Astrid graduated with a Bsc Hons in Criminology and Psychological Studies in 2017 and currently works as a professional ghostwriter.
Oct 27th 1982
I think this was the first time it happened. Or at least it was the first time I remember it happening. I was eight years old and the night was just like any other. It was still kinda warm but breezy, and my mom had insisted I kept the window open, probably to dry out the mould in the walls.
At the time I was going through a real horror movie phase and was adamant I was going to get snatched right out the window by a guy with a chainsaw and a melted face. It never happened, of course, but something else did.
I was lying awake in my bed with a book beside me. I can’t remember what I was reading, but it was probably something for school I didn’t have much interest in, so the bookmark was only twenty pages in. I hold a vague memory of rolling over and feeling the book dig into my ribs.
Getting out of bed to place it on my desk was the mistake I made. It was the thing that changed everything. I dropped the book onto my desk below my window, the streaky glass looking out onto the cornfield that stretched off into the horizon before it met the forest. There was something in that field.
A perfect circle deep within the corn.
It was on fire.
Oct 28th 1982
The next day, mom got me up for school. I was sitting in the kitchen eating cereal while she smoked a cigarette. She tipped her ash into the sink like she always did so the dirty dishes were covered in a thin layer of gray dust.
“You smell that?” she asked.
Of course I could smell it. It smelled like a bonfire, but somehow more pungent, more sour. It was so strong it stung my nostrils and made my eyes water. I remember pressing my hand into my face so I could drown out the stench with the smell of the soap on my skin.
“That weirdo, Old Barner’s wrecked his field," said mom. "He set the damn thing on fire."
Well that explained it then. The ring of fire was caused by the guy who owned the field. A freaky guy with hair that stuck out his head like a toilet brush, and teeth that were lined up along his gums like a street of condemned houses. I was terrified of him. We all were. His house was on the other side of the field where the corn and pine trees collided. Some of us kids used to like trying to get as close to his house as possible. But every time we reached the scarecrow dressed up in one of Barner’s old jackets and hats, he’d run out screaming and waving his shotgun.
He hated kids as much as we hated him. Obviously he set fire to his own field. He was a nutcase.
“He killed his cows too,” continued mom.
She was having one of her black months as she used to call it. These were times when she never bothered to put on her makeup or do her hair or even get dressed. I remember looking up at her tapping ash all over the place and seeing that her face was really pale and black roots were starting to show through her platinum blonde hair.
“He killed his cows?" I laughed. "He always kills his cows. That’s what he does. He turns them into burgers.”
She looked concerned at this point and she made the face she always did when she was trying to figure out something really complicated. Like what to order in a restaurant or how she was going to pay the bills.
“Not like that, Denny. Like… he killed them. For fun I think.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. What eight year old would.
The school bus was waiting for me with the driver, Betty being as patient as ever. I was one of those kids who was always late, running down the driveway still half dressed with a face covered in jelly. When I climbed on board, she gave me a wink and pinched her nose.
“Jesus, that smell,” she grimaced.
“Old Barner killed his cows."
She looked at me as though I was nuts, but I just shrugged and walked down the bus. Getting my usual seat at the back with my best friend in the whole world, Jeremy, I gave him our secret handshake. We’d made one up at the start of the year and now it was a morning ritual.
“You hear about the fire?” he asked.
“Yeah, I saw it too. Like a circle. In Barner’s farm. You hear about the cows?”
He shook his head and dug into his lunchbox.
“Mom said he killed them for fun,” I explained.
At this point, a girl sitting in front of us spun round and leaned over the back of her seat. I can’t remember what her name was. All I know is that she was one of only two gingers in my class.
“My mom saw them,” she said. “Said their butts had been cut out.”
Jeremy made a girly, squealing noise and waved his hands in front of his face to silence her.
“Eeeuw, shut up.”
“Urgh… Don’t be such a loser,” she moaned and rolled her eyes.
One other thing I remember about her was that she came from one of those families at the bottom of town that didn’t think twice about teasing or insulting other folk. She was always getting into trouble for swearing and calling other kids mean names.
“You know what else he did?” she continued. “He ripped their eyes out, and their tongues too.”
Jeremy screamed like a maniac and pushed her back over the other side of her seat. His lunchbox tipped over and his ham sandwiches fell all over his feet, but at least the girl had stopped talking.
I looked out the window as the bus pulled away from the bottom of the street. The field was now in view, the circular scorch mark in the center of everyone’s vision.
I remember Jeremy mouthing, “Woaaaah…”
Then his voice turned into a terrified screaming as the cows appeared. When I heard Old Barner had killed them, I thought it was just a few. But it wasn’t... It was all of them. Hundreds of them lying on their sides with gaping wounds for faces and their entrails pulled out through their bottoms. The smell made us all gag. We were all stunned into silence.
It was all anyone could talk about at school, but when I got home and tried to tell mom, she said to shut up. None of our parents or teachers wanted to hear about it and so it became nothing more than a childhood legend, something that was whispered about in playgrounds and in front of lockers.
© 2019 Astrid McClymont