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Title: The Dangerous Scarecrow

Author: Carl Jacobi

Release date: September 27, 2021 [eBook #66394]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


They were two very ordinary strawmen on
adjacent farms. Nice playmates for a couple of
imaginative kids. Then Jimmy gave a knife to—

The Dangerous Scarecrow

By Carl Jacobi

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
August 1954
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

Both Mr. Maudsley and Mr. Trask were resplendent that October evening. Mr. Maudsley stood deep in the cornfield, overall trousers ballooning in the wind, one hand nailed to a pie-tin that caught the moonlight and reflected it like a mirror. While across the road the hat of Mr. Trask was bright with the strip of foil Jimmy had fastened to it that morning.

From the rear seat of the car Jimmy looked down upon the two figures as the road wound between the shocked fields.

Next to him his sister, Stella, said, "Mr. Trask looks fine tonight. I think he likes the silver ribbon you gave him."

Jimmy nodded. "Mr. Maudsley looks good too. See the way his hand shines?"

In the driver's seat as he twisted the wheel to avoid a rut in the road, grey-haired Mr. Tapping coughed and glanced at his wife.

"What are those kids whispering about?"

The whispers died abruptly, and the car rattled over Goose Creek bridge and began the long climb to the Tapping farm.

They stopped at the roadside mailbox, but there was no mail; then they were rolling up the cedar-lined lane, past the silo, past the barn, into the farmyard.

Stella went into the house with her mother, but Jimmy remained with his father to open the garage doors. He snapped the big padlock shut after the car was put away, made a vain attempt to catch Higgins, the cat, and followed Mr. Tapping up the porch steps into the house. Upstairs in his room half an hour later, he undressed reluctantly and climbed into bed, wide awake. He lay there listening to the old house creak and groan in the night wind.

From the distance came the mournful wail of a train whistle.

Presently Jimmy got out of bed, crossed to the window and stood looking out into the moonlight. Below him he could see his ball bat leaning against a tree, looking strangely white against the shadows. Beyond was the outline of a mounted horseman, the pump, and beyond that the grey circular walls of the silo pointed upward like a castle tower. Something caught Jimmy's eye, made him look to the east. He looked again, then moved to the table and rummaged through the drawer until he found the silver spyglass his father had given him last Christmas. He carried the glass back to the window, pushed the window open and peered out.

In the bright moonlight he could see Mr. Maudsley clearly. And a little farther on he could see Mr. Trask. Two silent figures alone in the cornfields.

The boy lowered the glass, wiped the lens on his sleeve, and carefully focused again. A puzzled frown furrowed his face. Save for the flapping of his trousers in the wind, Mr. Maudsley stood motionless, as of course he should. But Mr. Trask.... A passing cloud slid over the moon, darkening the landscape. In the few seconds before it brought complete blackness Jimmy thought he saw Mr. Trask kick up his heels, leap high in the air and begin to dance a rigadoon over the shocked corn.

At breakfast next morning Jimmy waited impatiently for his sister to come downstairs. He hoped she would get to the table before his father because with Papa present he couldn't talk, and he wanted to talk. When at last Stella took her chair, he stretched his foot under the table and kicked her slightly.

"I've got a secret," he whispered.

"Tell it to me," said Stella.

"It's a big secret."

"If you won't tell, I won't give you any of my Flinch candy."

Jimmy was silent a moment as he gave this thought. Then he leaned forward and whispered,

"Mr. Trask moved last night."

"He always moves," replied Stella, unimpressed.

"I mean really moved. Toward Mr. Maudsley."

Stella choked on her porridge and the spoon all but slipped from her hand. She stared with wide open eyes. "He didn't."

Their whispers broke off as Mr. Tapping strode across the kitchen and took his place at the head of the table. A heavy-set unimaginative man who seldom entered into conversation with the children, he eyed them speculatively. But he said nothing and began to eat his eggs and thick strips of bacon. He ate slowly and methodically, keeping his eyes to the table. When he had finished his coffee, he settled back to light his pipe. He passed the match back and forth across the bowl with quiet deliberation.

"Who's Mr. Maudsley and who's Mr. Trask?"

His wife smiled. "Those are just the names the children have given the scarecrows."

"What scarecrows?"

"The one in our field and the one on Edmund's land."

Mr. Tapping considered this while strong curls of strong tobacco smoke rose about him.

"Why those names? Why not Brown and Smith?"

"Because those are their names," explained Stella patiently.

Mr. Tapping cogitated on the mysteries of the juvenile mind. Abruptly he remembered the section of pasture fence that needed repairing and got to his feet.

