Jim Dimble stared at the tiny graves on the hill a few yards from his farm. It was near sundown, the sky above was a palette of pinks and blues. Jim hated sundown. His world was something he wouldn't wish on his worst enemy. He looked back to his small house he'd built with his own two hands. It wasn't much, but it was a roof over he and Helen's heads. He saw Helen looking through the window at him. She saw the disappointment on his face and drew the curtains.
Jim turned, scoffed at his world. A shadow loomed over him. He looked up, found it was the scarecrow. He heard blackbirds calling to each other as two of them flew to the scarecrow's shoulders. Jim's eyes returned to the tiny graves with no markers. Why give them names, Jim thought. They didn't even last the night, all four of them. Wasn't even sure what sex they were.
Jim carried himself slowly back to the house, bitterness and all.
“Supper's on the table,” Helen told him as soon as he walked through the door. She turned toward the bedroom.
“You gonna eat with me?” Jim said.
Helen stopped in her tracks. She shook her head no. “Not hungry,” Helen went to the bedroom, shut the door.
With no expression, Jim went to the sink, washed his hands, then his arms.
He sat at the table, placed a piece of bread on his plate. He took a spoonful of peas, placed it next to a small piece of chicken. “Nothing's gonna change,” He said drearily. “Unless I do the changing myself.”
Jim chewed his food slowly, the image of the scarecrow overshadowing him deep in his mind.
He heard the noises coming from the bedroom. Jim tried to eat, hoped his teeth grinding the food would drown out Helen's sounds. The sound of the bed springs bopping up and down, creaking, bodies writhing in the sheets. Helen's breathing becoming more and more shallow. There was a low gurgle from a stranger. Jim closed his eyes. Tears fell from his cheeks. He chewed faster, faster, rhythm with the bed springs, shallow breathing, gurgling.
Jim grabbed the table with both hands, turned it on it's backside. The dishes and food slid off. A loud crash caused dead silence.
Helen rushed out the bedroom, her hair a mess, sweat poured from red face. She was fastening her robe in a hurry. She stood, looking at the mess, then at Jim.
Nothing was said as there eyes met. Contempt between the two of them.
The sun beat down on Jim as he plowed the fields. The corn had already began to grow, the other side of the hill he planted tomatoes. Here, below them, he thought of putting to the ground potatoes.
Jim had decided to take a break when he saw a red pickup pull in at the house.
He watched a short man in his late fifties get out. Jim got off his tractor, walked down the hill. The man saw Jim, turned on his heels, waved.
“Jim,” He said. “Didn't think anyone was at home.”
Jim met up with the short man in a suit and fedora. It was Garret Barnes. Barnes owned most of the farms in the tree-counties and was recently on a buying frenzy. He'd been after Jim's farm for three years running.
“What can I do for you, Garret?”
“Just came for a visit, Jim,” Barnes smiled. He removed his fedora, fanned himself with it.
“Can I offer you some water,then?” Jim poured water from a cooler into a plastic cup.
“Thank you,” Barnes drank the water quickly. “Getting hot now.” He looked around. “Hows the far comin?”
Jim sipped his water, keeping his eyes on Barnes. “It's comin',” He said.
Barnes nodded. “Expecting a good crop.” It was a halfhearted statement. Barnes knew the answer as the question meant nothing to him except a sale, which at the end turned into a statement.
“What do you want, Garret?” Jim blew air through inflamed nostrils.
“You know what I want, Jim,” Barnes threw his cup to the ground. “Your not doing too good. Let me help you.”
“I'm not selling,” Jim turned his back on Barnes.
“That would be a mistake, fella. If you sell this to me, I can help you and Helen. You can move into town.”
“Into one of those shanty's you own, Garret. Get a job at the factory your brother owns. Go to church where your son is the minister. Buy groceries from the store your cousins own. And what will Helen and me have?”
Barnes shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe.....peace of mind. No more worries, Jim.”
“I think you ought to go, Garret.”
There was silence for a beat. “Look, Jim-----”
“Get off my land, Garret.”
Barnes nodded. “Tell Helen I said hello.” Barnes ambled to his truck.
Jim watched the red pick up speed off. He looked at the house, Helen was watching from the open door. “What did he want?” She bit her lower lip.
Jim grunted, saw the clouds roll across the sun. The shadow of the scarecrow stood long.
“He wanted me to sell the farm to him,” Jim told her. He stared at the shadow. Anger rose up in him momentarily. Jim shook it off.
“What did you tell him?” Helen had her hand over her heart. She was worried what Jim's answer would be. She couldn't leave the farm now. Not right now. No matter how bad things got.
“I told him he was wasting his breath,” Jim said.
Helen's mind was at ease. She smiled. Jim heard her sigh. He turned to her. Helen was off again, lost in her thoughts. Her face was radiant, a glow like a schoolgirl in love. “Get my lunch ready, woman.” His voice broke her trance. Helen went back inside, slammed the front door hard.
At sundown, another dreaded sundown, Jim was at the dinner table, trying to eat.
He heard Helen moaning, the sheets and bed springs making a melody. Jim's face was flushed with anger. But his mind would get lost in curiosity.
He sighed, pushed his chair back. Still listening closely, Jim rose from the table. He trekked to towards the bedroom. Stopping every few steps, Jim would put a hand to his brow. I shouldn't----he told himself. Helen wouldn't-----Helen----she belongs to me. She belongs to me!
