[Mysteriousheartland.com] The sun was setting when the Fallen’s car pulled into the driveway to Willow Creek Farm in rural Carroll County, Illinois. A white, two story farmhouse stood to their right, and fallow cornfields stretched to the horizon. Behind the steering wheel, Mike frowned. With one hand on the wheel, he shuffled through a pile of printed Google maps. “I knew we should’ve turned right,” he muttered.
“Maybe you want to buy a GPS,” Greg suggested offhandedly from the backseat while Emmet, Aurelia, and Davin grinned.
“This car still has a tape deck,” Emmet said. “Do you think Mike is going to get a GPS?”
“I doubt a GPS would even work in this remote area,” Mike replied defensively.
The Toyota passed beneath a large, golden willow tree and stopped a few yards from the farmhouse. As the quintet got out of the car, Al, the farm’s owner, greeted them with gregarious handshakes. He was a stout man wearing a checkered shirt and a tattered baseball cap, and spoke with his hands. He took an interest in Aurelia, until she met his friendly smile with a scowl.
“Don’t mind her,” Greg said. “Aura frowns when she’s happy.”
Al brushed off the snub, and the Fallen followed him through the open garage into the unfinished kitchen and dining room. A section of floor was concrete, and a stairway to the second floor stood nearby. A stove sat in the middle of the kitchen, and a large table stood a few feet to the left. Mike, Greg, Aurelia, Davin, and Emmet fanned out across the room and stood around the perimeter.
“I’m glad you came,” Al said. “I’ve heard a lot about you. Not all positive, but do I know you? No. I’m willing to see what you find.”
“You did right by calling us,” Mike said. “I suppose you spoke to the P.C.P.R.S.? We’ve had run-ins with them before. I’m sure they said nothing good about us. The feeling is mutual.”
“The Pan-Continental Paranormal Research Society? Yeah, they said you were dangerous amateurs, but I can make up my own mind. No one is a paranormal expert. I was skeptical until I moved here, but now I’m a believer. A dozen different groups have investigated this house and every one experienced something unusual.”
Mike glanced at Emmet, who rolled his eyes. “Emmet is our skeptic,” he explained. “If your house convinces him, it’ll convince anyone.”
“I’m here to keep Mike from losing himself in half-cocked theories,” Emmet retorted.
“I can’t guarantee something will happen,” Al said, “but this is an active place. I’m just going to let you guys explore and see what you find. I won’t tell you anything until later—to see if you come up with the same conclusions as the other groups.”
Davin, who looked like he just spent the past 24 hours in a Chinese prison, slapped Aurelia on the shoulder. “Aura is the best psychic around,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure she’ll be accurate. Isn’t that right?”
Aurelia returned the gesture with a look of death, but Al mashed his hands together in satisfaction.
“Good,” Al said. “I’m looking forward to your report.”
“We won’t waste any time then,” Mike said. “We’ll break into two small groups. Me and Greg will walk the property, and Aura, Emmet, and Davin will check out the house. You know the drill.”
“Great,” Al replied. “I’ve got some work to do, so I’ll get going.”
Just like that, the Fallen were alone. Al walked out the kitchen door into the garage, and Mike waited to speak until he could no longer hear Al’s footsteps.
“Ok,” he said. “You know what we’re doing here.”
Emmet folded his arms across his chest. “What are we doing here?”
“The weeping woman of Seventh Avenue in Sterling gave us a list of items we need to find to send that… creature… we accidentally unleashed back into the abyss.”
“I see,” Emmet said. His voice dripped with sarcasm. “And what happened when you woke up the next morning?”
“It wasn’t a dream. Aura, Greg, Davin, and Misa were all there. They saw it.”
“It’s true,” Greg said. “It’s still even hard for me to believe, but she was there.”
“So what’s the plan?” Davin asked.
“It has to look like we’re conducting a routine investigation.” Mike replied. “In fact, the opposite is true. Some psychics claim this land is a paranormal gateway.”
“The Indians living here in the early 1800s knew its power—that’s why they made this a sacred meeting place. Now, according to the weeping woman of Seventh Avenue dead end, a peace pipe is central to the ritual to send that creature back into the void. It was an ancient Indian burial mound where we accidentally released it, after all.”
“As I recall,” Davin interrupted, “we didn’t open the gate. Those zealot jerks did, and my girlfriend died because of it.”
Greg spat. “Oh brother. Your girlfriend? She was using you.”
“None of that matters anymore,” Mike said. “This creature’s acolytes have targeted us, and so we need to destroy it. It’s that simple. I believe the Indians buried some artifacts here. Maybe a peace pipe. At least, that’s what the ghost told us.”
“That’s why you’re staying here with Aura and Davin,” Mike said through clenched teeth. He thrust his hands deep into his trench coat pockets. “Now let’s get to it. We don’t have time to waste.”
Mike and Greg left the farmhouse and headed south past the barn, following a wire fence through a fallow cornfield. “Do you honestly believe we’re going to find anything?” Greg asked.
“I was right about the astral gate, wasn’t I?” Mike replied.
Greg winced. “Yeah, and how did that turn out? Look, why don’t we take our remaining money and get out of here? We can just live off the radar, like we used to.”
“You honestly think we can outrun this creature?” The question was rhetorical. “No. We have to defeat it here in Illinois, then we can disappear.”
The two friends reached a break in the cornfield where the fence turned left to cordon off a pasture. A grand oak tree stood about twenty yards in that direction, joined by several stumps. Sometime in the past, these trees formed a row along the pasture’s southern edge.
“This is the place,” Mike announced. “I can feel the energy.”
“If you were an Indian living over a hundred and fifty years ago, where would you hide something out here?”
Mike and Greg looked around, but saw nothing unusual. The duo climbed over the gate and entered the pasture next to the trees.
“How old do you think these trees are?” Greg asked.
His friend glanced over at the tree rings of the nearest stump. Insects had feasted on the weathered and cracked stump. A deep gouge, at least a foot in radius, ran down the center. The entire stump was at least two times that size.
“It’s hard to say,” Mike replied. “You’re the nature expert, you tell me.”
Greg smirked. “Man, I’m our expert in everything.” He approached the tree stump and climbed up on the exposed roots to get a better look inside the crevasse. “Damn,” he said. “Look at this.” His hands fished through the crumbling organic matter until they seized a firm, wooden handle. “I need some help.”
Mike pulled out his Ka-Bar and dug the blade into the tree core. After a few moments, he carefully dislodged a long pipe from inside the crumbling wall. Greg and he exchanged glances. “Success, eh?”
“They must have attached the peace pipe to the tree and the tree grew around it,” Greg gasped. “Unbelievable.”
Mike carefully brushed off the organic residue and stuffed the pipe into the interior pocket of his trench coat. “Let’s go tell the others, and then finish this investigation.”
Greg agreed, and the two began their long trek back to the farmhouse.
[New episode every Friday…]
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