The cornfield, p.1
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       The Cornfield, p.1

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The Cornfield
The Cornfield

  By Anne Nowlin

  Copyright 2011 Anne Nowlin

  For Helen


  When I was a child, my grandmother told me not to go into the cornfield, because the devil hid between the rows, watching for naughty boys and girls. She was trying to scare me, because behind the cornfield was a train track in which trains barreled through daily, threatening to destroy anything in their path. And if that wasn’t enough, just beyond the train tracks was the Mayo River that tempted children with its cool, appetizing water ready to engulf them in its mesmerizing currents.

  Was her story of the devil hiding between the rows of corn a little too scary for a six year old? Yes, but what if it was true?

  I can still remember the first time my grandmother told me the story about the cornfield. She had guided me through the screened back door and down a few rickety steps. She stopped, leaned down to meet my face, and wrapped her arm around my small frame, gently pulling me close. “Do you see the cornfield?”

  My eyes drifted past a squared off section of grass where my swing set sat empty and lifeless next to the rows and rows of corn, covering the entirety of the field behind our house. “I see it.”

  “Don’t ever go in it again.”

  I turned away from the swaying stalks and stared into her worried eyes. “Why not?”

  She didn’t blink. “The devil hides in the corn, waiting for bad little girls and boys who don’t listen and snatches them up and swallows them whole.”

  I clutched her arm and pulled her down even lower. “Don’t let him get me, Nanny.”

  “He won’t get you as long as you do what you’re told and stay out of the corn.” She swept my plump cheek with the back of her hand.

  “I will, Nanny. I promise.” I held onto her with every ounce of strength I had in fear that he might steal me from her grasp.

  She led me back up the steps. “Don’t forget, Annie.” She glanced down at me. “Don’t ever forget.”

  I didn’t forget, but in a few years’ time, I no longer believed.

  New neighbors moved in when I was eight. My mom was at work one afternoon, and my grandmother was in the house. I was outside playing with the new boy next door.

  Paul sat on the swing beside me with a blade of grass hanging from his mouth. “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

  Paul was a year older and kind of mean. His face was always dirty, even first thing in the morning, and he swore. What kid cursed at nine years old? Paul did.

  My feet skidded against the ground as the swing came to a halt. “What do you want to do?”

  “I heard a train go by last night. Let’s go to the tracks.”

  “I can’t.”

  “Why not?”

  I sighed heavily, staring at my feet as a cloud of red dirt swirled up beneath my feet on the worn ground. “I’m not allowed to go through the cornfield.”

  “You can’t go through the cornfield. How come?”

  “I think they’re afraid I’ll get hit by the train or drown in the river.”

  “So, we don’t get on the tracks.” Paul smiled slyly. “Then no one gets hurt.” It was a smile I did not like.

  I remembered what my grandmother said. I felt a little silly, but decided to tell him anyway. “My grandmother told me that the devil hid in the corn and would snatch up the bad girls and boys who went through the cornfield.”

  Paul laughed. “That’s stupid.”

  I bit down on my lip, wishing I hadn’t said anything about it.

  He shook his head and huffed. “And you believe her?”

  “I used to. I don’t anymore.”

  “Good, let’s go.”

  My stomach twisted as if someone were tying it in a knot. “I better not.”

  “Scaredy cat!” He stood and turned toward the cornfield. “I’ll go by myself then.”

  I wasn’t scared, but if Nanny came outside and I was gone, she would come after me with a switch. No thanks.

  “Then go on.” I stood and marched up the steps, slung the screen door open, then let it slam behind me. I walked to the window to look out, but Paul was already gone.

  Would he really go by himself? I didn’t know. If he went through the cornfield, would the devil really snatch him up and eat him? No, of course not, and he said he’d stay off the train tracks, so there was really nothing to worry about. Right?

  That night, there was a knock on the door. I jumped up, but my grandmother called out, “Let me get it.”

