Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 8

RosaTaylorCoverDraft

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

Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 7

RosaTaylorCoverDraft

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

RosaTaylorCoverDraft

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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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

RosaTaylorCoverDraft

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

Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 3

RosaTaylorCoverDraft

Need to catch up? Chapter 1 is here!


Rory was pacing her living room when Ellie walked into her small apartment above the laundromat on Main Street. The living room was tiny and it only took Rory four large strides from one side to another, but that didn’t stop her from stomping her way across the floor.

She stopped moving and turned to face Ellie when the door opened.

“Hi,” Ellie said, her voice quiet.

“About time,” Rory snapped. “I expected you like an hour ago. I was afraid you’d wiped out somewhere.”

Ellie opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She hadn’t spent any time figuring out what she’d say once she got here, but she couldn’t tell her best friend what she’d seen in the corn field. Rory would probably chalk it up to grief or being overtired and mistaking a coyote for a monster or even just emotional exhaustion from Robbie coming home.

Rory was amazing at many things, but believing in the fantastical wasn’t one of them. If she couldn’t see it, touch it, smell it, as far as Rory was concerned, it didn’t exist. Besides, no one in this town over the age of five believed the scary monster stories anymore. There was no way Rory would believe her.

“Sorry,” Ellie said finally. “I lost track of time… Robbie stopped by this morning.”

Rory’s face morphed from annoyance to something akin to pity. Ellie regretted saying anything, but then she’d never been good at thinking on her feet.

“It was fine,” Ellie said quickly, cutting off the interrogation she knew was brewing. “What’s for dinner?”

“Chili. But you don’t get off this easy.” Rory flopped onto the couch and pulled Ellie down next to her. “Tell me everything. Then we can eat.”

Ellie sighed and resigned herself to this conversation. After all, she was the one who brought it up.

“He called me El Bell. Told me he’d broken up with his girlfriend. And then he left. He was there for all of five minutes.”

Ellie picked at her nails. There was dirt under them from riding her bike. She curled her fingers under to hide them before risking a glance at Rory.

“How are you feeling about it all?” Rory asked.

“I don’t feel anything,” Ellie said. Her hands tightened in her lap.

“Right,” Rory said. “I believe that.”

“It’s fine,” Ellie said. “Everything that happened is ancient history. I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to dredge up, but the past is the past.”

Rory hummed in disbelief, but didn’t push. She got up to serve dinner. Ellie’s stomach rumbled, hunger finally catching up to her. Her thoughts raced, flipping between monsters and old boyfriends and treasure. She was grateful for a warm bowl of chili between her hands, loaded up with cheese and sour cream, just how she loved it.

“By the way,” Rory said, “I found one of those puzzle books you love so much at the grocery store.”

Rory produced the book from somewhere and dropped it in Ellie’s lap. Ellie put her chili on the coffee table and flipped through it.

So many new ciphers inside! It would take her hours to decode them all. She hugged it to her chest.

“Thanks, Rory. You sure know the right way to my heart.”

“I dunno how you can stand doing those things, but I’m glad to help.”

“They’re fun,” Ellie said, the argument over boring ciphers old and familiar. “Keeps my brain young.”

Rory just laughed.

After they’d eaten, Rory pulled some maps she’d photocopied at the library out of her messenger bag. She spread them on the coffee table. Ellie picked one up that had the boundaries of Harmon’s farm marked on it.

“Where did you get this one?” Ellie asked.

“Oh. I went to the library and looked up property records. Oliver was really helpful.”

Ellie groaned and bit back a harsh reply. Rory was just trying to help, but Oliver, the local historian and property guru, was the biggest gossip this town had ever seen. If he knew they were interested in Harmon’s property, so would everyone else by tomorrow morning at the latest.

“Don’t worry,” Rory continued. “I told him that Adam would want this information, and I was just being proactive. Please don’t be mad.”

