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.
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