by Mike Laughrey
Copyright 2016 Mike Laughrey
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March 29, 2025
The farm looked run down, decrepit, abandoned. A turn of the previous century house with peeling paint and broken windows looked out over an overgrown lawn and sagging outbuildings. Beyond that, fields were overgrown with weeds and pastureland was slowly giving way to trees. Only the barn and a silo remained relatively untouched by time or the elements, and not for lack of trying on the part of either force. It was a relic so far past its prime that it couldn’t even be considered rustic. It was the type of farm that showed up in B-Movies about inbred cannibal clans, except that inbred cannibals had standards and this place failed to meet them.
Eric looked at the fallen buildings and sighed, then held up his clipboard and waved it back and forth a bit. Some thirty feet behind him, the salvage team dismounted the old truck and started grabbing their tools. It was a grab bag assortment of crowbars, sledgehammers, wrenches and saws. Out of the corner of his eye, Eric saw the driver walk behind the truck to check the five point trailer. While it wouldn’t do to get caught with a flat tire in exposed territory with a massive pile of wood and scrap weighing them down, it still smacked of goldbricking while the rest of the team headed into the target site.
“I count six buildings. One house, one barn, one garage, two stables, one pump house.” The voice of the team coordinator, Lyla, sounded off. Eric nodded and gestured at the large silo standing tall behind the barn.
“What’s your count on machinery and scrap?”
“One feed silo, one grain bin. Assorted junk, nothing good for parts.”
“I figure the same. How long has this place been abandoned, you think?” Eric didn’t like having to ask for basic intel from the team, but the simple fact was that he wasn’t a local – although being an Army brat as a youth, and then moving where his job took him as an adult, meant he wasn’t a local anywhere. Lyla, on the other hand, grew up nearby and lived a life right out of a hackneyed Hallmark Family Movie; born in a small town, leaves for the glamor and / or money of the big city, comes back to the small town and forsakes the opportunities of the big city for that down home folksy place. Or something like that. She knew the countryside like the back of her hand.
“I don’t have the slightest idea.”
Most of the time.
“Hmmm. I wonder if it was just left to rot after the owners passed away. Or, maybe it was seized for back taxes and nobody would buy it off the county.” Eric scratched the stubble on his chin; not a man fond of beards, he was being forced to adjust to the times like everyone else in the team.
Lyla pointed to an old gate that had fallen apart to such an extent that it was lying flat on the ground and provided no impairment to trespassers or livestock. There was the faded orange of a plastic placard that warned any trespassers not to, well, trespass, half obscured by the overgrown grass.
“The only stuff I know about this place is old crap we told each other at school or on the way home after. And I’m pretty sure most of that was just kids competing to make up the coolest stories. I know that’s what I was doing.”
“Well, what did you call it?”
Eric gestured at the wreckage with one sweep of his arm. “Did you call it the Old Creepy Farm? Or the Abandoned Farm? Or the Old Insert Disreputable Family Name Here Place? I’m not sure what we’ll find in here but I’d like something easier to say than… Northeast Section Site Twenty Two,” Eric read off of his clipboard.
Lyla shrugged. “The Ghost Farm, I guess that was the most popular nickname. A lot of the bullshit we came up with involved ghost stories.”
“I like it. Short and easy to remember.” Eric walked towards the house with Lyla keeping pace just behind. “Doesn’t look like the roof has caved in anywhere, and at least a few of the windows are intact too. Whatever is in there could be pretty well preserved if the rain hasn’t gotten inside. We’ll start there. Have four guys head in and sweep the place for animals and damage.”
“It might be out of the elements, but it’ll still probably be sixty or seventy years old by now.” Lyla whistled, a shrill noise that caused Eric to wince, and pointed towards the farmhouse. The rag tag group of men and women clutching hand tools headed towards the building with purpose. “And what about us? And don’t crack another lewd joke this time. My husband is already sick of all the gossip.”
“It’s not your husband I worry about pissing off,” Eric retorted, eyeballing the barn. “Hey, grab Kyle and get him over here when he’s done with the trailer. We’ll check out the barn, that silo, and the pump house. If the pump is still in there, even the parts would be worth the trip.”
“Yeah, provided we can get it out of the ground.”
“One problem at a time Lyla.”
“Yeah, you keep saying that but it doesn’t stop the problems from attacking all at once.”
