Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here.
Darkness spread before Ellie, unknown and terrifying. How had a seven foot tall creature avoided detection for all these years? Did Harmon know about it? Where did it go when the cornfields had all been harvested?
Ellie’s friends bustled around behind her, but she stood facing away from the barn. She knew she should be helping them with whatever it was they were doing, but she couldn’t bring herself to move.
“We’re all set,” Adrianna called out. Ellie turned her head and nodded. She took one last look at the tall sea of corn stalks before joining Rory and Adrianna at the south corner of the barn.
Adrianna pulled a compass out of her pocket. It gleamed silver in the moonlight. Adrianna spent a lot of time in the woods west of town hunting with her brother, cousins, and father. She was the best orienteer Ellie knew, and if they couldn’t find the treasure with Adrianna helping, then maybe there wasn’t a treasure at all.
They set off due east. Rory kept track of how far they’d walked. Ellie trailed behind and carried the shovels.
Ellie kept her eyes straight ahead, watching her friends’ backs, hoping she wouldn’t see those glowing eyes or hear that haunting howl. The corn pressed too close to her tonight. Her heart raced. Her hands were sweaty around the shovel handles.
They walked for ten minutes before Adrianna stopped short. Ellie had stopped paying attention and bumped into her.
“Sorry,” Ellie mumbled. Adrianna ignored her, squinting at the sky.
“This isn’t right,” Adrianna said. She shook the compass, looked up at the stars, then back at the compass. She tapped it with her index finger.
“What’s wrong?” Rory asked. She crowded over Adrianna’s shoulder, trying to see what Adrianna was seeing. Ellie stared at the ground, not daring to look into the corn around them.
“We’re not going the right way. Look.” Adrianna pointed up to the sky. “That’s Aries.” She gestured to the constellation. “That should be due east right now, but we’re not heading toward it. What time is it?”
Rory checked her watch. “Almost ten. Oh shit. I have to get to work soon.”
“Okay.” Adrianna hummed in thought. “Do you have time to try this once more?”
“We should probably just go,” Ellie chimed in, still staring at the ground. “You’re gonna be late for work.”
“Tom won’t be too mad if I’m a couple minutes late. And even if he is, what’s he going to do? Fire me? Fat chance.”
Rory gave Ellie a piercing look, which Ellie caught from the corner of her eye. From Rory’s expression, Ellie knew she was trying to figure out what was wrong. Ellie scuffed her feet.
“Great,” Adrianna said, oblivious to the tension in the air. “Let’s reset. I’ll find the North Star. Then we can ignore the compass, and just orient ourselves to that.”
The three women tromped back to the barn. No wonder Ellie hadn’t been able to find the treasure. She didn’t know her stars well enough to know her equipment was malfunctioning.
She had dug enough holes that the fields should be covered with them, but she never found any of them on her next venture out. But if compasses didn’t work here, it would make sense that she wouldn’t end up in the same place each night, and therefore never find the holes.
“What do you think is interfering with the compass?” Ellie asked.
“Sometimes they go bad, but I checked this one just before we came out here,” Adrianna said. Her voice was tight with frustration. “Something in the truck could’ve repolarized the needle, but that’s unlikely. I’ve never had that problem before, and I’ve taken this in Rory’s truck plenty of times. Or there could be a strong magnet interfering with it. But I don’t know why anyone would have a magnet like that out here. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
A howl broke the night air. Ellie shivered and pulled her jacket closer around her. Rory and Adrianna didn’t react, almost as if they hadn’t heard it. Maybe coming here, making that promise to Harmon, was a mistake. Maybe they all should just leave.
She was just about to suggest that when Adrianna started jumping up and down while pointing to a star on the horizon.
“Found it! Let’s go!” Adrianna grabbed Rory’s hand and pulled her toward the field. Ellie grabbed the shovels and followed more slowly.
They stopped every few minutes so Adrianna could climb on Rory’s shoulders to see over the tops of the corn. She would reorient them and make sure the North Star was still to their left, but despite the frequent stops, they made good progress. They were just shy of half a mile when the temperature dropped suddenly. Ellie felt like they weren’t alone, and she turned around, heart hammering in her chest. The glowing eyes she expected were absent, but she felt the creature’s presence as surely as she felt her own hands attached to her body.
What the hell?
Rory and Adrianna pushed on, oblivious. Ellie knelt on the muddy ground, the cold, wet earth seeping through her jeans. She let the shovels fall and pulled her hood over her head. She pushed her fingers through the cold mud, trying to ground herself.
The weight of a million sorrows pressed down on her. Most of them didn’t feel familiar, but one thread of grief was the same one she’d picked at for three whole months. Ellie pressed her forehead to the ground. Sobs wracked her body, unbidden and unwanted.
She was such a mess. She didn’t belong out here.
Strong hands pulled her up to sitting. Two sets of arms encircled her and held her close. Rory’s vanilla and lavender mixed with Adrianna’s clean soap smell.
Ellie howled with grief and pain, wanting to let all of it go. All the hospital visits. The smiling and pretending to be okay for Harmon’s sake. The nurses and the bad news and how hard all of it was. The bitterness that Adam hadn’t cared enough to come home and take care of his father himself.
A howl in the distance responded to Ellie.
The temperature rose. Ellie felt a weight lifted from her body, the oppressive feeling from just moments before gone.
“Thanks, you two,” Ellie whispered. Her voice was raw and painful.
“I think we should be done for tonight,” Rory said. “Let’s get you home. I need to get to work, anyway.”
Adrianna helped Ellie to her feet. Rory led the way back to the barn and her waiting truck.
One more howl sounded before they all slid into the truck. Ellie didn’t shiver this time. She just stared into the darkness, waiting for the darkness to stare back.