The smallest one was the worst. Somehow, he had become the leader of the gang of miscreants, and they all answered to him. He wasn’t just small, he was scrawny, but he had a tough streak like no one I had ever seen, and he could out cuss anyone who had ever crossed my path before. Maybe it was that brutal mouth of his which gave him the loyalty of the three thugs who followed him around, but I thought it was something more. The boy had brains; he was smart and sly, and I was sure the others followed him because he knew how to manipulate them.
After all, Finn had won my heart hadn’t he?
It didn’t help that he was exactly the type of kid I was drawn toward. Finn was a punk, through and through, from his bright pink Mohawk to the music I’d catch him singing from time to time. There wasn’t anything simple about him, and he attacked authority with a quick wit and an even quicker mouth. I adored him for the vibrant youthful energy within him, and others did too.
“Are you ready for tonight, Finn?” Billy said as he lay a hand on Finn’s shoulder. He was the biggest of Finn’s three friends, and also the most easygoing. The group of four had stopped right in front of me in the middle of the corn maze to have their conversation. I never minded listening to them talk, though I did sometimes feel guilty for eavesdropping.
“Yeah…” Finn said as he scanned the wall of corn around him. I noted that there was a look in his eye that said he was conflicted about something. He shrugged as he turned back to Billy and said, “I don’t know.”
“Oh come on,” Derrick said with a roll of his eyes. He punched Finn in the shoulder without much force and said, “It’s the night you’ve been waiting for!” Derrick was broad shouldered and muscular, as if he lifted weights often. He was almost as big as Billy, but he was the stronger of the two.
“You’re right, but…” Finn started to reply but then shrugged again as he rubbed his shoulder where Derrick had punched him.
“What’s with you?” Zeke asked. He was the third, and the one who resembled Finn the most, though he wasn’t as into the punk style as Finn was. Zeke and Finn had the same dark skin tone, the same brown eyes, and most likely the same natural black hair which Zeke wore proudly. I’d never seen Finn’s natural hair color under all of his pink, but according to Finn, he and Zeke were brothers.
“Yeah, Finn, you’re totally off…” Billy said with a concerned smile.
“Listen, guys, let’s just do our best, all right?” Finn replied with a roll of his eyes and a dismissive grin. “Let’s make this a Halloween to remember forever.”
“It already is, man, but sure,” Derrick said after sharing a glance with the other two. “We’ll do our best to make you proud, Finn.”
“I know. You guys are the best,” Finn replied with a nod. “It’s time to get dressed, let’s get to work, shall we?” The others nodded their consent before they started to walk off toward the dressing rooms, but Finn lagged back long enough to give me a look that told me he knew I had heard their exchange. I responded with my usual smile, and Finn grinned broadly before walking off to get ready for the evening.
They had been working at the corn maze all October long, and they seemed to revel in scaring the shit out of all the kids that passed through there. Of course, that was their job. It wouldn’t have been much of a haunted corn maze if there wasn’t any scaring happening! But this gang of four were more ruthless than all the other actors. They didn’t just enjoy scaring their peers, they got high off of it.
I could relate, I had worked at the corn maze since it had first begun, and that was years before. Finn and his friends had only worked here this year, and each one had already won the ‘best actor of the night’ award several times. Finn won it for the fourth time last night, and now there was only one day left for all of the actors to compete for the title. Halloween, the only day on which the title meant anything. Whoever earned the best actor title on Halloween was crowned King of the Corn Maze for the season.
No one wanted it more than Finn, but there was something more to it than simply earning the prestige that came with the title. He truly loved Halloween more than any of the others, and he felt that it was his duty to earn the title. I didn’t doubt that he deserved it either.
“Are you ready for this, Jack?” He called up to me, startling me from my musings. I hadn’t noticed him return, but I looked down from my position. We were alone in our section of the maze, and I knew he wanted this conversation to remain private. There was something in his eyes that told me that he wasn’t ready for the evening, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
“It’s the last one. We have to be,” I answered back quietly. As long as he heard me, that was all that mattered. I didn’t want anyone to overhear us talking any more than he did. The maze would soon be filled with people, and if anyone caught us talking there would be hell to pay.
“I guess so. I don’t want it to end,” Finn replied with a sigh. “Well, it’s almost go time. You’ll watch me out there, won’t you Jack?”
