A Memorial Page For Harry Earon Barnes
HARRY EARON BARNES
This page is for Earon Barnes, my publisher and friend. He published some of my stories. Later we wrote stories for each other. He was Harrison and I was Marie. This page is to preserve the stories I wrote for him, and some of the letters and a story he wrote for me, and also to publish the new stories in the Harrison and Marie series I will write for him. The photograph of him is the only one I have, copied from an e-mail he sent me long ago. The story on this page, THE CORN MOON, was the first one I wrote for him. There will be more, and he will not be forgotten. His website is on the Internet Archive, accessible by the WayBackMachine. They have several pages of his website preserved. Later I will include links to these pages. His art work is on the website, as well as stories and articles by various other writers.
Earon made his website on the now out of business Geocities for his friend Lewis Sanders. Lewis had originally published a small magazine called THE MISS LUCY WESTENRA SOCIETY OF THE UNDEAD. Later Earon remade the magazine of vampire fiction (dedicated to Bram Stoker's Miss Lucy, heroine of the novel DRACULA) on the just emerging Internet for Lewis. Lewis had planned to publish some of my vampire fiction in his original magazine, but ran out of money to publish the paper magazine anymore. Earon later published some of the stories I wrote on the website and that Lewis had originally planned to publish in his magazine..
Later Earon also started making a website just to publish my novel, NIGHTMARE HOUSE, that I was working on at that time. I don't know how much of the unfinished story he published, or where it is published. I know I sent him the chapters as I wrote and typed them up, but they were only for him to read. I finally asked him not to publish anymore until I got the material proofread! Later I will search the Internet Archive for the material he did publish, although I have all the handwritten manuscript of NIGHTMARE HOUSE that is finished so far, and plan to finish and publish it here. I would like to preserve the work Earon did for me too, though, although without the web address, it might be impossible to find. I was only able to find his Miss Lucy website because I had saved the address of it. I will see what I can do, though, and keep the progress on this posted here. I love to do research almost as much as I love to write, so when I get some time I will see if I can find that or anymore information about Earon's life history to post here as a memorial to him.
Later, as I publish more on Earon's page and also in some of the blog entries, I will include the links to all of his website pages. According to the Internet Archive, old websites on the WayBackMachine can be linked to, but I will have to do more research to find out how to do that.
Later I will also try to find out more about Lewis Sanders. I lost touch with him and think he was old then, so he may no longer be alive. If I can find out anything, and especially if there are any links to any of his material on the Internet, other that the website Earon made for him, I will post that here too.
This page will also be the place to check for links to more vampire fiction that I will post as I find stories of interest and have time for this. To start, when I add to this page, I will include a link to Bram Stoker's DRACULA, now long out of copyright and free to read online. That should be easy to find the link to because Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive probably both have copies. So please check back later on Earon's Page and also the blog for this website for more of my vampire fiction and also reviews of other vampire stories and links to where you can read the stories. I will only review stories that are free to read on Earon's Page, in the spirit of his Miss Lucy page that was free to read.
Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this first story titled THE CORN MOON that I wrote for Earon. This is the first time it has been published.
MAMA'S AUGUST LILIES
AUGUST 12, 1978
PHOTOGRAPH BY HAZEL FERN HENSON
THE CORN MOON
MARY HAZEL UPTON
The end of the world came on a late September day, the day the farmers of Carrollton County began harvesting the corn. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. First I’d better tell you a little about myself, and how I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and how my friend, Harrison, and I barely saved the world from destruction.
My name is Marie Curtis. I’m twenty-two years old. I’m five foot, three inches tall, and a hundred and fifteen pounds. I have brown hair that I keep cut very short because I don’t like to bother with it. Mostly I wear blue jeans, the older and more faded and patched, the better I like them.
I don’t have a boyfriend. It’s important to my story that you know that. I like to spend a lot of time alone, and I don’t trust men. All I’ve seen of most men is that they start out by saying “I love you”, and want to end up owning me. And I don’t like that. I saw too much of that with my own mother and father. I love them both very much, but I never wanted to get married and live like my mother does.
At least that’s what I thought until I met Harrison. Harrison is different than other men. When he says “I love you”, I know I can still trust him.
At the time this story starts, though, I hadn’t met Harrison Wright yet.
I was born and lived in Midway, Indiana all of my twenty-two years. All my life, I’ve wanted to travel, probably because I’d never been more than a hundred miles from home when I was growing up. That’s how I happened to be in Carrollton County when what was supposed to be the end of the world and the biggest harvest season ever started.
Before I get on with my story you need to know one more thing about me, the most important thing. I’m a writer. I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was six years old and first learned to write. I’ve gotten a few of them published. A couple years ago I found out I could actually make money with my writing by writing articles. I still prefer writing stories and poetry, but I can and do write anything. Mostly I write articles for the little magazines that don’t pay much, but do pay. There are a million of them. The professional writers won’t bother with them, and the amateur writers aren’t good enough to sell to them. That makes them an easy sale for me.
Anyway, after I started selling articles to any of the magazines that would buy them, always on the lookout for new markets, I discovered the travel magazines. I sold a few travel articles on Southern Indiana destinations to Travel World.
I’d been working at K-Mart in Midway then, and saving my money, with the vague idea of saving enough to see some of the USA.
I queried Travel World, writer’s jargon for sending out a sales letter. They were interested in my idea of a series of articles on my proposed travels in Indiana.
So I quit my job at K-Mart and started north on Highway 31 in my old Chevrolet pickup truck that Daddy had helped me fix up as a camper.
I ran low on money in Carrollton County, and decided to get a job and stay for awhile. I’d planned on taking my time crossing the state anyway.
It was a hot day in August when I stopped at the Crossroads Quik Stop Mart to fill the truck up with gas. I noticed the “help wanted” notice on their sign over the gas pumps.
