Nobody outside of the community would know, because there’d be no way for them to know. This curse is ours, and ours alone. No other land sees the creature—no one else has to fear it like we do. Our ancestors spilt the blood on this land, and this land makes us pay for it.
And over again.
When the crops rise, and the harvest moon peaks its bleary eyes out over the night sky, we know.
It’s almost time.
We have signs up. The surrounding towns and villages all know:
Stay away from O’er Creek in the fall.
They know it’s unsafe. Don’t know why, not really. All they know is:
If they send people to our village in the fall, right around harvest time, they’ll never come back. They won’t so much as find a body, either. Unless they get there before the crops are collected, they won’t find their dead—and still, they won’t be able to collect them. They’ll join them instead. There’s nothing for them to see, and nothing that they can do, aside from:
And they do.
Oh, they do.
And us? The residents of O’ver Creek?
We know what’s out there.
Where it lurks.
What it looks for.
We know how to evade it. How to appease it. What to give. We know how to tell if it’s close.
Black feathers from the sky.
When you’re out in the field, and its’ nearby, they start circling overhead. Shedding, as they sense the danger. Feel the presence. Black feathers rain out of the sky as the thing keeps them from feasting—keeps them from taking part in the harvest.
They know he’s out there.
And, when their feathers rain out of the sky?
So do we.
The first time I saw it, I’d made the mistake of getting off my horse. Of walking into the field.
I was young then. Only fourteen.
I think that was why it let me live.
And it did let me.
Most certainly, it let me.
There’s no doubt in my mind—especially now that I’m older—that it let me go. Opted to scare me, instead of kill me. Rather than carve me out and deposit my body right into the mouth of hell, it let me go. I’ve got no doubts that it let me run off, pissing scared, instead of tanning my hide.
Because it could have.
It most certainly could have.
I know it doesn’t have the speed of humans. Doesn’t have the speed of horses. Not even the speed of bears.
It’s faster than that.
Much, much faster.
And it knows the fields better than the planter.
Because it is the field.
It’s of the field.
It grows with the weeds and thistles and crops. It rises up from the ground, at the beginning of every planting season, and it slowly grows, getting taller and thicker, until it starts to hunger. Until it can’t contain itself any longer.
The man of straw.
He sprouts from the ground, head dipping low. Lolling to one side as if he’s inanimate. As if he’s a dead man. As if we, ourselves, hung him there.
And we did.
Centuries ago, but we did.
He was an innocent man once, they say. Wrongly accused of murder. We know now that it was the mayor that did it, and the mayor that pinned the crimes on him, and the mayor that rallied the mob against him.
But it was the town that killed him.
Collectively, as a whole.
We killed him.
Spilled his blood in these fields. Back then, they were his own fields. Gutted him, strung him up. Yep.
They slaughtered him, that poor, innocent farmer.
Oh, but little did they know:
He was no ordinary man.
We don’t know if it was the devil on his side—considering his innocence, I’d say not—or the Lord—the Lord would be right to be angry at us for killing such a kind soul, but I still doubt the creature is the Lord’s doing—or if it was something else entirely, but.
There was something on his side that day. Even if it wasn’t flesh, and blood, and life itself, something was on his side.
Every fall, the dead man rises.
A scarecrow. A bedraggled creature. Worn and stuff and abused. A thing that sits in all weather, looking over the crops, standing tall above the field.
As the season hits its peak, so does he.
In the middle of October, you can see him sitting high on his stand. Arms full, spread out, head held at attention. Eyes empty.
When the harvest is about to sweep the crops away, he wakes.
He takes his share.
He takes a life.
Not an innocent man anymore. Though, honestly, I can’t blame him. It’s not even his fault. His soul, when it was sent to the beyond, was already stained with pain. Hatred. Not his own, mind you, but the hatred of others. The anger of others, the malice. The blood rage, and the hunger for death.
It does something to you, you know? Experiencing all that firsthand.
It’s enough to scar your soul.
And that skeleton man—that scarecrow?
He was innocent when he died.
We post signs, as many as we can.
People will do what people will do.
You can’t stop stupid.
NO TRESPASSING. VIOLATORS WILL BE KILLED.
If that isn’t enough to deter you, then nothing is.
We count them at the harvest time—how many fools wandered into the fields. How many morons ignored our warning. How many interrupted the scarecrow’s gathering of his harvest.
This year, it’s five.
Five bodies swing in succession. Hung from makeshift gallows. Parts gouged out as the scarecrow sits on his post.
Arms wide open.
Welcoming any who’d like to join.
All he wants is a bit of the harvest. To be left alone while he gathers what’s his. To continue his work, which was wrongfully stopped all those years ago. We all know what he wants is to be ordinary. To continue his work. We all know.
He just wants to move on with his life.
That’s why it’s never anyone from O’er Creek.
We all know.
Before the harvest, we stay away from the fields. We leave them alone. Never, for any reason, do we risk going out there. We never interrupt the scarecrow’s harvest.
Because we know that, if we do…
We’ll be part of the crop.
He asks for very little, the scarecrow farmer. Takes a minimum.
Unless you try to stop him.
Unless you interrupt his work.
Unless you trespass on his spilt blood, on his ancient land.
That’s why it’s never anyone from O’er Creek. We know.
If you stop the scarecrow from taking what’s his, he’ll take what’s yours instead.
He’ll take all of you. Add your blood to his own.
You don’t rise. That’s never happened before, but.
You become part of the field, too.