Night Shift (short story collection)
(Redirected from Children of the Corn)Jump to navigation Jump to search
- Let's talk, you and I. Let's talk about fear. The house is empty as I write this; a cold February rain is falling outside. It's night. Sometimes when the wind blows the way it's blowing now, we lose the power. But for now it's on, and so let's talk very honestly about fear. Let's talk very rationally about moving to the rim of madness...and perhaps over the edge.
- Still...let's talk about fear. We won't raise our voices and we won't scream; we'll talk rationally, you and I. We'll talk about the way the good fabric of things sometimes has a way of unraveling with shocking suddenness.
- I'm not a child any more but. . .I don't like to sleep with one leg sticking out. Because if a cool hand ever reached out from under the bed and grasped my ankle, I might scream. Yes, I might scream to wake the dead. That sort of thing doesn't happen, of course, and we all know that. In the stories that follow you will encounter all manner of night creatures; vampires, demon lovers, a thing that lives in the closet, all sorts of other terrors. None of them are real. The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn't real. I know that, and I also know that if I'm careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.
- I didn't write them for money; I wrote them because it occurred to me to write them. I have a marketable obsession. There are madmen and madwomen in padded cells the world over who are not so lucky.
- The arts are obsessional, and obsession is dangerous. It's like a knife in the mind...Art is a localized illness, usually benign - creative people tend to live a long time - sometimes terribly malignant. You use the knife carefully, because you know it doesn't care who it cuts. And if you are wise you sift the sludge carefully...because some of that stuff may not be dead.
- Fear is an emotion that makes us blind. How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unplugging it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion that makes us blind, the emotion that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.
- Fear makes us blind, and we touch each fear with all the avid curiosity of self-interest, trying to make a whole out of a hundred parts, like the blind men with their elephant.
We sense the shape. Children grasp it easily, forget it, and relearn it as adults. The shape is there, and most of us come to realize what it is sooner or later: it is the shape of a body under a sheet. All our fears add up to one great fear, all our fears are part of that great fear - an arm, a leg, a finger, an ear. We're afraid of the body under the sheet. It's our body. And the great appeal of horror fiction through the ages is that it serves as a rehearsal for our own deaths.
- Where I am, it's still dark and raining. We've got a fine night for it. There's something I want to show you, something I want you to touch. It's in a room not far from here -- in fact it's almost as close as the next page.
Shall we go?
- There were eyes peering up at me through splits in the flesh of my fingers. And even as I watched the flesh was dilating, retreating, as they pushed their mindless way up to the surface.
But that was not what made me scream. I had looked into my own face and seen a monster.
- I didn't like that machine. It seemed...almost to be mocking us.
- Inspector Roger Martin
- It was very funny how George Stanner lost his arm in the mangler.
- The room was empty.
But the closet door was open. Just a crack.
"So nice," the voice from the closet said. "So nice." The words sounded as if they might have come through a mouthful of rotted seaweed.
Billings stood rooted to the spot as the closet door swung open. He dimly felt warmth at his crotch as he wet himself.
"So nice," the boogeyman said as it shambled out.
It still held its Dr. Harper mask in one rotted, spade-claw hand.
- So much of the world is paved now. Even the playgrounds are paved. And for the fields and marshes and deep woods there are tanks, half-trucks, flatbeds equipped with lasers, masers, heat-seeking radar. And little by little, they can make it into the world they want.
I can see great convoys of trucks filling the Okefenokee Swamp with sand, the bulldozers ripping through the national parks and wildlands, grading the earth flat, stamping it into one great flat plain. And then the hot-top trucks arriving.
But they're machines. No matter what's happening to them, what mass consciousness we've given them, they can't reproduce. In fifty or sixty years they'll be rusting hulks with all menace gone out of them, moveless carcasses for free men to stone and spit at.
And if I close my eyes I can see the production lines in Detroit and Dearborn and Youngstown and Mackinac, new trucks being put together by blue-collars who no longer even punch a clock but only drop and are replaced.
- Jim remembered the warning in Raising Demons - the danger involved. You could perhaps summon them, perhaps cause them to do your work. You could even get rid of them.
But sometimes they come back.
He walked slowly down the stairs again, wondering if the nightmare was over after all.
