Something lives in the corn, and the scarecrows are our last defense.
Whatever they might have told you, whatever stories you remember from grade school about scarecrows – they’re all wrong. Scarecrows aren’t for crows – have you ever seen a crow stay away from a scarecrow? No, I didn’t think so. Scarecrows aren’t meant for them; crows are harmless, compared to what lurks in the cornfields at night.
We’ve known about it from the moment we first began to cultivate the ground. And we’ve put scarecrows up to keep it at bay since we recognized the threat. I can’t tell you what power those homunculi have, but they keep us safe – I know, because I saw it, once.
I had been biking home late one night, bone-tired. Half asleep, I somehow missed the turn in the dark. The rows and rows of corn began to blend together into a never-ending stream of green, the steady whirr of my bike echoing like a lullaby. By the time I realized what had happened, it was too late. I was alone on a dirt road in the dark.
The wind stilled and the cricket song faded into a faint echo. Startled, I skidded to a halt – silence is never a good sign. The harvest moon cast sickly shadows around my feet; instinct told me to run, but fear rooted me to the ground. Frozen, like a deer in headlights.
Slowly, a horrible noise filled the air. Vicious and otherworldly, filled with malice and a clawing, desperate hunger. The corn began to rustle. Something was coming. I heard the crunch of paws in the dirt and the sound of a wet breath in the dark. I thought I was going to die right there and then.
But then they appeared. Dozens of them, marching out of the corn behind me, sickles and staffs and pitchforks raised high. Scarecrows: turnip-heads, pumpkin-heads, straw stuffed sacks with faded sky-blue paint. Marching with a singular purpose. The creature in the corn stopped shrieking, taken aback by the strange onslaught. One of the scarecrows paused and glanced at me. A child had carved the pumpkin head, one eye triangular and the other square. The grin was sloppy, crooked, but I sensed no malice behind it. It hefted the pitchfork a little higher, gripping with straw-bound hands, and nodded at me. I felt the pull of their wizened voices in the wind. “Run, living-child. We will guard the way. Run.”
I did not need to be told twice; my bike lay where it fell, one tire still spinning. I can’t tell you what I heard behind me that night, the shrieks of a battle that I could not understand, but I do know that the scarecrows won. They kept whatever it was at bay.
My parents didn’t understand why I made so many scarecrows that year, why I littered our fields with them, or why even now I don’t leave the house after dark. They still don’t. Childish, they tell me. And maybe it is, but I know what I saw. The scarecrows are protecting us from something, and I don’t ever want to find out what.