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
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
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
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
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.
Girl whispers, but he cannot hear her either.
Then they are
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.
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
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
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.
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.