Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2002
Adult Winners

First Place

Our first place winner in the Adult category is Mark Carver of Marietta, Georgia. Mr. Carver is a sophomore English major at Toccoa Falls College.

The Tattered Man in Farmer's Jake's Cornfield

Mark Carver

Tommy Shriver was a nine-year-old boy living in Hodge's Creek, Kentucky. As such, he was entitled to all the benefits allotted to individuals such as himself; namely, possessing the inalienable right to be carefree and untroubled about all the boring things adults seemed so fond of wallowing in. A nine-year-old boy in Hodge's Creek, Kentucky was essentially the ruler of the world. He could go anywhere and do anything he wanted, with anybody he chose. Between breakfast and supper he was a free spirit, riding the wind to whatever adventures lay just over the next hill. Of course, many of the adults thought that too much fun was not a good thing for a nine-year-old boy and often tried to thwart Tommy's attempts at the pursuit of happiness. They would put up fences and chain dogs in the yard and even call up his mother to tell him that they saw Tommy's bright yellow head bobbing through their gardens. Tommy would get a good talk about how he should respect other people's property and how there were plenty of places he could go that wouldn't upset people.

Tommy would nod obediently, but his mother's words would dissolve in his turbulent mind faster than he could plan his next escapade. After all, he ruled the world. Why should he have to listen to what the adults had to say? They were the ones who had forgotten how to have fun. As far as Tommy was concerned, they had forfeited any authority they had on the matter. With a quick "okay, Mom," he would zip out the door and do all the things that rulers of the world found enjoyable. He would vault over fences, chase cats into trees, and snatch a few cherries from Miss Martha's orchard. And the best thing was that these were only a few of his options. There were creeks to be waded in and trees to be climb and blue-bellied lizards to catch and annoying girls to chase. With so many opportunities like this, Tommy would never have time to get old.

On the first of September, only a week and a half before school started, Tommy was exhausting himself trying to cram in all the fun he could. He had learned early in life that the busier you are, the quicker time goes. The last thing a boy wants is time going quickly when school is approaching, but Tommy figured it was better to have a lot of fun in a little time than be bored for a long time. It was too bad that he had to have all this fun by himself, since Charlie Gable was sick and Tory MacPherson was still at summer camp. It didn't matter, though. Tommy kind of liked the solitude, since there would be unanimous agreement on what to do. So, after swinging from the tire in his backyard, traipsing through Benjamin Winklestein's cow pasture, chasing a lost turkey through the woods, and finding a patch of wild strawberries, Tommy decided it was time for a short rest. He was near Farmer Jake's place and there was a swell tree next to his field, so Tommy trekked through the meadow and plopped down in the shade of the giant oak. Enough of the leaves had fallen to afford a view from the top, and Tommy declared to himself that he would climb the mighty tree after he had recovered his strength.

The sky was a bit overcast, but Tommy liked it that way, since it made him feel brave going out despite the uncertainty of the elements. A sly wind was blowing softly, hissing about the storm that was fast approaching. The day felt sinister, almost evil, but Tommy wasn't afraid. As ruler of the world, he wasn't about to let a darkening sky threaten his precious fun.

An ill wind whipped through the trees, dipping down the hill and slithering through the corn in Farmer Jake's field. Tommy saw some movement out of the corner of his eye, causing him to turn and peer hard. Ever so briefly, he saw a black shape through the undulating stalks of corn, then it was gone. A chill tickled his heart, but he wasn't scared. He wasn't going to run just because something big and black was hiding amongst the corn. Unless it was a bear... But even if it was, he could scamper up the tree quicker than a squirrel. He was in complete control, though he was getting very curious. His eyes were riveted to the softly waving stalks, waiting for another stiff wind.

One came, rushing like a tidal wave across the sea of green. The corn humbly bowed, writhing and swaying in their timid reverence of the storm. The corn was beaten down where Tommy was watching, but he saw nothing. A few yard away, another dark shape was exposed, then covered up. Tommy was starting to feel concerned. He was still nowhere close to afraid, but you never know what might be lurking in a cornfield. They're excellent places to hide, especially if you have something evil on your mind and you don't want to be noticed until you're ready to put your plan into action. Another gust of wind raked across the field, this time folding the corn nearly to the ground. The stalks fell away like a veil, and Tommy gasped. A moment later, the corn sprang back into place, wrapping their secret behind a curtain of leaves.

