Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 8

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Happy New Year! The newest installment of Treasure in the Corn Field is here. I hope you enjoy!

Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here.


The last thing Ellie wanted to do was go to work, but she dragged herself from bed and made it to the store with one minute to spare. How she could be even more exhausted than before after a full night of sleep, she had no idea, but she didn’t like it. The day was bright and beautiful. It felt like a personal affront to Ellie’s tired eyes. The only sign a storm had passed through was crystal clear air, small rivulets of water, and the smell of wet earth.

A small queue of various folks crowded around the door to the store, and Ellie had to push her way through to unlock the door. It was unusual for her to get here right on time. She usually opened about half an hour early, and the early birds were annoyed that they didn’t have their usual access to the store.

Ellie didn’t much care. She was too worn out. But it was a different kind of worn out than before. The kind that comes with emerging from a too-long slumber, and having to expend energy to move around again.

She sold milk, gum, cigarettes, and beer to grumbling, grumpy customers, and then the store was empty again. She wished she’d remembered to bring the cipher book Rory had given her. It would have passed the time nicely, figuring out the codes, deciphering the hidden messages.

As it was, she passed the time by shoving more bags of chips onto already full shelves and sweeping the clean floor over and over.

Mid morning, the door chimed. A man with shaggy, black, shoulder-length hair wearing an expensive-looking black trench coat walked in. Under the coat was a neatly pressed suit, also black. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes, but Ellie was impressed with his overall aesthetic. She idly wondered what he’d look like without those sunglasses on. He must be passing through from one big city to another, because Ellie didn’t recognize him.

“Morning. Let me know if you need any help,” Ellie said before returning to her sweeping.

Good morning, Eleanor.

Ellie froze with her hands around the broomstick. She couldn’t look at him. No wonder he was wearing sunglasses inside. If he tipped them down his nose, Ellie was sure she’d see glowing red eyes.

Her mind raced. He was here. He was here.

Why was he here? How was he here?

Last she saw Bartholomew, he was a hulking creature. He must have shape-shifting abilities or something, for him to be here in broad daylight, looking positively human.

Ellie finally turned to look at him. Although his eyes were concealed, they pierced right through Ellie. Her heart skipped a beat. She found her courage.

“Ellie.”

I beg your pardon?

“My name isn’t Eleanor. It’s Ellie. It’s always just been Ellie.”

Who… names their child Ellie?

“Good parents, that’s who.”

He ducked his head, appearing chastened. He picked up a bag of chips. His long, thin fingers ended in sharp, pointed nails. Careful not to pierce the bag, he gently set it back on the shelf. His nose wrinkled.

I can’t believe you people eat this garbage.

“It’s delicious,” Ellie said, suppressing a wicked grin. Now that she was over her shock at seeing him here, Bartholomew didn’t seem so scary inside the store. This was her domain, and she felt unafraid amidst the familiarity. Perhaps it was false bravado, but she decided to have some fun with him, anyway.

She grabbed a bag off the shelf and opened it. The scent of cool ranch Doritos hung in the air between them. Bartholomew looked like he was going to retch. Ellie reached into the bag and drew out one of the chips. She held it out to Bartholomew, who took a step back. Ellie placed it on her tongue and chewed slowly, watching his sickened expression.

Disgusting.

“Try it. You might like it.”

Absolutely not.

“Suit yourself.” Ellie stepped around him, blowing some Dorito breath at him. He recoiled, but she didn’t stop moving. She wended her way through the aisles and behind the counter. Putting space between them helped her regain some focus.

Silence descended, but Ellie was no stranger to long pauses. Bartholomew watched her eat the chips, also at home in the silence. The attention made Ellie’s toes curl with discomfort, but she tried hard not to let it show. When she was done with the bag, she rang herself up and dropped exact change into the register.

“Why are you here?” Ellie finally asked.

I wanted to see where you worked. It’s…

Bartholomew looked around the store, searching for the right words. He shrugged instead.

“I know. Well, you came, you saw, you can leave.”

Do you wish me to go?

Ellie opened her mouth to spit out a “yes,” but the word wouldn’t form on her lips. She did want him to go, right?

This was ridiculous. He was a cryptid who lived in a corn field. He was going to stop her friends from helping her keep her promise to Harmon. She had no reason to want him here.

And yet, when it really came down to answering his question, she didn’t want him to go. He was an intriguing unknown in the mundanity of her life. And he’d known Harmon. She shook her head slowly, half to herself, half for Bartholomew’s sake.

