By E.M. Joseph
The worst day of my life. The day the Scarecrow arrived began as one of the best. It was a crisp autumn morning. The Sun was shining in a pure blue sky and my father and I were playing catch with a worn old football in the yard. Piles of leaves dotted the lawn, beneath the old elm tree and later, he promised to take me out for a ride on the tractor.
My dad was a farmer, a grower he called himself. Corn mostly, a bit of canola. He loved farming, but he really came alive in mid-summer. That’s when every year a new crop began to come to life. His pumpkins.
These were not just any pumpkins. My father’s passion was growing massive pumpkins the kind you see in the newspaper every fall – squatting orange giants. Every year he’d entered his finest in the competition at the Port Colborne Fall Fair. Every year he’d stand beside this year’s baby fretting about the weight of his competitors entries and silently weighing up his chances. Dreaming that this would be the year, that he could boast that he had grown a blue ribbon-winning, record-breaking, prize money claiming, fattest turn pumpkin in the county. And every year he lost.
I remember thinking he’d almost become resigned to losing, on that fine fall morning, as we laughed and talked the football back and forth. The fair was only a few days away and yet he seemed strangely relaxed. That changed in an instant.
I noticed him squint into the distance and shield his eyes from the sun. Peering out towards the dirt road and an approaching cloud of dust. He dropped the football and began walking out towards our front gate.
An old fashioned flatbed pickup truck pulled into the yard and stopped. The man who climbed out of the cab did not smile. He was a tall thin faced man with black eyes partially hidden by a dark broad-brimmed hat. I distrusted him immediately.
I saw my father shake his hand and the two began to talk. They seem to be negotiating a deal of some kind and when they were done, they shook hands again. Neither smiled. Presently my father waved me over but he didn’t introduce and the stranger never looked at me.
Andrew “help this man unload the truck”, he said “I’ll be back”.
The Stranger was already dragging what looked like a heavy collection of rags from the boards of the flatbed. A scarecrow.
But this was no ordinary scarecrow. As I grabbed an arm and began to help him lift it I remember thinking there was something sinister about this scarecrow. There was no good reason to think that. It was clearly what my father had said it was. Just a collection of old clothes propped up on stakes and oozing straw from pants and jacket cuffs. The Head was made from an old burlap sack topped with a battered old bowler hat. Its eyes were black bits of rag and the mouth appeared to have been made from a bright red handkerchief stretched, clown like, across the lower half of the face.
We hauled it toward my father’s pumpkin patch and the stranger drove the vertical prop deep into the Earth. My father joined us carrying one of the best pumpkins for that year’s crop. A brilliant orange 40 pounder and the two walked back to the truck talking furtively. Dad put the pumpkin on the man’s truck and he was gone dust billowing out behind him.
Life returned to normal then. Fall turned to Autumn, Spring came around and before long it was Midsummer and Dad’s pumpkins were growing again. But, there was something different this time. What had once been small sprouts the size of my father’s fist were, this year, the size of basketballs. And down upon them glared the Scarecrow.
By the time of the Fall Fair my father had change His excitement was palpable and ever present. His pumpkins were now monsters as big around as a truck tire and more than half a ton. Some so big and heavy they begin collapsing in upon themselves under their own staggering weight.
My father won the Blue Ribbon that year. He was ecstatic of course, as much with the blue ribbon as with the $1,000 first prize. And what would he spend the money, on new tools? Perhaps some furniture or repairs around the farm, not exactly. He spent it on pumpkin seeds.
His triumph was very short-lived though. Within a month, I noticed my father had become pale and drawn. He was often and unshaven and would sometimes wander aimlessly at night muttering to himself and slapping his leg as he walked. And he began to drink.
Farm work went and undone. Inside the house, once neat as a pin, became a shambles. Years past, but my father never entered another pumpkin in another contest. Finally when he could no longer care for himself, he went, on his own, to the county nursing home. That’s where he sits today staring aimlessly out the window at passing cars and endless fields of corn. I run the farm now, I’m not very interested in pumpkins corn will do for me. Thank you very much. Life is predictable now, some might call it dull. I don’t mind. I like routine.
So I was a bit surprised one day last harvest, when I looked out from the tractor and saw a cloud of dust approaching along the dirt road from the West. As it drove by my field the truck slowed and the dust cleared.
Glaring out from the cab, black eyes burning into mine, was a thin faced man in a broad-brimmed hat. It grinned and suddenly it was gone. There were no deals to be made here and as he drove off into the distance I could see on the back of the flatbed and a shapeless lump of old clothes topped by a burlap sack that looked strangely like a face.
Take this as a warning. Watch out for that old fashioned flatbed pickup truck and the thin faced man with the black eyes. Next year they may be coming to your neighborhood