Black Petals Issue #93 Autumn, 2020

Scarecrows
Home
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
Justin Alcala: A Horse for Us All-Fiction
Matthew Penwell: Bless Be Him-Fiction
Shiloh Simmons: Coffin Birth-Fiction
John Cox: Don't Teach Cats Latin-Fiction
Ken Hueler: I, Said the Fish-Fiction
R. A. Busby: Not the Man I Married-Fiction
Jude Clee: Notes from a Bathroom Stall-Fiction
M. W. Moriearty: Scarecrows-Fiction
Robert Masterson: Sharper Than She Ever Imagined-Fiction
Michael Steven: The Mirror-Fiction
Kevin Hawthorne: The Song-Fiction
Marlin Bressi: The Man on the Box-Fiction
Terry Riccardi: Winter Hunt-Fiction
Stephen J. Tillman: Angry Tammy-Flash Fiction
Andreas Hort: Pay the Price!-Flash Fiction
Sam Clover: Piety and Parm-Flash Fiction
Deisy Toussaint: Parasite in the Shadows-Flash Fiction
Outnumbered-Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Mickey Sloan: Basement Beldam-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Grandmother Screamed-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Pumpkin Tanka-Poetry
Daniel G. Snethen: Yellow Death-Haiku
Theresa C. Gaynord: The JuJu Man-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Widow Paris-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: Funeral at the Louisiana Bayou-Poetry
Theresa C. Gaynord: The Old Hag-Poetry
Loris John Fazio: Halloween Prayer-Poetry
Marilyn Lou Berry: My Darling, My Sustenance-Poetry
Chris Collins: Nature-Poetry

93_bp_scarecrows_okeefe.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe 2020

Scarecrows

By M.W. Moriearty

 

The sun slides down behind the firs on the horizon, casting a long, jagged shadow that creeps along the corn fields and toward the log barricade surrounding the farm. The barricade is constructed of several tall, vertical trunks buried deep into the ground, side-by-side. The Old Man and the Girl know that as soon as the darkness has overtaken the wall, as soon as night has well and truly fallen, the Scarecrows will come. They have at most five minutes to prepare.

The Girl sits beside the Old Man as he drives their rusted green John Deere around the perimeter, checking for breaches and flaws in the wall. He curses profusely under his breath and shoots her repeated scathing glances, puffing on his cigarette. She does not meet his eye. It is her fault they have so little time to complete their nightly preparations. It is her fault they are in danger.

The Old Man had kept watch the night before while the Girl slept, so this morning at breakfast he was nearly falling asleep in his oats. She let him rest. The lines on his face have deepened into trenches in the recent months since the Scarecrows first came, and tools rattle in his shaking hands. She worries for him. He napped on the floral-printed beige sofa Mother had bought for the den in the farmhouse. She set about her chores: tending the cabbage patch, filling the wood box, gathering eggs from their few remaining hens. She didn’t watch the sky.

The clocks had gone out first, before even the television or the electric lights mysteriously stopped working, so they could only keep time by the circling of the sun. She got distracted and forgot to watch, and so allowed the Old Man to sleep the day away, and now here they are, with little time to check the perimeter, to refill the guns, to put away the animals. The Old Man had not even had time to grab his coat.

The night is nearly upon them, the shadows of the forest only inches away from the west wall. “Look here, Girl,” the Old Man barks, parking the tractor and gesturing at a spot at the roots of the wall with his hand-rolled, unfiltered cigarette. The cigs are made from the Old Man’s favorite brand of tobacco, Blue Dragoon, and rolling them is one of the Girl’s daily tasks. They make the kitchen smell earthy and fragrant.

The Girl hops down and inspects, the Old Man following. It appears that one of the Scarecrows attempted to force its way through a small gap in the logs the night before: the dirt on both sides is disturbed, and the wood bares deep gouges. With more time, they easily would have been able to patch the hole, but the dark is already at their feet.

