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Scarecrow

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At the end of Murray Drive there rested a cornfield. For the elderly couple who owned it, its maintenance was a matter of honor. Ever since Mr. Bernard had been laid off from his factory job and Mrs. Bernard had retired from her secretarial job in town, both viewed the field as a sentient being that thrived under their emotions and effort. Many summer mornings Mr. Bernard could be found out in the field before the sun, the wide brim of his hat hiding the pride in his eyes. Mrs. Bernard often took her morning cup of coffee resting by the kitchen window to watch the sun set the field ablaze. Even when they became too frail to work the field themselves and they had to hire out help, both refused to let go of something they both took such vicarious pleasure in.

The upcoming summer was expected to be brutal, with farmers and crops suffering the worst. The couple was urging the hired hands to take extra care with the corn this year. But a problem with a pest soon arose. The pest was not an animal, insect, or disease; the pest was Leah Zimmerman, who lived just three houses down. She was as young and petulant as a teenager could come. Like clockwork each summer she could be expected to traipse through their corn, stealing and vandalizing her entire destructive way.

This year the owners would not stand for it. After vocalizing several complaints to the girl’s parents and even filing a few useless reports with the police, Mr. and Mrs. Bernard were at their wit’s end. Having no proof, no legal measures could be taken. They needed to catch her in the act or to catch her on camera.

They called Mrs. Bernard’s youngest nephew who had majored in Computer Sciences in college and had access to all kinds of strange machines. He was able to construct the perfect plan.

The nephew came to visit, bringing with him two cameras the size of marbles (solid black in color). Both were sensitive to movement and took pictures if the sensors were triggered. If placed in the right spots, they could provide damaging evidence.

Mrs. Bernard rummaged up the supplies for a scarecrow. She borrowed some of Mr. Bernard’s oldest and rattiest shirts and trousers and stuffed them with the sweetest straw from the yard. On its face she drew a twisted smile and heavy, leaning eyebrows. Where each eye should be, she secured one of the cameras.

That night, both rejoiced over dinner about their fortunate luck in having such a talented nephew and the coming end to their pest problem. Mr. Bernard even joked that the scarecrow frightened him, if only a little.

The next morning the scarecrow resided over the field with dark, watchful eyes, and Leah saw it on her way to school. She stood, sizing it up. It was the most disgusting thing she’d ever seen, with its corkscrew smile and its shiny eyes. She picked up a rock and threw it overhand. It whizzed through the corn, missing. She threw another, and then another. This one struck the scarecrow above the eyebrow. A dark substance, thick as mud oozed from the spot. Suddenly, the sun didn’t feel as warm. Goosebumps broke out all along her arms and bare legs. Leah ran the rest of the way to school.

That night Mr. Bernard made sure to keep the porch lights on in the event that a picture could be captured in the night. He brought in their dog, Samuel, and retired early.

Samuel was restless. Mr. and Mrs. Bernard could hear his whimpering and the sound of his nails as they scratched along the hard wood floors downstairs. Sure that Samuel had to relieve himself, Mrs. Bernard went down, attached the line to his collar, and let him outside into the backyard before returning to her bed. The dog was quiet the rest of the night.

In the morning, the dog was dead. Mr. Bernard discovered him first. The cord he had used to keep the dog connected to a post in the yard had been broken, whether by the dog or someone else, and there were long gashes along the dog’s side, crusted black with blood. If only the dog had wandered around to the other side of the house, then a picture of its murderer could have been captured on the scarecrow’s camera.

The couple mourned, filed a police report, and buried the dog in the backyard.

Over the course of the next month, there were no problems. The corn remained intact and Leah had not been spotted near their property. In reality, she had been there many times.

Almost every day on her way to summer school Leah would stop by the end of the street and stare at the scarecrow. She always wanted to go into the cornfield, pick a few ears, and knock down some stalks like she always did. She had always considered herself brave, and had never believed in superstitions or ghost stories, but something in the scarecrows made her stomach turn.

Leah Zimmerman refused to be a chicken. Monday, with the news that Mr. and Mrs. Bernard would be going away to visit family in Springfield, Leah finally decided to stop acting like one. That night she slipped out of the house after both of her parents had gone to bed and jogged down the street until she reached the cornfield.

The stalks were quiet. The air was warm and fragrant with the pleasant smells associated with summertime. Leah found herself sweating, though chilled. Before entering the cornfield, she stopped and stared at the scarecrow. It seemed to stare back, smiling its twisted smile.

She bent down every cornstalk on her way to the scarecrow, ripping ears off and tossing some to the ground while tucking other under her arm. At last, the dummy loomed above her in the dark. She threw the ears of corn at it. Its head bobbed with the strikes. She grabbed the pole it was secured to and shook until it shivered. She ripped the shoes off of its makeshift feet.

There was a sudden rustling that had not come from her movements. The scarecrow’s claws skimmed her hair. Leah jerked away, tripped over her own feet, and fell. The scarecrow above her twisted on its pole, face contorted hellishly. It scratched at her with long arms and curved claws, making deep, grunting growls.

