Check out our episode here! Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
At a reservoir, a bunch of teenagers are goofing around. Cole is standing on the shore, and Victoria, his sister, is trying to get him in frame on her phone so she can live-stream his antics. Janet is watching them both, annoyed, and takes over because Victoria is technologically naïve. She signals she's filming to Cole who takes a not very graceful leap into the water. Matt, sitting behind, cracks open a beer while Ginger barrels past on her skateboard, but falls over the edge of the reservoir and into the water. She takes what feels like an insurmountable amount of time to resurface, but she finally does, minus her bikini top. This signals the start of the party. Janet is still live-streaming and Cole is the star, flirting with Janet's friend Ronnie, however it is Victoria, edging around the reservoir and about to dive in, who steals the stream. Janet, watching through the phone screen, can pinpoint the moment when the dive changes into a fall. When Victoria resurfaces, it is with her face down and her arms wide. Phone forgotten, it live-streams sky until the battery dies, but not before the comments pour in saying “OH SHIT, that girl is dead.”
ONE YEAR LATER
Quinn Maybrook and her dad have moved to Kettle Springs, Missouri, from Philadelphia so he can become the small town's doctor. While unpacking, Quinn thinks about her mom. She can smell her in the old ratty sofa and it almost brings her to tears. The move was the fresh start her father needed, plus it was a package deal: he got the medical practice and the deed to the house. Quinn would miss her old life on the varsity volleyball team, but she understood the motivation behind the quick move. No one in Kettle Springs knew her mother had slumped over in the bleachers then puked down her chin at regionals. They didn’t know she died of an overdose. Receiving a text from her friends back in Philly makes Quinn sad, and also highlights the shockingly bad WiFi service there. Ugh. It only gets worse when she spots her dad talking to a boy around her age… how embarrassing! Looking out her new bedroom window, it gets even worse when she sees a creepy clown mural blistered with age on the old Baypen factory across the street. Her friends back in Philly would get a kick out of it and tell her to get some damn curtains.
The next day Quinn heads to her first day at her new school, and on the way, she meets the boy her dad spoke to, their neighbor, Ruston Vance. They make small talk, and Quinn finds out that the recently burned down Baypen factory used to make corn syrup, but the refinery closed and the town kinda went with it, and the creepy clown on the side of the building is Frendo, the mascot. Putting a pin in that story, Quinn heads to the school office and gets signed in. At her locker, Quinn meets Ginger who is dressed differently from everyone else and is therefore intriguing. As she’s standing there, a boy walks down the hall like he's in some kind of slow motion hair commercial. It’s Cole. Ginger says they used to be friends when her hair was lighter and he wasn’t an arsonist.
It's not a totally terrible start to her first day until Quinn is late for her first lesson listed only as “science” and the teacher is berating the whole class. Something about Founder's Day celebrations not preventing a test on Monday. The teacher, Mr. Vern, is seriously losing it. Janet is being all mature lawyer with him, Cole is asking to get on with the lesson, Tucker keeps saying he’s studied real hard about food and stuff. Mr. Vern is getting more red faced and angry, calling them all a blight on the community with their WiFi and cellphones etc. etc. and that they will pay. The situation is absurd and tense, making Quinn give a small laugh which throws her in the line of fire. Cole, Janet, Tucker, Ronnie and Quinn are sent to in-school suspension, Ronnie has her phone confiscated, and they are all banned from Founder's Day. In the in-school suspension room, Quinn finds out a lot about this group. Ronnie reveals that she gave Mr. Vern a decoy phone, ha! but she didn’t get his rant on video for their YouTube channel anyway; they are trying to reinvent Frendo as a homicidal clown in their videos; Cole burned the Baypen factory down after getting too drunk last week, but it’s his dad's factory, so whatever; and she's invited to Janet's post-Founder's Day party.
That evening, Quinn and her dad eat dinner in the Main Street Diner, which is stuck pre-year-2000. Her father awkwardly diagnoses people and introduces himself as the new town doctor, but they don't have a problem with her father’s conversation, they have a problem with her. They’re staring her down. Their waitress, Trudy, couldn’t give two hoots about them. Then Sheriff Dunne comes in. He is a massive man who looks prematurely aged but dominates the room like Cole does at school. At one point he gets up, and through the diner door, has a stare-down with Janet and Ronnie. When he’s returning to his booth, he stops by Quinn and her dad’s table, inviting Dr. Maybrook to the town meeting that night which he politely declines. Sheriff Dunne then gives Dr. Maybrook a folded piece of paper that they look at when he’s gone. It’s a flyer which reads: “Make Kettle Springs Great Again.”
