Bogleech.com's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" The Golden Ocean "

Submitted by Mort Harris

It felt like he had been driving for days through the endless seas of corn. The last road sign he’d passed had been hours ago, and had said “Welcome to the Great State of Winnemois”, which he was pretty sure wasn’t a real US state. He usually paid strict attention to traffic laws, but since there were no other cars on the road, he was starting to contemplate doing a quick U-turn and trying to backtrack. As he cast about to make absolutely sure there were no other vehicles in sight, his gaze landed on a brightly-painted sign on the side of the road, reading “John & Eric’s Farm Fresh Specialties – 3 miles”. Thank God, he thought. Somewhere I can get directions.

Three miles later, all he saw was another sign, reading “John & Eric’s Farm Fresh Specialties – 3 miles”. He cursed under his breath, and kept on driving. John & Eric’s Farm Fresh Specialties wasn’t in the next 3 miles, either. Nor in the next 30. He cursed again, this time out loud, but he was determined now, and he was going to get to John & Eric’s Farm Fresh Specialties even if it turned out to be in the next 300 miles.

John & Eric’s Farm Fresh Specialties was not in the next 300 miles. John & Eric’s Farm Fresh Specialties was, according to the odometer, 43 miles after he’d seen the first sign, and he’d only found it after he’d almost hit the deer.

 

He thought it was a deer, at any rate. It had long skinny legs and bright little hooves, but more of either than there usually were and more legs than hooves. He’d seen deer horns, but he hadn’t quite been able to see its heads, and, yes, he was pretty sure it had had multiple heads. He’d only been able to keep from hitting it because the spinning ball of fire perched between its horns had washed out his vision as it ran out from between the rows of corn across the bend in the road, and he’d lost control of the wheel, continuing straight instead of turning. Really, he thought, that wasn’t a deer at all. Why the hell did I call it a deer?

He had turned his head to follow the … not-deer … as it ran back into the corn, and now he turned back to face ahead. Where he had expected to see broken corn stalks and possibly a downward-sloping hood that would force him to get the winch out of the boot, he saw a level gravel driveway, a large, hand-painted sign reading “John & Eric’s Farm Fresh Specialties”, and two old men standing in the driveway, looking at him and clucking their tongues.

He rolled down his window and leaned out. The old man on the right, the one with the wide straw hat perched on his grey hair, sighed and said, “Let me guess. You were waiting until you saw the driveway entrance?”

“Er … yes,” he replied.

The one on the left, the one who made clanking noises stamping around to take a closer look at him, shook his head. “That’s city slickers for you. Always thinking things’ll be right there in front of them and trundling right on ahead, when if they turn a little bit, take a little bit of action, shabam! There it is!”

“Don’t be so hard on him, Eric,” said the first, presumably John. “Look at the feller. Has one of them Priuses, and a shiny blue one at that. He’s probably never been out on the Golden Ocean before. Cut him a little slack. Here, feller. I’m John Eriksen and this here’s Eric Johnson. What brings you round to these parts?”

“Er … I’m Daniel. Daniel Harlow. You’re, er, –”

“Rather self-referentially named?” said John with a smile. “We get that all the time.”

“Yes,” said Daniel, looking away. “I was wondering, though … do you have a map I could see? I’m trying to get to Kansas City – the one in Missouri, not the one in Kansas.”

“Heading south, are you?” asked Eric. “Well, it’s a nice place, I hear; it’s very up to date.”

Daniel squinted at Eric, trying to decode the odd statement. John laughed at his expression. “Please forgive Eric; he enjoys messing with the tourists. Where are you from, anyways?”

“Winnipeg, actually. In Manitoba. I’m driving down for a friend’s wedding.”

“Canadian, eh?” asked Eric. Daniel ignored him.

“Do you have a map or not?” he asked. “I thought it’d be easy – 100 turns into 29 after you cross the border, but the highway runs straight through both cities. But I turned off to fill up my car somewhere in one of the Dakotas and I couldn’t find the highway again, so I’ve just been sort of aimlessly heading south.”

