Into the Corn

corn-maze

The temperature had dropped twelve degrees since last night to forty-eight, a little colder than normal for this time of year in Memphis so it might seem odd to you that anybody was sitting alone in the middle of a field. He didn’t move a muscle but just sat there and waited. The sun was beginning to set and the temperature continued to drop. Once night fell he wouldn’t be alone anymore. He didn’t have to wait much longer, not that he minded waiting. In fact he actually enjoyed it as waiting allowed him in his mind to act out precisely how his plans would carry out. There were others like him in the field, not exactly like him, but rather pretended to be someone like him. He could have hated them for being imposters but he rather enjoyed the distraction and cover that they provided. A distant scream jumped into the sky, and for the first time that day he allowed himself to let a smile creep across his face. They were out there, just moments away from joining him.

Jessica paused briefly in front of her mirror and contemplated whether to keep her hair tied up in the ponytail she normally wore or to let it down for this special occasion. Her mother always fussed at her about always wearing her hair up. “You have such beautiful brown hair and it wouldn’t hurt to show it off every once in a while”, was the most common advice given to her on the subject, but normally Jessica just brushed her off not giving it much thought, but tonight was different. Although she was a junior in high school tonight would be her first official date, and with Trent no less. She admittedly hadn’t spent much of the last few years obsessing over boys as many of her friends had, but she always liked the feeling she got when Trent Baker smiled at her and sent waves of joy through her body. He had asked her earlier in the week to go with him to the haunted corn maze on Halloween, Friday night, an actual date, with just the two of them and it took her a few moments to catch her breath before telling him as cooly as she could manage that she would love to. Normally Jessica didn’t give much attention to her appearance as she had the fundamental belief that doing so, especially to catch the attention of boys was completely shallow and something that a confident woman would never do. But this was Trent, and she already had his attention so she convinced herself that there was no harm in trying to look nice for him now and made the decision that a good start would be letting her hair down.

The doorbell rang signaling the arrival of her “date”, something that still felt so strange to say. She had spent more time in front of the mirror in the last hour than she probably had in her entire life and had debated changing out of the flannel shirt and blue jeans she was wearing, thinking it might be too plain of a look to impress any boy let alone Trent, but he was here now so she was stuck with her original outfit that she had chosen. It had seemed like a very festive autumn thing to wear to a corn maze, but now as she took one last look in the mirror she saw herself as everyone else would; plain clothes typically worn by a farm hand or lumberjack rather than a teenage girl on her first date. She let out a nervous laugh at the thought and made her way downstairs toward the living room. Jessica had never been to a ball before but thought it must have been something similar to this as she made her entrance to the living room; her mom and dad on one side of the stairs looking up expectantly with smiles at their little girl about to go on her first date and then there was Trent, playing the role of Prince for the evening. He stood casually poised with that smile plastered across his face that had won her over in the first place. She looked into his eyes as she descended to join them and all she saw was what seemed like pure happiness so he must not be too put off by her choice of attire. He didn’t look so bad himself in his jeans and Yale sweatshirt, something he wore all the time, but Jessica had not grown tired of staring at him in it. In fact seeing it tonight provided her a certain level of comfort from the familiarity of the shirt she saw most every day. Trent remarked how beautiful she looked and flutters of joy triggered those warm waves inside her. Her dad had said “yes honey, you are very beautiful and Trent here is a very lucky young man, but not too lucky, right son?” he asked as he turned to look at her date and let out a forced chuckle like he was joking, but his dark eyes certainly got the message across as Trent took a step back and started nodding like a deranged person in agreement with him. “You kids have fun, and Trent, have her back by eleven.” And with those parting words the two kids left the house and the first date was officially underway.

