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Autumn's Breath

Autumn’s Breath

by Michael Robb

 

Copyright 2015 Michael Robb Mathias Jr.

All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

October 21st

 

“Quit it, Craig. I told you I’m not ready yet,” she pushed his hand out from between her legs.

“But I love you, Autumn,” he said huskily into her ear.

“Here,” she opened her blouse a little more, letting him unsnap her bra. Up until that moment she’d been embarrassed to let a boy see her body, but Craig was so excited, and the way he was touching her felt amazing.

“Please,” his voice was deep and hoarse.

“Just be patient, baby.” She unfastened the last of the buttons on her blouse, and let him have his way… above the belt. She hoped this was enough to keep him from pushing toward going all the way. She wanted to, and with Craig, but not yet, and definitely not here.

“I love you,” he mumbled as he kissed her chin. He then forced his body to spread her legs. She was wearing jeans, so it wasn’t a big deal, at least not until he started grinding.

“No, I said,” she growled as his hand slid down under her belt line. “I said, not yet.”

He hesitated, and she thought about squirming away, or putting her heel to his jaw, but remembering something her mom once said, she shook her body side to side so her boobs wiggled back and forth.

His eyes grew large, and the look on his face turned to that of a boy in awe.

Mom was right. Boobs will hypnotize a boy faster than anything.

Immediately, both of his hands found them. Then, just as he put his lips to her breast, the car shook violently.

Aaaaarrrghhhshallalalalalalala! Barely distinguishable, a pair of sounds erupted. The deeper of the two was an angry roar, like that of a bear. The other was high pitched and kept going a few heartbeats longer than the other: La, la, la, la, la!

“What the hell was that?” Craig asked as Autumn pulled her shirt closed.

Craig didn’t look too scared. He pulled back and tried to see out of the fogged windows. Reluctantly situating himself back in the driver’s seat, he took a deep breath, and started to put his mom’s minivan in gear. Before he could, the roof of the vehicle dented in, almost hitting him in the head. His cool demeanor disappeared then, like water from a sieve, and he screamed.

It was cold outside, really cold, and they could hardly see out, but when Craig turned on the headlights, something flashed through their beams. A shadow. A shadow of something big. For a fleeting moment, Autumn saw a girl. Maybe it was a woman? Whatever it was, its eyes twinkled and some sort of recognition passed between it and Autumn. It was as white as the frost covering the rows of corn she quickly receded into. Then Autumn saw something far too large to be a human man, and it was wearing a mask as ugly and terrifying as anything she’d ever seen.

Craig floored the minivan, driving it even deeper into the cornfield. He then whipped the wheel around, carving a new path through the stalks, taking them away from that part of the field.

“What the hell?” he said.

Autumn had no response. She doubted she could speak if she had to.

The sound of the heavy ears of feed corn slapping the hood had her heart thundering. She saw a glimpse of the woman running in a nearby row, trying to catch up, but Craig was driving fast. Then she thought she saw a few men in yellow biohazard suits, a few more rows back, coming to intercept the woman. A few seconds later, the corn disappeared. They went down into an irrigation ditch and came up its other side as if it were a ramp. When they hit the blacktop at an odd angle, Autumn’s head whipped violently sideways against the window. Then the world around her went black.

*

“I’m telling you, Sheriff,” Autumn pleaded across a desk covered by files and paperwork. She looked at Craig for support, playing with her hospital wristband out of sheer nervousness. She wondered just what he’d done to her while she was unconscious. Her body felt different, but she wasn’t about to bring that up here.

Craig’s mother didn’t seem as mad as Autumn would have thought she’d be about the smashed roof of her car. Autumn was hoping to get a nod of confirmation from Craig, but he was acting as if nothing strange had happened out there. They were all waiting for her to answer a question, so she did: “I saw what I said I saw. He saw it, too. Did you see the roof of their car?”

“Look, Autumn,” Sheriff Taylor, who was sitting opposite her, held up a hand to keep her mother from defending her. He was big, coffee black, and had a deep, southern drawl most of the time. “No one is saying you didn’t see anything. But Craig said he didn’t see a snow-white girl in front of the car or a giant bear wearing a mask.” He shrugged. “You hit your head. You hit it pretty hard if the doc says you can’t go to sleep for the next six… ” He looked at his watch, “ …four hours.”

“I saw them.” Autumn was starting to get mad, which was good, because she’d been terrified to the point of pulling out her own hair up until the frustration took over. Now, she was just plain mad. “I didn’t hit my head that dang hard!”

“You were knocked out,” Craig argued, looking more than just a little nervous. “You sound crazy.”

Autumn almost started crying from the pain his denial caused. It hurt far worse than the knot on her skull. He wouldn’t be her first, unless that was why she felt so funny. After seeing him deny what they both clearly saw, she knew he was just the type to do stuff to her while she was knocked out cold. Craig would never get near her again. She wouldn’t let him. She couldn’t believe he didn’t have her back. And the sheriff? He was making her out to be a loon.

She craned her neck back and up to look at her mother, who appeared uncertain but still wasn’t doubting her. “Mom, I want to go home.”

The sheriff started to say something, but Autumn cut him off. “Go run a DNA sample on that roof. Go check the area for footprints or evidence. That is what a TV cop would do.” She then looked at Craig while the sheriff tried to hide the deep redness that had overtaken his dark-shaded cheeks. “And check that chickenshit’s underwear while you’re at it.”