“We need cashiers and also a part-time chicken cook,” Tina, the Quik Stop Mart manager told me as I paid for my fried chicken dinner.
“I’d like to fill out an application for the chicken cook job.”
The chicken was delicious, almost as good as Mama’s. After I ate my dinner, I filled out the application, sitting at one of the little tables that made up the dining area.
I remember the pink August lilies growing outside the big glass windows. Mama always had August lilies. They bloom in August, pink flowers on tall leafless stems. The leaves come after the flowers are gone.
To my surprise, Tina interviewed and hired me on the spot.
“Can you start tomorrow afternoon?” she asked me.
“No problem. I just got into town, though. Is there a campground around here?”
“Not in Crossroads. There’s one just outside of Libertyville, about twenty miles north of Crossroads. It’s called River View and it’s a nice quiet place.” She gave me directions to the campground.
I rented a small camping trailer on a lot right on the Wabash River from the owners of River View, Frank and Eva Smith. My pickup truck is O.K. for short term camping, but I planned to be in the area for a few months at least, maybe until spring. And I needed a real home to set up my computer and get some articles out to Travel World.
I worked from 2 P.M. to 7 P.M. five days a week, frying chicken. One day a week, so that the other cook, Jane, could have a day off, I worked the whole shift from 9 A.M. to 7 P.M.
I didn’t particularly like the long day, but I didn’t plan to be working at the Crossroads Quik Stop Mart forever. One thing I’d discovered, just after I’d started traveling, was the feeling of freedom it brought. As one little town after another became just a memory to me, back in each one of them, the people who lived there went on with their lives just as they had yesterday and would tomorrow. A new adventure was awaiting me as I drove north, leaving them behind.
It is like that for me at the Crossroads Quik Stop Mart too. Jane and her husband, Joe, had been working at the Quik Stop for two years. They’d probably be here for another two years. The cashiers and the people in the Subway Shop never stayed more than a few months. Neither did any of the previous assistant chicken cooks. Tina had been working here for five years. Tina’s grandmother, who helped out on the register, was one of the old line families in Carrollton County. She knew everybody in the county and the history of years back. So were many of the customers who came in at lunch time to buy my chicken as fast as I could fry it. They were mostly farmers, the “ruling class” in this rural area where the main crops were corn and hogs.
It was from these overheard conversations that I got the first disquieting hints of the end of the world. It was almost too late by the time I understood what those cryptic hints meant. If Harrison hadn’t arrived in the nick of time to save me, I wouldn’t be writing this story now. I would be dead.
Harrison, my sweet love, and my best friend, still hadn’t entered this story yet, though. He wouldn’t arrive in Carrollton County until that late September day, the one scheduled for the end of the world. It was still August now. Mid August was rapidly slipping into late August.
The days passed in a predictable and pleasant routine for me in this little microcosm of time, made sweeter by the fact that I was just passing through. I recorded everything in my diary for use in future stories.
I spent my mornings writing in my cozy little trailer. Once I got the backlog of articles owed to Travel World out, I worked on my novel. I wouldn’t write anymore potboilers until I need money again, and right now, even though my job didn’t pay much, it was enough for my modest needs.
With nothing but time, and peace and quiet, the pages of The Stone Angel, began to pile up. I write Gothic romances. In case you aren’t familiar with this genre, back in the late ‘60’s and early 70’s, long before my time, publishers were publishing this genre by the truck load. The plots are all the same. A young, innocent heroine arrives at a sinister mansion either as a governess or orphaned heiress. She is soon marked for murder when she begins to learn too much about the house’s dark secrets. Just in time the hero saves her and they live happily ever after.
This genre still partially survives as romantic suspense, but the true Gothic romances with their paperback covers depicting the heroines in long dresses in front of old mansions survive only in dusty used bookstores now. That’s where I used to buy them by the sack full when I was a teenager. One day I decided I could write a better one, so I started The Stone Angel, my first novel.
I quit writing in time to eat dinner and get ready to go to work. My afternoons and early evenings were spent in my other life at the Crossroads Quik Stop Mart.
I had my own private place to work there, which I especially liked. I was friendly with everybody, but only made acquaintances, not friends. Partly because I was just passing through, but mostly because that’s how I am. I have heard all my life that there are two kinds of people, leaders and followers. I never believed it because I am neither. One day in my eclectic reading, I came across a book on psychology. It mentioned a third kind of person, an observer. I instantly knew that’s where I fit in. Everybody I meet is always being filed away in my mind, just like everything else, for future story material.
All I did at the Crossroads Quik Stop Mart was fry chicken and keep the kitchen clean. I had a flour covered radio that I changed to the local oldies station each afternoon, and carefully reset to Jane’s country music station each evening when I closed the kitchen for the night. Usually I had chicken for supper.
Evenings I walked in the campground by the river, and sometimes visited with Eva, the owner, or my neighbors in the trailer next to me. Mostly I worked on my novel again until bedtime.
It was late August when I started sensing something wrong about Carrollton County. I was bringing out a dishpan of chicken to put in the warmer by the register. Anna, Tina’s grandmother, was working the register. The lunch rush was over, and the supper crowd hadn’t come in yet, so she had time to visit with the customers, which she loved to do. One of the farmers, a gray haired man in overalls, was buying chicken, lingering to visit with Anna.
“Is she a maiden?” he asked Anna.
“I can’t say for sure, of course,” Anna replied, “but she seems innocent. She never talks about herself much, but she’s never mentioned a boyfriend, and she ignores the boys in the Subway Shop. Not like most of the young girls.”
“Not a thought but boys in their silly heads,” Anna added, shaking her gray head disapprovingly.
“Maybe she’s just shy,” the old farmer suggested.
“Maybe. But several of the boys have tried to talk to her, and she’d made it clear she isn’t interested. I’ve seen how maidens act, and how the ones who aren't maidens act, and I’d be willing to bet the harvest that she’s a maiden.”
