I find I rather enjoy these ‘legend’ stories although I do find them hard to start with. This one is almost exactly three years old (it’s Flashback Friday, in case you hadn’t noticed – and do visited other flashbackers using the list at the bottom afterwards). It’s 700 words, and I think only Rebecca saw it the first time around.
The Legend of the Scarecrow Epidemic
There was a time, not so long ago, when deep dark things roamed the land. My grandmother said she’d lived through this episode, but she was given to tall tales, so who knows? It was my uncle that first told me the story, one night when the wind howled and we couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep afterwards, either. I heard it later from another source, so it might be true.
The village had a witch, like most villages did those days. You went to see her if you had a cough, or pains, or spots, or a sliced finger from the harvest. Or your bread wouldn’t rise, or you wanted another woman’s husband. She had potions and salves for most things, and incantations for the rest. The witch lived in a tumbled-down shack on the edge of the forest, just up the hill from the waterwheel. Animals came and went, seeking food and friendship. They said other things visited at night, but no-one saw them.
This farmer went to see her because he was having trouble with his crops. Pigeons ate them, and then the crows. He wanted an incantation to keep them off. She showed him how to build a scarecrow instead, and he put it in his field and it did the job, and that was that. Almost.
The crows came into the village and set about the peas and beans in people’s back yards. So people went and checked on the farmer’s scarecrow and made their own, putting them in their yards, and sure enough it did the trick. No more crows.
One day a man that nobody liked, because he was a rough-mouthed, rough-handed kind of guy, came into the store where everyone was chatting, and asked loudly who’d put a scarecrow in his yard. Well, of course, no-one had. But he hadn’t, so someone had. That was the start of it. Soon scarecrows were appearing everywhere, and if you thought about it long enough, everyone who had a scarecrow appear was doing something that the rest of the village found just a little bit anti-social. They wouldn’t call it that, they’d say he (or she) was just doing their own thing. As long as it didn’t hurt anyone else, people could do what they liked. The trouble with these people was that someone else was getting hurt.
Then people who seemed fine and upstanding started getting them, by mistake that is, not putting them out themselves. The villagers whispered, asking what they were doing behind their closed doors. Fingers started pointing at those who hadn’t got scarecrows; people asked why, were they so prissy that they never even thought anything bad? And then they were accused of putting them in other people’s yards to stir up trouble.
Well, soon everyone had a scarecrow. Some people had whole families of them. Their faces were patched and worn, and eyes seemed to glare malevolently from gaping holes in the hay-stuffed sacks of their heads.
Then the villagers remembered the witch and a whole posse went up the hill to her house. It was all her fault and she was going to pay. She wasn’t there. The place was empty, no witch, no cats, no herbs and pots for salves and the like. But there was a whole row of scarecrows in the yard at the back, in a line, all looking at the posse. The villagers rushed forward to vent their fear and anger on something, and the witch’s scarecrows were just right for vengeance. They tore the heads from the poles, the rags from their bodies, smashed the heads and sticks and trampled the whole mess into the ground, along with the beans and carrots and potatoes they’d been guarding. And after they’d done that they rampaged through the witch’s house, finishing off with a well-timed yank of the main beam, and the whole shack came tumbling down. Then they cooled down a bit, and wandered back down the hill, back to their homes, although the menfolk gathered in the store for a celebratory drink in the evening.
After that they slept easily in their beds.
Until the night when the scarecrows came knocking on their doors.
© J M Pett 2013
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