This story contains adult content and is only suitable for persons over the age of 18.
From the ashes of one of the worst disasters on US soil comes a story of love and betrayal like no other.
Believing her parents had perished in one of the twin towers of the WTC, Alison Gregory struggled with life in the big city. Fourteen years later, she quits her job and escapes to rural West Virginia where she finally finds peace living in quiet solitude. That is, until a crop circle appears on her property bearing a cryptic message written in a code she believes only she and her dead father knew. Desperate to find answers, she deciphers the message which takes her on a journey halfway across the globe where she is plunged into a world of intrigue that reveals her true nature and identity.
With humanity’s existence hanging in the balance, Alison is forced to face her fears and come to terms with who she really is in order to fight not only for her own existence but for the future of planet earth as well.
Chapter Prologue & Chapter 1
New York City, September 11, 2001, 0530 hrs
She had lived almost her entire life in the guise of someone else, never revealing her true self to anyone outside of her family and her closest associates. Today would be no different. She carefully pulled the dark brown shoulder length wig she usually wore over her auburn curls, and then used a hand mirror to check for any strays. Satisfied, she opened the contacts case and perused the various choices before taking the vial containing brown lenses out of the case and placing it on the vanity.
“Good choice,” said her husband as he came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders. “You look great with brown eyes. But then again, you always look great,” he told her as he kissed her cheek.
“Well, it wouldn’t be wise to change my look too drastically–the neighbors might notice,” she joked as she turned around and put her arms around his neck.
“You’re right about that,” he smiled. “Sorry about this morning,” he said, as he released himself from her grasp and walked out of the bath and into their bedroom. “But I promise I’ll be there before the meeting starts. If something comes up, call me.”
Beth grinned. She knew he would do anything for her—all she had to do was ask—but she rarely took advantage of his generosity. “Thanks, and you know I will,” she told him as she leaned toward the mirror–a small brown contact now balancing on her index finger. Gently, she pulled down her bottom eyelid and eased the contact into place. When she looked in the mirror, she giggled. With one eye a subdued brown and the other a vivid emerald green, she looked like a freak-show version of someone afflicted with heterochromia.
“What’s so funny?” he asked as he was tying his shoes.
“Nothing really. I was just thinking about not putting a contact in the other eye. Just a silly thought.” Ben didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. He knew how she felt about the necessity of disguise. She hated it.
After putting the remaining contact in her eye, she blinked a few times. She wore an off-white Chanel pantsuit–Labor Day fashion laws be damned–with a violet silk shirt, and did a slow pirouette to check the results. Happy with what she saw, she asked, “Could you bring me my necklace? It’s on my night table.”
Ben grabbed the emerald pendant that had at one time belonged to her grandmother and went back into the bath. As he put the necklace around her neck, he looked at her in the mirror and for the thousandth time, he realized how lucky he was to be her husband. “It’s going to be OK Beth—you know it is,” he reassured her.
“I know, but I just have an uneasy feeling about today…”
“Who wouldn’t? Today isn’t going to be an ordinary day for us, but listen,” he told her, “even if the unthinkable happens and I don’t make it on time, you know what to do. It’ll be fine. Look,” he said as he glanced at his wristwatch. “I’ve gotta get going. The faster I can get this damn security orientation over with, the faster I can get to our meeting.” He went back into the bedroom, picked up his briefcase off the floor next to the night table, and headed towards the bathroom for one last kiss. “I love you sweetheart,” he said as he placed a hasty peck on her cheek. A soft-spoken, ‘love you too,’ drifted towards him as he hurried out the bedroom door and down the stairs of their Waverly brownstone.
Some people–Beth and Ben included–believe fate has a part in bringing people together, and that whatever we experience in this life is a lesson we haven’t yet learned. Like Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence,’ Beth and Ben both believed they have lived and loved as a couple throughout eternity–each time learning new lessons along the way, and each time becoming better people.
Beth hailed a cab fifteen minutes after her husband left. Now she was stuck in traffic and getting impatient. She hated feeling rushed, but it was almost unavoidable in this city. Despite the fact it was 6 a.m., the streets were already bustling with girls in short skirts sipping their lattes, children laughing on their way to school, men in suits, and an odd assortment of characters unique to New York. She wasn’t too surprised to see the streets crowded this early–she just wanted them to get out of her way. “Can’t you go any faster?” she asked her cab driver, knowing the answer before she asked it. Her cabbie recognized people like her immediately–they were everywhere in New York City. Rushing around. Always late. Always stressed.