I won’t say I’m not in the habit of eavesdropping. A writer is always eavesdropping on other people’s lives and converting them into stories. Usually I just go about my own business, though, acting as if I’m not interested, and it’s surprising what I hear. This conversation was too peculiar to be real, though, especially nowadays. I’d never heard anyone except in historical romance novels use the word maiden to mean a virgin, as I’m sure Anna and the farmer meant.
I usually don’t assume people are talking about me. Most people are too busy with their own lives to take much interest in anybody else. I’m not usually paranoid either, but for some reason I suddenly felt it wouldn’t be wise to let them know I’d overheard their conversation, or that I thought they were talking about me.
And, yes, I am a maiden. I told you I don’t like men. I’ve never even let a man kiss me.
I quickly backed up into the hall that led from the kitchen to the Quik Stop Mart and the adjacent Subway Sandwich Shop. I listened, holding my rapidly cooling dishpan of chicken.
“We have to choose someone this moon,” the farmer told Anna. “ It’s only a week until Green Corn Moon. After that is the Harvest.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Anna asked sharply. “We have to be sure, though. I’ll watch her awhile longer and let you know.”
“A stranger would save one of our own,” the farmer said as he paid for his chicken and left.
While her back was turned, putting the money in the cash register, I brought the chicken out and began putting it in the warmer. My hands were shaking so badly I nearly dropped a piece of chicken on the floor.
“There you are,” Anna greeted me in her usual abrupt way. “We need more thighs and wings.”
“O.K.” I turned to leave, hoping my face didn’t give away my emotions.
“About fifty more potato wedges too.”
“I’ll do them first. They only take ten minutes.”
I hurried back to my kitchen. As I floured more chicken, and waited for the potato wedges to fry, I began wondering if I’d been reading too many Gothic novels. Anna had seemed her usual self, and obviously hadn’t suspected I’d overheard her unusual conversation. Probably they were just discussing the upcoming Crossroads Fall Festival. There was to be a harvest queen pageant according to the brochures they were handing out to all the Quik Mart customers.
On the way home, though, driving on Highway 29 through Carrollton County to adjoining Liberty County, I noticed for the first time just how many miles of corn there were. The tall green corn seemed to press closer to the road than I’d remembered. A feeling of claustrophobia threatened to smother me. Darkness was coming a little earlier each day too, and before I left Carrollton County the dying sun sunk down behind the motionless and somehow sinister fields of corn.
When I got home, instead of working on my novel, I got on the Internet. I discovered that traditionally the August full moon is called the Green Corn Moon.The next full moon, in September, is called the Ripe Corn Moon, or the Harvest Moon.
It was almost ten o’clock by then, close to my bedtime. I stepped outside for a few minutes. The campground was very quiet. The only sound was the Wabash River flowing behind my trailer. Caught in the trees, and rising big and orange, was the almost full moon, the Green Corn Moon.
I should have quit my job that day. It isn’t like there aren’t help wanted signs on every other place of business in every town nowadays. Instead, like the heroines in my favorite Gothic novels, I convinced myself that my premonition of danger was silly. The next day found me back at work frying chicken. When nothing else happened, and the Green Corn Moon waxed full and then began to wane, I told myself I’d been wise to ignore my increasing feelings of something basically wrong about Carrollton County.
August slipped away almost unnoticed. One day toward the end of August I came to work and found the August lilies withered away.
September came with high, blue, cloudless skies, and the corn began to turn golden brown. The wind that blows almost constantly in central Indiana made a rattling sound blowing through the corn leaves. Just a hint of the skeleton death rattle sound that they would make just before harvest, but it was enough to set my teeth on edge.
It was about the middle of September when I found Crossroads, a little half starved kitten. I was cleaning up the kitchen before leaving for the evening. I carried out the trash to the dumpsters. The little tabby cat was chewing on a chicken bone. When I came close to the dumpsters, he ran away, leaving his chicken bone behind.
After I trashed the flattened cardboard boxes we use on the floor to keep it clean, I went back inside, and got the remains of my supper, and scattered it out behind the dumpsters.
“Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty,” I called.
There was no sign of him anywhere around, though. Usually there is someone out here on break, smoking. Today I was alone, though, even the cat having vanished.
Just beyond the back door of the Crossroads Quik Mart is an old cemetery. Growing beyond it, seeming to press to its very edges, as if greedy for more space, is a field of corn. Like the corn everywhere in Carrollton County, it is many acres, stretching to the horizon.
The September sun was as hot as August still, but suddenly I felt cold. I hurried back inside, finished cleaning the kitchen, and clocked out a few minutes early so I could get out of Carrollton County before dark.
I fed Crossroads, the cat, everyday after that. He began to trust me a little, I think, but he never let me get very close to him. I would set his food down and move away, not wanting to frighten him. From the doorway I would watch him eat. As the days passed, he began to put on some weight, and he no longer devoured his food as if he was starving.
As September slowly came to an end, I saw farmers in Liberty County starting to harvest their corn. The big green combines worked all day harvesting the corn and taking it to the waiting trucks, where it poured from the chutes like gold nuggets. I began to leave a little early to go to work because the big, slow moving machines were often on the road going from one field to another. On narrow winding Highway 29, that connected Liberty and Carrollton Counties, it wasn’t always immediately possible to pass. When I started home, in full darkness now, I could see the headlights of the combines still working in the fields.
“They’ll work all night,” Eva told me, when I asked her about it.
Curiously enough, the harvest hadn’t started in Carrollton County yet. The corn fields were golden brown now, no trace of green left. The autumn wind made the leaves rustle as if the corn itself was whispering.
When I went out to empty the trash and to feed Crossroads each evening, I could hear the wind in the corn beyond the cemetery. And when I drove home past those miles and miles of dry fields I could hear the whispers even louder. I had the strangest feeling that the secrets the corn was trying to tell me were unpleasant, and that if I could just listen a little harder I’d be able to understand them.
