“Jonah!” Cliff Jasper howled. “Where’s that God-darn boy?”
Mrs. Emily Jasper cringed. Her husband’s shriek was not at all pleasant to the ears, especially so early in the morning.
“He went outside to play with his new friend . . . in the corn fields,” Mrs. Jasper told him. Her eyes were glued to the front page of the Sunday paper as she took careful sips of her steaming cup of coffee. It wouldn’t be a right morning without the two.
Cliff sighed and peered out the kitchen window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the youngster frolicking in the golden glow of the morning sun.
“I just hope he finished feeding the chickens, he forgot to feed them yesterday. I hate it when he does crap like that. The boy needs to learn some responsibility. I’ll beat it into him if I have’ta.” He said, punching the palm of his other hand. Cliff Jasper was old, in his sixties, but tough. He wasn’t about to let some snot nose kid push him around.
“I’m sure he didn’t forget this time, Cliff. He’s been very busy lately with that new friend of his,” Emily assured him, finally looking up from her paper.
“Who’s this new friend. Have we met him?”
“No. He says they just met the other day, in the cornfields.”
“In the cornfields? Must be one of those kids we keep seeing playing around the railroad tracks–new comers.”
“Could be,” she said, taking a sip.
Cliff marched over to the front door and outside onto the porch, the wood beneath his feet creaking. A huge fly went buzzing noisily by his face and he swiped at it, missing it. His attention was then captured by someone dancing happily in the swaying cornfields; squinting, he noted it was Jonah, performing a mock fandango around the new scarecrow that he had bought a few days ago from a traveling salesman.
“Jonah!” The old man hollered over the chatter of crows pecking for worms in his front yard. “I thought he was with his new friend,” he mumbled, softly, with a sliver of contempt in his voice.
Turning his attention to the chicken coup, Cliff could see the chicken feed in their assigned buckets still waiting to be distributed to the chickens. The boy had done it again. He began to wonder now if Jonah had forgotten to do the other chores around the farm as well. Huffing angrily, Cliff turned back to the house. Later, when the pain of hunger summons Jonah home for lunch, he would have a serious discussion about responsibilities and what nots with that God-darn boy.
“Your the greatest, Jeb,” Jonah smiled, his eyes like sparkling springs reflecting sunshine. “My friends at school think I’m nuts. They say scarecrows aren’t suppose ta be real life persons, but you’re not like any other scarecrow, are you.”
The scarecrow was silent, unmoved except for a painted grin on its face.
Jonah started to laugh as he bolted for the cover of the cornstalks growing all around. Moments later, he came out of the field brandishing a wooden stick. “Here,” Jonah said, handing the stick to the grinning scarecrow. “This should help you with your work. Its one of the best swords in all the Kingdom. I’ve used it many times, to kill the bad guys you know. I want you to have it. I can always make me another sword to fight off the bad guys,” Jonah assured it.
The hours had gone by unnoticed, swiftly, and Jonah’s grumbling stomach had spared no time reminding him that perhaps it was time for lunch. He knew, as he strode up the pathway leading to his home, there would be home-made corn muffins, freshly suckled milk, and steaming hot chicken-fried steak, waiting for him on the kitchen table.
As Jonah drew closer to his home, the scent of freshly baked corn muffins assaulted him. Responsively, he quickened his walk.
Mrs. Jasper was diligently washing dishes when Jonah quietly entered the kitchen. The boy scanned the kitchen, spotting the corn muffins still steaming in the center of the kitchen table, and the steak sizzling on the stove beside his busy mother. There was a tall glass of milk set beside an empty plate. This was his spot at the table, for sure.
“Hey, Ma,” Jonah called out, dissuading her from her house work.
Emily shut the running water off and turned around to face her little boy. Her eyes were ablaze with anger, her fore head crinkling.
“Where ya been, boy? Your father’s been looking for you all morning. Say’s you forgot to feed the chickens again.”
“I was with Jeb,” Jonah then bowed his head, “I’m sorry, Ma. I forgot again. I promise I won’t forget again, OK.”
The anger in Emily’s voice magically vanished, the fire in her eyes as well. “Your father wants to speak to you when you’ve finish eating lunch. He’s not at all happy with you, forgetting your chores and all.”
Jonah nodded shamefully. His eyes went scanning again, this time searching for his father–the great grizzly bear. He looked out the kitchen, towards the television room (the only room he could spy from the kitchen table), but failed to locate him.
“Where’s Papa?” Jonah asked his mother.
“Your father’s taking a nap. He’s been doing all your chores. All that extra work gets tiring on an old man like your father. You should really help out more, you know Jonah,” she said, placing the aromatic steak on his plate. Sighing lightly, she sat down next to Jonah. “Jeb? Who’s Jeb? Your new friend? Where’d you meet the boy?”
Jonah smirked, “He’s not a boy.”
“Funny name for a girl . . . Jeb. Never heard of any girl being named Jeb before. She’s a girlfriend?”
