Tales of Moore, Indiana


“Will you hurry it up Rodge” Mike shouted impatiently shivering against the night chill. He wished he had brought a bottle of something intoxicating with him, just to fight off the chill. Rodger Pike emerged from the stalks of corn and struck a match lighting a cigarette. Rodger was a foreigner to these parts, selling out of his big city life style to manage the Dairy Frost on route 1. “Goddammit Rodger!” exclaimed Mike. “Are you stupid or something, put that thing out before you set the field on fire and get us all killed.” There had been no rain for days and the corn was dry, smoking a cigarette in these conditions could easily start a flash fire.

“Ok, ok” Rodger stammered “Jesus” he drunkenly uttered as he tossed the cigarette to the ground. He thought Mike was full of shit, he thought Mike was just playing big man to impress Nancy. Even an idiot could see the attraction between the two of them.

Mike led the procession through the maze, Nancy close behind him. Nancy tripped over a furrow in the ground grabbing onto Mike. Quickly he grasped her hand and steadied her on her feet. “You don’t have to let go” she whispered. They were several feet ahead of the others and in the darkness and tall corn, no one could see, he clasped her hand in his savoring the moment and led them on.

Beth stumbled her way through the maze her little flashlight barely making a dent in the darkness. She could hear voices of fellow maze wanderers in the distance ahead of her. She shivered looking up at the stalks of corn which loomed in the glow of the moon. She was starting to get a little scared. She slipped her bottle of Crown Royal out of her bag, taking a big gulp of it, grateful for the warmth and comfort it provided. The cornstalks to her left began to shake and rattle “OOOOOOOHHHH I am the ghost of the great pumpkin coming to get yooooouuuuuuuu!” a voice moaned. To her right she could hear a voice whispering “Jaaaaasssssonnn, Jaaasssoooonnnn, Killlll, killlll.”

“All right you fuckers, c’mon out. You’re not scaring me!” she cried out against the darkness. Truth was; she was a little freaked. A screech behind her and hands were on her shoulders forcing her to the ground, her brother was on top of her wrestling the bottle of Crown Royal out of her grasp. His cronies bounded out of the cornstalks on either side of her. They heehawed and laughed in chorus, passing the bottle of Crown Royal amongst them. “You son of a bitch” she cried out as she kneed her brother gently in his private parts, taking the bottle from him and hurriedly downing what was left of its contents.

“Oh, it’s too late, my buddy has already been drained for the night” he cackled shooting a devilish grin toward Chrissie. “Let’s get out of here” he said as he sauntered through the labyrinth of corn. Begrudgingly, Beth followed the group, even her brother was better than being alone. She led up the rear, helping Chrissie pick her way through the furrows.

“Oh, Beau, this is kind of scary” Laura whispered as she leaned into him holding his arm tightly. She really wasn’t scared, at least not of the maze. She was nervous and jittery, her heart pounding. Beau was gong to be her first, she was going to let him take her tonight, she had hoped for her first time to be full of candles, violins, romance, not in moldy stalks of dried corn. She pulled closer, just as an excuse to be close to him and to turn him on.

“Fear not my love, I am here to protect my beautiful queen” Beau said making a gallant bow. The fallen stalks of corn crunched beneath her tennis shoes, the ears of corn on the ground bending the soles as she walked over them. The couple stumbled their way through the maze and wandered upon a dead end. Beau grasped her hand tightly and led her into the depths of corn.

“Beau, I don’t think this is the way” Laura said. He ignored her protests and navigated her through the stalks and into a bear spot. “This is perfect” he thought to himself. The bear spot surrounded by the tall stalks of dry corn provided for ultimate privacy. The spot had most likely been made by deer, which had been chased away from their habitat by the droves of adventurers.

He sat down in the midst of the fallen stalks and guided her down beside him. “Beau, what are we doing here?” she asked. He ignored her protests and pulled her toward him kissing her and caressing her hair. Her protests became weaker and weaker, she yielded to his advances.

