Scarekrows

Note: I'm not pleased with the title. If, once your done, you have a suggestion, feel free to leave it within the review.

"Someone's coming!"

"Get down, we'll be seen!"

I couldn't help but giggle as I crouched down behind the hay. It was the first time I'd met Cody's parents and I was determined to make a good impression. I didn't think getting caught naked in their barn would be the best way to do that. At least, I didn't think Cody's parents were like that. Better safe than sorry, though.

"What are we going to do?" I whispered.

Cody slowly got up and looked out into the barn without revealing himself. I followed suit, and saw a dark shadow along the far wall. I frowned, looked over at Cody, and followed his eyes. I could see my clothes, sure enough, lying lamely over the backseat of an abandoned tractor. We couldn't reach it without being seen, but Cody's clothes were elsewhere. I'd rather not explain why, we'll just say it was part of the game.

"I can get dressed and distract them," he whispered. "While I do that, you should go get your clothes. We'll pretend like this never happened, okay?"

I smiled. "Okay."

He kissed me then, turned, and went for his clothes. Our situation was kind of funny, and I tried desperately not to laugh out loud. I never was good at hide-and-seek. Ever.

"Leah!" I looked up, and saw Cody, fully dressed and eying me happily. He smiled, struck a thumbs-up, and turned to go into the barn. When he leapt from the hay to the ground, his footsteps were loud. I wrapped the blanket around me (you'd have needed one too, if you'd been trying to lay naked on hay) and popped my head back up. I could see the shadow retreating back out into the fields. I waited a moment, craning over to watch the shadow leave, and then tip-toed over to the run-down tractor.

I scanned myself for ticks (yet another reason that a 'romp in the hay' isn't nearly as fun as it's cracked up to be) and slid on my clothing. Now, fully dressed, I was free to go. Ah, another terrible disaster averted at the expert hands of the one, the only, Leah Black.

But nothing ever goes as planned, does it?

I stepped down off the tractor and starting heading out of the barn, searching desperately for a decent excuse as to why I was in the barn alone, when I saw the shadow. A different shadow this time, much bigger and much less complete. Some high window bled light, and it sent the silhouette of a man's head onto the ground. I paused. How much had who seen?

I looked up, half expecting the figure to have left, but there could have been nothing further from the truth. Instead, above me, I could see a body quite clearly. Nailed to the wall.

The fight or flight response never sat well with me. I easily could have run at that point, sure, but it's hard to fight a dead body. And pointless, too. But nonetheless, the merciless pound of adrenaline was beating at my head, begging for me to do something. Anything.

"Cody!"

He was there in moments. "Oh, good, you're dressed." Then he actually took the time to digest the scene. "Oh, hey, woah, something wrong?"

I pointed.

I was expecting a dull silence, a scream, a protective hug, shouts for help, anything but what I got.

"I hate Halloween."

What?

"What?"

"Every year, the kids around here do the same thing. Constant pranks all over the farm. Sometimes it's as simple as hiding a hose, sometimes they release snakes into the grass, once they even..." He stopped. "What?"

"Cody!" I pointed.

"Yeah, a scarecrow, I know." Cody laughed. "It's weird. It's like the kids are taunting us or something. I don't understand it. Always at Halloween, always the same, and we can never find out who it is."

I looked up. And now that I think back on it, very few dead bodies would be stuffed with hay. At least, I didn't think Cody's parents were like that. But he was right. Directly in front of the window was a scarecrow, leering at us angrily. His stitches were frowning at me. Stupid scarecrow.

"Why would somebody nail one of your scarecrows up against the wall...?"

"That's not one of ours. If it were, I'd be upset."

"Wait... How do you know?"

"I just do."

"Am I going to be seeing a lot of this?" I asked.

"Yeah. And it would probably be best if you acted annoyed or frustrated, but didn't gripe too much. Just be smart about it. My parents will like that."

