17 May The Corn Wolf
“The Corn Wolf”Written by Blake Earl Ray Edited by Craig Groshek and N.M. Brown Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 13 minutes
When children wish to go into the corn-fields to pluck ears or gather the blue corn-flowers, they are warned not to do so, for “the big Dog sits in the corn.”— The Golden Bough by James Frazer
The detective stood leaning against the wall in the waiting room fidgeting with a silver dollar coin. It was one of the bicentennial ones—large, flat, and well-worn from years of handling. He was walking it back and forth across his knuckles in a practiced routine. The detective’s father had given it to him on his tenth birthday, and he had kept it with him off and on ever since. It was, for a lack of a better term, a good luck charm. But Detective Jeffery Raymond didn’t believe in good luck. He certainly didn’t believe in it after twenty-four years on the police force and eleven years doing missing persons. His dad had always said that two aces was a start, but you had to play the hand.
The coin wobbled a bit in its passage from finger to finger. Raymond felt the coin’s variance rather than saw it. He was scanning his surroundings idly. The waiting room was small but in a friendly, cozy way. There was a large pastel-yellow couch and a couple of mint-green chairs. On the far wall there was a box of generic wooden toys next to a rack of magazines and kids’ books. Somewhere, hidden out of the detective’s sight, there was a white noise machine running so that the sound of sessions wouldn’t come through the wall.
Outside, thunder rumbled—loud and close. Raymond looked out of the small window. The bottom had dropped out finally. Rain was falling in sheets. Wind was whipping through the trees that were huddled in a little strip between the parking lot and the highway. Their branches were shaking and slashing at each other—a riot of color and motion in the October storm.
To his left (never behind him) the door to the little room opened. An attractive woman who had gracefully passed fifty perhaps four years before stepped in. She was short and slim with long dye-kit-chestnut hair that complemented her blue eyes splendidly. In different circumstances, the detective would have made a point to talk to her. As it was, he doubted a shrink’s office was really the right time or place to try to flirt with women.
“The doctor will see you now,” the pretty woman said, with a smile that revealed large, bleached teeth.
The better to eat you with, my dear, Jeffery thought.
“Thank you. I’ll be right in.”
“Second door on the left,” the receptionist said, turning and exiting.
The detective watched her make her way to her office, softly shutting that door behind her. With the woman out of sight, Detective Raymond patted the right hip pocket of his charcoal slacks. He felt the slight weight of the pistol in there. It was a little, hammerless Smith and Wesson .38 that he had picked up a couple years back at a sporting goods store on a whim.
Most of the time, the little five-round thing sat on the shelf in the closet, tucked away in a case. The detective didn’t really bother with trigger locks or anything like that since it was just him around the house. It wasn’t like he kept it loaded anyway.
It was loaded now.
The detective tucked his light blue Oxford shirt in a little tighter and made his way down to the office. The second door on the left had a little plaque beside it that read: “Dr. Timothy Jarvis, PhD.”
Smart guy, Raymond thought. His hand instinctively went to his Smith and Wesson again. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
Dr. Jarvis was sitting hunched over his laptop when the detective entered the room. He was typing leisurely, unhurried. He looked up, straightened in his chair, and smiled politely.
The first thing the detective noticed was how simply big the man was. He had to be pushing 230 pounds and was easily over 6’3”. His shirtsleeves were rolled back to show thick, well-muscled forearms. His hands were enormous manicured mitts with professionally trimmed and cleaned nails. He seemed to have been hitting the gym since the last time the detective had seen him.
Raymond had of course seen the doctor around the precinct. He was not necessarily a regular sight, but he had been in there a couple times when they needed a counselor or a professional psychiatric opinion. Had he been a witness at a trial that Raymond was also a part of? It was hard to say, but it seemed likely.
The doctor’s eyes were not obscured by corrective lenses as Raymond seemed to remember them being. Without glasses they were a strange, almost amber color. They were sharp and incisive, taking Jeffery in with a quick scan. The look on the doctor’s face, combined with the quick appraising sweep, made Jeffery’s skin crawl. It was predatory.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, the detective thought.
“Please, have a seat,” Dr. Jarvis said in a smooth, rolling baritone.
Raymond did just that, sitting down on a long, white couch. The doctor took a seat opposite the detective in a tall, plush chair that groaned a little as the man eased his weight into it. Raymond’s back was to the door. Behind the doctor was a bookshelf stretching to the ceiling that was full of textbooks. One of the books (presumably on child psychology) bore Jarvis’ name. It was turned so that it took up its own place of prominence with the dark cover facing out. Written in gold below the doctor’s full name was the title The Corn Wolf and Other Prescriptive Childhood Boogeymen.