The door dinged and Robbie walked in. He glanced at Bartholomew and nodded, before greeting Ellie.

“El Bell! I hope you’re okay with dancing with me,” Robbie said. “I didn’t mean to push you into anything.”

“No yeah, it’s fine,” Ellie said. She suspected Adrianna finally had that chat with Robbie about respecting people’s boundaries and asking for permission. Ellie didn’t think Robbie had a self-reflective bone in his body, and certainly wouldn’t be here otherwise. He’d always been a creature of the present, and unless he had changed a lot, he chose action over thought, every time.

“It’s good to be home,” Robbie said. “It’s been nice reconnecting with everyone.”

Ellie laughed. “You’ve been home for two days.”

“Yeah, but it’s been great.”

Ellie shrugged and smiled. She didn’t know how much catching up someone could do in two days when they’d missed six years of events, but she kept her mouth shut. She was painfully aware of Bartholomew lurking behind Robbie. Somehow, Robbie remained oblivious to the electricity in the air.

“You need anything?” Ellie asked.

“Yeah. Three lottery tickets, please,” Robbie said.

Ellie turned around to grab the tickets from the wall behind the counter. When she turned back, the bell over the door dinged, and Bartholomew was gone. She felt a pang of regret, but she supposed if she were him, she wouldn’t want to stick around for Robbie’s riveting conversation either.

Robbie held his hand out with a grin on his face. She tried to give him the tickets without touching him, but Robbie grabbed her hand as well as the tickets.

“I’ve missed you, El Bell.”

“You coulda called. My number’s still the same.”

Robbie let her hand go. Ellie shoved it into her pocket, her shoulders raised up toward her ears. She gently bounced the tip of her right foot on the counter in front of her.

“Victoria…” Robbie started.

“Ah yes, the famous girlfriend.” Ellie tried to keep the bitterness from her voice, but she must not have been successful because Robbie’s face fell.

“If there’s one thing I regret in my life, it was leaving you like I did.”

“Robbie…”

“No, I need to say this.” Robbie ran his hand through his hair, steeling himself. “I was half in love with you when I left.”

“Only half?” Ellie’s attempt at a joke fell flat in the tension. Robbie didn’t even crack a small smile.

“I was just so afraid of being stuck here forever and never getting to see the world. I didn’t think I wanted that, so I ran away. I was a coward. And now that I’m home, I see how wrong I was. I’ve missed Linewood more than I knew. I’m sorry, Ellie.”

“This is ancient history, Robbie,” Ellie said gently. “I forgave you a long time ago. We were just kids.”

“We’re not kids now,” Robbie said. “Give me another chance?”

Ellie stared at him. His face was the same face she’d always known, but older, different. His expression was open and honest, and yet Ellie still couldn’t bring herself to say yes.

She remembered their relationship with fondness, when she thought of it at all. But his complete confidence that she would remain available to him after all these years was off-putting. Adrianna was sure to have filled him in on her lack of dating prospects, but that didn’t mean she would take him back with no consideration. They needed time to get to know each other again. His pushiness bothered her.

“Just think about it,” Robbie said when Ellie’s answer wasn’t forthcoming. He tapped his lottery tickets on the counter, ducked his head, and was out the door before Ellie could grab even one thread of thought.

Her phone dinged with a text a few minutes later.

Robbie: Meet me by the creek after work? Our usual place.

She stared at the text for a few minutes, trying to work out what to say. They’d spent hours together down by the creek when they were dating. They’d eat picnics on the banks and splash around in the shallow water. She hadn’t spent any time down there since he’d left, but the place held good memories.

Her phone dinged again.

Robbie: I’m not going to railroad you into anything. Just want to go for a walk and catch up.

Ellie: Ok.


Chapter 7

Year in Review: 2019

We’re at the end of a decade, at the end of another year. It’s amazing how time marches on whether we want it to or not.

One of the only things that is guaranteed in life is change, and hooboy has there been an incredible amount of change in my life recently, and over the last 10 years.

I’m not going to go through a litany of my accomplishments, but I will just say that I’m not the person I was in 2010. I’ve learned from wonderful experiences and my fair share of mistakes. I’ve met amazing new people and left abusive and toxic relationships in the past.

I think that’s all any of us can really hope for. A constant striving towards something better.

