This is a short story that I started over Halloween weekend. I was finally able to finish it today.
I have fixed the typos which appeared in the initial post.
On the Halloween weekend of 1973, a faint wind blew lazily through the maple trees of Roseville, Pennsylvania. The warmth of early autumn had lasted well into the middle of October, but by the end of the month, a decisive chill had crept into the days and nights of the small town.
Lily and Sarah Judson had received permission from their parents to attend a Halloween party hosted by Debra Miller. Debra was one of the most popular girls in the seventh grade at Roseville Junior High School, which was the same school that Lily attended. Debra’s mother, Janice, had baked several kinds of cookies and had served both apple cider and hot chocolate at the soiree. While the children were munching on sweets, Debra’s father, Jack, told ghost stories in front of the Miller’s massive stone fireplace. There had also been bobbing for apples and pumpkin carving. Without a doubt, it had been a delightful evening for both hosts and guests alike, but by half past seven, the festivities had come to an end. Since the Judson’s house was only a fifteen minute walk from the Miller’s place and because the girls would be walking together, May Judson told Lily and Sarah that it would be alright if they walked home from the party, instead of being ferried back by their father, Bud. Lily was now thirteen and had been deemed old enough by her parents to look after Sarah.
May had instructed Lily to call her from the Miller’s house just before setting out for home so that she would know approximately when to expect her daughters to arrive. At 7:38, Lily had called May to say that she and Sarah would be home by eight o’clock. After that, the Judson girls promptly bid their final goodbyes to the Millers and began to walk down Sugar Mill Road with the flashlight that Bud had lent them.
“I wish that we could stay home from church tomorrow,” Sarah said while deliberately kicking up dirt from the road as she walked along. “I want to sleep in.”
“Well you can’t sleep in,” Lily scolded. “And stop kicking up dirt. You’re getting it all over my good shoes!”
“I’ll kick dirt around if I want to!”
Lily was about to respond when Sarah suddenly stopped walking. In the corn field on the right side of the road, a dark mass, hanging near the recently harvested stalks, had caught her attention.
“What is that?” Sarah asked with a slight quiver in her voice. Lily aimed the flashlight towards the mysterious silhouette in the distance. A hay man frowned at them via a red felt mouth which had been stitched onto his pillowcase face.
Lily snickered loudly at her younger sister’s expense. “It’s just Old Man Pearson’s scarecrow. You’ve seen it a million times. It must have fallen down from the pole. There’s no reason to be afraid.”
Because Sarah didn’t want to appear to be a chicken in front of Lily, she managed to brush an artificial smile onto her mouth. When she glanced up at the sky, she noticed that dusky clouds were threatening to conceal the moon. This made Sarah uneasy. Also, the wind was beginning to blow more fiercely. At that moment, Sarah wished that she were tucked safety inside her bed. “Let’s walk faster, okay?” she urged.
Lily observed the restless look on Sarah’s face and said, “There’s nothing to be afraid of, but we do need to get home.” She redirected the flashlight’s beam towards the road in front of them so that she and Sarah could resume their journey.
But after just a short distance, Sarah stopped again and reached for Lily’s arm. “Did you hear that?”
Lily rolled her eyes in frustration. “What is it now, Sarah?”
“Someone is walking behind us.”
Lily’s ears hadn’t detected any footfall other than their own, but out of curiosity, she turned around and looked. She didn’t see anyone or anything and neither did Sarah. “Now you’re hearing things. Great!”
“I’m not making it up. I heard someone walking behind us.”
“I think that Mr. Miller’s ghost stories scared you and that your brain is playing tricks on you. You’re such a baby.”
Sarah stamped her foot and shouted. “I know what I heard!”
“Let’s stop arguing! We have to hurry. Mother will be worried if we aren’t home by eight o’clock.”
“But—, ” Sarah began to protest.
“No buts! Stop imagining things!”
The Judson girls were now in foul moods. What is more, the high spirits that they had left the Miller’s house with had seemingly vanished. Sarah and Lily began to walk again, but some moments later, both girls heard the sound of footsteps behind them. They turned around and Lily cast the flashlight’s glow out in front of them so that they could inspect the road for fellow travelers.
