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The Whool

the whool


Estimated reading time — 57 minutes

EYE-WITNESS REPORT TRANSCRIPT

RUSTIC FARMS, NEW HAMPSHIRE DISCOVERY SITE

WITNESS: RICHARD A. FABIAN

I had always wanted to hike; like really hike. None of these trails or pathways. Those are too linear. When I was little, my dad took me through a forest, and it was the most exhilarating hike I’d ever been on. The animals we saw, the plants, the views…they remained unmatched in my mind for far too long.

I finally had a chance to take my son off trail yesterday morning. I told my wife we were going to stay on the clearest path, but after we parked, and I saw the woods, thoughts of that hike with my father came flooding back. I changed my mind quickly after that. The woods before us were thick, lush—-breathtaking. This was my chance to take my son on the adventure of a lifetime, the same way my father took me.

Had I known what we would eventually see…maybe I would have chosen to stay on the trails. No, I definitely would have.

We were off the trail for a solid two or three hours. Bryan was hanging in there; he may be young, but he was determined. I did ask him at one point if he’d rather go back to the trail, and he made me so proud by saying, “You don’t see the real wilderness from the trail, Dad.” It was something I’d told him before, and he remembered. We were both on the same page.

The first thing I saw was the old, mangled fence. It was rusted, and mostly smashed down to the ground, embedded in some weeds and grass. We followed the fence to a metal stake that once held it up right. We came across at least three or four more of those stakes before I saw the sign:

Rustic Farms, Population 3,622.

It was an old sign. The corners were rusted and flaking off. The ink the words were printed with was mostly faded, but still legible. There were two bullet holes through it as well. Target practice, or missed shots at something else—-that is up for debate. Curiosity got the best of me at that point. I’d never heard of Rustic Farms, and I’d been coming to this general area since I was very young.

We pressed forward on my instructions. We came, next, to the first skull. It was a dog’s skull, although I am not sure of the breed. After seeing a couple more bones scattered about, Bryan started to get nervous. He wanted to go back to the trail at this point, but selfishly I said the trail was too far to get back to right now. I said I wanted to see if there was anything else left of whatever Rustic Farms once was.

We continued through the woods for another fifteen or twenty minutes before I saw the first house. It was old, decrepit, and hidden within the trees. The growth of nature around it served as an almost perfect camouflage. We approached the house (I would have placed it maybe in the colonial times, but I’m not sure). There was broken glass outside of the door, maybe from a jar or bottle. The door had completely deteriorated, and the house seemed infested with bugs; termites probably, considering the heavy structural damage.

I told Bryan to stay outside while I took a quick look inside. I didn’t plan on going too far into the house; I may be adventurous, but I know an unstable floor when I see one. The house seemed frozen in time almost, from that colonial era. There were still candles on the tables, whittled cups, pots and pans…

I tripped over the bones. When I looked down, there was a human skeleton, laying on its back, looking up at me. It’s mouth was agape, and the skeleton appeared to have fused with the floorboards overtime. They’d become one.

I ran back out of the house, and saw Bryan a few yards away. I called for him, but he hurriedly waved me over to him. When I got beside him, he pointed at another hidden house, almost identical to the one I had just been in. I went out to this second house as well, where glass had also been shattered just outside the door. I peeked in, and even though it was dark inside, the sunlight was just enough for me to see more human skeletons.

We left immediately after that. When we finally got back into town, I called the authorities. I told them what I saw, and was asked to escort a small group of investigators to the location. It wasn’t long before an entire army of investigators and crime scene technicians swarmed the scene.

They uncovered a dozen more homes, shops, and horse stables within a few miles of where I took them. Rustic Farms appeared to have been a town that went extinct in modern times, without anyone even knowing about it. I wish I knew why. All those people were dead, and no one knew anything about them. It was sad.

Hopefully one day, the families of those Rustic Farms citizens will at least be made aware. It’s scary not knowing what happened there.

PART ONE

THREE YEARS LATER

It was a scorching summer. Even the playful music spinning from the ice cream truck wasn’t enough to lure the children out of their homes. The pavement sizzled, and the grass browned. The air was dry, and the drought in southern Wisconsin had finally taken its toll on the community.

At the age of thirty, Felix Rider had found himself living back in his parents house in Burrows, Wisconsin – a quiet farming community located fifty miles west of Madison. He sat at the kitchen table with the job listings open in front of him. He knew he’d probably have better luck searching online, but it didn’t hurt to look everywhere. A diamond in the rough was exactly what he was after.

Grace, his mother, hobbled into the kitchen with the help of a wooden cane. She stopped and watched her son finger through the pages. It wasn’t his fault the company he worked for went under. But it was definitely time to start looking hard again for work. His beard and hair were starting to remind her of a wild animal.

“Any luck?” she asked.

Felix was unaware his mother was there. He fixed his glasses, “I just started looking again.” He took a sip of his water, and gently sat it back down on the table. His mother joined him at the table. She was there for support; as a mother should be. But to Felix, she was lingering. Too close. At thirty years old, the last thing he expected to be doing was living in his parents basement. No job, no girlfriend, nowhere to live. This wasn’t the life he’d been hoping for.

Now he was home again, silently putting up with his mother’s lingering, and his father’s obsessive collecting (which one could argue bordered on hoarding). The garage was filled with – for a lack of a better term – crap. As was the attic. And if the basement didn’t need to be cleared out for his arrival three weeks ago, Felix was sure the basement would have been quite the disastrous sight as well.

Felix looked up at his mother, who smiled at him. “You sleep okay, Mom?”

“No. I don’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. Definitely before you were born,” she joked. Felix gave her a pity laugh, but he wasn’t really in the mood for jokes.

“How about you? Is the basement comfortable enough?”

Felix nodded. “I’m hoping not to be in your hair for much longer.”

“You’re not in our hair,” Grace smiled, resting her wrinkled hand on Felix’s. “It’s nice to have you home again. We don’t see nearly enough of you anymore. You have your own life in the big city.”

He politely pulled his hand away from under his mothers, and used it to grab his cup of water. He took another forced sip, and then sat it back down in the same wet ring he’d picked it up from.

The days seemed to drag. There wasn’t enough to do around Burrows, and the extreme heat made it difficult to even get out of the house. But Felix forced himself to. He’d rather suffer through the heat, then be confined to the house where his parents were. They weren’t bad people, but he had already done his time. As it was, he didn’t even make them empty nesters until he was in his early twenties. A delay in ambition on his part was to blame. But when he finally broke free, he never planned to come back. Life blindsided him.

Felix walked through the old town of Burrows. It was quite small, but appropriate for the size of the population. It was a farming town, and exported corn and wheat almost daily during the prime seasons. Burrows was widely known for the Mason Dairy Farm; the town’s flagship industry. But with the drought, most of the crops had died, and the farmers couldn’t do much until a heavy rain would fall. That left the cows on the dairy farm struggling to eat appropriately, which severely hindered the milk supply.

Aside from a couple of cars that passed him by, he didn’t see many other people out and about. Felix walked to the corner where an ice cream shop sat. There was a help wanted sign in the window, but he wasn’t that desperate yet. He looked through the pane glass window and saw the old man inside, smiling and waving him in.

Eh, what the hell? Felix thought. He walked into the shop and the bells chimed. It was much cooler inside, which was a refeif, but he wasn’t much of an ice cream guy.

“You’re my first customer today,” the old man smiled.

“And you lured me in,” Felix laughed.

“Buy a scope, and I’ll slap another one on for free.”

Felix stood at the counter and looked at the dozen or more flavors beneath the glass. It was colorful, but still not incredibly appealing. Felix was more of a chips and salsa guy, than one for the sweets. He kept it as simple as possible.

“Vanilla, please.”

“You got it!”

The old man happily prepared the waffle cone with two scoops, just as he promised. He even added sprinkles and whipped cream, and topped it off with a dripping cherry from a plastic jar.

Felix finished the cone in minutes after leaving the shop. He used the napkin the old man supplied to white the drips off of his hand, and disposed of it in a public trash can at the corner. He looked around, contemplating his next move, but he couldn’t think of one. Boredom was a huge factor in him leaving Burrows to begin with. It was all coming back to him now.

He walked back to his family’s farm, only about a quarter of a mile from downtown Burrows, and saw a mail truck parked in front. The mail carrier – a middle-aged woman wearing the standard blue cotton uniform – stood at the front door holding a dark box and a stack of mail that was rubber banded together. It looked like she’d been standing there for some time, but neither of his parents were answering the door.

Felix picked up his pace in an attempt to keep the woman from waiting any longer than she had too. “Hey there!” he called out. The mail carrier turned and looked. “Sorry, it’s my parents house. Are they not answering?”

“No, I’ve waited longer than I probably should,” the woman said. “This package needs a signature though. I was hoping to catch them.”

“I’m Felix. Their son. I can sign for it.”

The carrier handed Felix the scanner and he signed his name. The device beeped after accepting the signature, and he handed it back to her.

“Thank you,” she said with a warm smile. “Have a nice day, now.”

“You as well.”

The mail carrier climbed back into her little box truck, started the engine, and drove off. Felix stood at the door with the dark box and letters in his grip.

He sat the mail down on the kitchen table, and pushed the letters aside. The package interested him more. It was wrapped in black paper that appeared to be folded and creased many times over. A white sticker had the package addressed to Francis Rider, and the return address was from someone named JuniperRose – definitely an ebay seller of some kind.

Felix shook his head, wondering what kind of garbage his father had ordered this time. Speaking of which, where are they? he wondered. He walked to the living room but didn’t see anyone. He then went to the bottom of the stairs.

“Mom? Dad?”

There was no answer from either of them. A loud thud then grabbed his attention, and he rushed to the side window. He pulled the curtains back and saw his dad standing out at the barn, holding his arm – which appeared to be red. Fearing the worst, Felix rushed outside.