 

John looked at Eric, and Eric looked at John. John looked up at the sky. “Y’know what, Mister Harlow? Sun’s gettin’ pretty low. Why don’t you stay with us for the night? We’ve got a fold-out couch in the spare room, and we’ve got farm fresh specialties for dinner. I promise, neither of us has the energy to murder anyone these days. We can talk about maps in the morning.”

Daniel looked up at the sky, and noticed that the sun was indeed setting. Had it been setting a moment before? He couldn’t remember. He took a breath and weighed his options. He could either drive through the night, hoping that things would start making sense again and that he’d find a motel or something, or he could stay here, accept the offer of hospitality from two seemingly normal men, and take the certainty of a place to sleep and some farm fresh specialties. He didn’t think that murderers would say things like “neither of us has the energy to murder anyone these days”; they’d say things like “you’ll be perfectly safe here”. The old men looked kind and grandfatherly, and radiated enough trustworthiness to make you accept their offer but not so much that you would think their offer was suspect. The choice seemed clear. “Thank you for your kindness, Mr. Eriksen, Mr. Johnson,” he said. “May I drive my car up further?”

“By all means,” said Eric. Daniel leaned back into the car and slowly trundled up the driveway to park near the house. The crunching of tires on gravel made him unable to hear the brief susurrations behind him.

 

Daniel accepted John and Eric’s offer of help with his bags, and, once the bags had been dumped in the guest room, he was happy to repay them with help making dinner, and took knife to fresh vegetables cheerfully. The conversation over dinner was light and pleasant, mostly polite questions about Daniel’s work (actuary) and life (which he jokingly claimed not to possess, which caused John and Eric to exchange brief glances, uncomfortable for all three). Daniel did ask about the not-deer, and Eric said, “Well, I’m not entirely sure what those are, but it did get you turned off the road and onto our drive. A chance encounter like that that ended up saving you … I call things like that angels. There are lots of angels, out here in the golden ocean. A bird saved my life once; made a noise so annoying that I had to look up and find it, and that’s when I saw the water tower falling. Got out with only a tin leg.” He tapped his left leg, which made a clanging noise. “Angels, friend.”

Daniel didn’t believe in angels, but he also hadn’t believed in multi-legged not-deer, or the state of Winnemois before, so he did not continue further. Dinner finished, he decided to turn in early, and John and Eric wished him a good night.

 

Arising in the morning, Daniel found a note on the kitchen table reading “We’ve got to be up and farming; we couldn’t hold breakfast for you, but there’s oatmeal still hot in the pot.” Daniel ate his bowl of cereal, availed himself of the bathroom, and stepped outside into the bright sunlight, looking for John or Eric to discuss directions. He found Eric around the back, working in a field of tall raspberry canes. “Good morning, city-slicker,” he said, turning. “Did you sleep well? And, more importantly, are you ready to discuss getting on your merry way?”

“Yes, to both questions,” Daniel replied. “Regarding that discussion, you seem a bit too busy to have it at the moment; is there something I can do for you while I wait?”

“Well, thank you, son, but we’ve grown into our routines here, and we already sail a pretty tight ship here on the Golden Ocean. I’d need to talk to John to figure out where exactly you’d fit into the routine. You might want to find him? I believe he was over by the new water tower.” Eric pointed off into the corn, where a large metal drum rose on struts above the golden landscape. “Don’t get lost, city-slicker. Focus on the water tower, and you’ll find him.”

“Thanks, I guess.” Eric’s speech struck him as needlessly ominous, but Daniel guessed that he was continuing to mess with him. He plunged into the corn, and found himself in another world. The golden stalks seemed to dim the sun, plunging him into a twilight sea. The leaves rustled and creaked, and small, unseen animals chirped from burrows or behind the stalks. He thought he saw things like mice, things like crows, but they weren’t the mice or crows he knew from back home. Different sizes, different numbers of eyes and limbs, different behaviors … he seemed to be watching an ecosystem that, as far as he knew, didn’t exist, one where ordinary animals had taken on new and strange forms in the depths of the corn.

