Welcome Home, Son

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Lisa Baldi

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Jason knew that his wife, Ashley, was less than enthusiastic when he inherited the family farm and tavern, but he never thought that she would run off and leave him without saying a word.

After a long, arduous day of working in the field and renovating the tavern, Jason made his way back to the farmhouse for dinner, but Ashley was nowhere to be found. They had an argument earlier that day, but he wasn’t too concerned; he assumed that she must just be cooling off somewhere on the 225-acre farm. As the sun began to set, his concern grew so he drove the tractor around looking for her. When midnight approached, he finally reported her missing to the county sheriff.

Search parties scoured the area for nearly a week. With each passing day, fewer people came. Jason could see the pity – and reproach – in his neighbors’ eyes. And he could hear the whispers.
“He should have known better than to bring a career girl from Manhattan to the farm.”
“If you ask me, he never should have left in the first place.”
“He should have been more of a help to his parents, Jeremiah and Clare, with the farm and tavern.”

Eventually the sheriff concluded that Ashley must have “left on her own accord.” With just two years until his retirement, Sheriff Ramsey didn’t want to get mixed up in anything that happened on that property. Before Jeremiah Schwamm settled on Eagle Point, the town had been quiet and peaceful. Then rumors started to swirl about strange occurrences on the farm... and now a missing woman.

The fact that the land was a sacred burial ground didn’t deter Jeremiah from building on it. A young farmer from Pennsylvania, he left his rural community after some trouble with the church and traveled with his wife to upstate New York, determined to make his own way in the world.

When Jason and Ashley first arrived, she felt a bit resentful about the move. They left their trendy loft apartment behind along with close friends and all the excitement the city has to offer, packed up the U-Haul and drove hundreds of miles to upstate New York. But once she saw the sprawling property idyllically perched on top of Eagle Point mountain, she understood why Jason wanted to return.

After a few weeks, Ashley settled into her new home, and was inspired by an idea to resume her career as a baker.

“There’s a big movement toward ancient grains,” she declared one night at dinner.

“Okay... ” Jason said cautiously.

“I was thinking... we could dedicate some land to growing ancient grains like spelt,” she continued. “I could bake with them, and we could sell artisanal bread and pastries at the tavern.”

Jason grew quiet. He could hear his father’s voice in his head, saying that was the stupidest idea he ever heard. Jeremiah was a cantankerous curmudgeon who blamed Ashley when Jason didn’t return after college. After the family settled on Eagle Point, Jason’s mother had several miscarriages, so when he was born, Jeremiah and Clare said it was a miracle. He was their only child – not to mention a valuable farm hand. Then he left for Cornell to study agriculture, met Ashley and never looked back.

He pushed those thoughts aside; he was glad that Ashley was excited about baking again. She hadn’t mentioned that passion since selling her bakery in the city.

“I guess I could spare a plot or two,” he teased.

For months, Ashley focused all her energy on planting and harvesting grains and developing recipes, declaring that this was her endeavor and she didn’t want any interference. Meanwhile Jason got to work renovating the tavern. His parents practically lived in that place; his mother cooked all the meals and his father even cased his own sausage.

Still, Jason never felt comfortable there. Some days, he thinks he can hear his father’s raspy voice whispering dark thoughts in his ear.

The day Ashley disappears, Jason is working in the tavern when someone sneaks up behind him and puts what feels like a rope around his neck. Jason struggles, falling to the floor and thrashing about furiously before finally breaking free. He runs for the door and when he opens it, Ashley is just about to enter the tavern with a loaf of freshly baked bread.

Jason breathlessly tells her what just happened, and she scolds him like a child. “There’s no one here! When are you going to stop this nonsense?” This wasn’t the first time that Jason claimed to have experienced something strange in the tavern. Ashley tears off the oven mitt she is still wearing and throws it in his direction. Then she turns and storms toward the granary.

Trudging across the field, Ashley thinks she hears a voice hiss in her ear, “You’re going to pay for that.” She feels chills go up and down her spine and thinks it must be the wind and the crisp night air.

As soon as she enters the granary, Ashley hears moaning and smells a foul odor coming from the opposite side. Approaching the area tentatively, she feels someone push her from behind. She stumbles into one of the tall walls of grain before falling face down on the ground, dazed and terrified.

Ashley rolls onto her back and sees a shadowy figure of an older man holding an axe dripping with blood. For a split second, she thinks that the unearthly form resembles Jason’s father, his face contorted with rage as he walks toward her. Thinking she must be hallucinating, she squeezes her eyes closed tight for what seemed like eternity, willing the image away. When she opens them, she can no longer see the form – or anything else for that matter! The wall of grain is collapsing on her fast, pummeling her head and engulfing her body.

Just then Ashley hears Jason on his tractor and starts screaming, hoping he will save her from the avalanche of grain. She struggles in vain to stand, even crawl, but the suction of the grain is just too strong. She battles feverishly for a few minutes, fighting for breath as her lungs filled with dust.

And then she disappears.

*****************************************************************


Since Ashley has been gone, Jason has been keeping himself busy working on the farm and in the tavern. On weekends, groups of hikers often stop by for a beer and to admire the view from the top of Eagle Point. He is always hospitable, bringing out a charcuterie board for them to enjoy.

One night, a lone patron was in the tavern. He and Jason struck up a conversation. Realizing that he hadn’t seen any livestock on the farm, he asks Jason, “What kind of sausage is this?” Jason just continues to clean the counter. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he replied.

Suddenly feeling uneasy, the man gulps down his ale and rises to leave when he sees the ghostly figure of an older man blocking the door, holding an axe in one hand and rope in the other. Jason looks at the otherworldly form and his lips form a twisted smile.

“Welcome home, son,” the spirit replies.

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