His dad was working in the barn, trying to fix a gate, when he sliced his forearm against an exposed nail. Felix hurried to grab the cleanest rag he could find and wrapped it around his dad’s arm. “Are you okay? What happened?”

His dad laughed. “Just clumsy these days.”

Felix looked into the barn at the wooded gate his father had been working on. It wasn’t as pristine as his past work. It was crooked and the nails were bent, so they didn’t go all the way in. Felix looked back at his father.

He was older – definitely not the man he used to be. But age was the culprit here. He’d been losing his hair for quite some time (something that Felilx feared for himself as well as each year ticked by), and was slow to get around. His eyes looked permanently tired, and he had a slight shake in his hand that made Felix a little nervous.

“Let’s get you inside, dad. I’ll help you clean this up.”

Felix helped his father through the yard and into the house. At the kitchen sink, where the wound was tended to, Felix wrapped his dad’s arm in a bandage he found under the sink. He dried off the area around the bandage one more time, and helped his dad sit down in a chair at the table.

“Where’s Mom?”

“I think her Rosemary picked her up for lunch.”

Felix nodded. Rosemary had been his mother’s best friend since the seventies. At least he knew she was in good hands. Francis finally noticed the box on the table, wrapped in the black, crinkly paper. “What’s this?”

“Came in the mail. Looks like an ebay order.”

Francis pulled the package closer and saw it was from JuniperRose. He smiled. “It is. It’s a collection from the Rustic Farms discovery.”

Felix looked confused. “What’s that?”

His dad’s eyes lit up. “It was a fantastic find a few years back. Historic, really. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it.”

Francis tore through the black paper to reveal a sealed cardboard box. As he opened the box, he explained:

“A few years ago, a father and son were hiking deep in a New England forest. They came across the remains of an old town, completely unknown to anyone. It was overgrown, and infested with bugs and animals. It’s like the town had gone completely extinct.”

“Rustic Farms? That was the town name?”

“Yes. They found a sign. Then they found homes, and bones…but no explanation. They dated the town back to the 1800s.”

Francis opened the box to reveal a small grouping of individually sealed items. Felix looked in with curiosity.

“They didn’t know what to do with the recovered items from the town; anything that wasn’t interesting or important that is. They auctioned them all off, and now this guy, JuniperRose, sells grab bag groupings of the items. Basically keepsakes for anyone to claim they own mysterious pieces of history.”

Francis pulled out the first sealed item. It was a candle; half melted, wrapped in a golden twine. Francis smiled at it, and then set it aside before pulling out a wooden spoon, The spoon was bent very unnaturally (possibly due to aging and deterioration). He set it aside as well, and then pulled out what appeared to be a baseball sized marble. It swirled with many colors – most of them darker – and seemed to rattle, like it held smaller marbles or other items inside of it. Francis sat it down and reached in for the last item.

Felix picked up the sealed marble and looked at it carefully. “Dad, how much did you spend on this crap?”

“It’s not crap. It’s part of an unknown place in North American history. This stuff will be very sought after one day. And we’ll own it.”

Although Felix didn’t agree with the desperate purchase, it wasn’t his money. He looked the marble all over, gently shaking it to hear the things inside. He noticed the exterior of the marble was fully intact. “How did they seal this? I don’t see where it was put together.”

“I don’t know,” Francis said, not even paying attention. He was too busy looking at the last item – a rusted pair of scissors that seemed cracked or broken in numerous spots.

Felix shook his head, and sat the marble back down. Francis was more than pleased with his package. He put everything back in the box and folded the top back over. “I’ll probably order more of these.”

“I’m sure you will.”

As the evening settled over Burrows, Grace came home and prepared chicken stew for dinner. The three of them ate the stew and homemade bread, and each retired to their rooms for the night. When Felix walked down the creaking steps to his basement room, he saw the box of Rustic Farms items. It had begun – his space was being taken over by his father’s compulsive hoarding. I wonder when he’ll ever look into this box again, Felix thought.

He picked up the box and moved it to the back room where the water heater was. He sat it on the floor, closed the door, and plopped down on his bed. The days were blending together. Tomorrow would be another day to look for a job. Tomorrow would be another day with the hopes of leaving his parents house once again.

He closed his eyes as darkness fell over Burrows.

| | | | |

Felix was awoken suddenly to the sound of his mother screaming and stumbling across the floor above him, ending with a loud thud. He ripped the covers off and flew up the stairs to his mother’s aid.

The first thing he saw was blood on the floor, and stained on the carpet. He saw his mother on the floor, propped up against the wall near the television. Her cane was a few feet away, and he saw the blood coming from her feet. He quickly was able to follow the bloody footprints back to the open front door.

He rushed to her side and helped her into the closest chair. “Are you okay?”

Grace was crying. “It hurts.”

He looked at the bottom of her feet where small shards of glass were stuck right into the skin. He didn’t understand. “What happened?” He looked back at the front door, catching a glimpse of the shimmering broken glass on the doormat outside.

“I didn’t even see it there,” Grace said of the broken glass. “It must have fallen out of the trash can when your father took it out yesterday.”

“That was in the afternoon,” Felix said. “Was it there when you came home last night?”

“I don’t think so…” she winced, as the blood continued to steadily trickle out of the bottoms of her feet.

“I need to take you to the doctor.” Felix stood up and went to the front door. The glass looked like the remnants of a bottle. The bottom part of it was still mostly intact, but the top part was shattered and speckled with Grace’s blood.

An odor entered Felix’s nostrils – a sour, rotten scent. He cringed at the overwhelming stench, and then quickly brushed it aside in order to help his mother.

Doctor Hummel – a local family doctor so close to retirement – extracted the glass from Grace’s feet, stitched them where necessary, and bandaged them up. He suppliped her with a wheelchair to borrow, and suggested she stayed off her feet for a few days until the tenderness went away.

“I’ll write a prescription to the pharmacy for some painkillers, Grace,” Dr. Hummel said. “Those should do wonders for you.”

“Thank you, Dr. Hummel,” Grace said with an appreciative smile. He nodded, and scribbled on a prescription pad. He sloppily signed his name and handed Felix the slip.

“Pamper your mother, Felix,” Hummel said. “I want her on the couch, or bed, with a good TV movie, and some soup. Rest is the best medicine.”

Felix nodded with a smile. He folded the slip and stuffed it in his pocket. “Thank you.”

Felix wheeled Grace to the car where Francis kept the air conditioning running. Felix struggled to help his mother into the passenger seat, but eventually succeeded without the help of his father. Francis remained in the driver’s seat, listening to the weather report on the radio.

Felix folded up the wheelchair, popped it in the trunk, and climbed into the back seat.

“No end in sight, Felix,” Francis said.

“What do you mean?”

“The drought. Weatherman says at least another five days of heat. We’re all doomed to die this summer,” Francis laughed.

“Mom’s going to be okay,” Felix said, annoyed that his father didn’t even ask or acknowledge her being back in the car. “Rest and painkillers.”

Francis looked to his wife with a smile. “Good to hear, honey.”

She smiled back, almost like she expected that kind of response from him. As Francis shifted the car into drive and pulled away from the curb, Felix looked out the window as a young man was helping his wife out of the passenger seat of another car. Her feet appeared to have been covered in blood as well.

Strange, Felix thought.

Grace was set up on the couch, in front of a Lifetime original movie, and left over chicken stew.

“Do you need anything else right now, mom?”

She smiled. “I should be okay. I have the bell.” She playfully shook the small bell on the table next her.

“I’ll be in as soon as you ring it.”

She sat the bell back down and Felix left the room. He went to the kitchen where he poured himself a glass of fresh lemonade, and drank it at the window. He watched as his father walked into the barn with a shovel.

Curious, he thought.

Felix walked into the barn and saw his father sitting on a bail of hay with the dirty shovel in his hand. He looked tired, or confused.

“Dad? Are you okay?”

Francis looked up. His eyes were bloodshot, and his pupils were large. Concerned, Felix rushed to his father’s side. “What’s wrong?”

“Just a little tired,” his father said. “Farm life has taken its toll on this old man.”

“What were you doing?”

Francis looked around and drew a blank. He looked at the shovel and saw dirt caked onto the chipped spade, but couldn’t for the life of him remember why he had it.

His father’s silence said everything. Felix feared this day – the day his parents would eventually go down hill. Their health was not what it used to be, and it was becoming clear that they wouldn’t be able to live on their own much longer.

A cool breeze blew through the open barn door, and brought momentary relief from the extreme heat. But it also carried the same sour odor Felix had smelled that morning.

“What’s that smell, Dad?”

Francis sniffed the air and made a strange face. “It’s terrible. Like sour milk, or something.”

“Smells like something’s dead out there. Have you killed any animals on the farm in the past few days?”

Francis shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Felix walked to the barn door and looked around the farm. Nothing stood out to him as abnormal. The trees blew gently, and the weathervane gently swayed on the roof of the house.

If Burrows couldn’t have cooler temperatures, or even just rain, a breeze here and there was more than welcome. If only that stench didn’t have to accompany it…

| | | | |

“They’re not in good shape,” Felix said over the phone. “I’m starting to think I’m going to be here longer than I wanted to be.”

“Well, the city misses you Flex,” the man on the other line said. It was Erick Humphrey – Felix’s best friend from Green Bay (where he’d traveled from after losing his job). “Packer’s are starting the preseason in two weeks. Any way you’ll be back for the first game?”

Felix sighed. “Doubt it. I’ll probably just have to watch the grainy video from here. The reception out here is terrible, Erick. Burrows is from another time.”

“I wish I was there with you,” Erick said, and then laughed.

“Very funny.” Felix looked around the basement – which was only half finished. It was cooler down there than the rest of the house, but musty. A small box TV sat on top of two old milk crates that were stacked on top of one another. The exposed lightbulb hanging from the ceiling was starting to lose its brightness, and the walls had random cracks here and there. The bed was the only thing even remotely comfortable about the room. “I have to get out here, man.”