I felt somewhat offended. "Well, yeah, I'd do that anyway. Wouldn't even be an act."

Cody smiled, and I wanted to forgive him. "That's what I love about you." Shut up. I'm weak. I bent. I forgave him. Minor detail. "Let's head in. Eric loves climbing up there. I bet he'll be able to get that damn scarecrow down. It's not like we need the thing up there." It took me a moment to remember that Eric was Cody's little brother. And a brat. Cody wrapped his arm around my waist and escorted me out of the barn.

Sprawled before me was a gorgeous vista. Looking out into the hills, I was reminded of a lover sleeping in her bed. The hills were her smooth, smooth curves, the cornfields her long, flowing hair, the flower patches acted as her eyes and the trees were the sheets wrapping around her body in a twisting torrent and highlighting her beauty in all the best ways.

But no body is perfect without love to fog the view, and the hills represented that, too. Like ticks or lice, tiny infestations that should never have come, the scarecrows dot the fields. All of them haunting the place, staring out at us in complete silence and utter stillness. If their eyes weren't shut, you just know they'd burn with the fires of Hell. If their mouths weren't stitched, you just know that the tongue would be forked, the spit would be acid, and the jaws would be lined with razors. The hay pokes out of the sleeves like claws and the shirts have been ripped and shredded. I won't even pretend to know how. Maybe it was crows, maybe they're just old, or maybe it was the evil inside trying to worm its way out.

I don't like scarecrows.

But there they all are, each reigning over their own sector of the cornfield. The hot summer days and cold autumn nights had killed the corn long ago, and now the yellowing stalks hooked into the air angrily, like spears. And the scarecrows watched their stalks slowly spin in the breeze, listened to the buzz of the flies infesting the fields, and waited for their chance to...

What?

I looked over at Cody, but he didn't feel any of the unease that I did. Why would he? He'd grown up on the farm and was used to all its little intricacies, its haunts and spooks. He was able to ignore the pranks and he was able to ignore the scarecrows leering at him angrily over the dead corn.

"She's blonde," I mumbled to myself.

"What's that?" Cody asked, leaning in to hear me repeat myself.

"Nothing, babe. I didn't say a thing."

When we turned to head back into the house, the scarecrows were still lined up among the rows, Kings of the Husks, and out of the corner of their eyes they were watching us go. I think I would have preferred the crows.

~*~

We had corn for dinner.

Buttering up the cob, I listened to the dinner conversation raptly. My mind was constantly fill with witty one-liners as I heard the exchange of dialogue, but I kept them all to myself. I wouldn't want to offend Cody's parents. I'd have to wait for some other entrance.

"Aw, Susan, this corn is delicious!" Cody's father bellowed.

"Well, dear, you grew it." She smiled sweetly, like a typical Rockwellian Sunday brunch farmhouse mother who considers their family their number one priority. It was a comforting smile, and I liked it.

"I gotta agree, Mr. Brant," I said, trying not to spit out kernels of corn. "This is some of the best corn I've ever had. It must have been a great season."

They both smiled, and then Cody's father leaned in and said conspiratorially, "Hey, Leah, I told you already, just call me Rob."

"Rob."

"There ya go. And thanks, doll, I appreciate it. I'm sure Susan does, too, don't ya?"

She flashed another smile to make Norman Rockwell melt.

"And yer right, ya know. It was a really good season. They all have been recently. The corn's growin' taller, sweeter, more abundantly, quicker, longer. It's just as easy to harvest, twice as easy to sell, and three times as easy to make money off of as it was. Ah, I love the corn."

It was good corn.

"And ya know who I have to thank for it?" Rob beamed. "Eric."

I hadn't even noticed the teenage boy hunched over his meal until Rob motioned toward him with his arm. Eric grunted to show he recognized his name had been mentioned, and then disappeared back into his own world. Rob smiled, leaned back, and stretched.