But it was nearly noon before he got around to fence fixing, and then he had but one wire stapled when he heard a "halloo" and, turning, saw old Jason Southby hobbling across the field toward him.

Jimmy, who was holding the wire for his father, let go the pliers and joined Stella who was trying to capture a bumble bee in a fruit jar.

"Howdy," said old Jason, reaching the fence. "Got a couple of helpers, I see."

Mr. Tapping smiled and nodded his greeting.

"I came over to ask if you're goin' to post your property for no-huntin' this year."

"Don't think so," replied Mr. Tapping. "Aren't many grouse, and I don't expect there'll be many hunters."

"No," agreed old Jason, "the birds are dyin' out. It ain't like the old days."

Mr. Tapping nodded.

"Remember when Maudsley was here. Things was different then."

"Who did you say?" said Mr. Tapping.

"Maudsley," repeated old Jason. "He owned your farm twenty ... thirty years ago."

Mr. Tapping shook his head. Maudsley, eh? Jimmy and Stella must have heard the name from one of the neighbors' children.

"Yep," continued old Jason. "Maudsley had this place, and Trask rented the strip across the road."


"Quite a story about them two."

Mr. Tapping said nothing. There would be no hurrying old Jason; and no stopping him either. The man obviously had a tale to tell, and he was enjoying every moment of this prelude. He bit off a piece of plug tobacco, chewed a moment and spat.

"It was corn that started it," he said. "Maudsley was a great one to fool around with hybrids, and he worked out an early variety he called Maudsley Number two. That ain't bein' planted any more, but in those days it was well thought of.

"Then Trask moves into the farm across the road. Trask was from down south, from around New Orleans way, and he was fired up with all sorts of backwoods stuff. Pretty soon he began to fight with Maudsley about how good his hybrid corn was. Seems Trask believed the only way to grow good crops was by usin' voodoo spells. Got so them two couldn't come into sight of each other without startin' an argument. One day Trask got so mad he let his cattle loose in Maudsley's cornfield. That settled it. Maudsley headed for Trask's place, armed with a double-barreled shotgun. But before he got there, Trask made himself invisible."

"He did what?" demanded Mr. Tapping.

"Well anyway, that's the story Maudsley spread around. Funny thing is, folks believed him. He said Trask, bein' from New Orleans country, knew all sorts of voodoo spells, and he said that Trask, bein' afraid, had cast a spell over himself to make himself vanish. 'Course some persons were suspicious and the sheriff asked Maudsley some questions. But Maudsley proved his shotgun hadn't been fired, and no one had seen him commit any crime. Trask was never seen around these parts again. After that Maudsley got to actin' sorta queer: lookin' over his shoulder, talkin' to himself. Then one day he up and cleared out, and the next anything was heard of him he had moved south to New Orleans, the very place Trask had come from. Maudsley is still down there; he wouldn't come back even long enough to complete the sale of his farm." Jason's voice died off as he reached the end of his story.

"Did you hear what he said?" said Jimmy in a low voice.

"Sure." Stella rose triumphant from capturing her bumble bee. "I knew it all the time."

It rained the next night and even with the spyglass Jimmy could see nothing in the cornfields. But he knew the two scarecrows were out there, and he could imagine them standing in the rain with beads of water dripping from their hats. The muddy water would be running in rivulets between the rows of shocked corn and when the lightning flashed the shocks would gleam dully like so many stacked guns at an army encampment.

Next day after lunch Jimmy drew his sister aside.

"If you don't tell anybody I'll show you the present I've got for Mr. Maudsley. Promise?"

"I promise," said Stella.

Jimmy led the way into the barn and in the rear near one of the horse stalls, swept aside a covering of hay. He picked up a long rusty knife and displayed it with an air of pride. Stella was disappointed.

"Just an old knife."

"It's a voodoo knife, that's what it is. See the way the handle is carved."

Stella looked and saw a yellowed handle of what once might have been ivory, carved in the shape of a running goat with several quasi-human faces low down near the hilt.

"What are you going to do with it?" she said.

"I told you. Give it to Mr. Maudsley. It's his."

"How do you know it's his?"

"This is Mr. Maudsley's barn, isn't it? Besides, it was near his other stuff."

Stella was not enthusiastic. "Papa won't like it. He got mad when you nailed that pie-tin to Mr. Maudsley's hand."

"Papa won't know a thing about it. Come on."

It was hot in the cornfield. The morning sun beat down fiercely and the air smelled of damp earth. The ground between the rows of stubble was marked with tiny channels the running water had cut the night before. But the shocks were dry again and in the slight breeze they whispered and rustled gently. The two children made a bee-line for the center of the field until they came to the two cross boards that served as a framework for the scarecrow.

