Children of the Cornless- a Flash Fiction Tale

photo by lucianvenutian, a Wikipedia contributor

Children of the Cornless*

A lot of my fellow patients ask me how I was able to retire six months early with double my pension and a lifetime supply of happy pills. I figure instead of explaining it to people one at a time, I’d write down the whole story, so those who are curious can read my tale of good fortune.

It all started back when I was head janitor at Our Lady of Perpetual Forgiveness Catholic School in Altus, Arkansas. The pay was alright, and the future nuns, priests, and ex-Catholics were tolerable, but during my three decade-long sanitation career I always felt like I should’ve become detective instead. I’ve got the sleuthing gene. In fact, before I applied for a job at Our Lady of Perp, I had taken a few criminal justice classes at the community college. But after I visited my first (and last) homicide scene, I decided I just didn’t have the stomach for it. But I always thought maybe I should’ve just toughened up.

Anyway, during my last year at Our Lady, the summer school students were enrolled in a new “science initiative” program to help them become more scientifically literate. Grades six through eight were assigned, as a group, to test out Stan Moon Farm’s latest GMO corn kernels. These kernels were genetically engineered to produce popped corn on the cob. Actual popped corn kernels growing right on the cobs. Yet another marvel of GMO science.

The sixth graders prepped the paper cups with soil, fertilizer, and kernels, the seventh graders were in charge of watering, and the eighth graders had to keep track of growth and popcorn yields per plant. Well, the whole project was running without a hitch until about the second week, when a couple of the more observant sixth graders noticed every fifth cup had not germinated. The nuns checked the soil in the cups, and the kernels themselves were missing from every fifth cup. Of course the nuns blamed the class, and accused them of not planting a kernel in every cup. So they started over. Two weeks later, the students- this time almost all of them- noticed every fourth cup did not germinate. By this time the nuns were really irate. When the students started over again with more cups and more kernels, the nuns supervised the students planting the kernels, and even locked up the trays of planted cups at night in the greenhouse. Wouldn’t ya know, another two weeks goes by and every third cup is corn sprout-less. So the nuns, after lining up grades six through eight for some church-sanctioned bottom-paddling, knuckle-whacking, and hair-pulling, decided to take over the Stan Moon GMO popcorn experiment and plant the kernels themselves- this time out in the sports field behind the school. All the nuns got bronze feathers in their cornettes for that one. The priests praised the pro-science and anti-physical education effort as proof their parish was stepping into the eighteenth century with more church-tolerated science-sympathetic progress than the first through the seventeenth centuries combined. Better late than never, eh?

By this time I thought I had it all figured out. I deduced the kernels were spontaneously self-destructing in a fixed pattern. These kernels were no run-of-the-mill GMO kernels. These were GMO kernels gone wild. Stan Moon Farm had finally engineered all the naturally occurring safeguards of the popping corn out of its genome. The longer the kernels sat before being planted, the more the kernels were prone to self-destruct via the radiation they absorbed during the genetic manipulation. And the pattern of self-destruction was thanks to the accumulated radiation of the kernels acting on each other in the rows. At least that was my theory.

So I figured this was my chance to finally do some investigative sleuthing and prove my radioactive popcorn kernel theory. During the first week after the planting, I stayed after school and took notes of the comings and goings of the nuns looking after the newly planted corn field. They kept the fence around the field locked, but being the head janitor, I had a key. By the seventh night I was sure of their schedule, and quite certain they didn’t stray from it. The nuns did a thorough field drenching with holy water fifteen minutes after the last bell, a quick stroll of the rows at eight in the evening, then it was a clear coast until eight the following morning. Plenty of time to do my sleuthing.

Late on the eighth night, I unlocked the corn field gate and slipped inside with my Geiger counter. I tested my machine with a pebble of uranium I brought with me- just to make sure my counter was in working order (it was), and walked up and down those corn rows for nearly an hour, scanning for radiation. Nothing. Not even the faintest blip. I tested the machine with my uranium pebble again. Got a blip on that. So I went home and thought about my apparently incorrect theory, and sulked. Some detective I was.