No point wasting time.
“So, how do we start?” Raymond asked.
“Well, how about you tell me? What exactly brings you in?”
“I filled out that survey thing,” the detective said. His breath was coming in shallow, angry sniffs. He stopped himself and purposely took three deep breaths. He had to keep his cool if he was going to get through all of this.
“Yes, the questionnaire,” the doctor said evenly. He rose in a fluid, athletic motion and crossed the room. The man Raymond remembered from the police station had been decidedly more ungainly—chubby. He had always been pretty tall, but he was certainly not nearly this powerful and fighting trim. The detective shifted on the couch.
You could take the shot now, Raymond told himself looking at the back of the man’s pinstriped shirt. Four shots center mass ought to do it. He’d leave one in the wheel. But he knew that he had to be sure, positive, before he did it. It wasn’t the sort of thing one did lightly. His father had always told him to never point a gun at anything you weren’t ready to shoot. If that thing was alive, you’d better be damn sure you wanted it to not be.
Edgar Raymond, Jeffery’s father, had also been a cop. He hadn’t risen up the ranks like Jeffery had, and was still a patrol officer when he dropped dead of a cerebral aneurysm at 53. He had been a big man, not tall, but barrel chested and thick necked. Jeffery remembered his hands—scarred, rough, and chapped. They were tough, working hands, from a different era. But they were never violent hands even when Jeffery had misbehaved or his father had come home late from patrol smelling like Tanqueray gin, cigarettes, and strange perfume. On those nights, his mother would fuss, shout, and pace. Edgar would sit on the couch with his head in his hands after the bedroom door finally slammed.
“Don’t get married, Jeffy,” he would say knowing that Jeffery was around the corner. Then he would go to the kitchen and make a couple sandwiches, frying the bologna in the bacon fat they kept congealed in an old, chipped mug by the stove. Jeffery and his father would sit and eat those sandwiches and watch the late-night movie on cable. Later, his dad would sulk into the bedroom, knowing the door was unlocked at last, and Jeffery would cry himself to sleep on the couch.
Dr. Jarvis found what he was looking for on the desk. He snatched it up along with a spiral-bound notebook and crossed the room again in a few long strides. He sat back down across from the detective. He shuffled the print out.
“Okay, so let’s see,” the doctor said casually. “We’ll start with your mood. How have you been feeling lately? On a scale of one to ten with ten being the best you’ve ever felt, where would you rate yourself today?”
“I don’t know. I guess a three or a four. It’s hard to say. I’ve never really thought about my mood on a scale.”
The detective surprised himself with his own honesty. He could have easily lied, but he was pretty down lately. And then there was, of course, the real reason he was here. Maybe he was losing it a little after all.
“Okay,” the doctor said. “Let’s start there. What seems to have been the problem as of late? Are you feeling depressed? Angry? Anxious? I can only imagine the amount of pressure that you have at work.”
“I’ve, uh, been having a bit of a hard time at work.”
“I can only imagine,” the doctor said with a little, reassuring smile. “Missing persons? Is that right?”
“And how long have you been feeling this way? How long would you say that you’ve been ‘having a bit of a hard time’ as you put it?”
“It’s been a few months,” the detective said flatly.
In reality, it had been almost eight months since the first incident. A missing child report had come in. The girl was gone from a house in one of the nicer suburbs about a half-hour drive from downtown. The parents were absolutely beside themselves.
The kid was a thirteen-year-old girl named Clarissa. She had disappeared in the middle of the night. The window to her bedroom was open, letting rain blow in and puddle on the hardwood floor.
Officially, she was listed as a runaway.
When Detective Raymond had walked into the room that first night, he knew something was off. This wasn’t a runaway.
The drawers on the tall, white dresser were open. There was a shirt hanging down from the middle drawer. Raymond crossed the room carefully. He looked at the drawer closely. He called a short, marine-looking uniformed officer over.
“Has anyone been in here?”
“No, sir,” the marine replied.
“Where are the parents?”
The young officer led Jeffery down a long hallway to a staircase and eventually the kitchen. The pretty woman at the table was too young to have a teenager, even a young one. He guessed she couldn’t be more than twenty-six. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying, but other than that, she really was a striking young woman.
Stepmother, Raymond thought.
The father walked into the room and joined the stepmother at the kitchen table. He was a slim, almost lanky man. He was pale, but it was hard to tell if it was from worry or not. He was holding two cups of coffee. He sat one down in front of his wife and took the seat beside her. The sight of the detective, rain-soaked and rumpled from the walk up the long driveway seemed to startle him.
