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.
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by Kat Daemon
“Dad, are you sure this place exists? We’ve been driving for over an hour.”
My daughter, Maggie, was always so impatient. “Yes.” I leaned forward and patted her shoulder. “Just a bit further.”
“The supermarket has pumpkins,” Joe groaned, eyes still set on his smart phone. Texting. I think that’s what they called it. I called it sending broken sentences to his girlfriend. Why would you have to type LOL? My daughter had to explain that one to me. I often found when he tapped those three letters down and hit send, he wasn’t even smiling. Back in my day, you courted a girl properly, and any letters you sent you agonized over, searching for the right words. That’s how I had done it with my Bethany. Different times I suppose.
“Amuse an old man, Joey. Picking a pumpkin off of the vine is fun.” Joe raised his eyes up from his screen long enough to glare at me. At seventeen he no longer wanted to be called Joey. Old habits are hard to break, especially at my age.
“You and I really disagree on fun, Gramps.” Sadie leaned over and changed the radio station. Loud thumping beats and inappropriate language roared out of the speakers. I sighed. We were listening to Billie Holiday, before she had changed the station. That was real music. What she had put on sounded more like an argument.
“Make a left here, Maggie.”“The GPS is telling me to go straight, dad.”
“And I’m telling you to make a right. C’mon, amuse your old man.” Maggie sighed and turned right. From her willingness to agree, I assumed she was probably telling herself that this was the last time she would have to “amuse” me. The nursing home attendants would be picking me up in the morning. It was bad enough when Bethany passed, and I had to move in with Maggie, but now… well she had two teenagers to take care of, and without a husband, I suppose I was too much work for her. One less mouth to feed and all.
“There!” I pointed to the farm that was growing in size as our vehicle approached. “Blue Moon Farms!” I clapped my hands, pleased that I still remembered how to get here. Not bad for an old guy.
“Joey, unplug yourself for a minute so you can take in this place.”
“Hold on… texting Adrienne.”
“Bah!” I shook my head, there was no reaching him. “Sadie, what do you think?”
She pulled out her lip gloss and coated her already pink mouth. Looking around, her eyes didn’t even so much as sparkle with the faintest hint of interest. “Uhh. It’s very… hick.”
Maggie pulled the car beside a parked tractor. “Dad, are you sure this place is even open? There’s no one here.”
“Good, we’ll have the pick of the patch.” I opened the door, eager to stretch my legs. At seventy-seven, they were stiff, but still working. I needed a cane, but enjoyed walking, and was grateful to be out of the car. With my family beside me, cane in hand, we headed over to the little stand that sold burlap bags to carry the pumpkins.
There was an older woman at the stand, listening to the radio. It was Bobby Darin, and I was so happy to hear real music again. “How can I help you?” she asked, a broad smile on her lips causing her eyes to crinkle.
“Afternoon! Here for some harvest traditions.” I pointed to the sign, “Look kids, a corn maze! Let’s do it.”
“I thought we were getting pumpkins, not corn,” Joe said, stuffing his phone into his back pocket.
“We are, but this is fun! Just look at it!” I pointed ahead, beyond the pumpkin patch, to the tall stalks of grass that were inviting us to wander about.
Maggie checked her watch, “Dad, I don’t think we have time. It’ a long drive back, and we still have to finish packing up your room.”
“Maggie, what’s twenty more minutes? Tomorrow I’m out of your hair. Let’s do one last thing as a family.”
“This isn’t our final interaction dad, for crying out loud you know we’ll see you on weekends, and you’ll be back for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
“Twenty minutes,” I reiterated.
Maggie let out a rather exasperated breath. She had been overly dramatic for as long as I could recall. “Fine.”
“Four tickets, please.” I said to the cashier. Then turned to Maggie who was reaching inside her purse for her wallet. “My treat.”
We got to take a hayride along the pumpkin patch to the corn field. Our driver let us off at the entrance, tipped his hat and said in a low voice, “Try to find your way out before dark. Strange things have been known to transpire in there when the moon is out. Some say the sun is the only protection folks have in there. Shines some light on the demons, exposing them once and for all.”
“Thanks, that’s comforting,” Sadie snapped. I put my arm around her shoulder.
“He’s teasing you, hon. The only thing that can hurt you in there is your imagination.”
“Have fun, I’ll swing around and get you when you come out.” The driver tipped his dirty baseball hat and turned the wheel, returning the wagon back to the front of the farm.
“Ladies first,” I said to the girls. Joe and I stepped behind them. We were barely in the patch when Sadie complained.
“These stalks look sick.” She grabbed one pulling it toward her to inspect more closely, “Joe look at the leaves.” He glanced and nodded.
