Story Fragment: THE SACRED SCARECROW (2)

A second fragment from THE SACRED SCARECROW, detailing a town’s devolution into paranoia when a newcomer threatens their history. A bit of autumnal eeriness as we enter the second half of October. 

Frank Hoffer had drifted into a peaceful sleep when a shrill bleat dragged him from bed. His daughter’s voice echoed from the other side of the house. Still half-numb, he stumbled from the room and down the hall, followed close behind by Sally. When they burst through her door they found her pressed against the window, stabbing a finger at the ground. “I saw it down there,” she panted. “It’s so ugly.”

Frank pulled her from the glass and looked at the lawn where she pointed. It was empty, aside from the moonlight on the dead leaves. “You saw what, sweetie?” Sally said, and cradled her daughter a bit too tightly until she squirmed away. She gripped her more firmly and cooed, “Calm down, mommy’s here; what did you see?”

“It was watching me,” the girl said.

Sally managed to persuade her child back to sleep, though she and Frank could not do the same for themselves. They perched on opposite sides of the bed, Sally facing the door and Frank the shuttered window; and, like several of their neighbors, stayed this way until morning. When Frank had managed to prepare himself for work, he paused to search the lawn beneath his daughter’s window for footprints, or pieces of straw. His daughter had been dreaming, he reasoned; or the stalker had covered its tracks.

That afternoon, the diner vibrated with murmurs, so Frank and Ed didn’t need to whisper. They sat close to the window, where they could hear the witch woman Hawkins. They mumbled pleasantries and gave disjointed answers, Ed spinning his coffee cup, Frank tearing his napkin into fragments; but the prophecies drained their attention until they had gone silent. When the waitress took their order with quivering hands, Ed laid his hands on the table and said, “You know, the strangest thing happened. Our boy said he heard someone walking around our house last night.”

He started to laugh, but he saw how Frank’s lips pressed together in a spasm to cut off his instinctual response. “Funny’s right,” he croaked. “Our girl said the same damn thing. Said something was watching her.”

They ate what they could of their meals – the lettuce tasted leathery, the meat dry, too hot in their stomachs – and when they spoke, they went on about the renovations at the farmer’s house, how much longer they would go on, how far they would extend. Would he go out into the field after all? It was a hell of a lot of work, it seemed to them. Maybe he would leave it be.

“Hey,” Ed called when they left the diner, over the witch woman’s straining voice; “you don’t remember… what was the day, in the story, where it was all supposed to happen?”

“It was different every time,” Frank said. “You know how they go. But the good ones always said it was Halloween.”

Ed stared down at his mangled food. He said, “That’s what I thought.” He checked his planner to confirm – it was October 14th. Not, he noted, that it mattered.

For the first SACRED SCARECROW fragment, CLICK HERE

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