“Pudgies is hiring a full-time bartender,” Erick said.

“Pudgies?” Felix laughed. “Like the bar we frequent for games?”

“Just a suggestion, man. You’d get killer tips – especially on ladies night. Drunk girls tossing money around to the handsome bartender? You’d clean up.”

Felix confidently shook his head. “No. I am not going from a money bags position at Tech Corp, to passing drinks down a dirty bar to drunks who don’t even know exactly how drunk they are.”

Erick sighed on the other line. “You’re too picky, Flex. Lower your standards, pal.”

“I’ll find a job on my own, Erick, thank you,” Felix snapped.

An uncomfortable silence flooded the phone.

“I have to go,” Felix said, and hung up before Erick could even say goodbye. He slapped his phone down on the bed and stared up at the lightbulb which seemed to be dimming quickly. A quick flash inside the bulb blew it out, and the room fell into darkness.

He then heard the bell from his mother upstairs. Felix closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This is my life now, he thought. The bell rang again. “Coming!”

Felix walked through the living room where the room was darker than he thought it would be for only being the late afternoon. He noticed all the lights were out; he noticed the silence.

“Mom?”

“The TV went out, Felix,” she groggily said from the chair. He walked to the TV and saw it was still plugged in.

“Power must be out. The light downstairs blew too.” Felix walked to the window, where he saw dark clouds slowly crawling across the sky in the distance. “Huh, the weatherman was wrong.”

“What?” Grace asked.

“The weatherman on the radio. He said the drought would continue. I see dark clouds coming. It might rain; maybe even a storm.”

Grace didn’t respond. Felix turned around.

“Mom?” he said. He walked closer and saw her face. She looked sick; she was as pale as a ghost, and beads of sweat had formed on her forehead. “Mom?” He looked to her feet and saw blood had saturated through the bandages.

Felix quickly grabbed a blanket off the back of the couch and wrapped it around her feet. “Alright,” he said, trying to remain calm. “I think the cuts are infected. I’m going to call Dr. Hummel. Mom?”

He moved her head around, but she wasn’t responding. “Mom?” He tried again, more frantically. “Dad!” he called out loudly.

Francis emerged from the kitchen, seemingly disoriented. “Everything okay?” he slurred.

“Dad?”

Francis stumbled into the living room, and collapsed into the coffee table, breaking it in half and crumbling to the floor. “Dad!”

Felix sat his father up, and tried to snap him back into consciousness, but it was no use. Francis passed out, and Felix gently laid him back onto the floor. He rushed back to Grace, and she had also completely passed out. The blood was soaking through the blanket and pooling on the floor beneath her.

Felix dialed 9-1-1 on his phone.

When the paramedics arrived, they told Felix to wait outside. An old pickup truck pulled up in front of the house, and the small town Dr. Hummel climbed out, rushing up to the porch.

“What’s happened?” Hummel asked.

“I think my mom had an infection. She started bleeding everywhere and passed out. Something was wrong with my dad too. He passed out also.”

“Had he been hurt?”

“No…wait. He did cut himself on a nail yesterday, but it wasn’t very deep. And come to think of it, he seemed disoriented earlier today too. Like he forgot where he was and what he was doing.”

“Huh,” Dr. Hummel mumbled. He looked into the house to see if the paramedics had assessed the couple yet.

“Dr. Hummel, did you have another patient after us with cuts to their feet too?”

“That’s confidential information,” Dr. Hummel said. His look then told Felix everything he needed to know; he put two and two together and found the similar injuries odd.

“Was it glass? On a porch, by chance?”

Hummel looked right into Felix’s eyes. It was a strange revelation. One of the paramedics emerged from the house and put his hand on Felix’s shoulder. He looked deeply bothered.

“Are they okay?” Felix asked.

“They didn’t make it, Mr. Rider,” the paramedic said.

Felix didn’t understand. “What? They…they’re…”

“They’ve passed on.”

Felix was overcome by a million thoughts. He started to tremble, and dropped to his knees. “Both of them?” he softly mouthed to himself.

A distant rumble of thunder brought his attention back to the dark clouds in the distance. The paramedic looked up and saw dull flashes of lightning within the clouds.

“We need to get them out of here,” the paramedic said.

“I can call the coroner for you,” Hummel said, remaining sympathetic. Felix remained on his knees, unable to focus his emotions on just one.

The clouds inched closer to Burrows, making the sky darker and darker by the minute. Two hours had passed since his parents were both pronounced dead, and Felix remained in the house, gathering cleaning chemicals to get the blood out of the carpet. It seemed sick that he was responsible for this part of it. But, Burrows wasn’t a big city like Green Bay – they didn’t have the forensic resources.

A soft beep echoed through the quiet house, and Felix recognized it immediately. It was his phone losing battery power. He grabbed it off the counter and plugged it into the wall to charge, but it didn’t connect. The power was still out. He tore it out of the wall and collapsed to the ground, scooting back against the wall, and finally broke down.

Felix cried and sulked. His stomach hurt from the crying and the pain of the unexpected events of the day. His parents were gone – what were the chances of both of them passing at the same time? It doesn’t make sense, he thought.

A rumble of thunder in the distance lightly shook the house. The dishes in the kitchen cabinet rattled, and Felix looked to the window. It was becoming darker. He stood up and made his way to the front door. He opened it, quickly looking at the welcome mat where the glass had been, and then looked across his parents’ land, and at the black clouds maliciously lurking in the sky.

The dead cornfield swayed gently in the breeze, and the homemade windchimes jingled on the porch. The old, wooden windmill out in the field started to spin, and then turn. It faced the farmhouse, and the blades picked up speed. A familiar sour stench crawled across the farm, and hit Felix’s senses with an unforgiving punch. He covered his mouth and nose, and rushed back into the house. He closed the door and locked it – he became overwhelmed with a feeling of dread; like something bad was about to happen.

The clouds outside were as black as night, and the odor that filled the farm was nauseating. Felix could hear the windchimes clashing back and forth, back and forth, and then a snap sent them crashing to the wooden planks of the porch.

An emergency alert sent his cell phone dancing across the floor with the sudden, sporadic vibrations. He grabbed the phone from the ground and looked at the red alert screen.

This is an alert from the National…the screen glitched and went black before he could read the rest. A loud, earth-shaking clap of thunder sent Felix’s heart almost through his chest. He jumped, and frantically looked around. He rushed to the window and saw the entire sky had become black; overtaken by the strange clouds.

His heartbeat picked up; Felix could hear it in his ears. Thump, thump. Thump,. His jaw trembled, and he became scared…frightened. He’d never been afraid of storms before. Why was this one any different? Felix dashed for the basement door, and shuffled rapidly down the stairs and into the darkness below the house. He climbed into bed and threw the blankets over his head, shivering in fear beneath them.

It was what a child would do, not a grown man in the real world. But this didn’t feel like the real world. Felix was overcome with a surreal sensation; he’d become dizzy. His vision was spinning, dipping in and out of blurriness. He closed his eyes and felt like he was falling.

“Help!” he tried to call out, but not even he could hear his own voice screaming. A searing pain then sliced through his head, snapped a nerve, and everything went silent.

| | | | |

It was an unbalanced shuffling noise across the floor that woke him. It bothered him because there was supposed to be no one else in the house. Felix awoke, but didn’t open his eyes just yet. They were still heavy, and he felt nauseous. He was hot, breathing in and out under the heavy blankets for what felt like hours. It smelled musty; like sweat.

The shuffling noise seemed to pass by him as he continued to lay under the sheets on his bed. Whatever it was, was slow moving, which stood out even more because of the overwhelming silence that surrounded him. He didn’t even hear the thunder anymore. He did hear a beep though – from his phone upstairs. It hadn’t completely died yet.

Felix thought about his parents. Were they still dead? Or was this just one terrible dream that he was finally waking up from. It all could have been passed off as a dream; his current life state, his parents’ sudden passing, the scary-as-hell storm that came out of nowhere.

Whatever was shuffling across the floor bumped into something, and it rattled. Maybe the TV on the milk crates? Felix knew he was awake now, so that noise was not a dream. It was real, and something was in the basement with him. He tried to lift his arm to pull the sheets back, but they too, were heavy – like bags of wet sand. He could barely move a muscle. They were locked up on him.

He then heard the door to the backroom creak open, painfully slow. Was it someone who came to check on him after the storm? An intruder? An animal?

“Hello?” Felix tried to call out, but no words were vocalized. His body was shut down. He couldn’t move or speak, but it wasn’t on his own. Something was keeping him from communicating. If it was someone there to help, they were looking in the wrong place. There was nothing in that backroom except junk his father had collected over the years.

“Help,” Felix tried to say again, but barely had the strength to even open his mouth. He began to feel tired again; the stress of the situation brought on a strong fatigue. His vision blurred again, and his mind began to spin.

Felix passed out again.

“Felix? Are you home?” a man’s voice called. In his dreamstate, Felix thought it was the voice of his father, but after it woke him up, he heard it again…

”Felix?”…and he knew it wasn’t his father’s voice.

Felix sat up in his bed, and the sheets fell off him. They were soaked with sweat, and he felt clammy himself. He looked around the basement where sunlight was hazily coming through a small window high on the wall. It was morning. The storm, or whatever it was, was over.

The nauseous feeling he’d felt all night was also gone, and now he was just hungry. He looked across the basement and saw the backroom door was wide open, and then he remembered the shuffling noise. Felix climbed out of bed and walked over to the backroom, peeking in. It was dark and quiet. He reached for the lightswitch just inside the door and flipped it.

Nothing. He flipped it back and forth multiple times with the same results. The power was still out.

“Felix? Are you here?” he heard the man’s voice again, this time along with the floor creaking above him. He recognized the voice now. It was Dr. Hummel’s voice.

Felix rushed upstairs and saw Dr. Hummel standing in the living room, next to the couch where his mother had died a day earlier. Felix was still trying to shake off the confusion from the night.

