I Built a Shrine for the Good Spirits of the Land…

There are things out there, much older and many times smarter than man.

 

Ah, the farm life. It’s hard, but satisfactory. There’s nothing like working your own land and see it bear fruit.

I’ve been a farmer all my life. I grew up on the family farm and ever since I could walk, I helped wherever I could.

After my grandparents died, my parents took over and once I’d finished my nine mandatory years of schooling, I began working at the farm with them.

As a young man, I’d often wondered if that was all life offered. Many of my childhood friends had left our small village community behind and had moved to the big city. The thought of what such a different life would hold in store for me was a constant companion those first few years on the farm.

When I met Maria, all that changed. She was a village girl who’d started working on our farm. It didn’t take long for the two of us to get close. Only a year later, we got married and Maria moved in with me. She bore me two sons, Daniel and John.

Life was good, but as we all know, it seldom lasts forever.

My mother withered away because of an aggressive type of cancer. It changed my father forever. He used to be a happy, jolly man, but after her death, he turned into an old cynic who spent all his time working on the farm.

Yet an old man can only work from morning till evening for so long. Four years after my mother’s death, he collapsed and got himself into a terrible accident. He shattered one of his hips and was left permanently crippled.

From that point onward, it was only me who could work on the farm. Maria helped wherever she could, but most of her time was spent taking care of the kids.

Things were hard during that time. I couldn’t work all the fields on my own, and we even had to sell part of our livestock. Still, we somehow made it through and adapted.

As they say, though, when it rains, it pours, and our personal misfortunes should only be the beginning.

New trends and technological improvements made us less than competitive with other farmers.

Even worse, however, was the ever-rising popularity of all-organic crops. I considered the switch myself, but we couldn’t afford it. Our farming equipment was old-fashioned, and we relied on using cheap, traditional fertilizer.

It wouldn’t have been a big deal, if not for the young and hip people who began flooding the local farmer’s markets. Following new trends, they stayed clear of cheap discounters and supermarkets. What they wanted were local, fresh, but most importantly, all-organic crops. They wouldn’t even look twice at our market stand and many times Maria returned, having barely sold anything.

Sure, we had our regulars, but few of them ever made the long trip to our farm. Most of our customers found us at the local farmer’s markets, but many of the older people avoided the more popular ones since they’d become gathering grounds for millennials.

We considered shipping our products, but this would shrink our narrow profit margin even further.

The last straw was the arrival of products from big, organic farmers in our area. There was no way we could compete with their prices and soon enough, local stores replaced our products with their much cheaper ones.

In 2016, I grudgingly went all-organic as well. The adjustments, however, forced me to invest heavily in new technology, as well as organic fertilizer, and thus lending me heavily in debt.

I kept quiet about all of this in front of Maria, but I talked to dad about it. Being the old cynic he was, he said, as things looked now, the farm was as good as finished. I could do nothing but agree with him. Another year like this, and we’d be finished.

2017 started off well, but it soon became clear that luck just wasn’t on our side. While I worked as hard as I could, dad had lost hope long ago. It was no use, he said, shaking his head. Not this year.

Before long, he proved to be right. The weather that year was terrible. It was too hot or too cold. At some times, the fields were flooded, at others, there was no rain for weeks. It didn’t matter how hard I worked; it didn’t matter how much of the new organic fertilizer I used. Even the new farming equipment seemed entirely useless. Our crops just didn’t grow.

As I went over the books, I had to face the sad reality. There was no hope of paying our debt. Hell, there was no hope of breaking even.

One night in late spring, I finally confessed our situation to Maria. She was furious, understandably so, and bombarded me with questions. Why hadn’t I told her earlier? What had I been thinking? We had to sell the farm? Neither of us had learned a trade, so what would we even do? Where would be live? She continued on, and when I couldn’t answer any of her questions, she went to bed with tears of frustration streaming down her face.

