“Corn fweaks me out. Evewy time I see the corn, it fweaks. me. out.” -Scott, age 3
On the other side of the corn field, life is different. It’s quieter for one. A lot quieter. And the air is warm, no matter what the time of year. The sun seems somehow closer, hotter, but not as bright. And no wind stirs the leaves of the silent trees.
I never meant to go there. I was just going to walk a short way through the corn. I just wanted to get out of Grandma’s stuffy house for a little while. I pushed my way past the first few stalks, tracing a path between the rows. At first, I enjoyed the way the stalks behind me blocked my view of the moldering old house. I relished the feeling of being alone in my own private place. I walked on. But before long, the solitude began to feel uneasy. The corn was higher than my head, so I could see nothing and feel no breeze, but the sun still beat down on my head. I was uncomfortably warm. I had never noticed before how sharp the edges of corn leaves could be. They left invisible cuts on my arms as I brushed past them. I turned to go home.
But I couldn’t. The way behind me impassible. It was as if the space between the rows had never existed. I pushed ahead anyway. The tiny cuts turned into bigger ones. I walked on and on, trying to form my own path, but I never seemed to come to the end. I wondered if I was walking in circles. All sense of ordered rows had disappeared. The heat had become unbearable, and now the secluding height of the corn stalks felt threatening. With every step I was more irrationally convinced that the corn was clutching at my arms, purposefully trying to hinder my progress. I struggled on.
And then the corn relented. It thinned out even. In a matter of moments, I was stepping free of the corn field. But my grandmother’s house was nowhere to be seen. Nor did I see the road that should have run past this field and led to her driveway. Instead, I saw a strange farm house with a barn and several outbuildings. There were trees and an old truck parked out under them. It wasn’t so hot here, but the air felt dead. The light was strange. As I have said, the sun seemed different.
Going back through the corn field was impossible. I shuddered just to think of it. I didn’t much like the look of the farm house either, but asking for directions seemed like the only option. I went up on the porch. The steps creaked just as farm house steps should. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. I peeked in the window. The place had furniture, but I couldn’t see anyone around. It was unnaturally quiet. My footsteps on the hollow boards of the front porch echoed across the yard. I knocked again and waited for no answer. I turned to go.
It seemed I had no option but to follow the road, though I knew it wasn’t the one I wanted. Surely it would lead me back to something I would recognize. I began to walk.
I hadn’t gotten very far when I heard the dog behind me. In the general hush, the clicking of his toenails against the blacktop was very distinct. I stopped and turned. He stopped, too, and stood looking at me, white head cocked to one side of his black body. Where had he come from? I hadn’t noticed any dog around the farm house back there. I hadn’t noticed any animals at all. Come to think of it, I hadn’t even heard any birds in the trees or crickets chirping in the grass.
The dog seemed harmless enough. I kept walking. The click, click of his toenails continued. He was still following me. I stopped. He stopped. I walked on. He walked on, click-clicking steadily. The noise now sent a shiver up my spine. I stopped and turned again. “Shoe!” I said. “Shoe! Go home! Shoe!” The dog just looked at me, not even panting in the warm, dead air. He obviously had no intention of “shoeing.” I walked on, with the dog behind me. I walked a very long time.
The sun was going down now. Why wasn’t I getting anywhere? The road stretched on ahead of me, apparently endless, cornfields on either side, apparently unbroken by any lane or pathway. This wasn’t right. Why was it so quiet? Where did this dog come from? Soon it would be dark. I knew I couldn’t face walking down this road in the dark with that dog clicking away behind me. I looked at the corn. Apparently I had no choice.
At least the dog didn’t follow me into the corn. That’s the best thing I can say. What I endured, walking though those rows and rows of corn, stalks looming over me, leaves brushing my face with a biting caress, darkness getting ever deeper, I don’t care to tell. I became convinced that the corn was never going to let me go, that I was doomed to struggle forever.
Then I saw a light flash out over the stalks. Someone had thrown open a door and artificial light beckoned from somewhere not too far away. I pushed on. I pushed through. At last I was free. My grandmother’s house was in front of me. It’s rotting front porch had never looked so welcoming.
Inside the house, my grandmother was rocking and knitting. She didn’t even look up to where I stood, filthy and scratched, in the doorway.
“Been for a walk in the corn?” she asked.
Note: Obviously, I’m not telling this one to my kids. Not yet. Maybe when we don’t have to take any more drives through northern Indiana. Or maybe when they’re twenty. Or maybe if I really need to keep them up all night for some reason. Yeah, maybe never. It was fun to write, though.