Jonah gulped down a mouth full of milk then giggled. “Jeb’s not a girl either, Ma. It’s the scarecrow Papa bought a week ago from that magician.”
Her eyes widen. “The scarecrow. Are you out of your mind young man? Scarecrows are not alive. They’re there to scare away the rats and crows and not for playing. If your Papa finds out that you’ve been disregarding your chores to play with that old scarecrow he’ll really have a cow, maybe two.” She huffed, like her husband, and gave Jonah the sternest look a mother could give her child.
“But Jeb is alive, Ma. He tells me stories; we play hide and seek in the corn.”
Emily shook her head angrily, her eyes closing. “Get your head out of the clouds, young man, and start doing the job that’s required of you or your Papa’s going to tan your behind. He doesn’t do it often but when he does it’s no field trip.”
Jonah nodded. “I promise I won’t forget again,” he said, wrapping his partly eaten steak in the napkin he’d been using to wipe his mouth with.
“What are you going to do with that?” Emily asked, pointing to the wrapped up steak.
“Save it for later. I’m not as hungry as I thought I was.”
She stuck out her hand, “Here give it to me so I can. . . .”
“No,” he said, shoving the steak in his coat pocket. “I’m taking it with me over to Boob’s house, just in case I get hungry again,” he said, rising from the table.
“Don’t leave without seeing your Pa. He’s laying down in the bedroom.”
“I’m going right now, Mam,” the boy assured her.
As Jonah made his way down the cold and desolate hallway to his father’s bedroom, a chill went up his back. He knew he was in for a long lecture, and Jonah hated lectures. But lectures were better than beatings.
His father was deep asleep — maybe dreaming of becoming rich — and snoring as loud as thunder. Jonah began to wonder, would it be prudent to wake the sleeping grizzly bear. His father cherished his sleep–just as a boy would a Gary Sheffield autographed baseball bat–waking him could prove disastrous. Nonetheless, he was ordered by his mother to have a word with his father before leaving to Boob Cooper’s house. One angered parent was enough.
Jonah sat down gently beside his snoring father and gently shook him. “Papa? Ma said you needed to speak to me. Pa?” There came no response. Jonah shook him again, this time with a little vigor.
Cliff woke slowly, his eyes gradually opening. “Who the Hell,” he grumbled. “Jonah, I’ve been looking all over for you this morning. You forgot to do some chicken feeding, and some other jobs around the farm. I hope you have a good explanation, because you’re going to need one.”
“I’ve been really busy with a new friend. I won’t forget to feed them again, I promise you.”
Cliff rose from the bed, sighing gravely. “A new friend. Is he one of those new kids from across the railroad tracks?”
Jonah briefly described Jeb, afraid that if he’d disclosed too much information about his new friend his father would beat him for sure. “No. His name is Jeb. I met him in the cornfields about a week ago. He’s very nice.”
“I don’t mind you playing with your friends, Jonah, but you do have other responsibilities around the farm. Take the time to do them before you go out,” Cliff said, stretching his old muscles and brittle bones. “Have you eaten lunch yet?”
“Yes,” Jonah replied.
“Good. I have a job for you to do. The coup needs cleaning.”
“Can I do that later, I. . . .” Jonah paused, his father’s reddening face advising him to do so.
“I want you to clean the coup first before you do any thing today. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Sir,” Jonah sighed.
Cliff quickly got out of bed. A noise from down the hallway, in Jonah’s bedroom, had stirred him from his dreams of becoming the richest man in the world. Prowler, Cliff thought. He crept to the closet where he kept his trusty double-barreled shotgun, took it out, checked to see if it was fully loaded, took one final look at his slumbering wife, and silently crept out the bedroom.
As Cliff stealthily slipped down the hallway, with his shotgun pointing in the direction of Jonah’s bedroom, another noise sprang from Jonah’s bedroom: a squeaky window opening. Cliff hurried into Jonah’s room prepared to take a life, if needed.
However, to Cliff’s surprise, the room was empty. Jonah was sleeping soundly. The window had been left open; a cool breeze was softly blowing through it, the curtains flapping in the wind. Who or whatever had been here was now gone. Fairly relieved to find no intruder, Cliff lowered his shotgun.
Suddenly then, hearing the sound of crunching grass and crackling twigs outside the window, Cliff pulled his gun up again. Rushing towards the window, he looked outside to see a shadow of a man running away from the barnyard. He raised his gun at the fleeing man, but decided not to shoot. The target then quickly vanished.
Cliff lowered his gun again, watching the barnyard with grim concern.
“Pa, is something the matter?” Jonah asked, spooking his father.
Cliff, still holding his gun up, turned from the window. “Boy, why aren’t you sleeping?”
“I had a nightmare. A stranger came in my room.”
“Well,” Cliff paused, “go back to sleep. You’ll need your rest for tomorrow,”
“What’s the shotgun for, Pa?” Jonah asked, his eyes fixated on the shotgun in his father’s grip.
