There are always plenty of strange rumors circulating in small towns across the world. The one I grew up in has everything from tales of lizard creatures beneath the woods, to a bizarre bridge that leads you somewhere else if you cross it on foot. Still, the one tall tale that I can personally attest to, is the haunted corn maze, just outside the city limits.
The labyrinth had been out there since long before I came along. What always unsettled me about the thing, be it from simple urban legend or the truth of things, nobody seemed to know who even made it. Another unnerving aspect of it was that, while there was no caretaker, it never became overgrown or unkempt.
Sure, the elusive individual who put the whole thing together may well have family members who maintained it when nobody was around, given the fact that it was out in the middle of nowhere, but nobody knew one way or the other. It was a strange thing for sure, but the rumors of that place throwing open the door to the other side on that one particular day of the year, always freaked me out when I was a kid.
It was the Halloween of 2005 that I learned this was not a place to be so casually visited; not by the living anyway. Not on the 31st of October. I was around thirteen at the time, while my brother was approaching seventeen. I idolized Derek; had since we were kids. Even when he was younger, he always seemed so much more worldly than I, though I imagine just about anyone with a few more years under their belt would come off as more knowledgeable than a wide-eyed and curious kid.
He had already abandoned the sacred traditions of trick or treating; something I was not yet ready to give up, but when he invited me to attend a party with him on the night of the 31st, I both eagerly and reluctantly agreed. As much as I loved spending time with my brother, I wasn’t thrilled about turning my back on the opportunity to score a bag load of candy.
Derek knew how much I loved getting dressed up and going door to door, so he promised he’d take me around the neighborhood before we headed out that night. Being a costume party we were headed to, he decided to bring a bag himself when we joined the crowd of kids, playfully running from one house to the next. In all honesty, he looked as happy as I was while we toured the surrounding blocks.
Sure, his ‘vampire’ costume wasn’t exactly the most extravagant garb for the occasion; slicked back hair, phony fangs in his mouth and a long black coat. Honestly, it paled in comparison to my Michael Myers outfit, but I knew his girlfriend, Alisha, was going to meet us at the party, so I couldn’t blame him for dressing more stylishly cool and all. Supposedly, her little sister was going to be there as well; something that left me both nervous and a little intimidated if I’m being honest.
I had only recently started appreciating the opposite sex at that time, but it was enough to make my palms sweaty while restricting my tongue’s ability to function properly when attempting to form words. Regardless of my apprehensions, I was having a great time just hanging out with Derek, even with his friendly reminders that I needed to just be myself when we got there.
When the sun finished its descent for the night, it was time for us to head back to the house to pick up my brother’s car. We dropped the candy in the house, gave an obligatory goodbye to our folks, and got on the road. I hadn’t been informed about where the party was taking place, but I had just assumed it would be at one house or another. When we passed by the last neighborhood before the city limits sign, the butterflies dancing in my stomach began to sink to the bubbling acid below.
“Where we goin’?” I asked though I had a solid idea of the answer.
“I didn’t tell you?” Derek said, looking genuinely uncertain, “the party’s out at the old corn maze.”
“C’mon, that place don’t still freak you out, does it?” he asked with a chuckle.
“What? No! Of course not. I just didn’t…”
“There’s nothing to be scared of, kid. We ain’t goin’ into it or anything. Just seemed a good, kinda creepy spot for the party is all.”
I couldn’t argue with that; it was one hell of an eerie spot, out there in the middle of nowhere. I knew some of the older kids would go out there sometimes, but I still felt uneasy about it. I was certain that most of the stories folks told about the old maze were made up; just spooky tales to mess with the younger generation and all, but they would still get my imagination going.
“You sure we should be goin’ out there tonight, though?” I asked, attempting to hide the trembling in my throat.
“They’re just stories, Danny,” Derek said with a smile, “you know that right?”
“I mean, yeah, but…”
“It’s only to scare people, kid. Halloween was invented by the candy companies, y’know? Nowhere gets haunted, just because it’s the 31st. It’s all bullshit, just like every other stupid story around these parts. You gotta stop being so scared of everything. When I head off to college, you’re gonna be on your own. I love you, kiddo, but I ain’t always gonna be around to protect you.”
It was hard to argue with him, as he fully believed every crazy urban legend to be false; this one more than others. I still felt a little embarrassed by the way he talked to me. Yeah, I was very easily freaked out at that age, but I was getting better. That creepy old labyrinth, though; I never wanted to get within a shout of that place. I trusted my brother on just about anything, but I couldn’t convince myself to side with him on this.
A few years before, some guy named Jackson Fiddle supposedly went missing while investigating the labyrinth around the 31st. Sure, I didn’t even know if he was a real person, being that just about everyone seemed to know everyone in our little town, and I hadn’t ever heard of the guy before the rumors of his disappearance.