After that, I was too agitated to even think of sleep. Instead, I went for a walk around the farm.

I followed the path along the fields and let my eyes wander over the place that had been my home for over four decades. Over to the right was the field of my very first harvest. I smiled when I saw the wide meadows further ahead. Every summer, as a kid, I’d led the cows out there to graze. Even the path I walked on right now was full of memories. It was the place I’d first asked Maria out at.

Was that really it? I couldn’t believe it. I really had to leave this place and all my memories behind? Wasn’t there anything I could do?

As I stood there, frustrated and staring up at the night sky, I remembered a story my grandpa had told me when I was a little boy.

Back in the day, he’d told me, when farmers were in dire need, they’d built small shrines for fair folk, or as he called them, the good spirits. They’d fill them with offerings hoping to exchange them for their help.

I smiled at this story.

Looking back, I can’t say why I did it, but desperation works in strange ways. The farm was lost either way. And so, I spent the next hour building a small wooden shrine, hidden between a few trees behind the farmhouse. It was nothing much, just a wooden overhang with a small table below. On this table, I placed two candles and an ornate plate containing an assortment of our vegetables as an offering.

Once I was done, and unsure what to do, I went down on my knees, put my hands together, and closed my eyes in prayer.

“If you help this farm, oh good spirits,” I started, but didn’t know how to continue.

What the hell was I even doing? This was stupid. Yet, after a while, I came up with something: “I give you a share of the fruits of my land.”

Raising my voice, I recited the entire prayer once more.

“If you help this farm, oh good spirits, I give you a share of all the fruits of my land.”

For a long time, I remained in this praying position, and repeated the prayer a few more times. Soon enough, I noticed just how exhausted I was. Before I knew, and still in the same position, I felt myself drifting off to sleep.

While asleep in front of the small shrine, I had the strangest of dreams. It was hazy, disjointed, and confusing. I found myself still in front of the table, but it was all so different. Nothing but thick, all-engulfing darkness surrounded me, almost as if I’d been transported to a different realm.

Then, one by one, several tiny creatures emerged from the surrounding darkness. Some looked like people, some had fluorescent wings, others reminded me of dwarfs or gnomes, and yet others were strange mixtures of beast and man.

At first, I saw only a handful, but within moments, there were hundreds, shuffling and pushing against each other all around me.

They seemed to shift and flicker, there for one moment, and gone the next. Suddenly, a small, stout man appeared on the other side of the table. He was bald and had small, shiny eyes that reminded me of buttons. His face showed a big, jolly smile. I remembered laughing at how silly he looked.

The next moment, I was holding a document in my hand. Strange symbols covered it, but they soon changed and I found myself able to read them. Or maybe they stayed the same, and I learned to understand them?

“For my help, a share of all the fruits of thy land belongs to me,” I read out loud the crudely written line.

All the beings around me jubilated, but I was still laughing, not understanding what was happening.

Then, I held a quill, I didn’t remember picking up, in my hand.

“What is this?” I asked the being in front of me. “A contract?”

The stout man continued to smile with the same jolly expression, but gave me an enthusiastic nod. Eventually, without thinking, I moved the quill towards the document and signed it.

The stout man gave me another happy nod before his small eyes began glowing in a radiant orange light, and his smile grew wider and wider. Before I could even react, I awoke on the ground in front of the small shrine.

One look at my watch told me it was long past three in the morning. I sighed. All of this was too much for me. I’d fallen asleep out here and dreamed of little people.

When I finally made it to bed, I cursed at myself, knowing I’d get only two hours of actual sleep that night.

Around noon the next day, I had the chance to look at the shrine. I had told no one about it, of course, and frankly, I wouldn’t. I was too embarrassed to admit that my desperation had driven me to give into fairy tales and nonsense. To my surprise, however, the offerings I’d placed on the table were entirely gone.

For a moment, I remembered the strange dream, but then I shook my head. Must’ve been wild animals. Probably squirrels or raccoons, I reasoned.