“And Oliver bought that? Have you ever even met Adam?”

“Well, no, but I guess I also said I was helping you out.”

Ellie sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She needed a nap and some time alone to think about everything that had happened in the last couple days. Why is it that things could go along for a time without issue, but then outside forces conspired to ruin everything all at once?

She could have handled Robbie’s seeming interest in rekindling their relationship if Harmon was alive. She could have handled Harmon’s death if she could grieve without having to find a treasure on a timeline. And that creature… well… she wasn’t sure she could have handled that ever.

“So,” Rory said, intruding on her thoughts, “what were the directions Harmon gave you?”

Her voice was quiet, the same tone Adrianna had the night before when she mentioned Harmon. Ellie huffed out a watery laugh at her friends feeling like they had to walk on eggshells when bringing him up. She wanted to talk about him without her friends fearing she’d break down crying, but her eyes welled up just at the mention of his name. She blinked the tears away. Maybe she couldn’t talk about him yet, but she’d keep working on it.

Rory scooted off the couch and onto the floor next to the coffee table, studiously pretending she didn’t see Ellie wiping her eyes.

Ellie pulled a scrap of paper from her pocket. On one side was a receipt for the hospital cafeteria. One turkey club with a bag of chips, one iced tea, and one slice of carrot cake. Harmon wasn’t supposed to eat cake, but Ellie figured he should have whatever he wanted in his last days. She cherished the memory of the small smile of bliss on his face as he savored it.

On the other side of the receipt was Ellie’s hastily scribbled transcription of Harmon’s whispered directions.

Start at south corner of barn.

Walk half mile due east.

Stop. Turn left. Walk twenty paces.

Stop. Dig five feet.

Rory smoothed the receipt out on the table, reverent and gentle. She read it a few times with a bemused look on her face. Then she looked back at the map.

“Damn,” Rory said. “I didn’t think to put buildings on here. Not so helpful after all. But… the directions don’t sound so hard. What’s been the problem?”

“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “Maybe because I have to go out at night? Everything looks different. Maybe I’m veering off due east.”

Rory hummed and rested her head on one hand and pulled the outlined map toward her with the other.

“Have you ever had this much trouble finding a geocache before?”

Ellie shook her head, frowning at the useless map. Rory stared at it, too.

“This is so much different than geocaching, though,” Ellie said. “I don’t have specific coordinates to find, and the box is actually buried, not hidden in a clever spot aboveground. I have no idea how broad the hole I dig should be, or anything, so I don’t know how to tell if I’m in the right spot.”

“Well, we’ll bring a compass tonight and between your geocache skills, Adrianna’s tracking skills, and my robot-like digging skills, I’m sure we’ll find it.”

“I mean, I had a compass when I was out there,” Ellie said. At the pointed look Rory gave her, she quickly added, “But maybe Adrianna’s will work better.”

Ellie’s desire to go back to the property tonight faded as the memory of glowing eyes intruded into her thoughts. She didn’t know what that thing was, but for the first time in her life, she was afraid to go to Harmon’s house.


Chapter 2                                                                                                                          Chapter 4

Treasure in the Corn Field: Chapter 1

RosaTaylorCoverDraftHi all! I’m trying something new, and I’ll be posting my latest book, chapter by chapter, here on this blog. I’m planning on two chapters a month until the story is complete. I hope you enjoy reading about Ellie and Bartholomew and everyone else in the fictional town of Linewood.

Here’s the blurb:
Ellie Prater grew up hearing rumors about gold hidden somewhere on old Harmon’s farm and legends of the creature that protects it, but she doesn’t believe in buried treasure or monsters. She believes in hard work on the family farm, the love she has for her mother and friends, and the fact that no one will save her when bills pile up. But when Harmon, the neighbor she’s come to love as a grandfather, is on his deathbed, he tells Ellie that the treasure is real. She promises to find it before the farm is sold.

