Two years ago I was a demented zombie-doll, roaming the remote cornfields of Southwest Iowa City in search of children to spook.
On October 25, 2013, my best friend Maya Rodrigues (a decrepit ghoul) and I were scarers for Field of Screams, a haunted corn maze crawling with volunteer ghosts, ghouls, zombies and witches throughout the month of October.
The annual Halloween hullabaloo is put on by the Iowa City/Coralville Jaycees: The Iowa Junior Chamber. Maya and I volunteered for the event through the University of Iowa’s 10,000 Hours Show, an organization dedicated to community service and student volunteerism on campus.
Regardless of the sentiment, Field of Screams would not fall under your typical definition of community service. Maya and I had more fun with the holiday-themed philanthropy than we did with the boozy Halloween parties that followed our participation in the event a week later.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be boring, and Field of Screams is a testament to the rewarding nature of community service.
Sitting hidden in a carefully-constructed corn maze munching on Cheetos and cold pizza, we developed a game plan. Maya—the bold one dressed in all black, a menacing 5’8 in all her long-limbed glory—was to be the screamer, jumping out from the tall dying stalks to scare unsuspecting victims. Her bloodcurdling Tarzan shriek would disorient their already unsteady gait, allowing me—the freakishly small white-faced zombie doll—to leap from the corn and into the muddied path where the people stood stunned and cowering in carefully-positioned clans. We were dangerous and powerful.
The one-two punch of fear we instilled in passerby worked excitingly well for us. We perfected our collaborative skit with each new round of guests, tweaking our exit strategy and follow-through.
Sometimes we would be silent, lingering in the shadows, our faces just moon-lit enough for the maze-goers to see our deliberate scowls and scream in anticipation of our assumed exit. But we wouldn’t move. The fear of our unknown “next move” was enough to send them kicking and screaming to a subsequent horror, just a few yards down the path.
Despite the chill that crept upon us as the night wore on, the thrill of the scare kept the blood in our coatless bodies pumping.
One partner in crime, a demonic witch with a black whip in hand, wandered the path aimlessly. She never broke from character, singing, “Nobody knooooows the trouble I’ve seeeeen—EXCEPT SATAN.”
Despite our own frightening makeup, we too were terrified of such a performance. But our allies kept us committed, throwing out encouragement and subsequent bags of Cheetos, which Maya hoarded in her bra for safekeeping. The snacks kept us sharp, allowing for tactical developments that set the bar higher for each scare to come.
The best scare of the night occurred a couple hours into the evening. We had wandered further towards the front of the maze, working our way up the trampled footpath between the lulls in activity. Trotting down the path laughing and joking to ourselves, we heard an approaching group’s screams up ahead, sound waves bouncing off a tight right curve of the maze. We scuttled into the spikey gray stalks, to wait.
Approaching like timid cattle, a diverse group of pre-teens rounded the corner. One was ballsy, the clear leader of the group, boisterously admitting she was going to hit anyone who came near her. Two others were less vocal but clearly on the lookout for danger. The last one was frantically bobbing between the other three, vying for the safest spot in the pack.
Silently mouthing a countdown, Maya bobbed her head at “One,” and we shot out of the cornstalks, growling and screeching as we ran head-on into the ring of rabble-rousers. Like a herd of spooked gazelle, each parted in a different direction, tripping over each other in a violent panic. The weakest link—the small, fleeting one—received the brunt of the attack. Screaming like she was on fire, she twisted her own body into a wriggling knot of nervous limbs and fell to the muddy ground, flapping like a dreaming dog when she hit the dark mud. Corn stalks cracked beneath her, and others toppled with her in the fall.
The pure, animalistic nature of her reaction broke my character, and I laughed with pity in my throat. Helping her up I asked, “Are you okay?” She replied with a scream and scrambled backwards, falling hard on her bum. I covered my mouth to keep from laughing again. Maya was busy chasing the other three down the winding maze with her roars, so I retreated, my stark-white face the only identifiable signal of surrender. Until the next lot, I lurked in the shadowy stalks.