Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
Hey there. Are you lost? Me too. Aw there there, don’t be scared, someone will come along. Someone always comes along. Sooner or later.
I’m Amy. We can wait here till someone finds us. In the meantime, would uh… would you like to trade? Yeah I’ll tell you a story and, well… you listen to it. It’s a great way to pass the time, you know.
So do you want to trade?
Ok, my story happened a long time ago, I got lost then too. I kinda feel like I’m always lost, you know?
It was late September when my family and I took the visit to the Great Corn Maze Farm. This was the largest corn maze in the state and we had traveled for nearly two hours just to get here. The farm boasted 5 separate mazes all intertwined into the corn field. They ranged from “Lil’ Pumpkin Path” that was the easy level, to the “Devil’s Labyrinth” the longest and hardest maze in the field. The Devil’s Labyrinth was nothing to laugh about, it wound around and around in horrid circles and had long twisting paths leading to dead ends. Without any direction you could get completely turned around in there and spend hours trying to find your way out. Luckily, you could grab a maze map at the entrance so you wouldn’t have to wander around hopelessly lost. Although for me getting lost in a corn maze is usually half the fun.
This maze had a reputation for being creepy and strange. At my high school there were all kinds of rumors about the Great Corn Maze, especially about Devil’s Labyrinth. Some kids swore that strange creatures or demonic scarecrows or other such monstrosities lived in the maze and came out at night to steal souls or eat brains or whatever. I never believed any of them, they were just lots of silly Halloween type stories just told to frighten people. Only one rumor floated around that had any kind of menace. It was really simple, just an old newspaper clipping about a little boy that went to the Great Corn Maze last year, he went into the maze, and simply never came out again. No one knew why… maybe he got lost…
But things like that didn’t really happen to people, and like I said, I didn’t believe in silly rumors. No silly rumor was going to spoil my birthday trip! No way!
Or so I believed…
We drove up to the farm, bumping over the dirt roads. Eagerly I gazed out the window at the huge green cornfield, unable to contain my excitement. I loved corn mazes and this was the best one ever! Late September was my birthday and this year, my family had splurged just to bring me here! I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to wander through the rows of sweet smelling corn… We pulled up to the dirt and hay field that served as a parking lot, driving our little Nissan over the rough mud ruts. We all got out, Mom, Dad, my cousin and me.
We passed by the other attractions at the Farm. There was a hayride, a little train ride that went around and around, a carousel, a petting zoo, an obstacle course, an empty field for pumpkin throwing, a typical haunted house, and various other little food vendors and kid playground attractions. There weren’t many people here today, and many of the vendors were closed up. But then again it was the early part of the season. Halloween was still weeks away, so it would make sense that not everything was open. Unfortunately…..
“They closed the maze?!?!” I exclaimed as I stared in shock at the cheap wooden sign hanging over the maze entrance, forbidding passage to my birthday adventure.
“Fraid so,” mumbled a farmhand that worked there.
“Why?” I asked, disappointed. “Isn’t the maze finished?”
“Uh huh. The maze is all there, but um… well the corn ain’t ripe enough. Field is still too green.”
I didn’t like the way he said that; somehow that hesitation in his voice told me that he was lying. “Come on, you gotta be kidding me! Couldn’t we just go inside for a little while?”
“No, absolutely not!”
“But why?!” I didn’t mean to act like such a baby, but I just couldn’t help it.
“I told you why! Field is too green, and anyways we ain’t got the maps printed. You can’t go in there without a map.”
“I don’t need a map… ”
“Without a map, ma’am… ” he leaned in close to whisper to me. “You might get lost.”
“Pfff, I don’t mind getting a little lost.”
For some strange reason this seemed to upset him greatly. “No ma’am. You don’t want to be lost in there. You don’t ever want to be lost in there!” Then he caught himself and replied more casually, “I sure don’t ever want to be lost in there, I always carry a map and so does everybody else, cause no one wants to be lost in there! You hear? We ain’t got the maps so the Maze is closed!”
I could not believe it. My birthday trip and the main attraction was down because they didn’t have the stupid maps, and the corn wasn’t ripe? It wasn’t fair. As my family and I walked away to enjoy the train and the hayride and all the other little attractions that the Farm offered, I kept stealing sullen glances at the closed corn field. I watched the beautiful green stalks sway in the autumn wind, beckoning me. I wanted so badly to go in there, to smell the growing corn, to run laughing down the paths with my arms outstretched, winding and twisting ever deeper into the maze until I became lost and playfully found my way out with my map, only to rush back in and get lost all over again. But that luxury had been stolen from me… It just wasn’t fair.