“I always do, Finn. Do your best, give it your all, and you’ll do fine,” I said with a smile. He nodded his thanks to me and adjusted his blood splattered plastic mask. He then picked up his bloody prop axe and stepped into the corn. It would be dark soon, and we would have time to talk later.
I watched the first few rounds of people enter the maze, keeping an ever watchful eye on the patrons to ensure that they were safe and happy. The actors were brilliant, far better than they had been all season long. Finn was on fire, and he attacked every group with more energy than the one before. At times the fear was almost strong enough that I could smell it, and as time went on, I grew more and more melancholy about the fact that the energy wouldn’t last forever.
It was nearing midnight, and Halloween would soon be over. I sighed as I surveyed the haunted corn maze, knowing that this would be the last time it would be active until Halloween time rolled around again next year. I thrive off of the energies of Halloween, the fear and excitement. It makes me long for simpler times, when people weren’t afraid to let their children out at night; when people could trust their neighbors to watch out for each other. Now the night was filled with creeps and villains, and not even the scariest costumes could scare them away.
A voice came over the speakers, announcing that the maze would be closing for the night and for the season, and that everyone should find their way to the nearest exit. The lights came on briefly, and the last few guests were escorted to the exits by the actors, who instead of pretending to be monsters were now being gracious hosts. Soon the maze was empty, and the lights flickered off again. I was left alone, surveying the maze from my higher position.
There was a rustling near the exit of the maze, and I couldn’t help but smile as I turned my head toward the sound. Finn had come back. He did it every night, at the end of work. He’d do a final walkthrough, slow and thorough, going down every single lane of the maze and looking around. I knew what he was feeling. I’d felt it every year, the end to the holiday. The rest of his peers were bound to already be thinking of the next holiday, setting their minds on family and what they would get for Christmas, but not Finn. No, Finn was deeper than that.
Finn didn’t want the magic of Halloween to fade, nor the camaraderie he felt with his friends. He wanted it to stay forever, and so he lingered while the others left, feeling the energy left behind by the people who had walked through it earlier that evening. I considered going down and joining him, but I knew that he wanted the privacy of the moment. While he and I had certainly become friends over the past month, and I had walked with him several times on his after hours visits, I knew that this night was special. He wanted to do it alone.
I heard rustling again, and this time it was near the entrance. I glanced back to Finn and saw that he had turned toward the sound as well, though he certainly couldn’t see the entrance as well as I. He started to move in that direction, methodically searching the shadows for the source of the noise. I watched him for only a moment before I turned back to the entrance to see what was going on.
He was beautiful, and the way the silvery light of the moon lit up his blonde hair made him even more enchanting. He was wearing a thin, white warm-up jacket and black jeans, and was slim but not skinny.
I had seen the boy a half hour earlier, among one of the last groups to come through. He had been with a few friends, and they had laughed at the antics of the various actors that had tried to scare them. Sometimes the actors had succeeded, and other times they had failed. Finn and his three friends had worked their usual charm on the group, and had been met with terrified screams, even from the teenage boys in the group who had tried to act tough in front of each other. This boy had screamed less than the others, despite Finn’s greatest efforts, and I had been pleased to see that he was far more excited than afraid. This boy loved Halloween as much as I did.
But something had changed in his demeanor. He was now alone, and his eyes were wide and glinting in the silvery moonlight. He was breathing heavily, and he kept looking over his shoulder as he walked through the maze. I followed him with my eyes as he moved carefully along the corn, being careful to not make a sound.
That’s when I saw someone else moving through the maze, and he was making every effort to be just as quiet. Although they could have easily been the same age, this boy was bigger and broad shouldered, though he walked with lazy slouch. He wore worn out jeans and a black denim jacket from the last decade, and his medium length brown hair was unkempt.
“Max! I know you’re in here!” The second boy shouted as he moved further in. There was a sinister cast to his voice that I didn’t like, but I decided for the time being I would not intervene. The first boy looked up at the accusation and hesitated for a moment, though a second later he turned back around and started running as fast as he could, his footfalls rustling loudly across the trampled corn stalks.
The second boy similarly increased his pace, and his stride was longer. Within a moment they were in the same lane, and Max turned to look over his shoulder and stumbled as he saw the other boy. He fell hard against the ground and as he tried to get back up the other boy was on him, grabbing his arm roughly as he hoisted him to his feet.
