My name is Sami-Jo Whittaker, and I’m a believer. I believe in miracles and God, and all things holy. I believe in truth and justice, and that a bit of kindness lives in every person’s heart. I also believe in the Boogieman, the Devil, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and that there really are things that go bump in the night. But above all, I believe that my Mema’s homemade apple-pie is the cure-all for just about anything. A slice a day keeps the evils at bay, as she often says. So when things started getting spooky in our little corner of Bretherd County, with animals disappearing and people getting sick, I sure as hell wasn’t fooled. I knew exactly what was going on… and what to do.
“I’m telling you, I seen him.” Spying around a corner, I watched as Brad McKinney spun his yarn about the Evil Scarecrow.
“Yeah, right,” replied Larry. He and some other boys were straddling their bikes behind the Five-and-Dime, half-listening, half-giggling, surrounding poor Brad, fixing to give him another beating.
“I seen him cross the tracks near ol’ man Tucker’s place the other night,” continued Brad. “Had him three screeching cats in his arms.”
The boys stopped giggling.
“And I followed him down past Boyer’s Pond, through the cornfields, then across Cottonwood Crick, cats fussing and scratching the whole way.”
Larry chuckled. “Oh yeah… then what?”
“Then he turned and spotted me, so I ran. But Lord, you should’ve seen his face. And them eyes! Blue as night-ice on a hick’ry bush.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” replied Larry, his forced smile stretching from ear to ear.
“Didn’t your dog Chief disappear last week?” Now Brad smiled, and a few minutes later he let out a deep sigh, as Larry and the boys rode off toward Cottonwood Crick. Nothing like escaping another beating, I’m sure.
Even so, Brad was still sweating. And he howled like a cat in a bag after I crept up behind him and said, “Boo!”
“Sami-Jo! You about scared the tar out of me!”
“I heard you talking, Brad. About the Evil Scarecrow.”
“Oh yeah? And what of it?” He hopped on his bike, making to leave.
“What if I told you I know how to kill him?”
“Say what?” Brad’s face screwed up, eyes bugging. “There ain’t no scarecrow, Sami-Jo. I was just fooling them boys so they wouldn’t beat me.” He looked over his shoulder then put his foot on a pedal. “Now get out of my way, girly.”
I stepped in front of Brad’s bike, crossing my arms over my chest. “Brad McKinney! Look me in the eye and tell me you ain’t seen no scarecrow…” Tapping a foot, I waited. “And remember, God’s watching you!”
A fresh bead of sweat leaked out of Brad’s forehead. He glanced sideways, and his knuckles grew white over his handlebars. He even gave a faint chuckle.
“I know you seen something, Brad!” The truth was, all week long I’d been noticing that boy. At church, he kept looking out the window. During school recess, he couldn’t keep his eyes off them cornfields behind the playground. And even now, sweating like a hog in July, looking over his shoulder. “Something’s got you real scared, Brad. And I know it ain’t Larry and the boys.”
“Oh, come on, Sami-Jo! People are gonna think I’m crazy.”
I crinkled my eyes and pursed my lips. “God’s watching you, Brad!”
For weeks, folks in town had been speculating as to why everybody’s dogs and cats kept turning up missing. There were about a dozen different ideas, ranging from alien abductions, to Mr. Antonio’s attempts to keep his restaurant open after forgetting to pay his taxes. But I knew it was the Evil Scarecrow. The legend says that after three full moons pass over a clouded sky, the ol’ scarecrow wakes with a devil of an appetite. It also says that when he takes to killing for food, he makes himself a bone pit out of his victims. And when that pit gets big enough, it becomes something like a cozy little den for evil, begetting more evil, turning into a blistering sore upon the land, leeching all sorts of badness into the ground, into the water, making people sick.
I hadn’t seen the moon all summer long, considering how much fog we had. And even though I wasn’t worried about no dogs or cats, since I didn’t have any, I couldn’t afford for Mema getting ill. She was all I had for family, not counting a few toothless cousins up in the hills. Ma and Pa got killed in a car accident, my older brother recently joined the Army, Grandpa passed years ago, and now Mema…
“What are you gonna do with that pie?” Brad asked, licking his lips. We were sitting on my front porch later that day—the day Brad told me everything—and I had a fresh slice of Mema’s apple-pie on a plate.
“Why, it’s yours, Brad,” I said, handing it over.
“Hot damn!” Brad cried. He took the pie and sat on the steps, eyes twinkling. Poor kid, I almost felt sorry for him.
“That’s right,” I said, leaning back on Mema’s rocking chair. “And you be sure to eat every last crumb.” Brad paused between bites, looking at me. “Seeing how you’re gonna need your strength, and all.”
Brad’s face turned sour. “What are you playing at, Sami-Jo?”
“Tonight, you’re gonna show me where you seen that scarecrow.”
“The hell I am!”
“The hell you ain’t!”
“I done told you enough, Sami-Jo. If you want to go and get yourself killed, that’s your business. But leave me out of it.”
