He would take anything Pa had to offer. He would be our scarecrow. Pa led him to the cross.
It was not until he hung above the corn did I notice his gauntness and tufts of yellow hair abandoning him strand by strand. He strained. I believed the crows would outlast him.
Pa dumped a glass of water on my face. “You have your chores,” he said.
“Is it a dream?” I asked. “Is it still here?”
“The scarecrow,” I said.
Pa gave me a pail of cold oatmeal and I fed him by hooking the pail’s handle onto a stick. He slurped like a horse while his stomach swelled. I loosened his rope belt when he asked. “Better,” he said. “I needed that.”
A few crows perched on his shoulders. He cawed and they almost flew into one another.
We laughed and I asked, “Need anything else?”
“Water.” His voice crackled. He gulped as he drank. “Good,” he said.
After I did my chores, I visited the scarecrow again. I asked if he ever left the cross. He told me no, so I asked how he did all the things ordinary people did and he said, “That’s my secret,” and he laughed. But I did not.
For the next few days, our visits went the same. I never got him to talk much about his life. He told me he had seen the country by riding the rails. He loved Maine because of the seafood that came from the Atlantic. He would go back one day. I asked, “Why didn’t you go there instead of coming here?”
“I needed a good, long break before I deserved it again,” he said.
I nodded, but I didn’t understand, so at dinner I asked Pa what the scarecrow could have meant. He said, “Mind yourself. Leave that man alone. He’ll be moving along soon.”
It was late and I could not sleep. The man was still out there. He was not going anywhere.
I sneaked through the corn. The moon guided me to him. “Where are you really from?” I startled him. I had not known he could sleep with his eyes open.
“You should be asleep,” he said.
“I want to know where you’re from.”
The scarecrow looked up. The stars were still. “From there,” he said. He let his head fall. “Or, maybe from down there.” He looked at me. “Or, maybe I am where I’m supposed to be, waiting, making sure the crows don’t bother you and your father.”
I shook my head. “You lie. You’re probably some kind of thief.” I kicked the cross. He grinned, and, for the first time, I saw he only had a few teeth. “Tell me the truth, tell me your secrets,” I said.
“They wouldn’t be secrets if I told you. And, I have told you the truth.”
“Tell me just one secret.”
“Maybe I can’t,” he said. “Maybe I made a promise to someone.”
He lifted his head in a way that gave him a cruel expression. “Someone you don’t want to know.”
Several crows landed on his arms and pecked at his skin. He did not make a sound. His eyes were open but cold and stiff and soon I lost sight of his breath. I was scared. Before I ran home, before I decided to hide under my sheets instead of telling Pa, the scarecrow howled, “Go! Before we get you!”
Pa ripped the covers off and shook me. “Get up.” I tripped over my feet as he led me to the cross. The morning sun was strung. “Where did he go?”
I wanted tell him what the scarecrow had said, but I didn’t. “I don’t know,” I said.
“I wanted to pay the man for his services,” Pa said. “I haven’t seen one crow.”
I ran my hands along the wood, checking for secret buttons. Secrets only the scarecrow could know. I wanted to know more, but I had a feeling that it was good I did not. I climbed and posed just like the man had.
Pa shielded his eyes from the morning light. “Son, what are you doing?”
“Maybe he was sick and had to leave,” I said.
“Pa, how can a man do such work if he’s sick?”
“Sometimes, he don’t have a choice.”
A crow landed on my arm. “Pa?”
He grinned like the scarecrow. “Maybe he knew he wasn’t cut out for scaring away the death of our crop.”
Andrew Davis lives in Lowell, Massachusetts. He has contributed to The Apeiron Review, The Oddville Press, Black Heart Magazine, and The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society.
‘When I wrote this story, I started thinking of the guy on the cross as a flawed outsider who was being pulled between Heaven and Hell. I imagined the Grim Reaper, but a more human representation of Death, and I started wondering what perspective a character like that might have. For people, Death is scary and we have all sorts of thoughts about it and its purpose, so I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of Death as being more of a misunderstood protector, one without fancy armor or big Hollywood effect. Just a loner that lives so simple it seems brutal to the rest of us. I think the child allows the feel to be more curious, hopeful, and innocent.’