Jimmy’s Barn

Jim preferred “Jim”, which is exactly why his three cousins called him “Jimmy”.

He spent summers with his cousins. When school ended, Jim’s mind began to look forward to lazy afternoons wandering in the countryside’s swaying wheat fields, climbing the apple trees in the orchard or fishing on the nearby lake. His cousins — two of them older than he was — would be impressed by his city-boy wit and would probably invite their friend Betsy Ann to meet their sophisticated family member.

Unfortunately, the idea of a summer on the farm was always much more magical than actually spending a summer on the farm. You didn’t wander in the fields or climb in the orchards, you spent hours working in them, bailing hay or picking apples. Fishing wasn’t peaceful — it was boring and slimy. And his cousins were not impressed by anything he did; they often had fun at his expense. Thank god there wasn’t any such person as a Betsy Ann, because Jim would never in a million years want to be around his cousins and a pretty girl at the same time. It would be doomed from that first introduction:

“This is City Jimmy, from the land of flying cars and cable television,” Mack, the oldest, would probably say.

And “City Jimmy” wasn’t even accurate. He hardly thought Parkersburg’s ability to support three supermarkets qualified it as a metropolis. But he didn’t know how to drive a tractor and most of the wildlife they saw made him nervous. He certainly wasn’t a countryboy.

This summer had a different tone, however. He was still City Jimmy, but the dynamic of the farm had changed. They’d sold their dairy cows, and he knew his uncle spent days at time driving a tractor trailer. On top of that, Jim was only slated to stay for two weeks… the family had an additional visitor this year.

Jim hadn’t seen much of his grandfather Rich growing up. He had two other grandfathers — his grandmother Mary had remarried due to Rich’s drinking years before Jim’s mother was born, and Pap George had always been around. Jim didn’t know much about Rich, outside of the rest of the family’s general consensus that “he tried his best.”

Now, Grandpa Rich had suffered a stroke, and he had moved in with Aunt Sara and her family. The advantage of living in this rural place was a luxury of space, and upon arriving in Old Horseshoe Bend, Jim found himself led down to the Old Barn, a giant century-old structure that leaned ominously to one side nearly a hundred yards from the family’s house.

It had always been off limits. However, as they got closer, he could see that patchwork repairs dotted the outside. Large sheets of plywood and a tarp patched the roof, and giant beams were in place to help support its questionable tilt. There was even a porch built out in the front.

“We’ll put you in the luxury suite, guv’nah,” the younger of his boy cousins declared, stepping from around one side.

“Gar, why are we in the Haunted Barn?”

Gary shrugged. “Grandpa Rich is in Carrie’s room, and mom didn’t want her down here all by herself.”

“But… didn’t your dad call this place a death trap?”

“Would he put his only daughter up in a death trap?” Carrie asked, appearing beside them. “Of course not. And look, now it has a porch!”

“Ah, a porch,” Jim mused. “The lynchpin of stable structures everywhere.”

Mack, the oldest among them at sixteen, stepped through a crack between two massive doors. He spread his arms wide, and his face split into a smile. “Welcome! We call it… the mansion.”

Carrie grabbed Jim’s elbow and pulled him inside.

Of course, he’d been inside the Haunted Barn before. Calling anything “haunted” and a “death trap” was a guaranteed way to make it explore-worthy. They had been cautiously climbing around inside and avoiding rusty nails since Carrie was six years old.

And now — with various, important-looking beams reinforced, the holes in the roof patched and what was probably tons of ancient, accumulated junk carted away — it was the grandest, most amazing structure he’d ever seen.

The giant doors swung wide to expose a huge, open space that was easily forty feet wide and stretched for miles up to the roof. The divided stalls had been combined to make whole rooms. To the right was a kitchen with an ancient fridge and stove — to the left, a wall lined with full mismatched bookcases.

They laughed at Jim’s gaping mouth, and Carrie pulled him farther inside. Her space appeared sparsely decorated — much of her stuff was still up in the house, but she tugged him inside the room and through another doorway.

“A walk-in closet!” she cried. There were three filled suitcases in various states of explosion, and the only things hung up were several brightly colored feather boas.

“If you’re done playing dress up…” Gary called, “we’ve got something even better.”

Jim followed them back into the open part of the barn and up a set of homemade rungs up to a second floor. In years past, this had always been their target destination when exploring the barn. It was a simple second floor, built strong and large enough to accommodate several tons of hay through the winter season. They hay was long gone, and instead they’d somehow managed to get a couple old lounge chairs and an ancient-looking television up there. Here was another bookcase, this one full of VHS tapes and a few dusty game systems, and beyond that loomed an impressive gun rack full of nerf guns. A basketball hoop was hung from the farthest wall.

“You think that’s great?” Mack asked him, grinning madly.

He untied a thick rope from a block of wood on a support beam and took several big steps back. “Clear?”

Gary leaned over the edge and peered toward the door. Jim joined him, unsure of what they were looking for.

“Clear!” Gary cried.

There was a thump, thump, thump — and Mack was sailing through the air over the open portion of the barn, wrapped tightly around a long rope secured to a beam in the ceiling. His momentum nearly got him to the other side, and when he swung back, Jim helped Gary pull him back onto the floor. They were all laughing.

“That was — this is the greatest place in the world.” Jim cried, the words running into one another.

“Come on,” Mack said, clapping him on the back. “We’ll show you to your room.”


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