Dead End (Hidden Things, 11.1)

Penny called it Valley of the Derricks, and so it was. There weren’t many, not like in the oilfields I’d grown up surrounded by, and the place seemed peaceful and beautiful until you got right down there in it.

Then it got creepy.

But Morty was right–there was no refinery down there, and that meant we’d have to explore the other route from the village.

That road started behind the church, and went uphill, rather than down, which didn’t seem a likely route to anywhere except the forest.

Then we came to a fork in the road. Dale took his group one way. I took Sid, Zach and Mary the other direction, and we soon found ourselves on a road that leveled off for a bit, went between two hills, and then started sloping downhill.

“Hey, this might actually lead somewhere!” Sid cried, excited.

Except, where it led was a dead-end to the road and more forest.

“What is that?” Zach asked, pointing through the trees to a strange clearing of land surrounding a circular group of trees. They were alive–leaves of green attested to that–and yet, they seemed to convey death itself. My pulse quickened. I could feel it pounding in my neck.

I dismounted my dirt bike. The others followed suit.

I moved closer, as if compelled.

As I approached the unusual grove of trees, I sensed the existence of something ancient.

It wasn’t a pleasant feeling; worse, in fact, than the feeling I’d gotten in Valley of the Derricks. I was beginning to think Mort was right–nothing in this place was going to be worth the risk of being here.

“Mr. Vance?” Sid had come up behind me, and it was all I could do not to jump out of my skin when he spoke. I know he saw me start, but he was polite enough not to mention it. “What do you think this place is?”

“Dangerous,” I replied. My voice was a low growl, not at all my normal voice. Sid didn’t mention that, either. I’d probably like this kid, if I didn’t think he and Penny were…rushing into things.

Not true. I like him fine. I just hate that my girls are growing up. Sue me.

Sid said, “Yeah. Penny says the valley feels haunted. I’m glad she’s not here, because this feels…”

I nodded. “Makes the valley feel almost safe, doesn’t it?”

“Almost.”

“Sid, why did you come with us today?” This interested me. Mort refused to come, and so did Penny and the others who had discovered the valley. They wanted nothing to do with it, or any further explorations.

Sid shrugged. “You ever hear that old saying, ‘curiosity killed the cat’, Mr. Vance?”

“A time or two, I guess.”

“I was curious. I thought…maybe it was my imagination. Maybe it would be better. But the valley was still creepy, and this place is giving me such a case of the whim-whams that if you don’t tell me we’re leaving, I might run away and leave you here.” Sid shrugged, apologetic but resolved. “Just sayin’. Sorry.”

“Nah. We’re going.”

Zach and Mary hadn’t said a word; they stood hand in hand, staring at the misshapen trees, which grew in a circular pattern that certainly had to have been cultivated. What else could have formed this growth? It wasn’t natural.

I thought of the way Dale had planted and cultivated the trees that grew in our compound, manipulated as they grew so they formed an umbrella-like shelter over the above-ground buildings because he didn’t want us to be seen from the sky. In the aftermath, this became a bit of a joke–we hadn’t seen a plane in years.

What was the purpose of cultivating this?

Mary whispered, “Fairy circle?”

We stared at her. “Well,” Zach said, finally, “if it was fairies, why does it scare the bejezus out of me? I thought fairies were nice.”

“Not necessarily,” Mary said. “We’re going, right?” Her voice trembled, and I nodded.

I noticed that we’d all armed ourselves. Sid had his crossbow loaded. Zach had a handgun. Mary held a dagger. And I was holding the sword Sid had forged for me a few years ago. “Fairies, huh?”

Mary giggled nervously. “I don’t know. I don’t know why that popped into my head. I always thought fairy circles would be flowers and berry bushes.” She took a step closer, and Zach grabbed her arm.

“No!” I cried. “No closer. Back away.”

“What?”

Dread was making my chest tighten and my stomach churn. “Don’t turn your backs on it. Go! Go!”

As quickly as we could, we backed down the hill and away from that place. I was thinking about my ancestors and curses on interlopers placed on sacred lands. That had been my impression in Valley of the Derricks, but this place felt…evil. There was nothing sacred about it, and I wanted us gone, out of sight and far away.

We got back to the road and mounted our dirt bikes. As quickly as we could safely ride, we went back the way we’d come.

When we got back to the fork in the road, I signaled to them and we pulled over to wait for Dale and his group, since this was our designated rendezvous spot.

Sid dismounted and pulled off his pack. From inside, he pulled out one of Dawn’s drawing pads.

“What are you doing?” Zach asked.

“Making a sign,” Sid explained. He worked for several minutes. To me, it looked like he was scribbling across the page, but when he held it up, I could see that he’d been filling in the lettering so it was large, dark and legible from a distance: DEAD END! DO NOT ENTER!

“Make another,” Mary commanded, and Sid went to work on it while she and Zach hung the first one on a tree by the side of the road. The second one they hung on the remains of a broken fence that stood between that and the road Dale’s group had taken.

“There ought to be a big gate and chains,” Sid said.

“Maybe we should go back,” Mary sighed, and started to walk past Sid, who grabbed her. “No! I think we should go see them…”

“Oh, shit,” Zach cried, grabbing Mary’s other arm. She was trying to pull away from the boys and go back down the road.

I snatched her up and threw her over my shoulder. I started running away from the place while she fought me. “Let’s make tracks, boys!” I called. “We can get the bikes later.”

We ran. Dale would have to figure it out and know we’d headed back to the church.

I didn’t care if we ever saw our bikes again.

We were nearly back to the town when Mary stopped fighting me and asked, “What’s going on? Why are we running? What happened?”

She stared at us. Neither Sid, Zach or I had any answers for her.

We went to the church to wait for Dale. While I was there, I offered up a prayer that his group would join us quickly, unharmed and with no stories like ours to tell.

I don’t care much for scary stories.

***

This was inspired by an older Writers Unite! prompt. It creeped me out when I saw it, but I hadn’t come up with anything for it until Penny landed everyone in a spooky valley off the grid.

Unlike Penny’s dad, Vance, I DO like a scary story. But I don’t like this grove of trees…

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