At the meeting, Harlan Jaffers is having trouble controlling his constituents. They aren’t happy with his management of the town, the downsizing of the Founder’s Day festivities, the lack of advertising to bring tourists in to help local businesses, or that the fire engine was damaged putting out the fire at the factory. It isn’t until Harlan mentions Arthur Hill is considering attending the parade they all fall silent. He may reinvest in the town! Oooh! He’s Cole’s rich daddy and no one has seen him in over a year. Sheriff Dunne is skeptical. He answers questions about the fire investigation and tells the townsfolk, off the record, that this is a situation where what’s legal and what’s right are two different things and that “there may soon come a time when the powers of law don’t go far enough to keep Kettle Springs the town we know and love.” His ominous rhetoric continues as he vilifies the youth of the town and calls for community action.
It’s Founder’s Day and Quinn and her dad go to the parade. She spots someone, which turns out to be Tucker, dressed like that stupid creepy clown on a miniature bicycle. Janet and Ronnie sidle up to Quinn, soon followed by Cole and a very drunk Matt. They’re all wearing cardboard Frendo masks to hide their identities. What does the clown have to do with Founder’s Day? Well, the town will have you believe that Frendo was a real person and during the Depression, he performed for the town’s kids. In actual fact, he is an invention by Cole’s grandfather and his family still owns the trademark. During the parade, Janet, Ronnie, Matt and Tucker plan a surprise. They set off fireworks as the Parade King and Queen (another Frendo and Janet's mom, Miss Kettle Springs) go by on their float. Things go wrong and the floats crash, leaving behind some mild singeing and a bent lamp post. Sheriff Dunne is incensed and blames Cole, but he had nothing to do with it. He's so mad he pushes Janet away, hurting her, when she protests Cole's innocence.
Time for an emergency town meeting! Sheriff Dunne takes over proceedings and tells people that if they have attended the Kettle Springs Improvement Society meetings, what he has to say won’t come as a surprise. He asks everyone who is willing, able-bodied and of age to be deputized, to unite as a community and take action, but anyone who is not willing to be deputized has to leave, including the Mayor. At the back door, Frendo is waiting for him. The ice pick misses its intended target of his temple and instead is buried deep into the mayor's neck.
Tucker feels guilty about what happened at the parade, his trick just got out of hand, plus he was drunk. His mom slid a note under his bedroom door, “Confess now and I can help you,” which is cryptic. He flips the note over and sees on the reverse she’s added that he’s grounded. Less cryptic. He’s going out though, he can’t miss the party. He just needs a ride, so he texts Matt. As he’s waiting for his friends to show up, he takes a look at the security camera feed and sees Frendo at his front door. Slowly the clown lifts his hand and rings the bell. Ha ha, very funny. Not. Tucker goes to confront the prankster but he’s disappeared. He checks around the property and doesn’t find him, but when Tucker comes back inside, Frendo is waiting and pulls a huge knife on him. They scuffle. Frendo cuts his hand and then cuts into his belly. Tucker tries to call 911, but Frendo slits his throat.
Quinn has caught a ride with Cole and Janet to the party. As they are flying down the Tillersons’s cornfields that will never be harvested, government rebates being what they are, they suddenly see a figure in the road. It’s Frendo and he’s staring them down. Cole slams on the brakes and bashes into Frendo. Holy shit. They just ran over someone! When they get out of the car, they realize they actually hit a Frendo scarecrow and Matt and Ronnie are whooping over their joke. Lots of F-yous and name calling later, they head to the party in the middle of nowhere at an old barn with a rundown silo next to it. A DJ is set up in the barn entrance and inside there’s a dance floor and beer pong. Matt and Ronnie, having donned Frendo costumes on arrival, wander off, as does Janet. Cole takes Quinn for a drink in the barn where Rust happens upon them. Turns out he and Cole used to be best friends but drifted apart with age. As Rust turns to leave, he tells Quinn to be safe. What is it with this town and cryptic messages?!
