Outside Looks like winter. Slate gray clouds hang Low, Just above the ridge tops. Between cloud base and horizon, The magenta-orange haze Portends a chilly dawn.
Out back, A carpet of frost Dulls the still-verdant grass. Twisting paths Of darker spheres Tell of predawn visitors Crossing the yard. Raven roams, Adding her own path of prints As she sniffs the story Of night-beasts passing through.
I sip coffee and smile. Thoughts turn to the spooky souls Who will come knocking Tonight Seeking sugary treats Under cover of masks and darkness Before flocking to frightful festivities. Memories rise Of childhood parties past, And tales told in dark rooms With flashlights beneath our chins.
One reminiscence crisscrosses another, And I soon recall Superstitions whispered by elder aunt’s On dark October nights. I cackle into my cup; My logical, modern mind Doubts and discards The old beliefs of veils parting And souls slipping Between worlds.
Still, I watch as my breath ascends Ghostlike To vanish in the icy air, And I know That summer has slipped Beyond the veil of time, And winter will soon materialize In its place, Amid a hoarfrost veil.
That thought Makes me shiver More than the spooks And skeletons And super-villains Who will visit in the night to come. With a final glance To the gray sky, I whistle for the dog And retreat inside.
This is Part 3 of “The Scariest Scarecrow.” You can check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
The sun hung low in the sky by the time the three boys finished the new scarecrow. Damon was especially proud of his creation. He had shaped the Modge Podge and gauze around the wig head into a frightening Scream-like silhouette and draped the oversized flannel shirt and jeans over the wood frame so that the scarecrow appeared to be lunging and reaching out to grab something…or someone. The banana clip made surprisingly-convincing teeth, despite its hot pink hue, and the red reflectors beneath the heavy gauze brow seemed almost lifelike as they glinted in the red-orange rays of the setting sun.
“Let’s put him out in the garden now,” Keith exclaimed, leaping up and starting toward the porch steps. “I want Mom and Dad to see it when they get home.”
Damon let out a guffaw that Kevin thought sounded forced. “They’ll be so scared they’ll turn right around and head for the hills. Then you two will be here alone with—“ he lowered his voice to a creepy hiss— “the scarecrow.”
Keith laughed at the mental image of their parents—especially their six-foot-two-inch-tall father—being afraid of the scarecrow, but Kevin just smiled absentmindedly as he stared at the prostrate form on the porch. He shuddered; the iridescent scarlet-hued prisms that were the scarecrow’s eyes seemed to see directly into his soul. Despite the chill in the air, beads of sweat formed on his brow as he tried unsuccessfully to tear his gaze away.
“Come on, Kev.” Damon punched Kevin’s shoulder. “Let’s go terrorize some crows.”
Giving himself a shake, he helped Damon pick up the scarecrow and carry it off the porch. As they followed Keith across the yard toward the garden, the scarecrow’s head shifted to the side and rested on Kevin’s shoulder. A hot, rancid odor filled his nostrils, and he imagined that the scarecrow was breathing in his face. He shrugged his shoulder several times to reposition the scarecrow’s head, but it always found its way back to Kevin’s shoulder.
When they reached the middle of the garden where Sammy had stood just days before, they lifted the new scarecrow and set the post into the hole in the ground. Braxton held it steady as Kevin and Keith filled in the hole with dirt and rocks.
By the time the three boys stepped back to admire their work, the sun was just above the horizon. As Kevin stared at their creation, he shuddered, thinking maybe they’d done too good a job of making it scary. The last rays of the setting sun bathed the scarecrow in a blood red hue, and its eyes seemed to glow with a lifelike glimmer, almost as though it watched them.
As if echoing his brother’s thoughts, Keith whispered, “He looks really creepy. Those crows won’t come near this scarecrow!” For a moment, he stared intently at the scarecrow and then moved closer to Kevin. “I think he can see us.”
“Yeah. Well, I’m heading out,” Damon said, turning abruptly and sprinting out of the garden. He called over his shoulder, “Enjoy your scarecrow, K-bot.”
“Damon, hold up,” Kevin said, starting after him. “Don’t you want to wait for my parents? I’m sure Mom’s bringing home pizza, and Dad will run you home.”
“No thanks,” Damon shouted back as he jammed his things into his backpack and slung it over his shoulder before mounting his bike. “Can’t wait for your folks. Gotta get home.”
Kevin stood by the gate watching Damon speed up the driveway and onto the road. It wasn’t like him to turn down a ride home, or more yet an invitation to stay for supper. He couldn’t shake the idea that his friend was acting as though someone or something had frightened him.
A moment later, the wind picked up, and an unsettling rustle ran through the cornfield, sending a shiver down his spine. Suddenly there was a shrill squeal behind him, and something grabbed his hand, making him cry out and whirl around.
“Look, Kevin! He’s dancing! My scarecrow is dancing!” Keith laughed as he pointed at the scarecrow and mimicked its movements.
“Yeah.” Kevin swallowed hard, glad that they’d securely bound the scarecrow’s hands and feet to the pole on which it hung. Indeed, the scarecrow was swaying back and forth in the stiff breeze, but in Kevin’s mind the scarecrow wasn’t dancing; it was trying to break free.
A bright flash of light illuminated the scarecrow for a second, and its eyes suddenly flared red. Just in time, Kevin bit back a cry as he turned to determine the source of the light. Keith, however, had already figured it out. He pushed past his brother and darted out of the garden. “Mom and Dad are home! Wait till they see my new scarecrow!”
Mr. Appleby maneuvered the pickup truck down the narrow driveway and parked in between the house and the old oak tree next to it. Before he had even turned off the ignition, Keith ran up to the driver’s side window, jabbering excitedly as he gestured toward the garden. Kevin remained rooted where he stood until the wind shifted, bringing the stench of death to his nostrils.
“Kevin, what are you standing there for?” Mr. Appleby called. “Get over here and help unload.”
A low, scraping sound made him glance over his shoulder. The scarecrow’s head had fallen forward slightly, making it seem as though the red eyes were directed right at him. His blood ran cold, and he immediately turned and bolted out of the garden. “Coming, Dad.”