2019 was the first year I ever chose a focus word for myself for the year. I chose “belonging” but I’d forgotten my word until a couple days ago. Even though I’d forgotten, my subconscious kept working on it, and I’ve spent the year deliberately building community and finding where I fit in.

2020’s word is “purpose.” I’ve spent years learning what I don’t like doing, and it’s finally time to figure out what I do like doing. I left my PhD program at the end of this past semester and was offered a job almost right away in the town I’m living in in the Mid-West. I know it’s not my dream job, but it’ll pay the bills while I explore other options and find my calling.

For the first time in my life, I’m excited for the future and what it will hold for me. I’ve been watching a lot of Star Wars recently, and one of the themes of those movies is “you create who you are,” and that has given me a lot of hope. I’ve spent so long wishing someone would just come tell me what to do, but that’s not how life works. It’s exhilarating to realize that I’m in the driver’s seat and can choose my own future.

My wish for you, in this coming year, is to strive for something more, to find joy in your life, and to never stop dreaming.

Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 7

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I hope you enjoy the next installment of Treasure in the Corn Field! Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here.


Rory’s silver truck roared up the driveway, dust rising in its wake, the windshield gleaming like a beacon in the setting sun. Ellie watched the truck get closer from Harmon’s favorite rocking chair on the porch.

Ellie hadn’t set foot inside the house since Harmon died. Not that she hadn’t tried. She’d put her hand on the doorknob so many times she’d lost count, but she couldn’t make herself go inside and see all the physical reminders of him. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. Definitely sometime before Adam got there.

The truck stopped a couple feet from the porch. Ellie stood and shaded her eyes against the glare on the windshield.

Adrianna hopped down from the truck and pulled the seat forward. Robbie emerged from the backseat. Rory shot Ellie an apologetic grimace, but said nothing. Ellie’s stomach knotted up. She felt like she was going to throw up.

Not only did Bartholomew not want her best friends to find the treasure with her, the Weird-ass Corn Monster was sure to have issue with Robbie being there too.

Ellie wished she knew how to get them all to hop back into the truck and drive back to town, but she couldn’t say anything without seeming suspicious. Rory would think that she already found the treasure, and Adrianna would be hurt that her help was no longer needed. And Robbie… well, Ellie didn’t actually care about what he thought about this particular topic.

Robbie was wearing work boots and dark blue jeans, a ratty college sweatshirt, and a John Deere cap over his close-cropped hair. His father probably shaved it yesterday sometime after Ellie saw him. He was every bit the country boy who left home six years ago, and Ellie’s stomach still did little flips when she looked at him for too long.

“Hey, everyone.” Ellie descended the steps and stood next to Rory. Rory put her arm around her and squeezed.

“Hey, El Bell,” Robbie said. He winked and grinned, obviously pleased with the surprise that he’d tagged along. Of course he wouldn’t even have considered that maybe Ellie didn’t want him to horn in.

“Ma isn’t doing too well tonight,” Adrianna said. “Lots of pain.”

Ellie opened her mouth to sympathize and ask if there was anything she could do, but Robbie spoke before she could.

“Yeah,” he said, “so I figured I’d come out here with you guys and give Ma and Pop some space.”

Rory tensed beside Ellie. Ellie wasn’t sure what was going on, but she’d get to the bottom of it later. For now, it seemed that she had some interference to run between her friends and Robbie, and it would double as a reason to get them off the farm and away from Bartholomew.

“Ya know… I forgot to eat before I came out here,” Ellie said. Adrianna groaned and crossed her arms. “I know, I know. Hangry Ellie is Terrible Ellie. I was just… not thinking…”

It was true that she hadn’t eaten yet, and no one had to know she had a nice sandwich packed in the backpack strapped to her bike. On cue, her stomach rumbled loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Alright, let’s go back to town,” Rory said, her voice tight with annoyance. Ellie knew she wouldn’t stay irritated for long, though, especially once she had some food in front of her too. They all piled back into the truck, Adrianna and Robbie in the back, Rory and Ellie up front.

“Did you all eat?” Ellie asked.

“I had a sandwich before we came,” Robbie said, “but I could still eat.”

“Of course you can.” Adrianna laughed. “When will your metabolism finally slow down?”

“Never, I hope,” Robbie said.

“Well, I for one, am excited for the greasiest cheeseburger on the planet,” Rory said. Her eyes never left the road, but she tilted her head slightly in Ellie’s direction. “And we have to get Ellie fed before she turns into a gremlin.”

