It was a quick trip to Kenny’s Gas Mart to grab some diapers. The road stretched before me, winding and desolate, as I passed that worn billboard for Benny’s Dairy. But then, an inexplicable primal urge tugged at me, compelling me to veer off that familiar path towards those decrepit barns.
That damn milk. Its taste had lingered on my tongue since that fateful day years ago. The memory of its creamy sweetness haunted me, and now, my palms grew damp with sweat as I gripped the wheel. The weedy lot came into view, the glowing “Open” sign beckoning me with an eerie allure. Without even killing the engine, I stumbled towards the creaking door, a voice screaming in the depths of my brain, warning me of the impending danger.
A mix of scents enveloped me as I entered, creating a sensory overload. The fragrances of hay and dairy cream intertwined in the air, but there was an underlying sense of something ominous, something hidden beneath the surface.
The swirling vat caught my attention with its frothing contents and hypnotic dance. I stood before it, a bottle clenched tightly in my trembling hands, as the white liquid filled it to the brim.
Compulsively, I guzzled it down, feeling an inexplicable rush of life drain from my limbs, even as the sweet nectar trickled down my chin.
Then, like delicate strands of spider silk, the unseen forces took hold of me, their grip unyielding and unbreakable. Swiftly, the unseen forces propelled me through the air, with the atmosphere thick with spores. Within that void, shadowy figures lurked, squirming with a hunger that sent shivers down my spine. They pulled my tethered body towards them, their intentions unknown and terrifying.
In a desperate act of defiance, I hurled the empty bottle with all the strength I could muster towards the high-set windows. Shattering glass rained down, a symphony of shattered dreams, as that ravenous abyss consumed me. The echoes of the shards striking the concrete outside were the last remnants of my existence, heard faintly in the mortal world above.
Below, in the depths of that nightmarish realm, they bound me to an IV of glowing milk, rendering me docile as they processed my essence. I learned that this place was a harvesting facility manned by creatures that had witnessed the birth of mankind itself. Vampiric beings who feasted on our souls, treating us like mere cattle, endlessly cultivating us to sate their insatiable thirst. I was now one of their newest crops, destined to be drained until I became an empty husk.
I discovered I was trapped in a small holding cell when I woke up. Tubes attached themselves to my pale skin, pulsating as they drained my energy and sanity, leaving me empty. The preserved remains of previous victims, who had been trapped here for many years, filled the room. Their lifeless bodies lined the cold, empty hallway, their vacant eyes staring into nothingness, their whispers of madness echoing through the chambers.
I lost track of time as I languished in that torment, as the relentless pulsing of the tube swallowed not only years but also memories, eroding my soul bit by bit. Each cycle brought me closer to the end, a fate shared by the monstrous beings who held me captive. Soon, I would join the ranks of the husks harvested by Benny’s masters. I would never again hold little Mikey or Michala in my arms nor witness the radiant smile of my Julianne. They were gone forever, lost to me in this cruel and unforgiving realm – just another lost soul on the dreaded Milk Run.
I sighed, passing a stack of Dave’s “Missing” flyers to my best friend. I had known Dave since I was a little girl – he was like an uncle who snuck me sweets when my sister Julianne wasn’t looking. Watching his smiling portrait on yet another missing flyer shook me.
“Who’s missing now?” Riley asked, unphased. She was used to the constant reports – in our town, loss was inevitable.
“Dave… Julianne’s husband,” I replied grimly. First, my grandfather when we were kids, then my cousin Jared, now Dave – the constant disappearances had marked my life in profound ways. As children, losing Grandad to a Milk Run felt upsetting but almost expected. The vanishing fathers had become an integral part of our community by now.
But seeing Julianne’s hopeful face turning to concern, then grief as the days without Dave turned to weeks turned to months – that hurt more profoundly. She didn’t deserve to have her family ripped apart this way, nor did her kids. It wasn’t right or fair, even if the resilience of our town’s women was extraordinary. We shouldn’t have to bear these wounds alone.
I wished there was something I could do to bring Dave home, to stop whatever dark force kept stealing our fathers and brothers and husbands away into the night without explanation or trace.
There was always an initial search after a Dad vanished on an errand. Then, there were flyers. Then we said nice things to his family. Finally, the family grieved, and the community banded together in resilience.
But experiencing it myself, seeing Julianne’s grief firsthand, made me realize how profoundly unfair it was. The women here were strong, but they shouldn’t have to be. Losing fathers and brothers shouldn’t be a simple fact of life, no matter what the errand. I wished I could stop these endless Milk Runs and solve the sinister mystery of our town once and for all.
