“Here we are.”
Robert Ellsy turned off his car, removed the keys, and placed them in his breast pocket. He gazed into Allison’s settled eyes and immediately turned away, careful to hide the concern that had lingered inside him for days. He lied to her, just like before. It’d become second nature. He knew she couldn’t come with him because she wasn’t leaving Old Farmer’s Road alive.
Fog, thick and dense, blanketed the sky and billowed across the ground, blocking the view of the Mississippi River. The city of Minneapolis stood in the distance, casting an amber shadow over the lazy clouds. The air carried the cold breeze from the river’s bank and it glazed across Allison’s skin, making the tiny hairs on her forearm stand erect. She shivered and Robert assumed that she was starting to regret wearing her thin baby tee instead of her Green Day T-shirt with the long sleeves. Warm breezes accompanied Minnesota summers along with humidity and mosquitoes but not at Old Farmer’s Road. On the entire drive she questioned why he wanted to bring her to a remote swamp on his last day in the city instead of taking her to the movies.
Allison rolled up the passenger side window and folded her arms over her chest. She turned her head left to face him and her thick auburn curls bounced from behind her shoulder. “This has to be one of the most ridiculous places you’ve ever taken me. I still don’t know why I decided to come here with you.”
“Because you love me.” Robert coolly nestled his body closer to her but she moved away. “Aw, c’mon Allison. Don’t be that way.” He grabbed her wrist and she immediately pulled out of his grip.
“I don’t like it here Robert. Take me home.” Allison eyed the hazy environment around them.
He wiped away the condensation covering the car windows in a slick white residue, revealing lighting bugs in the distance, beyond what looked like an impenetrable line of tall pine trees. The sound of a cop siren in the distance broke through the uncomfortable silence that filled the air around them.
“Scared?” Robert’s comment sounded more like a tease to Allison.
She rolled her eyes and turned away from him. “I’m not scared. Just irritated.”
“Why?” He asked with a hint of hostility in his voice.
“It’s your last day in Minneapolis before you leave for New York.” She puffed out her lower lip.
“It’s only temporary. I told you, once I graduate you can move out there and live with me.”
“How do I know you won’t dump me for some other chick?”
“I won’t babe. Promise.”
While he thought about his devilish plan, a familiar voice jabbed into his brain like the sting of needles, making his stomach cramp. The coarse voice spoke, telling him to do terrible things to Allison; things beyond his imagination.
The past few weeks had been exceptionally hard. The moment he found out that he was accepted to college, the voice became constant and forceful. He tried ignoring it along with the cramps, but it only made things worse with each passing day. The voice always drew him back to the silent trees and the algae filled swamps of Old Farmer’s Road.
“I love you Allison. I always will.”
Allison turned back to him and glared into his brown eyes. She placed her palm against his cheek. “I love you too.” She moved in and kissed him gently.
Still entangled in their embrace, Robert closed his eyes. He wholeheartedly wished things could be that simple. He wished that he had never agreed to come to the area in the first place.
He pulled back. “I can’t.”
“What are you talking about?” She dropped her hand and returned to her irritated behavior.
“Nothing. I think I just need some fresh air.”
“Fresh air?” She pouted. “Out there?” Her eyes skimmed the scenery.
Robert exhaled but before he could speak Allison spoke up again. “I still don’t understand what you and your friends see in this place.”
“I don’t think you’d like to know.” He hands gripped the steering wheel as if he prepared to drive off. He had parked facing the old rickety bridge that ran across the river to the other side of the swamp. This way he had a full-length view of what was ahead of them.
“What do you mean?” Allison asked.
“What’s going on Robert?” She leaned against the car door, giving him her full and undivided attention. “Every time I ask a question or mention this place you always say ‘It’s nothing’?”
“I just think there’s really nothing to tell you.”
“Really?” Allison tilted her head to the side in defiance. “Nothing to tell me? Your girlfriend?!”
Robert stepped out of the car and closed the door behind him. He stretched his arms overhead and closed his eyes, listening to the wind flap against the leaves of the trees nearby. Allison had a right to know what had happened, but by telling her, he would place her at risk. He didn’t want her to know anything: the monstrous voice that plagued his thoughts, what he and his friends did across the bridge, the hunger, and most importantly, the murders. He already mentioned these things to his older brother, Derek, and Derek didn’t believe him.
Allison knocked on the windshield and he turned back. She spoke loud enough for Robert to hear her muted voice telling him to get back into the car, but he motioned for her to come out and join him instead.
