Hidden Places (Part 12)

Mary called it a fairy circle. That doesn’t make me feel very good about fairies…

Penny didn’t want me to go with her dad, but there’s just something about the chance for a new adventure that pulled me into this situation. It’s why I went along with Penny in the first place, instead of talking her out of going out of bounds.

We thought—when we found the little town—that it could be a good thing. That’s why we got Da involved instead of just going exploring on our own. Well, that reason and the fact that if we’d stayed gone any longer the first day, someone would surely have come looking for us.

When we found the letters and paperwork that mentioned oil derricks and a refinery, we were so excited. Gasoline goes bad—did you know that? There are a couple of guys in the compound who know enough about refining that they’ve kept our vehicles running, but the chance to make our own fuel was an exciting prospect.

But when we found the derricks, it wasn’t as cool as we’d expected. The valley where they’re located feels creepy. Penny says it feels haunted, and that’s as good a word as any. Everything looks well kept and it appears the wells will be functional, but none of us liked being down there. I know I felt like we were being watched, and it was a most unpleasant sensation.

Da, Vance and Dale came early with a few others and Da and I made use of the little house while the rest of them went into the valley. We had coffee and breakfast ready when they all came back—all of them looking pale and shaken up, which was no more than we’d expected.

But George and Buck, our refinery guys, seemed excited in spite of that. “We could make this into a working resource if we can find the refining station,” Buck told Da. “Personally, I think we ought to head across the valley and take that road between the foothills. I don’t think it’s up here anywhere.”

“Mort? What do you think?” Dale asked.

“I think he’s probably right,” Da replied. “Lots of trees up behind that church—I don’t see anyone putting a refinery back there.”

Vance said, “Could be the road leads into another clear valley. It’s hard to say from here.”

Dale shrugged. “We’ve only got a few people with us today. Penny’s on her way with some kids to help Mort with any salvage at the warehouse—that looks promising. It’s quite a trek across the valley.”

“You want to go up behind the church, don’t you, Gramps?” I asked. Wherever we went, I had promised Penny I’d stick with Vance.

“I think we should start with that,” Dale replied. “If we’re going across the valley, we’re going to need a couple more ATVs and extra fuel. I don’t feel prepared for it today.”

“Doesn’t it seem a little crazy to anyone but me that the refinery isn’t right there with the rigs and stuff?” I asked.

“It was probably done separately as a safety precaution,” George replied.

I shrugged. I thought Buck was right—no one was going to build a refinery anywhere beyond the little church. I didn’t think the road was wide enough to accommodate a tank truck, for one thing, and now that we’ve been up there, I know I’m right about that much, at least.

We’d been in one group until the road forked, and then we split up, Dale with one group and Vance leading ours.

We dead-ended at the fairy circle, a circular copse of misshapen trees that looked like they were guarding something in the center.

The minute I saw it, I felt my skin pucker into gooseflesh all over my body, and the hairs on the back of my neck came to attention in a way I had only ever read about in books. “My hair stood on end” is how I’ve heard it, but I never knew it could be a real thing until now.

“Mr. Vance? What do you think this place is?”

Vance looked pale, which is saying something—his skin is a darker shade of tan, because he’s a Native American. Pale, he looks a little grey. I didn’t like it; he’s a tough guy, not afraid of much.

“Dangerous,” he answered in a strange, rumbling voice. I didn’t like that, either.

We agreed it was time to leave, and that’s when Mary called it a fairy circle, and I agreed with Zach that fairies shouldn’t scare the daylights out of us.

If it was a fairy circle, I’m going to have to re-think Tinkerbelle. Penny read the original Peter Pan books to Dawn—to all of us—when we were younger. It bothered Dawn that Tinkerbelle had a wicked side, but I think now…maybe her nice side wasn’t her dominant personality feature.

Okay, I’m getting a little crazy here. I’m still freaked out, I guess.

As we were leaving, Mary suddenly wanted to stay. More than that, she wanted to go into that circle of trees. It was like something was pulling at her; it scared Vance. He made us back up instead of facing away, and when we got back to our bikes we went back the way we’d come.

Where the road forks is where we stopped, and the plan was to meet up with Dale’s group when they came back. Since I had the time, I decided to use Dawn’s art materials to make a couple of “Keep Out” signs.

I had two up when Mary suddenly announced that she was going back. I grabbed her, but she was literally dragging me in her wake when Zach took her other arm. She yanked and thrashed and cried, “No! No! We have to go back and see them!”

Vance took action—thank goodness. He’s a big man, all muscle, and he just tossed Mary over his shoulder and told us to run.

We left the bikes. I don’t care; someone else can get mine—I am not going back up there, because just before we started running, I heard a voice call out, “Come to me. Come to me.”

I’m not insane. I heard it.

I don’t know how Vance kept hold of Mary. She kicked and thrashed and screamed until we were nearly back at the church. When she stopped, it was like she didn’t even remember what had happened.

Damn.

Well, I remember. And I told Vance and Zach, too, without even thinking about whether they’d think I’d lost my mind.

I left Vance, Zach and Mary sitting in the church. I went out the front and sat on the steps just in time to see Da and Barry coming on their bikes.

Penny. She sent them. I knew it even before they told me. I was thinking of her all the time we were running down the road. And when we were within sight of the church, I thought, “Oh, God, Penny, I am so scared! Please let me see you again!”

We’re connected. She feels things. I’ve always known it; this is just proof.

Vance heard the motors and came outside with Zach and Mary.

It was clear that she’d been crying hard; her eyes were red and puffy and her cheeks were blotchy. Zach’s skin looked like milk, he was so pale. They’ve been talking about leaving the compound for a while. This might be the final straw for them. They were two of the older children captured at the base, and everything about life in the compound reminds them of all they lost and suffered at the hands of their captors.

Zach’s grim eyes met mine, and I could see a truth in them. If the group pursued this venture, he and Mary were gone.

I looked out across the town and could see Penny, Ash and Danny hurrying up the road.

Vance whispered, “She knows things. But try to compose yourself, son.” He gave my shoulder a friendly pat.

“Yes, Mr. Vance.” In spite of wanting nothing more than to run to Penny, and maybe cry in her arms, it wasn’t lost on me that Vance had called me son. That hasn’t happened for a long time. It kind of warmed my heart.

Instead of running, I fast-walked down to meet my love.

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