Kate J. Jenkins

QUEEN CORN by Kate J. Jenkins

The teacher turned to her class and smiled, careful to keep her expression wistful, melancholy.  Her eyes lingered briefly on the empty chairs— the first student taken, far right, two from the front; the second, dead center, back row.  After the coming weekend, if all went as the school board had decreed, two rows from the left wall, four rows back would be vacant too.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath of satisfaction at a job well done.  They’d assume concern about the missing students.  Instead, when she looked up, twenty-five pairs of eyes, flat and glinting in the overhead florescents, appraised her too intently.

“Okay!” She actually clapped, apparently nervous.  “Everyone take out your anthology.  Turn to page 59, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.”  She loved her little, cruel jokes–make them read this horrifying bit, them not knowing it was a mirror she was holding up to their own faces.

All of them opened their books, but with a newfound unity.  Even the slow, cow-like, Nillssen girl was in step.  Was it Shelly?  Shannon?  She, who missed the first three weeks of school helping her family bring in their paltry corn crop.  She, who wore the same pair of men’s Levi’s jeans five days straight, the denim getting dirtier, stinking more of her heavy, hormonal body as the week wore toward Friday.  The teacher had noticed how by Thursday, sometimes even late Wednesday depending on the humidity, the boys could smell the girl.  She’d had seen how it got them unconsciously agitated.  And because Shannon was the weakest of high-school prey, eventually they’d get aggressive, someday perhaps, violent.  Yes, the school board was making the right decision regarding these ones.

What was it then the thick girl had open, laid alongside the Jackson piece on her desk?  The teacher could not see and so marched over and grabbed it up.  A paperback copy of Night Shift, open to The Children of the Corn, so dog-eared the corners were turned velvet.  Between the pages, the girl had stuck a piece of silky-young, green, corn husk for her bookmark.

“Good for you.”  The teacher said.  “Children of the Corn can be compared to The Lottery.  Though Mr. King’s story ultimately fails.  Teenagers able to give birth to and raise enough youngsters to keep a community going just doesn’t pass.  Ms. Jackson’s selective sacrifice is far more…sustainable.”

Shannon Nillssen stared at the teacher with open hostility, her mouth starting to pull a smile that revealed large, milky teeth.  Other students were following suit, placing their palms on their desks as they prepared to raise their strong, farm-sized bodies from small seats.

The teacher stepped to the door, left before they were up and advancing on her.  She used her staff key to lock them in and remembered how she’d failed to perform the duties she’d contracted with the board to perform.  She’d have to tell the board immediately—they’d protect her, help get her out of town, if only to cover their own asses.

But how strange?  All five board members now stood at the end of the dimly lit hall.  Left, through the frosted glass window of the classroom door, she saw shapes roiling, closer to escape.

She ran toward the board members, but they’d spread into a line, five abreast.  And then the teacher understood.  Her Lit class would not have to break down the door—they would already have the key.  At the other end of the hall stood two figures, Jessa Deakin and Micah Feller, those she’d delivered to the board.

Her students carried Shannon Nillssen on their shoulders. She wore a too-tight t-shirt that read “Queen Corn” above the print of a crown, phallic corn ears forming its royal points.

“You were right about killing off the adults, Miss .  Doesn’t work in breeding livestock either,” said Queen Corn, her voice raspy and sugary, the way a cob tastes when it’s grilled with sweet butter.  “And sure, we know the land needs a fallow season and a little blood in order to keep producing.  But Ms. Jackson was wrong—no reason we got to take that blood from our own in some game of chance.”