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Midwest

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Midwest

Having spent my life in a buzzing metropolis, driving through the Midwest states was a hypnotic and sobering experience. Anyone who has seen the bread-basket of America will know what I'm talking about. Fields. Billions of acres of crops covering the land in waves of undulating leaves; the tame wilderness organized into rows, blocks, and circles, continuing on for hours and hours and days and days.

That's one of the strangest things about driving through the Midwest. The endless ocean of cornfields, birthed by man's labors seem to go on without end, but with no signs of those who created it. A car here, a small house there, a windmill, a rotting barn; it's as if some great civilization built it eons ago and then died out, leaving the living remains of their creations for you to drive past and wonder at.

That's how I found myself on the evening of the last day in July, driving my red sedan along a veritable tunnel of a road cut across the cornfields. No broad highway for me; rather, I had chosen a graveled detour which I had been promised led back to the interstate. The last few exhausting days had seen me driving non-stop across the country, but today, as the sun peaked in the sky and began its free-fall back into the earth, the end of my trip drew near. Rest, relaxation, and (who the fuck knows?) maybe even fun lay at my feet; the only thing separating me from my goal was a mile more of gravel road and a few insignificant minutes on the freeway.

Unfortunately, my car was having a little trouble navigating the tiny country road. The assholes at the gas station had promised a worn but perfectly passable route, but a few miles in it became increasingly evident that neither description fit this sorry excuse for a road. Still, the anxiety didn't really sink in until the gravel path degenerated into a dusty path and then into mere ruts on the ground. As the weeds growing between the tire tracks began to hit the underside of my car, I briefly grappled with the idea of turning around and taking the more traditional, albeit longer, paved route. But soon, that bitch, stubbornness, got her way and I plowed on forwards against the rising weeds and deepening dark.

As the sun kissed its lower lip to the crust of the earth I stopped the car. My journey had come to an abrupt halt. The road, barely discernible among the vegetation and barely wide enough for the car, had ended. Stopped. Right in the middle of a field of corn. Apparently, this was the literal road to nowhere.

I cursed the hicks back at the 'Pump and Save' who had given me these shit directions and considered my options. Option, actually. The only action now was to return down the path I had so painfully traveled and then take the long paved road all the way around. Holding my breath, I tried to stifle a headache and several curse words running through my brain. That's when I heard that sweet sound, "PRBPRBPRBPRBPRBPRUBBBBBB," the unmistakable mating cry of a Harley tearing down a highway at full speed. Evidently, the interstate was straight ahead and only a few hundred yards away. I felt some guilt for what I was planning, but stubbornness' sisters, adventure and lethargy, convinced me that mowing down several hundred feet of some farmer's corn harvest was worth not spending more hours on the road.

I wasn't sure if a Sedan could hold up to such punishment, but my car handled it like a pro, crushing and pulverizing the green stalks as they bent away and under the bumper. A couple of minutes and bam! I was through, back out into the dim evening light. I laughed and flipped the wipers to clean all the cream shrapnel covering my windshield. I stopped mid-laugh. This was a road, but definitely not the highway. A two lane, paved, black road ran in a perfectly straight line off into the darkness, disappearing into the evening light. I cursed the assholes at the gas station again and prepared to bash my way back to the dirt path. But, turning around, the beautiful hole I punched through the field was gone.

Corncorncorn

A wall of corn, not row to row, but stalk to stalk stood in front of me, and I realized with a sinking heart that there was no way I could find the dirt path again in that solid block of green. Once again I weighed my options. Just two now: left or right. I headed what I figured was due south and hoped this road linked up to the highway for which I so desperately strove.

Miles and miles I traveled. No change in scenery. Miles and miles of cornfields, pressing in on the car, enveloping me in the gloom of early night. No other cars. No other sounds. No radio reception. I stopped a few times at first listening for the signs of a busy highway, and later just listening for anything at all; anything beyond my own breathing. Nothing. Nothing but the crickets, gently chirping to each other across the ocean of waving stalks. More driving. The crickets faded away and only the occasional shrill whine of a cicada cried out into the night.