The story about the woman who showed up at the emergency room on the morning of November 1st of ’98, all bloody and beaten, though; that one messed me up for a while. From what she said, or from what folks said she said, her car broke down, out by the old corn maze. This being before everyone and their mother had a cell phone, she couldn’t reach out to anyone, so she just started walking.
Somehow or another, whether she got turned around, or just wasn’t paying attention, she ended up strolling right into the neatly preserved labyrinth. When they asked her why she didn’t just turn around, she claimed she tried, but it closed up behind her as soon as she crossed into it.
As far as what happened to her when she got lost in there; that varies from person to person. Some say that some local boys, up to no good, followed her inside, after having sabotaged her car to break down. According to that version of things, they beat her and raped her, leaving her for dead in that damned place. After she crawled her way out of there, she managed to get back to town but was never the same since.
Other, more exaggerated stories claim that she came up on some devil worshipers in there, who tried to sacrifice her before she managed to make her escape. Some even say that she ran into anything from supernatural creatures; werewolves or wendigos and the like, to aliens looking to run some experiments on her.
I think the alien one came around because the pathways through the maze aren’t so much cut down, as the stalks are folded flat against the ground. Seems like it’s sort of like how crop circles are arranged, where supposedly ‘no man or machine could’ve bent them so perfectly’ and all that craziness. Oh yeah, a lot of tall tales came from that old place.
I suppose my story is no different or will be when I get done telling it. I imagine most will read these words with as much skepticism as Derek had back then. I can’t blame any of you, of course. Truth be told, I still have a hard time believing it to this day.
For the sake of picking up the pace, or in not dragging this out any longer than necessary, I won’t waste time getting into much concerning the party itself. Yes, there was a veritable herd of teenagers out there when we arrived; each one dressed in everything from lazy to extravagant costumes. That alone set my mind more at ease when we got there; the fact that everyone there looked to be just having a good time, hidden behind one mask or another.
We spent most of our time hanging out with Alisha and Sandra, her sister. She was a bit younger than me, but she was a really cool girl, also quite pretty in her gender-swapped Freddy costume. The fact that we were both dressed as 80s slashers made it easier for me to get over my nerves. We talked a lot about scary movies and the like; something we were both huge fans of.
Everything was going great, even after I took it upon myself to sneak a beer from the table they had set up beside the keg. It would not be until later in life that I developed a taste for it. That first sip of whatever cheap brand the underage drinkers had gotten their hands on, damn near flipped my stomach. Derek full-on slapped the red solo cup out of my hand when he noticed it, looking at me with an expression of disappointment and anger, before cracking up so hard, he spilled his own drink across the grass.
“Can’t blame you for tryin’, kid,” he said, wrapping his arm around my shoulder.
When a couple of older-looking guys walked up, causing my brother to visibly tense up, our night went from a fun and relaxing time, to something that still haunts my dreams to this day.
“Got some balls showin’ up here, Russell,” said the guy wearing the cheaply made Frankenstein costume; something quite fitting to his considerable bulk.
The fact that he called my brother by our surname, made me believe this wasn’t just friendly badgering.
“Yeah, what we gonna do about this?” the other smaller and more slender guy, dressed as a mangy-looking werewolf asked, cracking his knuckles.
“Back off, Nate,” Derek said, pushing himself in front of Alisha and me, “everyone’s just trying to have a good time, guys. We can settle this another time.”
“Nah, bud,” Frankenstein said, “how about we settle up right now.”
“Head back to the car, Danny,” my brother said, giving me a quick glance before turning his attention back to the duo before him, “I’ll be there in…”
His words were cut short when the werewolf pushed him, causing him to almost topple over his girlfriend. Most of the crowd stopped whatever they were doing, turning their attention to the fight that was likely to break out any minute. There were murmurs throughout the group as they gathered around us, forming a makeshift circle; something that assured me that things were about to get messy.
“Not here,” Derek said, “not now. They’re not a part of this.”
Sandra and Alisha were attempting to back away, while I was darting my eyes from my brother to the guys who had some score to settle.
“Tell you what,” the big guy said, placing his hand on his buddy’s shoulder, as if commanding his guard dog to heel, “I got an easy resolution to everythin’ if you guys got the balls.”
“Dude, just drop it, okay? This is…”
“Didn’t say you could speak yet,” Frankenstein cut in, pushing my brother back again with one hand.
Derek looked fit to burst. I knew he could hold his own in a fight; I’d seen it myself when some bigger kids were giving me a hard time at school. Sure, they were a year or two younger than him, but he taught them both a solid lesson after he caught them trying to clean my clock. He kicked both of their asses, barely breaking a sweat. Still, the big guy with the poorly applied green makeup, looked like he could easily bench press my brother’s Chevy.
“So, what do ya say? Willin’ to get your hands a bit dirty to make all this go away?” Frank said, glaring down his nose at Derek.
“Fine,” he replied with a heavy sigh, “what the hell do you want me to do?”