The door creaked open slightly. The setting sun shone on two bodies on the bed, covers and sheet on the floor. Helen had her dress up around her waste, legs wrapped around the man's shoulders. The man thrust harder and harder. Helen kept her hands on his waste to make sure he didn't leave her writhing body. He had his head buried in her breasts that hung out from her open dress.
Jim watched. His eyes grew wilder and wilder. He licked his lips, his mind wandering in and out of fantasy.
A few months passed by. Nothing changed much, except Helen being pregnant again. Jim resented the situation. It was not his child. He wished he had not visited Mrs. Ville. She was a self-described witch. Had a sign that said she sold charms and told fortunes. That was why Jim went back to see her.
Inside her musty shop decorated with dead animals and masks from all over the world, the old woman smelled the air and looked in Jim's face for lies.
“You speak the truth,” she mumbled.
Jim made a face when Mrs. Ville fed a scaly creature in a glass bottle the eyeballs of a dead cat.
“I told you I was here to talk about the last business I had with you.” Jim said crossly.
“There’s nothing more to discuss. Whats done is done.” The old woman stated firmly.
“You have to undo the spell. I'm going out of my mind----” Jim caught himself. He inhaled, then exhaled a few times, trying to keep the anger down. “You have to help me.......”
A few beats of silence passed. Mrs. Ville shook her head. “You knew the chances. You wanted a child so badly, I warned you.”
“None of them lived more than a night!” Jim sputtered.
“You know what must be done. A life for a life.” Mrs. Ville pushed Jim aside to retrieve a few bottles of green liquid.
“No, “ Jim shook his head. “I'm not giving up Helen's life.”
“It's not specific,” the old woman croaked. She coughed, spat out flem on the floor.”The spell only said a life for a life. Anyone would do.”
Her back was to Jim. The thought, one the old woman placed in his head, ran amok.
Jim picked up a poker that sat by the wood stove. He looked at the poker, touching the pointed end with his hand. His upper lip curled. He raised the poker over his head.
Then he stopped in mid-air. He put the poker down. He rushed out the shop.
“I knew you wouldn't do it,” Mrs. Ville said to no one in particular.
Jim was on the hill, staring at the four tiny graves. Barnes appeared, huffing and puffing. Walking up a steep hill was too much for the older man. “What are we doing up here, Jim?”
Jim looked up at Barnes. “You got those papers?”
Barnes nodded.”I didn't expect you to sell, Jim. You are a complicated man.”
Jim shrugged. “Suppose I am, Garret. Seemed I was always simple. The world is complicated.” Jim took the ten finely typed pages and flipped to the areas that needed his initials and signature.
“Don’t you want to read it?” Barnes was startled, then amused.
“Nope,” Jim said, went back to staring at the graves. “Look at it, Garret. They were once living beings.”
“The hell you say,” Barnes chuckled. “You drunk, boy?”
Jim shook his head no. “People, Garret. Little babies.”
Barnes' mouth opened and closed in silence. He didn't know what to say.”Who's babies.....?”
“Each one born three months from each other. All this year, Garret. “
“Did Helen....? What in blazes-----no. Your pulling my leg-----your dead serious.” Barnes looked down at the house. He shook his head, backed away from Jim before turning on his heel. “Well, thanks Jim. I'll be in touch. T---tell Helen I said hello.”
Jim said nothing. He was lost in his thoughts. Barnes practically ran down the hill to his truck. Jim heard the truck speed off, never once looking away from the graves.
He stood watching the graves for a few more minutes, when the sun setting stole his attention away. Jim heard two crows cawing. The crows spoke to each other in their language, then one crawled inside the long gray trench-coat on which the scarecrow wore. The other one shook hos wings free of any bad feathers or dirt, curled up in a ball, formed the face of the scarecrow. Two more crows flew inside the trench-coat. One became the left arm, the other crow became the right arm. Jim was in awe, mesmerized. Two more crows flew to the scarecrow, formed it's legs.
The scarecrow lept from it's podium that held him there in the daylight. But every evening, it is free to bring itself down from the two poles fashioned together by rope and forced into the barren ground a few yards from the graves. His face was black, feathery, mysterious black. It's eyes glowed yellow. Possibly the eyes of the crow. He walked as if it's limbs were weighed down by weights on it's feet.
The scarecrow walked past Jim as if it didn't know Jim was there. Jim knew what it was going to do and where it was headed.
It was headed toward the house, to Helen.
This angered Jim. No more, he thought. He was sick of being sick to his stomach whenever he thought of Helen with this thing----this unnatural being.
Jim felt for the .38 in his belt. He drew the pistol that was meant for Garret Barnes. Jim fired, the bullet tore through the scarecrow's midsection with ferocity, it brought it down to it's knees. Hay fell from it it spurts to the ground. It looked down at it's wound. In an instant the hay found it's way back inside the scarecrow. It stood in one clumsy act and continued on to the house.
Jim screamed. He was on his knees. The gun now lay on the ground beside him. Blood poured out of Jim's midsection, flowing like river in his hands. His face showed confusion.. The shadow of the empty podium where the scarecrow makes his home enveloped Jim in his last few moments of life.
One month later, Helen moved into a house on the edge of town, a house that had seen better days. She sat in the kitchen at the table, her baby drinking from her breast. She looked out the window and saw the sun setting. Helen smiled.
“Your Father will be home soon,” she told the child, pulled it gently from her erect nipple. The baby opened it's yellow eyes and made a slight sound from its thin-lined lips. Helen touched the child's black feathery face with a hand. “I love it when the sun goes down.”