The next night a thought occurred to me- what the nuns would call a “divine inspiration.” Maybe radiation growth was encoded in the genome of the corn, and after the seeds germinated, the radiation is switched on. (Pretty sleuthful idea if I do say so myself!) So I snuck back into the corn field with my Geiger counter and walked the rows. Nothing. But I wasn’t as disappointed that time. Maybe the kernels just hadn’t germinated yet. I went back the next night, giving it another try. Nothing. And the next night. Still nothing. I sat down in the middle of the field, tired, sweaty, and muddy. It was getting near two weeks since the nuns had planted the kernels, and the kernels- if there were any kernels this time around- were probably gonna start germinating, and the nuns were gonna dig up the field looking for every other missing kernel, by my calculations. So I sat in that field and looked up at the stars and moon for a long time. I grew even more tired, and I shut my eyes. I thought about Stan Moon Farm. I thought about popped corn. I thought about how hungry I was- I hadn’t eaten dinner that night with all my nervousness about my failing radioactive popcorn kernel theory.

Then I heard a low rumbling. At first I thought it was my stomach, but the noise grew louder, and I realized it was coming from the sky. I looked up and saw a giant ball of sparkling light hovering over my head. A cornstalk crucifix dropped out of the light and planted itself into the ground behind me. I jumped up and tried to run, but the crucifix shot out a bunch of vines, grabbed my wrists and ankles, and pulled me back against its leafy evilness. Yes, it was evil alright. I knew by the way its twisting alien vines probed my orifices. (All my orifices!) When the vines started probing my bellybutton, I started laughing uncontrollably, because that’s my ticklish spot. I guess this encouraged the evil viney crucifix, because those vines just went deeper and deeper into my bellybutton until I couldn’t take the tickling anymore and I passed out.

Then next thing I remember I was in a brightly lit room. I figured it must’ve been a room in the spaceship of the aliens who sent the corn crucifix to abduct me. I was laying on my back and the crucifix was gone, but those damn vines were still wrapped around my wrists and ankles. And I was naked. (Of course, everybody knows aliens are pervs.) I don’t know how long I laid there. I kept falling in and out of consciousness. I didn’t see anything that looked like typical aliens, but I did see all kinds of corn floating around the room. Field corn, sweet corn, blue corn, Indian corn, globs of creamed corn, and even what appeared to be free-floating Planter’s CornNuts. And a whole lotta popcorn. A piece of popcorn floated in front of my face, so I spat on it. Now normally I’m a gentleman, and don’t spit, but by this time spitting was my only option. The spittle must’ve weighed down the floating popcorn, and it landed on my lips. So I opened my mouth and sucked that bugger down my throat. I wasn’t leaving the ship without some evidence of my abduction by these alien corn kernels. The vines would have to probe my stomach to retrieve the popcorn. (Luckily, they didn’t.) The aliens had already had their fill of violating me, and returned me to the field. I found my clothes and Geiger counter, got dressed, walked home, and went to bed.

The next morning I woke and had pretty much dismissed my abduction as an extremely vivid nightmare. I mean, come on- a corn crucifix and a spaceship full of corn? But I felt an uncomfortable tickling in the back of my throat and thought about the piece of popcorn I spat on and swallowed. Still thinking it was all a dream, I ate breakfast. The tickling was still there. I coughed and gargled. Still the tickling. Finally, I took a spoon and managed to scrape the back of my throat and pull out a popcorn hull. Besides the alien ship popcorn, I hadn’t eaten popcorn in months. My abduction wasn’t a freakish nightmare after all, and . . I finally had my evidence!

All I had to do was take the hull to the school’s lab and sequence its genome. Easy enough. That night, I disguised myself as a priest and was allowed full access to the lab. I worked in the lab all night, preparing the corn hull emulsion, inserting the emulsion into the genome sequencer, and waiting for the results. The following morning, I had my answer, and presented my evidence to the headmaster.