“No-no, not just you,” he glanced over at me with a menacing smile, “this is for you and junior both. Hell, how about the little ladies too?”
“Go to hell, Nate,” Derek sneered, “they got nothin’ to do with this.”
“They do if Nate says they do,” the weasley werewolf added.
“This is between you and me. Don’t…”
“It’s okay,” Alisha cut in, having walked up beside her boyfriend, “we’ll play his stupid little game.”
Sandra nodded, folding her arms, while I gave another token nod. I can’t say I was thrilled about whatever they had in store for us, but I would be damned if I was about to turn my back on my brother.
Derek whispered back and forth with his girl for a moment, before turning back to his opponent.
“Alright. What the hell do you want us to do?”
“Simple enough,” he said, cutting his gaze to the old corn maze, “y’all spend one hour in there. Just one whole hour to the second, and we’re good.”
“That’s it?” Derek replied, while my fingers began to tremble, “one hour?”
“That’s it, buddy boy. You gotta go in, though. Don’t just hang out in the entrance or nothin’. Like, walk around and shit. Can’t just stand there waiting for the time to run out.”
“Then we’re done, you and I?”
“Squeaky clean. Nothin’ more to be said or done.”
“Okay then,” Derek said, glancing back at me and the girls, nodding his head, “one hour and we’re good.”
“I’ll even pour you a beer when you come out,” Frankenstein said with a satisfied smile, “but y’all come out even one minute early and I’ll kick your ass so bad, you’ll be eatin’ thanksgiving dinner through a feedin’ tube, you got me?”
“One hour,” Derek said, holding his hand out.
“One hour,” the big guy nodded, shaking my brother’s hand.
“I’m so sorry about this,” Derek said as we approached the entrance to the old corn maze, “I didn’t expect them to be here.”
“No worries, babe,” Alisha said, rubbing her hand on his back.
“Yeah,” Sandra said, “I say we go in, find a place to chill and tell some scary stories for an hour, then come back out and party some more.”
I just nodded, trying my best to keep the trembling of my extremities as hidden as possible. I can’t lie, I was scared. Even with Derek convinced that the stories of the labyrinth were blown out of proportion, the idea of actually entering the thing had me shook. Of course, I wasn’t about to reveal that, especially since I had already developed a bit of a crush on the girl in the Freddy costume, who came off like this was just as simple as strolling into a grocery store with her folks.
Before we walked in, we all looked back to see every face of every costumed partygoer glaring in our direction. From the expressions on a few of them, I could tell that I was not alone in my fear of the old maze; something that didn’t exactly help my concern at the time.
“See y’all in an hour,” Frankenstein called out, “don’t chicken out now. We’ll be watchin’.”
For the first few minutes, we just walked in silence. I never really took in the height of the corn stalks before; how they almost towered over our heads. Just like the stories told, it wasn’t just grass or dirt under our feet, but perfectly flattened stalks. They crunched slightly as we strolled onwards, but I couldn’t even make out the sounds of the crowd outside after we entered.
The aisles weren’t particularly wide, causing us to walk two by two as we sauntered on. Derek and Alisha walked in front of Sandra and me, but I just gazed around as we moved deeper in. Even with the moon shining down from above, I was actually quite surprised how easy it was to see. Still, I wasn’t about to let my guard down, and neither was anyone else, from what I could tell anyway.
“I say we round this corner,” Derek said, gesturing to the right turn up ahead, “and just plant our asses and wait.”
“Works for me,” I said, feeling no inspiration to bury myself any deeper in this place than we had to.
As my brother suggested, we took that turn, stopped, and sat down on the cozier-than-expected ground. Perhaps, had we a little more time to appreciate how comfortable flattened corn stalks can be, this would not be a worthwhile tale to tell.
Before I so much as allowed my butt cheeks to snuggle themselves into a comfortable setting, the blood-curdling squeal that echoed from somewhere ahead of us, very nearly inspired every ounce of blood pumping through my veins to stop cold. Derek and Alisha looked as freaked out by this as I was, while Sandra darted her head between each of us.
“What the hell was that?” she asked, placing her palms against the ground.
“Probably someone trying to mess with us,” Derek suggested, looking as uneasy as the rest of us.
“That far ahead, though?” I asked, “I could see from behind us, but how could…”
Another scream, much closer than the last cut my words short. I got back to my feet, as did Derek and the girls.
“This is a setup,” my brother said, appearing confident in this theory, “Nate probably sent someone in while we weren’t looking. They mighta been in here for a while, just waiting to have some fun with us.”
It did make sense. The big guy in the Frankenstein costume did come off like he knew something when he gave us that friendly reminder before we entered. Given the fact that whatever beef he had with my brother would be set right by this little dare, it would stand to reason that he wasn’t going to make it easy for us.
