Story of the Month: Baling
Welcome to my first ever Story of the Month! As I mentioned in my New Year’s Goals post, I recently realized that my fiction spends more time on slush readers’ desks than in the hands of people who want to read it. While I’ve nothing at all against slush readers, the reason I write is so that other people will read it. This isn’t just because of that strange artistic impulse to share the things I’ve made, either. Praise is wonderful, but I’m much more interested in critique. I want my work to grow, but I can’t do that if people aren’t reading it!
With that in mind, Story of the Month will be a monthly blog post where I present you all with a short story that, for whatever reason, I’m unable to find a home for. This space is not at all reserved for my “failed” stories. I’m proud of every single story that I post online, but they weren’t right for publication. They’ve received the same amount of love as my published works. Something about them just wasn’t the right fit for publication
So, for my first ever Story of the Month, I’d like to present you with Baling.
Baling was inspired during a road trip through North Dakota I took with my fiance El back in September. While we drove through the farmlands of North Dakota, we saw thousands of hay bales scattered across harvested fields and perched on the sides of roads. This was a rather novel sight for me, having not grown up in farm country. Like much of the fantastic North Dakota landscape, it was a powerful sight to see.
While we drove, we started to talk about the “energies” of the bales and how they related to their surroundings. This is a common topic of discussion for El and I — we discuss how things or places make us feel, and the way their energies interact with the other things around them.
To help contextualize these things between us, we have developed a rough shorthand for many of the forces. Put simply, we tend to describe living or once-living things, wild or tame, as having fey energy. In this context, fey are not little creatures that sprinkle dewdrops on the grass or make flowers bloom. Rather, our discussions most often characterize fey as protective forces that somehow help to preserve living things.
In that discussion, we linked the hay bales to the fey, but not in the sense that they themselves were protected by the fey. Rather, the bales provided a sort of safe haven for those energies in the winter time, a place where they could shelter from the harsh cold. El described the bales as a “warm, cozy blanket” to the fey.
This characterization is what inspired January’s Story of the Month. You can read an excerpt from Baling below. If you’d like to read the rest of the story, you can check it out on Booksie, WattPad, and Medium!
By Josie Columbus
A small being darted through the shadows of the wheatfield. Both of the world and not, they were far more feeling than substance, and yet still stirred the towering wheat stalks with their passage. They bore no name they would speak to another — names have power, and the being knew not to give such power to anyone. Like all of their kind, they were addressed according to the impression that they left on others: shading clouds, hope, relief, satisfaction, mist over the fields, and dampened earth. Petrichor.
Petrichor was on their normal patrol of the wheatfield, expecting a simple day of magicking away mold or charming away hungry birds. It was work they did often, and did well, and they felt a meditative contentedness in their daily life. To keep the humans’ crops was a satisfying pastime — they lamented that harvesting season was well underway, and that they would soon have to endure a boring and cold winter. They felt a prickle of jealousy for those among their pod who would be Baled, but dismissed it. Baling was for a nobler sort of Fey. Petrichor could content themselves with their simple work and their dreams of the next sowing season.
They turned down a new row of wheat, and were brought to a standstill. There, crouching near the past of a wheat stalk, was a Wild Fey who gave Petrichor the impression of persistence, bright sunlight, thick undergrowth, choked gardens, and freedom. It was strange to see a Wild Fey in the wheatfield — they were a capricious folk, and their only consistent mood was disdain for humans and their works upon the world. If a Wild Fey was in the wheatfield, Petrichor knew it to mean trouble.
“Dandelion,” Petrichor said, speaking their impression of the other fey. “What are you doing here?”
Dandelion looked up from their work. They were weaving enchantments over a patch of bindweed to coax it to spread and deepen its roots. Their face twisted into a sneer.
“Nothing, farmhand,” Dandelion said. “Be on your way and leave me to my business.”
“You’re cultivating bindweed in the wheatfield,” Petrichor said. “That is my business.”
Dandelion scoffed. “Why?”
“Humans are friends to the Field Fey,” Petrichor said, though they knew Dandelion was simply stalling for time to deepen the bindweed’s roots beyond repair. “I will not let you bring a blight onto their land.”
“Friends,” Dandelion scoffed. “Friends are meant to benefit one another. You give to the humans — what do they give to you?”
“They seed the earth,” Petrichor said. “They tend the fields and cultivate the crops and rear animals on their farms.”
“To eat,” Dandelion said. “And to sell. The animals they raise are slaughtered at their hands. They create in excess to turn a profit. The food you help them to grow never even graces their own table.” Dandelion gave a snort of derision. They had become so distracted by their disdain that they had forgotten the bindweed at their feet. “Once there was a time when humans left offerings for us, Wild and Field alike. They respected us. Now they do nothing for us.”
“Humans planted the trees you call home,” Petrichor said. “Just as they planted the wheatfields.”
“Perhaps,” Dandelion said. “But the trees shook off the yoke of human cultivation long ago. Roots burrow in their floors now, and the trees grow where they wish rather then in lines to block the wind. We have won there, and we will win again.”
“You will not,” Petrichor said. “We will oppose you.”
“Why?” Dandelion demanded. “Give me one example of a service humans provide you, a single kindness they show, and I shall repent my wicked ways and join your court.”
Petrichor grinned. “Baling,” they said, and a feeling of satisfaction washed over them at their quick and irrefutable response.
To their surprise, Dandelion laughed. “Are you mad? That is no kindness!”
Dandelion looked at Petrichor as though they were stupid. “The humans tear through the fields to gather their crop, and you fools lay down and allow them to chew you up and spit you out! Then you are wrapped in the hay all season, useless, until the humans come and shake you free. Where is the sense in that?”
“That’s not what–”
“They burn the fields, spray poisons into the air and earth and water, and wipe the prairies clean of animals,” Dandelion said, ignoring Petrichor’s interjection. “Yet you feel that to wrap you in hay and leave you to rot is a kindness?”
Petrichor shook their head through all of Dandelion’s speech. “Humans have made mistakes, but they are getting better. There have been humans in these plains near as long as there have been fey. They are a part of the world, and they do what they can to keep it well. And besides,” Petrichor said. “There is no danger in Baling.”
“If there is no danger,” Dandelion said. “Then why do we all know the tales of what happens when the bales are forgotten? That the fey trapped inside them are lost when the bale rots away?”
Petrichor clenched their jaw. “They are tales of the foolishness of generations past,” Petrichor said.
“Are they?” Dandelion said. Petrichor could see they knew they’d struck a nerve. “I know many tales, Petrichor, of fey lost to Baling. Most are far more contemporary than the tales passed around your pod.”
While they spoke, Petrichor saw them wave their hand over the bindweed. The green of its leaves deepened, and the stalks stretched outward. Petrichor was filled with a combination of anger and embarrassment that Dandelion had distracted them from their duty.
“No,” Petrichor said, hoping their voice was firmer than their conviction. “I won’t have this in my field. Begone, wild one. You have no business here.”
Petrichor took a moment to draw their magic, feeling the energy flow between their palms. Dandelion scowled and shook their head.
“Have it your way then,” Dandelion said, then turned and fled.
Despite Dandelion’s departure, Petrichor still felt an edge of icy apprehension. The Wild Fey’s proclamations about the dangers of Baling had shaken them more than they wanted to admit. They sighed, pressed the thoughts away as best they could, and looked down at the spreading bindweed. They wove magic over it to loosen its roots and call it to the humans’ attention. Then they turned and continued their patrol of the fields.
I hope you enjoy the story, and I’ll talk to you next week!