In the daytime, He Who Walks Behind the Rows cannot be seen — but he can be felt vibrating on the airwaves, his spirit whistling through the corn like wind, on a frequency only Isaac can hear. He cocks his head and listens; should He Who Walks Behind the Rows impart his wisdom, Isaac must be there to hear it.
But he hears nothing.
The corn has been quiet lately.
Isaac did not kill his own parents, but he watched them die. He watched Malachai’s arm swinging, machete in hand, blood not spraying like he’d thought it would but leaking from the open wounds. Afterward, with Malachai watching, Isaac stuck his fingers into his mother’s split skin, feeling how thin her blood was, how slippery.
She was still warm.
Even so, Isaac cannot say when exactly the life left her eyes. He wasn’t watching her at that moment; he was watching Malachai, mesmerized by the power he saw in the other boy’s thin frame. To watch Malachai as he killed one person after the other — without tiring, without ever slowing down — was akin to hypnosis, or more accurately, it was like a form of meditation.
When Isaac’s fingers were in his mother’s wounds, his eyes were on Malachai.
Malachai’s eyes are the sort of green that almost seems to glow. At night, whether they’re in the church or in the clearing in the corn, Isaac can always find Malachai’s eyes without error. They stick out to him, higher and clearer than anyone else in the crowd.
And Malachai is always staring back at him, gaze steady and locked on Isaac’s face. Malachai watches his mouth move as he speaks, watches the flexes of his face light up with religious fervor. Malachai’s lips move, mouthing Isaac’s words as he says them, and for a moment Isaac can’t hear his own voice, and he can’t see anyone else in the congregation, and he’s not sure if he’s even speaking anymore.
You will sacrifice him eventually, says a voice in his head. He can’t be certain if it’s his own thoughts or He Who Walks Behind the Rows.
And now Isaac has come to the end of the sermon, and Malachai’s eyes are still on him, his lips twisted in a crooked smile.
Isaac pretends not to see.
This is the burden of a sacrificial lamb — to stand naked before your peers, to submit your flesh first to each other, and then to He Who Walks Behind the Rows for an entirely different manner of consumption. And even though he knows that he is not yet nineteen, that neither he nor Malachai are scheduled to die…
Still, his heart flutters and his limbs go weak from fear.
Isaac’s head rests against the hardwood church floors; he looks like a maiden in faint. Light from a candle on the altar flickers against the stained glass that lies broken on the floor; it seems to set Malachai’s hair on fire, a sight so captivating that Isaac almost doesn’t feel Malachai’s lips on his bare thigh.
They shouldn’t, he knows. He Who Walks Behind the Rows wouldn’t allow it; he wants only the pure to participate in his sacrificial ceremony, only the freshly unsullied to come to him through the corn.
But He Who Walks Behind the Rows is silent, so Isaac runs his fingers over Malachai’s chest and kisses him back.