Tommy had gotten a good enough look to make his blood run cold. He had seen a face, a hideous face. On its head was a battered straw hat that stayed on despite the strong wind. But the face... it looked rotted. It was all tight and shriveled, and looked like it was silently screaming. Yet it also seemed to be smiling a cruel, wicked smile. And worst of all, it looked right at Tommy. If nothing else, Tommy was certain of this. He was so immersed in his fearful contemplation that he didn't notice yet another stiff breeze gliding across the field. He almost yelped as he suddenly saw that horrific face again and a limp, ragged hand raised over his head. It could have been waving, or it could have been pointing at Tommy. In a split second, Tommy determined that the second possibility was the case. All thoughts of bravery had evaporated. Panting hard, he leaped to his feet and scurried back home.

His mother was a bit surprised to see her intrepid son home so soon, but she didn't pry and served the flustered boy lunch. Tommy didn't leave the house for the rest of the day, and his answers at the dinner table were elusive when his father asked him how his day was. When bedtime finally arrived, Tommy didn't sleep. He couldn't. As the rain battered the windows, his mind was engulfed by that terrifying face. When he closed his eyes, even just to blink, it was there, grinning at him with those gaping eye sockets and withered skin. Countless times, he saw skeletal hands reaching out from the shadows, hastily retreating when he looked at them. He was more exhausted lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling than he had been all day running around Hodge's Creek. The clamour in his mind consumed more energy than his spry young body.

A flash of lightning seared across the sky, magnetically drawing his eye to the window.

He saw the face.

It was grinning at him through the rain-streaked window, its gruesome features accented by the ghoulish blaze of blue light. Tommy bolted upright and dashed over to the window despite his fear. He saw nothing but rain plummeting to the bushes two stories below. His frantic eyes roamed the yard as his mind tried to apply the brakes to his runaway imagination. He was certain he saw it. He didn't know how, but it was real.

Tommy suddenly had the terrible feeling that something was in the room. He whirled around to face vacant shadows. He glanced this way and that, fearful that when he looked away, the face would come screaming at him from a dark corner. Feeling very small and frightened, he vaulted into bed (in case it was underneath and tried to grab his ankles) and bundled up in his iron blanket. His wide eyes reflected the lightning as they scampered across the room, expecting any minute to see a nightmare materialize.

He was awakened by his mother's gentle prodding, hearing her distant voice telling him that it was time for church. Tommy oozed out of bed and was relieved to see that the rain had stopped, though the sky still looked grey and tired from last night's fury. He wriggled into his church clothes and rode with his parents to the pretty white building in the middle of town. He didn't like church very much, but today he was glad to go. He felt safe among all the big old people, a crowd he generally viewed with disdain. It was even more reassuring when the preacher gave a sermon on how Almighty Jehovah was bigger than any of our fears. Tommy was surprised to find himself eagerly paying attention, becoming more and more emboldened with each comforting word. By the time the service was over, Tommy was itching to get into his mess-around clothes and go confront the specter that hid in Farmer Jake's field.

Despite the day's sullen atmosphere, Tommy felt like it was in his favour. The world was afraid of him, not the other way around. He was at home in the shadows and the clouds. He ruled them with strength and contempt, and surely did not fear ragged ghosts cowering among stalks of corn. As he neared the cornfield, he could feel his bravery begin to diminish, but only slightly. He catapulted over the fence and passed beneath the solemn oak tree. There was no wind today, but Tommy could just barely see the top of the phantom's hat. Gritting his teeth and clenching his fists, he marched down the hill and stormed his way through the army of corn.

The field was rather small, but Tommy felt like he had been pushing his way through corn stalks for hours. Had he missed his target? Just as this thought entered his mind, he stumbled into a small clearing.

There it was. The terrifying bloodthirsty ghoul that smiled with wicked delight, its bony arms limp at its sides. It was a scarecrow. Tommy jumped at first, then stepped closer and peered into the grotesque face. It was merely a cloth stretched over some round object with a jack-o-lantern expression drawn on. Sure, it looked withered and shrunken, but now Tommy could see it was just tattered fabric. The flaccid body was lifeless without the wind, and looked rather dead. It was still alittle creepy, but certainly didn't warrant the fear it had caused Tommy.

The boy couldn't help but laugh. All that anguish over a straw man stuck on a pole. He was glad no one else knew about this, or he would never hear the end of it from his friends at school. Having conquered his juvenile fear, he turned to go and seek out something more worthy of his attention.

A small breeze stirred the corn. Tommy heard a rustling behind him. He glanced over his shoulder at the scarecrow. The lifeless figure turned towards him and stretched out a ghastly hand, a sinister grin creasing its wilted face.

Tommy didn't even take a breath until he was halfway home.


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