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The Corn Stalkers

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“So what’s a Corn Stalker?†said Little Ricky.

“It’s just something I made up,†I said. 

Oh, wait, no I didn’t. That would have been dull. I don’t DO dull. These kids have a whole lifetime of classes and teachers just as dull as church, and often moreso, and I can’t bring myself to contribute to such delinquency. I got standards, y’know.

So I made some more &%$# up.

“Weeeeelllll,†I said, because it’s more interesting than “Uhhh...†“....well, you’ve heard of scarecrows, right?â€

“Yeah,†said Li’l Daryl. “That’s that guy who fights Batman sometimes.â€

“Not exactly,†I said. “Y’see, in the old days, farmers used to make these dummies, right? They’d take old clothes and stuffum with cornshucks and mount them up on poles in the cornfield, with a pumpkin for a head and a widebrimmed hat on it.â€

Little Carol was confused. “Why would they do that?â€

“To scare the crows away,†I said. “To keep the crows from eating up all the fresh corn. Crows won’t fly down and eat the corn if they think there’s a man wandering around in the cornfield.†(I felt bad about this. Farmers have known for centuries that crows and ravens are smart enough to see through scarecrows, and here I was willingly disseminating misinformation. I consoled myself by considering the likelihood that any of my students would ever become corn farmers was actually fairly minimal, and then set forth shoveling it higher and deeper...)

“What’s this got to do with Corn Stalkers?†said Little Ricky.

“Weeeeeellll,†I said, “Usually nothing. I mean, a scarecrow with a jack o’lantern for a head can look kind of spooky, sure. But it’s just a dummy. But... sometimes... it’s not.â€

This was what the kids had been waiting for. Side murmurs ceased, and the body language of the classroom grew focused. Heh. Gottum! And I continued.

“Y’see,†I said, “sometimes it happens... a little ... differently. Sometimes, it’s because of the ghost of an angry spirit who died nearby. Some people think it’s... the Devil. And some people think it may be because the ground in certain places is just.... evil. But sometimes, you find a scarecrow what’s more than just clothes and cornhusks with a pumpkin on top.â€

Li’l Daryl’s eyes were bright with interest, and he was leaning so far over the front of his desk, he looked like he was about to take a bite out of the girl in front of him. “Different HOW?†he said. “More HOW?†Did I mention Daryl was the kid who brought up the subject of war atrocities during a social studies lesson? But I digress.

“Like I said,†I said, “scarecrows are man made. They’re old clothes and cornhusks. But ... sometimes... they grow there.â€

The class was dead silent.

“Sometimes... what LOOKS like a stalk of corn... will grow in the middle of a cornfield... but it’s not green. It’s an ashy brown, the color of a dead thing, dry and crisp, but growing nonetheless. And in time... if it’s not discovered.... it’ll sprout ARMS, long spindly arms, with four clawed fingers on each hand. And at its top, it’ll sprout a growth like ... like a pumpkin... but it’ll be the wrong shade of orange... or the wrong shape... or it’ll have warts or something. SOMETHING will be wrong it it. You can tell. But’cha gotta be lookin’ for it. And if the farmer doesn’t notice in time...â€

I let the sentence trail off, and left it hanging, and made a mental bet with myself. I lost; it was Ricky who said, “What happens if the farmer doesn’t notice?†in a voice laden with doubt.

“Weeeeeelll,†I said, “if the farmer doesn’t catch it in time... well... the final stage is when the bottom of the stalk splits into legs.... and the pumpkin up top develops a sort of arrangement of wrinkles... that finally SPLIT OPEN into eyes... and a mouth... glowing faintly in the night... and finally, it yanks its feet loose from the soil... and then... it’s a Corn Stalker, once and for all, and on the HUNT!â€

There was a moment’s silence.

“On the hunt for what?†said Li’l Michonne, whose tone of voice indicated that she wasn’t sure if this story was any fun any more.

