The Ghost Farmer’s Girl

The more you pray for carrots and corn and potatoes, the harder you pray, the more the skies seem like they’re ignoring you. It’s been days and months, and we are all starting to feel like God is somewhere else, listening to someone else, everyone else: someone’s bad kid, a dad that says he’s trying to quit drinking and hitting his family, a girl that stole her best friend’s toy and doesn’t want her friend to notice.

We have all shouted. Begged. It’s in our church services. It’s become something we whisper and don’t even think about whispering, Please. Please. Make it rain. 

The non-perishables are starting to run out. The pickles have been rationed. The beet eggs have been divided because the chickens have been eaten.  The closest store is miles away. I don’t know how many because I’ve never been there. My family doesn’t want me to leave the farm except for church. The boys always go, but lately, they can’t because there’s no money coming in because nothing is growing, so there’s no reason to go. They don’t do credit at the store.

The town’s earth is dried out, and we’re all starting to get scared. Sick to our stomach scared. Running away from a wild turkey scared. Looking at the sky like it’s about to crumble scared.

Please. Please. Make it rain.

We have not given up on God. We have not given up on prayers. But we are all starting to believe things the devil wants us to believe.

The younger folk call him a spirit person. The older folk say ghost farmer. They say he owns the land with plentiful crops. The one bursting with greens. The one overflowing with tomatoes. The one spilling over with green beans. Where the vines twine around almost nothing. Where the vines hang in mid-air. Walk through it? Get too close? You don’t come back. You just don’t.  At least that’s what they say.

All we really know about his life was how he was from out of town. Outsider. Folks say he had secrets. No one talked to him, but they say he didn’t give them a reason to.

What nobody knows: I am drawn to him. Not just his crops. His very being, or whatever it is. It calls to me. This is my biggest secret: I have almost gone onto his land. At night. When the moonlight is the only light. When nobody else exists in the waking world because they are all asleep. I have walked the two miles to his land, and it’s beautiful. The way the crops are shadows moving slowly in the wind, it takes my breath away.

Is this a bad desire? I have the feeling my folks and Preacher Wilkins would say yes. But I have a hard time knowing bad desires. Everyone tells you what is right and what is wrong, but I have the feeling, it’s all just a feeling, one way or the other.

The other thing I haven’t told anyone is how He came to me in my dreams. He was hard to make out, kind of like a fox moving through the woods. It was as if I was standing at the edge of his field. He ran across my vision, it felt like He was right on my forehead, just running across it. Shrunken, somehow, so He could go back and forth quickly. That dream felt like it lasted for hours. If I told my folks, they would think I was crazy. They don’t talk about things like dreams, but I wish they did. My brothers would make fun of me until I turned beet red…the color of beets. The taste too. Earthen. Those are my favorite, but they are not a good thing to look like.

He is “the ghost farmer.” “The spirit person.” I keep waiting for him to tell me to do something. To give me some clue about the crops. Or if I should go live on his land. Or be closer to his land. That’s what it feels like I should do. Maybe He would understand me. Maybe He wants me to understand.

My life has a lot to do with what people tell me to do, but lately, I don’t have many chores. I can’t collect the chicken eggs or clean their coop. I don’t go hunting because there’s nothing to hunt, but there’s a lot of dead animals out there. They were hungry too. I know I am not supposed to believe this will really happen, but once I dreamt I was a deer in His garden.

The dead deer I have found have rotted. They have otherworldly things crawling around them. The flies too. The disease is thick like pulp. Some of the deer have turned to bones. I saw my brothers sucking on a skull one day when I was looking for something for the family to eat. I stayed behind the trees and watched them suck. Their dirty lips, so hungry, so dry. Ma makes us collect the bones. She puts them in a pot, and talks about ways she will cook with them.

Sometimes I go and dig. Pa thinks there might be things in the earth we can get to, but the earth is so dry, my digging doesn’t last long. I do not feel very useful.

If I go to His land, maybe I could feel useful. My folks are always telling me to be useful. What else am I there for? Honestly? I don’t know, but part of me just wants to feel wanted. I want to feel loved. In my dreams, He sends those feelings.

What will it take for me to tie up my boots and go? One more dream? One more dirty look from my folks? Do they think this is all my fault? Do they think the devil is in me?

Sometimes people think crazy things when they are hungry. When they are desperate. Everyone wants to have something to blame. For my folks, blaming me is easy. I haven’t said much to them in a long time. Yes, Pa. I will, Ma. I can see to it, Benny. Here I am, Jimmy James. That’s about all, so I can see how they might think I am conjuring something up. Maybe they aren’t thinking crazy things at all. Maybe they don’t have desperate thoughts. The devil could be in me.

I am so uncertain about so many things, but this is the one thing I am certain about: our prayers aren’t loud enough. That or the Good Lord has a plan.

Some days I can taste the fresh tomatoes. Feel the seeds and juices dripping down my face and into the neck of my dress. I want to stick my fingers in my mouth and suck on them. The juice is so good. And then there are the cucumbers. They don’t taste like much, but they are wet, and they drip the same way as the tomatoes. I would crawl into the ground and eat the potatoes there if I could. These days I am greedy for food. I wouldn’t even wipe the dirt from my mouth. Ghosts don’t kiss, so it wouldn’t matter how dirty my face is.

Maybe this is part of God’s plan. For me to go be the “ghost farmer’s” wife, the “spirit person’s” wife. I am fifteen years old. That’s old enough. At least in these parts it is, but would my Pa ever give his blessing? If it is God’s plan, shouldn’t I know? Or maybe I should not care what my earthly father says?

The days are so long. I have time to think about it all, and at the heart of everything: nothing is very complex, but it is all very strange. It’s all a little spooky too.

Maybe I should be living in the past. Maybe I was born at the wrong time. This is why He could be my soul mate.

The biggest thing I need to figure out, besides if I should go to his land, is if I should go living. Is my soul strong enough to convince Him to share his crops with the town? Or will I even care about the town if my earthly body is no longer?

The thing is I know my fate. I know what will happen if I don’t run away. How it will end. Pa will tell me to dig my own grave. I know he will because I’ve seen it in my dreams. He will be standing at the foot of my bed with Ma’s wooden spoon– the one she made with her own hands. He will glare at me until I feel him there, until I wake. I’ll sit up, and he will have a mean look in his eyes then he’ll say, “I’ve heard you talking in your sleep. It’s time.” He’ll tell me to dig my grave with her spoon.  I just don’t know when it will happen, or if I must will it to happen.

My spirit is strong. I know because my Pa and Ma and brothers have always said so. They never say it in a nice way. Like it’s a compliment. Rather, they say it in a way that it’s a matter of fact. Same way as they say, The sky is dark. It’s night-time.

I need the courage to know how to do the thing I am meant to do. Stay? Go? Pray? Give in? Commit the biggest sin? Go to live with my ghost husband?  Go to the crops? Put the Good Lord’s vines around my neck? Eat something poisonous? Slowly creep my way into death? Painfully? Do I deserve that? Something tells me I could. Or I could just leave again at night. I could walk to his garden and see what happens when I get there.


Teresa Petro has publications with Backbone Mountain Review; Coal Hill Review; Pretty Owl Poetry; and Dressing Room Poetry; among others. She holds an MFA from Chatham University, an MLIS from University of North Carolina Greensboro, and she works as a librarian in Durham, North Carolina.