"Eric and his friends built me a whole flock of scarecrows and, my God, I have never seen any finer working ones. I've seen farmers with a hundred scarecrows and a thousand crows eating their corn. I got a dozen and none." Rob smiled. "They're good. They're real good."

I looked over Rob's shoulder and was able to see his flock watching me, still, leering angrily. No wonder there were no crows. I wouldn't even go into that field. But was that all? "What makes them so effective?" I asked.

Rob looked at Eric.

Eric chewed at his corn greedily, like a pig. I remembered a movie I'd seen once, a crime caper, my favorites. One of the gangsters in it had gone into detail about pigs. How one pig could eat two pounds of flesh a minute, how sixteen pigs could devour a man in eight minutes. That's what Eric reminded me of. I wondered if there were any pigs on the farm.

Eric wiped his mouth clean, though the grease still shone brightly around his mouth in the dull dining room's 40 whopping watts, and proceeded to chew something left over in his mouth. Rob smiled as he waited, and I tried not to grimace. I looked over at Cody, who seemed to be trying desperately to feign a smile. I did the same.

Then Eric spoke. I wish he hadn't.

"They're dead."

"Excuse me?"

"The scarecrows. I put dead things in them."

"Dead things?"

"Ayuh."

"Excuse me?"

"You know. The first one we made, me and my friends, that is, we took a rabbit, skinned it alive, and stuffed it into the head before stitchin' it shut. Some of the blood leaked from the eyes, ya know, but hey. It worked. The crows smelled the animals, and..."

"Wouldn't a dead animal attract crows?"

"Dammit, can I finish?"

I blushed.

"It did attract them. And so we killed the birds. We put them in the scarecrows next. We littered the ground with their skeletons. Their feathers. They got the idea."

"It worked?"

"Hell, yeah!" Eric laughed. "Gaw, you shoulda seen the neighbors!"

I imagine they looked a lot like I do.

I looked up nervously at Rob. He was smiling widely, waving a corn cob in front of his face. He seemed very proud of his son for coming up with such a wonderful idea. "Isn't it wonderful?" he asked.

I nodded. "My thoughts exactly."

~*~

If there's one good thing about the farmhouse, it's the view. One of the rooms has some beautiful french doors that open up onto a small balcony overlooking the fields and the wilderness, and God, what a view. The moon was glowing high in the night among the twinkling stars. I noticed it was nearly full, a round addition to the lover before me. In a few nights, it would be a bitter-sweet full moon.

And it would fully illuminate the infestation before me.

The fields were nice. The scarecrows were not. I could only count eleven of them, and Rob had said there were a dozen. Maybe one was just out of sight, but it was unaccounted for, and for some reason that made me very nervous.

And then I felt cool arms sliding around me, gripping my waist and pulling me close, sliding under my shirt and resting over my belly button, fingering it dangerously. I leaned back and kissed Cody, and when we broke he was smiling. "It's beautiful tonight, isn't it?"

"Yes," I lied.

The scarecrows were watching.

He heard something in my voice, kissed my neck, and sighed. "What's wrong?"

Busted. Damn. "Them." I pointed out into the fields, at all eleven of them.

"The scarecrows?"

"Yeah."

"What about them? They're just straw and clothes."

"And dead birds."

"Nothing that's going to move, either way."

"I don't like them."

I felt his tongue in my ear, and couldn't help but giggle. I almost felt high. Cory was worth the scarecrows. "I can make you forget them," he whispered, ever so gently. His hands trailed down my stomach toward my waist, and his lips traveled down my cheek to meet mine.

The door creaked open and something slid in.

We turned and our embrace broke.

"Ya like the view, der?" Rob asked happily. "The balcony didn't come wit thah house. Well. My father made thah house. He didn't make the balcony, dunno why. I did that myself."

"What do you want, Dad?" Cory wasn't pleased with the interruption, but Rob paid no notice.

"I just come to give you your lodgings," he smiled.