The Crossroads Fall Festival was on the last Saturday of September.
“Anna says it’s been on the last Saturday of September since Crossroads was founded,” Jane told me.
I’d just come to work that Thursday before the Fall Festival and Jane was filtering the chicken fryer so it would be clean for me to start frying chicken in.
“Do you think you could work Saturday for me? Joe and I were really counting on going to the Festival.”
I’d thought about going to the Fall Festival myself, but I knew Jane and her husband didn’t get out much. Most of their time was spent working at the Quik Mart, just to scratch out a living. Besides, I was getting to where I liked Carrollton County less and less, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go to the Fall Festival anyway.
“Yes, I can work Saturday.”
Tina came into the kitchen. “Jane, we need you to fry fifty barns of chicken for the Festival. They want it for Larry’s picnic.”
Larry is the owner of the Crossroads Quik Mart. A barn is what they call a box of chicken, equaling a whole fried chicken.
Jane’s face fell. “Marie said she could work for me Saturday.”
“Marie doesn’t have the experience to fry that much chicken plus keep the warmer filled. Everybody’s going to be buying chicken on Festival day.”
Tina paused .“If you could work until noon, and get Larry’s order filled and plenty in the warmer to get Marie started, she could work from noon until seven on Saturday.
So I got to go to the Fall Festival after all.
The Crossroads Fall Festival was at the Crossroads Park on the edge of town. There were several food booths, plus craft booths. There was a small midway set up by one of those traveling carnivals that crisscross the USA, stopping at all the small town country fairs and festivals.
I walked around looking at everything. In the bright sun of that Indian Summer afternoon I once again began wondering if I was becoming paranoid. Farmers in overalls, women in cotton print dresses, and laughing teenagers and children were all obviously having a good time.
I noticed, though, that just beyond the park the corn was growing here too, like it did everywhere in Carrollton County. It was golden brown, waiting for the harvest. Several brightly painted food wagons were selling roasting ears. There seemed to be bigger crowds around them than the ones selling pork burgers or hamburgers and hot dogs.
I also noticed that practically all the craft booths were selling little scarecrow dolls and corn husk dolls. I stopped at one booth that had more of them than any I’d seen so far. I bought a corn husk doll, wearing a bonnet and dress made of black gingham printed with multi-colored flowers. The dolls were cute, but there was something about the scarecrows I didn’t like. In place of hands and feet they had dried corn leaves, and there was a blank, somehow sinister look, on their painted faces.
“It’s a privilege for me that you chose my booth to shop at, my dear.” The old woman refused my money when I tried to pay for the doll.
I was totally stunned. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say ‘thank you’, and enjoy yourself at the Festival, my dear. A beautiful day like this won’t come again, so enjoy it while it lasts.”
“Thank you,” I managed to stammer.
As I turned to walk away, I thought the old woman’s smile faltered, and her kindly grandmotherly face became witch like. I looked again and decided it was my imagination. As I walked away, I felt as if all the corn husk dolls and scarecrows were watching me.
“I must be getting hungry,” I decided.
I sat at a picnic table under a tree munching my pork burger and roasting ear. Was it my imagination, or had the owner of that cart treated me with some special deference? At least he’d let me pay for my meal, although he’d seemed very reluctant to accept my money. Or was that just my imagination too?
I watched the crowd as I sipped my Coke. They all seemed to be watching me too, whispering and talking among themselves.
“There she is,” a small girl with blond pigtails told another little girl wearing overalls and a red checked shirt.
The little girl in overalls stole a quick glance at me and then quickly looked down at the ground.
“Come on. We’re not supposed to go near her.” She took her blond sister’s hand. “Mama said she is special, but that it isn’t safe to get near her.”
The blond girl gave me one more bold stare. Then both little girls giggled and ran away.
After lunch I was conscious that everybody at the Festival was regarding me with the same awe as the little girls had. Nobody spoke to me, and they all seemed to be avoiding getting close to me. Suddenly the midway music sounded sinister instead of merry, like it does on the midway of a horror movie. It was all I could do to keep from running back to my truck.
Incredibly, I went directly to the Crossroads Quik Stop Mart to relieve Jane so she and Joe could go to the Festival .I can only plead temporary insanity.
The rest of that afternoon I was too busy frying chicken to think anymore about the Festival. When nothing else happened on Sunday, and Monday morning also started out as a normal day, I decided that I’d definitely been reading too many Gothic novels.
It was on that Monday, the last day of September, that the farmers in Carrollton County began harvesting their corn.
It was Jane’s day off, so I was working the whole shift. I finally got the warmer filled up with chicken around 1 P.M. I cleaned the kitchen while I had a little extra time. I took the trash out to the dumpsters. Someone had thrown a big mirror in one of the dumpsters. It had an ornate wooden frame. It looked like a perfectly good mirror to me, and I wondered why it had been discarded and where it had come from. I didn’t remember seeing any kind of mirror in the Quik Stop Mart.
“Did you know someone threw a mirror away in one of the dumpsters?” I asked Tina. "It looks like a perfectly good mirror.”
Tina went back outside with me to look at the mirror. She asked the other employees if they knew anything about it, but everybody denied any knowledge about the mirror.
“I don’t need it,” Tina said at last, “and apparently nobody else wants it either.”
We both went back to work.
It was about 2 P.M. when the big motor home pulled into the parking lot. I was just bringing out a dishpan full of chicken livers to put in the warmer. The man who got out of the motor home appeared to be in his late 30’s. He was tall, six feet, two inches, for sure. His brown hair was cropped short and he wore a beard.
“Is that chicken any good?” he asked me with a smile. That smile lit up his brown eyes too.
“The best except for what my mother makes, and she’s down in Midway. So I guess if you’re hungry, you’d better eat my chicken. I just fried it and guarantee it’s fresh.”
