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Stardon't Valley

Chapter Text

 

Robin led the newly arrived farmer to their inherited home. “Well, here we are!”

The amount of overgrowth was staggering. Even more shocking was that someone came out of the house to greet them.

“Hi, I'm Mayor Lewis! You can call me Mayor. Or, Lewis! Or, Mayor Lewis! It really doesn't matter.”

The farmer stared belligerently. “Don't just walk out of my house and invite me in like it's yours.”

“Come on in!” said Lewis-Mayor-Lewis.

After a brief tour of the house they all stood outside again to gaze upon it all.

Robin turned to Farmer. “So your last name is Farmer? Like your grandad?”

“Yeah. Eerily fitting, right?”

“Must be fate,” offered Lewis.

“Must be a family trade.” Farmer sighed. Neither destiny nor blood made the sight less daunting.

“Guess I'll leave you to it, then.” Robin patted Farmer on the back. “Good luck! Oh, and uh, if you need any repairs done, just give me a holler when you've collected enough wood. I'm sure you'll have plenty in no time. Take it easy!” She headed home.

The mayor turned to the farmer. “Even if you can't make it into town on time to sell your goods, you can still put them in this box here and I'll come around at night and haul it away for you.”

“I don't want you snooping around my house at night, you creepy old man.” Farmer wondered if everyone would be like this guy.

“Sounds great. Well, I'll be seeing you!” Mayor Lewis turned and left with a cheerful wave.

Farmer wasn't sure if that was a threat. “Not if I see you first!” They looked on as Lewis disappeared through the wooded path. Still not sure. Oh well.

Farmer turned back to the verdant farm. “Dang.”

A few days later Farmer walked to town to get some seeds. At Pierre's shop there was an unfamiliar villager.

“Hi, I don't think we've met… oh. You again.” The farmer’s smile deflated.

“Good to see you, Farmer!” Mayor Lewis beamed. “How're things going on the farm?”

“Good. Getting seeds now.”

“Don't forget to put anything you harvest into that box by your house. I check it every night.”

The farmer walked away.

After about three weeks of living in the valley the farmer knew pretty much everyone at least a little. One morning, on the way to the library from Marnie's ranch, Farmer spotted Penny sitting under a tree reading a book. They decided to stop by and give her a flower. Poor Penny, they thought. She's so sad.

“Hi, Penny! I brought you a flowe--- woah, what the hell?” Farmer stepped back and tripped on a rock.

It was not Penny.

“Mayor Lewis?!”

“I've been mayor for twenty years now…” The wig drooped to the side a little.

“What does that have to do with it?”

“No time for a family.” Lewis just stared off into the middle distance. “Wonder if it was worth it…”

Never mind where he got the wig, did he steal Penny's clothes? If he wanted to wear a dress why didn't he just go get his own? Farmer looked around quickly. Where was Penny anyway?

Lewis’s gaze rested on Farmer sternly. “You should go take Penny that flower, kid. She called in sick today.”

“Called in…?”

“Yep. Means I've gotta make the rounds for her. Sitting under trees. Following kids around. Those dishes in that trailer aren't going to wash themselves, you know. Pam won't do ’em.” He sighed. “That girl is too industrious. Why can't her routine be more like her mother's? Later today I'm going to have a heart to heart with Maru between the saloon and the graveyard. Busy, busy.”

“I think Maru would understand if you wanted to cancel until Penny recovered. I'm sure it'll be weird for her too.”

“Nope. Can't do that. Gotta keep order in the valley and this is the only way to do it. I told you I had no time for a family. This is why. I love my work.” Lewis thought for a minute. “What do you mean weird?”

“I've gotta go take this flower over to Penny.” Farmer started to leave but stopped and turned back. “Here. Since you're also Penny today, I'll give you one too.” Farmer handed the mayor a daffodil.

“Thanks, this looks nice.” Lewis took it and smiled. “Word of advice: give her a dandelion if you've got one. She likes those more.”

“She likes weeds more than flowers?”

“I'm not a mind reader, kid.”

“Fair enough. See ya ‘round, Mayor.”

Chapter Text

“Oh. Well, it's certainly nice to see you again. Or, to be formally introduced. I mean, we've sorta already met, right?” The farmer shook hands with Pam who was sitting at the bar in the saloon.

“Have we now?”

“Yeah. Yesterday. You just said you were the bus driver, right? I thought you looked familiar. You drove me into town, remember?”

“Oh, right. The bus.” Pam was going to need another beer. “You're not looking to leave town any time soon, are ya? You're not by any chance starting to regret leaving everything about your old life back in the city you'll maybe never see again, are ya?”

“Uh, I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it. Why? Is there something wrong?” Itches suddenly needed scratching as though someone casually mentioned lice in conversation.

“The bus is broken down, kid.”

“Can't we fix it?”

Pam eyed the newcomer skeptically. “Were you a mechanic before?”

“Well, no… Are there no mechanics in town? We can't call a mechanic to come fix it?”

“We'd need a lot of money for that. And to fix the old vault to hold all the money while we gathered it up. Are you planning on doing a fundraiser? Maybe a telethon?”

“Jeez, okay. Sorry.” Farmer began to feel uneasy. “So, wait. Are you telling me my ride into the valley was the last time the bus worked?”

“Yup.” She took a swig.

“So I stepped off the bus… and then, what? It just broke right then and there?”

“Yep. Engine fell right out.” Pam sniffled despite herself. “Poor baby.”

The farmer didn't know how to react. Suddenly they felt more intimidated than seeing all of the trees growing on top of each other back at the farm.

They cautiously put a hand on Pam’s shoulder. “I'm sorry, Pam. I'll find a way to fix it one way or another. Even if I have to scrounge up all the money myself.”

“It's going to cost more’n 42 grand.”

Farmer's balance wavered for a moment but not their sincerity. “That might take me a while. But I'm still going to do it.”

Pam smiled and brushed the hand off her shoulder. “Don't sweat it, kid. Just grow me some hops come Summertime and we'll call it a day.”

“You got it.”

Chapter Text

“Hi there, Farmer!” Robin looked up from behind her desk.

Farmer waved and wiped their boots off on the door mat before approaching. All this rain sure made for a lot of mud.

“Are you here to buy a farm upgrade? Maybe a little work on the house?”

“How did you know?” Farmer smiled and rested their elbows on the counter top, peering over to snoop the catalogue Robin was opening. “I don't know how Grandad got by in such a small cabin.”

“Tell me about it.” Robin snorted and shook her head. “Well, the first thing to do would be to add a kitchen. Legally, you can't get hitched in this town without one.”

Farmer dismissed that last detail for now. “I was thinking more along the lines of adding, y’know, a bathroom?”

“Eh?”

“Would it have to be an out house around here? Would it be a farm structure instead of a home upgrade?”

“I don't follow.”

“You know. An outhouse?”

“I still don't follow.”

“A W/C? Loo? Restroom?”

She just shook her head, confused.

“Bathroom?” Farmer didn't know what to do but to start the list over.

“You want to take a bath? There used to be a bath house North of here by the train station but the way has been blocked for a while now.”

Farmer just stared with eyes narrowed. “Are you being serious?”

“...Yeah? Why not?” She stood up straight and folded her arms.

“Okay.” Farmer stood up straight too with hands rested on the countertop. “I guess I'll have to find another solution then. Thanks anyway.”

Outside the carpenter's shop Sebastian was doing his best to keep his cigarette lit in the rain.

Farmer sent him an upward nod.

Sebastian blew smoke off to the side and beckoned them over.

“What's up?”

“I heard you talking to my mom.”

“It's weird, right? Doesn't anyone in this town take a shit?” Farmer shifted their weight.

“I'll tell you what I do.” He looked around covertly to make sure they were alone.

Farmer leaned in.

“You know that mine shaft? That hole in the ground over there?” He pointed with his free hand.

Farmer nodded uneasily.

“Works just fine for me.”

Farmer was visibly disgusted.

“Pretty sure I'm not the only one, either.” The cigarette bounced as he spoke. It returned to his hand when his chuckle became too much of a cough. “Don't tell Maru. Or Abigail. Hell, it's probably best not to mention to anyone. Those two would have a fit though. They both love those mines. I'd never hear the end of it.”

Farmer wished that bath house were open a thousand times over. At least by now they'd started using the elevator in the mines. They stepped out from under the shelter of the roof and into the rain.

Sebastian didn't think anything of it, assuming the farmer was leaving, until he saw them crawl down into the lake. “Hey, wait. What're you doing?”

“Purifying myself.”

Fair enough, Sebastian figured, and watched lazily until the cigarette burned down to the filter.

Chapter Text

Their evening had started quietly enough.

Making eyes at one another from across the saloon.

Winking.

Provocative eating.

A tie loosened here, some hair let down there.

Leaving at different times so no one would suspect.

Sneaking past sleeping livestock to get to the house.

Until finally they were alone in the bedroom.

Away from peeping eyes. Insulated from listening ears.

Embracing passionately.

“Marnie, I love you.”

“Oh, Lewis. I love you!”

It was a whirlwind romance. Neither had felt so young since the time they were actually as young as they felt.

“Darling, you’re trembling…!” Lewis whispered.

Marnie snapped to attention. “Uhh… That’s not me, hun.” She looked around. “I think it’s the bed.”

“Is it the kind that shakes on its own?”

“No…?”

They both sat up.

“Oh shit-- it’s an earthquake!” Marnie scrambled out from under Lewis and grabbed a robe.

Lewis threw on his trousers and fussed with his belt while looking for his shirt.

Marnie opened the back window and handed him his hat on his way out. “Here. Can’t forget your hat!”

“Thanks!” He kissed her goodbye and disappeared into the night.

Marnie closed the window, wrapped her robe around herself, and finished tying it as she reached her door. On her way from one end of the room to the other she thought she saw something out of place. She turned and looked.

“Ha!” She snorted. Lewis had the most flamboyant boxers. She wondered if it was because he knew it amused her so much.

“Oh well. I’ll find a way to return them later,” she whispered to herself before opening the door to check on Jaz and Shane.

Back at his own home the mayor came to an embarrassing realization.

“Consarn it,” he cursed with a clenched fist. “But I can’t just go back to Marnie’s or ask her to return them to me later.”

Lewis’s brow furrowed as he stroked his mustache.

“I know. I’ll ask the farmer to get them for me.”

The next morning Farmer woke to a strange awareness that the earthquake had happened despite not feeling it at all. They didn’t think there would be any mail because of it but checked anyway.

“Oh. What’d’ya know.” They opened and read Lewis’s letter. “What the hell, man? How is even sending a letter like this ‘discrete’?”

Chapter Text

A pebble bounced off of Gunther's weird blue hat. It made quiet tapping sounds as it escaped. He did not react. Farmer aimed again.

Still nothing.

Not this time either? The librarian was a tough nut to crack.

How about now?

Gunther eyed the top of Farmer’s hair which was all that was visible from the other side of the desk. Here comes their forehead, he thought. Better look away quickly.

Farmer peeked out from over the desk. “Oh, come on, Gunther! Talk to meee!”

“It doesn't look like you have any donations to make to the museum.”

“Ugghhhh.” Farmer groaned and slumped over the desk. “I've known owls more talkative than you. Let me give you gifts like everyone else. Even just one. When's your birthday?”

No response.

“Where is your house?” Farmer looked up but remained slumped. “Where do you sleep? Do you even sleep? Do you live in here? Do you commute from elsewhere? I never see you at the yearly festivals. There are like 5 houses in this town and they're all owned by other people.”

No response.

“OK, fine.” They stood up properly. “I'll just go rearrange the entire collection again. See how you like that .”

Marlon wasn't any better.

“Hay. Hay. Hay.” Farmer was reaching over the counter with an arm extended as far as it would go, batting at the corner of Marlon's cape with the very edge of their fingertips. “Hay. Hay. Hay. Hay.”

Marlon remained stoic.

“Where'd you get your eye patch? What happened there? Did a slime eat your eyeball? Did you sacrifice it to an elder god to save a lover who later died some other way after all? Did you give it to a witch who granted you all knowledge?”

Marlon looked over and lifted it enough to show his eye wasn't missing. “It's what for seein’ in the dark-caves.”

“Oh.” Farmer still glittered with awe all the same. They paused the cape flapping for now.

“What do you want for not-Christmas?”

“Summer just started.”

“Do I need more time than this to get it?”

“Don't give me gifts.”

A daffodil bounced off Marlon's face.

“This countertop can't stop me. What if I throw them to you? I'll give you more warning next time.”

Marlon sighed.

“Heads up.” It was a gold star salmon this time.

A ruby? He probably has enough rubies.

An orange? Nothing.

A chocolate cake? A jar of honey?

A cup of coffee?

Still no.

“Ok, fine. You leave me no choice.” Farmer stood up straight with fist over heart. “I'll get to the bottom of those mines. I will. I'll be so good at adventuring you'll be all like ‘ohhh, farrrmerrr… you killed all those bugs for meeee?’ And I'll be like, ‘yeah, baby, you know it.’” Farmer was undeterred by Marlon's indifference.

Well, maybe a little self conscious at the awkward silence.

“Alright, cool. I'll see myself out. And I'll see you later.” Farmer closed the door behind themselves with a wink and a pistol shaped point.

Chapter Text

The saloon was warm and dry. A welcome contrast to that evening's weather. A number of familiar faces had already settled in. The farmer made the rounds before ordering a round.

Willy was warming up before work. Clint was from a long line of blacksmiths. Leah wanted to cook something spicy. Pam happily took the beer Farmer accidentally gave her. Emily told Farmer about the desert, and Gus expressed his appreciation for Emily doing the dishes for him. The only person left was Shane. Farmer ordered another beer and braced themselves.

“Hey,” Farmer approached as casually as possible.

“Don't you have anything better to do than hassle me while I'm at work?”

Farmer looked around a couple times then back to him. “Shane… We're at the saloon.”

He didn't say anything else. He just stood there glaring at his beer.

Farmer leaned forward and waved a concerned hand in front of Shane's face. They froze and turned mid wave when the door opened again. The town doctor? Farmer straightened up. They’d only just met, thanks in no small part to the doctor’s seeming reclusiveness. Farmer watched him take a seat at the bar.

Shane was having personal problems that he clearly had to face alone. Maybe this other guy knew how to leave work at the door.

“Hey,” the farmer tried again.

The doctor turned and smiled. “Hi, Farmer! Er... Read anything interesting in the library lately?”

Farmer breathed a sigh of relief and moved for the barstool next to Harvey. “Not lately, you know? It's a shame the previous librarian ran off with the entire collection. But Gunther said I might be able to find some in the ground if I'm lucky.”

“Heh. Well, um... I'll see you around then?” Harvey turned back to the bar. He looked annoyed. Wait. Had he been wearing a stethoscope this whole time? What's going on here?

Farmer froze mid-sit. Just, sort of... crouched over the stool. They weren't great at handling rejection but this was beginning to be too much.  

The next thing Farmer knew, they were running home with their wrist over their eyes, blubbering tears into their rain soaked flannel.

Chapter Text

“Granny, Granny! I've brought you something.” Farmer held out a bag of oranges when they caught up to Evelyn at the town square flower bed.

“Oh my, it looks wonderful! That's very kind of you.” Her beady little eyes beamed above her mostly toothless smile. “I really like oranges. You know, they used to be very expensive so they were popular as holiday souvenirs. Now, I suppose they'll grow anywhere with a little extra work. Or a greenhouse and a truck.” She chuckled. “Would you like one?”

“You sure? I meant for you to have them.”

“It's fine. Gifts should be enjoyed together. Especially food. Here, have a seat.” She cleared her trowel and gloves from the wall of the flower bed and the two of them sat on the edge.

Farmer went ahead and took care of the peeling while Evelyn took a deep breath of warm, fresh air.

“I can smell some of the salty air from the shore. When I was a little girl my friends and I would go to the beach to collect sea shells. They were so shiny and smooth. I don't think I kept any but I think about those days every summer.”

After they had eaten, Evelyn asked Farmer if they could take them to her kitchen since the bag was still a bit too heavy for her. Farmer obliged and they parted ways pleasantly.

The next day the farmer stopped by Evelyn's home with a clam shell they'd found and cleaned up. “Here, Granny, I thought you might like this shell. I found it on the beach yesterday afternoon and thought about what you told me so I cleaned it up and strung it on a thread.”

She begrudgingly accepted it. “...It smells awful.” Her face looked sour.

“What, really?” Farmer leaned in and sniffed. “Maybe I should have cleaned it more. But I just smell the beach. Which I thought you liked.”

She just smiled like she felt sorry for the farmer and patted them on the arm as she turned back to her cooking. “It's the thought that counts, dear.”

Outside the house the farmer kicked a loose rock laying around. “Well, shucks.”

Chapter Text

The last few Saturdays had been rainy. Finally it was a clear day and Willy would be out fishing instead of tending his shop. And, he always left the shop open during business hours even if he wasn't there.

“Folks coming all the way to the beach is rare so if they go to the trouble I should at least let them cool off in the shop,” he had once told Farmer. “Maybe they'll get the itch and leave a few dollars for a fishing rod.”

Until they moved to the valley, Farmer didn't think of themselves as nosey. But now it felt like all they did was snoop around. It was such a tightly knit community. Everyone else had been there for so much longer, if not their whole lives. Farmer had a lot of catching up to do. At least, that's what they told themself. It still felt shady.

They had reached two hearts with everyone they'd met and had been in most people's rooms. It wasn't until they were skipping around Clint's room that they noticed how many old bachelors there were in town compared to the number of single adult women. Pam and Marnie were it, versus Clint, Gus, Lewis, Willy, the Wizard, Gunther… they felt like they were forgetting a couple more guys. Marlon and that other guy, maybe? Probably. Unless… they don't count? Well, who can say. They certainly aren't taking about it.