Riley gave my shoulder a supportive squeeze, snapping me from my brooding thoughts. She promised to put the flyers up before our trip this weekend. The trip we both desperately needed to process our grief over losing Dave in the relentless tragedy of the endless Milk Runs.
Riley grimaced as she took in Dave’s smiling portrait, his arm slung around my sister Julianne in happier times. “I’ll put these up at the Community Center right away. Tell your sister thoughts and prayers,” she whispered.
“Thoughts and prayers.” I nodded, sadness and frustration welling as always when another father disappeared on a Milk Run. “Thanks. I’ll swing by to grab you after work for our trip. We both could use some time away after… all this.” I waved the rest of the flyers as if shooing away the specter of loss that haunted this town.
Riley flashed a sad smile before heading out to her beat-up Civic. I trudged off to work, seeking solace among the shelves of books that lined the cozy interior of Book Club – the wine would have to wait until after work.
I bid Riley farewell and refocused my attention on my work, unpacking bottles of wine behind the counter at Book Club. I took a beat to take in all the happy, cozy women drinking reds and whites while they read or discussed the latest books.
My gaze lingered on the corner nook where the writers’ group always gathered. As I tidied up bottles behind the bar, their voices carried over.
A woman with bits of gray like streamers in her dark brown afro pulled her in a chunky cardigan tight and leaned in. Her eyes gleamed with knowledge and mischief. “You know,” she began, her voice low and mysterious, “there’s an ancient evil that some believe lies beneath these streets. It’s said that deep beneath Eastborough are channels in the earth, pathways to a realm older than time itself.”
Curiosity piqued, I paused, listening intently as she continued. “Legend has it that if you dig too deep and disturb those channels, you risk awakening the slumbering darkness that lives within. And when they wake up hungry and insatiable, nothing can satiate their appetite. Nothing but cutting it off that the root so it can no longer feed in this world.”
A tingle ran up my spine as she spun her tale, and I couldn’t help but connect her words to Dave’s recent disappearance. My heart ached for answers, for an understanding of why the men in Eastborough kept disappearing without a trace.
She paused, her eyes scanning the room before locking with mine. “It’s like those old Milk Run stories – fathers lured from home by some insatiable urge for milk, vanishing forever without explanation,” she concluded.
Her voice was magnified by caution and fear.
As her words hung in the air, a chill settled over me, and the weight of the unknown pressed upon my shoulders. Despite the pain and grief of our loss, a deep-set part of me yearned to understand the enigmatic forces that lurked beneath the surface of Eastborough. My phone buzzed, jolting me from ominous imaginings. It was my dad checking if I’d be home for dinner or if I was leaving for my trip right after work. Seeing his silly use of every emoji and hashtag in text messages made me smile despite lingering unease.
“I love you, Dad! I’m leaving right from work. Don’t worry; I’ll bring you a souvenir cow from our trip!” I texted back cheerily, my chest tightening at the thought of losing him, too.
The winding back roads unfurled before us, a ribbon of asphalt winding through the countryside. The setting sun painted the landscape, casting long shadows that danced with the gentle swaying of trees. Riley and I chatted, relieved to escape the clutches of responsibilities and the once again mournful atmosphere of home, if only for a fleeting weekend.
She mentioned needing to grab a mug or trinket from our trip as a souvenir for her mom. “I thought your mom hated clutter?” I remarked, my eyes on the road.
“She does. But her wife loves tchotchkes,” Riley replied with a grin.
I chuckled, “A match made in heaven.”
Riley laughed and added, “Honestly, at the rate Dads go missing in our area, two moms are ideal. Except for all the laundry… it’s too much fucking laundry.”
I forced a smile. I should have been home helping Julianne look for Dave, but even Julianne encouraged me to keep my plans. When a Dad went missing on a Milk Run, he would not be found during a search, no matter how many people volunteered. It was just part of the process. Like so many townspeople before us, we had to keep living.
Riley pointed to a sign for Benny’s Dairy Farm. “I’ve never been there, but that could be a decent spot for snacks and junk.”
“Yeah, a dairy farm might have a cow thing for my dad,” I mused, a hint of unease beneath my laughter.
As we approached the farm stand, the air changed. The scent of freshly harvested hay lingered, mixing with the distant fragrance of manure and earth. The rustic charm of the place pulled us in, and we stepped out of the car, our senses instantly assaulted by the myriad of sounds and smells.
Riley and I scanned the surroundings, trying to shake off an odd feeling that had crept over us. The man behind the counter seemed familiar, his weathered face etched with lines of age and wisdom. We exchanged hushed whispers, uncertain of our recognition.