“What are you doing here?” Felix asked.

Dr. Hummel stepped closer to Felix, looking him up and down with obvious concern. “You look terrible. Are you sick? Sit down, Felix.”

The friendly doctor helped Felix sit down on the couch, and then started to visually examine him. “You look like hell, kid,” he said.

“Rough night, I guess.”

“Let me get you some water.”

Dr. Hummel went to the kitchen and grabbed a glass from the cabinet. He filled it halfway with water from the tap, and brought it back to Felix. Felix took a sip, and didn’t even realize how dry his mouth was until the water touched it. It was refreshing, and even though it was a small amount, it was rejuvinating.

“Are you okay?” Dr. Hummel asked again.

Felix nodded.

“I was worried about you…after yesterday,” Hummel said. “Power’s out all over town, and you weren’t answering your cell phone. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Felix looked to the floor where his phone was. It was close enough that he was able to lean down and pick it up. He tapped the screen a couple times, and pressed the buttons on the side. It had finally died.

“What kind of storm was that last night?” Felix asked. “I think I passed out.”

“Not sure, actually. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was dark as hell, though. There was loud thunder, some strong winds, but that was it.”

“No rain?”

Hummel chuckled. “We didn’t get that lucky.”

Felix took another sip of water.

“Was there anyone else here with you last night?”

“No. Why?”

“The front door was wide open when I got here a bit ago. And that was sitting out there on your welcome mat.” Hummel pointed to a small table by the front door. There was a small glass bottle. Felix gawked at it, and stood up. He slowly approached it and picked it up.

It was a milk bottle – a couple centuries old if he had to guess. There was a dried white substance around the interior ring at the bottom of it. He put the open bottle to his nose and sniffed. His senses were immediately struck by a foul stench, and he viciously turned his head away from it. It was unmistakably sour milk; very reminiscent of the odor he had smelled around the farm, only stronger because of its contained quarters within the bottle.

Disgusted, he put it back on the table and turned to the doctor. “It was just sitting out there?”

“Yes.”

“My mom stepped on glass yesterday – she probably stepped on a bottle and shattered it. That’s what cut her.”

Hummel finally caved. “There were multiple cases yesterday of people stepping on glass. They sound clumsy, or oblivious, but there’s no door-to-door milk delivery these days. No one would expect that.”

“Who’s leaving old milk bottles on porches?”

Dr. Hummel was just as stumped as Felix.

“Have you checked on those other patients since you saw them?”

“No, I haven’t been into the office yet.”

Felix was overcome again with worry and dread. It rushed over him like an ocean, and in the pit of his stomach, he felt those other patients needed to be checked on right away. “Let’s go to your office.”

Hummel was confused. “Why?”

“I want you to check on the other patients. Make sure they didn’t get the infection like my mom did.”

Hummel nodded. Felix’s concern started to bleed into his own mind, and now he needed to know as well. He stood up from the couch and pulled his keys from his pocket.

Traffic was congested throughout Burrows; the street lights were out, and everyone was left to create their own order while driving through town. Hummel drove his truck through Burrows and parked along the side of the road, just outside of his small corner office.

Hummel and Felix hopped out of the truck and walked briskly to the front door of the office, which had been repurposed from a house at one point. The shutters on the windows and the porch swing by the door made it more of a cozy experience. They walked through the front door and a young female receptionist greeted the two men with a friendly smile.

“Good morning, Dr. Hummel,” she said, eyeing Felix next.

“Good morning, Sara. Anyone come in yet?”

Sara shook her head. “No. The phones and computers are down. Everything’s down – it’s kind of crazy,” she laughed.

“Were there any messages from last night? Before the power went out?”

“I don’t know. If there was, I wouldn’t be able to access them now.”

“Who were the other two patients with the gashes on their feet yesterday?”

Sara looked at Felix – she remembered him now. He’d brought his mother in for a similar injury. “Um…” Sara sifted through a stack of files on her desk. She found one almost immediately, and found the second one near the bottom of the stack. She handed the files to Hummel. “These were the other two, aside from Grace Rider.”

Hummel read the names on the front of the file:

“Gary Luther, and Regina Kallie.” He looked at Felix and said, “Come on.”

With the two files in hand, Hummel walked back out of the office with Felix following him like a puppy.

They drove across town, to Gary Luther’s farm. He was a lone wheat farmer, who coincidentally had a field which backed up to the Rider’s farm. Dr. Hummel parked his truck next to a larger truck, and the two men climbed out.

The farm was quiet. There didn’t seem to be any wind coming across the land, so the windmill stood still, and the wind chimes on either side of the covered porch appeared frozen in time.

A few chickens clucked from the henhouse around the side of Gary’s home, and Felix noticed horses grazing in the mostly dead field of wheat.

The front door to the house was open, so Dr. Hummel and Felix ascended the porch steps cautiously. At the doorway, they were met with yet another disgusting odor. This one was more decay, and less sour. Hummel knew the odor immediately, and his professional experience told him what he would be walking in on.

“Stay here,” the doctor said.

“But, what is—”

“Please, Felix. Stay here.”

Hummel was pleading, so Felix reluctantly obliged, and backed up. He watched as the doctor slowly crept into the house, carefully watching his footing, and disappeared around the corner. Felix stood back, and glanced out amongst the land. The farm was set up similar to his family’s, but was by far larger. The wheat fields stretched way off into the horizon, and became one with the sky. Gary Luther even had scarecrows perched every couple acres or so; something that his parents never bothered to do. His mom never liked the looks of them. They’re too scary, she would say. But wasn’t that the point?

Dr. Hummel came back out from inside the house. He held a handkerchief over his mouth and nose. Felix knew what the damage was, but Dr. Hummel confirmed it:

“He’s dead. On the floor.”

Felix poked his head in the door anyway and saw Gary Luther, a middle-aged, lifetime farmer, dead on the floor. Blood was pooled beneath his feet, and his body had succumbed to rigor mortis. He lay on his back with his hands sticking up like bent claws. His eyes were closed, his mouth was closed, and flies buzzed around the corpse.

Felix fled back down the porch. “We need to tell the police.”

“We need to check Regina Kallie,” Dr. Hummel firmly stated. He wanted all the facts before the local law enforcement be

The drive to Regina’s house was eerily quick. Out of Gary Luther’s driveway, a sharp left turn, and a quarter of a mile south, took them right to the Kallie household. It was at the edge of a small housing development known as Feather Falls.

The mailbox with the flag still up, and ‘Kallie’ printed on the side, told them they were in the right place. Dr. Hummel parked along the curb, and right away they saw a man standing in the front yard, watering a potted plant by the front steps. As Felix and the doctor approached the man, he recognized Hummel.

“Dr. Hummel?” the man asked, concerned by his seemingly random appearance.

Hummel extended his hand and shook the young man’s. “Timothy Kallie, correct?”

Timothy nodded.

“How’s your wife?”

“She’s resting,” Timothy said. He sat the watering can down on the porch and then curiously looked at Felix, and then the doctor again. “Do you normally do unannounced follow up’s at your patients homes?”

“No. I just have specific concerns about Regina’s health. Has she shown any signs of infection? Or has the bleeding started again?”

Timothy shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of. She wanted to rest, you know, take a little nap. So I came out here and started doing some yard work, since that storm last night failed to give us any rain.”

“May I see her, Timothy?”

Timothy grew uneasy. He was worried about the attention Dr. Hummel was putting on his wife.

“She was fine ten minutes ago, Doc. If anything changes, I’ll call you.”

“Power’s out all over town,” Felix added. Timothy faced him next.

“And what business do you have seeing my wife?”

Felix didn’t respond. Timothy turned back to the doctor one last time.

“I’ll call you if we need you, Dr. Hummel. I appreciate your concern. Have a good day.”

Mr. Kallie shot Felix an evil eye, and then picked up the watering can again. He went about his yard work, and Dr. Hummel climbed back into the truck with his passenger.

“What now?” Felix asked.

Hummel took a deep breath. “I don’t know. Something does seem off though. Something’s wrong here in Burrows.”

Felix looked out the window and watched as Timothy watered the plants. A woman next door exited her house with her dog on a leash, and began to speed walk down the sidewalk. A flock of birds flew overhead, and as they cleared the large Feather Falls sign, Felix noticed the dark clouds again, creeping just over the horizon.

“Look,” he said. Hummel leaned forward and looked out the passenger window. He saw the clouds too. They were pitch black – not like normal storm clouds.

“I have to go to the police department to inform them about Gary Luther,” Hummel said. “I’ll drop you off back at your house first.”

“Ok,” Felix said. He sat back in his seat, and Hummel pulled away from the curb.

| | | | |

Dr. Hummel dropped Felix off by his front porch, and then drove away. Felix watched as the rocks and dirt were kicked up by the bald tires on the old truck, leaving a dusty trail in his wake as he disappeared around the bend.

The dark clouds approached quicker this time, bringing the expected sudden gusts of wind. The windmill swayed out in the field, and the porch swing started to rock back and forth; its metal hinges creaking loudly, and in desperate need of WD-40.

Felix went inside and closed the door. Habit told him to flip the lightswitch, but when the lights didn’t come on, he remembered. Why is the power even out? he thought. There was no lightning last night. There was certainly a curious string of events taking place, but they were all so hard to make sense of; hard to even believe.

The blood stain on the carpet made it all feel real though. His mother’s blood. It had poured from the gashes in her feet. Gashes brought on by the shattered glass of a centuries old milk bottle randomly placed at their doorstep.

Felix thought for a moment. Who would have access to those bottles? There was only one dairy farm in town, and it was run by Stitch Mason and his boys. If anyone would have access to vintage milk bottles, like the ones showing up around town, it’d be them for sure.