Anyway.

God knows what Willy had going on the side but Farmer was excited to find out.

Even more excited when the door wouldn't budge.

“Whoah, no way.” They yearned, “Ohh it must be something really gooood…”

It did not matter to the door. It was not betraying its owner today. Farmer began speculating wildly. By the time they reached ‘literal fish wife enshrined in an aquarium bedazzled with quahog pearls of every size and color’, they decided to just give up. There was no way Willy's life was nearly as spectacular as they could hope.

Just as they were walking past the sales counter, Willy returned from fishing.

“Oh-- hey there, Farmer!” He smiled and waved with the hand that wasn't loaded up with rods, buckets, and tackle boxes. “Anything I can do for you?”

Farmer stopped dead on their tracks, having nearly been caught. It was clear he either didn't know or wasn't bothered. Temptation welled up in Farmer's chest. Should they ask about his room?

“No, I'm good.” They smiled back and waved their arms out idly. “Just enjoying the cool shade of the shop before I head back into town.”

Chapter Text

“Welcome! You're here awful early. What can I get you?” Gus greeted the farmer warmly.

“I'd like the special, please.”

“Sure thing!”

The farmer sat at the bar. Their leg wouldn't stop bouncing.

“Something on your mind?”

“Gus. Oh man. Check this out.” Farmer leaned in over the bar and Gus met them halfway. “I just got this new sword, right? From the mines?”

Gus leaned back with a wary look in his eye. “Oh, I don't know, kiddo. You shouldn't be goin’ into those mines.”

Farmer sat up straight on the stool, feeling a distance grow between them. “But Gus, I've already been to the bottom floor now. It's how I got the sword.”

“Yeah, I don't know… Those mines are dangerous.”

“...I agree?” Maybe it was best to share the good news with someone else.

Gus brought the plate of food over all the same and it was delicious.

Pam arrived when the farmer was on their way out. She probably wouldn't care either way about anything.

“Oh, hey, Pam. I got to the bottom of the mines the other day and--”

“The mines? No one's gone in there for years. You'd be in over your head, kid.”

“But I got to the--”

“You've got a lot goin’ for ya. Don't waste it now.” She sat down and received her daily beer.

“Right. Well, thanks anyway. Have a good one!”

Outside the saloon Penny sat under a tree reading. The farmer hoped that since she was younger than the other two she'd be on the same page.

“You've been to the bottom of the mines? Gosh. I've lived here my whole life and never even looked at them.”

“Yeah. They're pretty crazy. Okay, well, I'll see you later.”

The moms hanging out South of the town square reacted about the same as Penny. The farmer was starting to become disappointed. Maybe their only hope for a listening ear was also the absolute last person they should mention the mines to.

“Hey, Doc, ask me where my sword is.” The farmer burst in through the door.

Harvey looked up from the medical journal he'd been reading behind the front desk of his empty clinic and firmly planted his feet back down on the floor. No backward-falling gags this time, buster.

The farmer, who was oblivious to Harvey's personal triumph, reached the desk in a heartbeat. “Ask me.”

“... About your sword?”

“Yeah. I got a new one. It's crazy.” But not as crazy as their eyes looked right this minute. Surely.

“Okay… Where is it?”

“Behind the tree outside of Marnie’s ranch.”

“So?”

“I asked Jaz and Vincent to hide it from me.”

“Don't give children weapons.”

“Don't worry. Shane intervened when he saw me taking to Jaz. Anyway do you want to know how I know where it is?”

“Did you watch them hide it?”

“No.” Glee started radiating through the farmer's seams.

“Did you go looking for it?”

“No.” Their spread fingers gripped their wide eyed, grinning face. They were the image of giddiness unbridling.

“Okay, then how?”

“I don't know!” The farmer bounced a little and through their arms up. “It must be magic or something! I'm going to go ask Marlon about it this afternoon when his shop opens.”

Harvey struggled to see the significance but was glad to hear good news. “Neat.”

“Right? I don't know how many times I've gotten in over my head in the mines only to be pulled out later with, like, half my stuff gone, usually including my previous swords,” they shook their down turned head with folded arms and sighed sorrowfully for a second before perking back up again at full force. “But not anymore! I've even been pulled out a couple more times since I got it and I'm pretty sure I can't even misplace it. It's like a sixth sense…!”

“Huh.” The doctor considered this carefully. “Wait-- WHAT?” He stood up abruptly with both hands on the desk.

The farmer jumped back. Unless the doctor vaulted over the desk, which up until this point seemed very unlikely, they could probably make it to the front door before he got all the way around the desk; what with the hall and two doors in the way. For a split second they stared at each other at an impasse.

Farmer looked at their empty wrist. “Okay, the adventure shop's probably open by now.”

“Wait a minute!” Harvey pointed and glanced over his shoulder while stumbling over his desk chair on the way to the door behind him.

“Good seein’ ya! Take it easy!” Farmer was already out the front door with a wave.

Chapter Text

“Maru, Maru!” Farmer ran toward her with a waving hand raised high above their head.

“Hi, Farmer!” She smiled and waved back. “What's new?”

“Check this out.” Farmer stopped in front of her.

Maru hesitated before asking, “I don't suppose you can show me while we walk into town? I have to be at work soon.” She started to rock on her heels.

“Sorry, no, not really.” Farmer stayed put. “That's kinda the point.”

“Maybe some other time then?” She tried to walk around.

Farmer took a strong stance and planted their heels firmly on the ground. “Here we go-o…” They gently gripped Maru’s shoulders with both hands.

“Look, I really…need to… Why are you holding me back?” Maru started to fluster. “You'll get my uniform dirty.”

“Just wait a second. I promise this'll only take a minute. Don't worry, I did this to Gus yesterday. If you can believe that.” Farmer chucked a bit but quickly resumed focusing all their energy on moving past her without taking a step.

“This is really-- Come on, you're making me uncomfortable. Do you want me to be late? Are you trying to make me look bad? Don't take your jealousy out on me!” Maru’s voice got louder. “This isn't funny! It's weird!”

Right then she burst through Farmer's grip, stumbling on the other side. She steadied herself and turned around. “What the hell?”

Farmer turned around too, slightly out of breath. “Right? It's weird, right?”

“Yeah…”

“I-I'm sorry I startled you. You're the first person who hasn't run off in a huff immediately after. Even though it's such a small town it seems like anytime anyone goes anywhere around here it's with a life or death urgency.” Farmer considered what the townspeople would be like in an actual traffic jam.

“I guess we value punctuality,” Maru wondered.

“Yeah… must be something like that.” Farmer scratched their chin with eyes narrowed in thought. “You got really mad.”

“You were being weird and not telling me why!” Maru sputtered.

“I am sorry for being weird. But also, earlier, what'd you mean by ‘jealousy’?”

Maru’s eyebrows raised but her eyelids did not.

They looked at their watch as an afterthought. “Oh. And I'm also sorry that you are running late now.”

Maru scoffed. “Sure you are. Maybe you can come with me and apologize to my boss too.” She put her hand on her hip. “Oh, and while you're at it, why don't you show him your new trick?”

Farmer stood up straight with both hands up, palms out, and a flat expression. “Pass.”

“Aww, really?”

“Yes, pass.” Farmer nodded curtly. “Pass, thanks. Pass.”

Maru tapped her chin with her index finger. “Hmm, I wonder why…”

Farmer found her blooming sly grin disconcerting. Welp, time to get weird again.

Farmer turned 180 degrees of fury and bolted into the morning mist, shouting at the top of their lungs, “You don't know me! You don't know my life!”

Chapter Text

Harvey looked the bottle over, checked his watch, then looked back to the bottle. “You think we should open it? It’s 3 PM on a Wednesday.”

“A fine time for a bottle of wine,” Farmer nearly cooed. It had been a long week of waiting for their first bottle of wine to be ready but the spark in Harvey’s eyes the moment he saw it made Farmer's wait completely worthwhile. He might try to downplay his excitement but Farmer already saw it. No take-backs.

“You’re done for the day, right? Pierre’s shop is closed today too so I’m completely free.” Farmer held both hands at shoulder level with palms up. “That being said, if you’d rather hold off or enjoy it with someone else, I’ll understand. But, to be honest, I would kinda like to try it.” Farmer turned the hand gesture into shrug and tilted their head. Was this coy? Was being coy a good idea right now?

“This is seriously your first attempt?” He looked at Farmer over the rim of his glasses. He was impressed but Farmer interpreted it as skepticism.

“Yeah. So… I don’t know how good it actually is.” Farmer laughed uneasily.

“Okay. Then, maybe, just in case, you know… just in case there’s something… maybe I should be around when you try it. As a medical prof--”

“Doc, please. It’s not poison. It was supposed to be a gift. For you.”

“Okay. I’ll go get a couple glasses.” He hurried through the swinging doors and up the stairs to his cupboard, completely unconfident in whether he even owned more than one wine glass.

Farmer took a seat on the computer chair, spinning back and forth idly.

A minute later Harvey returned with a wine glass, a coffee mug, and a sheepish smile. The bachelor lifestyle was a trim one for dishes. “Here. You can have the glass.”

Farmer hid an empathetic smirk and opened the bottle. They took a guess on how much was appropriate to pour into a mug.

“Well? How is it?”

“Good!” Harvey took a second sip. “I normally only drink for special occasions.”

“Is this one?” Farmer took a sip. Not bad. Maybe a little strong.

“Oh. It doesn’t need to be.”

“Should we think of something? Like a toast?” Farmer leaned to the side against the computer desk and rested their head on their upturned fist.

Harvey looked at his shoes with an embarrassed smile. “It’s really okay. I don’t know why I mentioned that.” After a moment he gazed over the clinic lobby from behind the desk. Even with the lights dimmed for after hours security it was still pretty, well, clinical. But somewhere between the wine and good company he felt warm. “This is nice. Thank you.”

“Sure!” Farmer smiled brightly. “Any time.”

They chatted casually through the rest of their first glasses and poured another round.

“It's nice to have a friend in town.”

“Yeah.” Farmer smiled and nodded.

Despite the affirmation Harvey suddenly became self conscious about relaxing this much. Maybe steering the conversation back to familiar territory would help. “By the way, feel free to stop by my office if you're ever feeling ill. You're young, though. You'll probably stay healthy without trying,” he chuckled nervously.

“Good health is that easy for the young, huh?” Farmer wasn’t sure what was so funny but decided to roll with it. “I'm not feeling so young these days. Unless... Doc,” Farmer leaned in a bit with a grin. “Are you flirting with me?”

He cleared his throat and shifted his weight. Farmer was sitting in the only chair behind the desk and Harvey felt increasingly conspicuous by standing. Maybe his arms should be folded.

“I mean… at any age nutrition is important, so make sure and eat well. Like increasing your vegetable intake, for instance. Home-cooked meals are best.” He loosened his tie a little. “Do you cook?” Maybe folded arms seemed defensive. He poured another glass to think it over.

“Yeah… Maybe a little? Robin only recently finished installing a kitchen for me so I’m not very good yet. Why do you ask?” Farmer leaned backward again with one leg over the other and laughed, “Are you scoping out my prospects?”

“It’s just that when you eat certain foods you'll perform better.” He said, standing upright, motioning with the glass in one hand and the other hand at his hip. Confidence.

“Perform better?” Farmer stifled a laugh. “Perform better, how? What scenario is this?”

“Yeah, like eating a 'Farmer's Brunch' will give you the nutrition you need to water and harvest crops better!” Maybe it was too much confidence. An inordinate amount of confidence. What was he thinking.

“Ah.” Farmer took another sip of wine and looked sidelong at the mousepad in a failing effort to distract themselves from the disappointment that he hadn’t been headed somewhere else with that thought. Who in this day and age still uses mousepads? Was it a trackball mouse? It didn’t even have a scroll wheel.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Farmer continued thoughtfully. “Maybe I’ll see the recipe on TV soon. But I’ve done alright building endurance. You know, just by getting outside and working each day.”

Harvey took it down a notch and leaned his free palm on the desk with his drinking hand at the ready. Maybe more casual was better. He pictured Billy Dee Williams drinking Dos Equis. “Exercise is important, but don't get too exhausted, or you might end up at my clinic! Make sure and listen to your body.” He sipped away casually.

“Wait, what?” Farmer had to set their drink down after nearly executing a spit take.

Too smooth. Too smooth! Harvey hid behind a long sip. He wasn't sure what he was saying anymore either and his third glass of wine wasn't helping as much as he'd hoped. Still unsure of how to stand or what to talk about, he sidled up next to the fern and slowly drifted behind it. He pet one of the fronds to lower it from his face. He felt like an idiot.

Screw it. He did his best to look alluring.

“I'd like to get to know you better, Farmer. Let's put aside our doctor-patient relationship.”

“That sounds nice but are you sure it's appropri--are you sure you're not hitting on me? I'm very unclear on this.” Farmer was still only on glass two but suddenly noticed more was missing from the bottle than that.

Farmer struck a Walk-Like-an-Egyptian pose in case this exotic pose exchange was in fact a custom and not just Harvey being a dingus. “Do you want to come to the Saloon with me for some food?”

Farmer couldn’t even see him anymore. His upper body was completely hidden by the fern now. Harvey looked up at the ceiling, wondering what the hell he was trying to do. If he was going to go down, even without knowing what up had been, he decided he might as well go down in flames.

Between looking straight up, being behind foliage, and losing his nerve, his voice sounded distant. “If you want to hang out in my apartment, that's okay with me. I live above the clinic.”

That thought hung in the air a while.

“Are you okay?” Farmer really was starting to worry at this point.

He didn't answer.

“Hey.” Farmer leaned to the side to try to see him better. “Hey.”

“Hey...” His head rolled to the side. He found solace in the wall being close enough to lean against. His eyes started off looking at the floor but floated up to make contact when he realized Farmer was staring at him and could see him now. “Hello…” He waved meekly.

“Are you okay back there?”

“Yes? Everything seems normal.”

“Making friends?”

Harvey shook a fern frond gently. “Yes.”

“Do you want to come out from behind there?”

“Yes, I suppose I should.” He looked down as he shuffled carefully around the large flower pot.

Farmer stood from the chair and realized for the first time how woozy they’d also gotten. “Do you want to have a seat? We can switch if you like. I don’t mind.”

“Thank you.” Still looking down, he then shuffled over to the chair and eased into it.

Farmer leaned their backside against the desk with both hands lightly gripping the edge and one foot resting over the other on the floor. Harvey surveyed this pose and sighed. It looked so easy. So simple. So obvious.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” He rubbed his forehead.

“It’s okay. It’s probably just the wine. It is a little strong and you did say you don’t drink often.” Farmer balanced the bottle on its bottom edge with the mouth between their fingers and let it roll that way wanly. For a little while it was the only sound in the room. “I should probably get going.”

“Will you be alright? Would you like me to walk you home?”

Farmer snorted. “I’ll be fine. Do you want me to help you up the stairs?”

“Oh.” Harvey scratched his head. “Yeah, maybe.”

Farmer stood and held out an arm. Harvey stood uneasily and took hold of it. It felt strange to be assisted but he didn’t feel like he had any pride left at this point.

At the top of the stairs, with their hand on the door knob, Farmer paused for a second.

“I’m good to go if you need to head out,” Harvey offered.

Farmer smiled and pushed the door open.

“Sorry, it’s a bit of a mess. I wasn’t expecting guests.”

Farmer’s smile grew wider as they looked up. “Model airplanes? There are so many!”

“Yeah…” Harvey disengaged from Farmer’s side and scratched the back of his neck with one hand while he closed the door with the other. “It’s a hobby of mine. Something to pass the time, you know? I only see patients on two days out of the whole week so even after paperwork and keeping up with research I do have a lot of downtime.”

Farmer moved closer to the window where more hung from the ceiling. “That’s really cool,” they marvelled.

“Really?”

“Well, yeah. The farm keeps me pretty busy now but back in the city I completely squandered my free time with TV and potato chips.” Farmer looked around the rest of the room. “Radio equipment?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Harvey stepped forward with a hand out toward the radio. “Do you want to see how it works?”

“Sure!”

They spent the rest of the evening touring the room like that, talking about radios, books, and music.

Chapter Text

“Can I be your apprentice now?” Farmer beamed for having reached ten hearts with the wizard.

“Apprentice? Who said anything about an apprenticeship?” The wizard scoffed.

You did! Right after we first met! It's why I've been giving you all this weird junk from the mines.” Farmer waved a hand over the fine display of occult paraphernalia laid out on the table.

“I'm certainly grateful but I won't make you an apprentice for that.” He stroked his beard thoughtfully.

“Seriously? You've gotta give me something for my troubles.”

“I don't think you know how friendship works. Besides, I've been letting you use my shrine of illusions to help you stay one step ahead of the mayor's wig collection at all times.”

“That's true. Thanks for that. We must be ever vigilant.”

“Ever vigilant. And if you really want something more, I also happen to have this.” He shuffled over to the bookshelf and returned with a strangely new looking tome.

“What's this?”

“It's a guest book. I let you farmers use it to leave notes for each other across dimensions.”

“Wat?”

“There are alternate realities. This is not the only iteration of the Stardew Valley. This book is for precocious farmers that earn my respect. You lot are a wild bunch, though. I will say that.”

“Huh.” Farmer looked down at the book and opened it carefully. The contents were all hand written with vastly different styles and ranged from captioned photos to tips to full stories. “This is weird. But cool. Really coo--they did WHAT with the mayor's shorts?!” Farmer busted out laughing so hard the book nearly fell from their lap. There was a lot to go through so they reopened it to a random page. “Wait. This person says Elliott is a merman. Is that true?”

