The muzzle of the shotgun pressed painfully in Jed’s side. If he didn’t move soon, a cramp would form, and he wouldn’t be able to move. He tried to breathe silently, mouth closed around ragged streams kicking up damp earth. Sweet pungent fertilized soil filled his nostrils. It was good soil, his soil. This year’s corn crop was the biggest and finest sweet corn he’d produced in the 15 years since he’d taken over the place from his pa-God rest him.
Jed shifted his weight as quietly as he could, easing the shotgun’s polished mahogany stock out from underneath his body. It was old, a family heirloom-also part of his inheritance-and he wasn’t even sure that it would fire. He had grabbed it in the heat of the moment before rushing out headlong into the cornfield. He’d though it was just rats or maybe a cow or two had broken through the fence and began eating his corn, and he’d be damned if he would lose this harvest.
He’d woken up to the grinding crunching sounds, loud enough to drag him up from the depths of slumber. It was a horrific grotesque sound. Wet and relentless it clawed at his mind. He’d thought for a moment he was having some kind of a seizure, maybe a stroke. Been years since Jed had seen to a doctor, and he knew he hadn’t kept his health up the way he should have.
Slowly as consciousness cleared his senses, he realized the sounds were coming from the open bedroom window. It must have been amplified by the acoustics of the full field. How could he know? He had never had a full field before. He leapt out bed in alarm. This was his first and only full harvest on this godforsaken plot of shit land and he would be good-Goddamed if he let some animals eat his crop. It was his last chance to save himself from bankruptcy.
The bankers had been swarming like vultures, heavy and fat, full on the rotten corpses of the neighboring farms. Most of his neighbors had sold or foreclosed, Some big fancy organic farm, pretending to be a mom and pop establishment- the kind that sold veggies to the big fancy organic stores-had snapped them up like jacks.
Samuels and Sons, Jed scoffed under his breath. He doubted there was any Samuels, and he was sure as shit there weren’t any sons. In any case his farm was the last to go. If he didn’t agree to sell soon, the bank would foreclose and sell it for him, cutting him out of any profit he would stand to make. But he couldn’t just let it go like that. His family had worked the land for generations, first as slaves, then as sharecroppers and finally as owners outright. They had weathered hard times before and always they’d hung on. He couldn’t be the one to lose it. He had to try just this one last go of it. He would produce a yield that would keep him afloat. He felt it.
So, he’d cashed in the last of his inheritance. A couple of government bonds his ma has convinced his father to get when times were better. He’d been holding on to them for an emergency, and this certainly qualified. He bought a pile of fertilizer and a shit-ton of seed from the supply house in town and he’d gone to work like a man possessed. He plowed the field and set up the neat rows that would carry his crop. He seeded and watered and fertilized.
One night, early on in the process-the seed had not yet begun to sprout-he had walked out of his little clapboard farmhouse and down the steps. He was like a man in a trance. He walked out to the field carefully stepping between rows until he found himself in the very center. He unbuttoned the fly of his work denims and unzipped. He reached inside his briefs and pulled out his average sized penis. Still staring out at nothingness, he began to stroke himself, thinking about seeds and harvests, and dirt and fertilizer. His hand worked furiously, up and down his shaft, beads of sweat on his forehead turned to rivulets with the effort. Veins bulged and pulsated in his neck and through the thinning hair on his sunburnt scalp. Still he tugged and pulled and worked pleasurelessly against himself. Tears filled his eyes and as they spilled down his cheeks his body exploded in a hard bone wracking orgasm. The semen spewed from him in great ropey streams farther and longer than should be humanly possible, it covered the dirt in glistening whiteness. He came and came. Covering the entire field in the wet essence of himself. The air was pungent and salty, like iron and bread. He replaced his spent member in his pants, re-zipped his fly and turned and walked back out the way he’d come, careful to only step between the rows.
That next morning he’d remembered the previous night’s activities as if only as passing dream. That’s what they had to be he mused. A psychological manifestation of this desperation over this-his last-crop. He laughed at the ridiculousness of the dream, its simple metaphor for his circumstance. It wasn’t until the next night when he’d repeated the events, and the next, and the next, that Jed came to the realization that this was no recurring nightmare, but a recurring reality, a horrific, embarrassing, sickening display that he could neither account for nor prevent.
Mercifully the fifth night was the last. That next morning as if on cue, the crop had begun to sprout. Tiny shoots of crisp green peeked out of the soil, bright and cheery and full of hope. The soil itself was now dark and luxurious a wondrously deep earth, nearly black in its richness. Gone was the barely brown hardscrabble that had been there before. The crop grew fast and steady. Not quite faster than normal. Not quite…
58 days to be precise. The corn strained towards the sky the pods growing fat and heavy, the silk tipped stalks clean and shiny. Jed watered his fields faithfully he gently measured the pods testing their heft and give, he talked to his crop, and sometimes when the wind was just right, he would swear that he could hear it respond. That’s why the noises were so distressing. He was terrified something was going to destroy his hard work, rip out his crop before it could fulfill its purpose, before it could save him.
