by Bob Lovely
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Feeling overwhelmed, Jimmy walked home and washed for dinner. James had made spaghetti and meatballs, and an attempt at garlic toast which consisted of toasted bread on which he had spread butter, then sprinkled with powdered garlic.
After dinner, Jimmy went outside. It was dark and a strong, cold wind was blowing. Jimmy noticed at least one bit of something he felt certain was hay or straw being carried on the breeze. He vomited in the front yard, sickened by what he had learned that day.
While the storm raged, James was upstairs in his office, a second-floor bedroom he had converted into a workspace. He clicked away on his computer, catching up on a few things and wondering if and when financial needs might compel him to come out of semi-retirement and once again practice law. For now though, he was happy to be able to spend more time with Jimmy. With dinner warm in his full stomach, he began to drift into sleep.
Once he had vomited, Jimmy stood up, almost expecting Scarecrow to be there. He was not. Jimmy knew what he would have said if Scarecrow had been there, however. Spitting the last bits of vomit from his acid-tasting mouth, he held out his fist against the dark of the night and said again, “Not much longer, Dan.”
James was in a cave. Before him was a wide crevasse, beyond which he knew lay both his own safety and his ability to protect Jimmy, though from what he did not know. It seemed as if he had forgotten.
A strong wind blew against him. Leaping the crevasse would be difficult enough under normal circumstances, but with this wind it would be impossible. On the wind he thought he smelled manure, barn smells. As the bitter wind raged against him, pieces of hay blew by, some sticking in his hair. He winced as a length of it almost struck him in the eye.
Jimmy returned to the house. Not willing to turn his back to the darkness of night, he sidled to the door and let himself in. As the wind picked up outside, he went into the kitchen to get a glass of water to rinse his mouth.
The following day, Friday January fifth, Jimmy spent most of the day trying to build his courage. He droned through a day of school, hardly aware of his surroundings.
Thinking he might be ill, Miss Ames had Jimmy report to the school nurse who had him lie down on a cot in the back room of her office for most of the afternoon.
* * *
That night, at about 8:30, Jimmy walked to the barn. He decided to walk because he felt it was more appropriate than riding his bike to the confrontation he anticipated. He felt grim, knowing he would have just one chance. Although, the way he saw it, so would Scarecrow.
As he arrived at the barn, under a full moon, Jimmy went straight in. He took some hay from within the barn, then produced a box of matches and the paper he had taken from Karen’s slack, forgetful hand. He struck a match and set flame to loose hay from a cut bale that lay before him. He then unfolded the paper and, in the increasing light of the fire, read the words aloud.
After speaking the words, Jimmy folded the paper, lit the hay he held in his hand with flames from the burning bale at his feet, and left the barn. He walked out into the night, the light from the increasingly burning barn now outshining the moon, and waited. But not for long.
Suddenly a shadow eclipsed the light of the blazing barn, and Jimmy knew Scarecrow stood immediately behind him. He meant to turn, to face the monster unafraid, and to shout: “Not much longer, Dan!” as he had practiced over and over. In reality however, he turned, saw Scarecrow looming over him, made a low sound deep in his throat, and peed his pants.
In the light of the burning barn and of Jimmy’s makeshift torch, Scarecrow stood mighty and awesome. He towered roughly seven feet tall, taller than Jimmy had seen him, and his eyes shone an eerie green. Large, sharp teeth jutted from his mouth, and his fingernails were long talons all filthy with old blood.
Jimmy, his small torch nearly spent and the flames licking his fingers, closed his eyes, whispered a quick and quiet prayer, and thrust his hand forward.
He felt his hand pass right into Scarecrow’s body, the inside of which felt like a mass of hot oatmeal filled with briars. He stepped back and opened his eyes. For one sick moment, Jimmy was certain his torch had gone out. Then he caught the scent of gasoline. Scarecrow burst into flames.
Although Scarecrow gnashed his deadly sharp teeth and swung his impossibly long talons through the air, he seemed unable to focus his fury on Jimmy. The heat from Scarecrow’s destruction was intense, but Jimmy stood his ground, almost in the flames himself.
His hair, eyebrows, and clothing singed, Jimmy stood until Scarecrow’s ashes had drifted on the breeze and the barn had burnt enough that he felt comfortable the fire would not spread to surrounding fields and homes. Somewhat surprised that no adults had arrived in response to the blaze, Jimmy walked home.
James, unable to sleep, heard Jimmy come in and ascend the stairs. A few moments after Jimmy had gone up to his room, James entered the living room and went to the bottom of the stairs. The smell of smoke was unmistakable. Deciding to deal with it in the morning, he went to bed.
* * *
The doorbell rang at 8:00 Saturday morning. James, who was just about to start cooking breakfast, went to the door and opened it. Standing on the porch was the massive frame of Sheriff Pearson.
“G’mornin’, Mr. Boyd,” said the sheriff, expressionless.
“Please come in,” James replied. “I’m just about to start breakfast,” he invited.
“No, thank you, sir,” Sheriff Pearson raised his hand in a polite dismissal. “Someone burnt down the old storage barn last night, Mr. Boyd.”
James sighed. “Is that so?”
“Yes, sir,” the Sheriff replied matter of factly. “I’m interviewing some of the teenagers this morning. Your boy first, if you don’t mind, sir.”
“Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve come to the right place.” James grimaced. He turned his head to the right, toward the stairs up. “Jimmy?”
“I know, Dad, I heard. I’m on my way down,” came Jimmy’s voice from upstairs.
