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Children of the Corn

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"Children of the Corn" is a short story written by Stephen King. The story was originally published in the March 1977 issue of Penthouse, and was later included in King's own 1978 collection Night Shift.

Plot

Burt and Vicky, a bickering couple who is trying to save their marriage, are driving to California for a vacation. As they're driving through Nebraska, they accidentally run over a young boy who ran into the road. They get out of the car and look at the body. They discover that the boy's throat had been slit and he was almost dead when he was hit. They decide to report this to the police and place the body in their car's trunk. They decide to go to Gatlin (a small, isolated community which is right down the road) and look for help. Although Vicky suggests taking the corpse to the county capital, which is seventy miles away, Burt overrules that when he says doing that will cast suspicion on them and possibly get them arrested for manslaughter. When they get there, they discover no people in sight. Walking around the outskirts of town, Burt and Vicki find buildings in disrepair, to include a 76 gas station and a Howard Johnson's, both of which advertise outdated prices far lower from the towns they just traveled from. Vicky is spooked by all this and begs Burt to flee Gatlin immediately, but Burt suggests staying until they get to the town square, where there will likely be the police station. Burt and Vicky soon arrive at the town square, where they find shops and residences unattended, further suggesting evidence of a ghost town. However, in stark contrast to all this, Gatlin's church looks reverently taken care of. Vicky stays in the car while Burt goes into the church to find clues. Inside the church, Burt sees the cross is displayed in an inverted manner. The church organ is unable to play, and corn stalks have been stuffed into its pipes. Burt approaches the altar, where he sees a King James Bible with several pages torn out and the town registry. Burt finally realizes the shocking truth about Gatlin. 12 years ago, all the parents and adults were murdered. He also sees the registry of births and deaths, and sees every child died on his or her 19th birthday. In addition, all the names of the children were changed, with modern American names being replaced with Biblical ones, for example Zack being changed to Zachariah and Allison being renamed Abigail. Vicky then honks the horn, and Burt rushes out of the church to see Vicky sitting in the car surrounded by children wearing Amish-style clothing. The children attack Burt and Vicky and manage to destroy their car. They kidnap Vicky, drag her into the cornfield, kill her and hang her on a cross. Burt, however, wards them off when he uses a kitchen knife which he had taken earlier from the Howard Johnson's, using it to attack the biggest kid in the group. This causes him to bleed to death, and the other children are momentarily stunned by the defeat of their squad leader, giving Burt the opportunity for escape. They chase him, but he manages to outrun them. He runs into the cornfield and wanders around until he reaches a circle of empty ground in the middle, where he finds Vicky's body on a crucifix made out of corn stalks. He also finds two men who have been crucified, presumably at the child revolt 12 years ago; only their skeletons remain. One skeleton is wearing priestly robes and a frock, the other wearing a blue uniform with a tarnished badge that says "POLICE CHIEF", and Burt surmises they must have been Gatlin's pastor and police chief. Before Burt can escape, a being with glowing red eyes shows up and kills him. The next evening, the children gather in the cornfield. A 9-year-old boy named Isaac, who is the cult's leader, tells them that He Who Walk Behind the Rows is displeased with their sacrifice because they were unable to also catch and kill Burt. He Who Walks Behind the Rows had to do the job himself, just as he had to do so earlier with "the Blue Man" and "the false Minister". As a punishment, Issac declares that the age limit will be lowered to "eighteen harvests of corn", meaning death will now come at 18 years of age instead of 19. That night, all of the 18 year olds in Gatlin walk into the cornfield and offer themselves to He Who Walks Behind the Rows. One of these is Issac's lieutenant, named Malachi. Malachi's wife, Ruth, is pregnant with their child, and expresses anger and sadness that their baby will grow up without a father. Ruth would like nothing more to burn all the corn and burn Gatlin to the ground, but controls herself as she knows He Who Walks Behind the Rows not only sees all, he can read hearts. The story ends by saying that the corn surrounding Gatlin is pleased.

Adaptations

The story was adapted into a film in 1984 (leading to a series of movies), and was later remade in 2009.

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