by Bob Lovely
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
After school, Jimmy and several kids rode their bikes or walked to an old barn on the outskirts of Stuart.
Jimmy rode his bike alongside Bruce Lang, with whom he had become very good friends in the short time Jimmy had lived in Stuart. Their faces were red with the exertion of bike riding some distance over fields, and both were slightly sweaty.
Jimmy glanced at Bruce. “So, the place we meet, it’s the same place Scarecrow goes? We hold our meetings in Scarecrow HQ?”
“Well, pretty much, yeah,” replied Bruce. “I know it sounds crazy, but it makes a sort of sense after a while. Anyway, it seems to work. And it’s tradition.”
“Whose tradition?” asked Jimmy.
“The kids before us.”
“You mean the grown-ups.”
“Well, yeah,” said Bruce, “but when they were kids. When they believed in magic. When they could see him.”
Jimmy’s face scrunched up a bit. “how do you see something like that, and then just forget?”
“By wanting very badly not to remember. And I think it has something to do with puberty.”
“Yeah,” Bruce went on. “It’s like there’s some chemical change in your head when you become an adult, and you can’t believe in magic anymore. Put away childish things.”
“Isn’t that in the Bible?” asked Jimmy.
“Not sure. I think so.”
Bruce stopped his bike, so Jimmy did the same. As they each put a foot to the ground to keep from falling over, Jimmy watched Bruce look ahead at something, and saw a somber look come over his face.
Jimmy looked to the West, where Bruce was facing and saw a big, old barn standing in the middle of a large field.
The barn was the grey of old wood long unpainted and standing day after day in the sun. There was a door near the top of it that Jimmy assumed was to the hayloft, though he didn’t really know what that meant. A person coming out this door would be able to stand on a sort of balcony that ran across the upper front of the barn. Jimmy had only seen barns in pictures but was pretty certain this was an unusual feature.
As the kids prepared themselves inside the barn, Jimmy was somewhat surprised to see that apparently they were going to do whatever they were going to do in their ordinary clothes. He had envisioned some sort of special garb might be worn for whatever ceremony lay ahead.
“Bruce,” Jimmy asked, “whose barn is this?”
“Everyone’s, really.” Bruce put his foot on a hay bale to tie his shoe. “I guess it was abandoned with this property. Everyone in town puts whatever extra hay they have in it, and anyone who needs some is free to take it.”
“So why does Scarecrow come here?” asked Jimmy.
“To heal,” Bruce replied, turning a very serious face to Jimmy. “He uses the hay from this barn to replace any he’s lost. I don’t know why he uses this barn in particular, but he does. Jimmy, before we start this, you really need to understand this is real, not some stupid prank. If you don’t do as you’re told, you could be in real danger. We may be anyway. There’s always risk involved with any ceremony.”
“Then why do we do them?” asked Jimmy.
“Otherwise, he kills us. We have to initiate new kids who show promise, and we need to show him we’re not afraid.”
“I’m afraid,” confessed Jimmy.
Bruce put a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. “We all are, we just can’t show him that.”
It occurred to Jimmy that everyone always called Scarecrow by his name, but now, in this place, preparing for this ceremony, he was referred to simply as “him.” Jimmy also felt a certain pride, and trepidation, that Bruce had stated Jimmy was being “initiated” because he “showed promise.”
“If this is where he comes, why don’t the grown-ups tear down this barn, keep the hay somewhere else?” asked Jimmy.
“I’m not sure. Maybe a part of them still knows about him, maybe they know we need to keep the ceremonies going. To keep him held back. Or maybe they just don’t think about it. Maybe they can’t.” Bruce looked Jimmy straight in the eye. “Maybe it’s part of The Forgetting.”