More driving. Low on gas. More driving. The moon peered over the tufts of corn and lifted itself into the sky, transforming the land into monochrome, draining away color. More driving. Very fucking low on gas. More driving. Nothing but corn, corn, corn fucking everywhere. More driving.

...A barn....?

A barn. The glow from the light of the moon made it appear like a ship in the sea, a dark but welcome shape rising above the monotonous and oppressive landscape. With a mixture of relief and apprehension I continue down the road. One turn, a short driveway, and I'm there parking at the bottom of the sloping hill that leads up to its moonlit roof. It's built in an old wooden style, high gabled with heavy oak doors. It looks old. Like, not just the normal, "Oh, look, it's an old barn, kids," old, but really old, like it hadn't been looked upon, much less opened, in hundreds of years. Still, its presence offered some hope and companionship, shelter and safety.

Getting out of the car, I walked up the path to the front doors. Interestingly, the grass all around the barn—a meadow extending about fifty yards—was clearly meticulously cut and groomed. Also, the path up to the barn had been worn smooth, like some large machine had routinely pounded up and down, polishing and flattening the path. Striding up to the door, I knocked. And knocked again. I gave it several minutes, but apparently no one was living inside. I opened the doors and walk in. I was right...

The stench hit me first. It was powerful, like a left hook right on the nose. Seedy and cloying and sour, it was like being dunked head-first into a porta-potty. I retch, struggling to force fresh air down into my lungs. But, as my eyes adjust and the stench escapes into the cool night breeze, the horror begins.

The barn was full of corpses. Dead bodies lay on tables, hung from the walls, and sat piled in great heaps into the corners. Green with rot, their open mouths were grinning; their decayed eyes staring emptily about the barn. The world started to spin around - my knees buckled and my breath escaped once again. Hundreds of bodies. Some were still fresh, crumpled spread-eagle in the corners of the barn, huge red-ringed gashes covering their bodies, wounds that looked like splashes of lipstick applied to their pale, naked forms. Older, rotten corpses, were lain out flat onto slabs of stone and wooden tables and hung from the walls; cut open and divided in a grotesquely methodical pattern. Their hearts were placed carefully near their heads, tongues cut out, various organs lying discarded and piled onto the floor below, and their intestines bunched up and knotted like a nightmarish bouquet of flowers. Further into the barn lay the bits and pieces, brown dried hunks of what used to be heads, arms, and torsos. And crates. Giant, wooden boxes piled neatly along the back wall of the barn, almost innocuous but horrible; dark stains seeped from under the lid and ran down.

But nothing compares to what hung from the ceiling.

A fraying rope stretched down from the rafters. Hanging from the rope, gently swinging in the night over the bloody tables, was bound a horrible absurdity of something that was once alive. It resembled a victim of some terrible holocaust, its skin shriveled tight against its chest and belly, the arms unnaturally long and thin, hog-tied behind its back. Its hands and feet were enormous, ending in gnarled fingers a foot long, with a jagged, yellow nail at the tip of each one. Its head... a burlap sack had been tied around its neck, completely covering the corpse's features. A gash ran the length of its neck, the dried remains of some purple ichor running down from the wound and staining the bag over its head.

Swinging there...

Dead in the moonlight.

I rose above the waves of fear and stumbled out of the barn, slamming the door shut behind me. Outside, the moon still rose, the wind still blew, and the crickets chirped—the horrors inside the barn had no effect on the simple sanctity of nature. Leave. Run. Drive. Those were the only thoughts that permeated my numbed mind. I turned away from the wooden monstrosity before me and rann to my car, but... the car wasn't there.

There was nothing around but cornfields. As I ran around the barn, the rows of waving stalks danced before my eyes. Trapped. Trapped in an ocean on a ship of the dead. No. I cannot stay here. I made a break for the fields of corn, the terrors behind chasing me heedlessly into the unknown ahead. As I hit the edge of the corn stalks, my courage failed me. I couldn't go ahead, and I couldn't go back. I stood there, shrouded by the complete silence.