The inside of the barn was barren; no tools, no straw bales, no coiled loops of bailing wire hanging from a conveniently placed nail, no scrap lumber piled in the corner, not even a rotted through coil of rope. Kyle the driver tapped the boards with his crowbar. “Well, at least the barn wood is good and solid. Weathered and still holding on after all this time. Good stuff. Matter of fact, it’s so good it’ll probably be harder to take it down than it’s worth.”
Kyle looked at the team foreman and his adjutant, staring moodily at each other. “Hey, if you guys had something you wanted to do, I don’t know why you called me over-”
Lyla pointed a threatening finger at him. “Do not. Finish. That Sentence.”
“Okay. Okay. Just saying I could go back to the truck any-”
Eric held up a hand. “Something’s wrong. I can’t put my finger on it but… this whole place seems off.”
Lyla nodded. “I’m getting that too. This place is shaped like a barn but it isn’t really a barn.”
“What are you two talking about? It’s got the doors, the hayloft, the stalls for animals… you know actually this is the cleanest barn I’ve ever been in. I mean, there’s dirt, but I don’t see any straw, or horse shit, or cow shit, or anything.” Kyle tapped one rung of the ladder up to the hayloft. “So yeah, this is a little weird. I mean, no tools or metal bits? I could see somebody gathering them up. Hell that’s what we do most of the time, am I right? But what kind of person keeps a barn that clean?”
Lyla and Eric looked at each other. Their expressions traded information as quickly and effectively as a spoken conversation, which was fortunate considering neither one of them wanted to admit what they were thinking openly. Eric motioned towards the door and the trio walked out of the barn back into the patchy sunlight.
“Gah, my eyes.” Lyla blinked madly.
“Yeah, I know right? I always figured the end of the world would always be stormy, or at least cloudy. It shouldn’t really be that bright on any day. It’s not right, really.”
Eric rolled his eyes. “Kyle, one of these days you really need to learn when not to talk,” is what he wanted to say. What actually came out of his mouth was “Kyle, the world didn’t end. Earth’s still here and so are we.”
“Yeah, but I mean-”
“I know what you mean. Lyla, head into the house and talk to the rest of the team. Ask them what seems off about the place compared to where we’ve been before. Kyle, you and me are going to check out that silo.”
“It’s going to be even harder to part that out than the barn.” Nevertheless, Kyle dutifully marched behind Eric as the foreman made his way over to the silo, trying to forge a path through tall grass and fallen limbs.
“This don’t look like a grain silo. What was kept inside?”
Kyle grinned, always happy to share his rural knowledge with ignorant city slickers. “Nah, this is a feed silo. Back in the day farmers would grow sorghum and chop it up and stack it all inside these places. Really hard work. That was before somebody invented feed carts and augers, ah course.”
“Of course. Damn things almost as high as the water tower in town. That’s a lot of storage space. Must have had a lot of cows.”
“Cattle. And not that many. To get em good and fat for sale and to keep em that way, you have to keep them fed during the winter when there’s nothing to graze on.”
“Hmmm. Well, you’re right enough about it being too big to part out right now. Maybe a few trips down the line. Or maybe they’ll get Big John out here with his crawler. Not our problem right now.” Eric pulled out his clipboard and scribbled a note. “Let’s head back to the house, get to work there.”
“You’re the boss.”
The two men trekked back through the tall grass, and Eric tried to shake off the feelings that had been building up since the team had arrived. When they made their way to the farmhouse, Lyla opened the door and came out to meet them, followed by two other members of the team.
“There’s nothing in there.”
Eric stared at Lyla and saw the same expression as back at the barn, but he had to be sure. “Do you mean nothing worth taking, or is the house-”
“It’s completely bare. Like nothing was ever kept in there to begin with.”
Eric blinked. “Guess somebody beat us to the punch here.”
“Yeah,” Lyla snorted. “By about sixty years, probably.”
One of the team stepped forward. “Actually it might be more than that. I’m an electrician so that’s what I look for, and I didn’t see any electrical outlets. Like, in any room. There’s no light fixtures either. Nothing in the ceiling, nothing wall mounted. I think this house might have been built before this part of the country had an electrical grid, and it was never retrofitted. It would explain why there’s no yard light or power pole here.”
Eric and Lyla both blinked and looked around the farm again. The electrician was right; wooden poles, so ubiquitous on other farms the team had scoured, were conspicuously absent. Eric wasn’t sure how he felt about becoming so blind to something so obvious… it made him wonder what else he had missed.
“Well. That explains a lot. Or at least some of it. Is that the only weird thing about the house or can we get to work?”