Ellie watched the fields roll past as they sped toward Carter’s. Pig-ham-pig neon lights greeted them as Rory pulled the truck into the lot. Dark storm clouds gathered in the distance, and the wind picked up, whipping Ellie’s hair around her face. If the rain came fast enough, it would be a good excuse to keep her friends out of the fields after dinner. For tonight, at least. And Ellie was looking forward to an early night for once, too. She was so tired.

She didn’t trust Bartholomew. Maybe it was his canid features, but he looked suspicious and dangerous. Ellie didn’t want to be afraid of him, but a big part of her was. Now that she’d had some time to cool off, the anger wasn’t enough to overcome that shadow of fear that still lingered. If he could get her turned around enough to not be able to follow simple directions, who knew what else he was capable of.

Ellie wrenched the door to the diner open against the wind, then hung on to prevent it from slamming open against its hinges. Robbie pulled it closed behind them, tugging hard. Life as usual in the windy, flat terrain of their hometown.

They headed to their usual booth, but it was occupied by a couple teenagers, clearly on a first date. Ellie recognized Billy Mason, who clutched his water like a life preserver. She didn’t know the girl, who fiddled with her necklace with one hand while the other rested on the table. Ellie wanted to whisper in Billy’s ear that the girl obviously wanted him to hold the hand she’d laid out on the table like an offering, but Ellie just shook her head and silently wished them well.

They chose a booth near the front windows. Ellie slid in first, with Robbie next to her. Adrianna and Rory faced them. Ellie cast her mind back through all the times she’d been to Carter’s before, and she couldn’t think of a single time she hadn’t sat in their usual booth. The strangeness of the new location mingled with the strangeness of the past couple days.

“So what’s all this about treasure?” Robbie asked.

Rory glanced around, her eyes narrow. “What treasure?” she hissed.

“Ah. Right.” Robbie tapped his nose in an exaggerated manner.

Adrianna lashed her foot out, connecting with Ellie’s shin. Ellie cried out, but Adrianna just kept flailing her foot until she found Robbie.

“Whatever. I’m sorry,” Robbie said, rubbing his leg. “No one’s even in here.”

“How do you like being home?” Ellie asked, desperate for a change in topic.

“Fine. I miss San Francisco, but…” Robbie got a faraway look in his eyes. “But yeah, it’s good to be home. I’ve missed everyone. And it’s good to see Ma.”

“Yeah,” Adrianna said. “She’s glad you’re home, too.”

“Other than the bad days, how’s she doing?” Ellie asked. In her grief, she’d pushed everyone away, and she was only now coming to terms with how much she had missed in their lives. She should have been there more for Adrianna.

“The doctors are confident the chemo worked, but Ma still did the double mastectomy last week. Once she’s recovered from that, they’re gonna do radiation just in case. But we’re hopeful.”

“Oh, shit. I didn’t know,” Ellie said. “I’m sorry.”

Adrianna reached her hand out and grabbed Ellie’s.

“You had your own shit going on. Don’t worry, I had Rory to lean on. You’re not the bad friend I know you’re thinking you are.”

Ellie blushed from embarrassment at Robbie listening in on what Ellie would have preferred being a private conversation. She managed a small smile, though the guilt still coiled in her gut. Not for the first time, Ellie wished life had stopped for a few months after Harmon’s death. It sucked that time continued marching on while she stood still. She had missed so much.

Robbie put his arm around her, and Ellie leaned into him. The motion was familiar and easy, the years between them falling away. She was seventeen again, innocent and wide-eyed, stepping into a new relationship with an open heart. Her blush deepened, and she cursed her fair skin.

He smelled clean, like soap and aftershave.

She missed the companionship of romance, and her relationship with Robbie still gave her heart the soft thrill of young love. But they were both older now, and Ellie had never even entertained the idea of them dating again. He’d seemed too set in his life in California with a woman she’d never met, and she loved her life here.

But now that the possibility existed, could Ellie go back to how things were? Did she really want to?

She shouldn’t be thinking about this right now, anyway. There was too much else at stake.

“Ellie, are you coming to the barn dance next week?” Rory asked.

“What barn dance?”

“That’s right. You haven’t been at church for a while. You know Edgardo Velasquez? Of course you do, you work with him. He’s been staying out at Tom Butler’s old family farm.”

“How do you know all this?” Ellie asked. She’d been switching off shifts with him for over a year, and she didn’t know any of this.

“Oh, he got up in church and told everyone at announcements,” Rory said. “I guess he wants to make some friends or something. But anyway, he’s throwing a barn dance up there Friday next.”