"Oh," I said, not thinking as fast as I'd have liked. "I thought we'd be sleeping in the same room." And then I realized how it had come out. It had come out exactly like I'd meant it.

"Ah. No dear. Don't wanna force yew two into anything yeh isn't ready fer just because I can't come up wit an extra bed, now." He laughed happily, and I could feel Cody's hand sliding up the back of my shirt to rest between my shoulders. It was comforting, but it was a warning, too. Don't say a thing.

"So where am I sleeping?" I asked.

"The couch!"

Oh. Great.

~*~

The couch was in the den, and the den had large windows that took up almost an entire wall and opened out into a view of the fields. It wasn't nearly as impressive as it had been from the balcony. All I could see were the stalks shooting up into the air where they hovered until their deaths, and then began to slowly deteriorate into the nothingness in which they thrived.

And of course, the scarecrows watched. All ten of them.

Their attention was torn between their domains and the intruder amongst them, the dirty woman who would not leave them be. I turned over on the couch, trying to hide under the blanket and escape their gaze, but nothing I could do would make their presence go away. I could feel it, riding up my back, trickling along my spine and grasping for my neck.

The door opened.

A sharp intake of breath and I paused, waited, listened. I could hear the hinges creaking slowly, and then there was a scratching. Like straw being dragged along tile. The door clicked shut, the lock was thrown, and then I heard the ruffling of a scarecrow, inching through the kitchen, bit by bit...

"Susan! Dammit, woman, what do you want?" Rob hissed.

I am such a loser.

"I'm worried, Rob! Something's not right!"

Maybe.

I could hear the two shuffling about the room nervously, on edge, and resisted the urge to peek out from behind the couch and watch them. I thought of how, in the morning, when I went to kiss Cody his face would be rough with stubble, and if you brushed his cheek there would be a loud scratching sound. His father must be the same way. No scarecrows.

"What did ya wake me up for?" Rob hissed.

"We need to talk!" Susan pleaded.

I listened. No, I eavesdropped.

"Why couldn't we talk upstairs?"

"Eric's upstairs!"

"Yea, I know he's upstairs, I helped build the room he's sleepin' in!"

"He might hear us, Rob! He might hear us!"

There was silence then, save for a gruff grunt from Cody's father.

"So ya brought me down here."

"Yes."

"To the den."

"Yes."

"Where the girl is sleeping."

I've caused plenty of awkward silences before, but I think this might be the first time I caused one without even joining the conversation. My mother would be so proud.

"Yes," Susan finally said, meekly. I felt sorry for her. I bet she hadn't wanted those foul scarecrows latched to poles in her fields, her gardens, but I bet she hadn't said anything about it, either. She continued. "But you just said the keyword, dear. She's sleeping."

"We don't know that."

"Look at her."

I barely avoided gasping, and froze on the spot. It was hard to regulate my breathing and make it appear as if I was deep within the arms of slumber, and I just knew I'd get caught. I could hear Rob slipping over to the couch, scratching his cheek bitterly and limping with the October cold. I could picture him perfectly, and I could smell corn whiskey on his breath, I could feel his anger permeating the room. His hand clamped down inches above my head, and for a moment I was sure he would strike me while I 'slept.'

But he didn't.

"Keep yer voice down, then," he growled. I heard him turn, walk back across the room, and thud into a chair loudly. I heard Susan turn to make herself comfortable, and Rob hissed (quite loudly, I might add) that she should be quite and to stop being so stupid. "Now what's this all about?"

I didn't want to listen I didn't want to listen I didn't want to listen oh God why would they make me listen?

"Halloween's coming up."

"Susan, I know."

"I know, but..."

"Oh. So that's what this is about."

The two of them were silent again, and I resisted the urge to curse. I'd heard of couples that had been married for so long, they could tell what one another was thinking with a single look into one another's eyes. And then nothing had to be said. I wondered if they'd expand, I hoped they'd expand, I forgot that I didn't want to listen and I just wanted them to talk! But then again, with my luck, they'd probably just drop down on the floor and start making love beside me. That would make a good impression. But, at least, I didn't think Cody's parents were like that.