“Amy, Helllllllloooooo? Are you lost or something?” my cousin’s voice snapped me out of my reverie. “Huh what?”
“I asked if you wanted to go to the petting zoo with us?” my cousin repeated.
My mother joined the conversation. “If you didn’t want to go to the petting zoo, then you and I could go shop for some souvenirs over there, maybe pick out a birthday present? Or you could venture over there and do the Haunted House? You would have to go by yourself though…”
I glanced over where the Haunted House was. I enjoyed haunted houses, but I already knew this one. Plastic looking but still with a gory edge to it, loud music and sound effects came from that corner of the field along with shouts from the costumed people within.
“Yeah,” I decided. “I’ll take in the haunted house and maybe the train ride again.”
“Ok sweetheart.” Said my mother. “We’ll all meet up right here again in two hours. Have fun! Don’t get lost, sweetie, don’t get lost!”
I waved goodbye to my family and walked away… I should have listened closer to those last words, “Don’t Get Lost”
But like I said before, getting lost is half of the fun….
I stopped to grab an ear of roasted corn from a nearby food vendor. It was piping hot, so I left it in the bag to cool for a little while and followed the screams that led to the Haunted house. I smiled wondering what kinds of halloweeny scenes they had made this year. As I started to go up to the entrance, a sudden gust of wind blew me back slightly. I heard a soft papery sound at my feet and when I looked down, I saw a thin corn husk blowing in the breeze along the dusty ground. It flew up in a small whirlwind and then breezed around the side of the Haunted house. I didn’t know why, but it felt like I ought to follow it. Somehow, I needed to see where the wind took it. So I darted after it. The papery husk flew in front of me, then ducked around the corner of another building. Growing ever curious, I followed around the corner….
…and there was the Corn Field, tall and green and wonderful before me. I watched the green stalks bow with the breeze, seeming to welcome me back after a year of waiting. I caught a whiff of the green scent of corn on the breeze. It smelled like the sweetest perfume, rich and irresistible. Looking around I saw that no one was near this part of the field, and I ducked under a feeble roped off walkway. I tiptoed along the outer perimeter of the corn field, stepping carefully over ruts made by a tractor. I dared to get close enough to touch one of the growing stalks. Huh, that was weird, it seemed… warm. Must be the sun, I thought.
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw the papery corn husk again. It floated on a gust and blew along the perimeter, staying just within my vision. I couldn’t seem to help myself, I followed it. Like it was drawing me to some amazing discovery, and that if I just kept going, just kept walking around the edge of the field, I would find it.
And I did find it.
An exit that led INTO the maze!
I was looking at one of the five maze exits that led people out of the corn field. But this time it seemed to be pulling me in. The wind swept over the corn stalks making them bow and sway, calling to me. Beckoning me to enter their lair of greenery. All day long I had been wishing that I could run into the corn maze, run and laugh and enjoy the winding trails that led through the cornrows and now here was my chance! Nervously, I looked around, afraid that I would get caught wandering around. But the area was empty. Nobody noticed me, the coast was clear. Cautiously, I tiptoed up to the maze pathway, their perfumed scent flooding my mind with a kind of childlike joy, and silently I entered the lush jungle of bowing stalks.
Left turn, right turn, middle fork, left turn, right turn, right turn, dead end. Go back and take the right fork… I was grinning and running with my arms outstretched as though I could fly, my fingertips grazing past the ears of green corn, not yet ripe. One hand clutched my bag with my ear of roasted corn still in it. I was so happy! I felt this total euphoric freedom and rebellion against the stupid people that had closed the maze today. I couldn’t see why they had, the field was perfect! Maybe a little muddy perhaps, but otherwise perfect! I ran and ran, trying not to laugh with joy, lest someone heard me and caught me. I danced around the corners loving the smell of the fresh green stalks and the feel of the warm sun and cool breezes. Oops another dead end. I grinned and spun around taking another right fork and running around a zigzag of freestanding stalks in a large square clearing before finally I came to a halt, breathing hard but feeling amazingly happy, as my birthday wish had come true.
I took out my cooled ear of roasted corn and bit into it. Mmm the sweet taste of the golden kernels mixed with melted butter had never tasted so sweet as they did in that beautiful field. I gobbled up about half of the ear, put it back and decided that it was time to head back the way I had come. I had my fun, but I sure didn’t want to get caught in here. I gazed around the large square empty clearing with joy then turned back toward the entrance path. Or rather…. the exit path…. right?
