Jim stepped out of his car at Schrute Farms at 7:55 PM and drew his heavy wool coat closer around him with a shudder. What had possessed him to accept Dwight's invitation, he truly didn't know, but as he surveyed the scene in front of him, a creeping sense of dread ran through him. A crow landed on a nearby bale of hay and surveyed him with beady black eyes, and Jim shifted uneasily.
Another car pulled up nearby, and Pam emerged from the driver's seat, the wind whipping her curls around her face. She shivered visibly and pulled her striped scarf tighter, and Jim waved a little to get her attention. She hurried over to where he stood, stopping about a foot away and grinning mischievously up at him.
Dwight stood on his desk at approximately 11 AM on October 29th and announced that he was hosting a haunted corn maze at Schrute Farms this evening, and that all were welcome to attend. The general noises of dissent that filtered from various corners of the office caused a heavy scowl to appear on Dwight's face, and he scoffed at them, scrambling down from his desk. Jim waited a few moments before leaning in and inquiring as to the time and dress-code of the event.
Dwight glared at him suspiciously. "Why do you care?"
Jim placed a mock-offended hand to his heart. "Dwight, it's important to support local businesses. Now, am I invited or not?"
Dwight eyed him for a moment, then relented. "It starts at 8:00 sharp. If you are late, you will not be eligible for the prize at the end of the maze."
He rose from his chair and ambled over to reception, withdrawing two jellybeans from the overfilled container there.
Cotton candy and... cinnamon. Worth a shot, he decided, and popped them both into his mouth at once. Immediately he grimaced, and Pam giggled.
"Don't mock me," Jim croaked, swallowing the combined candies with difficulty. "I thought it would work, okay?"
"Sweet and spicy, Jim? Come on."
"To be fair," he reasoned, leaning against the counter, "cinnamon could be considered both sweet and spicy. So it's not that far-fetched."
Pam looked up from her computer and shook her head, eyes sparkling. This was definitely the best part of his work day--candy and Pam. He was sure he ate more of these jellybeans than anyone else in the office combined. Sometimes he worried that it was too obvious of an excuse to come talk to her, but no one seemed to notice or care how many trips a day he made to reception.
"So here's a question for you," he said in a low tone, leaning in a little closer. "How do you feel about haunted corn mazes run by total psychopaths?"
Pam mirrored him, crouching over her keyboard and shooting a quick look over at Dwight. "Seriously? Are you really going?"
Jim shrugged. "Might as well, right? It's Friday, and my couch isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Plus, there is apparently a prize for whoever gets through it the fastest."
"Wow," Pam mused, "I can't even begin to imagine what Dwight thinks is an appropriate prize for such an occasion. I guess it could be fun. Is anyone else going?"
"I kind of doubt it."
"Come on," he wheedled. "If I go by myself I am definitely going to get murdered."
Pam laughed. "Wow, what an incredible incentive! How could I refuse now?" She picked up an orange highlighter, twirling it thoughtfully between her slim fingers. Jim's eyes followed the motion unconsciously. "Who's to say that we won't both be murdered if I go?"
She uncapped the highlighter with a snap and Jim's eyes flew back to her face.
He thought for a moment. "Because if you're there, then my instinctual alpha-male protection skills will arise, and I can rescue us both. Obviously."
Pam raised a skeptical eyebrow, then gestured for him to give her his hand. He obeyed, palm up, and she flipped it back over, her fingers cool on his skin. She leaned in and for an insane second Jim thought she was going to press her lips to his knuckles, but instead she brought the orange highlighter up and quickly doodled a Jack-O-Lantern on the back of his hand. The ink ran slightly, filling in the eyes and mouth of the pumpkin.
"Very nice. Festive."
"Thank you," she said primly, replacing the cap on the marker. She tapped her finger against her chin and then nodded.
"Okay, I guess I'll come. I'd ask Roy, too, but I know he has plans for a poker game... so I doubt he'd be interested."
Jim's heart sank a little at the inevitable mention of Pam's fiancé. "Right. I get that."
"Who knows, maybe someone else from the office will decide to show up too and we can sacrifice them to escape," she teased.
"Brutal, Beesly. But I like it."
Pam and Jim made their way up the steps of Dwight's farmhouse. There were wooden signs posted, pointing right to lead them to the corn maze and Jim cast Pam a look of trepidation.
"Come on, Halpert. Don't get wimpy on me now." Pam forged forward, looking back over her shoulder with a grin. He followed reluctantly, still shivering despite his heavy coat.
They followed the crudely made signs a few hundred feet in the growing darkness before the corn maze rose up in front of them. Jim couldn't help but be mildly impressed at how tall it was --even he wouldn't be able to see over the plants.