“But next week is Halloween,” Ellie said.

“Yeah,” Adrianna said. “He said he didn’t want it to interfere with the Halloween festivities at the Mason’s, but he needed time to prepare, so he made it for the night before. We can manage two nights out in a row. We’re young. I think we should all go.”

“Yeah, okay. That’ll be fun,” Ellie said.

“Awesome!” Robbie pumped his fist in the air. “I claim the first two dances.”

Adrianna rolled her eyes, and Ellie knew she was preparing a speech about patriarchy and women deciding on their own dance partners, but Adrianna kept her mouth shut to Ellie’s surprise. Their food arrived just then, too, allowing Ellie a graceful way not to respond to Robbie’s declaration. She was secretly looking forward to dancing with him, but she didn’t want to look too eager.

They didn’t talk about anything in particular for the rest of dinner. The storm rolled in while they ate, the rain lashing at the window in droves.

She’d won one night of respite from the hunt.

Ellie sighed in relief. She didn’t know how she would keep them all away from the fields, but she’d figure something out. She wasn’t great at thinking on her feet, but given enough time, she’d come up with a good plan.

Tonight, at least, she was looking forward to a bath and a good night’s sleep.


Chapter 6


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Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6 is here! I think I need to change my posting day to Sunday because I always forget on Saturdays. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this week’s installment!

Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here.


The days were getting colder, and Ellie’s hands were practically frozen to her handlebars by the time she got to Harmon’s farm. She paused at the bottom of the long dirt driveway winding its way up to the house. It looked the same as the day Harmon had died, except now the corn was dead, too.

She pictured smoke rising from the chimney and Harmon shuffling around inside, waiting for Ellie to show up with something sweet from the bakery in town. A small smile played on Ellie’s lips at the memory. Harmon loved his sugar.

After the talk with her mom that morning, the memory wasn’t as painful as she thought it might be. It sat uncomfortably between sadness and fondness, but Ellie was fine with that for now.

Rory and Adrianna would be joining her in a few hours, but she had some business here before they arrived. Her heart beat in her throat at what she was about to do, but she steeled her nerves and pushed off with her left foot and rode up the driveway. She abandoned her bike around the side of the faded white house.

The corn rose above her head as she approached the edge of the field. With a deep breath, she stepped inside.

It never ceased to amaze her how instantaneously the outside world fell away when she went into the corn. It boxed her in. Today, it felt cozy and inviting. A world away from the claustrophobia of last night.

She walked until she came to a small opening in the corn where she planted her feet, bent her knees, threw her head back, and howled.

A responding howl came immediately. Ellie balled her hands into fists to keep them from shaking.

She didn’t know if this was a good idea, but it was the only thing that felt natural right now. She had decided that if the creature wanted to hurt her, it’d had months to do so when Ellie was out here every night, all alone.

Over the course of the intervening day, the intense fear that had flowed through her the first time she saw the monster had faded slightly, leaving enough room for curiosity and the strength to do something about that. She just had to know what it was. Who it was. And what it was up to.

Ellie felt the creature before she saw it. There seemed to be a shift in the air when it was around, like a soft whump in her head and then the world was suddenly different. Almost as if Ellie had been picked up and placed into an alternate reality. She supposed, though, that that was almost true. Things like this didn’t really exist.

She was aware of the legends of Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil and chupacabras, but they weren’t real. But now, a pair of glowing red eyes stared at her from between the corn.

“Hi, my name is Ellie.”

Ellie stood as still as she could, but it was difficult seeing as how she was shaking uncontrollably. She spoke as politely as she could, trying to show that she wasn’t a threat. The creature stepped out of the corn and joined Ellie in the clearing. Its canid face and shaggy black hair were far less terrifying to her now that she knew what to expect, but the claws that graced the tips of its fingers still inspired fear. They looked wicked sharp.

Ellie.

It didn’t speak so much as deposit words in her brain that hadn’t been there a moment before. The voice was distinctly male. He tasted her name, drawing out the syllables, feeling out each letter. Ellie fidgeted, uncomfortable and awkward.

I like that. Ellie. My name is… Bartholomew.

“How do you do,” Ellie said, the manners taught to her by the old ladies of the town feeling unnatural in her throat. She hesitated before saying, “But that doesn’t sound like the right name for you.”

The creature chuckled in her mind, a bubbling sort of sound.