“Weeeeeelllll,†I said. “I don’t much like to say. But when you see a Corn Stalker... wearing clothes? Like a scarecrow? All too often... that’s the sign that the Corn Stalker has done found the farmer who owns the field... and... well... let’s say that farmer won’t be seen again anytime soon... or have much use for his clothes... and the Corn Stalker likes having a disguise, so it can travel afield, perhaps even walk up the road to town without anyone noticing he’s not just a hitchhiker, and...â€

The class stared at me, eyes as big as eggs.

And a coworker of mine stood in the door. She looked at me, got my attention, then spun her right index finger in a circle, then in a triangle, point down, and then fluttered all her fingers like she was scattering confetti, concluding with a raised eyebrow. In the Silent Speech Of Educators, this translates as â€œAre you out of your fraggin’ mind? You want us to get about a hundred angry phonecalls from parents who wanna know why their kids are suddenly afraid to go trick or treating tonight?â€

Hm. Well. She had a point. “Fortunately,†I said, “for those with the wit to notice, there’s ways to spot a Corn Stalker... and ways to deal with him, once you know he’s there.â€

“How do you spot him?†blurted Daryl, in a tone of voice that hinted that he was thinking of going out to look for one.

“Well, tell me, Daryl,†I replied sagely. “You see the glowy eyes of a Jack o’Lantern, what color are they?â€

“Kind of a yellowy orange,†he said.

“And you’re quite right,†I replied. “The color of candle light reflecting off the inside of an orange pumpkin. But a Corn Stalker? You see the glow of HIS eyes, he’ll freeze and hold still, hoping you’ll get close enough to GRAB....â€

My coworker looked at me critically from the doorway. This was not what she’d had in mind.

“...but a Corn Stalker’s eyes... and the inside of his mouth? They glow green,†I said, “a lambent, sickly green, like no plant or living thing ever was, like a greeeen glowstick from an unhealthy store located in a graaaaaveyaaaard... and if you see THAT color comin’ from a jackalannern, well... you’ll know SOMETHING is up... and you’ll know better than to get too CLOSE!â€

There was dead silence for almost fifteen seconds. I could see the whites around the eyes of every kid in the classroom. For that matter, my coworker in the doorway was a little buggy eyed, herself.

“How do you kill one?†asked Li’l Carl, with a touch of determination in his voice.

“Well, there’s fire,†I said. “That works pretty well. But a Stalker won’t burn quick, and he’s evil enough to wanna take you, your friends, and much of the nearby landscape with him. Not safe to play with fire. Particularly as dry as it’s been lately.â€

It was the children’s turn to nod sagely. This was a lesson they’d heard before. Carl piped up. “How else?†he said.

“Paraquat,†I said.

The children stared at me blankly. “Parawhat?†said a voice in the crowd.

“Paraquat’s good,†I repeated. “Paraquat, Diquat, Endothall, even Agent Orange, but I hear that causes cancer. Any good commercial defoliant will do. Fifty fifty mix with water in a Super Soaker, let the pumpkinheaded booger have it full blast. He’ll melt like a candle in a burnin’ jackalannern, just like the Witch in The Wizard Of Oz.â€

My coworker made a noise somewhere between a surprised chuckle and the sound one might make if one has suddenly and unexpectedly swallowed a largish bug. Daryl and Carl took out paper and began taking notes.

“Any good farmer knows this,†I added. “And they take precautions. It’s why you don’t see a whole lot of Corn Stalkers, not these days. The farmers tend to gittum before they’re full grown, and spray ‘em with defoliant. But it’s important for the farmer to take his TIME, and do it RIGHT....â€

There was another moment of silence, and for a moment, I was terribly afraid that no one would feed me a line. Fortunately, Ricky piped up, “What if he doesn’t?â€

I grinned. “Well... because when you have a rushin’ farmer... the WEED... kills ... YOU!â€

(1. Yes, I know, I am going to hell, if not for corrupting the minds of the young, then for the rancid punchline.)

(2. My coworker's kind of mad at me now. Her reaction to said punchline caused her to strain something in her abdomen...)
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