“Well, at least someone’s profiting from all this,” I mumbled to myself.

In the evening, after dinner, I went out to the shrine once more and placed another little offering on it. Why? I don’t even know. I guess, against all logical sense and reason, I was still hoping my grandpa’s story was true. As I said, desperation works in strange ways, and I was nothing but desperate.

When I checked it again, the next day, the offerings were gone again.

And so, I kept it up, leaving out a select few vegetables every night, knowing fair well I was most likely doing nothing but feeding a bunch of hungry raccoons.

Two weeks after, however, I noticed the crops started improving.

At first, I told myself that my hard work must’ve paid off, but soon I couldn’t deny that something else was at work here. The crops improved at a level that was unnatural, impossible even. Two weeks ago, they’d been nothing but tiny withered things, and now they were full and healthy.

Each week, Maria and I could pick basket after basket of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchinis. The potatoes and other crops, too, grew to sizes I’d never thought possible.

Maria told me that more and more people got attracted to our products each week. Sure, our prices were higher than those of the corporate farmers, but our quality was much better. At least, that’s what people said.

I’d never dreamed things would go so well.

When the harvest was over, things had made a complete turnaround. To my surprise, we had not only broken even, but we’d even made a handsome profit.

That same night, I went back to the little shrine and placed an especially big offering on it.

“With this offering here,” I said in celebration, “I thank you spirits for this harvest.”

I didn’t doubt anymore. No, that dream, as unbelievable as it was, had been real.

Finally, I made another promise:

“Next year, if you help me again, I’ll bring you offerings once more.”

After that, I left the little shrine behind and went to bed. For the first time in over two years, I was content. We weren’t rich by any means, but we’d been able to pay off a substantial part of our accumulated debt. Most importantly, though, we could keep the farm.

When I fell asleep, it was with a happy smile on my face.

The following night, Maria woke me up. She told me there was a ruckus out by the chicken coop.

I threw on some clothes and made my way outside.

“Must be a marten or a fox,” I said to myself as I ran towards the building.

As I opened the door, flashlight in hand, I was greeted by absolute chaos. The hens were out of it. As I shined the beam of the flashlight around, however, I couldn’t find the intruder. Neither did I find the place from which he might have entered. Yet, as I counted the hens, two of them were definitely missing.

I was quite confused when I returned inside and told Maria what I’d found, or hadn’t.

The next day, during daytime, I checked the coop once more, this time more thoroughly, but still found nothing.

“Where did you enter from, you damned fox?”

As I turned the whole place upside down, I also noticed that all the eggs were gone. This was getting stranger and stranger.

That evening, I stayed up and waited in the living room. I was fully dressed, had the lights turned down and my eyes were glued to the window.

“Where are you, mister fox?” I asked, as I kept checking the meadows around the house.

As the hours turned by, I slowly felt myself getting sleep. I needed coffee. Just as I boiled some water, a noise erupted from outside.

Cursing, I rushed down the stairs. Once outside, I ran across the farm and towards the chicken coop.

When I was about a dozen meters away from it, the door burst open and a stout little man came outside.

His head was completely bald. His eyes were tiny buttons, and glowed in a menacing, orange light. The rest of his face was all mouth, an unnaturally wide mouth that stretched from ear to ear. As the man left the coop, I saw how bloated he was. The end of a hen’s wing protruded from his mouth, only to vanish moments later.

For a few seconds, I could only stare at the sight in front of me.

“What the fuck…?” escaped my mouth.

The weird, hazy dream returned to me. I remembered the being who’d been at the other side of the table. It had been a stout, but jolly little man.

The figure I saw now looked similar, but more like a mocking, malevolent caricature. It was a disgusting abomination, much too fat to be human. Looking at it made my skin crawl.

When the glowing button eyes came to rest on me, a wave of fear washed over me and I flinched.

