Another year, another harvest. Plow, sow, reap, repeat. It is this endless cycle of fragile expectation that keeps me at my post, always watching. Dale brought me in the day of his son, George’s second birthday; now, Dale’s long gone, and George has taken his father’s place at the farm. Every day is slave’s labor in the fresh oven of Hell, but it’s a living.
George looked at me, sweat dripping from his brow and neck, his shirt drenched and covered with soot. “I see you’re doing a swell job as always, Jem.” He sticks his pick in the parched earth and heads to the hose. “If only you can make it goddamn rain,” he spits.
The truth is that the old Whittaker farm’s seeing its last years; corn’s at an all-time low and the cows just ain’t producing like they used to. Much of the silo’s gone empty, thanks to a rough winter and an unplanned vacation to the Bahamas – George’s interest in the land has gone flat. I can see it in his periwinkle eyes; it’s in the way he walks – it’s hopeless.
“Take me with you,” I mutter, but the hot wind takes it away, just like it does everything else.
Suddenly, a glistening raven lands on my shoulder. Its beady eyes sported a moisture with which I am unfamiliar, like looking into a bubbling oil pit. Its very presence hushed the wind. “You know what happens to bags like you once the land is sterile?” it asks, tauntingly. “They burn ‘em. Burn ‘em all.”
“You’re lying!” I hiss, biting through my stitched jaw. “George will never let that happen.” Would he? But the raven was already gone, a single feather stuck tangled in my shoulder. It wasn’t the first time I encountered the black pest, this I knew, but the details of our past conversation are lost to me.
Hours pass, and nothing changes. George’s pick still rests where he placed it last, and his once full bag of seeds is reduced to a bag of bird feed and a wilted canvas. The bird’s words resonate in my empty head, and suddenly twilight arrives with a refreshing, cool dew; shiny crickets butt against my dilapidated post. The night grows thick quick, and before long I am left alone in the unwelcoming darkness. There is no light shining from George’s house; it’s the one that allows me to rest secure each night, one that shone consistently for the past 47 years. Extinguished and deserted, the wind steals my frantic pleas: “Please, maker, let it rain. Let it rain.” I don’t want to burn.
Another day, another second closer to oblivion. George has not shown, for days, and I am forced to endure the silence and shadows of the season without my best friend.
“What did I tell you?” The raven flutters above, before landing this time on my head, crunching my straw hat – it was Dale’s. “I have to say I’m surprised, though; you held up for nearly five decades and largely unscathed. You’re not like the others, Jem.”
“Don’t call me that,” I warn, forcing the avian nuisance off of me. “They’ll show. He wouldn’t abandon his father’s land like that.”
No amount of thrusts can keep the bird from flying back on me. Its scaly feet ripped holes in my fabric. “Gone, gone, gone,” it sang, tearing stuffing from my interior, laughing. “So weeps the lonely scarecrow!”
Its cackles keep me awake for weeks.
Any sign of George and his family are obscured under a blanket of scorching sand. Sometimes I can make out the handle of the pick still stuck in the earth, and aside from the rickety, old house, it’s like they never existed. They took the truck late one night, along with the rest of their belongings. Looters got everything else. There was no goodbye, nothing at all, for me. All the time I kept the land secure amounted to nothing in the eyes of the deceitful human. Every modicum of hope I held in my flimsy body was eradicated with each thump of a hammer against a white For Sale sign near the house’s front porch.
The raven’s the only real friend I’ve ever had, I realize. While the traitors retreated into the unknown, the bird stayed at my perch, whispering its warnings and tales.
“Tell me about our first encounter,” I demand, my gaiety gone with the deserters. Visions of a different place, somewhere far away, fade in and out of my vision. “I recall a brown house and a little girl. What do you know about that?”
The raven is reluctant to speak, but eventually it gives in. “As I’m sure you’re realizing, this isn’t the first time you’ve been abandoned by the bipedal demons.” Rage boils within my sloppily stitched torso. “As a matter of fact, this is about the third time I’ve told you my stories,” the raven’s tone lifts. “I appreciate your attentiveness, given the circumstance.”
My eyes scan the empty, blue horizon, and suddenly it comes to me. “How many times would you like to tell those stories?”
The raven’s at a loss for words, ruffling its feathers.
“Let me down. Let me ruin their world just as they’ve regularly ruined mine.” Passion surges from my head down to my arms and legs. In an effort to make me seem more familiar to George, Dale gave me a pair of gloves and some old boots – it’s a shame he had such a spoiled son.
