The Corn Maze
A little Halloween treat...I think for you. The first chapter of one of my short stories, The Corn Maze. Enjoy!
Synopsis: Halloween arrives in Brookville. The fall festival is in full swing and this year’s corn maze promises to be one no one will ever forget, especially for CLANCY DENTON and his friends as they will battle an evil force that has called Brookville home for over 400 years.
The autumn season wouldn’t be official without a visit to Kelly’s Farm, located on the eastern edge of the town of Brookville. Apple pies, cider donuts, hayrides and, of course, the pumpkin patch where families scoured pre-made rows of the orange fruit in hopes of finding the right one to cut open to make a jack-o-lantern.
“Happy Halloween!” A volunteer, dressed as a scarecrow, leapt from group to group shouting the same greeting. Most liked it. Many, simply, put up with it. A few of the younger kids screamed and ran to hide behind their parents.
A small group of High School kids were indifferent.
“Aren’t we jumping the gun a bit? Halloween is about a week away,” One of the teen boys from the group, Peter, said with a smirk.
“Uh-oh. Someone’s a Grumpy Gus.” The scarecrow made fists with his hands and rolled them back and forth, miming the action of wiping tears from his cheeks.
“I’ll show you a Grumpy Gus.”
It took Peter’s friends holding him back to prevent the inevitable shoving match between the self-assured High School jock and the thirty-something seasonal help dressed as a scarecrow.
The scarecrow backed up. He laughed the amused laugh of a man watching a puppy unsuccessfully try to climb steps. He quickly moved on to a family of four, looking for that Halloween flair that only his rendition of a scarecrow could provide.
Peter and his friends headed towards the large corn maze. The faint cry of ‘Happy Halloween’ was heard as they walked away.
“You should’ve let me take him,” Peter said. He smoothed out his Brookville High letter jacket. The patches on the giant, embroidered “B” revealed a two-sport athlete. Football and baseball.
“Then we would’ve been escorted from the farm. And I need to get a pumpkin for home.” This was Clancy, Peter’s longtime friend and neighbor.
Tyler and Michael, both fellow football teammates and Peter’s unofficial bodyguards, joined them. Peter was the star quarterback, and they wouldn’t let anything happen to their prized player, not while the Brookville Badgers were in the midst of an undefeated season and a run for the Class M championship.
Tyler was the All-State cornerback, while Michael played middle linebacker, albeit the backup most games. Clancy was the only one in their group who didn’t play football. He didn’t play any sports. Clancy found solace in books. Many, many books.
He wasn’t a nerd, not that the stigma of being a nerd was as terrible as it once was, but if Peter wasn’t his friend, there’s no doubt Clancy would be the subject of ridicule. But, like anything in this world, it’s all about who you know.
“Clancy, you can get pumpkins at the grocery store. Who cares if we get booted?” Peter said.
“It’s tradition. Every Halloween season, I get a pumpkin at Kelly’s Farm.”
Tyler chimed in, “Traditions are lame.”
“Why?” Clancy asked.
Tyler shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t think that far ahead. He never did.
“This place is for kids, anyway. We only came because the girls said they’d be here,” Peter added.
“We used to do this when we were younger, Pete. Every year, our families would do this together,” Clancy said.
“Maybe you’re right, Clance,” Peter said. He looked down to Clancy’s shirt. “Whoa, Clance. What’s that?” He pointed at the shirt.
Clancy looked down. Peter came up with his finger and bopped him on the nose. He laughed, “You fall for that every time, Clance. All the back to grade school.”
“Still not funny, too.”
“Kind of is.”
“Your time is coming,” Clancy threatened.
“Not going to happen,” Peter laughed.
Michael pointed towards the corn maze. “There they are.”
Two girls. Smiling. They made eye contact with the boys. They waved them over and then returned to their smart phones. Time to check in at FourSquare. Someone had to be the mayor of Kelly’s Farm.
The boys made their way over to the girls, instinctively taking out their phones as well in order to check their Instagram feeds. Only Clancy remained engaged with the outside world around them.
“This is fun,” he said, dripping in sarcasm.
“Shut-up,” Michael replied, never looking up from his phone.
The two groups converged as the girls looked up. Their phones put away. One of them smiled at Clancy. A polite smile. This was Harley. Popular, pretty and petite. The three Ps.
She nudged Michael with an elbow, hearing what he just said to Clancy, “Be nice to him. He’s our valedictorian.”
“He’s a dick, all right,” Michael said.
Clancy held out his hands, “Why are we friends?”
“Honestly,” Michael turned serious, “I don’t know.”
Harley slapped him on the back of his head. A reminder of her previous request for niceties. Michael grabbed her hand and a pseudo-tickle fight, bear-hug happened. Just the usual couple of teenagers trying to figure out how to share their feelings without saying anything out loud.
Clancy shook his head and muttered, “Moron.”
Harley’s friend perked up. She smiled at Clancy. She heard his comment and agreed. This was Chrissy. One could also describe her as the three Ps, but there was more to her than a crass descriptive use of alliteration. At least, Clancy thought so.
Peter picked Chrissy up and spun her around to face him. She laughed. They kissed. Brookville High’s favorite couple.
“What’re we doing?” Tyler asked. He moaned, too.
“Picking a pumpkin,” Clancy answered, “Like I said.”
“That sounds boring. You do that and we’ll hit this maze.”
“I want to do the maze!” Clancy shouted.
Harley returned from her tussle, “The maze is scary. I’m out.”
“Come on, babe,” Michael cooed, “We can find a spot in there and you know, do stuff.”
“Romantic,” Clancy added.
Chrissy laughed. Michael wasn’t amused.
Peter said, “Clance, come with us into the maze and we’ll pick a pumpkin after. I doubt it’ll take us 10 minutes.”