‘Yeah,’ I thought, ‘they just wanna force us to take off running. Make us embarrass ourselves in front of everyone before he kicks the crap out of Derek.’
Three more screams, each coming from different directions assured me that our working theory was right. While the girls looked back at my brother and me, both smiling at us, I nodded my agreement.
“Hell with it,” Derek said with a mischievous grin, “let’s go see what they cooked up for us, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling the most confident I had since walking into this labyrinth.
I can’t deny that somewhere in the back of my grapefruit, I still felt uneasy about both my surroundings, and the unsettling shrieks, but a higher percentage of my mind fully believed this to be exactly what we thought; that my brothers’ adversaries wanted to put on a little show for us. Who were we to deny their invitation?
After walking for another five minutes or so; right turn here, up a few more feet, another left and right, and on to another straight away, with the occasional dramatically painful yells guiding our path, we finally caught sight of one of the likely handful of people who were screwing with us.
This particular pathway looked to be a good twenty feet long, with one opening to the left, and another right about halfway up. At the far end, standing directly in front of another wall of corn stalks, was a tall, slender individual in a filthy black robe, with the hood pulled down low enough to only reveal the wider-than-human toothy grin.
When I first saw it, my heart skipped a beat or four. It wasn’t until Derek let out a soft giggle that I took in how comically sinister the costumed person was trying to come off. They just stood there, heaving with exaggerated breath, keeping their head tilted down with their arms somewhat outstretched from their sides. It was sort of like how that quintessential douchebag at the gym looks after knocking out that first handful of reps. That ‘I’m swole now, ’cause I lifted heavy stuff’ sort of thing.
When all of us started to laugh at intermittent intervals, the mimicked heavy breathing became more agitated, inspiring the hooded figure to wail out in one final attempt to intimidate us. Unfortunately for our cosplaying friend, we weren’t buying it. Even after two more similarly dressed individuals walked out from the left and right openings ahead, our laughter didn’t let up.
“Gotta try harder than that, boys,” my brother shouted, practically daring the trio to take their taunting to the next level.
With one last howling scream, the one at the far end came charging towards us, slipping some sort of dagger from the inside of its robe.
“Oh, here we go,” Derek said, still chuckling, “this outta be good.”
I’ll never forget that smile he gave me when he glanced over his shoulder. He was so confident that he had this whole thing figured out; so was I, for that matter. Even when the robed figure showed no sign of slowing from only a few feet away, my brother still looked back at me, wearing that carefree smile. The transition of our circumstances going from something fun and carefree, to one of anguished shock and horror barely allowed my mind to accept what was happening.
It was the sound of the blade tearing into my brother’s gut that hit me, more so than the blood that spat from his still-smiling mouth. I don’t know if it was Alisha or Sandra who screamed first; perhaps both of them, for all I knew at the time. Three more times, I heard that meaty ‘thunk’ as the knife was pulled free and inserted back into Derek’s torso.
“Ru…run…Danny…” he spluttered, spritzing more specs of crimson onto his shirt.
I was frozen in place, barely aware that I still had a body attached to my reeling mind. When one of the girls grabbed me by the wrist, attempting to pull me back with them as they began to run back the way we came, I still could not so much as hope to break my gaze from my beloved brother’s wide and horrified eyes.
If whoever or whatever these things were could so easily put an end to someone who had always been so much stronger and more confident than me, I had no doubt I would not survive this. In some ways, I didn’t even care. I felt so weak and pathetic at the time, I couldn’t do a single thing to help Derek.
I just stood rooted to the spot, preparing myself to share the same fate as my closest friend and brother.
“SNAP OUT OF IT!” Alisha demanded, slapping me hard across the face.
That exaggerated smile under the dusty back hood started back at me, as the blade was pulled from Derek’s stomach for the last time, dropping him to the ground. While his girlfriend still screamed at me, I was practically paralyzed by the sight of the blood dripping from the long, jagged blade, blending with the pool forming around where my brother lay, barely twitching.
“DAMNIT, DANIEL!” she yelled again, slapping me even harder than before, finally inspiring my mind to collide with my body.
I looked at her and back to the robed figure, who was wiping the dagger caked in my brother’s blood across its chest.
“We gotta run, kid. You with me?”
I just nodded; something that was likely difficult to differentiate from my bodily spasms at the time. As the robed figure began to move in closer, stepping over Derek, I started to back away. As he, she, or whatever the hell it was lunged at me, it fell hard to the ground itself, as my brother clutched its ankle.
“Go!” he moaned.
That was enough to finally inspire me to run. Alisha and her sister were already a good ways ahead of me, while I kept stealing glances over my shoulder. It was during one of those intervals, when I turned back to what lay ahead of me, only to see no trace of anyone that I skidded to a halt once more.
“Alisha?” I called out, barely more than a whisper, “Sandra! Where’d you go!?”
