Note: This is the seventh 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.
Ed arrived at the farm shortly before dawn Sunday morning. He was sorry he asked Rick to go into the woods the night before, but the circumstances around Tommy’s murder and Lillith’s death has unsettled him. The hole in Tommy’s chest looked as if it came from a 30.06 blast at point blank range, but there were no powder burns. And there was something about Barb and Nettie’s ghost story that unsettled him. Ed sent Rick out into the woods to calm his own nerves, only to find out that old Earl had another story for them.
Rick sat quietly on the back patio that ran the width of the family manse, watching the Sunday morning sun as it started poking its way through the thick woods. He glanced briefly at Ed, and then turned his gaze back to the horse barn situated in front of the woods that the trio was about to enter.
Earl insisted that the boys be together when he told them his story. When the sun finally emerged from the trees, Earl appeared in the doorway of his tiny apartment above the barn. Ed and Rick were parked in the golf cart waiting for him as he reached the bottom step. There was no small talk, just anticipation heavily laced with dread.
The cart headed back into the woods, which had dried a bit but remained as dark and foreboding as they had been at dusk the night before. They reached the marker soon enough, but the scene below had changed noticeably since dusk. The circle was starting to grow in, covering many of the gouges and markings.
“What the Hell, Rick? You told me somebody had cleared away all this,” Ed asked.
Before Rick could respond, Earl spoke up. “Eddie, this was just as Rick told you last night. I saw it myself. She’s out now and she ain’t coming back, as far as I can tell.”
The cousins looked at each other, then Rick turned to Earl and asked, “Who are you talking about? What woman?”
Earl leaned back against the cart and sighed. “That woman who killed Tommy yesterday, Rick.”
Eddie shook his head. “Earl, that biker shot Tommy. There wasn’t any woman in that bar.”
“Okay, Eddie, then how come you sent Rick out here last night to check on this very spot?” Earl countered. “Is it because you think that biker maybe didn’t kill Tommy? And maybe you believed his story because you both remember another story?”
The cousins looked at each other again and quietly acknowledged Earl’s point. Earl knew that their memories had to be faint, since they were just boys when their fathers stood out on that very riverbank 50 years before.
“Your dads did what they had to do, boys,” Earl said firmly. “That woman was evil, pure and simple. She had your Aunt Lil and wasn’t about to let her go. They brought me here especially to help them, and I did and I don’t regret it for a second.”
The cousins nodded, then Ed spoke up again. “Earl, if that woman was dead” -- he paused for a moment and grimaced at the thought of his father as a murderer -- “if she’s been buried out here for all this time, then how could she possibly have killed Tommy, or Aunt Lil?”
“Diana -- thats the name she went by -- wasnt any ordinary woman. She showed up here when your grandma Hennessey was dying,” Earl started. “She said she was the daughter of an old friend of Ma’s, but when Ma saw her she died right then and there. Pop Hennessey said he’d never seen his wife so scared of anything. They let Diana stay on for a few days, but then one of the workers, who had a still hid out by here, found Diana and Aunt Lil together...”
Ed said, with Rick nodding absently, “Yeah, we knew shed been attacked when she was a teenager, but not by who.”
Earl acknowledged the interruption and continued the story. “Well, they ran her off and had the doctor check Lillith. She was never touched, Ed, but it was too late. Diana was in her head, even when she wasn’t there. Half the animals were terrified of Lillith, and the other half seemed like they could read her mind. And she began visiting the bunkhouse in the middle of the night. Hell, I bet she got three or four of them poor farm boys fired just because she wouldn’t leave them alone.”
Ed looked over at Rick, who was hanging on every word. Ed remember Lillith as a teenager, and he was having trouble remember her carrying on with anyone. He did remember a pretty redhead, but he was having trouble placing her on the farm when Ma Hennessey died. Ed did his best to stay poker-faced, however, because he had known Earl his whole life and was willing to allow that the old man remembered things better than he did.
“Well, your dads and Pop were beside themselves. They couldn’t even drag her to church,” Earl continued. “But in time, Lil outgrew a lot of that and everything was okay. She finished high school and was just starting to date Phil Mendenhall when weird things started happening around the farm. One of the guys got attacked by a pack of wild dogs. The others started claiming to hear weird noises in the woods; it got so bad that a bunch of them quit. And then...”
“She showed up again, didn’t she?” Rick said nervously. “I remember my dad talking about her.”
Earl nodded and said, “Yeah, she did. Nobody actually saw her, but we knew she was out here, waiting for Lillith to come to her. One night, Pop caught Lil climbing out her window. When he tried to pull her back in, she kicked so hard that your granddad went flying backwards and landed on his head. It broke his neck and he was dead on the spot.”
Ed and Rick started to weep a bit, as their memories of that night came streaming back. Their fathers were so enraged that they took off into the woods chasing their little sister, leaving their dead father to be found by their young boys.
“I know, boys, I know,” Earl said reassuringly. “I loved Pop as much as you did. That’s why I followed your dads out here. By the time I got here, they had already beaten that woman half to death. Lil was crying and screaming and I didn’t know what to do. They told me to drag her back to the house. She about clawed me to death getting her back up there, but I did it. Not long after that, your dads came out of the woods covered in mud and hair and blood. By dawn, Phil came and got her and they went off for a while.
You know, a couple weeks before Rick fired Tommy, I heard him talking all that devil worship shit to some of the guys, but I didn’t think anything of it. I guess I never took him seriously enough that I thought he would do something like this. I’m starting to think that maybe she was never as dead and buried as we thought she was.”
Rick was scared. “So even if this Diana did come back, what in the Hell can we do about it, Earl? Shit, our dads killed her and she was buried for 50 years and she still came back!”
Ed looked anxiously at the old man. Earl’s story rang true, except for Ed’s recollection of who came back and when. He remembered his dad and Rick’s dad bringing Lillith back to the house. It was Earl who came out of the woods later, covered in mud and hair and blood, or so Ed recalled. “No, that can’t be right, Ed thought to himself. Earl wouldn’t have any reason to lie about that.”