“Chickenshit?” Craig snapped. “I saved you.”

“What did you save me from, Craig?” Autumn pointed at him as if she’d just tricked the truth out of him, which she sort of had. “Go on, tell the sheriff. If there was nothing out there, how did you save me? Why did you tear up your mom’s car?” She eased out the door her mom had opened for her. “I told you he was a chicken shit, Sheriff. A stupid one.” She said this over her shoulder as her mom let go of the door.

“Hey, Autumn,” the sheriff’s deep voice carried through the closing glass panel. When she stopped and turned, he spoke through the glass. “In the morning, I will have a car go out there and look around for you.”

Autumn’s sense of satisfaction was nearly overwhelming, but it was snuffed out like a candle at bedtime when they got into the car and her mother started in on her.

“What were you doing out in a cornfield with that little turd? Are you… Were you?”

“No, mom. He tried, but I’m not ready.” She decided to keep it honest with her mother, save for her ugly suspicion, at least until she knew. “We were just talking and sort of making out. I’m not a slut.”

Her mother seemed satisfied with the answer but still said, “Watch your potty mouth, Autumn.”

 

October 25th

 

“They cut this year’s haunted corn maze,” Brian Reeger said, a hopeful look on his plump face. “Want to go check it out with me?”

Autumn didn’t want to, but she didn’t want to hurt the boy’s feelings. He was an invisible junior, and she was a popular senior. It looked as if he’d summoned all the courage in the world to even speak with her. He was cute. He’d be hot if he lost thirty pounds, though. Either way, he was nice, and right now a nice boy suited her.

School had just let out for the day. It was chilly outside; cold enough to see their breath when they talked. The sun wouldn’t go down for a few more hours, so she decided to go walk the maze with him.

The thing about the annual corn maze was, even though you may have walked it in the daylight, it was like a different, much scarier place in the dark. When you went through it at night, the students from the community college came at you from out of nowhere, wearing some of the most terrifying costumes ever made. The money from the tickets went to fund one of the university’s drama groups, and maybe the marching band. Around Halloween, a lot of people paid twenty bucks each to walk through it and get the crap scared out of them.

For Autumn, who used to love the Halloween corn mazes, the thought wasn’t appealing now at all. Even in the daylight, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be near the corn.

She doubted she’d be out there in the dark this year. Already, Craig’s best friends, Jake and Derek, were mocking her in the halls between classes. Her friend Morgan said it would be worse if she wasn’t so pretty. Morgan said that any girl with boobs didn’t have to worry about much. Morgan’s boobs were pretty small though, so Autumn knew she didn’t know what she was talking about. She was right, though. Boobs could rule the world.

Autumn decided that maybe she had hit her head too hard. The sheriff said they had found a tree limb, a big one, right where Craig had been parked. They’d found two size-thirteen boot prints, too, and a smaller set of prints, most likely from a barefoot female. Deputy Bielawski, one of the smartasses who interviewed her in the emergency room, deduced that a big man may have been standing on the limb when it broke. The sheriff decided it was probably just the college students out there testing out their costumes, but he did bother to apologize for doubting her. He also said that Craig was in a little trouble for lying to them about it when he was interviewed.

She’d unfriended Craig days ago. Clearly, he’d tried to screw her while she was passed out—before he took her to the hospital, no less. But it seemed he hadn’t lasted long enough to get it inside. Thinking about him made her stomach roil. She looked at the sky and watched the cloud of breath roll upward from the heavy sigh she exhaled. Then she let all that crud slip from her mind.

She took Brian’s hand because she knew he was far too shy to take hers. His lack of confidence wasn’t appealing, and she sort of felt sorry for him because of it. They walked quietly about a half mile down the same blacktop Craig had jumped them onto that night. They turned onto a tractor road, which was basically two gravel paths about eight feet apart, leading into the sea of corn. Brian tried to keep hold of her hand as they went, but she stayed centered in the right path, forcing him to stay in his own. She let go with a smile and wondered if she chose the side she was on because it was farther away from the edge of the uniformly angled corn rows than the other. On her side, there was a ditch with an irrigation pipe running along the tractor road, leaving ten feet between her and the corn.

“Look,” Brian said and quickened his pace. When Autumn looked up and saw two black-and-white cars with red and blue lights flashing on them, she was reluctant to follow. She saw a deputy she remembered from the sheriff’s office and decided that it had to be safe. Zipping her hoodie to hide her bouncing boobs, she jogged up to Brian’s side, forcing him to quicken his pace. They were both startled when the sheriff stepped out of the corn right in front of them, holding his arms out as if to warn them away.

“I am going to need to see you and Craig again, Autumn.” He put his hands on his hips and looked at Brian.

“You should probably go on home, son.” He pointed back the way they’d come. “You can catch up with Autumn at school tomorrow.” Then, looking at Autumn, he asked, “Can you get your mother on your cell, please? I need you to identify something, and I hate to even ask it of you.”

“Is it a body?” Autumn started to follow Brian, but the sheriff’s heavy hand found her shoulder. Poor Brian looked as intimidated by the sheriff as he was curious about what was going on.

“There is a body, and it has been identified,” Sheriff Taylor said flatly. “I can’t tell you who he is, but he’d been wearing a mask before—before, never mind. I just want to know if it was the mask you saw or not.”