By the time Kevin joined Mr. Appleby by the truck, Keith had already picked up a box of goat’s milk soaps and was following Mrs. Appleby into the house, still chattering away about his new scarecrow. Mr. Appleby handed Kevin a crate and then slid a second one off the tailgate before turning to ask, “Was that Damon we passed just on the other side of Hendershot’s farm?”
“Yeah,” Kevin said, following his father toward the porch steps. “He came over to help Keith build the new scarecrow.”
“Why the devil didn’t he wait till we got home?” Mr. Appleby asked, climbing the steps and going inside the house. “Your mother bought a couple pizzas. He could have stayed to supper, and I would have taken him home so he wouldn’t have to ride his bike home in the dark. It’s not safe riding at night without a headlight.”
Kevin glanced over his shoulder in the direction Damon had gone. Apparently he doesn’t think it’s safe being here with the scarecrow either. “I don’t know what’s up with him,” he said, hurrying down the hallway after Mr. Appleby. “He just said he had to get home, and then he took off like a bat out of hell.”
“Kevin, I wish you’d curb your language in front of your brother.” Mrs. Appleby shot him a warning glance as she got paper plates out of the cupboard. “You know he looks up to you.”
“Sorry, Mom,” Kevin muttered. Keith seemed not to have heard the offending word; he was still trailing after their mother, telling her every detail of his new scarecrow. “And he’s got creepy, bony, skeleton claws and evil red eyes and sharp, scary teeth. His teeth are scary, even though they’re hot pink.”
Mrs. Appleby laughed. “My goodness, it sounds as though Sammy got quite a makeover. How about you go wash your hands for supper?”
“Okay,” Keith said, although he made no move to follow his mother’s directions. “But his name isn’t Sammy anymore. That’s a baby name.”
“Oh?” Mrs. Appleby put a slice of pizza on a plate and set it at Keith’s spot at the table. “What is his new name?”
“Slayer,” he replied, sitting down and reaching for the pizza.
Mr. Appleby stepped in and slid the plate out of reach. “No pizza until you wash your hands like your mother told you to. Now scoot.” When Keith slid from his seat and ran to the sink, Mr. Appleby turned to Kevin. “There should be one more box in the truck, Kevin. Could you bring it in and make sure the truck is locked up?”
“Sure, Dad.” Kevin hurried down the hall and out the front door. He made his way around the side of the house to the truck. After checking the driver’s side door to make sure it was locked, he went around to the back and grabbed the last box. “Of course, you’d leave me the heaviest one,” he muttered, setting it on the ground at his feet so he could shut the tailgate.
As he bent down to pick up the box, he was suddenly engulfed by the odor of death. His head jerked up, and he looked around frantically, wishing he’d thought to turn on the porch light. Starting quickly for the house, he involuntarily glanced toward the garden. An orange moon was just clearing the horizon behind the garden. The scarecrow stood in silhouette against the moonlit sky, and Kevin swore that one of the skeleton hands was waving at him.
He froze in horror as the red reflector lights suddenly began to glow, and the scarecrow seemed to move, straining against the thick twine that held it to the wooden pole. His blood turned to ice as an evil whisper floated to him on the breeze. “Ssssslaaaayerrrrrrr…”
Suddenly, the porch light came on, and the front door opened. “Kevin, what the devil are you doing out here?”
For a moment, Kevin’s mouth moved wordlessly, but at last he found his tongue and stammered, “Dad, the s…s…scarecrow.”
Mr. Appleby stepped out onto the porch and looked toward the garden. He adjusted his glasses and chuckled. “You boys did a fine job on that scarecrow. I don’t know that it will keep crows away, but I think it will make any trespassers think twice. Bring that box inside and come wash your hands. Pizza’s getting cold.”
Kevin glanced at his father and then back to the garden. Slayer just looked like a regular scarecrow again, spooky, but not sinister. He gave his head a shake. “Sure, Dad. Coming.”
Kevin’s legs ached, and his lungs burned as he pedaled faster and faster. Just behind him, Damon likewise rode as fast as he could. They were in a race against time; they had to get home before dark. Keith was home alone, and they knew that if they didn’t reach the house before dark, they couldn’t protect him from—
“Kevin, look! The sun!”
Kevin turned toward the horizon. The sun was just a thin line along the mountain, blood red and fiery. They had to hurry.
Turning his attention back to the road, he saw the covered bridge ahead. Home was just around the bend on the other side of the bridge. He called over his shoulder, “There’s the bridge! We can make it! Keep riding! Keep riding!”
Both boys rode harder and faster, their legs pumping with impossible speed. They knew the creature was right on their heels and getting closer, closer.
At last, they reached the bridge and plunged into the darkness. The wooden planks clattered beneath their bike tires as they thundered through. Kevin could see the twilight sky on the opposite side of the bridge, and he kept riding. They were almost there.
Kevin shot out the other side, shouting, “We made it, Damon! We made it!”
There was no answer.
He skidded to a stop and turned to look. Damon wasn’t behind him; in fact, he was nowhere to be seen. Where could he have gone?
All at once, the hairs on Kevin’s neck began to rise. Someone—or something—was watching him. Slowly, he turned his head to the left, and his heart leapt into his throat. In the inky darkness, he could see lining the fields beside him hundreds of scarecrows, all with oversized Styrofoam wig heads, glowing red eyes, and sharp hot pink teeth. He looked to the right. There, too, were hundreds of Styrofoam-headed scarecrows with glowing red eyes and sharp hot pink teeth lining the hillside. As one, they all began moving toward him, hissing, gnashing their teeth, and slashing the air with their skeleton hands.
From somewhere in the dark night, Keith’s small, terrified voice screamed, “Kevin! Help me! He’s here! He’s…KEVIN!!!!!”
As Kevin began pedaling toward home, the advancing scarecrow army spilled onto the road all around him, engulfing him, devouring him.
Kevin jumped awake, gasping for breath and struggling against whoever or whatever held him. At last, he recognized his bedroom with the overflowing clothes tree in the corner and the Steelers Terrible Towel pinned to one wall. The hands that held him were nothing more than the sheets that he’d become entangled in as he struggled in his nightmare.
He lay motionless for a few minutes, staring up at the ceiling and waiting for his heart rate to return to normal. When he’d finally calmed down and assured himself he’d simply had a nightmare, he freed himself from his sheets and got out of bed. For once grateful for the early morning sun streaming through his window, he crossed the room and pushed the curtains aside to flood the room with light.