She rolled down the window and leaned her head out. “Robert, please come back inside.”
He ignored her. “Allison, get out here.”
She shook her head, defiant.
“There’s a breeze coming off the swamp.”
“I don’t want to smell swamp water. I want to go home.”
“Fine, but just, come out here with me first.” He crawled onto the hood of his car, startling her. Feeling the adrenaline pumping through his body, he closed his eyes and heard the voice whispering in his thoughts. He felt it pushing with such magnitude that he covered his face and immediately slid off the roof of his car.
Just one more.
He turned back to the bridge, noticing a ball of light circling through the trees ahead.
“Robert, what’s gotten into you?” Allison called out.
He turned back to face her. “I want to show you something.” He playfully waved.
She sighed again. “But it smells like old dirty water out there.”
Robert sniffed the air and shrugged, unable to locate any odor. “No it doesn’t.” He approached the passenger side of the car. “You’ve always asked what my friends and I do down here.” He opened her door and extended his hand to her. “Let me show you.”
Allison released a low audible breath, took his hand, and left the car.
“I swear you better not scare me.” She eyed the area. “If you do, I’ll never forgive you.”
Robert placed his hands on her hips and pulled her in closer. “I swear I’m not going to scare you.”
She smiled. “You better not.” She snuggled in tighter and whispered. “I don’t understand why you would come out here anyway.”
“You’re scared of the Old Farmer, aren’t you?”
“I don’t believe in urban legends.”
“I don’t either.” He pointed to the old withered bridge ahead. “Let’s cross it.”
They heard a loud howl in the distance and Allison immediately gripped him tightly around the waist. “What was that?”
Robert chuckled. “It’s just a dog.”
“That was not a dog.” Allison cringed.
“Maybe a coyote.”
“This close to the city?”
“I’ve seen deer in downtown Minneapolis,” he said. “It’s not abnormal.”
She placed her head against his ribs and they remained silent. He heard her breathing increase and when she put her arm around him, she squeezed, pulling him in close. He kept his ears opened, waiting for another howl.
“Robert, what’s that?” She pointed into the darkness.
He watched a flickering white light deep within the trees, just pass the old bridge, moving slowly from right to left. “That’s just a lightning bug.”
“Someone’s down there watching us.” She elbowed him in the ribs.
“Stop being so scared.” He walked forward and felt her hesitate. “Allison, I swear. It’s just a lightning bug. I see them all the time down here.”
Allison picked up her feet and soon they walked to the edge of the bridge. The mysterious blinking light didn’t increase or decrease in size. Instead its rhythmic pulsating pattern began to confuse Robert as well. While the light’s appearance didn’t startle him, its long exposure to him did.
The wood, warped and twisted from years of exposure, with old iron beams rusted brown from the elements, gave the bridge a ghastly look. Allison placed one foot on the bridge, testing her weight on the board. It creaked slightly and she hesitated before placing her other foot down.
“It doesn’t look safe to cross,” she said to him.
He ignored her statement and stepped forward. “It’s safe.” He held out his hand to her and together they trudged over the bridge. As they reached the end, the light suddenly disappeared into the darkness. Crickets in the bushes near them chirped endlessly and the rapping noise of dragonflies traveled through the air.
This is it, Robert thought to himself. They had crossed over into the unsafe zone.
He took off his jacket and held it in his hands. He glared into the darkness, to where the pulsating light used to be, and he moved forward following the path ahead, that looked as if it’d been paved the night before.
“Okay, it was a lighting bug. I believe you.” Allison tugged at his arm. “Now can we go please?”
“This isn’t right.” Panic began to fill his voice. “This path is different.”
“Nothing changes around here Allison without their doing.” He stepped forward and he felt her pulling on his belt.
He pried her hand from his belt and watched as two red dots appeared in the darkness followed by a low, ferocious growl. His eyes focused and he could barely make out the outline of a German Sheppard with its ears at full alert. The bushes rustled and the dog stepped forward, revealing itself to him. He then heard the voice inside his head and it broke through his concentration.
Just one more.
The dog remained still. Foam collected around its mouth and its upper lip quivered. They heard the low rumble of aggression as the animal crept toward them, revealing white rib bones covered with tinny maggots and stringy flesh.
Allison screamed but Robert didn’t panic. It was the sign he’d been waiting for. “I’ve brought you what you’ve asked for,” he spoke to the dog. “She’s the last one. After this I’m out. I’m done.”
Allison jumped back. “Robert, what’s going on?”