And that, my friends, is why I was able to retire six months early with double my pension and a lifetime supply of happy pills. Such are the rewards of a great detective.

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*Apologies to Stephen King.

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Thanks to Flash Fiction Friday and Ron and his honorable grandfather for this flash fiction prompt!

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Scene from “Children of the Corn.”

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Premature Pageant- a Flash Fiction Tale

* * * * *

Blake basks in the spotlight and winks over his shoulder at the line of contestants holding hands. The audience quiets. Taylor slips an envelope to Blake. Ten tensioned seconds later, Blake lifts his mic. “And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for, ladies and gentlemen – the awards presentation. I will read all the winners’ names, then the winners’ parents or guardians may collect the trophies.” He opens the envelope and pulls out the paper. “The ‘Beauty Without Effort’ Award goes to Swan Sweeny! Who says a makeup allergy and neonatal seborrhoeic dermatitis will keep a natural beauty from winning at a beauty pageant? Not the Lil’ Toddlers Beauty Pageant!”

A teary mom rushes the stage, shouting, “We love you, Swanie!”

Taylor escorts her back to her seat.

Blake smacks his lips. “Next we have the ‘Positive Affirmation Award’ – that goes to Leslie Bustle. We at the Lil’ Toddlers Pageant recognize developmental delays are something to be proud of. They make you special. A big ‘atta girl’ for Miss Leslie’s lisp and lazy eye!” Several people in the second row stand and applaud.

“Moving on, the ‘Princess of the Parallel Multiverses Award’ goes to Eden Alexxa Steel. For the media people, that’s ‘Eden Alexxa’ with two x’s and no hyphen. The Lil’ Toddlers Pageant is proud to recognize this year’s most gifted and talented future histrionic personality disorder queen.”

A dad in the front row hoots and cat-calls, pumping his fist.

“And now the grand finale – the ‘Ultimate Grand Supreme Award’ of the Lil’ Toddlers Beauty Pageant goes to Barbie-Angelica Gilchrist. For the media, that’s ‘Barbie-Angelica’ with a b-i-e and a hyphen.”

The audience squirts a scream.

“Pan-faced and saucer-eyed, Miss Barbie-Angelica is a living cartoon character,” Blake shouts over the din. “Absorb her vainglory. At only four years old, she’s a high glitz pro! Full, thick, shiny hair, thanks to a record-breaking 15% solution of formaldehyde Brazilian Blowout. Snow white plasma arc-bleached deciduous teeth. Golden brown dihydroxyacetone spray tan. Dermapigmentated brow, eye, and lip liner. Hot pink dibutyl phthalate-polished fingernails and toenails. And the only brown adipose tissue is in her adorably chubby cheeks. We have a real heart-breaker here. Uh, future heart-breaker.”

The audience gives a standing ovation, Blake and Taylor fawn and swoon, and the adults claim their proxy prizes.

An hour later, the theater is nearly deserted.

Blake closes his eyes. “The back row was empty this year. We need to do better. I need a word which starts with a ‘P’ to go with ‘pageant’ and ‘planet.’”

Taylor thumps her forehead with a knuckle. “Precocious?”

“No.”

“Pretentious?”

Blake opens his eyes. “Premature.” He winks at Taylor.

“But how can you judge preemies?”

“Not preemies – prematures. Zygotes. All done in utero via genetic testing. No OSHA breathing down our backs, and no child welfare agencies throwing tantrums. We’ve got to be innovative to stay in the game. Next year it’s the Lil’ Zygotes Beauty Pageant – the most premature pageant on the planet!”

* * * * *

Diamond Dreams

original photo by TriviaKing, a Wikipedia contributor

This story is PG.

*

Two o’clock in the morning. Mother has finally finished her nightly prayers, and is asleep with her bedroom light still on. The rest of the house is dark, except for the pale TV light. Eve’s knees, folded to her chest, press against the screen. She’s peeled the tape off the remote, and Hitchcock’s “Sabotage” fills her head with worldly desires.

