The cold October air burned Addie’s lungs as she ran through the corn maze, her blood-filled shoes squelching with every frantic step. They were all dead. And she was next. She knew this was a fucking stupid idea. She told them all she didn’t want to do it. Sure, the legends were probably bullshit but…what if they weren’t? Why risk it?
It was a week ago when one of the maintainers at her college mentioned the “Corn Maze Killer” when he overheard Bill talking about urban legends. Bill loved that stuff. He ate up the story of a local psychopath hunting people stupid enough to go into the local corn maze at night. After the third gruesome description of the bodies they’d pulled out of that place, Addie had heard enough.
But not Bill. Never Bill. Not only did he want to hear more, he wanted to visit the place at night! And somehow, all the rest of their friends thought it’d be fun to tag along! At least Addie had enough sense to object, for all the good it did.
They’d laughed at her. She was being ridiculous, they said. A buzzkill. And now she was the only one still alive, fleeing for her life from…from who? What?
A crow’s rough caw sounded out from the darkness, competing against the noise of her heart pounding in her ears. No, she thought. Not a crow. They don’t caw at night. Another “crow” called out far behind her. She slowed, trying to figure out where the caws were coming from so she could head in the opposite direction, even if it meant crashing through the walls of this maze.
And then a third call rattled out into the night. This one was worryingly close. There were at least three of these things, she thought. And they had her surrounded.
People always talk about fight or flight, but there’s a third thing that folks do when terror has pushed them beyond their limit. Freeze. The “crows” kept calling all around her, and she stood stock still, digging her nails into her palms and gritting her teeth so hard they hurt. Slowly, blissfully, the calls started moving further from her. And then it was quiet.
Addie took a few steadying breaths and then quietly snuck forward, her adrenaline waning enough to let her feel the extent of her injuries. A twisted ankle from tripping as she ran away from the van. A deep gash running from her ribs to her hip which was the source of the blood in her shoe. She wasn’t sure what cut her, but she was guessing a knife…or maybe a claw? She shook her head. What did it matter? Whatever it was, she was alive, and if she wanted to stay that way she had to get help.
She turned a corner and saw she’d reached the very center of the maze. Her heart sank as she realized this meant she was as far as she could possibly be from an exit. Four branching pathways twisted out from this small clearing. A high pyramid of haybales covered in pumpkins and corn stalks dominated the open area. She considered climbing it to get a good look of her surroundings but dismissed the idea since it’d also give these bastards a direct line of sight to her as well. Not worth the risk, she thought.
“H-help,” a voice rasped from the other side of the hay. Addie crept forward, worried she was walking int a trap. A man lay sprawled over the lowest bales, pinned through the chest and guts by a series of steel fence posts. “Please…” he managed, his wild eyes struggling to focus on her. She rushed to his side and tried to pull one of the posts out but the only thing her efforts won her was a pitiful groan from the dying man.
“I…I can’t,” she said. Her eyes burned with tears. Even if she could pull the posts out, it would almost certainly kill him. And if he survived, then what? She couldn’t carry him. Not if she wanted to survive the night. She felt awful for thinking that but it was the truth. She had to think of herself if she was to get out of this place. “I can’t,” she said again. “I’m sorry.”
The man closed his eyes for a moment, his expression growing still. “Fuck you,” he said through clenched teeth. And then he opened his eyes and stared directly into hers before shouting, “She’s over here! Near the hay!” The last word was more wet cough and wheeze than words but it still had the same effect. The crowing started up again, and Addie ran.
The caws weren’t getting louder, thankfully, but they also weren’t fading as she sped through the maze. Addie knew the killers had reached the clearing when she heard the impaled man’s final scream. She didn’t see the wire pulled tight across the path until it was too late. Her chin slammed into the ground and her head filled with fireworks as she tried futilely to push herself from the ground. A heavy boot slammed into her back, pressing her chest and stomach to the ground and knocking the wind out of her. She wanted to scream but the air wouldn’t come.
“I got her!” a man called out. He hocked a thick wad of spit onto the ground next to her face and struggled to catch his breath. She tried to writhe out from under his foot but he just pressed down harder until she though her ribs would crack against the packed earth. “That’s enough of that. You just behave now,” he said. “Quite a chase you lead us on, girly. It’s all over n- “
The man crumpled and fell across her legs. As Addie scrambled to pull herself free, a set of rough hands grabbed her and lifted her to her feet. An old man with thick, blood-specked glasses retrieved his shovel from the ground with a shaking hand.
“Thank you, I-”
“Run!” the man urged, and shoved her down the path towards escape.
It started to rain as they reached the exit to the maze. “My truck’s just over that way,” the man said, gesturing with the shovel to a parking lot. “Let’s move!” The sounds of pursuit filled the narrow paths behind them. The men were getting closer with every moment they wasted.
They reached the edge of the parking lot just as three men burst from the maze. Looking back over her shoulder, it all clicked into place. She knew who they were. They were maintenance workers at her college. They were the ones who told her friends about the urban legend of the killers in the corn maze. It had all been a trap to lure them here.
The men spotted them across the dark field and were sprinting towards the lot. “Over here!” the old man called, swinging the door open to his rusted red pickup. She scrambled over to the passenger side and the man jumped in afterwards. The truck roared to life and the man slammed it into reverse, crashing into the car next to him as he frantically pulled out of the parking space. The killers arrived just in time to narrowly jump out of the way of the truck as the old man sped through the lot and onto the dirt road.
She stared behind them as the red taillights cast their angry glow on the men. The darkness of the road and the clouds of dust the truck kicked up conspired to erase them from her view and just like that, they were gone. Someone was sobbing quietly, and it was only after a moment or two that she realized it was her.
“Shh shhh,” the old man hushed. “It’s okay. They can’t hurt you.”
She wiped her face with her filthy sleeve and looked at her rescuer. She started to thank him before something else caught her eye, interrupting her chain of thought. A keychain from her college dangled from the ignition.
“That’s my school,” she said, confusion and weariness seeping into every word.
“Yeah, I know,” the man said, his eyes never leaving the road. “I’ve seen you around. Well, I used to, anyway.”
“Yep. Not surprised you don’t remember me. I retired last year, and anyway, no one really pays much attention to the maintainers.”
Her mind raced. She wanted to scream, to ask a thousand questions, to cry, but all she managed was to croak out another soft “What?”
“The boys set this up for me. A little going away present. They got a little carried away, though. The deal was they could have the others but you…you were mine.” He looked over and smiled. “Couldn’t let ‘em take you away from me, now could I?”
The truck continued on down the empty dirt road, the sound of the engine and a short, interrupted scream fading away into black forever.