Tag: wholesome

I Picked Up a Hitchhiker

I was driving through rural New Jersey when I saw him.

A hitchhiker, standing by the side of the road. Surprisingly well-dressed – black suit, slicked-back hair, narrow briefcase.

Now, I know I shouldn’t pick up hitchhikers. But I’m 6’ 4”, 230 pounds, with all kinds of hunting equipment in the back of my truck. It’s not like this prissy-assed businessman is going to beat me to death and leave me on the side of the road.

Besides, I need gas money.

“Hey, man,” I said, pulling over to the side of the road. “I’ll give you a lift, if you pay me for gas.”

“Of course,” he said in a polite, almost British, accent. He reached for his wallet, and pulled out three crisp, $20 bills. “This enough?”

I grinned. That’s way more than enough. I greedily snatched the money from him and clicked the locks. “Get in, bud.”

He climbed in. His blue eyes shifted from the crumpled Wendy’s wrapper on the dashboard, to the mysterious, sticky goo on the middle console.

“Sorry, the car’s not clean. I’m going hunting,” I said, turning back onto the highway.

“Hunting. Interesting,” he said, in a strangely enthusiastic tone. “Have you always liked to hunt?”

“No, it’s the funniest thing. Never thought I’d ever hunt. Love animals, got three dogs at home. But there are so many deer around these parts, when the winter comes… a lot of ‘em starve to death. Not to mention all the car accidents they cause.” I trailed off, and we fell into uncomfortable silence.

“Just hunting for the day, then?”

“No, my buddy Matt and I will be out there the whole weekend.”

He let out a laugh. “The whole weekend? Your wife’s a saint for letting you go.”

My wife? How did he – But then my eyes fell on the steering wheel, and the silver ring on my finger. “Ah, yeah. Mary’s a doll. She’s actually pregnant, you know. 5 months with a little girl.”

He gave me a crooked smile. “A girl, huh?”

“Yeah.”

I could feel him staring at me long after we had fallen into silence. It made me feel uncomfortable; I clicked on the radio.

“How did you meet Matt?” he asked, fiddling with the dial. All that came through was static.

That’s a weird question, I thought. “Um. He and Mary were close friends. So when we got married, I got to know him well.”

“Mmm-hmm,” the man said. He stroked his chin thoughtfully, and I was suddenly reminded of a psychiatrist.

“Are you a psychiatrist?” I blurted out.

He laughed. “Definitely not. I work in finance.”

“What type of finance?” It was my turn to ask the questions, now.

“Futures,” he replied, noncommittally.

I glanced over at him. A small smile was on his lips, and I noticed his fingers had gravitated from his lap to the briefcase at his feet.

My heart began to pound.

Click, click. He undid the clasps; the case creaked open.

“What’s in your briefcase?” I asked.

“Work.”

“What kind of –”

His long fingers disappeared into the darkness of the case. He was pulling something out! My body began to seize up; the steering wheel felt like ice under my fingers. “I have a lot of hunting equipment back there,” I said, “so you better not be –”

I stopped.

He was only pulling out a sheet of paper.

For a few minutes, he was quiet. Reading the paper, intently and silently, as if his life depended on it. Scrtch, scrtch – his fingers slid over it, as they traced the text.

Then he slipped it back into the case, and snapped it shut.

What was he reading? I thought. But before I could get the question out, he turned towards me. I could barely see his face in my peripheral vision; but I knew he was staring at me, for minutes on end.

Then he broke the silence.

“Don’t go hunting,” he said, his ice-blue eyes boring into me.

“What?”

“Turn the car around. Go home to Mary.”

“What?!”

“She needs you.” He paused. “Madeline needs you.”

I paled.

I never told him we were going to name our baby Madeline.

“How did you –”

“He’s going to make it look like an accident,” he said, his voice gravelly and halting. “Just a simple hunting accident. The most punishment he’ll endure is thirty-five minutes in the police station, writing out his statement.”