The abandoned cigarette butt landed in a clearing such as the one that Beau and Laura now occupied, forgotten about it smoldered, causing the dry, fallen stalks to smoke and heat up. Three components are necessary to start a fire; fuel, ignition, and oxygen; this little cigarette butt, in this big field had an unlimited supply of oxygen and fuel which it greedily consumed

Mike and his drunken followers ran into dead end after dead end. Mike was sobering up and becoming more and more frustrated with himself. “I thought you knew the way out” one of them proclaimed from the rear of the assembly. The protestor a red headed barfly from the neighboring burg of Huntstown had agreed to go on this adventure because she was hoping to get close to Mike. She was hoping he’d notice the fact that she was single, ready, and willing. To date, he had not.

“Just shut up back there!” Mike exclaimed. “I’ll get us out and back to town before the bar closes, and then you can buy my beer for the rest of the night.” He turned the group around and began retracing their steps. The moon was high in the sky, shining down on them like a spot light. He could hear the whirring of semi tires on pavement; they had to be close to the highway by now. If nothing else, he could get them to the highway and they could follow it back to the house.

A pungent fragrance struck his nose, a smoky, heavy, choking scent like that of burning leaves. In the distance, toward what he perceived to be the center of the field, he could see white clouds of smoke rising and orange flame licking skyward, the field was on fire. What was at first an adventure was now life or death, he had to get them out of the field fast, or none of them would make last call, ever again.

He didn’t want to start a panic; he had burned out enough fields after the harvest to know how quickly a fire could spread. He grabbed Nancy’s hand even tighter and led the group away from the path and into the rows of corn. “Where are we going?” the barfly named Miranda, Randy for short, asked.

“Were getting the hell out of here, I need a beer” Mike replied as he led the group toward what he believed was the highway. Led the group to what he hoped was the highway.

Beth and the others stumbled drunkenly through the maze toward the center. Beth smelled the smoke as did the others but they summed that it must be coming from someone burning fall leaves, they did not perceive that they were in any immanent danger. The closer they got to the center, the heavier the smoke became, aberrant leaves from the corn stalks wafted up on drafts of hot air sparking and curling they floated carried by the gentle fall breeze, landing in another part of the field, quickly igniting it.

Jake was the first to see the flames jutting up toward the moon, making it appear an angry shade of red-orange. “Beth” he said coughing on the smoke. “We gotta’ get out’ a here.” Her eyes widened in fear as she saw the flames in their macabre dance against the dark of the night sky. She pulled her brother into the dirt of the field; the smoke had become so thick she could hardly breathe. They began to crawl retracing their previous steps. The fire seemed to become a living thing, having seen them; it began to pursue them as a hunter pursues its prey.

Beau had convinced his love to let him past second base, gently he caressed her sliding his hands up under her bra and down into her panties. They were too overcome by passion to notice the dangerous situation they were being surrounded by. Gingerly she touched his manhood; she liked the way it pulsed against her hand. “I’ve got protection” he muttered into her ear.

He had become a mass of male hormone running on instinct, stopping him now would have been as futile as trying to put out the fire which was encroaching upon them with a garden hose. She slid her jeans down her narrow girlish hips giving her authorization for him to proceed. He couldn’t believe his luck! After all these months of patiently waiting, she was giving in. She was rewarding him for being a good boyfriend, faithful and true. Eagerly he ripped the package to the rubber open with his teeth, slid it on; just the way they had taught him in 9th grade health class, and entered her. “Life is great” he thought to himself as he rocked in that archaic rhythm of pure instinct and drive.

Mrs. Jones greedily counted the nights proceeds, crumpled up 5’s, 1’s and10’s. She had sold gallon after gallon of her “homemade apple cider” which was purchased from the Food Shoppe in Bakersville for $1.99 a gallon. She thought when Nancy saw her, she’d blow her cover, but she hadn’t. Obviously, Nancy had her mind on other things, nameingly Mike. Mrs. Jones cackled to herself, now that would make an interesting topic in the beauty shop on Monday. Mrs. Jones looked up, after smelling the heavy, pungent, odor of burning leaves. She wondered what her husband was up to, what was he burning now? She couldn’t just leave their guests although the hour was late approaching midnight. “Where in the hell was he?” she thought to herself. She looked around to see what was burning, when she noticed the flame and the smoke rising from the field. She dropped the remainder of her counterfeit apple cider leaving it to be absorbed into the dry; rain starved ground, and ran to find her husband.