With dreadlocks partially obscuring his face, he turned his head to face her. “Nah, miss, dis cah ain’t goin’ nuh weh’,” he said as he faced forward again and pointed ahead at the mass of vehicles in front of him.
“Damn, why today? Traffic in this city is such a nightmare…”
The towers were now clearly visible. They were so close–just a few blocks away. All she had to do was get there. A seemingly impossible feat of engineering, they were an architectural behemoth that overshadowed everything in the city. The prima donnas of skyscrapers, the twin towers of the World Trade Center may have been the biggest, but they lacked the aesthetic qualities of many other skyscrapers in the city–notably the Empire State Building. But that wasn’t a fault of the towers themselves. It was their generation. Gone were the elegant Art Deco stylings of the ’20’s and ’30’s; the towers were a prime example of the structural expressionism popular in the ’70’s. They were high-tech. They were functional. They were huge. They were not beautiful.
Deciding on an alternate route, Beth pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of her purse and handed it through the partition to her driver. “Here, keep the change. I’m going to get out here and walk the rest of the way.” Without waiting for a reply, she stepped out onto the street with the faint echo of her driver’s gratitude wafting in her ears. This wasn’t the first time she had gotten out of a cab before reaching her destination. Patience–like her fashion sense–wasn’t one of her strongest characteristics.
Beth was forty years old, nearly six feet tall, willowy, and only wore heels when she felt it absolutely necessary–which was never. Heels weren’t conducive to her way of thinking. According to her, they were a form of slavery, much like ties were leashes around the necks of the slaves that wore them. She hated conformity and the system that promoted it.
As the sun’s golden rays began peeking through the New York skyline, she reached Fulton Street and the entrance to the North tower of the World Trade Center. Without wasting a moment, she entered the lobby, whose bright and colorful banners hanging from the ceiling were an antithesis to the gray and somber monochromatic exterior of the building. She headed straight towards the security desk where she got the attention of the older, slightly paunchy security guard who was talking on the phone. After procuring a key to an office on the 99th floor, she walked towards a bank of express elevators behind her, and it took no time at all for the elevator to arrive. Taking a deep breath, she stepped inside, leaned against the wall and closed her eyes for the 10-minute ride to the sky lobby where she could take the stairs to get to her floor.
Beth chose the tower to hold the meeting because of her familiarity with it. Moreover, holding a meeting in the clouds gave her more of a sense of security than using an office building within sniper distance. In preparation for the meeting, a catering company was scheduled to deliver their breakfast in half an hour, and a security firm was meeting her in an hour to sweep the offices for any recording devices–she wasn’t about to take any unnecessary chances.
She had leased this space under the name of a shell company she had created which led to another shell company that could never be traced back to her. She’d made sure of that. She’d left her business cell at home, but she and Ben always carried burners with them. She had no computer with her either. She didn’t need one. Nothing that transpired at this meeting would be recorded, and nothing could be traced. Everyone coming to the meeting carried fake ID’s and would be arriving in disguises. She would be expecting all the senior members of the Association at 8 a.m. sharp.
After the hired help had come and gone, she surveyed the transformed space. The room itself was huge–it had once been a call center and had held multiple cubicles, which were now long gone. In their place stood two giant conference tables that could seat twenty-five people each, with fifty soft black leather chairs gathered around them. A dais stood in front of the tables, with two more black chairs to the left and a buffet was laid out on an elegantly set table with a centerpiece of red roses. She was satisfied.
Her heart was thumping wildly in her chest as the time grew nearer for their arrival. So much had led to this meeting, and when the Agenda was complete, she knew the world would never be the same.
As her guests began arriving, their identities were confirmed by a portable biometric vein scanner she had brought with her before she greeted and directed them towards the morning repast set out against the back wall. Looking intermittently at the gold watch on her wrist that Ben had given her on her 35th birthday, she was getting anxious. Not only because Ben was late, but certain key members had not shown up yet either. She tried Ben’s burner cell and he answered on the first ring. “Where are you?” she whispered.
“Sorry honey, I just got out of there. The security orientation went later than I thought. I’m going to get there as fast as I possibly can.”
“I hope so. I’m getting worried.”
“Why, is something the matter?”
“You’re not the only one that’s going to be late–a few others haven’t shown up yet either.”
