Discover more from Horror and Happy Endings
Cotter's Maze is the place to be on All Hallows Eve.
Ahhh!! I am so excited to share this short piece of horror fiction on my favorite day of the year (yep, even like it better than my birthday which is also coming soooon) HALLOWEEN!!
Last week I polled my Instagram followers for three important elements in this story.
You’ll have to read it to find out the winning selections 😈
I wrote this rather speedily, so please excuse any typos or glaring grammar offenses.
Without further ado…
BUT FIRST!! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work!
Dusk fell in a heavy blanket across the stalks of Cotter’s Maze. The smell of kicked up earth and aromatic fall spice mingled with pungent body spray and sugar dusted donuts. There was soft laughter tittering on the wind; there were screams echoing in the distance.
He had been biding his time, taking slowly so no one would notice.
First, it was the warning at the dark corner all alone.
Then, the adrenalin surge of flight when someone jumped out to scream boo.
So many had already lost their hope; they came here with it dangling from loose threads, and it took nothing to snip it from their grip.
Biding his time, biding his time.
That would all change tonight.
Cotter’s Maze was the only place around for the kids of Heritage High to find mischief on All Hallows Eve. They would wind their way through the stalks, clutching hands, clutching torches, clutching exhilaration as it zipped over their skin—electric, alive. They would drink from flasks filled with stolen booze and stumble into the shadows for a few trembling, breathless seconds of bliss. They would chase the fleeting feeling that—for tonight, at least—they weren’t going nowhere fast.
The whole school would be there. Every last loser.
Which meant it was the last place Rowen King would ever choose to go.
Unless Juno James needed a ride.
“Thanks for getting me,” Juno said, fiddling with her phone. She turned it on airplane mode and then off, hoping it would briefly catch a signal from a distant cell tower. There was no cell service at Cotter’s, but Juno was used to getting her way, and she needed to make sure her friends hadn’t gone into the Maze without her.
They promised they wouldn’t, but that was before she was over an hour late.
Rowen hated the power Juno still had over her. Once, they had been best friends, the kind who made little blood pacts late at night under the cover a blanket fort. The kind that did spells using their mom’s kitchen herbs and bathtub candles. The kind that became more, one day, without meaning to at all.
Now they were nothing, but still, Rowen had come when she called.
“I’m dropping you off and not coming back,” Rowen replied. The gravel road opened like a mouth in front of her Jeep, the bending stalks forming the corners of hungry lips. She knew the turn was coming soon. All at once they’d arrive, spit into the middle of a square dirt lot beneath the curved sign reading, Maze this way—if you dare.
“At least wait for me to find the others,” Juno pleaded. There was a whimper in her voice.
Rowen allowed her eyes slip from the road to Juno’s face. Watched her lip plump out in a pout, noticed how her auburn hair looked like blood in the dim light of her car.
She almost missed the turn in. And for good reason. The lights that usually lit the lot were out, save for a single overhead lamp swinging from the sign. Darkness expanded from that point like a heavy tarp, turning the shifting stalks into monsters shrouded in shadow.
Rowen cut the engine, but left her lights on. They hit the entrance to the Maze, haloing it with an eerie pale glow.
He could sense the moment he’d had enough.
The light made by the human spirit gleams even in the darkest of times, but he had managed to dim it low, each one a little easier than the last. And none so simple as the boy with the blue and white letter jacket—Letter Boy.
He would do nicely for what came next.
It wouldn’t be enough, these small bites of fear. They could only sustain him for spurts. What he needed was big terror, the kind that can only come when blood is shed and humans go from predator to prey.
Letter Boy was the key. A body primed for action. A mind easy to wipe clean of reason. He took the axe Cotter had stuck in his head to scare away birds from the crops. It slid into the boy’s strong grip with ease and he twirled it, tossed it from hand to hand, a sinister smile spreading his lips.
The first swing hit a girl dressed in pink square in the chin with a dull crunch. Letter Boy pulled it free, twisted the wooden handle, and brought the blade back down to her skull with a wet thwack.
Blood sprayed everywhere. Glorious, glossy.
Screams curdled the air like milk left out to sour.
He felt his fingers wriggle with a brittle scritch scritch scritch. He felt his knees nearly bend. His head creaked to the left and caught sight of Cotter, approaching in a rush and rifle in hand but not at the ready.
He would have to go next; he’d had it coming for weeks.
Juno had gotten out and Rowen didn’t want to follow. Her stomach was turning over, sick without having a reason. Her skin prickled with the threat of present danger from somewhere she couldn’t pinpoint. She was about to roll down the window and tell Juno to get back in the car or she was leaving her behind, when someone ran from the entrance of the Maze.
Not someone. Cassie Grey. Juno’s friend, Rowen’s nightmare.