“I’m Detective Raymond,” Jeffery said, extending his hand. The man across the table took it and shook it limply.
“Jacob Dorsey,” he said in a distant, distracted voice. “This is Meagan.”
The pale man gestured to the woman sipping her coffee from a mug cradled in both hands. Raymond nodded.
Clarissa had disappeared earlier that night. The couple realized she was gone when thunder woke them up. The girl had been troubled and seeing a shrink—she wasn’t handling the remarriage well. Apparently, Dad was supposed to stay single indefinitely. They had driven around looking for her before they called the police. They even went as far as to ride through the cemetery where Clarissa’s mother was buried. That, in and of itself, had wasted a couple of hours. And in these kinds of cases, hours and even minutes were precious. They had no idea where she could have been. She didn’t have many friends.
“Last thing,” Raymond said as he got up from the table. “Where’s your dog?”
“We don’t have a dog,” Meagan answered, baffled. “Clarissa’s allergic.”
“Oh, I just thought you might.”
Raymond walked back upstairs and stood outside Clarissa’s door. Along with the typical smell of a teenage girl’s bedroom—perfumes, scented candles, and the like—there was a heavy smell. It was musty and almost sour.
It was the unmistakable smell of a wet dog.
It was about a month before the next one. It was an eleven-year-old girl from the same part of town. She lived in a gated community of big colonials. There was a forced entry. The girl’s bedroom window had been smashed in. The glass had been lying in glittering shards across the beige carpet interspersed with little splinters of wood. Whatever the perp had used to break the window (maybe a crowbar) had scratched up the wooden sill badly.
The official line was that it had probably been the father. Dude was in dereliction of his child support, and chances were he had grabbed the girl and taken off down to Florida where his family was from. The mother took a little solace in that, apparently. She told Raymond that, despite how bad things had gotten between him and her, that he never would have hurt the girl.
Raymond had stepped out back after talking to the girl’s mother. It was an old habit from back when he had still smoked cigarettes. He was walking his coin back and forth across his knuckles. That’s when he noticed something at the edge of the yard—a dark, glistening heap in the bright early-spring moonlight. The detective glanced around; he was alone for the time being. He flipped his coin into his palm and clutched it in his fist. The cool, familiar weight was reassuring.
The backyard was a long expanse of sea-foam grass under a crystal-white full moon. The detective walked slowly. The dark lump was stirring slightly right at the edge of a stand of pines. Raymond reached into his light jacket to feel the solid heaviness of his gun.
It was a raccoon. When Raymond got close, it barely turned its head. The thing had been ripped open. The smell of the torn bowels and blood mingled in the air. The detective stared down at the poor creature, moving pitifully in its agony. The detective stomped its head. The crunch made his stomach lurch like he was going too fast on an especially hilly road. But the creature didn’t move anymore. At least its suffering was over.
Jeffery leaned in close. Whatever had gotten ahold of this thing had really done a number on it. Must have been a bobcat or something of the like, since the little guy had been almost entirely disemboweled in long jagged gashes. But bobcats and the ever-more-common coyotes ate their victims. They didn’t leave them to suffer. Only people did shit like that.
By the fifth disappearance, Raymond knew what they were dealing with even if he couldn’t bring himself to say the words serial killer. The kids weren’t being found. They weren’t with estranged parents. They weren’t running away. The detective knew, deep down in his gut that the kids were dead. They were as dead as that raccoon.
He had started smoking again.
That’s what he was doing on the night of the last full moon. He was sitting across from the house of a kid who had just started seeing the same shrink as all the others. He pulled hard on his Winston and sighed. The night was bright. The moon looked close and heavy—hanging in the unseasonably cold September sky. He was watching his little contrails of smoke and walking his coin across his knuckles when movement caught his eye.
The detective turned to see a hulking shape creeping up beside the big brick house. In one motion the detective snapped his cigarette out into the night and drew his pistol. He sprinted toward the shape, but pulled up short.
The thing—and it was a thing Raymond realized as the motion-activated flood lights above the garage kicked on—was massive. The shape of it was sickening. It was heavily muscled and shockingly big. It looked like a body-builder covered in mangy silver and black fur that hung in lank tendrils from its naked, rippling form. Thick ropes of saliva swung from its jaws as it turned its misshapen muzzle toward the light. The eyes shined a bright, carnivore gold.
The beast stood up on its hind legs, and Jeffery gagged. The movement was athletic, smooth, and yet horrible. The body looked overstuffed. The skin pulled dangerously at the joints—a worn suit only moments from splitting at the seams. The general shape was that of a massive canine, but the hands and eyes were almost those of a man.
