The following is a fictionalized account based on the author’s recent visit to Dead North at the Great Vermont Corn Maze in North Danville.
“Dan, I think we’re lost.”
“We’re not lost, Sarah,” Dan said over the crunch of car wheels on gravel, the little red sedan shaking as it sped along the dirt road. Beyond the windshield, fading light bathed a barren cornfield in an autumnal glow. The spiky remains of corn stalks poked from the ground in endless neat rows. “At least, not yet. Oh, hey. Turn this up.”
Sarah reached for the stereo, and the Marketts’ “Out of Limits” filled the car.
“That opening riff always makes me think of ‘The Twilight Zone.’”
“You are such a dork,” said Sarah, shaking her head. “So, what is this thing again? Dead Head North?”
“Dead North. It’s some hokey haunted corn maze or something. I’ve heard it’s fun,” Dan said, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Supposedly, there were a bunch of murders there, like, 100 years ago,” he continued.
“Oh, fun,” said Sarah, rolling her eyes toward the passenger side window, where tall, spindly trees blocked the last of the day’s light.
“The story I heard was that there were these weird French Canadian brothers, the Boucher brothers, I think. They moved down from Québec to some old Vermont boom town called North Village to become farmers.”
“Boo-sher, huh?” Sarah said. “Doesn’t sound very French.”
“That’s Vermont French, kiddo. Anyway, it turns out the Bouchers didn’t have much of a green thumb and really sucked at farming. So they opened a slaughterhouse. Care to guess what the locals called them?”
“Um, the Butcher brothers?”
“Gold star for you! So, one year, one of the brothers went missing. That led people to start wondering what was really in the meat.”
“It gets better. When the other brother died a few years later, he left the family business to his three deformed sons. But North Village had pretty much become, pardon the pun, a ghost town by then after the railroad went through St. J. So they didn’t have much of a clientele. Except for a traveling freak show, the Benson Brothers Family Circus, who had camped in the fields by the slaughterhouse to work on their act.”
“I don’t like where this is going.”
“Nope. That winter there was a crazy blizzard. Real apocalyptic shit. The town was cut off for a week. When it was finally accessible again, the authorities found the circus camp totally ransacked, everything covered in blood, and no sign of the Bensons. Or the Bouchers.”
“So the Bouchers killed the circus freaks?”
“Or vice versa. No one really knows. Point is, now every year in October, the town does the haunted corn maze thing in the cornfield next to the old slaughterhouse to, I don’t know, commemorate the killings, I guess.”
“How cute. Nothing like making light of mass murder.”
“I’m sure it’s all bullshit, babe. It’s just a gag.”
“And we really have to do this?”
“I have to do the story. Such is the glamorous life of a small-town journalist. But don’t worry. I’ll protect you from the bored teenagers in hockey masks.”
“I’m sure,” said Sarah, gazing out the window as the car approached the crumbling remains of an old farmhouse along the roadside. Weeds grew tall against its rotted, gray walls. Most of the windows had been broken.
“You know, I really think we’re lost.”
“Maybe we should stop and ask for directions,” Dan said with a grin, slowing the car and nodding at the darkened house.
“Deal. Let’s just keep going. I’m sure we’ll find it,” said Dan. “Oh, look. There’s a sign. Sort of.”
A battered cardboard sign was duct-taped to a stop sign at a fork in the road. It read “MAZE” in black marker with an arrow pointing right.
“There we go,” Dan said, steering the Volkswagen down a narrow dirt road. “See? I told you we weren’t lost.”
A few miles later, they came upon a large red barn. Dan turned the car into an empty parking lot beside it.
“Huh.” he said. “Looks pretty dead.”
“Very funny,” said Sarah. “Are you sure this is it?”
“There’s a sign that says ‘Dead North,’” said Dan, pointing across the road at a cluster of small outbuildings. “I think we go there.”
They exited the car and made their way toward the buildings. On one of the far structures, a soft yellow light flickered above the large door.
“Come on. This way.”
The door groaned as Dan opened it. Inside, the sharp musk of farm animals hung in the air.
At the far end of the dirt floor, a small woman, dressed head to toe in black, sat at a table beneath a buzzing light. Her dark hair fell in limp strands over a seemingly featureless face.
“Hello?” Dan called across the room. “Is this Dead N—”
“Welcome, Mr. Bolles,” the woman said, her creaky voice thin and raspy. “We’ve been expecting you for some time. Please, hurry now. They’re waiting. They’re all waiting.”
The woman extended a bony arm toward a back door that seemed to open on its own. Outside, a tractor stood running with a coughing idle. Behind it was attached a covered metal wagon.
The icy whisper seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. Dan turned back to the building to find the source of the voice — the woman, he assumed. The door was closed.
“Did you hear that?”
“I think we’re supposed to get in the wagon,” said Sarah, taking Dan’s hand. Hesitant, he followed her up the metal steps into the wagon.
“I thought you were going to protect me,” she chided, smiling.