“Ah, truth…” Rasmodius tried to looked off into the distance. “What a subjective--”

“Oh hush, Razmotaz.” Farmer was looking at him flatly. “You're a wizard, not a philosopher. Anyway, why are you showing me this?”

“You're the farmer. You tell me.”

“It is pretty entertaining.” They flipped through a few more pages. “Wow. It really seems like everyone loves Shane. What would he say if he knew he was so popular? He can barely stand having one farmer hassling him every day outside the clinic. Imagine the lot of us appearing to him all at once. Pepper Poppers raining from the sky. He’d probably still just be all like, ‘I don’t know you. Why are you talking to me?’” They did their best Shane imitation but cracked up. “It’s a shame he’s not eligible.”

“Actually…”

Farmer looked up with a gasp. “No way.”

The wizard nodded.

“He’s THAT popular.”

The wizard looked to the side and nodded again.

“How is that possible? Just because a bunch of us loonies kept going on about him?”

“Pretty much.”

“Well alright then!” Farmer searched their pockets and pulled out a pen. They flipped through to a page with some blank space and began feverishly scribbling with a determined look on their face.

“You aura is ominous. Might I inquire what you are contributing?”

“Well, this one person in the section with the pictures of blue birds said they wanted to marry you . So. I’m going to help them make noise about it.”

Rasmodius turned abruptly. “You can’t be serious.”

“Oh yeah. Have you not read these?”

“Drivel.”

“It’s entertaining and you know it.” Farmer stuck their tongue out before continuing. “It’s going to be a lemon,” they muttered with resolve.

Chapter Text

The farmer sat on the sofa in Harvey's apartment, watching the history channel. How did he get cable out here in the valley? It had been a long day of plowing so it was nice to just relax and let the mind wander. But was it really okay to just hang out here alone?

The door clicked open.

“Oh, hi!” Harvey looked up and smiled brightly.

Farmer could have sworn an exclamation point popped out of his head and disappeared. Again leaving no evidence of the spontaneous punctuation manifestation… hallucination? Next time. Next time there would be proof, Farmer reassured themself.

“I thought you'd have gotten bored and left by now. I was worried I'd missed you.” He hung his jacket up on the coat rack.

“Nah, I finished everything I needed to do for today. Do you want some help with dinner?”

“That’d be nice. Thank you.”

They stared at the microwave together for a few hours until it was time for bed.

Harvey looked at the clock and frowned. “It's getting pretty late. We should go to sleep.”

The farmer started getting nervous. “Bed?”

“Yeah. Do you need me to walk you home?”

“Oh. No…” They fidgeted with their index fingers. “I kinda hoped maybe I could stay here a while longer?”

Was the farmer avoiding something back at home? Harvey looked concerned but let it go. “Sure, if you want. I don't have a problem with it.”

“Okay, cool.” The farmer fidgeted feverishly and looked around sheepishly. Trying to be super covert, they looked over out of the corner of their eye toward the bed….aaaannnnd….. Harvey was already in it fast asleep. The farmer lost their balance for a second. “I guess that's that, then.”

But he did say it was okay. So why not? It was cold back at the farmhouse this time of year. And the couch was comfy. Maybe that knee surgery book was worth a look.

The next morning the farmer woke up in their own bed though. “That's odd.”

The dog sat staring at his beloved human. He boofed and wagged.

“Hello, pup.”

Outside there was mail in the box. A letter from Harvey? It read:

“I found you passed out so I carried you home! Be careful not to overwork yourself!”

The farmer sighed with a smile. “Oh, Harvey. That is not at all what I had in min--you're seriously charging me a fee?!”

The farmer looked up into the sky with raised fists, cursing the oversized semi-transparent image of the town doctor, smiling cheerfully with a thumbs up, floating in the sky.

Calming down a bit, the farmer returned to reality with a new resolve. “That money’ll be mine again when I marry that boy.”

Chapter Text

The farmer’s eyes flipped open to the sound of their dog panting. It sounded close. As in, right behind their head. But that was impossible. How could this be?

They sat up and felt the wall behind them.

“What are you doing?” Harvey was curious but too tired to invest more than one blurry eye into the waking world.

“Do you hear that?” Farmer looked around. No dog in sight. Only sound.

Neither of them stirred, waiting. Then, a bork. It was hollow. Vacuous. A bork from out of time and space. It was haunting. Harvey sat up.

“That's pretty creepy.”

“I know. I don't see him anywhere, either.” Farmer rolled back the blankets and stepped to the wall. They leaned in, pressing their hands and an ear against it. “I could swear I'm hearing him run around on the other side of this wall. Can you check the nursery?”

“Upstairs?”

“Yeah, maybe the sound is filtering down through the wall. I don't know. I'll check out back.”

They each did those things but there was no dog to be seen. They met back up in the living room.

“This is really weird.” Harvey rubbed the back of his neck.

“Yeah.”

“What should we do?”

“I don't know. Maybe call Robin?” Farmer looked across the bedroom to Harvey's study. “Wait. You've got that window, right?”

“Yeah?”

They both walked over to it and each looked out for a second.

“Seems normal.”

“Yeah… but have you ever opened it?”

“Not since I moved in, no…”

“Do you mind if we..?”

“Oh, sure.”

Farmer undid the latches and pried the window open. Despite being new construction the paint seemed to stick, or the wood had swollen, or… something. It seemed older than it was. Honestly, it felt just like the window in his apartment above the clinic. Exactly like that.

Farmer's thoughts were interrupted by a thick draft of cold air rushing past. But it wasn't air from outside. It was air from the room escaping out the window. As the window pane opened further it was clear that it did not lead outside. Through the glass, you could see out. But through the open hole there was only darkness.

Farmer leaned in and poked their head through to call for the dog but Harvey panicked and pulled them back inside.

“Woah, woah, are you crazy? We don't know what's out there.”

Farmer shrugged, still looking but entirely from the house side. “Seems okay. Looks like a whole lot of nothing, really.”

“Is there even air?”

“I think? Here, see for yourself.” Farmer stood up straight and stepped back with an open hand pointed toward the window.

Harvey grimaced and uneasily stepped toward it. He leaned in with both hands on the sill and peeked out about as far as the length of his nose. It did seem fine enough so he poked his head out too.

“And then a HUGE TRAIN comes flying past!” Farmer tossed their hands up in alarm.

Harvey shot back into the house with a bonk on the head during re-entry. He stood upright with his hand on the back of his head and gave Farmer a startled frown.

Farmer covered their mouth sheepishly. “I'm sorry. I didn't expect you to get hurt.”

Harvey sighed and looked back at the window. “It's alright. Anyway, you were right. It's like some kind of void space. There's nothing out there.”

“Bork!”

“Well, nothing except the family dog,” he corrected.

Farmer scratched his head. “Did you see him at all?”

“No…”

Farmer leaned out the window again, this time to their shoulders, and called the dog's name followed by a whistle. Then waited.

“I can hear him running around out there. God only knows on what surface.”

“Yeah. Maybe we should call Robin.”

“Oh, right.” Farmer closed the window for now. How ever the dog got out there he could probably get back inside by simpler means than a tiny window 4 feet off the ground.

Robin arrived that afternoon. “This kind of thing happens with pets all the time. Usually they'll just come back on their own eventually.” She lightly touched the wall with her hands and ear and followed the sound of a tail wagging in nothingness. “If you want I can install a pet door. That way your pup can go in and out freely without you having to worry. Not that you should be worried.”

The two home owners turned to each other and back to the carpenter a little embarrassed.

“Maybe there's another option?” The farmer fidgeted. “Maybe one just a little higher off the floor?”

Robin looked at them blankly, feeling left out.

“We've got a baby on the way.”

“Oh! Congratulations! Of course, sure... Wouldn't want to lose a baby out there...” She chuckled and pointed to the wall casually but then changed her tune quickly and raised both palms out reassuringly. “Not that it isn't safe or anything. Really.” She coughed. “Excuse me. Hrm. Must be saw dust in my throat. Anyway, yeah. Windows might work. Do you want to just do that? Let a little more light in here? That'd be nice, right? And I see you've already figured out how they work for seeing either outside or into the void with the current one in the study.”

“Yeah. Windows would be fine.” Farmer joined Robin beside the wall. “So, hey, Robin…”

“Yeah?”

“What is out there, exactly?”

“Nothing.”

They both looked at her skeptically.

“Well, I mean that literally. There's nothing out there unless it's built. You know how the saloon looks like a shack until you walk in it? And somehow those expansive rooms are all on the same floor? Yeah. Look. Interior carpentry is no joke, you guys. That's why you always want to call a professional.”

“Of course. I was just curious.”

“No worries. Anyway, I'll leave this window catalog here with you. Let me know what you want and where and we'll get that project going.” She picked up her tool box and headed for the door. “Good luck with your dog!”

Chapter Text

Finally. A rabbit's foot. Farmer knew their rabbits, Salt and Peppa, would come through sooner or later. But which one made the donation? Farmer checked one and then the other. And then checked again. They both still had all four feet.

“That's odd…”

Maybe Marnie would know.

At Marnie's, the farmer walked up to the counter with the spare rabbit's foot and set it down between them.

Marnie brightened up. “This is an incredible gift! Thanks!”

“Huh?” Farmer looked down at it. “Oh. Sure. Yeah, here.” They scooted it closer to her. “But first, I've gotta ask you: where did this come from?”

“What do you mean?”

“Neither of my rabbits are missing a foot. How do they have a spare? Did they corner and maime some other, wild rabbit?”

“No, don't be silly,” she chucked. “They shed feet like lizards shed tails. It's bioengineering from Joja Corp.”

“You seem surprisingly okay with this.”

She shrugged. “I didn't used to be. Not at all. But it’s not the rabbits’ fault. This all started before my time and by now there are no rabbits without the lizard mod. They still need loving homes.” Her expression darkened. “You're not using them for food, are you?”

“...No?” Farmer warily pulled their head back and turned it slightly to the side but did not break eye contact with Marnie.

“Okay, good.” Did she just breathe a sigh of relief? “Can't recommend doing that. And, obviously I'm not going to recommend pulling their feet off willy nilly. It stresses them out. But if you give them lots of love you'll have yourself a lively pair of happy, healthy, leg-regenerating rabbits.”

“Okay. Great. Thanks…for the tip?” Farmer drummed the desk with their open hands, looked around, spotted the foot again, pointed at it, mumbled “and that's yours now right”, snapped their fingers in confirmation, pointed again, shook the finger like they were trying to remember something, and turned it into a wave as they walked out of the door sideways. “Great, okay, see you later!”

Chapter Text

“Do you know why I called you in?”

“For my annual checkup?”

“No, that's…” Harvey turned to the calendar on the wall and flipped through the pages quickly. “Not... for a while.” he stared at the page. Wow, he thought. Not even close. He turned back to her and rummaged through his coat pocket. “Here, I have something for you.” He pulled out a large diamond.

“Wow, thanks! It looks delicious.” She held out her hands to receive it but he didn't follow through with giving it to her. She became confused. “Wait, aren't you married now?”

“Abigail, do you know what the word ‘delicious’ means?”

“...Yes?”

“Now, tell me honestly. Were you planning to eat this diamond if I gave it to you?”

She started to sweat. Where was this coming from? What was the big deal? Suddenly she recalled receiving a diamond from the farmer the day before. “Stupid farmer narced me out,” she muttered with spite, looking to the side.

“We're just trying to look out for you.”

“You're not my parents.” She slumped back with her arms folded and switched which legs were crossed.

“You're right. And because you're no longer a minor I won't tell your parents without your permission. But I think you should tell them so they can help you.”

“Help me? With what?”

“You have pica.”

“Pica?”

“It's when someone habitually eats things that aren't food.”

“What about the time you told me I was anemic and needed to eat more iron?” She glared at him.

At first he was dumbstruck. “I meant from lean meat and vegetables. Did you start eating iron ore?”

“No,” she scoffed, looking away again. “I got refined bars from Clint.”

Harvey pinched the bridge of his nose and looked down for a minute. After a deep breath, he rubbed his eyes and resettled his glasses.

“Out of curiosity, how did you make it edible?”

“I used a cheese grater.”

“You had one strong enough to cut through minerals?”

“...Yeah?” She wasn't going to tell him where she got it though. She wasn't a snitch like that nosey farmer.

“Well that's very resourceful of you.” He picked his clip board up from the countertop and made a note to ask Clint not to let her buy any more grating or grinding tools. “Anyway, I'd like you to stop eating raw or refined minerals of any kind. Stick to vegetables and so on for your nutritional needs. I can't recommend replacing one vice with another but there are less detrimental habits you can turn to if it becomes a struggle to stop.”

She didn't respond.

“Okay?”

“Ohhkaaay.”

“Great. I'd like you to stop by again next month so I can make sure nothing serious has been developing, but for now you seem fine. Maru can help you schedule an appointment.”

“Thanks.” She didn't look at him on her way out.

Chapter Text

“These sandwiches are delicious.”

“Yeah? Great. I was actually kinda worried about them.”

“...Why?” Harvey lowered his sandwich instead of taking another bite for now.

“I used void eggs for it. The mayo too.” The farmer took another bite casually.

Harvey placed his sandwich on his plate for now. “Void eggs?”

“Yeah. I don't know where they come from but Marnie says they happen sometimes. I incubated one so now I have this crazy looking chicken that pops out crazy looking eggs. But they seem fine. Probably just some uncommon breed.” Farmer looked off into the open space of the room without thinking about it. But then started thinking about it. And took the last bite of the sandwich rather slowly with narrowing eyes. “Huh.”

Harvey decided to go ahead and not eat the rest of his sandwich. “Is there something wrong?”

“You know all those windows we asked Robin to install?”

“Yeah?”

“So that we could have a better chance of seeing the dog if he got into the wall again if we opened the windows up?”

“...Yeah?” Harvey did not like where this was going. He covertly braced the edge of the table with one hand and the top of the back of the chair with the other. He twisted his body slowly in the direction of Farmer's gaze. But his head would not turn.

“I can see through them.” Farmer seemed frozen.

“What do you mean…?” He turned his head but not his eyes.

“I don't see outside. The windows are closed... but I can see the void.”

Harvey’s gaze drifted across the room and met up with the rest of his pose. He saw it too.

Neither of them moved.

Then a yellow blur buzzed the lower edge of the hall window.

“Oh, the dog's back! That's good. I wondered where he went.” Farmer smiled and leaned back in their chair. They looked to Harvey and motioned to his sandwich. “You gonna finish that?”

Harvey glanced over his shoulder. “Hm? No. You can have it.” He stood up and pushed his chair in. “I think I'm going to go lie down.”

Chapter Text

The farmer stood in front of the broken aquarium in the community center. Why was fishing the hardest thing to do? A carp rotted in the corner. The walleye eyed the wall. It was pretty dismal. They tossed the pike in.

“Here you go, little buddy. Your new home.”

Whenever a set was complete, all the items seemed to disappear. But a lot of these fish were only available at particular times of day or weather at particular times of year. As though that were the hardest part of catching them.

“Farmer? What're you doing here?”

Farmer whipped around to see Penny cautiously stepping toward them from the door.

“Oh, hi! I didn't hear the door.”

“I'm sorry if I startled you. What are you doing though?”

Farmer looked back at the fish tank and then back to Penny. “It's hard to explain.”

“Is that the old fish tank?” She turned away partially and covered her nose with the collar of her blouse when she approached it. “More like fish rank . Mercy! Why are there fish in there? They look fresh. Well. Relative to the community center's closure.” She turned to Farmer. “Are you putting them there?”

It was unavoidable. “Yes.”

“Oh no, one is still alive! We have to bring it to water!” She reached for the pike despite the broken glass but Farmer pulled her back gently. “What are you doing? You can't just leave it there to die!”

“I have to though! In order to save this place I have to bring these weird apple sprites various gifts and offerings. Fish included.”

She stopped struggling and stood on her own. “You've seen them? Junimos?”

“Yes?” Farmer straightened up too and tilted their head to the side. “Have you?”

“No, I've only read about them.” She held her elbow with one hand and bit the thumbnail of her other hand contemplatively. “Interesting.” Her eyes looked from side to side surveying the room. “So what happens when you bring them gifts?”

“Well, I'm supposed to be doing it in sets that disappear together when they're completed.” They led her through the hallway on the right. “When a whole batch is done, a room is renovated instantly and then a related part of town is fixed overnight. Like the mine carts or the bus.” Farmer gestured to the boiler room and the treasury.

Penny looked at them wide eyed. “...You fixed the bus?”

“Yeah.” Farmer scratched their head, a little guilty. “Sorry it took so long.”

Penny closed the distance between them suddenly with a strong embrace. “Thank you! Thank you so much! It's been so great seeing Mom working again!”

Farmer tried to reach to pat her head but her arms were tightly holding theirs against their body. They kindly smiled.

When Penny relented she looked down and wiped her face with her hand. “Sorry. I got kind of carried away.”

“It's fine. I'm glad things are better now.” Farmer pocketed their hands.

“What is there left to do?” Penny's gaze traveled to the bulletin board. “Oh, wow. This collection looks very…eclectic.”

“There's a lot of unfinished bundles in here.” Farmer unpocketed a hand to point. “The requirements are so diverse it's hard to keep track of this one. And so far I can't tell what it will do. But I'd probably better hurry up. I don't know how much more will fit behind the glass of this bulletin board before it won't close anymore or it just falls under its own weight.”

“Speaking of…” Farmer leaned in and eyed a list inside, then rummaged through their bag. “I might just have something to complete one of these bundles. Wanna see how it works?”

Penny nodded.

Farmer pulled out a frozen geode from their bag and slid the glass window open with great difficulty and care. They found a good spot, rammed it in quickly, and closed the window again before it all fell out.