He had been out there most of the day, just enjoying the crisp autumn wind against his skin. It felt good to be outside for the first time in nearly sixty years but he knew that he wouldn’t remain free for much longer. While others in his situation might run and hide evading being caught for as long as they could, he just didn’t have the energy to do that, at least not anymore. He had become a very well read man during his tenure in prison and was able to appreciate the irony of the situation he currently found himself immersed in. Everyone else inside the corn would be wearing a mask pretending to be a monster or something evil, but he would leave his face uncovered to the world because he didn’t need a mask to act as a monster or murderer, his face did that for him. He’d once been known as the kid who killed his two parents and little sister on Christmas morning and had disposed of them along with the decaying tree a couple of weeks later in a wood chipper. There had been stories all over the news in all parts of the country. He had been something of a celebrity and enjoyed his few moments of fame that followed. He had been interviewed by national magazines and his story had even been made into a movie but all of the perks faded away years ago. Psychotic fans of the “Serial Scrooge” as they called him had stopped writing letters and he had accepted that, but in recent years it had occurred to him that once he died, which was probably not that far off, he wouldn’t be remembered at all. There would be a blurb in the newspaper and with the obligatory few lines about how he’d murdered his family in the early sixties but a few days later he would never be mentioned again, and that was not acceptable.

As Trent pulled his car into the grass parking lot in front of the corn maze it was evident that they were not the only people with the great idea to come to this local haunt on Halloween night, as the line of people to get in stretched as far as they could see. Ever the gentleman he went around and opened Jessica’s door for her and held out his nervous hand for her to take, to balance herself as she stepped down onto the crunchy fall leaves that decorated the ground. The smells of the season surrounded them with scents of pumpkins, the cool autumn air, and strongest of all, the miles of corn growing in the field ahead. Throngs of teenagers and adults alike stood in line waiting and enjoying the zombies and vampires walking around and lashing out at random people in the line, giving a preview of what was to come in the maze. Screams could be heard all around and a shiver went down Jessica’s spine as she heard a chainsaw being goaded to life from somewhere deep within the walls of the corn. Her date sensed her apprehension and seized the opportunity to put his manly arm around her, and it was in that moment that her mind was eased of worry and she fully trusted him to protect her in the maze, a poor decision on her part, although at the time neither of them knew what was in store.

Nestled in his corner of the maze away from the other “actors” he sat hidden behind stalks of corn waiting with anxious anticipation. Voices were closer now than they had been which meant seven o’clock had come, and with it the first people allowed into the maze. It was a three hour ordeal on this final night of operation so he had plenty of time to make the devastating impact that he so desired, with no need to rush. He had been patient and methodical while planning this final act in the saga of his and if he screwed up now he would never again get the chance to be remembered forever. For years in prison he had performed so admirably that he probably deserved one of those awards given to the actors on TV. He went to the prison chapel on a daily basis and put on quite the show discovering God and renouncing his old ways, vowing to anyone that would listen he was a changed man. He worked his way up from a kitchen worker making three cents an hour to the honorable post of library assistant making seven, a feat that held quite a bit of significance for him.

Working in the Library was key to his plan because it was located in the minimum security part of the prison where the non-violent criminals, who were more likely to read, lived. Donated books from the Goodwill were delivered once a month, on the last day, and it was the job of the trustworthy library assistant to go out to the front gate and bring back a cart full of the new deliveries, and luckily he had been appointed that position just three months prior and up until today he had done his job perfectly without behaving in any way that might cause suspicions from the prison guards. The voice over the radio announced the arrival of the new, old books and the old man as he did each month walked past the security guard, nodded and smiled, only this time with a certain glint in his eye that was too slight to be noticed. As he walked toward the gate, toward his freedom he spotted the big moving truck and couldn’t quite believe how lucky he was to have everything finally clicking into place like this. The driver of the truck nervously handed him the box of books (he was never really comfortable in the presence of the prisoner) and mumbled a quick goodbye before he got in the truck and kicked up dust as he drove down the dirt road leading away from the penitentiary.

As the dust settled the prisoner was nowhere in sight, and it wouldn’t be long before the guards got to wondering why he wasn’t back with the books, but by the time they reached the box of books lying on the ground in the middle of the road he would be two miles away, making his way into the corn. The thing about big moving trucks is that they tend to have oversized bumpers and the cargo trailers are generally enormous, which serves to obstruct the view directly behind the truck for the driver. He may have been old but he had worked on his agility over the past few years and found it easy enough to hop up onto the rear bumper and secure himself with a firm grasp to the handle attached to the back of the truck. He was like a garbage man he thought to himself and tonight he would take out the trash. He cackled a maniacal laugh at his own cleverness. Nobody heard. As the truck pulled out on the main road, luck was again on his side as it was completely empty of other drivers, drivers who might find it suspicious to see an old man clinging to the back of a truck. They got closer and closer to the park and at the stop sign on Farm Road he hopped lightly to the ground and stayed directly behind the truck, out of the driver’s view.