But the land’s protector—a coyote-faced cryptid named Bartholomew—is real and is tasked with keeping the treasure safe. Ellie must convince him she deserves to find it. If she doesn’t, her mother will lose her home to foreclosure, and Ellie will have to give up her dream of owning Harmon’s farm. As she spends more time with the mysterious Bartholomew, however, Ellie’s at risk of losing more than just her home. She just might lose her heart.

TWs: Grief, death of a grandfather figure, a bicycle accident, some blood and minor wounds

Without further ado, Chapter 1.


A howl in the distance cut through the night and froze Ellie’s already-chilled limbs. Her midnight trip to the Whitehall farm had been quiet up to this moment, but the sound echoed through the corn fields, haunting and terrifying. Frissons of fear traveled through her body.

It was a coyote. Just a coyote. The monster Ellie had grown up hearing about—the one with red, glowing eyes and long, sharp claws that lurked in corn fields and stole humans away, never to be seen again—wasn’t real. The monster was just a bedtime story for naughty kids caught sneaking in their neighbors’ fields.

Coyotes were the better option, though still dangerous.

After a few moments of silence, Ellie forced herself to move to pick up the shovel where she’d dropped it. The howl was far enough away that she knew she was safe, even if her body told her otherwise. She dug her shovel deep into the muddy earth, searching for the treasure Harmon Whitehall told her about on his deathbed.

When she was ten, Ellie started helping out at Harmon’s farm. Her mom thought she didn’t have enough to do at home, so she worked it out with Harmon that Ellie would go over there after school every day to keep her out of trouble. Ellie enjoyed the work and was glad for the pocket money. Over the years, Harmon had become like a grandfather to her, and at the end of his life, she’d stepped up to take care of him.

But from day one of working on his farm, Harmon’s other farmhands swapped rumors about a treasure buried on the property. Ellie had listened to the adults talking around her, saying things they normally wouldn’t have because kids don’t count as eavesdropping ears. They said Harmon could never have kept the farm running through the bad years without quite a bit of money set aside. After all, he was never down at the bank taking out loans like the other farmers in town. They said he kept his gold buried somewhere on his property, so well hidden no one but he could find it. Ellie had filed the information away for the future when she’d have a chance to treasure hunt.

As she grew older, though, she lost interest in the stories. She chalked them up to jealousy, the bitterness tingeing their voices allowing Ellie to understand what was really going on. They resented having to work for Harmon at all when they wanted their own land to work. Besides, Harmon didn’t need treasure to get him through the bad years. He didn’t have bad years. Even when the rest of the countryside was shriveled from drought or drowned in rain, his farm flourished, so he always made out with a profit.

So when Harmon summoned the energy to tell her to find it, Ellie knew the rumors had to be real.

He hadn’t been able to tell her what was in it. He’d barely been able to give her directions. His words stuck in his throat, and the beeping of the hospital machines drowned out his paper-thin voice. But she’d held his hand, weak and frail beneath her own, and she’d promised she would find his box of treasure.

Tonight, though, Ellie longed for her bed, for warmth and safety, but she had a job to do and not much time to do it in. Once Harmon’s son took possession of the property in two weeks, Ellie’s nighttime excursions would be at an end.

She blinked away tears at the thought of the old man. He’d been a loving and constant presence her entire life, until three months ago…

The howl sounded again, closer this time. Ellie stood as still as possible, trying to control her ragged breathing. She squeezed her eyes shut. The monster wasn’t real, but just in case, she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t see any shiny eyes staring at her from between the tall, dead corn stalks.

She spent several minutes like that as the late October chill settled in her bones. If she didn’t move soon, she felt like she would freeze to the ground, and no one would find her until the spring thaw.

The wind gusted through the field. The corn rattled and reached out its papery fingers to claw at her body. She felt a presence somewhere in the field with her, but as much as she wanted to run back to her car and never come out here again, she couldn’t. She had made a promise. When she didn’t hear the howl for several minute, she mustered bravery from somewhere, and opened her eyes.