Riley approached the man, her phone in hand. With a charming smile, she asked if she could take a photo of him and me for her scrapbook. The man, his eyes betraying a flicker of recognition, agreed. He politely removed his hat, revealing salt-and-pepper hair that framed his face.
Back in the car, I, curious about Riley’s newfound hobby, asked when she had started scrapbooking. Riley chuckled, “I don’t. But you can’t just ask people to take photos of them to image search—Oh my god!”
“What?” I inquired, sensing a sudden shift in Riley’s demeanor.
“He’s Rick Johnson!” Riley exclaimed, her eyes widening.
“Who?” I questioned, puzzled.
“Sam Johnson’s dad,” Riley clarified. When I didn’t respond with recognition, she added, “Smarty Pants, Sam.”
“Oh! Didn’t he disappear when we were in middle school?” I asked, a shiver running down my spine.
Riley nodded, her attention focused on the photo on her phone. I pressed her for more information, and she, still distracted, silently compared the image to a missing flyer she pulled out.
“So weird. Did Sam’s dad run off to be a farmer less than an hour away from town, and no one could find him?”
“Holy shit, Liv. I think that’s your brother-in-law Dave in the background!” Riley finally explained, her voice tinged with shock and disbelief. The car felt cramped and like an ever-expanding void at her revelation. The tires hummed on the road as my thoughts raced.
I focused on getting us to the Inn in one piece before letting my mind spiral into the depths of conspiracy. It could just be someone who looked like Dave, and Riley was connecting dots that didn’t connect. All I knew was Dave didn’t just fuck off to be a farmer. A Milk Run took Dave.
The quaint Inn wrapped us in a blanket of rustic charm, its creaking wooden floors harmonizing with the soft hum of conversations. It was like stepping into another world. A world at odds with the feeling of dread and darkness growing inside me.
Vintage photographs on the walls silently narrated the Inn’s rich history, creating an atmosphere that felt like a portal to the past.
The kindly middle-aged woman who ran the Inn brought us to our room with an adjoining bathroom. We tossed our bags on my bed and changed into more comfortable clothes. When I’d finished washing my face, Riley sat on my bed and spooned ice cream straight from the cardboard container into her mouth.
As I indulged in a spoonful of the rich ice cream, its flavors exploded on my palate, sweeping me away from the weight of our earlier discovery.
Still holding onto a half-eaten spoonful of ice cream, Riley playfully remarked, “I’d leave my wife for this ice cream.”
“Riley!” I chastised half-heartedly. I knew she didn’t mean it. I knew dark humor was her fallback when processing life’s most challenging moments. She had to lighten situations, even if it got her more than the occasional disdainful glare. She took her duty as the friend who kept me smiling very seriously. So seriously that I sometimes worried that I might miss it if she was genuinely upset.
“What? We can’t be sad about everything all the time. How aren’t you numb to it? If anything, we’re lucky. In other places, people get sick and waste away before they die. For us, at least half the time. It’s out of sight and out of mind.”
“It was. Until it was Dave, it could be Conor.”
Riley shrugged sadly. “Pastor and Law are making Conor go away for grad school. They say he’s not allowed to settle down here. I’m lucky because the Milk Runs don’t affect moms, but you can’t spend your life in Eastborough and get re-upset about every man who disappears. You’d never be happy. I don’t want to be miserable because life’s not fair. I want to enjoy the life we’ve lucked into and this amazing ice cream we discovered.”
As I thought about her poignant perspective, I savored the delicious treat. “It is shockingly good ice cream. Good enough to get me to forgive a shocking number of crimes.” The distraction offered by the exquisite flavors momentarily eased the tension.
She extended her hand for the ice cream until I reluctantly surrendered it. “Free pass on all misdemeanors for this ice cream, and… is a minor felony a thing?” she teased.
I replied thoughtfully, “I think they classify them like drugs.”
“But not kidnapping Dave. That’s definitely on the other side of the line,” Riley clarified with a supportive smile.
When Riley mentioned Dave, curiosity gripped me. “Let me see that picture. Are you sure it was Dave?” I asked, holding my hand out for her phone.
She passed me the phone. Zooming in on the image, it was unmistakable. That was Dave. Davy Crocket, if you’re his annoying little sister-in-law. The realization that he looked sick and had abandoned his family filled me with a sense of urgency. “I have to go back and figure out what’s going on. He looks sick, and he wouldn’t just abandon his family. This many men wouldn’t just abandon their families. I don’t know if it’s a cult or kidnapping or what, but I have to find out. Jules needs to know where he went and why.”
“We should go back and try to talk to him, figure out what’s going on,” Riley suggested.
“You don’t need to go with me. It could be dangerous, and it’s my family on the line,” I said, my nerves surfacing.