Dr. Maybrook is at home filled with fatherly concern over his daughter being at a high school party in a new town. He’s glad she went though. This gives him time to appraise how much work their new house needs. A lot, as it happens. Then rocks are tossed at the window. Grabbing his golf club, Dr. Maybrook investigates. He can’t see anything but hears the click of a lighter and sees someone in the cornfield surrounding the house with a torch. He can smell gasoline. This isn’t a prank. Flames and wind woosh. Dr. Maybrook runs and something hits him over the head. Before he falls unconscious, a strange voice asks where his daughter is. Dr. Maybrook awakens to the smell of rot. He’s been dumped in decomposing corn along with the town’s former Doctor, whose corpse is partially responsible for the smell. He tries to cry out when a voice tells him not to, to sit tight and he might make it out alive.
Quinn is having a good time dancing with Cole. She breaks away to grab a water, Matt and Ronnie approach Cole and Quinn watches the crowd. Some of these kids are line dancing! She sees a girl leave the silo followed by plumes of vape smoke. Then she sees Ginger walking from behind the barn with a mohawk? No, she’s not walking, she’s staggering, and her hair is not styled into a mohawk, it’s streaked with blood. Quinn runs through all the scenarios in her head about what can happen to a teenage girl at a party when Janet comes over, sees Ginger and screams. Quinn doesn’t consider murderous clowns, but there is Frendo with a crossbow. He lifts it, fires and shoots through Ginger's skull. “Fucking go!” Janet screams.
Cole is by the barn, watching as the crossbow clown’s shot misses Janet but hits someone else. Cole notes the clown wasn’t flustered but working with methodical efficiency. Matt tries to pull Cole to run, but is knocked down by someone running by. Before that person can reach the corn, they are shot in the back. Ronnie comes running over then, she’s still wearing the clown costume like Matt, with Janet and Quinn behind her. Another bolt flies past aiming at Janet but hits a friendly boy who drops into a fire pit. Some kids are trying to close the barn doors, others, like Cole, are running to the silo. A girl holding the hatch open is shot in the side of the head. Matt, Ronnie and Cole make it inside. There is no lock on the hatch so Ronnie pulls the crossbow bolt out of the girl’s head and they use it as a wedge. The Clown heads toward the barn and it gets quiet outside. Where did Janet and Quinn go?
Janet and Quinn are running. Janet thinks she is Killer Frendo’s target, and she may have a point with the bolts flying at her. Quinn ducks next to the barn, pulling a tire to hide her. Janet is running around and the Clown takes aim, then Quinn rushes out from her hiding place, knocking Janet down as another bolt sails at her, just missing her. Quinn shouts that she needs to get to the cars, but Janet has to lead them through the cornfield. As they leave cover for the field, Janet is hit in the shoulder. Frendo was waiting for them. As they run through the corn, Quinn pretty much dragging Janet, they meet Rust who says the cars are a mess. But he has a big ole bag of guns and bullets in his truck! Quinn uses this break to pull the arrow from Janet’s shoulder and she passes out. Then she notices thick, dark clouds rolling in. It’s smoke. This really isn’t a great first new school party.
Cole, Matt and Ronnie see the barn is on fire and kids are being picked off one by one as they run out. Cole wants to help, but the other two don’t. They fight and Cole wins. As he pushes at the latch, Frendo and the crossbow fill the gap. Cole manages to avoid being shot in the head, then Matt pushes the hatch open and Cole punches Frendo in the face. The hatch slams closed and they put the wedge back in place. Ronnie pleads for them to just stay there a while. Fine.
Quinn gets a crash course in gun use and safety from Rust before they head back to the barn, leaving a weak Janet in the field with a pistol. Rust shoots the lock off the back door of the burning barn and frees the 30 to 40 kids trapped inside. The front doors were open so Frendo could pick off any who tried to escape. One kid stops and looks at Quinn and Rust with their guns, but before he can say anything, Frendo shoots him. Quinn takes aim, and in two shots kills Frendo. Who would do this? Apparently, their science teacher would. Mr. Vern’s dead eyes stare up at her when she removes the mask.
