Fred Vogel

Posted on August 21, 2017

1


The Farm

McMinnville is an agricultural community located in the Willamette Valley, some thirty-five miles south of Portland, Oregon. Home to some of the finest Pinot noir in the world, McMinnville is also home to Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, numerous UFO sightings, and The Farmer Institute, commonly referred to as The Farm.

The Farm was founded in the 1970’s by Doctor Edward Farmer, the leading voice for Americans for Their Euthanasia Rights, or A.F.T.E.R. Doctor Farmer believed that every person had the right to decide the proper time to kiss the world and all their loved ones goodbye.

In 2004, Doctor Farmer, his body ravaged by cancer, was himself euthanized at The Farm. When the good doctor died, The Farm’s new caretakers, headed by Doctor Farmer’s son, Joseph, decided to erect a state of the art facility on the adjacent acreage while salvaging the original building and renaming it The Hazelnut Clinic as an homage to the area’s popular tree. The clinic would be utilized to care for those with mental disorders.

When the new Farmer Institute opened in 2008, it was seen as a wonder of the medical world by supporters of A.F.T.E.R. The words uttered by Chief Dan George in the movie Little Big Man, “It’s a good day to die” became the institute’s mantra and is inscribed above the facility’s marbled entrance way.

Dying, to Doctor Farmer, was never viewed as a negative. Rather, it was just another step in the process of life, albeit, the final one. It was how the patient was treated during these final days that was of utmost importance to Doctor Farmer.

“No one should be afraid of death”, the doctor wrote. “We should anticipate and embrace it as we do the first day of a new school year, a first kiss, or our first love.”

Doctor Farmer’s son, Joseph, viewed The Farm as nothing more than a cash cow, something neither sacred nor righteous. He saw it as the vehicle to make him and his partners a ton of money. When Doctor Farmer was in charge, empathy and understanding were first and foremost when it came to the dying. But Joseph Farmer wanted the patients here today and gone tomorrow.

Tom Thurman had not so much as smoked a cigarette before he met Linda McAuliffe. Linda was artistic, beautiful, and loved psychedelics. She even convinced Tom to join her on one of her acid trips. Ten years later, Tom has yet to completely come down from that one experience. He continues to have powerful flashbacks and has difficulty dealing with everyday life. Most of the time he has it somewhat under control, but it is the other times, when those “crazy, multi-colored images” pop into his brain, that keep him from functioning as a more productive member of society. As for Linda McAuliffe, she is now drug free. Not long after Tom’s bad trip, Linda experienced one of her own, drowning while trying to cross an imaginary suspension bridge in Yosemite National Park.

When Gus Lockett was fifteen, he was severely beaten by his stepfather for cutting class. The beatings were commonplace, but this one ended with Gus’s head being repeatedly crushed into a fence post until Gus lost consciousness and crumbled to the ground. The assault didn’t end until the stepfather landed two kicks to Gus’s rib cage “one for good measure and one to grow on”. Gus had had the wits knocked out of him and never understood why.

Tom and Gus were patients at Hazelnut and had formed a brotherly bond. They could practically read each other’s mind, not an easy task. Tom worked in the garden and lawn areas surrounding The Farm, riding the power mower and keeping the hedges trimmed. Gus did janitorial work at Hazelnut. Their favorite nurse had recently been terminated and Tom and Gus were not at all pleased. One evening, as they sat crouched under a window, hidden by some rose bushes at the entrance to The Farm, they hoped to find some answers.

“Do you think she wanted to leave?” Gus whispered.

“I do not,” Tom said. “She was our friend.”

“She never even said goodbye.”

“Maybe she’s working over here now.”

“See if you can spot her.”

“You know, Gus. I kinda had a crush on her.”

“Me, too.”

“Well, that’s too bad, because I crushed on her first.”

“You did no such thing. Me and her…”

“Shh,” Tom whispered.

A shadow appeared above the two lurkers.

“You in there,” a voice said. “I can see you. Come out and show yourselves.”

Tom and Gus slowly rose to their feet and turned towards the voice.

“What are you boys doing in there?” Joseph Farmer asked.

Tom and Gus just looked at one another.

“Cat got your tongue? Speak up, boys.”

“We wanted to know what happened to our nurse,” Tom muttered.

“What nurse?” Joseph Farmer asked.

“Nurse Melody. The nice lady who always took good care of us.” Tom said.

“Well, how in heaven’s name should I know?” Joseph Farmer said, without compassion.

“Aren’t you the owner?” Gus blurted out.

Joseph Farmer pulled out his cellphone and called for assistance.

“You boys know better than to be snooping around here,” Joseph Farmer continued.

Tom Thurman and…and you there…”

“Name’s Gus.”

“And you, Gus. You boys need to stay on your side of the property. You can’t be running around over here. You’re not on vacation. We’re trying to help you but you must want to help yourselves. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Farmer. Loud and clear,” Tom said.

“How about you, Gus?” Joseph Farmer asked.

“I don’t think we done anything wrong. We were just gettin’ some air,” Gus said.

“Well, you get plenty of that during the day,” Joseph Farmer said. “Now I don’t want to see you boys sneaking around here again.

“He’s not a very nice fellow,” Gus said, as the two were being escorted back to Hazelnut.

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Tom said.

“He’s not a very nice fellow at all,” Gus repeated.

