The Tale of Patchy Jack
By G.R. Wilson
They say Patchy Jack, at one point, was nothing more than a normal, inanimate, scarecrow. He didn’t even have a name yet at that point. A young farmer and his young wife made “Jack” out of some straw, a burlap sack with a crude, smiling face painted on in black, a raggedy striped shirt, and some well-worn blue jeans. The farmer allowed the scarecrow to borrow an old straw hat, and with that, the couple mounted their new creation on a black wooden “T” pole out in the cornfield, to frighten away the persistent and infuriating crows.
The scarecrow, though lumpy, crude, and immobile (save for when the wind jiggled the arms or legs), was life-like enough for the pesky birds, who gave the totem as wide a berth as they would a real farmer. This worked well, for about a week.
Monday morning, the farmer awoke to the squawking and pecking of the crows, resumed at full force. After chasing the birds off with some shouted curses and a pitchfork, the farmer and his wife conferred on what to do next. The wife suggested an improvement to the scarecrow: give him a pitchfork of his very own. The couple had an extra such farm implement. So they tied the spare pitchfork to the scarecrow’s right arm, and enjoyed the sight of their sentinel’s stoic silhouette, protecting their valuable crops night and day. Maybe the scarecrow did look a bit spooky at sunset: a slightly crooked, dead-eyed sack of cloth and straw formed into the approximate shape of a man, and tied up like a savage’s prisoner. It, or, “he”, as the the husband and wife began to call the scarecrow, was armed now, too.
But this simple addition to the artificial field-guard was effective: the crows were smart enough to be scared of a sharp metal object, but too dumb to tell a real person from a fake one. The corn remained safe for another week, as the farmer and his wife returned their focus to other parts of the farm.
When the crows resumed their ravenous activities yet again, the farmer and his wife erupted into fury. Their anger was directed at not only the crows, but at their “servant” who had failed to stop them. It was strange, they thought that night as they each went to bed, side by side, the way they had both “snapped” at the same time, and fallen into a rage of screaming and viciously striking at a completely inanimate and unintelligent…object, for that’s all “Jack” really was, an object. The wife had ended up tearing the defenseless scarecrow down from his mount, while her husband ripped the pitchfork from his “hand” and stabbed him in the gut a few times with it, sending bits of straw flying off in the wind like droplets of gore. The couple left the scarecrow in tatters on the ground before they went inside for supper and sleep.
The next dawn, when the rooster crowed, all thoughts of crows and their frighteners were gone from the minds of the farmer and his wife. It was a peaceful Sunday morning, a day of rest, reflection, and reverence, that began with the couple laying in bed beside each other, enjoying each others’ company. The farmer got up, stretched, and took a peek out the window. He then felt a knot of dread grow heavy in his stomach.
The scarecrow was back up on his mount, pitchfork once again standing proudly at his side. Whereas before the silent sentinel had watched outward, towards the fields, he now faced towards the farmhouse, seemingly directly at the bedroom window, the farmer thought with a chill.
Who set him back up? the farmer questioned to the world, The nearest neighbors are miles away…did someone do this as a joke?
The burlap face, barely discernible at this distance and in the long shadows of the dawn, gave no answer. But, it is said, actions speak louder than words.
After the farmer woke up his wife, and, remaining calm as he could as he did so, pointed out the renewed position of the scarecrow, the couple dressed and went outside for a closer look. They didn’t say a word to each other from the moment that the screen backdoor banged shut behind them. There was only the morning wind of the dusty plains, rustling through the fields, and the crunchy march of the couple’s feet. It was quiet, almost too quiet. Like something was missing, even.
When the scarecrow was only a dozen or so yards distant, his burlap sack face, with its crude black paint smile and splotchy eyes clear as day, did the couple hear a new sound: buzzing, like that of bees, but…different.
It was flies, the big black kinds that feast on and lay maggots in dead things, dozens of the fat bugs, buzzing about the ground. The ground was littered with dead crows, their beady black eyes looking at nothing now, their beaks agape, their wings in tatters. The wife gasped and felt close to retching. The farmer knelt down to examine the crow closest to him. Each bird had one, or sometimes two, big round puncture wounds in its torso or head. The blood thickly stained the earth around the crows, which must have numbered around thirty or so. Come to think of it, it was just about the entire murder of crows (the farmer noticed the possibility of a pun, but was in no laughing mood) that usually swept in and devoured the corn. Now, all dead, all skewered.
The farmer immediately looked up, to the scarecrow.
Dark red blood covered the metal points of the pitchfork, and ran down onto the straw man’s sleeve. He looked proud, almost, like a cat standing over a freshly killed mouse. (Look what I did, mom and dad!)
The farmer’s heart thumped hard in his chest, he shook his head to try and clear away the obvious dream of the bloody scarecrow’s pitchfork and the dead crows, but try as he could, the bizarre and frightening reality remained.
It’s a warning. The horrible realization dawned.
