by Bob Lovely
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
The questioning at the sheriff’s office took less time than Jimmy had expected.
During Jimmy’s statement, the people present in the room were Jimmy and James, Sheriff Pearson and Pearson’s secretary Emily Norman.
The process was brief, Sheriff Pearson asking Jimmy a series of questions, and Emily Norman clicking away at her computer. Jimmy described the events of the evening pretty much exactly as they had occurred, with the exception of the appearance of a supernatural monster.
Once the sheriff seemed to be nearly finished taking Jimmy’s statement he stood up to his full height, which to Jimmy, seated and only about 5 feet himself, looked as tall as a mountain.
Jimmy’s attention was suddenly drawn to an object he found slightly out of place. On a shelf behind where Sheriff Pearson stood was an action figure, about six inches tall, of a very popular comic book super hero. In tights and with cape flowing, this hero stood with arms akimbo, the same posture as the sheriff’s.
The sheriff pursed his lips. “It looks to me like the kids were just doing kid stuff, hanging out in a field, having a campfire. No beer or drugs involved. Seems that old field and the storage barn are a pretty popular hangout. Guess there’s no harm in that. But I know one thing for sure.” He leaned across the desk to loom over Jimmy.
Emily Norman, as if on cue and as if she had asked this question on cue a million times, intoned, “What’s that, Sheriff?”
Sheriff Pearson locked eyes with Jimmy, who could not have looked away if he’d tried. “If you kids are going to hang out down at that old barn without adult supervision, you’d better be real careful.”
* * *
The following morning James answered a knock at the front door and was greeted by a smiling Sheriff Pearson.
“Please come in, Sheriff.”
“Thank you, sir.” The sheriff removed his Smokey Bear hat and stepped into the entryway. “You raising Jimmy by yourself then, sir?”
“Yes,” replied James, “his mother died of intestinal cancer several months ago, just about the time I hit it big with a toxic torts case. I decided to get out of town and spend more time with Jimmy. We both needed to heal.” James offered the sheriff a grim smile.
“I didn’t mean to stir up any sad memories, sir.” The sheriff put a huge warm hand on James’ shoulder. “I do know one thing, though.”
James, remembering this ritual from the interaction of the sheriff and his secretary the evening before, asked, “What’s that, Sheriff?”
“I think you’re doing a fine job, sir. He seems like a real good boy.”
“Thank you, Sheriff Pearson,” said James, sober but smiling now.
“Good morning, sir,” said the huge sheriff as he replaced his hat, turned, and opened the front door to step outside.
“Good morning, Sheriff,” replied James. He closed the door.
A few minutes later Jimmy bounded down the stairs for breakfast. As James laid out their simple meal, he mentioned Sheriff Pearson’s visit.
“Yeah. I heard you talking to someone.” Jimmy transferred a pancake and two slices of bacon to his plate, then burst into tears. “It was him, Dad. Scarecrow! He just came right out of the shadows, I thought he was going to kill me!” Jimmy was crying but able to get the words out clearly.
“Jimmy, I’m worried about this scarecrow thing. You remember Kirk Hayes, my friend from back in town?”
“The shrink,” said Jimmy in an accusing tone.
“He’s a psychologist, Jimmy. I just think it might help you to talk to him. Your mom’s death hasn’t been easy for you, and now this.”
Jimmy got up from the table, having eaten nothing. “Great, there’s a monster running around Stuart, killing kids, I could be next, and you just think I’m nuts.” He walked away from the table, grabbing his jacket from the closet door and his backpack from its usual morning location by the front door.
“Where’re you going?” asked James, his concern obvious.
“School!” Jimmy slammed the door.
* * *
Christmas came and passed, and although James had a tree, and had bought Jimmy presents, Jimmy remained quiet, lost within himself. He attempted to maintain his normal routine, though feeling anything but normal.
Jimmy tried once to talk to Bruce and Karen. They denied what had happened, not mentioning Scarecrow. Toward the end of this effort, Bruce stated, “Karen and I are dating now, Jimmy. We’ll be juniors next year. We’re growing up now and...” Karen wordlessly held out a folded sheet of paper, the one on which were written “The Words,” seemingly unaware as Jimmy took it from her hand. They had Forgotten. Jimmy didn’t forget; he dreamt of it nightly.
Each morning he would check his pyjamas and bedding for stray pieces of hay. By the weekend, Jimmy thought talking to his dad’s psychologist friend might not be such a bad idea.
Saturday morning, Jimmy woke up to the familiar smells of breakfast. He got himself ready, went downstairs in an unusually sedate manner, and sat at the table. As he was picking up his first slice of bacon, James turned to him. “How ya doin’, buddy?”
“Okay,” answered Jimmy, tearing off a bite of bacon.
