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I actually got my start in publishing by selling horror short stories. I’m a sucker for a good scare! LOL So in the spirit of the Halloween Season, I hope you’ll enjoy this one…
The Scarecrow – By Lisa Kessler
The corn fields moaned in the wind, their stalks bending and swaying like waves on the ocean. Bobby hardly noticed. He kicked the flattened Dr. Pepper can across the dirt road, then hustled to the other side to kick it ahead again. He stayed focused on the can, keeping it from sailing off the road into the rows of corn.
Right now, Aaron and Kelly would be watching Cartoon Network or playing on Aaron’s X-Box. Bobby missed his cousins in California. Every year he spent the summers in San Diego with his Aunt Libby and his cousins. They taught him how to surf the internet, talk in chat rooms, and even to download music onto an iPod.
Going back home to Kansas was like landing on another planet.
The afternoon sun hung low in the sky and the October wind hinted that winter lurked right around the corner. Rows of corn stalks started to thin out as he got closer to the next house.
He gave the can one last hard kick, and then snatched it up and hurried his pace. Old Man Porter’s farm was not a good place to dawdle. Bobby kept his eyes straight ahead, trying not to glance over at the old miser’s dilapidated farmhouse.
He didn’t have to look to know it was watching him.
He could feel the ratty old scarecrow’s black eyes on the back of his neck, with that rat infested grin that never changed. The corn crops came and went, but the scarecrow stayed behind like a forgotten sentinel. Old Man Porter never replaced it. Every year the same weather-beaten scarecrow stood, strapped to a post, gawking at the world. Watching.
Bobby stopped when he heard the screen door open.
“Bobby? Is that you, boy?”
He swallowed hard and turned around to see the withered old man with eyes that bulged from his wrinkled face. His overalls draped off of his skeletal body as he raised a gnarled hand.
“Rich man, Poor man, beggar-man, thief.”
Bobby took a couple of steps back, away from Old Man Porter. “Uh, Afternoon Mister Porter. I gotta get home.”
The old man wrung his hands and grinned, showing a mouthful of rotted teeth. “You’re supposed to say Doctor, Lawyer, or Indian chief, remember boy?”
Bobby had no clue what the old man was rambling about. He’d overheard his Mom and Dad talking about how Old Man Porter’s cheese was slidin’ off his cracker. The old man was going a little bonkers. Bobby’s Dad said Mister Porter’s nephew was gonna have him locked up soon.
It wouldn’t be soon enough.
So far everyday this week Old Man Porter had called out his nonsense every time Bobby passed by. Bobby yelled, “I’ll remember, but I gotta go now. See ya later!”
He turned and hurried toward his house, but he heard the old man’s cackle behind him. “You’d best be remembering Boy! Never know when you might need it. Words are weapons. Weapons and shields. Remember…”
Bobby checked back over his shoulder as he rounded the corner to his driveway. Nothing lingered but the dust from his footsteps. He slowed and heaved a sigh of relief.
Crazy Old Man Porter. Bobby shook his head.
He finished up his homework before dinner, and by the time he washed up, he’d forgotten all about his afternoon brush with Old Man Porter.
“Mom, why can’t I get an X-Box? Aaron has one out in California. I could even talk to him on the X-Box live chat while we play.”
“No you couldn’t. We don’t have internet here, remember?”
He rolled his eyes and took his plate to the sink with a lugubrious sigh and pair of very slouched shoulders. “I hate it here,” he mumbled under his breath.
“What did you say?” His Mom mussed his hair as she passed by.
“Nothing Mom.” He glanced over at her before he left the room. “Are we ever gonna move somewhere closer to the city?”
She turned with one hand on her hip and a “silly boy” smile on her face. “You can’t grow corn and alfalfa in the city.”
“I know,” he whined. “But maybe we could stop being farmers.”
“Bobby, this farm is all your father has left of his family. His heritage is buried in these fields and someday they’ll be yours.”
“You don’t understand.” He paused and then shook his head. “Never mind.”
Bobby plodded down the hallway to his room and closed the door. He lifted the window over his bed and rested his arms on the sill, staring up at the stars. The sky was littered with the sparkling lights, teasing him with their freedom. He wanted to run away and live in California with his cousins. City lights twinkled like the stars. He’d have cable television and high-speed internet. Maybe even a cell phone.
Something rustled through the corn, interrupting Bobby’s train of thought. He frowned, scanning the area. It was probably just the wind. A chill shot down his spine and Bobby pulled the window closed. He yanked his drape across the glass and settled back on his bed. For a minute, he thought about looking for his folks, but talked himself out of it. He was twelve now. The last thing he needed was his Mom telling people about what a cute “boy” he was.
Bobby changed into sweats and slid into bed. After he turned out the light and closed his eyes, something scratched against his window. Goose bumps erupted along his arms as he shot up from his bed.
