Sunday Stories: “Ear”


by Claire Hopple

We’re not supposed to see this. We’re just a couple of kids. Still, old enough to be culpable. Our eyes slowly adjust to the scene but nothing else adjusts. The facts start to land on us: Someone has torn apart Sofia’s cornfield. An individual has committed mayhem in the shape of a corn maze on our next-door neighbor’s property. An ordinary townsperson is at the forefront of corn maze design, but also maybe at the forefront of destruction. 

The aftermath is puddling around us, and it’s serious business. Look closely and watch us take inventory of what could lead to our ruin.

Mowed-down stalks form a small hill at the edge of her property. They gleam in the sun like pointed fingers. 

We know how this goes. It’s easy to find a scapegoat in a small town like ours. 

Sofia commutes an immeasurable distance to make her fortune in pottery. Her plates and cups are recognized the world over. Pretty much everyone here is flummoxed by the mysterious power of her solitude. That aloneness doesn’t automatically translate to loneliness, at least for her. And for some of us, it actually works the opposite way.

You see now that Sofia is a winner. She inherited this cornfield. She doesn’t even tend to it. A handful of high schoolers like us arrive once a year to detassel the rows. Who knows what happens to the corn after that. 

Then we see him. It’s Gabe. One of our classmates. He’s walking out of the field all soaked with sweat and carrying a machete. We’re not sure if he dismantled the stalks in a deep trance or if he’s less of a coward than we thought. Will he come forward if questioned?

All of a sudden we’re surrounded. We wonder how long they’ve been standing here, this batch of citizens. They’ve come to find the culprit. No, wait. In the back of our minds, we can see them stride through the yard and fan out right after Gabe escapes wholly intact.

We assume our places as ignorant onlookers. Dirty Mrs. Watts shouts something without conviction, but it’s enough to incite the crowd’s appetite for justice.

Gabe’s getaway is a secret. We aren’t up to circulating a vague cover story. It’s clear we haven’t worked out the details. 

They all confer for a hot minute, then agree to reconvene once Sofia has returned home. 

After they leave, we find a hidden key on her porch. We feed her dog a multipack of Entenmann’s doughnuts and leaf through her magazines. All her passwords are scrawled on the back of a coupon from our local pizzeria. 

This is called reconnaissance. Sofia’s place approximates an expensive dungeon, and besides wanting to be uncooperative, we have no reason to be here. Breaking and entering is not for us. Not really. In other words, our mistake is palpable. So we run away.

Let us tell you how our town handles the proceedings. This guy, Jeff, organizes a meeting at the deli. He fiddles with the overhead switches to create what we can only assume is a kind of mood lighting. His shirt has two chest pockets, and he’s folded a handkerchief in each of them to act as double pocket squares. Pluralized plumage.

Jeff calls us to order. It appears to him that he has our attention. He pulls an ear of corn from behind his back. If he knows anything he doesn’t give it away. He specializes in a vague form of authority.

Jeff mutters warnings about “the thrill of the maze,” and we’re not sure if he means “maze” or “maize.” He tells us Sofia couldn’t make it this evening, but she’s aware of the situation and has urged us to continue formulating a plan.

He dispenses with the corn in his hand by hurling it against a sign touting BOLOGNA THURSDAYS.

He asks those assembled before him, “Does that impress you?”

Everyone nods except Sam.

“You wouldn’t last one day in the quarry,” Sam says.

“Try me!” Jeff says back.

“Why are you yelling? It’s my turn to yell!” yells Sam.

We won’t go into the rest of the customary threats our town transacts from one another. Other than to say that dirty Mrs. Watts collects Jeff from the floor at one point. We’ll leave it at that.

We track Gabe’s movements over the following days. We start to think maybe nothing strange has really occurred after all. 

We gather from our research and observations that Gabe fumbled his Eagle Scout project. That the whole maze debacle was really his attempt at completing said project right before the deadline. That he had secured a permit for a government-owned plot on a street name one letter off from Sofia’s street. 

Gabe doesn’t attend scout meetings anymore. He sticks to the woods. There’s this one stump that he always sits upon. We read it as a triumph.

The stump-sitting works until it doesn’t. It’s difficult to say what he might be up to. But it’s not difficult to say that Sofia doesn’t care what happens in this town at all. She can’t confine herself to participate in local society.

We hear the forest calling to us sometimes too. And the city. We could join either one of them at any moment, really. 

“Nothing can stop us,” we say to whoever might be listening.

In truth, everything is holding us back.


Claire Hopple is the author of six books and the fiction editor at XRAY. Her stories have appeared in Wigleaf, Peach Mag, Forever Magazine, and others. She grew up in the woods of Pennsylvania and currently lives in Asheville, NC. More at

Photo: Jesse Gardner/Unsplash

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