Janet is lying in the cornfield when she hears voices and what they are saying is concerning. At first, she thought they were cops and she was safe. Then she heard them saying stuff about none of the primary targets confirmed, Hill is safe, Vern hates the Murray girl, and the new girl is a bonus objective. Wait. She’s the Murray girl! She really is a target! Then she hears that the Barn failed. They’re getting closer, so she makes herself as small as possible to hide. They walk past her and are wearing Frendo suits. Shit there is more than one clown. Shit! She needs to do something, her classmates are heading into the fields where there are more Clowns waiting. Standing, Janet screams, “Run! There’s more than one clown!”
As Quinn looks down on the Vern-Clown, Janet bursts from the cornfield screaming that there are more clowns. Behind her and closing in fast is a clown with a circular saw. He hits Janet in the chest. She’s swaying but not yet dead. Not until this Frendo decapitates her. Rust shoots him dead. More clowns step out of the cornfields. One with a pitchfork, another with a crossbow, another with an axe. They run. Cole shouts for them to get in the silo. Quinn and Rust scream for them to let them in, and eventually the hatch opens. Cole has to punch Matt to let him but they fall in. Cole has wanted to punch Matt for years. As they are trying to get the hatch closed, one of the Frendos stops them. Rust points his shotgun at the hand and turns it into a bloody stump. A woman screams as they lock the hatch.
Suddenly there is an angry roar outside and the hatch shudders against the lock. Then there’s a loud crack as an ax-head is buried in the door. Quinn sticks the rifle barrel into the crack and shoots. They need to get out, but how? Ronnie demands Quinn’s gun and gives a bullshit excuse of being Miss Kettle Springs Riflery 2019, but no. Quinn’s not giving up her rifle. Rust thinks of an escape plan: they will crawl out the back of the silo while the clowns are watching the hatch. Digging through the boxes the farm owners have left behind, they find dynamite sticks, but now the clown with the ax is back and hits the door. Quinn shoots but misses Frendo. And then there’s the familiar sound of a chainsaw! Great! They climb the silo’s conveyor belt in an old passage to escape while Rust stays behind and readies the dynamite.
The tunnel is tight, dark and slow going. Ronnie has to dig through soil so they can climb out. When they emerge they need a plan, Ronnie and Matt want to head to the road, Cole and Quinn want to go to the Tillerson’s house. Ronnie has somehow got Quinn’s rifle. Quinn demands it back and Ronnie gets pissy about it then the silo explodes, blasting them to the ground. Cole is upset, Rust has sacrificed himself to kill the clowns. Matt points out he didn’t get all of them. Walking toward them is a Frendo with a machete. They run.
Meanwhile Dr. Maybrook is being told to treat the Frendo whose hand was blown off with no medical supplies. He’s covered in decomposing corn, former town doctor and rat feces. This place is definitely not sterile. When he asks the clown's name, she mutters Frendo. He takes off the mask against the warning of the Frendo on the intercom system. It’s Trudy, the waitress from the diner. She tries to spit at him and then starts laughing like a mad clown. The voice of the speaker system tells Dr. Maybrook to be careful because Quinn isn’t dead... yet. Putting the Hippocratic oath to one side, he pokes into Trudy’s wound, making her pass out. Now he can work.
Back in the cornfields, Quinn, Cole, Matt and Ronnie have run to the road where they see headlights. Quinn has managed to get the rifle back and sends two wild shots at machete Frendo. The man in the truck slows to talk. He has a strong southern accent and no Frendo mask. They tell him they are being hunted, but he is skeptical of what’s going on and their pleas. Matt and Ronnie’s costumes don’t help. Quinn manages to get the truck driver to stop when Matt slams the passenger side door and throws insults which makes him change his mind and speed off. They start toward the Tillerson's farmhouse and quickly encounter the Sheriff, lights flashing in his cruiser. Cole tries to explain but the Sheriff cuts him off “you will call me ‘Sheriff Dunne’ and treat me with respect”. Quinn notices something is off. The Sheriff is sweating despite the cold and seems to be looking back over his shoulder. He’s not listening to Cole at all, complaining about the switchboard lighting up, mushroom clouds, and blaming the Iranians. Dunne snaps, grabs Cole and twists his arm, and throws him into the back of his cruiser.
