Prime Evil, an urban fantasy, is Heather Long’s second novel due out from Sapphire Blue Publishing this Fall. Chance Monroe made her first appearance in the free short story It Happens available from All Romance eBooks. Enjoy this sneak peak at a future Chance adventure.
We pulled into Doc Martin’s place a little past six in the evening. The sun was still high in the western sky, but it would be dark within a couple of hours. That was more than enough time for me to get ready. I saw Doc coming down from the house as soon as we parked near the outer gate.
“You sure you don’t want to drive up to the house?” Jack asked as I stripped off the seatbelt and started to get out of the car.
“Nope, this is good. He always plants his early crops in the outer pastured areas. That way he can keep the cattle in close for working and turn them loose to graze on what’s left to clean up after the harvest.” I grinned at Jack. He’d followed my suggestion, dressing for comfort and practicality in the work boots, jeans and a plain cotton t-shirt.
“Hey Doc!” I waved a greeting at the grizzled old man who strolled down the drive. Doc was the image of old, spry, wiry men who’ve spent their whole lives working in the outdoors. His skin was leathery, tan and ripe, like old parchment. He possessed a pair of merry blue eyes and a cheery disposition to match. It was hard to believe that my grandmother dated Doc once when they were both much younger. I remember Gran teasing me about the man who might have been her husband.
“Hey Chancy,” Doc grunted as he near the gate. He affixed his merry blue eyes on Jack. “Finally catch yourself a man to do all that heavy lifting for you?”
I grinned and leaned over to give him a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. “How’s the Missus?”
“She’s good. Baked you some pies to take back to Betty, and you best come up to the house when you’re done to pick them up.” He smiled at my kiss and offered his weathered hand to Jack. “Doc Martin.”
“Jack Park, sir.” Jack shook his hand firmly, and I watched the two of them size each other up while I got my duffel out of the trunk. It was heavier than usual, but I brought a lot of tools with me. I closed the trunk and shook my head. The conversation between the two men was turning towards tractors. I shouldered the bag and headed off towards the first set of pastures.
The damp Earth smelled faintly of pine, oak, honeysuckle and sunshine. I swung the bag over the fence and hiked a foot up so I could swing my leg over. “Doc?” I called, interrupting the men.
“Corn?” I pointed towards the direction I was heading. “And potatoes?” I pointed at the other side of the drive.
“Ayup, Missy. Corn’s been a bit strained this year. Potatoes are doing just fine.” Doc nodded towards me and fished a pipe out of his pocket. “I’m going to steal your boy for awhile.”
I laughed at the look on Jack’s face. “Go on,” I said and waved at him. “I’ll be fine. Besides,” I grinned as I hopped down and shouldered the duffel again, “Doc makes a mean bottle of gin.”
I did not mention that doing my job would be a lot easier without Jack looking over my shoulder. I set off towards the corn that was swaying in the breeze. It was only a little after six and the sun wouldn’t go down for another two hours at least. I squinted up at it and felt the beads of sweat already forming on my forehead. A fly buzzed past, followed by a lazily buzzing bumblebee.
I climbed over the next fence and found myself face to face with row upon row of corn. Wiping some of the dampness from my face with the back of my hand, I pushed aside an unpleasant memory of another corn field on a desultory August evening and struck out towards the center. The rows were laid out neatly, and if you didn’t mind the stalks poking and prodding and occasionally seizing a handhold on your hair and giving it a good yank, this was a most peaceful place to walk.
I was used to this, I reminded myself as I pushed my way through the corn. It was all in a day’s work, or in this case, an evening’s. I looked over the cornstalks. Several looked fat and healthy, heavy with ripening corn. But Doc was right. Other stalks didn’t look quite as firm as they should.
I stepped into something damp and the odor of rot wafted up to tickle at my nose. Glancing down, I examined what was left a rapidly decaying cornstalk. It was rotting at the base. I sniffed at it cautiously and sighed.
Looking around the field, I shook the muck off my finger and then dried it off against my jeans.
Hopefully the infestation wouldn’t be too bad. Picking up the pace, I pushed through the field and found my way to the center. I flung the bag down towards the small circle of rocks that protruded from the land. Pulling a band out of my pocket, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail.
The dirt here was rich, loamy and shaded by the thick stalks of corn. Kneeling down, I used a hand to clean off the clutter from the small stones. They’d been planted here for years.
I knelt down and pulled the duffel over and unzipped it. A pair of candles, one black and one white, took a place of prominence. Some vanilla extract, a little neat’s-foot and valerian root were each sprinkled in small portions around the stone circle. The process was like tossing salt over one shoulder and wishing for luck. My grandmother endorsed it and I wasn’t one to rock that particular boat.
Sweat pooled on my skin under the shirt and slowly soaked its way through. The smell of salt mingled with the Earth and the crisp corn to perfume the air around in a manner that was both familiar and comforting. Swiping a hand over my face again, I ignored the trail of dirt that was left behind and shook off the sweat. Settling more firmly into the circle, my legs formed a bow of their own.
I smiled as a pair of geese babbled their away across the sky overhead. Scratching the tip of my nose thoughtfully for a moment, I used a small lighter to light the candles before pocketing it.
The meshing was seamless, like two old dancing partners finding each other in a graceful waltz. The scent of the candles allowed me a place to mark in my mind as I allowed the rest of me to seep into the Earth, twining around the roots and cascading along familiar tracings.
It was two years since this field saw a crop. Two years, barely an eye blink in the history of the world as the Earth recorded it. Slithering through the roots, I reached out to encompass the field that was filled with cornstalks. I saw them waving in the breeze that moved overhead. I felt the warmth of the sun where it touched the Earth. I felt the thickness and the deepness of the roots as they spread throughout the field.
It was as it should be, rich and verdant, but even amongst all this ripe life there were shadows. Leaving off that which needed no succor from me at the moment, I began to trace the path of the shadows that wound their way sinuously about the field and the roots below.
The grafters were a plague on a field if they became too entrenched. This field hadn’t been cleared in two years, since the last time Doc kept a crop here, but there were no hints of grafters in the late winter and early spring when I’d come to prepare the field, so this infestation couldn’t be that bad.
Difficult to explain, grafters act like a supernatural fungus and spread along the growth of natural life, feeding on the energy of the life within. When they got out of hand, they consumed whole fields. Science has yet to put a name to the fungus that is found in the remnants of the fields, but I didn’t need science to identify the symptoms. And the fungus is only a symptom. It doesn’t lie at the root of the problem. Pardon the pun.
Visible from within the Earth, the grafters moved like slithering snakes, inky shadows that wrap around the living plant life and slowly constrict, squeezing all that is alive and kinetic out of the plant. Once it has feasted, it will spread slowly onto another life form, and when two grafters meet over the same subject, they mate and from their mating two or three offspring may spread out. And so it goes, on and on, until a field is devastated.
Keep an eye out for Prime Evil, coming soon.