I began to move steadily forwards in whatever direction we had been going before I lost sight of my companions, but when I heard the crunching of quickly paced footsteps coming from behind, I had no more time to waste. I took off, hoping to be out of sight before the robed figures caught up with me.
I could still see that unnervingly wide grin on the surface of my brain as I ran from one aisle to the next, getting myself so turned around, I had not the slightest clue where I was anymore. Even with the acknowledgment that I would not easily be making my way out of that God-forsaken labyrinth, I still kept going, darting from right to left, up and down, over and over.
After running on fumes for the better part of ten or twenty minutes, if I even had the slightest hope of guessing any sort of time frame, I slowed down, hoping to catch my breath before it left me passed out on the flattened corn stalks. When I stopped blindly charging onward, I tried to regulate my wheezing, while attempting to listen out for any sounds around me.
I couldn’t hear a thing. No footsteps, no screams, no voices, only the thumping of my pulse against the inner lining of my ears. When the image of my brother falling lifelessly to the ground flashed before my eyes, I fought to shake it away, hopeful to focus on my escape before dwelling on whether he may or may not have survived this.
‘If I get out,’ I thought, ‘I’ll get help. He’s still alive; I know he is,’ I fought to convince myself, ‘but you can’t get him the help he needs if you’re dead too.’
Yes, with that sound of my brother’s flesh being torn apart by the lengthy, serrated blade beating against my eardrums as much as the images flashing behind my eyes, I didn’t believe it for a second, but I had to convince my legs to get moving again. It was while I waged that inner battle that another stomach-churning squeal snapped my attention back to my dire situation.
It was close; alarmingly close, but I knew I had to check it out. Given that it sounded as though it was one of the girls screaming this time, as opposed to those we had thought to be only messing with us, I knew I had to at least attempt to do what I could to save them. Sure, I was certain I wouldn’t stand a chance against any of the robed figures, but I had to try. Perhaps it was little more than my desperation to not be alone in this anymore that drove my actions, but it was something.
Again I ran from one turn to the next, pursuing yet another horrifying shriek as I plundered onwards. It didn’t take me long to locate the source of the new sound to accompany those already haunting my subconscious, but when I found what I was looking for, I knew that there was nothing I could do to help.
The red and green striped minidress was almost shredded in places, revealing torn flesh and tissue, spilling more crimson fluids across the ground. My legs gave out, dropping me to my knees beside the young girl whose eyes glared lifelessly up at the night sky. Her long brown hair was matted with blood and chunks of gore, seemingly thrown back at her from the sequence of attacks that ripped her apart.
I lost it. I just started crying and wailing out, unable to even hope to battle against such a formidable foe. The impact of my brother’s death hit me at full force, colliding with the surface of my brain as though it was launched from a cannon. I continued to howl my hopelessness into the night, even when I felt myself being lifted from the ground.
It was as though I was floating weightlessly as the robed individual carried me through the maze, having thrown me over its shoulder like a healthy-sized sack of dog food. I didn’t fight. I didn’t rebel. I didn’t attempt to escape. It had been futile, to begin with; just the thought that I could survive something that my brother could not.
When my escort stopped walking, I was still out of it while my wrists and ankles were bound to some sort of wooden prop. Through the tears that still flowed, I could see that I was in a much wider spot in the maze; one that was at least four or five times the size of the slender pathways I had been running in and out of.
‘Could this be the center of the maze,’ I thought, glancing around as much as I could.
There were six of them now; the robed figures, each with their own unsettling grin peeking out from the darkness of their hoods. Once my extremities were sufficiently restricted, the one who carried me there backed away to join the others in line. They all just glared at me, heaving their heavy breath, while maintaining their sinister smiles.
“What are you waiting for?” I asked through gritted teeth.
I was beaten. I was done for; I did not doubt that. Why were they just glaring at me?
“What the hell are you waiting for!?”
Still nothing. They just stood there like robed statues. They weren’t even forcing out that exaggerated wheezing anymore.
“JUST GET IT OVER WITH, YOU BASTARDS!”
As one of them broke from formation, slowly coming closer to me, I wasn’t afraid anymore. My heart ached for the loss of the person I cared most for in this world. If they took him away from me, they could have me too, for all I cared.
No more running.
No more tears.
As it moved in closer, stopping only inches from me, it leaned over at the waist, almost pushing its face right next to my own. I closed my eyes, readying myself for the blood to spill freely to waiting corn stalks, pressed to the ground, when,
“Happy Halloween, baby brother,” whispered into my ear.
When my eyes blinked back open, they met not the malicious grinning thing that sought to lay me to rest, but the smiling face of the person I had idolized since I was a child.
I could barely form anything close to a legible sentence as Alisha and Sandra lowered their hoods, pulling away the grinning masks, followed by the two guys who forced us in here, and another blonde guy I’d never seen before.
They weren’t laughing at me, only smiling warmly as though they thought this torment they had put me through to be a heartfelt gift of some kind.