Thinking back over his morning as he stood hidden behind stalks of corn he felt the adrenaline he’d felt as he heard the sirens from the prison behind him as he ducked into the corn out of sight and made his way through the maze, wandering aimlessly until he’d found a spot that felt right. The sirens had stopped wailing after only about an hour, a pathetic effort on the part of the police department he thought. He was officially declared missing. The old man had settled in a spot just forty feet from the exit. As people reached him they would hear the sounds of the outside world, the scent of hot cocoa would be close enough to taste. They would be laughing as they confidently made their way, just a couple more turns toward the exit thinking that they’d made it and the scaring was over, but he had other plans.

Jessica looked Trent in the eyes and pulling his hand playfully said “let’s go”, urging him into the maze. They rounded the first corner and a werewolf was dutifully waiting to howl in their faces. It stank more than it scared them and each of them secretly felt a little relieved at the maturity level of the maze. Though they hand’t mentioned it they both had been pretty anxious about being scared too badly and coming across as a scaredy-cat to the other. They heard a chainsaw in the distance as they made a right turn, then a left and met a clown face to face. This guy obviously didn’t realize that the country was now terrified of clowns due to all the recent sightings in the woods. He was dressed in a rainbow wig, with suspenders and a genuine smile on his face, underneath the one painted on. He was making balloon animals for god’s sake. “How you kid’s doing tonight?”, he asked twisting an orange balloon into a pumpkin. “Fine, thanks”, they both replied automatically as they walked past him, not even waiting to take their souvenir.

As they were approaching the dead end which forced them to decide left or right, they heard a blood curdling scream. It sounded distant and close at the same time and sent chills of terror down their spines. That three second singular scream was much more terrifying than anything they’d encountered to that point. Trent put his arm around Jessica and pulled her closer as they turned left, oblivious to the fact that they’d just heard the screaming of his first victim, a person Jessica would be linked with for eternity in the newspaper article.

He heard the laughter and shrieks coming closer, meaning the maze was officially opened, signaling the start of his three hour killing spree. Fallen blades and sheaths from the corn crunched underfoot as excited guests strolled merrily through the endless rows, enjoying the wonderfully crisp night. He let the first few people pass; they were in groups and he wasn’t equipped to deal with multiple people at a time. As he spent the day sitting, waiting, and thinking, he had weaved together a rope from the stalks of corn, a rope that would eternally be known as the weapon of choice for the killer who would become a legend. Movies would be made about him and stories would be told around campfires, stories so sinister they would need no embellishment. He could hear someone walking towards him and he knew they were alone. He heard only one set of footsteps and they seemed to be stepping lightly, probably a young female, an easy target. He quietly moved to the edge of the corn and with hands giddy from excitement he threw the rope out into the open like a net and quickly pulled his prey back into the darkness. She had let out a scream but the rope had choked the life out of her before she could do anything more.

His hands burned red, aching from old age and the murder he had just committed and he realized that he was in for a long night. The next one was a little boy, about ten minutes later. He heard the kid yelling for his parents, the idiot must’ve gotten lost. You could hear the tears in his voice, he was obviously very frightened, so it was really probably the right thing to do in putting him out of his misery. The shaky voice had been yelling so much he didn’t have the strength to scream as a rope out of nowhere suddenly jerked him to the ground and dragged him into the corn. The local newspaper would call the little boy, Matthew something or other, a courageous young man who was well liked among his friends and family. They weren’t there for him tonight, poor little Matthew.

The next people the lasso pulled in were a young teenage couple, probably around high school age. A good looking boy and a girl who under different circumstances might make a nice Homecoming King and Queen, but unfortunately they wouldn’t be making it to homecoming this year. He knew he wouldn’t be able to kill them both, they could easily overpower him two against one, so he told them his first and only lie of the night; “I have a gun and will kill you both, or one of you can kill the other.” This was twisted and he knew it but it added another layer to the story, a nice twist that would stave off future embellishments. The young man quickly spoke up, saying that he would be the one. The old man grinned devilishly and tied a knot in the rope, putting it around the neck of the girl and handing the long end to the boy, instructing him to pull tightly. The boy meant that he would be the one to get killed, but with the rope in his hand and the prospect of dying growing more and more unlikely, he kept quiet and didn’t correct the man as a tear escaped his eye and he looked down to avoid looking at his girlfriend, his victim. He had meant to step up and save her life but the misunderstanding was rendering him not so heroic after all. The old man took a sick pleasure in watching the girl crying silently, tears burning with hurt, fury, and hatred as her boyfriend ended her life. He took the rope from the boy and told the newly inducted murderer to leave. This move made it easier on the old man, giving him back the element of surprise.

