Fiction Piece: “Shortcut”, Featuring Image: “Foggy Hill”

Shortcut

Carol looked up at the man walking beside her. “You know, you really don’t have to escort me back to my grandmother’s house,” she said. “It’s just a 

two mile stroll along an open road. All I needed was to borrow a flashlight.”

The man kept his eyes trained ahead. “Apparently Betty thought otherwise,” he said curtly.

He’s not making any effort to be gracious about this, Carol thought. She couldn’t even remember his name. She had met Betty, his wife, for the first 

time at the party, some distant cousin God only knows how many times removed. What possessed me to fly out to this reunion? she thought, not for the 

first time.

“What are you suppose to be protecting me from?” she asked. “Bears or something?”

“There aren’t any bears in Iowa,” the man said. He didn’t add, you moron, but it was clearly implied in his voice. They took a few steps in silence.  

“Well, there is Crazy Billy,” he added thoughtfully.

“Who’s Crazy Billy?”

“Some guy, Bill Phillips, who use to live around here a few years ago. Had a wife and two kids. He seemed normal enough.” The man paused. “Well, that is, unless you looked into his eyes. Closely. Then you got a feeling that something just wasn’t right about him.” 

Carol could tell that the man was expecting a response from her. “What happened to him?” she asked. 

The man shrugged. “One night he upped and murdered his family. Just slit their throats with a hunting knife, one by one. Neatly laid out their bodies 

on the living room floor and took off. Never got caught.” He was clearly relishing this story. “Some folks say he still lives in these parts, wandering through 

the cornfields at night, doing crazy shit.” The man paused. “Last year, the teenage son of a local family disappeared. Folks said he just upped and ran 

away to some city.” The man sighed. “He was a wild kid, all right. But I personally think he just ran into Crazy Billy in some cornfield late at night. And now 

he’s fertilizer.” The man stopped and turned his flashlight along the right side of the road. Its beam revealed a row of corn stalks. “Speaking of cornfields,” 

he said. “If we cut through this one it’ll knock half a mile off the walk to your grandmother’s.”

“Aren’t you afraid we’ll get our throats slit by Crazy Billy?” Carol asked. She had meant to sound flippant but she could hear the tension in her voice.

The man shrugged. “There are lots of cornfields around here. I think the odds of Crazy Billy being in this particular one are pretty slim.”

He’s talking like he really believes there is a Crazy Billy, Carol thought. She looked dubiously at the row of cornstalks caught in the flashlight’s beam. 

It seemed impenetrable, or at least a tight squeeze. “I’d rather stay on the road,” she said.

“Look,” the man said impatiently.  “If we stick to the road I won’t get back home until after midnight. We’re taking the shortcut.” He walked to the side 

 

of the road, pushed the stalks aside and plunged in, without looking back. Carol had no choice but to follow. Her feelings towards him ratcheted up from 

vague dislike to active antipathy.

It was late summer and the cornstalks were so high that they blotted out most of the night sky. The man had his flashlight trained on the ground 

ahead of them, leaving Carol to stumble in near total darkness behind him. There was no sound except for the rustling of the dry stalks as she pushed 

them aside, and their brittle, papery leaves slid against her face and bare arms.

“Have you ever read anything by Stephen King?” the man asked suddenly, throwing the question over his shoulder.

Carol impatiently pushed a clump of corn leaves away from her face. They had a  sandpapery roughness that was rubbing her bare skin raw. “No,” 

she said irritably. “I don’t like horror fiction.”

The man seemed unfazed by this admission. “He wrote a short story once, called ‘Children of the Corn’”. The man stopped and looked towards 

Carol. He turned the flashlight’s beam on her, making her squint. “It was about this married couple traveling out somewhere in some farming area. Their 

car breaks down and they’re barely able to limp along to this tiny town in the middle of nowhere.” The man turned away and resumed pushing his way 

through the corn stalks. “Only something was very weird about this town,” he continued. “It was empty except for a handful of teenagers and children. 

There wasn’t an adult around. ” He stopped talking.

He wants me to urge him on, Carol thought sullenly. To hell with him.

When it was clear she wasn’t going to say anything, the man continued talking. “Anyway, this guy goes nosing around, leaving his wife behind in the 

car. He wanders into this church and scans the place. There’s a life-size crucifix mounted behind the altar, only this time the dying Jesus has corn stalks 

jammed down his open mouth and empty eye sockets.” Another long pause as they pushed through more dry stalks.

Carol’s uneasiness was ripening to a sharp concern. For the first time, she realized how utterly alone and vulnerable she was. I don’t know anything 

about this man, she thought. Not even his name. Her belligerence melted away, replaced by a growing fear. “So what happened next?” she asked meekly.

“Well, this guy totally freaks, of course,” the man continued. “All he’s thinking is that he and his wife had to get out of there, no matter how and NOW. 

He runs out of the church and back to his car. Only his wife isn’t in the car. ‘WHERE IS MY WIFE?!’, he screams.” Carol flinched as the man’s voice rose 

to a shout. 

“Are we close to my grandmother’s house?” she asked, her voice tremulous. She could feel her eyes filling with tears.

“One of the kids points to the cornfield,” the man continued, ignoring Carol’s question. “And says, ‘She ran into the cornfield’.” So the guy frantically 

runs into the cornfield too, looking for his wife. He spends hours running up and down the rows, searching and calling out her name. Finally, when it’s just 

 

getting dark, he sees a figure in the distance. And runs up, and what do you think he sees?” He turns and shines his light again on Carol.

“I don’t know,” she said, crying. “Are we close to my grandmother’s house?”

“He sees his wife,” the man said, his voice triumphant. “Crucified on a cross, with corn stalks stuffed down her open mouth and empty eye sockets. 

Just like the crucified Jesus in the church!”

“That’s a horrible story!” Carol sobbed. “Why did you tell it? I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s William,” the man said in a low even voice. “William Phillips. But you can call me Billy. Hell, go ahead and call me Crazy Billy if you like. I don’t 

mind.” He held the flashlight under his chin, making his face look monstrous.

“Is that suppose to be funny?” she cried, her shoulders shaking.

“Do you want to see my driver’s license?” Billy asked. He took a few steps forward and pushed the corn in front of him aside. There was open space 

ahead, and a cool evening breeze wafted through the corn stalks. “Your grandmother’s house is straight ahead,” he said, his voice cold.

Carol pushed past him and ran towards the house. She gave one quick glance behind her, worrying that Billy might be chasing her. But he was just 

standing at the edge of the cornfield, watching. She wasn’t sure in the dim light, but it looked like he was grinning.

The house was dark, except for the porch light, which meant that her grandmother had gone to bed. Carol raced up the steps to her room. The walls were thin, and she buried her face in a pillow so that she wouldn’t wake her grandmother up with her sobs.

Written By: Clint Seiter

About the Author: Clint Seiter, a longtime inhabitant of San Francisco, is now retired and loving every minute of it. He has been a prolific writer, with seven anthologies of his stories published under his former pen name Bob Vickery. He is also an avid gardener, a passionate reader and a perpetual student.

Contact: Kharmanci@gmail.com
Contact: Kharmanci@gmail.com

 

Visual Art “Foggy Hill” By: Kerim Harmanci

About the Artist: Kerim Harmanci – raised in PA and NY – is a San Francisco photographer and student at City College, currently taking darkroom and lighting classes as well as peer mentoring and doing aerial drone photography on his days off.

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