My phone’s female navigation voice instructs me to turn off the highway and on to a barely paved road leading up into the hills.
STAY ON UNNAMED ROAD FOR THREE MILES.
Unnamed road, that’s vaguely disconcerting. Well, at least the road isn’t named after the man I’m supposed to meet. It still weirds me out after five years of living here to meet people who have stayed on the same land long enough to have all the roads and creeks named after their family. It also weirds me out to have people only give me four numbers when I ask for their phone number. I mean, I get that each town has its own three digit prefix and you only really need the last four numbers, but it still makes my brain lock up.
The road quickly turns into a one lane gravel trail with holes large enough to be called “Charles” instead of “Chuck”. I steer around them as best I can and wish I was driving a car with better clearance. After about a mile the road starts winding through trees up into the foothills. I turn off the radio and hug the right side of the road at every turn. I’d rather not get hit by some jackass in an off-road truck treating the road like his own personal race track.
DESTINATION IS ON YOUR RIGHT
I almost missed the driveway and had to back up to make the tight turn. About 500 yards off the road is a clearing with a house and a large outbuilding, the kind people usually keep RV’s in. I parked between a raised truck and a late-model hatchback. I grabbed the camera and put on the fleece jacket with the museum logo. A large German Shepherd jumped up to put his paws on my window barking excitedly. I rolled the window down and put the back of my hand up to the nose that snuffled into the crack.
“Hey there, pup,” I said in an unconcerned voice. I used to be terrified of big dogs as a kid. I can’t remember what changed or when. Now I’m the kind of girl who sticks her whole hand into a wolf’s mouth to keep it from eating gravel. Though technically I didn’t know it was a wolf until AFTER I did that.
I pocketed my keys and opened the door. An inquisitive snout runs up and down my leg as I got out of the car.
“Sprout Come!” a man’s voice ordered.
The dog reluctantly headed toward its master.
“Hello.” I waved. “I’m from the museum. You called about a cranberry beater?”
“She’s not vicious,” the man said, as the dog started to bounce and bark in front of me.
I made a closed fist and held it over Sprout’s nose. “Sprout Sit.” She sat and I scratched behind her ears.
“Machine’s in the barn,” the man said leading me around the house toward an old gray barn hidden by the outbuilding. “Don’t think you have room at the museum, but maybe you could park it outside or something.”
“Did you raise cranberries?” I asked.
“Me? No, it came with the property. We just moved here from Idaho last summer. Neighbor told us it had some historical significance so we called you.”
“Yeah, several farms were started in the area few decades ago, but they all failed. Turns out there’s a fungus in the ground that caused all the crops to fail.”
He pulled back the doors of the barn. “Surprised no one sold it for scrap.”
I was too, but I didn’t say it out loud. “I’m just going to take some pictures for now. I’ll present it to our collections committee in about a month. If we decide against it I know a couple of groups that might be interested.”
He nodded. “My daughter’s home sick from school I’m going to go check on her. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll just take some pictures and be on my way.” I tried my best confident smile. What this? Of course I drive out and take pictures of rusted old farm equipment every day. “I’ll let you know before I leave.”
He called Spout and headed back to the house leaving me alone. The cranberry beater was a large piece of mid-century machinery about the same size as the larger tractors they showcased at the county fair. The kind Aaron joked would cut our two acres of lawn in fifteen minutes flat. It was up on timbers and the beater wheel was in an upraised position. My friend James made me tour the cranberry museum in Long Beach once, so I’d seen pictures of this kind of thing in action. The cranberry fields would be flooded with water and the beater would run across the rows with the wheel churning the berries into the water where they’d float to the top.
I took pictures from every angle. I seriously doubted we’d accept it for the museum collection, but there were other local organizations who loved this sort of thing.
It was a pretty wicked looking piece of machinery. The people on Twitter would love this. I pocketed the museum camera and took out my cell phone. I crouched down in front of the beater wheel and pointed my phone camera up.
I grinned as I reviewed the picture. Perfect. I sent it to Twitter with the caption: Now I know what it feels like to be a cranberry. It uploaded almost immediately. Why was it that I got 3G out in the middle of nowhere and only 1G in normal places?
My foot bumped the timber under the machine as I got back up. Or rather, my foot went through the timber. It disintegrated into a mess of powder post beetle leavings and the machine tipped forward. The beater wheel hit me square in the chest and pressed me against the barn floor. The air went out of my lungs and I felt ribs snap. I couldn’t seem to inhale with the weight on my chest.
As I blacked out, I inexplicably visualized being surrounded by the platypus I would never get a chance to swim with.