Of course it sounded stupid, it sounded insane even, but, what else was one really supposed to think? That a human being had sneaked onto the farm, skewered thirty wild birds, (with a pitchfork, no less), set the scarecrow back up, (minus the damage from yesterday’s frustration), and done it all without a single trace? Why, in addition to how, needed to be answered, if any human explanation was to make a grain of sense.
And here the scarecrow was: smiling, standing, and giving answers through the evidence all around him. It was a good five minutes before the couple moved a muscle. When they did, it was with paranoia such that they’d never felt before. The farmer grabbed his shotgun from the house, and the couple made a meticulous sweep across the whole property, (neither one wanted to be alone after seeing those crows and that pitchfork,) looking desperately for any sign that maybe, ha ha after all it was really just a prank…of some sort. But they searched to no avail. They did notice some pieces of straw, on the ground near the tree where the crows roosted, and scattered about in the grass. Whether this was loose pieces caught in the wind, or dropped directly from the body of an animate and speedy hunter, none could say for sure now…
Back inside, in the kitchen where the couple talked over tea, (though not taking their eyes off the scarecrow through the window for more than a few seconds,) the wife suggested that they stuff the scarecrow in the barn, sans pitchfork. Yes, it was silly to be so afraid of some old clothes and straw, but, after seeing those crows, and the blood…maybe one couldn’t be overcautious? And besides, she said, maybe the human who was really responsible for all this would reveal himself as he attempted to break into the barn in search of his favorite prop. The farmer ruminated over this, nodded, and agreed. The two untied and took down the scarecrow from his post. Destroying him (no, it) would be stupidly paranoid and an admission of surrender to the prankster; obviously Jack didn’t really move. The farmer carried the misshapen thing into the barn, and heaved it up in a hayloft of the small barn, which the couple locked and chained up tight, and then got ready for church. They’d clean up the crows when they got back.
The service was comforting; both the company of fellow men, and of God. The hymns, the organ, the sitting in pews. The contact with other people. It ended too quickly, however, and the couple felt their anxiety rear its ugly head once more as they made the drive, in the old, beat-up pick-up truck, back to the farm, not knowing what they would find…
The two of them scanned left and right as they pulled up the driveway near the farmhouse. As at dawn, no birds chirped or crowed. The morning was still painfully quiet; even more-so once the truck’s rattling engine stopped. The farmer and his wife stepped out of the truck to walk back to the house, change, and get started on the day’s work. What they saw next made the wife scream and the farmer shudder.
The scarecrow was back. Not in his previous spot on the post, which sat vacant on the edge of the field. He was in a relaxed pose, leaning against the front door, smiling at them with his black crescent mouth and black dot eyes. His fat, baggy arms, as full of tears as his stomach, chest, and legs, were folded across his middle, with the straw at the bottom spilling out a bit onto his legs. The right arm was still bloodstained from the pitchfork’s drips.
Both the man and woman felt sick to their stomachs. There was no way they were both seeing the same hallucinations at the same time, they agreed. The farmer, again, never taking his eyes off the scarecrow, ran to check on the barn, where they’d last left the scarecrow. What he saw made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and his heart feel with dread. The barn-door looked like it had been bludgeoned through by a rampaging elephant. The red-painted wood was splintered from the inside, so the broken edges of boards jutted out like a bullet’s exit wound on a human skull. The farmer, hands shaking, heart pounding, stepped closer to the gaping hole. The thick iron chains that had been securing the door only a couple hours ago now lay useless on the ground; the farmer could see where the weakest link had been battered, warped, twisted, and ultimately snapped.
And still the scarecrow sat, against the door of the house where its creators slept. The thing still taunted them with that stupid smile, and now, with his insultingly casual posture, head cocked to the side, with his hat at a jaunty angle.
This was enough, the farmer and his wife concurred in their shared terror. It didn’t matter if it was because of goblins, the devil himself, or, heck, even little green men from Mars: the scarecrow was alive, it could move, and its physical capabilities and inclinations were as evident as skewered birds and snapped chains. It had to go. It had to burn.
The wife handed her husband his .12 gauge shotgun from the truck; maybe it had been some good intuition on her part to bring it along to church rather than keeping it at the farm. The farmer, after telling his wife to stay some distance back towards the truck, approached the scarecrow at his door, step by step, shotgun trained on the thing’s head. He got closer, closer, so he could see so clearly the stitching on the old clothing and the fibers of the burlap face. He held his breath, reached out an arm: the scarecrow remained motionless.
The farmer grabbed the scarecrow and slung it over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He and his wife let out a collective sigh of relief at the thing’s immobility. But they were still burning the scarecrow, along with the dead crows, of course. The husband tied the scarecrow back on its post, then grabbed one of the two pitchforks, along with his wife, as they shoveled the dead crows into a pile. The farmer kept his shotgun at hand the whole time. Next, the couple built a great bonfire, using both firewood and some of the broken planks from the barn-door. They threw each and every crow, along with the cursed scarecrow, into the roaring flames, and watched it burn.