I jumped out of the rocking chair and put my hands on my hips, towering over Brad and his pie. “Look here, boy. You’re already in a heap of trouble with the Lord, lying like you done about the scarecrow and all. And now, with cats and dogs missing, people taking ill… shame on you, Brad McKinney!” Brad lowered his stare, and lowered his plate of pie, and just about shriveled up like a prune. “God is watching you, Brad, watching you right now! So, unless you’re in co-hoots with the devil himself, in which case you better eat all that pie, ‘cause I’m fairly certain they don’t serve treats like that where you’re heading, then you best be back here at eight.” I heard Mema rustling in the kitchen just then. “So eat up, and get,” I whispered, and then headed into the house.
Coming in from the porch, I found Mema standing at the stove, stirring a pot of soup. She looked like a scarecrow herself—a winter scarecrow that is, broken and ragged. I could tell she had been nursing all sorts of pain, ever since the doctor said she had cancer. But her recent rounds of medicine seemed to have taken an ugly toll on her body.
“Can I help you with anything, Mema?” I asked, closing the door.
“You can set the table if you like, Sami-Jo,” she replied. “I made us some chicken dumpling soup, baked three pies… whew, been a busy afternoon. Lord’s been shining on me today, that’s for sure.”
My grandma always was a trooper. I quickly set the table then pulled a chair out for her. “Come on, Mema, have a seat already, you’re tired. I can do the rest.”
She sat down, wiping her hands on a kitchen towel. “Bless your little heart, child. Always making your mama smile up there in heaven.”
I served us dinner and we got to eating, but right about halfway through my bowl of soup, my conscience started getting at me. I was thinking about the Evil Scarecrow, fixing up my plan of attack later that night, piecing together what I was gonna do and what I’d need, when suddenly I got the feeling that them pies on the stove were making their case against me.
“Sami-Jo, what’s eating at you, girl?” Mema asked. “You’re neither here, nor there. Something on your mind?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” I made quick to change the subject. “Any more news about your cancer?”
Mema frowned then dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “Don’t go worrying your little head about that, child. Mema’s gonna be fine, you’ll see.” She stood and walked over to the stove, and minutes later, there were two slices of apple-pie at the table with us. The steam rising from them reminded me of all that fog we’d had that summer—the fog that woke the Evil Scarecrow.
“A slice a day, keeps the evils at bay,” Mema said, smiling.
I smiled back, then looked at them pies once more and bit my lip. The hell with my conscience, I thought. It’s gonna have to sit this one out.
“Quickly, stickly!” Brad crept up to my porch slower than molasses on a slope of ice. “I ain’t got all night!” He looked thinner somehow, and I thought I heard his bones rattling from twenty-feet away. By the time he was close enough to see the whites of his eyes, I noticed that them eyes were wider than a toad’s.
“This is crazy, Sami-Jo! You’re crazy!” His voice squeaked fear, and I saw he was carrying a rusty pitchfork with a broken handle.
“For Pete’s sake, hush up, Brad!” I whispered. “You’re gonna wake my mema, you fool.”
“I hope she does wake up, Sami-Jo. I hope she comes out here right now and gives you the lickin’ you deserve.”
“The lickin’ I deserve? Brad McKinney—boy, you’re dumber than a salt shaker. Shoot, you’re dumber than dumb. Don’t you know I’m about to save this town?” I picked up my duffel bag loaded with gear and threw it over a shoulder. “Now come on… let’s go kill us a scarecrow.”
We made it past Boyer’s Pond, the cornfields, and then across Cottonwood Crick before Brad started wheezing something awful.
“I can’t do this, Sami-Jo. I’m too scared. We’re gonna get killed and eaten, I just know it.”
“Shh! Be quiet, Brad. I think I see something.” There was a creature moving under an oak tree a hundred yards off. It looked like a person dancing, hopping, or such. Then it stopped real sudden like and darted behind a bush. “Come on, let’s go see what that was.”
“Oh, Sami-Jo, this can’t be good.” Brad started breathing heavy again and shaking like a dog passing peaches.
“It is good, Brad, just wait and see. Remember—God’s watching us.”
At the oak tree, I shined my flashlight on the ground and found some tracks heading north. “Ten dollars they’ll take us straight to the ol’ coal mine,” I said, grabbing Brad by the arm.
Twice, Brad tried to make a break for it, but I held him tight as we climbed the trail leading up to the abandoned mine. We stopped behind a huge boulder overlooking the mine’s entrance, which was lit up by moonlight. It looked like… well, it looked like the mouth of a cave.
“This is it,” I whispered, setting my bag down. “That scarecrow’s living in there, I just know it… along with his bone pit.”
“Okay, so I helped you find him then,” sputtered Brad. He was talking a mile a minute, just itching to get out of there. “So I can go now, Sami-Jo. I done lived up to the bargain, and good luck to you and all, and—”
“Sit yourself down, boy. You’re not going anywhere.”
“Oh, come on!” Brad sat on a log and started to cry. “This ain’t fair, Sami-Jo. Ain’t fair at all.”
“Just think of this as bonus points for getting into heaven, Brad.”