“A share of all the fruits of thy land belongs to me,” it said in a deep, rumbling voice.

I stood there, dumbfounded, my mouth hanging open in terrified astonishment. Without even waiting for a reaction, the creature turned around and walked away into the darkness.

When the sheer surprise and absurdity of the situation left me, I took a few steps in the same direction, but the creature had vanished.

Then, remembering why I’d come out, I rushed inside the chicken coop. I counted the hens again, and only seven of them were left, less than half of them.

Even when I was back in the house, I didn’t understand what had happened, what I’d just seen. The only thing that came to my mind were the words the creature had said:

“A share of all the fruits of thy land belongs to me.”

It reverberated inside my mind. It could only mean one thing. This was the spirit, or the being I’d signed the contract with and which had blessed my land. Wasn’t the contract finished, though? I’d paid the creature every single night with those offerings, right? So why was it returning now?

Back in the living room, I noticed Maria was up. She saw the state I was in and asked what had happened. I told her it had been a fox, and that he’d torn apart half the hens in the coop, but I’d got rid of it. For a couple of seconds, she just stared at me. She must’ve noticed my expression and how out of it I was. I was about to open my mouth and add another part to the lie, but eventually, she let it go and went back to bed.

That night, I didn’t sleep. I was too scared, too confused. When the picture of the stout little man came back to me, I couldn’t help but shiver.

If there still hadn’t been only seven hens in the morning, I would’ve written off last night’s events as nothing but a weird nightmare. Seeing how scared those remaining seven hens were, however, I had to face reality.

Before I did anything else that day, however, I rushed to the shrine and placed a small offering on it.

The next night, I waited in the living room again, scared to see the creature roaming our farm again, but all stayed quiet. In the morning, Maria woke me up on a chair in the living room and handed me a strong cup of coffee.

Once I was fully awake, I went to check the coop. It was undamaged, and all seven hens were still there.

After that, I hurried to the shrine. The offering was gone.

From this day onward, I put out offerings again, same as I’d done before. I couldn’t risk that creature appearing at the farm again.

As so often, though, things never go as planned.

The first time the creature returned, we were visiting Maria’s parents. We hadn’t planned to stay over for the night, but a terrible, raging storm made a return to the farm impossible. I was out of it, but there was no way I could risk driving during such weather.

When we made it back, I wasn’t prepared for what we’d find. I was afraid that more of the chickens would be gone. Hell, to find the entire coop empty, but it was much, much worse. The entire coop was in shambles.

Maria put her hand over her mouth in shock and the kids next to her began asking what had happened. Dad, on the other hand, cursed the damned storm for destroying the coop. Only I knew what had really happened.

The rest of the farm was in prime condition. Nothing else was missing or damaged. After a while, I returned to the coop and began sorting through the rubble, not even sure what I was trying to find. Dad watched for a few minutes before he walked up to me and put his hand on my shoulder.

“Leave it alone son, nothing you can do about it,” he said in a well-meaning voice.

The second time the creature returned, Daniel got into an accident in the middle of October. He got a nasty cut on his leg while playing outside and I rushed him to the hospital. The doctors assured me it was nothing life-threatening, but he’d have to stay the night to make sure everything was okay.

Once I’d heard that, I called Maria right away to give her the good news. Then, I told her about the shrine I’d built and instructed her to put out some vegetables. When she asked why, laughing, I simply told her to do it. It was important.

When I returned to the farm the next day, Maria was more than happy to have Daniel back. She looked exhausted, and I could tell she must’ve been worried sick.

On my way to the farmhouse, I saw dad outside. He was livid and cursed at something. Without a moment’s hesitation, I ran over to him to find him standing in front of the barn.

“Someone must’ve broken in,” he told me, and pointed at the door.

Suddenly, I felt very cold.