A pair of red, glowing eyes stared back at her from the corn stalks.

Ellie’s breath hitched in her throat. The eyes hypnotized her and pinned her to the spot. Every fiber of her being told her to run, to get the hell out of there, but she couldn’t have moved even if she wanted to.

The orbs moved closer, weaving through the corn stalks, winking at her as they disappeared and reappeared. There was nothing else in the world except for those red pinpricks in the night.

Her phone rang with a text, the sound jarring in the otherwise quiet night. The spell broken, she screamed. Laughter broke out around her, and the eyes bobbed up and down for a moment, then flickered out.

With shaking fingers, she dug her phone from her pocket as two sets of feet stumbled through the rows of corn toward her. Ellie’s heart raced with leftover adrenaline, but at least the intense fear was gone. Anger bubbled up in its place. She knew that laughter.

Her two best friends, Adrianna and Rory, appeared in the moonlight, tears of laughter streaming down their faces. Adrianna’s petite hands were clasped around a seven foot pole with LEDs rigged to the top. Her red hair was wild and untamed. She looked like a mythical being out of the mists of time, intense and fey. Only she would wear a white flowing dress with work boots into a cornfield. Rory towered above her, five-foot-eleven and raven-haired, dressed in camo pants and a leather jacket. She stumbled out of the row behind Adrianna. They high-fived, the smack loud in the darkness.

Gotcha, read the text on her phone in their group chat.

“What the fuck, you guys?” Ellie’s temper flared now that the fear had fled.

“Sorry, El, we had to,” Rory said.

“How did you know I was even out here?” Ellie was practically shouting. Rory gestured placatingly with her hands.

“We’ve been wondering where you’d been disappearing to these past few months,” she said, “so we followed you last week. And then again tonight after we made that thing.”

Her friends giggled, but Ellie frowned and crossed her arms across her chest.

They didn’t understand how serious this was. If Adam came home before she found the treasure, she’d lose her chance forever. From what little she’d seen of him while she’d cared for Harmon in his last days, she was sure he wasn’t the kind of guy to move back home to the family farm after making a life for himself in the big city for the last thirty years. And whoever he’d get to buy the place would not want meddling locals on their land.

She hadn’t told her friends what she was up to. Maybe she should have, but it felt like this was a secret thing she couldn’t share. Wouldn’t share. She felt closest to Harmon when she was traipsing around the field on her own, trying to follow the directions he’d whispered to her, honoring his memory in her own way. Ellie wasn’t sure her friends would understand, and she didn’t know how to explain how much this meant to her.

But… With time running short, maybe it was time to try explaining. As much as she wanted to keep this quest hers, and hers alone, she was getting nowhere on her own. Ellie uncrossed her arms and followed her friends out of the cornfield. Maybe they could put their heads together instead of Ellie always coming up empty.

“Let’s go to Carter’s,” Ellie said, referring to Linewood’s only 24 hour diner. She’d fill them in there. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be mad. Hopefully, they would help her.

As they reached the edge of the cornfield, though, another howl rippled through the night, much closer this time. Ellie and her friends paused and looked back, still and watchful.

“Howl back,” Adrianna whispered.

Ellie and Rory stared at her, eyes wide. Ellie shook her head.

“We should just go,” Ellie said finally.

They headed toward Rory’s pickup. Adrianna lay the metal pole in the back, careful not to break the LEDs, and Ellie searched around for where she had left her bicycle. Once located, she tossed that in the back, too. She rounded the side of the pickup, and the silver paint gleamed in the moonlight. Ellie swore she saw two red orbs reflected on the side, but when she turned to scan the cornfield, nothing looked back at her.

She let out a huff of breath. Her mind was clearly playing tricks on her as badly as her friends had.

