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Tyler woke up and bounded out of bed. As he passed his window, he saw only blue. Not a cloud in the sky. As he arrived in the kitchen, his mother placed a plate of pancakes on the table. In between monstrous bites, Tyler mumbled “I... play... Ryan... today?” His mother, an expert at deciphering her son, laughed and nodded. As soon as he was done, Tyler dashed down to his best friend’s house.
Ryan greeted him with a huge grin on his face. The two ran around their street, playing tag, hide and seek, any games their young minds could imagine.
“Tyler!” Ryan ran up to him, out of breath. “Wanna play explorer?” Tyler’s pupils went wide. Explorer? That was something new, a new game! He nodded viciously his gaping jaw bouncing up and down.
“How do you play?”
“Well...” Ryan leaned in, carefully revealing the secret game so no adults would hear. “We go somewhere behind the houses, out into the real world. To see what’s out there!” Ryan’s eyes lit up as he described the adventure. Tyler, the more skeptical of the two, started to object.
“But... but Mom said to stay in the neighborhood... and there’s nothing out there, just that cornfield--”
“Yes! We’ll go there first! Imagine what all could be in there!”
“But Ryan, we aren’t supposed to!” Ryan folded his arms.
“Well. I guess you aren’t an explorer.” He turned and started walking. One step. Two. Three.
“Wait!” Tyler was at Ryan’s side. “I’m an explorer. Really! Let’s go.” The two walked towards an old, gray house. During sleepovers, Ryan used to say that an evil monster lived there. Tyler made a point to keep Ryan in between himself and the house. Once they passed it, the horizon was covered by the sprawling cornfield. Among the local kids, it was rumored to stretch into eternity. Ryan turned to Tyler, a wicked smile filling his face. He ran up to the stalks of corn, taking one in his hand. He was about to step in when a scream filled the air.
Ryan whipped around and saw an older man on his porch, a screen door wide open. Tyler heard a rustle in the field and turned around. A sole scarecrow stood ten feet from Ryan. It wore a black hat with beady eyes and a long frown across its face. The strange walked off his porch and toward the kids.
“What the hell do you two think you’re doing?” Neither child could find their voice. Finally, Ryan spoke up.
“We... were just going to explore a little... sir.” Ryan looked down at his feet in shame.
“You don’t wanna explore there. That’s a dangerous field. You get lost, you’ll never come back. Y’understand?” Both the kids nodded vigorously. “Then get going. Don’t let me catch you around here again.”
Ryan and Tyler walked back to Ryan’s house.
“Well, sorry about that... I’ll see you tomorrow?” Tyler mumbled, defeated. But he looked at Ryan; he had a glimmer in his brown eyes. An idea.
“No. You’ll see me tonight.” Tyler raised his eyebrows in confusion. “There’s gotta be something cool in there! Otherwise that old guy wouldn’t have stopped us. We’re gonna sneak out tonight and go back there!”
“Ryan, no! He told us not to go back there!”
“Well. That’s alright. I guess I’m the only explorer here. He turned and started walking. One step. Two. Three.
“Wait!” Ryan turned around expectantly. “Meet me at my house at 11.”
Tyler’s parents went to bed around 10. An hour later, he snuck out, the adrenaline pounding in his ears. He had never been so rebellious. Sure enough, Ryan was waiting for him.
“Took you long enough! You ready?” Tyler nodded, though it was hard to differentiate that from how much his body was shaking. The two of them walked over to the field. The lights in the old man’s house were out. They stopped about ten feet away from the field.
“Are you ready? On three, we run.” Ryan took in a deep breath. “One. Two. Three!” They took off running and jumped into the field. Tyler was amazed by how much taller the corn was compared to him, but he had no time to marvel; Ryan was already running ahead. Tyler’s heart raced as fast as he did through the mess of stalks. He ran so fast that he didn’t notice when Ryan stopped and collided with him, nearly knocking them both over.
“Ryan, why’d you--” He cut himself off when he looked over Ryan’s shoulder. A small section of the field was completely mowed down, revealing a little circle surrounded by the corn walls. And in the center of it was a small skeleton. Tyler heard ruffling behind him.
“Tyler.” Ryan’s voice was urgent and panicked. “We have to go. Now.”
“What’s going on? I don’t understand.” He heard something else moving behind him. Closer.
“We have to go right back from where we came. Get out of this maze as soon as we can. We’ll have to run really quickly. Okay?”
“Ryan, I still don’t get it.” Tears filled Tyler’s eyes.
“It’s going to be okay. We just have to run quickly. Okay?” Ryan walked around Tyler, then turned to face him. He grabbed his shoulders to reassure him one more time. He turned and started running. One step. Two. Three. Then the shriek. It was Ryan’s voice.
“No! No! Put me down! What are you? Tyler, run!” He heard something being dragged towards him. Tyler ran to his left, skirting the circle but staying hidden in the field. A shadowy figure pulled Ryan into the clearing, his shirt in one hand, a knife in the other. Tyler wanted to scream. Wanted to jump in and stop whatever was going to happen. But he stood, petrified, as he watched the scene. Another thing walked into the clearing and held Ryan down. The first shadow bent over him and began to cut his skin at the top of his head, going down both arms, his torso, and both legs. Tyler could only hear Ryan’s howls of pain. It carefully set the knife down and reached into the incision. The screaming intensified, something Tyler didn’t imagine possible. In one swift motion, it pulled out Ryan’s skeleton, leaving his horrified skin draped on the ground. The second figure started putting something into what was Ryan--it looked like hay, maybe straw. After his skin was stuffed full, almost resembling a real person, the first figure started to sew him shut.
Tyler let out a slight whimper. The sewing stopped. Both heads turned. The second shadow started walking towards Tyler. He started to run, running nowhere in particular, just trying to escape the figures. He heard it following behind him. The corn ahead of him started to clear. The sound was getting louder behind him. He could see faint lights. Louder. He could see the old man’s house. Still louder. He could see where he stood just this afternoon. Deafening. Something brushed his back. A scream filled the still air.
The sun shone into the old, gray house. Ernie Johnson staggered out of bed and stretched, then walked over to the window as he so often had. He found the scarecrow that appeared on the day his son went missing. There were two more scarecrows on either side. He sighed. Looking closely, he could see that the center figure now wore a crooked smile as it stood in the field, waiting.