“You willing to go talk to my friend Kirk?”
“Yeah,” said Jimmy, smiling.
An hour and a half later the two were heading into the city. James reached to the radio and a song, both new and old enough that each could enjoy it, came softly from the speakers.
As they left Warren County and approached the city, it felt as if the danger and reality of Scarecrow faded. Jimmy began to excitedly point out familiar locations to his dad, who smiled in response and tousled Jimmy’s hair. They pulled up at an unremarkable office building and got out of the car.
“This is his office?” asked Jimmy.
“This is the building. His office is in here.”
Jimmy ended up liking Kirk, who told him to call him Kirk, rather than Mister Hayes. They ended up talking for more than the forty-five minutes of a normal session. Kirk had arranged to meet Jimmy on a Saturday for just this purpose. When they’d finished, Kirk gave Jimmy a candy bar and asked him to hang out in the waiting room for a bit so Kirk could talk to Jimmy’s dad.
“I think he’s fine,” Kirk said.
James frowned. “This Scarecrow thing really bothers me, and Julie’s death was really tough on him.”
Kirk waved away James’ further words. “He’s been through a lot, I’ll give you that. You’re a good dad, James. Julie was a great mom. You take a kid’s normal, wild imagination, add the pain this kid’s been through lately, and you’re bound to get some pretty crazy-sounding stories. He’s coping. He is coping. Trust him a little. He’ll get through this and all the scarecrow stuff will be forgotten. Next thing you know, he’ll be into girls.” Kirk laughed. “Then you can worry.”
“Yeah, great, thanks.” James grinned.
* * *
The next evening, Sunday the 31st, was New Year’s Eve. James produced a box of fireworks and the two had fun together, enjoying the various spinnings, sputterings and explosions of color and thunder they provided. In the early hours of 1996, father and son each went to bed tired and happy, and slept well.
The following morning, New Year’s Day, there was no school. Jimmy got up and began his daily routine. Today, though, he had an added motivation. He was thinking of the patch on Scarecrow’s shirt — “Dan” — and had resolved to discover who “Dan” was.
As Jimmy dressed in the reflection of the full-length mirror on his door, he looked himself in the eye, his skin tight with revelation. He feeds on fear and ignorance. He lives on because everyone is afraid to talk about him. “Not much longer, Dan,” he said aloud.
After an hour of cleaning his room unasked, which almost worried his father, Jimmy stopped by the public library. A sign greeted him, “Happy New Year! See you tomorrow.” It was decorated with colored balloons and confetti, all executed in a very neat hand, with variously colored markers.
Undaunted, Jimmy went to the sheriff’s office.
Emily Norman was typing when he entered. Jimmy verified her name by the plaque on her desk. He remembered it from the other night, but wanted to be sure. People liked it when you remembered their name. “Good afternoon, Miss Norman.”
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“Is the sheriff in?”
“Emily turned her head to the side and pushed a button. “Sheriff, Jimmy Boyd is here to see you.”
“Send him in, please,” said a slightly tinny version of the sheriff’s voice.
“What can I do for you, Jimmy?” The sheriff smiled and leaned over his desk to shake Jimmy’s hand. “Have a seat,” he said, indicating a chair to Jimmy’s right.
Jimmy noticed the words “Sheriff Tommy Pearson” on a name plaque on the sheriff’s desk. “Who is he?” he asked, getting right to the point.
The sheriff turned, as if that was where Jimmy had been looking. He picked up the action figure of the comic book super hero, said his name, and held him out toward Jimmy. “You reckon he ever gets scared, son? A hero like him?”
“I mean no disrespect, Sheriff, but you know who I mean,” Jimmy stated flatly.
As if not hearing, the sheriff went on. “That’s what a hero is, you know; someone who’s scared, but still does the right thing.” He handed the action figure to Jimmy, and it seemed to Jimmy the sheriff’s eyes had become somewhat unfocused. “I want you to have him son. I guess he’s worth a bit on the Internet, but I took him out of the package anyway. Seems a shame to buy a toy just to never open the package. Toys are meant for playing. Youth is meant for living.”
“Sheriff,” Jimmy said with patience, “I need you to tell me about Dan.”
Sheriff Pearson leaned forward slightly into his desk. “And then you forget,” he said softly. The sheriff was beginning to tremble slightly, and Jimmy noticed a sheen of sweat appearing on his forehead.
“But you remember, don’t you? How old are you, Sheriff Pearson?”
The sheriff responded distantly in a hoarse whisper, as if speaking from a dream. “Fifty-one.”
Jimmy got up from the chair. “Thank you for the toy, Sheriff.” He walked out, closing the door behind him.
