Here’s a new story never before seen on my blog that has been published. It is in Ariel Chart Review, October 20, 2019. You can look it up if you want to. It’s free on the web. It’s easier if you google “Ariel Chart Magazine Cornfield”.
I don’t know where this story came from. Many of my stories have a background, some thing that sparks the story. If this one did, I can’t remember it. I’ve been thinking the past couple of days trying to remember what gave me the idea, and I just can’t remember anything.
Update: a reader has reminded me that I told her I got the story from a Melissa Etheridge song. It was “We Got Nowhere to Go”. I remember seeing a homoerotic music video of it on Youtube. I was touched by the hopelessness of the song and the feeling of empathy for the characters. I hoped to capture some of that in my story. Thanks, Cate.
The publication of this story was interesting also. I submitted it to Ariel Chart in September. I quickly received a message from the editor who read it that she liked it. A lot. She really wanted to publish it, but there were several changes they wanted. Without the changes they couldn’t use it. The changes were minor, so I agreed.
First, there was an overt implication that sex occurred. She asked that I take that out. I didn’t think the magazine was prudish, but what do I know. They’re Australian. So, I took it out.
Second, it didn’t have an ending that worked. It kind of just petered out. Or died. She wanted me to give it some kind of resolution. I did and it really made it a much better story.
Finally, was the length. It was somewhere under 3200 words or so. She said her managing editor would absolutely not accept anything from her over 3000 words; could I cut it back? That took a bit of work. Taking out the references to sex reduced it some, but the resolution at the end added some words back. I did a line by line edit to get it down. It’s now a very lean story. But I managed to turn it in to her at exactly 3000 words. What I’m putting here is not exactly the story that appears in Ariel Chart. I’ve added 6 more words to the last paragraph that I think gives it a nicer finish. So now, in all it’s 3006 word glory, here is The Cornfield. More to follow.
Dylan Westfield was a great guy. Everybody liked Dylan. What’s not to like? He was affable, charming, a friend to all. The girls fawned over his long, lanky frame and easy good looks. His hair shone yellow blond like newly mined gold, his blue irises had little radiating spokes of silver, making them sparkle like starlight. And his daddy being the richest man in town didn’t hurt. The girls idolized him, and the boys flocked to him.
There were certain things everyone knew about Dylan. If you were in a jam, he’d bail you out. At the tavern he always picked up the tab. He didn’t date much, but never talked trash about the girls he went out with. And one thing everyone knew about Dylan was he hated Logan Thomas. No one knew exactly what Logan had done to draw the ire of the most popular, easiest going guy in school, but it must have been awful. If Logan even walked into the same room, Dylan’s expression would cloud. It was like shutting off the sunlight.
Logan seemed to return the dislike tenfold. Maybe it was Dylan who had offended him. No one knew. The beginning of senior year had seen the boys thrown together in the same class and suddenly the sparks flew. The one thing everyone knew about Logan Thomas was he despised Dylan Westfield.
“Thomas!” Dylan yelled angrily. “I’m gonna kick your sorry ass back to hicktown where you came from.” School had just let out, and they were in the parking lot. Dylan and Logan were chest to chest like two bantam roosters ready to fight.
“You and what army, you prissy little rich kid? Gonna get Daddy to fight for you?” Logan sneered. He was a couple inches shorter than Dylan’s six feet, but you had to give him credit for never backing down. Working in his father’s garage gave him the muscle to back it up. It was obvious words had been spoken before the crowd started gathering. Dylan stared at Logan with a coldness that accentuated the silver in his eyes. That iciness would make anyone shiver. Logan was red-faced with his anger. His jet-black hair was near shoulder length, almost touching the frayed edges of his denim vest with the POW and MIA patches. In his t-shirt, jeans, and ragged sneakers, he stood in stark difference to Dylan’s classic elegance.
“Keep your grubby hands off my car. I just had it waxed and I don’t need trailer trash like you smudging the shine. Now back off!” Several of Dylan’s larger friends loomed up beside him. Logan, realizing retreat was sometimes the better part of valor, glared at Dylan but backed away. Eventually he turned and continued through the parking lot to begin his long walk home.
