The scarecrow stands around twelve feet tall. A lone, misshapen sentinel in the midst of a dark field, beneath the blood of a clotted red sky.
His shadow is long across the crops.
Comprised not of two simple poles and a sack of straw, this monstrosity is a veritable wicker-man of criss-crossed slats and beams of wood. He leans to one side and wavers ever so slightly in the breeze of the dying day.
Luminescent bulbs or LEDs or flashlights or somethings have been placed deep in the black indents of his eyes, and from each glows a pinprick of fiery orange. His wooden smile leers at me from afar, and I withdraw my hand from the rotted fence that borders his field with a shiver of discomfort.
A crow to my right jumps forward along the fence and makes a peck for the shining silver ring on my hand. I shoo him away.
“Leave it”, I warn him, as his brothers and sisters flap and fly all around. They cover the fence, and circle in wide arcs above the scarecrow’s field, but none dare descend, and none hop down to its earthy ground.
The twisted scarecrow, to his credit, is doing at good job of keeping the crows away. And I don’t blame them.
The scarecrow’s field gives off a disturbingly nightmarish aura. One of a watery dream that is about to go quickly south. You don’t know how, exactly, but you can feel that something terrible is coming.
…Paradoxically however, the feeling is an addicting one. It’s fascinating and otherworldly, and it’s what keeps me coming back here, again and again, despite it being over an hour out of my regular route.
The crow makes another jump for my ring. ‘Scar’, I’ve nicknamed him, on account of the grayish scratch that crosses one of his beady black eyes.
“Get away”, I murmur, shaking my hand at the bird. He only hops up onto a nearby post and cocks his head. Looking me up and down.
The scarecrow stands tall and alone, far out in the middle of the field behind him.
It occurs to me that I’ve never taken a picture of this hideous thing. If it were suddenly taken down one day then I’d have no proof it even ever existed. I reach into my pocket for my phone and draw it out, angling it up toward the field.
“I’d rather you didn’t take that picture, pray”, murmurs a voice to my left.
I gasp in alarm and swivel to the voice’s source.
There stands an elderly man; face deeply-lined and shadowed beneath a wide-brimmed hat. He leans casually enough against the fence, yet gives off to me the impression of a coiled spring. One set to release at any second.
“Folks’ll wanna see it, you understand. If they know it’s here”. He adjusts his stance a little. “They’ll come in their cars and in their crowds and crush the crops. And the crops are well-needed”.
I just stare at him in awkward silence.
Why have such a spectacle of a scarecrow at all, then, if you don’t want people to see it? I think, but cannot form the words.
Seemingly reading my thoughts, or perhaps just anticipating the next question, the old man gestures to the scarecrow. “He’s a beast, for sure. But like the crops, he’s well-needed. Nothing less will keep away the crows. The crows love the crops, and the crops MUST grow, lad”.
As if in response a nearby crow calls out with a quick, low shriek. The sound makes me grimace, and I look to its source, to my right. It’s Scar, and he glances between me and the old man, hopping from foot to foot. Then he takes flight, soaring away toward the red sky.
The old man watches him go, shaking his head.
Where the hell did this guy even come from?
There is field ahead and field behind. A long, lone dirt track passes between them. The trees and bushes are withered and scarce. There’s a stile on the fence behind, maybe the guy could have crept over it without my hearing… But even then…
I swallow, nervously. “Right”, I settle on, simply. “Sorry”.
The old man puts up a forgiving hand, but the sensation of the coiled spring does not dissipate.
“I appreciate it”, he says, then tips his hat. “Enjoy your walk. Don’t touch the crops”.
And he takes his leave.
The air cools as he passes me by, and I watch as walks away down the rough rural track. Step by step, his boots sending up little clouds of dust as he goes.
“Creepy-ass old man” I mutter, once I am sure he has left earshot. I turn to look at the scarecrow, if such a behemoth can even be referred to by so humble a name, and consider taking that picture anyway.
I glance back along the path, but the old man has disappeared.
My fingers itch by my pocket, but… I leave the phone where it is.
Frustrated by my supposed lack of courage I chew my tongue and make to take my own leave. I reach for my bike and ease it away from the fence … and I do so my eyes are drawn once again to the stile.
A little wooden step over the opposite fence. There’s a narrow footpath on the other side that carries around the edge of a low-hilled field, the one facing the scarecrow’s own, and I consider my options.
…Though I don’t consider for particularly long.
There’s still time before it gets totally dark. Screw it. I have time left to walk.
I rest the bike back up against the fence and stride right over to the stile. The second I grab hold of the post and lift myself up to cross the fence, however, I am surrounded by the sound of crows and the wavering air of beating wings.
“Fuck!” I shout as they shriek and caw; they dart in and out of my vision and I do my best to wave them all away.
I stumble and slip from the stile and crash down into the field with a grunt, shielding my eyes as I curse the crows. “Leave me alone! Jesus!”
Scar settles himself on the post and looks down at me silently, as the others all circle and swoop and swirl. I climb back up to my feet in defiance. “What the hell is this?”
Creepy old men… Crazy crows… I shake my head and do my best to dispel the madness.
“This is a public footpath. I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m free to walk”.
Why are you talking to the crows, Jordan?
I sigh and brush the dirt from the sides of my jeans, and head out for the remainder of my evening stroll. Starting with a quick pace and keen to leave the crows behind. Spooked out of taking a picture, I have been left frustrated, and maybe this walk will settle my urge to do something different.
I can’t help shooting glances over my shoulder along my journey.