They all piled in. Rory backed out of the muddy field like she’d been doing it her entire life, her hands expert on the wheel. The backseat was cramped, but Ellie didn’t mind. It was better than being up front and having to keep Rory company by talking. The country music blaring from the radio was loud, her friends were louder, and the truck bumped uncomfortably over the dirt road from the farm to the highway. Ellie let the music and her friends’ conversation wash over her.

“Pop said Robbie lost his job last week,” Adrianna said. Ellie leaned forward, her interest piqued. “He’s coming home tomorrow.”

“Wait, really?” Ellie said. “What happened?” Rory turned down the music.

“Of course you’d be interested in that,” Rory said. She looked in the rearview mirror, making brief eye contact with Ellie. Rory’s eyes glinted with mischief. Ellie flushed, glad for the darkness to hide it.

“He’s got a girlfriend,” Adrianna said gently, turning in her seat to search Ellie’s face.

“I know that,” Ellie said. She leaned back and stared out the window. It’s not like she’d talked to Robbie in years, anyway. Adrianna reached her hand out and squeezed Ellie’s knee.

“I know you’ve missed him,” Adrianna said. “I have too, but he’s different now. And so are you.”

Ellie squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she hadn’t butted into the conversation.

Robbie Kinkaid. Adrianna’s older brother. Linewood’s handsomest heartthrob. Ellie’s first boyfriend. Ellie loved the high school thrill of dating a senior when she was still a junior. Adrianna hadn’t minded, though she hadn’t seemed particularly surprised when the relationship finally failed either.

Ellie still loved the memories of their short-lived romance. Stolen kisses under the stars. Picnics on the banks of the creek that ran through the Kinkaid’s backyard. How magical the summer was before Robbie went off to college seven years ago.

They hadn’t broken up so much as fizzled out, and Ellie couldn’t help but think that maybe it was because she wouldn’t sleep with him even when they’d been together for a while. He’d been a gentleman about it, and Ellie had hidden behind the religion she’d been brought up in, even though she knew deep down that wasn’t really the issue. But at the time, she didn’t have words for what the issue was.

Eventually, he stopped coming home for breaks altogether. And then he’d met his current girlfriend.

She’d felt nothing but a small pang when he’d ended things six years ago, and her heart had mended completely over the years. But she wondered how that would hold up to seeing him again. Like Adrianna said, they’d both changed.

Perhaps Ellie most of all.

Finding the term asexual had put everything into perspective. How she pretended to understand when her friends talked about how hot people were. How she spent too much time studying the act of sex like the emotions that followed for her friends would somehow be revealed to her if she just learned enough of the mechanics. How she skittered away whenever a boy wanted something more than a kiss.

Now that she was in her mid-twenties and the tumult of high school was over, she felt more comfortable in her own skin than she had in her entire life. And all from finding one little word.

The flashing neon Carter’s sign hit her vision like the eyesore it was, pulling her from her memories. A pig became a ham on a platter, and back again, a meat-lover’s favorite never-ending tango. The place sat on the outskirts of town, out near the highway, in the middle of a giant dirt parking lot. Ellie often wondered why nobody bothered paving around here, but she figured it added to the charm. At least the roads in town were paved.

Carter’s was decent enough food, but at one in the morning, the grease that permeated the air unsettled Ellie’s stomach. She ordered a slice of lemon meringue pie and tried to tamp down the queasiness.

They sat in their usual back corner of the diner. The fluorescent lighting was jarring after the darkness of the cornfield. The light held the night at bay, though, and Ellie was glad for that. She’d heard howls before, but never that close. And as much as she tried to tell herself it was just a coyote, now that she was safe in a brightly lit place, she could admit to herself that it hadn’t quite sounded like one.

She’d never heard such a haunting, lonely sound before. And the reflection of red eyes on the truck… She shuddered, and looked up from where she’d been staring at the table.

