This story is by V L Kurtz and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The headlights give off an eerie fog. The LEDs illuminate the corn maze. Four doors open and they get out. My bulk of a body sat in the middle of the back seat. It takes me a minute to squeeze out. The four of them stand together. I stand behind. It is a sultry night in late September.
“My Nana told me that when she was little, this was all forest land,” Jack’s girlfriend said, gazing into the cornfield. “She said a teenager went missing in there and they never found her.”
“Yeah, I heard that too,” One of Jack’s cronies said.
“My Great-nana knew her,” Jack’s girlfriend continues, “she said kids were mean to her because she was shy and not very pretty. When they cleared the woods for farming, everyone thought they would find her bones, but they never did.”
We stare in silence at thousands of cornstalks. Our shadows from the headlights give the maze a creepy look. Jack’s voice startles us when he speaks.
“Hey, Dick Face!” That’s what he calls me. I flinch. “I dare you to go in there.”
Still standing behind them, they all turn around to look at me.
“The corn maze opens to the public next week,” I said, “I plan to go on Tuesday.”
“No,” Jack said. “Tonight. I dare you to go in tonight. Right now.”
“Alone? I don’t think so,” I said.
“You afraid? Bwak, bwak, bwaaack,” Jack teased. His cronies joined in, hands tucked into their armpits and flapping.
“I’ll go if you go,” I said, ignoring their bantering.
“No way. You know me, I’m a sissy,” Jack said. With his good looks and confidence, he has nothing to prove.
“Do it!” Jack jabbed his index finger into my pecs. Pop. He shook it. I smile, but only for a second.
I had to do it. If I didn’t, it would be months of ridicule.
“You better be here when I get out.”
“No problem,” Jack said. “Hurry, the eclipse has started.”
I look up. A sliver of the super moon is behind the earth’s shadow. I hear the four of them run to the car. Dome lights come on and car doors slam.
They won’t leave me, I thought. They want to make sure I don’t chicken out. With my head down I shuffle into the maze.
Four acres of ten-foot-tall corn with only the transient light of the super moon. A labyrinth. I stretch my arms out to get a sense of the width of the path. Dry leaves prick the tips of my fingers. The path is about six feet wide. Beyond the corn there is an earthy smell of fresh, tilled farmland. A pungent odor of straw rises from below. But it is quiet. Too quiet. At the very least, crickets should be singing. My back tenses and my knees shake, but I continue, following the maze through its turns. Simple. Until twenty minutes in and the first intersection.
Behind me, stalks tremble in the breeze. Except, I don’t feel a breeze. Then all is quiet. I turn right. The hair on the back of my neck stands up and goosebumps pimple my arms. A hear a rustling and get whiff of lavender. Then a puff of freezing air in my right ear.
I stagger and spin around. Nothing. With apprehension, my feet lead me left.
The moonlight dissipates. I look up. Half gone. In about an hour, the moon will be entirely within the earth’s shadow. My pace quickens. I hear a noise and stop. A muffled snort from somewhere inside the field. Sweat beads up and my skin crawls.
“Who’s there?” I said spinning around, looking in every direction. No answer. You’re imagining things, I say to myself.
My trek speeds up until I hit a dead end and must turn back. The dry leaves crackle behind me. My walking becomes a jog. The crackling stops. Ahead, another intersection. I move left and recoil as the stalks fold in, blocking my way. Spellbound, I stand there gaping. My neck hairs lift again, and the goosebumps return. My left ear turns frigid, and lavender invades my nose.
I jump, turn right, and bolt down the path. I can feel something close behind me, swishing stalks in its wake. Then it calms. I stop running, gasping for air. My heart pounds like a bass drum. With my hands on my knees, I bend over and take a few minutes to catch my breath and slow my heart.
“Stop!” I said aloud between deep breaths. “You’re dreaming up your own nightmare. Get a grip.”
I regain my composure and start again. The eclipse is almost complete. My pace slows with the darkness. I outstretch my arms to keep me on the path until I blindly crash into a stalk wall; dead-end. I collapse on the straw path, put my head in my hands and decide to wait out the moon. I give into defeat. Surrender to my fate. But, when I look up, the tassels atop the stalks are a brilliant orange. A Super Blood Moon floods the maze with its brilliance. The yellow path now has a red tint. Picking myself up, I trudge on with a new sense of rejuvenation, until the scent returns.
A chill spreads through my body. I spin around. All the hairs on my body stand on end. There are goosebumps in places I didn’t think you could have goosebumps. I could feel something close.
“Who’s there?” My voice quivers. Eyes wide.
“Someone lost like you.” A puff of freezing breath slaps my face. I cringe.
“I am not lost,” I demand. “Come out and show yourself.”
“I cannot.” A puff of frigid air on the nape of my neck.
“Why not? You afraid of what I might do to you?”
“Not at all.” My left ear turns to ice.
Then nothing. With unnerving apprehension, I walk on.
“Go left.” A freezing whisper in my right ear. I ignore it and turn right.
“I told you to go left!” The icy voice hissed. A shove from behind propels me facedown onto the path. Straw swirls around me. The wind howls. The stalks looked iridescent, a cyclone of orange glowing tips. I slap my hands tight about my ears.
“Get up!” A chilly hiss blasts loose straw into my face. My body shakes. I glance up. The creepy red ball of the blood moon shows a crescent of light. The eclipse is receding. Soon the moon will be full and bright again. The stalks calm and all went still. I concede, get up, and walk on with the scent on my right.
“It was still a forest when I died here.” A sudden gust of chilly air travels down my body. “I was like you.” The stalks quiver. I don’t comment. It is all in my head. I walk on.
I came to another intersection. The sweet smell turns, and I turn with it.
“You look strong.” A puff of freezing air on my neck, but the voice was warm. “Your friend’s boss you around. Why do you let them?”
“Look at me; some might say I am quite ugly,” I blurt out, surprising myself.
“What does that have to do with it? They do it because we let them!” The words piercing. Corn stalks shudder, and the ground trembles.
I understand. It’s the way I feel every time they belittle and bully me. I am always trying to prove myself, whether outdoing other bodybuilders, or just fitting in.
I blindly follow the cold lavender scent. Everything a pale yellow now as the moon brightens. Ahead, I see an opening. The exit.
The cornfield becomes agitated. The smell of lavender is noxious.
“Stop being such a baby and stick up for yourself!” The words are like thunder in my ears.
A harsh freeze rustles the stalks behind me. I look back. I see a glow. Not from the moon. A flowing manifestation. I turn and run. Something lifts me, all two hundred twenty pounds, and ejects me past the last of the cornstalks. I land hard on the ground five feet beyond. The ground below me vibrates. It’s coming. I pull myself up and sprint to the waiting car.
Slamming both fists on the hood, the car booms as the four sleeping occupants lurch awake.
“Hey, asshole, you dented my car!” Jack said, opening his car door.
“I don’t care,” I growl, my fist connecting with his jaw.
“Hey!” Jack began, rubbing his face. Seeing his breath, he shivers and shuts his door. A slight scent of lavender breaches the car as I climb in, then dissipates. The four of them exchange glances. Panic on their faces. Outside, an apparition floats in the headlights. A high pitch wail comes from the driver’s seat. Jack starts the car, spins tires, and drives recklessly away from the maze. I sit back, sporting a sinister smile, a changed man.