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.
*Apologies to Stephen King.