It took a long time for Ed to notice that the hay bales always seemed slightly different. Each night, before he headed inside, he would patrol his farm, taking a lap around the edges of the fields, walking between the massive head-height bales that littered the fields.
One night, Ed noticed that, by happenstance, three of the bales happened to line up, pointing towards the old oak tree near his house. He thought nothing of this, until the next night.
The hay bales were no longer in a straight line. They had moved slightly ajar, so the line appeared crooked.
Ed lived alone; his wife had left him two years previously. There was no one else on the farm, and he knew better than to try moving one of the massive bales before it had finished drying. He didn’t touch the shifted bales and returned to his narrow bed in his house, but sleep was slow in coming.
The next morning, between chores, he strolled out to the bales. They appeared exactly the same as any other time – Ed was beginning to doubt whether they had ever been in a straight line. To be certain, however, he had carried a couple half-bricks out to the bales. He dropped one of the brick pieces next to each bale, in line with the center of the roll.
That evening, on his stroll through the fields of the farm, he paused at each of the bales. The first two still seemed in line with the bricks, and he began to relax. However, when he reached the third roll of hay, it was nearly three feet from the brick.
This time, even though Ed returned to his bed, his eyes refused to close. He dragged himself back out of bed, selecting a pitchfork from the edge of the shed as he stumbled out to the field. He stabbed the shifted bale several times with the long tines, making sure that he spread out his thrusts. The hay bale didn’t seem to respond.
Lying back in bed, Ed tried to think of how the bale had moved. He briefly wondered if some nearby teens had come by, trying to play a prank, but he didn’t think that even a dozen teenagers would be able to move one of those bales. Besides, why would they be back each night, moving each bale only a few feet? He couldn’t understand.
That morning, he went back out to his fields, ignoring the other chores. The bales had shifted again, he was sure of it. He squatted next to one bale, his head pressed against the rough, dry straw. Could he hear some sort of noise from inside? As he knelt there, he could swear that a tremor passed through the bale; some of the straws rustled and shifted.
Ed knew what to do. Back in the barn, on his workbench, an acetylene torch was sitting on a shelf. He ran back, grabbed it, grabbed a bottle of lighter fluid. The bales had dried enough to go up with a few touches of the torch. Ed was certain that each bale shuddered, tried to lean away from the torch. He ran across the field, tagging each bale, not noticing how the fire spread through the crushed stalks, gradually encircling the field.
He sagged after he set fire to the last bale. He had done it! He had gotten them all! He stared around at the wall of fire that encircled him, his thoughts stuttering. At least the bales were dead, he thought, his last coherent one. After that, all he could do was scream.