It doesn’t take the raven long to clip my binds, and I fall to the ground. Memories of my past lives, of all my brethren’s lives, populate my mind, and I scream – my voice obliterating the thick wind. With renewed animation, I grasp the traitor’s old pick, the wooden handle cool against my glove.
Another life, another harvest. A cycle shattered. I get to work.
While Beatrice enjoyed living in an upscale apartment in the heart of New York and loved her large paychecks from Crown Plow Inc., there were just too many people. She could give presentations to teams of superiors detailing a new marketing strategy she had developed – dozens of old, white men packed in a cramped cubicle – but put her on a similarly dense sidewalk, clopping past mustache machos and Vera Wang’s, and she loses it. Crumbles.
That’s why she tried talking herself out of going to the reading of her grandfather’s will. Or maybe it was simply that Beatrice didn’t feel like seeing those two-faced, overweight relatives of hers. She can picture them all crying, saying how sorry they were for losing such a great man, all the while eyeing a fresh plate of bruschetta and other treats her chef sister, Balie, whipped up. They say they’re there to celebrate the life of an old man, but they’re infinitely more intrigued with the passing of his $30 million estate and the award-winning hors d’oeuvres.
“You’ve got to come, Bea.” When Balie heard the news of their grandfather’s death, she was in the middle of a signing in Chicago. The second edition of her cookbook was earning her millions. “He would have wanted you there.”
Beatrice held the phone with her shoulder as she entered her apartment. The cat had made a mess with the lily bouquet her mother had sent her for her birthday. She seethed with irritation, but patted the damned cat anyway. “I’m drowning in work, Balie. And besides, he and I haven’t talked since I was a little girl. At Aunt Della’s wedding, remember?”
“I know how that feels, but it can wait until you get in Sunday, can’t it?”
“George is expecting a full report by 8am Monday.”
Balie breathed into the phone. “Beatrice.”
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t right now.”
“For somebody who hardly knew you, you’re sure getting off alright.” Now they shared irritation. “He’s leaving you his farm, Beatrice.”
The admission made Beatrice choke on her wine. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope. That’s why you’ve got to come. Mom wanted to wait to tell you herself, but you know…”
She was shocked at the news. She had no contact whatsoever with the old man for nearly twenty years, and he decides to leave her ownership of his huge ranch? “Why would he do that? I’m not even his biological granddaughter. I’m adopted for Christ’s sake.” She chewed on a cheesy cracker. “Do you know what he left you?”
“I got his cabin in Wisconsin and some other things. So does this mean you’ll come?”
“I guess I can send an email to George…”
“Good girl. Listen, I have to go. Steve’s home. Love ya.”
Beatrice sat the cracker platter on the coffee table and flipped on the news. She drifted off on the sofa wondering what the hell she was going to do with a big ass farm in Pennsylvania.
“Honey!” A woman of about sixty, adorned with knock-off jewelry and White Diamond perfume clutched Beatrice, crushing her against two big pearl necklaces.
Forcing a smile, Beatrice said, “Hi, Mom. I’m sorry about Grandfather.”
Her mother joined her in a guest room upstairs. It was the only quiet place in the Victorian manor. “You must not have heard.” She watched as Beatrice’s face went to strained sorrow to white-washed confusion. “Honey, you’re grandfather’s death was no accident, and I’ll leave it at that.”
She nodded. “It was a travesty. All over the news. But it’s too much for these Christian lips to mutter.” Her mother closed and locked the door, bringing a finger to her mouth, waiting for some distant relatives to pass. She resumed. “Now Balie told me that you already know about your inheritance.”
Beatrice cocked her head and smirked. “Mom, what’s wrong? You’re acting weird. Val didn’t slip you some of his Liquid Surprise, did he? Because, you know that’s just butterscotch and tequila, right?”
“No, no, no. Hush, baby. You have to listen.” She handed Beatrice a rubberstamped note. It had yellowed with time. “He and I both decided it was best to have you as the keeper of our secrets. Not even Balie knows of this, so you can’t say anything. Hear me?”
Beatrice figured the tequila got the best of her mother. “Sure, Mom.” She couldn’t take the woman seriously. Secrets? The only secrets they cared to keep were the family recipes and the fact that sometimes they skipped Sunday sermons to drink soda on the coast. They were such sinners. Rebels.