“Nothing . . . thought I heard some coyotes after the chickens. Just my imagination, I reckon. Now get some sleep, we’ll talk some more later, after you’ve come home from school.”
Cliff closed the window and locked it. He ambled over to Jonah, gave him a quick peck on his forehead, and went back to his room.
Jonah closed his eyes. Jeb, he thought. He drifted back to sleep, oblivious to a shadow passing by his window.
The school yard was full of children hurrying to get to class on time, sprinting through the school yard like gazelles fleeing lions.
However, only one child remained unmoved by the school bell’s warning; standing still, his back to the school and scampering children and looking numbly at the country hills and woods that encircled the school, was Boob Cooper. A tall child, with long, dirty blonde hair. Boob was not much of a lover for school. Yet if Jonah was in class with him, joking and horse playing with him, school was a bit more bearable.
Strangely though, Jonah did not report for school today.
Boob searched harder, his ears sharp and ready to sense the familiar sound of Jonah’s voice. Nothing. He squinted. Nothing. Where’s Jonah? He wondered.
He was rudely interrupted by one of the children in his class, a girl by the name of Tara Chapman, tugging at his short sleeve shirt.
“Boob . . . we’re going to be late. Come on,” she said sweetly.
“I’m wa . . . waiting for Jonah. He . . . he’s na . . . not here yet,” he stuttered.
Tara frowned, her face reddening with anger and jealousy. Ever since the first time she laid eyes on the ill-groomed boy Tara knew Boob was the one for her. How could Boob care more for Jonah than me? This infuriated her. How could he?
“He’s spending more and more time with that Jeb fella. Sue Christine tells me it’s that foolish scarecrow of his. Boy’s really kooky, if ya ask me,” she said, giggling.
“No one asked you,” Boob replied curtly, casually lifting her fingers off his shoulder.
The short, black-haired girl huffed and spun away, “Well I’m not going to be late. You stay out here if ya like, Boob Cooper.” She started to sing a silly melody as she skipped back towards the school house.
Where the Hell is Jonah? Boob asked himself again, staring at the landscape before him. Feeling the urge he had to, he turned toward the school house and spied his obnoxious admirer entering the school house.
He turned back around and started to walk, however grudgingly, away from the school.
What if something horrible happened to Jonah on his way to school this morning, Boob dread painfully. He remembered overhearing, as he made his way back down the trail through the woods, a ghastly conversation his mother and father had had the other night about little Joey Hunter, a boy–he barely mingled with–in his class: evidently, Joey had been abducted–by who knows who–about three nights before their conversation; later that same week, he was found badly (badly being an understatement) mutilated and left for dead in Mr. Hunter’s cornfields.
Boob recalled–a chill ran up his back–his mother and father saying that Joey’s body had been chopped up; and that afterwards each part was speared through a huge skewer-like wooden pole. The pole was then planted into the ground as if to resemble some twisted fiend’s version of a totem pole, the boy’s head at the pole’s zenith.
After the conversation that night, Boob found it extremely hard to fall asleep; and when he finally did fall asleep, he had the most horrific nightmare.
The woods had begun to thicken around the trail. Sunlight was barely making headway through the towering umbrage. Though the thickening of the woods and the sparse sunlight wasn’t uncommon at this vicinity of the trail, Boob had never had to walk this particular section of land by himself. There was always Jonah and the other school children accompanying him on his trip to school. And so now the woods felt a trite cold and foreboding.
A wind began to blow through the woods, stirring the surrounding bush into a brief frenzy. For a moment, Boob thought he heard the wind call his name.
Boob stopped suddenly, startled by the brisk movement of someone or something in the woods just ahead and to his right. He swallowed hard and began to shiver a little. Finally, summoning up some valor, he spoke to the woods ahead of him. “Jo . . . Jonah? Is that ya . . . you? If you’re trying to scare me . . . me, it . . . it’s not wor . . . working.” Boob hushed, in hopes that Jonah may answer. But no one replied. He squinted, but the mysterious figure did not appear.
But then, from out of the shadows of the surrounding trees, a tall figure emerged, wearing what seemed to be a hat on its head. As it drew closer to Boob, the figure became clearer. The figure then raised its hand, as if to offer a friendly handshake.
Boob slowly backed away and asked, “Who are ya . . . you? Wha . . . what have you da . . . done with Jo . . . Jonah?”
The figure didn’t answer. It moved closer to Boob, its hand still out as if to gesture friendship.
Boob, too scared to run away, stepped back instead, nearly tripping over a log behind him.
“Are ya . . . you Jeb?” The boy asked, his eyes trying their best to decipher the figure’s facial particularities. Was this a man or woman?
“I am him,” the figure finally spoke in a man’s voice. “Jonah is waiting for us to return to the cornfield. Come, boy, take my hand.”
Hesitantly Boob stepped forward, taking the stranger’s hand. An instant later, he felt and heard his neck rip open, and with quickly tearing eyes he watched as his life pour readily from his body. He tried to scream. He tried to escape. But discovered both a useless attempt.