“I don’t want to see a real dead body, Sheriff, please.” Autumn had a cold, shivery feeling inside her. Part of her did want to see a real dead body, though, and she thought that was scary in itself.

“The mask is a good way from the body,” the sheriff shrugged and forced a smile. “I just need your mother’s permission to have you look. There’s a little blood, but that’s all. I wouldn’t let you see that body even if you were an adult.”

Just then, a man in a green- and red-stained white coat walked briskly to a dark car marked “County Coroner” and put his hands on the hood like he was being arrested. Autumn cocked her head, wondering what the heck?, but the man started vomiting, and she was forced to turn away before she puked just from seeing him heave out his half-digested lunch.

“Is he a big guy?” Autumn asked after gathering herself. “Was the guy wearing the mask big?”

“He was about six-foot-three, and heavy,” the sheriff shrugged. “He was wearing boots, but they haven’t been officially compared to the photos my deputy took over in the next section where you and Craig saw something.” He was nodding though.

“Go on, boy,” the sheriff pointed Brian away. “Autumn will see you tomorrow.”

“I’m okay, Brian.” She noticed the way he was waiting a few steps back for her, even though the man commanding him was a cop. He was being protective, and it made Autumn smile despite her unease.

After a return smile and a little wave, he finally turned and started back toward the way they’d come.

This part of the state was laid out in one-mile squares called sections. They were divided by gravel or blacktop roads, and there was nothing but rows of corn filling most of them. In fact, the whole town was surrounded by a sea of corn. Eight counties full of it. It was everywhere.

Autumn then realized what the sheriff had just said.

“So Craig did admit to seeing something?”

The sheriff was nodding again, but he said, “I can’t tell you what he said, but I can say again I’m sorry for doubting you, can’t I?”

“It’s okay.” She pulled out her cell and started dialing her mother. “It seems crazy to me, too.”

“Crazy is where this shit starts,” Deputy Bielawski said from right behind her, sending her heart fluttering through her chest, as he passed. “Jack found the other leg, Sheriff. No footprints around it at all. It was pointing south, like you guessed. A limb thrown off in each direction, now that shit is craz—”

The sheriff nearly yanked the deputy off his feet when he turned and put his arm around the man’s shoulder and dragged him a few feet away.

“Can’t you see I’m talking to a witness?” The sheriff’s voice was full of what sounded like frustrated anger. “That’s a little girl, dumb fuck.” He was whispering through clenched teeth, trying to keep her from hearing, but it wasn’t working.

She disregarded the reprimand and started wondering why there would be a leg way back from where the deputy had come from, if the cars were all up here. Surely someone couldn’t throw a leg that far. She looked at her own leg and was suddenly grossed out by the idea of it being torn from her screaming body. Then the tinny voice of her mother, yelling through the cell phone, reminded Autumn she’d made a call.

After she explained everything, she got the sheriff’s attention and handed him the phone. He handed it back a second later, wincing.

“Do you mind looking at the mask? It will only take a second.”

“What did my mom say?”

“She said I was a jerk, for not making Craig do this instead of you, but you are here, and if you are okay with it, she is, too.”

“I’m cool,” she shrugged. “Let’s just get it over with. I won’t be out here after dark. I just won’t.”

“Neither will I,” the sheriff agreed. After taking a moment to find the right row, he led her into the corn. “They are bringing lights so the forensic guys can finish up after dark, but I’m going home, tucking my little girls in. Then I’m going to eat a big ass bowl of chili while I watch college football. Black people don’t like this voodoo cult crap.”

Autumn couldn’t help but laugh through her growing fear. It was like there was a sickening knot of dark curiosity burning inside her guts. She could see a group of men, about ten or twelve rows over, talking quietly and looking down at something. It was too far away for her to see what it was, but it smelled strange, overpowering the corn’s natural scent. It wasn’t like the rotting cat she’d found by the side of the road when she was a little girl, but like fresh butchered meat, all coppery and cloying in her nostrils. She could almost taste it.

“Here,” the sheriff pointed down at a big mask. It was an African or maybe South American tribal-looking mask, that was certain, but it wasn’t the mask she’d seen. Even at two feet long, it was half the size of the one that giant beast was wearing when she’d seen it in the headlights. This mask wasn’t even the same shape.

“It’s not the same mask,” she blurted, and found herself running back to the tractor road.

“Are you sure?” the sheriff came jogging out behind her.

After taking a few deep breaths to gather herself, she nodded she was.

“If you give me a pen and paper, I’ll draw the one I saw. Maybe Craig can verify it.” She wiped a stray tear from her cheek, not sure why she was suddenly so overwhelmed. “I’ll draw it for you, but I just want to go home now.”

 

 

October 28th

 

“I can’t believe they haven’t found him, Mom.” Autumn was so upset she was sick. She’d been crying on the sofa in front of the TV for two days, mostly from worry, but part of her felt responsible. Brian hadn’t been seen since he was sent home by the sheriff. Now, news of his disappearance and of the murdered college boy, who’d been wearing the mask she’d seen with the sheriff, was on every channel. They said that boy’s half-eaten heart was found in the center of a perfect circle of knocked-down corn. One old guy in a white lab coat told the reporters that the radius of the crop circle was exactly six hundred and sixty-six inches. He claimed this had happened many times before. He started to warn people about exposure to the white-skinned woman’s breath, but was cut off by the mayor before he could elaborate. The mayor bumped him right out of the frame, and started encouraging people to come on out to the newly relocated corn maze, while the crazy-looking doctor tried desperately to get back on camera from behind. It was insane.