As the boy, pale in the face, turned and stepped back through the corn with his his shoulders slumped, a familiar rope materialized out of the night and brought him back to join his girlfriend. Four murders wasn’t nearly enough to make him a legend, but that is where the number stopped. As he struggled to suffocate the boy he was punched in the face repeatedly and kicked in the chest so hard he thought he might not accomplish the kill, but he said a silent prayer and was miraculously able to make the boy stop breathing. He tumbled to the ground with his last victim and lay on the ground watching his heavy breaths turning into puffs of smoke around them until he too quit breathing forever.

Jessica and Trent knew they were getting nearer the end of the maze. They were having a great first date. She even hoped that there might be a kiss in it for her at the end of the night but she quickly dismissed the thought as it would only make her nervous and more awkward in the present moments. The maze hadn’t really turned out to be as scary as they’d thought, and they were now in the home stretch with all the fears of being scared tucked safely behind them. Then without warning something wrapped around Jessica’s neck and pulled her back falling on top of Trent into the corn. She felt confused as she looked up and saw an old man smiling down at them with a strange look on his face. Her heart froze as the man said he had a gun and one of them had to die. She wanted to say something but the words caught in her throat and Trent spoke up first. “I’ll be the one,” her knight in shining armor, sacrificing his life so that she could live. She threw herself at Trent and kissed him briefly before she was grabbed by the throat and thrown to the ground by the man who was surprisingly stronger than he looked. The insane looking man began wrapping the rope around her neck and she couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Trent had just said he would be the one to die; had he misunderstood? She looked desperately up at her boyfriend pleading with his subconscious, knowing that any second he would step in and right the situation, but he remained silent, looking down.

It was Jessica who would be dying tonight, the night of her first date. Her stomach dropped and the tears started rolling down her face. She looked into Trent’s eyes searching for a sign of sorrow or remorse, pleading with them for an answer, something to help her comprehend why this was happening, but the eyes remained blank and revealed nothing. As he pulled at the rope around her neck she didn’t struggle or plead; she didn’t say anything. Jessica just looked up at someone who had just broken her heart and would now kill her, and hated him with every ounce of feeling she could conjure up. A girl with a cheerful personality who was kind to every one she’d ever known spent the last seconds of her life covered in miserable hatred. The boy, Trent couldn’t believe what he had done. He was in such a state of shock that he actually couldn’t believe it. The man told him to leave so he walked away, feeling nothing, feeling numb. He walked back through the corn, wishing that his life was over, knowing that he would never feel happiness again, and minutes later his wish was granted. That same rope pulled him back and he fought as the man tried to kill him. He fought not because he wanted to survive but because in that moment he wanted the old man to die. The man had turned him into a murderer, a monster and he wanted him to pay. Eventually the rope won out and Trent joined the three other victims on the front page of the newspaper the following morning, next to the old man who had killed them and had abruptly dropped dead minutes later.

The whole town of Memphis was shocked and saddened for a little while. “Tragic” was the word given to the incident by anyone who was asked about it. Tacky bracelets were sold in memory of the victims, but they were an unseemly orange color and uncomfortably tight so they too were discarded like the memories of that night. The corn maze people issued a statement the following October saying that they would not let a “tragedy” like that happen again on their watch and more importantly that the corn maze would be open, Friday’s and Saturday’s throughout the month starting on the tenth. The Killer in the Corn never caught on as an iconic Halloween figure, however there was a movie made about him, which might have made the old man happy had the role not gone to comedian turned drama actor, Chevy Chase who completely butchered the part. The old man who had been quickly identified as the prison escapee and murderer of the four children around him didn’t get a formal funeral or burial, but was dumped into the local landfill with the rest of the garbage. In other words, he got what he deserved.

For my cousin Bailey, who loves Halloween more than anyone else I know.

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