A rumble of thunder shook the house. Felix looked out the window; the sky was pitch black again. Felix studied the clouds more closely this time. They were long and wispy; thousands of wispy strands made up the darkness above. They moved in so fast, commanding with the thunder that boomed from them. But aside from the wind, they didn’t do anything else. No lightning, no funnel clouds, no precipitation…nothing. What was the purpose of them, and where did they come from? They most certainly weren’t a normal act of nature.

The clouds encapsulated the entire sky; at least, as far as Felix could see. The darkness outside heavily shadowed the interior of the Rider home. And then, just like that, the wind stopped.

The porch swing stopped creaking. The wind chimes fell silent. Felix was left in the dark house with the overwhelming quiet. He could hear his heartbeat throbbing in his ears again; and it was picking up as the seconds crawled by. He started to feel the fear and dread again. The feeling was becoming too familiar, and made Felix uncomfortable.

As the dread built inside of him, threatening to blow at any moment, that’s when the silence was broken.

From outside, a distant cry emerged…like a soft, extended howl from a wolf. But only it wasn’t a wolf. It was distorted into an unnatural pitch and tone. It was animal-like, but Felix couldn’t completely convince himself it was coming from an animal.

Felix slowly approached the side window, and looked out in the night-like darkness. Only subtle outlines of things could be seen. The edge of the barn, a slight reflection off of the windmill blades from who knew where…

As his eyes adjusted, he focused on the cornfield. It was as still as a painting. He could make out the outline of the corn stalks, as well as the tractor sitting at the edge of the field. Then, some of the stalks moved. They crinkled and crunched, and sounded like they were right next to him.

He watched from the house as a small section of the stalks at the edge began to bend forward, out from the rest of the field. The strange noise was back. It expressed itself like a high-pitched wind, howling through something hollow:

Whhoooool…

The sound sent chills throughout Felix’s body, making it feel like he was standing naked in below freezing temperatures. His nerves teetered on the edge, but he couldn’t remove his eyes from the contorting corn stalks.

The whool sound grew louder as the stalks continued to bend and crack, and finally snap. Long, dark appendages began to emerge from behind the bending crops, slithering out like snakes or tentacles, and waving in slow motion. Felix shot back away from the window and put his back against the wall. The whool sounded off again, even louder this time, shattering his nerves completely.

What the hell is that? Felix’s thoughts were a knot of frantic versions of the same question. It wasn’t normal…none of this was. He crouched down between the couch and the wall, and tried to remain hidden in the shadows from whatever was creeping out of the cornfield. The whool seemed to fade out to silence again. Not even the crickets were chirping.

Felix remained hidden. Just because he couldn’t hear it anymore, didn’t mean it wasn’t still out there. The minutes began to go by, slowly at first, and then a little quicker. A cautious sense of relief fell over him, but he was still too nervous to stand from his spot.

There was a thud on the front porch, followed by a dragging sound. And then it stopped. Felix tightened back up, trying to prepare for a sudden escape if the need were to arrive.

Another thud hit the wooden floor of the porch outside, and was once again followed up by a dragging sound.

Thud. Drag. Thud. Drag.

Felix could tell it was moving across the porch, and getting closer to the front door. He’d forgotten to lock it…

Felix’s muscles tensed up as he thought briefly about sneaking over to lock it, but then stopped. He wasn’t sure it was worth the risk.

Thud. Drag.

It was now directly outside of the front door. It wasn’t moving, but he could hear the floorboards creaking beneath its weight as it just stood there. Does it know I’m here? Felix thought as his heart raced.

The whooool erupted again, startling Felix to his feet. It was louder, and bolder than before; it was much more menacing. Felix looked to his left and saw the door to the basement was open. He risked it, and ran for the doorway. He clambered down the basement stairs and into the room.

The first thing he noticed was the confusing glow in the room. It was a dull yellow, but he couldn’t see where it was even coming from. Everything was hazy, but he could see well enough.

The second thing he noticed was even more confusing. Standing by the foot of his twin bed, was a boy. He wore a tattered cream-colored shirt, with brown overalls pulled up over it. His shoes were dirty with caked-on mud, and his hair was greasy. He didn’t appear well kept.

“Where is it, mister?” The boy politely asked. Felix was in total shock – he didn’t know this boy, or have any idea what he was referring to.

“Where is it?” The boy softly repeated. His voice was hollow, and didn’t have any emotion behind it.

Felix slowly shook his head, not even believing his own eyes. “How’d you get in here…” Felix nervously asked; his voice trapped in a trembling whisper.

The boy smiled, but it wasn’t genuine. His eyes appeared black. “Francis let me in.”

Felix turned and saw his father standing at the bottom of the wooden stairs, gripping something in his hand. He was completely pale, and looked all wrong. This wasn’t this father.

“Don’t tell it,” Francis whispered without moving his mouth. Felix didn’t understand. He snapped his head back to the boy…who was gone, and replaced by a hulking, smoky, distorted figure shrouded in black.

“TELL IT!” it angrily gurgled in a deep, hellish tone. Felix forced himself back into the wall, and dashed up the basement stairs as fast as he could, scared to death that the creeping horror behind him was only inches from grabbing him by the ankles and pulling him back down into the dark abyss.

He shook uncontrollably as he burst into the living room, and sloppily stumbled across the room to the front door. He threw the door open and rushed outside where he was stopped by Dr. Hummel standing on the porch, facing him like a statue. He looked fake; like a wax figure of himself.

“Dr. Hummel?” Felix stuttered. Dr. Hummel then fell forward, crashing face down on the porch, and gushing a fountain of blood from a giant, gaping hole in his back. The blood sprayed up like a geyser, and doused the porch, as well as Felix. He screamed as the dark clouds above seemed to rapidly dissipate, bringing daylight back to Burrows. The sudden change stopped him mid-scream, and he looked down as Hummel continued to spill blood all over the porch.

PART TWO

Felix walked into town. He was covered from head to toe with the blood of Dr. Hummel, and he was lost in the mess of horrific images in his head; the ones he had just witnessed at his family’s farm. He saw his father, he saw the boy, he saw Dr. Hummel. But what he didn’t see was the thing crawling out from the cornfield; the unknown presence at the farm that terrified him.

The whool that echoed through the darkness was appalling – it hit every nerve in his body. It was upsetting, uncomfortable…unnatural. As he walked through town in a confusing fog, that sound replayed over and over in his mind. It worried him, and he dreaded hearing it again.

Felix shuffled up to the police department in the center of town. There was a small crowd of people standing outside. They seemed to be shouting at the building, trying to draw out the police. The scene didn’t make sense to Felix as he wandered into the rowdy crowd.

The dark blood staining his clothes, hair, and smearing his glasses drew frightened looks immediately. Some people screamed, some backaway fearfully, but one man put his arm around Felix and helped him sit down on the curb.

“Are you okay?” the man asked, genuinely concerned for Felix’s well being. The old man looked him up and down, trying to find a wound. “Where are you hurt?”

“I’m not,” Felix said. “This is Dr. Hummel’s blood.”

“Dr. Hummel?” the man asked; putting up his guard.

Felix looked the old man in the eye. “I didn’t do anything to him. He came to my house. He was…killed…”

The old man was trying to make sense of Felix’s story. Felix then cocked his head at the old man. He recognized him from the ice cream shop.

“You gave me the free scoop.”

The old man nodded, and then looked up at the police station. He charged up to the front doors with authority, banging on them with all the strength his old bones could muster. “Open your doors! There’s a man hurt out here! And Dr. Hummel is dead!”

The old man continued to bang on the doors loudly until they finally opened. A young officer in a blue uniform stood there with one hand on his holstered weapon.

“What did you say?” the officer inquired, making sure he heard the muffled shouting correctly.

The old man pointed down to Felix sitting on the curb, covered in blood.

“Jesus Christ!” the young officer yelled as he rushed out to Felix’s side. He helped him up, and walked him into the Police Station. The old man winked and nodded to Felix as the doors closed once again.

The police confiscated Felix’s clothing, took his finger prints, and read him his rights. He sat in a small, uncomfortable interrogation room, hand-cuffed and wearing a tan jumpsuit. His hair had been washed, and his glasses sat on the table, neatly folded up in front of him.

He watched the clock on the wall, but it failed to move. The batteries must have been dead or something; 12:01 was its permanent time now. Felix noticed the room was muggy. Either the air wasn’t reaching the vents, or they didn’t have it turned on. That would have been surprising though, considering the extreme heat as of late in the area.

Felix cracked his neck, and the pop sounded loud in the small room. The door then opened, and a detective walked in. He dressed the part, but opted to not have a jacket on, and had his sleeves rolled up. His bright gold watch sparkled under the lights above the table, as did the badge pinned on his belt.

The detective removed the badge and sat it on the table. Felix looked at it. It was gold-plated, embedded in a torn, brown leather casing. The detective cleared his throat, and Felix looked up. He missed the part where the detective had sat down.

“I’m sorry?” Felix asked, feeling like he’d possibly missed something else.

“I said I’m Detective Chuck Barns. I want to ask you a few things about the deceased.”

“Who?”

“Dr. Hummel.”

“Oh, ok.”

“You have been read your rights, correct?”

“Yes.”

Detective Barns opened a small pad of paper, and extracted a pen from his breast pocket. He clicked the pen, and put the tip to the paper. A small spot of ink leaked from the tip, and soaked into the paper. “Do you know Dr. Hummel personally? Or professionally?”

“I took my mom to see him. She’d cut her feet really badly when she stepped on the glass.”

“And your mother died shortly after seeing Dr. Hummel?”

“Yes.”

“Malpractice? Is that what you thought?”

Felix was confused. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Do you think Dr. Hummel provided insufficient care to your mother, resulting in her death?”

Felix was stunned. He can’t be serious, he thought. “Are you accusing me of killing Dr. Hummel?”

Detective Barns smiled and shrugged. “You were mad. You were angry. You had the motive, and when Dr. Hummel showed up at your doorstep, you ripped into his back, and spilt his blood everywhere.”