When I stepped past the broken door, the iron smell of blood hit me right away. I stumbled back a few steps and almost vomited. After a few moments, however, I covered my mouth and hurried back inside. I saw it right away. The cowshed had been ravaged, and all the milking equipment had been destroyed. The worst by far, however, was the floor. It was awash with blood, and here and there, I could see torn pieces of cowhide. For a few more moments, I just stared at the massacre in front of me before I rushed back outside. This time, I vomited.

Why had this happened? I’d told Maria to put out an offering, hadn’t I? Don’t tell me…

Once I’d gotten my composure back, I ran back to her and the boys.

“Did you put out the offering like I told you?”

She only stared at me, clearly confused.

“What are you talking about, Steven?”

“When I called you yesterday, I told you to put out some vegetables on the plate in that shrine, didn’t I?”

For a moment she was quiet, thinking.

“Oh yeah, that. Why’d I-“

“Oh for god’s sake Maria!” I cut her off. “I told you it was important! How could you just… Fuck!”

John and Daniel looked up at me with wide eyes, and I could see how Maria’s expression changed from surprise to anger.

“All right, mister, you better not speak to me like that, especially in front of the boys. And you better tell me what this is all about!”

From the corner of my eye, I saw dad, who gave me a similarly angry look.

Once it was evening, and we’d tucked in the kids, I finally told them what I’d done.

Maria gave me a look of sheer disbelief.

“The good… spirits? Are you sure you’re okay, Steven? Do you have a fever or something?”

As she said this, she was about to reach out for me, but I was quick to shake my head.

“But then what are you talking about?” she asked, laughing. “How do you think anyone could…?”

“Well, what do you think happened at the barn, Maria?”

“Maybe someone broke in, and… god, I don’t know!”

“You know, boy,” dad interrupted our argument with a stern look on his face. “My father never told you the full story, the real one. Those stories are a warning. That’s what they are!”

“A warning? What are you talking about, dad?”

“Well boy, back in the day, many tried their luck with the fair folk, but all came to regret it. They all learned one thing. There’s no fair folk here, only evil spirits.”

Maria had listened, but began laughing once more, shaking her head.

“Oh, come on, you two can’t be serious! Both of you must’ve gone crazy!”

When neither of us said a word, she jumped off her chair.

“This better be some kind of stupid joke,” she snapped at us before she left the room.

I could hear her laughing as she went on her way to bed, but her laughter sounded forced and had a noticeable edge to it.

“Did grandpa ever mention how to get rid of these… things?”

“No,” dad answered in a low voice. “Boy, why’d you have to toy around with things like this, goddammit! We should’ve just sold the farm and-“

“You’d just given up the farm without even trying? Is that what mom would’ve wanted?”

“Don’t you dare, boy, don’t you dare,” he brought out in a cold, barely restrained voice.

In his rage, he tried to get up and almost crashed to the floor. He clung to the edge of the table, his entire body trembling.

“Dad, what are you-?” I started, trying to help him up, but he swatted my hand aside.

For a few more moments, he just stared at me. Once he’d gotten back on his feet, he left the room without saying another word. I could hear his steps and the clicking of his crutches as he made his way to his part of the house.

With that, I was alone, sitting in the living room all by myself. Was dad right? Had I truly cursed this place? No, there had to be something we could do!

For now, I’d just continue to put out offerings.

During the next week, dad and I didn’t talk. He kept to himself, isolated in his part of the house, and whenever he saw me, he’d stare me down before walking away.

Maria talked to me like always, but I noticed the way she stared at me.

“You’re still keeping this up?” she asked one day, when she’d followed me to the shrine.

I could hear the annoyance in her voice. Instead of answering, I simply ignored her. I had tried to talk to Maria a few more times, but as soon as I mentioned evil spirits, she refused to listen to another word.

One night, in early November, a thundering noise from downstairs woke me. I almost jumped out of the bed and was wide awake in an instant.

“What the hell was that?”

Maria had woken up, too.

“Do you think it’s the heating system?” she asked.