Take a left turn, right turn, right turn, left, right, right, left, I stepped back along the path trying to recall the way I had come. Most of the path looked ok, but it seemed to be taking a while. I turned left again, and again, then the path went straight for a while and came to a fork. “Did I take that fork from the left, or from the right?” I thought to myself. I kept going, further and further. For no apparent reason, an image from the story of Alice in Wonderland flickered into my mind, poor Alice was wandering through the Tulgey Wood and getting lost; she kept saying to herself, “Did I come this way, or that way? This way or that way?”
“Wait, I don’t remember a T junction here…” I said out loud, a flicker of worry crossed my mind. I didn’t have a map and I was starting to not remember coming this way at all. “We ain’t got the maps…. without a map you might get lost…” the farmhand’s warning floated through my mind like the echoing moan of a lonely ghost. I shook off my slight fear and doubled back for a while. At the next junction, I took a different path certain that I would find my way back to the exit again. After all, I hadn’t come that far…. had I?
The wind blew the stalks together and made murmuring noises. “This way or that way? This way or that way?” They seemed to be whispering. I felt a slight touch of claustrophobia as I gazed at the green pillars growing high above my head. Where at first the corn stalks had seemed so welcoming, now they seemed to be staring at me, lifeless green husk-eyes that followed my every move as I continued down the winding twisting paths. A series of left turns gave me a sudden flash of hope, and then crushed me as I came to an unfamiliar dead end. I was getting lost, but this time it wasn’t fun! Panic started to grip at my heart, I ran faster down the pathway, looking down every corner for a familiar junction, somewhere I knew I had been. Had I come this way, or did I go that way? This way or that way? This way or that way? My heart was starting to pound frightfully in my chest. I looked toward the green stalks for some kind of answer; but now the rows seemed to glare coldly back at me, the pathway looked darker and more forbidding.
I stopped along the path trying to get my heartbeats to slow down. I breathed hard, trying to calm down. I had to still be near the rest of the farm, I thought. I listened for a sound from one of the other rides, the whistle from the train ride, the familiar sound effects coming from the haunted house… I listened expecting to hear phony screams and families laughing… I listened for any sound that might give me comfort. All I heard was the rustling whisper of the wind through the corn… and footsteps.
I concentrated hard as I stayed where I was and listened. Yes! Soft footsteps coming from in front of me, no… behind me…. no… where were they? I spun around trying to find a person, a face, some source of the tiny footfalls. Was that a child walking so softly? “Hello?” I called out. I no longer cared if I got caught by the farm workers anymore, I just wanted to be out of there, I wanted to be out of the maze and with my family, I wanted to not be lost anymore. “Hello?”
Silence. The footsteps had stopped, even the wind had stopped.
“Oh Amy, why did you wander in here?” I asked myself, shivering. “Why didn’t you listen to the workers and just stay out of the maze?” I didn’t even know which maze I was in, the exits all looked alike. I really hoped I wasn’t in the Devil’s Labyrinth. Without a map, it might be dark before I managed to find my way out again. I started to run down the path. It couldn’t be very much farther, I thought. I ran faster and faster, a few of the green corn husks slapped at my face. The ground grew wetter and slippery. Suddenly I tripped over a broken corn stalk and went sprawling, down down, face down into a patch of rotten smelling mud.
Pain shot up my knee and my left side, and I gagged as my mouth filled with greasy muck. I spat and groaned and tried not to be sick. God I hope they didn’t use pesticides in their corn. Wiping mud from my hands and my face, I looked down and saw that my left knee was bleeding, my jeans torn, my shirt ripped where it caught on a sharp ear of corn. All I kept thinking was: how could I have let myself get lost in this maze?
I glared at the corn stalks around me, now I was angry. I felt betrayed, like this maze had lured me in here, like the sweet sticky maw of a Venus Flytrap. Here I was, lost and afraid and struggling to get out! I stared up at the yellowing stalks and wanted to scream.Furiously I grabbed a nearby ear of ripe corn and shook the dry husk from the cob…. I blinked at the ripening kernels. Slowly I looked around at the golden yellow stalks, swaying like a dry wheat field.