Boyfriends. Husbands. Sex. Babies.

A boy. A bomb. Death. Bad things.

The volume turned almost all the way down, she strains to hear the movie dialogue. Her eyes flicker and close, the soft words slurring into a bright sparkle and brilliance of dreams. An explosion.

Then silence, for a long time . . until . .

“My husband is dead!”

Eve’s eyes blink open, and she turns off the TV.

Mother? Or-

The floorboards creak, and Eve freezes. From the corner of her eye, she sees a shape slowly move down the hall. It carries a gleaming white pitcher. Eve shuts her eyes tight and holds her breath.

The ice-cold water hits hard and fast, drenching Eve and the floor.

Mother points a bony finger at Eve’s face, then jabs a pointy fingernail in Eve’s forehead.

“Listen to me, girl!” Mother spits. “Don’t you be filling your head with willful, sinful thoughts. I once did, and God put the sign of the curse on your baby sister, and she died. You’ve got the curse too, but you ain’t got no sign, and you ain’t dead, cause you keep it locked up inside, where it belongs. But any more willfulness, and it’ll have to come out. Don’t you forget that.”

“Yes, mother.” Eve shivers, her wet nightgown cold against her skin.

Mother turns, then pauses. “Don’t you dare push your curse to the outside. If I see the curse again, it will kill me. You hear? Kill me!”

Mother collapses on the floor and sobs. Eve rises and stands next to her. Mother beats her fists against Eve’s shins. After several minutes, Mother is spent. Eve helps her to her feet, guides her to her room, and puts her to bed.

In her own room, Eve reclines on her bed, still wet. After an hour, her shivering fades, and she dreams.

Warm white light, its rays piercing.

The next morning, Eve digs her babysitting money out from beneath her mattress. Five years’ worth, and four hundred ninety-eight dollars, mostly in fives and ones.

Mother is awake and praying, and Eve eavesdrops.

“Yes, Jesus, I know the pain is a gift from God.”

Still telling Jesus about how wicked her daughter is. There’s time.

Eve quietly opens the front door and steps outside into the bright sunshine. She walks three miles to the nearest bus stop and waits. Two hours later, the bus picks her up. In her seat, she digs through her purse and pulls out a pair a shears. She cuts off the sleeves of her dress, then cuts the bottom of her dress off at mid-thigh. She cuts a slit up the side. At the station, she transfers to another bus, and watches the landscape change from fields to neighborhoods to buildings. She steps out into the big city at noon. The sun rays blush her skin. After walking the hot city streets for a couple hours, Eve sees a sign.

GRAND OPENING – HOT GIRL SALON – ASK ABOUT OUR SPECIAL

Eve walks in.

“What can I do for you, hon?”

“I don’t know. What can you do for fifty dollars?”

“Well . . I could give your hair a trim. Makeup your face. For ten dollars more, I could give you the special today and do your nails too. Fingers and toes in sparkly polish.”

“Yes, please.”

An hour later, a sparkly Eve waves down a taxi.

“Take me to the nearest bar, please.”

“Nearest bar? That’s Shark Lake. That one don’t open ‘til five.”

“Yes. Please.”

The taxi drops her off in the parking lot. She walks to the back lot. Next to the lot is an auto body shop. In the weeds by the fence, she sees a big rig tire. She yawns, crawls inside, and goes to sleep.

—–

It’s dark. Heavy metal music hammers the air. Eve wakes. She stretches, crawls out of the tire, and smooths the front of her dress. Back in the front lot, red and blue neon flash “Shark Lake Bar” inside a giant shark’s jaws. A row of motorcycles lines the bar front.

Eve’s walks into the dim, smoky bar and sits on a stool. The bartender squints at her and sips from a bottled water.

“What’ll it be?”

“Wine, please.”

“What kind?’

“Uh . . beer. The light kind. Budweiser.”