The other man stepped forward, but hesitantly. “Well… uh, there’s no bathroom. No kitchen sink. No plumbing of any kind. I figured if it was old enough like Henry said, it’d be back from the day when everyone used an outhouse, and hauled in water from a hand pump outside. You know, heat it up on the stove and then use that for cooking or laundry or for those old style hip baths. Of course, once I thought of that… uh…”
“If you can get to the point before night falls, I would consider it a personal favor,” Eric snapped. He hadn’t meant it to come out so angry but the more he learned about the place the less comfortable he was being on the property.
“Yeah, sorry. There’s no stove here, sir. And there doesn’t look like there was anything here that would show where a stove was, either. No propane lines, no holes in the walls for brackets for a stove pipe, not even a fireplace.”
Lyla raised an eyebrow. “No power, no water, no heat. And no furniture, not even an old broken down rocking chair.” As if to emphasize the significance of what she had said, the sky became slightly darker as clouds moved to obscure the sun.
Eric stared at the house and his eyes narrowed. It didn’t look like there was anything there worth salvaging, except materials they weren’t equipped to recover. Time being such a valuable commodity, the plan was normally to pack up and move on to the next site, then pass off the notes to the salvage coordinator office back in town so demo teams could move in and recover building materials. But everything about this Ghost Farm, as Lyla had called it, had Eric on edge.
“Henry, was it? Go check out that building that looks like a pump house. You help him,” Eric motioned to the man who had brought up the subject of water and heat, not willing to admit he had forgotten the guy’s name. “Kyle, go double check on the truck. Either we’re leaving much earlier than we thought, or we’ll at least be able to get some pump parts.”
“Got it Mister Wergo.”
Kyle ran off towards his vehicle and Eric turned to his second-in-command. “Better grab the rest of the team. We’ll sweep through all the other buildings. I tell ya, I’ve seen some bad shit these past few months, but this place creeps me out more than anything else.”
“Even more than that shrine in the Coleman basement?”
“Way more. The shrine was excessive, but it was… in its own way, it was predictable. This place, I don’t know what I’m going to find out next. And that’s freaking me out.”
Lyla held Eric’s gaze for a moment, then nodded and opened the door to the farmhouse. As she walked inside, Eric held up his hand against the western sky, fingers together and lining up the bottom edge of his hand with the horizon. It was hard to tell with the sun behind the clouds, but he was sure they still had at least three hand widths worth of space; roughly three hours. Eric sighed and dropped his hand, then pulled out the clipboard again. The trip might prove to be a bust, and a weird one, but the day hadn’t been wasted. The other three farms they’d checked had each provided them with a load of appliances, clothing, furniture and even food and water, in varying quantities and combinations and brands. The team had spent almost as much time driving between town and the various farms as they had picking through the wreckage and loading up the best stuff.
If the house itself had just collapsed from age and neglect, like so many others out on the unpaved and ungraded roads, Eric probably would have written off the place after seeing the inside of the barn. The team would have been three and a half miles to the east at Northeast Section Site Twenty Five, otherwise known as Asshole Acres, to determine if the mostly disliked and often ridiculed curmudgeon of an owner had survived or not. (Ideally without getting shot, but with Mr. Melliger’s reputation, that was at best a fifty-fifty chance.) But fate had thrown a mystery in front of Eric Wergo. And now, like a cat who had spotted a laser pointer shining on the wall, he was giving it his undivided attention.
The door opened and Lyla came out with the rest of the team. “Something else that’s missing on this place, Eric: A storm shelter. This is tornado alley. Sure, maybe in the last few decades you get people thinking they could dodge the bullet each year, every year, but if this place is supposed to be older than Rural Electrification then we should at least be finding a collapsed wreck.”
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They called it the end of the world, but the world kept spinning, to everybody's surprise. In another life, Eric Wergo managed a white collar office and somehow got vastly different personalities to work together to make money. Now he leads a salvage team, looking through the remnants of civilization for food, water, medicine, tools, and survivors. So that part of his life is familiar, even if everything else is different. His team was supposed to check a handful of farms some distance from town, and it was almost routine until they reach Northeast Section Site Twenty Two, known to many of the locals as the Ghost Farm. It's not that they can't find anything worth taking back, which has happened a few times; rather, they're having difficulty finding anything not worth taking either, including trash, mud, and rotten wood. The Ghost Farm is raising questions the longer the team stays, and Eric is determined to get to the bottom of it; if he can't bring back supplies, he's not leaving without answers. Part One of the Against The Heavens series.