“Insects,” he muttered and reached for his phone.
“Joey, can you go five minutes without checking your phone?” I snapped.
He looked at the phone, then back at me. “Doesn’t matter any way. No service out here.”
“See? Hick,” Sadie confirmed.
“You need to get your kids out of the house more,” I said to Maggie. She chose to ignore me, walking faster through the maze until she turned and we found ourselves facing a dead end.
“I don’t get how this is fun. It’s freaky,” Sadie said. “And look at this corn! It’s really rotted. I don’t think the land is healthy. I bet the pumpkins are gross too.”
“Come on, try to be a bit optimistic. It hasn’t rained in awhile, the plants are probably just thirsty.”
I turned the corner and found a long clear path for us to follow. My family was quiet, and I wondered if they hated me in this moment. They most likely wanted to be anywhere but here. Joe had his girlfriend, Sadie was Miss. Popular, and Maggie already made it clear she was anxious to pack up my things.
But this was our last time together as a family. I knew the truth, even if they didn’t. People in nursing homes are forgotten. True, they would visit me at first, all three of them together, but then one day Joey would choose his girlfriend over me. Sadie would have a pep rally to cheer for, and it would just be Maggie and her excuses for the kids. Then Maggie’s visits would start to dwindle down. I had seen it with my own friends. It was inevitable. Nursing homes were where you sent people to waste away.
“Dad, how far back does this maze go? We’ve been walking for a while.”
“I’m not sure. I never went in. Always wanted to though.”
“So we’re lost in Gramps fantasy, fun.” Sadie tripped over a piece of corn and Joe caught her arm.
“Yeah.” She kicked the corn out of her way. It broke into pieces. “See? It’s all rotted.”
“Yeah, it smells weird in here too,” Joe agreed. “Let’s find a way out.” Joe pushed his way through the stalks, but I grabbed his hood.
“Farmers worked real hard to create this maze. You may not care for it, but I don’t need you destroying it.”
“Dad, he didn’t mean any harm. We experienced it, but now it’s time to go.”
“You’re missing the point! Half the fun is finding your way out.”
“I just hope we don’t find any field mice,” Sadie began to tip toe through the maze. We turned another corner, and Sadie was quick to point out her findings. “Look, the stalks are lower here, in fact I can see across the field. What’s the fun in that?”
Joe snapped off a leaf. “It’s really brown and dry, this must be the sickest part of the patch.”
“It’s not sick!” I was the one getting sick. Sick of their complaints. “It’s just thirsty! Perhaps instead of making fun of the maze you can feel bad for it. I don’t even recall the last time we had a good downpour.”
“You want me to feel sympathy for a vegetable?” Sadie looked at me like I had lost my mind. It was her mother’s look. Maggie looked at me that same way quite often. The family resemblance was strong in our line.
“Well, would you just toss it aside because it got old or weak? It’s not the corn’s fault! It can’t stop genetics!”
Maggie laid a gentle hand on my arm. “Dad, is this about the nursing home?”
I pulled my arm away, disgusted by her touch. “No, let’s just keep going.”
We were quiet as we walked around the maze. Despite the way it thinned out and the stalks seemed shorter, we still hadn’t found a way out. It just went on and on. Like the desert.
“The sun’s going down. How long have we been in here?” Joe asked, looking at his phone. The screen was black. I guess he had used up his battery life texting Adrienne in the car.
“Feels like hours,” Sadie whimpered. “I don’t feel good. I’m so… tired. I need to rest.” She sat on the ground, and started rubbing her heart. The poor child was out of breath.
“Sadie, get up, hon. We’ll find a way out and you can sleep in the car.” Maggie offered her hands, but Sadie just collapsed on the dry earth.
“No… I want to sleep here.”
“Sadie?” Maggie shrieked. “Get up! It’s getting dark, you need to keep moving!”
“Sadie, I refuse to sleep in a field tonight!” Joe looked pissed, more at me than her. I avoided his gaze.
“Five minutes,” Sadie grumbled, and nuzzled her face into the crook of her arm.
The stalks began to sway, the dry leaves creating a rustling sound as the wind flitted through the cracks. It was haunting and Maggie and Joe took a step closer to me.
“What is that sound?” Maggie asked softly looking at me rather concerned.
“The maze.” My voice cracked.
“We need to go,” Maggie confirmed. And that’s when it happened. The lowest leaves of the corn stalk reached out and lengthened, twisting their faded limbs around our Sadie. She did not fight back, nor did she scream, just submitted to their call as fast as one falls asleep.