My eyes grew wide. The thing had acted up before and it had cost us thousands in repairs.

I rushed down the stairs and went straight to the boiler room. Everything was fine. No damage to the oven, no burst pipes, nothing.

Oh no, don’t tell me.

I continued on to the back of the house. There we kept the boy’s pet bunnies and the few pigs we’d raised.

I instantly noticed the destruction. The backdoor had been torn from its hinges and stood wide open. The rabbit hutch had been destroyed, and the small pig pen was nothing but rubble.

Right in the middle of all this chaos stood a stout, round figure.

I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there, frozen to the ground, not able to do anything but stare at it.

“Who the hell-!?” Maria yelled, when she came to a halt next to me.

She took one more step forward, but stopped again when she saw the unnatural, monstrous proportions of the figure in front of us.

It was too wide, almost comically so. That thing, that creature, had it gotten… bigger?

I watched in horror as it turned towards us, a malicious grin on his face. Something was still moving by its feet. It was one of the pigs! Maria and I could only watch as it picked it up with both hands and brought it up towards its face.

Then the creature opened its giant maw of a mouth. I saw saliva and uneven, brick-sized teeth. A moment later, it swallowed the animal whole. The glowing button eyes came to rest on us. I watched as its enormous jaw moved and heard the sickening sounds of bone breaking and flesh tearing. Then, just like before, the creature simply turned around and vanished from the back door, just like it had done before.

I didn’t understand what was going on. I’d left an offering! Why’d it come back?

As I racked my brain about what sort of mistake I’d made, Maria slumped to the ground in tears.

“I didn’t think it was… I thought,” she mumbled between sobs.

She was trembling, totally out of it. I closed my arms around her, pushing her against my chest, trying desperately to calm her down.

“I didn’t mean to,” she kept saying.

“Maria, babe, what are you talking about?”

“The vegetables, I didn’t mean to, but-“

She broke up, not able to finish what she’d been about to say, but I understood instantly.

“Wait, are you saying you took the offering?”

“Yes, goddammit, I did! Who would’ve thought this, this… whatever this is, is real!”

She gesticulated toward the still open back door.

“All that talk about fairies and spirits, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I thought you’d become delusional and to prove it to you… I thought nothing would happen! Oh god, I didn’t mean for any of this!”

I couldn’t believe it. I was mad. Hell, I was furious, but how could I blame her? No one would’ve believed a story like this.

Daniel and John, most likely awoken by the noise, came down, followed by dad who called out to them to come back. They looked around, not sure what was going on, but Maria quickly ushered them back upstairs. For a moment, dad took in the chaos before he simply shook his head and left without another word.

Before I went upstairs myself, I had a look at the damage. There were no traces of any animals, except for the oldest of the bunnies, the mother. The poor thing was out of it, panting and shaking. I did pet it for a bit, but I knew the animal wouldn’t live long after this night. Yet, why’d the creature not eaten this one?

I didn’t get to think about it for too long because I soon noticed something even worse. The thing had raided the storage room. Almost all that remained of the harvest was gone.

As I gathered up what few vegetables remained, the number didn’t even come down to thirty. Even if I offered only one per day, they wouldn’t even last a month. What then? I didn’t even want to think about it.

Yet, what could I do? Then, I got an idea. It wanted fruits of the land, right? So that’s what it would get.

A few days later, I made my way to one of the weekly farmers’ markets. While we at our farm didn’t do winter farming, some of the neighboring farmers did. Local crops were always available for sale.

This had to work, I told myself, as I put out an assortment comprising various vegetables I’d bought at the market.

In the early morning hours, the gruesome screams of my father reached mine and Maria’s ears, as well as those of the kids. It was the worst thing I’d ever heard in my entire life. The kids’ eyes were wide as they huddled behind their mother, crying.

Maria looked at me in utter terror, but I ignored everything as I rushed for my dad’s part of the house.