Cole doesn’t like Dunne and the Sheriff sure as hell doesn’t like Cole, especially after Victoria’s death, but as Cole lay in the back of the cruiser, he truly believed Dunne would listen to Quinn and take action. State troopers and the FBI would swarm the cornfield before the sun came up. But when Cole sits up and watches Quinn desperately explain the situation, he notices dark spots blooming on Dunne’s shirt. Banging against the window Cole screams “One! Of! Them!” as Ronnie makes a grab for Quinn’s rifle. Dunne grabs Quinn in a headlock and knocks her out with his service revolver. Dunne gives orders to Matt and Ronnie, the latter of which makes a gun-finger in Cole’s direction mouthing pow! They pick up Quinn and head to the cornfield.
Ronnie and Matt are carrying Quinn and she starts to come to, but she hides that she’s conscious and listens. They’ve sold out their classmates to be on the right side of history or some such garbage, and they also think they will be heroes as their plan is to change Quinn into a Frendo suit, bash her head in with a rock, and blame her for the killings. They talk about Janet’s stepdad and where he got off to. There are so many people involved! Quinn is eventually dumped on a pile of her cut up classmates. She’s still pretending to be unconscious but Ronnie and Matt think she is coming to and look for a head bashing rock. Quinn uses this time to leap at Ronnie and tackle her for the gun, then Matt’s ear is blown off in the wrestle and he is thrown back onto the pile of bodies. Taking advantage of the situation again, Quinn makes a run for it. Ronnie and Matt aren’t too concerned, there are other Frendos who will catch her.
Sheriff Dunne sees Cole’s generation as a blighted crop which needs to be cut and culled. The Sheriff has been nudging the town for months into going to this extreme, reshaping their morality, making it seem like their own idea. He says that his generation has empathy which Cole’s generation lacks. He doesn’t know if they were born bad, it’s their phones, the internet or what not but it doesn’t matter. Cole argues that no one listens to his generation, they only ever look back and never see the problems of the present or listen to the kids. Dunne explains that originally he was planning to pin everything on Cole, but then Quinn showed up, so now he, Quinn and Rust will be blamed and that they went on a love-triangle killing spree. Cole points out this makes no sense but Dunne likes the love triangle trope. He even has Cole’s suicide note all ready to go. They reach the Baypen factory but need to wait to see someone. Cole sees a noose dangling from the burned-out walkway that leads to the foreman’s office. Cole knows who they are waiting for and his heart breaks.
Quinn is running through the cornfield trying to reach the Tillerson house. She finds an empty house and not wanting to fall into a trap, sneaks around and listens carefully. Silently moving into the house, looking for keys to the truck outside, she puts on a coat from a hook and grabs a cleaver from the dish rack. Then she smells something off… in the living rooms is one of the Frendos. Quinn jumps out at it in a surprise attack but he doesn’t move. He must have been one from the silo explosion who somehow got to the farmhouse and sat down to die. The Frendo’s mask has melted to his face. Spying the keys, she makes to grab them but hears the porch groan. Carefully opening the door, Quinn sees Ronnie and they break into a wrestle. Ronnie tries to shoot Quinn, Quinn falls over the burned corpse and slices him open with the cleaver making a not so nice smell of burnt blood fill the room. Quinn runs upstairs to escape through a window thinking Matt may be waiting out back. Ronnie catches her in the bathroom, they fight again with the shower curtain between them. Quinn raises the cleaver and separates the section of Ronnie’s skull with her ponytail from the rest of her skull.
Demanding to know where they took Cole, in Ronnie’s final moments she starts to sing the Baypen jingle, “Lit-tle drop of Behhhhhhh . . .” “Makes everything better,” Quinn finishes and then runs out to the truck. It’s a manual transmission and not something Quinn can work, but just then, Matt pulls up in his sporty 2-seater. He crashes into the farmhouse, gets out and heads for Quinn, screaming at her. She jerks the gears and the truck slams forward. She shuts Matt up by crushing his head between the bumper of the truck and the side of his own car, which is an automatic. She takes his car and heads to the Baypen factory.
Back with Dr. Maybrook, he’s checking the pulse of Trudy's corpse. He couldn’t save her, and has been faking it for an hour or so, but rigor will set in soon. The person over the speaker hasn’t responded either, even though he’s been testing with questions and insults, but nothing. It looks like they’ve moved on to a different phase of their plan. He can hear machinery in the distance. Taking the Frendo suit and mask off Trudy, Dr. Maybrook puts it on, picks up a scalpel, and climbs the stairs.