“Shut up. Obviously, I’m going with you. I didn’t know Dave well, but I love Jules like a sister, and we both lost our grandads to Milk Runs. Lesbian moms only bless me so much. My brother could be next. And, duh, I won’t let you go trespassing on a farm alone.”
Grateful for Riley’s unwavering support, I nodded. She turned her laptop toward me, revealing a digital map she had compiled. “Most of the Missing Milk Run Dads were on the north side of town or on their way to places north of town.”
Studying the map, I traced the familiar streets and landmarks. “Okay?”
Riley playfully rolled her eyes. “We’re north of town.”
As I took a spoonful of the velvety ice cream from Riley’s pint container, my taste buds erupted in ecstasy. Her eyes danced with amusement. “Regretting not getting your own pint now, huh?”
I shot her a playful glare. “Just a little. Strawberries are a poor substitute for this heavenly concoction.”
Riley grinned, taking another bite of her ice cream. “We’ll go back tomorrow during the day. Maybe we’ll see something interesting. Maybe we can confirm our suspicions before we investigate further.”
Nodding in agreement, I appreciated Riley’s practicality.
While discussing our strategy, Riley pulled her laptop toward her and started typing purposefully.
“What are you doing?” I asked, curious about the sudden change in her demeanor.
Riley’s fingers danced across the keyboard as she explained, “I’m emailing my moms, telling them what we found and what we plan to do. I’m not ending up in people’s thoughts and prayers on a true crime special because I didn’t leave a paper trail.”
I chuckled at her foresight. “Smart move. We don’t want to be another Milk Run mystery. What are you writing, exactly?”
Riley smirked, her gaze focused on the screen. “Just the facts, Liv. No embellishments. Better safe than sorry.” She paused, glancing up at me. “Ready for a day of mystery-solving tomorrow?”
I nodded, the nervousness building within me. Exhausted from the emotional day, Riley and I retired to our rooms to rest before resuming our investigation in the morning.
Awaking from a fitful night’s sleep, the comforting aroma of freshly ground coffee brewing greeted me in the Inn’s common area, mingling with the persistent pit in my stomach. The day ahead loomed with uncertainty, and I couldn’t shake the sense of foreboding that clung to my thoughts like a shadow.
Riley reached out for the car keys, and I handed them over, feeling a mix of apprehension and determination. As she took the keys, she pulled me into a tight hug, her voice laced with resolve. “We’ll figure out what happened to Dave and get some ice cream.”
“You are my sunshine,” I murmured, the familiar phrase invoking a sense of camaraderie and shared strength between us. It was our best friend code, a reminder of the unyielding support we provided for each other. She was sunshine, and I was a rain cloud. Riley was always optimistic and ready for a new adventure, and I was always sporting a foreboding scowl, prepared for something to go wrong. Our moms had gifted us matching graduation necklaces with cloud and sun charms, symbols of our unbreakable bond.
Under the high sun, Riley and I approached Benny’s Dairy Farm. The distinct aroma of freshly cut hay filled the air, mingling with the distant sounds of cows and creating an eerie backdrop to the picturesque setting. Did someone kidnap the cows, too, I wondered.
The day appeared tranquil, masking the hidden secrets beneath the surface.
After enjoying a delicious strawberry tart for breakfast, we spotted Dave among the workers. Even from a distance, I recognized his familiar face, his expression betraying an inner conflict before he made eye contact with me. Although I couldn’t hear his words, I could sense him silently mouthing “Liver?” as a sign of recognition.
Before I could approach him, a call from the farm overseer summoned Dave away. We watched silently as he descended into a cellar and disappeared, leaving us with a lingering unease and unanswered questions.
“That’s definitely Dave,” I told Riley, my voice tinged with concern and determination.
“Well, we can’t follow him into the basement. And he doesn’t seem like he’s being held against his will, so I don’t think we can call the cops,” Riley mused aloud, her thoughts mirroring my own. “But we can stay nearby and return under the cover of night to see if anything weird happens. They might have some nighttime ritual or gathering that could give us clues.”
As the sun dipped below the horizon, Riley and I parked our car in the shadows, the inky blackness of the night setting the stage for our clandestine mission. Riley tapped away on her phone, updating her moms about every move we made, creating a protective legal shield around our covert activities.
“Is this legally responsible?” I asked. The weight of the potential consequences if we were wrong pressed on me.
Riley, ever nonchalant, reassured me, “My mom’s a lawyer, and she charges me a monthly retainer of a dollar. It’s all confidential. Plus, my other mother is a Church of the Spaghetti Monster minister. Riley, ever nonchalant, reassured me, “My mom, a lawyer, charges me a monthly retainer of a dollar. Plus, my other mother is a Church of the Spaghetti Monster minister. It’s all confidential.”