He had rushed down the front porch steps gun drawn, ready so sacrifice any animal that had gotten in his way. As he breached the rows, he realized why the noise was so loud, it was coming from all around! Millions of teeth gnashing and gnawing his millions of beautiful kernels. He whirled around frantic, panicking, maybe instead of a million little teeth it was only a few dozen big teeth. He began to tremble, real fear threatening to overtake his better judgement. He pushed further into the field when something snaked around his ankle, tripping him up. He hit the ground with a heavy thud forcing the air out of his body with a comical whoosh.
The barrel of the rifle dug into his side painfully. He was lucky he hadn’t shot himself. Jed tried to lift himself up, get to his knees, but the something around his ankle squeezed tighter and yanked him back, pulling him off balance planting his face back in the dirt. It snaked its way up his ankle and around his calves. Slithering up and around his buttocks and pulling taut around his thin bird like chest. It held him fast but not painfully tight. It was the corn, several stalks had bowed towards the ground twining their bodies around him, gripping and holding him firm. He struggled against the grip and it loosened a bit. Enough to free up his breathing but not enough to free up his movements.
That’s when he heard the screaming. Full throated screams of pain and terror carried over the air across the field. Followed by that horrible crunching grinding smacking, the unmistakable sounds of chewing. Something was making a meal. Jed was now not so sure it was his corn that was on the menu. He stopped struggling and lay still in the dirt.
The early morning sun crested the horizon. It cast a long swath of cheerful warmth that in an hour or so, would be strong enough to burn off the wetness of the evening dew. Jed realized that he had been dozing. He looked down at his bindings, the stalks slid across his chest lazily releasing him from their grip. They raised themselves up towards the sky a slow almost sensual sun salutation. Jed lifted himself off the ground and stretched, muscles straining, and joints popping. He’d been in a fairly awkward position all night and he would feel that in his body for a couple of days he thought grimly. He picked up the old rifle that lay partially buried in the soil and dusted off the probably useless weapon before slinging it over his shoulder.
Jed walked through the rows. The corn was magnificent, green and strong. Fat ears dangled tantalizingly with shimmery silk blowing in the early morning breeze. As he gazed across the rows taking inventory of any damage-so far there was none-his eyes landed the smallest droplet of red. A startling contrast against the leaves. He moved gingerly through the rows. One, two, three more droplets glared out at him against the green. Staring up at him, like wet eyes crimson and accusatory. The father he pressed, the redder the trail.
Jesus, it looks like a massacre out here. He followed the blood out towards the field’s outer edge and the service road beyond. Jed kept going, afraid of what he might find, but compelled to continue. As he reached the perimeter of the field two sharp beams of light sliced through the dimness of the early morning. Jed pushed through the final stalks of the cornfield.
A familiar truck sat parked on the access road. Head facing his field, headlights on. The driver’s side door was open. The wind changed direction. Now he could hear the familiar ding, ding, ding, the standard automobile warning wail. Alerting a driver when the door was left ajar or the lights were left on-both in this case. It was quiet, dying. The battery was running down. The truck must have been sitting in this state all night. Jed had a sinking feeling in his guts, where the occupants were. Or rather where they weren’t.
He walked down into the shallow drainage ditch that separated the road from the field and stopped short. Another blast of red screamed out against all the lush green. But this was not more blood. A bright cheerful looking canister sat abandoned in the ditch. He walked over to it and picked it up. GASOLINE it yelled in bold white capital letters. The canister was full, its contents hadn’t been emptied into his field as was-he was sure-its intended purpose. He carried the gas can over to the truck and walked around the side. Samuels and Sons was plastered on the driver’s side door, one of those expensive magnetic signs you could get to advertise your business.
Jesus, Jed thought, They didn’t even have sense enough to take their sign off the truck. He shook his head ruefully and turned back towards the cornfield, his cornfield, and started back towards his small clapboard house, still carrying the gas can. Gas was expensive these days, no sense in letting it go to waste. As he breached the rows, he noticed there was less blood than before. How is that possible? He stopped and watched as the leaves greedily absorbed the red droplets. By full sunrise, there would be none left. No evidence. He’d leave the truck the way he found it. If someone came looking for a Samuels or a son, they’d have to implicate themselves in the attempted arson in order to implicate him. Besides he hadn’t done anything.
Just a farmer tending his crop.