“Maybe we should do him some harm,” Tom said, chuckling.

“Yeah. Maybe we should kill him,” Gus said, not chuckling.

One afternoon Tom saw a dark-haired woman exiting the front door of The Farm whom he thought looked exactly like that “Jennifer or Jessica something or other who’s on the TV”. As she walked towards her car, Tom approached.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Tom said, removing his sun hat. “You’re the lady on the TV, aren’t you?”

“I‘m not sure what you mean,” the lady said. “The lady on TV?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Sorry, I’m afraid you have the wrong gal.”

“Are you sure you’re not on the TV?”

“Quite positive. But I appreciate the compliment.”

As she continued walking, Tom spoke up a bit louder.

“I really think you’re her. The one on the TV. But what did you do to your hair? I liked it when it was blonde.”

She ignored Tom’s words and drove away without acknowledging his presence.

In truth, news reporter, Jennifer Morgan, had been sent undercover to investigate accusations from family members that The Farm had treated their dying relatives in a rush-to-euthanize mode.

From his office window, Joseph Farmer took in the brief exchange. Tom looked up and saw Farmer peering down at him. Tom put his sun hat back on and continued trimming a row of Wee Willie Boxwoods.

“The pretty one on TV who does the investigating kind of stuff. You know, the one with the big knockers,” Tom said to Gus, during dinner.

“Those are real aren’t they, Tom?”

“Well, how the heck should I know?”

“Why do you think she was here?”

“That’s the hundred dollar question, my friend. We’ll have to put our two heads together and come up with an answer.”

“Two heads are better than one. Right, Tom?”

“Let’s hope so, Gus.”

“She’s even prettier than Nurse Melody,” Gus said.

“You think?”

“I sure do.”

“Well, alrighty then. You take the news lady and I’ll take Nurse Melody. Deal?”

“Deal.”

They shook on it.

“Not so sure I appreciate her new hairdo, though,” Tom said, between mouthfuls of meatloaf. “I’ve always preferred blondes myself.”

“Was she nice? Like she is on TV?” Gus asked.

“Not really sure. She didn’t feel much like talking. She even denied who she was. Probably just a celebrity thing.”

“Umm”, Gus said, balancing a fork-load of succotash. “Maybe she’s investigating something here.”

“And what would she be investigating?”

“She could start with this food,” Gus said, cracking himself up.

“That Mr. Farmer sure didn’t seem at all too pleased to see me talking to her,” Tom said.

“Maybe she’s investigating him. Maybe she doesn’t think he’s a very nice fellow either,” Gus said.

“Maybe so,” Tom said, eyeing the security guard approaching the table.

“Tom, Mr. Farmer wants to see you in his office,” the guard said.

“What for?”

“Don’t know. He just wants to see you.”

“Is he mad at me?”

“Come on, Tom. You know I don’t know these things.”

“Alright,” Tom said, standing and putting his hands together as if he were being handcuffed. “Take me away.”

“Take me away,” Gus repeated. “That’s a good one.”

It was the first time Tom had ever stepped foot inside The Farmer Institute. He rode up the elevator and was shown into Joseph Farmer’s office. With Tom seated motionless, Joseph Farmer stared out the window before turning his attention to Tom.

“Tom,” Joseph Farmer said. “Do you enjoy living here?”

“I don’t live here, Mr. Farmer. I live at Hazelnut,” Tom said.

“Fair enough. Do you enjoy living at Hazelnut?”

“I’d rather live here.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, we don’t have pretty artwork and things to look at where I am,” Tom said, admiring the walls. “And I’m guessing the food is a lot better over here than it is there.”

“You’re probably right,” Joseph Farmer said. “Tom, how do you know that young lady you were speaking with in the garden this afternoon?”

“I don’t really know her. She’s on the TV. Although she denied it.”

“And what does she do on the TV?”

“She investigates things. She helps people solve their problems.”

“I see. Are you sure she was the same lady that you see on television?”

“Yes, sir, a hundred-percent sure. But I think she looks better as a blonde. I like blondes the best.”

“What did you two talk about?”

“She didn’t say much of anything. Do you know why she was here?”

Joseph Farmer excused the question and asked security to escort Tom back to his room.

When Jennifer Morgan wasn’t seen on television for several weeks, it was determined by Tom and Gus that Joseph Farmer must have had a hand in her disappearance. Gus took it upon himself to defend the lady’s honor. On the day Gus found Joseph Farmer strolling the property alone, he gave him a severe beating, just as his father had given him, even inflicting a “one to grow on” kick to Joseph Farmer’s groin, before being tackled by security and dragged away. The following morning Gus was transferred to a correctional facility outside Denver.

When Jennifer Morgan returned from vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, she was informed of the changes that had taken place at The Farm during her absence. A new Board of Directors was being assembled with the promise that diligence and sensitivity in handling the client’s final wishes would be priority number one.

Tom Thurman continues to spend his days working in the gardens at The Farm, yet missing his buddy, Gus. It still brings a smile to his face whenever the spray from the water hose bursts into a million colors.

Joseph Farmer, for his part, stares motionless out the window of his new living quarters at Hazelnut, unable to ingest any form of communication, let alone any of its culinary fare.

****

Fred Vogel‘s words have seen the light of day in Literally Stories, Crack the Spine, Subtle Fiction, Literary Orphans, and elsewhere. He resides in Oregon.

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