I do very well, thank you. And that name is sufficient. What business do you have here?

Ellie opened and closed her mouth a few times. Surely, it would be okay to tell Bartholomew about the treasure. He wouldn’t steal the treasure from her, would he?

Instead of answering, Ellie looked back toward the house. She could just see the very tip of the chimney over the corn.

You knew Harmon.

Ellie’s head snapped back to Bartholomew. “What did you say?”

I said you knew Harmon.

Ellie had the distinct feeling Bartholomew was annoyed at having to repeat himself. She marveled at how strange this situation was. She was standing in a corn field annoying some sort of cryptid with her weird human ways. She blinked and returned to the conversation.

“Yes. He… We were close.”

I know. He often spoke of you.

Ellie reached out a hand without thinking. This being in front of her had known Harmon. He was her last real connection to the old man.

Bartholomew stepped back, and Ellie dropped her hand.

“He named you, didn’t he? He always did love his Bible.”

Bartholomew kept silent, but the air around Ellie grew distinctly colder.

“Fine, keep your secrets. Harmon told me to find a treasure he buried here. That is my business.”

Hmmm. I’ve watched you search for it for months, then. I didn’t realize who you were or what you were doing.

“That’s… weird.”

What’s weird?

“You watching me.”

I am the keeper of this land. I watch everyone who comes here.

Ellie filed that information away for the future, but she ignored it for now.

“Well it doesn’t matter… I haven’t been able to find the treasure. That’s why I brought my friends last night, but…”

But what?

“I don’t know. Something weird happened.”

I know.

“You…?”

I thought you were trespassing without good reason. And then when you brought your friends, I had to do something.

“You just said Harmon talked about me to you.”

And I also said I did not realize who you were. I knew your name. Nothing more.

“We were so close!” Ellie stamped her foot, something she hadn’t done since she was a kid having a tantrum, but there was something infuriating about this creature before her. “I haven’t been able to find it without them, and now that Adam is coming home, I’m running out of time. I need their help.”

Bartholomew pawed at the dirt with his right foot, his eyes never leaving Ellie’s. Ellie wasn’t an expert in reading coyote-faced folks, but she felt like he was thinking.

You are welcome to search as much as you like. I will no longer interfere as long as you are alone. But your friends have no business here.

“Their business is helping me.”

No.

“Thanks a lot. Much obliged. I don’t suppose you’ll just show me where the treasure is and get me out of your hair faster?”

Sarcasm dripped from her voice, but Bartholomew just stared at her with those unnerving red eyes.

“Wait,” Ellie said, realization dawning. “You said you’d no longer interfere. You’re the reason I haven’t been able to find it, aren’t you? You’re the reason I’ve been getting all turned around every time I come out here.”

She didn’t wait for him to reply before turning on her heel and marching away from him. Fear and curiosity had morphed into true anger. She wanted to be anywhere but in the presence of this hateful creature. The sun sank below the horizon, angry reds gashing across the sky, matching her mood. Bartholomew called her name, but she didn’t turn around. His voice blended with the sound of wind hissing through the field.

Good luck. Eleanor.


Chapter 5                                                                                                                                Chapter 7


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Review: Collie Jolly by Leigh Landry

unnamedA sunny dog trainer. A grieving New Orleans photographer. The unruly pup that brings them together.

Ashley’s never owned a dog, much less trained one. But she’s not about to let that little detail stop her—especially during the holiday season—from applying for this dog training job. Her new gig is the perfect way to survive the recession while strolling the festive streets of New Orleans with a cute pooch. The biggest challenge? Heeling a growing attraction to her stunning shut-in of a boss.

When her girlfriend died a year ago, Madison found herself overwhelmed by grief and her girlfriend’s rambunctious puppy. Now the dog is an unmanageable, attention-starved reminder of everything Madison has lost. She’s still afraid to face the world, but her vibrant new dog trainer—with the help of a furry sidekick—is determined to bring light, laughter, and Christmas cheer back into Madison’s life.


I read this book in two sittings, but only because I had to pry myself away to go to bed at a reasonable hour last night. It’s charming, delightful, and full of healing and holiday cheer. I loved every minute of this book.

Both main characters were lovable and fun to read about. I was rooting for them the whole time, and even though happy endings are guaranteed in romances, it never gets old waiting for them to realize they’re perfect for each other.

The book deals with some heavy topics (the death of a former partner, being laid off, near death experience), but that only added to the book’s appeal to me. I love it when romances reflect real life, and I got plenty of that in this one.