“Pretty delicate procedure, then.” Penny smiled wryly.

A light flashed and four of the items that had been stuffed in there disappeared. In a second flash, a medium sized appliance appeared above the two of them, hovering, shining and oscillating, then dropped into the farmer's open arms. The farmer accounted for its weight before standing tall as the shining light disappeared.

“Sweet. A recycling machine. I can probably put the crap I catch instead of fish in here instead of gifting it to Alex.” Farmer grinned. “That kid hates broken CDs.”

Farmer twisted their body to look around casually. “Anyway, it's pretty much just this bulletin board and the fish tank now.”

“Can I help you fish?” Penny grimaced. “The smell of the aquarium…collection...drifts out to the bench outside where I like to read. That's why I came in here: to see where it was coming from.”

“If you want? But don't worry about it. I'll focus on that next and get it done as soon as possible. I'm a piss poor fisherman but the traveling cart is even more hit or miss.” Farmer shifted their weight with the appliance and freed a hand to rub their chin. “I might just hang on to the fish in a trunk at home and bring them over in complete sets from now on.”

“Thanks.” Penny suddenly put her open hand in front of her mouth as though catching a thought. “I don't want to diminish how grateful of am to you already for fixing the bus. There are plenty of places to sit around town.”

Farmer grinned and retried the head pat. “Really, it's fine. I need to learn fishing anyway.”

Chapter Text

Farmer stepped into Marnie's shop and eagerly wiped their muddy boots off. Not even rain would stop them from buying a pig today !

Except that Marnie wasn't at the desk. She was in Shane's room.

Farmer investigated.

“Marnie! Marnie! Sell me a pig!”

“Can you do something about this?” Marnie pointed at Shane's boozy stupor.

Farmer trudged over empty food boxes, stopped, and sprinkled some water on Shane's head with their watering can. They looked back at Marnie with dead seriousness as Shane leapt up beside them.

“Marnie. Seriously. I need a pig.”

Soon it became readily apparent that only cows were allowed to be had. Farmer awkwardly looked on as the pieced together family laid out some fresh drama on the table. It's not that Farmer didn't care. They were friends with all of these people. But they didn't feel like this was something they should be privy to.

The next thing Farmer knew, they were back outside in the rain. And also somehow South of the ranch, down by the sewer. Farmer wiped their eyes. There was a blue lump at the edge of the cliff. Was it Shane again?

“Uggghhhh…”

Yes. Yes, it was. Farmer helped him sit up.

“How did you get down here so fast? I just saw you unfit for walking back at the ranch a second ago.”

They talked for a bit about Shane's life choices. It was sobering for both of them.

“I think I need to go to the clinic,” Shane groaned.

It was a long trek and he wasn't light but they made it eventually. When Harvey took over helping Shane, Farmer wondered if they should even go back to the ranch for that pig. Maybe Marnie needed a break. But once again, as soon as they left the clinic, the farmer found themselves at Marnie's door without remembering how. Had they blacked out? Never mind. Pig. Pig pig pig pig piiig.

“Marnie, if you're not too busy, I'd--”

But then Shane walked in, fit as a fiddle. He bantered with his aunt jovially and gave his little sister a gift.

And then farmer was back outside again. What. The. Hell! Maybe they should take themselves to the clinic too.

They tried one last time to enter Marnie's shop. The door swung open. They stood in the doorway, a rain soaked silhouette as lightning flashed behind them.

“Hi, Farmer! What can I do for you?” Marnie greeted them cheerfully.

Farmer waited. Looked around. Waited. All seemed clear. They approached the counter. “Marnie. I'd like to buy a pig.”

“Yeah? Upgraded your barn again?”

“Sure did!” Farmer beamed, relieved that this was finally happening. “Harvey really likes truffle oil so I thought it'd be nice to start making him some.”

“Oh, sure. Y’know, Lewis--” she stopped suddenly and cleared her throat. “Anyway, that'll be 16,000g.”

The farmer froze.

“Are you okay?” Marnie leaned in to check.

“Why is it so expensive…? How did I not think to check first...?” The farmer whispered rhetorically as they slowly turned and walked away in shock.

Unfortunately, they did not black out for the walk home.

Chapter Text

The farmer sat at the dining room table. It was about time for another glass of coffee but it could wait. Rain trailed lazily down the window overlooking the farm. No one was in a hurry to do anything today. Even Harvey just stood next to the bear statue staring at it.

Hours passed by like minutes all the same and at about a quarter to six the wee baby scuttled across the kitchen floor. Already crawling. They grow up so fast. It seemed like only weeks since the little pumpkin head arrived.

Farmer sat back and listened to the shuffling cloth mix with the pitter patter of the rain.

At the stroke of 6 o'clock, the baby fell silent. Farmer looked over. There it was, on the floor, sleeping in sealed, swaddle-burrito mode.

“Hm.” Farmer got up and walked over. They knelt down and tried to pick it up to carry it to the crib. “Hey, Doc?”

“Yeah?” Harvey was still gazing at the bear statue. Magnificent.

“I can't move the baby.”

“Is he already asleep?”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Can't move him then. He'll be fine, though. Don't worry.”

“Okay…” It's amazing how self sufficient babies are. Farmer stood and joined Harvey at the bear statue. “Pretty relaxing day, huh?”

Harvey turned to the farmer and smiled. “Yeah. It's nice to take a day off once in awhile. I assembled a model airplane.”

The farmer stared at the cheerful doctor with narrow eyed disbelief thinking, "I just watched you spend the whole day staring at this freakin’ bear statue, you doofus." Oh well. Weird family. “You want some dinner?”

Chapter Text

Farmer closed the lid on the storage chest next to the farmhouse and jumped when they saw their husband quietly reading a few feet away.

“Oh my God ! How long have you been there?” They surveyed the small garden carved out of the fence in their yard. “How long has this been there?”

“This?” Harvey looked up from his book. “Maybe a few weeks? Robin built it for me as a wedding gift. Isn’t it nice?”

“Very! So… this is where you’ve been on Saturdays? No wonder I couldn’t find you. I was starting to get worried.”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“But you always come back to the house telling me you were busy with patients.”

Harvey tilted his head quizzically.

“Nevermind.” Farmer looked at the handful of beets they’d just retrieved from the storage box. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to know if Lewis has any allergies, would you?”

“Are you asking me as his doctor?”

“Well…”

“Patient data is confidential. We’ve been over this before.” He buried his nose back into the book.

Farmer quirked an eyebrow and folded their arms. “Yeah. And. I can see your glasses fogging up. You must be thinking about how well that policy worked out for you the last time I wanted dirt on our neighbors.”

“Boy, it’s a hot one today, isn’t it?” He coughed and closed the book. “I’m going in for a drink. Do you want anything?”

“I just want to know if Lewis is allergic to beets.”

“But why?”

“Someone asked me to give him some. That’s all. I only want to make sure it’s a friendly gift and not a mean joke.”

“Sure. Well, I’ll go ahead and tell you: I don’t know. I haven’t heard about it so it’s probably fine.” He stopped near the porch steps and looked back. “That’s kind of an odd request, isn’t it?”

Farmer stiffened. “What do you mean?”

“They aren’t giving the beets to him themselves? It just seems odd.”

“Must be the heat getting to you, Doc. It’s normal. It’s totally normal. It’s not suspicious at all.”

His eyes narrowed over a smirk but he dropped it and went inside.

Farmer brought the beets to Lewis’s house. They waited behind the bushes. Could they just walk in there and do it while he was at home or should they wait until he was out to keep it a secret? He’d know where the beets came from. Ain’t nobody in this town got beets but Farmer.

Lewis left his house. Farmer entered like it was totally normal. Because it was. It really, truly was. They were friends. This is what friends do. And besides: Lewis goes to Farmer’s house every night to pick up anything left in the shipping box. If anyone's weird here it's him.

Farmer put the beets in the fridge. There was a note. Who put it there? Did Lewis put the note there? Did someone else put it there? Is Lewis in on this whole thing?

Farmer heard whistling at the steps. They turned to see the door open and Lewis walk through it.

“Farmer! Glad to see you. How are you doing?”

“Uhhh… Oh, y’know! Just… beets! I brought you some beets. Yum?” Their eyebrows pulled their smile into a strained look.

“Beets, you say.” He looked grave.

“Yup…! Beets. So, I’ll be going!” Farmer stuffed the note in their pocket and slammed the fridge door closed.

As Farmer passed by Lewis on the way to the door, Lewis caught their arm.

“You’re not getting mixed up in some shady underworld business. Are you?” His voice was quiet but stern.

“Lewis! Why would you think something like--”

“Because you don’t stay mayor for 20 years straight, with no one willing to run against you, without knowing a thing or two about some shady underworld business.” Lewis’s eyes locked onto Farmer’s with a piercing intensity.

Farmer stared back at him dumbfounded. The sound of their blood pounded their ear drums. They could feel sweat beading at their brow. It felt like Lewis was scanning their mind. Searching for a weakness or some insight about Farmer’s motives. Farmer had never taken Lewis too seriously. Most of their casual hostility toward him had just been a joke. But now he seemed like a different person. He seemed like a legitimate threat. Farmer gulped.

“I’ve got to get going.” They tried to disengage but Lewis held them firmly.

“Do you know what you just did?” Lewis's proximity to Farmer and his tilted head cast shadows on his face that emphasized his menacing stare.

“F-fill, fill, I uh, I filled a request. From someone else. For! For someone else. Someone asked someone else to do it and I had beets so I offered to deliver them so there they are.”

“Qi asked you to put beets in my fridge. And you did it. Don’t be a coward.” He looked away with utter disdain for a second when he felt the word ‘coward’ lift off his tongue. But he turned back to Farmer immediately. “Do you want to know what this means?”

“Well, I’m here.” Farmer adjusted their footing and rolled their head on their neck. They cracked their knuckles too. Why not. “Fine, Lewis. Let’s do this.” They postured themselves for a fight. Their voice raised higher with each passing phrase. “What do the beets mean, Lewis? What do the beets mean?!”

Lewis leaned back and chuckled. “They mean I’m a shitty dancer!” The lighting on his face brightened again.

Farmer stumbled in place. “Wha-?”

“Yeah.” He took off his hat, slicked his hair back again, and replaced the hat. “Yeah, old Qi and his crew rolled up alongside mine some years ago and one thing lead to another. Before you know it we’re in a dance fight behind the community center and I tell you I lost . I lost terribly. ” His laugh died down a bit. “Still can’t go to the desert anymore. But he can’t come here either. That’s what turf means.”

“Yeah. That is what that means.” Farmer nodded in a daze. “Beets though? I don’t get-- oh. Like beat. Nice.” They grimaced at the half-assed old man pun.

Lewis let go of Farmer’s arm and patted them firmly on the back. “Well, I’ve gotta get going now. I just came back because I forgot my--” He coughed instead of finishing his sentence. “Anyway, I’ll be seeing you!”

Lewis ushered a bewildered Farmer out of his house and locked the door behind them both. When Farmer staggered to the bottom of the steps, Lewis called out, “And when you get into that back room, remember: Always bet on black!”

Farmer turned and waved with a disoriented smile, squished up and squinty in the midday sun.

Back at home Harvey greeted them warmly.

“Hi, honey. How was your day? *Phew*… I’m exhausted… My patients are still healthy, so it was a good day.”

Farmer sighed and gave their poor, confused husband a hug.

Chapter Text

Farmer stopped in their tracks. “Shane?” They hurried to catch up to him.

Shane stopped at the door of the Joja Mart and turned to look at Farmer with a despondent expression.

“Shane, dude, you look terrible. What’s happened to you?” Farmer gestured to the now vacant building. “And why are you here? I thought this place closed.”

“It did close. But I haven’t found another job yet. I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do with my day.”

Sam walked up just then. He looked just as haggard as Shane. Farmer pulled him aside to keep him from trying to enter the abandoned building.

“Woah, woah, woah. Guys. Hold on. What’s happening here?” Farmer searched their faces for any glimmer of hope.

“It all happened so suddenly. We didn’t get a warning, or severance pay, or anything.” Sam looked at the locked door longingly.

“Pierre’s open on Wednesdays now. Maybe he needs some help? Maybe a couple of bright, young, experienced retail employees? Who apparently keep going to work even after it closes?” Farmer felt like they were straining already.

They glanced at the rundown building. It sure fell into ruin quickly. The community center was only finished three days ago. Now that it was fixed, this thing has become the eyesore. Farmer suddenly doubted the trade was really worth it. They hadn’t seen Junimos lately either.

“When the Joja Mart closed it forced everyone to start shopping at Pierre’s again. But that’s not enough for him to be able to afford to hire more people.” Sam stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“Yeah. Unless he raises his prices.” Shane muttered darkly.

Sam nodded slightly. “Yeah. I mean, what are we going to do if he does? It’s not like we can go anywhere else for food.”

Farmer opened their mouth but reconsidered when they quickly realized the desert shop wasn’t a viable option. They also refrained from pointing out that the farming portion of their own income was relying on Pierre's prices.

Sam sat down on the dirt and started drawing lines in it with a stick. “I was planning to move out soon. Now I'm not sure I'll be able to. Guess I'll have to live off my savings for a while until I find another job, and then save that money up again.”

“Yeah. I don't have any savings and I can't go without paying Aunt Marnie rent.”

“There’s a chance we can rebuild this place.” Sam stood up again and gestured to it with the stick.

Shane elbowed Sam in his side. “Shh. Farmer’ll think we’re nuts.”

Farmer surveyed them skeptically. “I just spent the last three years gathering random crap for adorable gumdrop spirits. Try me.”

“Well…” Sam scratched his head. He looked at Shane uneasily.

Shane closed his eyes for a second and sighed. “Ghosts.” He looked Farmer in the eye. He almost spat the word out of his mouth. “Ghosts. There. I said it. There are ghosts in there.”

“Really? Cool.” Farmer straightened up, relieved. “I think I bought an engagement pendent from a ghost. We still hang out on rainy days. What do these ones want?”

“They want us to bring them random crap to renovate the Joja Mart.” Sam smirked.

“Neat. It's a shame it's become as run down as the community center was. As though our town has to have a dilapidated building in it at all times like a game of dereliction whack-a-mole.” Farmer gazed at the boarded windows and sighed. “But… Do you really want Joja around again?” They turned back to the two ronin and scratched the side of their face. “I know y'all are bored but Joja sucks, remember?”

“I guess I've resigned to it.” Shane grumbled.

“Shane. Why not help Marnie out on her ranch full time? Sam. Why not try to pin down gigs for your band?”

They both shrugged and looked at each other.

“This is just our routine, I guess.” Sam reasoned.

“At least doing this might secure us some income again. Marnie can't afford to let me live with her for free, let alone pay me for helping at the ranch.”

“And if I'm being honest, performing doesn't pay well, if at all right now. Which is why I had the Joja job.” Sam turned away a bit to hide that at the edge of hearing he was quietly whispering “Joja job” as many times as he could before messing up.

“All right.” Farmer decided it was time to back off. “If you two really believe in it, far be it from me to tell you what to do. I hope things work out for you guys either way. If you want any help just let me know.”

Chapter Text

Abigail sat on the saloon sofa empathizing with the empty can of soda in her hand. She checked her pockets to see if she had everything she needed and excused herself to “get another soda”.

The two boys nodded but were otherwise occupied.

“It feels like we’ve been playing pool here every Friday night for half our lives and you’re still not any better at it.” Sebastian leaned with his hands and chin on the end of the pool cue.

“We’re probably both getting better at the same rate.” Under the refined guidance of Sam’s improved shot the cue ball ricocheted off of each wall of the table and gracefully rolled to a stop exactly where it had started.

Sebastian withheld comment.

“What if it’s true though? How would we know if we’re only ever playing each other?”

Sebastian lifted his head and looked at his opponent. His heart skipped a beat. “What?”

Sam shifted his weight and tilted his head with his hand against the back of his neck. “I mean, I wouldn’t mind. I’d kinda like to know what it’s like playing with someone else.”

It wasn’t like Sam to avoid eye contact and it was making Sebastian nervous.

“Sam. What are you saying?”

“Maybe we should try playing against other people.”

“Are you...Do you…” Sebastian fumbled as he cautiously stepped closer. He placed his hand on the table edge and leaned all of his weight on it. “Are you unhappy? Or, maybe bored with me?”

Sam took a quick breath and his head twitched as he realized his mistake. He joined Sebastian’s side of the table and put a hand on his shoulder. “No, no, that’s not what I meant.”

Sebastian smiled half heartedly, still unsure.

“Dude. Come on. I love this! This is fun! I just.. I guess I thought you were bored?” He patted and gripped Sebastian’s shoulder reassuringly.

Sebastian looked down. His laugh was uneasy but honest. “Sure. No, I’m not bored. I like it too. It’s fun.” When he looked back up at Sam he thought for a moment that he could get lost in his bright and confident smile if he kept looking much longer.

Sam turned to flank Sebastian and extended his arm across Seb’s back to his other shoulder in a side hug. Their heads leaned against each other slightly and Seb put his arm around Sam’s waist. He pressed his fingers into Sam’s side to nudge him to walk together.

Gus had just pulled a keg out from the cellar about an hour ago. Discreet glances over their shoulders assured them no one was watching as they mosied down the corridor hip to hip. A faint “shakka shakka shakka” noise wafted from the cellar, which seemed new but inconsequential. A few steps from the doorway Seb slipped his hand in Sam’s trouser pocket. When Sam giggled the “shakka shakka” noise stopped. So they stopped.

The silence was eerie.

“What was that noise?”

“I don’t know. I thought it was a dehumidifier or something.”