The boy buckled to the ground, his knees splashing soundlessly into a pool of his own blood, as the stranger held tightly to his wrist.
The stranger raised the boy off his knees, dangling him over the ground, then shook the boy for few seconds, like a butcher wringing a chicken’s neck. The stranger then proceeded to examined the boy, peering into Boob’s dead but opened eyes; and finally, confident that his victim was lifeless, he dropped the boy to the bloody ground, still gripping the dead boy’s wrist.
“Jonah will truly be pleased to see us, boy,” the stranger said to the dead boy. His work done, the stranger sauntered back into woods, trailing blood through the dirt and fallen leaves.
A dreadful feeling came over Jonah, for parked outside his home were two Sheriff wagons. He thought for sure that he’d been caught skipping school. His father was standing outside the front porch, talking with Sheriff Sanford; his deputy, Niles, was taking notes beside him.
Cliff soon spotted Jonah walking up the barnyard. “Jonah!” He hollered, startling the policemen. “Get your little half-pint ass over here right now!”
“Go easy on the boy, Cliff,” Sheriff Sanford pleaded.
“Go easy, Sheriff? The boy down right skipped school and ya want me to take it easy?”
“Remember your blood pressure, Sir,” Deputy Niles advised from behind his notebook in a mousy voice.
As Jonah approached the three men, he was motioned by Sheriff Sanford to come to him. “Jonah. We need to ask you a few questions.”
“Yeah, like where the Devil have you been all day?” Cliff growled out.
Jonah started to sweat. He looked worriedly at his father, afraid to utter a single syllable.
“There now,” Sheriff Sanford told Cliff, placing his strong, right arm on Cliff’s shoulder (the Sheriff was built like a miniature skyscraper). Cliff tried to shrug it off. “I’ll handle this part, if ya don’t mind, Cliff.”
The Sheriff smiled at Jonah and relaxed his tenure on Cliff.
“Now, Jonah, we know you didn’t make it to school today. Mrs. Lang had informed your Father of that. And when you didn’t return home after school hours, your Ma and Pa become very worried that something had happened to you, and Boob.”
Jonah’s forehead crinkled, obviously confused. “Boob? Boob wasn’t with me today. Did he go to school?”
“No. We all assumed that you and Boob skipped school together,” Sheriff Sanford replied, sounding as confused as Jonah.
“Where’ve you been all day, Jonah,” Cliff finally spoke up, some of the anger in his voice gone or hidden.
“I was with,” Jonah started to say, but was interrupted by his mother appearing from off the front porch.
“Jonah, Boob’s Mama is on the phone. She’s worried about Boob. I told her that he was probably with you today.” Emily’s eyes went searching around, hoping to find Boob, but the boy was nowhere to be seen.
“I don’t know where Boob is Ma. I thought he went to school today.”
The Sheriff then asked again, “Where have you been all day, Jonah?”
“I was with Jeb,” he replied.
“Jeb . . . Jeb. I getting sick and tired of Jeb, Jonah. I’m grounding you for the rest of the week. No more freaking Jeb. I reckon Jeb’s parents are just as worried,” Cliff growled, his anger returning swiftly.
“Jeb?” Sanford muttered. “Reckon I’ve never met, Jeb, Jonah. Does he live nearby here?”
Jonah managed to scrape some courage up from the bottom of his gut to say what he had to say: “He lives near by alright. Over there,” and he pointed to the cornfields.
The Sheriff followed the pointing finger with his eyes, as did Cliff and Niles, but found nothing . . . nothing but a scarecrow, and a few black birds bravely hanging around.
“Jeb lives over there, in the cornfields? Can we go see him?” The Sheriff asked.
“Can’t you see him?” Jonah asked.
“Jonah, cut the crap and tell us who the Devil Jeb is!” Cliff hollered.
“The scarecrow, in the fields, that’s Jeb, Papa. I know it sounds a bit nutty, but its all true. I’ve been with Jeb all day.”
“The scarecrow?” The dumbstruck Sheriff said, staring at the hay stuffed body hanging on the pole in the middle of the cornfields. “An imaginary friend, Jonah? Skipping school to be with an imaginary friend, now that’s different.”
“You mean to tell me you missed school to play with a damn scarecrow. Have you lost all your freaking senses, boy?” Cliff grumbled.
“He’s not imaginary, Papa. Jeb’s for real–” but Jonah was cut short, nearly missing a swipe by his father’s hand.
The Sheriff quickly held Cliff back with the bulk of his arm. “Take it easy, Cliff. Come on. The boy has an active imagination, that’s all. I’m sure you had one when you were his age, too. Now calm down, please.”
Cliff huffed and replied, “Didn’t have time to have one, Sheriff. Work, work, work all day. There was never any time for play. Now, get your but inside the house, Jonah, we’ll have our little discussion about skipping school, later.”
Somberly, Jonah bowed his head and retreated into the house. He knew well what would follow later.
“Go easy on him, Cliff. Remember, he’s just a boy,” the Sheriff pleaded, knowing though that all the pleading in the world would have no effect on the old man; but he felt he had to at least try –for the boy.