Autumn wanted to go out and walk the rows with the other volunteers looking for Brian, but her mother wouldn’t allow it. She wanted to see Brian’s shy smile again, and she absolutely did not want to hear the television telling her that he’d been found all torn apart and half-eaten, like Scott Bell.

The college students paid a different farmer to cut a new corn maze. It was in a section two miles away from the area where the killer had struck. After the mayor’s endorsement, everyone started showing up. Now, sick, twisted people and news crews were coming in droves from other states to walk the deadly haunted maze or to interview folks about poor Brian Reeger’s disappearance and Scott Bell’s dismemberment.

“Someone they interviewed actually said they think it’s just a Halloween hoax to get people to come to the maze,” her mother said from the sliding glass door. “I bet they wouldn’t tell Scott’s mother that.”

Her mom’s front half was outside smoking a cigarette, her back half still inside where it was warm. She stepped all the way out then, and Autumn felt the frigid air she’d been blocking flow into the room. She was just about to complain, when her mom’s cheery face popped into the opening.

“Get your coat. It’s snowing!”

“Mom, Brian is still missing.”

“There is nothing we can do right now. Come on. It’s snowing.”

Reluctantly, Autumn grabbed her hoodie instead of her coat and joined her mother. For a few minutes while staring up at the slowly drifting flakes, she forgot about the murder and her missing friend, but it passed quickly. To punctuate the loss of momentary joy, a deputy’s car went speeding down the next street, sirens blaring, red and blue lights reflecting eerily in the snow-filled sky.

“Maybe they’ve found him?” Autumn ran back inside to watch one of the news channels covering the murder and the disappearance twenty-four hours a day. She hadn’t missed the look on her mother’s face. Her mother thought Brian was dead or had been taken by a creep, for good. Autumn wasn’t ready to face that reality yet, but on the inside she knew it, too. It had been near freezing the last two nights. If he wasn’t somewhere indoors, he’d frozen to death.

 

 

October 29th

 

They hadn’t found Brian, but one of the volunteers had been chased from the cornfield by something right after the snow started last night. He’d fallen into an irrigation ravine and broken his leg. He was missing most of the night because his still form was hidden from the searchlights by a piece of equipment that pumped water from somewhere to the field. He was found in the early morning, though, and was now on the TV, talking to a newswoman from his hospital bed. He said he’d been chased by some starkly white-covered, woman-like thing. It was the same thing Autumn had seen. She was sure of it. Then the guy held up his hands and Autumn retched. He had a thumb and a ring finger left on one hand and the ring and index finger left on the other. The rest of his ruined digits and most of his hand were discolored and gross. Frostbite, Autumn knew. Then they showed a close-up of the man’s ears. Both were blackish-purple.

The sympathetic female reporter then broke Autumn’s heart.

“—surgeons will be attempting to trim the deadened parts from Mister Sullivan’s frostbitten body, but the intense search for Brian Reeger has been called off. After the freeze last night, the sheriff said through tears that, if he was in the cornfields, there is no way he could have survived this long in these conditions. We can only hope he has just run away or is hiding with a friend,” the reporter finished. “Now back to you, Jim. I hear the college is raking in a ton of money over at the new haunted corn maze.”

“That is right, Janet. We have one of the costumed — what?” he put a finger to his ear and listened to someone. “That is not a Halloween costume. Ladies and gentlemen, that is Iroquois Chief Degonna Weedah. Here is what he has to say.” A microphone was handed to the white-painted face of an American Indian man wearing a fully feathered headdress.

“It is the spirit of Onatah who has taken the children. She will eat their souls because the chemicals and insecticides you’ve saturated the earth with, are worse than any evil—”

Laughing, the anchorman broke over him. “Excuse the interruption. There is breaking news.” His voice turned serious, the humor gone in an instant. “They are telling me there is a new development. We have some film.” Autumn pulled her face right back out of her pillow to look. “This is exclusive footage, just released to us, and to the police, minutes ago by a local helicopter pilot who’d been aiding in the Brian Reeger search. I have to warn you, it is mildly disturbing.”

The picture went to a badly filmed overhead scene of a spotlight moving over rows of corn. “Keep in mind this isn’t a news chopper, just a local pilot and a man with a GoPro camera trying to help. As I understand it, what you are about to see— yes, there it is —”

The edge of a crop circle could be seen in the spotlight shining down.

“—is a crop circle, very similar to where Scott Bell’s half-eaten heart was found.”

Even the newscaster stopped talking as the light found the center of an area about a hundred feet in diameter.

“My God,” the newsman mumbled as a dark stain was revealed in the center. The shaky GoPro image showed it well enough, but the image cut away.

“I’m being told that we have better footage coming just after a report from Maggie Gale, who has made it from the haunted maze over to the new scene.”

The TV cut to a now familiar lady, who clearly hadn’t had much sleep in the past few days.

“The local police won’t give a statement because this is all outside of city limits, but one of Sheriff Taylor’s deputies told us unofficially that there was another half-eaten heart in the center of this crop circle. We are all hoping and praying that it isn’t Brian Reeger’s, but we won’t know until we get a statement from the coroner, who arrived just minutes ago. Here is the footage our chopper shot moments before the county commandeered the helicopter.”