They didn’t seem like sound legal advice to me, but I preferred the comfort of having my friend with me and her family, knowing where to find our bodies if necessary. “Is that why you refer to your moms as Pastor and Law?” I asked.
Riley paused for a moment. “Huh. Conor did it, and I just say what he says. I wonder if he was doing it a bit, and it just stuck. Honestly, I never gave it much thought. Law says to make sure the GPS on your phone is on and only start a recording if you have a full battery. Making a call for help is more important than collecting evidence.”
Now cloaked in darkness, the farm loomed as we approached stealthily. The creak of the cellar door echoed in the still night, and I hesitated, the gravity of the situation settling over me like a heavy shroud.
Riley’s fingers danced on her phone screen while she updated her mom about our progress.
“Can you at least turn down your brightness if you’re going to text your moms the whole time?” I urged Riley.
“Good idea,” Riley said, turning down the brightness of her phone. “Conor says hi.”
“What?” I asked, puzzled.
“They added him to the group chat,” Riley explained, unbothered. “He says pick up something we can use as a weapon.”
As we stealthily approached the farm, the night veiled the landscape in shadows, and the air carried a chilly breeze. We scoured the surroundings, finding a handheld sickle for me and a rusty crowbar for Riley. Armed and ready, we cautiously moved towards the cellar door.
Initially, the cellar appeared ordinary. But then Riley searched around the entrance with her phone’s flashlight. She found and flipped a light switch that lit up the space, revealing it was bigger than I expected. Behind a set of hanging plastic curtains awaited an eerie and unsettling glow, accompanied by the constant drone of machinery.
I pushed past the curtains and felt like I’d entered an Occultist’s laboratory.
With the lights on, I quickly spotted Dave, close enough to be sure it was him. The small, high-tech cell with runic symbols etched in it confined him. A shiver shook me to my core. “Dave!” I whispered-shouted, hoping to break through whatever hold this place had on him.
He squinted at us, rubbing his head as if struggling to focus. “Liver? Onions and Liver?”
“Yeah, Davy Crocket, it’s me,” I said.
“I thought that was a past life… I failed that life… I need to get the milk.”
We noticed a hose-like apparatus attached to the back of Dave’s neck. There were two tubes inside the main tube. Whenever he spoke about his life or recognized me, one inner tube pulsed something into him. However, when he mentioned failure and the need for milk, the other inner tube pulsed and seemed to extract something from him.
Exploring the area, Riley directed my attention to a vintage and mystical containment tank across from Dave’s cell. She handed me a postcard we bought earlier in the day, pointing at the man inside the tank.
I gasped, recognizing Benny from the photograph of the farm’s first year in business. Frozen in time, Benny looked precisely as he did when they opened the farm in the 1940s.
“I thought the sickle was overkill at first,” Riley admitted. “But now, I wish I had one too.” Riley tried to keep her tone light, but she couldn’t entirely hide the unease in her eyes as we confronted the disturbing scene.
Gulping, I agreed. “Let’s get Dave and get the fuck out of here.”
Determined, we set to work, opening Dave’s cell and severing his tether. My stomach churned as a liquid resembling Benny’s Dairy’s signature Moonshine Milk sprayed from the tube. I held back a retch when the smell of the liquid hit my nose and delighted my senses. It smelled delicious.
“Dave, are you okay?” I asked gently after cutting him free.
“I…I’m not sure,” he stammered, eyes wide with shock. “It’s like a nightmare I can’t wake up from.”
As we turned for the exit, Dave resisted. “We need to help them. Or burn it to the ground,” he begged us in a ragged whisper. “Make it stop.”
“Them?” I asked. Was he already brainwashed by whatever was keeping him captive?
He found another switch and flipped it. Lights blinked on, revealing rows of containment tanks in the expansive cellar, each holding missing men tethered to tubes, floating in a nightmarish suspension.
The scope of the horror struck us, and a newfound urgency gripped our hearts as we confronted the proper depth of the atrocities hidden beneath Benny’s Dairy Farm.
Dim, flickering lights cast eerie shadows that danced like ethereal specters on the damp, moss-covered walls. The cold, stone floor sent a chill through our bodies.
Riley and I exchanged glances, our eyes reflecting the gravity of our discovery. The silence was heavy, broken only by the distant sound of dripping water and the faint hum of the mysterious machinery that filled the cellar.
Gritting my teeth, I mustered the courage to break the silence. “Benny must have been the first victim,” I suggested, my voice laced with a knot of anxiety that tightened in my stomach. “Let’s start with him. He could be key to understanding all of this.”
