Welcome to the Night Harvest. For the entire month of October, we’ll be featuring scary stories and illustrations from talented authors and artists around the globe. I hope you stay awhile. After all, the Night Harvest is quite a scream. You can see the live list of participants and their posts dates on this link.
Follow the buzz on twitter using the official hashtag #NightHarvest. Oh, and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of this post for a giveaway!
Shine On, Harvest Moon
by Emily McKeon
The moon rose orange behind the farmhouse. A Harvest Moon, bathing the cornfields in an amber glow. Far off in the distance, laughter and music filled the silence as the town gathered for the annual Harvest Festival.
In the cooling night, a breeze kicked up. The sudden wind rustled the cornstalks, making them whisper to the darkness and the great pumpkin moon overhead.
“Jerry.” The voice was soft. Brittle. The first words spoken by someone who long ago had forgotten how to. “Jerry.”
Inside the farmhouse, Jeremiah Dunne sat at his kitchen table. Across his lap lay the shotgun he knew would do no good. On the table, clutched in his fist, was half a tumbler of whiskey. His own brew from last year’s harvest.
He swigged the last of his whiskey and slammed the glass down on the table. He dared not refill it. He foolishly left the bottle on the counter and would have to stand to reach it.
Standing led to walking.
Walking led to answering the call.
Answering the call led to…something he’d rather not think about.
God, he could use another drink.
“Jerry.” The voice grew stronger. A child’s teasing sing-song.
How had he allowed himself to be trapped, alone, on this of all nights?
Because he hadn’t counted. He hadn’t checked the calendar. Because he thought he still had a few more days.
Because he and Helen had a fight earlier and she stormed off to join their neighbors at the festival, leaving him to brood alone until the voices started.
Married near thirty years with less than a dozen cross words between them. Two hours ago, she got bent out of shape over something he had said. He couldn’t even remember the comment now. That’s how important it was.
The fight escalated. Thirty years of imagined slights on both sides. Screaming and yelling until the hound dog over at the Turner place joined in, baying at the top of his lungs.
Now the fight made sense. Those words weren’t his or Helen’s. Those hateful words belonged to the Moon.
But why hadn’t she answered her phone when he called to apologize? He came to his senses shortly after she stormed off, pie in hand, to join the rest of the town. When he called, her phone went right to voice mail. Not even a ring.
“Jerry.” The voice matured, deepened. A young girl calling to him, just past childhood.
Helen was gone. Deep down, Jeremiah knew he would never see her again. Divide and conquer, that’s what the Moon did. Split them up so he wouldn’t have her to lean on. Nothing stopped It from claiming him now.
The Moon was never strong enough to take him and Helen on together, so It tricked them.
He should have anticipated the situation progressing to this stage. Should have seen it coming. Only so long a man can deter the Old Ones before they grapple him into submission with something new.
But Helen didn’t need to go. She was never part of the deal.
“Jerry.” Always Jerry. Never Jeremiah. Ever since he was a boy, the corn whispers were always Jerry.
“Jerry.” A woman now, past her girlhood, but still young. A mother to the children he and Helen never had.
No children. That had been the stipulation he made when he asked Helen to marry him. No children to hear the whispers in the corn at night. No children to pass this curse down to.
Jeremiah had Great-Great-Great-Great Grandpa Dunne to thank for his farm and the consistently good harvests year after year. The Dunne Farm yielded the sweetest corn in all of Kansas. In all the world.
That distinction came with a price. All the Dunne men paid it.
Jeremiah had the same long-gone grandfather to thank for that as well.
Harvest spirits were nothing to play around with.
He clutched the gun tighter. A bullet wouldn’t save him. Nothing would. Already he lived past his expiration date. Years ago he should have entered the corn to join all the Dunne men who went before him. Only his stubbornness and Helen kept him alive this long.
That’s why she went off to the festival. To the noise invading the air and masking any screams for help. She would never hear his good-bye to her. His final cry out to her would be lost among the shrieks of the Spinning Shell riders. She’d never return to him in time to stop him from venturing outside.
With Helen around, Jeremiah would never enter the corn when it called to him. The Moon knew all this. It had gotten rid of the obstacle and cleared the path for Jeremiah.
Through the kitchen window, the Harvest Moon smiled its jack-o-lantern grin. People say there’s a man who lives on the moon. Jeremiah knew better. That was no man gazing benevolently down on the Earth.
Hiding was not an option. The Moon claimed all his ancestors. It would claim him, too. All it needed was time.
The Moon had lots of time. Jeremiah was all out.
The gun clattered when he dropped it on the table, bumping against his whiskey tumbler. He didn’t bother to glance around one last time at the house he grew up in. What was the point? What memory would it hold once he entered the corn?
The door swung in the breeze. No sense locking it. Let whoever was unlucky enough to claim his thriving farm claim his curse, too.
Buttered popcorn and burnt sugar assailed his nose as he walked. Whatever Helen was doing, he hoped she was enjoying herself. Eating all the treats she denied herself every other day. Riding the Ferris wheel and staring out at the fields, too far to see details. That’s when everything is the prettiest.
“Jerry. We’re waiting.” The voice sounded familiar. But, it couldn’t be.
“Here. Come join us.”
The Moon brightened as the old man stumbled among the corn. His skin drying and cracking, like an ear of corn left out in the sun too long.
He tripped, falling over a withered stalk. Jeremiah lay on his side, winded from the impact and unable to stand. The voice he heard…was it another of the Moon’s tricks?
Gulping air, he rolled over to face the cause of his downfall.
“Jerry. You came.”
Jeremiah opened his mouth to scream, but all sound was cut off. His own husk encased him from head to toe. His face pressed against the covering in a permanent scream, identical to Helen’s laying next to him.
Anyone may enter the giveaway. This includes the artist and writers contributing to the Night Harvest, as well as the readers of the stories. Enjoy!