The interior was almost pitch black. They sat on a bench just as the tractor began to move. It lumbered for several minutes, jostling over a bumpy trail before finally coming to rest.
Stepping out of the wagon, they found another shabby building, this one brightly lit. From inside they could hear the hum of a party. A familiar, tinny melody wafted above the chatter.
I go walking, after midnight…
“Is that Patsy Cline?” Dan said, turning an ear toward the sound.
They moved inside, where a throng of people dressed in Halloween costumes stood gathered in front of a stage.
“Where are all their cars?” said Sarah, looking at the crowd. “The parking lot was deserted.”
“Dunno. But I do feel underdressed. Let’s get closer,” Dan said as they moved into the crowd.
A faded banner announcing Marko the Magician hung at the back of the stage. Clad in red satin, a portly magician stood at center stage. Beneath a red devil mask that covered his eyes and nose, a jagged pink scar ran down his cheek to a black mustache.
“Good evening,” Marko boomed to the crowd as the music stopped. “The Benson Family Traveling Circus is delighted you’re here. You’ll have a hell of a time, I promise. A hell of a time.” He smiled, the movement twisting his gnarled scar. “But do watch out for those Butcher boys, won’t you?”
Then he paused, tilting his head as if listening to some phantom voice.
“Ah. They’re ready for you. Step this way. Quickly now.”
Dan and Sarah followed the crowd into a dark hallway past the stage that ended at a large wooden door. At odd intervals, the door would open, and costumed children led small groups of people through it. Finally, the couple reached the front of the queue. The door opened.
“I guess this is us,” Dan said, reaching for Sarah’s hand. They stepped through the door, and it closed loudly behind them.
A long, narrow path stretched before them. On either side, stalks of corn reached high into a silent, moonlit sky.
“Wow. It just got really cold,” said Sarah, hugging herself and watching her breath steam into the night air as they slowly moved into the maze. Then she stopped. “Where did everyone else go? Shouldn’t we hear them, at least?”
“Uh, I don’t know. We should probably keep going.”
Just then the stalks beside them rustled.
“Did you see that?” said Dan.
“See what?” Sarah asked.
“I think there’s something in the corn.”
“Is it the Butcher brothers?” she teased.
Come play with us, Dan.
“OK. You heard that, right?” said Dan, looking around nervously.
“I didn’t hear anyth— What was that?” Sarah pointed at a spot down the path. A small, dark figure darted across and back into the corn. Then another, from the opposite direction. There was a faint sound of children giggling.
Play with us, Sarah.
“Maaaaybe we should go back,” said Sarah, stepping backward.
As she turned, she came face-to-face with a tall, shadowy figure. He stood motionless, save for the heavy rise and fall of his chest. A stench of rotting meat filled the air with each strained, steaming breath.
Play. Play. PLAY!
Sarah shrieked and fell backward, tripping over Dan, grabbing him as she scrambled to keep her balance. Dan uttered a wordless gasp as he turned to see the figure gliding toward them.
“Go, Sarah! Go!”
They broke into a run, sprinting through the corn maze around tight, blind corners, the stalks seeming to grab for them as they ran. They reached a large gray building and finally collapsed in a breathless heap by a dented metal door.
“What was that?” Sarah yelled between gasps of air.
“I don’t know.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know, Sarah! I don’t even know where we are … oh, my God.”
Their eyes drifted upward. Above them loomed a sign, painted on rusty metal: Boucher Brothers Slaughterhouse.
“We need to go. Now,” said Dan, pulling Sarah to her feet.
With a hollow bang, the door burst open. A cloud of blue smoke and the smell of gasoline filled the air.
Dan and Sarah both screamed, but the unmistakable roar of a chainsaw subsumed their panicked howls. Through the smoke, a hulking figure staggered toward them, holding the saw high above its head.
Again they ran into the corn, which closed in around them. They swiped frantically with their arms, trying to smash it back. They kicked at it. But it kept coming, tearing at their clothes. Behind them, the revving whine of the chainsaw grew closer, punctuated by a high, hysterical laugh.
Where are you going? We’ve been waiting for you. Play with us. Play with us forever.
Finally, Sarah and Dan burst through the corn and spied a building with a large door. They sprinted for it, yanked it open and tumbled into the building.
They landed face down on a dirt floor, again catching the musk of farm animals. In the distance sounded a familiar, tinny melody.
I go walking, after midnight…
Dan pushed himself up on his elbows and lifted his gaze. By a far wall under a buzzing light sat a woman with dark, stringy hair that fell over a seemingly featureless face.
“Welcome, Mr. Bolles,” the woman said, her voice thin and raspy.
“We’ve been expecting you for some time. Please, hurry now. They’re waiting. They’re all waiting.”
Dan Bolles recently interviewed Dead North owner/operator Mike Boudreau about the inner workings of his haunted corn maze for the Seven Days blog Live Culture. For more info on Dead North, check out vermontcornmaze.com/haunted.html.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Fright Night"