,” Shawn rants. He brushes Amanda’s hand away. “I don’t want to leave Harwaven. If I do, I definitely won’t leave New Jersey. This is home,” he says, gawking at the remaining luminous fairies, then looking at Amanda.

“That’s your choice to make, Shawn. Just like leaving is mine,” Amanda responds. She hugs her brother and helps him off the stone bench. A spark in the distance catches her eye. For a moment, Amanda swears she sees a stocky gnome smoking on a pipe. She flinches, then blinks and the man vanishes. “Let’s go home,” she says, uncomfortably. Shawn nods and follows Amanda out of the Harwaven Lake grounds. They walk, quiet and alert. Shawn smiles at several sparkling fairies zipping through the evening sky, weaving in and out of houses and cars, while Amanda scans around them for creeps or anything out of the ordinary. Entering their house, the siblings sigh. Just another late summer night in Harwaven.

Read, enjoy and share! Stay tuned for more goings on in Harwaven and the rest of Heartland County.

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