The January Selected Writer is Timothy Wilkie
Please feel free to email Timothy at firstname.lastname@example.org
He didn’t stop running until the voices in his head were silent and sleeping. Sometimes they slept for days and then suddenly awoke without warning like hungry lions ripping off small pieces as they appeased their insatiable hunger for retribution.
As he walked the trail around the corn field, the same trail that his father and his grandfather had walked whenever the voices had awakened in them, he realized he had moved through his life alone. He lived on the straight and narrow as not to risk angering those same voices that resided in him. He had no choice but to deny that the truth would solve nothing and only make the rape of his sanity worse.
Never before had the voices been so loud or demanding as they were tonight, pushing him and prodding him and causing such restlessness that they had driven him out of his home and caused him to seek the solace of the corn.
Tonight as he frantically ran, he could hear the rumble of stone against stone and the jangle of chains. The die was cast and the stage was set for him to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors all the way to an early grave if need be.
It was autumn and the corn needed tending.
THE BIGGEST CORN MAZE IN NEBRASKA!
That’s what the sign said. Neal told Lola, “Didn’t I tell you it’s huge; isn’t that what I said?”
He had been dating Lola steadily for almost a year. Alan was his roommate and Alan’s date Tara was fairly new in the picture.
Alan spoke up from the back seat. “This better be good because I stayed on campus when I could have gone home. You talked me into this, so it better be scary.”
Neal dismissed it with a shrug of his shoulders as he drove. He made a turn down the long dirt driveway. The field that served as a parking lot was almost empty as they pulled up and parked.
“No one here. Not a good sign,” Alan muttered.
“Listen, Alan,” Neal said as he got out of the car, “knock off the negativity. My father grew corn, so I was raised with it. I’ve always felt it holds mystery, so it’s great for this time of year.”
It was Halloween and there was barely any line at all at the ticket booth. The booth was surrounded with more Jack-o-Lanterns then any of them had ever seen before. The carved pumpkins were all around the ticket booth and lined the walkways on both sides.
The man inside looked to be middle-aged. He was tall and lean with dark brown hair and that farmer’s tan that the country singers always talk about. When he spoke, his voice seemed older and then his years. “It’s ten dollars apiece,” he said, and then kind of as an after-thought he added, “Stay on the paths because I don’t want to have to go out a-lookin’ for you when it’s closin’ time. I make it a point to stay out of the corn.”
After they bought their tickets and headed to the maze, Tara asked, “What if animals get stuck in there? Do they just wander around until they drop over?”
Neal just shook his head. He was going to make a wise crack about how gullible she was, but after considerable deliberation he decided to keep his mouth shut. He was hoping to get laid later and he knew that Lola and Tara talked to each other.
The four of them stopped dead in their tracks at the entrance to the actual maze. There was no one around; it was just them. The maze was huge, and now that they could see it up close, it spread out wide in front of them.
Neal led the group into the entrance. He peered at the stalks, seeing a dying brown color mixed in with the living green. The smell of the maze was musty, old. He felt an odd sense of déjà vu.
After a few moments, Alan shouted, “Something is in the corn!” He scrabbled on the dirt trail until he found a rock and tossed it into the field. It didn’t go as far as he had intended.
“Knock off the rock throwing,” Neal scolded, “before you hit someone.”
“I don’t know if you noticed, dude, but there’s no one here.”
“I’m scared,” Lola said. “Let’s go back.”
“We’re not going back. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Neal said.
The walkways were narrow and the cornstalks towered overhead. A somber mood resided over the group as they continued. The next few minutes were spent walking in silence until they came to the first fork in the maze.
They were surprised to see a little boy standing there, crying. He had blonde hair and piercing blue eyes and was too young to be alone in the maze.
Neal asked, “Where’s your Mommy and Daddy?”
The child instantly stopped crying and just stared at him. Before Neal could say anything else, the boy ran off, disappearing into the corn.
“Should we go after him?” Alan asked.
“Come on,” Neal said. “He probably ran back to their parents.”