“The boy needs to learn some responsibility, Sheriff. It’s for his own good,” Cliff said, scraping at a insect bite on his arm.
“The reason we got here so fast when we found out that Jonah didn’t make it to school is that –I’m not sure if you’ve been informed of this or not– but there’s been a couple of children murdered in the past month. The first child was a little girl, Mary Lou Dixon–” he was cut short by Cliff explaining that he had read about the incident in the newspaper, “she was found severely dismembered, it was horrible, Cliff. I found it hard to keep my lunch down when I saw . . . I mean, I’ve never seen such a sight in all my life. . . It was just.” The Sheriff choked up. He instantly perked up when the radio in one of the wagons blurted out the voice of Kimberly, the station dispatcher, asking for him or Deputy Niles.
Niles quickly responded, “I’ll get it Chief.”
“And then Joey Hunter, I don’t even want to think about that one. We’re still looking for the monster who’s responsible for these atrocities, round the clock. Any way, when we heard that Boob and Jonah didn’t report for school . . . well, I thought something might have happened to Jonah or Boob.”
“Just the other night, I thought I saw someone roaming around the barnyard. I was just about to blast the creep with my shot gun, but decided not to; I didn’t want to scare the Devil out of Emily and Jonah.”
“Make sure to keep your doors locked till we find this bastard,” the Sheriff advised Cliff.
“Chief, Kimberly says that a group of teenagers found a body, in the woods. A boy, I believe. The victim fits Boob Cooper’s description,” Niles said. A sickening look had blossomed on the Deputy’s face.
“Keep a good eye out for any thing suspicious, Cliff. I’ve got to go.” And with that said, the Sheriff made his way to Nile’s Wagon.
“I will Sheriff,” Cliff assured him, watching the Sheriff hurry away.
“Follow me in your wagon–” Sanford suddenly paused, his attention captured by the cornfields ahead of him.
“Chief? Is something wrong?” Niles asked him.
“I’ll swear on my sweat mother’s grave that scarecrow was facing the other way just a few minutes ago.”
“The boy’s got ya spooked, Chief. Come on, let’s get a move on.”
“You go on ahead and I’ll meet you at the crime scene later. I want to check something out before I go.”
“You don’t actually believe that the scarecrow . . .”
“Just get going, Niles. I’ll meet you later,” Sanford said, still studying the cornfield. “Get,” he ordered.
Niles nodded, shut the door, and started the wagon’s engine. The wagon then sped out of the barnyard, siren wailing and lights flashing.
It was not unlike any other scarecrow the Sheriff had seen before. Just an ordinary scarecrow. It had the customary painted pitch-black eyes and silly smile that all scarecrows were known to have. Yellow stuffing was poking from it’s wrist and ankles, and neck. It wore a pair of dirty old Levis and a rag for a shirt, hay poking from their holes. On the top of its head rested a tattered straw hat.
There was no sign, what-so-ever, that this creature had ever breathed air, or that it had ever walked two steps.
But then, Sanford’s eyes widen. Something red, the color of blood (and there was no doubt in his mind that it wasn’t), had stained the scarecrow’s hat. He touched the spot, it felt dry; crimson flakes fell from the spot.
“Jeb, old buddy, someone’s been playing with your hat,” he spoke to the scarecrow, staring down at the ground. Footprints, the size of a man’s foot, were scattered here and there, till they disappeared into the cornfield. What appeared to be blood was aside the prints in barely visible puddles, small globs.
He had come to a conclusion.
As he made his way back to the wagon, a feeling of unease, much like sea sickness, swept over his entire body. The world around him began to rock back and forth; the cornfield was fading before his eyes. The Sheriff began to totter; eventually he buckled to the ground, hitting it with a violent thump. Faint was coming quickly.
And then the strangest thing happened; he heard a voice from behind him.
You must save Jonah. He’s in great danger, he heard the voice say. The Sheriff tried to stand, but to no avail. He heard the plea again. And then two more times. And after the last plea, the world around him, that had been spinning, quickly came back; the dizziness he was feeling retreating.
He carefully stood up and stretched his neck muscles. His eyes accidentally caught the scarecrow’s face while brushing the dirt off his uniform. What he saw was extremely disturbing: the painted smile from before was gone now, and in its place was a thick, black frown.
“Yes,” Sanford said, speaking into the radio, sounding a bit upset. “I want a A.P.B. issued, on a man, possibly dressed up to look like a scarecrow, Niles.”
“Sure, Chief,” the deputy dispassionately replied.
“Good,” The Sheriff said, placing the radio back in the dashboard.
Cowering safely behind his mother, Jonah listened carefully to his father’s angry words, quickly nodding yes or no to each question. “I’m sick and tired of that freaking scarecrow screwing with your head. Imaginary friend’s are not suppose to influence you to skip school.”
“Yes, Pa,” Jonah barely spoke, nodding.