Across the room in a booth, a biker sits next to a tired, haggard-looking woman. He whistles loud. Eve half-turns on her stool. The biker shines a laser pointer at Eve’s left breast. He circles the nipple slowly at first, then faster, forming a red ring around the nipple. Eve turns to face him. He laser-circles her right breast. Eve slips off her bar stool and crosses her arms over her chest. The biker points his laser at Eve’s crotch. He clicks the laser off and on, off and on, faster and faster.

“Here’s your beer.”

Eve digs in her purse, pulls out a wad of ones, and smooths them on the bar top. She grabs her beer with both hands and makes her way across the crowded room.

The back of the bar is filled with leather-wearing bikers and hot pants-wearing women. A fog of cigarette and marijuana smoke hangs low.

Eve passes a table where a portly biker with a scruffy beard and missing teeth laughs between drags on his cigarette.

“Looks like Harley’s gonna git lucky tonight! An’ she’s a looker, this one!” the biker says.

“Shaddup, Chig!” the haggard woman yells.

Harley scowls at Chig. He throws his laser point against Chig’s head with a PING.

“Godamnit, Harley!” he says, rubbing his temple. He turns to Eve. “Hey looker, yer boy Harley’s got AIDS!” He sneers over his shoulder. “How’d ya like that, Harley?” He laughs between drags again.

Eve walks up to Harley’s booth. He looks her up and down, raises his boot off the floor, and places it against the haggard woman’s thigh. With one hard kick, she shoots out of the booth and lands with a THUD on the floor. She stands, silent, and takes a seat at the next booth.

Eve sits across from Harley, her beer still in her hands. In the middle of the table sits a black helmet with a white diamond painted on top. Eve stares at the diamond, trembling. She sips her beer.

“Ya like my helmet?” Harley says. “The diamond means I’m hard-headed.” He grins and winks. “Ya understand?”

Eve shakes her head.

“Don’t worry. I’ll help ya understand.”

They sit for an hour without speaking as the jukebox spits out Metallica and Motörhead. Another beer later, her trembling fades.

“Ya wanna see what I mean by hard-headed?”

Eve glances up and shrugs. Harley grabs her hand and pulls her out of the booth. He leads her out of the bar and around to the back lot.

He pushes her against the dumpster and slides his hands under the cut fray of her dress. He kisses her neck, then bites it. Eve winces.

“My name is Eve Lynn Quinn-”

“Don’t tell me yer name, cunt,” he growls in her ear.

Eve shuts her eyes tight and holds her breath. A tightness around her waist. A rip. An unbelievable piercing pain.

A gift from God.

A flooding warmth.

Eve opens her eyes. She’s alone. She finds her way back to the tire. She sleeps.

The next morning, she gets a room and a cleaning job down the block at the YWCA. She spends months scrubbing floors until they glisten and gleam.

—–

One day, the piercing pain returns. Eve takes a cab to the bar.

Harley will help me understand.

The bar is closed. She walks around to the dumpster and crawls inside. Eve’s water breaks hard and fast, drenching the floor. An hour later, she sits in a pool of blood, and pushes. And pushes. And pushes. And screams.

The pain is a gift from God.

The dumpster fades away. She dreams.

Light. Diamonds.

A willful mass twists and rips. A warmth between her legs. Eve’s eyes flutter open and she focuses.

A low wheeze.

Seconds pass.

Another low wheeze.

Eve studies the mass at her feet. It’s breathing.

Its red skin is cracked. Bleeding.

Nose and ears are missing.

No eyes. Two red, bulging balls.

Puffy red lips pulled back into a wide grimace.

Twelve fingers. Twelve toes.

Maybe I should show Mother.

The wheezing stops.

Eve digs in her purse. Twelve dollars. She kisses her dead baby, lays it on a bag of moldy hamburger buns, and covers it with a grease-stained dishtowel.

Twelve dollars is enough to get me back home.

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Thanks to Thomas Pluck of Flash Fiction Friday for this flash fiction prompt!