“Leave me alone, Jordan!” Max shouted as he tried to tear his arm away, but the other boy twisted Max’s arm behind his back and grabbed him in a head lock.
“What?” Jordan said with a snarl. “Did you really think that you’d be able to hide from me?” He twisted Max’s arm even further and then shoved him roughly to the ground. Jordan walked toward Max as he ground his right fist into his left palm, a sneer on his face.
A form burst out of the corn and helped Max to his feet before standing between him and Jordan. The pink Mohawk was a dead giveaway as Finn shouted a challenge at Jordan. “You better fucking leave him alone, asswipe!”
“Who’s there?” Jordan replied, taking an instinctive step back at Finn’s sudden arrival. Then his sneer widened even further as chuckled and said, “Finn… You picked the wrong time to show up, faggot.”
“What was that, pube-nuzzling fucknut?” Finn said, trembling with rage. “You think you can take me, huh? This faggot’s gonna beat the shit out of you.”
“You’re scrawny ass?” Jordan scoffed. “I’ll take my chances, and then I’m going to beat your faggot boyfriend.”
“Max, get the fuck out of here!” Finn shouted as he assumed a fighting stance.
“But…” Max protested, glancing nervously between Finn and Jordan.
“Now!” Finn shouted over his shoulder. Max hesitated for a moment longer before he bolted toward the exit of the maze.
I watched him go until Jordan’s voice drew me back to the situation unfolding in front of me. “Running won’t save him, and you’re gonna pay.”
Even with the rage behind Jordan’s eyes, Finn showed no emotion in his own expression. He stood straight and composed, his eyes carefully analyzing Jordan’s stance, and his hands and feet placed with precision to allow him to easily defend against whatever Jordan threw at him. I watched with eagerness, knowing the spectacle I was about to witness.
Jordan rushed at Finn with a lumbering stride and then pulled back his fist, aiming for Finn’s face. By the time Jordan’s fist moved forward, Finn had already ducked to the left, and he caught Jordan’s arm as Finn stepped forward and around him. Jordan stumbled forward as his momentum was shifted by Finn’s practiced defense as the smaller boy turned around and twisted Jordan’s arm slightly. An instant later Finn released Jordan’s arm as he let the momentum continue its original course, though with Jordan now completely unbalanced he stumbled and smashed into the wall of corn stalks.
I had to stifle a laugh at Jordan’s predicament. I had known from the moment that Finn had arrived on the scene that Jordan hadn’t stood a chance. Finn had been taking self-defense courses since he was five, and despite his small frame he could handle the biggest and strongest of opponents.
But Jordan wasn’t out yet. He cursed under his breath as he rose to his feet, and Finn sighed as he resumed his earlier stance. Sometimes Finn had to knock them down a few times before they would realize that they couldn’t touch him, but it didn’t change how it ended. Finn had been through this process several times before, and the end result was usually the same. Once they chose to get angry and fight him, they had already lost. Finn thrived on his opponent’s anger, and used it against them.
“Hey dickwagger! Are you done yet?” Finn called out when Jordan hadn’t turned around yet, but then I caught a glint of metal in the moonlight, and I knew that Finn was in trouble. I almost called out to him, but Finn noticed just before I could tell him, and he took a step back as he raised his hands in defense and said, “Whoa, think about what you’re doing here.”
“You little fucker! I’m gonna kill you!” Jordan shouted as he started walking toward Finn. He held the knife in his right hand, it appeared to be a switchblade, though I was too far away and the lighting wasn’t good enough for me to tell for certain. I could hear his heavy breathing, and I knew that his adrenaline must have kicked up a notch in the past few seconds. Not only did he have the weapon but he was definitely set on using it. Finn was in trouble.
“Shit!” Finn shouted as he noticed the knife.
“You won’t get away now, faggot!” Jordan growled, baring his teeth.
I started to shift my position, getting ready should Finn need me. Normally I let kids work out their own struggles, but this was a different circumstance altogether. Normally their lives weren’t actually in danger, either. Finn backed away slowly as Jordan approached him with the knife, his feet shuffling quick enough that he easily matched Jordan’s walking speed. Finn stopped right in front of me, glancing at me through the holes in his mask. I remained motionless, knowing he’d let me know if he needed me.