“You’re…alive? You’re all…” I stuttered while the truth of things struck me like a serrated blade to the midsection, “are you kidding me!?” I belted, wrestling against the bindings holding me in place, “how could you!? Why the hell would you!?”
“It’s okay, kiddo,” Derek said, still smiling, chuckling a little under his breath, “it was just a joke! I just wanted to give you one good scare for Halloween!”
“ONE GOOD SCARE!? I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!” I shouted, still pulling against the ropes around my limbs.
“Woah, Danny,” my brother said, reaching out to hold my arms still, “you’re gonna hurt yourself. Let me…”
“DON’T TOUCH ME!” DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU PUT ME THROUGH!?”
I could tell that my brother’s accomplices were growing steadily more uncomfortable as they stared on with varying, though equally uncomfortable expressions, but I didn’t care. I felt betrayed by the actions of the one person I thought I could truly trust in this world; not only for this ridiculous charade but for leading me into this damned maze in the first place.
“You know how I feel about this place,” I said, lowering my voice, “you know it scares me!”
“Exactly,” he said, resting his hand on my shoulder, “that’s why I chose it, kid. I’m going off to college next year. I need to know you’ll be alright without me here. It’s time to face your fears and grow up some. Believe me, Danny, I’d never do anything like this if I didn’t have a good reason.”
“Cut me down,” I said, refusing to look him in the eye.
He just stared back at me, or so it looked through my periphery. The smile faded from his face by the time I allowed my eyes to meet his again, but I was still angry; still betrayed.
With a heavy sigh, he reached into his robe, pulling out the pocket knife he had carried for the last few years. After the last rope was cut, I just stood there looking up at him, rubbing the raw flesh on my wrists from my writing against the course ropes.
“Just get me out of here. You know your way out, right? You guys sure as hell got around well enough.”
“Yeah,” he said, lowering his head and looking defeated, “this way.”
“Come on, Danny,” Sandra said, pulling off the heavy-looking robe to reveal the wounds that appeared so much more fabricated than they had through my fear-altered vision, “we didn’t mean…”
“Leave me alone,” I said, swatting away the hand she reached out.
“Think we went too hard on him,” Frankenstein asked Derek as we passed by him.
“Maybe. I didn’t think…wait,” my brother said, cutting his head from side to side, “where’s the…?”
It wasn’t until then that I noticed the circular clearing no longer had any visible exits. Assuming this to be just another part of the night’s festivities, I felt my face begin to flush once more.
“Seriously, guys?” I said, turning to face the group of suddenly bewildered-looking teens, “enough already! Can we just…”
“This isn’t us, Daniel,” Alisha said, looking thoroughly perplexed as she glanced from her sister to her boyfriend.
“Nate? Is this you guys?” Derek asked.
“Nuh-uh. I don’t even…”
“It’s all planted in the ground,” the blonde guy said, tugging at the stalks, two at a time.
“What the hell is this, Derek?” a very uneasy-sounding Alisha asked, before screaming out again when something rolled across the ground towards us.
She wrapped her arms around her sister, who had begun to whimper slightly, while the big guy in the Frankenstein costume muttered curses under his breath. When the pumpkin came to a halt, staring straight up with a fierce and mocking smile carved into its jack o’ lantern face, everyone grew silent and still.
I just glared down at the thing with my jaw unhinged, still battling to wrap my mind around everything that had occurred up until this point. When the long corn stalks began to rustle violently, making it appear as though the whole labyrinth was quaking around us, it was hard to differentiate my own involuntary shivering from my surroundings. A low humming sound was barely audible above the trembling leaves, but it gave me the impression that something was drawing closer, as it gradually escalated.
“Push through,” Frankenstein said, weaving his hands between the stalks, “it’s just corn. We can…SHIT!”
We all spun to see him wrestling against the vines that were wrapping around his arms and legs. Derek ran to his side, quickly slicing through the attacking greenery with his pocket knife.
“HELP ME!” my brother shouted while cutting and pulling the stems away, as more continued to wrap around the big guy.
I ran up with the skinny werewolf and blonde guy and we all attempted to yank at the weeds which were practically engulfing the writhing Nate. Sandra had dropped to the trembling ground, shaking her head and whimpering louder, while Alisha stood, seemingly frozen in place, with her hands cupped around her mouth.
Within seconds, no matter how hard we fought against the corn stalks, as ridiculous as that sounds, we could no longer see even a hint of the boy in the Frankenstein costume. While we still frantically battled to free him, he was swiftly pulled away from us, with only his muffled scream in his wake.
When his yelling fell silent, I still stood there just staring at the opening he left behind, mentally checked out while Derek snatched me by the wrist, shouting for the others to follow. When the deep and guttural laughter echoed from seemingly all around us, it didn’t take much convincing for everyone to start running.
“Yeees…” the haunting voice spoke, “run, run away, my little darlings…”
Sandra squealed out a high-pitched shriek, while the blonde guy whined and moaned.