There was a moment of silence as the news lady put her finger in her ear and then looked confused. The camera moved to show the bright spotlights of a helicopter shining down into an area a few hundred feet behind her.

“Here is that footage now,” the anchorman said, and the screen changed to a far more stable and clearer view of a spotlight easing over a perfect circle of downed corn. Then the image zoomed in quickly to the center, and for the briefest of seconds, Autumn saw the heart.

She suddenly felt hope, for it was huge compared to the few ears of corn she could make out. She couldn’t imagine that heart fitting in Brian’s chest. He was plump but on a small frame, and she just couldn’t envision that terrible hunk of bloody muscle pumping inside Brian.

As if to confirm her deduction, the green-faced coroner appeared again before the camera. Reporters asked a dozen questions at once, and there were as many microphones and digital recorders pushed at his face.

“I’m only here to say this. This is not Brian Reeger’s body. It is a human body, so if you have an adult male loved one, Caucasian, and possibly just over six feet tall with dark hair, who didn’t make it home last night, please call Sheriff Taylor’s office immediately.”

“You said possibly over six feet tall,” Maggie Gale’s familiar voice asked demandingly. “Is this body dismembered like Scott Bell’s was?”

The coroner turned to glare at her, and even through the flat screen, a little bit of frightening anger showed in his eyes when he answered. “We just found a heart in a cornfield, and you showed it on television, you stupid bitch. Of course, the body was mutilated. How else would the heart be torn out and chewed upon?”

Maggie didn’t seem to be bothered by being called a bitch on national TV, and her next question was asked to a man walking swiftly away into a steamy background of red and blue police lights that reflected like rubies and sapphires on all the frost and ice coating the area. “You said the heart was ripped out? Not cut out? Is this true with the other victim?”

The only answer she got was a distant middle finger. And then the camera cut away.

 

 

 

October 30th

 

Even though she looked and felt like shit, Autumn went to school via the sheriff, who kept the photographers and news crews from getting to her as she exited her house. Since the story was getting bigger, there had been a minimum of three news vans and a car with a national news radio logo on the side all parked on her block. When her mom went out to get the mail, they all got out and started yelling questions, but they were never fast enough.

“I told your mother, and I’m telling you,” the sheriff said before she got out of the car. “When you get home from school, go visit Grandma or Uncle Earl, or whoever. Just get the hell away from here. At least until after Halloween is over, and the fields are harvested.”

Autumn didn’t know what to say or to think about that.

Everyone in the school cafeteria, eating breakfast or milling about waiting for first period, stared at her. School was not a good idea. She just wanted to be in her bed with her pillow wrapped around her head. There were cliques of kids snickering and giggling at her, even freshmen. It was like she was a crazy person or had three eyes. Oddly, it was Craig who approached her. His usual cockiness was absent, as was the group of mindless jocks who followed him around most of the time.

“I can’t believe you got out of the house,” he said, with sincerity starting to form in his expression. “I’m sorry for denying what we saw. I just didn’t want people to say I’m crazy.”

“I saw you out looking for Brian on the news.” She didn’t smile. “That was brave, but I really don’t want to talk to you anymore. I can’t believe you tried to mess with me while I was knocked out. Ughh.”

Craig sighed and shook his head. “Look around. They are all staring at us like we are aliens or something. I’m the only one you have left to talk to. And I just looked. I mean, you are sooo beautiful, Autumn. I just had to see, but I’d never do that.”

Pulling down her pants and looking was gross enough. She wanted to slap his eyeballs out of his head, but he was right. Even her best friends, Morgan and Katlynn, were sitting at a different table than usual, and with Linda Lee and a handful of other girls they usually gave the snide.

“I’m not letting you off the hook for leaving me hanging or being a nasty, creepo,” she said flatly. “But we can talk at lunch.”

*

For no apparent reason, school was let out early. Everyone supposed it was because they’d found another body.

It happened just before lunch. The principal announced over the loudspeaker that everyone was to go straight home. No explanation was given, but Craig found her in the chaotic hallway, and after he got off his cell phone, he asked if she wanted him to walk her home. She didn’t, but she let him anyway. She wasn’t about to get trapped in a bus or bother the sheriff, and Craig wanted to avoid the reporters just like she did.

“I think someone else went missing,” he said as they exited the doors on a far less crowded side of the school. They both knew there were news people out front waiting for them. They could hear not one, but two, helicopters over the school. Autumn didn’t want to think about it. She followed, more than walked with, Craig. The fact that they were walking down a section road was unnerving, but a van was coming toward them from the distance and it was broad daylight, so she wasn’t freaking out.

She was cold and had only worn a t-shirt under her sweater, and her favorite hoodie over both. This was heavy coat weather, so she didn’t mind when Craig picked up the pace. When he started waving as the van grew nearer, she grew concerned. By the equipment mounted on the top, she knew it was another news crew.

The van stopped, and Craig talked to the driver as the sliding door was opened on the far side.

That jerk had made a deal with someone to interview her or something. She was now fuming mad at Craig, but angrier with herself for trusting the slug.

Then, Maggie Gale rounded the van. She wasn’t smiling, but she did have a microphone in her hand and a cameraman behind her. Craig seemed miffed that they were dismissing him and only wanted to talk to her.