Jordan continued forward, snarling as he pulled the knife back and then shot forward with a thrust. Finn dodged the stab and tried to grasp Jordan’s arm as he had before, but Jordan was ready for the maneuver and punched out with his left hand, his fist colliding heavily with the mask on Finn’s face. The crack of breaking plastic sliced through the air, and Finn cried out in pain as he staggered backward, clutching at his face. Jordan let out a quick laugh before jumping at Finn again, aiming his knife at Finn’s stomach.
Finn was caught off guard but saw the knife before it hit him, and managed to catch Jordan’s hand. He wasn’t in the right position, and as he tried to put his feet into a position where he could take advantage of the momentum, Jordan pressed in harder and they both fell, landing on the ground with a heavy thud. Finn was on the bottom, with the weight of Jordan pushing him into the corn stalks beneath him, and Jordan wasn’t about to give up his dominance of the smaller boy. Finn knew he was in trouble, and that’s when he looked up to me and shouted, “Help me!”
I was off of the pole which bore my weight as soon as the words left his mouth and landed lightly on the ground. I quickly straightened and marched toward the wrestling pair, my form shifting as I walked. The straw that had formed my legs and arms quickly became dark, leathery flesh, and the unlit jack-o-lantern which had served as my head became alive with brilliant fire. My hands extended outward, the cruel claws with which I had shredded many mortals’ flesh over the centuries were aimed toward Jordan’s back.
Finn stopped struggling briefly; his eyes were wide as he stared straight at me, and Jordan stopped and followed his gaze as my shadow interrupted the light from the moon which had fallen across Finn’s face. “Wha—? How the hell?” Jordan gasped out as my hands gripped his shoulders and pulled him off of Finn, and then threw him deep into the corn with my unearthly strength. I followed his flight with quick sprint and a jump and landed straddling his body with my feet. The knife had fallen from his grip somewhere during his flight, and was nowhere to be seen. Seeing no danger to myself, I sunk to my knees, one leg on either side of him, and wrapped one clawed hand around his throat.
Rustling in the corn announced that Finn had followed my path, and he looked down at Jordan with disgust. “Listen, you numb-nutted uncle fucking scum monkey,” Finn growled through the broken mask. “I’m going to give you one chance to leave and promise you’re not gonna bully anyone ever again, or I’m going to let my friend here ensure it.
I loosened my grip around Jordan’s throat, allowing him to stammer, “I-I promise! I won’t do it again, I swear!”
I looked up at Finn, waiting for him to nod his assent, and he hesitated for several long seconds before finally nodding that I could let Jordan go. With a growl I stood up and let him up, while Finn said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Fuck off ass licker! If I ever see your shit-munching face again I’ll fuck you up so bad that you’ll never be able to slam your mother with that pencil prick of yours again!”
Jordan took off into the corn, running faster than I’d seen anyone run in a long time, and I smiled as I fed off of his fear. It was nice to be able to scare someone again. I turned to Finn to see that he was not smiling, and wasn’t even looking in the direction that Jordan had gone. He was looking the other way, where Max had escaped to. “Are you all right, Finn?” I asked as I lay a clawed hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah…” Finn replied with a sigh. He turned back to me and smiled weakly. “Thank you for helping me, Jack. If I had known that ass-wrangling dog-bastard had a knife I would have never cornered him alone.” He spat as he glanced toward Jordan’s path through the corn, shaking his head helplessly.
“I know,” I replied with a grin as I gestured that we should return to the path. “You’re smarter than that.”
“Thank you again,” Finn said as he fell into step beside me. “I’m glad that you’re on our side.”
“A pagan god of the harvest like me?” I asked with a chuckle. “Of course I am. You know that I’ll always watch over you. At least as long as you are in my area.”
“Let’s just hope that he doesn’t come back to seek revenge on you,” Finn replied with a knowing grin.
“I can handle him as I’ve handled the enemies of my people for generations,” I said with a shrug. But then I turned my own knowing grin on Finn and asked, “The question is, what are you going to do about Max?”
“What do you mean?” Finn replied with wide eyes.
“You showed more concern than usual,” I said as I met his stare. “He means something to you, doesn’t he?”