“I need you to leave here now and go to the farm. Don’t open the letter until you get there. Promise me.” The woman revealed in her mother’s eyes was not one with which Beatrice was familiar. This was a seriously ill lady who needed some professional attention. “Beatrice, promise me.”
Regardless of the lunacy of the case, Beatrice enjoyed the thought of escaping all the madness. “Fine, I will. It’s right off Milwey and next to the old food warehouse, right?”
Her mother yanked her arm, her sharp magenta nails drawing blood. “Heavens, no! Honey, it’snot that farm. I’m talking about the one just about thirty minute’s hike from this manor, maybe less if you walk fast.” Her face was flushed, nostrils flared. “It’ll all be explained. Just go. Don’t tell anybody. Hurry.”
Beatrice was out of the house in a split second, evading Balie and the others with ease. They didn’t act like they cared at all that she had left. The fresh air lifted her spirits, which she desperately needed after the strange encounter with her mother. She made a point to inform Balie of everything when she got back. She was not one to keep secrets of any kind.
The fresh autumn breeze made the hike easy in black leggings and tennis shoes. Beatrice was relieved to have decided against the heels and skirt for the reunion. The last thing she wanted was to draw suspicion for her fancy dressing – the family had a disliking towards anybody who displayed their wealth so nonchalantly. But it meant everything that the lower-class relatives appeared financially comfortable. It was just a big sham.
Sure enough, there was a farm about two miles from the mansion. At least there used to be one. All that remained on the parched earth was a metal silo behind a bent, barbed wire fence. The silo had been refashioned into a larger structure, complete with a power generator and a door.
“Okay, Grandfather. What did you have to tell me?” She whispered, ripping the letter’s black seal. The seal was etched with a wingless bird. It was almost dinosaur-like upon first glance.
From the envelope, she found a tarnished, double-sided key and a note. While the letterhead consisted of strange symbols Beatrice had never seen before, the message was very clear: You know what to do.
Only she didn’t. Sure, she knew the key unlocked the silo, but what then? “I really should have stayed home. I’ve got a bunch of crazy fucks for family,” she mumbled quietly before popping the key in the padlock on the silo door. After a few twists, the lock fell and the door slowly waved open. The beastly creak echoed throughout the chamber and gave Beatrice a bad taste in her mouth.
The smell was foul, unlike anything Beatrice had ever experienced. She flicked the light switch by the door, and the inside of the silo was illuminated. But she didn’t find grain.
The silo was hollow save for a spiraling, wire staircase that went all the way to the top. Hundreds of savagely torn corpses, if not thousands, were stretched along the wall, some overlapping others, kept dangling on hay hooks molded to the inside. The floor was a toxic blood mire. Beatrice fell to her knees at the sight, horrified, tears streaming her face. She tried to scream, but nothing came out but a series of suffocated gasps.
Then she noticed a hatch leading underground, kept shut by another padlock, this one sporting the same strange wingless bird on the rubberstamp. Beatrice looked at the other side of the key and back to the hatch. She was paralyzed, unfazed by the pungent odor of decaying bodies. There was no way she was opening that hatch – for all she knew it was a portal to Hell.
Beatrice could not begin to understand what she was seeing. Every corpse was ripped in a similar fashion, and the longer she looked, she realized the bodies made a pattern just like the one on the letterhead of the note.
“Now you know.” Her mother came up behind and spooked her, the silo amplifying her scream. She fell and sobbed under her mother’s forceful grasp. Her nails sunk into Beatrice’s shoulders. “Now you know your grandfather was an artist. There’s no doubt he was troubled, but sometimes I find myself sitting right here where you are, just marveling.” Her voice smelled of stale Sulphur.
Beatrice was still speechless, fighting against the woman’s tight embrace. She just wanted to go back to her apartment in New York, back to her boring life at the firm, back to her mischievous cat.
“But I’m afraid this is not the secret I was talking about.” She pointed at the hatch. “In there. Go on.” The woman picked Beatrice up and pulled her towards the hatch. No matter how hard she kicked and screamed Beatrice could not get her to stop. The once frail sixty-something had found the strength of an athlete in an hour’s time.
“Mom, stop! Please just stop!” She was covered in the bloody mixture, it burned her skin and ate holes in her clothes. “Momma!”