“You okay, D?” asked Big Tommy Shaw from the football team. “Me and the boys would be glad to go rough him up for you. Just say the word.”
“No, let the little shit go. I’ve got better things to do than worry about him.”
A girl wearing entirely too much makeup and an over the top pink cashmere sweater and wool skirt, despite the day’s heat, came gliding up to him. She laid her hand on the fender of his new sports car.
“Ooh, I love red cars,” she purred. “Give a girl a lift home?”
“Marlee, you live two blocks from here.” There was only a little exasperation in his voice. “But hop in.”
The school took up two entire city blocks of town. Dylan jack rabbited his roadster along each of the four boundary streets, circling the school, working through the gears, trying to get up to fourth before slamming on the brakes for the next stop sign. Marlee squealed her pleasure, eyes agleam at being in Dylan’s car and at being with Dylan. With the top down, they gloried in the cool wind and afternoon sun. He took a circuitous route through town, finally ending up in Marlee’s driveway. He turned off the car, and they sat for a minute listening to the ticking of the cooling engine. Marlee pushed her lower lip out in a pout.
“How come you haven’t asked me to Harvest Fest yet?” He figured that was coming. Truth be told, he didn’t want to go to Harvest Fest, or anywhere, with Marlee. He wasn’t even sure what he saw in her to begin with. She acted cheap, common. All the things he despised. He’d only dated her a few times, among other girls. But she had decided that they were a ‘thing’. He’d hesitated to set her straight, knowing it would be a scene. He hated scenes.
“Look, Marlee. I’m not even sure I will be around to go to Harvest Fest. My family has plans. If I can, I’ll get in touch with you.”
“Promise?” she asked like a four-year-old trying to extract a guarantee for a treat from Mommy.
“Of course,” he said. Disaster temporarily avoided, he thought.
Logan walked along the state road, beside a cornfield on his way home. The stalks and leaves were turning brown. The pickers would be by any day, reducing the fields to stubble. Then the vista of sweeping plains and distant rolling hills would again be revealed. Once again everyone could see what a shit hole they lived in. Welcome to Butt Hole, Iowa.
This being a Wednesday he didn’t have to show up at Dad’s garage. He had a late study group on Wednesdays. At least, that’s what he told Dad. He was so lost in thought the loud rumble was almost upon him before he processed it. As soon as it registered, his heart was in his throat. He fought the urge to plunge into the cornfield, avoiding the bullies about to beset him, but that was the coward’s way out. The pickup with ridiculously high tires throttled down as it pulled up even to him. He continued walking, refusing to acknowledge the truck or its crew. Big Tommy Shaw was driving. Without looking, Logan knew that his right-hand man, Doug Mason would ride shotgun. Some mixture of football punks would ride in the back.
“Hey, trailer trash. The trailer park’s the other way. You lost?” Tommy shouted, to hoots and snickers from his cronies. Logan walked on.
“Hey, dick face. I’m talking to you.” Tommy didn’t like being ignored. Logan eyed the cornfield. If the guys jumped from the truck, he felt he could probably lose them in the field. Probably. The drying leaves rustled louder than when they were fresh and green. He suddenly felt a thud, as someone hit him in the side with a soft drink cup, half full. Fortunately, it struck him broadside so when the plastic cap popped off, the soda splashed away from him. He stopped and stared at the cup. There were ominous “oohs” from the truck bed as if daring him to retaliate. He bent down and found a fist-sized rock with nice jagged edges. He turned to face the truck.
“You know, Tommy, I could probably get Dad to give you a discount on the body work your truck’s gonna need,” he said hefting the rock, and then looking at it pointedly. Tommy’s tricked out pickup was his baby. It was bright blue without a speck of dust. Logan knew just how to hurt Tommy the most.
“You wouldn’t dare, faggot. I’ll kill you if you touch my truck.”
“Well, I got a head start, and it’s a big cornfield. You’ll have to catch me first,” he hefted the rock again as if deciding where to start.
“I’m warning you, Thomas. Don’t mess with my truck.” A succession of loud beeps suddenly interrupted him as Dylan’s roadster shot up into the gap between Tommy’s truck and Logan.