“Hi, Autumn,” Maggie Gale said. “Can we talk for a minute? The world wants to know what you saw that night—you and him.” She nodded back at Craig, as if his selling Autumn out wasn’t cool with her, even though she was the one who clearly talked him into it. They both knew Craig was too stupid to trick anyone like this on his own.

Maggie motioned to the cameraman to turn away. “Did you know this is the first time in thirteen years it will be snowy and frozen on Halloween?”

When Autumn didn’t respond, Maggie went on. “They found three crop circles that year. There was an arrest, and John V. Howard went to prison for the crimes.”

“Then go interview him.”

“I would, but he was killed in prison because one of the victims was a young high school girl. Does she look familiar?”

Autumn looked, and her heart went into her throat. The older school yearbook picture of the pretty girl looked very similar to her. And it sort of looked like the white-skinned thing she’d seen in the field, too.

She thought about responding for a few seconds, then she darted off into the cornfield she and Brian had gone into via the tractor road, the one where they had found Scotty Bell’s body. The tractor road was a quarter mile back, though, so she went straight into the corn. She didn’t look back. She ran down a single, angled row, not caring if Craig or Maggie Gale followed.

She ran and ran and ran, knowing that sooner or later she would come out on the perpendicular section road that led to her neighborhood.

Just as her side started to hurt and her lungs began to force her to cough out the freezing air she’d saturated them with, she tripped and fell. The side of her head bounced off of the frozen ground, the side that was still swollen from hitting the minivan window. She laid there for a few moments, heaving in cold air and exhaling huge bilious clouds of breath, until she closed her eyes. After that her breathing slackened and her mind drifted quickly away.

 

 

October 31st

12:01 am

 

Autumn woke, and she was still in the cornfield. Oddly, she wasn’t frozen but was covered by an old, heavy blanket. It was freezing cold though, and she was terrified. Out of sheer instinct to stay warm and survive, she curled into a ball and tucked the blanket in around her sides. She was more scared than she’d ever been and had no idea who would put a blanket on her and just leave her outside.

She didn’t let herself slip back into slumber, and she had to think for quite a while to remember just how she’d gotten there. When it hit her, that she’d been duped by Craig and that her mother was probably in shambles right now, she decided she needed to go home. Yeah, that is what she would do. She started to rise, but it was so cold she immediately covered back up. She would go home, just as soon as she got herself a little warmer under the blanket.

A few minutes later, she was asleep again, or maybe half asleep. She could hear someone whispering her name, and when she opened her eyes, Brian was there, smiling his sweet, shy smile. He handed her a piece of candy, and she ate it. He ate one, too, and then the stark white woman she’d seen in the corn came up behind him, startling Autumn fully awake.

She kicked off the blanket as she pushed herself away from them. The cold air sharpened her mind, and she saw that she had blood on her hand where she’d taken the candy. She could taste blood in her mouth, too, and knew she’d just eaten something awful.

“What the heck, Brian?” she tried pushing herself farther back but found herself against a pair of legs as large as tree stumps. When she looked up and saw the giant, mask-wearing thing that had smashed Craig’s mom’s minivan roof, she screamed.

Brian reached down and shoved another piece of bloody muscle into her mouth. “Shhhh!” he hissed. “They are looking for you and Craig right now.”

“I mwant them tmo mfind mus, Briam—” she spoke around the morsel before finally spitting it out. “Why wouldn’t you?”

Just then Autumn realized that Brian was still wearing the same clothes he’d had on when he disappeared. There was no frostbite, no coat, no cloud of breath coming from his mouth when he spoke. Then the moon glimmered, and she could see the corn stalks and the white-skinned woman… right through him.

“They won’t kill you,” Brian whispered. “Just be quiet.”

“HERE!” a man yelled from not so far away. “OVER HERE! Dear God, it’s part of the boy! Over here!”

The sound of excited men and a radio crackling filled the air. Then Autumn heard chopper blades approaching the area.

“We have to go,” Brian said. “Tonight’s the night. It’s Halloween now.”

The white, crackle-faced woman blew a roiling cloud of frosty breath at her, right through Brian, and then ran her icy fingers over Autumn’s eyes. The scent of spring pollen mixed with freshly cut meat filled her nostrils, and then the huge creature behind her heaved her up and carried her over its shoulder. She tried to yell, to tell the searchers she was right there, but her mouth wouldn’t work. Her vision grew blurry, and she couldn’t seem to keep from swallowing the bloody saliva in her mouth. When she tried to struggle, she only slipped deeper into slumber until nothing made any sense at all.

The sun was setting when she woke again. She was in a cornfield, but possibly not the same one she’d been in earlier.

Was it a dream? No, her fingers were pale from the cold and covered in dried blood.

Brian’s semi-translucent form stepped out of a corn row, and he sat beside her. She was huddled in the old blanket, still terrified. A frigid gust blew the remaining cobwebs from her rattled mind. She knew she should run, but something inside wouldn’t let her.

“What happened?” she asked him. “Why did they kill you?”

“They didn’t kill me. The freeze did.”

“How?” Autumn shook her head, making sure it was clear. “Why didn’t you go home?”

“I heard that deputy talking about the leg, and I had to see it. I got so grossed out that I started crossing rows. I don’t know. I got lost and figured I’d wait until morning. But for the old Brian, morning never came.”

Autumn could tell the ghostly boy wanted to be alive again.

“I’m sorry,” was all she could think to say.