Dwight emerged from a nearby outbuilding, wearing ragged overalls and a red flannel jacket.
"Welcome," he said sinisterly, holding a flashlight beneath his pale face.
"Hi Dwight," responded Pam calmly. "Is anyone else here?"
Dwight hesitated, lowering the flashlight. "No. Just me and Mose so far."
Jim heard a rustle behind him and jumped forward slightly, turning to see what the source of the disturbance was. A shrouded figure stood there and for a moment his heart beat wildly, but when he looked closer he realized that the shroud was actually a bedsheet, and that faded sneakers poked out from under it.
"And...this must be Mose."
Dwight sighed. "Mose, take that off. I told you, that is not what ghosts actually look like."
Jim shot a wide-eyed look at Pam and she returned it, her lips quivering with the effort to hold back a smile.
"So," Jim interjected. "It's pretty much eight. Should we get started?"
"Very well," said Dwight formally. "Follow me."
He pulled two more flashlights from the vast pockets of his overalls and handed them to Pam and Jim, then turned and stalked into the maze opening.
With one last raise of his eyebrows to Pam, Jim followed.
Once they were among the tall stalks of corn, the sound of the wind died down slightly and became more muffled. Jim glanced behind him to make sure Pam was close by. Dwight stood a few feet ahead, and they all clicked on their flashlights.
"This is the beginning of the maze. I recommend heading east to start. You have one hour to find your way to the end and claim the prize, after which I will retrieve you from the maze."
Jim raised his hand and Dwight sighed. "Yes, Jim?"
"What happens if we don't find the end?"
"Then you are a loser."
"Obviously. But, will you be rescuing us at that point, or will we be left to the wild dingoes?"
"There are no dingoes out here, idiot. And obviously I'll be retrieving you either way, so don't worry your tiny brain."
Jim clicked his tongue and nodded. "Gotcha. Thanks, Dwight."
Behind him, Pam giggled into her scarf.
"Good luck to both of you." Dwight brushed past them and disappeared into the corn, his steps fading ominously.
Jim turned to face Pam. "Wow."
Pam laughed. "This is amazing. I should have asked him what the prize is."
Jim shook his head and aimed his flashlight at a nearby opening. "What do you think? Is that east enough?"
"I have no idea, my internal compass is terrible. If the sun was up, maybe..."
"Oh great," he teased. "Just throwing the game right from the start, huh Beesly?"
"Hey," she protested, "At least I didn't jump a foot when Mose snuck up behind us. You should have seen your face!"
Jim rolled his eyes but didn't argue, just waved for her to follow him. She was close behind as he headed for the opening, their flashlights dancing off the solid walls of corn surrounding them on every side.
They continued like that for a while, occasionally coming upon forks or dead ends.
They'd been out for about 30 minutes when Jim heard a rustling noise somewhere to their left. He stopped, shining his light in the direction of the sound. "Did you hear that?"
Pam stopped too. "Kind of."
They waited, and the rustling stopped.
She looked around at him and shrugged. "I don't know, maybe it was just--"
She shrieked and jumped back as a small black shape emerged from the maze, scurrying across their path below knee-level. Before Jim knew what was happening, Pam was clinging to him, her face buried in the lapel of his coat and his free hand clutched tightly in hers.
He quickly directed his light towards the retreating figure, catching a glimpse of a bushy striped tail.
"I think...I think it was a raccoon."
He looked down at Pam, who lifted her face hesitantly from his chest. "Oh."
It was well and truly dark now, but even in the dim glow from their flashlights he could see that her cheeks were pink with embarrassment..
She looked up at him, her eyes still wide. "Sorry," she whispered.
He didn't move, almost didn't dare to breathe, as if that would break the spell. "It's okay."
Her eyes flickered down to his mouth and he drew in a shallow breath.
"Um. How much time do we have left?" she asked, still whispering.
He exhaled, lifting his arm to squint at his watch, the flashlight in his right hand casting an eerie glow across Pam's curls. "Like, 25 minutes, give or take."
Pam stepped back, but didn't release his hand. When he looked at her questioningly, she bit her lip.
"Can I just...can I hang on to you for a little bit? That really freaked me out," she confessed.
Jim smiled down at her, trying to hide his elation at her request. "Of course. That's why I'm here, right? To protect you from ghosts and goblins and cute, fuzzy, woodland creatures."
She shoved him, but still didn't let go of his hand. "Shut up."
They continued through the maze hand-in-hand, finally finding the exit just before the deadline of 9 o'clock. Pam disentangled her fingers from Jim's as soon as Dwight came into view, and Jim felt a sinking feeling of disappointment settle low in his stomach.