The Moore Fire Department consisted of one tanker truck and a rag tag band of volunteers. Old Man Jones’ fingers trembled as he dialed 9-1-1. His voice cracked and wavered as he gave directions to his farm. His heart pounded, he too had seen fields on fire, he knew how fast they could spread, he knew how much danger his guests were in, he feared for the worst. The farm was 5 miles from town, he could hear the siren sounding, rousing the volunteers and towns people from slumber; someone was in trouble, that someone was him. He rushed out of the house slamming the screen door behind him, almost ripping it away from its hinges. He hurried to the well cover, straining to open it, the tanker truck only held 2000 gallons. They would need more, much, much, more. Mrs. Jones stood on the old wooden porch, her hand clasped to her mouth, as she heard the first of the screams wafting on the cool night air, had the fire claimed its first victim? Crying, she dropped to her knees and began to pray.

Lieutenant David Grimes was aroused from his slumber by the tones from his emergency radio and from the siren which could be heard throughout the town. Sleepily he rose out of bed and slid on his faded jeans. Fumbling through the dark of the bedroom, he found his boots and keys. He looked up to see the outline of a small child in the doorway. “Gotta go daddy?” the little girl asked looking up at him.

He picked her up, slung her over his shoulder, patting her on the butt, and lowered her gently into the bed where she had been conceived. He pulled the covers over her; her mother sleepily snuggled against the small child, a tender age of 3. He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek saying “Don’t you worry about a thing, you keep your mother company and I’ll be back soon.” The child was drifting off to sleep as he shut the kitchen door and headed to the truck through the cool night air.

At the fire station, the volunteers were assembling, donning on fire boots and coats, warming up the engine to the tanker truck and preparing for their duty. David pulled up to the station and got the report, another field fire; common for this time of year. Most likely some idiot had been throwing a cigarette out of a car window that started the fire. The only difference was that there were people in the field, wandering through a maze in the darkness, lost and confused, he knew what they were up against. He knew there wasn’t much they could do.

He pulled the truck out of the station and gunned the engine racing toward highway 41. He called for backup from neighboring counties. He would need all of the help he could get.

Mike and the others fought their way through the almost unyielding stalks of corn, it was as if the corn taken on substance and body; determined not to let them go. The fire was closer now, stray sparks and flaming leaves of corn fell around them. Behind them the fire seemed to talk, roaring at first then wooing, taunting them as it came closer and closer. A stray burning leaf landed on lapel of Rodger’s Carhartt jacket, quickly setting it to smolder. In a panic, he threw the jacket to the ground stomping on it and cursing profusely. He yowled out in pain, the back of his neck was burned and the scent of burned flesh and hair hung heavily around him. Nancy looked back, grabbing his arm stating “C’mon lets get out of here and I’ll buy you a nice cold beer.” Rodger readily obeyed.

Mike was fighting his way through the corn, he thought to himself about how much he hated corn; popcorn, creamed corn, corn on the cob, corn bread; he despised all forms of corn. He vowed to himself that if he got out of this he was never going to look at another ear of corn again. He was going to get his shit together and move so far away that he would never see it again, never.

It was the red flash of sirens that pulled Mike out of his revere. In the distance, directly ahead of him, he could hear sirens, “Thank God, someone had called 9-1-1” he thought to himself. They were close now, close to the road; he picked up his pace encouraging the others to keep up.

Beth and Jake crawled through the field on their bellies like snakes, the rough and sharp edges of the fallen ears of corn and leaves, nipping and their fragile skin. “I swear to you Lord, if you get us out of this, I’ll never smoke pot again. I’ll become a straight A student, I’ll dedicate my life to the priesthood” vowed Jake. Chrissie poked along behind them, her dress kept snagging on the fallen stalks, slowing her progress. It was almost as if the corn had hands and they reached out grabbing her, trying to hold her steadfast so that the fire could consume her. Harried, she pulled the violet gown of satin and lace over her head leaving it behind her, proceeding through the rough dirt and furrows in her bra and panties.

The fire was dangerously close now, it popped and hissed behind her like some great monster; it threw sparks which landed on her legs; burning, and searing her flesh. She tried to ignore the pain as she struggled to keep up with the others. The smoke threatened choke her, her eyes watered, she gasped for breath, and she was dizzy and weak. She had to stop for a minute and rest; she lay down in the dirt, the furrow making a pillow for her head. She slipped into a dream of sorts; she didn’t struggle as the fire claimed her body.