“No…” Felix said. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I didn’t do that!”

“Where is it?” Barns grew more aggressive, and Felix shook his head rapidly. “TELL IT!” Barns slammed his fists down on the table, splashing Felix’s face. He instinctively closed his eyes and felt the warm liquid hit his forehead and cheeks, and drip down. He opened his eyes, and looked at his hands, chest and the table before him.

They were all covered in blood.

Felix looked up at Barns, but there was no one sitting in front of him. The whool erupted once again, and Felix buried his head under his cuffed hands, screaming back at the ungodly sound; fearfully challenging it. The inhuman cry built to an ear-shattering screech, and Felix felt his ears pop.

Felix opened his eyes and was met by the blinding light from the sun. Everything was white, and then started to come back into focus. He was sitting on his porch, propped up against the siding of the house. He was still covered in blood, and Dr. Hummel was still sprawled out, face first, on the porch in front of him. The gushing blood from his back had stopped, but his body, as well as the wooden planks below it, were saturated in the dark, sticky red liquid. Flies buzzed around the body, and the stench of death infiltrated all of Felix’s senses. He was sure the smell alone was what woke him from his nightmare.

Or his vision.

He wasn’t sure what he’d just experienced. It felt so real; the walking through town, the interrogation…even Detective Barns. Reality was starting to become hard to distinguish from the surreal events plaguing Burrows. He felt tired, sluggish…listless. The events occurring were so confusing that he didn’t even care to think too deeply about them. His mind wished it all away, and half pretended nothing was happening.

Out of the corner of his eye, a sparkling glimmer on the porch turned his head. It was a tiny shard of glass he had failed to clean up.

The milk bottles…Stitch Mason. He needed to get to the Mason’s Dairy Farm. He needed to know about the milk bottles. He needed to know who was placing them at random doorsteps around Burrows. And more importantly, why?

| | | | |

The Mason Dairy Farm was a five minute walk from his home. After Felix covered Dr. Hummel’s body with a blanket from his living room couch, he hopped in his car. Once he got the engine running, the lights on the dash flickered. Then the engine light, the hazards, the oil, the gas…and finally they all stopped. The dash went black, and the car died. Felix tried to turn the key again, but the darn thing wouldn’t even turn over. Frustratingly, he removed the keys and slammed them into the passengers door.

It was all starting to weigh on him. The deaths, the mysterious happenings…he needed answers. What should have been a five minute drive turned into a fifteen minute walk to the dairy farm.

After clearing the bend, he saw a broken mailbox with a missing flag. A tall, flimsy sign sat behind it with a picture of a cow. The cow painting was old, and had started to chip away. Mason’s Dairy Farm was the only one of its kind within fifty miles. Stitch Mason inherited the job from his father, who inherited it from his father. It was a true family business.

Stitch had two boys; Harrison and Gage, were both in their early teens and were in line to take over the business after Stitch would pass away. The history of the farm always drew attention from around the state. They’d had a steady line of cows over the years that never failed to produce anything less than quality milk. So much so, that in recent years, Stitch Mason had opened up an online store where people from neighboring states could order and have it shipped directly to them from the farm.

Felix walked up the driveway in fresh clothes. He knew he’d create a panic if he arrived in the clothes soaked by Hummels blood. That’s what happened in the nightmare.

Felix walked up the steps, and the first thing he noticed was the hanging, potted plants that surrounded the house (it was common knowledge that Stitch Mason had quite the green thumb), were all dead, dried and shriveled. What were once beautiful, colorful treats for the eyes, were now expired, brown and rotten.

The drought could have explained the plants, but so could neglected care. Felix also noticed a hose unspooled in the yard, and partially embedded in the dried grass; like it had been there for a while.

Felix knocked on the door and it flung open immediately. The two teenage boys stood there, just inside the darkened home, both holding shotguns with their sights set on him. Felix threw his arms up and gasped.

“Don’t shoot! Please!”

“Who are you?” one of them asked.

“Felix Rider. My parents own the farm just up the road.”

“Rider?” The boys seemed to recognize the name, and relaxed their weapons to their sides. “What do you want?”

“Is your father home? I need to speak with him.”

“No,” one of the boys said. Both of them appeared worried, and Felix was quick to notice. They acted as if they had something to hide.

“Where is he?”

Neither boy answered. Felix then looked closely at both of the boys’ skin. It was pale, and dry. It peeled in certain areas like after a bad sunburn.

“Where’s your father, boys? Where’s Stitch?”

They two boys hesitated, but the eldest, Harrison, finally spoke up, although softly:

“He went out last night to search the farm. He hasn’t come back yet.”

“Search the farm? What for?”

“Something was out there.”

“What was it?”

“Don’t know. It didn’t make any sense. Something…it was creeping around by the cow barn.”

“It was walking slowly, too,” Gage added.

“A person?”

Harrison shook his head and Gage was visibly uncomfortable.

“It was moaning, or howling, or something,” Harrison said. “It wasn’t right. Dad went out to look for it. He wanted to scare it away.”

Felix turned around and looked out amongst the vast pastures, crops and barns the Mason’s property was made up of. There were so many places Stitch could have gone.

“Stay here,” Felix said. “Keep the door locked. I’ll go look for him.”

“He took the four wheeler. There’s another one in that barn,” Harrison said, pointing to an old barn near next to the garage.

“Thanks,” Felix said. The boys closed the door, and Felix waited to hear the lock before he hopped down from the porch and jogged over to the barn.

He pushed the barn door open, and was met with dust falling from the rafters. A musty smell overwhelmed him; not disgusting, just old. Like a wet cardboard box. He walked through the hay that coated the ground, and over to one of the two four wheelers left. There was an empty spot in between them from where Stitch Mason had taken one.

The keys to both of them were already in the ignitions. He hopped on one, and turned the key.

Nothing.

He tried again with the same results. The vehicle wasn’t even trying to start. He climbed off and hopped on the other one.

Nothing.

Felix thought about his car not starting, and now these. What are the chances? He thought. He looked around the barn, and saw dozens of milk crates stacked upon one another along the far wall. He walked over to them and saw they were filled with empty milk bottles.

The bottles in the crates were clear, but had a noticeable blue tint in the glass. The bottoms of them had a carefully engraved Mason Dairy Farm logo.

“They’re not the same,” Felix quietly said to himself, comparing them to the milk bottles appearing around town. These were newer; sleek. They weren’t dirty with old, corroded milk stains in the grooves. There was no sour odor. Those bottles didn’t come from this farm.

Felix left the barn, and started across the property on foot. He passed the many cow barns, hearing the animals mooing inside, and walked along a somewhat smaller cornfield. Around the other side of the cornfield was another barn.

He approached the barn, and noticed it was in bad shape. The paint was actively peeling off of the outer walls, and the entire thing seemed to creak and crack in the breeze. There was a dark green moss growing near the base of the barn, and seemed to be on every side of it.

Felix circled the barn, and then called out, “Hello?” as he came to an opening on the back side. It wasn’t a door, but a hole in the wall. The interior was dark, and he couldn’t really make out anything inside.

A noise from inside did pique his curiosity. It was a shuffling sound; something was inside the barn, moving about. It was reminiscent of the noise in the basement. It crunched on the ground, and sounded clumsy, just like the basement creeper.

“Stitch?” Felix called out again.

He was met by a blast of the all too familiar foul odor that he’d come to despise. It blew out from the opening on the barn wall, and created a feeling of nervousness in Felix. His heartbeat picked up, and anxiety took over, bringing him to his knees. Shivers took over his body, and he felt afraid. He didn’t want to see what was stomping around inside the barn; he didn’t want to know what it was anymore.

The whool started low this time, and grew louder and louder until Felix’s ears were ringing. He became dizzy and grabbed his head, screaming in pain.

“Stop it!” Felix screamed. “Stop it!”

The whool came to an abrupt stop, right on command, and everything went dead silent. Felix stopped screaming and slowly looked up. A small puff of dust spun out from the hole in the wall, and two white eyes – vacant of their pupils – illuminated in the darkness.

“TELL IT!” the unseen entity growled.

Felix jumped to his feet and ran as the whool once again erupted like an explosion behind him, more aggressive and commanding than he had yet heard it. Felix didn’t look back; the thought of what he would see scared him deeply. He just ran until the barn would no longer be in sight.

| | | | |

Felix stopped to catch his breath near a lone cow barn. This one was not grouped with the others close to the house. It looked like it hadn’t been used in quite some time.

There was an old wire fence, twisted and rusty, that encased the barn. Some of it had been flattened to the ground, and that’s where Felix made his way in. He walked over the fence and up to the side of the dilapidated structure where a haphazardly built bench sprouted off from the wall. He carefully sat down on the bench, and heard it crack almost immediately.

As soon as he stood to his feet, the bench broke off of its rusty hinges, and crumbled to the ground. Felix looked around, and wasn’t exactly sure where on the farm he was. He saw fields in every direction. A cold breeze then took him by surprise, and he fully expected what came next:

A foul odor – just like clockwork – feelings of dread and nervousness. Dizziness also tormented his brain. He knelt to the ground to try and fight the nausea that twisted his stomach. The whool was next; it traveled with the breeze, canvasing the land – looking for him. Felix knew it now – he was what this thing was after. He just didn’t know why.

A sudden crash in the barn behind him startled Felix back to his feet. He spun around and stared at the barn as the whool blew up against his back and engulfed him. It was coming from every direction now, panning from one ear to the other; above and below. All of the sounds then met in one place: the barn he stood before.

Another crash made him jump. Something was in there. Something was luring him in. And as scared as he was, Felix just had to know what it was, what it looked like, and what it wanted. He put his fear aside, and chose to confront the unknown.

Silence took over again, leaving the creaking barn door as the center of everything. Felix pushed the door open, and looked inside. He was cautious, and didn’t want to just waltz into certain death – he needed to do it carefully. He was dealing with the unknown, afterall.