Rory and Adrianna watched her with concern, but the pity melted into smiles and overdone cheeriness when they caught Ellie’s eye. Ellie pressed her lips together in a frown. She hated that no one knew how to act around her anymore. She hated that she couldn’t pretend everything was okay. And, if she was being honest, she was still mad as hell at their prank.

“How are you, El?” Rory asked. She reached her hand across the table and took Ellie’s in her own. Under her friends’ intense scrutiny, Ellie’s cheeks flushed with heat.

“Fine. Still recovering from a shitty joke. How are you two?”

Her friends exchanged a look before Adrianna reached out and took Ellie’s other hand. She squeezed and gave Ellie a small smile. Ellie’s embarrassed blush deepened.

“You know we love you, right?” Adrianna said.

Oh fuck. Not an intervention. Ellie tried to pull her hands away, but her friends tightened their grips and held on.

“We’re just worried about you,” Rory said. “You’ve kind of been… not really here since…”

She trailed off, and Ellie felt tears prick the backs of her eyes. She shut them and lowered her head before the tears could give her away.

“Since Harmon died,” Adrianna said, quiet and gentle, sympathetic. Ellie tensed under their hands, fighting against the urge to run away and hit something.

“We just wanted to make you smile,” Rory said, hesitant for the first time that night. The look didn’t sit well on her usually confident features.

Tears escaped and rolled, fat and hot, down Ellie’s cheeks.

“Well, good fucking job,” Ellie sobbed.

She ripped her hands from her friends’ and ran out the back of the diner. The cold air met her, the taste of not-quite-winter on the air. She stood, staring at the sky, her hands balled into fists, wishing the diner’s lights would go out so she could see more than two stars.

She knew Harmon was up there looking down at her. Watching out for her. She missed the old man so much, she could barely stand it some days.

A sob wracked her body, and she crouched to the pavement. She buried her head in her knees. Only her friends could have gotten her to finally cry over Harmon’s death.

She’d bottled it all up. Put all the emotion into a little glass jar, like the ones she used to use for canning tomato sauce with Harmon, and buried it deep inside. Not even his funeral could break the glass, but her two best friends quietly tapping on the sides tonight shattered it in seconds.

Her sobs had quieted by the time the diner door slammed again, and footsteps crunched on the gravel. Ellie smelled Rory’s perfume, vanilla and lavender and a hint of musk, as her friend sat down next to her.

“I’m sorry,” Rory said. “We weren’t thinking.”

She put her arms around Ellie, but Ellie resisted leaning into her. Ellie didn’t want pity.

“I know this has been hard for you,” Rory continued. “Adrianna and I will always be here for you. Even if we fuck up sometimes. You don’t have to go through this by yourself.”

“Thanks,” Ellie said. She knew Rory wanted her to lean into the hug, to cry on her shoulder, and tell her everything she’d been feeling these past few months, but Ellie couldn’t do it. She wanted so badly to go back to how things used to be when she shared more with her friends, but nothing would ever be okay again. Instead of giving Rory what she wanted, Ellie stood, leaving her best friend sitting on the ground looking surprised.

Ellie wiped her eyes and then reached a hand down to help Rory up. If she couldn’t share her feelings, she could at least go back inside and try to be the person she used to be.

Rory looked at her hand for a moment before taking it. Rory was taller than Ellie by several inches, and she peered down into Ellie’s face searching for something. Ellie flashed a small smile hoping that would stop Rory from asking more questions or talking more about Harmon, but it probably looked more like a grimace. Rory met Ellie’s smile with a sad one of her own.

Without another word, Rory took Ellie’s hand, and together, they went back inside.

Adrianna had eaten her gravy fries and half of Rory’s grilled cheese sandwich by the time they got back, but Ellie’s pie remained untouched. Despite herself, Ellie softened at that. Under normal circumstances, her pie would have been fair game, but sad folks deserved their pie whole and complete.