Jimmy smelled kerosene as two boys approached and presented Bruce with several torches made of stout sticks with hay fairly skillfully woven and stuffed together at the top. “The torches are prepared, Bruce,” one of the boys said, sounding quite serious. Jimmy began to feel nervous at the idea of kerosene-soaked torches being burned in an old barn filled with dry hay
Before he could voice his concern, Karen approached, unfolding a sheet of notebook paper. “The words are prepared.” Karen, like Bruce, was sixteen, and Jimmy couldn’t help noticing how pretty her eyes were, and the slight swelling that showed from under her sweatshirt. Suddenly Jimmy didn’t want to be the one questioning what the kids were doing.
Without a further word spoken, the group ascended a ladder that took them to a hay loft one-third filled with stacked bales, went out through the door Jimmy had seen earlier, and stood on the balcony. In the field in front of the barn, Jimmy noticed four boys standing in a circle, their torches already lit.
In the center of their circle stood a structure of stout saplings, six to seven feet long, standing on end. Their bases formed a circle, their tops criss-crossed and tied together. In the middle dangled a scarecrow, trapped within the prison bars of the leaning saplings.
One of the boys on the balcony opened a box of large kitchen matches, struck one, and lit Bruce’s torch. Somehow it seemed to Jimmy a wooden match was the perfect instrument for this. The use a modern lighter would have somehow tainted the ceremony.
Bruce lit the other boys’ torches, including Jimmy’s, with his own. Suddenly Jimmy felt a sense of belonging. He also looked up to ensure the flame of his torch wasn’t licking the eaves of the barn or any errant hay.
Bruce held his arms up and out, his left hand open, the right clutching his torch. “Let the words be read,” he said, in a voice that sounded deeper and more resonant than usual.
Karen held up a clipboard, onto which Jimmy noticed she had attached the sheet of notebook paper she had previously unfolded. She held the board at the bottom, her thumb across the corner of the page, as if to ensure the wind would not curl the page and interrupt her reading.
The light of her torch illuminating the paper, she read in a strong, clear voice. “Since the time of our grandparents, this ceremony has shown our enemy we do not fear him, that we will stand against him and keep him from taking of us, from feeding on the children of this community. Tonight we are honored, blessed, to bring a new initiate into The Circle of Those Who See.
Tonight we bring our brother, Jimmy Boyd, into The Circle. We embrace him. As he joins us our numbers grow, and our strength grows, that we may better protect the younger children of this community.”
For a moment, Karen paused. Then she intoned: “Scarecrow, come no closer. Scarecrow, behold our pyre. Scarecrow, we fear you not. Scarecrow, beware our fire.”
Bruce, his arms still raised, called out: “Let the guard fire be lighted!” The boys surrounding the circle of saplings reached into the wooden cage to set the hanging scarecrow afire.
In deepest darkness, Scarecrow wore dark pants and a dark cap, like a baseball cap. His light-blue, collared shirt had a white patch on the left breast outlined in a darker color and printed with the name “Dan.” His face was shaped like a human’s, though made of straw, and Jimmy noticed he had eyes and teeth that appeared like those of a human. Dimly, Jimmy thought he smelled gasoline or motor oil.
As he snapped out of the vision, Jimmy noticed Bruce regarding him silently. Soon the effigy was blazing and the licking flames began to take hold in the saplings themselves. At this point the boys stepped back, though staying well within the light cast by their work.
As far as Jimmy could tell, the rest of the ceremony consisted of quiet observation of the burning pyre until the scarecrow effigy was largely consumed. At that point, the kids went down into the field and stood around in the glow of the fire, talking. Mostly they talked about ordinary things: school, sports, homework, and who liked whom. It seemed to Jimmy as if this prosaic conversation somehow helped to dispel the fearful power of their enemy.
* * *
Alternating blue and red lights played across the area. The kids stayed put, shielding their eyes with a hand. Oncoming headlights darkened, along with the red and blue flashing lights. The car’s engine remained running. A very large man got out and shone a very bright flashlight on the group.
“Sheriff Pearson,” said Bruce.
“Bruce,” replied the big man in uniform.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Lovely