After a strange delay, there was a cough, a vocalised “vrumm vrumm”, and then the “shakka shakka” noise started again.

“Oh. There it is again. Maybe it is just a machine.” Sam was satisfied to resume pawing at Sebastian.

Sebastian kindly stayed Sam’s advances. “Wait, there’s no way that’s a machine.” He turned to the darkness. “Hello? Is someone there?”

“Whirr whirr,” someone vocalised some more. “Gerchunk. Gerchunk.”

“Abby? Abby, what are you doing.” Sebastian leaned in with his eyes narrowed but it didn’t help in the dark.

“Oh come on. How did you know it was me?” She popped up from behind a crate.

“We know what your voice sounds like,” he responded with his least impressed tone. “I thought you just went to get another soda.”

“Woah, what? What are you doing here?” Sam walked over to her. “You weren’t going to spy on us, were you?”

“Not originally, no.” She rubbed her nose with her thumb. “But, uh, don’t let me stop you. I’ll just be heading out.”

When she passed by Sebastian a glimmer of something on her lapel caught his eye. “Wait a minute. What’s that on your vest?”

“Glitter?” Her voice cracked. “Glitter, man. It’s glitter. Mom made me clear out a box of old art projects from elementary--”

“I don’t believe that for one second.” Sebastian folded his arms.

“Yeah, dude. Your mom wouldn’t want to get rid of anything like that,” Sam scoffed.

Sebastian looked her over. “You’ve got it all over you.”

“Glitter, man! I told you! Everybody knows it’s like kid-craft herpes!” She sputtered.

Sam looked back behind the crate. “Were you sorting that box of art stuff back here? There’s even more glitter behind this crate. Is the crate the box of crafts?”

“She wasn’t sorting out a box of crafts, Sam. That was a lie.”

“Oh, right.” Sam scratched his head. “So what were you doing?”

Seb leaned in closer and wiped her cheek with his finger. “Is this gold dust?”

“I don’t have to answer to you.” Abby smacked his hand away and turned to the side with her arms folded. She topped it off with a scowl.

“Abby, you have a problem. And this is dangerous. Why can’t you just smoke pot like I do? You can have some of mine; it’s totally fine.”

“My dad would totally flip if I came home skunky.”

“Doesn’t he have his own stash?” Sam just kept staring at all the gold dust. His posture changed every time he noticed it had spread to another surface. And it seemed to spread even more as he moved. When when he found it on his person he began to panic slightly.

“Farmer didn’t say if it was pot or porn. They just leaned in really conspicuously with the back of their hand against the side of their face and whispered super loudly that it was something that starts with a ‘P’ and then made the most obnoxiously obvious wink. So I didn’t ask.”

Sam nodded knowingly with his arms folded. “That’s fair.”

“Anyway,” Sebastian took her by the hand and started to lead her back down the corridor. “We’re taking you to the doctor.”

Sam stumbled around the crate in the dark but caught up quickly. “Yeah.”

“I’m not your little sister. You don’t have to babysit me.”

At first he didn’t turn around while they walked. “You’re right. Maru’s a little smarter. But you’re my best friend and I’m worried that you’re hurting yourself.” When he did turn around, he wore a deceptively kind smile to add, “Plus I don’t want you lurking around in the saloon cellar when I need to use it.”

She scoffed with a furrowed brow, a scrunched nose, and an open mouth. “You fucker!”

When they crossed the town square it dawned on them that the clinic wasn’t just closed, it was empty.

“Damn.” Sebastian muttered and rummaged through his pockets.

“What are we supposed to do if there’s an emergency?” Sam peeked in the windows.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ll just mention it at my yearly exam. Which is next Tuesday, in fact.”

“You’re such a bad liar.” Seb cupped a match to the bouncing cigarette in his mouth.

Abigail scowled at him. “And you’re a damn hypocrite.”

“I guess we could walk to the farmhouse,” Sam kicked a pebble with his hands in his pockets.

Sebastian leaned back and waved the match out. “Nah, forget it. It’s too far to walk all the way there just to come back here.”

Abigail shifted her weight and folded her arms. “Well, whatever. I’m just gonna go home if you guys are done here.”

“Yeah, it’s getting pretty late. We can pick this up again later.” Seb dropped his cigarette and smothered it with his toe. “You really should just stop before it’s too late though.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She waved over her shoulder and they all parted ways.

The following Friday, Abigail walked to the saloon as usual but as soon as she was in the door Sam appeared behind her and locked it.

“What the hell?”

Penny gently took her by the arm and lead her to a chair in the middle of the cleared dining area. “Abby, we’re here to help.”

Lewis stepped forward from the semi-circle of villagers. Everyone was there. Even Marlon and the wizard.

“Abigail, we’ve all heard what you’ve been up to concerning various rocks and minerals. And I know I speak for everyone when I say we’re all very concerned about this.”

“You can’t let your vices get the best of you,” Pam called over from the bar.

Abby leaned forward in her chair and pointed at Harvey. “But he told me I needed more ir--”

“I meant from--!” He coughed and regained his composure, sliding his glasses back on his nose. “Iron can be found in many vegetables. And we’ve already discussed this. So you’re choosing to put yourself in harm’s way at this point and we’re worried about your health.”

“Aren’t you worried you’re going to get sick?” Maru stepped forward. “We’ll never be able to go adventuring in the mines again!”

As soon as she said it she covered her mouth and her widened eyes didn’t need to glance over to feel the laser beam glares coming from both of their fathers.

“Whoops…” she whispered and stepped back into the group.

Sam stepped up next. “And what about touring! We can’t go on the road with our band if something serious happens to you! What if you get caught while we’re doing our international tour? Rock and roll though it may be, is it illegal to snort quartz dust in other countries?”

“Not sure that’s in the books,” Farmer mumbled contemplatively.

“What’ll happen to our friendship if you’re stuck in a foreign prison?” Sam continued. “Do you still care about me and Seb at all?”

“Sam, it’s not like that.” She tried her best to reassure him but he was already on a roll. She rubbed the bridge of her nose.

“What about the monogrammed T-shirts I made? They were going to unite us on stage!” He held the pile of shirts in his arms.

“Sam, our initials spell “ASS”,” she clarified wryly. “That’s the only reason I won’t wear your shirt. I promise.”

Sam thought about that as he drifted back into the fold.

Clint stepped up next. “Ms. Abigail, I’ve been working with minerals and ore for a long time. And that’s only after I saw my father and his father do the same. If you’re interested in working with metals and making something out of them, I can show you how to do it. But eating them is not only unhealthy, it’s a waste of valuable resources. You might think they’re delicious at first, and I don’t blame you. But my family learned generations ago that you just can’t let yourself give in to the temptation of that forbidden fruit. Not if you value your relationships... or your life.”

Everyone just kind of stared at Clint.

Gus broke the silence. “Well said, Clint.” He turned to Abby. “Abigail, you’re always welcome to stop by the saloon whenever you’re feeling tempted again. I might not have any gold here but I did get a gold medal at the regional cooking contest. There’s gotta be something I can fix you up with that’ll keep those cravings at bay.”

Abigail was stunned. She still didn’t understand what the big deal was but they seemed to mean it. Maybe it really was dangerous. Maybe it wasn’t just a bunch of adults trying to tell her what to do for the sake of their own public image. She took a deep breath. “Okay.”

“We’ll all be available to help if you ever need us.” Penny, who she just now realized had never left her side, knelt down and softly put her hand on Abby’s.

“Thank you.” Abigail was still confused and uneasy but no longer defensive.

Chapter Text

Farmer awoke to a bit of a hubbub coming from their kitchen. They rolled out of bed, put on a robe and slippers, and braced themselves for what was on the other side of their bedroom door.

They weren’t braced enough to handle the entire village mingling in their living room. There were so many groggy people Farmer went unnoticed as they tracked Harvey down and pulled him aside. Ceramic coffee mugs clinked in a pile in his arms.

“Was this your idea?” They hissed.

“No, not at all! Not really. Not like this, anyway,” he loudly whispered back. His eyes were frantic. He looked around at all of the people, then back to Farmer, then back to the more-people. His head started to spin but he pulled himself together. “Farmer, they drank all our coffee. All of it! We’re down to the bottom of the last keg. I was trying to be hospitable but this is too much. I’m glad you’re awake.”

“Why are they here?” Farmer put their hand to their forehead, bewildered.

“Well, for the last couple weeks you’ve gotten out of bed every morning only to immediately get right back in it again. What about the crops? What about us?” He stammered. “When you're in bed I can't talk to you to check if something's wrong. And any time you do leave the house it’s only to go to the Wizard’s tower. And when you get back you look completely different! Then you just get back into bed again regardless of the time of day. And the strangest thing is, that my days just zip by too! Everything seems to happen all the same but I just don't remember any of it actually happening!” He started to feel dizzy again.

Farmer braced his shoulders and looked him in the eye mournfully. “I’m sorry. We can talk about that between the two of us though. Why is the entire village here?”

“Well, they were worried too. You know how they do. So when anyone asked me what was going on, I said I didn’t know.” Without his hands free, his eyes followed a trail of events in sequence that seemed to exist in the space between them, with his head bobbing to punctuate each step. “Then word spread that you’re only available at the crack of dawn, and now everyone is in our living room.” He looked up, flabbergasted. “Presumably to tell you that they’re just as concerned about you as I am. But I don't think that's possible.” He sounded defeated.

Farmer sighed. “This is all my fault. I’m sorry. Here, let me take those.” They transferred all of the mugs to Farmer’s care and Farmer turned to address their guests. ‘Better nip this in the bud,’ they thought to themselves. ‘Intervene me? I don't think so.’

“Everyone? Good morning.” They nodded. “Thank you all for visiting. Harvey’s just brought me up to speed on what I’ve missed these last few weeks. I really appreciate your concern and would like to apologize for worrying you.”

“Are you okay?” Marnie shouted from the back.

“Yes, thank you. I’m fine.”

“Why haven’t you come to visit me? I feel like I like you one heart less and I don’t even know what that means.” Evelyn called out feebly.

“I’m sorry. I will give you a chocolate cake on your birthday.”

“Oh, goody...” Evelyn’s wavering voice sounded as gleeful as it was distant.

“Are your crops okay? Do you need new seeds?” Pierre called from the kitchen.

“Have you seen my crops? They’re automated sprinklers. I don’t need to do anything for a whole season but plant at the start and pick at the end.”

“Why are you changing your appearance so often? You look like a stranger to us!” Caroline asked.

“Yeah. Don’t you know it’s what’s inside that counts?” Emily called out.

“Well, to be honest,” Farmer shifted their load of mugs to gesture grandly toward the mayor. “I just want to keep this guy on his toes. Am I right?”

The crowd chuckled knowingly.

“Alright. Well, it’s been great having you all over. Thanks, everybody! I’ll be seeing y’all later on!” Farmer opened the door and ushered everyone out.

When the last heel was out the door Harvey flopped face down onto the couch.

Farmer smiled and waved from the doorway to the stragglers leaving their farm. Without turning they asked, “You don’t have to go to the clinic today, do you?”

“No. Thank Yoba.” Was his muffled response.

Farmer closed the door and brought the mugs to the sink. “Cool. I’m going back to bed.”

Harvey looked up. “Are you serious?”

Farmer crossed the living room to the bedroom. “Completely. There’s no way I want to relive that.”

Harvey’s frown drooped his mustache so low Farmer thought it could sweep the floor.

Farmer stopped at the bedroom doorway and turned to him. “Are you coming?”

“Eh?” He perked up a bit.

“I never said I wanted to be alone,” they grinned and disappeared behind the wall.

Chapter Text

“Welcome to my art show!” Leah gleefully announced in the middle of the town square. A round of applause answered her.

She proceeded to explain the inspirations behind her recent work on display. When she finished the townsfolk cheered. Some spoke up directly.

“Thank you, thank you!” Leah bowed.

Lewis stepped up to auction off the sculptures but only crickets placed bids and Lewis doesn't take bids from crickets as a personal policy.

“Hey wait, I thought this was an intervention for Leah because no one in this town can afford to buy art.” Pam was genuinely confused.

No one thought to hire a DJ for the event, so there was no record scratch, and it was a gross oversight.

“Oh no, it’s that,” Shane mumbled. “It’s definitely, totally that.”

“What?” Leah was crestfallen.

Jodi stepped up and put a hand on her shoulder. “Leah, honey, we love your work but this town has no economy.”

Clint scratched his head, not sure how to put it delicately, “Everyone here is only able to live here because they either bought their house before the mines closed 30 years ago, or they inherited a home from a family member who did, or, like Elliot and yourself, somehow have big city money to splurge on a bungalow.”

Robin started to move forward but Demetrius shook his head solemnly and lowered Robin’s hand, placing hers into his own. “Now’s not the time to be proud of the beautiful home you’ve built for us,” he whispered.

“We’re poor, kiddo.” Gus offered apologetically.

“Yeah. Look at Pam. You think a hunk of wood this big is going to fit in that trailer of hers?” George's honesty stung Leah a bit but Pam wasn't insulted.

“Not a chance,” she cackled. “I’ll be lucky if the thing doesn’t fall through my floor.”

“Sure, you’re bringing people in from out of town for the day,” Jodi tried to explain gently. “But besides your auction the only places they can spend their money around town are the saloon and Pierre's shop. And Pierre's already got us under his thumb now that the Joja Mart’s closed.”

Pierre and Caroline backed up a little, looking around the crowd nervously.

“And what’s the one place Pierre goes when he leaves his shop? The saloon. Where does Gus get all his ingredients? Pierre’s shop.” Marnie laughed. “I'll bet you thought we were crazy for being so generous with each other whenever something needs doing.”

“We're not crazy, just jaded about money.” Clint sighed. “The legal tender in this town has been changing hands between literally 3 people at most for the last 30 years.”

“Have you seen the printing dates on the paper bills and coins? I've seen this exact vandalized piece of paper twice a week for 15 years.” Gus held up a dollar bill with a mustache and eyebrows drawn on the portrait. “And I'm the one who drew it!”

“Yeah! And the one with the butt drawn next to the money-guy’s face! Who's got that one now?” Sebastian called out.

“I do!” Willy held it up. “Who drew this, anyway?”

Everyone around her thought Evelyn was reaching to clutch her pearls but instead she raised her hand high. “That was me, deary! Oh, youth sees some wild notions!”

Willy leaned over to tell Leah confidentially, “If we wanted, we could all meet up in the town square on Fridays, track down who has whose dollar bills by serial number, exchange them all to reset for the week, and call it payday.”

“So… is this an intervention for me? Or for all of us?” Leah looked around cautiously.

Coughs, murmurs, and shuffling feet followed as the townsfolk grew bashful.

“We're glad you're here and we're impressed by your skill. But right now we can't support you financially.” Mayor Lewis reasoned. “Half of the businesses in this town only have one customer and that's Farmer. None of the rest of us can afford to buy from or have a need for those shops.”

“Yeah, it was really awkward for a while there.” Marnie nodded. “But we just kept hoping they'd come pick up where their grandad left off.”

“It's okay.” Leah smiled. “I can still sell my work online. Maybe I can bring money into the valley from all over the country!”

A thoughtful murmur of approval from the crowd swelled into another round of applause.

Chapter Text

Farmer had a love/hate relationship with the first day of a new season. There was so much to do and so little time to do it just to get started on the right foot. But seeing the garden area of the farm as a blank slate yet again reminded them of their initial arrival to Pelican Town.

Pierre greeted them warmly from behind the counter. “Here to get this season's seeds?”

“You know it!” Farmer smiled and leaned over the counter top. Sure, they had a seed maker. But someone had to keep the economy going in this 3-mailbox town. “Let's see… I'll take 16 of these, 8 of those…”

Pierre dispensed and collected the individual seeds into packets like pills in a pharmacy or jelly beans in a candy store.

“Say, you all have a garden out back, right? How's that going?” Farmer could see curious, young flowers peeking through the window. Farmer waved back to them while Pierre had his back turned.

“We get by. It's a fun hobby. You should talk to Caroline about it, though. It's more her project than mine.”

“She sent me a cauliflower in the mail last Spring. It was good! Do you ever sell what you grow?”

Pierre got a paper bag ready and returned to the register. “Not so much since you got here. But sometimes. When we've got too much for ourselves, for instance. Or when you only bring in one type of crop.” He quirked an eyebrow. “Like that Autumn when you only grew cranberries.”

“Cranberry is going to be the next pumpkin spice and you know it.” They stabbed the mat on the counter top with their downward pointed index finger. “Mark my words, Pierre.”

He scoffed with a smirk, “We'll see.”

At that moment Harvey walked up to the register with a shopping basket full of vegetables.

“Hi there, Doctor!” Pierre smiled. “Will this be all together?”

Farmer eyed the basket. “Wait a minute. This zucchini looks familiar.” They leaned in and dug around.

“What's wrong? Is it old or something?” Harvey observed quizzically.

“No, it's not that.” Farmer rooted around a bit more. “You know we have vegetables stored back at the house, right?”

“We do?”

“Yeah.” Farmer leaned in to whisper so Pierre wouldn't hear, “Iridium quality ones.”

Pierre heard Farmer just fine but didn't care either way.

“Well, I've already picked them out. I'm not going to put them all back.”

“But these are my eggplants. And those are my carrots.” Farmer glanced at Pierre then back to Harvey. “Were. They were mine until I sold them to Pierre. Why would I want to buy them back when we have more at home?”

Harvey stood up straight. “We're doing our part for the town's economy.”

“Buying back my vegetables after markup.”

He adjusted his glasses. “Yes.”

Farmer lowered their voice again for a false sense of privacy. “You just don't want to look foolish putting all this back.”

The glare of the ceiling lights against his glasses obscured Farmer's view of the doctor's eyes.

