Ears and Eyes
Most of the daylight had faded. I watched the stalks of corn flutter in the wind like synchronized dancers. Although, one particular patch in the field moved off rhythm from the rest. It rustled even as the wind died, weaving across the field. Shadows always seemed to lunge and lurch in such unnatural ways when I stared at them too long. I shrugged it off and shut the window; probably just some animal lost in the skyscraping stalks.
Ms. Daphne, the old lady who lived below me, was practicing piano again. I could hear the sound through the floorboards. I rented the second floor from her, which she had turned into a guest house after she divorced her husband.
I grabbed my phone from the desk and wandered to the kitchen. I swept my keys from the little sun-shaped dish by the door—time to get Kit.
Kit and I made a habit of being there for each other. I kept an unspoken promise that I’d always put them first and although I meant to reserve it for high-stakes situations, it applied when they messaged me tonight, needing to be rescued from their studies just as much as I did. Kit was my favorite person in the world, so I didn’t mind, plus what else did I have to do tonight anyway?
The cold air nipped at my cheeks as soon as I stepped outside, chilly even for October. The stairs clanged as I marched down and I heard the piano stop. Living in an old house meant every creak and whisper echoed throughout. Ms. Daphne opened her door to the landing and poked her head out. Her cat followed and wandered up the stairs, nudging my little dragon statue on the steps. The old lady asked if I could try my best to be quiet coming back tonight—I’d been upsetting the cat with my creaking floorboards.
My car zipped from the vastness of the fields to the quaint space near campus. Each storefront was decked in some combination of cobwebs or skeletons dressed as farmhands. All except for the bar across from Kit’s apartment, The Neon Palm, who filled their storefront with too many plastic flamingos. They were skewered through bales of hay because the owner wanted to keep up their tropical theme year-round.
Kit appeared; their skin reflected the neon warmth coming from the sign at the bar’s entrance. At some point, since I last saw them, they’d dyed their hair. Cherry blossom pink covered the bleach blond. I got a good look since they were much shorter than me, even in their old leather boots. When I looked down at their eyes, brown and warm like the earth, the rims of their glasses flashed a reflection of the sign as they jerked their gaze.
They looked up at me and smirked, “Got an adventure for us tonight?”
“Define adventure,” I replied.
“Tipping cows, like real men,” they said as we climbed into my car.
“I’ve got something in mind.”
The night stretched like a gray tarp across the sky. My headlights cut through the streets and out onto the lonely bit of countryside that separated the town from the interstate. I parked next to a rotted barn.
“Are we making crop circles or something?”
“Let’s check it out.” I pulled a flashlight from my glove box and smiled.
I’d passed this dilapidated barn a thousand times on my way out of town. When I clicked my flashlight on, we saw how torn apart the place really was. Half of the outer panels were missing on opposite walls and the big barn door was stuck open; all the abandoned equipment rustling in the elements. Kit dared me to go inside, and I dared them to do the same. Each breeze caused the rotted wood to croak and crinkled the corn. The ears of corn almost suffocated the old building.
I could’ve sworn I heard hissing. Something over Kit’s shoulder flickered. I’d been so focused on the holes in the walls of the barn that I didn’t even notice it there until it disappeared. Whatever it was moved quickly and was partly covered with loose fabric. It had to be my imagination or something in my eye. Just an overgrown raccoon half-stuck in an old feed bag, I bet. In the dark, things changed shape. Shadows jumped around a lot out here, the wind moving the field in the darkness.
Kit turned on their phone flashlight and moved toward the corn. “Y’know, maybe we could move in together next semester so we can be roomies again before we graduate, for the hell of it,” they suggested with a grin. I could see the glint of my flashlight in their glasses. “I’ve been applying to jobs in New York, so if you wind up in D.C., we won’t be too far apart. Maybe I could find a job closer to you too.”
“I don’t want you to be far; you’ll get all new friends, cooler friends, and then you’ll just forget about me, because you’re too busy being cool.” I cracked a smile and looked at them. For a second, I thought I could maybe tell them about the apartment I’d found that would be perfect for us. I imagined living with them, watching them make their morning coffee, their arms still warm with sleep. I imagined their voice and the scent of vanilla filling up the apartment as they sang absentmindedly while baking
“You act like I’d just move on.” They pushed forward, brushing away stalks as we plunged further. All around us, the field rustled. It almost sounded like a whisper or a warning. “You’re not getting rid of me that easy.”