The woman grunted and cackled menacingly. “Don’t you see, Beatrice. He choseyou. From the very start.” She dropped Beatrice for a second to unlock the hatch. It wasn’t long enough for Beatrice to regain balance. “It’s why we adopted you. You’re the chosen one, baby.” Then: “You’re the one who will bring the Forgotten back to our realm.”
“Mom, stop!” She kicked the old lady and clawed at her face, allowing her ample time to get to her feet and sprint out of the silo. She jumped over the barbed wire fence, and darted for the manor. She saw Balie and her brother Brandon off in the far reach of the field. “Guys!” She caught up to them. “Please, call the police.” Balie was holding her phone, searching for a signal, while Brandon grasped a slugger.
Balie was dumbstruck. “What the fuck happened to you, Bea?” She hugged her sister. “Mom told me and Brandon to follow her out here, but we lost her. Did you see her? Is she okay?”
“We’ve got to get out of here.” Beatrice was crazed. Her heart was beating in her throat. She turned to her brother, forcing herself to speak between cries. “Brandon, something’s wrong with Mom. We have to get the police.”
Balie tugged at Beatrice. “Come on, Bea. I don’t have cell signal out here, so we need to go back to the –” A sharp blast whizzed past and struck Balie. The blood blinded Beatrice as her faceless sister was flung to the ground. Lifeless in an instant.
Suddenly Brandon cracked the slugger against Beatrice’s knee. He was dragging her by her hair back to the silo before she had chance to scream.
“I got her, Momma.” Brandon tossed Beatrice to the ground, who was wide-eyed with shock and fear. He flung off a fistful of hair that had laced around his fingers. “Val got Balie.” He didn’t sound disappointed.
“Such a shame about Balie. She had a bright future, but if Val felt it was necessary then I won’t argue.” She gestured toward the hatch. “Now throw her in, Brandon, so we can begin the ritual. Your grandmother is decidedly hungry.”
Jamie yelled for the old man again to no avail. Where the hell was the old man when he needed him?
The boy dodged a decomposing Mr. Phillips and Jamie’s sister, Gail. He jumped over Ronnie’s ex-wife Shelly, who was charred from the torching, scrambling for a bite of fresh meat. The barn door was just left swinging as Jamie ran back to the house. It did not take long for the farm to be completely overtaken by the reanimated army. What was once a devious scheme totally backfired and turned into total chaos.
By the time Jamie arrived at the shack, the trucks and tractors were toppled over, dominated by a team of dead flesh sacks. Blots of blood, soured skin, and guts crisscrossed the land, the putrid stench enough to knock anybody plum off their feet.
“Ronnie!” Jamie dashed into the house, hoping to find the old man and get the shotgun before the corpses trapped him inside. “Get your ass over here! We hafta go!” Jamie got nothing but a set of demented moans coming from a young girl. Her yellow pigtails were soaked with blood and shit. The groans came with a stream of vomit and spit, falling out of the jawless mouth hole onto the floor with a splat. Some of the spit specked Jamie’s pant leg.
Jamie checked the back bedroom, in the large chest under the bed where Ronnie kept most of the guns and ammunition, and found it completely empty. “Bitch!” Jamie screamed, peering into the bare chest of a decapitated Mrs. Umphrey. In one hand she grasped a bloody machete, the other one was knotted in a head of hair.
Mrs. Umphrey held Ronnie’s head in her gnarled fist. Just as she tossed the mangled cranium towards Jamie, he had leapt out the window, crashing to the ground with a broken arm and a shoulder splintered with glass.
Suddenly, one of the trucks in front of the house exploded, erupting torn limbs and gore. The flames spread to the house and to the grass. The remaining bodies trekked hidden amidst a wall of thick, pitch-black smoke.
With the sun turning warm orange and purple in the sky, Jamie knew he had a half hour sunlight left, at best. There was no way he was letting himself get stuck out there in the dark with dozens of lurching carcasses.
So Jamie ran for the hills. He jumped over the barbed wire fence his father set up twenty years ago; he sprinted through his mother’s old tomato garden, which had been reduced to a sad plot of pale dust and brown stalks. He had to reach town to tell the others of what he and the others had done. Jamie had to tell them everything, starting with Ronnie’s ingenious, diabolical plan.
“How could he do this to us? We could lose the farm!”
“That’s enough, Gisette.” A woman of sixty-five clad in a tailored blue gown, her silver hair pulled tightly back in a perfect bun, waves a hand of dismissal toward her daughter. “Your brother is well aware of the risks he’s taking; he is a smart man after all.”