Rob continued. Thank God.

"So what's yer problem? It happens every year."

"I know, but I got a bad feeling about it this year. A real bad feeling."

"But it's just a feeling, isn't it, Susan?"

"It's strong, Rob."

"What is it?"

"I think they're going to hurt Eric this time."

For a moment I thought they were talking about the scarecrows, and why not? But then the subtleties hit me and I realized just how wrong that was. Halloween, every year, they. Rob and Susan were talking about the pranksters.

"They aren't gonna hurt Eric. That would be against everythin' they want."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Now let's go to bed."

I heard them turn to leave and sighed a great sigh of relief. I made sure I was silent enough so that they wouldn't hear and, even if they did, they could mistake it for the sounds of slumber. I heard the door slam shut and I turned to make myself comfortable and sleep.

And that's when I saw the hand creeping over the side of the couch, grasping it firmly, and the face rising over the back. I froze. Rob hadn't left, he was still right here, peering out into the fields and watching the scarecrows. His eyes had narrowed into slits and his mouth turned into a grimace.

And then he turned and left me alone with the darkness.

~*~

I awoke with a sigh, stretched, and tried to pretend like everything was still going well.

Then I noticed there were only six scarecrows in the field.

~*~ And then Halloween was upon us, and the streets were buzzing with toddlers who would readily trade their lower jaw for a Snickers bar, glowing skeletons and bleeding mummies swatting each other with trash bags, and teenagers just waiting for the perfect time to jump, scream, and steal bags of candy. Like fireflies flitting about the air in a random mating dance, the toddlers would stop in the middle of the street with their flashlights at their feet to trade away their gummy bears for some chocolate and then, having done what they came to do, run off screaming. I love this holiday.

And somewhere out there among the lights was a group of angry boys with nothing more to do than trick, and I knew that a prank would be coming soon.

What made this all startlingly odd was the fact that I could barely see it happening. Even the slowest child knows that a path of farms placed a mile apart does not make good trick-or-treating jaunts. If I went out onto the balcony and looked over the fields where no scarecrows stood, I could just see the hustle and bustle of children in a cozy suburb far, far away.

The doorbell rang while I was looking for the scarecrows, though, and I turned to go. Cody's parents had left the house to enjoy the far-off festivities, Eric was out with his friends, and I was left to hand out candy with Cody. When I opened the door, I discovered a small group of children who I just knew were all neighbors on their way to the suburbs.

"Trick-or-treat!"

I threw the candy at them and shut the door. The longer I kept it open, the more likely the scarecrows were to find an entrance. I listened to the children scurry away and took a deep breath. Now where was Cody?

I didn't look for him for long. That isn't to say that I found him, I just got distracted. Because out in the cornfield, smoke was drifting up in lazy swirls and puffs. Somewhere out in the cornfield, there was a fire.

I ran.

And I ran.

And I ran.

Slapping through husks, pushing over plants, tripping through the weeds and onto broken stalks, through the rows and toward the fire where I could smell the smoke burning. Once I had hit the field and was in the rows, I could hear the sounds, too. They were the young and gleeful shouts of boys set loose, and amongst them there were screams. And then, as I pushed over the stalks, I was in the clearing.

I wish I wasn't.

The children were all there, forming rings around the fire like a beast trying to engulf the flames. And then I saw that the fire itself was a ring, and that inside there was a slab of wood and two children. One of them was strapped to the wood and, though he was sweating heavily, seemed perfectly calm. The other was naked, painted in crimson, and dancing wildly. In his hand was a sickle.

Then I saw the boy strapped to the wood. It was Eric. It was Cody's little brother.

I tried to step forward and stop the hideous ceremony, but the scarecrows stopped me. They had all brought the poles they'd been tied to, sharp stakes, and were holding them forward like spears. Their stitches were coming undone, the fires glistened in their eyes, and hissed the mad hiss of a snake on the verge of capturing their prey.