I thought the corn was still green? Why did this area seem so dry and yellow? My questions went unanswered as a sudden chill ran down my spine. I turned around and tried to go back the way I had come. But this wasn’t the way I had come, not at all. The pathway seemed totally different now, the furrows were dry now, not muddy like they had been before; and the corn was ripe and golden everywhere, and the wind felt cold and crisp. Like late-October wind. Or mid-November wind. I shivered and turned down a long unfamiliar corridor with a dozen different paths to follow, I tried the first left path and got a dead end. I tried to turn around but suddenly the corridor wasn’t there and the path veered off to the right. I went along until the path split into a fork, I went left but soon changed my mind and turned around to take the right path, but there was no right path, the corn rows had closed into a dead end behind me. I couldn’t understand any of this! Was I going this way? Or was I coming that way? This way or that way? This way or that way?
I fled down the pathways faster and faster, feeling panic rise in my chest and an acidic bile taste rising steadily my throat. My heart began to pound and my bleeding knee throbbed. Every few seconds I looked behind me and each time the paths were different than they had been before. Then I flew back around again only to find the open path I had been walking had turned to another dry dead end. Now the dead end was behind me… now there were two dead ends and no paths! Now the dead ends were really a four way intersection that stretched on and on and on forever! My head started to spin, nothing was making sense anymore! This way or that way? This way or that way!?!
I clutched at my ears and shut my eyes tightly. Stop it! I thought. This isn’t happening! This is not happening! You’ve got to pull yourself together and get out of this damn maze!” I stayed like that for a while, thinking, hoping that it was a dream, that I would open my eyes and be safe in bed. But I could still hear the wind rustle through the rows, mocking me, Thissss waaaay or thaaaat waaaay? Thisss waaaaaaaaaaay or thaaaaaaaat waaaay?
I opened my eyes and finally saw a place that I had been before! The old square clearing with the zigzag of freestanding corn stalks. I had somehow wandered back into that same clearing again! Only….. the corn stalks were now a rich golden yellow, the husks papery thin and many of them littered the pathway, the ears of corn were going dry and overripe, the sky was a stormy gray with a cold bitter wind that whipped at my face.
I trembled with fear. Just how long had I been in this field? It had only been a little while right?A few minutes…. a few hours….. a few days….. a few weeks…..
“No no no no no no no no no no!” I couldn’t let myself think like that. It wasn’t possible, I simply couldn’t have been lost in here for that long! Could I?
Voices floated in my head. More disembodied ghostly moans… warnings that I had not listened to… my friends telling their scary rumor stories…. ‘People would wander into the maze,’ they would say, ‘and never come out again. They would go on wandering this way or that way, this way or that way and never be seen again….’
“Help!” I finally screamed. I grasped the dry corn stalks and shook them like prison bars. “Someone help me! I can’t get out! I’m lost! Help me!!!!” I cried and shook and ran around the clearing, feeling terrified. I was afraid to venture along another path, afraid I might never find my way out again. Afraid that I would be lost among the rows and rows of corn stalks, wandering this way and that way….forever….
Wait, I suddenly looked down and realized that I was still holding the bag that held the half eaten roasted ear of corn I had just bought. I opened it up quickly, perhaps the sight of that fresh roasted food might bring me back to reality, might remind me that I was not really in this Rip Van Winkle nightmare all around me. I grabbed the wrapped paper that held the other half of the corn cob and opened my mouth wide to bite into that sweet buttery corn, to taste reality again…..
And screamed as a million crawling black bugs swarmed out of the paper and down my hands, arms and into my mouth.
“Ohhhhhhhhh!” I flung the bag away and swatted at the mass of legs and black shells furiously. I felt them slide down my shirt, wriggling up my sleeves, crawling up my face, biting me, stinging me, everywhere, millions of them! I gagged as I felt a stinging crawling sensation inside my mouth, and bending over I puked my guts out, watching as the black intruders struggled in the pool of sick brown liquid. Somewhere in my mind, I wondered if I had really eaten any corn at all, or if I had really been eating those stinging black bugs the whole time…. “Ohhhhh”
I ran. I ran without stopping or thinking; I couldn’t see any paths anymore, just corn. Rows and rows of corn, stretching endlessly on and on. I ran, stumbling over the rutted cornrows, the dry stalks clutching at my hair, ducking under dry corn husks swarming with bugs and mold, the stench of dry rotting plants invaded my nose. And still I ran, I ran till I couldn’t see, ran till my sides ached, till I couldn’t breathe, and still I ran and ran and finally I tripped and fell…..
Into a puddle of mud.