Blood soaked her dress, dripping from her mouth, coating the thick ends of her blonde hair. Her expression was drawn up in horror as she clutched her abdomen with hands coated in that same gory shade of deep crimson.
She wailed from those blood filled lips.
Juno jolted forward, hand out, as if compelled into motion by the sight of her pain. Rowen didn’t think twice as she unbuckled her seatbelt and launched out of the Jeep.
She had always cared too much about Juno. It was going to get her killed.
“What are you doing?” Rowen yelled, lurching around the fender and into Juno’s way.
“She needs help,” Juno said.
Cassie’s hands fell away to reveal her lower intestine spilling into her palms. Juno screamed, yanking Rowen against her in terror. Rowen had to swallow back the acidic taste of her dinner in her throat at the sight of Cassie’s insides all over the dirt parking lot.
“I think we’re too late,” Rowen said. And then Cassie dropped to the ground.
Rowen wasn’t good with fear—or any feelings really. She was used to stuffing them down to keep from falling apart. Being the loner with a target on her back, the girl with a drunk mom, the girl with a knack for trouble, made caring a luxury she couldn’t afford.
Juno, on the other hand, was a geyser of emotion. She ran to Cassie, crouching beside her macabre form, questions spilling from her lips. What happened? Who else is inside? Cassie?
But Cassie was gone.
Juno was gripped by the fist of guilt. She was supposed to be with Cassie, her other friend, Janis, their boyfriends Dereck, the quarterback, and Matt, the running back. She was supposed to be meeting a friend of D’s from a couple towns over tonight for a blind date. She hadn’t wanted to disappoint anyone, and she thought she could play girl-who-likes-guys one more night. One more year. At least until she graduated.
But when it came time to go tonight, she’d frozen and she’d done what she always did in the face of panic. Called Rowen. Feigned a busted tire just to have time with her, a respite from playing the role she’d signed up for freshmen year.
She stood, determined not to let the guilt eat her up. Her other friends, that blind date guy, they might still be inside, alive. She had to go in after them. Juno launched out toward the maze, and Rowen grabbed her wrist.
Not her hand, never her hand.
“You can’t be serious,” Rowen growled.
“Come with me or don’t, but I have to try to help.”
Rowen’s eyes drifted from Juno’s face to the small building beside the Maze where Cotter sold wares and baked goods. Hanging over the entrance was an antique scythe. It looked rusted, probably useless, but at least it was something.
“Help me get that down first,” Rowen said, walking toward the building.
He surveyed the carnage with new eyes. He inhaled the smell of their deaths, each one uniquely sweet or savory but all equally sublime. He tasted the fear, a glutton for it, drinking it up as if it were the most decadent of wine.
He stepped from the wooden frame on newly strengthened legs. He had no heartbeat, no blood or marrow of his own, but he had something better.
Their fear had given them life, and now that life was all twisted up in the tufts of his straw, tucked in the pockets of his flannel shirt and overalls.
He was fear itself and he revelled it.
Letter Boy stood still over the body of a young man wearing horn-rimmed glasses, his chest heaving, eyes empty. The fight had cleared the center of the Maze of stalks, their husks entwined with the corpses of the All Hallows merrymakers. With all the hanging lights now out, the moon illuminated the scene.
He was done with Letter Boy now; his was the last heartbeat left. Emptied of fear, a shell he would have to deal with himself.
He slid his legs forward, slow and steady, scritch scritch scritch.
He felt the word like a scream. A howl deep within his straw-lined chest.
He heard it again. The thrum of a heart, then another. The pulse of fear and something else, something he couldn’t quite name. Like pain but also desire. Like need but filled to the brim with selflessness.
Emotion he couldn’t devour.
This was something he couldn’t allow.
Letter Boy raised his axe and this time he followed.
Rowen and Juno stepped lightly but purposefully over the dead bodies of their classmates. Rowen noted the urge to cry well up inside her at the sight of their mangled faces, their torn apart bodies. It was almost enough to make her sorry she had ever thought of them as losers, ever wished some of them would go straight to hell, hoped a few—at least—would leave town for good and never return.
But the bigger feeling Rowen experienced was the one thrumming through her veins like a pulse.
Keep Juno safe.
Juno, Juno, her name over and over.
Rowen could admit to herself that despite everything that had happened between them, she cared about her friend, that Juno was more than her friend.
She tightened her grip on the handles of the scythe. It was a heavy, cumbersome weapon, but the blade was sharp. It was better than walking unarmed into a death trap.
Which is what Cotter’s Maze had become.
Juno spun to face her and Rowen had to jolt to a stop. Juno’s eyes glowed with fear, the small beauty mark that dotted the corner of her lip dipped in as she frowned.
“Everyone’s dead,” Juno whispered.