“Don’t worry about it honey. Maybe they’re stuck in traffic. I’m still on the road myself, but I should be there in a few minutes, so just a try to appease the masses until I get there. Maybe tell a few jokes. I won’t be long.”
Beth had to chuckle at Ben’s remark. They both knew she had a sense of humor only few could appreciate. “Ok, Ben, I’ll try.”
Before Beth could utter another word, however, a male voice interrupted her. “Oh my God! Everyone, look outside!” They all turned to look out the window and were shocked to see that a passenger jet was less than half a mile away and appeared to be headed directly towards them; its wingspan already stretching the expanse of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
“Oh my God Ben, there’s a plane heading right towards us!” she screamed as the Association got up off their chairs and started heading towards the exits.
“What?” He could see the tops of the towers from the road and when he looked over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of a massive jetliner flying below normal altitude—headed straight for the tower. In a panic, he almost hit the railing. “This can’t be a coincidence Beth! Get out of there—get out now!! Beth! Beth!!”
With her ear to the phone, she ran as the mammoth metal beast bent on destroying them closed in. Desperate to escape, they tumbled over each other as they headed towards the stairwell—a cacophony of voices drowning out her own. A deafening roar shook the tower as the plane hit its mark. All Ben heard through the phone was a barely audible, “I lo…,” before the signal was lost. Glass shattered and hurled towards the Association like Japanese throwing stars–blood splattering everywhere as they fell. It was too late. Her last thoughts were of her family before the flames engulfed her, and her world sank into the abyss.
Rural West Virginia, July 2015
“What the hell…” As the morning sun began its leisurely ascent, Alison noticed something amiss when she opened her front door to let her beloved black lab outside. She blinked. “Couldn’t be…” She stood transfixed for a moment as Moxie slipped past her legs and made his way to his favorite tree. Then she stepped out onto the porch and turned on the lantern that sat on the redwood table before she positioned one of the bamboo deck chairs to get a better view. As she stood on it, she grabbed the lantern and held it high. A short gasp escaped her lips as its brilliant glow illuminated the shadows cast over a gaping wound in her field. “No way…” Still holding the lantern, she stepped down, walked over to the chicken coop and with her free hand, she grabbed the ax that had been leaning against it. Moxie sat on the grass staring at the cornfield with a quizzical look on his face. “Hey, Mox, you’ll let me know if anyone’s in there, right?” It didn’t matter that he was stone deaf; she knew he could feel her words. He had proven it time and time again in the past. Moxie barked, and she nodded her thanks. “Okay then, let’s go.”
Still in her pyjamas and slippers, she entered the broken field with Moxie by her side. Warily, she called out, “Is anyone in here?” No answer. She tried again. “If you are, I don’t care about the damage, just tell me why.” Nothing. Putting down the ax for a moment, she ran her free hand along the corn stalks still standing. There were no irregularities in the line. It was as if each stalk had been carefully chosen and bent to create this perfect anomaly. “Damn it…why…?” Mindful of any movements other than her own and Moxie’s, she turned off the lantern, set it down and picked up the ax again. The luminous rays of the rising sun helped guide her through the labyrinth, where all she found were perfectly cut trails with perpendicular sides that led to random perfectly created circles made all over her field. With corn squishing beneath her feet, she couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to do such a thing. She wanted answers. Hoping to find something she could take to the police that could link the vandalism to a perpetrator, she searched but found no evidence of their presence within the corridors of the maze. Not a scythe, ax or even a shoe print was left behind. Her head began to pound, and she was feeling dizzy. “I need to get out of here.” It was too late. Her world started spinning and she could hear Moxie’s barking echo in her ears as she fell to the ground.
She didn’t know how long she had been lying there, but when she woke up it was hot and she was covered in sweat. Moxie was whining and licking her face and despite the heat, she felt chilled. She swept silk from the fallen corn off of her face with her hand as she stood up. Then it hit. Nausea overwhelmed her and she threw up in uncontrollable spasms until dry heaves brought her knees to the ground. Fear settled in and a cold sweat began to seep through her clothes. Desperate to get out of there, she tried to stand up again, but her body wouldn’t cooperate. “Oh my god…” Moxie rubbed himself against her reassuringly. She gave him a weak smile as her fear began to dissipate and she tried again. Slowly, she stood up on wobbly legs and surveyed her surroundings. Then she picked up the ax. “Lead the way boy, I think I might be lost…” She turned her head and looked in every direction. It was all looking the same to her now. It was all just corn.