Closing his eyes against the brightness, he leaned his head against the cold glass and just breathed. At last, he opened his eyes and looked out at the cornfield. The usual flock of crows circled the cornfield, then disappeared among the stalks, only to rise again, fly around, and descend in a different spot. He laughed to himself. The crows were still here despite the new, scarier scarecrow. Speaking of which…Kevin turned his head to look toward the garden, and his eyes widened in horror.
The scarecrow—Slayer—still stood in the garden where they’d placed him, but his head was raised and turned toward the house, and his red reflector eyes stared right into Kevin’s.
…to be continued.
Check out the other participants in the October Frights Blog Hop!
Welcome to the October Frights Blog Hop. As in other years, I’m joining other horror and paranormal authors in a blog hop with lots of spooky posts and perhaps a giveaway or two. Check out the list of participating blogs at the end of this post for more spooky fun.
It seems that I have a thing for making Halloween-themed playlists. Usually, I make them up as inspiration for the novel I’m working on, since my preferred genre is paranormal mystery. This time, however, I just put together a list of songs that get me in a spooky mood.
Spooky(Atlanta Rhythm Section) – I’ve known this song since I was fairly young, but it really came back on my radar when I was writing Witch of Willow Lake. It sort of became Spook’s song for Kyr, since she really is a “spooky little girl,” lol. In fact, if I ever get my mojo back enough to finish the Kyrie Carter series, this song will play into (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) Spook’s proposal to Kyr.
Taint No Sin – This song is more fun than frightening, but I’ve loved it ever since I first heard it on one of the Halloween music channels. For me, it truly embodies (Ha! Unintentional pun!) all the fun I associated with Halloween.
Zombie(The Cranberries) – This was one of those songs that I really had to focus on the lyrics before I realized that it’s not about actual zombies, but is more of a protest against war. Actually, the threat of war, especially this year, seems a bigger and more real threat than zombies.
Demons(Imagine Dragons) – Okay, so I’ve been foisting my music on my kids since they were little, and now I’m exposed to some of their music. The theme of this song is one I explore somewhat in the stories I write and, if I’m honest, in real life as well.
Bad Moon Rising(Creedence Clearwater Revival) – One of my older brothers was really into CCR, so I heard this song a lot growing up. Its creep factor goes beyond Halloween, but it always brings to mind a full moon peeking through dark clouds while kids are out trick or treating, and hints at what might happen after they’re inside for the night.
Spooky Scary Skeletons – This is another more-fun-than-spooky song that my kids really seem to like. My older son suddenly has a deep baritone voice, and the way he belts out the lyrics is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine.
Don’t Pay the Ferryman (Chris deBurgh) – I love this seldom-played song. It’s got the combination of a catchy tune, a mythological reference, and general air of creepiness that lends itself well to the season.
Love Is a Stranger (Eurythmics) – Okay, so this song has little, if anything, to do with Halloween, but I’ve always loved the chilling vibe of the lyrics. It was one of my breakup anthems in college as I tried to warn myself against falling in love again.
Crazy in the Night(Kim Carnes) – This is another favorite song of mine, for Halloween or any time. I love the way Kim takes an all-too-common fear of the dark and turns it into a catchy, fun, hit song.
Hazard(Richard Marx) – This is another song that isn’t about Halloween, ghosts, or the like, but it always gave me the creeps nevertheless. Having grown up in a small town, I’ve seen some of the narrow-minded prejudice that plays into this song, and that’s scarier than any horror movie monster.
Shot in the Dark (Ozzy Osbourne) – This was the first Ozzy song I remember hearing, and the video was the first one that actually scared me. I think it scared my parents too, as they seemed to think I’d meet the same fate as the girl in the video if I didn’t stop listening to rock and roll music.
The Headless Horseman (Thurl Ravenscroft) – Okay, so the Disney version of this classic tale was my introduction to ghost stories when I was a child, and it was a staple of Halloween until I was in my teens. The song still creeps me out, especially this version.
Ghost Riders in the Sky (Johnny Cash) – I’m not a big fan of cowboys (even if my mom did dress me as a cowgirl one year for Halloween), but this song is a classic.
Night Boat(Duran Duran) – The creep factor of this song really kicked up a notch for me after seeing the video—zombies, general sense of foreboding, and an oddly-placed Shakespearean quote. Not to mention the fact that they left poor Roger on that island by himself.
Here are the other participating Blogs. Check out one, or check out all!
This is my entry for Inktober Day 2. Today’s prompt is the word “wisp.” Hannalore Bruce has been at the back of my mind for some time, and I think it’s time to at least begin the story of an unlikely superhero–or group of superheroes–who live in Dakota Territory in the mid-19th century.
Hannalore Bruce removed her spectacles and massaged the bridge of her nose. The afternoon was warm, too warm for October, and the humidity made her head throb.
She glanced at the clock. 3:45. Fifteen minutes left, and then she could return home. Putting her glasses on once more, she turned her gaze to her pupils, whose heads were bent over their books, diligently working on their lessons. All except one.
Sally McMillan sat staring out the window. As usual. Hannalore shook her head. She knew Sally was a bright girl, but she lagged far behind some of the younger students because she didn’t apply herself.
Just as Hannalore opened her mouth to upbraid the girl for her woolgathering, her sharp eyes caught something in Sally’s expression. Instead of the usual vacant dreaminess in her gaze, there was rather the suggestion of fear.
Hannalore quickly glanced out the window by her desk and immediately saw what concerned the girl. On the horizon, a thin wisp of black smoke rose into the air. Indians.
At the same moment, the locket the matron wore around her neck began to vibrate. She quickly covered it with her hand and looked at her class. Satisfied that none of the pupils had heard the vibration, she opened the locket and then glanced at it and frowned.
No matter how little time you think you have with a pet fish, ultimately it seems you have even less. Except in the case of Crispy.
Don’t blame me; my then-five-year-old son Wesley named him..or her… I don’t know how to tell the gender of a goldfish.
In any case, Crispy came to us through a carnival, by lobbing ping pong balls at glass cups. By some twist of fate, I managed to land a ball squarely in one of the cups, and the game attendant handed me a goldfish in a plastic bag of water, and a small container of food that would likely last all of three days, two days longer than I expected the fish to last.
