Okay, due to inexplicably continued interest (thanks, readers) here’s a bit of what I’ve been up to since we last saw each other. (You can read a slightly different version of this over in the Horror section at Every Writers Resource.com.)
When we first heard him say it, we thought he was crazy. Life in Burns, Nebraska can do that to you. Especially if you’re manning the register of your father’s farm supply store alone, like Troy had been, while his dad trekked back and forth to the hospice. Troy’s mom about to die could have pushed him over the edge, too. It seemed like a lot to deal with for someone “still so young,” as they say, as if seventeen is that young anymore.
“I’m telling you guys, that thing is creeping up on me.”
‘That thing’ was the scarecrow his father always has up in the stretch of grass behind the store. I never understood why. It’s a big yard, not farmland. Troy’s family gave up farming a decade ago. Why bother with a scarecrow for an empty lawn?
“It’s closer every time I look out that window,” he said, gesturing to his right. His red hair was messy and he looked generally unkempt. He also seemed completely serious.
We shuffled about uncomfortably. We were his friends, supposed to be supporting him. What do you say when it seems like someone’s really losing it?
Personally, I thought he might be restless. We’re all prone to stir craziness around these parts. So much space, so little to do. Plus all these fields. Spooky, even if you grew up with them. And it sometimes feels like everyone is only a minute from bolting, wanting to get out of this town any way they can.
The next time I saw him was in front of the Circle K. I’d gone out for a nine p.m. munchies run. He was smoking. I hadn’t known Troy smoked.
Tentatively, I asked how he was.
“It’s getting closer. I think it walks at night. Wants to walk right out of here, I bet.”
“Walk…out of here?”
“Yeah. Maybe it wants me to take it. Or it wants to go as me.”
After a pause, I asked if could he take time off from the register. Visit his mom?
He shook his head. “She doesn’t talk anymore.”
I offered to check in on him the next day and did. His hair was still awry, and I saw he hadn’t been shaving.
“Look at that,” was how he greeted me.
“Look at it,” he repeated, when I refused.
“Troy. It’s just a…thing with old clothes on. A stupid hat. Stuffed with hay. Not a monster. You should go home.”
Slowly, he closed up, and I walked him to his car. As he left the store’s lot, I glanced over my shoulder. The scarecrow was where it had always been.
That was the last we saw of Troy. First, his parents’ store went dark, a CLOSED sign on the door. Then he hadn’t been at school for days. There was a ‘missing kid’ crisis, although only briefly. It was largely assumed he had run away.
That’s what I believe. Mostly anyway. Although I did go by the store once, after Troy disappeared. Under ‘that’ window was the scarecrow, slumped against the store siding like a rag doll. And I don’t know if this is weird or not, because I never noticed it before, but underneath its floppy farmer’s hat were several chunks of dried red hair.