What he didn’t say was that it was just kind of weird that the child ran into the corn and not up the path. It was as if the corn had opened up and let the boy in and now as he looked it seemed rigid and unyielding completely impassable.
I’m really losing it, Neal thought. There was something he almost remembered about his own boyhood, back in his father’s cornfield. Something about once getting lost…but he couldn’t grab onto the memory to pull it back. The thought faded almost as quickly as it appeared.
The group continued. Inside the maze, it appeared dim, almost as if the sun was setting inside the corn. The maze twisted and turned and made Neal feel off kilter. At first he had been counting the forks and keeping track of which one they took now it all seemed like a blur. Every pathway looked like every other pathway.
“Talk about getting your money’s worth,” Alan said. “This is going on forever.”
“Well,” Neal said, “it’s supposed to be the world’s largest corn maze.”
“That’s all well and good, but enough is enough,” Lola insisted. No one paid attention to her.
The corn field seemed taller and more impenetrable than ever. Alan took a step back. “There’s someone out there, I’m telling you.”
Neal looked at him in annoyance. “Probably that little boy and his parents. Remember, this is a public maze. Could be anyone.”
“Which way do we go?” Lola asked.
Both Lola and Tara started to scream. “Shut up!” Alan cried.
“Something’s wrong with the corn!” Lola shouted. “It’s moving!”
Neal was horrified to see the roots of the nearest corn stalk upend out of the earth. The roots resembled vines and snaked like whips, blindly groping towards the group.
Lola broke into a run, with Tara and Alan following.
“Wait!” Neal called. “You’ll get lost!”
But it was too late, they were gone. Neal took another look at the corn, and saw nothing unusual: there were no moving roots writhing from out of the earth. The corn was still packed firmly into the soil and all was quiet; silent.
A gust of wind suddenly bent the tips of the corn back and moved across the field like an ocean wave. “This isn’t fun anymore,” Neal spoke aloud, but no one was there to listen.
“Hello?” he called. Nothing.
He tried again, and was rewarded by a man’s voice. “You yow’en lost?”
“Over here!” Neal told the voice. He could hear the corn shuffling as someone made their way in his direction.
The corn parted and the man from the ticket-booth appeared.
“All built on lies,” the farmer said as the corn seemed to separate and he stepped out from it. “Blood harvest! The Injuns knew it well. The Lakota lived in these parts. The ancient Gods demanded their payment in blood. It’s the Wakan-Tanka.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Modern folks use chemical fertilizers. But we olden’ fellas stick to the traditions.”
Neal began backing away from the farmer. “Listen, I don’t want any trouble. I just want to leave.”
The farmer laughed, and it sounded dry and hollow. “You’ll never leave. You n’ your friends. You’ll never find your way out.”
Panicked, Neal ran back through the maze. It sounded like something huge was coming through the corn right behind him.
Then there was silence. Neal stopped for a moment to get a grip. He began to think he should have stayed with the farmer. Was that his only hope to find his way out? No matter if the man was crazy, at least the farmer knew the way out.
The only sound Neal could hear was the labored sounds of his own breathing as he began to walk. The corn seemed surreal and he felt like he was in some sort of morbid wonderland. A dozen more roots coiled on the path and waved back in forth in the wind like cobras ready to strike.
The feeling of déjà vu was very strong now. Neal remembered another cornfield, in another time. He finally recognized the child he had seen earlier…he had been looking at himself the first time he had gotten lost in a cornfield.
He stood still, water pouring down his face and his clothes became plastered to his skin. The voices spoke to him. He got on his knees, and then lay prone on the ground. The rain caused the earth to slick into mud very quickly. He welcomed the dank, earthy smell and the feel of the muck as it sucked his body inside.
It was autumn and the corn needed tending.
Timothy Wilkie is a writer, artist and musician living just outside of Woodstock, New York. He spends his free time with his two grown sons, Justin and Blake, and his fifteen Cocker Spaniels and five Collies.
He is extremely active in the local Folk Music scene.