With unease, I approached Benny’s containment tank with Riley and Dave behind me.
Riley squeezed my bicep in silent support. She had no jokes to lighten this situation. Sometimes, I forgot that she always knew when a situation was too heavy to try to lighten. Some situations earned their weight and deserved to at least attempt to crush you.
The glass surface of Benny’s container was clouded with a patina of age and secrecy. The ethereal glow from within cast an otherworldly aura, bathing Benny in an eerie light. He appeared frozen, caught in a perpetual moment of confusion; his expression was a mask of fear and bewilderment.
Benny’s movements were jerky and disjointed as we worked to release him from his glass prison, like a marionette with tangled strings.
Once vibrant and full of life, his eyes reflected a profound disorientation. They darted back and forth between us and the unfamiliar surroundings, seeking answers that seemed just out of reach.
His expression was familiar, like a father trying to show empathy and build confidence in his kid. Dave placed a steadying hand on Benny’s shoulder. “Take your time, Benny.”
Benny struggled to process his existence, his thoughts racing to catch up with the fragmented pieces of his memory. “They… they suck out their minds, their souls, their memories,” he muttered, his voice a haunting echo that reverberated through the cellar. His words carried the weight of a man lost in the labyrinthine corridors of his mind.
As Benny spoke, his disjointed ramblings echoed like ghostly whispers from the past. “Try our magical Harvest Milk,” he parroted, his voice carrying the remnants of a forgotten commercial jingle. “It’s a family farm,” Benny continued, his words a jumbled collage of marketing slogans long buried in the annals of time. “Try our guilt-free dairy,” he whispered, the essence of a once vibrant man fading into the dimness of the cellar.
The aging process gripped Benny visibly as time greedily took back what this farm tried to keep from it. Wrinkles etched themselves across his face, etching a map of sorrow and despair. Vitality drained away from him like water escaping a sinking ship, leaving behind a mere shell of his former self.
“We dug too deep. We thought it was oil. It was evil,” Benny rambled about the monsters unleashed from a well he had dug, creatures that infiltrated his farm, took over his body, and fed insatiably on friends, family, and neighbors.
His eyes glazed with horror as he described the insidious plan to lure more unsuspecting men to the farm, ensnared by the irresistible allure of Harvest Milk, a byproduct of the horrifying farming process.
His desperate plea hung in the air, a last act of defiance against the encroaching darkness. “Destroy the well,” Benny implored his voice a husk of its former self. His words reverberated through the oppressive silence, a haunting refrain that lingered in the depths of our souls. The cellar seemed to hold its breath as if even the ancient stones understood the magnitude of the horrors we had encountered.
We felt a burning urgency to confront the lurking monsters, to defeat the darkness that loomed over us. The weight of our mission rested on our shoulders, fueled by fear, determination, and an unwavering desire to end the nightmares that had haunted Benny and so many others.
The darkness of the cellar clung to us as we huddled together, our minds racing. Dave, Riley, and I exchanged determined glances, our eyes reflecting a shared resolve to end the monstrous nightmare that had plagued our town for far too long.
“We need to move quietly, stick to the shadows,” Dave whispered, his voice barely audible. His gaze swept across the vast underground expanse, the dim light casting eerie shadows on his face. “They hear everything.” He looked like he was going to say something else, but instead, he just held a shaky finger to his lips.
As we emerged from the cellar, the cool night air enveloped us, shivering our spines. The moon, a pale orb in the sky, cast an ethereal glow upon the farm, transforming it into a sinister landscape marred by the grotesque secrets hidden beneath. Shadows slithered through the fields as if the monsters were awakening, reacting to our intrusion.
The creatures were chilling, a grotesque combination of farm animals and distorted human features. Their eyes glowed with an eerie malice, their movements an unsettling dance that defied natural order. Distorted cries and nightmarish growls accompanied each step they took, creating a symphony of terror that echoed through the night.
We proceeded as if guided by an invisible hand. Every footfall was deliberate and calculated, a desperate attempt to avoid attracting the attention of these abominations.
Dave, whose memory was clouded by the influence of the monsters, led us towards the well from which these horrors originated. It appeared to be a peaceful and picturesque farm well rather than a haunting symbol of generations of torment.
As we approached the well, the monsters seemed to sense our presence. Their misshapen heads turned towards us, and the air grew thick with an ominous energy. It felt like the atmosphere was against us, resisting our mission and hindering our progress.
The twisted creatures swarmed as we approached the pulsing well, their distorted limbs writhing in the moonlight. One horror’s talon grazed my arm, and I was awash in floods of remorse and self-loathing. Mental whispers berated my every perceived failure, magnifying each into unforgivable sins.
