It was dark. So dark that Alfred Simpson could only see a foot in front of his face. Even then, all he could see were cornstalks. But now that he was walking between the rows instead of pushing his way against the grain, he was making better time.
As he walked, Alfred became aware of the sounds around him. There was the noise he created when his shoulders brushed up against the long leaves of the cornstalks. There was the constant white noise of the corn growing. But there was a third noise, and this was the one that bothered him. There was a rustling sound behind him just like the sound he was making while walking through the corn.
He tried to dismiss it as just some kind of echo effect of his own noise-making that was somehow trapped among the stalks, but when he stopped, the noise behind him didn’t stop quickly enough to be any sort of follow-up noise to his movements.
He picked up the pace to see if he could put some distance between himself and whatever may be following him. He even switched rows a few times. The stealthy noise continued.
He had been walking with his head down to avoid getting his eyes lacerated by the sharp corn leaves, and only looked up now when he saw the glare of light on the ground in front of him.
He was not prepared for what he saw rising up out of the cornfield ten feet ahead. There was a tunnel, complete with bright overhead lighting, looking as if it had been dropped in the middle of the field.
Maybe I’m near a highway and this is some sort of underground pedestrian thoroughfare…
But there was no roadway or sounds of traffic. Alfred restarted his head-on plunge through the cornstalks, noting that the sounds behind him began again. He hoped there would be some sort of safety in the well lit tunnel if only that whatever was following him would have nowhere to hide.
The tunnel was made of a light-colored cement. It had a ceiling of about fifteen feet and was about twenty feet wide. Alfred couldn’t see how long the tunnel was; either it ended, or the lighting ended, about sixty or seventy feet ahead.
There was a drinking fountain on the wall to his right and a little farther down on the left, there was an overhead sign that said “MEN” on it. There was one of those yellow plastic “CAUTION” cones blocking the entrance in front of the restroom’s door.
With a start, Alfred looked back the way he had come. He had completely forgotten he had been being followed in the corn. He was now standing inside the tunnel, about twenty feet into it, and it was dark where the light from the tunnel ended in the corn. But where the light ended, he could make out two large bare feet.
“Ya can go in now if ya need to,” said a voice behind him.
A little squeak came from Alfred as he thought he had been alone in the tunnel.
“Oh, thanks, but I really don’t know if I need to,” he answered.
The man he was facing was short, less than five feet tall, and was wearing industrial green coveralls. Both the sleeves and the pant legs had been rolled up a few times as the outfit was obviously not his size. Over his shirt pocket was a patch with the name “Alphonse” embroidered on it.
“Looks like we’re both “Als,” don’t it,” said the little man with a sly wink.
“How’d you know my name,” said Alfred.
Alphonse just shrugged and pointed to Alfred’s own shirt pocket, where above it, “Alfred” was the name embroidered on the same kind of patch. On the same industrial green coverall.
The interior of the tunnel swam before Alfred’s eyes and he had to catch himself on the wall as he was close to fainting.
“Where…where am I,” he said. “How did I get here?”
“Why I guess the answer to the first question would be that you’re in my tunnel. As to the second question, I would guess from the looks of ya, ya came through the cornfield.”
Alfred took a minute to let that sink in. He didn’t remember why he had been in the cornfield and couldn’t remember entering it. He noticed that the little gnome had said “my tunnel” but not “my cornfield.” Somehow that felt like it could be important.
“So, it’s your tunnel. Is it your cornfield too?”
“No, the cornfield’s not mine. If it’s anybody’s, I guess it would be The Eldritch’s.”
“The Eldritch’s? Who or what is The Eldritch?” stammered Alfred.
Alphonse merely shrugged in response.
Alfred looked back to see if the two feet were still at the edge of the tunnel’s light. They were there and to Alfred it looked like they had advanced a bit; he could now see ankles and shins covered in a coarse black hair.
“I think I will use your restroom if that’s okay,” he said.
“Sure, sure, go ahead; it’s all nice and clean. I wouldn’t lock the door, though. If somethin’ happens to ya in there, I might have to come in and help ya. I don’t have my keys anymore; it took ’em.”
There were now even more questions Alfred had for Alphonse, but he felt he needed to be alone for a bit. He needed to be away from Alphonse and his weird mannerisms.
Immediately upon opening the door, Alfred was hit in the face by intense heat and a horrible stench. The heavy door closed solidly behind him and he saw that he wasn’t in a restroom after all. It was a large room, or series of rooms, with a dozen lockers on the far wall.
He didn’t correct me when I said I would use the restroom…
Alfred looked back at the door and decided he would turn the deadbolt. There probably was a toilet in here someplace and he didn’t like the idea of Alphonse sneaking up on him while he was using it.
He walked up to the line of lockers. They were numbered left to right, one through twelve, and he tried to decide if he should open one of them. There was so much about the entire situation that he was unsure of. Where had he been before the cornfield? Could it be he was dreaming? He pinched the skin on his left forearm hard and felt some pain.
I could just be dreaming I’m feeling the pain.
So as not to back out, he reached at random for the handle of locker No. 7 and jerked it open. Inside the locker hung a bloodstained green coverall with
“Larry” on the name patch. On the floor of the locker were two grisly arms and legs. Alfred back-pedaled away from the locker and threw up on the floor.
“He’s in here,” came a shout from outside the locker room. The voice was muffled by the door, but it was definitely Alphonse.
Gathering himself, Alfred looked around the room to see if there was another way out. There were no windows and he couldn’t see any exits, but there was a door in the far corner with “MAINTENANCE” on it.
There were now sounds of grumbling and cursing coming from outside the door. Alfred was certain the maintenance room would probably be locked, but it seemed to be his only choice.
