A Short Story

From the Dark Side of Vintage


T.L. Chasse

In the small town of Vintage, Maine, in the wee hours of the morning, ten-year old Duncan Becker fixed himself a cup of hot chocolate to ward off the mid-October chill. He used his father's "F*#k it" mug, even though he knew his mother wouldn't like it. Letting the mug warm his fingers, he stepped out onto the porch. The sun hadn't risen yet, but the light of the near-full moon gave him a nice view of the farm.

His father approached the house, carrying his own mug of coffee, Duncan walked down the steps to meet him. "Hi, Dad."

"Hey, Bud. I got a job for ya." He sipped his coffee. "Looks like some teens took off with our scarecrow from the corn maze last night. I need you to make a new one after breakfast. I'll put together a cross for you to hang it on." He ruffled Duncan's hair. "Think you can handle it?"

Nodding, Duncan said, "Sure, Dad." He sipped at his hot chocolate.

They sat on the steps of the porch, quietly watching the farm wake up in the early morning light. The fall colors had faded and the crisp leaves were falling. From inside the barn, a cow lowed. A light breeze brought the aroma from the barn toward the front porch. Duncan could hear the chickens softly clucking as they woke up.

Breathing in deeply, Duncan's father said, "It's mornin's like this that make me remember how good life is." He put his hand on Duncan's shoulder as he pushed himself up, then he leaned in and whispered, "And don't let your mother catch you using that mug."

Later in the morning, dark, storm clouds had blown in. The rain wasn't due to start until later in the afternoon, but the clouds hung around just the same. Duncan walked through the corn maze pulling a garden cart full of the materials he needed to build his scarecrow. Although the corn stalks were dry, the sweet smell still permeated the air. Sal, his six-year old sister, ran up behind him.

"Whatcha doin'?" She ducked through the tall stalks to get ahead of him.

He stopped short. "Git out of the way, Sal. I'm making a new scarecrow. Some jerks took our other one and Dad wants one out there for the corn maze next weekend."

"Can I help?" She skipped alongside him.

"Sure, I guess." They reached the wooden cross that their father had put up. "Think you can stuff his shirt while I work on the legs?"

"Absotuley, big brother!" She hugged the flannel shirt that Duncan handed to her.

He shook his head. "It's ab-so-lutely," he grumbled. Hearing the loud caws of a murder of crows, Duncan picked up a rock and threw it hard into the corn. The crows burst out in a frenzy, taking flight toward the big oak tree on the edge of the cornfield.

There was a small bale of hay on the back of the cart. They both set to work, grabbing handfuls and stuffing the clothing. At the edge of the field, the forest trees swayed in the cold, October wind.

"We should give him a heart," Sal said. "That way, he'll love us. I know where there's a heart-shaped rock. I'll be right back." She took off running before Duncan could stop her.

"Stupid girls," he muttered, shaking his head.

When Sal came back, she gripped a small stone shaped like a heart. "See? It's perfect." She reached into the chest of the scarecrow.

Duncan pulled her arm out. "Cut it out. He's not going to love us. It's a stupid scarecrow." He grabbed the stone heart and tossed it over his shoulder.

After Duncan filled the legs and tied it off at the feet, he stood up and stretched. "My legs are sore from sitting so long. I'm gonna go to the barn. I forgot a straw hat and some rope. Don't get into any trouble while I'm gone."

"How am I gonna get into trouble?" Sal asked.

"I don't know. You'll think of something." He took off at a trot toward the barn.

Landing on a branch at the top of the oak tree, the crow perched lightly and watched the boy below. When the boy had thrown the rock, it whizzed by the large crow's head, his feathers blowing in the breeze. With a shudder to fluff his feathers, the crow cawed and took flight into the forest.

While Duncan was gone, Sal finished stuffing the arms. "You do so need a heart." She walked around the area until she found the little rock that Duncan had tossed. Bringing it back, she shoved it in through the hay in its chest. "We won't tell Duncan, okay? It'll be our own secret, Bubby." She giggled. "That's your name. Bubby. I'm going to make you a face. I'll be right back." She grabbed the burlap sack and headed for the house.

Duncan walked into the dark barn. The air was cool as he worked his way to the old tack room in the back. He found a piece of rope that was old and frayed. This ought to work. Reaching up on a shelf, he pulled down an old straw hat. I think this used to be Grampa's. Shrugging, he ran back to the scarecrow.

When he got back to the assembly area, there was no sign of Sal. "Good. Now I can get to work without her bugging me," he muttered. Using a roll of twine, he attached the legs to the torso. He tied the ends of the sleeves so the hay wouldn't fall out. Reaching for the burlap sack to stuff for the head, he spun around. "Where'd the head go? I had it right here." He shook his head and stood up. "SAL?" he yelled. "Where's the head?"

"I'm coming. I've got it." Her high-pitched voice came from the edge of the corn maze. A bark followed her voice and less than a minute later, both Sal and Diggory, their mutt, came bounding through the corn.

Sal clutched the burlap sack in her hand. "Look, Duncan! I gave him a face." Handing the sack to Duncan, she grinned, showing the gap from her newly-lost tooth.

He held the sack up and looked at Sal's hard work. There were two mismatched buttons glued on for eyes and a crooked mouth drawn on with a black marker. "That's ridiculous. He's going to be the stupidest-looking scarecrow we've ever had."

After the scarecrow was all assembled and Duncan had tied it up on the wooden cross, they stepped back to look up at it.

"Not bad," he said. Grinning down at Sal, he added, "Considering the ugly face you gave him."

Sal frowned. "You leave Bubby alone. I think he's beautiful."

"Bubby? You named him Bubby?" He shook his head and put his hand over his eyes. "Girls! Come on. It's time for lunch. I'm starving."

They packed up the materials and started to pull the cart back to the barn. The sky got even darker and huge drops began to fall. Duncan looked back over his shoulder at the scarecrow as he walked away. It wavered in a big gust of wind as it watched them leave.

Flying back to the top of the oak tree, the crow watched the boy walk away. The strange straw man stayed in the cornfield. With a loud caw, the crow called his brothers and sisters to the tree. Huddled together on the branches, they watched the strange straw man.

Finally, as the rain got heavier, it drove them into the forest to find shelter.