Friday, 18 March 2011


[This is inspired by the tractors rumbling past my window today. As I look down, I can see straight into their open, swilling, soupy trailers. Lovely!]

It was warm in the tractor. Marcus mopped his brow with his sleeve. He couldn’t open the window while muck-spreading. His fingers reached for the air conditioning, then paused. Everyone was forbidden to use it.

“Uses extra fuel, costs us money, that does,” their father had declared. “We can’t afford it.”
“Silly old fool,” Marcus's older brother, Jasper, muttered. “Wait till he retires. Then we’ll do it our way.”
Jasper’s way, Marcus thought, frowning. But he had learned to keep quiet, and said nothing.

He turned on the radio. The afternoon show’s presenter’s voice filled the cab.
“And here’s a request for Tracy and Brian, married forty-three years today. Brian, Tracy says she loves you more than ever.”
A strange thing, Marcus mused, to need a stranger to announce your love on national radio. Couldn’t Tracy, whoever she was, manage it herself in a more tasteful manner? But some people were odd, no two ways about it. Take Jasper and Glenda. Now there was a peculiar couple.

“And lastly,” the presenter drawled. “Here’s a message for Fredrick Littleton.”

Marcus was so astonished he let the tractor lurch towards the hawthorn hedge, wrestling it back just in time. But before he had time to wonder if the message was for the Fredrick Littleton he knew, the presenter continued.

“Dad, don’t forget it’s only seventy-three days until you retire.”

Marcus gasped. This time he hit the hedge, and he didn’t even notice.

Back at the farm, Jasper was strutting. He waved as Marcus pulled into the yard, his ruddy face alive with mischief.

“You got the radio on, Bruv?” He shouted. Marcus nodded. “Did you hear it? Classic!” He broke off into snouty guffaws, helpless with laughter.
“I don’t think you should have done it,” Marcus said. “You know how touchy Dad is.”
“Bollocks,” Jasper said, planting his beefy arms on his hips. “Nothing like reminding the old bugger time is almost up. With any luck he’ll go sooner.”
“Did he hear it?”
“Do I give a shit?” His eyes narrowed, and he nodded at the trailer, his dark brows furrowing. “Haven’t you finished yet?”
“Ran out of muck.”
“Bloody hell Marc, how long does it have to take you?”
“It’s a big field.”
“I’m not keeping you on after he retires if you can’t pull your weight. Come on,” he sighed. “Let’s get you filled up.”

But the second load still wasn’t enough, and Marcus had to make another trip back. Pulling into the yard, he looked round, but there was no one about. Bloody Jasper, he thought. He was probably messing around in the office pretending to look busy. Marcus honked the horn. He wasn’t refilling the trailer himself.

He honked again. This time his father appeared. He seemed in no particular hurry, his hands sunk deep inside the pockets of his dirty green overalls. Marcus turned off the engine, and jumped down from the cab.

“Haven’t you finished yet?” Fredrick studied his younger son, and spat on the ground.
“Nearly,” Marcus sighed. “Where’s Jas?”
“I dunno,” Fredrick shrugged. “Lazing around, I expect. Think he said he was going to phone and order the seed potatoes. Apparently, I’ll only buy the wrong ones. Been doing it all my life, but would I know?”
Marcus bowed his head, ashamed of his brother’s impatience. It was true; the old man had been farming all his life. He held out an olive branch.
“Jas doesn’t mean it, Dad. He thinks he’s funny.”
“We’ll see who has the last laugh,” the old man harrumphed. “Need another refill, do you?”
“Yeah,” Marcus said. “But I’m going to grab a drink first. Pretty hot in there today.”
“I’ll fill it up then,” Fredrick huffed. “But get a move on. Bone idle you are, Marcus. You and your brother.”