We headed off on our way to the car, with me trying to shield the fish from the ninety-degree heat and from Wesley repeatedly wanting to look at his new pet.
I drove home with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the fish in a bag perched in the cupholder.
Not surprisingly, when we got home, the fish looked less than healthy. Still, I got out the biggest glass bowl I could find and filled it with water, dumped the fish in, and offered a little food. He nibbled at the food and seemed a little happier in the bowl, so I thought maybe he’d make it till morning.
“What should we name him?” Wesley asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied, not wanting him to get too attached. “What’s a good name for a fish?”
In no time at all, he said, “Crispy.”
“Crispy. Crispy Fish.”
And so he was christened Crispy Fish.
Crispy led a quiet existence, as fish tend to do. Wesley watched him faithfully for the rest of that day and about half of the next. Then he grew bored because Crispy just ate, pooped, and swam around.
By the end of the next day, Crispy was still going strong, and I realized that I would likely have to upgrade his living quarters and buy him some more food. So off we went to the store for a small fishbowl and some fish food.
When we got home, Wesley noticed that Crispy was acting strangely. Instead of swimming around like he had been, now he was kind of swimming sideways and drifting toward the surface.
Of course he was.
Still, I transferred him to his new home and let Wesley feed him. He seemed a little better, so I reasoned that maybe he just needed a more suitable home.
And so, over the next week or so, Crispy did what pet fish do: he swam, he ate, he pooped, and he stared back at Wesley with his googly eyes.
But still, he had moments of turning on his side and rising to the surface, and those moments seemed to last longer and longer, until one morning when I came out to the kitchen and saw poor Crispy in a dead float.
I wondered how Wesley would take the news that Crispy was no more. Before I could decide how to best break it to him, he entered the kitchen and came over to the fishbowl.
“What’s wrong with Crispy?” he asked, peering into the bowl and giving him a tentative poke with a chubby finger.
Deciding it was best to just be honest, I said, “Well, fish usually don’t live very long. I’m afraid he’s dead.”
I needn’t have worried about being blunt; his fish’s passing didn’t seem to faze him in the least. “Are you going to bury him?”
I returned Wesley’s earnest look as I considered my response. Crispy was tiny; it certainly wouldn’t take much effort to dig a small grave in the back yard. Still, the weather remained hot and humid, and besides, I didn’t want to chance attracting all the neighborhood cats and other wildlife. In the end, I decided we’d give Crispy the tried and true water burial that pet fish had received for decades.
With little fanfare, I picked up the bowl containing Crispy, and Wesley followed me down the hall toward the bathroom. However, halfway there, Crispy seemed to make a miraculous recovery. He sprang to life and began swimming happily around the bowl again. “Mommy, Crispy’s okay!”
“I see that.” I gave the little faker the evil eye as we returned to the kitchen and set the bowl back on the counter. Wesley sprinkled a little food in the bowl and watched Crispy intently, giving him more attention than he had since the day the little creature had come home with us.
For the rest of the day, Crispy seemed as alert and active as ever, and I decided that he had just had a touch of the fish flu. Certain that the crisis was past, I put the fish and his near-death experience out of mind.
Until early the next morning when Wesley woke me just after sunrise. “Mommy, Crispy’s floating again. I think he died again.”
“He didn’t die yesterday,” I said sleepily, dragging myself out of bed. “He was just…sick.”
When I got to the kitchen, I saw that Crispy was indeed once again floating on his side at the surface. A layer of fish food at the top of the water told me that Wesley had decided that Crispy was hungry.
After tapping the bowl a few times to try to revive him, I picked up the bowl for the second time and started down the hall toward the bathroom. And once again, before reaching our destination, Crispy somehow resuscitated himself and began swimming happily around the bowl.
This scenario played itself out many more times over the week that followed, with Crispy being revived before reaching the bathroom. Wesley found the situation humorous, but I was beginning to have less than charitable thoughts for the annoying little beast.
Finally one day, it seemed that my ill-willed thoughts had stuck, and we made it all the way to the bathroom. As Wesley and I stood on either side of the toilet, Crispy still floated, eyes and mouth gaping. I looked down at Wesley, wondering what he was feeling. “Any last words for Crispy?”
More glibly than I expected, he grinned and said, “Bye, Crispy.”
Stifling a chuckle, I repeated, “Bye, Crispy,” and tipped the contents of the bowl into the toilet.
To our horror, as soon as Crispy and his fishbowl water hit the toilet water, that stupid fish once again came back to life and began swimming frantically around and around the toilet. Suddenly concerned for the welfare of his pet, Wesley yelled, “Mommy! Crispy’s going to drown! We have to save him!”
“He’s not going to drown,” I said, frantically looking around for something to use to scoop the goldfish from his toilet tomb. Quickly sticking the fishbowl under the faucet in the sink, I turned the water on and grabbed one of Wesley’s tub toys and tried to catch Crispy.
After several unsuccessful attempts and a lot of splashed water, I managed to capture him and plop him back in the fishbowl. Wesley clapped his hands and shouted, “We did it, Mommy! We saved Crispy!”
“Yeah,” I responded, holding my hands dripping with toilet water over the sink. “We did it.”
Satisfied that he’d played a part in saving the life of one of God’s creatures, Wesley darted out of the bathroom, off to play with his Legos. I glared at Crispy, who seemed to be no worse for wear after his ordeal. I shook my head and said, “Are you sure you’re not a catfish, because you seem to have nine lives.”
A couple days later, I came into the kitchen to find Crispy once again floating on his side. Feeling no sense of urgency, I tapped on the bowl to try to rouse him. When that didn’t work, I sprinkled a little food in his bowl, for when…or if…he woke up, and went about my business.
A few hours later, Crispy was still floating sideways, his food untouched, and he seemed somehow a bit pale. I felt a slight unexpected twinge of sadness as I realized that this time, Crispy was really gone.
I went into the living room where Wesley was watching a dinosaur video. Although I hated to disturb him, I thought he’d want to know. “Wesley, I’m afraid that Crispy is dead.”
In true Wesley fashion, he slapped his forehead and said, “Again?”
A wry smile tugged at my lips. “This time he’s really, really dead. Do you want to help me get rid of him?”
Without taking his eyes off the TV, he said, “No.”