Raymond unloaded nine bullets into the thing—the whole damned magazine.
The thing screamed. It was an unnatural, infernal sound. It whirled its hideous body on a back paw and sprinted into the darkness on all fours. Lights were coming on all over the neighborhood. Someone had probably already called to report the shots. Jeffery jumped into his car and sped off before the first siren.
He had spent the rest of the night in a crowded bar, ordering diet colas and watching people drink. The idea of being alone was too much. His dad had once looked at him, half-drunk and haunted, and told him that sometimes a man is his own worst company, and for the first time in his life, Jeffery understood what that meant.
At last call, Raymond made his way home. He walked into the house and fell into the couch, all his strength going in one big sigh. He walked his coin across his knuckles for a while, smoking with the unoccupied hand. His thoughts were racing, insane. It shouldn’t exist. These things don’t exist. Had it seen his face? Did it know him? It was a bright night, but maybe the floodlights had temporarily dazzled it. The detective sat there until the morning sun flooded through the plastic blinds.
After his second cup of coffee and a breakfast of runny scrambled eggs and a fried bologna sandwich, the detective decided to make an appointment with the shrink—the same one the girls and their families had been seeing. He made it for a month out. He took the last appointment of the day on October 28th.
And now Raymond was sitting in front of the doctor—the thing that had been a doctor. There was no way out of the office if he was right.
And what if he was wrong?
There’s really no way out either way, the detective thought grimly. He reached into his jacket pocket and found the silver coin. He rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger.
“What was it that happened that brought you to me today?” the doctor was saying. “Can you trace your depressed mood to an incident?”
“Sometimes a man has to do a thing he knows will be hard—will hurt—but that’s what separates good men from great men,” Officer Edgar Raymond had said the day he had given his son a coin. Six years later, the man would be dead. And now decades later, his shadow still stretched across Jeffery’s life.
Detective Jeffery Raymond took a deep breath and flipped the coin across the room. He watched it tumble end over end through space as he pulled his revolver. There were five bullets in it—five silver bullets he had smelted himself out in the shed, melting down and shaping them out of his grandmother’s good silverware.
Jarvis, or at least what had once been Dr. Timothy Jarvis, snatched the coin out of the air reflexively. His eyes went wide as he squeezed the silver dollar in his fist. The detective had a gun drawn, and the pain in the doctor’s palm shot up his arm. He could smell the adrenaline in the other man’s sweat. He screamed.
The room filled with the heavy smell of burning flesh. It was an oddly familiar smell although Raymond couldn’t place it.
The doctor opened his fist to reveal the coin sizzling in his palm. Little tendrils of smoke were climbing up to the ceiling. Dark blood was welling up from beneath the silver disk and spilling onto the floor. He scraped the coin off his palm with his other hand revealing the burned and ripped flesh beneath. It was a gaping hole.
Jarvis screamed again. As his mouth opened, his jaw distended. The sound of bones cracking and rearranging was as loud as gunshots. Skin stretched and pulled. The clothes the man was wearing split at the seams with a loud tearing. Long claws pushed violently through the tips of the doctor’s fingers, ripping off the human nails and letting them fall to the ground like bloody flower pedals.
The detective froze with his index finger shaking on the trigger.
The door banged open. The pretty receptionist screamed. Raymond turned to tell her to run—to flee for her life.
The creature crossed the room in a bound, knocking the detective back into the couch, breaking one of the legs and sending the two bodies rolling into the floor. Raymond’s ribs shattered under the impact snapping like twigs over his father’s knee. The beast sank its teeth into the flesh by Raymond’s collarbone—raking away half of his deltoid.
Three shots rang out—only slightly muffled by the muzzle being buried in the thing’s stomach. The creature drew back, heaving the detective’s own blood and flesh into his face. Somewhere the receptionist was screaming. The beast went limp.
Raymond pulled himself out from under the bulk of the monster groaning in pain. His chest was on fire with blunt trauma. His left arm hung uselessly from his destroyed shoulder. He pushed back against the wall, watching the creature for movement. There was none. At least two of the bullets had lodged somewhere in the thing’s abdomen. There was one ragged exit wound next to the humped spine, but there was only one.
Raymond looked at the receptionist. She was shaking, her mouth open and covered with a well-manicured hand.
“Don’t watch this part,” Raymond said through the searing pain. The woman turned. It had to be done. It had to stop here. A good man killed the creature, but a great man would make sure there would be no more.
Detective Jeffery Raymond pressed the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available