I don’t know why I said that. I seldom flirt with men because I don’t want to encourage them. I’ve been told I’m pretty, and I guess it’s true because I have to discourage the persistent ones anyway. I wasn’t even supposed to be waiting on the customers. All I have to do is fry chicken and keep the kitchen clean. Harrison Wright, as he later told me his name is, was special, real special, though. There was some kind of immediate attraction between us He told me later he’d felt it too. It wasn’t love at first sight, more like friendship at first sight, and that is even more rare and special.
Harrison laughed. “I’m hungry. So you’d better let me have one of those three piece dinners, Miss…?”
“Marie. My name is Marie Curtis.”
“And I’m Harrison Wright,” he introduced himself in a slow Southern accent.
He hesitated after I’d put his chicken in the box and he’d paid the cashier.
“Have you had dinner yet, Marie?”
“Can you take a break? I’d like to buy you dinner and get to know you a little better.”
Suddenly I was sorry I’d gotten overly friendly with Harrison. Obviously, in spite of my first impression of him, he was a fast worker. I felt an overwhelming and disproportionate sense of disappointment.
Harrison must have guessed my feelings. Later I would learn that he often knows exactly what I’m feeling and just how to make me feel better.
“I just want to talk to you, Marie. Nothing more.” He smiled that sweet trust inspiring smile of his. “I’ve been on the road for several days now and I’m tired of eating alone.”
That wasn’t all there was to it. Harrison told me later that he knew as soon as he saw me that I was the one he’d been waiting for all his life and there was no way he was going to let me get away from him.
We ate the first of many meals together at one of the little tables in the back of the Quik Mart. From where we sat we could see the farmers harvesting the corn across the road. We talked and talked. I told Harrison more about myself than I’d ever told anyone else. I even told him about the novel I was writing.
“I can’t wait to read it. I get to read it first when it’s finished, Marie.”
Incredibly I promised this total stranger that he could be the first to read the novel I hadn’t told anyone but Mama I was writing.
Harrison wasn’t really a stranger anymore, though. He’d told me about his family, who lived down in Tennessee. His father had a big tobacco farm. When Harrison and his sisters were babies his father, who owned half the land in Paradise County, Tennessee, had set up trust funds for them. He’d hoped that Harrison would eventually take over the family farm, but it was his sister who had done that. Harrison, at thirty-eight, seemed to have no inclination to settle down. The income from the trust fund allowed him to travel and create his computer art, the two things he loved to do more than anything else.
“How old are you, Marie?”
“I’m twenty-two.” I hoped that wouldn’t make any difference to him. It made no difference to me that he was sixteen years older than me.
“There is no age with people who are soul mates.” He looked into my eyes and I felt as if I could stay there drowning in his brown eyes forever. “Do you feel it too, Marie, that we are soul mates?”
“You’re going too fast for me, Harrison,” I said at last. “I like you. I like you a lot, but I’ve never been in love before.”
“I know. I could tell. I’ve been in love a number of times…with men and women both. But never like with you, mon cherie. You’re special and I love you for your mind and your soul, not just your body, although you’re very beautiful.”
Before I could reply, Anna came up to our table. "There you are. We’re all out of potato wedges and chicken wings and we’re almost out of gizzards. People are going to be coming in for supper any minute.”
It was only 3 P.M. and the supper crowd wouldn’t be in until 5 P.M. I got up immediately, though, half angry at Anna for interrupting my special moment with Harrison, and half grateful to her for rescuing me from an uncomfortable situation.
“I’ve got to get back to the kitchen,” I told Harrison. “Thanks for dinner.”
“Thank you. And I’ll be waiting when you get off work and we’ll talk some more.”
“O.K.” I wasn’t uncomfortable enough with Harrison’s sweet talk to let him get the idea I didn’t want to see him again. The thought of never seeing my sweet friend again was unbearable.
Shortly after I got back to the kitchen the lights flickered several times and then went out. I hurried back to the main part of the store. Customers were lined up at the cash registers waiting to pay for their purchases, but without electricity the cash registers wouldn’t work. The lights in the warmer were off, and I knew that unless the electricity came back on quickly, the chicken would spoil. Anna was running around frantically, as if that could hurry the electric company to get the power back on.
I looked around for Harrison, but I saw no sign of him. Could he have left already, not meaning any of the things he’d told me? His motor home was still in the parking lot, though. My feeling of relief was intense. Harrison, my sweet friend, would never let me down. How could I have doubted it, even for a moment?
As I looked out the window I saw that the farmers were no longer harvesting the field. The sky was a cloudless, somehow empty, blue. Wind was blowing through the dry corn. Most of the corn was still unharvested, only a narrow swath cut in the golden brown corn.
I was suddenly aware that the store seemed even more full than it had when I’d first came out of the kitchen. People were still coming into the store and overcrowding it even more. The farmers too had all abandoned their fields, leaving their combines in the fields, and were coming into the store.
I realized also that the people were all watching me. They all had that expression of awe on their faces as they had had at the Festival, but they weren’t whispering now.
Anna had found a calculator from somewhere, and she was doing a land office business selling chicken. Then she saw me.
“It’s harvest time!” There was triumph in her voice, and something else, the same awe as had been in the people at the Festival’s voices when they spoke to me.
“Harvest time! Harvest time! Harvest time!” The citizens of Carrollton County began chanting.
None of them made a move to lay a hand on me, or even to get close to me, but suddenly I was more afraid than I’d ever been before in my life.
A moment before, all eyes had been on me. Suddenly everybody was looking out the big plate glass windows at the cornfield across the street. The chanting went on, louder than before.
“Harvest time! Harvest time! Harvest time!”
For once the wind was suddenly calm in Carrollton County. The sun shone on the motionless field of corn, gilding it with that special late afternoon light. That still, golden field of corn under a cloudless blue sky is a sight I’ll never forget. It was more sinister, in its deceptive beauty, than if the sky had been stormy black.