Jack the scarecrow flared up and was incinerated within a couple minutes, with no trace but a few black scraps of clothes. The burlap face, the bloody arm, and all the straw, turned into thick, black smoke, billowing up into the cloudy gray sky. The soot from the dead crows mixed in with that smoke. By the end of it, all that was left was some smoldering and black pieces of wood, a couple clothing scraps, and the blackened bones of the birds. At last, the fear and danger could be gone forever!
The rest of the day went as usual; hard work on the farm, a break for food and talk, and then more hard work. The young couple looked forward to the day, soon, very soon, when they’d have their first children. It was late summer, so the corn’s harvest time would be soon. The sun set earlier and earlier, day by day, too…
By nightfall, the farmer and his wife, who had pushed away thoughts of moving scarecrows and stabbing farm implements, felt a chill creep over them again. There was a feeling…almost as if, they were being watched, as they ate dinner, showered, brushed their teeth, and changed for bed. The feeling was that something had not been addressed yet, that not everything was completed. That danger still lurked just around the corner.
There was no sound but the wind, and the steady and metallic drip, drip, drip of a leaky radiator in the bedroom. The night was still as stone. But a new sound graced the ears of the dormant couple, and stirred them from their slumber. It was a rustling; a slow, repetitive, rhythmic sound, like a man striding through tall grass. Or, like straw against wooden floorboards.
The husband and wife looked to each other, not daring to make a peep. Their eyes wide, they both struggled to judge the origin of the noise. No way it was the scarecrow…the damned, devil scarecrow wad dead, burned to ashes, turned to smoke. No…the sound actually wasn’t straw and cloth: it was feathers. A fluttering, coming and going, coming and going, from above. In the house. In the attic, the couple realized. Then they heard a sharp, high-pitched “CAW!”, then another, then another. An angry, echoing sound, muffled by the wood of the house which shielded the couple from the dangers outside but which would only last so long against a foe who had already infiltrated the barrier. The crows’ otherworldly, vengeful cries grew louder and louder,
“CAW, CAW, CAW, CAW CAW CAW CAW!”
until they were cut short by a thud that shook flakes of dust from the ceiling. The farmer grabbed his shotgun and a flashlight from under the bed, stepped into his slippers, and stormed out of the room. His wife cried out to him to stay, but he dared not hesitate and look back at her. He hadn’t survived the Battle of the Bulge, and lose one finger to a Kraut bullet and two toes to frostbite, only to be spooked and stabbed in bed by some God damned ghosts and goblins.
The farmer was still in his striped blue pajamas as he marched down the hall, ignoring the pounding in his chest, to the attic stair’s pull-cord. There was another thud, even though the cawing was done now. The farmer yelled and roared at whatever lurked in his attic, commanding it to “scram” and “git”. A slithering, rustling sound, different from the feathery wings noise of before, answered him. He chose to continue being angry, rather than leave an opening for his fear. He gripped the pull-cord with white knuckles, and brought down the attic steps.
The farmer shined the flashlight up into the dark; there was nothing to see but dusty wood and a couple boxes. Whatever waited, waited deeper within. He put one foot, then the other, on the steps, which creaked slightly under his thick and strong form. He peered his head up into the attic.
The air was thick with dust that tickled his nose. The smell was musty, old…and there was another scent in it. Like singed plants, like singed straw. The farmer crept up onto the floor of the attic. He heard a slithering, rustling sound behind him, and whirled the flashlight around on it. The last thing he ever saw were dozens of sharp, raking talons, and a blackened burlap and paint smiley face.
As it happened, at least, according to the stories of the old folks and farmers of the plains, the farmhouse caught fire, as did the whole cornfield. Nothing was left, except the horribly burned remains of the wife, and some scratched-up bones, that it’s said belonged to the farmer. Now, the way the story goes from there, is this: the melded-together, vengeful and vicious spirits of the scarecrow and the birds, took the skin from the farmer, and wore it like a suit, before he torched the place. It’s not a perfect disguise, of course; the scarecrow is still inhuman in his shape and movement, what with all the bulgy straw stuffed up inside him, and the burn wounds. But, he sports the face of any one of his numerous victims, the skins of which are said to all be stored in a deserted barn which no one can find when they’re intentionally looking for it. Only when they stumble across the place, late at night on a country road on the dusty plains; the big, dark barn, with the charred ruins of a house and a rusted out truck beside it…
That’s where the scarecrow, with the fingers like bird-talons and stolen face of a man (or even a woman) resides, waiting for his next victim to draw close. It’s said, on the night of the full moon, when he’s at the height of his power, he can even sprout big black wings and take flight. He says nothing, but the crow-spirits inside get a bit noisy sometimes. He’ll just nod, tip his hat in a jerky, yet floppy, movement, showing you his smiling human face that he’s oh-so-proud of…and, before you can scream, that’s when he strikes…