If I can find something to defend myself with…
The maintenance room door wasn’t locked and Alfred was only mildly surprised to see that it opened to rows of corn. There was now heavy thudding on the locker room door. Alfred voted with his feet and bolted into the cornfield.
Knowing he would be pursued, he sprinted down the row. He again crossed his arms over his eyes for protection. After a hundred yards or so, he went over five or six rows and continued.
“The bastard went out into the corn again,” screamed Alphonse. The response to this was an animal-like roar. Alfred started running faster.
If that was The Eldritch now with Alphonse, why had it merely stalked me the first time? Why had it stopped in the rows when I stopped? Was it just trying to herd me to the locker room?
Alfred moved over ten rows, stopped, and removed the green coverall. He thought there was a chance it could have some kind of sending device, or maybe some sort of scent, and felt he needed every edge he could get. Now running naked, without even shoes or socks, he moved over a few rows every now and then and hoped to run into some sort of place of safety. He heard The Eldritch roar and figured it had found his clothing. It was far too close.
Alfred very quietly moved over about twenty rows this time and just as quietly walked back about forty yards. He was becoming exhausted from all of this running and needed a break. He lay face down in the dirt between the rows and covered his head with his hands. Hopefully, The Eldritch would go past him and maybe give up if it couldn’t find him. Until he found safety or something to defend himself with, he was at the mercy of whatever animal skills The Eldritch possessed.
Just before sleep took him, he heard whining and sniffing about a dozen yards over.
It could have been a minute, or it could have been hours, when Andrew heard a voice very close to him.
“The dogs found him. Do you see my flag above the corn? I’m going to sedate him; bring a stretcher over and help me bring him in.”
The voice spoke with more intelligence than Alphonse had. Alfred was just about to bring his head up and ask a question when he felt a sharp stab of pain in his buttocks. Then…, nothing.
When he next awoke, there was a round face just inches from his own. The face was blocking out some of the light from the overhead fixture, but Alfred knew right away he was no longer in the cornfield.
“He’s awake,” yelled the face to someone who must have been in another room.
The face backed away and Alfred squinted in the brighter light.
“Where am I?” he asked.
“You’re back in the facility,” said a new voice, standing behind Alfred’s head and out of sight. “What were you thinking? You know you aren’t supposed to leave the facility for any reason until you’ve finished your treatment.”
“I was in the cornfield. There was a tunnel and a locker room…” Alfred stopped as the second voice came out from behind him.
“We found you naked. What did you do with your hospital gown?”
“I was running in the corn. Something, The Eldritch, was chasing me until I got to the tunnel. I was wearing a green coverall…”
Alfred stopped as he saw a man in the hallway using a large push broom. The man seemed to be just sweeping the same area of the hallway, just in front of the room Alfred was in. Though his head was looking at the floor, Alfred knew he was listening. It was Alphonse.
“You there!” Alfred yelled. “Who are you? What’s your name?”
Alphonse stopped sweeping and straightened up to his full height. “Why, I’m Alphonse,” he said with a smirk, pointing to the name tag on his shirt. “Hello, Al.”
“Get back to work, Alphonse,” said the first man.
Alphonse resumed his sweeping. The two men with Alfred now moved out into the hallway. Turning their backs, they began to whisper.
Alfred then heard yelling coming from somewhere outside his room. People were screaming “Help!” and “Call security.”
The two men looked down the hall toward the commotion and then hurried away in the opposite direction. Outside the door appeared a smiling Alphonse.
“He’s in here,” he called to someone or something down the hall.
Alfred was strapped onto the gurney. He squeezed his eyes shut and waited to be obliterated. He heard something large shuffle into his room, breathing heavily. The Eldritch’s hot breath was sour in his face. A rough tongue licked him from the tip of his chin to the top of his forehead. Alfred tried to will himself to faint. He didn’t want to be conscious when The Eldritch started its work.
Then Alphonse whispered in his ear. “Come on, Al, we gotta get outta here,” he said, as he was loosening the gurney’s restraints. “There’s your coverall; just put it on over your gown and let’s go.”
“What? What are you talking about? That one guy, I think he was a doctor, he said I wasn’t supposed to leave here anymore.”
“You don’t belong in this place, Al. This place is for people who’ve addled their brains with drugs and alcohol. I’m givin’ you the tunnel. I’m retirin’ and The Eldritch has picked you out as my replacement. Come on, hurry, out that door; we gotta get into the cornfield.”
“But what will I do out there?” asked Alfred.
“Ya know, take care of the tunnel and stuff. And, of course, there’s the locker room. That’s The Eldritch’s headquarters.”
Now that they were into the cornfield, Alfred thought to ask more questions. “Alphonse? Who was Larry?”
“Oh, ya saw him, huh. I was trainin’ him, but he didn’t work out. Don’t worry, Al, I think you’re gonna work out fine.”
Alfred stopped walking and listened. A rustling sound behind him stopped. He smiled and started walking again. This time the rustling sound behind him gave him some comfort.
“Alphonse? Do you think you could call me Alfred?”
“Sure thing, Al, sure thing. I can do that. But let’s move a little faster, okay?”
Alfred smiled. He thought the first thing he would do after Alphonse finished training him was to feed him to The Eldritch.
Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office and has been a voracious reader for over 60 years. At the prompting of an old high school friend, himself a retired English teacher, Roy is now a voracious writer. He has had fiction and poetry published in Black Petals, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Yellow Mama, Flash Fiction Press, Theme of Absence, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, One Sentence Poems, and a number of other online and print journals. Roy is currently the submissions editor at Yahara Prairie Lights.
Image by Tim Hettler