Emerging from the cornfield were scarecrows. They were wearing the same patched and faded overalls and the same brightly checked gingham shirts as the scarecrow dolls at the festival. These were life size scarecrows, though, not dolls. As they came closer, I could see that they weren’t human. Beneath their straw hats their heads were white cotton cloth stuffed with straw. Their eyes had the same blank, sinister look as the dolls’ eyes had had. Those eyes could see me, though. Impossible as it seemed, I knew it was true.
“Harvest time! Harvest time!” the people chanted. “A gift for the Corn People. A gift of thanks for this year’s harvest and a prayer for next year’s good harvest.”
As one, the crowd began to move toward me. I backed up, and they continued surging forward, not touching me, but forcing me inexorably toward the door, outside where the Corn People were.
As the Corn People came closer, I saw that, just like the dolls, their legs and arms ended in corn leaves rather than hands and feet. Impossible, but true.
Terror gripped me as I allowed myself to be pushed out the front door. If I could make it to my truck, parked in the side parking lot, I could get out of Carrollton County. If I had to run over a few scarecrows to do it, that wouldn’t bother me a bit! It was about thirteen miles to the county line, and I had the unshakable conviction, based on nothing but intuition, that if I could make it to Liberty County the Corn People wouldn’t cross the county line.
As soon as I was out the door, I saw, to my horror, that some of the Corn People had already crossed the road. They were surrounding my truck, watching me with those identical stupid, evil grins painted on their faces.
Now more Corn People were crossing the road, all of them coming to get me. The sound of them moving sounded like a lonesome autumn wind blowing through unharvested corn.
I turned and tried to open the front door to get back into the Quik Mart. As terrified as I was of the crazy people inside, I was even more terrified of the inhuman things outside. Tina was just locking the door, though. She and all the other people inside were staring at the advancing Corn People, a look of worship on their faces. I beat on the door with both fists, but nobody would let me in.
I could hear them all still chanting, “Harvest time! Harvest time! Harvest time!”
I heard rustling behind me. One of the Corn People was right behind me, reaching for me with her corn leaf hands. Before I turned and ran I saw that besides the scarecrow corn men, there were corn women with gingham print bonnets and long dresses. Their faces inside their colorful bonnets were featureless and appeared to be made of corn husks. The long dresses covered whatever feet they might have had, but instead of hands, they too had dried corn leaves. Just before she caught me, I saw that the corn woman behind me was a life size version of the corn husk doll I’d bought at the Carrollton County Fall Festival. I don’t know why I once thought that doll was so cute!
I ran around to the back of the Quik Mart with some vague idea of going in the back way and barricading myself in the kitchen. Jane must have anticipated that move on my part, because the back door was locked too.
The sun was sinking lower in the sky now. As if becoming bolder as they saw that the light would soon fail, Corn People were peering out of the cornfield behind the cemetery. I began running, but the Corn People soon caught me. They dragged me into the corn field behind the cemetery. I fought them every step of the way. I knew once I was lost among the rows of corn I would never be able to find my way out.
They whispered among themselves in a language I didn’t understand. Anyone who has lived for any length of time in corn country knows that the corn can talk. There is no other sound like the leaves when the wind blows through a field of corn, and the sound is different in the Green Corn Moon and in the Ripe Corn Moon, just before harvest. The Corn People’s language sounded like the corn would in the autumn if it had a human voice.
The Corn People took me to the center of the cornfield. I saw that just the center of that field had been harvested. The combine was still in the field. One of the scarecrow men was sitting in the combine, and I heard him start the motor. When he did, the Corn People who were holding me pushed me forward so hard that I fell into its path. They scattered away as the combine began moving forward straight toward me. I tried to get up, but I had twisted my ankle when I fell. I lost precious seconds trying to get up. The combine driven by the evil scarecrow began to move forward.
Suddenly strong arms were picking me up and carrying me.
“We have to hurry, my dear,” Harrison told me. “Not only our lives are in danger, but the whole world is in danger.”
“Harrison! Where were you? I was so scared.”
“I’m sorry, Marie. I went back to my motor home to wait until you got off work. Besides wanting to see you again, I didn’t like leaving you here. I got a bad feeling about Carrollton County as soon as I got here. Then after I saw how everybody at the Quik Mart was looking at you, and how they were going around like a bunch of zombies, I didn’t like the situation at all It was like they were all under some kind of spell.”
Harrison ran quickly, still carrying me, explaining as he ran. We were soon lost in the rows of corn, leaving the mob of Corn People behind us. I could hear the combine, though, as they searched for us.
“I checked the Internet to find information on cults that worship the corn. I almost spent too much time on the ‘Net. I hadn’t expected the sacrifice to take place until the Ripe Corn Moon, the last full moon this month.”
“Sacrifice?” I gulped. "I was to be the sacrifice, wasn’t I?”
“I’m afraid so. There is a long history of primitive people sacrificing victims to their various harvest gods to insure a good harvest. The people of Carrollton County have evidently kept an ancient religion of corn worship alive, secretly making sacrifices to their corn gods each year.”
“It sounds so impossible for something like that to go unnoticed nowadays.”
“That’s probably how they’ve managed to do it. ‘Hide in plain sight’. “
“But the Corn People, their gods, how could they be real?”
“I don’t know, but I know that combine is getting closer. I guess what the Corn People do to their yearly sacrifice is to run over them with that combine.” He laughed. “Some joke, eh? People harvest the corn, and once a year the corn harvests a person. I know I don’t want to be this year’s harvest.”
We finally got out of the corn field. There was no sign of the Corn People around the Quik Mart now. Evidently they had all gone back to the corn field behind the cemetery, where the sacrifice had been supposed to take place. The sun was sinking lower in the sky now.