“What the hell is that, Derek?” the visibly shivering boy in the werewolf costume asked, while we continued sprinting across the slender pathway, left in the wake of his friend’s hasty withdrawal.
“How should I know!” my brother barked, still not letting go of my wrist.
“Run…run…run away…” bellowed out with each word coming from a different direction, ending with a sinister laugh that damn near knocked my feet out from beneath me.
“Keep going!” Alisha said, now helping her little sister remain upright.
Almost as soon as the words left her mouth, our path became blocked as another wall of thick corn stalks burst from the ground. The blonde guy who had been running the fastest, lost his footing as he skidded to a halt, falling with his back flat against the ground, stopping just short of the newly formed blockade.
As the werewolf reached to help him back to his feet, the flattened stalks sprang to life, wrapping around him like tendrils.
“NO!” he screamed, “HELP ME!”
His words were quickly muffled as the vines constricted, yanking him flatter to the floor of the labyrinth. Given the blood-curdling squeal that erupted from his mouth, I was unsure if he was being pulled into the ground to be buried beneath it, or if the snapping sounds that accompanied his horrified wails were his bones fragmenting as the stalks returned to their previous state.
When the blood began to bubble and seep through the thin gaps, spitting and spraying against the still trembling greenery around us, I needed no further clarification on his fate.
“Holy hell!” the slender boy said, backing away while attempting to wipe the fresh blood stains from his furry shirt.
“This way!” Derek said, heading back the way we had come, gesturing to a left turn a few feet back, “come on, Jordan! There’s nothin’ we can do for him.”
The werewolf still glared down at the crimson pool where his friend once lay, shaking his head from side to side as he backed away from it.
“Move, Jordan! We have to…”
My brother had no chance to finish urging his friend to run, before more of those vines shot from each side, instantly swallowing him whole. I stared on again with my lower lip quivering, as I could only make out the lone horrified eye peering out from within the tendrils of green.
For a moment, it was as though everything fell silent around us, as we gazed upon where the maze had claimed another soul for its own. It wasn’t until the vines retracted on each side, carrying with them whatever section of the boy in the werewolf costume they held, that each of our screams blended into one.
Again, my brother snatched me by the arm, while his girlfriend did the same to her sister. By this point, I was only vaguely aware of anything, with my mind still reeling from the shock of everything. I knew I was running; I knew I was speeding alongside the person I trusted most in this world, but beyond that, everything was a blur.
We sped right, straight for a bit, then left and right again, every move almost guided by what the labyrinth would allow. Pathways opened and closed around us, leading this way and that, while that guttural voice continued to mock our desperation.
“Ah yes…this way, no that! Which will it be…what will you see? Shall you set yourselves free? How long will it take, do you think, to find me?”
It laughed again; a loud and haunting belly laugh at our expense.
I felt my senses begin to return, only to find us still charging onwards in search of an exit. I noticed that Derek was now carrying a hysterical Sandra, while Alisha held onto my wrist. I almost wanted to ask her to let go, as I found it difficult to move as freely with her clutching onto me, but it did make me feel ever so slightly safer like this, even if I did believe our escape attempt to be futile.
We were in its domain; whatever the hell IT was. It was toying with us. We ran the path it chose, not one of our own selection. Still, regardless of those undeniable facts, I knew we couldn’t let up. Unfortunately, this inner rationalization came to a quick halt when we came face to face with our inevitable end.
When the opening before us closed shut, forcing our hasty retreat short, I felt my stomach lurch at the sight of only more tall corn stalks to our sides and backs. There we stood, each gasping for breath, while the young girl in the tattered red and green striped minidress sobbed in brother’s arms, in a space maybe five by five feet, with nowhere left to go.
“JUST LET US GO!” Derek shouted into the night.
“Not just yet, my good lad…there is far too much fun to be had…”
“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US!?”
“It was you who came to me, dear boy…would you so abruptly put an end to my joy?”
“Please,” Alisha begged; tears forming in her eyes, “just let my sister go…”
“Take me,” Derek said, glancing back at me, “let the others go, and you can do whatever you want with me.”
“No!” I barked, “don’t just give up!”
“An interesting offer, you have presented to me, but should that be enough to set your friends free? I have each of you now, to do with as I please, but you still beg for unwarranted release?”
“They’re innocent,” my brother said in a cracking voice, “this is all my fault! Please just…”
When the stalks parted to our left, I once more felt my jaw drop. It looked as though it could very well be that same, circular clearing we began running from, but it was not how we left it. The wooden prop I had been tied to was now replaced by a large throne, pieced together by a combination of vines and bones; some of which appeared as though they had been freshly pulled from some unsuspecting corpse.
When I noticed the bloodied and matted fur poking out in places, I had to assume that theory to be quite accurate. After taking in the sight of the torn slivers of the werewolf costume, it didn’t take long to see the strips of green latex that once belonged to a cheaply made Frankenstein outfit.
