Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
I should start by saying I hate theme parks. Carnivals, fairs, festivals, all of them. I mean, I have more reason than most to hate them, but I’ll get to that later. It’s just ever since I was a kid, I hated all of the noise and the lines and the screaming and… uhg it’s a lot.
When it comes to what’s “fun”, crashing around on a loose minecart just to vomit the gross fried grease you dumped your cash for, doesn’t make my top ten. But I guess if anyone should be surprised that I agreed to go to the Fall Festival with my friend Quinn it should be me…
I argued against it. A lot. But they weren’t having it. Repeatedly, they said, “We haven’t done anything fun together in forever! We HAVE to do this!”
There’s that word again. “Fun”.
I gave in. Not because I thought it’d be “fun” but because they were right. Quinn was my best friend, and we hadn’t seriously hung out in over a year. A year, one week and four days to be exact…
That’s… when my sister went missing. Evie.
She was two years older than me, twenty-three. She was out with two of her friends, bar hopping at first before… going to the Fall Festival.
I don’t think Quinn was trying to be insensitive- I mean, I know they weren’t. They forgot. It’s not their fault. A lot of people forgot. It was “Missing Sister” for one week then “They closed Maymeadow Mall!” for two months after. People cared more about finding a place to burn their paycheck than finding my sister.
And I guess they don’t know if she went missing at the fair or if she took an Uber to another bar, her friends were too trashed to remember but… yeah.
I don’t like theme parks.
I didn’t bring it up to Quinn though. They seemed too happy and it would have just made them sad and they would suggest we do something else until I was “ready” but when am I ever going to be ready?
I needed to do this… I want to do this.
So, we’re here on a weekend. Big mistake, the crowds are always bigger. But I guess the weather’s good. We pay the absurd entry fee, and the cashier stamps a perky pumpkin on our skin as if to say “Congratulations! You may enter!”
As if I want to be here. I mean- I do! I do…
I let Quinn lead. They’re waaaay more into this than I am. Of course, the first line they drag me to is the food line… after we just ate too. I swear they were born with two stomachs.
I don’t have much of an appetite right now so I just wait for Quinn to finish devouring their elephant ear before we head off in the direction of the tallest ride. Just looking at it, the “Seismic Shaker” has more twists and turns than I can count. For a machine that’s disassembled, packed up, unpacked, and reassembled every year it’s a bit impressive… and a bit concerning. The line is a bit unreal but at least Quinn keeps me company. We’re just talking about life, jobs, and all that crap but I keep getting distracted. Every now and then I catch my eyes drifting around the crowd. I don’t realize it at first but I’m constantly looking… looking for her.
Quinn’s halfway through telling me how someone scraped their car when Evie? Oh my God! She’s here!
I’m already breaking ahead of the line and yelling as loud as I can, “EVIE! EVIE!” Everyone’s looking at me like I’m mad as I push them aside and she turns around too but…
No… no no no…
The woman I thought- this stranger looks at me like I’ve gone insane. I can already feel the heat well up in my eyes. I mutter an apology before running away, Quinn, chasing after me. When they finally catch up I’m in full on tears. Quinn is saying something to me, I think it’s an apology, but I can’t hear them over the NOISE and SCREAMING. EVERYONE SCREAMING!
“I can’t! I can’t!” It’s all I can say before making a break for the exit.
I wasn’t aiming for anywhere. If I was thinking clearly maybe I would have gone for the car. But obviously, I was not thinking clearly. I just needed to get away from that place, from those thoughts.
I start to calm down maybe a half mile from the fair. I realize I’ve gone past the dirt road that leads behind the fairgrounds. Ahead of me there’s nothing but an empty field of tall grass. A little farther out, I can see where the trees grow into the forest. Looking behind me, the peak of the Ferris wheel tips above decayed sunflowers and whittled grass.
I should go back. Quinn’s probably worrying about me right now. Uhg I’m so stupid. Why did I think Evie would- That after a year she
I just need more time. Quinn’s better off enjoying the fair and I’m better off alone. I check my phone to see several missed messages from Quinn.
“I’m fine. I just needed to take a walk.” I hit send.
I continue towards the tree line, wading through the green grass and patches of dead plants. The further I go the easier it is for me to forget the fair. The Ferris wheel is hidden now and the roar of crowds has faded away. I’m careful how far out I go. I’ve heard plenty of talk about a rising wolf population that the local wildlife center has been trying to keep under control. Suddenly I’m hyper aware of where I’m placing my steps.
What if there are bear traps out here?! Do they place bear traps for wolves? If I got hurt would anyone know where to find me? Would anyone rescue me?
That must have been what she thought… I’m sorry Evie. I’m sorry I didn’t find you. I can feel tears starting to return when there’s a sound.
It sounded like a twig or something. The grass starts to move to the right, coming closer and closer. I wait for my fight or flight to kick in but I’m just stuck there watching the strands of green shuffle nearer. Jumping out of the grass and quickly darting away is… a small furry animal. A fox. It was a young fox.
Ha! Of course. I bet no one comes out here. The little guy must have been just as startled to see me. I glance over to where the fox was, and I notice something odd.