I found the door to the bedroom wide open.

“Dad?” I asked in a quivering voice, but received no answer.

I told myself he might have fallen when trying to get back to bed, or maybe he’d had a stroke. Deep inside, however, I already knew the answer.

The moment I stepped into his bedroom, the moment I saw the blood and the smell hit me, I knew it was true. The bedding was wet with his blood and other fluids. And yet, in my desperation, in my hope, I still searched for him, still hoped to find him huddled under the bed, or in a corner. But even as minute after minute passed, I found nothing, nothing but a small, crumbled up note.

“A share of all the fruits of thy land belongs to me.”

It was written in crude, bloody letters, and a half-insane laugh escaped me when I was reminded of a young child’s finger painting.

After the shock wore off and the reality of the situation truly hit me, I noticed something else. The emphasis on the word thy. It had been written much bigger and bolder than any other, and I knew what it meant. It wanted a share of things I’d created. Things I’d grown on my land. As I stood there, I realized what a stupid mistake I’d made. I tried to cheat it, and, of course, the creature had noticed it.

And dad was the one who’d to pay for it.

As the tears streamed down my face, I screamed at myself for being so goddamn stupid. What dad had said was right: we were cursed.

As soon as Maria heard what had happened, she took the kids and left. I didn’t argue. No, I encouraged her to go. Daniel and John didn’t understand what was going on, of course. They asked what had happened to grandpa and why they had to leave. We told them, grandpa had just had a bad dream, and they’d be going on a brief vacation. They’d stayed with Maria’s parents for a while.

Maria pleaded with me the come with her, but I told her I had to stay. There had to be a way to stop all this. God knows what this creature would do if I tried to run.

Each day, I put out one vegetable as an offering, and each day my remaining supply was dwindling. I spent long nights on the internet, searching and googling. I asked questions and read articles on old folklore. Yet, I found nothing that could help me. Nothing at all.

As the days turned to weeks, despair took hold of me. More than once, I thought about taking the car and to drive from the farm. What would happen, though? Would that thing come after me? Or worse, would it come after my family?

In the end, I told Maria I’d stay, hoping to end it all. She cried, screamed and protested, but I told her there was no other way. I was the one who’d started it all, who’d brought this upon us, and it was only fair that it should end with me.

Then, one day, there was nothing left. I’d given it all the vegetables. All the animals were gone. Now, all that was left was me.

When the sun set on that last, final day, I was a terrified and shaken mess. I couldn’t sit still and wandered through the house, paced up and down the long, empty hallways. I told myself to go to bed, to go to sleep. It would be easier that way, but I just couldn’t.

Eventually, I remembered dad’s little alcohol storage. While I wasn’t a drinker, dad always ended the day with a glass of brandy or two. Now, not able to sleep and not knowing what else to do, I got hold of one of the heavy bottles.

While I sat in the bedroom, writing a long letter to Maria, I took sip after sip of the disgustingly strong liquid. After only a few mouthfuls, I felt myself drifting off to sleep. I remember trying to say a prayer, but I was already too drunk for it.

I awoke on the bedroom floor, groaning because of a splitting headache. Then, slowly, the memory returned to me and I was more than surprised to be alive. Nothing was in disarray, and even after stumbling through the house, I found no hint of entry. The whole place was just as it had been the day before.

Then I got a hold of my phone and dialed Maria’s number. It rang and rang, but I got no answer. I checked the clock. It was almost ten in the morning. There was no way she’d still be asleep. After trying a few more times, I tried her parents’ landline. Nothing either.

I told myself they were out. They’d gone shopping, or maybe they’d visited one of the Christmas markets that were open by now. I came up with more and more scenarios, more and more excuses for why they weren’t answering. Then my phone rang.

I answered it in a second and almost screamed into the speaker.

“Maria?! Is that-?”

“This is officer Vogel, am I talking to Steven Schmidt?”