“Adam’s coming home in two weeks,” Ellie said while sliding back into her side of the booth. Adrianna stared at her, fork frozen halfway to her mouth.

“You’re shitting me,” Rory said.

Ellie shook her head. “Mrs. Innis told me that he finally got some time off work or something. ‘Until he gets Old Harmon’s affairs in order,'” Ellie said in a high pitch, mimicking Mrs. Innis’s nasally voice.

“I never thought he’d set foot back here,” Adrianna said.

“Wait, what did she mean ‘get his affairs in order’?” Rory said.

“Sell the place, probably.” Ellie’s voice cracked.

Silence spread like molasses over the table. They all knew the stories of how much Adam hated it here. Ellie had met Adam only a few times as she helped take care of Harmon towards the end. He’d drive up in his fancy Lexus and look at the dirt like he could shame it into not clinging to his shiny black shoes. His graying hair wasn’t yet quite silver, but it always shone in the sun, giving him the halo he thought he deserved.

Adam wouldn’t be living on the farm, and even though Ellie knew it made sense for him to sell it, she couldn’t imagine the farmhouse inhabited by anyone but the old man she loved. One of the giant farm corporations would probably buy it and tear down the quaint farmhouse to make room for more field.

“Oh, Ellie,” Adrianna breathed. “What are you gonna do?”

“What can I do? I work at the corner store.”

“Maybe he’d work with you…” Adrianna’s voice trailed off, and Ellie knew Adrianna didn’t believe that any more than she did.

Ellie shook her head.

“I just have to… accept that this is how it’s gonna be.”

“No.” Rory slammed her hand down on the table. “We’ll figure something out. We don’t even know if he’s really going to sell it, anyway. No point in getting upset until we really know what’s what.”

“I… might know what that something could be…” Ellie filled them in on her quest, grateful for the natural opening. Rory’s eyes grew brighter and brighter as she spoke. When she tried to give them the directions, though, Rory shushed her and looked around like a government spy was listening in.

“Not here,” Rory said. “Once we’re back in the truck.”

Adrianna pursed her lips in annoyance, but didn’t say anything. Silence hung over the table for a few beats before Adrianna broke it.

“This is amazing,” she said. “I can’t believe the treasure is real. And I can’t believe you’ve been looking for it alone these last three months.”

“It’s not like I’m new to geocaching,” Ellie said. “The directions this time are different than the map coordinates I’m used to, but it’s the same idea. Just a little more clandestine.”

Ellie shrugged and picked at her pie. Her stomach flopped over and over. She thought that would stop once she’d confessed her secret to them, but she’d been wrong.

“Why haven’t you found it yet, then?” Rory asked slowly.

“I don’t know,” Ellie said. “Maybe because it’s so dark when I go? It’s easy to get turned around…”

Neither of her friends looked convinced.

“You know those fields better than anyone in town,” Adrianna said. “That’s really weird.”

Ellie shrugged again and forked some pie into her mouth. Rory drummed her fingers on the table, a thoughtful look on her face.

“We’ll have a brainstorm session tomorrow at my place after work. I don’t have to work ’til ten. I’ll stop by the library in the afternoon to get some maps and whatever other useful stuff I can think of.”

“I get off at four, but it’s my day to help Mom take her sponge bath and make dinner and stuff,” Adrianna grumped. “And Robbie’s coming home. I suppose you’ll have to start without me.”

“What time does your mom go to bed?” Rory asked.

“Not ’til 8:30.”

“We won’t leave for the fields without you,” Ellie promised. “But it can’t hurt to start brainstorming.”

Adrianna perked up at that. Ellie shoveled some more pie into her mouth. The lemon burst over her tongue, and she savored the taste for what felt like the first time in months.

She should have known her friends would be there for her. It was too easy to get wrapped up in the grief and the mission and forget that people who were still among the living loved her.

They would find the treasure. They would save the farmhouse from Adam. They could do this.


Chapter 2