Arthur Hill walks out of the foreman’s office. Cole starts to plead with his father but Arthur Hill refuses to acknowledge their relation. He blames Cole for Victoria’s death, saying he took the one thing he cares about after his wife died. Arthur had concocted this plan, and really only wanted Cole dead, but quickly others came around to this way of thinking and decided all the teens needed to die. He blames Cole’s generation, saying they are all rotten and starts to choke Cole. Dunne stops him and then he and Mr. Murray, who is giddy at the prospect of killing Cole, lift him up and put the noose around his neck. As Dunne is about to push Cole off the catwalk to his hanging death, a shout of “stop!” comes up. Arthur steps into the light, arms up, rifle stuck in his back and Quinn holding the gun. Dunne says that he is impressed with the new girl, then pulls and fires his own gun so fast that it barely registers.
The bullet hits Arthur in the shoulder, the second shot hits the concrete next to Quinn’s head. She doesn’t have a clear shot at Dunne because he’s pulled Cole over to use as a human shield. Things move quickly then. Cole bites down on Dunne’s wound and Dunne pushes him away and over the edge of the catwalk. Mr. Murray’s ankle is caught in the slack of the rope and he falls too, doing a complete flip before slamming into the ground, both legs bending backward and breaking on impact with the floor. Cole is now dangling by his neck. Quinn shoots up at Dunne as he trains his gun on her, incensed. Quinn hits her mark. She shoots the Sheriff right in his fat belly.
Behind the melee are sounds of crashing. Dr. Maybrook is back there, disoriented and desperate to find his daughter. He’s not coping well with the events of the night. The crash is actually a speeding pickup truck crashing through the factory loading bay doors and heading for Cole who is swinging like a piñata. The truck stops before hitting him and takes Cole’s weight. It’s Rust! Telling Quinn to keep her rifle on Dunne, Rust gets Cole down. Mr. Murray, though in very bad shape, is trying to finish Cole off and use his body weight to drag him down and break his neck. Dunne is not looking well and the stomach wound will end him. In a last attempt to kill Quinn, he raises his wavering hand and aims, but Quinn shoots him in the head, knocking his hat off and he falls down the stairs. Quinn heads over to Cole where Rust is giving him CPR. Don’t be dead, don’t be dead… Nope. Wait. That’s not CPR, Rust and Cole are kissing! And they look good together!
Rust explains his escape from the silo. He made a mad dash out the front before the explosion and somehow seemed to keep missing everyone. Just then another Frendo stumbles toward them, wounded but not harmless, holding a tiny knife. Quinn raises the rifle and pulls the trigger, but the chamber is empty. Then a familiar voice says her name. Quinn realizes this Frendo is her dad and runs to him. He asks for a doctor that isn’t him.
TWO MONTHS LATER
In the Main Street Eatery, Cole pretends to start a Live Steam. Not funny. Rust covers his hand and Quinn apologizes to the waitress. A lot changed in those two months. Twenty percent of the Kettle Springs population was either dead, in prison or moved away. Cole and Rust are happy together. Dr. Maybrook is going to hang his stethoscope up as soon as a replacement can be found so he can take office as the new mayor. They are all in therapy. References to Frendo across town were being painted and washed away. The town saw an influx of media, law enforcement and tourists who all needed a place to stay and eat. Kettle Springs has been saved but not in the way Arthur Hill, Dunne or their 13 conspirators intended. As Quinn noted, “Ironic … that it was the phones they hated so much that had gotten them caught.” Arthur Hill has been declared dead based on the amount of blood in the factory, but his body wasn’t there, likely the cornfield had swallowed him.
Meanwhile, a lone passenger on a private jet to Cuba opens and closes his fist around a small ball. He’s been repeating the motion for hours. Laid on the seat opposite him is a suit bag. Arthur Hill’s new mantra is ”if you wanted a job done right, you had to do it yourself.” He repeats over and over. He’s learned from his mistakes, money doesn’t buy everything, don’t delegate revenge, failure is temporary. He is sure the pilot recognized him from previous flights or the news, but it doesn’t matter. Taking his suit bag with him into the bathroom, Frendo now waits for the plane to land, knife in hand.