One of them hissed again and let out a horrendous call, almost like that of the crows they were supposed to ward off. And then the naked boy in the center of the circle stopped dancing, turned, and lifted the sickle in a wide arch. Eric nodded.

"No!"

The boy froze for a second at my voice, but then swung the sickle like a bat. The blade hit Eric and cut clean through him without pausing for a moment. The naked boy swung again, across Eric's neck, and his torso fell to the ground. His head and legs remained tied down.

Eric was dead, and now this mad cult was fully aware of my presence. I could see the boy with the sickle glaring at me angrily through the flames, fingering his bloody blade. The rest of the children began to advance, and the scarecrows began to crawl out of the rows behind them.

I turned to run, grabbed a stalk to gain my footing, and faltered as it broke off in my hand. I fell to my knees and what I'd grabbed fell from my hand. I was holding a corn cob.

I leapt to my feet, turned, and threw the corn. There were twelve scarecrows advancing toward me, and my poor aim didn't really matter. The corn tumbled through the air and, when the dead husk hit the flames, burst into fire. I saw the corn thud into a scarecrow's shoulder, where the shirt caught the flame. The fire began to spread, and soon the scarecrow was engulfed in sparks and flames. It staggered forward, faltered, and fell to the ground. The straw was burning up.

I saw some of the scarecrows pause to observe their fallen comrade and then turn back to me fearlessly before I turned and ran. The children had all stopped and began screaming. But I could hear the scarecrows crashing through the corn as I ran, tripped, rolled, got back up, and ran again. They weren't fast, but I could hear them swinging those dangerous spears of theirs, crushing the corn, trying to find me and impale me.

I ran, and ran, and ran.

They followed, they sped up, they gained on me.

I was just beginning to believe I'd lost myself in the rows when I burst through, found the lawn, and began sprinting for the house. I dared one look backward, saw the scarecrows slithering out of the rows and into the fields where I'd be easy game, and up the hills. The fire still burned.

Running, panting, back to the house. I kicked the jack-o-lantern over as I grabbed for the door, and I could hear the sides of the pumpkin simmering as I through myself into the house and onto the floor.

Cody was there to help. He picked me up quickly, and there was panic in his eyes when he looked at me. "Leah! Leah, it's okay, you're safe!" I threw myself into his arms wordlessly, and he held me for a moment before asking the inevitable question, "What's wrong?"

I stepped back and looked at him.

I felt odd explaining. I almost couldn't.

"There was a fire in the cornfield, and when I got there, a cult was performing some ceremony, and, oh, God, Cody, they killed Eric!"

Cody didn't flinch.

"What did you do?"

His voice was full of suspicion.

"I, I... Cody, the scarecrows were there."

"I know."

"You what?"

"What did you do?"

"What's going on here?"

"Are they coming after us?" he screamed. He ran to a window. "Dammit, you destroyed one, didn't you?"

"Cody!" I screamed. "They killed your brother!"

"I know! You killed one, you killed one, you wrecked the ceremony, you butchered the sacrifice, my God!" He ran to a new window and looked out, up at the sky. I could see the scarecrows advancing out of the cornfields, up to the house. "We have to get out of here," he muttered.

"Cody, what's going on here?"

"Did you ever think that maybe we needed the scarecrows?" he hissed.

"Wait, what?"

"Leah, why would we sacrifice my brother for them if we didn't need them?"

I stared in silence.

"Didn't you ever stop to think that, just maybe, the scarecrows aren't the problem?"

And then he pointed. I followed his finger, and then I saw. The night had gone black, the skies were gone, the clouds disappeared, and the light of the moon was trickling out slowly. And then I heard the caws, the flap of wings. The darkness spread over the sky, and I watched as the moon was blotted out by the sheer size of them all. The crows had come.