“If they hit this spot hard tonight,” the Old Man whispers, “they’ll be through.” He drops his cig and stamps it out with his boot, then crosses back to the tractor and takes up a pair of old rifles, handing one to the Girl. Once upon a time they had used these to scare rabbits away from the cabbage beds. They weren’t made for warfare.

She reaches for the small foam earplugs she is supposed to keep in the pocket of her jeans. The pocket is empty.

“I forgot my plugs. Should I run inside and get them?” The Girl asks as she checks the weapon is loaded and the safety is off.

“No time,” the Old Man replies. He fishes his own plugs out of his pocket and hands them to her. She stares at him, eyes full of concern, but takes them nonetheless and shoves them into her ears.

The last sliver of sunlight vanishes beneath the leaves. The cornfield is black, the moon and stars glaring coldly down upon them. The solar lights the Old Man staked about the land wink on; little more than a whimper in the blackness. Then the screaming begins.

The Girl winces and resists the reflex to drop the gun and put her hands over her ears.

The Old Man screws up his face. His rifle shakes and his ears bleed.

The noise echoes from the woods, loud and piercing, enough to make the branches shake and the trees rustle. If there had been birds in the treetops they would have fled upward at the sound, but the birds have long since disappeared.

Through the gap in the wall the Girl can see movement in the shadows of the firs. They are coming. The Old Man once guessed, long ago, that they were extraterrestrial in nature. If that is true, then they are nothing like how the Girl had always been told aliens would be. They aren’t little and green, nor tall and slender with black bug eyes. They don’t carry ray guns, nor do they come in saucers or robot walkers. They come from below.

Mother leads the pack, as she always has ever since she was taken. Her lips are twisted into a great toothy grin quite unlike anything she’d ever worn in life. A slender, squamous appendage stretches from her back down into the ground, connecting to whatever unseen subterranean creature holds her, puppet-like. A pair of smaller digits extend from the central appendage like fingers to prop her arms out in front of her, as if begging for embrace, and her eyes are glassy and unseeing. She scrapes across the field, feet dangling, the appendage leaving a trail of disturbed dirt behind her.

After a moment, more emerge from the tree line after her. First Uncle Robert, then Trevor, the field hand they’d hired last harvest to help with the crops. Then more: some the Girl recognizes as people from the town, others she’d never seen alive. They all reach out and smile, their bodies in various states of decay. Some look fresh and human, like Mother. Others are little more than tattered rags and dry, leathery skin stretched over brittle bones. The Old Man calls them Scarecrows because of their appearance, but the Girl thinks in practice they are more like fishing lures.

They slide, maybe three dozen or so, along the dim grass and into the waves of the corn field. They vanish from sight, and the screaming abates for a moment. The Girl exhales and reaches over to place a reassuring hand on the Old Man’s shoulder, but he shrugs her away.

Moments later, the Girl sees Mother’s fingers peeking out again from the edge of the corn field, and the shrieks return, louder than ever. The Girl’s knees buckle, and it is all she can do to keep from collapsing. The Old Man is not so strong. He hits the ground on knees and elbows, his rifle skidding away into the shadows. Blood now drips not only from his ears but his nose and eyes. He curls up in a ball on the grass, like an infant. The Girl thinks he might be whimpering but cannot hear him through her earplugs and over the din.

She hears a thud and turns again toward the wall. Mother’s vacant eyes stare at her through the hole. The rest of her legion ripple through the dirt toward them, angling on their position. Mother flops pathetically against the logs, head lolling. A pair of long, mole-like claws reach out of the earth at the Girl’s feet, tearing at the wall, pawing for the Old Man and her.

The Girl drops her rifle and doubles down, attempting to pull the Old Man up onto her shoulders, but he is limp and sobbing. The rest of the Scarecrows are gathered at the breach now, bottlenecked, dozens of sharp little claws ripping at the wood.

“Daddy, please,” the Girl whispers, but he cannot hear her either.

Then they are through.

Mother falls in first, then the rest, pouring into the farm like the sea through a shattered dam. The Girl turns tail and runs for the farmhouse. As she dashes, she glances back at the spot where the Old Man is prone on the ground.