My heart dropped. Sweat began oozing from every pore on my body and within moments I was drenched. No, there’s nothing wrong. They are calling about something different. There’s nothing wrong. Calm down, Steven.

“Yes, it is,” I answered in a voice I couldn’t keep from shaking.

“Where have you been last night?”

“Why? What’s going on? Is my wife okay? What has-?”

“Please answer the question, sir.”

“I am, I mean, I was at the farm, I didn’t leave, because… well, I mean, I was here so…”

I could think straight anymore and just rambled on Finally, the officer cut me off and told me someone was on the way to speak to me.

The police car arrived soon after and they told me what had happened last night.

Someone had broken into the house of Maria’s parents. The old couple was dead, beaten to a bloody pulp in the middle of the hallway that led to the guestroom. In there, they found Maria, alone. She was sitting on the ground in the middle of the room. She didn’t look up or respond to anyone. The two boys, my two sons, Daniel and John, were missing. The room, as well as Maria, was covered in blood. All they’d found, was a crudely written note next to her.

“A share of all the fruit of thy land belongs to me.”

This time, the emphasis was on the word all.

I fell to the ground screaming in despair as the true meaning of the contract revealed itself to me. Oh god, what had I done.

After all the crops I’d grown on the land, after all the animals that were born here, there was only one thing left that had been produced on this farm: my town sons.

After the creature had taken everything else, it came for them to seal the contract. It took every last thing I’d promised it.

That’s why it had ignored the old bunny as well as Maria. They hadn’t been born on this land, they weren’t a part of the contract.

A few days later, I went to visit Maria. The doctors told me, she was wholly catatonic and unresponsive. She was physically unharmed, but mentally, she was nothing but an empty shell.

She never said a word to me, at least until she recognized me. In an instant, she flew into a state of utter rage and threw herself upon me. Even now, months later, I still remember every single word she screamed at me.

“It devoured them, Steven, it devoured them just like it had that pig, right there in front of me. And I heard them, I heard their screams, and the crunching… the crunching that put an end to them!”

It took four staff members to get her off me. By that point, a multitude of bloody scratch marks covered my arms and face. The doctors told me she needed time, but I knew better. I was the reason our sons were gone, and I was the one who’d destroyed her life.

Over the following months, the police started an investigation of what they termed a brutal homicide. Maria was all but unresponsive to their questions, and I knew, they wouldn’t believe a word if I told them about evil spirits and fair folk.

With nothing to go on about, and no hint of a killer, the entire thing was eventually shelved as nothing but another unresolved crime.

During that time, I visited Maria many times, but it was always the same. All I saw in her eyes was nothing but unrestrained hatred for me, and me alone.

Two weeks ago, Maria killed herself. I don’t know what happened, and I didn’t ask for any details. I couldn’t.

And now, I’m still here, in this old farmhouse. I didn’t plow or sow anything came spring. No, after that thing took my sons, I destroyed that damned shrine. Then I sold everything on the farm. All the tools and all the equipment.

At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself, with the pain.

For the longest time, I hoped the thing would come and take me as well, to end it all. However much I screamed out in to the night, it never did.

But deep inside, I knew that hadn’t been part of the deal. The deal or… the trick. It came and granted my wish and I’d been ignorant about the price. No, it would not come and take me. I had to pay the price for my ignorance and stupidity.

The only thing that helped was the bottle. Father’s brandy had lulled me to sleep back then and other bottles did now. For months, I was content to just drown myself in alcohol until my body would give out.

Now that Maria’s gone though, I just can’t go on anymore. I guess, deep inside, I’d hoped, we’d have another chance, another start, whatever that may be. But now, I can’t.

Over the past week, in what few sober hours I had, I wrote this all down. Now that I’m done with it, I’m going to burn this entire place to the ground, myself included.

Take this story as a warning.

There are things out there, much older and many times smarter than man. And now I know, they are only out to trick us.

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