After the click of the door shutting, Sheriff Pearson remained leaning forward into his desk, trembling, sweating and staring straight ahead for a full minute. Then he started, looking about in confusion. Thinking he had drifted off to sleep, he got up and went into Emily’s office to get a cup of coffee.
Walking home from the sheriff’s office, Jimmy was angry. His fast pace matched the fury he felt inside. There was danger here, real danger, and the one man in a position to do something about it wasn’t willing to help. He wanted to make a kid take the responsibility. He wanted to forget.
Jimmy slowed, his anger cooling. The sheriff hadn’t forgotten and didn’t want to. He wanted to help, but he felt too old. This was a kid thing, and now it seemed Jimmy was head kid in charge. His anger toward the sheriff melted. He began to cry, somehow certain the sheriff’s story was more sad than simply being too old to fight monsters.
This time Jimmy managed to get in the house and clean up for dinner before his dad could see his tears and ask any questions.
* * *
On Tuesday, Jimmy returned to school. Miss Ames assigned the class a research project. She said it was typical of the work that would be expected of the kids in high school and, later, in college. She told them what would be required. Jimmy chose “Local History” as his topic.
Now he had a non crazy-sounding reason to spend hours digging through old newspapers in the library. That afternoon, during sixth period, he hurried to the public library. On the door, a sign said “OPEN.” Despite its lack of holiday cheer, Jimmy found this one more satisfying.
Jimmy produced a calculator from his backpack, subtracted 51 from 1995, and decided Sheriff Pearson had been born in 1944, assuming his birthday wasn’t in the first few days of January. With a few more keystrokes, Jimmy found Sheriff Pearson must have been thirteen in 1957. He began his search with newspapers from 1955 to 1960.
For the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday after school, Jimmy tediously turned pages, skimmed smelly old newspapers, and found nothing. Still he pressed on.
On Thursday, his efforts bore fruit. In late December, 1957 and early January, 1958, three children had disappeared in Warren County.
By the third disappearance, the perpetrator was getting sloppy. The third missing child was eleven year-old Ralph Pearson. Testimony from Ralph’s older brother Tommy, age 13, stated the two were walking home and were confronted by a man recognized as working at a local service station, Dan Williams. In fact, he was in his work clothing at the time.
He taunted Tommy, making reference to his weight and indicated there was nothing Tommy could do to help his brother. Williams took the terrified Ralph captive, threatening Tommy and warning him not to tell. Tommy reported feeling guilty for not helping his brother, but he’d been afraid and hadn’t known what to do.
The following day, a group of locals managed to capture Williams ahead of the police. He had been renting a small cottage from a local farm couple, Samuel and Loretta Anderson, on their land. The mob hanged Williams from a tree near the Anderson’s barn and ignited his clothing, which were impregnated by petroleum products.
Jimmy was not entirely certain what service station attendant meant, but he was pretty sure it meant Dan Williams worked at a gas station. He’d smelled gasoline when Scarecrow was present.
Armed with this information, Jimmy walked to the sheriff’s office.
“Did you need to speak to the sheriff, Jimmy?” asked Emily when Jimmy arrived in her office.
“No, thank you,” replied Jimmy. “Actually I was wondering if I could look at some police records, if that’s allowed?”
“For the most part, they’re public record,” answered Emily. “Anything in particular?”
“Sunday, the fifth of January, 1958” said Jimmy, trying to keep his voice matter of fact, and concerned his request may be denied.
“Ohh kaayy” said Emily, looking over her glasses at Jimmy.
Having been shown the files pertaining to the day of his interest, Jimmy quickly found what he was looking for. A report filed by the sheriff, Cecil Rice, indicated he had gone to the property of Samuel and Loretta Anderson to search for Dan Williams, a suspect in the recent child disappearances. When the sheriff arrived, he found Williams’ still smoldering corpse beneath a tree in which he had apparently been hanged prior to being set ablaze. His clothing, already saturated with petroleum from his employment, had been stuffed with hay from the Andersons’ barn.
Sheriff Rice’s report further stated that no one was around, and he did not currently have any suspects in this crime. Upon searching the property, however, he found grisly evidence of Williams’ crimes.
The bodies of Samuel and Loretta Anderson were hung on meat hooks in the barn. From where their corpses were hanging, they faced a scene of further horror. The bodies of the three missing children were lying, each on a bale of hay, before the Andersons. Each child, two girls and one boy, appeared to have been raped and to have died by strangulation.
Apparently Williams had wanted the Andersons, already dead, to witness his violation and murder of the children. The crime scene resembled a crude church, with the sacrificed children lain on the grotesque hay-bale altar to be viewed by the bodies of Samuel and Loretta Anderson.
Later, the coroner’s report confirmed the children had indeed been raped and strangled, and the Andersons’ eyelids had been crudely removed.
* * *
Copyright © 2017 by Bob Lovely