A light breeze tousled my hair as I stood motionless and frozen. Gently, the field of corn swayed in place as the wind picked up. Then, the wind really began to pick up. The corn stalks began to march back and forth in what was quickly becoming a maelstrom. The wind whipped my face and tore across my arms. It reached down my throat, pulling my scream out and mixing it with the surrounding chaos. Rain! It was suddenly raining, a torrent, a solid sheet of water falling from the heavens, knocking me off my feet, churning the solid ground into liquid. Lightning! Thunder! Arcs of electricity flew before my face, striking and touching the ground at my feet. I ran back to the only shelter there is, all my fear forgotten in the struggle to survive this onslaught from above.

I barricaded myself in the barn. I was shrouded in perfect darkness except for the pulses of lightning that glint off the outlines of the dead. That was past fear. I was petrified, crouching against the bolted oak doors, the rain hammering a machine gun fire behind me, trying to bash its way in. Behind me lay certain death, and in front of me lay the dead. The pulsing lightning seemed to animate them. They danced and shivered and grinned and laughed. They had nothing to fear. They laughed at me and my fear, they laughed at my blood, they laughed at my heartbeat. To this cacophony of laughter I sat frozen, watching over those that could not move.

Lightning bolted across the sky.

Flash.

Dark.

Flash.

The wind blew the corpse tied to the ceiling; it rocked back and forth in long arcs above my head.

Dark.

Flash.

Its hands swung back and forth beneath it.

Dark.

I thought the hands were tied behind the back.

Flash.

The rope is swung back and forth.

The monstrosity was gone.

Dark.

Flash.

Suddenly, I saw it crouching on the floor, its bagged head hung low beneath its shoulders. The cadaver’s limbs flailed about, sliding it across the bloody wooden planks. Towards me. In the flashes of light I saw its sickening, twitching movement as it swayed back and forth, its head bobbing around with no control. I heard it.

Bubbling, murmuring, babbling. It sounded like a drowning man trying to talk. It howled and gurgled and sputtered and screamed. Unintelligible. No pattern, no sense. It twitched, screaming, across the floor as I lay frozen against the wall, watching its movement in the throbbing light.

Flash.

Dark.

I heard its blithering in my ear…

Dark.

I felt its ragged breathing…

Dark.

Burlap brushed by my face…

Flash.

I ran…

Out the door and across the churning mud. The rain threw me down into the muck again and again. With a guttural snarl, it was after me; on all fours, it leaped and twitched and gurgled and screamed as it chased me into the corn. Knocking aside the stalks I, staggered into the pitch blackness. I ran and ran. Unseen things tore at me—was it the leaves or had the beast caught up? I ran and ran. I ran and trip. I tripped on a root—or did it grab me by the ankles? I ran and ran and ran, oblivious to the darkness, to my fear, to my aching lungs. And then it caught me.

Long nails—no, talons—gangrenous and yellow, tore into my shoulder and held me back. I stumbled and fell. I was going to die; I could feel its breath on my face again. I could taste the death on its hidden lips…

I. Will. Not. Die! With a yell I rose up and grab its sallow arm, tearing its claws out of my back with a sharp flash of pain and blood. The monstrosity gibbered and yelped. And I ran. And I ran. And I ran. And I tripped again.

Falling, falling down into darkness, skidding across mud and stones. Almost drowning in the muck, I tumbled down and down. Then it all came to a stop…

I looked up from the bottom of a ditch and realized I’m out of the cornfield. I was at the road. The rain had gone away. The wind had died. Best of all, my car was parked by the edge of the road. I wasted no time in jumping in, locking the door, and starting the engine. Miraculously, I had half a tank of gas. With a yell, I stepped on the gas pedal, hoping to charge forward forever and ever out of the blackness and into the light of day. The mud churned beneath me.