“I don’t want no bonus points! I want to go home!”
“Would you be quiet already? You’re gonna ’lert the scarecrow, you fool.” I opened my duffel bag and checked my gear.
“What the hell are you gonna do with those?” Brad asked, his eyes bugging as he peered into my bag.
“Oh, you’ll see. I gots me a plan.”
“A plan? A plan?” I could tell right then that Brad had finally found his breaking point. “You ain’t got no plan, Sami-Jo, you crazy ol’ shithouse rat! You dragged me up here for no reason other than getting killed, and I’m gonna spend my dying days lying in a bone pit rotting like an apple—why, I outta…”
Just then, the Evil Scarecrow dropped down onto the ground behind Brad and me. He had been perched up on that boulder we was hiding behind, probably getting a kick out of us the whole time.
“Eeeeeeeeeeoooowwww!” it screeched, arms raised high and shaking. His eyes were like fire trapped in ice, and his mouth a black yawning pit of evil, and… well, that’s about all I remember, as things suddenly got real quick and real foggy-like.
Brad and I both let out our own screeching howl, I picked up my bag, and we ran. Brad followed me as I zigzagged my way into that mine, and we got about fifty feet in before I heard him protest.
“Wait a minute! Why are we going in here?” He turned his heel and made a break for the other direction—until he saw the Evil Scarecrow coming up behind us. “Wait for me, Sami-Jo!”
I had my flashlight shining on the ground, and I still had my plan working accordingly, despite being chased by that scarecrow. I followed his tracks of loose straw and kicked up dirt, searching for the bone pit.
A hundred feet down that mine and I found it. My flashlight was useless when I did, as the bone pit glowed with the most unnatural, greenish color I’d ever seen—like a giant emerald buried deep underground just waiting to be found. But that pit was nothing but pure evil. Pieces of bone—cat, dog, Lord knows what else—poked out of it like thorns on a bramble bush. I even spotted a few skulls staring back at me, sending a lifetime of shivers straight down my spine.
No time to waste, I darted behind a rock and opened my duffel bag. Brad was almost caught up to me, the scarecrow hot on his tail, and they were both screaming. I got ready to make my attack by loading up and cocking an arm past my ear. Then I stepped out from behind that rock and took aim.
“Get down, Brad!” I shouted.
Brad hit the dirt just as I threw Mema’s apple-pie at the Evil Scarecrow. It smacked the foul thing dead center, right in the face, stopping it cold in its tracks. There was a terrifying howl that followed, and then the scarecrow’s head suddenly burst into flames.
“Get him in the bone pit, Brad!” I shouted, reaching for another pie.
Brad stood and stared at me, then at the scarecrow; he looked about as puzzled as a ’coon in a doghouse.
“In the bone pit, Brad!” I repeated.
Brad finally snapped out of it. With a fierce holler, he rammed his pitchfork into the Evil Scarecrow’s chest. Then he spun the thing around and drove it into the bone pit.
“That’ll do,” I said, stepping up next to Brad. The scarecrow was lying on its back in the middle of the pit, writhing in flames, arms and legs twisting and flopping. “But just to be sure,” I added, with a smile, “take this, you ol’ bugger!” I threw another pie right onto the scarecrow, and then it blew up into a giant bonfire, blazing its way through that bone pit and straight to hell, no doubt.
Nine months later, I was sitting on the steps of my front porch, staring at the blossoms of an apricot tree. Spring had just crept into Bretherd County after a long, cold winter, bringing with it the first rains of the year. Everything was coming back to life.
I spotted Brad on his bike riding by, waving and smiling. Since we took care of that Scarecrow, that boy’s been haunting me like my own shadow.
“I think he’s done taking a liking to you, Sami-Jo,” Mema said from her rocking chair. “Seems like he rides by every day now.”
A few weeks ago, the doctors told Mema that her cancer had vanished—as if the Lord Himself had blessed her with a miracle. “Maybe he just likes your pie,” I replied.
“Is he the one you said stole them pies from the kitchen a while back?”
I looked at Mema just then, and she gave me a wink. I still felt a little guilty about taking them pies, but not as bad as I felt about fixing poor ol’ Brad with the crime. I’m sure the Lord will forgive me though, considering all the bonus points I now have. “Yep,” I said, smiling to myself, “he’s the one.”
Chris’ stories have appeared in over sixty magazines and anthologies. As a previous citizen of the Pacific Northwest, he vows one day to return, knowing that that which has yet to be named lurks somewhere behind the Redwood Curtain. He keeps a static blog of his writings at frombehindthebluedoor.wordpress.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH THE EVIL SCARECROW AND THE BONE PIT:
What’s not to like about a story where Mom’s (or Mema’s) apple pie triumphs over Evil? Author Christian Riley anchors us in the story with a no-nonsense introduction that nicely foreshadows what’s ahead. This dialog-rich piece yanks the reader along, capturing both the setting and characters as it does. Gotta love poor Brad.
Nothing is wasted in this piece. It’s well-paced, tight, and a whole lot of tongue-in-cheek fun.