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Considering The Corn

Author Avery Debow (you can buy her ebook Resonance now on Amazon) ponders her response to the macabre potential of cornfields and their role in the psyche of dark fiction.
In the summer the wind whooshes through them, funneling eerie howls down their ranks.  In the fall they rustle and hiss like sheaves of paper tossed on a flame.  When shorn, they’re nothing more than rows of withered sticks.
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They’ve   graced movies and novels alike, sinister rows leading many a protagonist to a gory fate.  But, what is it about cornfields that are so downright creepy?
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As a resident of Maryland’s Eastern Shore—where corn grows aplenty—I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about what it is that makes this proud vegetable such a horror staple.
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My first awareness of the menace cornfields can provide came from the movie, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, a 1981 film about a mentally challenged young man wrongfully accused of attacking a little girl.  The enraged town posse discovers him hiding in a nearby cornfield and kills him.  He returns as a scarecrow to wreak vengeance, and the running and screaming through the endless stretches of green begins.
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I think my horror in this case came not from the quasi-sentient straw man propped up in the center like a compass point, but from the vast, cornfield itself. Step inside a field and start walking, and suddenly there is no other world but the sharp-scented forest of stalks. There are no landmarks, no changes in the sea of monotonous verdancy, just an endless trek into the unknown, where anything at all may lie in wait.  It is the perfect obscurity cornfields offer that goads me, the horrifying thought of seeing nothing—until it is too late.
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Once the nights turn cooler, the lush foliage turns to rasping husks.  The wind catches the dried leaves and rattles them like a bag of bones.  The gaps between the skeletal stalks widen, highlighting the desolate darkness within.  It is all too easy to imagine The Children of the Corn’s pack of patricidal children lying in wait, the crunch of deadfall under their tiny feet sounding from all directions. I’m left spinning in place, eyes flicking from shadow to shadow, waiting to see which will produce the means of my demise.
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Even when the concealing foliage is shorn to within a few inches from the ground, cornfields retain their ability to convey pure dread.  A friend  once rented a house set off a winding dirt road in the middle of a corn farm.  He would go onto his back porch and smoke in near silence, his eyes never ceasing their trek across the acres of stunted brown pegs.
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“Can’t you just see fast zombies racing across that?” he once said, gesturing to the horizon with the glowing end of his cigarette.
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I could see it, almost perfectly.
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I could imagine the cornfield’s glee as the zombies sped closer from all sides, spewing from the belly of the beast that birthed them. Instead of cocooning the terrors lurking within, the cornfield would have spread all of its cards onto the table, laying out the worst of its contents for me to helplessly witness.
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Maybe this helps explain why I drive a little faster past the spans of ominous stalks. Or why my mind is open to the idea that almost anything can occur within their ranks. The shallow ditches which border the fields are the line between the warm reassurance of my—relatively—safe world and the dread-inducing potential lurking in the shadows of the corn.

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