The enormous scarecrow disappears gradually from sight, yet keeps itself in my range of vision for far longer than I would have liked; those pinpricks of orange light in his eyes only growing stronger as the day darkens.
I pass through great fields of curious crops. I take it for wheat, at first, but the further I walk the darker it becomes. From pale gold in color, to a pallid gray, then further, to a sickened deep purple, and then eventually, to black.
They rustle softly in the breeze.
I scratch at my neck and begin to wonder if this was such a good idea. The path runs round the edges of more fields and hills ahead, around copses of trees… It isn’t obvious if it would be quicker to keep going, or to head back. I hesitate, but decide upon continuing. It looks like it loops around a bit farther on, likely right back to the dirt track.
I pass by coils of tomato plants and resist the urge to pull one of the little fruits right from the stem. They look so good. So red, and juicy. But I’m no thief, and I leave them where they are.
I wonder if all these fields belong to the farmer.
I wonder if he was the one who built the scarecrow.
I start to actually process the implications of the things he said to me for the first time.
The scarecrow keeps away the crows… the crows like the crop… and the crop MUST grow…
The sky deepens in color as the breeze blows.
What the hell kind of crop would warrant such a terrifying scarecrow? Something special, surely.
I slow the speed of my walk and look to my left. The path has once again been bordered by the towering strands of black wheat. Wavering softly in the breeze…
…Curiosity overcomes me, and I reach out a hand... I lightly brush my fingers against the stems.
…As I do so, the tall black wheat dissolves at once into ash. I recoil in quiet horror, watching as the ash falls to the ground in a low clump.
There is a fine black powder against my fingertips, and I hastily rub them against the side of my jeans as I look in confusion at the ash. Ash which, as I watch, starts to shake.
Where the stem connected to the earth, an oily black vine pushes angrily out, dispersing the ash. I stare in surprise and dismay as the vine writhes and squirms from beneath the ground, like something insect-like and alive… and with a squirt it hauls from the earth a rapidly twitching slithery mass, rolling around in the ash, frothing at the edges. What looks like a feather is stuck to the obscenity’s back, coated in dark mucus and quivering in the breeze.
Nope. Nope nope nope.
Hell to this. I’m not going a step further. I turn back the way I came, walking as fast as I can, jogging, really, heart pounding as I try not to think about anything that has happened this evening. Screw it. I’m going home.
…The fields, it would seem, agree.
It’s subtle at first. I scarcely notice it. But once I do, the effect is undeniable. The fields and the ground are, impossibly, tilting upwards.
Or downwards, I suppose I should say. I have to put more and more pressure on my heels until it feels as if I am running down the side of a hill, and then, a mountain.
“What the fuck is happening!?” I scream out loud, as the rush of the earth grows into the sound of a roaring river in my ears. The ground slips and melts beneath me and I fall, crashing and spinning and landing on my side, but still I fall. Ever falling as the crops rush by; the trees, now at impossible angles, are mere blurs against the red sky.
Terror courses through me as I am sent reeling and sliding down the path-turned-landslide, and in a minute I know that I will see him. Powerless to stop, I will see him.
There’s a cluster of trees ahead. Rushing towards me, and when they pass he will be there in the distance.
Cold panic grips me tight, I want to look away, but find that I am unable.
Any second now, any second.
The world rushes by.
And there the monstrosity is. Peering at me from over the fields.
The scarecrow, eyes ablaze and wooden grin stretched wide. Staring right at me from over the hills.
“No…” I murmur, then louder, “NO!”
But I cannot stop. The fences peel back and the earth carries right on through. Drawing closer and closer, the scarecrow towers up and up and darkens in shadow, I can hear the creaking in the wood of his arms, carried to me by the rising wind.
Down, I fly. Down and down.
“PLEASE!” I cry out- but there is nothing I can do. I am going to be carried right into the scarecrow’s gristly field. Right into his immediate domain.
The dream is going south. Terror lurks ahead. I feel it. There is only panic.
The dirt track becomes visible below, and still I fall. Barrelling towards the scarecrow, faster and faster, the fences peel and pull away…
…and the crows swoop down. In a cloud of black I am once again surrounded, deafened by caws and cries, they grab at my shirt and my shoulders, dozens upon dozens of them… my vision is lost as I feel myself slowed, I stumble, there are more of them… More of the calling crows…
…For a second or two I feel myself lifted from the ground. I am sure of it. For the briefest of moments I am carried into the air, the sensation of falling is lost… I feel their claws scratch at my skin and tear my clothes…
…And with a final shriek they disperse. I am unceremoniously dumped to the ground…
…The ground of the dirt track, which, I might add, has returned to a welcome flatness.
The wind ceases at once.
I take in a great breath of ragged air and shoot a look up to the scarecrow.
…He does not rush towards me. He stands tall and silent and still in his field. A field blocked by that rotted old fence.
I turn around, knees bleeding into the dust.
There is no great mountain. No sudden steep drops … Just fields. Fields and low, unobtrusive hills.
Some of the crows are mid-flight, but many of them settle themselves on the fence. Rows and rows of them, silent and watching as I catch my breath.
I stagger to my feet.
The eyes of the scarecrow glisten bright.
Scar the crow appears from a swirling circle overhead, and lands on the nearest post. He hops a little and quivers his wings expectantly.
We look at each other for a moment, and he gives a brief caw.
"Alright," I say, "alright..." With a grimace, I bring together my hands, and slide off my shining silver ring. I drop it on the fencepost and the crow picks it up at once in his beak.
“Enjoy”, I mutter as I climb up onto my bike.
And with one last look behind, I head on home... and pedal the hell away.