“It’s okay. It’ll only last until midnight. Then I’ll get to leave with them.”

“Them? That creepy woman and the guy with the mask?”

“Yep, after last night they only need one more heart to complete the star. Then at midnight, their people will return and take us all back to where they came from. If the Feds don’t catch them.”

“Their people? Where did they come from?” She was starting to freak out. “The Feds?” She found herself thinking, in the back of her mind, that if she stood up now, she could run her ass off and get out of there. Then she realized she wasn’t quite sure where she was. Running the wrong way might only make the situation worse.

“Where are we?” she finally asked.

“Near the new corn maze.” He looked at her. “How did that piece taste?” His sincere question was so unnatural, and not because she could see the corn stalks right through him.

“Piece of what?” She started to feel queasy again.

“Craig’s heart.”

The revelation caused a roil inside her, and she retched twice before vomiting a steaming puddle of bile.

“You fed me part of Craig’s heart?”

“He raped you, Autumn. He deserved to die. That’s why they won’t kill you. You’re with child. They want you to go with us, but they won’t make you.”

Just then a girl screamed, followed by a few others, but giggles took over their fear. Then another scream came, followed by some cursing.

“He didn’t rape me,” she hissed. Her reply was indignant. “He didn’t.” But she knew he had. The violation of him just looking was bad, but she supposed it was rape, if she was pregnant.

Was she pregnant? She didn’t know, but she had a feeling.

And now Craig was dead.

“They saw him do it,” Brian shrugged as if he wasn’t sure what rape was. “They just couldn’t stop him because you weren’t in the cornfield anymore. They’ve been here for a long time; since we were little kids. They’ve been hiding down in an old well waiting for— waiting for tonight.”

“What is so special about tonight?”

“It is the first frozen Halloween since they’ve been here,” Brian giggled, and it sounded a little girlish. “Now that hell’s frozen over, they can come out.”

“That girl disappeared when we were little kids, Brian,” Autumn growled. “They can’t be from somewhere else, not if she disappeared from our school thirteen years ago and has been here all this time.”

Brian’s look twisted into something dark, and Autumn realized it wasn’t really Brian she was talking to. She also remembered that she had a cell phone in her pocket.

She pointed over the apparition’s shoulder, and when it turned to look, she got up and bolted toward the people she could hear in the corn maze.

To her surprise, it didn’t immediately follow; instead, it roared out and began to grow. Before she knew it, she was running through the corn, and the giant, masked thing was in the row right beside her. They emerged into a cleared corridor, and several young children screamed, as did the two moms and one guy that was with them. The big thing in the mask didn’t stop, though. It palmed the man’s face and kept going, right back into the corn on the other side. The man’s feet were kicking, and the big creature’s paw-like palm muffled his yelling. The little kids and the two women started screaming in earnest.

Autumn dropped to the ground and tried to dial the sheriff. As she dialed the numbers, she saw her face reflected in the phone screen. It was white now, the outer layer of flesh crackling away to reveal deep green and purple veins. Her perfect teeth were all jagged and broken.

When a deep-voiced man answered the phone, she started telling the sheriff everything, but after she finished speaking, he simply said, “I don’t care. My family and I have gone south. I don’t want no part of that evil shit.” And then he hung up.

Suddenly there were more screams, and Autumn dialed her mother. When her mother answered, she started talking as fast as she could, but she was cut off.

“This isn’t funny. My daughter is in the hospital, and you sick fucking assholes should be ashamed.”

Autumn was really confused now.

Up ahead, a bright, sapphire-colored light exploded down from the sky, and she was compelled to run toward it. When she burst into the radiant opening, she saw the big, masked creature ripping the man it had just taken from the maze, limb from limb.

Inside the circle of light, a circular wind was whipping so hard that all the corn laid down in a uniformed manner, blown over by the unnaturally contained gust, thus forming the most perfect of crop circles.

The big creature hurled an arm out away from the heart he had dropped in the middle. Then he threw a leg, and the other two blood-drenched limbs. They were thrown in what she guessed were the Cardinal directions, like the limbs of Scott Bell had been. Then, the hulking thing tore off its mask. It was terribly ugly and as alien as Brian, or whatever it was she’d been talking to, had suggested.

It reached a hand out toward her and looked up. Two dozen people were standing there staring slack-jawed at the spectacle, and more were easing closer by the second. A deep purple ray was slowly reaching down out of the yellow light toward the big creature. It shook its huge hand at her again, beckoning her to come, and she was compelled to do so.

She started toward it, but a flash of pale energy shot out of the corn. Autumn was shoved down and tackled by the dry, dusty-feeling, white-fleshed woman she’d seen that first night from the minivan. It was wearing a hospital gown and making the same ear-splitting “La, la, la ,la, la!” scream it had made the night Autumn first saw her. The long-dead woman leaned down and pushed her dry, cracking lips against Autumn’s, and they shared a disgusting kiss.

“The baby will be safe,” the thing hissed. Then she ran up to the alien beast and leapt into him, grabbing him in a bear hug with her arms and legs both.

A woman fell beside Autumn, an unshucked corncob jutting from her eye socket.

Whatever was containing the wind gave way, and suddenly heavy stalks and hard ears of corn were spinning around everyone. People were pelted and tripped and screaming in terror or pain. Autumn had to duck and dodge all the flying debris as she watched the pair of beings rise slowly up into the night.