This is the queer Hallmark story my queer heart has been longing for. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


COLLIE JOLLY will be available for purchase on December 1st, and is available for pre-order now!

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Apple
Amazon

Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 5

RosaTaylorCoverDraft

Hi all, I’m so sorry I missed updating this story 2 weeks ago. Life got the better of me, but my head is in a better place now. I hope you enjoy today’s chapter!

Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here.


Sunlight streamed in through the southern window in Ellie’s bedroom. She’d been awake for a couple hours, but she hadn’t moved from her bed yet. She hadn’t wanted to face the reality of what she’d experienced yesterday, and staying in bed helped it feel more like a dream. Thankfully, it was her day off from the store so she didn’t have to feel guilty.

Well, not guilty in that particular area of her life. She should be outside doing chores, milking the goats and gathering eggs, helping her mom prepare their small farm for winter, but she just couldn’t bring herself to care. The goats would be pissed at her when she finally went downstairs, but right now, Ellie ignored the little voice in her head telling her to get up.

Gwendolyn popped her head in around ten. Ellie didn’t even have the energy to get mad about her mom not knocking. She just lay with her back to the door and didn’t move.

“I milked the goats,” Gwendolyn said. “They were less than pleased. You feeling okay, El?”

“Sure. I’m okay,” Ellie said to the wall. “Thanks for milking the goats.”

Her mom came all the way into the room. Ellie glanced over her shoulder. Gwendolyn’s slender form leaned against the doorframe, her strong arms wrapped around her middle. She wore faded blue jeans and a long-sleeved button-up shirt, a light blue checked pattern. Her straw-colored hair was pulled back in a low ponytail at the base of her skull and the long strand fell in a pin-straight rope over her right shoulder.

“I’m worried about you, honey,” Gwendolyn said. “I’ve been worried. I know things have been hard for you since Harmon—”

“I said I’m fine.” Ellie pulled her covers over her head. She stayed that way until Gwendolyn sighed and shut the door behind her as she left.

Ellie pushed the covers down, rolled onto her back, and stared at the ceiling. If Ellie was being honest, she was worried about herself too. Not that she’d ever admit it out loud. Least of all to her worrywart mother.

She didn’t know what she needed. The late nights were catching up to her, and even though her friends were on board with helping, she was feeling the time pressure. Her breakdown last night was proof of that.

Adam would be home in twelve days. That didn’t give them a lot of time to find the damn treasure. And even with Adrianna’s skills, Ellie wasn’t sure they would find it in time. Hell, she didn’t even know if it was really real. For all she knew, it was a morphine-dreamt fiction. But she needed to either find it or give up the hunt, and she didn’t know which choice was the right one. Giving up felt like a copout, but she couldn’t sustain going out every night anymore.

Ellie kicked her covers off, and was greeted immediately by the chill of early winter. The comforter landed with a soft thwump on the floor. She sat up and scrubbed at her face with the palms of her hands. Willing herself out of bed, she padded barefoot down the stairs into the kitchen where Gwendolyn was getting her mid-morning tea ready.

“Make two?” Ellie asked, the closest she’d come to an apology.

Gwendolyn pulled a second teacup from the cupboard. Tea in this house was served in real teacups with real saucers. Mugs were reserved for coffee and cocoa only. Ellie loved the soft floral patterns on the china and the silver rims, and how fancy she felt when she drank from them. She used to think she’d outgrow the feeling, but it never got old.

Ellie pawed through the stack of mail on the counter. Several bills stamped with SECOND NOTICE or FINAL NOTICE were mixed in. Ellie braved a glance at her mom, but Gwendolyn studiously avoided her eye as she measured out loose tea leaves.

Ellie knew better than to ask. Asking always led to an argument, so she quietly slipped the bills into the pocket of her hoodie. She had some savings. She’d scrape together enough money to pay the electric and the car insurance and whatever else was in the pile. There was always the option of picking up a shift at the bar with Rory if the amounts were too high.

When the tea was done, Ellie sighed in appreciation as she took the cup from her mom. Together, they made their way to the living room.

“Adam is coming home soon,” Ellie said, breaking the silence. “Mrs. Innis told me he’s gonna sell the house.”

“Adam was never one for farming. He had his eyes on fancy doctoring from the time we were in middle school.”

“I know,” Ellie said. She sighed. “I just can’t image the place without…”

“I know you won’t want to hear this, but… that corporation, what are they called… AgriCorn? I’ve heard they’re looking to expand into the area. I’m sorry, El.”