Emily frowned at Cliff, her sympathetic face begging him to go easy on the boy. Cliff scowled at her.
“I’m going out there tonight, and I’m going to get rid of it, Jonah. I’ve had it. First your chores, and now your school work.”
Jonah’s face deaden, a frown forming rapidly. “But Pa, I won’t do it again. I swear.”
Cliff just huffed and pointed to Jonah’s bedroom. “Get to your room. Your grounded there for the rest of week. Punishment is good for the soul,” he growled.
“Jeb’s my friend, you can’t–” Jonah was suddenly hushed by the softness of his mother’s hand capping his mouth.
“Put a sock in it, Jonah,” she whispered in his ear. “Now get to your room like your father told you,” she said, nudging him along.
“Stop babying that boy, Emily,” Cliff groaned in disgust, his eyebrows menacing.
Emily, sickened by all the fussing, gave Cliff a menacing look of her own, and said, “I do as I please, Cliff Jasper. You don’t scare me in the least. Now, the boy’s going to his room just as you asked him to do. Calm down.”
Cliff groused and turned towards the front door. A crack of thunder, close by, rattled the house.
“Where’re you going?” Emily asked, watching her husband march towards the exit.
“I going to the dump to get rid of that freaking scarecrow. I’ll make one of my own design tomorrow morning. Maybe–” Cliff stammered as another crack of thunder ruptured the atmosphere, “maybe getting rid of the scarecrow will help, I don’t know what else will.”
He picked up his coat and umbrella hanging on the coat rack and opened the door. The storm got louder.
“You don’t want to go out there now, in that lightning, Cliff. Leave that for another day,” Emily pleaded.
“No, it’s got to be done tonight or I’ll never get any sleep,” he replied, walking onto the porch. The rain began to pelt away violently at the roof. “Don’t wait up for me.”
The wet, squishy ground retreated beneath Cliff’s tattered work boots as he made his way towards the cornfields, his flashlight in hand cutting through the falling rain. Luckily for Cliff, the storm was subsiding.
Lightning struck in the distance, near the scarecrow, illuminating it for half a second, startling Cliff.
Finally arriving where the scarecrow was hanging and dripping rain, Cliff started to pull it off the pole it had been dutifully hanging from. He brought the scarecrow over his shoulder–it was heavier than normal because of the rain–turned around, and started walking back to the truck over the soggy terrain, with the heavy thing over his shoulder. Lightning lit the farm, the old Ford pickup, and the other junk in the back of the truck. A clap of thunder followed.
Rain was trickling down the sides of his face, into his eyes, and pouring down his back. Cliff wiped the wetness from his eyes and face with his free hand, mumbling a curse.
The rain had finally come to an end when Cliff reached the Ford; he rested for a couple of seconds, leaning against the truck and breathing with some effort. And then, with his muscles straining painfully, Cliff heaved the scarecrow over his head; but as he tried to toss the wet thing onto the back of the truck, he felt his back strangely give way and his knees buckle. Cliff dropped to the muddy ground, scarecrow still on his shoulder. He grumbled angrily, “I must be getting weak in my old age, huh, Jeb?” He drew in a long breath, and with his legs he pushed upward. Back on his feet again–legs trembling under the weight–Cliff attempted to throw the scarecrow onto the junk in the back on of the truck. But he failed to lift the scarecrow off his shoulder once again. He puffed angrily. “What’s a matter with me, can’t lift a simple sack of hay onto a truck anymore.”
Cliff drew in another breath, determined that this would be his last attempt, then tried again. This time his efforts did not go unrewarded, for the scarecrow went flying onto the back of the truck; however, it’s right hand was gripping Cliff’s forearm, as if it was holding onto Cliff for dear life. Lighting struck nearby, twenty yards or so away, enabling Cliff to clearly see the scarecrow’s gloved fingers holding firmly to his arm. Cliff freaked, his eyeballs nearly popping out of their sockets; he swiped at the grasping fingers–like a panicky woman swiping at a large roach. But the fingers stayed. Resultantly, the horrified man, his heart pumping madly within his chest, violently jerked away from the gloved grasp, tearing off skin in the process. A long howl escaped him, and he fell sidelong to the muddy ground, panting for air like a fish out of water.
“I’m must be losing it,” he muttered as he slowly rose from the mud. Taking the flashlight out from his coat pocket, he beamed it at the scarecrow lying in the back of the truck, wanting to make sure it had indeed landed in the back of the truck with the other junk. And indeed it had.
From his bedroom window, Jonah quietly stood, watching the whole episode transpiring between Jeb and his father. A tear was leaving his eye as he watched his father finally drive away with Jeb in the back.
Feeling utterly distraught, Jonah decided perhaps a good night’s rest would help with his heart ache; he left the window and slipped back to bed, pulling the warm covers over himself and closing his eyes.
Jonah had been dreaming about Jeb again (they were shooing crows from the cornfield with their magic swords) when he was awakened by the sound of something falling off his dresser–school books. There in the darkness was the form of a man. Moonlight beaming through his opened window was reflecting off something in the stranger’s right hand.
