The corn was tall, even for this late in the season. It must be eight or nine feet, well above my head. It was that light, dead, dried brown and would normally have been harvested a month ago, but for some reason, was left standing, cut in a precise straight line along the field.
I stepped between rows of corn, like a ghost, making no noise, rustling no stalks. Beyond the rows ahead, I could see the lush green field of short cropped grass and farm house up on the hill beyond. Feeling, awkward, unsure of my steps and movements, I stopped just short of the edge, remaining hidden in the corn. It was quiet. As often said in the thrillers I used to read, it was too quiet. There should be more farm bustle now, at the end of the season. I wondered where the farmers were. I wondered why they left this corn standing, yet grateful for the refuge.
I silently slid back into the safety of the corn rows behind me and turned away, walking carefully, yet with haste, in an awkward, almost stumbling gate, away from the field. I will come back another time. I was hungry, but I could still wait a while longer. Maybe next time someone will be there for me.
I approached the group of Others, standing like statues in small groups each containing three or four men, for they were all men, standing front to back in short lines. Each group was positioned in a perfect square at the four points of the compass. A line of five men stood still in the middle of the square staring toward the south point.
The first man in the middle motioned for me to go take a place in the east line. The first man in that line slowly turned to look at me and said, “Back of the line Rook.”
“Right,” I acknowledged with a nod and two finger salute.
I noticed all the men in each line were focused on the south corner. They were perfectly still. Not at attention, but in readiness for something to happen. Suddenly, I realized we were still in the corn field, but somehow, now I could see through it, as if it was semi-transparent. I could see the corn but could also see all the men standing in their respective lines. They all wore uniforms of one kind or another. None of them matched but all were somewhat similar. Some had thigh-high pants with long socks, some had long pants that rested on the tops of their shoes. The shoes were different also. Some were black, some white, some a mixture. One man wore no shoes at all. Several of the men standing at the south point, facing north, also wore padded wire fronted masks of various designs.
I tapped the shoulder of the man in front of me and asked, “So what happens next?”
“We wait,” he grunted. “Now shaddup.”
I shut up and waited. Before long a man stepped out of the ghost-corn behind the south point and gestured towards our line.
“Hey, you! Rook. It’s time. Let’s see what you got.”
I left my post and sauntered south towards the masked men, removing the glove from my left hand as I did. I picked a bat from the rack, hefted it and swung it a couple of times before continuing my casual walk to wait at the southern point. For the first time I remembered, I felt at home.
The first ball came straight at my head. I fell back and landed on my butt, hearing chuckles from around the bases.
“Next time, don’t saunter, Rook,” said the manager from behind me. “Walk with some respect.”
“Got it, Skip. Respect,” I muttered.
“Watch out Rook,” said the man squatting behind me, “The next one will be right down the middle.”
“Yeah, right,” I thought. “It will probably be right down the middle of my gut.”
Thwack! The ball buzzed by me, right down the middle of the plate. I looked behind me and saw a grin behind the mask. Resigned, I grinned myself. Knowing I was accepted. Knowing I really was home.
To my left a factory whistle blew. Everyone turned toward the sound and began to silently move west. The sun was barely visible through the corn. We walked towards the sun until we reached the edge of the corn where we faced the close-cropped field of grass. Flood lights illuminated the red clay outlined green diamond that comprised the field. Bleachers lined the east baseline and three people sat on the top bench, silhouetted by the fading sun.
We left the corn in right field and walked, with respect to our positions.
Am I dreaming or is this Iowa?