“That's right.” He declared firmly.

Farmer sighed, relieved their stubborn pet-husband of the full shopping basket, and turned to place it on the counter top next to the bag of seed packets. “Yes, thank you. All together will be fine.”

Chapter Text

“Farmer.” The Wizard’s face and shoulders hovered large amidst a glittering purple cloud over the bedroom window.

Farmer sat up in bed and rubbed their eyes groggily. “I am ready to serve you, Master. Aannd, Satan …!” Their yawn sort of obscured that last bit though, so they could have said Ahab for all anyone knew. Maybe that gag can get a retry later. Farmer weren't no Ishmael.

Rasmodius pinched the bridge of his nose before pressing forward.

“The time has come.” He wore a hat Farmer had never seen before. Must be a special hat.

“Am I finally the Hecubus to your Simon?” Farmer also wondered if condensed coffee was a thing but didn't inquire out loud.

“I still don't know what that means.” He waved his hand to brush aside the question with irritated vigor. “Anyway my point is I've manifested here before you to alert you to a new update patch for your farming simulation.”

Farmer's head rolled to the side on their shoulders. It felt so heavy. Why was he here in the middle of the night? “Mmm… Simulation… Seems pretty real to me, bro. This is a little weird though. Usually when you come to tell me stuff in the middle of the night, you're just like, ‘hey, you learned something, yaaay…!’” Farmer waved their fists in the air in circles on either side of their head during the faltering moment of ‘yay’.

“You've got multiplayer now, you insolent twat.”

“Hey.” Farmer was awake now and looking at him very sternly with a pointed finger.

The wizard fidgeted. “I'm sorry. Look. Just…” His image looked like he was bouncing on his heels anxiously while looking around. “Just come to the train station at noon or something on a sunny day.”

“Do you mean today?”

“I mean… it's really whenever? It doesn't even matter.” Why did he keep looking around like he had other places to be? Did he have to poop? A wiz whizz? Farmer grinned stupidly in their sleepy stupor. Best joke. And what was that building behind him? It looked like the chicken coop.

“Wait a minute.” Farmer rubbed their eyes again. They could see him through the window. “I thought you were astral projecting. But you're actually here at the house?”

“The range on my projection is diminished during this phase of the moon.”

“Oh. That time of the month. Okay. I understand.” Farmer scooted back down under the covers. “Alright, see ya.”

After the sun agreed it was truly morning, and not some nonsense, bureaucratic, timekeeping lie, Farmer headed over to the train station. The wizard was already there waiting.

“So, hey. What's this multiplayer thing?” Farmer squinted with a hand shielding their eyes like a visor.

“You remember my guest book?” The wizard asked with a groan.

“Boy, do I.” Farmer grinned wistfully.

“Well, now you can scratch at the dirt with all those other farmers at the same place and time if you want.”

“Sweet.” Farmer watched a tumbleweed roll past. They turned back to the wizard. “But wait. How can more than one farmer be in Pelican Town at once? Wouldn't there be a huge conflict with my setup if the other farmer also married their town's Harvey?”

“I don't think you'll have to worry about that.” The wizard reassured Farmer just in time for a distant train whistle to flutter in.

“...Why not?” Farmer started to posture defensively as their voice was overrun by the sounds of the train. Was the doctor secretly uncool? Was this pompous purple knob insulting Farmer's most sensible taste? When they turned to look, no, gaze upon the oncoming locomotive, their eyebrows lifted and lowered like an iron smoothing out the wrinkled silk shirt that was their mind.

CHOOOT CHOOOOOT

Farmer had never seen anything like it. It was a full sized freight train decorated with... graffiti?

No. Not graffiti. This was something else. This was a dekotora style train with itasha images of Shane emblazoned on every broad surface. And out of every door, window, and hatch, farmers burst forth by the half dozens. The smell of pizza, beer, and peppers wafted through the air, betraying the train’s fuel source. Chickens appeared to be driving the thing. It was loud in every sense. The engine slowed to a halt.

The motley crew seemed to be searching for something. When they saw Farmer they excitedly beckoned but Farmer politely abstained.

“Nice to meet you!” Farmer called, leaning forward. “Hmm? Join you? Shane Train you say?” They stood upright again. “No, I'm sorry but I must decline. I'm very happy for all of you, though! I do like what you've done there!”

The lively jumble waved goodbye. The train engine started up again and the passengers that had spilled out from the overflow scrambled to hop back on.

“I love them.” Farmer whispered to the wizard. They wiped a single budding blossom of a tear from the corner of their delighted eyes. “Thank you for letting me meet them.”

“Yeah, sure.” He shrugged.

“Do all of the villagers have trains of farmers?”

“Nope.”

“Shame.” Farmer smiled. “Oh. And Razmotaz?”

“Hm?” He glanced over out of the corner of his eye.

“Nice hat.”

He blushed.

Chapter Text

“Should I be jealous?” Farmer leaned over the clinic countertop with their head rested on one hand.

“Of what?” Harvey looked up curiously from his morning coffee and medical journal.

He watched Farmer's eyes trail Maru from one end of the lobby to the other as she straightened up the magazines and wiped down the arm rests.

“She's always wearing that nurse outfit during her shift...” Farmer mumbled idly.

“Should I be the jealous one?” He smiled gently and returned to his routine.

Farmer's routine had slowed to a halt after achieving virtually every goal and automating nearly everything that required upkeep. More often than not they spent their days watching their kids and loitering around town.

Farmer looked at him. “You know what I mean.”

“She is a nurse.”

“Do you go for that kind of thing?” Farmer shifted their weight. Harvey wasn't meeting their gaze anymore so they resumed watching Maru.

“I think you already know what I go for,” he chuckled. His cheeks reddened a bit. He cleared his throat. “Besides. When I hired her I did recommend scrubs but she said she already had the classic nurse uniform and asked to wear it instead.”

“Seriously?” Farmer perked up. They were so bored gossip was starting to appeal to them.

“Yeah.” He regretted mentioning it instantly. “But please don't make a big deal out of it. No one really needs to know about that.”

Farmer sighed. “Fine. I won't say anything.” They stretched. They stopped mid stretch. “So, wait.” Farmer turned back to Harvey with renewed interest. “Does that mean…?”

“Please don't start wearing a nurse uniform around the farm.” He chuckled to himself as he licked his fingers and turned the page. It would be so impractical.

“No, no, I'm over that.” Farmer patted his hand. “But has Maru ever called in sick?”

Harvey looked up. His smile slowly melted into a thousand yard stare.

“Lewis would probably end up wear--” Farmer stopped talking when they saw the life drain from his eyes.

“Are you OK?” Farmer leaned in and nudged his limp mustache. Not even a twitch.

“It's the worst,” he responded without emotion and without breaking his target lock on the empty wall.

“Wha-?” Farmer followed his gaze but there was nothing unusual about the room.

But Harvey wasn't seeing the wall in front of him. He was looking deep into his own mind. What he saw there, in the vault, played out like a projection in the room before him.

“It's too small. Her skirt is too short on you. Get your own dress tailored. Or just wear scrubs. Don't worry, let me get that for you. Lewis, no!” He raised his arms up to shield his head as he turned, cowering. Muffled by the sleeves of his coat he continued, “I said I would get it! Just leave it. Forget it. Here's a new pen. That one can stay on the floor. It's fine!”

Farmer reached over and grabbed him by the shoulder. “Harvey, there's nothing there! You must be remembering something horrible but it's not real now!”

“He didn't even shave!” Their eyes met. He had the crazy eye. “How can there be so much hair?!” And then he just started hollering until Farmer pulled him over and patted his face.

“It's OK, bb it's OK.”

Chapter Text

Gosh, this chest was heavy.

“Phew!” Farmer wiped their brow. What a relief to be able to set it down for a break. Carrying this thing across town first thing in the morning was definitely a mistake.

While they rested, they saw Shane making his way up the square.

“Hi, Shane!”

“Can't talk now. Gotta get to work.” He gruffly replied as he barreled through like a juggernaut.

“But it close-- hey!”

Farmer stood by and watched as the blue bomber picked up their chest without losing a step and marched off with it in a huff.

“What the hell, man? My watering can was in there!”

“Not like you use it!”

“STILL!” Farmer's arms were locked straight down at their sides with fists feeling increasingly feeble by the second.

They chased him down and needled him in the ribs with their poking fingers all the way to janky Joja but he wouldn't give it back.

Chapter Text

“We found this next to them.”

A Joja employee handed the sleepy doctor a small, blue book. He eyed it closely, having forgotten his glasses on the end table. A journal? It just looked like a bunch of crossed out to-do lists.

Harvey looked back up to the uniformed stranger on his porch. His innards felt like they were petrifying inside him. “Where is Farmer now?”

“Right here. Tim has Farmer slung over his shoulder there.” She turned and pointed as she stepped aside to reveal a gruff comrade indeed carrying a farmer-sized burden.

“Oh. Oh! Excuse me.” Harvey also lightly stepped aside to open the door and make way for his retrieved spouse.

Joja Corp Team Member Tim deposited Farmer on the living room couch.

“Here's a bill for our help.” Joja Corp Team Member Sarah handed Harvey a slip of paper. “Please send a money order in the mail within 48 hours.”

Harvey looked at the invoice and scratched his head. “A money order…? Isn't there some other option?” He looked back at JCTMS bewildered.

“It's the preferred payment method for Joja Corp.”

“Sure, but where am I going to even get one out here? I have a checkbook. I can write you a check right here and now.”

“Maybe if your farmer hadn't single handedly closed your local Joja Mart you could've gotten one there.” She replied coolly.

Up until this point Harvey had given her the benefit of the doubt that she was just going by the book because she was dead inside from working at Joja. He refrained from pursuing the issue but he did still want to know: “Hey, speaking of… since it is closed, what are you guys still doing out here in Pelican Town?”

“Bringing home farmers who don't want to be good and go to bed at night.”

“I see.” His mustache ruffled.

Joja Corp Team Members Sarah and Tim bid the doctor good morning and saw themselves out.

Harvey sighed after the door clicked shut. He turned to the sleeping Farmer on the couch. It had been a while since Farmer was invested in anything enough to lose sleep. Bringing out the big, knitted quilt felt a bit nostalgic.

He was about to walk to the kitchen to start breakfast when Farmer woke up.

“Good morning.” He knelt beside the couch and pet their head.

Farmer smiled. “Ahhh… You caught me. Rats. You gonna lecture me again?”

“Nah…” he smiled back. “You're a lost cause.”

“Oooooh,” Farmer rolled over, pretending to have been shot. A muffled “Ouch.” made its way past the cushions and blanket. After a moment they turned back around. “You're not going to bill me, are you?”

Harvey sat cross-legged on the floor and tried to straighten his back but quickly gave in to the short term comfort of the casual slouch. “No, I won't. But we do have to send a money order to Joja Corp.”

“Wait, what? Why?”

“They're the ones who found you and brought you here.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” He brought one knee up against his chest to lean on it. “I was surprised to see them but I'm glad they were around. My nights of wandering the town aimlessly looking for exhausted farmers to trip over are long gone.”

He started to chuckle, “Though, even back then you could have been a little more discreet than dropping dead at the clinic doorstep.”

“It always was the best way to be sure I'd get to see you.”

“The clinic was open every day of the week.” His wry tone spurred Farmer on.

“Until 3pm! I was busy with the farm. Who could get anywhere that early?”

“Sure,” he relented. “Say, they brought your journal back with you. Said they found it next to you. What were you doing doing last night?”

“Oh. I was fishing! I'm trying to catch Legend: King of All Fish.” Farmer sat up halfway and gestured their hand as though envisioning the fish's name on a marquee as they said it.

Farmer continued the story while steadily kneading a pillow against the couch. “Yesterday was rainy and I'm running out of Spring this year. But before I knew it, midnight turned to 2AM. Then on my way home I discovered that if I reached for my journal and looked in it every ten minutes, I could avoid passing out. As though I were staying awake through sheer passion for helping our neighbors. But then my hand slipped and I guess I conked out.”

“I see.” Harvey's head rested on his upward knee. “Did you catch the fish?”

“No…” Farmer looked out the window across the room. “And it looks like it's sunny out today.”

“Aw, that's too bad.” He leaned forward and pulled the blanket over Farmer's shoulders. “But there's always next year. King Legend will probably just keep getting bigger and more legendary in the meantime.”

Farmer settled back into the couch cushion contentedly.

“Don't worry about today. Just get some rest as best you can. The flower dance is tomorrow.”

Farmer hummed. “How many years has it been since I moved here?”

“I don’t know. After that time your granddad came back I stopped counting.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Chapter Text

“Linus, are you a shaman?” Farmer eyed him quizzically from across the humble campfire.

Linus chuckled heartily. He didn’t say yes. But he didn’t say no.

“Is there something you need a shaman for?” He rustled the logs a bit with his trusty fire poking stick.

Farmer rubbed their chin. “I’m not sure. I’ve never seen a menu of shaman services before.”

“Wouldn’t you rather talk to the wizard? He has all kinds of tricks.”

“I don’t think Razmotazz can help me with this one. He gave me that potion to see the Junimos that one time but I don’t need a bestiary right now.”

“What do you think you need, then?”

“Spiritual guidance. Maybe for an existential crisis? Who knows.” Farmer drew their feet in to sit crossed-legged on the dirt. They took a moment to work up the nerve to even continue inquiring. Maybe there was no squirrel in this tree. Or any tree. They sighed. “I’m really curious about how time passes in this place.”

“It is curious, isn’t it?” Linus’s gaze didn’t break from the light of the fire but an errant twinkle in the corner of his eye encouraged Farmer.

“Every year it’s the same thing. In some ways, life repeats on a weekly cycle.”

“That’s just a routine.” Linus casually turned and reached for a nearby plant. He looked it over carefully and gently broke off the last few leaves.

“No… there’s something else going on here. I’m pretty sure I’ve been in this town longer than most kids attend high school or college. Maybe both. I can clearly remember putting that many different things in the community soup at the Luau each year.” Farmer began counting on their fingers, looking up at the stars to remember. “The first year I completely forgot to bring anything. The second year I couldn’t add anything because apparently food hastily bought from the saloon in a pinch doesn’t count. Year 3, I added a leek because it seemed appropriate. Year 4, I added a hot pepper to see what would happen. Year 5, I tried to put in a bottle of wine. Years 6 and 7, I put in an apple and a peach respectively. Now, the Luau is tomorrow again and I’m thinking of just dumping a loaf of bread in there.”

“So time is passing.” He rummaged through a leather bag next to where he sat.

“Yeah. I’ve done a lot with the farm too. That’s all changed. And of course my family exists now. But no one else seems to have changed at all.”

“Kent came home. And the community center is restored.” He pulled a cast iron ladle with a long handle from the bag, put the leaves in it, and held it over the fire.

“True. But that all happened pretty soon after I got here. Doesn’t anyone feel stagnant?”

“Maybe they’re growing internally?” He held the ladle in place for another minute.

“Yeah, but what about the kids in town? Maybe you wouldn’t notice an adult aging much but growing kids are hard to miss. I’m pretty sure Jas and Vincent should be closer to Maru, Abby, Sam, and Sebastian’s ages by now.” Farmer winced to consider how old that made themselves in turn. “And what about Maru and them leaving for college, or work, or touring in a band? What’s stopping them? I would warn that their youth is escaping them but that doesn’t seem to be the case either.”

“You could ask them.” Linus pulled the ladle back and blew a couple embers out of the dried leaves. He set it down to cool.

“They don’t seem to know what I’m talking about.”

“What would you do if suddenly, tomorrow, everyone went their separate ways to pursue this idea of growth?” While the ladle cooled on a rock beside him, Linus dug into the bag on his other side again and pulled out a couple pieces of leather and a string.

Farmer shifted their weight and eyes with a deep breath. “I’m not sure. I guess I hadn’t thought about that.”

After a moment of reflection, Farmer continued. “It’s not really about me though, is it? It doesn’t matter what I would do.”

“Your actions have a large impact on this town. You do realize this, right?” He began to stitch the string through the leather, making a very small pouch.

Farmer stirred further, unsure of what to make of that. “I guess I might get a bit lonely. I’d miss them. They're my friends. But not everyone would be leaving, right? Maybe they’d come back to visit sometimes. What’s more important to me is seeing everyone else do what they need to do to be as fulfilled as I have been by moving here.” Farmer felt resolute.

“Why did you move here at the time you did? As opposed to sooner or later.”

“Man, Linus. I don’t know how to explain it. It just felt right. It felt like I had been in this liminal phase for so long. I was ready to take the next step in one way or another.”

“Can you think of the catalyst?” He turned the pouch inside out and poked the cooled herbs in. He pulled the drawstring closed. Then waited.

“Not particularly. I can’t think of any one thing that really drove me to open my granddad's letter when I did. Or to immediately take him up on the offer of the farm.”

“Do you think you should have done it sooner?”

“No…”

“Do you think you should have waited longer?”

“I’m not sure.”

“How do you think it would have affected your experience in Pelican Town if you had waited to arrive?”

“If, by any weird, magical chance, my arrival traps everyone here in an endless cycle... Like I was trapped there… Maybe I should have waited more time so they could all move on.” Farmer felt odd. They rested their head on a hand that was attached to an elbow which in turn rested on their knee. They had been pushing this feeling away for a long time: The sense that they were enjoying themselves at the expense of holding everyone else back. “Or maybe I shouldn’t have come to Pelican Town at all.”

Suddenly Linus flung the pouch of roasted herbs he’d been making into the fire. Farmer didn’t even have time to shield their eyes from the ensuing flash of light. They could barely see the huge puff of smoke pour out from the flames but they felt the dry air wash over them like a sandstorm.