Jimmy walked down the stairs slowly but steadily, head up and shoulders back. He almost looked as if he were in a sort of ceremony. The smells of wood smoke and burnt grass accompanied him. He had made no effort whatsoever to conceal his act, not even bathing. He stood before the sheriff and looked up at the huge man’s face.
“I reckon you know why I’m here,” stated Sheriff Pearson.
“Yes, sir,” Jimmy replied, sounding very sincere. “I burned down that barn. On purpose, but it wasn’t vandalism sir.”
James couldn’t help but smile, he had never heard Jimmy use the term “sir” before. Whatever had happened, his son was growing into a fine young man, a stand-up guy, and James was proud of him.
“It was Scarecrow, sir!” Jimmy suddenly shouted, not quite crying and clearly trying not to. He continued in a slightly calmer voice: “I went there to kill Scarecrow. He’d done enough harm, and I did it. I burnt him up and all of his medicine with him.”
Suddenly James felt tight and very self-conscious. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected Jimmy to say, but he had hoped it wouldn’t be this. James had a sensation of being very small, and though he made no effort to move, he felt it may have been very difficult to do so.
“You sure about that?” Sheriff Pearson sounded grave.
“Yes, sir.” Jimmy’s voice was strong and steady.
Sheriff Pearson knelt down in front of Jimmy, on both knees, setting his hat on the floor beside him. To James, he almost looked as if he were about to pray. Even on his knees he towered over Jimmy.
“You’re sure? Every bit of him?” asked the Sheriff.
James furrowed his brow.
“Yes, sir,” Jimmy repeated. “I went there last night, made a torch and set the barn on fire. When I turned around he was just there. He came at me with those bloody sharp teeth and his claws. I was so scared I just closed my eyes and stuck out the torch. It was so burnt up already it was starting to burn my hands. I felt my hand go into him with the torch, and I let go. I fell back, and when I opened my eyes he was standing over me, screaming and burning.”
Jimmy took a breath and swallowed noticeably, as if regaining his strength. “He burnt up fast, I think maybe that shirt had gas or oil on it from the garage, and the rest of him was just hay. And Evil.” He said all of this while looking straight into Sheriff Pearson’s eyes, not once looking away or blinking.
On his knees, Sheriff Person said, “I wanna tell you a story, sir.”
James thought with pride that today was also the first time anyone had ever called his son “sir.”
“About forty years ago,” began the sheriff, “there was a kid living in this town, born here. This kid had a weight problem: fat. The other kids called me ‘Little Fatty Farty’.”
James was shocked by a cold, electric feeling of embarrassment for the sheriff.
“I got picked on, beat up a little. The words hurt more than the hits.”
James moved slightly to the side and sat on the bottom step.
Sheriff Pearson continued. “I saw him, too. I was 13, just like you are now. Just on the edge of manhood. They say only kids can see him. People grow up, they don’t want to believe. They get jobs, have kids, take a few drinks and tell themselves the fear they felt when they were younger was just kid stuff. Hide behind their age.”
James needed to pee and wanted to start some coffee as well, but he stayed on the bottom step and watched his son and the local sheriff maintain eye contact.
The sheriff continued, “I saw him too,” he repeated, “but I never could stand up to him, not like you. You sure you got him? Burnt him up good, every bit?”
“Yes, sir, every bit.”
“Well then,” said Sheriff Pearson, unbuttoning one of his uniform shirt pockets and reaching into it. “I reckon that makes you a hero.” He produced a badge from the pocket, just like his own. The sheriff reached forward to Jimmy, began to pin the badge on him, cleared his throat and continued. “For courage above and beyond the call of duty, in standing up to a monster and ensuring the safety of the children of this community, now and for generations to come. My thanks to you, James Boyd Jr., Destroyer of Scarecrow.”
James, from his perch on the bottom stair couldn’t help but notice the Sheriff had said “Scarecrow” and not “the scarecrow.”
Sheriff Pearson stood up and lifted his hat. James stood up as well, and looked into the Sheriff’s face. Then he looked down at Jimmy, put a fatherly hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Jimmy, your father’d be forever grateful if you’d go into the kitchen and start this morning’s coffee.”
“You bet, Dad.” Jimmy headed off into the kitchen.
“There’ll be no charges filed, sir.” Sheriff Pearson held out his hand.
James accepted the gesture and the two shook hands. “Sheriff,” James began, “do you really believe in this scarecrow thing?”
“Well, sir,” the Sheriff replied, looking from James to the wall with an expression like he was scrutinizing something at a distance. “I’ve seen some things growing up in this town, and being an officer of the law I guess I’ve seen some pretty crazy things too.” His gaze returned to James. “People might say a man who’d been a fat kid who got picked on might become a cop to prove something, to himself or to someone else. Maybe so, or maybe I just got me a sense of responsibility.
“To answer your question though, as to whether or not I believe, I guess I just can’t say for sure.” He looked at James and settled his hat back on his head with one big, beefy hand. “Or maybe I just won’t.” He smiled at James with a big, toothy, intentional smile. “But I know one thing for sure.”
For a moment James almost forgot his cue, then he asked, “What’s that, Sheriff?”
Sheriff Pearson took a step toward James, reached out, put a big, warm hand on each of James’s shoulders, and looked him right in the eye. “Your boy’s gonna be just fine, from now on.”
James noticed the Sheriff’s eyes were wet, and the big man made no effort to hide or wipe away his tears. The two men regarded one another for a moment.
Then Sheriff Tommy Pearson turned, opened the door, walked out into a sunny day that was unusually warm for January, and smiled.
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Lovely