“I think it’s this turn, up ahead,” Rachel said, staring deep into google maps. Travis pulled off the main road onto a dusty dirt path, and Joey, their Honda, bucked over the uneven road. The trees were thick along the road, old pines twisting into broad canopies, and eucalyptus towering above them. The heat of the day, which had been far too hot for late October, shifted under the branches into cool, damp autumn. As they rounded a curve a field stretched out before them, an old barn in the distance. They spotted a station wagon parked along the road, and pulled in behind it. As they piled out of the car a woman they assumed was Vivian, the real estate agent they’d arranged to meet, approached them, her hand outstretched.
“You must be Rachel, Jessica and Travis,” she said, shaking each of their hands in turn. “I’m Vivian, it’s lovely to meet you all. How was your drive up?”
“It wasn’t too bad, just a couple hiccups in traffic. Otherwise, we made good time,” Travis replied. “You know, I think it gets easier every time we pile in the car and head up this way.” This was the third trip in as many weeks that the three of them had driven the grapevine up into the spine of California, through the dusty putrid smell of the CAFOs to the Salad Bowl, to visit a potential plot of land for Terra Cultura to lay down its roots.
Vivian was clearly distracted, as her eyes and attention drifted back toward the barn at the back of the property. After a few moments of awkward silent shuffling, she snapped back to attention. “Well I think this one will be worth your patience! It has beautiful acreage, nice and flat, quality land! And of course the barn, it’s really something to see. Let’s go take a look!”
“Actually,” Jessica interjected. “Before we do the tour, would you mind if I used the restroom?” The road trip had been peppered with gas station bathroom breaks, and the occasional squat behind a roadside bush, but in their hurry to meet Vivian on time, they’d forgone the last rest stop.
“Oh,” Vivian looked disappointed. “Sure…” She walked very slowly to an outhouse-like structure adjacent to the barn. “Know what, let me just pop my head in there before you do. Last time there was some… um, spiderwebs. I’ll just clear it for you so you don’t walk through them.” Vivian jerked her head quickly through the outhouse door, swatted the air in a few ferocious cycles, and snapily surveyed the interior. “So far so good!” She said, and stepped aside to let Jessica assume her privacy.
Jessica closed the door, and turned to sit as the backside of the door closed in on her. It shut within inches of her nose and she let out a short gasp. It was loud enough for Travis to hear. “Jess?” He said.
“No….” She flushed and opened the door. “But take a look at this.” She swung the door for them to see. Pinned to the inside of the door was a tattered cloth hanging by threads on a bent nail. It was splattered in brown and read in a scribbled hand, It Will Be Your Last.
“Um ok,” Travis said, inspecting it closer. “Weird sense of humor.”
Vivian pushed her way in to see, and snagged the cloth off the wall. “Oh just some neighborhood kids playing pranks,” she said, shoving the cloth in her purse. “We’ll have to up our security.”
Vivian glanced towards the barn once more, and then turned sharply on her heel. “Let’s walk the perimeter first, actually. I think you’ll really appreciate the soil here. The field has been fallow for decades, so if you’re interested in getting USDA Organic certified, you could probably expedite the process. And these natural grasses have kept the soil nice and dark.” Jessica, Travis, and Rachel followed, struggling to keep up with Vivian’s quick pace. She slowed, as they reached the tall grasses, and the three each began wandering the field. Travis stooped down to scoop up a handful of soil.
“Look at this, it’s holding a good amount of moisture still,” he said, holding his hand open so Rachel could inspect it.
“Ooh yea, that is nice,” Rachel said. She turned to take a step deeper into the field, and then stopped short. “Huh. You guys, come look at this.” Travis and Jessica looked up from their individual explorations. Rachel pointed to a spot in the grass, where it looked like the grasses had been bent, all at the same level. “Doesn’t that look like it says…’LEAVE’?”
