It was time to face reality. That was what I remember thinking to myself as I sat on the deck and watched the hot, late afternoon sun bake itself onto the fields. I thought that because I had been avoiding coming back here, the family farm. You see, my father passed away three weeks ago: heart attack, in the middle of the night, and even though I thought the funeral was alright, there was something about going back home that bothered me.
At first I thought it was my fear of commitment. This farm was built over a hundred years ago by my great grandfather, who passed it down to his first born son, who passed it down to his first born son, who passed it down to me. The whole drive in I glanced down at the envelope resting on my passenger seat, the one my mom had handed me at the funeral. As I drove down the familiar country roads I thought all about the friends and experiences I had at college, about all the freedom I had in the city and I knew that as soon as I opened that envelope I would have to accept that that was all over, and that it was my turn to carry on the families legacy.
However, as I sat on the deck, I started to realize that commitment wasn’t what had me scared, it was something else. See, in the city there are so many threats: burglars, gangsters, even just random crazies that you would run into from time to time and wish you didn’t. Yet despite all that, there is a certain… comfort to the city. There you know that you are never alone, there is always someone around to help you, to find you, to save you. In the country though, there you get to experience true solitude. One look at the sheer emptiness around you and you understand that if things go wrong there isn’t going to be anyone coming to your aid. And it was this thought that was making me nervous.
After sitting there for a bit my mother came out and joined me, as she sat down she noticed the envelope:
“Still haven’t opened it yet?”
“No, it just didn’t feel right” I responded. Gently she put her hand on my shoulder, “He thought it was very important that you read that”
Getting the hint I sighed and gently tore into the envelope and found a beautifully written letter. In it my father wrote about how I had grown into the man he always envisioned me to be, how happy he was to give me the farm, and finally how it was my duty to pass the farm onto the next generation. Admittedly all this made me cry and my mother gave me a long and loving hug. Once I had calmed down we went back inside and I placed the letter onto the old nightstand in my childhood room and got ready for dinner.
It was a nice meal, a little emotional without Dad, but me and my mom had a nice time catching up. It was the first time I had really been home in two years so she had lots to tell me about life here. She said that things had been pretty quiet, like you would expect of a small rural area, but recently there had been a big accident at a nearby factory and around the same time a young woman had gone missing. I recognized the woman’s name and recalled going to high school with her but really my mind was still focused on both the weight of inheriting the farm, as well as the shadows starting to form outside.
That night I struggled to go to sleep. It was the first time in a long time that I had slept in a place with no light pollution and the moonlit, starry sky was as captivating as it was insomnia-inducing. The old farmhouse didn’t help either, as it creaked and moaned and let pockets of wind flow through it you could almost hear a faint cry. It was unnerving but soon I closed my eyes and felt my body relax.
Soon I was falling, falling from high up. As my body raced down from the sky I braced myself for the landing, only to wake up somewhere dark. I looked around, feeling and smelling wet dirt all around me, as my vision started to adjust I noticed an old table. As I moved to the table I felt something stop me. I looked down and saw that I was chained by my right ankle to the wall. As I struggled to even reach the edge of the table, the only discernable object, I heard a door faintly creak open. Heavy boots stomped closer and closer, with the distinct sound of something metallic being dragged following soon after. Suddenly the noise stopped, and I could hear the sound of an old key turning a lock.
As soon as the door unlocked I woke up lying in my bed. I tried to get up to check the time but I couldn’t move. “Sleep paralysis” I sighed in my head, another thing I didn’t miss about the farm. However this time felt different. While I did my normal routine of forcing myself to move, over and over, until I started to budge, I could feel a weight shift beside me. It almost felt like someone was in the bed with me. At the same time the crying sound I heard before I fell asleep grew louder and louder. It started to sound like a woman weeping, right beside my ear. Whatever was beside me started to grow restless, and I could feel it rotate onto its side. The crying stopped. The weight disappeared. I finally gained the ability to move, and as I struggled to sit up a faint voice whispered “key… letter…” and then I woke up again.
