"This is why I don't do UFO stuff," Scarlett thought angrily as she gingerly removed her foot from the middle of a cow patty. "Too many fields, too many cows, too much bullshit."
The past month had been a blur. She'd survived an attack – the details of which she still didn't remember – that had left her in the hospital for a week. Then she'd spent another week at home, trying to get her strength back while simultaneously having the worst sleep of her life. She was terrified of being attacked again – every time she closed her eyes, she felt a rush of fear.
In the meantime, she struggled to get work done for the clients of her day job, a private graphic design firm. Deadlines loomed and blog articles had to be written. She put out an ad for a roommate, hoping that having someone else in the house would make her feel safe. It was all very overwhelming, and now she was standing in the middle of a field with cow poop on her shoe.
"Where there's cow shit, there are cows," her brain reminded her.
"Fuck. Don't tell me that." She clenched her fists and resisted the urge to start screaming.
"Lots of them."
"Ugh." She shivered and looked around nervously, then took a deep breath. "It could be worse," she told herself, "At least the farmer is cute."
"I really don't investigate crop circles," Scarlett said, "They've been pretty thoroughly debunked."
Jim Brown, of Brown Family Farm, had left a message on her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, asking her to investigate the appearance of crop circles in his field. She'd called back in order to politely decline, but got his son, Ben, on the phone instead.
"It's probably just college kids," she explained.
"That was what I figured, but my dad's a really big fan of your blog. He thinks you'd find it worth investigating."
"I appreciate that," Scarlett replied, "But the odds of it being supernatural in origin are incredibly low."
"Well, would it help if I told you that we're also missing a cow?"
Scarlett paused and grimaced. "A cow?"
"Yes, my dad and I raise cows in a sustainable fashion. We supply meat to local restaurants and butchers."
Scarlett sighed. She had a number of friends who worked in the Cleveland restaurant scene, so she had a great deal of sympathy for the locavore movement. "You think the cow might have been…abducted?"
Ben laughed. "Hey, it's a possibility. Or maybe whoever did this ran her off."
Scarlett took a sip of the bourbon that had become her nightly companion. "I'm still not sure there's anything there for me to see."
"It would mean a lot to my old man. He's a big fan of your blog."
Scarlett sighed again. She felt like she was sighing at everything lately. "Well, hold on a second," she said as she googled the Brown Family Farm and pulled up their website. On the front page was a picture of an older man with gray hair and a potbelly; and a chiseled, brown-eyed, and very attractive younger man. The labels identified them as Jim and Ben, father and son.
"Well, hello, farmer Brown," she thought to herself.
"It would do you good to get out of the house," her brain reminded her.
She checked the address – 15351 Kinsman Rd. It was about a half hour drive into one of the more rural areas of Greater Cleveland. She stared at the picture of the younger farmer. "He has a nice smile," she thought.
"Are you still there?" said the voice on the phone.
"Oh! Yes," sorry, Scarlett felt her cheeks get warm. "You know what? Maybe I will check it out, if you don't mind me spinning it into an article about how to debunk crop circles."
"There it is," said Ben, pointing to an overlapping set of blackened circles that had been burned into the green grass of the pasture. Each circle looked to be twenty feet in diameter, and they overlapped so that the center of each fell on the circumference of the other.
"Huh," Scarlett said, "It's a vesica piscis."
"Sorry?" replied Ben.
"It literally means 'bladder of a fish.' Beyond just being a cool kind of shape, it's important in several mystic traditions." She frowned. This was not what she had expected at all.
"Ok. Like mystic UFOs?"
"Not exactly," Scarlett pointed to the almond-shaped section where the circles overlapped. "That part there is called a mandorla. It's a shape that you'll find a lot in illuminated manuscripts, plus it factors into Freemasonry and other organizations."
She could feel a headache coming on – they'd been frequent ever since the assault – but she tried to block out the pain. She bent down to look at the circles, and found that the grass was carbonized. She sniffed the air and caught the faint smell of gasoline. "Figures," she thought.
She stood back up, carefully stepped over the charred grass, and walked toward the center of the left circle, peering intently at the ground as she went. "There it is," she thought, and then bent to look at where the outline of the right circle crossed the center of the left. Sure enough, there was a hole about an inch in diameter. She stuck her fingers in it and felt the sides – smooth and tapered to a point about four inches deep.
Scarlett stood up again and then headed to the very center of the set of circles. When she stepped into the mandorla, though, she immediately felt dizzy and disoriented. She grabbed her head, closed her eyes, and waited a minute for the vertigo to pass.
After the sensation subsided, she opened her eyes, looked around and saw a cow standing immediately to her left. It looked as surprised to see her as she was to see it.
"Moo," it mooed. It blinked a few times and then began to walk toward her.
"Uh, oh," she thought. "Nice cow," she said as she held her hands to ward it away.
"Moo!" the cow exclaimed as it quickly closed the distance.
Scarlett screamed, turned, and ran – straight into the Ben. She caught herself with her hands as she collided with him, and ended up with her face buried in his chest.
"Huh," he said quietly.
"I found your cow," she said, her voice momentarily muffled.
"That's not the missing one, actually. Say, are you," he paused and smiled warily, "afraid of cows?"
Scarlett lifted her head, sighed and nodded slowly. "I had a bad experience when I was a kid. I don't like to talk about it."
"Yeah," she stepped back, though she let her hands linger on his chest for a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. "So, um…"
The cow nudged her from behind. She froze.
Ben chuckled and stepped around her, and then led the cow away. "Be right back," he said. Scarlett breathed a sigh of relief and then rolled her eyes.
"He's totally into us," said her brain.
"He thinks I'm an idiot," she replied.
"Trust me, I'm better at noticing these things than you are."
Ben reappeared, and Scarlett smiled uncomfortably. "Sorry about that," he said quietly.
"Oh," she shook her head, "No, it's not your fault. People aren't usually afraid of cows."
"Anyway," he gestured to the circles. "What's your expert opinion?"
"Well," she began, "first thing – this is grass, not crops, so it's not technically a crop circle."
He nodded, "Makes sense."
"Second thing – the circles were burned into the ground – it looks like gasoline, probably, was poured and lit. Traditionally, crop circles are constructed by flattening the plants."
"Third thing – I can see the stake holes where someone anchored twine or string or rope in order to trace out the circles. I'm fairly certain that aliens would have slightly more advanced technology than stakes and string."
"So, I'm going to conclude that this was constructed by the hand of man. Or men. Or women for that matter. But definitely human."
He frowned, "Why would someone burn a symbol like this into the middle of a cow pasture?"
Scarlett shrugged. "It might have been some high school kids attempting a pagan celebration of some sort."
"No, no," Scarlett shook her head. "Modern pagans and Satanists are two different things." She sighed. How to explain this? She took a deep breath, and then began, "You see, modern paganism was founded…"
He waved her off. "It's ok. I'll google it later."
"Oh," she felt her face flush, "ok."
"But why the middle of a field? Hell, why my field? There are lots of fields around."
"Where else are a bunch of kids going to dance around under the moonlight without getting noticed?" She shrugged again. "This seems like as good a place as any."
"Fair enough," Ben nodded in agreement. "Would you mind explaining it to my dad, though? He's going to be pretty disappointed."
"Yeah, he was really hoping we had a UFO."