That Thing in the Cornfield

A Close Encounter, But With What?

It’s not often that you stumble across something that cannot be explained. Such was the case many years ago, when I was about eight or nine.

My family lived in northern Sumter County, right in the breadbasket of Central Florida. Well, at least it used to be, before The Villages came along, gobbled up Florida’s best farmland and planted rooftops and Yankees. But that’s another story.

Every season my family would plant a modest subsistence garden next to the house. It was a small area, but we’d grow yellow squash, onions, carrots, beans and corn. Lots and lots of corn. I forget exactly how many rows, but it was a nice big patch. 

After the growing season was done and the other veggies had been gleaned from the field, the fallow corn stalks stood tall, wispy and dry and crackling in the wind. They’d remind me of a scene in one of my dad’s James Whitcomb Riley farm poems. One Riley poem in particular was my dad’s favorite: Little Orphant Annie, about a housekeeper who knew how to keep young’uns in line through the use of cautionary tales. Ahem:

An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done, 

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun 

A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about, 

An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you 

Ef you 




I tell that story, to tell this story. It was the late ’70s, and the corn had gone fallow. One afternoon I was walking through the garden and had turned the corner past the cornrows when a loud, high-pitched and unearthly scream/shriek froze me in my tracks. I had never heard such a sound before. I quickly looked up and stared into the corn tops, which towered over me.

Something stared back.

It was partially obscured by the old stalks, but I do remember seeing what I’m sure was a large, dark eye and what could have been part of a face or mouth. In the fraction of a second that we made eye contact, the impression I got was that it was more frightened of me than I was of it. In fact, it seemed downright terrified, its “mouth” agape in shock.

The unidentified thing turned and zoomed through the corn tops like they were merely tall blades of grass, so big and fast it left a wake of waving stalks behind it. It seemed to cross several rows, a space of at least 8 feet, in one lunge. The whole encounter lasted less than five seconds, but one thing is sure: Something was definitely hiding out and creeping around inside the cornfield that day. But I’m still scratching my head over what it was.

I ruled out one of Annie’s “Gobble-uns” a long time ago. If it was a goblin, then I must have been such a bad boy that it wanted no part of me.

Was it a crow, or an owl, perhaps? Possibly. The blood-curdling shriek could have been made by a raptor, but a startled bird would have picked the path of least resistance and simply flown up and out of the corn. It wouldn’t have bulled its way through such a barrier.

A squirrel? I don’t think so. Common grey squirrels aren’t very common in the open fields and farmlands of northern Sumter County. This is fox squirrel country. They’re the size of a cat and can move pretty fast when necessary. The problem is, I’ve heard their distress calls and alarms, and no sound they make comes close to what I heard that day. 

A deer? Possibly, but I had never, ever seen deer anywhere near our place. Our property was bordered by open fields and pasture, which would have made finding shelter difficult for deer.

Raccoon or possum? Maybe, but I’m thinking these critters would have simply jumped to the ground and scurried off. 

That accounts for just about every critter that could have possibly been in that general area at the time. I didn’t mention my grandfather’s cows, because they were so tame any one of them would have just stood there just staring off blankly into space.

That leaves us with the only other logical possibility, originally described by the Al Gore character in an episode of “South Park.”

Yes, I’m talking about … Manbearpig!

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