“Well, that’s the field!” They all jumped a bit, and turned to find Vivian standing close behind them. She put her arms on the shoulders of Rachel and Jessica, and turned them away from the grasses. “Good condition, that soil, yes? Those local grasses… And with a few repairs, that well should be able to pump 28 gallons per minute. Now um, this barn I was telling you about, it’s quite a structure.” She kept her hands on their shoulders as she ushered them toward the old barn.
“Did you see that, Vivian?” Jessica started to ask. “What do you think could cause something like–”
“Ah, well, here we are!” Vivian interjected. “It’s a little worse for wear, but wait until you see the inside!” she exclaimed.
The barn door hung wide against it’s warped frame, swinging on it’s only intact, rusty hinge. Travis entered first, and tugged tentatively against a long ball chain ascending upward toward the ceiling, optimistic that this effort would yield some light against the darkness inside the barn. After two more reluctant pulls, a loud, brief buzz emanated from a line of fluorescent lights blinking back into consciousness. After a long pause, Travis looked up to find a yellowed half-sheet of paper, tailspinning slowly toward the ground. Once it touched town, he picked it up, studied it intently, and then shouted back toward the outside “Guys, you gotta see this…”.
But Vivian was faster. She snatched the paper out of Travis’ hands. “Lots of trash around here. But a little elbow grease, she’ll be good as new.” Vivian powered into the barn.
“What did it say?” Jessica whispered to Travis.
“It had an image on it– a knife, dripping with blood. And. So weird.”
“The knife was pointing at three people, and I swear they looked kind of like us.”
There was a loud noise from deep within the barn, as though something heavy had fallen. Vivian stopped in her tracks.
“What was that?” Jessica asked.
“What’s going on around here?” Rachel echoed.
Vivian looked at them apologetically. She ushered them out of the barn, turning frequently to look back over her shoulder. Safely out in the sunlight, she said, “So what do you think? Do you like the property?”
“We get the feeling,” Rachel said, “that someone might not want us around.”
“Yeah, what’s up with these weird notes?” Travis added.
Vivian sighed. “I don’t know. I do know this property, even though it seems desirable enough, has been on the market for many years.” She started to say more, but stopped herself.
“Go on…” Jessica urged.
“There are stories,” Vivian said. “Rumors. Of strange things that happened here, a long time ago. Things that shouldn’t affect us today. But…”
“Strange things, like what?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know. It was the site of… some violence, back in the 30s. You can look it up. The Bixby Gang. This was their hide out.”
“That’s pretty cool,” said Jessica.
“Cool, right?” Vivian repeated, changing her tone. “It’s good to buy land with history. So are you interested?”
“We’ll think about it,” Travis said, and gave Jessica and Rachel a signal that it was time to vamoose. As they pulled away, they did not quite match Vivian’s enthusiasm in their waving. Travis said loudly, “This place is so creepy!”
“Neighborhood kids, yeah right!” Jessica exclaimed. “This spot is haunted as Hades.”
“Let’s just get out of here, quick,” Rachel pleaded. Travis made curtains of dust behind the car, along the fallow fields. They rocked over the gravel, then hit the asphalt and slammed out into the rural highway. The neighbors, who had looked so wholesome on the way in, now seemed to sneer from behind curtains, as though cursing the newcomers suspiciously. Evening was falling and the sky was an angry red.
As they pulled into the safety of the hotel parking lot, they erupted into convulsions of giggling over the absurdity of their fear. “Let’s go in, I have to pee again,” Jessica said.
“Good thing you didn’t pee your last back there at the site,” Rachel giggled.
“Hope not!” Said Jessica, stepping out of the car. She slammed the door, then stood transfixed staring at Joey’s passenger side. “You guys!” She said.
Rachel and Travis came around to see what she was looking it. Scratched sloppily into the metal with a sharp object were these words: You trespassed in my world. Now I trespass in yours. You can’t escape Bixby.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM JESSICA, TRAVIS & RACHEL!
WE HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS TRICK/TREAT WE WROTE FOR YOU.