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"Children of the Corn"
Night Shift (hardcover)
"Children of the Corn"
Title: "Children of the Corn"
Author: Stephen King
Country: USA
Genre: Supernatural Thriller
Published in: Penthouse Magazine
Night Shift
Publication date: March, 1977
February, 1978

Children of the Corn is a short story written by Stephen King. It was first published in the March, 1977 issue of Penthouse magazine and was later included in the Night Shift anthology collection. The story was adapted into a film in 1984 directed by Fritz Kiersch, which spawned seven sequels as well as a made-for-TV remake in 2009. The premise of the story involves a young couple who travel to the town of Gatlin, Nebraska, only to become victims of a bizarre religious cult who worship a demonic entity which they call "He Who Walks Behind the Rows".

Synopsis Edit

In an attempt to save their failing marriage, Burt and Vicky, a bickering couple, are driving to California for vacation. As they drive through rural Nebraska, the couple accidentally run over a young boy who ran into the road. Upon examination of the body, ignoring Vicky's pleas, Burt discovers the boy's throat had been slit and he was bleeding to death before he was hit. After opening the boy's suitcase, they find a crucifix made of corn husks, with INRI written on it. Knowing they will have to report this to the authorities, they place the body in their car's trunk and continue down the road. They eventually arrive in Gatlin, a small, isolated community that seems to be a ghost town. When they drive through the streets and visit an empty diner, the couple notice that many things about the town are out-of-date, such as gas prices and calendar dates. When they finally locate the police station, they find no one. After Burt and Vicky get into another argument, Vicky threatens to drive off and leave Burt stranded in Gatlin. Burt grabs her purse, takes out her car keys, and tells her that he is going to continue exploring the town. Vicky, on the verge of hysteria, stays in the car and yells at Burt, begging him to leave Gatlin and go find somewhere else to call the police. He ignores her and walks away.

The only building in use that Burt can find is a church with a recent date on the sign out front. In stark contrast with the rest of Gatlin—which has been ravaged and neglected for years—the church is reverently cared for. Inside, Burt finds that the church has been vandalized by someone who has torn the lettering off of the walls, created a strange mosaic of a pagan Jesus behind the altar, and stuffed the pipes of the organ full of corn husks and leaves. At the altar, Burt finds a King James Bible (with several pages from the New Testament cut out), and a ledger where names have been recorded, along with birth and death dates. While reading the book, he notices that the children's original names were changed from modern names to Biblical ones, and that everyone listed as deceased in the book had died on their 19th birthday. After hearing Vicky blow the car horn, Burt runs from the church to find that a gang of children armed with farm tools have surrounded the car, with Vicky still inside. Burt intervenes when they attack, and kills a boy who had injured him with a knife. He discovers that Vicky has disappeared. Upon command from an older boy, the children chase Burt through Gatlin.

Finally out-running them, Burt ducks into a cornfield and hides while his attackers search for him. He notices several odd things: there are no animals, insects, or weeds anywhere in the cornfield, and that every stalk of corn is blemish-free. Becoming lost, Burt stumbles onto a circle of empty ground in the middle of the cornfield, where he discovers Vicky's dead body. She has been tied to a cross with barbed wire, with her eyes ripped out, and her mouth stuffed with corn husks. Gatlin's previous minister and police chief, who are now skeletons, have also been crucified. As Burt starts to leave, he notices every row in the cornfield has closed up, preventing him from escaping. Burt soon realizes that something is coming for him. Before he can do anything, he is killed by a giant red-eyed monster that comes out of the cornfield. Shortly afterwards, a harvest moon appears in the sky.

The next evening, the children of Gatlin (all members of a pagan cult that worships a demonic version of the god of the Old Testament called "He Who Walks Behind the Rows" who animistically inhabits the cornfields that surround the town) meet where Burt and Vicky were slain. Isaac, their leader, tells them that He Who Walks Behind the Rows is displeased with their failure to catch and kill Burt, an act that the demon was forced to commit on his own. He Who Walks Behind the Rows commands that the age limit be lowered from "nineteen plantings and harvestings to eighteen". As night falls, Malachi (the killer of the boy that Burt and Vicky ran over) and all of the other eighteen-year-olds walk into the cornfield to sacrifice themselves to He Who Walks Behind the Rows. Malachi's pregnant girlfriend, Ruth, waves goodbye to him and begins to weep. It is revealed that she has a secret hatred for He Who Walks Behind the Rows and dreams of setting the cornfield on fire, but is afraid to actually do so because He Who Walks Behind the Rows can see everything, including the motives inside human hearts. The story ends by saying that the corn is pleased.

Characters Edit

  • Adam Greenlaw
  • Amos Deigan
  • Baby Hortense
  • Burt Robeson
  • David
  • Eve Tobin
  • Grace
  • He Who Walks Behind the Rows
  • Isaac Chroner
  • Isaac Renfrew
  • Job Gilman
  • Malachi Boardman
  • Mary Wells
  • Moses Richardson
  • Norman Staunton
  • Rachel Stigman
  • Rudy Stampnell
  • Ruth Clawson
  • Vicky Robeson
  • Yemen Hollis
  • Zepeniah Kirk

Locations Edit

  • Gatlin
  • Gatlin police station
  • Church

Items Edit

Notes & Trivia Edit

  • The story is also referenced in the 1983 book Cults: An Anthology of Secret Societies, Sects and the Supernatural.
  • Children of the Corn is the sixteenth story featured in Night Shift.
  • The acronym INRI represents the Latin inscription which in English reads as "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews".
  • In the film adaptation, Burt Robeson's name is changed to Burton Stanton. Also, Burt survives in the film whereas in the short story he does not.

See also Edit

External Links Edit

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This article relates to the works of Stephen King.
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