One last time, I carried the fishbowl down the hallway to the bathroom. I looked down at the lifeless fish floating on top of the water. “You were a good little fish, Crispy. I hope we gave you a happy life. It sure lasted longer than I expected it to.”
Swallowing hard, I emptied the fishbowl into the toilet. When Crispy continued to float lifelessly, I reached over and flushed the toilet. “Goodbye, Crispy.”
The world has gone completely crazy. Most of the United States is at some level of quarantine, and supplies of some things are either low or non-existant. Especially toilet paper.
We have a pandemic that is largely a respiratory illness, and people are hoarding toilet paper.
Besides not being able to find Charmin, Scott, Angel Soft, or any other brand on the shelves, I’m also going crazy having two teenage boys and my husband at home, since school and work are closed for all of us. I was hoping to dedicate this time to working on Book 5, but I’m still suffering the effects of writers block on that front.
I did, however, sit down this morning and scribble down a scene from a possible future novel featuring Kyr and Spook’s teenage children (yeah, yeah, spoiler alert, they’re going to get married somewhere along the line). In this little scene, the family is in quarantine because of some unnamed future plague, and Spook is reminiscing about something that may or may not have happened during the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020.
Teague sat with his chin propped on his fist, pouting as he slapped his cereal with his spoon. Kyr noticed her youngest child’s actions and brushed his hair out of his face to lay a hand on his forehead. “You’re not coming down with something, are you, Teague? You usually put away two bowls of Cocoa Puffs before I finish my coffee, but you’ve hardly eaten anything.”
Teague’s brown eyes flashed as he jerked away. “Mom! I’m not sick, and I’m not a baby. I’m just sick of this frickin’ quarantine.”
“Watch your language, please,” Kyr admonished gently as she sat down with her coffee. “I know you’re tired of this ‘social distancing;’ we all are.”
Declan poured another glass of orange juice and brought it to the table. “We’re all in the same boat, T. Might as well just deal with it.”
“That’s easy for you to say.” Chocolate milk splattered on the tablecloth as seeped in as Teague let his spoon drop into his bowl. “Your birthday wasn’t ruined, and your party wasn’t cancelled. Mom couldn’t even pick up my cake.”
“Would you stop acting like the baby you just said you’re not?” Declan glared at his brother. “You’re thirteen now; you’re old enough to deal with a little disappointment. People are dying from this outbreak, so I hardly think a birthday party matters in the grand scheme of things.”
“Oh, shut up, Declan,” Teague shouted.
“Yeah, shut up, Declan,” Raven repeated, smacking the back of his head as she walked past on the way to the fridge. “Just because no one would even come to one of your lame parties.”
“Who asked you, Ray?” Declan swung around, trying to seize her hand, but he wasn’t quick enough.
“All right, enough.” Kyr set her mug down and rubbed her temples wearily. A glance at the calendar reminded her that they were barely two weeks into the quarantine, with no end in sight. “Could you get along for just one day?”
Always the peacemaker, Rhodora jumped in. “Hey, Teague, since your birthday got ruined, you can have mine and do your party then. This whole mess should be over by then.”
“But then he’ll have to share my…our party,” Raven argued, sitting down next to their mother. “How is that going to work?”
“Oh, yeah. I guess you’re right.” Rhodora lowered her head and sat back, chagrined. She and Raven were ‘pseudo-twins,’ born on different days and different months. Raven had made her entrance just before midnight on October 31st, and Rhodora was born a few minutes into November 1st.
“I’m not waiting four months for my party,” Teague said. “And I’m not sharing a party with my sister.”
“I’m sorry, Teague,” Rhodora responded, almost in a whisper. “I was just trying to help.”
“It’s all right, Rhodora,” Kyr assured her. “Your heart is in the right place, and that’s what counts. “Now, Teague—“
“What’s all the hubbub out here?” Spook came into the kitchen and gave each of his children a stern look before meeting Kyr’s eyes.
“Cabin fever,” was all Kyr said as she sighed and got up to go to the coffeepot.
Spook chuckled grimly, knowing that his wife was at her wits end with four teenagers who couldn’t get out of the house as usual. “Well, at least this time there’s toilet paper,” he said. “Not like back in the Spring of 2020, when the whole world shut down over COVID-19, and folks hoarded toilet paper like it was a dysentery epidemic instead of a respiratory virus.”
“We know about COVID-19, Dad,” Declan said, getting up to take his glass to the sink. “Mom made us study it in history last year.
Spook’s eyes gleamed wickedly as he met Kyr’s gaze. “Well, I’ll bet she didn’t tell you about the overthrow of Duchess Drusilla Ptarmigan of Pendleton.”
All four teens shook their heads, and even Kyr shot him a questioning look as she poured his coffee. “What are you talking about? I don’t remember that.”
“How could you forget that, Kyr m’dear? Don’t you remember, her wedding to Prince Jean-Luc of Maltese was postponed because of the pandemic, and she threw a royal fit over it?” When Kyr continued to stare blankly at him, he went on, “She decided that Coronavirus or no Coronavirus, her show was going to go on, and if nothing else, she was going to live-stream from the palace grand hall.”
By this time, Kyr had figured out that he was spinning some grand yarn, so she played along. “Oh, yeah. I remember Drusilla. Entitled little brat.”
Spook crossed the kitchen and took the mug of coffee from his wife. “Well, her fiancé wasn’t thrilled about the plan, but he went along with it in the end, probably because he knew he’d hear it forever if he refused. The dressmaker’s shop, however, was closed down, just like every other business, and because the shop owner was in one of the high-risk groups, she refused to open, even for the Duchess.”
“So what happened?” Teague asked through a mouthful of Cocoa Puffs.
“The Duchess, entitled little brat that she was, took matters into her own hands and whipped up her own fancy wedding gown.”
Kyr knew the punch line was coming, so she quickly turned to the sink so the kids wouldn’t see her choking with suppressed laughter.
“See, the Duchess, like so many other people the world over, had been hoarding toilet paper, so she spent two whole days turning bathroom tissue into a ball gown. When she was finished, instead of an elegant dress made of chiffon and satin, she had this voluminous, frilly, ruffly mess made from Charmin and Scott.”
All four teens stared at him, mouths agape, not sure if he was telling the truth or not. Finally, Raven ventured to ask, “So what happened?”
