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Work to Do

Winter held fast to the Kansas prairie, even with half of April gone.

Easter flowers would have to wait until next year, and the crops might, too, if Earl didn’t get the fields planted soon.

It was just that he’d never sowed in frozen ground before. And he’d never done any of it by himself. For fifty years, the Baker boys had supplied all the wheat Bitter Creek Mill could grind, and the town had grown up on the flour they made together.

As soon as the new year rolled around, Elton would begin working all hours in the barn to make sure the plows were sharp and clean, the wagon in good repair, the horses well fed.

For his part, Earl kept them well-stocked with fire wood, and vittles on the table.

Come early March, Elton would be out cleaning the fence lines, pulling last fall’s dead leaves into a compost heap so Earl could spread them over the fields.

Elton always led, always prodded Earl into action.

“We got work to do, youngin’,” Elton would say, even though he was a scant couple years older than Earl.

And this year was no different.

Even with the bitter cold and the towering snow drifts and the slick layers of ice underfoot, Elton had the equipment and the animals ready for the planting before February was done.

All that was left was to prepare the ground itself.

And so, on the first of March, Elton headed out early in the morning to clear the rows, but when he came back an hour ahead of lunch, Earl knew something was wrong.

His brother was pale, his breathing ragged.

Earl helped him into bed and rode into town to fetch Doc Hampton, but Elton was gone by the time they got to him.

And so now Earl stood alone at the first section of fence. The shadow of Elton’s spade, stuck upright in the earth where he had left it, cut across Earl’s chest in the early morning sunlight.

He reckoned Elton was still prodding him on, showing him the way.

Earl took a deep breath and grabbed the shovel handle.

“C’mon, Earl,” he said to himself. “We got work to do.”

Published inFlash Fiction

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