Daylight streamed into my room and I forced myself to get out of bed. As I went to go to the bathroom I noticed a piece of paper shoved into the bedroom door. I pulled it out. It was my fathers letter. Remembering the voice in my dream I reread it to see if there was anything important, as I read it my hand grazed something on the back of the paper. I turned it around and saw a key taped onto the letter, as well as another note from my father. In it he admitted that he knew I wasn’t looking forward to taking over, but he reassured me that he had set things up for my success. Finally he concluded the note by saying:
“This farm will give you many gifts, here’s the key to them all,”
The key to the farm, I chuckled a little, “that’s cute”.
The rest of the day I spent walking around the farm, taking in all the old memories, and exploring all the old buildings. I tried the key on all the locks and yet it didn’t seem to work on any of them. Weird, maybe they were changed recently, I remember thinking to myself. Either way, they were all mine now, and as the sun started to hang lower in the sky I started to feel better about my situation. My father was a good man, if he felt I could do this and be happy then I knew I could do it.
As I walked back to the farmhouse I surveyed all the buildings on the farm, making sure that I had checked all of them. Right before I turned around I noticed one a bit far off in a field that I hadn’t checked, an old shed. Now, the thing you have to understand is that old sheds like that exist on pretty much every farm; tiny, ancient, things that have long since lost their purpose. If you drive down a country road you’ll see them everywhere, barely standing, barely noticed. However, thinking about the key, I walked closer to the shed and saw that whatever door it might’ve once had was long gone. Shrugging my shoulders I went back home.
That night was even stranger then the one before. There was no sleep paralysis or wailing voices, there was just the shed. Something about it bothered me, I figured it was because I didn’t really look too closely at it. For whatever reason I couldn’t accept that it was old and abandoned, and that night it kept re-emerging in my mind, no matter how much I tried to think of something else. I fell asleep thinking about it, I dreamt about it, and I woke up thinking about it.
That morning my mom made me breakfast. After it was all gone me and her talked a bit and I brought up the key and asked if the locks had been changed:
“No, I don’t think we’ve done anything to the locks in twenty years,”
“Weird, I checked every building…” I glanced out at the farm, “except for that old shed in the north field I guess,”
My mother looked a little uncomfortable, “I don’t think there’s anything there that would fit that key, but, if you do go check it out just be really careful, ok?” she started speaking really quietly, “there’s been a lot of weird noises coming out from there”.
That afternoon I walked around the farm again, circling around and around, always stopping at the path to the shed. Between my thoughts the past night and what my mother had said something just seemed so off about it. At the same time, it was just an empty shed, and my mother was probably right, it didn’t look structurally sound. Ultimately, I decided to head back home, but as soon as I turned around, I tripped. Except I didn’t step on anything, it almost felt like I had been pushed. When I got up, I saw that I was once again facing the shed. Touching the key in my pocket, I decided to go take a look.
he tension I was experiencing let up instantly as soon as I walked in. It was just a shed, like I thought. The interior was completely empty save for an old, rickety table. There was nothing that would need my key. Right before I was going to walk out, however, something shiny caught my eye. On the table was an old tractor decal, it probably fell off and my father just haphazardly chucked it in there. I picked it up to take a closer look and it immediately slipped out of my hand. As I went to pick it up, I noticed a round bump on the floor. I got down on my knees to take a closer look and realized that it was a keyhole.
Uneased, I pulled out the key from my pocket and put it in. It worked. Slowly I pulled and opened up a hatch that revealed a ladder. There was also a strong smell, it might be hard to explain to people outside of farming but it smelt like a dirty chicken coop. Just that strong odor of heat and waste mingling together. Holding my breath I descended down into a new room, and as I prepared myself for whatever might await I heard a faint voice:
I swung around and let out a sudden gasp. There was a woman down here. She was chained to the wall, the only things around her was a heat lamp and a bucket of stagnant water. As I approached her, I noticed that she was extremely thin, like a talking skeleton with blonde hair.
“H… help me Alex…” she strained. How did she know my name? As she struggled to look up at me, I was hit with a realization: this was the missing girl. I stared in shock for a moment before realizing the gravity of the situation,
“Its going to be alright,” I said, not sure if that was going to be true, “I’m going to get help.” I turned around and sprinted towards the ladder. As I grabbed the first rung, I noticed that it felt strange. Looking closely, I saw a piece of paper tied around it. I opened it up. It was another note from my father:
“How do you like your gift?”