  I stopped at the door and waited. She pushed the curtain aside and glanced out the window. She cut her eyes at me. “It’s Paul’s mom.”

  My grandmother jerked the door open. The woman’s face was ashen gray. “Janet? Are you okay?”

  “Have y’all seen Paul?” Mrs. Carter peeked around my grandmother as if her answer didn’t really matter and stared straight at me. “You were playing with him today. Did he say anything to you?”

  My grandmother turned to me, questioning me with her eyes, and I knew I was going to be in trouble.

  “He wanted to go to the train tracks.” I glanced up to my grandmother. “I told him that I wasn’t allowed.”

  “So you let him go alone?” Ms. Carter’s eyes filled with tears. “Why didn’t you come tell me?”

  My grandmother’s eyes pierced into me, forcing me to turn from her. “Janet, go call the police.”

  Without another word, the woman belted from the porch. My grandmother shut the door. “Stay in this house,” she said. She turned on the back light, grabbed a flashlight, and raced out the back door. It slammed shut in my face as I watched her bolt through the yard and into the cornfield. The stalks swayed back and forth as she moved through the rows. But she wasn’t heading to the train tracks to search for Paul. She was going down each and every row. I stopped breathing. That’s when I realized what she’d told me was true.

  Sirens blasted, and I hurried to the front window in time to see Ms. Carter rushing out to meet the police as they pulled up. Her mouth moved so fast. She was frantic.

  The police car’s blue and red alternating lights were hypnotic. A smell like pennies wafted through the open window in the warm night’s breeze, and I wondered, was Paul really gone?

  My legs trembled and my head felt heavy. All the noise around me faded as if someone were covering my ears. My heart pounded so hard I thought it would burst.

  Boom. Boom. I couldn’t bring enough air into my lungs.

  Boom. Boom. Everything went fuzzy.

  Boom. Boom. If I could just reach that chair.

  Boom. Boom. Everything went black.

  When I opened my eyes, my grandmother was leaning over me patting my cheeks. “Annie, are you okay?”

  “What did you find?” I whispered, spent.


  Tears sprang into my eyes. “Nothing?” It wasn’t that I cared so much about Paul, but I didn’t want anything to happen to him, especially what my grandmother had told me would happen to bad children.

  “No, Annie. Not one thing.”

  They never found Paul Carter. I believed with my whole being that the devil snatched him up. From that moment on, I always made sure to be a good girl.

  Years later, I would still dream about Paul.

  I am standing in the middle of the cornfield beneath a black starless sky. The moon is full and hangs low on the horizon. There is nothing but row after row of corn as far as I can see. I shiver though there is no wind.

  The crunch of footsteps comes from behind me. Chills run down my spine. I stare forward, unmoving. I don’t want to look back, to see what’s behind me, but it’s as if an invisible hand is spinning me around. I turn gradually, each movement in slow motion.

  Paul stands several feet away. He beckons me to follow him.

  “I can’t,” I whisper into the night. I reach out to Paul, but he turns to go.

  It’s too late. The beast is there. I open my mouth to scream, but I have no voice. Long yellow nails dig into Paul’s skull as the beast clutches his head like an apple ripe for the picking. A spray of blood splatters across the stalks. The beast twists Paul’s head into inhumanly positions as he opens his shark-like jaws, revealing sharp, triangular teeth and stuffs his prey in, muffling the scream as he slides Paul into his throat. Slow groans emerge as he gulps the torso down like a snake swallowing a rabbit. Paul’s legs kick as the beast forces the rest of his kill down his hot gullet, shoes and all.

  I turn to run, but thick leaves twist around my ankles, planting me to the ground holding me frozen in place.

  The monstrous fiend drags a gnarly finger across his thin wormlike lips to wipe the scarlet from his grotesque mouth. I can’t bear to watch anymore. I try to squeeze my eyes shut, but it’s as if someone is holding my head still and my eyelids open so that I can’t turn away. The beast’s eyes lock onto mine. They have no white at all, only an inky black that pierces into me
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