“Looks like it,” Rowen replied.
“We should go for help.” Juno was trembling.
Rowen was ready to turn around, thankful Juno had seen reason, when from around a curve at the end of the row of corn, came Dereck. In the dark shifting shadows of the stalks swaying, Dereck appeared to be covered in blood and holding an axe.
“That tracks,” Rowen grunted.
“D?” Juno didn’t move toward him. Her voice was small and birdlike, underscored with uncertainty.
Juno had always thought Dereck wasn’t good enough for Cassie. Or for prom king. Or for much. Now—she hated to admit—if he was the last man standing, he was at least good at killing.
She could tell without moving closer that something was off in his eyes. They looked like they were painted, more a representation of what eyes should look like, and not what they actually do. The irises, which were normally light blue, were the right color, but the sheen now had a fixed flatness to it.
“Get behind me, Juno,” Rowen whispered. But Juno couldn’t move. She knew she was supposed to be afraid, but when she searched around in her chest for the sensation she couldn’t find it.
She couldn’t move because she didn’t know why she needed to. She felt Rowen gripping her, heard her calling her name. She saw Dereck moving toward her with his axe poised, fast, feet scrabbling over bodies. Sneakers smashing the meat of Andrea Cramers bludgeoned arm. Skating over a guy who looked an awful lot like Coach McCray, at least, the side of his face that wasn’t smashed in.
Juno wanted to want to survive. But she didn’t remember why.
The blade of the scythe clashed with Dereck’s axe, swiping downward with the inertia of the blow to skewer him through the top of his toe. Right through those brain-matter-stained sneakers. When Dereck didn’t scream out from pain, he just swung the axe again in their direction, Rowen felt her stomach lurch with new panic.
He was stuck in place from the scythe, but he unfazed.
“We have to run!” Rowen said, grabbing Juno by the shoulders. Her blank stare slid over Rowen’s face. She didn’t budge. What the hell was going on?
As soon as she thought the question, she heard the sound. Like someone raking hay together, scraping the earth and scratching the brittle reeds of grass against each other.
What stepped into view wasn’t a man. Not Cotter, not a farmhand, not one of his sons.
A scarecrow stood before them. Made of long lean arms and legs, stuffed full with straw and tufts of cotton, held together with Cotter’s old clothes, rope and twine and something Rowen couldn’t make sense of. Something that felt like the way a nightmare does gripping you by the throat before tossing you back into consciousness.
He had slits for eyes, a stone for a nose, and a crooked gash where a mouth would go, all cut deep in the orange rot of his pumpkin head.
She knew he was watching even if there was no way his eyes could see.
Juno stepped forward, and Rowen realized that she was not afraid, and there was something very wrong with that. Quickly, before she understood why herself, Rowen gripped Juno at the shoulders and spun her around. The fear was there, right at the edge of Rowen’s heart, but the love was greater.
She kissed Juno square on the lips.
If they made it out of this alive, she’d apologize for not getting her permission.
At first, Juno’s mouth was stiff against Rowen’s, taut and brittle. But as her lips slowly softened, they parted until she let Rowen’s tongue twist up with hers. Juno clutched her at the waist. They mingled their breath, a bit of their soul. Rowen would have liked to lose herself all the way, but this wasn’t the time for that—that wasn’t why she’d kissed her.
When she pulled away, she recognized her friend.
Her Juno looking back at her.
And then she recognized the danger coming for them both. Rowen pushed Juno to the side, grabbing at the handle of the scythe and yanking it free of Dereck’s foot.
Juno lunged toward Dereck, and he responded to the movement like a motion sensing light. Turning all his attention to Juno he swung, arms high, leaving his gut exposed. Rowen closed her eyes against the blood splatter as the scythe cut straight through his middle, ripping the seam of his body in half.
Rowen opened her eyes to see the scarecrow staring from her to Juno. How she knew his gaze slid between them, back and forth, scritch scritch, she couldn’t say. She could only feel.
Rowen, who tried so hard not to ever feel. Who buried longing, silenced pain, ignored need.
Feel was all she could do now.
Juno lifted the axe from Dereck’s slackened grip and came to stand beside Rowen.
“Together,” she said.
He came apart easy. He wasn’t made of much.
No marrow. No bone. No muscle or skin or skull. There was no blood to pump a heart, no tongue to speak a plea. There was no desire. There was no need.
He wasn’t warm like their hearts blazing for each other, blazing for survival.
He was nothing but the fear he’d stolen.
Nothing, at all, in the end.
I hope you enjoyed FEAR HARVEST because I had a blast writing it!
Subscribe for all the horror and romance fun 👻 ❤️
Next week, I’m talking about five classic rom-coms I still love + five queer rom-coms you might not have seen, but should definitely check out.
until then, bbs!