Jonah quickly sat up, kicking the covers off his legs. “Jeb? Is that you?”
The stranger was slow to respond; eventually he replied, “It is I, Jonah. I’ve come to take you away from here. Away from this world for ever and ever. Just you and me, boy.”
The light beaming off the stranger’s hand sparked a warning voice in Jonah’s head: this was not his friend’s voice he was hearing; this was not his style, to come unplanned into his room in the middle of the night. Jeb would never do this.
The stranger, sensing Jonah’s dubiousness, drew nearer to the boy. With his free hand, the stranger seized Jonah by the arm, flashing the shiny object, a straight razor, in his face. Jonah gulped.
“It’s time to go now, Jonah. Boob and the others are waiting for you,” the stranger hissed, running his razor up and down, left and right over Jonah’s chest.
As Cliff eased the truck into its usual parking spot near the farm house, he noticed something strange. The window to Jonah’s bedroom was open. He didn’t remember seeing it open before. A dreadful feeling enveloped him.
“Jonah, my dear Jesus,” he said.
Cliff hurried out of his truck, slamming the door behind him. Reaching the front door of the farm house, he quickly entered, nearly stumbling in his haste. He hurried down the hallway to Jonah’s room, thinking the most unthinkable thoughts.
Cliff flipped on the light. The blood that had been pumping through his body froze, the air in his lungs gone, for the little boy that he and Emily had raised and loved with all their heart was missing from his bed.
Perhaps he was somewhere else in the house, Cliff figured, and thus went searching for Jonah through out the whole house, being careful not to arouse Emily. He found nothing: not in the kitchen, not in the bathrooms, not in the living room.
In hopes that Jonah would be outside, possibly sleep walking–the boy had done it many times before–Cliff grabbed his shotgun and bolted out the front door.
He breathed in the night air, his gun pointing in the darkness, then bolted onto the wet farm yard, his head swaying side to side, searching for clues to Jonah’s disappearance. He pulled out his flashlight, casting the beam over the yard, exposing Jonah’s bike, some buckets, the chicken coup, the few trees growing in the yard, and the barn with its doors swung opened.
In the barn, that’s where Jonah is, Cliff thought; he set forth for the barn, the beam shining in front of him, his shot gun cradled under his shoulder.
However, he was stopped short some yards from the barn, as his eyes spotted something that he had hoped they would not have spotted: footprints of a large man (not his size), perhaps a woman. He followed the trail with the beam of light; the prints eventually steered Cliff to Jonah’s bedroom window. No! My Lord no! Not my boy!
He sank to his knees, sobbing.
Sheriff Sanford arrived as quickly as possible. Once there, Deputy Niles handled the task of calming Mrs. Jasper down, while the Sheriff went searching for more clues. Cliff tagged alongside the Sheriff, asking questions as he did.
After acquiring the needed clues and notes, the two police officers left the farm, insuring Cliff and Emily that Jonah would be OK and that the man who had stolen their priceless possession would be caught.
However, Cliff and Emily knew that was just wishful thinking.
The hours had dragged on, and yet no sign of Jonah and his captor; during the whole miserable day, Emily sat silently in her soft chair beside the inactive fireplace, contemplating the worse, and continuously weeping, while Cliff paced and raved through the house.
Nothing seemed important any longer, except for the safe return of their son. In their despondency, they had forgotten to do the chores around the farm. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner had been ignored. The normal recreational deeds had been left undone: reading, watching television, playing canasta.
And now, the sun was going down. Cliff, tired from all his pacing, brought his old bones over to the other soft chair adjoining Emily’s and sat down. He looked at her. She looked broken, her eyes bloodshot: she had aged ten years in less than a day. Cliff took her hand in his, softly squeezing it. She smiled feebly back at him, newly rolling tears on her face. He had a few of his own on his face as well. She reached for his face and wiped the tears away. No words were spoken.
They sat quietly, watching the telephone, praying to God and Jesus that it would bring them good news.
And still the hours dragged on, and still no news: bad or good.
The rooster crowed, waking Cliff from a happy dream–him and Jonah were together again, tossing the baseball around. Sleep had thickened in his eyes; he wiped it away with his bony knuckles. He yawned, stretched, and gradually dragged his old body out of bed. He stretched again and started walking, barely, toward the hallway.
He made his way down the hallway. Sensing something, he stopped in front of Jonah’s bedroom and peered in. The something was lying in Jonah’s bed, something the size of a small child. A feeling of immense curiosity swelled in Cliff’s heart as he turned on the bedroom lights.
His prayers had been answered, for lying still on the bed, blankets covering him from the neck down, albeit for his right foot that was poking out from under it, was Jonah, lightly snoring.
Cliff could no longer contain the rapture swelling inside his heart and soul, hollering like some crazed animal, “Emily! Wake up woman, our prayers have been answered! Jonah’s come back!” Apparently the light had stirred Jonah from his slumber, for he mumbled something as his eyes slowly opened. Cliff sprinted for the waking Jonah. Wrapping his frail arms around the child, he gave him the greatest hug.
