Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Year of Sweet Corn

Dedication: To Cordelia on the anniversary of her entry into this world. Thank you for being one of my dearest and most morbid friends. Because of you, I have kept writing, always hoping just one I would write any piece as good as your work. This one is just from the heart, well, my black heart. Birthdays are for personalized gothic horror, yes?

The Year of Sweet Corn

Once, there was a Seneca girl who was not much like the other girls on the reservation. She was not an Indian princess. Her tribe, like most, had no such thing and she learned as a child to roll her eyes at such tales. To most, she was not even of the tribe because her mother was a white woman whom her father adored and married.

The odd little girl learned her histories and loved to sit by her father,, an elder and listen to the language of their people pour from him like a waterfall on rough stone- jagged, powerful, and beautiful. He told stories of the tribe and in the low light of dusk, he made the tales come alive. His daughter's heart was so full on those nights were she could nearly touch their gods and goddesses, feel the sweep of twirling woven cloth as he spoke of ancient dancers. She could taste corn that had been blessed and blessed again, a sweetness like no other and she could hear a heartbeat rhythm that could have been her own and could have been the sky or the earth or the fire or all of those at once.

Although her parents loved her very much, she found that she did not easily fit into the shapes of life that most people occupied. Especially, she did not enjoy the molds into which little girls were supposed to jam themselves and emerge with long eyelashes and a coquettish grins. That, simply, was not her style. She found those girls false and empty headed. Yet, she tried and went to gatherings of 'kids'. Milling about the edges of the soda and chips, she would find the first moment when no one was watching her and she would slip away.

Instead, she would walk. She loved the night and dark things. She found beauty where others felt their hearts begin to beat faster. Where most people walked with extreme caution and the highest alert singing in their sinew, she ran heedless into the shadows and the shadows loved her for it. She could just sit in the forest and read, listen to music on her second hand disc-man or just listen to the trees and the wind and sometimes it was almost like she could hear it talk to her. She loved every piece of the land, exactly as it was.

Unfortunately, this is not a universally loved approach to life because those who cleave together against the dark abhor those who travel freely in that world. They become suspicious, then jealous, then angry and then they find a reason. It never needs to be much of a reason. Anything will do. A smirk. An eye roll. It does not matter.

On a half moon night, she walked home through the woods, having escaped another awful gossip fest. She decided to buy some time walking a rambling path home so she could plausibly tell her parents she had tried to spend some time with the other kids and that she was not completely miserable as she knew they would just feel bad.

As she was about to step into a patch of moonlight, she heard a twig break and some leaves crunch on the other side of the clearing. As she had learned, she went entirely still and her ink decorated Chuck Taylor sneaker settled back to the ground without making any sound. She silently cursed herself for wearing a black t-shirt with a massive white band logo on the front. Shit.

A clamor of girls from the party tumbled into the clearing, loudly and perhaps a little drunkenly, shushing each other.

"Shut up. I know she came this way. I SAW her!'
"Bitch. I so want to kick..."
"Holy shit. She's right there"

Like a pack of wolves, the hair-sprayed and mascaraed platoon finally noticed her and all slowly turned to face her.

The lone girl with the goth t-shirt and the punk rock style set down her purse by a tree, hoping it would still be there when she was done getting her ass kicked. This wasn't the first time she found herself outnumbered or cornered, just the first time it had happened in her woods. Wondering how they had found her, she pulled her hair back and secured it with an elastic. Her hands fell to her sides as she took one last deep breath.

Stepping out of the trees, she moved into the moonlight and paused in the clearing. This was going to suck. A one to five tramp ratio was not good odds, even if they were a bit drunk. The girls began to move forward with their sharpening grins, but behind them, in the shadows, something else was moving.

The shapes were large, too large for people. In the fitful moonlight through the leaves, it looked for all the world as if boulders had stacked themselves into cairns and were shuffling forward. she was looking at walking legends: Stonecoats.

The girl began to open her mouth to tell the awful girls to run, because she realized that she was seeing a story come to life and was pretty sure about what would come next. A hand settled onto her shoulder. A massive hand of shifting pebbles, stones, and rocks of all sizes held together in some kind of beautiful and terrifying dance set with such care upon her shoulder. A bass rumble behind her said "No. You are to watch. You are to understand and remember."

The girl swallowed hard and then tried to be as still as possible, to be a threat to no one. Still, the wolfish girls snarled their curses and staggered closer, not noticing a creature like a mountain in front of them, not hearing the nearly silent mountains closing in behind them.

The rock giants stepped up, one behind each girl. The Stonecoats of myth and legend casually thumped each girl on the head and caught their bodies as they fell. She felt the weight of the rock giant lift from her shoulder as he rumbled "Get your things and come with us." She did as she was told. Very, very precisely. She searched her brain for anything her father had told her about these beings, but decided to keep her thoughts to herself.

It seemed like they had walked a long way, but that was probably just what happened when you walked with a group of living (wait, were they living?) myths. They came out of the forest and into cleared farm land. In the distance, lights of homes could be seen here and there and the girl realized that she knew right where she was- less than a mile from her own home and in one of the largest corn fields on the reservation.

The spring and summer had been terrible for crops- too much sun and no rain and then too much rain and no sun to be had. The corn was stunted, the ears small and everything seemed to be wilted. As the Stonecoats and their prizes approached, a woman emerged from the corn. Her skin was pale, her hair paler still, and her teeth were brilliant white and straight like perfect white corn. Her dress was the green of stalks and husks and as she moved she sounded like the sigh of the wind through the cornfield. With a gesture, she pointed the Stonecoats to rows of the field where they dropped their female burdens.

The goddess of the corn sang quietly, plaiting her corn silk hair into small, neat braids and cutting one off for each girl that lay by the field. She tied their hands together with the silken braids and then made a small cut in the neck of each girl. As the corn goddess finished, a rock giant gently collected each girl by her feet and trundled away down the long rows of corn, the girls and their trails of blood glinting in the moonlit furrow behind them.

The giants were gone. The dying girls were gone. The half Seneca girl stood beside the field with Onatah, the corn goddess, and could not find a single word to say. The rustling gowned goddess noted the girl's discomfort and turned toward her, slicing one last braid from her hair and tucking it into the pair of slightly unsteady human hands. Leaning down, the cornsilk goddess kissed the forehead of the girl and whispered "You are more Seneca than all of them together and are always safe here. Take this braid to your father. Tell him the Corn Maidens have been chosen and sacrificed. It will be a sweet corn year."

With no further words, the pale goddess turned and melted away into the field and the Seneca girl ran for home. When she arrived she attempted to compose herself, but her father saw the look on her face as she tried to creep by to her bedroom. "Child, what is it?" he asked with a gentle voice. Still trembling, the Seneca girl held out the gleaming cornsilk braid to her father. He plucked it from her hand with a smile. "A sweet corn year, I see. Wonderful! Go to bed dear. We'll talk... eventually." Smiling, he walked off toward his library, muttering something in Seneca, as he navigated through some piles of books and stepped over a napping cat.

The Seneca girl went to bed and yes, the corn was especially sweet that year. The fat cobs were swathed in gowns of pale and soft green leaves, flowing long corn-silk tops and when shucked, the corn was white as pearls, straight as arrows, perfect like baby teeth.

It was a memorable harvest.

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