It had to be the wind. He reached out, clasping the hem of the drape, but he couldn’t bring himself to pull it open. His pulse raced while he held his breath waiting. When he didn’t hear anything else, he peeked through the drapes. He couldn’t see anything out of place, just the corn stalks swaying with the wind in the moonlight.
The wind. It had to be.
He closed the drape and snuggled under the covers when he thought he heard a whisper.
“Rich man, poor man, beggar man….. Thief.”
He squealed into his pillow, muffling his terror. It had to be his mind playing tricks on him. No one was outside. But he had to check. He had to know. Bobby’s hand trembled as he gripped the hem of his drapes. Closing his eyes tight, he pulled back the drape and then carefully peered through his right eye. Staring back at him from the rows of corn was the weathered scarecrow from Old Man Porter’s farm. Straw poked out through the corner of his blackened mouth like drool from a rabid dog.
Bobby’s legs gave out and he collapsed onto his bed. For a minute he couldn’t breathe. His heart pounded in his chest as he slid down to the floor. Forget being brave. He needed his parents. With the speed of an Olympic sprinter, he was down the hall and opening their bedroom door.
“Bobby?” His dad growled. “What’re you doing up?”
“Dad. I saw something. It’s in the corn.”
His Dad groaned. “Nothing’s in the corn, Bobby. Go to bed.”
“I can’t Dad,” he protested, waving his hands and pointing back at his room. “It’s watching me. It can see my bedroom window.”
“Please, just come see.”
His father sighed and got out of bed. Dressed in his boxers and a pair of fleece-lined slippers, he grabbed his shotgun from the gun locker and opened the front door. His Dad scanned the area with the barrel aimed and at the ready. When he rounded the corner to the backside of the house, Bobby held his breath.
But there was nothing there.
His Dad lowered the shotgun and looked back at Bobby with a not-happy-smirk. “It was all in your head, see?”
He peered around his father. “But it was here. A scarecrow. The one from Old Man Porter’s.”
His Dad shook his head. “You watched too many horror movies in California this summer. Come on, let’s get you back to bed.”
Bobby kept glancing over his shoulder as his father walked him toward the front of the house, but nothing moved behind them. By the time he got back to his bedroom, Bobby felt stupid. He was sure he had seen it. It was in the corn. It whispered that crazy stuff Old Man Porter was always saying.
Maybe he was dreaming.
He climbed up on his bed to close the drapes, and a round burlap head was pressed against the glass.
Bobby jumped back as it brought a tattered arm up to the glass, scratching the sun-bleached straw down the window. The high pitched screeching made Bobby cover his ears, but even with his ears covered he could hear it whisper, like the wind sweeping through the corn fields.
“Rich man, poor man, beggar man….. Thief.”
“Go away,” Bobby whimpered.
Its soulless black eyes narrowed, and its torn grin stretched until the rip split even further, exposing more moldy straw. “Come outside and play.”
“No!” Bobby snapped, scooting back on his bed, unable to look away from the madness at his window.
“Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man… Thief. Let me in.”
He shook his head. “Go away.” He added in a desperate whisper. “Please leave me alone.”
“Thief,” it hissed. “Beggar man, thief…”
“I don’t know what you want.”
It raised a straw arm with a mangled hand. “You…”
Bobby felt a tear roll down his cheek. “No. I-I-,” he stammered. Then Old Man Porter’s voice cackled in his mind. Words are weapons and shields.
His eyes widened. That was it. The words Old Man Porter kept telling him to remember. But what were they?
Outside the wind howled and the scarecrow jammed straw underneath the window pane, one piece, then two. Gradually his window squeaked, sliding open.
The scarecrow wedged more straw under the window, his whispers louder. Over and over he called to Bobby. “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man… Thief.”
Bobby covered his ears, struggling to block out the unearthly hiss and remember the old man’s rhyme. What was it? The wind whipped into his room as the scarecrow finally pried the window pane open. The cold air rushed in and the sound of crunching straw invaded his bedroom as the thing crawled in the window and onto his bed whispering, “Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich-man, poor-man, beggar-man… Thief.”
Suddenly it came to him. Bobby gasped, “Doctor, Lawyer, or Indian chief!”
The scarecrow’s twisted grin sagged and the musty scent of smoke stung Bobby’s nostrils. The straw man bent to look down at his chest and Bobby’s eyes followed. Orange light glowed through the scarecrow’s shirt. It looked back up at Bobby and the sickening grin burst into flame.
Bobby scrambled back off of his bed as the inferno erupted, drowning the straw man in fire. It rose up, trying to follow him, but its legs crumpled. Suddenly Bobby’s father rushed past him with a fire extinguisher, dousing his entire bed with white foam.
What was left of the scarecrow fell to the floor, lifeless.
His father dropped a big hand onto Bobby’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “Doctor Lawyer or Indian Chief.”
Bobby’s head snapped in his dad’s direction.
His father winked. “I told that crazy son of a bitch to keep his goddamn scarecrows off our property.”