Note: This is the fifth of several installments from my latest work-in-progress, The Circle. If I knew how to make the copyright symbol on a MacBook keyboard, this is where you would find it. Don't steal my shit, man.
Rick Hennessey scribbled a quick note to his secretary telling her to finish overseeing the setup for the fundraiser he was hosting that night. He had some farm business to tend to, or so he wrote.
Rick nervously strolled out to Building No. 1 to commandeer a golf cart. His foreman, Earl, met him inside. Seeing the ashen color of Ricks face, he asked what was the matter. Earl had lived on the farm longer than anyone and was practically considered family, but Rick climbed onto the cart and took off without so much as an acknowledgement of the old man’s question. The stout, grizzled old man tried to slow the trimmer, more purposeful young man, but to no avail.
Running a 2,000-acre farm was tough enough without the added burden of braving several acres of dense, saturated woods to have a look at a muddy spot on the bank next to the swollen White River. The wind picked up considerably as he neared his destination. It was a bracing wind, almost too cold for October, Rick thought.
Soon, Rick was at the small, limestone marker his father and uncle planted atop the riverbank some 50 years before. The area had been cleared recently, as Rick could tell from the splintered, green, beech, oak, and maple saplings. They formed a ragged ring around a large patch of shaved ground, probably 20 yards in diameter and the shape of a perfect circle. He disembarked from the cart and eased carefully down the muddy hill onto the bank. He could hear the rising river just beyond the slope, but it was nowhere near flood level. In the middle of the circle was what what looked a lot like a funeral pyre clogged with half-burned logs. Deep gouges and scrapes surrounded the spot. They could have been letters or numbers, he guessed, but the hard rain had muddled them beyond recognition.
Rick began to remember why he never challenged his father’s prohibition against playing in the woods. Eddie used to try and goad Rick into sneaking back out there to the river, but Rick was always too afraid to go. He never asked his dad what happened in the woods that night because he didn’t want to know. Whatever it was chased Aunt Lil off the farm for the rest of her life. It also inflicted his dad with foul, dark moods that haunted him to the grave. When Ed’s dad died of a heart attack several years later, Rick’s dad called his brother “a lucky bastard” as the casket was lowered into the ground. A few days after that, Rick’s dad was found swinging by his neck from the attic rafters. Lillith failed to appear at either of her brothers’ funerals.
Standing there, he relived all of that suffering and dread once again. That childhood sense of foreboding, that unspoken knowledge that something evil dwelled around those trees, gripped him again as if he were nine.
“She’s out, Rick,” came a voice from behind.
Rick’s heart shot up into his throat. He spun around and saw Earl standing up by the golf cart.
“What the Hell are you doing here?” Rick sputtered.
Earl smiled gently, trying to reassure his startled boss.
“Rick, we both know why you’re here. You and me and everybody else on this farm have got a big problem. That Tommy did a bad thing, and its a lot worse than you know.
"Why don’t we go back to the house and call Eddie?” Earl offered. “You both really need to hear what I have to say. You don’t mind if I ride back with you, do you? I don’t think I could make it back to the barn through all that mud.”
Rick had to nod his assent, as he was still a tad breathless by the old man’s sudden appearance there. It took Rick almost 15 minutes on a golf cart navigating muddy trails and thick undergrowth to get back to base. As he climbed off the cart, he couldn’t avoid noticing Earl’s very slow and deliberate disembarkment.
Just as Rick started to offer the old man a hand, he realized that he didn’t have more than a few minutes alone on that riverbank before a broken-down old farm hand caught up with him on foot.