The Tree in the Crop Circle

Morning, readers. First, an explanation. During the creation of every novel, I reach a point where I have to bear down and focus on that novel, saving my writing time and energies that are typically used on other items, such as regular blog posts. It seems that City of the Dead is reaching that tipping point.

So, good news and bad news. Good news is that the book is deep in serious development. Bad news is that posts will be limited to one or, at most, two at a week. This is why you haven’t seen many Friday posts lately and why I’ve been scarce on Twitter.

In that spirit, I’m going to run a series of Room 3 samples over the next month. In the following scene, the reader learns just what is entailed in “going to Room 3” when we see the protagonist, Kelli, doped up. Hope you enjoy.

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“Come on. Haven’t I been through enough?”

Barren paused, syringe held mid-air. “I’m sorry, but we have to do this. You’ll understand one day.”

He was right about that. One day I would understand. Wouldn’t like it, but I would understand. I didn’t know what to say, though. How do you argue with someone who believes that torture is doing the right thing?

Answer: you don’t.

He shook his head and moved the syringe toward my arm. “Now just a pinch.”

Pinch, my ass. It felt like the world’s biggest wasp had stung my arm. He pressed the plunger, injecting the full dose into me. I tasted something metallic and instantly became more aware of the air rushing into my ears.

I summed it up the best I could: “Whoa.”

He patted my shoulder. “That’s good. Just relax.” His voice echoed.

“Don’t have a choice…” I said. I couldn’t manage much more.

The next moment, the colors in the ball of light over my head kaleidoscoped, twirling into a brilliant mass that hung in mid-air. It expanded and the walls of the room melted away. Soon the chair went with it, taking its bonds, too. I stepped off of it before it vanished altogether, rubbing my wrists.

I gazed around me, getting my bearings, though I pretty much knew what I would see. As always, I stood in a giant crop circle in the center of the world’s largest field of corn, the sun beating down on me. I turned to look at the chair, but it had melted into the ground.

Something rustled in the corn. I whirled, but I knew who it would be before she even appeared. She always found me. “Mimi?”

A little girl appeared from between the rows, pushing the bottoms of the stalks apart. She had blue eyes, dark brown hair, and a smile that could just melt your heart – the kind of smile that never, ever survives into adulthood.

She cocked her head. “How’d you know my name?”

She always asked me that.

“We’ve met, but I’ve told you that before, too.”

She put her hands on her little hips. “How come I don’t remember you?”

“I think it’s this place. It always makes you forget.”

“I don’t like that.”

I looked around. “I don’t like it much, either. But don’t worry about it. I’m here.”

Wheels turned in her head. “But why are you here?”

No clue how to answer that one. “You’re looking for something, right?”

She nodded.

I leaned down, putting my hands on my knees. “What are you looking for, sweetheart?” I already knew the answer, but this had gone down a certain path forever, and the show had to go on.

She rubbed her eyes. “Cici’s gone. I can’t find her.”

Cici. The girl forever searched for Cici. I had no idea if she even existed. “Now where did you last see your sister?” I said.

Her eyes widened, like I’d shown her the secret of the universe. “We did meet, didn’t we, that’s how you know about Cici?”

I nodded. “Where did you see her last?” Knew the answer to this one, too.

She pointed over my shoulder. “There.”

I knew what I’d see when I turned. I’d seen it so many times that I’d even started to see it in my dreams. It didn’t matter, though. Every single time I turned to gaze on it, it knocked me on my proverbial butt: an enormous, gnarled tree, soaring up into the sky. This wasn’t just any tree, though. Somebody had carved a wooden organ out of the trunk, with two levels of wooden keys and wooden pipes rising out of the higher reaches.

The largest keyhole you’ve ever seen had been connected to that organ, its details carved right into the trunk, between the keys and the pipes.

“She’s locked in there, isn’t she?” I’d lived this nightmare so many times I had lost count, but this little detail got my heart pounding each time. To be locked away in solid oak, unable to escape –

“How do we get her out?” Mimi said.

That question. Always that question.

“I think we have to play the right notes to open the lock and get her out,” I said, but I couldn’t be certain.

Mimi’s brow furrowed. “Do you know what to play?”

I sighed. “No. But I can try.” Endless tries and just as many sleepless nights, and I hadn’t come any closer to figuring out the song than the first night that they put me under.

“Oh, please, you have to. She can’t live for long in the tree.”

“I know.”

I strode to the tree and stood before it, holding my hands over the wooden keys. I’d only ever seen organs in magazines before I started having this vision, and while you might think that it’s similar to playing a keyboard or piano, there are some key differences that had been throwing me off from the very beginning, and I couldn’t afford a single mistake.

I swallowed hard, stared at the carved wooden keys for a moment, and then glanced at Mimi.

She gave me a lopsided smile and a tentative thumbs-up.

Ringing endorsement.

I leaned over the keys. Did I feel ready to go?

Not at all, but might as well get this over with.

I played the portion of the first verse that I had worked out. The notes sounded clear as always, if a little bass-heavy. My stomach tensed as I played, approaching that dreaded unknown section.

My fingers froze when I reached the end of that first verse. I knew that if I could just get the first few notes of that next section started, the rest would flow from me. The damned thing had gotten backed up in my soul – could that be a bridge, a chorus, or something else entirely? There should be lyrics, too, but they refused to come to mind.

“A Minor?” I murmured, and hit the key.

Mimi groaned behind me. “Oh no, missy, oh no.”

I turned to look at her. “What?”

She didn’t need to answer; the answer came from overhead. It came as a great whoosh from the leaves caught fire, spreading into a curtain of red and orange that filled the sky above me. I screamed and fell backwards, but in those few seconds the intense heat had already baked most of my skin. My nerve endings blazed – I couldn’t imagine such pain, it had never been so bad, not ever. I could feel my eyelids melting down over my eyes, darkening my view of my arms and the nightmare unfolding on my flesh.

I screamed and screamed as the world went dark. My world became nothing but pure, unending pain.

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