I buckled under the overwhelming tsunami of guilt from real and imagined mistakes. “I’m sorry…” I whimpered as caustic shame seared through my veins. To my horror, I witnessed the spectral creature before me swell from my anguished outpouring, thriving on the misery it induced. A pulse of vile energy flowed between us, a pulse like the one that I saw in the tubes attached to Dave in his cell – it was feeding from my torment.
“Liv! What the fuck? Keep moving!” Riley shouted, her voice muted under screeching internal voices cataloging my every regret. With monumental effort, I wrenched away, breaking contact. The tide of mental venom receded though a chill slithered within.
I shuddered, realizing the degree of emotional torture Dave had endured. A single moment had nearly shattered my sanity – how had he emerged from days steeped in this soul-flaying anguish with any shred of himself intact?
My horror swelled, imagining the crippling despair my brother-in-law was subjected to, the very nightmares used to sustain the grotesque horde still swarming in search of fresh agony. We had to end this. Now. Before anyone else was twisted into an empty husk by clinging shadows and bottomless guilt.
Dave, his determination unwavering, unraveled a hose from the farm’s massive gas tank. It was a dangerous plan to drown the well in volatile fuel, turning it into a ticking time bomb. Nimble and silent, Riley made her way to the tank, her movements swift and purposeful as she turned on the gas flow.
My heart pounded in my chest as I watched Dave, his hands trembling, reach into his pocket. He pulled out a lighter, a relic from his former life as a smoker, now engraved with the date of his last cigarette—the date Julianne had shared she was pregnant with their first child. The flame flickered to life, casting an amber glow on his resolute face.
Sensing the impending threat, the monsters unleashed guttural roars reverberating through the night. Their distorted forms writhed in agitation as Dave approached the well, the hose held in one hand, the lighter in the other. He became a beacon of hope amidst the encroaching darkness.
In one swift motion, Dave ignited the well, erupting in flames in a dazzling display of destruction. The monsters recoiled, their screeches merging with the crackling of the inferno. Once a conduit of suffering, the well became a pyre of redemption, consuming the malevolence that had plagued our town.
As the monstrous cries faded into the night, we retreated, our bodies weary but our spirits relieved. The night swallowed the remnants of our harrowing battle, leaving behind a transformed farm. No longer a haven for nightmares, it stood as a testament to our triumph, a symbol of the dawn of a new era, free from the suffocating grip of the creatures that had tormented us for far too long.
Returning to the cellar, a surreal and haunting scene greeted us. Once held captive in the eerie containment tanks, the Dads now wandered, their movements devoid of purpose. Some struggled to free themselves and their fellow captives, their faces etched with determination. Others appeared lost, their spirits worn down by the passage of time that the tanks had shielded them from.
Riley and I approached Rick, Sam’s dad, our hearts heavy with concern. “Rick, how are you feeling?” I asked, hoping for even the slightest glimmer of recognition in his eyes.
Once filled with life and warmth, his gaze now held a vacant emptiness. Memories erased, he stood before us as a mere shell, driven by an unrelenting desire to complete a task. His voice, devoid of its usual vibrancy, mumbled a repetitive mantra, “Get the milk.”
The other Dads mirrored this state of mindlessness. The men tended to leaks and creaking boards in the cellar. They spilled out, filling the space with a restless energy yet lacking purpose or direction. It was a hive of activity, lost and disconnected like bees without a queen.
“It’s like witnessing a beehive without a purpose,” I murmured, a mix of horror and fascination playing on my face.
Riley and I exchanged glances, the weight of the situation sinking in. “Should we call the authorities?” I turned to her, seeking guidance in this surreal moment.
She shrugged, her gaze fixed on the disorienting spectacle unfolding before us. “The fire should be enough to alert them, ” she said.
Realization settled on us as we considered the consequences of our actions. “They won’t be making ice cream anymore,” I whispered a tinge of melancholy coloring my words.
Riley nodded, a vacant look on her face. “At least not ice cream that good.”
Dave interrupted our shell-shocked contemplation; his tone tinged with sorrow and urgency. “I’m sorry you won’t get to taste that ice cream made from the souls of absent fathers anymore, but can you give me a ride home to my family, Liver?”
I let out a nervous chuckle, the gravity of the situation still weighing on us. “Oh, yeah, of course.”
Riley turned to Dave, her voice filled with concern. “Do you want us to take you to the police station or a trauma center? This has been a traumatic experience.”
He shook his head, his eyes reflecting the weariness of his soul. “No, I just want to go home; pretend this never happened. I just want to put this nightmare behind me and move forward with my life.”