Forgetting about Chrissie, in a trance like survival mode, Jake and Beth crawled onward, staying just seconds in front of the fire.

Laura lay on her back, looking up at the night sky; she could smell and see the smoke in the air and wondered where it was coming from. Beau, played with a lock of her hair, he was happy and had never known such bliss. It was better than he had anticipated, better than the porno’s that he snuck out of his dad’s bottom drawer, better than his friends had said. “Life is great” he thought to himself. He too smelled the smoke and wondered where it was coming from. He hopped up onto his feet and quickly discovered its source. “Grab your clothes, we gotta go now!” he exclaimed pulling Laura onto her feet and dragging her through the rows of corn. Her crown lay in the field forgotten. The fire melted the dazzling rhinestones and gold plate into a shimmering mass. The wind suddenly changed directions and picked up, turning the fire to find its next victim. Beau and Laura struggled as the fire lapped at them, teasing them in a fury of pain and suffering.

Tears streamed down Laura’s face as she grabbed onto Beau who had already succumbed to the breathtaking smoke. “I love you” she said as the flames crept up her body, engulfing her hair, in agony she cried out, falling to the ground. Her last thought was of her crown, where had her crown gone?

The Fire Department raced up the drive to the house, David bounded out, greeted by Old Man Jones. The old man gave sketchy details; he couldn’t recall how many people bought tickets and might still be in the maze. Even though the task was futile, the firemen hooked hoses up to the tanker and began to pour water onto the field. David instructed the men to take off their air packs; no one would be going into the field for rescue attempts. The fire had engulfed over half the field and was spreading rapidly, too rapidly to risk anyone’s life.

Mike and his group stumbled onto the highway, they had made it out. At first, they weren’t sure exactly which road they were on or which way they should go. They began to walk, any direction was better than the one they had come from. Once they were a safe distance from the fire, they looked back. The flames shot high into the night sky, the smoke drowned out the light from the moon, making it look menacing and bleak. “How many more were in there, how many won’t make it out” Mike wondered to himself, he shuddered at the thought. All of the members of the group were lost in their own thoughts, glad to be alive, guilty to be living, pondering what to do with the enigma of being given a second chance. In silence, the group walked on.

Beth and Jake crawled on for what seemed an eternity, no one else was with them, Jake’s cronies had disappeared into the smoke and flame. Finally, they reached the edge of the entrance, coughing and gasping for air. They felt strong hands grabbing them, pulling them from the edge of the field. They heard voices questioning them “How many were with you?” “Did you see anyone?” “How do you feel?” “Where are your parents?” Neither Jake nor Beth had answers to the onslaught of questions. They were silent, grateful to be alive. The emergency medical technicians, poked and prodded them, putting oxygen on them, starting IV lines, loading them into the backs of ambulances and transporting them to the local hospital for treatment. Neither one of them was capable of saying a word, both in an emotional shock. Neither one of them would ever say a word about that night again. Neither one of them would ever travel down that road again, ever.

By the time the sun was rising in the autumn sky, the fire had burned itself out. Smoke rose from the smoldering ash, the rescue squads and other townspeople searched the ashes for survivors, more accurately, for bodies. Laura’s crown was found; it gleamed against the morning sun, catching the eye of a rescuer. It lay there silently glittering, casting off the reflection from the new day. The rescuer picked up the twisted metal and rhinestone declaration of victory and handed it to Laura’s mother, who had been crying since the police pounded on her door; delivering the grim news.

No bodies were found, only the crown. No one knew exactly who or how many lives the fire had claimed. There were no dental records to research, no autopsies to be performed. Nothing.

A small memorial service was held for Laura, her crown placed upon a pillow for showing, then buried in the local cemetery. Beau’s mother left town never to return, she wanted a fresh start and followed Mike on his adventure to the west coast. Chrissie’s family erected a monument at the school in memory of the students that were lost. Dozens of onlookers drove up and down highway 41 day and night for weeks. The highway was littered with flowers, cards, letters, and candles left in memory of those who had died. Old Man Jones and his wife put the property on the market and moved to Bakersville to live out the rest of their days in a senior housing project.

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