“She kept her promise to live-stream her wedding ceremony. So with just herself, Prince Jean-Luc, her mother and his father, and the Archbishop, she started the show. To say the least, with the worldwide toilet paper shortage, that dress didn’t go over well with the Pendletonians at all. Within minutes, hundreds of people broke quarantine and stormed the palace. They broke down the main door, charged into the grand hall, and tore that gown right off her, piece by two-ply piece. Soon the cops came, and the U.S. had to send troops in to contain the ensuing riots. Drusilla was overthrown, and Pendleton was annexed by Luxembourg. It was all over the news and on YouTube.” He took a long sip of coffee. “You should check it out.”
Four sets of eyes stared incredulously at him for a moment as the story sank in. When at last Kyr couldn’t hold in her laughter any longer, Raven rolled her eyes almost audibly and declared, “Dad, serioiusly, that did not happen.”
“Sure, it did,” he said, going to the table and taking a donut from the open box. “Pendleton isn’t on the map anymore, is it?”
Raven let out a huff and flounced out of the room, followed closely by Rhodora. Declan narrowed his eyes at his father and then laughed at the joke on all of them before heading out the back door. Teague said nothing, but turned his attention to his now-soggy Cocoa Puffs.
Still laughing, Kyr slipped an arm around Spook and asked, “Why do you do these things?”
Spook grinned down at her and took a bite of his donut before responding, “Keeps me sane, Kyr m’dear. Keeps me sane.”
The following Saturday, Mr. and Mrs. Appleby loaded up their pickup truck and headed off to a local farmers market to peddle their wares. As they often did, they left Kevin at home to tend the farm and keep an eye on his younger brother.
Soon after their parents had left, Keith brought out the remains of Sammy and laid them out on the porch. He sighed as he gazed sadly at the flattened and torn burlap face. The grinning poop emoji on Sammy’s shirt seemed to mock his sorrow, and he gave it a little kick before walking over to sit on the steps.
Not long afterwards, Kevin came to the front door and stood watching Keith for a moment. He took a bite of the apple he held and asked, “Whatcha doing, Keith?”
“Waiting for Damon,” he said matter-of-factly. “He said he was coming to help me build the scariest scarecrow ever.”
Kevin raised his eyes to the dirt-and-stone lane that led from the road to the house and chewed thoughtfully. He highly doubted that his friend would show up. “Don’t get your hopes up. I’m sure Damon has better things to do than help a seven year old build a scarecrow.”
“He’ll come. He said he would, so he will.” Keith turned indignant eyes on his brother.
Kevin said nothing in response, but bit another chunk out of his apple as he stared out toward the road. I swear, Damon, if you upset my brother…
“There he is!” Keith stood up and pointed at a figure riding up the road on a bicycle, hunched under a bulging backpack and wobbling crazily as he raced up the road. “I told you he’d come!”
“Yeah, I see.” Kevin came outside and chucked his apple core over the railing to one of the wandering goats. He stood next to Keith on the top step, watching Damon pedal furiously up the drive as though the devil himself was after him.
As Damon neared the house, Keith leapt down from the porch and ran to him. “You came! You came! Kevin said you wouldn’t, but you did!”
“Hey, K-bot,” Damon huffed, all out of breath. He glanced up at Kevin as he spoke. “I said I’d help you build the scariest scarecrow, and here I am.”
Something in Damon’s demeanor—a strange glassiness in his eyes—suggested that something wasn’t quite right. If Kevin didn’t know any better, he’d say his friend seemed…afraid. He immediately dismissed the thought. The only things that frightened Damon was his Scotch-Irish grandmother and the prospect of summer school. “So what’s the plan, Stan?”
Damon spared Kevin the briefest of glances as leaned his bike against the porch and slid the backpack ff his shoulders. “The plan is to build a scarecrow,” he repeated in what Kevin thought was a strained voice. To Keith, he said, “Wait till you see the cool stuff I found.”
Kevin was certain that his friend’s strange tone had something to do with the acquisition of some of that cool stuff, but he wouldn’t say so in front of his brother. Instead, he watched as the unlikely pair of his best friend and his little brother knelt on the ground taking things from the backpack.
“Here’s a couple old bike reflectors we can use for eyes. They’ll look wicked creepy shining in the dark.”
Kevin chuckled as Keith took the reflectors and held them up to his eyes.
“And this is one of my mom’s old banana hair clips.” The hot pink clip was missing a few teeth, which despite its whimsical hue gave it a somewhat menacing appearance as Damon opened and closed it a couple times before handing it to Keith. “We can use this for the mouth.”
Keith gave the banana clip a doubtful glance and tossed it aside; apparently anything hot pink didn’t register very high on his list of scary things.
Next, Damon pulled out a pair of plastic skeleton hands and a Styrofoam wig head. Keith squealed with delight and eagerly snatched the head from Damon’s hands. “Way cool! This will make him really creepy!”
At the sight of the pocked and slightly-dirty object, a tremor of terror raced down Kevin’s spine. Just in time, he stopped himself from crying out and backing away. He had long been frightened of mannequins and wig heads, but he had managed to keep his fear hidden, and he had no intention of making his fear known now.
“This stuff is just to drape over the hands and the head.” Damon took out several rolls of gauze and a large canister of Modge Podge. “We can use this to add details to the face and make it look realistic and scary.”
It’s scary enough the way it is, Kevin thought, staring at the wig head as though he expected it to turn and look at him. “What did you do, raid your grandparents’ attic?”
Thankfully, Damon didn’t notice the tremor in Kevin’s voice. “My grandparents’ attic, our garage…and other places.”
“But what’s the scarecrow going to wear?” Keith asked, his brows furrowed with worry. “He can’t wear my mom’s old pajamas; they aren’t scary enough.”
“Already thought of that, K-bot.” Kevin thought Damon’s grin seemed a bit too wide, not to mention forced. He reached into the backpack one last time to pull out a pair of patched and faded blue jeans and an equally-worn black-and-blue plaid flannel shirt. “I present to you the ultimate in creepy scarecrow fashion.”
“Ew! It smells like death!” Keith exclaimed, covering his nose and mouth as he scuttled backwards.
Kevin’s nose twitched as the musty smell rose to meet him. Nothing about the clothes seemed in any way frightening. However, his brother’s words unnerved him and made him more uneasy than he otherwise would have been. “They don’t smell like death, Keith. They just smell old.”