“But –”

“Let me off at that diner, up ahead. I like their Cobb salad very much.”

“Matt’s going to kill me? What are you talking about?”

He turned to me, eyes wide. “What are you talking about?”

“About what you just said!”

“All I said is I’d like you to let me off at the diner, please.” He pointed to the exit, curving off the highway. “You’re going to miss it if you don’t slow down.”

With a shaking hand, I clicked on my blinker. Pulled off the exit, into the parking lot. My heart pounded in time with the click-click-clicks of the cooling engine.

“Thank you for the ride,” he said, pulling his briefcase out with him. “Have a good drive, will you?”

I couldn’t squeak out a reply before the door slammed shut.

***

I didn’t believe him. But my nerves were too shot to continue the trip, either. I texted Matt that I was sick, turned around, and went home to Mary. Mary was thrilled; Matt was disappointed. A little too disappointed, if you ask me.

A month later, after ignoring most of Matt’s calls and texts (which became increasingly frequent and desperate), I heard a faint thumping noise at the door. When I flicked on the porch light — there was Matt, hunched over our doorknob.

Holding a lockpick.

We called the police. Since then, life has been great. Just a few months later, our wonderful little Madeline was born. And as soon as we got back from the hospital, on our doorstep was a little teddy bear, a pink bow sewed on its head. There wasn’t a return address, or a card of any kind.

But I think I know who it’s from.

There’s Something in the Cornfield

At 3 AM, I jolted awake to a sound outside.

Snap, snap.

That was unusual for our Ohio farmhouse. We were surrounded in every direction by vast fields of corn, miles from the nearest neighbor. And I’d know if we left the gate open, or one of Madison’s toys was out – I’d done my nightly check of the backyard about a thousand times.

But as I lay there, still under the blankets, the noise continued.

Snap, snap, snap.

I ran to the window and threw back the curtains.

The corn stretched out as far as the eye could see, rippling and churning like some great, dark ocean. It stopped just short of Madison’s swing set, casting long shadows onto the grass that nearly reached the back door.

Snap, snap! The stalks shifted and swayed, shaking the husks so hard they threatened to fall.

“David! There’s something out there!”

“Probably just a raccoon,” he slurred, pulling the covers over his head.

“That’s bigger than a raccoon. Look at it!” The corn rippled and roiled, as if something large was moving underneath. Snap-snap-snap. “What if there’s someone out there?! I’m going to check the locks –”

“You already checked them a million times, like you do every night,” he groaned. “Just go back to sleep.”

I didn’t listen. I opened the door and stepped out of the room.

No.

At the end of the hall –

Madison’s door was hanging open.

“Maddie?” I called, my voice shaking. And then I got that terrible feeling that only a parent knows. Something’s terribly wrong. Sinking, paralyzing, throbbing in your chest, as you try to tell yourself she’s okay, don’t freak out, I’m sure she’s fine.

But she wasn’t fine.

The bed was empty.

“Madison?!” I ran out the back door, into the yard. “Madison! Where are you?!” I screamed, out into the night.

The corn was still.

Now that I was out there, I saw the evidence. Little bare footprints in the mud, leading up to the cornfield’s edge. Where they disappeared, the corn was slightly trampled – two stalks leaned in opposite directions, as if forcefully pushed apart.

“Madison!” I screamed, as loud as I could.

But I was met with only silence.

David stumbled out after me. “She must’ve just went out in the corn, to explore or something. We’ll find her,” he said, his tone barely convincing. He pulled out his phone, turned on the flashlight, and squeezed himself between the leaning stalks. “Hey! Maddie!” he yelled, with panic trembling his voice.

I took a deep breath and squeezed in after him.

The corn scratched my body. My legs were shaking so badly, every step threatened to send me tumbling into the mud. The white orb of David’s flashlight hovered a few feet in front of me – but other than that, the cornfield was pitch black.

I was about to collapse with panic when the corn thinned out.

