“What’s in the barn?” the boy asked his dad soon after they arrived. Judah was unmistakably drawn to it, just as his father had been years before.
Greetings, fellow fiction-lovers!
Today, I’m very excited to bring you.
Aside from always being hilarious on Substack Notes, Ben writes incredibly heartwarming stories—some fiction, others memoir— at. As well as his Substack, Ben has also contributed over 100 articles to Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, Equine Journal, and other publications.
Today, he shares with us a delightful piece of short fiction which, I have no doubt, will warm the cockles of your heart. Enjoy!
The barn held all of Jacob Porter’s hopes, dreams, and memories. It was a regular old barn for a mid-sized farm. From the outside, it stood out from others in the county in one particular way. It was all white – paint, trim, every inch.
The easiest way to tell folks how to leave town without having them return lost an hour later was by simple reference.
“Just follow Hollow Wood Road until it winds past the Porter barn. You’ll know it when you see it. White as sugar. Can’t miss it. Then left, 10 miles, and jump on Route 27. North or south, your pick.”
Jacob’s parents told him when he was a wee bit never to enter the barn. Not until middle school at least. His father determined that was a ripe age. Jacob didn’t yet know what it meant.
“No mischief in the meantime, son,” Mr. Porter said kindly.
The barn sat quietly for years except for a new coat of paint when the wood showed a rain-stained hue. It otherwise remained pure as snow.
By the time Jacob was seven, he began to dream of what the barn might hold. He imagined a sturdy tractor tire suspended from thin oak beams that made up the rafters. He climbed onto it and created the herky-jerky motion that carried him high into the air, his feet leading the way as he arched his back and stretched as high as he could.
His mind created hay stacked to a cantilevered platform. When he was tired from the sun, he thought of napping there, half listening to the scurrying of mice and the downpour of summer showers.
Middle school arrived.
Jacob explored the barn and found that it was different than he had imagined it. Mostly older but still the perfect place for a boy to grow up. It was also huge – bigger on the inside than the outside.
His father suggested that Jacob step up his chores, so he built a chicken coup to shelter their hens. The barn filled with cackling commotion. When eggs arrived, they joined the dinner table fresh and warm. He knew that his mother was proud, his father even prouder.
In high school, the barn was no longer a place for swinging or chickens or boyhood fantasy. It provided solitude during the tumult of puberty. He treasured his first kiss in the barn. He had befriended Elizabeth Darman in seventh grade on that romantic occasion when he and his father had gone to help Mr. Darman build his pig trough.
Their friendship blossomed each year. He carried her school books and she made sure that no one mocked him for the slight lisp he tried to hide all his life. He loved her for that. She loved him because he allowed her to hold his heart in her hands.
On an afternoon during their junior year, they pushed open the big barn door and sat together on a bale of hay. He could feel his heart leap from his chest, but the barn was safe, and so he kissed Elizabeth for the first and only time in their lives.
College brought great challenges, yet the barn was always there for Jacob when he returned home. Paint began to flake again, so he administered a new coat. Running a farm never got easier, so he worked hard with his parents. He left his new loves, Cicero and Ovid, in the barn while antiquity filled his mind and a plow pulled him across family fields.
The War rendered his concerns of the summer farm no concern at all. He enlisted and returned a hero without a visible scratch. The town marveled at his good fortune and the commendation he had received, which was put on display for all to see.
“Valor has no equal,” said Teddy Tomlin, who owned the town bakery. “That’s our boy.”
During his two years on the front, however, he saw every horror of war. Each night in the trenches, he stored what he saw in the barn, far away and never to be opened again. To make room, he erased and washed from his mind everything else the barn already possessed. The cleansing took years.
Years later, he brought home his wife and young son, Judah.
“What’s in the barn?” the boy asked his dad soon after they arrived. Judah was unmistakably drawn to it, just as his father had been years before. “And why’s it all white? Aren’t barns red?”
“I’ll show you later,” Jacob replied. “As for white, well, don’t quite know. Clean, white, heavenly, I guess.”
On his family’s third night home, his parents took his wife and Judah to the Fall County Fair, a mainstay of their wholesome town life. He stayed home.
When the moon showed itself, he ambled to the barn. The door slid open as smoothly as it had the first time he was permitted to claim it as his. Moonlight peeked inside.
The barn was still perfect inside, as though it hadn’t aged a day. As Jacob closed his eyes, the walls still stretched tall. The hay was still stacked. The tire waited for its next rider. Everything in his imagination was still there. When he opened his eyes, he saw the wisp of a kiss float not far from where he and Elizabeth Darman had sat.
A glimmer of light from the house reflected off of something in the corner. A simple wooden box held itself shut by nothing more than the friction between the lid and case. Jacob did not understand how this box had come to be, but its smell announced that it was genuine, made from the barn’s own wood. Small white flakes waited to be peeled off. He took close stock of both box and barn to find the answer to creation, but it escaped him. He was happy enough just knowing that the box had been part of the barn – of him.
The box felt much lighter than he expected. He slipped it into his jacket, created a set of fresh footsteps in the dirt and pine chips, and closed the barn’s doors behind him.
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