“Come in, come in…come into my home, do not leave me here to linger alone…”
It wasn’t until it spoke again that I took note of what was sitting upon the gore-lined throne. That same pumpkin which had rolled into this very area now gazed down at me from a skeletal frame, composed of just as much greenery as the chair upon which it sat. The robe it wore looked to be one of those my would-be kidnappers left behind, though the elongated emerald bones of the arms and legs protruded considerably more than its previous owner.
“Welcome, welcome, my travelers, four…Now, what exactly possessed you to come through my door?”
We all stood in a row, glaring up at this abomination before us. With every word it spoke, the carved expression on its face adjusted to fit.
“It was my fault; my decision to come into your maze,” my brother said with confidence in his words.
“Is that true?” the pumpkin asked, “was this all because of you?”
“Y-yes…so, please don’t punish them! Just take…”
“No more words,” the creature said, holding a leafy finger to its mouth.
The fact that not only had its voice deepened even more, but a rhyme did not follow this lone sentence, made me fear our time was at an end.
“YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!” it screamed, spitting pumpkin guts and seeds to the ground, “HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF SOMEONE JUST LET THEMSELVES INTO YOUR HOME!? WOULD YOU LET THEM LEAVE UNSCATHED!?”
“I’m so sorry, I…”
It lifted itself from its throne, standing twice the height of Derek as it glared down from its hollow, triangular eye holes. As what felt like minutes dragged by, we held this silent staring contest. Given all I had witnessed, I knew it wouldn’t let us leave this place with our lives. When the apparent lord of this madening place finally broke the suffocating silence, I would find my assumptions proven wrong once more.
“Three lost…three may yet be free…which one of you will stay here with me?”
Before I had the slightest chance to intervene, Derek stepped forward. As the creature slipped off the robe, revealing more of its hauntingly thin frame, my brother looked back at me with a smile; tears dripping down his face.
“I love you, kiddo.” were his last words before the filthy black fabric was thrown over my head, hiding whatever happened next from my eyes.
When I pulled the robe away to see only the outside of the old corn maze before me, I fell to the ground, unable to prevent the scream from breaching my lips. Even when the arms wrapped around my back, while the girls attempted to lift me back to my feet, my agonized wail would not let up.
In the weeks following the disappearance of my brother and his friends, the authorities searched every square inch of that labyrinth, as well as the woods surrounding it, but nothing was ever turned up. They even plowed the whole thing down, before digging in search of anything that remained of its victims. Ultimately, they couldn’t find so much as a trace of anyone it claimed for its own, but there was nothing left of the old corn maze by the time the work was done.
I can’t say that it surprised me when it turned back up by the next Halloween, though. I couldn’t help but wonder whether it grew back the natural way, or just sprouted out of the ground overnight. Given that I didn’t return to that awful place until the following October 31st, I have no idea how it returned, but I knew it would be there; didn’t doubt it for a second.
I didn’t go trick or treating that year, or any other after that last time. Sure, I let my folks think I did, but I had made arrangements for the ride back out there long before that night. I just had to see it for myself, you know? Just face off against that damned thing and beg for it to give back what it took from me.
Before I could enter, though, the pathway was blocked to me; not by the stalks forming another wall, but by the one who chose to stay behind to grant us freedom. In many ways, I wasn’t surprised to see him either, even if the hope of pulling him free from that place were short-lived.
We talked for a while that night and every Halloween that came after it. Even all these years later, he still looks as young as he did that last time we went door to door in search of bag loads of candy. It may be the only time I can see him, and he refuses to tell me what his existence consists of the other 364 days of the year, but I will carry on this tradition for as long as I am able.
Sandra and I are going to be parents soon. Yes, we’ve both been through our fair share of therapy over the years, as has her sister, but that awful night brought us closer than I could have ever imagined. Maybe it’s simply the fact that we could only confide in each other after that night, as nobody would believe our account of things. While the psychiatrists help, we haven’t exactly been forthcoming about everything with them.
Given my wife’s condition, I’d say there’s a good chance our son could be born any day now. I just hope that he doesn’t decide to wait until Halloween to make his grand entrance. I have an appointment to keep, after all; one that I hope to have him accompany me on when he’s old enough. It’s only right that he meets the man he’s named after.
I don’t know why that thing allowed us to leave that night; something that Derek claims he doesn’t have an answer for either, though I suspect he understands far more than he’s letting on. Perhaps someday, though, when my life has passed me by and I’m nearing the end of my journey; maybe then I’ll have the answers I seek.
When my final Halloween comes; when I visit that labyrinth for the last time, maybe it’ll allow me to enter again. If I can’t free my beloved brother, perhaps I can join him in whatever truly lies beneath the old corn maze, just outside the city limits.
Credit: William Rayne
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