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He had stopped running, but only because he couldn’t run anymore.
His foot had hit a stalk at just the perfect angle to leave him face first in the dry dirt that tore through his shirt, bloodied his elbows, and sprained his right ankle. He had found himself completely immobilized.
He’d tried, twice, to get back on to his feet, but there was no way. He’d heard the disgusting “pop” when he fell. He’d rolled his ankle, and in a bad way. He was too young to know exactly what had happened but he was old enough to know it wasn’t good. Both times he had attempted to get up, and both times he had fallen with a whimper of pain. He pulled his foot towards him with considerable effort, just to get a closer look at it. To his dismay it had already turned a deeper red in color. There was no way he was going any further.
But he had to. His leg was nothing but a momentary distraction from the unfortunate situation he was in. It only took a single howl for him to remember. It was still coming.
He shot his glance upwards, back the way he’d come down the row of endless corn. Down at the ground level, he could see quite a ways, and to his excitement he saw nothing. Only the rows and rows of corn greeted his gaze. He couldn’t hear anything either. The crows had stopped their incessant caws, and the silence should have filled him with a comfort. It did, for a moment. He wondered if maybe he’d imagined the call. Maybe it wasn’t coming.
But then the silence really set in. It was painfully heavy, collapsing in around him and squeezing his lungs. His breath hurried, trying to compensate. He realized that the silence meant that that thing could be anywhere. Maybe he couldn’t hear it coming because it was already upon him, watching from somewhere close by.
That weight was lifted by the second call. It sounded closer. That thing was definitely getting closer, and he couldn’t move.
He felt warm tears as he tried to think. Walking was out of the question, but he knew that if he stayed there it would have him. Whatever it was, it wasn’t going to just give up or lose him. It knew he was in the field. It was coming.
So, the boy decided he had to do the only thing left to do. He started to crawl.
He dragged himself across the rough, stalk laden dirt up the corn rows, towards the afternoon sun. Every time he dug his raw, scratched elbows into the dirt it made him wince and gasp, but he tried to push past it. He was tough, just like his daddy told him.
He was tough.
So he moved forward, ever so slowly, but constantly. His spirit wasn’t gone yet, and he was determined. He wasn’t exactly hopeful, though. There was no way. He was sure of it. There was no way that he could carry himself out of this field before it had found him. Before it could take him. It was this slow, drowning realization that seemed to add fifty pounds to his small body and pull the fight out of him. There was no way.
And as he began to weep, he heard it. A rustling from the distance behind him, only audible because of the dead silence in the air. At first, he thought it was something small. A bird, a light breeze, anything that wasn’t the thing. But, of course, it wasn’t the wind. It wasn’t a bird. Something was moving through the corn stalks, and fast. He turned, unwillingly, and he lay there. For the longest time, seconds in reality but minutes in his racing mind, he watched. The row remained as it was. Empty. Nothing to be seen. As it should be.
The foot came out of nowhere. He’d blinked right as it emerged from the row to his left, more than seventy yards away. It had emerged, and then, before the boy knew it, it had propelled the slender, black thing sideways across the row. It took about ten seconds before he saw it ruin his view again, this time one more row forward. One row closer. It was moving towards him, sweeping side to side. There was no hiding from it, and the boy knew it.
The boy, finally freed from his fear, noticed that a small, rogue batch of corn grew a little thicker to his left across one of the columns. Perhaps, just perhaps, he would be less noticeable there. At least, that’s what his frightened mind told him. The corn had to help, because it couldn’t possibly hurt.
The child moved his body into the small patch, and there he could only ball up and prepare. He heard the wooshing and cracking as the thing raced through the fields. Its hunt ongoing, and soon it come to its grizzly conclusion. He used all of his will to keep from making a single sound, even as he wept. It would overlook him, he hoped. It would just pass him by. He bit his lip, and wished he could wake up.
Then, it happened. The boy heard him, and his eyes widened, but this time it was in astonishment and disbelief. A quick smile crossed his cheeks as the warm sound came to his ears. Hope ignited inside him like a bonfire, and he turned.
He heard his father and his father’s friends calling his name.
They must have heard his earlier yelling, from before his fall, and they were now coming to him. In that single moment, never had he felt more relieved. His father calling to him was the greatest sound he’d ever heard. Hope returned to the boy.
Again, his happiness was overtaken by that thing. It had halted, if only for a moment, at the voices of the approaching farmers, and he saw it do so. Its form, obscured by the corn, halted and turned its nightmarish visage towards the boy’s father. For a moment, the boy had another fear. What if the thing went after his father? Did he have his gun? Could he defend himself? Would it hurt his dad? He swore the thing would dart straight through the fields, turning all of its focus to his father. But, instead, it had begun running again across the rows. Faster than it had been before. It was speeding up. It had turned its full-attention to finding, and collecting the child. To hunting him.
Then came the dilemma. The boy wanted to cry out to his father. He wanted to shout, he wanted to cry, and he wanted to scream, but he realized that the only thing that kept whatever that creature was from taking him out right that second was the sole fact that it had no idea where he was. It only knew that he had started running away, and possibly that he had fallen. It probably knew that he had fallen, that’s why it was searching the ground. He figured as such.
His father and his father’s friends sounded close, closer than that thing, but he couldn’t see them. Even if he called to them now, he knew that the chances of the beast reaching him first were high. Too high for his comfort.
He faced forward, and now the creature was only about fifty yards away, and he could make out its figure more clearly in the fields. The speed was remarkable, and it was the singular most horrifying thing about his pursuer. Its ungodly speed.
Turning around he saw movement in the corn. His father was getting close, almost as close as the thing was on the other end. He was sandwiched between the two, and he had an important choice to make.
So he closed his eyes. In the darkness, all was the same. There was a rustling and a cracking from in front, and the snapping and calling from his rear. That thing and his father. Both were closing in, faster and faster. There was only one thing he could do to possibly help.
Either his father would pick him up, and fight the thing off, or the thing would steal him away never to be seen again.
The choice was made when he turned back around, and opened his eyes just enough to see his father, moving sideways through the field. He had started moving away from his son. His heart sank when his father disappeared from view, and the creature still came closer. He could only mouth “No, no, no” as his father, and his hope, faded from sight.
That thing, however, was still coming at him. His fate was sealed. The boy closed his eyes. He knew it would happen. The wooshing from in front was nearly upon him, and his father’s grew slightly fainter. He clenched his teeth. There was the final irrational thought that maybe it would miss him. Maybe it would.
But then, it was too much to risk. There was only one thing he could do. A final act of pure desperation.
The child called out, and they heard.
They all heard.
Credit: Ryan Brennaman