A Scarecrow’s Murder
The crows were not scared of Gregory. They flapped their wings around his face and abdomen, shiny black wings blowing wind through his limbs, billowing his ragged peasant shirt and lace-up pants. The crows squatted on his shoulders and head, tearing out bits of straw from his body. They pecked at the black mud beneath his feet.
The crows did not mind the rains Gregory brought, or the worms washed up for them in the pumpkin field.
Nor did the crows fear the slight movements Gregory made. The flicker of a straw finger. The slightest turning of his head. Movements few human eyes could witness, even when looking for them. But the crows saw him move. The crows witnessed everything. They were Gregory’s eyes and ears.
In the daylight, through the crows, Gregory heard the sounds of footfalls in the pumpkin patch, apples snapped from the trees and thrown into wicker baskets, and human voices. He didn’t understand the voices—the laughter and jokes, the small talk, the whispers as field workers scampered past him and his crows—he only understood the voices belonged to those who tended his field.
The change of season brought with it the smells of the harvest—apples pressed into cider, wet leaves falling in the rain, pumpkins being sliced up. But there was another smell in the air, one Gregory knew from… a time he could no longer place in his straw memory.
He sent the crows to scout his field. They flew circles high above the orchard and buildings. From their eyes, Gregory noted the hands scurrying about their business. Business as usual, but the way they moved was different. Stiff. Necks hunched. The workers kept glancing over their shoulders and making the sign of the cross.
Dust rose from the gravel road leading to the big house. The crows cawed and obeyed his direction, circling, watching the blue automobile bouncing along the road. It was the kind with aesthetic fins and shiny hubcaps, a sleek body and long hood with a silver ornament on the end. Noxious gas combusted out the tailpipe, adding to the dirt and gravel dust cloud.
A woman drove, bony white knuckles gripping the wheel, a pointy hat in the passenger seat. She had warts all over her face. She stopped the automobile in front of the big house and got out after placing the hat over her wispy blue hair. Gravel crunched under her leather heeled boots.
The woman rapped on the door with her white knuckles, waited, and knocked again with more force. The crows scattered when she tried once more, this time the big house’s door blew open at her slightest touch. The hinges squealed.
The master of the house came to the door, standing tall with top buttons of his flannel shirt open to reveal a strong neckline. He stood in the open door, rifle in his hands, feet spread wide apart.
The woman cackled and said something in the modern language Gregory was only vaguely familiar with. “Last warning,” she said. He understood nothing else. But the master of the house turned pale and slammed shut the door.
The woman drove back the way she came.
Gregory sent a group of his crows after the automobile. High above the winding country roads they stalked her. Through woods, across the river, up a hill covered in mossy stones and fungus covered oaks. In an ancient grove the woman parked the automobile in front of a thatch roofed hut.
A gigantic black kettle hung on iron bar between the automobile and the hut. The woman glanced up at the crows, her beady eyes studying, as she threw kindling under the kettle. Soon a fire was started.
The woman put things in the kettle: smokey green water, clumps of fungi, polished stones, animal teeth, pumpkin guts. She stoked the flames, stirred the strange brew, singing and cursing as she worked.
The crows cawed and flew patterns around the hut, taking in everything. The fetid stink rising in clumpy tendrils of smoke over the kettle. The diminishing figure of the woman, and the way her back hunched lower as she worked and how her skin turned cracked and grey. Her singing; sweet as the child who put flowers at Gregory’s feet every Sunday, yet with a hollow undertone that kept the crows in the higher branches.
The smokey tendrils from the kettle poured out and up, reaching the crows’ safe places. A thick haze settled in the treetops, a toxic miasma surrounding Gregory’s murder.
Gregory experienced something he had never known: suffocation. One by one, each crow watched his brethren crash to the earth, until the last one closed its eyes. And Gregory sensed no more from the woman’s hut.
The fires started raging at midnight, under the starlight and full moon, in the southeast corner of his pumpkin field. The workers arrived not long after in trucks, with pails. They worked steadily, passing the pails full of water in a line from the well to the fire.
The workers were doomed to fail. Fearful of their safety and for his field, Gregory unhitched himself from the pole supporting his body, and wobbled two paces before steadying himself upright. He raised his arms skyward, oblong head tilted back. He did not need to say anything. Couldn’t say anything. He only needed to think it, and wish it with the core of his being.
The clouds gathered, covering the stars, rolling over the countryside. Already, a single drop fell on Gregory’s felt cap. Soon. He hoped it wasn’t too late.
The fire was spreading to the southwest corner and edging north. The remainder of his murder told him so with panicked caws and fast beating wings. Gregory picked up a hoe from the ground, curling his wiry fingers tight around the shaft.
To the fire, though the crows warned him. Gregory felt no heat, his crackling straw protected by the curse that allowed him to live through his crows. One of which spotted the calm center of the inferno. Where the woman worked her magic.
He found her. From his crows’ eyes, he saw his body burning. The overheated hoe. The woman’s half step back, too far and too close to her own fire. She had only a moment of awe, before he sunk the hoe with supernatural force into her skull.
Gregory collapsed on top of her and watched both of them burn to ashes before the downpour came. He sensed no more, until a new scarecrow was made for him.
Copyright 2014 D. Anthony Brown