17 April 2004

(21) The Scarecrow

It is the wind, rustling through the tall grass, that awakens the young girl. She opens her eyes slowly, enjoying the sound the wind makes as it picks its way through the labyrinth of long green stalks. She wears a simple light blue dress, white stockings, black polished shoes; next to her is a small basket, filled with wilted flowers. She sits up, scratching her head, trying to wipe away the vagueness that has overtaken her mind. She has slept for too long. It is time to wake up.

She picks up the basket and stands, the wind gently pushing and pulling her dress. Everywhere she looks there is grass, long and green, fluttering in the wind. An old wooden fence is visible in the distance, twisting its way through the prairie like a broken spine. The girl turns around.

In front of her, mounted to a large cross, hangs a scarecrow. A huge hat covers most of its head, a long coat covers its body. It is held to the cross by three ropes: two around the wrists one around its waist. The girl stands before the scarecrow, fear and awe twisting around inside her. It is so out of place here, amongst the green pasture. The scarecrow is drab and brown. The cross is old and appears to be rotting away before her eyes. She walks up to it.

She circles it once, looking at the old coat, the hat. The girl returns to the front of the scarecrow, looking up into the shadows beneath the hat where a face should be.

Two slits of white appear, growing larger as the girl watches. She backs away in fear. The white eyes blink twice, then focus in on the girl.

"Child," the scarecrow says, its voice grating and old, "free me from my bonds."

The girl stops, and looks at the white eyes. "You scare me," she whispers.

"My appearance is only an illusion, my dear child. I am as helpless as a newborn lamb." The scarecrow shifts its head and scraping sounds come from its neck, like the sound of two dry bones rubbing together. "Please," the scarecrow repeats, "free me from my bonds."

The girl takes a cautious step forward, setting the basket down. The wind begins to pick up and one of the wilted flowers is snatched from the basket and tossed into the air. "If I let you down, you promise not to hurt me?"

"You have my word, lonely child. When I am free we shall play together, you and I. Would you like that?"

"Yes, Mister Scarecrow," the girl says. "That would be nice." Dark clouds begin to roll in, the wind increasing. In the distance there is thunder, flashes of lightning.

The scarecrow looks up into the darkening sky and sighs. "I-I have been so lonely, little one. Time goes so slow here and I haven't spoken to anyone for so long that I was beginning to fear I had lost my tongue." Thunder crashes overhead.

The girl walks up to the scarecrow, her eyes still looking up into the dark shadows that lie under the hat. She reaches for its right arm, jumping for the rope, but the cross is too big, nearly twice her size. "I can't reach your hands," she says, jumping one last time. "I'm not big enough."

"Do not worry yourself with my hands," the scarecrow says. "If you release the rope that surrounds me, that will be enough."

The girl walks behind the scarecrow, where the rope is tied in a simple knot. As she reaches for it lightning crashes down, striking the ground in an explosion of white. The girl looks up at the sky, at the pitch black clouds that swirl overhead. Rain begins to fall, big wet drops that strike her hard in the face. "I'm scared," she says to the scarecrow.

"Do not be frightened. Once I am free I will watch over you." The clouds swirl in violent synchronicity, faster and faster. Thunder rumbles through the sky, across the earth, shaking the ground. A black mass twists itself free from the clouds and begins to circle its way down, toward the earth.

The scarecrow looks up, at the twirling black mass, which is now breaking up into millions of smaller black shapes. Now there is another sound in the air, the sound of a million flapping wings. "Hurry child!" the scarecrow screams, his white eyes locked on the approaching storm of black.

The girl twists and turns the rope, trying to separate the two pieces from each other. The scarecrow begins to laugh, a laugh that sounds like leaves blowing, like empty tree limbs shaking in a cold winter wind. The girl tugs at the rope, harder and harder, when suddenly the rope falls from her hands, the knot deciphered, the scarecrow free.

The girl runs to the front of the scarecrow, rain pelting her in the face, soaking her to the bone, the rope still clenched in one tight fist. The black mass has nearly reached the ground, the flapping and cawing roaring louder and louder. "What's going on! What's happening?" the girl screams above the noise. The thunder comes in quick, successive strikes, as if a madman were playing the drums.

"It's all quite simple, little one," the scarecrow whispers. He arches his back, stretching. A crow flies in front of it, then another, another, and another, until they are just blurs of black filling the air, their flapping wings sounding like musket shots. They circle the girl's head. She screams, falling down, swatting at the birds. There are two loud snaps as the scarecrow breaks the ropes holding its arms. It lunges forward, the ropes dangling from the wrists of its outstretched hands.

Crows are everywhere, darting between the girl and the approaching scarecrow, the sounds of their wings pulsating with the beating of the girl's heart. There are so many of them, they seem to fill every square inch of space, the air saturated with the sound of their wings, their caws.

"Life," the scarecrow roars, lunging ahead for the girl. There are so many crows now that the world is going black, the bodies forming one solid sheet of darkness. "It's all about life!"

The blurring black veil descends completely between the two and the last thing the girl sees before she goes unconscious is a single white eye and gleaming teeth.

It is the wind, rustling through the tall grass, that awakens the young woman. She opens her eyes quickly, then sits up, looking into the sky. The black clouds are fleeing, disappearing into the horizon, replaced by the bright sun and blue sky. She feels a throbbing down below. She rubs herself, one finger probing the area; she feels something wet and pulls her finger back, holding it up to her face. A small stream of blood runs down her finger, dripping into the grass. She looks at the blood a moment, then wipes it away in the grass.

Next to her a single crow feather flutters in the wind. She picks it up, holding it to her chest as she stands, as if it were the most important thing in her life. The sun is bright and hot on her back; the wind gentle, caressing.

Before the girl looms the cross, rope hanging from each arm of the large crucifix, twisting lightly in the gentle wind. A single crow hops along the top of the cross, flapping its wings. As the girl watches, the crow takes off, glides through the air, and with several quick snaps of its wings, disappears into the deep blue sky.