Could it be? No, it was impossible. Were their eyes deceiving them? Lying in the middle of the road, some ten feet away from Lily and Sarah, was the scarecrow which had been drooping on the pole in Old Man Pearson’s field. He was lying face down.
Lily couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She would be fibbing if she tried to tell Sarah that she wasn’t at least a little bit frightened. However, she didn’t want to show fear in front of her impressionable and easily frightened younger sister. To prove that she wasn’t afraid, Lily walked right up to the scarecrow. She slipped her left foot underneath the dummy’s mid-section, and proceeded to gently kick it over onto its back. When Lily surveyed the scarecrow’s pouting mouth, button eyes and button nose, she let out a broad laugh. How could she have been scared, even for a split second, of a man who was made of hay, old bedding, and buttons?
“How did it get down from the field?” Sarah asked, once her anxiety had waned a tidge.
“Maybe the wind blew it…I don’t know. Let’s go. Mr. Pearson will find it in the morning. He’ll put it back out in the field.”
“Okay,” Sarah said. The little girl grasped her older sister’s hand tightly as they continued their journey homewards. But scarcely had the girls begun walking, when once again, they heard footsteps coming from behind them. Sarah and Lily spun around to find Old Man Pearson’s scarecrow lying facedown in the road, almost exactly like the first time, except for the fact that the mawkin’s ragged body was now located mid-way between where the Judson girls were standing and where they had left it only half a minute earlier.
“It mu–mu–must be the wind,” Lily stammered.
“Yeah, the wind,” echoed a panic-stricken Sarah.
“Wait here!” Lily commanded with as much authority as her thirteen-year old voice could muster. She marched up to the scarecrow and for a second time, slipped her foot under its mid-section with the aim to flip it over onto its back. On this occasion, however, Lily did not laugh at the sight of the scarecrow’s face. Instead, she let out a loud yelp.
“What?” Sarah asked.
Lily’s soft hazel eyes were as wide as quarter-sized flapjacks. Her little heart was about to jump out of her chest. She struggled to find words, but finally, sound emerged from her vocal cords. “His mouth…is…is…is smiling!”
Before Sarah could completely process what Lily had said, her older sister grabbed her hand and began dragging her down the road, away from the scarecrow. Sarah couldn’t remember when she had ever seen her older sister so terrified. As the icy wind nipped at the girls’ backs, the persistent scratching of swift, flimsy feet sounded on the dirt road behind them. Sarah was afraid to look but Lily managed to turn her head around, even though she was running like a frightened wildebeest as she clutched Sarah’s hand.
How could it be?!? Was this a dream? Old Man Pearson’s scarecrow was galloping after them with outstretched arms as if he were trying to catch an errant football that had flapped away from its intended target. His felt lips were contorted into a humongous, grotesque smile.
From his sealed mouth, the scarecrow hissed.
“Wait for meeeeeee. . .”
When Lily and Sarah hadn’t walked through the door by eight fifteen, May phoned the Millers to inquire after her daughters’ whereabouts. Janice said that Lily and Sarah had departed for home immediately after the eldest of the two had phoned May.
May and Bud were worried, so they climbed into Bud’s blue pick-up truck and drove the half mile from their place to the Millers at a snail’s pace with their eyes peeled in every direction. There was no sign of either Lily or Sarah. May started to get frantic. Where were her daughters?
That night, the Judsons and the Millers drove around Roseville looking for Lily and Sarah, but after almost an hour and a half of driving, neither couple had located the girls. At a quarter after ten, the two couples reconvened on the Miller’s front porch to discuss the girls’ disappearance.
“May, the girls are probably just playing a trick on you and Bud for Halloween,” Jack said.
This idea was ludicrous to May. “My girls wouldn’t do that. They know better than that.”
“Maybe they took a wrong turn somewhere and got lost?” Janice offered, even though all four adults knew that this scenario was pretty much impossible.