They coughed and waved their arms but on the third wave they were back at their desk at Joja Corp. Their grandad’s letter lay at the bottom of their otherwise empty desk drawer. They could barely remember him. They could barely remember what they were doing up until this moment. Something about a camp fire? No. That didn’t make sense. Must have been a daydream.

Always daydreaming at work. Better get back to it before anyone notices.

Some months passed. They remembered the letter occasionally. Once, they got close to opening it but their manager walked by to tell them their lunch break was over and there was a customer waiting on line 3.

A year passed and they found it again while cleaning their desk to move offices.

Two more years passed and they opened it on a whim.

A family farm in Stardew Valley? They could barely remember visiting in the few summers they were alive before Grandad passed away. The last time they went was to say goodbye and attend his funeral. Must have been sometime before elementary school. All they could remember was him lying in bed, telling them about life, and giving them the letter next to that warm fireplace that night. Farmer wanted to know about the sword above the mantle. The doll. The picture of the old lady that wasn’t Grandma. But there was no time to ask. Maybe moving out there and reclaiming the farm would bring them closer to him. Honor his memory.

“Who am I kidding? I don’t have money to move,” they muttered disgustedly.

Farmer lightly tossed the letter back into their desk drawer and left work for the weekend.

At home they stared at their bookshelf. Their TV. Their couch. Their life was lonely and boring but familiar. Financially, they were barely keeping it together but they were keeping it together. It had taken so long just to get to this point.

It would be cheaper to live on a farm without a mortgage than an overpriced studio apartment in the city. This suddenly felt obvious.

“I don’t know anything about farming.” They leaned against the couch. As they weighed the risks against their current life, it became clear that they might as well try it.

“Plan B is always an option regardless of where I am,” they reassured themselves darkly.

After a little over a year of saving up enough money and getting everything in order, they were finally on the bus to Pelican Town. It was a long ride. They were the only passenger, so they got to know the driver a bit.

Her name was Pam. She’d lived in Pelican Town her whole life. She had a daughter but the father was long gone.

“Honestly, the daughter’s gone too now, I guess.” She took a sip and returned her oversized water bottle to its well-worn holder.

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“No, I mean, she got married,” Pam laughed.

“Oh! Congratulations? To her?”

“Yeah, he’s alright. A bit skinny. But he seems nice and he treats her right. They’re still in town. I doubt either of them aim to ever leave. She still comes around to visit me on our days off. She's a good kid.”

“Yeah? What does she do?”

“She’s the high school teacher. She was the middle school teacher last year but she’s only got two students in the whole town. So when they get older she gets a promotion.” She laughed again. Pam seemed like a jolly ol’ broad.

They continued chatting for the duration of the trip. Maybe Pam would introduce them to the other townsfolk. Apparently the saloon would be a good place to ask for her help with that.

Additionally, the influence of Joja Corp wasn’t so easily escaped just by leaving the city. A Joja mart had opened up a few years back and without having any better ideas, they converted the town’s dilapidated community center into a Joja warehouse.

“It’s a shame but what can you do? Our town's economy struggled even before the mines closed decades ago. Then, Old Sherri here,” she patted the steering wheel firmly, “needed fixing around the same time that Joja arrived and the store manager made an initiative to raise money for it. Even if it was just to ingratiate his business into the community, I don’t think any of us knew what else to do.”

Farmer grimaced. “So is the whole town working for Joja now?”

“No, not at all. Barely anyone, actually. I’m not sure where all the other people who do work there live.” She pulled down the windshield visor. “In fact, I guess I assumed you’d already heard about this, but there’s a growing art scene in town.”

“Oh really? Like what?”

“Yeah. Big tourism draw in the summer. One of our newer locals, Leah, started hosting sculpture exhibitions in the town square a few years ago and it’s really caught on. Now it’s a yearly art festival and a couple of the other girls come back to showcase their work too. One does photography and her sister is a fashion designer. They make a pretty good team. And another newcomer wrote that bestseller that came out recently. You might have heard of it. Camellia Station?”

Farmer nodded. Everyone had read it.

“What about you? Got any talents that way?”

“No. Yoba, no.” Farmer leaned their forehead on the bus seat railing until the vibration became too much to bear. “I'm not…anything. At the moment.”

“It's alright. We all go through rough patches. I was out of work for a long while when Sherri here broke down.”

“Yeah? What'd you do?”

“I had too much time to think. So that meant I had too much time to drink.” She added resolutely, “Beer tastes better after a long day’s work. Lemme tell you that right now.”

Farmer nodded again.

“You shouldn't have any trouble with that, though. I've seen that farm. It should keep you plenty busy if you let it.”

That sounded both ominous and reassuring.

In due time they arrived. Pam bade Farmer a good night and triumphantly hoofed it to the saloon. Robin greeted Farmer right at the bus stop. For the rest of the evening, Farmer couldn't shake an eerie sense of deja vu.

They laid in bed that night, presumably the same bed their grandad passed away in, staring at the ceiling. Maybe they'll talk to the carpenter again tomorrow to get a new bed. In the meantime, they decided to try out their new, outdoorsy lifestyle by sleeping on the roof. That seemed to take care of the deja vu.

The stars were incredible.

The next morning Farmer declared the moment before sunrise to be the coldest part of the day. They sneezed. Spring had just sprung only yesterday. Maybe they'd been a bit too hasty to get all the fresh, mountain air into their body at once.

Maybe Robin had coffee at her shop.

She did not.

“I do have beds though,” she interjected apologetically. “Here, take a look at the catalogue.”

While Farmer flipped through the pages, Robin's husband Demetrius reentered the house.

“I'll say it again: having our own mailbox now is great. We got a letter from Maru! Says here she'll be-” he looked up from reading and hesitated when he saw Farmer. “Excuse me. I didn't see you. I'm Demetrius.” He held out a hand. “You must be the new farmer Robin told me about.”

“Yeah. My name also happens to be Farmer.”

“Must be in the blood.” He smiled. “Figuratively speaking, of course.”

“What did Maru say, dear?”

“Right. Well, she says she'll have some time off this summer and she hopes to be back in town for the Luau.”

“That's great! I think Sebby might've said the same thing.” Robin smiled. She looked toward the doorway to the rest of the house. Farmer could only just barely hear her say something about the house not being empty again.

Before she let herself think too much about it, Robin turned back to Farmer and eagerly inquired about furniture. Farmer politely refused to be persuaded into committing to a specific style immediately.

“I understand. I'll make this my top priority and see if I can't get you sorted out by tonight.” Robin rolled up her sleeves. “You only just got here! And you have so much work to do! You’ll need a good night's rest. I can't let you end up in the clinic with pneumonia.”

Farmer rubbed the back of their neck. “Yeah…” A pang of guilt coursed through them. They could also just grow up a bit and not be bothered by it. At least Robin seemed excited. They shook their head. Of course she was. Being passionate about work felt so unfamiliar.

“Thanks, Robin. Even if something more important comes up, I really appreciate the effort.”

“No problem.” She grinned. “See you tonight, I hope!”

Farmer started to leave but turned at the door. “Oh yeah. One last thing: where in town can I get a cup of coffee?” They coughed a bit more harshly than they were expecting. “Or, like a tea or something?”

But the saloon wasn't open until noon. Farmer felt a little foolish waiting all morning at the door for a bar to open, regardless of the reason, so they wandered down to the beach.

The white sky hazily faded into the dark green sea. It was kind of a lousy day for the beach. They reached the end of the dock before they knew it. Damn this fog.

“Woah, there.” A figure appeared. “Not aiming to jump in yet, are ya?” He seemed to evaluate Farmer's condition and his beard curved. He turned back to the sea to deftly cast a fishing line.

“Nah, not today.” Farmer also turned to look out to an invisible horizon. Their throat was starting to kill. “I've already taken the weather too lightly as it is. Spent last night on the roof and now I'm waiting for the saloon to open to get a tea or something.”

“Hmm.”

Farmer rubbed their head. There was no reason to say all that.

“I've got some cough drops back at my shop if you'd like.”

Farmer turned and looked at the fisherman with a stern disbelief. “You don't mind? I haven't even properly introduced myself.”

“Yeah.” He reeled a fish in so easily it was like he hadn't caught one at all. “You can fix that later. Come on.” He gathered his fishing pole and bait pail and trudged toward a shop that emerged from the fog.

Farmer followed meekly.

At the back of the shop, the fisherman set everything aside and crossed behind the counter. A bit of rummaging through a cupboard proved fruitful. He tossed the jar to Farmer. “My name's Willy. Fishing's been in my family for generations. You'll find that's common here.”

“My name's Farmer. I think every other generation in my family takes up farming as an escape.” The cough drop was magical.

“Fair enough.” He gestured toward the jar in Farmer's arms. “Have as many as you like. I can always make more.”

“This is a life saver. Thank you. Is it a family recipe?”

“Of course. But it's more of a fisherman's friend.” He tipped his hat on the way out.

On the way back into town, Farmer bumped into someone’s shoulder on the bridge.

“Excuse me, sorry. I don't know how I didn't see you.” Farmer rubbed their forehead. The fog from the beach seemed to have stowed away in their head.

“No, pardon me!” He braced Farmer lightly by the shoulders, leaning in a bit to scrutinize their face. “I don't think we've met. I'm Elliott. I live in the shack south of here so I'm a bit isolated. Sorry if I've neglected to introduce myself until now.”

“I haven't been in town a full day so you're in the clear, man.” Despite the cough drop, all this talking was starting to make their voice hoarse.

Elliott stood up straight, released Farmer's shoulders, and relaxed. “Then, welcome!”

“Thanks. I'm living on the farm outside of town so I'll probably be pretty isolated too.”

“That's genuine remoteness. Pelican Town is a stark contrast from the city in a lot of ways, isn't it?”

“Seems that way.”

“Well, I'll be seeing you.” Elliott waved and departed, probably back to his cabin.

“Yeah, nice to meet you.”

“Likewise!”

Farmer did their best to talk to everyone they met on their way to the saloon and back home. Mayor Lewis had been working in his garden. Gus, the bartender, seemed especially kind. Pam was chilling at the bus stop and exchanged an amicable wave for a salute.

Back at the farm, an axe laid next to the porch. Farmer stared at it. It was their first day in their new life but for some reason they weren't feeling up to chopping down a whole forest to make room for a couple parsnips. Where had all their energy gone? Why were their joints so achy?

Farmer hoisted the axe over their shoulder. It would probably be better to walk it off than worry about it.

That evening, Robin arrived with the new bed just in time. Farmer's condition had worsened but they managed to cut down and uproot three whole trees. It was harder work than they even imagined. The thought of clearing all of the other trees overwhelmed them. They collapsed onto the mattress while Robin set up the frame.

“You feeling alright?”

“About that pneumonia…” Their face was down on the mattress and sided by each upward stretched arm.

“Should I get the doctor?”

“Oh. No.” Farmer rolled onto their back and fished around in their pocket for a cough drop. “I'm just being dramatic.”

“Alright. Well, your bed's ready!” She brushed her hands proudly.

“Thanks, Robin. I owe you one.”

“Just get some good sleep so you can keep bringing me lumber!” She saw herself out.

Farmer pulled the mattress over and sorted the sheets out. The next thing they knew, it was morning again and the clock/barometer/thermostat dial on the wall said the room was 20 degrees colder than it felt. Damn.

Farmer wandered over to their suitcase. No pain pills. Double damn. They'd have to trudge all the way into town to get some. Just getting to the wall phone felt laborious enough. Better check the clinic's hours.

“Hello. Pelican Town Clinic. This is Dr. Harvey speaking. How can I help you?”

“Hi. What are your hours today?” Out of habit, they acted like they could remain anonymous.

“9 am to 3 pm. Is everything alright?” He sounded like people don't often call in casually.

“Yeah, it's just a fever. I was hoping to stop by for some acetaminophen.”

“Sure.” There was a slight pause. “May I ask who's calling?”

“Oh... This is the new farmer.” They already forgot how personal every interaction was going to be in such a small town. Suddenly they felt rude for talking too directly, as though calling in an order for takeout.

“A fever, huh? Why don't I stop by just to be sure it's not more serious than that. No sense in making you walk all the way into town.”

“What? It's ok.” Farmer reeled. Having Robin and Lewis over was one thing. The farm was still too overrun. Visitors might get lost in the brush.

“Yes. It is ok.” He seemed to know what they meant and continued despite that. “House calls are part of my job!”

Right. Passion for a career again.

“Ahh..but..”

“I'll be over in a little while.”

“Ok.”

Farmer sighed and shuffled back to their suitcase to find a way to look presentable.

They meant to wait on the porch but a quick break to sit on their bed turned into a cat nap that lasted until there was a knock on the door.

Up and at 'em...!

The creaky door revealed yet another stranger. Even though they had been expecting the doctor, they hadn't at all known what to expect. Well. The medical bag seemed like a given, at least.

“Hi, I'm Harvey, the town doctor. Nice to meet you!” He traded which hand held the bag and presented the free hand to shake.

Farmer cordially agreed to this transaction. “I'm Farmer. Incidentally, in both name and profession. Please, come in.”

Farmer suddenly realized they had no kitchen with which to offer tea to guests. They apologized and offered him the lone seat at the table. He pulled the chair over to where Farmer sat on the bed.

They spoke briefly about having come to Pelican Town from elsewhere. He seemed to have been here quite a while and settled in pretty thoroughly. Somewhat seamlessly, and without breaking conversation except to introduce the idea, he transitioned into performing a basic checkup with the usual arm band, stethoscope, tongue depressor combo.

“All right. Now, I'm going to check your lymph nodes.” He reached below Farmer's jaw and gently applied pressure. “Yeah, in some ways Pelican Town is even less lively than it used to be. With the exception of the new summer art fair.”

“How do you mean?” Farmer stiffly swallowed their discomfort at the closeness.

Harvey leaned back and pulled his stethoscope off his neck. “Almost half of the younger generation left for the city over the last few years.” He shrugged. “Pretty natural for a small town.”

Farmer nodded.

Harvey put away his tools and took out a bottle of pills. “Here's your medicine. Looks like you'll be back on your feet in a couple days. Until then, you probably know the drill. These, chicken soup, lots of fluids, and plenty of rest.” He clasped his bag and returned the chair to the table. “Please don't hesitate to let me know if you need anything else.”

Farmer started to stand to walk him out but he stopped them immediately.

“Don't worry about it. I'll see myself out.” He smiled and gave a curt wave. “It was nice meeting you!”

After the door clicked shut, Farmer took a moment to sit in a daze. Then they flopped back onto the bed and slept for the next few days.

At the end of the month was the flower dance. Apparently there used to be more performers but now there were only two poor, conspicuously dressed kids. A boy and girl, barely in their teens, without much choice but to be paired to dance with each other. Farmer idly wondered if they didn't challenge each other daily to see which of them would leave town first.

Farmer wandered along the sidelines. They'd nodded to Willy and Gus. Caught up with Pam for a bit. Work on the farm had made them pretty scarce in town for the past month. There were still a lot of people they had yet to meet. They considered asking Pam to introduce them but right at the moment when Farmer worked up the nerve, Pam needed a refill.

Maybe when she got back.

No sooner had she left when the doctor walked up to check on Farmer.

“Feeling better today?” He seemed cheerful.

Farmer turned abruptly. “Oh. Yes. Sorry, maybe I should have followed up?”

“Not at all.” He rolled on his heels. “No news is good news in my line of work. Usually, anyway.” He looked across the field and waved someone over.

Farmer turned again, getting a little agitated like a heavy blanket in the washer.

“Speaking of good news,” the doctor welcomed an otherwise petite young woman to his side. A button of her blouse near her abdomen strained its yellow fabric. “Farmer? This is my wife, Penny.” He seemed excited about the introduction in a way that gave Farmer the impression he'd only recently been permitted to start telling anyone they were expecting.

Penny blushed and waved bashfully. “Hi, nice to meet you.”

Farmer felt a little sick. Too much was happening all at once. Had they become so isolated on the farm they couldn't meet people without getting overwhelmed? Must be.

“Hi, nice to meet you too!” Farmer shook her hand to hide how shaky they felt. “Are you Pam's daughter? She's told me so much about you.”

They chatted for a while and when Pam came back, Farmer just sort of…dropped out of conversation all together. Instead, they looked around at everyone else mingling together.

There was Elliott, talking with a young woman. Farmer wondered if she was one of the artists.

Judging from their jackets, a Joja employee and an army veteran were having a drink together. Probably shooting a similar shit. They each seemed to be related to the two kids who were diligently keeping tradition alive out in the middle of the field.

Farmer wondered who would be dancing when these two kids inevitably left town for their own dreams. They thought about Penny’s blouse button. At least one little dancer was on the way. Though it would be a ways off.

They excused themselves from the festival.

In fact, they preemptively excused themselves from most things in favor of getting the farm in order.

“No reason to make friends if you can't host guests,” they reasoned to themselves daily, between axe swings and weed pulls.

A couple weeks passed. It was time for the annual luau. Farmer tried to call as little attention to themselves as possible on their way across the hot sand to the soup cauldron. They lightly tossed in an onion and turned to find shelter when they heard someone calling them.

“Farmer! Come, join us.” Elliott waved them over jovially.

Farmer lurched through the sand to join the rather large group of very stylish looking young adults. Farmer barely managed to find a button up shirt without grass stains and had to settle on hoping no one would notice the dirt woven into their brown pants. They couldn't remember ever buying brown pants.

“Farmer,” Elliott gestured with an open palm to each person in turn. “I'd like you to meet Leah, our event coordinator and resident sculptor/painter; Haley, her secretary, our local photographer; Emily, Haley's sister and local fashion designer; Abigail, Sam, and Sebastian, our local musicians who have just agreed to perform a set this year; and yours truly, whom you've already met, am a writer.”