Two men she recognized from the hospital grabbed her by the arms.

“Let’s get you back to your mother, Autumn,” one of them said. They didn’t put her in an ambulance as she expected, but in the back seat of an inconspicuous black sedan.

 

Nine Months Later

 

The sound of her baby crying was music to Autumn’s ears. The nurse, however, had a look on her face that brought back everything Autumn had spent the last nine months trying to forget. And forgetting hadn’t been easy. The whole holiday season following that night was a mash of reporters and scientists and questions she couldn’t answer. Then came the head shrinkers.

The five crop circles, as seen from high above, formed a pentagram. Each had a man’s heart in it, and no one could explain what had happened when the weird pair of creatures left like wizards levitating up into the darkness.

Supposedly, Maggie Gale had gone into the cornfield and found Autumn. Then the newswoman delivered her to the hospital. That wasn’t what Autumn remembered though.

Had she imagined the men in coats grabbing her and dragging her in? Was Maggie Gale’s story just made up? Autumn couldn’t think about it anymore, and the rest still seemed like a dream, save for the cuffs keeping her hands from being able to hold the child she’d just birthed. That was an undeniable reality.

It didn’t matter what she said. Maggie Gale and her mother were the only two who believed her, except for Sheriff Taylor, but he wouldn’t admit to it unless they were alone. Brian had been right about the Feds. Men in black suits questioned her daily, through the glass wall of the isolation room in which she was being kept. Autumn just wanted to see her baby and go back to sleep. At least in her cell, with the meds they gave her, she could forget about it all.

She really wanted to take her baby home, but that wasn’t going to happen until they figured out how her saliva had gotten on the piece of Craig’s heart they’d found near the rest of his torso. She was coherent enough to keep from telling them she spat it out of her mouth, but there was still DNA evidence proving that part of his freshly extracted left ventricle had been in her mouth at some point.

The look on the nurse’s face was starting to bother her. “What is it?” She squirmed and pulled at the restraints holding her arms and legs in place.

“Let me see my baby!”

The nurse swallowed hard and showed her. Autumn saw a tiny, white thing with bloodshot eyes. Its pulsing veins showing through as if its skin were paper thin.

She met its alien gaze, and something passed between them. Then the room was emptied of medical staff as people in yellow hazmat suits with radiation emblems emblazoned prominently on the chest came storming in, and took the child.

She recognized the crazy doctor from the television watching from another room.

Autumn screamed then, and pulled, for it was all she could do. But it was no use. Her violent actions almost pulled her own hand off of her arm, but that didn’t stop her.

“They said the baby would be all right!” she screamed. “They said it would! Where is my baby!”

A moment later, a faceless person under a giant hood looked down at her. She saw in the reflection of the mirrored face shield that she was normal, not all white and peeling, as she’d been in the corn maze when the aliens had come.

“They said the baby would be all right,” she repeated, this time lurching at her own reflection after she spoke. Then tears exploded from her eyes and she started sobbing.

“They say a lot of crazy ass stuff, girl,” a woman’s voice sounded from inside the suit. “When Autumn’s breath bathes that corn, they say all sorts of crazy shit. Just like you’ve been saying since you’ve been here. That baby, if that’s what you could call it, will be okay, though.” The woman thumped a large needle full of blue liquid. “You, on the other hand, are about to be as high as a kite on a broken string.”

“You said my baby would be all right?” Autumn managed to ask calmly. She saw herself in the face shield again and was disgusted by how filthy and pathetic she looked. Still, all she wanted was her baby.

“No, girl. I said I’m not sure that thing can be called a baby.”

The woman in the biohazard gear then jabbed the needle into the top of Autumn’s IV bag, and Autumn watched, mesmerized by the way the deep blue liquid mingled with the saline she was being drip-fed.

The whole world fell away from Autumn then, and it never returned.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

Michael Robb won a Readers Favorite Award in the Horror Fiction category for his full length novel:

The Butcher’s Boy (The Ballad of Billy Badass)

 

It is available at in hardcover and paperback, in multiple languages,

and also in ALL eBook formats.

 

Just read these editorial reviews:

 

This book is not your typical horror story. The author’s work can be compared to Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Like their books, this plot takes you to unexpected places. There are twists and turns that keep the reader guessing: ghosts slipping in and out of bodies both living and dead, shadows and bumps in the night are the least of the main characters’ worries in this book.

Fans of horror will not want to miss this creepy story.

*
p={color:#000;}. Readers Favorite International Book Award Contest

 

The Butcher’s Boy is not a book of immediate horror and gore, but a slow building up of the terror. However, it isn’t your classic scary home ghost novel.

Twists in the story pleasantly surprised. Overall, it’s excellent.

*
p={color:#000;}. Michelle Goodreads Review

 

Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Possession, murder, kidnapping, and redemption…well thought out plot that builds to a crescendo. I highly recommend this. Full Review: books-treasureortrash. com

*
p={color:#000;}. Books-Treasure or Trash

 

The novel is a suspenseful page-turner with well-developed characters. Even Lucy the Rottweiler is a round character. The specters, too, have solid personalities… renders them even scarier.

*
p={color:#000;}. ForeWord Magazine

 


Autumn's Breath

  • ISBN: 9781370588084
  • Author: M. R. Mathias
  • Published: 2017-08-28 00:20:10
  • Words: 9077
Autumn's Breath Autumn's Breath