They would find new friends wherever they wound up, that was a fact. It wouldn’t take long either. Their smile was infectious, the kind that made you feel warm inside. Since they grew out of that awkward phase from our first year of college, they didn’t have much trouble making more friends. I hadn’t really met anyone, and I wasn’t exactly great at first impressions, so I only had Kit. Whatever happened in the future, it might rip them away from me, a thought that made me turn grey inside.
“Promise. You’re stuck with me.”
The corners of my mouth tugged into a smile. Here, in the belly of the field, it felt like we were the only people on the planet. It was so dark, and there was no sound to disturb the stillness of our solitude. Just as quick as it came, that feeling faded, lost to the hiss of the wind swelling. It filled the space around us and pumped me full of the overwhelming need to take off running.
Kit’s eyebrows stitched together as they looked past me, to where the barn jutted out of the field. They grabbed my hand and pulled me close. In a splintered whisper, they breathed, “There’s something over there. Behind you.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up at the quiver in their voice. I jerked my head around and saw something between the barn and us. An eerie glow haunted its eyes—that thing I caught a glimpse of just moments ago stuck out of the corn a few feet away, close enough that it could hear us. Old scarecrow skin draped its limbs, it hunched over and dragged a claw along the dirt.
“We’re going to be fine,” I promised Kit. I just needed to figure out how to get us out of here.
Our hands tangled together. We looked at each other, dust-covered and petrified. On the other side of us, a narrow path had been tramped into the ground between two rows of corn. It meandered through the crop, I hoped it would lead us to the road. We crept between the walls around us; I shivered as dry stalks pulled at my jacket. We just had to make it back to the car, then I could get us to safety like I promised.
The top of the Thing’s head poked out from the roof of the field. Feathers sprouted from its scalp. It was getting closer; I could almost touch it now. Could it just be an unusually large bird? It couldn’t swoop down and grab us, right? I’d seen videos of eagles with baby sharks in their talons. But birds here couldn’t be that strong, right?
I stretched, digging my toes into the dirt to try and get a better glance at the Thing near the barn. Maybe it was just some loser with a costume and nothing better to do. It slithered past the structure, further into the field like it was following us, before the tip of its head dove down. I couldn’t see it now. It could be anywhere. All my limbs were tied to the spot, I couldn’t move, couldn’t run.
All around us, that same sinister hiss echoed like whispers in an empty house. Kit’s fingers dug into my hand. Besides the pink ends of their chewed fingertips, the only thing I felt were the cold beads of sweat on my forehead.
Something behind us moved. I snapped my head around to see Kit’s face illuminated by my flashlight, their eyes pointed further down the path. My heart slammed in my chest so hard that I thought it might break my ribs. Kit flashed a trusting smile and tugged at my hand. I followed deeper into the field, away from where it had sprouted up last. I kept my head on a swivel. That Thing could be anywhere. It was probably lurking just where the shadows started to get too dark to see. My skin crawled, it was watching us. Every time a leaf crunched beneath my feet, I looked over my shoulder. I swore I heard something getting closer, brushing against the corn. I decided to stop looking before I did see something. What was I supposed to do if it was there?
Everything beyond the halo of our flashlights was pure unknown, inky blackness. The perfect hiding spot for that nightmare of a creature. We needed to make our way back to the road, back to the car, somewhere I could keep us safe.
The hissing surged until I had to clasp my hands over my ears, letting my flashlight clatter to the earth. Murky white light crept along the path tramped between the stalks and at the end of it: eyes. They drew closer, suddenly glowing brighter. I watched Kit’s usual bounce fade from their step. Their legs slack and they took slow, heavy steps toward the eyes and gaping jaw that hung below them. Kit’s whole body had been struck by that same eerie lethargy; their arms went loose so their phone dangled. The light from their flashlight splattered across the stalks alongside them, making each dark crevice seem just a little darker when the light failed to reach it. The eyes at the end of the path glared, beaming Kit in, inch by inch with their glow.
“Kit! What the hell?” I yanked their wrist.
Something inside them snapped, I felt their shoulder tug. They swung back like elastic and blinked. When I looked at them, searching their faces for an explanation, their pupils swallowed up the glow from my flashlight like perfectly symmetrical black holes. Shadows mangled their expression. Their face was blank as if they had no recollection of the past few seconds.
My eyes flickered toward the beast, too frozen in fear to point at whatever that thing was. Its pale eyes turned, splitting a blank, steady gaze between us. The feathers on top of its head twitched as it revealed a mouthful of yellow razor-sharp teeth. Blood dripped from its leathery tongue, down its gaunt neck that stretched a whole foot before it turned into a patchwork corpse of leather and scales.