“Picking a pumpkin is a very selective process. 10 minutes? You’ve got to be joking.” The blank stares of everyone around him alerted Clancy to his mistake, “You meant the maze, huh?”
They laughed. He deserved that one, Clancy thought.
The kids turned to face the entrance to the maze. A sudden gust of wind rustled the dying corn stalks that made up the maze. A chill accompanied the wind and Clancy shuddered as he felt it go through him. The hairs on his arms sprung to attention. Goosebumps noticeable to the naked eye. He noticed the townspeople piling through the entrance. Families. Laughing. Smiling. Enjoying their day on the farm.
The corn stalks wafted gently back and forth, beckoning Clancy to enter the maze. An invitation that Clancy didn’t want to accept. Through the wind, another sound emerged. It was soft, like a whisper, and although people were chatting and laughing and the wind was gusting, Clancy could hear the sound as if someone was right beside him, whispering into his ear. He couldn’t understand what was being told to him. It was gibberish. The noise kids make when they’re pretending to whisper to each other.
Although he couldn’t make out any words, Clancy knew what was being told to him as if his brain was able to decode the gibberish. That message said one thing - “Enter…”
“Yo!” Michael’s shout snapped Clancy from his trance. It also turned a few heads. “Wake up! We’ve been talking to you.”
“What? What’s going on?” The message dissipated. Clancy felt like he woke up from a nap only he never closed his eyes.
Peter stepped forward, “You okay? You’ve been standing there for ten minutes. Not a peep from you.”
“Shut-up. Ten minutes? No way,” Clancy said with zero conviction.
Chrissy and Harley both nodded.
“Ten minutes, bro,” Tyler confirmed.
Michael shook his head. “Who’s the moron now?”
“I already bought our tickets. This maze is happening,” Peter said.
Michael draped his arm around Harley, and they walked towards the entrance. The rest followed; Clancy more reluctant than the others. They were greeted by another scarecrow planted at the entrance. This one was inanimate and over-stuffed with hay poking through its decades-old flannel shirt. The scarecrow had a large, crooked black Sharpie smile on its white, pillow-case face. Tyler shook his head, not buying the farm’s scare attempt, as he passed the scarecrow. Chrissy followed right behind, glancing back at Clancy and her boyfriend.
Peter held back. He brought his arm around Clancy, slapping down on the shoulder as it landed.
“What’s going on?” Peter asked.
“Nothing. Was it really ten minutes?”
“Everyone zones out. Relax. I’m talking about you and the gang.”
“They don’t like me.”
“They like you.”
“No, they don’t. I tell you this all the time.”
“Chrissy likes you.”
Clancy stuttered. Not sure how to respond.
Peter laughed, “Not like that, dude! C’mon, now.”
Nervous laughter came naturally to Clancy. He was relieved, but immediately concerned that Peter knew his feelings. Did he betray his own secret love for Chrissy?
“I know you like her.”
He did. Clancy winced.
“Everyone does! She’s great,” Peter cheered.
Now Clancy was in the dark as to where this conversation was headed. He wasn’t going to push it further, so he didn’t respond. He left it at a smile.
Peter slapped him on the shoulder again. “Let’s go!”
Peter jogged ahead to catch up with the rest of the group. Clancy hung back, still unsure what to do with the thought that Peter still might possibly know he has a crush on Chrissy. Peter was right. Everyone liked Chrissy. She was popular, no doubt, but she was nice to everyone. Kind. Considerate. Clancy knew he was included with the group because he had been friends with Peter since grade school, but the group didn’t accept him until Chrissy did.
He stood at the entrance. He was cautious, locking his gaze with the drawn-on eyes of the scarecrow. Instantly, the sky went from bright blue to dark, foreboding clouds. The wind picked up. The air was electric. Clancy felt an excitement surrounding his decision to enter the corn maze. The corn stalks swooned again.
A corn cob bounced off Clancy’s head. Reality set back in.
Michael was laughing. “Today, Clancy!”
Clancy backed away. He wasn’t going in.
Michael waved him off, “Forget you.”
He grabbed Harley and entered the maze. Peter held out his hands. He waved Clancy forward. Clancy took another step back. Shaking his head. Chrissy watched with concern. She ran to Clancy.
“What’s going on?”
Clancy shook it off. “Just don’t feel like doing the maze. That’s all.”
“No. You look scared. Why are you scared?”
“I’m not. It’s just…”
“Don’t lie to me,” she begged.
“All right. It’s just. I have a bad feeling. That’s all.”
Peter joined them. “Bad feeling about what?”
“The maze. You guys go. I’m just backing out. That’s all.”
“Mike, Harley and Tyler are already in there. I’m going,” Peter said.
Clancy nodded. He dropped his head. Chrissy reached down. She held his head in her hands and raised it up. She gazed into his eyes. “I’m not going either.”
“It’s just a maze!” Peter shouted.
“Obviously, it’s not. He doesn’t feel safe and quite frankly, I think he’s right.”
“You know I’m intuitive.”
“That’s bologna! You just don’t want to do the maze.”
“Fine. Then I’m keeping him company.”
“The others are already done, I’m sure.”
“Stay. Go. I don’t care. Pick one.”
Peter stood firm. Hands on hips. Locked in a stare-down with his girlfriend. He didn’t win. He never did. They found a bench along the path. Peter plopped himself down as Clancy and Chrissy took the seat next to him. They sat in silence, waiting for their friends to finish the maze.
Clancy finally relaxed. He watched the maze, careful to avoid another vision by steering clear of the entrance and the scarecrow that smiled that phony, sharpie smile. Chrissy rubbed his back for comfort.
Clancy leaned forward on the bench, “Peter.”
Peter held his hand up. “Not right now, Clance.”
He understood. They all waited on the bench in silence.