My tires spun helplessly, then sunk into the muck. Ahead of me, the cornstalks parted, and the dead thing crawled out into the beam of my headlights. With growls and burbles it slowly slipped through the mire in front of me, taking its time, savoring the web of dread it had trapped me in…

Last chance… I stepped the gas again and flew forward. The creature leaped. My windshield cracked. With a “thunk” and a splash of purple blood, it collided against the car then flew across the road. “FUCK YOU!” I cried as I steered towards its crumpled form. Ten feet – five feet – three feet. It got up. I missed. But as I went swerving by it didn't give chase. I could see it in the rear-view mirror, struggling to stand up. I shifted into reverse and revved the engine. Then a shape appeared above the cornstalks. Blotting out the moon, a shadow climbed out of the field and walked down to the road. The light of night shone off shoulders that stretched meters across; forty feet above the ground the outline of a head eclipsed the stars. It bent down to the monstrosity sitting in a pool of vile blood. The shadow picked it up, caressed it. Then it turned toward me. A low moan filled the air, rattling the car and sending the cornstalks into another mad dance. With its free hand, the monstrous shadow reached down to its waist then lifted something high into the air. Something big and sharp that reflected the light of the moon across the darkened fields…

I slammed back into gear and flew forward. The moan continued, the steering wheel coming loose in my hands. The cornfield are in a mad frenzy, stalks bending and swaying with so much force they uproot and toss into the air, covering the road in shadows and leaves. “Thud thud thud thud thud,” ground-shaking footsteps coming for me, coming closer. A shriek of metal and something cleaved the roof of my car in two; light spilled into the car like air into a wound. The sound of twisting metal deafened me as the wheels began to lift off the ground…

And then it was over. I dropped back to the road and accelerated, the shadow’s footsteps fading away into its hellish moan. I tore down the road without abandon, the dark shape and its unearthly call fading behind me… I get it now.

The horrible, blubbering shape was merely a pet, a dog, a guardian of whatever nightmarish creature lives and works in the barn. IT was the true master of that slaughterhouse. Although it was far behind - that dark shadow - it looked enormous. It turned, a flash of silver bursting from its hand, as it disappeared back into the swaying cornfields…

Pedal to the metal. 130 mph. The engine roaring, the tires squealing. I flew down the road, impervious to my surroundings, to the blood flowing down my back. Minutes passed like lifetimes. Trees and shadows loomed like a thousand unnamed horrors down upon my head. Then, a light. More lights. A town. Not just a town, THE town, the fucking place I was trying to reach so long ago, earlier today in an earlier life. I stumbled into a diner, the screaming of the waitress lulling me into dark unconsciousness…

Sleepwalking, the doctors say. Here, take these pills, they say. A hundred doctors, maybe more, and they all agree that I’m a headcase. The cuts on my face and arms? Scratches from the sharp corn leaves. My shattered windshield? I drove into a ditch. They throw a rainbow of pills in my face to cut down on my dreams, to avoid panic attacks, to bury my sorrows in a field of manufactured happiness. I guess doctors know best?

Still, there are some things they’ve never been able to explain. I had some tests done on the purple liquid spattering my car. Inconclusive, all of them; apparently it’s blood, but contains things that are not blood. There isn’t much to say about the straight, clean cut that runs the length of my roof either; nobody has been able to tell me what can cleave steel like butter. Then there are the four jagged wounds across my back that ooze pus and bleed, but refuse to heal…

I stay in the city now. The chalky smell of concrete, the sharp smell of steel, even the bitter aroma of living humans keeps me sane. My apartment has no plants in it. I eat meat and bread. The sight of a cob of corn, or even a kernel, makes me throw up, sometimes faint. For the most part, I can interact normally (except for the vomiting thing) and pretend like that last day in July never happened.

I feel perfectly safe in the daytime…

But each night when I sleep, I’m forced back.

Back to the moonlit fields, where the cornstalks bend and sway with the howling wind.

Back to the hall of corpses, where the hooded monstrosity shrieks and gibbers and twitches.

Back to the haunting ground of the unseen butcher, whose long knives flash into the darkness.



Originally posted on /x/ by Black Fedora Man

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