Ellie squeezed her eyes shut. This area was all family farms. For now, at least. The face of farming had been changing for a while, and it was only a matter of time before the big companies came here. Having a corporation come in, though, would change more than Ellie had the heart for. Especially if it changed Harmon’s land.

“I wish I could buy his farm instead,” Ellie whispered.

Her heart panged at naming her desire out loud. Rory and Adrianna had assumed she’d want the place, but saying it, unprompted, was terrifying. She had little savings, and she’d have even less once she paid for the overdue bills her mom couldn’t afford. She had no prospects to make more money except the occasional shift at the bar, but that could never be a regular thing with everything else she had going on. There was no way buying Harmon’s farm would ever happen, but that didn’t stop her from wanting it with all her being.

“Oh, honey, I know. If I could buy that land for you, I would in a heartbeat, but…” Gwendolyn trailed off.

“I know. We’re barely making ends meet here.”

Gwendolyn’s fingers tightened around her teacup.

“We’re doing fine this year,” Gwendolyn lied. They never talked about their money troubles. Ellie thought that maybe her mom still wanted to protect her from the realities of living in a poverty area. From the realities of being a farmer. But Ellie picked up enough of the bills that she wondered why her mom bothered.

“The harvest was good,” Gwendolyn continued. “The hens have been laying up a storm. Orders for pickles came in over the summer, and those are almost ready to deliver now. And I already have preorders for pies for Thanksgiving, which, I was going to ask for your help on.”

“Yeah, ‘course I’ll help.”

Gwendolyn looked at her for a long moment, her cornflower blue eyes sad and haunted. Ellie opened her mouth to say something, anything to break the silence, but Gwendolyn spoke first.

“I wish I could take your pain from you, Ellie, but grief is a funny thing. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s been too long and you should be over it by now. There’s no time limit.”

“How—” Ellie’s voice cracked at the unexpected subject change. “How did you get over Dad?”

Gwendolyn’s eyes grew sadder and more distant. Ellie knew she didn’t like talking about her dad, but Ellie really wanted to know. Needed to know.

She didn’t remember her dad very well. There were some fuzzy memories of being swooped around in the air. A long, soft beard. The smell of pipe tobacco. Warmth. Love.

And she remembered having to be very quiet in the house when he got sick. Ellie still wasn’t sure what he was sick with, but she suspected infection after a farming accident based on whispers around town at various times. No one ever told her the story because everyone assumed she knew. And she was too afraid to ask.

After that, there was a gloom in the farmhouse that never really seemed to dissipate. Her mom tried her best, but Ellie wasn’t sure she’d ever really gotten over his death.

“It was hard, especially at first,” Gwendolyn said. “I never felt like I had the space to grieve with having to take care of you and the farm. Not that I’d change any of it. You were my reason to go on. And once you got older, I’d spent so many years ignoring those feelings that they’d just become familiar.

“You and me, we’re so like.” Gwendolyn smiled at her, sad and understanding. “I know you’ve been out at his farm almost every night since he died. I haven’t asked about it because you’re an adult and that’s your business, but I’d hoped it was you doing what you needed to do to heal and move on.”

“I don’t want to move on,” Ellie said, tears spilling onto her cheeks. Damn, she’d cried more in the past three days than she had in years.

“Oh, Ellie.” Gwendolyn’s eyes filled with tears in sympathy. “Moving on isn’t a betrayal of his memory. It just means that you’re still here. Still young and alive, and you have so much life ahead of you. You can honor him without getting stuck.”

“It just hurts so much,” Ellie whispered.

Gwendolyn set her cup down and gestured for Ellie to join her on the couch. Ellie all but crawled into her mom’s lap, something she hadn’t done since she was single-digits.

“I know,” Gwendolyn said. “The only thing that makes it better is time. And new memories. Go out with your friends. Laugh. Do something reckless, but nothing I wouldn’t do.”

Ellie let out a small laugh. She couldn’t imagine her mom doing anything reckless ever, but then again, she had to have been young once, too.

Ellie hadn’t realized just how much she’d pulled away from everyone these past three months. She’d been drowning, but didn’t know it until everyone was still there to grab her hand and pull her back up to the surface where she could breathe again.


Chapter 4                                                                                                                                Chapter 6

Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 4

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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?”

“Sure.”

“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.


Chapter 3                                                                                                                                Chapter 5