“Old people die,” Keith insisted.
Kevin couldn’t argue with that logic, and in any case, he didn’t want to belabor the point. He just wanted to get on with it and get the task completed. “Whatever. Let’s get this done before Mom and Dad get home.”
…to be continued
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Welcome to October Frights Blog Hop, 2019 Edition. During these six days, you’ll be able to check out some cool, spooky stories, blog posts, and giveaways. Check out the links to the other blogs below.
Kevin Appleby stirred and opened his eyes, then immediately groaned and squeezed them shut again. He had forgotten to pull the shade down last night, and now the early morning sun was streaming through the window and right into his eyes like a laser. He rolled over, determined to get back to sleep. It was Sunday, the one day of the week that he didn’t have to get up at the butt crack of dawn, and he intended to make the most of it.
The universe, however, had other plans.
A cacophony of caws rose from somewhere outside, from a distance at first, and then coming closer. Stupid crows. He burrowed deeper into his pillow and covered his ear with his fist, trying to block out the sound.
Just as he got comfortable again, from down the hall, he heard a distinct thud that told him Keith was awake. Hopefully he’ll go downstairs and turn on Cartoon Network.
Again, the universe had other plans.
Thump-thump-thump-thump. Footsteps came down the hall. A moment later, the bedroom door flew open. “Kevin! Kevin, help! The crows are hurting Sammy!”
Kevin opened one eye to glare at his brother. “Go back to bed, Keith. The crows are not hurting Sammy.”
“Yes, they are,” he insisted, swinging the door back and forth in his distress. “They’re pecking his eyes. They’re ripping his face.”
“I don’t care, Keith.” Seven year olds could be so annoying. Kevin pulled the covers over his head and squeezed his eyes shut again, trying to ignore the squeak-squeak-squeak of the door and the incessant caw-caw-caw of the crows, both punctuated by Keith’s distraught whimpers. He’d get back to sleep, or die trying.
A moment later, Keith dashed into the room and pounced on the bed. “Kevin, you have to help! I love Sammy! Sammy’s my friend!”
After a single, surprised “Oof,” Kevin sat up abruptly, knocking Keith onto the floor. “Gosh darn it, Keith! It’s just a stupid scarecrow! You’re the one who was dumb enough to stuff his head with corn. It’s your fault they’re pecking his face off.”
Keith’s eyes widened with the realization that he was to blame for his beloved Sammy’s imminent demise. Suddenly, he let out a sob and leapt to his feet. “Mo-o-o-o-om!” His wail of anguish echoed through the house as he bolted from the room and ran down the stairs.
Kevin swore under his breath and threw back the covers. There would be no going back to sleep when his parents found out he’d made his brother cry.
Later that afternoon, Kevin sat on the front porch peeling potatoes for dinner–part of his punishment for upsetting his brother. His best friend Damon sat on the steps absentmindedly scrolling on his phone. Every so often, Mrs. Appleby came to the door to check on them. She was sure that Kevin could be trusted, but she couldn’t say the same for Damon. She agreed with her husband’s assertion that Damon was about as Eddie Haskell as they come.
Once, after Mrs. Appleby had gone back to the kitchen, the screen door opened, and Keith came outside. He paused long enough to glare at Kevin and then pushed past Damon to stomp down the steps.
“What’s his problem?” Damon asked as Keith ran off in the direction of what remained of the garden.
Kevin raised his eyes to glare after his brother. “The big, bad crows are after his precious Sammy.”
“How’s that your problem?”
“Because I told him it’s his fault.” Kevin tossed a peeled potato into the pot next to him and grabbed another from the bag. “Dipwad stuffed the head with corn.”
Damon snorted and then laughed aloud. “What a dumb kid.”
Both boys watched as Keith approached the drooping scarecrow. As he flailed his arms and shouted, a dozen crows rose cawing from the scarecrow and circled the garden before settling on the fence.
Keith wrestled the limp scarecrow from its perch and started toward the house. Kernels of corn fell from a hole in Sammy’s burlap head, leaving a Hansel and Gretel trail behind him. Seeing the chance for a free meal, the waiting crows flew from their perches and gobbled up the corn. Realizing what was happening, Keith whirled around to chase them away, but in doing so, he scattered more corn, which in turn attracted more crows.
“This is great! This is epic!” Damon leaned against the railing, laughing so hard he could barely hold his phone as he shot video of the spectacle. He began doing his own comical narration. “Ru-u-un! Zombie crows! They’re after your scarecrow brains!”
“Shut up, you idiot! I’m in enough trouble,” Kevin hissed, dropping both potato peeler and potato as he jumped off the porch to help his brother.
Still laughing, Damon set down his phone and followed Kevin. He kept the thieving crows at bay while Kevin helped Keith get the scarecrow back to the house.
Once the scarecrow was safely on the porch, Keith sat staring at it for several minutes, lovingly fingering the holes in its face. Then in a fit of grief and rage, he tore one of the holes wide open and emptied the remaining corn from Sammy’s burlap head. When every last kernel had been dumped out, he threw handfuls of corn from the porch, all the while shouting, “Stupid crows! Stupid crows!” The crows, of course, were only too happy to accept the corn offering, no matter the spirit in which it was given.
When every last kernel had been hurled from the porch, Keith picked up his beloved scarecrow and cradled it in his arms. Large tears formed in his eyes and spilled onto Sammy’s poor, deflated, crow-pecked head.
Even though Kevin thought his brother was making a fuss over nothing, he couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. He stopped peeling once more and turned his eyes to his friend.
Damon, too, had corralled his mirth and sat regarding the young lad with what could only be described as sympathy. In an uncharacteristic display of compassion, he reached out to touch the boy’s arm. “Hey, K-bot.”
“Don’t…call me…K-bot,” Keith snuffled, pulling away from him.
“Come on, little dude,” Damon said. “I just want to help.”
“You can’t help,” Keith replied, throwing Sammy’s remains on the porch and getting to his feet. “My scarecrow sucks. He isn’t scary at all, and the crows just want to eat him.”
“True dat.” Damon nodded, looking down at the decapitated scarecrow.
When Keith stomped his foot and scrunched his face at Damon, Kevin intervened. “Damon, lay off will ya?”