“This pissant causing you trouble, Tommy?” Dylan called across to the truck.
“Yeah, the fucker’s threatening to scratch my truck.”
“Really!” There was the ratcheting sound of Dylan setting the emergency brake. “I think it’s time Mr. Thomas was taught to mind his manners in the presence of his betters.” He climbed out of the car and Logan took a step back.
“Want any help, D?” Tommy asked. All the boys were getting excited now.
“No thanks. I been wanting to kick this peckerwood’s ass for a long time. I plan to enjoy it.” As all the boys hollered, Dylan charged Logan. Logan seemingly caught Dylan’s arm unawares and swung him around. Releasing, he let Dylan stumble into a pile of kudzu in the ditch bank. And with that, Logan was off like a shot through the cornfield. The noise of the boys shouting their disappointment at losing the afternoon’s entertainment quickly faded in the background. He could still faintly hear their shouts of “Coward!”
Logan slowed down to ease his breathing. No one was giving chase. He sighed. Just another day. He rolled with the emotional punches just as he did the physical ones, whether from his classmates or his dad. It was just how things were.
The afternoon sun could not penetrate the thick canopy of cornstalk leaves, creating an oasis of coolness in the shadow. The rows were parallel to the state road, so he continued walking in the direction he had originally been travelling. Maybe I should walk a few rows inside the field every day. Avoid unnecessary conflicts, he thought. But then, the cornfield wouldn’t be here much longer.
It wasn’t as if everyone hated him. He had friends. But the ‘in’ crowd had made him their whipping boy. The jocks, the rich kids, the social elite. What kind of threat was he? He never bothered them; he definitely didn’t want to be one of them. He was just marking time until he could escape this hellhole. Leave Iowa far behind.
The corn field abruptly ended at a dirt path, a path tractors and other farm equipment used to maneuver between fields. He turned left to follow the path. After a few miles of twisting through the fields, he would find his house.
And no, he was not trailer trash. The Thomas house wasn’t nice like the rich kids, but it was respectable and paid for. Dad said it was his castle and couldn’t no one throw him out. Dad frequently made such pronouncements, usually after putting away a six-pack of beer. Logan had long since figured out that Dad was what was called a ‘functional alcoholic’. He owned his own business, made it successful, never showed up to work drunk or laid out. But evenings and weekends, he was drunk more often than he wasn’t. And he was a mean drunk. Along about the fourth beer you could see a change come over his face, an ugly sneer would form. That was the time they all made themselves scarce. His rages were unpredictable, triggered by anything or nothing. He knew Dad slapped Mom around, but weirdly, he never did it in front of the kids. However, he had no qualms about knocking Logan and his siblings around while Mom watched with worry. As the oldest, Logan took the brunt of it, often putting himself at risk to protect the younger ones. He was seventeen and just beginning to realize he could take on his father and best him in a fight. But he was unsure if he could ever really raise a hand to the man. He was so conditioned to back down.
Logan rounded a curve in the path, about a mile in from the state road and straight ahead he saw a gleaming red sports car. Dylan Westfield was standing beside the car, leaning against it with arms crossed, as nonchalant as if it was not odd to see a pricey sports car parked on a dusty farm path. And Dylan was staring at him. Logan felt his pulse quicken.
He continued trudging along the path, never looking away. He slowed slightly as he neared the car but kept moving ahead. When it looked as if he might pass by, Dylan abruptly stepped forward, blocking the path. He forced Logan to stop. Dylan regarded him with his arms still crossed, a wry grin on his face.
“They almost got you today. You need to be more careful.”
“Yeah, thanks for the bail.”
“Always. What would I do without you?” He opened his arms and Logan stepped into his embrace. They stood for a few minutes, as if drawing strength from each other.
“It’s just so hard. I hate this stupid game we’re playing,” Logan mumbled into Dylan’s shoulder. “Having to act like I hate you all the time.”
“I know, babe. It sucks. But we have our plan. It’ll work out.”
Releasing Logan, he walked to the trunk of the little car.
“By the way, nice ride,” Logan said. “Birthday present?”