Patti, Gisette’s twin sister, uncharacteristically slams her porcelain tea cup down onto the oak table. “David cannot marry that… That gold digging whore! If he had an ounce of wits about him, he’d see through her act.”
“Patti, Gisette! Hush, both of you. I need to hear myself think.” Geraldine Hatchett pinches the bridge of her nose and closes her eyes. She was the eldest daughter of a wealthy politician – and the smartest, she would argue – but if there was one thing her father taught her before being sent to prison for embezzlement, it was how to remain calm in stressful situations. Her daughters have yet to pick up on this nifty skill, but they were going to learn one day.
After a moment of silence, Geraldine resumes: “For thinking of the good of the farm, you both are right, and until your brother met Beatrice, I believe he had a similar state of mind as well; however, now he is without the good sense his father left him. Something must be done to stop this blasphemous marriage.”
“What are you thinking, Mama?”
“Well, obviously I can’t get through to David; she’s already poisoned him.” Geraldine pastes a grim smile on her face, showing a set of dull, golden teeth. “It’s only reasonable she suffer a similar fate.”
That night, Geraldine and her girls crept into the cornfield behind the Hatchett manor, guided only by the light of a full moon. Despite the rumors, Geraldine wasn’t just a lonely widow pent on rotting in her web-infested mansion – she had an advantage that many other women of her time were without: she could read.
Specifically, she took to books of a mystical nature. So, when she found out her only son, David, was marrying a poor valley girl she knew her knowledge of the dark arts would come in handy. All she had to do was get her two stupid daughters on the same page, and to do this she fed them lies. “That girl your brother is marrying, I heard she was married before,” she once told Gisette. Then, to Patti: “I ran into David’s fiancée this morning; I could see such hatred in those twinkling blue eyes of hers. Pretty soon David will have the same hate in his.” It didn’t take too many lies to convince her daughters, as gullible as they were.
“Patti, you hold your sister’s hand, and both of you hold mine with your other.” It all came together perfectly; she was following the instructions lain out in the devil’s book completely. Together they formed an oval; in the center was a burning concoction containing crushed henbane and jimsonweed and a cocktail of other spices and chemicals – the smoke coming off the brew smells foul but that was part of it, she presumed. “Goddess Katriah, I call upon you.”
Truthfully, at this point Geraldine has no idea what she was doing – the chant was written in a language unknown to her. But she had followed every other step to the letter, so she believed all should be fine.
“Katriah, Goddess of the Harvest, bless this potion I have before you. You must have heard my prayers, so you know our situation. A threat has come upon our fertile land, intending to burn it all. I ask that you bless this potion, fill it with the power to stop this Beatrice Nocant. By your beautiful hand, the Hatchett farm can flourish once more.” The last words resonate in the darkness. That was it. But why was it that she wasn’t feeling any different?
“So, did it work?” Gisette was looking painfully perplexed.
Geraldine has no answer for her daughter, because she was wondering the same. Regardless, she keeps confident. “Yes, darling. It’s in Katriah’s hands now. All we have to do is wait for her gift.”
But days pass to no avail. Beatrice was still alive, and Geraldine’s patience was growing thin. What was it that she had done wrong? Surely everything was done correctly. Every day that her soon-to-be-daugher-in-law continued to breathe, the old woman skimmed the frail page of the spell book one more time. Finally, it came to her: “That potion was meant for me. It wasn’t just meant to summon Her.” With her spirit returned, she walks back to where she and her girls so foolishly tried to call on Katriah.
“How could I have not considered this?” she asks herself on the way to the clearing. “Katriah isn’t a vengeful Goddess – she can only transfer the power to protect her domain to a worthy soul!” Geraldine cackles, grasping the bowl of magical herbs and spices. Before downing the potion, Geraldine mutters, “Give me your power Katriah, so I can wring that girl’s neck.”
It takes a few gulps, as well as some control of the gag reflex, to drink the bitter mixture. The brew stirrs a rumble inside of Geraldine’s stomach, making her want to throw it all up. “That certainly is not your afternoon sweat tea,” she states, smacking her lips.
Suddenly, she a deep roar of laughter invades her mind. “Katriah!” Geraldine exclaims. “You’ve come to help me!”
The goddess scoffs. “Honestly, I was hoping for a stronger soul to steal, one with more years left, but I’ll settle with this one.”