As we left the cavernous cellar behind, the images of the Dads trapped in a cycle of meaningless tasks lingered in my mind. Their souls drained, their purpose extinguished by the monstrous horrors lurking beneath Benny’s Dairy Farm.
“Dave, you’re going to be the most popular person in town,” Riley said as she glanced at him in the rearview mirror. “People have been trying to solve the Milk Run mystery for years.”
I glanced back at Dave in the rearview mirror. Arms crossed, gaze averted, he looked haunted.
“Dave, do you remember how they captured you?” Riley asked, her voice soft and gentle.
He gave a slight shake of his head, body tensing. He closed his eyes and shuddered. “I think they stole my soul…”
I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of sorrow and disbelief. We will forever have the memories of this harrowing experience. Memories that, despite their disturbing nature, were a luxury most of the victims of this farm didn’t have. At least, I initially considered having all my memories a luxury.
“Oh,” I said, not knowing what else to say. “Do– Do you want to talk about it?”
“I really don’t.” He stared out the window, flinching at headlights every so often before saying, “How come they got to forget it? Do you think I’ll get to forget it?”
“Maybe,” I said. “If you try hard enough. If you think of it as a bad dream. You know how hard it is to remember dreams.”
Dave nodded. “A bad dream.”
In the days after the farm’s destruction, Dave’s return home was a small victory despite the horrifying discoveries we made. He had only been missing for a few days, and his memory remained mostly intact. He reintegrated into the loving embrace of my sister Julianne and their children. Their family structure proved resilient, offering stability despite his unsettling absence.
Dave claimed that he couldn’t remember anything that happened before he saw his family in the living room again. Given what he had been through, I had no objections to supporting his story. He wasn’t portrayed as a hero but rather as another victim who had been rescued, with no recollection of the time between picking up a jug of milk and reuniting with his anxious family.
However, the other fathers we rescued from Benny’s Dairy were shells of their former selves. They wandered the streets with empty eyes and vacant expressions as if they were automatons trying desperately to complete simple tasks now that they were free from their milking shackles. Stripped of their identities, memories, and personal connections, menial chores consumed their shattered minds as their sole occupation.
Their shell-shocked families, who had spent years adapting to the absence of these men, found the prospect of reintegrating these emotionless ghosts into their lives daunting. The men seemed like strangers, devoid of remnants of their past lives because of the entities’ soul-draining extractions. Their wives, children, and the community at large had moved on and thrived in their absence.
Recognizing the futility of forcing broken reunions, the women of the town organized a compassionate solution. Thanks to the town’s women, most of the men returned to the farm, now renamed “The Hive. ” There, they could toil contentedly, producing honey and artisan goods. Their simple presence caused no pain to the loved ones who had long mourned and moved on.
Some men stayed in town, doing work and contributing to the community. They returned to The Hive’s dormitories after work each day. Work and purpose became what sustained their fragile minds, like workers caring for a queen bee.
Volunteers and caretakers managed The Hive’s new operations, overseeing the fathers’ activities. The men’s vacant serenity as they performed basic tasks stirred a mix of emotions—pity for their shattered minds and hope for a bit of purpose salvaged from their cruel captivity.
Weeks later, as the sun dipped below the horizon, casting warm hues across the living room, I returned home from work, my senses attuned to everyday life’s familiar sights and sounds. In the heart of our kitchen stood my father, an aura of contentment surrounding him as he polished off a glass of milk with a big, satisfied smile.
My eyes widened with surprise, the subtle fragrance of fresh milk lingering in the air. Quickly sensing my curiosity and concern for my dad’s digestive system, he reassured me with a chuckle, “It’s a new product, Liv—lactose-free! You know your old man can’t resist trying the latest things.”
As he finished the glass, a content smile spread across his face. I observed him attending his online class, the soft hum of the computer providing an undertone to the evening. Reassured by the normalcy of his actions, I dismissed the fleeting thought of anything amiss. However, my curiosity got the better of me as my father grabbed his keys as soon as the class concluded.
“Where are you going, Dad?” I couldn’t help but ask, the soft glow of the kitchen lights casting a warm ambiance.
With a smile, he replied, “Need to grab more milk for the family, Liv. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” His reassuring tone was full of warmth, and I nodded and urged him to drive safely.
Yet, as he headed out, I glanced at the lactose-free milk carton on the kitchen counter, bathed in the soft glow of the lights. In the gentle hush of the evening, my fingers traced the small logo on the carton—identical to the one etched in my memory from the milk lure that the entities had produced at Benny’s Dairy. A shiver ran down my spine, and the tranquility of the evening air held an undercurrent of unsettling familiarity.