“Yeah, thanks, maybe I can give you a ride sometime.”
“Not likely. What would people think?”
Opening the trunk, Dylan removed a blanket and a cooler. They walked over to a grassy spot near the edge of the field. The stalks blocked the lowering sun, casting a shadow over their little picnic area. After spreading the blanket, they both sat down.
Dylan opened the cooler and took out a couple of beers. He also had a bag of chips. He sat the bag between them and passed Logan a bottle.
Logan looked at Dylan.
“Trailer trash? Really? You called me trailer trash? I gotta admit. That stings.”
“Well, you called me prissy.”
They both burst out laughing at the same time. Logan held his beer out. Dylan tapped it with his and they drank.
After the beers, and most of the chips, they laid on the blanket, Logan on his back, Dylan on his side, looking at him.
“Hey, babe. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. You know I didn’t mean any of it,” Dylan said.
“I know. I was just razzing you.”
“Yeah.” Logan heaved himself up on one elbow. “C’mere.” Dylan scooted closer so they could get their arms around each other and laid back in a kiss.
When they finally came up for air, Dylan whispered huskily, “Oh man, I needed that.”
“Me too.” They resumed kissing and exploring each other’s bodies. After a while they simply rested in each other’s arms, relishing the quiet of nature and the simple joy of touching.
All too soon the creeping shadows said the day was done. They both had worlds requiring their return.
“When will this end?” Logan asked plaintively.
Dylan smiled at his undeclared lover. “Soon, babe. Just a few more months and we can leave this punk ass town.”
“It’s so easy for you to dream. Any dream I’ve ever had was quickly stamped out by my bastard of a father. I don’t think I know how to dream anymore.”
“We’ll make it. I’ll dream for both of us if I have to. I meant to tell you, I got early acceptance at Dartmouth. The letter came this weekend. You’re coming with me. We’ll use your money to enroll you in classes to become a certified mechanic. You already know all that stuff.”
“Suppose it’s not enough?”
“You worry too much. I’ll pay our way until you’re on your feet. If you’re too proud to let me support you, then keep track and you can pay me back. We love each other and this lets us get out of this shit hole state and be together.”
“I’m afraid to hope for it. What’ll we tell our folks?”
“I’d say we tell your dad nothing. That asshole doesn’t even deserve a ‘goodbye’. I think my dad’s figuring it out. He’s not going to want a fag running the company, so he’ll probably offer me a shitload of money to stay away after college. I plan to take the money and then come back and milk him for more. Surely, he can spare a few million for his least favorite son. And Mom still loves me, and she’s loaded, too. More money than Dad. Money will never be a problem for us.”
“But I mean how much longer at school? I’m tired of pretending to hate you.”
“Yeah, it’s getting old. But we agreed that this was the better way. The so-called popular crowd already hated you, so there was no real way we would ever be friends. But if we didn’t do something, people would figure it out just from the way I stare at you. This way, I can look at you, drink in your beauty, interact with you, even touch you, and no one’s the wiser.”
“Yeah, but it’s killing me.”
“I know, me too. But it’s the only way I can figure. Don’t you think we’re worth it?”
“We are so definitely worth it. You are worth it. I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you.”
Dylan leaned in for a long, lingering kiss.
“That’s what I need to hear. We’re strong. We will prevail.”
After a few moments of silence, both boys stood and without words stowed the blanket and empty bottles in Dylan’s car. When everything was cleared, Dylan sat in the driver’s seat of his shiny red roadster. Logan leaned against the door, holding Dylan’s hand as if it were a lifeline. He hated the stinging of unshed tears as he kissed his lover goodbye.
“See you tomorrow, babe. And I promise. No more trailer trash. I’m so sorry I hurt you.”
“It’s okay. I may still call you prissy, though. This car is so prissy.”
“Yeah, and you love it,” Dylan laughed and sped away down the dusty lane. The sky was a glory of reds and purples desperately trying to hold on to the day. Logan couldn’t take time to notice the beauty. His family expected him home soon. No, not home. Just a temporary stopping point. His real home was elsewhere, with the boy with golden hair, icy blue eyes, infectious grin and a shiny red car.