Suddenly the voice spoke but this time its voice didn’t generate in Robert’s head. It came from the darkness just beyond where the dog stood.
Just two more.
“Two more?” Robert repeated, confused.
The dog hoofed its legs forward and Allison turned to run. All of this happened so quickly that he couldn’t react as the dog sped past him and chased after Allison.
“No! I thought we were going to share her!” He spun around watching her run back over the bridge and toward the car with the dog close on her tail. She tripped over an upturned wooden beam and fell. The dog jumped on top of her and she let out a high-pitched scream that echoed through the air.
Robert stood still but he couldn’t watch. He covered his face, hearing Allison’s muted screams as the dog began to rip into her flesh. He felt his body shake uncontrollably.
Just two more.
The dog turned to face Robert and its hideous eyes locked onto him.
He lowered his hands from his face. “I did what you asked. You have to let me go.”
The dog lumbered a low growl.
“I’m done!” He screamed at the dog. “No more!”
With its head low, the dog ran toward him. Robert quickly moved back but he found himself tripping over his own feet. He fell onto his back and now the dog stood a few feet away from him with its lips pulled back and Allison’s blood dripping from its pointed fangs.
“You can’t kill me.” He attempted to stand back on his feet but the dog’s growl made him freeze. It continued to pace toward him.
Robert closed his eyes, feeling the dog’s roasting breath on his right cheek. The dog’s sharp claws dug into his stomach and he felt searing pain throughout his body. He tried to fight back to protect what the dog wanted; the three stones that gave him life and that made him what he was. The voice inside his head spoke for the final time.
Just one more.
Cecilia Richardson awoke to the constant pounding on her bedroom door. It increased in its intensity as she slid from her bed. From the other side she heard her mother’s annoying voice.
“Cecilia, get up. You’re father’s leaving for work in a couple of minutes.”
She didn’t understand why her mother wanted her to see her father off. She opened the door and shot her mother an evil yet tired stare.
“I made breakfast.” Her mother stood in the doorway, wearing an apron that looked straight out of a Betty Crocker manual. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and a streak of flour ran across her right cheek. “How many pancakes do you want?”
“Seriously?” Cecilia rubbed her eye. “Mom, you look ridiculous in that outfit.” She expected her mother to turn irate. Instead the smile didn’t waver from her face.
“It’s too early to start this. Now get up. You’re not going to sleep until noon.” She turned and walked back to the kitchen.
Cecilia peaked out from her bedroom and watched her father, dressed in a business suit with a black and white checkered tie, sitting at the kitchen table. He sipped quietly from his coffee mug while skimming through his cell phone. She took zombie like footsteps into the living room and watched as mother frantically moved back and forth from the kitchen to her father.
“You’re going to brush your teeth first before you eat, right?” her mother asked.
“No mom. I thought I’d do something different today,” Cecilia replied sarcastically.
“Don’t start that tone with me. I don’t need any of your lip.”
Since moving to Minneapolis, her mother had attempted to distance themselves from the environment they left behind in San Diego. She dealt with settling into their new quiet suburban neighborhood by spending his hard earned money. Yesterday she bought expensive black and white furniture and matching black and white photographs. Last week she purchased brand new placemats for their black polished dining room table. Her father never said a word about her ridiculous shopping sprees and her attempt to get rid of anything that gave off a “bad vibe.”
Yet neither of them asked how she felt about the move.
They didn’t allow her to have her say. They gave her a week to say goodbye to her friends and her boyfriend, Glenn who she missed terribly. Now that he wasn’t around, she had no one else to vent her frustrations to.
Mr. Richardson gulped the last drops of his coffee. “I have to go.” He grabbed his suitcase and headed to the front door.
“What time will you be home?” Mrs. Richardson dried her hands on a soaked dishtowel.
“Around six.” He kissed her on the cheek and rushed out the door.
Cecilia dragged her feet along the carpet and over to the dining room. “So you woke me up just to watch him eat?” She stared at the half eaten eggs and pieces of bacon left on her father’s plate.
“Today is your father’s first day at work.” Her mother wiped down the kitchen counter. “Plus I thought we could have some quality time together, just you and me.” She placed the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and when finished, she draped her apron over the handle on the stove.
“I’ll pass if you don’t mind.” Cecilia turned around and headed back to her bedroom. In her closet she grabbed a pack of cigarettes tucked behind a stack of board games on the top shelf. Afterwards, she headed out through the front door.
