“You know what sound a scarecrow makes when it walks?”
“Scarecrows don’t walk, Grandma.”
“You know they don’t.”
“I know they do. Come to the edge of the porch where the porchlight’s glow ends. Where the dark begins. Come down off the porch and take a listen. Come along, child. Listen to the scarecrows walk.”
Jonah wraps an arm around a column holding up the roof over the porch. Listens into the night.
“Hear that, Jonah?”
“That’s a scarecrow walking.”
“Ain’t it the wind, Grandma?”
“Wind don’t walk. It glides. It glides and whistles.”
“When you coming onto the porch, Grandma?”
“We’re not supposed to go on the porch.”
“Grandpa don’t mind. Come up here on the porch.”
“You know I can’t, Jonah, on account of what I done.”
“He don’t blame you, Grandma.”
“Oh, but he does, Jonah. This my doing. I got to be out in the fields. I got to keep the crows off the corn and the raccoons away from the sugar beets and the scarecrows away from you.”
“Come up on the porch, Grandma. Come out of the night.”
“Come down off the porch, Jonah. You’re not supposed to be up there. The scarecrows are coming. Do you hear them scarecrows coming?”
“I hear them.”
Scarecrows shuffle-run in the night. Run rampant. The straw stuffing rubbing against itself. Scarecrows don’t just scare away the crows, they look for souls to steal to give themselves life. When the sun comes up they return to their posts. But at night, as soon as the sun falls behind the last row of corn, they come down off their T-posts, go looking for souls like kids going house to house for candy. No tricks. Just treats.
Jonah gets no answer. He hugs the column, presses his face against the cracked and peeling white paint, brushes the paint chips from his lips with the back of his gloved hand. He no longer likes being on the porch at night. The front door, just ten feet behind him, might as well be a hundred miles away. If he keeps one arm wrapped around the post and reaches with the other, well, there’s just no way he can reach the old, dented, brass door knob, tarnished by the touch of generations.
He’ll have to let go of the post. He’ll have to run for the door. He’ll have to get inside before the scarecrows can get him.
Jonah grabs for the door. Legs buckle. Feet tangle. He trips, falls face first to the boards. A scarecrow leaps over the rail on the far end, catches the toe of an old boot its leg got stuffed into on the edge of the wood, falls face first onto the same boards. It lifts its burlap sack of a head. Beetles pour out of a jagged rip. They crawl over the back of Jonah’s hands. Jonah jumps to his feet, brushes away the beetles he feels along his legs and on his belly.
He has to get inside. The beetles will die in the house. These aren’t regular beetles. These are corpse beetles. They eat the flesh off those who lose their souls to the scarecrow’s touch. He has to get inside.
Hand on the doorknob.
Small shadow on the wall diverts his attention. Corpse beetle burrowing into the clapboard siding. The flesheater turns gray, drops to the porch. Jonah kicks it away out of spite. The beetle crumples into dust.
Jonah puts two hands on the knob. Still can’t turn it. He rattles it until the door swings into the house. A frightened old man stands inside the door, an over-and-under, double barreled, shotgun in his grasp.
Jonah throws open his arms. “Grandpa!”
The old man racks in the shots. Levels the gun at Jonah’s chest. “Get back to the field.”
“Grandpa! It’s me. It’s Jonah.”
Jonah takes a step. Something pulls him away as the old man fires bird pellets into the night. Jonah kicks and screams and cries for his grandfather until he hears a familiar voice.
“Sun’s coming up, Jonah. Time to come back to the fields.”
“Time to come back to the fields.”
“I don’t want to come back. I want to play.”
“You can play tomorrow.”
“You always say that.”
The fallen scarecrow lifts Jonah from the boards. It stares at the man inside the house.
“You done this,” he says. “You done this with your conjurin’.”
Out in the fields, Jonah and the scarecrow ascend a platform, take up opposite sides of the T-frame, slips their raggedy wrists through rope loops. The chill of the night floats away under the morning sun’s glow.
Overhead the crows circle. Refuse to land. Jonah looks out at the fields.
The old man pours gas over the corn.
“Corn’s no good anymore,” the old man says. He sets down the old, rusty, gas can. Pulls a crumpled pack of Chesterfields from his shirt pocket, fishes out the last cigarette. He pushes it between his lips. “Corn’s no good anymore because you had to conjure so I told you all to stay in the field. I can’t sit up every night keeping you in the fields. I can’t do this anymore.”
The old man strikes a match on the sole of his boot. Lights his cigarette. Drinks in the heat.
“No, sir. Can’t do it anymore.” He drops the match to the gas soaked field. “He was a good boy until you went and conjured.”
Smoldering fields. Smoke. Flames.
“Grandpa. Come up here.”
The old man hangs his head. His shoulders raise and drop as he sobs.
Jonah pulls his hands out of the loops. He jumps down, puts his arms around the old man. After a moment, the old man returns the gesture.
“Look at the sky, Grandpa. This’ll keep the birds away.”
And the fire burns and the crows squawk at the loss.