“So, let me get this straight,” I say, leaning back in the dusty plaid recliner. The man whose house we just happened to ‘borrow’ is watches Mary skeptically as she dials a strange phone with a wheel full of circles on the side. “You want Randy to come here? I thought he would, you know…” I lower my voice. “Blow your cover.”
“I didn’t even know people still owned radial dial phones,” she mutters to herself, ignoring me.
“Randy,” I say again, and she looks up startled.
“What are you doing about Randy?”
“I’ll just tell him that we’re, um, safe for now.”
I frown. “You don’t think he should be more clued in than that?”
She snorts. “No, I plan to visit my home country for as long as possible before it’s necessary to start running. And that means nobody telling Randy anything—that includes you.”
“And how would I tell him?”
She shrugs. “Tell one of your passing ghostly friends to talk to someone to talk to someone to talk to someone who lives in England that can see ghosts and have them pass on the message.”
“Never mind,” she says, “just keep your trap shut.”
Behind her, the farmer man stands up, his eyes growing wide as Mary finally puts the receiver to her ear. It was clear she was either talking to herself or someone he couldn’t see, and he had no reason to believe it was the latter.
“Excuse m-me, Miss,” he starts uncomfortably. “But, um, who are you talkin’ to?”
Mary swivels around from her position on the couch, eyes shooting daggers into the air. “Can’t you see that I’m on the phone,” she snaps, turning around again and ignoring his question.
There’s something off about the way she’s positioned: her shoulders are too hunched, her face too tense. Maybe it’s finally beginning to set in that she might be caught or maybe she just really has to go to the bathroom (that’s one human feeling I don’t miss). Either way she’s tense and it’s making her very cranky.
I sigh, leaning back into the cushion, and try not to sink through it. The man walks around the living room we’re seated in, turning his back to me and backing up. I understand what he’s about to do just before he takes a seat on my worn Lay-Z-Boy and I lunge out of the way, landing on the carpet, my dress tangling at my feet.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” I growl, and Mary smirks at me as the message tone picks up on the other end of the phone line.
“Good,” she says, letting out a breath. “This is better. He can’t track this. Well, he can, but it will take longer and we’ll be long gone.”
I can hear a soft beep come through the line and she starts talking into the phone. “Randy, it’s me. We’re safe. Don’t ask where, don’t ask why. I don’t know either. Stay in London. Talk to you soon.”
She hangs up with a click and the farmer’s face scrunches up even more as he stares at her. She stands, brushing off her skirt and gestures for me to follow her.
“Thank you, Sir, for allowing us into your shabby—” She catches herself as the man makes a noise of annoyance at the back of his throat. “Your shabby chic home.”
“Us?” he says a moment later and she freezes, but only for a second.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glares at me. “Time to go.”
Before I know it we’re sprinting through the front door and down the road. After a short ways she steers off the gravel and into a field of corn that comes up to my shoulder (not that it matters since it all just passes through me for the most part). I do my best to hang on to what inner organs are left, trying not to allow them to snag on the rough stalks of the plants.
“Move, Rose,” Mary snaps, and I glare at her.
“I’m trying, but you could slow down too, you know.”
Finally she does, and I pull my arms back from around my stomach, prodding my lower intestine back into place.
“What is happening with you? You’re acting bloody strange,” I say. She stands a few yards ahead of me, hands on her hips, panting.
“He was getting too suspicious.”
“Of what? Of you being crazy because you were talking to yourself? Maybe, but what would he do.”
Her frown lines deepen. “People have called the police for less.”
There’s a moment’s pause in conversation as a crow calls to its brother in a neighboring field and we both jump.
“What do you remember about it?” Mary asks suddenly. “About the Norlands?”
I frown. “The colors mostly. They were so bright, different than the dull grays of the city, you know? And the plants were a little strange: too big, too colorful. Something not quite right. What about you?”
She bites her lip. “As we passed through did you…did you see a house by any chance?”
“317 Shady Lane. Did you see it?”
“Was it made out of Skittles?”
She glares at me.
“Oh, sorry, I mean, was it made out of Darks Side Skittles: the other side of the rainbow?”
Mary shakes her head. “What are you talking about? How do you even know about Skittles?”
“Randy stole some from a store on the way to the newspaper editor’s office.”
“Of course he did.”
Her face grows dark, and I’m not sure why, but all of the sudden I’m aware that she knows something I don’t.
“So, Shady Lane? What about it?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she says, shaking her head. But I can tell it does. She turns around and begins walking in the other direction, her shoulders still slumped, her posture still tense. I follow behind slowly, once again wrapping my hands around my midsection so nothing slides out of place.
“Where are you going?” I ask, stepping gingerly into the path she has already formed with her feet.
“To find a bigger civilization than this.”
I turn back to see the ugly house in the distance, shuddering at the thought of the man probably pacing back and forth on his stoop, waiting for us to come into sight. Or, well, Mary.
“And what will we do then?” I ask. “What about what the pixie said?”
“Ugh, that pixie.” She throws her hands into the air in frustration. “That stupid pixie can kiss my—”
She stops as the corn field stops abruptly and we step out into a short clearing. No, I realize, the field hasn’t stopped, a giant chunk of it’s been cut away in a massive circle. To our right, a small path has also been cut through the corn, and I can see another circle—this one not quite as big as the one we’re standing in—encompassed by cornstalks.
Mary’s shoulders grow even more tensed until I think her head might spring right off her neck.
“Mary, what is this?”
“Crop circles,” she says, her voice slightly unsteady. “A.K.A. Not good at all.”