“Lily knows the route from our house to your house like the back of her hand,” May scoffed.
For a second time, Jack put forth the idea of the girls playing a prank, only for May to dismiss the notion.
Bud didn’t want Jack and May to get into a fight on the Millers’ front porch. “Maybe Jack is right. Why don’t we wait until morning and if they aren’t home by then, we’ll go to the police.” The word police sent chills up May’s spine. Would it really have to come to that?
“Right! What if they came home while we were out looking for them?” Janice chimed in. May hadn’t thought of this. What if something bad had happened to Lily and Sarah? What if they were now back at home and in need of their mother’s comfort?
“Okay, we’ll go home, but if they are not back by the early morning, I’m going to the police, do you hear me?” May wagged her right index finger wildly at her three companions.
“Sure May, whatever you want to do,” Jack said gently.
“We’ll call you right away if they come back to our place,” Janice added. She placed a lukewarm hand of comfort on May’s shoulder and then gave her a quick hug. That night, May didn’t sleep one wink and even though Bud had his eyes closed, the sandman didn’t pay him a visit either. Lily and Sarah never came home that night.
At six o’clock the next morning, May and Bud set out for the police station to file missing persons reports on their daughters. In an effort to be of assistance, Jack Miller offered to make inquiries with the neighbors, just in case one of them had information about Lily and Sarah’s disappearance. The first stop that Jack made was at Old Man Pearson’s farm. While Jack waited for Arnie Pearson to answer the front door, he noticed a small ragtag gang of scarecrows propped against Arnie’s equally weather-beaten porch swing. The disheveled band consisted of one large adult-sized scarecrow—clad in overalls and a green flannel shirt—and two small child-sized hay bodies that were dressed in oversized sweatshirts and sun-bleached jeans. The bigger one no longer had a mouth on his pillowcase face, but the two smaller ones both had frowning mouths fashioned from old red felt. Finally, Arnie Pearson answered the door. He wore his reading glasses yet he had no shoes on his feet.
Jack cleared his throat loudly. “Excuse me Arnie, I’m sorry to bother you, but have you seen the Judson girls? They didn’t return home from a Halloween party last night. May and Bud are worried sick.”
“The Judson girls? No, I haven’t seen them in a couple of weeks.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. I may be going deaf, but my eyesight is still good,” Pearson replied with a humph.
“Okay. Thanks. Sorry to trouble you.” Jack turned to leave, but when he did, the hay trio caught his attention again. “Your scarecrows are in pretty rough shape.”
Old Man Pearson nodded his head in agreement. “You’re telling me! It was the darndest thing. I was walking old Jasper early this morning when I discovered my big one in the middle of Sugar Mill Road with the two little ones. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how mine ended up there.”
“It was probably some older kids going around ripping down scarecrows. You know the kind of mischief that they get themselves into on Halloween weekend.”
Old Man Pearson stroked his hickory hued beard with his fingertips while pondering what Jack Miller had said. “Yeah, I never thought about that. Anyways, harvest season is over, so there’s no need to keep them up over the winter. I’ll re-stuff them next summer and put them back out.”
“That sounds good. Look, I’ve got to get going and keep knocking on doors. May and Bud are worried sick…like I said.”
“Sure thing. Good luck finding the Judson girls. Let me know if I can be of any help.”
“I’ll do that.”
Jack waved goodbye, got into his car, and drove off. Old Man Pearson stood on his front porch until Jack’s car faded completely from view. Then, he turned to the three scarecrows with a bemused look on his face. “Have you seen the Judson girls?” he wryly asked the two smaller ones. “It seems that you were out last night too.”
When the two little scarecrows didn’t respond, a deep throaty chuckle emerged from Old Man Pearson’s mouth.
“I guess you’re not talking, are ya?”
Old Man Pearson opened the front door with the intention of returning to his plate of hashed browns and eggs, hoping that they were still warm. As he walked back into the kitchen, Lily and Sarah screamed for help at the top of their lungs, but Old Man Person couldn’t hear them through their functionless felt mouths.
No one would ever hear them again.