Dutifully, Moxie led her out of the maze and onto the lush lawn that surrounded her house. With the corn now behind them, Moxie collapsed into a whimpering heap on the ground and Alison followed suit—falling gently beside him into the cool, damp grass. Her ears were ringing loudly, but at that moment she didn’t care. She was more concerned about her friend and companion. “What’s going on boy?” she asked as she rubbed his ear. “Are you okay?” He licked her hand and whined again. It did little to assuage her guilt for putting him in danger “Alright Mox, I’ll take you inside.” She still felt slightly lightheaded when she reached for the ax. “I can’t believe this…” she mumbled as she leveraged herself against it and stood up. Then she shook her head in frustration as she raised it and swung it into the ground. “Shit!!” Leaving it stuck in the dirt, she gently picked up her dog and made her way back to the house.
When she reached the porch, Alison tenderly lowered Moxie into his bed by the door before carefully taking off her ruined slippers so as not to mess up her beautiful new floor. Then she opened the screen door and ran barefoot to the kitchen counter where she grabbed her satellite phone. The dizziness was no longer a problem. Hesitating for a moment, she contemplated whether or not to call the local sheriff. She had only lived in the area for a little over a year and wasn’t sure if she could trust local law enforcement yet. Besides, she was pretty sure it was a crop circle in her field and she didn’t need or want the circus of alien enthusiasts and tabloid reporters that might surround her property if the locals got wind of what happened. Deciding against contacting the authorities, she called a good friend instead. A friend she had known almost all of her life, and someone who had also gone to school with her at Georgetown. Coincidentally, he also loved conspiracy theories. While she waited for the phone to ring, she went back outside and found Moxie curled up and seemingly asleep in his bed. “Such a magnificent creature…” she whispered to herself. A wave of relief washed over her as Moxie looked up at her in the same moment that David picked up the phone.
“Hey David, it’s Alison, how are you?” She tried to sound calm as she sat down on one of her bamboo deck chairs.
“Alison!” exclaimed David. “I’m doing great—I’m just getting ready to head to work. How have you been? Finish that floor yet?”
“Yeah, I finished it last week. It’s gorgeous.” Pausing for a moment to gather her thoughts she said, “Listen, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I need to ask you something, and it may sound strange, so please don’t laugh, OK?”
“Sure, Alison, I’m all ears. What’s going on?” he asked.
“It’s going to sound crazy, but something happened to my corn field.” She hesitated. “It looks like a pattern has been cut into it, and I’m not sure what to make of it.”
“Seriously?! You mean, like a crop circle?”
“Yeah, like a crop circle. That’s what it looks like to me anyway. I don’t know…” Nervously, she got up and began pacing the deck.
“What makes you think it’s a crop circle?”
“I walked through it. It’s like a huge maze has been cut into my maize.”
David chuckled. “Alright. What else can you tell me?”
“Maybe I’m being paranoid. It’s just weird…” She hoped David could make some sense out of her experience as she finished telling him what had happened. There was a moment of silence before he replied.
“Wow…Alison. That’s wild. How do you feel now? Do you want me to come down? I could probably help you out more there than here.”
“N-no that’s okay David. I’m feeling better now, except for my ears, and Moxie looks like he’s sleeping.”
“Alright,” said David. “Look, I understand you’re probably a little freaked out right now, and I don’t blame you, but honestly, I’ve never heard of any permanent negative effects from being exposed to crop circles. So if you’re feeling okay now, I’m pretty sure you and Mox will be fine.”
Alison wasn’t convinced. “Maybe, but I still want to know why I got sick.”
“I’m not a hundred percent certain, but from what I’ve read, what you and Mox experienced is probably due to the same kind of low-level microwave radiation that has been found in some circles. Sometimes it makes people sick, and it can also interfere with electronic equipment that people bring into the circles, but I’ve never heard of any long lasting physical problems attributed to them.”
“Microwave radiation? That can’t be good.” She glanced at Moxie again, who appeared to be sleeping. “I should probably take him to the vet just to be safe.”
“That’s up to you, but I’m sure he’ll be fine. What about the circle? Can you explain the pattern to me?”
“No, not really. When I walked through it with Moxie, I couldn’t make out any patterns except for circles.”
“Just circles? Hmm…if it wasn’t for the fact the circle made you feel sick, I’d say that maybe kids did it, because circles are actually pretty easy to create. All anyone needs is a rope, a pole and some boards, but from what you’ve told me, I don’t think that’s the case.”