Mother reaches down to him, palms out and face soft like the Virgin Mary. He looks up, weeping blood, and takes her hands. Then they both vanish into the earth in a shower of dirt and rubble. The rest converge around them, flooding toward the farmhouse, toward the Girl.

She darts into the den and slams the wood door closed behind her, blockading it with everything she can get her hands on: the broken television set, the coffee table, Mother’s old sofa. The Scarecrows slam into the door like a battering ram. She hears glass shatter and turns toward the windows. Countless pale, lifeless hands reach in for her.

She staggers backwards, fists clenched, eyes pressed shut, waiting for them to break through, to take her too.

But they don’t.

She peels her eyes. Still the creatures slam themselves against the door, still they reach for her through the panes, but they do not come in. They cannot. Perhaps the foundations of the house are too strong for the beasts below to quickly burrow through, the Girl thinks. She is not sure.

She sinks down against the wall, exhausted. Despite herself, despite the banging and shrieking of the things at the threshold, within minutes she falls unconscious.

#

It is morning now. The sun peaks again up over the trees. The Girl’s eyes water. She drags herself up the wall and staggers to the door, pushing the furniture out of the way and stepping outside. The yard is covered in deep, craggy tears like fault lines where the Scarecrows dug. Blood, viscera, fur, and feathers are strewn about the grass. The animals did not survive. The siding of the house hangs loose in cracked, creaking panels, and it is clear to the Girl that the foundations would not hold against another prolonged attack. The western section of the barricade is in splinters.

She sits down at the steps. She has maybe ten hours until the sun hides again, and they return once more from the woods. There will be more, this time. The Old Man will be among them. She takes a deep breath. There is enough wood in the box, she could patch up the wall, perhaps. There is food in the cupboard, bullets in the stores. She could last a while longer. Days, maybe even weeks.

It does not feel like enough. The Girl is tired. A part of her feels compelled to return to the den and grabs the Old Man’s dusty canvas coat from its spot laying on the toppled coat rack, lie down on Mother’s old sofa, hug the rough, warm coat to herself, and close her eyes. But she knows that the Old Man did not offer himself to the Scarecrows just so she could lie down and give up.

She does return to the den for the coat, wrapping it around herself and slipping her arms into the sleeves. They are so long that her hands disappear all the way up to the fingertips, even when she holds her arms straight out to her sides. She rolls them up as best she can and takes a quick moment to bury her face in the lapels of the jacket. The fabric smells pleasantly of the Old Man’s Blue Dragoon tobacco.

The Girl fishes around in the coat’s deep pockets. Her fingers close around two small, soft somethings: a spare pair of ear plugs. She bites her bottom lip hard enough that the pain in her mouth drowns out the pain in her chest. It was her fault he had been in too much of a hurry to grab the coat the prior evening.

 She locks the knowledge of the spare plugs away in the back of her mind and reaches into the other pocket. Inside are a couple of loose cigarettes and a book of matches. She pulls out one of the cigs and sticks it between her lips the way she had seen the Old Man do a hundred times. She takes the matches and drags one of them across the igniter. It snaps in half. She drops the broken thing to the floor and tries again with a fresh match. This one flares up immediately and aggressively as she scrapes it against the side of the box. She holds the little dancing flame up to the end of the cigarette and inhales.

The burning in the Girl’s throat causes her to double over coughing, the lit match slipping from her fingers and extinguishing upon the floor. She does not let the cigarette fall, though. She steadies her breath, and then takes another drag. This one, she finds, is easier.

The Girl straightens up—Blue Dragoon cigarette between her teeth and tattered brown jacket dangling about her feet—and steps out once more into the light of the morning sun. There is work to be done.





M.W. Moriearty was born in Lubbock, Texas and studied creative writing and playwriting at Texas Tech University, where several of their plays have been produced. Their work has also appeared in publications such as Dreams and Nightmares, Animal: a Beast of a Literary Magazine, and Canyon Voices. They currently teach theatre at Plainview High School and reside in Wolfforth, Texas with their partner, two daughters, and beloved cats Ned and Newt.



Site Maintained by Fossil Publications