Marcus stuck his head into the office to moan about being the only one working, but Jasper wasn’t there. Smarting at how he could never please his father, Marcus drove off with his teeth gritted, and his hands gripping the steering wheel. The muck spreader sloshed its smelly soup over the side with every jolt. He turned up the radio. With any luck he’d be done in time for a nice, cold Friday pint. His mouth watered.

He was nearly finished when lights illuminated, and alarms bleeped. The spreader was blocked. He swore. Clearing it was the worst job on the farm.
He pondered driving back for help, but imagined the reception he would get. Both his father and brother would berate him for not sorting it out himself. It was probably straw built up in the propulsion paddles. He clambered up onto the trailer to take a look.

There was something blocking the paddles, but it wasn’t what he’d expected. Instead of straw, there was a Woodstock figure caked not in mud, but in slurry. His stomach lurched. He clambered down, bent over, and was sick into the soil. He didn’t need to look twice to know it was Jasper.


  1. Well told! I really like Marcus. You did a good job with him.

  2. Marcus, silent and battling two overbearing family members. He evokes much empathy, and you gave him a believable voice.

    I must admit, the ending had me confused. I don't understand "woodstock figure" and, though I know slurry, I'm not sure how that is different than the muck. How did Jasper die? (I don't believe Marcus ran him over, but did Dad kill him?)

  3. Matt, thanks for your comment.

    Peg, I wonder if I need to rethink the ending, I hadn't realised it was confusing, but I see what you mean. By 'Woodstock' I was referring to those pictures you see of mud-smothered festival goers, their features indistinguishable. I thought it was a good way of describing what Jasper would look like in the bottom of the trailer. I think 'slurry' is just another word for the muck sprayed on fields, and as for the ending, I meant it to be ambiguous in that it could have been the father - Jasper has been goading him mercilessly, or he could merely have fallen in by accident. I was aiming at the former, rather than the latter, but perhaps I need to be more precise. Thank you for your feedback.

  4. I agree with Peg's comment. If it's meant to be ambiguous, then I think you did a good job. ~Miriam

  5. I like the ambiguous ending a great deal, enough to get you wondering without everything spelled out in primary colours.
    I also think the Woodstock reference is possibly too obscure. I thought instantly of Snoppy's friend Woodstock. Perhaps "like revellers at Glastonbury" might work?
    Good story and definite hints of Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected.
    Well done.

  6. I knew Marcus would come out on top of his brother but I never guessed how!
    The Woodstock thing threw me too. I love the ambiguous ending. It is my nature for it to be an accident and I like having that option.:)

  7. I loved the story. I love this comment thread. I am a Southern California (USA) native, so I particularly liked the local language and the sense of your world. Wonderfully inventive story based on the inspiration!
    I assumed that a Woodstock figure might be a colloquialism. (Not exactly sure where on the globe you're all at. UK?) I felt I "got the picture" in any case, so didn't let it bug me. I was quite OK with the ending--great surprise.
    I assume you're not beating yourself up about Woodstock. It appears that offering ideas is acceptable etiquette? If so, I'll buy "revellers at Glastonbury." If you really want Woodstock, another opportunity might be to have Marcus hear something on the radio about the the '69 Woodstock festival, maybe a reference to all the mud, etc. Maybe he hears a song (associated with Woodstock) and pictures the muddy revellers in his mind. Maybe too didactic, or too much work compared to other solutions.
    Sam, I KNOW you'll work out a perfect tweak to this wonderful story!
    (BTW, I'm working on a story that references Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock performance--small world.)

  8. Didn't expect such a gruesome end - ambiguous as Zen thinks it is, throwing up at the sight of whatever's left of Jasper lets you know enough.

  9. Zen, Hero and Man, I must admit it never crossed my mind no one would know what I meant by 'Woodstock'! Thanks for your suggestions, it's great to have feedback to build on, I really appreciate it.

    Miriam, John, thank you too. I like to play the ambiguous card to let the reader deduce what they will from the story. I'm not entirely sure it worked well in this story.


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