“Christ…” She sighed in frustration.
“Look, fake circles are easy to explain,” he tried to reassure her. “But there are some things about ‘real’ circles that science doesn’t have adequate explanations for–like the dizziness you and Moxie experienced.”
“Okay, so are you telling me this so-called ‘real circle’ was caused by–what–aliens?” Unconsciously, she began to rub her temples as a migraine began to settle in. The ringing in her ears wasn’t going away. “Sorry. You’re right. I am kinda freaked out right now.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll do what I can to help you find who’s responsible. We’ll figure it out.”
“Thanks. I just can’t stop wondering how whoever did it–did it without me noticing. I mean, it’s only a few hundred yards away from the house. Moxie didn’t even notice. What if they come back and do something worse?”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that. I doubt you’re being stalked by circle makers.”
“Funny, David.” She smiled.
“Just thought I’d throw in another bad pun to try and lighten your mood. So, can you give me any details about what you saw inside the circle?”
“There really wasn’t much to see, but I did notice that the stalks weren’t just laying there randomly. It looked almost…calculated.”
“Interesting. Anything else you can tell me? Do you have any idea how big it is?”
“I’m not sure. We’d only been walking through it for about fifteen minutes before I passed out.”
“Okay. So, have you told anyone else about this? Like the cops?”
“N-no. Not yet. Why?”
“Well, I don’t think you should tell anyone else right now, okay? At least not until we have more information.”
“I agree. I mean…it’s all so bizarre. I’m kinda at a loss here, so I really appreciate your help.” She cupped her throbbing forehead with her right hand.
“No problem. Listen, Alison, the first thing we need to do is find out what the pattern is, and we can only do that from the air. If it looks fake, you should probably go to the police and let them handle it. If not …well, we’ll figure something out.”
“A drone would be perfect—too bad I don’t have one.” She paused for a second to think. “But I have seen a crop duster flying around here. Maybe he can help.”
“Give it a shot. Look, I’ve gotta run or I’ll be late for work. Email me the pic or any more information once you have it, okay?”
“Will do,” said Alison, “I’ll contact you as soon as I have something to show you.” She hesitated before saying, “Thanks so much David. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
Alison hung up the phone before he could reply. Now she had a plan. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, the first thing she did was check on her dog. Moxie was awake and his tail began thumping loudly on the porch when he spotted her. “Come on boy, let’s go inside.” He followed her to the kitchen where she reached for a treat from underneath the sink. “Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better!” she said as he gobbled it down without apparently even chewing it first. “I guess David was right, you seem okay now,” she said as she lovingly patted his head. Then she went to her office and chewed a couple of Tylenol tablets she had in her desk drawer before she sat down and typed ‘crop dusting service’ into the local Yellow Pages website. After writing down the numbers of two companies in her area, she ran back to the kitchen, grabbed the sat phone and dialed the first number on her list. A cheerful voice greeted her at the other end of the line.
“Hello, KC’s Duster, can I help you?”
“Hi, my name’s Alison Gregory,” she said. “I was wondering if you ever take photos of property from the air. I’m asking because I have a crop of corn growing up near Williamstown that I need photographed.”
“Sure, I’ve done lots of aerial photography, and I can certainly do that for you.”
“Great! When are you available?”
“My schedule is pretty open today if that works for you. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until next Monday.”
“Perfect. Today it is.” Calculating the distance in her head, she said, “I can be there within the hour, and I’ll bring my own camera as well.”
“Okay, but that’s not necessary. I can use mine.”
“I’d rather you use mine if you don’t mind. How do I find you?” After writing down the directions, she tore the paper off the pad and stuffed it into the front pocket of her jeans. Then she dashed back into the room she had set up as her office/spare room, put her cell phone in her back pocket and opened the closet. Finding the hard-sided camera case just where she had left it a week ago, she took it down and put it on the bed. She had used it recently to take photos of her newly finished floor, so she knew the batteries would still be charged. After affixing the 70-200 mm lens to her Canon Mark II, Alison added a battery and a CF card before putting it back in its case. She grabbed the bag and went back into the kitchen where Moxie sat, waiting patiently. Seeing him there by his empty dish made her feel guilty. “I’ve been neglecting you, haven’t I?” She smiled at him, put her camera case on the counter, took some organic dog food out of the fridge and filled his dish. Then she picked up her camera case once again and headed out the door.