Eewww! I gagged as the muddy water filled my mouth and nose. I sat up quickly and wiped my eyes, but I felt afraid to open them, afraid of what I would see now. I froze, as the faint sound of soft footsteps approached me…
“Are you ok?”asked a tiny voice.
“Huh?” I looked up quickly and saw a young boy, about 6 or 7 years old. He was looking at me down in the puddle I just fell into. I looked around at the normal green corn rows, the simple square clearing with the zigzag of green cornstalks, the muddy ruts, sounds from the nearby train and haunted house attractions wafted by. The perfumed scent of green corn drifted around us. Everything was normal, everything was ok.
“Yeah, kid.” I exhaled a sigh of relief as I wiped muddy water away from my face and grinned. “I’m doing great.”
“Wanna trade?” he said holding out a napkin for me to wipe the mud off with.
“Sure.” I took the napkin and wiped my face with it and stood up. I looked at the dusty little face and realized I had nothing to trade with. “How come you are in here?” I asked.
“I got lost.” he said. “But I knew that someone would come along and find me. Someone always comes along. That’s what she told me.”
“Umm.. who told you?” I asked, mildly confused. I started to notice the dark circles under his eyes and the haunting way he was looking at me.
“The girl I saw. When I got lost in here, I met a girl and she was lost, and she had met another girl who was lost, and the other girl met a man with a cloak and scary eyes. The man said: whenever a person gets lost in here, they have to wait for someone to come along. And when they do, then they can trade.”
“Trade? Trade, what?” I felt my mouth go dry, why did this thin little kid scare me so badly?
The little boy let out a sigh like the dry rustling of the corn stalks. “Trade…. souls. So that the person who was lost in here can go home.”
I decided right then that I didn’t like this story at all. I dropped the napkin he had given me and started to back away. He looked up at me with his haunted eyes and gave that low rustling sigh again.
“Mommy told me not to go in here, but I did. I didn’t have a map so I got lost, and I didn’t know how to get out. I went this way and I went that way, but I couldn’t get out. Then I met that girl and she wanted me to trade with her and I did. I’ve been lost in here for a whole year.”
“Wait… wait!” my mind was reeling from the strain of trying to make sense of it all. The corn, the changing, frightening maze and now this haunted thin figure masquerading as a little boy. “You couldn’t be lost in here that long! You just couldn’t! Someone…. someone would find you! Someone would help…” I sputtered to a silence.
His dusty head shook from side to side as though it were blown by the parched wind. “Not while we are lost in here. No one can find us if we are lost…. ”
The ghostly warning voices returned with a laughing, ironic hopelessness. Without a map, you might get lost. You don’t ever want to be lost in there. I always carry a map, no one wants to get lost… Even my own mother’s voice calling to me, Don’t get lost, sweetie, don’t get lost…
“The maps…” I whispered more to myself than anything. “They didn’t open the maze because they didn’t have any maps…”
“I didn’t have a map, so I got lost.” his eyes gazed hollowly from that dusty solemn face. “Everybody else always has a map, so they never get lost, so they never found me. Until you came along… ” The skeletal little figure bent down and picked up the napkin, when he looked up again, he was smiling. His smile resembled that of a grinning skull, a death smile. “Thank you for trading with me.”
“No….. no….” I shook my head violently as though trying to shake off muddy water, or crawling black bugs, or moldy ears of corn…. I scrambled for the nearest path, the sounds of the rest of the farm seemed to be fading into the distance, I chased them hopelessly. “Please, ” I begged to the corn, to the sky, to anybody. “Please, let me out! I don’t want to be lost anymore!” The wind whipped at my face like a knife, an icy cold, jagged knife at my heart…. so sharp… so cold….
His tiny haunted voice seem to float into my ears. “Don’t be scared, the other girl told me that someone will come along and you’ll get to trade souls and go home. Sooner or later, someone will come along. Someone always comes along.
Creepy huh? Yeah, that happened to me about five years ago. Still gets me every time I think about it. I wonder how he’s doing sometimes…. but anyway that is my story.
Oh and by the way…
Thanks for trading with me.
Remember, I asked you if you wanted to trade with me, and you did.
It won’t do you any good to run away, this corn maze won’t let you go until you’ve made the trade, believe me. After five years of wandering this way and wandering that way, I know. The maze will keep you lost, and won’t let you go.
But don’t be scared. You’ll get your chance. Sooner or later, someone will come along.
Someone always comes along.
Credit To – B.J. Byrd