He peeked his head in, and the odor was overwhelming; sour milk, mixed with something else. That something else was familiar, yet hard to put a finger on. The buzzing of a swarm of flies slowly faded in, and he noticed them around something in the center of the barn.

Felix crept through the door and took slow, carefully placed steps, until the barn door was out of reach. He pushed forward and covered his mouth and nose with the collar of his shirt. The stench was rotten, and then he was finally able to identify it. It was death.

The sunlight from outside acted as a spotlight, coming through a splintered hole in the roof, bringing the focus solely on the three dead cows in the center of the barn. They had been ripped open, had their eyes removed, and were soaking like sponges in their own blood. Felix stumbled backwards and tripped over an old metal pail. He fell onto his back, and sloshed around on the blood-soaked floor.

The ground was wet, the air was rotten and cold, and his vision darkened. The whool was inside the barn with him. It rushed overtop of him, but he still couldn’t see it. He could feel it touch him as it seemed to just float back and forth, releasing its horrible howl.

“Stop it! Please!” Felix screamed as he closed his eyes. His screaming only enraged the whool, and it swelled louder. Thunder cracked outside, and the barn shook violently. Felix scurried to his feet and ran out of the old shelter.

He stopped only a couple yards out of the barn. He had hit a cold spot on the property, and it chilled his bones. He stared straight ahead, witnessing the surreal image of his father, once again, standing before him.

Francis Rider was pale. His clothes were dirty, and he held a shovel in his hand; the spade of the shovel dipping into the soil beneath him. Francis spoke without moving a muscle on his face.

“Don’t tell it, Felix,” his father’s voice spoke from somewhere else. Felix didn’t respond – he refused to believe what his eyes were seeing.

Francis lifted the shovel and stabbed it back into the earth angrily. “Don’t tell it!”

Felix shook his head; tears ran down his cheeks. “I won’t…” he assured his father, even though he didn’t understand his mysterious concerns.

In the blink of an eye, his father was gone, and Felix found himself looking at an old four wheeler. The grass beneath it was dried and dead – maybe even burned – and weeds had grown up from underneath of it, and wrapped around the wheels and sides of the idle vehicle. A man was slumped over in the driver’s seat, and Felix immediately recognized the man by his stature and splotchy facial hair – it was Stitch Mason.

Felix rushed up to the vehicle and shook the farmer. “Mr. Mason?”

Stitch slumped forward, and Felix saw his back had been torn open. His ribs had been forced backwards through his body, and protruded out and around his spine. The blood and flesh hanging from the exposed bones was dry and crawling with maggots.

Felix backed away in shock. This can’t be real, he thought. There was no possible way for the scene to look like this if Stitch Mason had only gone out last night. The four wheeler looked aged and weathered, and Stitch appeared long dead.

Felix had quickly made his way back to the farmhouse. The front door was wide open when he got back, but he stopped before he entered. He turned around and looked out across the land.

Fear began to sink its menacing teeth back into his skin, and he grew anxious. The pit of his stomach started to twist around as the occurring events began to feel like a sickening new reality. The faint sound of thunder accompanied the dark sky crawling over the horizon.

It was coming back, and this time, Felix didn’t have the energy to hide from it. Part of him just wanted to close his eyes and forget it all. Maybe it’ll just all go away. But the other part of him needed to know what was happening in Burrows, and to the people he knew and cared about.

Felix walked into the Mason house, and was disturbed by the silence. Where Harrison and Gage once were on guard with shotguns, there was now no one. No protection, no urgency to fend off the uncertain intruder – no longer did there appear to be concern for the darkness outside to invade the home through the forbidding open front door.

“Harrison? Gage?” Felix called out as the house dimmed into a sea of shadows. Through the living room window, he watched the clouds rush through the sky like the surf of a beach. It was moving quicker than it ever had before. Something was happening…

“Harrison?” Felix called out again, moving through the home room by room. He entered the kitchen, and finally found the boys. They were sitting on the floor, propped up against the cabinets, and in some obvious distress. Or, at least Gage was. Harrison was a different story – he didn’t seem to be okay at all. His eyes were closed, he sat completely motionless, and dried blood was crusted to the sides of his face, having come from inside his ears.

Felix rushed to them and knelt down. “What happened?”

Gage looked up to Felix slowly. He was as white as a ghost, and his lips were raw. His eyes drooped, and his whole body trembled. “I don’t know…” Gage was barely able to mutter.

Felix felt for a pulse in Harrison’s neck, but couldn’t find one. He then noticed an odd odor. First he had subconsciously connected it to Harrision, but now he wasn’t so sure. It was a damp odor, similar to mud. It was strong inside the home.

“Did you find our dad?” Gage struggled to ask. Felix looked back down at Gage, and nodded. Gage closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the cabinet. He knew his dad was dead. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.”

The entire house slipped into darkness. The daunting clouds in the sky blanketed Burrows once again, sealing in an imminent, and unimaginable horror. Thunder began to rumble from above, and lightly rattled the glass inside the house.

“I have no idea what’s happening,” Felix repeated. He looked back at Gage and saw he was starting to slip away. He grabbed Gage by the shoulders and gently rocked him. “Wake up, Gage!”

Gage opened his eyes and looked into Felix’s. He was scared, and also seemed to be fatally succumbing to whatever had damaged him. He didn’t have any kind of fight left in him.

“What happened to you?” Felix asked.

Gage struggled to swallow, and then opened his mouth to speak. “It came back…”

“What was it?”

Gage closed his eyes, and bloody tears dripped from them. “I don’t know. But it didn’t go far. It’s searching…”

“Searching for what?”

Gage opened his eyes with a new look of confusion. “I-I don’t know…”

Felix thought back to the whole reason he came to the farm to begin with. The milk bottles.

“Do you know anything about old milk bottles?”

Gage squinted. “What?”

“Someone has been leaving old milk bottles around Burrows. On front porches. People have stepped on them, and then died. People are dying everywhere.”

Gage shook his head slowly. “I don’t know…kind of sounds li-like that old Milk Boy legend.”

“What Milk Boy legend?”

Gage’s body began to go limp, and Felix was quick to help him sit up straight again. “What legend, Gage?”

“It was just something Dad used to threaten us with. Do your chores, or the Milk Boy will take you.”

“Who’s the Milk Boy?”

Gage looked at Felix differently. He didn’t understand the sudden interest in such an old story that he never believed to be anything other than a bogeyman tale.

“Gage! Who is the Milk Boy?”

“I don’t really remember the wh-whole story. Dad hasn’t mentioned it since we were little.”

Felix grew frustrated. He knelt in closer, and plastered his face with a dead- serious look. “Remember.” Felix ordered.

Gage desperately searched the back of his mind, but it was all too fuzzy. “I don’t…there was a b-boy who claimed to have found five souls of the damned. He captured them somehow…locked them up…I can’t r-remember…”

“What else? There has to be more than that.”

Felix’s persistence started to bother Gage. His mind began to race. Why was this so important? Gage thought back real hard to when he was young, and stubborn to not do his chores around the farm. He thought back to the old story his dad, Stitch Mason, used to scare them with, in the hopes that they would just be responsible and do them.

“The damned were s-stolen from the boy. It drove him mad,” Gage continued. “He was determined to get them back. He was a milk boy in his town. So one morning, each house he d-delivered the milk to, he’d go inside. If he didn’t find the souls, he k-killed the people who l-lived there. He did this until the entire town was dead.”

Felix was focused. “Where were the souls?”

“He never found them.”

Felix backed away from Gage; thunder began to roar outside again, and the wind shook the house like a passing freight train. The house was dark, and violent lightning began to blast through the sky, flickering its blue hue throughout the kitchen. This was new…

Felix looked to the light fixture swinging frantically from the ceiling, and then thought of his car, and the four-wheeler Stitch Mason was on. He then looked at his watch, and it was frozen at 12:01. The bodies around town, the stale stench of decay, the overgrowth of weeds around Stitch’s four-wheeler and the front porch…

Burrows was dying.

A strong wind blew across the dairy farm, and pounded against the house. The windows in the kitchen rattled until they popped. Glass exploded into the room, and showered the floor. Felix covered his head and stood to his feet.

He looked out the broken window and watched as the wind began its catastrophic damage to the farm. Lightning slithered through the black clouds like nightmarish worms, and burrowed back into their darkness. With one, deafening crack of thunder, Felix dropped to the ground. He thought his heart was going to burst from his chest. He looked over at Gage, who now rested his head upon his brother’s shoulder. The entire Mason family was gone.

The howling wind outside seamlessly transformed into the dreaded whool, tickling Felix’s nerves. Anxiety attacked his body, and he raced for the front door, blowing out onto the porch, and into the front yard. He looked around as the ear-splitting whool was more prominent than ever. It overpowered the thunder, and seemed to be coming from all directions.

As the twisted, pulsating lightning flared up in the sky again, Felix caught a glimpse of something perched upon the roof of the Mason’s farmhouse. It was a tall, ghostly figure; constructed of shadows and terror. It stood in a most awkward manner, extending its arms out to its sides, further, and longer than humanly possibly. It grew taller, and wailed terribly under the strobing light spectacle above; it was responsible for the whool that injected dread and fear into anyone who would hear it.

The lightning abruptly dispersed, and the farm fell into darkness once again. Felix could no longer see the figure which roosted upon the house. He panicked, and ran as fast as he could away from the farm, leaving the frenzied howls and disembodied screams behind him.

Felix had lost track of time, but it felt like it had taken forever to get back to his family’s farm. Just as he hit the property line, a blinding flash of lightning and a booming crack of thunder dropped buckets of rain on Burrows. Felix was soaked to the bone before he even hit the front porch. He ran and jumped up the steps, slipping on their slick surface. He fell hard, landing on his stomach, right beside the rotting corpse of Dr. Hummel.