Leah stood and ran, shoes pounding into the pavement. Safety was just a few houses away. If she could make it, everything would be okay, she was sure of it. But the scarecrow was already off of its pole and chasing her. At first, the thing’s legs were shaky, but it became use to them, moving at inhuman speeds.

Leah made it up the sidewalk to her house. She threw open the door--her sleeping parents could be damned--and made it inside in time to watch the scarecrow stand on the porch and glare at her with its glittering eyes. She locked the door without taking her eyes away from it, taunting it from behind her shield of glass and metal.

The scarecrow accepted the challenge. It turned and began to head back down the sidewalk, arms and legs jerking along in an unsteady rhythm. It paused at the locked garage door and clawed at it, stripping away long pieces of wood. The door gave in. It turned to give her one last leer and held up its arm in the mockery of a wave before entering and closing the door behind it.

Leah turned towards her silent house, shaking. She returned to her bedroom, closed the door, and lay on her bed. Sleep did not come easily.

In the morning she was miserable as she listened to her parents talk about the animal that had ravaged their garage door. Since they lived so close to the woods, some unsuspecting raccoon had taken the blame for her living nightmare. On her way to school, Leah did not need to look towards the cornfield to know that the scarecrow would not be there.

She went through the day in constant terror, fearing for the moment when she would have to go home, lay in her bed, and know that the thing was wandering around outside, looking for the best way inside to her.

Her parents remarked on her pallid look at dinner. Leah did her best to throw them off, pleading the stomach flu, food poisoning, and cramps all at once. Lying in her bed, she knew sleep was impossible. She waited instead, listening for the sounds that were sure to come. A soon as her parents had gone to bed and the house was quiet, they did.

Shuffling; thuds against the ground outside her window (which was just above her headboard). Leah lay under the covers, eyes closed against the noises and the darkness, and tried to keep her breathing steady. The noises grew louder, but died away again, in a rhythm. It went on in this fashion for almost a half hour. The thing was looking for her, for her bedroom window.

And she was cowering under the covers like a child. The icy fear that had frozen in her veins began to thaw, and then to boil. Her fists clenched around her comforter, turning her knuckles white. Leah Zimmerman was no chicken.

The thuds came closer, and this time hesitated towards her window. It came closer than it had ever been before, and when Leah was sure that it was right outside her window, she flew up out of bed, turned on the light switch in her bedroom, and threw up the blinds and the window pane to the look the thing in the eye.

Its arms came through the window as if to embrace her. Her mouth opened to scream, but she was already dying, her throat slit, blood pouring down the front of her pajama top. All the time, its eyes shined with a dark mirth, black as pitch.

When Mr. and Mrs. Bernard returned from their trip to Springfield, they found their scarecrow gone. Enraged at the insolent girl’s latest act of debauchery, Mr. Bernard stormed across the street to confront the girl’s parents for the final time. Answering the door was a hysterical Mrs. Zimmerman. She relayed the story that she had been telling all of the neighbors who came to wonder why the police cars and ambulances had come so early in the morning. Mr. Zimmerman had gotten up for work and noticed Leah’s bedroom light on. Their daughter had been inside, dead, half of her body inside the room, the other half hanging out the window. She was cold and white, blood from her slit throat covering her clothes and the paneling on the outside of the window.

Stunned into silence, Mr. Bernard lied and said that he had forgotten what he had come to ask the mourning couple about. He gave them his and Mrs. Bernard’s condolences, and returned back to his house. Even if he had hated the girl, he had never wished her dead, much less in such a brutal way.

Before entering the house again, he stopped by the cornfield one last time, staring at the damage. In light of his neighbor’s terrible loss, it did not seem so devastating anymore. Turning, something in the gravel of the road caught his eyes. It was the two black marble cameras that their nephew had given them. Out of curiosity, Mr. Bernard went through the process their nephew had explained to develop the pictures.

Several were normal: of him and his wife putting the scarecrow up, of the hired hands tending to the field. But then he saw the brutal death of his dog by long, terrible claws. He saw the Zimmerman girl plenty of times: throwing rocks, sometimes just standing and watching. He watched her desecrate the field, and then witnessed the thing (only from this point of view and with this amount of detail, it was as though they were his eyes, his memories) chase the girl into her house. He saw the scarecrow compact itself into a far corner of what seemed to be a garage and the Zimmerman’s enter their car on their way to work. He recognized the outside of his neighbor’s house as the scarecrow paced back and forth, peering inside windows. He watched the terrified expression on the girl’s face as she was slaughtered like an animal.

From the scarecrow’s eyes, he saw as he and his wife pulled up in their car, returning home. Like some horror film, he watched himself go across the street to confront the Zimmerman’s, but as he turned, the cameras must have slipped from their spots and fallen. The last image they had managed to capture was the sightless scarecrow stumbling away to disappear among the tall stalks of corn.





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