“We were about to discuss the theme for this year's upcoming art and music festival,” Leah offered. “We could use an outside opinion.”

“Can't get much more ‘outsider’ than me,” Farmer thought to themselves wryly. Their voice didn't betray their attitude. “Yeah? What is it?”

“In short: Beginnings.”

“That's pretty short,” Sebastian's cigarette bobbed on his smirking lips.

“I wanted to leave it up to interpretation.” Leah bit her left thumbnail while holding her left elbow with her right hand. “Do you guys think that's too vague?”

She turned to Farmer. Farmer was caught off guard. They weren't expecting to actually be asked anything.

They fumbled. “I'd kinda like to know more about what you had in mind.”

“Right. Well, I was thinking about how we're all, individually, slowly but steadily becoming established in our careers. Which is great. But I was thinking back to the moment before being really sure of what I was doing. When I made that first, careful step. Then I wondered if any of you guys ever think back to that time and how you feel about it.”

The group seemed to hum and nod together.

Farmer, only now being in that position themselves, felt incredibly unequipped to weigh in. But they could imagine the idea abstractly so they nodded and hummed too. They bit into their burger to avoid speaking.

Everyone else carried on about the memories they shared together in the valley.

“Man. If only there were some way we could step back in time for a day.” Sam added wistfully.

“Yeah,” Abigail agreed. “I hardly ever get to see you guys anymore, outside of the odd chance we all come home for the same holiday like this.”

“I wish I had taken more photos of everyone back then.” Haley fidgeted with the beads of her necklace.

“It's okay. You never know what you'll miss until it's over,” Leah reassured her.

“Like Leah and Sam said, it would be nice to be able to relive those days again and again whenever we wanted. I love my life now too, but sometimes I want to go back to the time when we were all finding our way together. To enjoy it more for what it really was. Or at least not to be so nervous about it.” Emily seemed to have thought about this a lot, too. “I know time would've passed us by if we hadn't moved on when we did. But it would have been nice if it lasted longer without consequence.”

“That's the dream of youth, isn't it?” Elliott sighed. “Stardew Valley: the Arcadia of our Youth.”

“Ohh, let's use that for our festival theme.” Haley brightened up.

“Sure. Maybe we'll take out the Stardew Valley part for the sake of our guest artists,” Leah decided.

Everyone hummed and nodded again. Something about that title made Farmer bite their lip a little too hard. They excused themselves to mend it at home.

A couple weeks later, the art (and now music) festival began without a hitch. Everyone from Pelican Town was there, along with a huge crowd from throughout the whole region. Pam must have been busy hauling everyone in. Farmer saw her taking a break with her daughter and son in law in the shade of the park on the way to the town square.

Farmer was impressed by the turnout. There were a lot of exhibits from a diverse group of artists and craftspeople. Every medium under the sun seemed to be represented.

“Well,” they braced themselves. “Might as well take a look.”

Haley’s tent exhibited a photo set of images where the focal point was the only part of the composition that was clear to see. The rest of the images were either desaturated, blurry, obscured by an object or cloth, etc. Farmer overhead her excitedly explaining what fun it was to try out all these different techniques in-camera or in the dark room. She'd never tried most of them before.

Emily's newest clothing line was all about contrasting layers. Some sets were a daytime/evening wear combo. Some shifted from one fashion era to another. Some were for changing environments, like between business and casual wear. As she helped one of her models get dressed, she described donning and shedding each layer as an act of traveling through phases in one's life. Her grand show piece, which she wore herself, was an outfit of blended layers from various clothes she wore throughout her life. Somehow she managed to create a unique harmony with it.

Elliott had carefully hand-written short one-line stories on strips of rice paper and hung them from the ceiling bars of his tent. Walking through them felt like passing through someone's memories. Some had fallen apart from the moisture in the air. They'd all be gone by evening, he predicted to a curious guest.

Everyone's work was so carefully prepared. Farmer marveled at everyone else's skills. Despite their sinking lack of confidence, Farmer couldn't avoid being moved by the gentle humanity of the exhibits.

On their way to Leah's tent, Farmer heard Sam, Sebastian, and Abigail's band start to play. Most people headed that way. Before long, they warmed up enough to where Farmer couldn't eavesdrop over their volume.

They were alone with their thoughts, peering at little dioramas Leah had made of flat, wooden figures carved like silhouettes and small, painted cloth backgrounds. The dioramas seemed to be inspired by key moments in recent Pelican Town history. At least, since Leah had been here.

Leah joined Farmer beside one in particular. “Some of these are fictional. Like this one.”

“Why would you make fictional ones too?”

She shrugged, “Honestly, I couldn't tell ya. But I guess they're things I wished happened instead. Like regrets. For instance, the community center here. I wish we could have restored it to how I've heard it used to be.”

“That makes sense.” Farmer reached over and brushed a thumb across one of the figures. “I recognize the other people here. Who's this one supposed to be?”

Leah picked it up and held it. “You know? I don't know. It's weird but I had the strongest feeling like I should include them while I was making these.” She turned to look across the other dioramas as she set it back down in place. “If you'll look over here, you can find them in pretty much all of the fictional events. It's like it's not enough to wish things had gone differently. I also have this strong feeling that someone I don't even know should have been there as well.” She turned to Farmer with an embarrassed, pleading look. “Is that crazy?” When she made eye contact with Farmer, her expression changed to concern. “Farmer?”

Farmer held a couple of the stranger's silhouettes. They stared down at them until their eyes dried out. They stared until their eyes overflowed. That uneasy feeling from before was blooming into queasiness. A sick, sinking feeling of longing. They still didn't know why. They couldn't imagine what was causing it.

“Are you ok?”

“I think I need some air.”

Leah gently took them by the arm and lead them outside the tent. Farmer’s knees threatened to melt away. Between that and all the trembling, they could only stagger with Leah's support. She looked around for help and waved Kent over.

“Hi, Leah. What's going on?” He walked up cautiously and took one look at Farmer. “Panic attack? Come with me.”

Together they all walked over to the shade of a large maple tree in the sparsely populated park. Carefully, Leah and Kent sat down with Farmer. Leah tried holding their shoulders while Kent guided them through breathing exercises. After a few rounds they had returned to normal, albeit a bit shaken and embarrassed.

“Ok. I'm good. Thank you.” Farmer looked from Leah to Kent. “I'm sorry. I don't think we've met. I'm Farmer.” They could at least try to recover a proper introduction.

Kent smiled. “Everyone knows who you are. Even if we don't know you at all.”

“Oh. I guess so.”

“I'm Kent. Don't worry. I know what it's like to drop in on a close-knit community. And then some. That blonde kid on stage, singing about growing up without a dad, is my son.”

Farmer scratched their head. “That sounds…rough.”

“It was for a while. But he asked me for input on that song. If you can believe that.”

“That's incredible,” Farmer marveled.

“I don't know what's weighing you down so heavily, Farmer. But I guarantee you it doesn't have to do that forever.”

“Thanks.” Farmer still had trouble gathering their thoughts but they were definitely grateful.

It took a little convincing but eventually Leah returned to her tent and Kent rejoined his family by the stage.

Farmer sat on the grass and listened. They closed their eyes and focused on the murmur of distant hubbub. They were surprised by how many individual voices they recognized.

Pierre the shopkeeper reminisced with Lewis and Marnie about the time the town ganged up on the reticent couple to just get married already. Apparently, the shotgun for the wedding was fake and originally acquired to tease his daughter's friend but had only collected dust due to a grave misunderstanding.

Alex regaled the success of his sports career to someone. Farmer couldn't hear anyone responding but he seemed to be able to carry on happily regardless.

Farmer wondered how they knew everyone's voices so well.

They heard leaves rustle behind them and footsteps approach. Someone quietly sat down next to Farmer.

“What do you think?” He asked.

“Everything's so different.” Farmer responded without thinking. What did they mean? Different from what?

“Did you find the answers you were looking for?” Linus withdrew flint, a pocket knife, and a small bouquet of dried flowers from his bag.

“I think so.” Farmer tried to recall something buried deep.

They remembered the feeling of the wooden silhouette in their hands. “It was me.”

They remembered the feeling of being surrounded by the memories recorded on melting paper. “Those were mine.”

They remembered the photos of moments only partially visible. “Those too.”

They began to weep.

“Are you ready to go back?”

“Yes.”

Linus laid the dried flowers down on the damp grass and began striking the flint with the knife until the flowers lit. He tossed the knife and flint back into his bag and held the flowers up.

When Farmer finally reopened their eyes, they were back at his campfire. It had died down a lot but its warmth persisted. Linus added a small log to keep it steady.

Farmer sat there, dazed. How much time had passed? They looked up. The moon had hardly moved at all. Oh good. No need to dig out their journal to get home on time tonight. They tried to think of a joke to break the ice but silence just seemed better.

Linus spoke first. “Are you back?”

Farmer nodded, unsure.

“Did you find what you needed?”

Farmer nodded again, slightly more sure. “Weren’t you with me just now?”

“I’ve been here the whole time.”

“You didn’t go with me? I thought you were there at the end.”

“You sat quietly with your eyes closed for a few minutes. After you started saying “it was me”, I talked to you and brought you back with that bundle of herbs.” He motioned to what was left of burnt stems tied together with string.

Farmer stared at it, eyes half lidded. They tried to move but their body felt heavy. “I think I should be going.”

Linus nodded. “You look like you could use some rest.”

“I’ve seen a lot. Thank you, Linus. That was really… something.” They rubbed their forehead and stumbled upward into a rough standing position. “I’d like to have you over for dinner tomorrow night. Would you please join us?”

“Please don’t feel obligated to--”

“No.” They shook their head firmly. “I would like to have you over for dinner.” They repeated. “Would you please join us?”

Linus smiled beneath his bushy, fishing line tangle of a beard. “I would love to. Thank you.”

“All right. I’ll see you then.” Farmer waved and departed down the mountain path back to the farm.

As soon as Farmer reached the opening in the cliff at the north edge of the farm, their dog appeared and ran circles around them, barking excitedly. Farmer knelt down and scratched his fur all over. They pulled him close for a bear hug but he got away just as quickly and bowed to play instead. Farmer stood and got him excited for a chase. The dog began circling Farmer again like a drifting car doing donuts in an empty parking lot. This continued in the general direction of the porch until someone opened the eastern gate. Dog and owner both stopped and looked. Then they both ran to meet him in front of the house.

“Having fun?” Harvey smiled brightly.

“Yes!” Farmer cried, as they crashed into him and clasped their wide arms around him like an octopus. They stood embracing for a while until Harvey started to move toward the house. Farmer held on tighter. “I want to never let go.”

“Hm. That might be a bit problematic, eventually.” He chuckled until he realized they seemed to be serious. “Okay. Well, then. How about this?”

In one quick movement, Harvey turned and pulled Farmer up onto his back. He held Farmer’s legs, Farmer held his shoulders, and he walked them both toward the porch stairs with the dog in tow.

Farmer was surprised he could make it seem so natural.

“This is a lot easier with your help, actually,” he remarked. “Back when I used to bring you home from the mines, you weren’t in any condition to be holding on.”

Farmer buried their face in the back of his neck.

“Thank you for that. I know I’ve made extra work for you over the years.”

Harvey stopped at the door. He spoke very clearly. “I don’t do it because it’s my job.” He turned his head to softly look over his shoulder. “I do it because I love you.”

Farmer held on tighter, saying nothing.

“I want to give you the help you need when you need it. Conveniently, our paths lined up. If you had needed a plumber as often, I probably would’ve fallen short on that.” He smirked, “At least until I got a chance to read up on it.”                                                                                                                                          

“Thank you.” Was all Farmer could muster. They meant it. But it didn’t seem like enough. Probably nothing ever would.

They fumbled around, trying to think of something to say when they were interrupted by four tiny hands banging crayons and a poorly constructed model airplane against the inside of the window pane. Farmer looked over, startled.

“Oh my god, I forgot we had children.”

Harvey’s face contorted with an amused disbelief. “Really?” He laughed. “How?”

“I had this really vivid dream earlier. I’m still sorting it all out.” Farmer dismounted and they all entered the house.

Chapter Text

Farmer and Harvey sat at the bar of the saloon, enjoying a rare night out together.

Farmer snacked on a handful of peanuts.

Harvey smiled.

“I used to think it was weird. Now it’s kind of cute.”

“What is?” Asked Farmer.

“The way you bounce and rub your belly whenever you eat.”

“I what?”

“Yeah,” interjected Shane. “It’s like watching a dolphin leap for fish.”

“C’mon, guys. Leave me alone.”

Shane offered Farmer a slice from his pizza.

“Go on,” he urged. “All in one bite. I know you can do it.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Farmer faced the bar.

“What’re you shy for? We’ve all seen you do it!” Pam called over.

Farmer looked over at Pam.

“Everyone? Really?”

Everyone in the bar nodded.

“I’m not a sideshow,” Farmer protested.

“Eat it, eat it,” the crowd began to chant.

Sweat beaded on Farmer’s brow. The pizza smelled good. What was the worst that could happen? Proving them right? If the whole town was aware of something Farmer didn’t realize about themself, what dignity was there left to lose?

Farmer swiped the pizza. They focused all of their concentration on eating it like everyone else. But even after all that, they felt themself do exactly as had been described. It was beyond their control.

Farmer sat down on the barstool, defeated.

Harvery set a hand on Farmer’s shoulder.

“Are you alright?” He asked.

“Doc.” Farmer’s voice was grave.

“Yes?”

“I need you to get the bed straps from the clinic.”

Harvey looked around nervously. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re going to get them. We’re going to attach them to this stool, and so help me Yoba, I’m going to eat everything in this saloon if I have to to stop eating like a dolphin.”

Harvey eyed Farmer, concerned.

“...Okay.” He nodded.

 

One hour later:

“You can do it! You can do it!” Pam called from her seat.

“JUMP! JUMP!” Cheered Shane between handfulls of popcorn.

“NO!” Laughed Marnie, slapping Shane on the arm.

“AARRGHHH-- This is stupid!” Farmer thrashed their head left to right. Spaghetti noodles flew off their face and onto the bartop. “I can’t eat it!”

“You can! You’re just sitting down at the same time!”

“It’s UNNATURAL!” Farmer shouted.

“It’s perfectly natural,” Harvey assured Farmer.

“DON’T YOU SOOTHE ME !”

“How’s it going, Gus?” Sam asked from over the counter.

Gus shoved a plate of shrimp at Emily and went back to the stove. He said nothing but Emily and Sam both saw the frenzy in his eyes.

“SITTING IS FOR SHITTING!” Exclaimed the troubled Farmer.

“This was your idea,” Sebastian reminded Farmer.

“I didn’t think it would feel this gross!” Farmer appeared genuinely troubled.

“Do you want to stop?” Asked Harvey.

“No, no! I can do it, I can do-- ohughghhhh!” Farmer shuddered at the shrimp.

“I think we’d better call it a night.” Harvey said to a boo-ing audience. To Emily, “Sorry. Can you wrap this up? Thanks.”

Harvey and Sebastian undid the restraints around Farmer’s arms and from the bartop. Farmer cleaned the spaghetti sauce off their face. Everyone else milled about, preparing to leave.

“You tried.” Pam placed her hand on Farmer’s shoulder.

Farmer was moved by Pam’s gesture of leaving her seat to walk over.

“I’ll get it someday,” Farmer said bashfully.

Pam shrugged.

“Even if you don’t. People only care about things like that when they’re bored.”

“This is a pretty boring town…”

“You’ve got that right. We’re always looking for something to amuse ourselves with. Today, I guess it was your turn. Tomorrow, it might not be.”

“Tomorrow it might be you!”

Pam nodded, smiling. “Tomorrow it might be me again.” She gave Farmer’s shoulder a firm pat-pat. “Good night, kid.”

“’Night, Pam.”

Chapter Text

Farmer presented Alex with a Golden Pumpkin.

“This is for you, Alex.”

Alex took a break from working out.

“Woah. Really?”

“...Yeah?” Farmer tilted their head to the side with an air of incredulity. “Do you like it?”

“Of course!” Alex walked over, ready to receive the gift.

Farmer stepped back. Their head could not angle further away by this point.

“What’s up?” Alex paused. When he stepped forward again, with arms out, Farmer retreated once more.

This waltz continued for a bit.

“Have I given you trash so often you’ve come to appreciate it?!” Farmer finally stammered.

“This isn’t trash.” Alex took the pumpkin.

“It was yesterday.”

“I don’t remember that. All I know is I love this thing.” He petted it gently.

“Then you can’t have it.” Farmer stole the pumpkin back. “Gimme.”

Alex huffed as Farmer walked off.

“What’re you doing with that pumpkin?”

Farmer looked down at the golden pumpkin in their arms, then back to Penny.

“What, this? Dumping in the trash, I guess. Why?”

“Why would you do that?” Penny looked shocked.

“You too?” Farmer looked Penny up and down. They knew she lived in a trailer and prefered dandelions but they gave her more credit than to be fascinated by a universally hated item.

“Of course, isn’t it nice?” Penny approached. She put her hand on the pumpkin, admiring it.

Farmer looked the pumpkin over.

“Maybe in a gaudy sort of way...”

Farmer looked around. Caroline and Jodi stood at a distance with an intense gleam of desire in their eyes.

“Is everyone crazy for this thing now?” Farmer wondered aloud. They turned to Penny. “Look. Tell you what. Meet me at the farm in an hour. I’ve got plenty more where this came from.”

“You’re not going to just give them away, are you?”

“You kidding? I’ve been stockpiling them for years not knowing what to do. So, yeah. Party at my place. Bring your friends.”