Having been woken by the crazed animal, Emily then entered the bedroom, half asleep, moaning and groaning, her eyes barely open. “What in tarnations are you yelling about–” she stopped, her eyes now fully opened. “My boy. My little boy’s come back,” she said softly as she too sprinted for Jonah’s bed. Tears were falling from her eyes again, tears of joy this time. “Are you alright, Jonah?” She asked him, worriedly.
“I had the worst nightmare, Mama. I dreamt that a strange man came into my room and took me away from you and Pa. He threatened to kill me. But Jeb saved me, he rescued me. Brought me back home.”
Cliff looked at Emily, with a puzzled expression on his face; he wondered, as he studied Emily’s own puzzled expression, what was this boy talking about. It hadn’t been a dream, it had actually happened.
“I’m going to call Sheriff Sanford,” he told Emily as he rose from the bed.
“Be thankful the dream is over, Jonah,” Emily said, stroking Jonah’s face.
“Yes,” Cliff said into the telephone, sounding a little perturb but at the same time elated. “Jonah’s back. It’s almost as if he’d never disappeared, Sheriff. He said that he had dreamt that someone had taken him away . . . and that Jeb, the freaking scarecrow I delivered to the dump the night Jonah had been kidnapped, had rescued him.”
“Jonah thinks the whole experience was a dream,” the Sheriff paused, possibly to think, and then continued, “I’m no child psychologist but I believe Jonah’s trying to block out the whole experience . . . some sort of defense mechanism. Let me get some things and I be right over, OK.”
“Good,” Cliff replied. “I’ll see you then in a little bit.” Cliff hung up the phone, his eyes watching the sunshine filter through the living room windows.
Remembering that the newspaper was lying outside waiting to be retrieved, Cliff stepped towards the front door, yawning. He opened the door, squinted, spotted the paper near one of the trees in the front yard, and started after it.
As he drew closer to the newspaper, he couldn’t help noticing an object in the cornfield: the scarecrow that he had banished two nights ago was hanging casually on its wooden post, as if it had never been removed.
The Sheriff lifted the radio off the dashboard and responded, “Yes, Kimberly?”
“A call came in about two minutes ago. It’s Mr. Clayton; he says he found a body in the back of his store. Says he found it there when he went to dump the old feed away.”
“Another child,” the Sheriff replied, sadly.
“No, it’s an adult,” she said.
“Get Niles and Harper on the radio and tell them to meet me there, pronto.”
“Yes, Sheriff,” Kimberly replied. “Right away.”
The Sheriff switched on the sirens and floored the wagon. Smoke and dust from the dirt road whirled up into the air as the wagon sped down the street.
The Sheriff arrived at Mr. Clayton’s feed store first, parking the wagon in front of the store. Standing nervously outside the shop with a long rifle held trembling in his hands was Mr. Clayton. The Sheriff waved at Mr. Clayton and got out of the wagon. With an uneasy look upon his face, the storekeeper waved back.
“Sheriff, I thought you’d never get here,” Mr. Clayton said, his eyes burning with fear.
Niles and Harper emerged from around the corner of the street, their sirens howling.
“Show me the body,” Sanford asked Mr. Clayton. The Sheriff signaled to Niles and Harper to follow him into the store.
Niles stepped out, his black hair flapping in the wind. With a gun in his hand, Deputy Gary Harper got out next.
“Gary,” the Sheriff called out, “put the gun away.”
Mr. Clayton lead them through the store, pass the chicken feed, pass the pig slop, and towards the back of the store where the exit to the alley was. The storekeeper paused before opening the door to the alley, then remarked, “I’ll stay in here, Sheriff. I’m not accustomed to such sights.” And opened the door.
The Sheriff stepped outside, followed by Niles and Harper. The smell was horrible. There was blood all over the alley: on the walls, the ground. And in the midst of the blood bath was the body of a very large man.
Niles started taking pictures of the scene as Harper searched around the alley for clues to the murder. The Sheriff gradually made his way to the body.
It was a terrible sight. The man had been stab repeatedly with a wooden spear that now was standing at attention through the man’s forehead. There were puncture wounds to his upper body, wounds in his legs and arms. A deep wound to his neck.
Sanford reached for the spear, carefully pulling the murder weapon out; blood trickled off the stick. He noted something peculiar, an etching on the wooden stick, and read it out loud: “This magical sword belongs to Jeb.”
Emily took her eyes off the newspaper, placed her streaming cup of coffee next to her breakfast plate, and looked into Cliff’s eyes, “God took good care of our little boy the other night,” she said, dreamily.
Cliff nodded. “Yes, he sure did. With the help of a good friend.”
“You think he’s been out in the cornfield long enough?” Emily asked, now staring out into the cornfields framed in the kitchen window.
“I think he’ll be just fine,” Cliff replied, with a smile.
T H E E N D
Copyright © 1995 by Arturo Hernandez