Maggie didn’t think. She reacted; fighting with all the strength of a woman trying to protect her child. Joe pulled the cane out of my hands, and I fell back, watching as he began whacking the stalks as hard as he could.
Despite his valiant efforts, the stalks were no match for my family. They covered Sadie with their vines the way a spider wraps up its prey in a sticky web. The stalks pulled her into its wall of protection, shielding my granddaughter from view. The only sounds to be heard were Maggie’s screams as the dry earth became saturated with Sadie’s crimson blood.
She tried to go after her daughter, but I held her tight, as she trembled, cried, kicked and screamed. “She’s gone,” I whispered, recalling the words the driver had spoken. “Joe, we need to get out before the moon shows itself.”
“I can’t leave my daughter!” Maggie screamed.
“We can come back with help, but right now I need to get you and Joe out.” Joe was staring at the blood, his eyes wide in horror. Then he fell on all fours, and began vomiting violently.
“The maze is affecting him as well we have to go, now!” I shook my daughter.
“The maze isn’t affecting him, his sister was just taken… she’s probably dead! He’s in shock!”
“Maggie, we need to keep moving! Pretty soon we won’t be able to see a thing.”
Joe sat back onto his knees, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and took a few deep breaths. “He’s right, let’s go.”
We ran as fast as we could, my daughter shouting at me to hurry as I pushed my body to work in a way it hadn’t in years. Every step felt like my thighs were on fire—I feared my brittle bones would shatter, but still I pushed myself, using the cane as a crutch to propel my withered body forward. But the maze seemed to have grown taller, no longer as frail as before. The purple sky was darkening, and soon there would only be stars to guide us. Every turn resulted in us just getting more lost.
“I can’t walk anymore.” Joe sat on the floor of the maze, his head in his hands. he was panting harder than I was if that were possible. “I can’t take one more step.” He lowered his head to the ground, the same way Sadie had.
Maggie, not about to lose another child, dropped to her knees and began to shake Joe violently. “Joe? Baby, wake up! Wake up!”
The winds came, and the stalks swayed. Maggie screamed, and I watched as my Joey was taken by the corn creatures. They left only his blood to water the dry, cracked ground.
Darkness had fallen, and Maggie went into a deep shock, rocking back and forth and mumbling about mazes and murder.
We stayed there for awhile, listening to the silence that seemed to mock us. Finally Maggie spoke. “Why has no one come to look for us? We’ve been in here for hours. My children…”
“Maybe they are looking for us. We should keep moving.”
“I can’t leave them. They… my children…” She began to sob and rub the ground that was now soiled with Joe’s blood.
“And you are my child, we need to keep moving. It’s dangerous here.”
Maggie agreed, more out of shock than actual desire. She didn’t care if she was taken now. Without her children, what did she have to live for?”
We stumbled along for hours. Through the darkest part of night we braved every step and waited for dawn. Maggie’s sobs were the only sound to be heard should anyone venture in and look for us.
Until the winds came.
“Is it my turn now?” She whispered, her eyes still glazed over in shock from what she had witnessed hours before. I looked up at the sky that was just starting to lighten. I didn’t answer, just squeezed her hand, as she walked away, her fingers slipping from my grasp.
Maggie did not wait to be taken. She walked boldly into the stalks and met death with her head high.
The leaves rustled. The stalks swayed, and my daughter’s blood seeped out of the thick rows of stems and onto the path. I stayed there for awhile, sitting on the cold ground, watching the earth drink in her red life. The winds had stopped whispering, the maze was very still.
When the sun came up, high in the sky, I looked around at the corn maze. It was different than last night. The stalks were taller, thicker, where they had once been sparse. A rich, vibrant green color masked the pale, faded yellow. The holes and blemishes were gone. No longer was the maze wasting away. It was young again. Healthy, and strong. The way I remembered it as a child.
I looked beside me at Maggie’s purse, then fished around until I found her car keys. I stood up and gave myself a stretch listening to how my bones cracked in the morning. Picking up my cane, I turned and saw a clear exit waiting for me.
Walking out of the maze, the pumpkins were a fiery sea of orange, the air smelled perfumed with life. The driver, as promised, was waiting to take me back. He looked out at the tall green stalks of corn and smiled. “The maze looks good today. Nice and healthy.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “It was just thirsty.”
About the Author
Kat Daemon grew up in New York where her imagination always seemed to get the best of her. When she’s not hanging with vampires, demons, or dragons, she’s usually armed with a strong cup of coffee and dreaming up her next tormented character.
Kat also writes sweet contemporary romance as Karen Anne.
You can find out more about Kat and her books at www.katdaemon.com
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