- I've been thinking about that foggy night when I had a headache and walked for air and passed all the lovely shadows without shape or substance. And I've been thinking about the trunk of my car - such an ugly word, trunk - and wondering why in the world I should be afraid to open it.
I can hear my wife as I write this, in the next room, crying. She thinks I was with another woman last night.
And of dear God, I think so too.
- "What I propose is this: that you walk around my building on the ledge that juts out just below the penthouse level. If you circumnavigate the building successfully, the jackpot is yours."
- "The ledge is five inches wide," he said dreamily. "I've measured it myself. In fact, I've stood on it, holding on to the balcony of course. All you have to do is lower yourself over the wrought-iron railing. You'll be chest-high. But, of course, beyond the railing there are no handgrips. You'll have to inch your way along, being very careful not to overbalance."
- The building sloped away like a smooth chalk cliff to the street far below. The cars parked there looked like those matchbox models you can buy in the five-and-dime. The ones driving by the building were just tiny pinpoints of light. If you fell that far, you would have plenty of time to realize just what was happening, to see the wind blowing your clothes as the earth pulled you back faster and faster. You'd have time to scream a long, long scream. And the sound you made when you hit the pavement would be like the sound of an overripe watermelon.
- God bless the grass.
- "I hope you rot in hell," he told Donatti.
Donatti sighed. "If I had a nickel for every time someone expressed a similar sentiment, I could retire. Let it be a lesson to you, Mr. Morrison. When a romantic tries to do a good thing and fails, they give him a medal. When a pragmatist succeeds, they wish him in hell."
- "And what happens if I go over one-eighty-two?"
Donatti smiled. "We'll send someone out to your house to cut of your wife's little finger," he said. "You can leave through this door, Mr. Morrison. Have a nice day."
- In a queer, twisted way she felt sorry for him - a little boy with a huge power crammed inside a dwarfed spirit. A little boy who tried to make humans behave like toy soldiers and then stamped on them in a fit of temper when they wouldn't or when they found out.
- The children of the corn stood in the clearing at midday, looking at the two crucified skeletons and the two bodies...the bodies were not skeletons yet, but they would be. In time. And here, in the heartland of Nebraska, in the corn, there was nothing but time.
- "Behold a dream came to me in the night, and the Lord did shew all this to me."...
"And in my dream the Lord was a shadow that walked behind the rows, and he spoke to me in the words he used to our older brothers years ago. He is much displeased with this sacrifice."...
"And the Lord did say: Have I not given you a place of killing, that you might make sacrifice there? And have I not shewn you favor? But this man has made a blasphemy within me, and I have completed the sacrifice myself."...
"So now is the Age of Favor lowered from nineteen plantings and harvests to eighteen. Yet be fruitful and multiply as the corn multiplies, that my favor may be shewn you, and be upon you."
- Dusk deepened into night. Around Gatlin the corn rustled and whispered secretly. It was well pleased.
- She looked up at us and grinned. And when she did, I felt my longing, my yearning turn to horror as cold as the grave, as white and silent as bones in a shroud. Even from the rise we could see the sullen red glare in those eyes. They were less human than a wolf's eyes. And when she grinned you could see how long her teeth had become. She wasn't human anymore. She was a dead thing somehow come back to life in this black howling storm.
- Lumley had reached her. He looked like a ghost himself, coated in snow like he was. He reached for her...and then he began to scream. I'll hear that sound in my dreams, that man screaming like a child in a nightmare. He tried to back away from her, but her arms, long and bare and as white as the snow, snaked out and pulled him to her. I could see her cock her head and then thrust it forward.
- And so we ran. Ran like rats, I suppose some would say, but those who would weren't there that night. We fled back down along our own backtrail, falling down, getting up again, slipping and sliding. I kept looking back over my shoulder to see if that woman was coming after us, grinning that grin and watching us with those red eyes.
- You may have an occasion to be traveling in southern Maine yourself one of these days. Pretty part of the countryside. You may even stop by Tookey's Bar for a drink. Nice place. They kept the name just the same. So have your drink, and then my advice to you is to keep right on moving north. Whatever you do, don't go up that road to Jerusalem's Lot.
Especially not after dark.
There's a little girl somewhere out there. And I think she's still waiting for her good-night kiss.
Encyclopedic article on Night Shift (short story collection) at Wikipedia