Chapter 1: Augurs of Innocence
The globular mass of iridescent goo oozed like hellish drool across Timmy’s twisted horrified features as he gasped for breath. A heaving panting form held him fast to the lawn and as its face drew closer it made slobbering, choking sounds.
“Please,” wheezed Timmy.
“It’ll soon be over,” said the slobbering voice. “You’ll be one of us.”
Timmy could see very little, but he thought two other ghoulish shapes had drawn near. When they giggled, eight-year old Timmy grew even more terrified.
“And now for the ceremony,” said the figure with the bright, peeling hacked face.
One of the others handed the “creature” a container filled with a kind of slime. It began to pour the contents onto to Timmy’s head when--
“Scott!” The ghoul looked up. “Scott Dillman. What are you doing to that poor child? You’re much bigger than him. You leave him alone right now, do you hear?”
“Aw mom, it’s just ‘bucket of dry slime’. It won’t hurt anything. Besides, it’s Mischief Night. All the kids are out and doin’ stuff.”
“If you use everything up tonight, you won’t have anything left for Halloween tomorrow. It’s getting late. And I don’t want you bothering the neighbors.”
“Don’t ‘but’ me. Now do as I say, or I’ll beat you to a pulp with your father’s strap!” For a moment, Scott felt as threatened as Timmy had a few moments ago. “And you stay out of that corn field. God knows what’s running around out there.”
“Don’t go too far from Winding Way. And stay away from Center Lane. Especially that big white house. And I want you back by nine, understand?”
“Yeah, Mom.” He glanced at his front door for a moment where he saw the shape of his mother, an undetailed shadow in the eerie street light, her hands on her hips, poised to inflict retribution for any acts of rebellion.
The builders of Earthly Delights had etched Center Lane, a dead end street, in a far corner of the development. Beyond Center Lane extended a vast expanse of corn fields, a desert of stalks belonging to a farmer no one had ever seen. Rumors circulated that the man was a descendant of an Indian chieftain of a tribe, which had been massacred by soldiers and settlers back in the 1870s. Children made up stories about ghosts of ancient warriors lurking in the fields, or about people going into the fields and disappearing, or being turned into scarecrows.
These stories assumed a frightful immediacy leading up to Halloween when mothers warned roaming children about the corn field, the mysterious farmer, by reputation, none too hospitable. Supposedly “a” farmer had lived on that land many years ago and had mutilated the hand of a child who had trespassed on his land. Naturally, as the story traveled about, many came to believe that the present occupant of the farm had actually perpetrated the deed.
About an hour later, after squirting shaving cream into randomly chosen mail boxes, twelve year-old Scotty Dillman regrouped with two of his buddies, Tony and Paul and eight-year old Timmy. Together they huddled in the moonlit shadow of a bulldozer left by the work crews in a pitted and cratered field. He pushed back his mask of a face partially dissolving into a green florescent gelatinous slime. They sat silently, tallying up their spoils which had filled their orange and black shopping bags.
Scott narrowed his eyes at Timmy. “Who wants to go into the corn field?”
It was a double dare in a sense. If they braved the corn field, they would also have to pass through the yard of the white house. Although he had never seen the people who lived there, Scott heard a story about how once a kid was in front of the house and the man came outside to take out the garbage. When he saw the kid, he threatened to slit his throat. Scott’s friends knew that he intended to leave Timmy in the corn field, a decision he would live to regret.
On the way Timmy kept asking questions. “What’s in the white house?”
“Oh nothing,” said Scott, looking away, trying not to crack up. Maybe he could talk Timmy into ringing the door bell. “We just have to go through the yard to get to the field.”
“Are we going near the farmhouse?”
“I guess not. We’re just going to find the scarecrow and turn around and come back.”
Timmy didn’t notice the others giggling.
“I think the scarecrow is somewhere in the middle of the field. So, all we have to do is move in a straight line.” Scott reached into his pocket and added. “Actually, we’ll mark our position with this ball of string. Tie it to the fence in the yard, unwind it as we go and then use it to find our way back.” Tony and Paul looked at each other and winked, for they knew the plan would be to lead Timmy to the dark center of the corn field, have him hide his eyes for ten seconds and on the count of two bolt the way they had come and grab up the string as they fled.
Clouds raced by overhead as they made their way unobstructed alongside the white house then through the yard to the back fence, looking over their shoulders. Scott felt confident as he fingered the flashlight in his pocket; it looked as though no one were home.
The rows of leafy stalks turned and twisted like a maze, so that Scott quickly abandoned the notion of moving in a straight line and headed where his instincts led him. Clutching that ball of string, he knew that it could be real easy to get lost in here, especially at night. The string was running out faster than he thought. Soon they came to a clearing where they could see a house on the top of a small rise beyond the far edge of the field.
Timmy whispered, hardly moving his lips, trying not to let his teeth chatter. “Is that where the farmer lives?”
Scott squinted, surprised to see the house. He saw one light in an upstairs window. “Uh, well, I guess,” he said falteringly, not wanting to get any closer. “Anyway, we can’t go any further. No more string. But here’s what you have to do.”
“What do you mean?” said Timmy, raising his voice.
“Shhhh,” said Scott, drawing Tony and Paul closer. “You want to be one of us, right. You’re a privileged guy. You think we let a lot of eight-year old dorks hang out with us?”
“All you have to do is put your hands over your eyes and count slowly to ten. You have to be absolutely still. When you’re done, we’ll all go back.”
“Go ahead, Timmy,” said Paul.
“Yeah,” added Tony, stifling laughter.
Tony and Paul knew the routine. Variations of it had been executed in the past. Scott had already begun to back away slowly.
A rustling sound in the stalks halted the retreat of Scott and his minions and Timmy heard it but decided to continue believing they were trying to scare him.
“...Three, four...” A kind of footfall, more like a dragging, scuffing sound. “...Five, six...” Flapping, like the beating of wings. Scott was the first to turn around.
“Holy fucking shit!” he said in a strangled voice. The remaining ball of string, now no bigger in diameter than a golf ball, dropped from his opening palm to the ground. “...Seven, eight...” Tony and Paul turned around more slowly, but their eyes bulged out no less than Scott’s when they saw the scarecrow, which looked to be about eight feet tall standing upright without the aid of a pole or stake. On each of its outstretched arms, three huge crows had calmly perched themselves. Only Scott paused for a moment to wonder if someone in a costume had followed them. But the birds looked real. Wait, scarecrows were supposed to...
If Scott or the others could have moved their eyes, they would have seen the remnant ball of string leap away from their feet back into the murky labyrinth from which they had emerged. The scarecrow, too solid to be stuffed only with straw, moved its head and glanced down as the ball of string bounced between his legs and disappeared back into the thick rows of stalks. It “glanced” back at the boys, a kind of shifting blackness in its button eyes, its slit of mouth turning upward and making a sound like the opening of a plastic sandwich bag.
“Ten,” yelled Timmy, who whirled about. The sight hardly had time to register when the crows came at them, stinging piercing beaks at their heads, their collars, their wild wind-blow hair, and even their wide eyes when they looked behind them at their pursuers as they fled with brute mindless terror--in the direction of the farm house.
Back on Winding Way, the man from the white house smiled as he rested one leg on the fence which faced the corn field as he rolled up a ball of string. Tomorrow was the last day of October when the new neighbors were due to arrive. He knew the fun had only begun.