He shook his head. Eric had told him not to get lost, and he’d started getting distracted, what, five minutes in? He looked up at the water tower, and began marching obstinately through the corn towards it. John was beneath it, fiddling with the pipe that plunged from the tall drum into the cleared plot of earth below. “Ah! Good morning, Mr. Harlow! Sleep well? I’m just about done here … there we go!”

“Good morning. And yes, I did, thank you. Eric was busy, but said you might be available to talk maps.”

“As a matter of fact, I am.” He straightened up, making exaggerated creaking noises as he did so. He cast about the sky, making little motions with his hands in front of his face as if he was wielding an invisible sextant, then set off in a seemingly random direction, not the one from which Daniel had come. Daniel looked above the corn to check to see if John had spontaneously gone crazy, but he could no longer see the roof of the house above the ever-present corn. He followed John, assuming that he knew what he was doing. “Do you grow all this corn?” he asked.

John laughed. “We don’t grow the corn. Nobody grows the corn. We just live in it. ‘Grow corn’? It’s like ‘just leave a huge tract of water all over the ground’; ridiculous!”

“I’m pretty sure that’s called a ‘lake’.”

John chuckled. “Sonny, you were not meant to sail the Golden Ocean.”

Daniel shoved his hands in his pockets and kept walking.

 

They seemed to be taking an unusually long time to return to the house. The little animals, whatever they were, were no longer present. Daniel’s gaze began to wander, looking into the depths of the corn that John was brushing aside. The corn seemed to form endless tunnels, like looking into mirrors placed opposite of each other, going off into a golden infinity. Daniel was beginning to fall behind John; the old man, infuriatingly, seemed to have more stamina than him. As he wondered when they would ever get back to the house, something in the corn caught his eye.

 

It appeared to be a humanoid figure, standing a couple of yards away. It was vaguely feminine, about five and a half feet tall, and seemingly made of the same stuff as the corn. Its hair was the buttery near-white of corn silk, its limbs were thin and golden like dead corn stalks, and its garments seemed to be made of dried corn husks. The corn-silk hair covered its face, but he could hear noise coming from it, noise vaguely musical, but without a recognizable tune, noise vaguely like speech, but without any words. Daniel turned and began to walk towards it. The noise resolved itself into words, although the words did not resolve themselves into sense. “The grief chains soil below the alert. The creeping vines command soil beside a calm husk. Soil maintains glory behind each tracked circle. When can the shucked buyer appear into glory? The parallel borderline squeezes soil over the protecting defeated.”

The singing figure began to make vague motions that slowly turned into a beckoning, but when Daniel went further toward it, he felt a hand grip his shoulder. “Hold on there, sonny,” said John behind him. “Don’t go following the husks. I knew I should’ve matched your pace … Eric and I, well … we’ve got each other; the husks can’t get to us. But you, well … ah. It’s my fault. I’m sorry, should’ve warned you. You nearly got yourself in a world of trouble, sonny.”

Daniel turned away reluctantly; he was sincerely curious about the strange figure as well as the strange animals, and the old men kept giving him warnings with no apparent basis in fact. He was beginning to regret ever coming to America.

They were out of the fields within the next half minute, and John made for the house. Once inside, John laid a collection of maps out on the table. “The thing about the Golden Ocean, son, is that the usual road maps aren’t going to work. Nor will one of those Gee-Pee-Esses. What you need is the type of map that’s more … quest-based. Now, we’re not sending you on a quest; we’re merely trying to get you off the Golden Ocean; but it’s still going to take a map saying things like ‘Here there be dragons’, not a map saying ‘Exit 84’.” John rifled through the maps, holding each one up to the light, seemingly to compare to Daniel’s face, before shaking his head and lowering it back to the table. Finally, he found one that he seemed to like, and pressed it into Daniel’s hands. Daniel looked at it. It was a crude drawing of a forking road, with landmarks like “the two old obelisks” or “the dead three-topped tree”. There were instructions written on it, most of which sounded like a video game walkthrough, such as “leave an offering of fruit and grain at the obelisks”. If Daniel was reading the map correctly, he would eventually get to a point where maps wouldn’t help him, and he would just have to “rely on the angels”.