"You have succeeded!" Dwight shouted, running up to them with a maniacal grin on his face. Jim stepped slightly in front of Pam and she poked his side.
"We did, so what's the prize?" Pam piped up from her spot at Jim's elbow.
"Follow me," Dwight beamed, waving an arm towards an ancient barn that stood nearby.
They trailed behind him and Jim ached to reach out and take Pam's hand again but resisted, knowing it would be a bad idea to push her at this point. He was lucky to have gotten this time at all, and they could still end this night on a good note if he was careful.
Dwight pried open the heavy wooden doors of the barn to reveal Mose, now sans-sheet and dressed very similarly to Dwight, standing awkwardly with a large wicker basket in his arms.
Dwight hurried forward and grabbed the basket from his cousin, turning back to face Jim and Pam.
"For your enjoyment, a basket of Schrute Farms' finest. We have pickled beet eggs, a few jars of beet relish, some fresh-baked honey beet bread, and...this wooden figurine that Mose whittled." Dwight held the basket out to Jim, beaming, and Jim hesitantly stepped forward to accept it.
"Of course," he muttered as he tilted the basket to show Pam the contents.
Pam snorted a little but hastily donned a serious expression and looked over at Dwight.
"Thank you, Dwight. It all looks delicious."
Dwight gave a funny little bow. "You're very welcome, Pamela." He straightened. "Thank you for coming. You're-- well, I guess everyone else was busy."
Jim looked over at Pam and recognized her pitying expression -- it was usually reserved for when Michael was being extra pathetic.
"It was really fun. You should do it again tomorrow night, maybe more people will come then since it's the weekend," she suggested, her voice kind.
"Maybe," Dwight muttered. He cleared his throat. "Anyway. I have to get Mose to bed-- if he stays up too late, he gets grumpy."
"Right...uh, we should get going too," Jim added, widening his eyes meaningfully at Pam.
"Totally," she agreed.
They exchanged awkward goodbyes with Dwight and Mose, then hurried out the barn doors. Jim looked around, trying to regain his bearings.
"Where the hell did we park?" he wondered aloud. Realizing he was still holding the flashlight, he clicked it back on and shone it around, looking for some kind of landmark.
"It's this way, I think." Pam pointed to another building in the distance and Jim squinted, recognizing the back of Dwight's farmhouse.
"I think you're right. Let's get out of here."
As they neared their respective cars, Jim slowed his pace. He wanted to leave this creep-fest of a farm, but he didn't want his time with Pam to come to an end. It was so incredibly rare to find himself alone with her, and he couldn't help scrambling to come up with reasons to extend their night.
"Hey," he started. Pam slowed too, looking up at him with a smile.
"Do you... want to go grab a drink, or dinner, or something?"
Pam stopped walking. "Um."
"You don't have to," he said hurriedly. "I won't be offended or anything. I just -- I know I'm starving, and you said Roy is out at a poker game so I figured he wouldn't have dinner waiting..."
Pam scoffed lightly. "Ha! As if he would ever have dinner waiting..."
She sighed, then seemed to shake off the thought and smiled warmly up at Jim. "I appreciate it, but I'm pretty beat. I think I'm just gonna head home and heat up some leftovers or something."
Jim ducked his head and shoved his fists into his coat pockets. "Gotcha. No worries."
"But... I had a really good time. Thanks for protecting me from that rabid raccoon," she said in a teasing, happy voice. He looked up and she had stepped closer, her smile bright.
He smiled back. "Anytime, Beesly. Thanks for braving it out with me."
They headed back to their separate cars, Jim pausing to stow the wicker basket in his trunk. He made a mental note to not leave it in there any longer than was necessary-- he had a feeling that pickled beet eggs probably started to stink pretty quickly.
He waited until she had pulled out and headed for the road before starting his car and following at a reasonable distance. They took different turns once they'd reached the main road, and he watched her taillights flicker in his rearview until he couldn't see them anymore.
He replayed the night's events as he drove. Smiled as he remembered how she'd clung to his chest. Felt his gut sink as he remembered how quickly she'd released his hand once they'd exited the maze, and her polite rejection of his offer to continue their evening.
Still, it was something. It was more than he'd expected, and he resolved to be grateful. It helped that she'd unconsciously criticized Roy in front of him.
He added a few notes to his mental list of Things I'd Do For Pam If She Were Mine.
- Make her dinner (nothing involving beets).
- Don't ditch her every Friday night to play poker and get drunk.
- Love her like you don't deserve her, and never take her for granted.
Jim turned into his driveway and parked, letting his head fall back against his seat. He smiled to himself.
Not a bad night.