It took some time for her eyes to adjust to the sun’s glare. She sat on the concrete footsteps and examined her new neighborhood. All the houses looked the same to her with their white and tan façades, mowed front yards, and neatly trimmed green grass. Every house had flower pots placed on their front steps. Any screen door not properly secured swung back and forth in the slight wind. She also didn’t see any cars parked along the streets. She heard kids yelling and playing down the street.
When the coast was clear she lit her cigarette and inhaled. Her attention was diverted by a metallic sound coming from the house next door. The front screen opened. A scraggly clothed boy emerged dressed in a dingy shirt and frayed jeans. The screen door slammed shut behind him. He swiped back his brown hair and plopped down on the concrete stairs before lighting his own cigarette. She watched as he inhaled with his head titled back, peering at the clear blue sky. He mumbled incoherently to himself.
Since moving into her new house, she’d never seen anyone enter or leave from the house next door. Also, he was the first attractive boy she’d seen since moving to Minneapolis, nowhere near Glenn’s rugged good looks, but dateable. He intrigued her.
He pivoted to his left side and away from her. Healed cuts covered his left forearm from his elbow down to his wrist. She squinted to get a better look just as their eyes met.
Immediately she turned her attention forward but still watched him from her peripheral.
He placed his cigarette up to his lips. “Hey.”
She slowly turned her head in his direction. “Hi.”
He inhaled. “You just moved here, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, a few weeks ago.”
“I haven’t seen you around,” the boy replied. “My name is Isaac.”
Isaac. Cecilia repeated his name in her head a few more times before replying. “I’m Cecilia.”
He flicked the ashes from his cigarette. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise.” She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her right ear.
“Do you go out Cecilia?” Isaac asked.
“Yeah, like with friends.”
“I don’t have any friends here.”
“We could hang sometime if you want.”
Cecilia heard the front door of his house open. A girl with curly brown hair and immense hazel eyes appeared and she sat next to Isaac. When she placed her hand on his back, his demeanor changed and she scooted away from him.
“Stop acting like a prima donna.” Again, she placed her hand on his back but this time she playfully pushed him forward.
“Why is this funny to you?”
“You’re doing it again.” She yanked the cigarette from his fingers.
“Elsie, not now.” He reached to take back his cigarette from her but she moved her hand.
“Nope. Not until you promise to behave.”
“You’re making me angry.” He reached for it again, this time taking it. “And I’m not in the mood.” With his head he nodded in Cecilia’s direction. “This is Cecilia.”
Elsie leaned forward, gazing at her. “We have a next door neighbor? Since when?”
“She just moved here,” he replied. “Elsie, this is Cecilia. Cecilia, this is my older sister, Elsie.”
Cecilia waved but Elsie rudely didn’t return the gesture. Instead she returned back to her brother. “See what I mean? You’re doing exactly what father said you’d do.”
“I don’t care. I’m tired of his rules.”
“Isaac, let’s talk inside.” She placed her arm around his shoulders and he rejected her advance.
“Where are you from?” He turned his attention back to Cecilia.
“I’ve always wanted to go there. Where exactly in California?”
His eyes lit up and he looked at Elsie. “We should go someday.”
“That place is overrated.” The expression on Elsie’s face changed. “Too many people.”
“So what. It’d be perfect for us,” Isaac said.
Suddenly Elsie stood to her feet. “Go inside.”
Isaac stood up slowly and she pushed him toward the door.
The conversation took a downward turn and surprised, Cecilia remained where she sat and watched as Isaac gave his sister the evil eye. Their behavior toward one another stunned her, but she thought that it was simply sibling behavior; something she didn’t understand since she was an only child.
Isaac flicked his half smoked cigarette and he walked back into his house, leaving Elsie behind.
“It was nice meeting both of you,” Cecilia said.
Elsie’s eyes narrowed. “Stay away from my brother.” She opened the screen door. “I’m not going to tell you again.” She entered her home and slammed the door shut behind her.
Her high pitched giggling echoed through the wall.
The morning sunlight slithered beneath his yellow stained curtains and onto his floor, slightly touching the small pile of newspapers near the bathroom door.
Derek Ellsy yawned, taking in the smell of mold and bile that polluted the air. She’s at it again. He thought in a hazy daze. At seven in the morning she’s at it.
He wiped the sleep from his eyes and looked to the discoloration on the ceiling of his apartment. He shivered as a cold breeze tickled its way up his back to the tips of his fingers, an annoying side effect that he had grown used to. He contracted his right fist to match the rhythm of her giggles, hoping it would steer his mind away from his aches and from his desire to start hitting the bottle. He thought about his younger brother Robert and immediately his mind snapped to his list of things he had to do today.