“Are you sure this is going to get me off of the, um, Golden Ocean?” Daniel asked.

“Old sailor like me?” said John. “I have a sense. I’m not sure I could teach you how to take the celestial regions to navigate, and following this map should give you the direction you need to get off the Golden Ocean.”

“You mean directions?”

“No. I mean direction.”

“Oookay then. This will get me back on the Interstate?”

“No, but it will get you to a place where you can. Really sorry you drifted out here, sonny; it’s not a place that is meet for men to come. Me and Eric … we’re like shipwrecked mariners out here; we don’t have anything that can take us off our little island – and I doubt your little vehicle could take us either. We’ve adapted by now, but you haven’t, and I’m sure you don’t want to. I’m sure you’ll be wanting to get on your merry way.”

“Well, thank you,” said Daniel, taking the hint. “Your advice has been cryptic at best, but you’ve been fairly kind and helpful. I probably should be getting on my way now. Thank you for the night’s stay, and thank you for the map.”

“Well, thank you for saying so, sonny.”

“Any way I could make it up to you?”

“Aw, just seeing you safe on your way’ll be enough,” said John.

“Thanks again,” said Daniel. “Although now that I think of it, I did get to see some of your farm; it looks very good, and it’d be nice to take home some of your farm fresh specialties.”

“Well, thank you kindly, son; the produce bins are down in the cellar. We don’t usually set out the stand until later in the morning, but I can take you down there now.”

Half an hour later, Daniel’s bags were back in the car, nestling against a bushel of delicious-looking farm fresh specialties. Eric had finished his raspberry work and come out to wave him off; Daniel had thanked the two old men again for the room, board, and directions. He pulled out of the driveway, John’s parting words being, “Be safe, and stay out of trouble!”

 

Daniel was going to follow the first injunction, but not the second, which is why, as John and Eric had waved him goodbye, he had been able to surreptitiously pick up some gravel from their driveway. He wanted to find out a little more about what exactly was up with this place, and he felt sure he had time for a little excursion back into the corn. He drove what he thought was a safe distance away from John and Eric’s house, letting the corn speed past him until he could no longer see the driveway, although the house and water tower were still visible, like islands in the corn. He parked his car, got out, and began to walk back into the corn, making a trail of gravel. The small white stones fell away behind him as he plunged into the golden sea.

 

Once again, Daniel left behind the world of light and sun for a world of half-light and shifting shadows. He tried to make as little noise as he could, trying to hear the corn-being’s singing again. The small creatures – the not-mice, the not-crows – were there at first, peeping at him from behind the corn, but as Daniel went deeper, he saw them less and less frequently, and in stranger varieties as he got closer to the water tower, which he was using as his target. By the time he had reached the clearing around the water tower, the corn seemed to be devoid of all life.

Not all life, he thought, as a welcome sight greeted his eyes: the corn-thing was standing there, right beneath the water tower. It stood unmoving, but it began to sing again as he approached, this time employing actual grammar and rhyme. “The green curling over the white-hidden place; the gold is displaying the smiling face. Again and again, they return to behold the glory in white and in green and in gold.”

“Hello?” he said. The being’s corn-silk locks swung as it turned its unseen head; Daniel assumed it was to face him.

“And so and so they fall and fall, a-waiting for the spring. And so the black sees many fall, as gold and green to spring.”

“Can you understand me?” Daniel asked. “What are you?”

“White and gold from former green and hiding black beneath; a singing mouth without a tongue or lips or shining teeth.” The corn-being began to move in a slow dance. Daniel stared, fascinated. “Will you fall and join the dance, and spring up once again? Will you free from mocking black the waving golden plain?”

