Part One: Best Friends Forever
" Oh, this is going to be the coolest Halloween ever" , she exclaimed . We were riding in the back seat of Shelley's mom's hatchback, the one with room enough to stash our backpacks AND our French horns in the hatch end so we could sit in comfort in the back seats.
Shelley, my best friend ever, was the one who declared this would be her coolest Halloween EVER, with the emphasis on EVER. We had cleverly planned our school schedules so we were in every hour together -- American lit, history, French, band, gym, even study hall. She had given up taking Spanish, and I had given up taking speech (an easy three credits), just so we would have the perfect string of best-friend togetherness all semester. Sacrifices like that always help prove that best friends really are best friends, and not just phoneys like some people.
"You're right, Shell, this is shaping up to be the coolest we've ever had so far", I replied. "Have you saved up enough for the ticket?" I asked. Most people assumed we were sisters when they saw us. We both had shoulder-length brunette hair cut in a flip; she wore her flip out and I wore my flip in, that's how you could tell us apart.
Shelley said we had enough for the corn maze ticket plus any food or souvenir we wanted. She had even gotten a camera, one of those little disposable ones just to snap souvenir pictures of each other. We would put most in a special best-friend album and frame one or two of the best to treasure forever and ever.
Shelley's mom dropped me off at my house in the middle of the block, a modest but comfortable bungalow only a few miles from school. The best thing about my house is that it was only about four blocks from Shelley's house. I could bike over there in the summer, and we'd spend the days down at the park pool, if it was sunny, or inside playing board games and rummy and Wii if it rained.
"Bye, Shell, see you tomorrow," I hollered before her mom drove off. "Call me so we can do the math homework together, OK, Trace?" she hollered back. Trace is not my real name, of course. It was short for Tracy. I'm not going to tell you our secret password names for each other, OK? Because then they wouldn't be secret anymore. I hope you understand. Some things you just can't tell the grownups about because then they'll blab it all over the place.
So anyway, that was how it started. Just a nice little early Halloween outing to the corn maze a half hour out of town for two ordinary kids, with Shelley's mom driving us. Thankfully it was Shelley's mom doing the honors because she at least knew how to act. Nothing that would embarrass us in front of the other kids like kissing or hugging Shell, or telling us to zip up our coats or we'd catch cold, or any of the millions of ways that parents are just so --- um, what is the word here? Controlling? Insufferable is better. Boy, they think they own you.
Part Two: The Big Day
So anyway, we get through the week just barely tolerating the whole school scene, because all we can think about is we're getting out of town for at least a little while, and seeing something new, and it was all our own idea and nothing we had to do like a special report or a field trip or something dumb like that. The eight weeks of this deadly-dull routine were only just bearable in the first place because Shell and I were together. We'd glance at each other every time Mrs. Scharf said "boys and girls" as in "very good, boys and girls" or every time Mr. Findley put his hands in his pockets and we'd just about laugh.
Sorry about getting off track here. Anyway, so Saturday morning FINALLY gets here and I get dressed, scarf down some toast and Chinese tea (because Chinese girls are all so thin and all they drink is tea, none of that fattening soda junk, and us twelve-year-olds gotta start watching our figures) and walk over to Shell's house, past all the big piles of leaves that grownups had raked into long banks next to the curb and it didn't do any good really because the wind came along and blew half of them back into the yards.
The air had that snap I love. It was a little chilly but I had my favorite blue jacket on. Shell and her mom were still in the kitchen with food on the breakfast table. Shell's mom asked if I wanted anything but said I ate already. She's polite enough to ask but also polite enough not to push stuff on you. But I sat down like a good guest and accepted another cup of tea. Shell was still in her pink jammies and said she'd be down in a sec.
She dashes up the steps and I hear the shower going and in about two seconds it seems she's back down in her jeans and sweater and Nikes. Her mom was already dressed so after some polite conversation about how wonderfully well school was going and all, we hit the road.
We piled into the back seat, Shell and me, and we put Shell's dog Pinky in the rear jumpseat but he hopped over in the back with us which we did not mind anyway. Pinky was a dog of indeterminate breed, as you might say, or a Heinz 57 as some others say. Pinky was a white dog with some brown and black markings kind of like a springer spaniel but mixed with who knows what, and had a pinkish spot on his nose which is how he got his name. He was pretty well behaved, knew some tricks, did not always feel like doing them, was always up for frisbee catching, and was all in all the most lovable critter in our corner of the city.
Part Three: Corn City
Before we knew it we were pulling into the farm driveway along with a bunch of other cars. This corn maze was not the biggest but it had a great, convenient location. And the farmer sold a ton of produce in a converted shed and we could see his white turkeys getting fattened up for Thanksgiving. "They're not the shiny bronze ones we always see on TV. Are you sure these are real turkeys?" we asked. Yeah, they're real turkeys alright. They gobble so they must be. Still we felt gypped. Why they would breed out the fancy feathers of the original is a mystery we will never fathom. They had pizzazz, y'know? We took a picture of them anyway. Then we took a picture of each other standing in front of the turkeys.