They were face to face. Hummel’s eyes were open wide; his mouth agape. Out of his back, his ribcage had been pushed, ecasing his spine like it was trapped in a birdcage. The front of his body had fused with the porch, creating an unnerving, and gorily surreal image. Dr. Hummel looked like a piece of sloppy artwork from a deranged and vile mind.

Felix stumbled to his feet, realizing he’d twisted his ankle when he had slipped. He limped to the front door and tried to turn the knob. It fell off, and crumbled on the porch. Confused, he banged on the door, only to have the wood weaken and chip away under his clenched fists. He backed away from the door as the rain pounded the ground harder and harder, and the whool returned to raise the hairs on the back of his neck. He frantically looked around, dreading seeing the ghostly figure again.

Desperate for salvation, he settled on the barn that sat yards away from the house. He hobbled down the porch steps again, and limped as quickly as he could through the now over-saturated yard. Large puddles were forming all around him, and the lightning that tore apart the sky burned his eyes, and severed every nerve in his body.

Felix threw open the barn doors, and the wild lightning crashed behind him, sprawling out a flickering shadow of himself across the dirt and scattered hay inside. He rushed in, leaving the loudness of the rain behind him. It was now of a more muffled volume, but he could hear it hitting the rooftop like a barrage of bullets.

He closed the doors, and felt a gust of cold brush up against him. He spun around to see, yet again, another blip of his father’s image; he stood in the center of the barn, holding a shovel, and then echoed his “Don’t tell it…” phrase once again, in a raspy and demented whisper. Francis disappeared just as quickly as Felix had laid eyes on him, leaving Felix confused and afraid; two emotions he’d become all too familiar with. He didn’t know what his father was referring to. Was it a warning? A cryptic message meant to help him?

He looked down at the soft, disturbed soil beneath where the apparition of his father had just stood. The dirt had been dug up, and piled back on. His father wielded a shovel in every brief appearance since his death. Before his death, Francis did have a shovel in the barn – this barn. Felix had come out just days earlier to check on his father. Fancis was sitting on a bale of hay; he couldn’t recall why he was in there. The shovel was dirty. The sour stench blew through moments later. It stunk of death…

Felix hurriedly limped to the small patch of bothered dirt. He kicked it around, and then dropped to his knees. The thunder exploded outside once again as he furiously began to dig out the dirt with his bare hands; he clawed and scooped, and tossed the excess dirt aside. Something hard, and slick, grazed his fingertips.

Francis had buried something.

Felix picked up his pace, thrashing his arms wildly, and sending dirt flying every which way. The sickening aroma creeped back into the barn, along with a hazy mist that twirled about with a haunting elegance. A low, humming noise from behind Felix quickly accelerated into the dreaded whool, and now surrounded him. It grew louder and louder as Felix dug faster and faster. It became a nightmarish howl in his ears, like thousands of damned souls screaming and screeching in pain all at once. It was resounding. Felix bit his lip until it bled, and screamed back. He spun around and saw the ghostly figure again, cloaked by crawling shadows and filled with a bloody core. Felix closed his eyes, beckoning it to just go away.

But it was too late. Felix felt the breath completely vacate his body, leaving it hollow and dry. He opened his eyes and stared at the whool, looking into its pale, decrepit, featureless eyes. It screamed at him, forcing Felix’s eyes closed again. He saw the flashes of lightning striking through the insides of his eyelids, and the whool surged until it finally shattered.

Everything went silent, and Felix felt, and heard, his stomach rip open. A forceful gust cracked his ribcage, pushing it back, and tearing out the other side of his body.

TWENTY HOURS LATER

JUST OUTSIDE OF BURROWS

A slick, chrome, Camaro sped through the picturesque countryside of rural Wisconsin; heavy rock music blared from the open windows. Behind the wheel was thirty year-old Erick Humphrey; one hand on the wheel, the other was swiping through the playlist on his phone. He smirked as he found the next song he wanted to radiate through the countryside.

As Erick tapped the play button, an incoming call displayed the image of a woman suggestively posing in a nightgown. He answered the call, and the music paused.

“Hey, Casey.”

“Hey, babe. Just checking in,” his girlfriend’s voice came through the car speakers.

“Stopped for a burger about thirty minutes ago. I’m about to cross into Burrows here now.”

“Did you get a hold of Felix yet?”

“No, it’s weird. I can’t get anyone. His phone must be dead. His parents’ landline must be disconnected, or something.”

Casey laughed on the other line. “Sounds like that town is disconnected.”

Erick nodded with a smile. “Flex always tells me how Mayberry the place is. But, he’s been my friend since we were kids. He needs me. A nice little surprise drop-in should spruce up his attitude.”

“I hope so. Make sure you tell him about my dad’s offer.”

“Will do. I can’t see him saying no to the job. It’s almost double what he was making at Tech Corp.”

“Well, I hope he takes it.”

“Thank, babe. I’ll call you tonight when I’m settled in.”

“Perfect,” Casey said. “Love you.”

“Love you.”

Erick ended the call, and the next song rattled the car. He bit his lip and banged his head along with the crashing drums that started the song.

Erick sped past a sign that said Welcome to Burrows, WI: America’s Small Town, and left it to drift away in his rear view mirror.

As the wind from the speeding car died down, the Welcome to Burrows sign began to chip and crack along its edges, and eventually crumbled to dust, falling to the rocky roadside beneath it.

EYE-WITNESS REPORT TRANSCRIPT

BURROWS, WISCONSIN DISCOVERY SITE

WITNESS: ERICK J. HUMPHREY

I’d spoken with my best friend, Felix Rider, only a day or so earlier. We called him Flex back home in Green Bay. He was from Burrows. He came back here after losing his job – he wasn’t too happy about that. What thirty-year-old wants to move back with their parents after living so successfully in their late twenties?

The last time I’d talked to him, he was telling me about how his parents weren’t doing so good. I think he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to leave them like they were; older and helpless. I asked if he’d be back for the first Packers game (which would have been a week ago now), and he said he didn’t think he would.

So, as any good friend would do, I was able to get my girlfriend’s dad to offer him a job. I drove out to Burrows to surprise him with a guaranteed job that he would have loved. I crossed the border into Burrows, and everything immediately felt wrong.

There was no one around. I mean, no one. It was the quietest place I’d ever stepped foot in. Cars were parked in odd places, like they had just stopped working and were abandoned. The grass and weeds around town were overgrown, and there was a wet moss that seemed to be growing all over the buildings and homes.

The farms all seemed dead. No animals, no people. It smelled…like old, wet grass. The sun had baked everything, which only intensified the odor. I was concerned for Felix and his parents. I drove straight to the Rider’s farmhouse, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I still shudder thinking about it. The dead man on the porch; he was fused to it. His rib cage had exploded out of his back. There was dried blood all over him and the porch.

The front door had rotted out, and was infested with bugs. I looked inside the home from the doorway, and a god-awful smell hit me. I gagged and ran away from the porch. I just stared at the house, breathing heavily, and listening to the silence all around me. I looked over to the barn. The doors were open, so I rushed over to it, calling for Flex and his parents. I ran in and that’s when I saw him. He was on the ground, just like the man on the porch. His ribs had been pushed through his back. He was covered in blood, but it was dry too, like he’d been there for weeks. I heard a loud buzzing noise, and it took me a minute or two to realize the entire barn was infested with flies. They were mostly focused on Felix’s body, but were definitely everywhere.

I ran back to my car and called 9-1-1. They had to dispatch units from Desmond, the next town over. I gave a statement to the police right away, but they said I was unfit to give it at that time. I guess I was a little more than hysterical.

It wasn’t until I got back home to Green Bay that I started seeing stories about Burrows on the news. The story went national, and then worldwide within hours. Everyone’s obsessed with what happened there, but no one has any idea what they’re obsessed with. Burrows practically went extinct, and very violently at that.

I read online that everyone’s cell phones were completely dead. The cars were dead. Clocks and watches too. Not one citizen of Burrows was alive. And unless they can start putting the pieces of the puzzle together, whatever happened there may never be solved. I can already see this in the history books, decades from now, as one of the great, unexplained mysteries of the world.

But there has to be an explanation. Everything has an explanation. Things like this just don’t happen without reason, whether malicious or natural.

I will probably never get the answers to the thousands of questions furiously racing around in my head, bumping into one another, with nowhere to go. They’ll be trapped without release, and that sits very uncomfortably with me. I’ll miss my friend until the day I die. Maybe only then, will I know what happened. Maybe in the next life, or whatever comes after this, he can tell me what was happening in Burrows, what he saw, and what could have possibly done that to him. It’s an image I can’t shake, and I see it every time I close my eyes. His bloodshot eyes wide open, his ribs standing upright like fence posts from his body. The stiffness in which he’d clenched his fists in his last moments.

The excavation team and officials that were called in tried to fairly distribute the possessions of the Burrows residents to anyone close to them. I was the closest living person to Felix and his family, so they were nice enough to send me boxes of their things. Most of the items seemed random, but at least they tried to show sympathy. It’s the least they could do, I guess, after quarantining the town and kicking us out.

They found an old photo album Felix’s parents had under their bed. It contained pictures of me and him from our high school days. They found an old scrapbook that Felix had made in school, as well as his wrestling trophies and sports card collection. They even sent me some sort of softball-sized marble that they said he might have tried to bury in his last moments. They thought it might have been special to him, therefore it would be special to me? I didn’t even know what it was. There’re things inside of it that rattle whenever you shake it. Casey says they’re probably dead bugs or something inside, because ever since that thing came into our home here in Green Bay, there’s been a really foul odor that pops up once in a while. It smells sour, almost sulfuric…it smells just like that barn did on the Rider’s farm.

But if it was important to Felix, it’s important to me. I think I’ll hang onto it. I can always hide it away in a box, or even bury it in the yard if the odor got too bad. But hell, it’s just an odor. It’s not like it’s hurting anyone.

CREDIT : Scott Donnelly

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