And then we were in what appeared to be some sort of clearing or crop circle. The corn had been trampled into the ground in a small circle, roughly ten feet in diameter.

In the center stood Madison.

Facing away from us.

“Madison!” I screamed.

She didn’t turn around.

David was frozen, staring at her back, the flashlight shaking in his hand.

“Are you okay?! Madison –” I turned her around.

No.

I was staring at a blank face.

A face made of burlap. A brown wig was stuck on top with safety pins. An Elsa shirt was stretched over the bloated waist of straw. The bottoms – patterned pink fair isle – were put on backwards.

I began to shake.

“Those are the pajamas I put her to bed in.” My voice cracked. “She wanted the My Little Pony ones, but they were dirty, and – and –”

“What kind of sicko would do something like this?!” David said, his panic boiling into anger. He pulled out his phone and began dialing 911.

Snap, snap, snap.

The corn shook and shivered all around us. Shadows, slowly coalescing between the stalks, surrounded us in a ring of black. And then, before I could react –

A hand shot out between the dark stalks.

It grabbed David by the arm. He lost his balance and toppled backwards, his phone flying to the ground.

“David –”

A cold hand latched onto my waist.

I was yanked into the corn. My back hit the cold mud; the corn scratched and poked at my sides. “Get off me!” I screamed, swatting blindly at the stalks. Black slowly faded into hues of indigo and gray, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness.

And then I could see them. Interrupting the vertical pattern of the corn stalks, there were several short shadows standing over me.

Then the whispers started.

Hissing, hurried whispers, that seemed to generate the very wind that blew through the stalks. The corn shivered and shook, and then a heavy silence filled the air. I tried to scream – but quickly realized one of them had tied something over my mouth.

But then I heard it, and my heart soared.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

A tinny voice, breaking through the silence. I pulled my neck up, and through the stalks I saw the white light of the phone, glowing against the trampled corn.

“Mmmph – mmmmph!” I tried to scream through the gag. It didn’t work. Similar grunts several feet away from me rung out in the night – David.

Crrrrrrsssshhhh.

A low rumbling sound filled the air. The corn shook above me, harder than I’d seen it all night – stretching and swaying, stalks wildly crashing into each other. And as the voice continued – 911, hello? What’s your emergency? – a loud rush, like an airplane flying right overhead, filled my ears.

I looked up just in time to see the lights. Red, purple, and green, blinking in an odd asynchronous pattern.

The scarecrow, wearing Maddie’s clothes, was enveloped in white light.

And then, with a deafening hiss, it was yanked up into the night.

I looked back at my captors. In the strange, flashing lights, their faces were illuminated – and I saw that they weren’t terrors, monsters, or murderers.

They were children.

Horribly disfigured children.

Some were missing noses. Others had long scars running straight down their faces, as if someone had split open their heads to explore what was inside. Quite a few were missing ears, and one had no teeth. All of them had a profound sadness in their eyes – except for the one to my left, who had no eyes.

But they were also smiling, just a little.

As the light disappeared, and the faces faded back into the shadows, the hands on me loosened. The gag fell away; the shadows receded into the corn.

Except for one.

“Mommy!”

Snap, snap.

With a squeal, two warm arms wrapped around my waist. Maddie.

“Oh my God – Maddie –” I began to sob, hugging her tighter than I ever have in my life. “Are you okay? And –”

“Maddie?” The broken, hopeful voice of David sounded to my left. Crunch, crunch – he ran over to us.

“I’m fine, Daddy.”

“Let’s get out of here,” he said, grabbing both our hands and yanking us back through the corn.

We ran back into the house, locking the doors and calling the police. Madison was in a different set of clothes – ones dirty, smudged with mud and riddled with holes. But she was smiling, safe, and happy.

“They saved me, Mommy,” she kept saying, tugging on my arm. “The bad men were gonna get me, but they tricked them.”

As the police were taking our statements – as the sun was cresting over the corn – Maddie stood at the back door.

“Bye-bye,” she said, waving wildly at the corn field.

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