The sun’s rays filled the room with warmth and light swam past the pile of Robert’s clothing. It shined over a brown withered box full of Robert’s high school football trophies. It invaded the bathroom and glistened off the grime on the tiles. It also illuminated an empty whiskey bottle near a picture of his ex-fiancé, Jan.
Derek squinted at the water stains on the ceiling and rubbed the prickly hairs on his chin. Every day it was like this, trying to muster up energy to get out of bed and start the day. He had to check in with Jan and see if she had any new information regarding his younger brother’s disappearance.
I need a drink.
He sifted through crumpled papers, empty beer bottles, and a circular ashtray filled with used cigarette butts on the night stand. Behind the debris, in a solid oak frame, was a picture of him and Jan taken during the winter at a cabin in northern Minnesota. Her hair blew to the right, forever frozen in the cold arctic wind. He remembered that day clearly. On that day he asked her to marry him and she said yes.
However, the image also reminded him of how things had gone sour since that moment. Jan found out that he’d cheated on her with Rosie, his next door neighbor, and that very same night, she walked out on him and their relationship. Since then he buried his sorrow and guilt in bottles of whiskey and any other type of alcohol he could afford. It was the only way to numb the pain and his feeling of loneliness.
Before his infidelity he consider himself to be a good man. Yet all that changed when Robert disappeared. He blamed his depression and his severe bouts of loneliness for taking up Rosie’s offer. Now he considered himself lucky that Jan, who worked for a private detection agency, agreed to look into his brother’s case. After all, her sister, Allison, went missing along with him.
Derek carefully swept the crumbled papers to the floor, leaving the picture in place. The wetness dripped from his index and middle fingers as he found a half empty beer can. He drank and its warm, flat contents traveled down to his stomach, snapping his mind back to reality.
His bed creaked from underneath his covers but he confused the noise with the giggling he heard next door. With his back against the wall, he leaned over to reach for his cell phone on the counter while the bed covers pulled themselves back to reveal a mess of tangled brown hair grouped together in a black hair band. A woman looked up at him with her eyes glazed over from sleep.
She stretched out her tiny arms, pricked with small black holes, a jigsaw pattern of blues and blacks underneath her pasty and milky skin. Her skeletal figure lengthened while she stretched. She glanced at him before slapping her hands on his chest.
“Whatcha doin?” she asked.
“Nothin,” he replied. “Who’re you?”
She giggled. “You’re funny.” She lay her head on his stomach.
“No, really—who are you?”
Her lips, stained with dried mauve mocha lipstick, left a small faded streak on his chest. “It’s me,” she said. “Remember?”
He took a closer look. Who is she? Suddenly he remembered. He’d gone out last night to a bar in downtown Minneapolis. He must have met her there.
“You need to leave.”
She giggled again. The sound of screeching tires from outside his apartment window drowned out the noise coming from the apartment next door. He briefly turned his attention to the world outside and became lost and forgotten in his own hell. Out there everything thrived.
The woman placed her head on his chest but he pushed her away. He examined his own body, his small but noticeable beer belly, his chest littered with small black hairs. He had let himself go since high school. “You really need to go. I’m expecting company.”
“In this dump?” She looked around and giggled again.
He pushed her off the bed and stood up. “Don’t forget your clothes.” He pointed to a pile near his closet. She stomped over to them and began to get dressed, all the while cursing at him underneath her breath.
After she was done she opened the front door.
“I’m sorry but it was a mistake for you to come here,” Derek said.
“Yeah. Whatever.” She slammed the door behind her.
He sat on the edge of the bed. His stomach gurgled from the warm beer and he tossed the can across the room. He glanced around his apartment. Dirt covered everything around him. His mind fluttered and again he remembered his goals for the day. He couldn’t waste any time.
He saw the late edition of the Sunday newspaper on the floor. Last night, during his drunken stupor, he circled the headline in red ink. Another teen went missing at Old Farmer’s Road.
Something about that place irked him to no end. When Robert started visiting the place, Derek noticed a change in his behavior. He and his new friends spent a lot of time in the swampy area which angered him—and Allison. Shortly before he vanished, he told Derek that the disappearances weren’t coincidences and the police were dealing with something they could never understand.
Derek grabbed his cell phone and looked up Jan’s number. He stared at it, debating whether or not to call even though he didn’t have any time to lose.
Old Farmer’s Road is available on Amazon
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