So it was on to the main event. Shell's mom held onto Pinky's leash and wanted to shop for vegetables of all things, while we could go into the maze. She would wait for us at one of the picnic tables near the food stand and then we'd have a little something. Shell pulled out her camera and we snapped each other in front of the Corn City Limits entrance. It was a big green witch face with her mouth wide open for a doorway. We should have taken the hint and turned back right there.
We walked the path thru the corn field, with bundles of corn shocks on either side of the path as far as we could see. Every ten yards or so, we came to a clearing with some scarecrows in various death poses, getting tortured on the rack or kneeling at a guillotine, stuff like that. Or bunches of carved or painted pumpkins in family groupings or dressed up like famous people. Funny tombstones. No dopey strobe lights, anyway. We took lots of pictures at least.
Part Four: Separated
It seemed like this maze was going on forever. Like ten, fifteen minutes. Well, I guess they gotta give people their money's worth, we decided. Then we came to a really old decrepit barn in the middle of everything. Most of the red paint had peeled off. The hinges were OK but there was no latch, so the door swung back and forth and we could see a small window on the far wall.
Must be part of the maze, I thought. Probably some guy in a costume making the door move. Shelley looked at me as if to ask, do you want to go in? I nodded and we both slipped in. It was dark in the corners and from what we could see it was empty. There was a haze all over. We figured they forgot to decorate it. I had been glad I wore my blue jacket but suddenly it was too warm. Everything felt clammy like when you wished it would rain. I heard Shell say what a rip. But I did not see where she was.
Suddenly someone came up to me from the rear. "You should not be here, it is not safe for you," he said. He was dressed in old beatup overalls and had a poor excuse for a beard. "Ok, but let me find my friend," I said. "You should not be here, but your friend has been invited."
Shelley is my best friend and no one is separating us ever! I shouted. But the old farmer was gone. And no one answered when I yelled Shell's name over and over.
I did not know what else to do so I dashed out the barn. On impulse I stopped to take a picture of it which did not help at all later on to solve the mystery but anyway I had some photographic proof of what I had seen. I dashed as fast as I could back down the path and out the mouth of the green witch and over to the tables. I saw Shell's mom just about to sit down. " Are you back out already? Where is Shelley?"
I gasped out my story as best as I could. My hair was sticking to my head and face, but the chill breeze had picked up again. What old barn, she wanted to know. There hasn't been a barn over there for ages. Of course there's a barn, I told her. I even have a picture of it.
Anyway, Shell's mom looked plenty concerned by then but at least she didn't make a scene. That came later. She went over to the maze ticket seller and explained that her daughter got separated from her friend and could she go in and look for her? The lady looked at the expression on Shell's mom's face and asked her where did they get separated. Shell's mom said that I said they walked into an old barn. The lady said that can't be, we haven't had any old barn over there for ages. It burned down to the ground one night and we never knew why.
That's what I thought, said Shelley's mom. But Tracy said they saw it and she can't find my Shelley so I have to try to find her. The lady waved her in saying, you go on in, but there's no barn there. Suddenly Shell's mom stopped and did not know what to do with Pinky. Can I take the dog in to help look for her? she asked. Well, I guess if the dog is on a leash like that, and considering, just this once.
I never imagined that Shelley's mom could dash like that. Pinky had to scoot to keep up but I couldn't. She was yelling Shelley's name but no answer came. Then she stopped and asked me where did you see the barn? I told her it was just past the television pumpkins so we raced on. Pinky ran on like he knew where to go so we followed him, but he suddenly ran back to Shelley's mom whimpering and whining like a maniac.
We never did find the barn again.
We were lucky to get out of there alive because all of a sudden the wind swept up the leaves and it was like all the leaves caught fire, just like that. The whole cornfield was ablaze. Everyone who was inside dashed out like rats from a sinking ship; it was a miracle no one was hurt. Except for Shell, of course. Someone called the fire department but the flames went out as suddenly as they started. All the fire department could do was make sure all the embers were out and soak the ground. The police department came and took a statement from Shelley's mom and from me.
No one ever did believe me about the barn. But I have photographic evidence.
Years later I looked up the old newspapers on microfiche at the library about this farm. I had chanced on some reference to another fire twenty-five years earlier so thought I'd try to find out what I could. Yep, twenty-five years earlier almost to the day. The barn had burned to the ground due to unknown causes. A girl had been pulled from the smoke and been treated for smoke inhalation. OMG. That was Shell's mom.
[Story copyright Minnie Apolis 2008.]