“Dude, I’m just trying to help. Keith, come here.” Keith stayed where he was, but met Damon’s gaze. Damon picked up the limp scarecrow and studied it as he spoke. “Look, you’re right about Sammy not being very scary. I mean, seriously. A poop emoji sweatshirt, smiley face pajama pants, black button eyes, and a painted-on grin? That’s not scary at all; that’s cute.”
“Not to mention the corn you stuffed his head with,” Kevin muttered, not quite loud enough for his brother to hear.
Keith swiped at a renegade tear running down his cheek as he considered Damon’s words. “So how do I make a scary scarecrow?”
“You have to give him creepy eyes and sharp teeth, and maybe even some claws. Make it something you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark cornfield.” He lunged at Keith with a toothy leer and a swipe of his fingers that made Keith gasp and take a step toward Kevin.
Kevin immediately jumped to his brother’s defense. “Chill out, Damon. He’s just a little kid; don’t put your horror movie ideas into his head.”
Insulted by his brother’s words, Keith stood as tall as he could. “I am not a little kid, and I’m not scared of Damon’s scarecrow. I want to make a scary scarecrow, a really scary scarecrow!” He gave Sammy’s remains a disdainful kick. “I don’t like this stupid baby scarecrow anymore.”
Damon grinned, and Kevin knew his friend had something up his sleeve, but he was afraid to ask what. “Tell you what, kid. I’ll get the stuff together and come over next Saturday, and we’ll make the scariest scarecrow you’ve ever seen.”
…to be continued.
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In the past week, I have attended two birthday parties. That’s something of a rarity for me; in recent years, family parties have become a thing of the past, and my friends, it seems, are of an age where they forgo actual parties in favor of small, informal, sometimes spontaneous adventures. Still, these milestone markers, whatever form they may take, remain an important part of the fabric of our lives.
Last Thursday, I got a last-minute invite to an informal get-together/supper party for Aunt Annabelle, who turned 95. The Schlegel/Crabb side of the family is known for such longevity. Grandma Crabb passed away four days shy of her 97th birthday, and Mammy Crabb was also 96 when she died. I was surprised to be reminded that Aunt Kass, who made the trek to Mechanicsburg for the party, had just turned 86 last month. She certainly doesn’t look or sound like she’s that old.
As one would expect for a 95th-birthday party, this was a somewhat quiet affair. It was held at Country Meadows Retirement Home, where Aunt Annabelle has lived for the past several years. Panera Bread provided the food—sandwiches, salad, chips, and cookies—and one of the cousins brought several bottles of wine and a pan of brownies with “Happy 95th Birthday” written in purple icing.
The time was spent catching up with my much-older cousins whom I rarely see; one lives over on the East Shore, and another recently moved to Florida. One conversation we had sticks in my mind, that of the need to preserve family history. Cousin Robin, who is continuing Aunt Annabelle’s hobby of genealogy, shared her desire to write a book of various family members’ recollections of living through the Depression and two World Wars. My Uncle Merle had had quite a military career, even participating in the think tanks for the first flight simulators. His wife, Aunt Janie, was a WAC during WWII and had stories of her own to tell. Likewise, Uncle Bob, Aunt Annabelle’s late husband, was a decorated war hero.
The conversation raised a twinge of regret over the fact that my own father had taken his stories of the Korean War with him to the grave. One of my brothers had kept all of Dad’s military medals and ribbons, awards for which none of us knows the stories. Why had he received them? What had he done to earn them? We’ll never know.
The other party I attended was on Saturday of the same week, a 1st birthday party for Myles and Aubrey, my niece’s twins. As one would expect, this party was much livelier, full of the laughter and antics of babies, children, and young parents, not to mention the mess and fun of those 1st birthday cupcakes.
Conversations at this party were much different, but no less precious. Parents shared the antics—some funny, some crazy, and some concerning—of their offspring, and everyone looked forward, with both hope and trepidation, to what the coming days, weeks, and months might bring. There was the usual nostalgic wish that the kids wouldn’t grow up so quickly. The oft-repeated saying, “The days are long, but the years are short,” was never far from anyone’s thoughts.
Everyone present enjoyed watching Myles and Aubrey, comparing and contrasting them, noting the ways in which they resembled each other as siblings and twins, and how they exhibited traits of their family, and marveling over the ways they were already unique individuals. Even watching them dig into their birthday cupcakes was an exercise in contrasts, as Myles eventually dug right into his cake and destroyed it, while Aubrey was a bit less enthusiastic about getting too messy; in fact, the family dog inevitably consumed more cake than Aubrey did.
Throughout the party, I couldn’t help watching my own two boys—Wesley, now 15 and already making plans for life after high school, and Wayde, 12, as sassy as any teenager and barely an inch shorter than my husband—as they interacted with both adults and youngers. It both amused me and brought me close to tears seeing them speaking with aunts, uncles, and grown cousins as easily as the other adults, and the next moment taking turns on the tree swing like the younger children.
As I watched three-year-old Hudson talking back to his mother and pushing limit after limit as preschoolers will, I was reminded of the challenges Wesley presented in his younger days, and I remembered worrying how on earth I’d ever handle him when he grew bigger than me. Wesley himself commented how much Huddy reminded him of his three-year-old self.
Of course, the challenges we face now are much different, as we plan for Wesley’s impending scoliosis surgery. The timing, it seems, couldn’t be more unfortunate, as his recovery will ultimately impact driving privileges, summer jobs, and possibly even college preparations.
Huddy’s little brother Holden has similar challenges of his own to face. Because of an infection he contracted before birth, he was left with some eye issues and profound deafness. He is scheduled for a cochlear implant in the coming months that his doctor hopes will restore at least some of his hearing.
As I reflect on these two parties, one celebrating a long life, and one celebrating lives just beginning, the one thing that stands out most is the importance of story, the sharing of family anecdotes and memories that make up our everyday lives. Some of the tales told—such as the discovery of a new favorite food or toy, or a child’s tumble down the deck stairs—mean little, if anything, to those outside the family. Other stories, such as the Depression-era and Wartime memories my cousin wishes to preserve, have a much wider appeal and are important in a historical context.
But no matter what the nature of the stories, it is important—crucial—that we keep telling them, for it is story that ultimately defines our human experience.