I start to run. Grandma had mentioned the cornfield, it’s not like it used to be, and I could tell, it seemed thicker, denser. Untamed. Had she told us to be careful? If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s not to run in a corn field when the ears are showing. The stalks bend like elastic and shoot upwards. If you catch an ear to the face it could knock you out. I’m not joking. I’m running in a corn field. Can’t you tell I’m not joking? If one catches you in the face it could take out your eye, but here I am, running.
Ginny shouldn’t be left alone. I’ve got to risk the ear to the face. Last week, on the first night at Grandma’s, I found Ginny sitting in the cupboard next to the fireplace surrounded by balls of scrunched-up paper. I didn’t want to look for a box of matches. I kept my eyes locked on hers. There was no box of matches, I told myself. She was just sitting in the cupboard, playing like little girls do. Her white face was covered in ash from the concrete floor, where Grandma kept bags of coal and half-burned logs. Yes. Playing just like little girls do.
Mum had told me to watch her.
“Don’t be scared,” she’d told me.
I should’ve guessed the fence was the perfect cover. I even helped her over.
The corn stings my skin. By the time I stop running, doubled-over, I am covered in small cuts and blood is running down my arms in stream-like meanderings, twisting around the hairs I can’t even see. I listen. There’s a pounding in my ears, a throbbing in my chest. A high pitched squeal – of what? It’s coming from my own head. The wind has died down and the stalks of corn stand still. There’s nothing. I don’t know where I am, which direction I am facing. The sun is over there, but which way is there? Did Grandma’s house face east or west? Did it matter, could I remember?
What had Mum said?
“Don’t be scared.”
Now I hear it. A grumbling. The sound of an engine. Or – or, what? A squealing, not dissimilar to the echo of the run singing in my head. Out there is a farmer on a tractor with a shotgun cocked over one arm, watching for movements in the corn. The squealing is his little puppy. He’s out to shoot animals. What animals warrant shooting? The ones that eat corn. Does he have Ginny? Has he found her? She’s petting his puppy. I start running again, chasing the sound, running towards a shotgun, or Ginny, or a shotgun. In thirty seconds I burst out of the corn. I trip on the earth which runs with the deep rivulets of a machine’s graze. For a moment I just lie there. Silence, again.
I’d been so close to the edge of the field. All along, it’d been right there.
I look up.
Across the barren field there is a house. Old-fashioned. Wooden porch. It looks like Grandma’s house – only it’s smaller, and yet somehow familiar. The house is busted up: white walls turning yellow, porch sagging on one side, a wild garden with plants that cover the ground-floor windows. A lone tree reaches into a smashed window, and at the foot of the tree there’s a rusted truck. There should be an old man rocking to and fro out front. There’s Tudor beams across the front of the house, that black-and-white, but the building is an imitation, it’s not squat and bowed like an old Tudor home. It’s newer. Victorian, maybe.
I stand up and brush myself off. Dirt sticks to the blood on my arms.
The door of the house is open and swinging slightly.
I know at once that Ginny is inside.