“We’ve got to get out of here, Harrison. If we can make it to Liberty County we’ll be safe.”
Harrison shook his head. “I wish it was that easy.”
At that moment the back door opened. It was Joe, Jane’s husband.
“You’ve got to help us. The Corn People are trying to break the glass on the front door.”
I realized then that the whispering sound I’d been hearing wasn’t the wind in the corn and that it wasn’t coming from the field behind us, but from the front of the store. Harrison’s motor home, our means of escape, was parked in front of the store!
I had always liked Joe and thought he was nicer than any of the other people who worked at the Quik Mart. He’d always done what he could to help me with the heavy parts of my job whenever he was there. He was a citizen of Carrollton County, though, and had probably known all about their horrible religion for years, even if he hadn’t participated in it.
“Why should we help you?” I demanded. "You nearly got Harrison and me killed by saying nothing.”
Joe looked ashamed. “I’m so sorry. You don’t know what it’s like around here. They would have killed Jane and me if we had said anything.”
I was still mad. “You could have gone to the police in Libertyville.”
“Do you think they would have believed that there are living murdering scarecrows in Carrollton County? They would have sent me to Arcadia faster than I could pick an ear of corn.”
I knew it was true. Arcadia is the State Hospital just outside Libertyville.
“What can we do?” Harrison asked.
“Grab that mirror out of the dumpster and then get inside.”
Corn People were pouring out of the corn field now. The one driving the combine was leading them, and they were all heading straight for the Quik Mart.
Harrison wasted no time asking questions. He removed the heavy ornate antique mirror from the dumpster. I spotted Crossroads. He looked terrified, and ran straight to me. I scooped him up. It was the first time he’d ever let me touch him, but I guess he was more scared of the Corn People than of me. We all ran through the back door. Joe slammed it shut and barred it. Just in time, because I heard the Corn People throw their bodies against the door just as he locked it. It sounded like bales of straw hitting the door.
Inside the Quik Mart all was chaos. Corn People were beating on the plate glass windows at the front of the store. Behind them were more Corn People, pressing up to the windows, trying to get in. In spite of the fact that their painted faces were incapable of changing expression, I imagined there was a look of greedy triumph on those cloth faces. From the corn field across the road I could see more and more Corn People gathering for the harvest.
The customers in the store were no longer chanting, “Harvest time! Harvest time! Harvest time!” They were terrified and milling around.
I couldn’t help, in spite of my fear, feeling a momentary sense of satisfaction that now the shoe was on the other foot.
“We’ve gotten the mirror back at least,” Joe told Tina. “They hadn’t gotten around to breaking it yet.”
Tina’s normally perfectly combed wavy hair was escaping from its headband, and the always cheery smile was wiped off her face.
“I don’t know what good the mirror will do us. There isn’t anyone who can use it. Except…” She looked at me, hope replacing the look of despair on her pretty face.
The customers turned to me too, a look of hope on their faces. Anna paused and looked at me too. Incredibly, amidst all this chaos, she was at the register and still selling chicken. I couldn’t decide what astonished me the most, that she was still selling, or that a few people were still buying it.
“I don’t know what you have in mind, but I’m not sure I want any part of it,” I began.
“You’ve got to help us,” Tina begged. “It’s not just us. The Corn People helped us for generations. Carrollton County has always had bigger harvests than any other county in Indiana, and only we knew why.”
“And then one day they got tired of working for you and decided to start a revolution?” I said dryly.
“Something like that,” Tina admitted.
“Sounds like your problem to me.”
Harrison joined the conversation then. “It’s everybody's problem now, Marie. Now that the Corn People have revolted, it doesn’t stop in Carrollton County, does it?” He looked at Tina.
She shook her head. “Liberty County will be next. Then eventually all of Indiana. Soon everywhere the corn grows, which is most of the world, will belong to them.”
“What can we do to help?” I asked, chilled by this scenario.
In spite of my terror, I couldn’t help but briefly wonder if Anna would go on selling chicken as long as she could get anybody to fry it, even as the world ended.
“The magic mirror is the only way the Corn People can be destroyed,” Tina explained. “I’m the one who had it put in the dumpster. For years it hung in the Crossroads church, but I decided this year that it should be destroyed. Joe didn’t want to, but I made him take it out of the church and throw it away. I tried to break it, but fortunately, it can’t be broken by human hands. Only the Corn People can break it, but as long as it was in the church, it was safe, and so were we, because they knew we had it.”
“Why couldn’t they break into the church and get it?”
“They are the old gods, the harvest gods. They fear the new Lord, the true God, more than they do the mirror. They can’t enter His church, even though we have polluted it by pretending to worship the real God, and instead using the church for the old religion.”
Tina glanced anxiously at the windows. The late sun was reflecting off the glass. The glass shivered as more and more Corn People pounded on it. It would have to break soon under their combined weight.
“The mirror has magical powers. It has been in the Crossroads church for as long as recorded history. No one is sure what the other powers might be, but they say that the light of the setting sun on the evening when the full Ripe Corn Moon will rise, reflected off the magic mirror, will kill the Corn People.”
“So why haven’t you already done it?” I asked. “What do you need Harrison and me for?”
Jane spoke up then. “Only a truly good person can use the magic mirror. Everyone in Carrollton County has blood on their hands.”
Everybody turned to look at me.
“Then you want Harrison. I know why you chose me for the sacrifice, but I’m not the person to use your magic mirror. Harrison Wright is a truly good person, a much better person than I’ll ever be.”
“How can you know that? We’ve just met, Marie.”
“I know all I need to know about you,” I said steadily.“ You’re the person to use the mirror.”
“We need someone to get them all into the corn field,” Tina said, once again planning her strategy, just as she planned her work day at the Quik Mart. She looked at me.
“No way!” Harrison said flatly.
“Someone has to do it. They’re going to break the door down any minute,” I said.
