The Scaredy Men

by S.E. Casey

It looks rather dull from the road. However, Maddie cries out for the lure, starved for stimulation having spent all morning in the car.

I pull over to the shoulder, tires crunching over the crispy chaff as if it were bones of small birds. The hot and arid weather clings stubbornly into the fall.

My wife sighs. However, she opens the door and the three of us exit into the dusty midday heat. Maddie runs to the entrance of the cornfield maze. It is unmanned, no one to stop her, unless one counts the scarecrow slumping on an old picnic table.

I read the sign slung over its crooked neck, a shaky scrawl in black marker.

One dollar. Children are FREE.

I fish out two bucks and stick them under the scarecrow’s floppy palm hat.

Danielle rolls her eyes. We are saving for Maddie’s ballet lessons and I’m the impulse spender.

“Hey, it’s only fair,” I shrug.

Noticing a ceramic bowl filled with matchbooks, I grab one reading its cover.

The Scaredy Man.

I flip it over.

Who am I?

Pocketing it, Danielle and I enter the maze to catch up with our daughter.


The stalks loom high above our heads. The foliage is heavy, pregnant with the unharvested ears of rotting dent corn.

We hit another dead end. Danielle grumbles as we double back to the last intersection. Maddie’s laughter sounds somewhere ahead of us. We will catch up with her eventually. At least I hope.

Despite its inauspicious beginnings, the road visible through the gaps in the water-starved stalks, the maze has thickened and become deviously complex. We are spun around. The corn is too high and lush to see any landmarks. The sun conspires against us too. It blazes directly above making it useless as a guide.

I wipe my forehead. However, it is dry, my rough skin fraying to the touch.


Deeper and deeper we go.

Several times we had tried doubling back. However, the turns negotiated only moments before seem different as if the maze changes behind us. No matter the strategy, we spiral further in.

Maddie is gone, her giggles and hoots lost to the field. She deserves her freedom, not to have her fun curbed by us. Danielle is sullen. However, she seems to have accepted it, at least no longer calling her name.

There is nothing we can do. We had been warned.

One dollar. Children are FREE.

Children are FREE.

I look up at the taunting moon, full and lonely in the vacant sky. But much like the sun, it offers no solace.

Listening for sounds of the road prove fruitless as well. Even if there were a honk or a crash of an accident, the steady beating of the drums drowns it out. Deep and persistent, they thrum like a heartbeat.

I tap my finger on the cover of the matchbook mouthing its words to the rhythm.

The Scaredy Man.

“We should split up.” Danielle’s voice is raspy and tired.

I nod. So insufferably dry here, my mouth is too parched to speak.


The ground crunches beneath my feet, the discarded husks shed from the stalks having ossified in the heat. Loose kernels calcified into little sharp teeth bite into the soles of my shoes.

The walls of vegetation tighten around me. Although robust, pushing me back whenever I brush them, they are dehydrated and brittle. I had hoped the night would produce a quenching dew, but it seems hotter than the day.

The moon blinks behind the black burlap canvases waving in the gales. But it isn’t burlap, rather the scratchy night sky pulled down and sliced into ribbons.

There are no forks in the path, no choices to be made. Points that should have been intersections are cut off as if giant hay bales had been rolled into place. The closing window above and the rippling bands of night allow so little light it makes it impossible to tell.

Who am I?

I clutch the matchbook tightly, grateful for its wisdom.

The drums thunder, vibrations shaking the chalky pollen from the stalks. My throat and nose close up. I want to sneeze but can’t, as if the oppressive aridity has dried out my sinuses.

I stumble forward on shaky legs until I can’t go further, a solid wall in front of me. The tattered sky is gone, the canopy closed overhead. Drenched in a dry, starchy darkness, the parched vegetation presses around me like I am a baby in a straw cocoon.

I tear a stick from the matchbook. Without any humidity in the air, it lights on the first strike. In the phosphorus flash, button eyes leer at me, mouths slashed into frozen screams thirstily gape.

The match falls from my paralyzed hand. I watch it bounce on the withered pillow of shells at my feet several times before slipping between the gaps in the loose chaff.

Darkness engulfs me again. But it is short lived, a dull orange glow blooming around me. In the swelling light, the menacing faces return. Eyes burn like coals and mouths smolder. The incendiary drums beat faster, climaxing into a violent crescendo.

Caught up in the searing updrafts, the wispy figures around me begin to rise. Propelled upwards, they silently scream, escaping the blaze. And I rise with them. Hoisted into the night, my burlap and straw self ascends over the field.

It is a beautiful sight. Embers pop and dance like drunk fireflies as a ring of fire races outward, consuming the field. The puzzle is solved, the flames reducing the maze to ash. Like a phoenix, it will grow again, another tangled configuration to be born.

And we, the solvers of the maze, will be there to defend it.

We, the transcendent gods of the field.

The scared, the scarred, and the sacred.

The Scaredy Men.

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