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