by Lindsey Baker
Corn can’t be harvested in the rain. The stalks are too slick and the moisture pulls the grain off of the cob too easily. It just slips right off, really.
In my boots and raincoat, I’m walking down the rows of corn. The bugs are quiet under the leaves. Somewhere, Pop is talking with the man who works our baler, making a plan for harvesting tomorrow. Somewhere, Ma’am is trying not to think about Lynne missing. Cops keep saying she ran off, says teenage girls do it all the time, especially those who live in a nowhere-nothing corn county. New York City, they said, if she could make it there hitching. Hollywood by bus.
Ma’am doesn’t believe them, of course. I don’t either. Lynne doesn’t have an ounce of excitement in her. She was born to live on the farm and marry any old boy from the surrounding farms. Practically bred to keep house clean and husband fed.
Our grain bins are on the other side of the field next to an old red barn we use to store our feed. I walk up to the biggest bin, about twenty feet tall and fifteen feet circular, and crank open the door on the side. The door won’t budge once the corn is in. I peer inside. It’s too dark in there for me to see to the other side of the bin with this cloudy light. I should have brought a flashlight.
No matter, I think, taking out the wrapped piece of cornbread (to keep the mice out) and bottle of well water from my pocket. I place them on the ledge inside the bin, where I know she can find them, and I close the door. I hear movement from inside the metal walls. Good.
The next day, harvest begins because the rain has stopped and the corn is dry. This is usually a happy time for us. The morning of harvest is a pancake breakfast with lots of real maple syrup and canned peaches. This year, Ma’am makes scrambled eggs and toast for us men and a cup of coffee for herself.
The baler takes each stalk and strips the cobs off as it moves through the field. The grain is then collected to be taken to the drying bins. I follow behind with our tractor, slowly, smashing the spent stalks down into the soil. We leave them there as cover. Good for the dirt.
I let my mind wander up there, buzzing on the tractor. I think about Lynne. I miss her. She’s the sweetest girl, maybe the prettiest too. Blue eyes, blond, good figure. I think she could be a Hollywood star, if that’s what she wanted to do.
The baler stops in front of me and Karl, the driver, jumps down. He stands looking at something and puts his hand over his mouth. I hop down and run over to him, and he turns like he wants to stop me, but he doesn’t.
It’s an arm. Well, it was an arm, but now it’s a shredded hunk of flesh, bone inside bent all to hell. The fingers are slender. Good quilting fingers. I look ahead of the baler’s path, and in the middle of a row of corn there’s a head with blond hair.
I yell out, not sure what I’m saying, and run towards it, Karl right behind me. I kneel down. The soil is still a little muddy, it might even be too moist to harvest. I think that maybe we should call it a day. I lift the head into my lap, and it’s Lynne’s. Blood leaks from the neck onto my hands and I rub it on my jeans. But it can’t be Lynne. The skin is grey and cold but her lips are smiling and it’s a face that could be on the silver screen, no doubt about it.
I lay it back down on the soil, making sure that no grasshoppers or ants get on it, and take off running. Karl yells something behind me, but I don’t stop. The corn hits me on my shoulders. Each one feels like a hand slapping at me, grabbing.
When I get to the grain bins, I don’t bother going to the side door. I can’t fit through it. I climb the ladder to the top of the bin, crank that door open, and climb the ladder down. It’s too dark. The only light is from the door up top. I cling to the wall while I catch my breath and my eyes adjust, until I can at least see the floor under my feet.
“Lynne?” I call out. My voice echoes. Something thuds against the other side of the bin and the metal vibrates. “Lynne!”
I walk towards the sound with my hands out in front of me, like a cartoon mummy. I slip on some old cobs and yell, scaring myself with the echo. On the other side, there is light slipping through the cracks of the side door, and that’s a relief. I turn around and look really hard through the darkness. I hear movement.
“Lynne? Come over here.” A scratching sound. I take a step back and almost lose my balance again. There’s something on the floor. It’s the wrappers of the corn bread I’ve been bringing out here for Lynne, and the bottles of water all twisted open and empty. I almost start crying, I’m so happy to see it—it must be her in here, in the place we always said we would meet— and then I see the bones. I know from biology class that one is a femur. A few look like ribs. Some of them still have meat hanging off in strips. I sit down and scream, and across the bin in the darkness, something breathes.