The scarecrow was fashioned of some old clothing which had once belonged to a fat man—overalls, a coat of what might have been a Sunday suit at one time, and an ancient felt hat—castaways which the children had found in the barn. The cardboard face, marked in black crayon, a little blurred now from the rain, had been copied by Jimmy from an old photograph the boy had come upon among some old papers when he had cleaned out the attic. Jimmy had decided that even a crow wouldn't be fooled by a faceless scarecrow.

Jimmy was about to climb the upright shaft when Stella stopped him.

"Wait," she said. "Let's not give Mr. Maudsley the knife."

"Why not? It's his."

"Let's give it to Mr. Trask."

The boy's jaw dropped as the enormity of the idea grew upon him. Then he uttered a squeal of delight.

Laughing and giggling, the two children turned and ran down and vaulted the fence that enclosed the aisle of shocks to the road and adjacent field.

Five minutes later the second scarecrow brandished a knife at the end of one of its handless sleeves.

But as Jimmy came out on the road again, he looked across at Mr. Maudsley. In full view in the sunlight, it wasn't a cardboard face now; it was a round full face, with great folds of fat, and it was twisted in an expression of stark fear.

For three nights the skies over the Tapping farm were black, and a cold wind huffing down from the north kept the children indoors where they played endless games of parchesi. On the fourth night the moon broke through the clouds.

Jimmy, squatting by the window, the spyglass to his eye, stared out at the two scarecrows. At intervals he thought he saw Mr. Trask descend from the mounting pole, leap up over the shocks and begin his strange dance. But at the instant those capers began, the clouds always managed to blot out the light, and the boy never could be sure if it was a trick of his eye or the glass.

And then Jimmy observed two things. With him in his gyrations Mr. Trask carried the knife, and as he darted back and forth, he edged almost imperceptibly toward Mr. Maudsley.

The boy watched a long time to confirm his fears. Then he turned and ran to his sister's room.

"Mr. Trask is getting closer," he said. "You'd better come see."

At the window Stella spent several moments focusing the glass. Slowly her body went rigid, and she uttered a hoarse exclamation.

"He's going to kill Mr. Maudsley."

The boy nodded, his eyes shining with terror.

"We've got to try and stop him!"

She turned and ran down the stairs and through the lower floor rooms to the back door. Jimmy ran after her. Crossing the yard, they sped halfway down the lane, then pushed through the cedar windbreak and veered toward the cornfield. Pumpkins, golden in the moonlight, rose up on either side as they raced up the incline.

Suddenly Stella drew up short. "Look!"

Mr. Trask had crossed the road and now was coming full tilt through the row of shocks. Jimmy, arms spread wide, threw himself forward to block the onrushing figure's path. He had a brief impression of a blurred shadow bowling toward him and passing through him while he struck out with his small fists ineffectually. Behind there was a ripping of cloth and a hoarse scream.

Stella came running to where Jimmy stood. Together they saw two shadows locked in an incredible embrace. Like a scythe raised aloft, Mr. Trask's knife swept downward in a wide arc and with a quick stroke cut off Mr. Maudsley's head. Mr. Maudsley's hat flew up, Mr. Maudsley's head rolled off, and a thin cry of triumph welled up and faded.

And then there was nothing, except that Mr. Trask was back on one side of the fence, and Mr. Maudsley was on the other, minus his head, of course.

"Gee!" said Stella.

"Golly!" said Jimmy. He ran over to pick up Mr. Maudsley's hat; Jimmy tried to put Mr. Maudsley's head back but somehow it wouldn't stick.

"We'll fix it in the morning," said Jimmy.

At the edge of the field Jimmy paused and caught his sister's arm anxiously. "You won't tell, Stella?"

"No of course not."

"Cross your heart...?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

It was night of the next day and the children sat playing parchesi. Mrs. Tapping was knitting. Mr. Tapping, settled back in the platform rocker, was reading the newspaper aloud, as was his custom. Outside, Mr. Trask was in one field, and Mr. Maudsley was in the other; his head was back in place, but only tied on—it was not the same; it looked very dead, even though Jimmy and Stella had done their best.

"Any news?" asked Mrs. Tapping.

"Same old stuff. New taxes, one of them foreign countries talkin' big and threatenin' war," said Mr. Tapping. "One thing here, though—they found a fellow with his head cut off right in the middle of a city street."

"My land! Not here in Akerstown?"

Mr. Tapping laughed. "Lord, no! Happened way down in New Orleans."