He shook his head in confusion, and, doing so, noticed that several similar beings had appeared in the clearing. They were of differing heights, but otherwise, they seemed indistinguishable. These new ones were unmoving, and Daniel couldn’t tell whether they had walked through the corn or had simply grown up around him. He looked about. “Er … excuse me,” he said. “Can you understand me?”

The tallest corn-being walked forward, and began to hum. The smaller corn-beings, as well as the original one, joined in with hums of their own, creating a weaving melody that spun itself around Daniel’s ears. And there were words to the melody, words that told of the secrets of the Golden Ocean …

 

The golden corn that you see is merely the reflection of the sun, as the blue sea is merely the reflection of the sky. The blue ocean is truly colorless, and the Golden Ocean is truly black. The upper surface is sere, but if you plunge into the blackness below, you will see wonders. There are cities below the earth, woven of white roots, lit by lamps of porphyry, and holding marvelous treasures within. There are gardens, too, of fungi with shapes previously unviewed by man. Whole kingdoms lie in the black depths of the Golden Ocean, and we who stand before you are their citizens. We are the children of the Golden Ocean; she is made for us, and we for her. For time immemorial have our cities stood, and for time immemorial we have dwelt here … but we are fading now. The porphyric lamps are dimming. The woven alabaster cities shrink; their columns and arches crumble; no longer do the children of the Golden Ocean perform their ancient festivals of joy, but wail and moan for the doom that is to come.

But you have come. You have come this day, as it was first heard and whispered not very long ago. You could save us; bring new hope to the cities beneath the Golden Ocean. Your very being would rejuvenate us, as it has been known since we have known of your coming. You would be rewarded beyond your wildest imaginings – you will pass your days in splendor, experiencing delights measureless by man – your eyes will perceive vistas of grandeur, your ears will drink in the wild tunes we weave, your nose the fragrant perfumes of our gardens, your tongue will delight in the feasts we can offer, and your sense of touch will … also be pleased.

Come with us, and light our lamps of porphyry, and let our alabaster cities flourish. We beg of you, please … save us.

 

The corn-being finished its entreaty, and fell silent. Daniel let the worlds swirl around his mind; part of him still remembered his friend in Kansas City, and part of him was remembering John and Eric’s warnings. But the foremost part of him was remembering his childhood, his love of otherworldly adventures, and his hope that he would one day get to have one – and here was an offer of one, and, if he was reading the corn-being’s cues correctly, an offer of something else as well. He began to deliberate over what he would answer.

The corn-being, however, seemed impatient, and stepped forward. Daniel was about to explain himself, but the corn-being did something that silenced him. It raised a corn-stalk hand and brushed aside its silken hair, revealing a face that wasn’t. There was just a lump of black earth in place of a head, with a face that was nothing more than sharpened corn kernels arranged in a circle, pointing inward. Though the creature had no eyes, a struggling part of Daniel’s brain screamed that it was glaring at him. But the rest of him heard only the music as the kernels gleamed golden in the half-light. A press of golden bodies quickly blocked out the twilit fields, the smaller corn-beings clustering and likewise brushing back their silk. The first corn-being sprang, quick as a crow in flight. Daniel felt the first pricks on his shoulder, still in mid-topple …. and a curtain of silk fell, as the corn sirens descended.

 

John and Eric had not been entirely convinced their directions would, or could, be followed, and they were still half-waiting for Daniel’s return. They had been looking at the driveway, when Eric had heard the crunch of corn on bone, and John, his eyes wandering, had looked up and seen the spurt of red above the fields of gold. John looked at Eric, and Eric looked at John. “Well,” said John, “you can’t blame a man for trying. We did our best.”

“Ee-yup, but city slickers who try sailing on the Golden Ocean never listen,” said Eric.

“They surely don’t,” said John.



 But off in the distance, as the corn sirens descended, Daniel was listening. He was listening to the songs of the corn, even as he fell, becoming one with the soil, black earth turning red, as he fed the hungry children of the hungry Golden Ocean, where he would dwell amidst wonder and glory forever.