“Get behind me,” I snapped. Kit crept over slowly. Then, in the same instant, their breath picked up. Each muscle in their face twitched. Fear contorted their expression into something jagged as horror took over their body. Their fingers dug into my shoulder as they clung to me.
The loose flaps of skin swung as the Thing crept forward. In the overturned beam of my flashlight, I got a good look at it. The scaled torso disappeared into the raw muscle of its thin legs, which ended in crooked hooves. The head, almost human, towered over the corn walls on either side of us. Its eyes glowed brighter, like when you take a picture of an animal with a flash. Behind the light, it was empty. Cold. I couldn’t look at the face. I didn’t want to call it a face at all. It bent and stitched in ways I couldn’t comprehend, like a botched surgery scar that would never fully heal. I could see the bone in spots where the skin slipped off. My stomach knotted and unwound at the sight of it.
“What is that?” Kit shouted at me. I could barely hear them over the hiss that slithered through the ears of corn. Each second it got louder. Closer.
It lowered its snout and snarled in our faces. I could see chunks of skin between the daggers puncturing its swollen gums.
Without another word, we took off in a mad dash. I led us in the direction of the road, away from the Thing. My heart stopped as I realized we could only race towards the light of the houses in the distance and hope we would make it. The corn scraped my face as I bolted forward. Kit’s footsteps struck the ground behind me. If we tried, we could make it to my place. Kit blurred by my side as our feet collided with the pavement. We’d have to bust our asses, but we could make it.
Don’t look back. A voice in my head told me. Don’t look back. What if it was there? What would I do? My feet hit the ground. Each time, I could swear it was hard enough to crack the pavement beneath me. Don’t look back.
As long as I could see Kit, as long as I knew they were okay, I could keep running. I could see the silhouette of Ms. Daphne’s gardening shed. The motion-sensing light flicked on.
Don’t turn around.
I swore there was another set of footsteps behind us.
Don’t turn around.
The duplex stuck out in a dark shape from the horizon, like a tombstone. Kit clambered up the stairs and into the front door, their cheeks stained with tears. My chest collapsed when I could finally stop running. For the first time, I let myself turn around. Nothingness. The night behind us was quiet, still. It almost looked like a painting.
My legs felt like steel as I unlocked the door. We crashed onto the couch. It creaked beneath our weight. The room spun around me. I glanced at Kit, their chest rose and fell in quick, shallow movements.
We heard a slamming at the door. Both of us jumped. Kit yelped. I expected them to dive behind the couch for cover. My breath hitched. There’s no way that Thing followed us all the way here. Kit’s eyes glinted at me, wide in apprehension. They shook their head in a fury, pleading for me not to open it. There was another bang against the wood. Harder this time.
“I swear, what did I say about all that noise?” Ms. Daphne shouted. Her shrill voice relaxed each of the muscles in my body. I walked over to the door, Ms. Daphne still wrapping against it. She had a right to be angry. I did the only thing she told me not to do. When I opened the door, she stood there in a bathrobe with a scowl on her face, her cat at her feet.
“I’m sorry Ms. Daphne, see we saw this—this thing,” I looked at Kit for a better word to describe it. They stuck their eyes to the world beyond the window.
“I don’t care if you saw the pope riding a unicorn, keep it down.”
“Of course, ma’am,” I sighed, “Have you seen anything unusual lately? Out in the cornfield?”
She squawked out a laugh, then sighed. “Goodnight. Please keep it down. Both of you.”
“I’ll try my best. Night, Ms. Daphne.” I shut the door behind me, puzzled by her laughter. I looked at Kit still quaking yet unblinking on the couch. I took a few deep breaths and tried to shake the terror from my brain. Neither of us was ready to talk about what we’d just seen.
I rested against the window and looked out into the night; at the field we’d just escaped from. My car sat near the barn; my stomach sank at the thought of going back out there to get it in the morning. Suddenly, I was sick of this view. I couldn’t stay here with the threat of that Thing nearby; I needed to find a new place to live. I told Kit about the apartment I’d found.
Orion Emerick is a fourth-year creative writing major at BGSU, with a minor in English, originally from Michigan. They enjoy the outdoors, rainy days, spending time with their cat and dogs, and reading about all sorts of things that go bump in the night. They discovered a love of writing years ago, in the early years of high school and refused to waver from this creative path since.