“You… you noticed that?” Finn stammered and blushed, looking away from me and back in the direction that Max had gone.
“I am a god, remember?” I replied with a short laugh.
Finn sighed and his face clouded over as he said, “I’ll leave him alone. You’re right that I like him, but I’d only get him hurt.”
“Finn.” I said his name firmly so that he’d meet my gaze, and when he finally did I said in a fatherly tone, “He means something to you, don’t let him get away.”
“Why are you so concerned?” Finn asked almost defensively.
I wrapped my arm around him as we stepped out onto the path, then gestured with the other one to the maze around us. “Every year I watch people come through this maze. They’re with their friends, or their lovers, or sometimes their families, but they’re all looking for the same thing, the thrill of the fear that you and the other actors instill in them. But you know what? They know it’s all pretend,” I paused for a moment to let the word sink in. “They know that nothing’s going to really hurt them in here.”
“What’s your point?” Finn asked in a flat tone.
“Max came in here, running away from that bully. He came in here because he thought it was safer for him in here than out there, and he was right. In here was his protector, the one who could stop them all from harming him.” I poked him in the chest and went on, “You, Finn. The hurt you think you’d cause to him is pretend, you hide behind it with your foul mouth and your aggressive attitude, but in the end you saved him from his bully. He’ll remember that forever, trust me.”
Finn shook his head and stepped away from me. A cold breeze had started up and Finn shuddered against the cold. If I had thought he had looked conflicted before, he looked tormented now, but I thought I would try one more time to reach him.
“Finn, do you know what Halloween is about? It’s about scaring away the spirits that torment us by being more frightening than they are. You’re no demon, you just pose as one to frighten the demons away,” I wrapped him in a hug, and though he initially tried to pull away from me, a second later he accepted it as I whispered. “You did that for Max tonight. Please, for once, stop being so hard on yourself and let yourself be happy.”
“A Happy Halloween, huh?” He said as he looked up at me. “That’s so fucking corny.”
“Indeed, Finn,” I said with a grin. “Now go see if Max is all right.”
“Finn! Are you all right, Finn?” Billy’s voice rose above the corn, and it was coming closer.
I looked down at Finn with a final grin and then returned to the pole from which I watched over the corn field. I climbed it quickly and resumed my original position, and then took on the form of the scarecrow once more. By the time Billy, Derrick, Zeke, and finally Max had arrived at where Finn stood waiting for them, I was as unmoving as every other part of the scenery. It was better this way. Less questions for Finn to answer.
“Yeah, I’m good. It’s been taken care of,” Finn said coolly before busying himself in dusting off his costume. He reached up and pulled the broken mask from his face before growling in disgust at the blood on his cheek from where the broken plastic had cut him. “That ass-nugget had it coming.”
“Where’s Jordan now?” Zeke asked, and he looked like he was about to kill someone. I couldn’t blame him.
“Yeah, let’s make sure he gets the message,” Derrick added, and both Billy and Zeke nodded their agreement with that plan, but Finn was already shaking his head. The four boys shared a look, but soon Finn’s three best friends were nodding and calming down.
“How’d you guys know to come?” Finn asked while looking directly at Max who was busy looking anywhere other than at Finn.
“Max told us you were in trouble and we came as fast as we could,” Derrick said with a grin as he walked to the smaller boy and punched him lightly in the arm before wrapping his left arm around Max’s neck. “He knew who to talk to.”
“Max, get over here!” Finn said as he started walking toward Max. Max, on the other hand, looked frozen with embarrassment, and only moved toward Finn at great urging from Derrick.
“I’m sorry that I got you in trouble, Finn…” Max began, but then was cut off as Finn pressed his lips to Max’s. Max pulled away for a second, wide eyed and panicked, stammering over his words, but Finn simply pulled him close again and kissed his lips shut. This time Max didn’t pull away, though he still looked astonished as they pulled apart.
“Jordan called you my boyfriend…” Finn said, after looking past Max and up at me. “I know we’ve only gone out a couple times but… How’d you like to make that official?”
“Yes! God, yes!” Max exclaimed, but then in an embarrassed stammer he asked, “What about Jordan?”
“Oh don’t worry about him,” Finn said with a roguish grin as he glanced up at me briefly. “If he causes any more problems, the King of the Corn Maze will deal with him.”