“I’ll do it. There’s no way I’ll let you be put in any kind of danger.”
“You have to be ready to use the mirror.”
“Then let one of the good citizens of Carrollton County be the decoy. They caused this whole mess.”
“I’m the sacrifice. They’ll follow me.” I saw on everybody’s faces that I had guessed the truth.
Reluctantly, Harrison let me go out the back door, making sure the Corn People saw me leaving.
I’m not any braver than most people, but I wasn’t really that scared. Even when the Corn People began chasing me, and I led them into the corn field behind the cemetery, I wasn’t really too scared. I hadn’t the slightest doubt that Harrison would rescue me.
Fortunately, the scarecrow driving the combine had abandoned that mode of transportation and was running with the rest of them. Probably they were dumb enough to believe that I was heading back to the sacrifice area so they could pick up where they’d left off with the combine when we all met in the clearing again.
The tricky part came when I doubled back through the rows of corn. I waited until I was hidden from view and then ran as fast as I could back to the Quik Mart. I could hear them running behind me, but they weren’t smart enough to immediately realize they’d been tricked. Those precious few moments were all we needed.
Joe was standing at the back door of the Quik Mart, holding the door open. Harrison was right behind him. As soon as I was safely back inside, Harrison stepped outside. By then the sun was just above the corn field. The last rays of the setting sun reflected off the magic mirror. Harrison focused those blindingly bright rays on the dry corn.
Just as the first Corn People got to the edge of the corn field, the dry corn burst into flame. They ran back into the field. In moments the field was blazing.
The customers and employees of the Quik Mart all came outside and watched with us as the field burned. The sun slipped below the horizon, staining the sky as red as the hungry flames. We all continued to watch the burning field as darkness came. In the east, climbing up out of the corn field across the road, the Ripe Corn Moon, the Harvest Moon, rose, big and orange.
As the fire burned, destroying this year’s harvest in Carrollton County, I thought I heard a low, continuous moaning sound, like autumn wind after the harvest is over. I’m sure it was the cries of the multitude of dying Corn People.
The people of Carrollton County were so grateful to Harrison and me that they wanted to give us the magic mirror. Of course, we refused.
“I think all the Corn People were destroyed in the fire, but a few could have escaped that we didn’t see,” Harrison told them. “You might need the mirror again.”
“We can’t use it. There’s blood on our hands,” Joe reminded him.
“There won’t be blood on your children’s children’s hands. Carrollton County will have truly good people again someday.”
That night I spent with Harrison in his motor home.
“Come with me and see the world, Marie,” he asked me.
When I hesitated, he went on.
"As my friend, my best friend. My motor home has two bedrooms, and I will never ask you to do anything you don’t want to. I’m a hopeless romantic. Chivalry will never die as long as I’m alive.”
“I don’t want to live with you all the time, Harrison. I love you, but I need some time alone too.”
“I understand that. Keep your trailer, but come with me and share some adventures with me too. You can write your stories anywhere.”
Harrison took my hand, and we walked out of the Quik Mart. Anna was selling chicken to the customers. Evidently nearly causing the end of the world had made everybody hungry.
We had chicken for supper, compliments of Quik Mart, in Harrison’s motor home. We camped in the Quik Mart parking lot.
In the morning Harrison took me home to pack what I needed for our first adventure together on the road. We took Crossroads, the stray kitten, with us.
So that’s how I started seeing the world with my best friend, and my sweet love, Harrison Wright.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PIXABAY
PHOTOGRAPH BY cbaquiran from Washington, D.C.
(no other information is available except the tags are Scarecrow Pumpkins Halloween Harvest October.
This person has more nice photos on his website, including some beautiful flower photos.
Thank you for sharing your photo!
Pixabay is a website of beautiful public domain photographs taken by various photographers who generously share their work with others. They allow their photographs to be downloaded and used for personal or commercial use without attribution. I have downloaded several of the photographs for wallpaper and a couple to use as cover photographs on books I am working on. All you need to do to download photos is to sign up with Pixabay with an e-mail address and a user name. It is completely free. They have one especially nice feature to allow you to save your favorite photos on your personal page so that you can find them again if you don't want to download them right away. You can also share your own photos with others if you want to, and don't mind putting them in the public domain. You can still use them yourself also for what ever you like.
I haven't had time to upload any photos to share, but will upload some when I get time. I plan to upload some of my photos as well as Mama's and Daddy's old photos, especially some of the flower photos. I will post here when I upload photos in case anyone wants to download copies. I figure if you share your work with others that is just a little bit more insurance for you that if your original copy gets lost, maybe someone else will have a copy and you can get it back. If you keep if for yourself, and your only copy is lost, it is gone forever. When Daddy and, later Gain and I started playing with computers when they first came out, everything was on disk. Even then they were making more and more disks, letting the old ones go out of print, and if you lost your copy, probably it would no longer be available. K-Mart had new disks about every week, and Gain and I often bought one or two. I had a favorite game of an old West town. The object of the game was to shoot the bad guys in black hats before they shot you, as they popped up, but if you shot any of the town people or the good guys in white hats you lost the game. Gain liked the game, but it was my favorite. I copied the disk for Daddy, although he didn't care much for games. One day the disk just quit working and it was the only one I had, since I hadn't made a back-up copy. I got the game back from Daddy. He copied the disk I'd sent him. So from that time on, I have been a firm believer in not only making a back-up copy (and also a hard copy when possible), but in sharing with others!
I now make new Wallpaper and Screensavers to redecorate Computer Boy and Cell Phone Boy with every month. I scan Mama's and Daddy's old photos, use some of the digital ones I take, and look for pretty photos on the Internet. I always send Charles, my brother, a copy of that month's wallpaper. I would send it to him anyway, of course, but his copy is also extra insurance for me in case mine is ever destroyed. I only have hard copies of Mama and Daddy's photos. There is no way I could make hard copies of all the digital photos!