Out here, the grass is higher than me but just above it all there’s something poking out. It almost looks like a hat. In fact, it is a hat! I start to get nervous all over again thinking about just how inhumanly tall this person had to be but then I realize they’re not moving.
I’m not sure if that scares me more or less but as I stand still and the hat stands still I regain some confidence. Slowly, I move a bit closer. I slide through the grass, coming within ten feet of them. Once again reality overthrows my wild suspicions as I come face to face with a scarecrow.
Jeez, by how much I’m scaring myself I think I’m good to skip Halloween. Still, the “scarecrow” is kind of… freaky. I guess I’m no farmer but I always pictured a scarecrow wearing a straw hat and overalls. This thing is dressed almost like a Macy’s mannequin. Sun hat, burgundy scarf, and a faded brown button coat. It looks like they’re even wearing undergarments. That’s a lot of designer commitment for a single scarecrow.
And what’s up with its face? It almost looks like… what the?
I tear away at bits of the straw and ripped burlap stitched over its head. Underneath there’s the smooth plastic surface of a mannequin head. Holy crap. It really is a mannequin! Or parts of one at least. It looks like it’s missing a leg piece and one of its arms. Are all scarecrows made this way? That seems like waaay too much work for a thing you’ll just hide in a field. And also, why is it all the way out here? There’s not a single farm for miles.
While I’m curiously poking at this thing before me, I start to get this… sense. Like a third eye or something, I feel like I’m being watched. I look around me searching for the source of this feeling when I spot another one. Another scarecrow… And then another… and another…
Five scarecrows, all near each other and all dressed in common clothing.
But one of them stands out. One that wears a familiar leather jacket. I rush over to the mock costume of my own sister and just stare.
It can’t- her jacket… No. No! You’re overreacting. You just need to calm down.
Is this someone’s idea of a joke? It was those freaks! The ones that were on the news! They staged all those mannequins in the forest last year! Did they see her picture on TV and dress up this thing just for a cruel laugh? No, no it’s- it’s a common jacket. It’s probably just a coincidence. Just a coincidence…
I wish it was more than a coincidence… “I wish I found you,” I say aloud.
I inspect the scarecrow and see it’s made the same as the others. My hand brushes along the leather sleeve and I wonder where Evie would be right now if she were still here. She would probably be at the fair. Maybe I would be with her for once. She always asked me if I wanted to go but… I was always “maybe later” or “next time.”
I wish I went with her that day. I wish I was with her…
I take a deep breath and pretend like I’m not a mess of emotions. “Well,” I say to the scarecrow, “I’m here with you now.”
I don’t think it’s weird. Sitting next to an inanimate object and pretending someone’s with you. Like, people do that with gravestones and stuff. Technically we have a memorial for Evie but… I don’t do “memorial visits”. As someone who doesn’t believe in the afterlife I’m not- or wasn’t ready to say my sister was… gone.
I sit in front of the scarecrow just on the ground. The cold October earth is a little damp, but I don’t mind. I’m not sure what to really say so I just start.
“Hey Evie, it’s me…”
I talk about my day; about Quinn, the fair, and how I found this place. And I talk about how much I miss her; how family has been different without them. Then I just talk about what we would talk about; our mutual hate for sports and dad’s newest DIY-project-gone-wrong. It’s nice just to talk even if there’s no one there to listen…
I’ve been out for a while now and it’s getting kind of dark… I guess I should go… What was that?
It stopped. It sounded like someone moving through the- wait… someone’s there.
“Oh, sorry I’m just leaving…” I can barely see them in the dark, but it looks like they’re carrying something. They don’t respond but instead just look at me. The thing on their back almost looks like a cross. But there’s something on it like… a scarecrow.
A chill curls up my spine as I suddenly realize just how vulnerable I am. What should I say? My voice flinches as I speak, “Are you the one who made these?”
I point towards the scarecrow and the stranger follows my finger towards the stuffed figure beside me. Then his head whips back to me. They heave the newer scarecrow off of their shoulders and stomp towards me in stride. I back away.
“I’m sorry, I’m going- please I just…!”
The heavy crunching of grass beneath their boots races closer. Each step rings like a shot at the starting line. I can’t. I can’t. Please don’t…
They’re nearly on top of me but then…
He stops. I’m frozen in place, but he doesn’t move. He turns his head and now I can hear it too. Behind him there is a crazed raking sound. Upon the wooden pillar, the scarecrow wearing the leather jacket… is moving.
It convulses in a violent seizure, pulling and thrashing until… it falls!
Crumpled and on the ground, the Evie scarecrow… bends up… like a tangled marionette. As it does, there comes a sound like someone choking on a muffled groan. Its body is convulsing and trembling as it takes an awkward step forward. Shambling closer, I can see the seams of its plastic skeleton splitting through the straw. Soaking through the surface is something oozing and red. Suddenly, I’m caught in the stench of muggy roadkill.
The thing dressed like my sister releases another constricted scream. The stranger turns to face the creature, knife ready to kill. All at once though, he’s seized by another spasming scarecrow. The Evie-Monster faces me now and finally, I force my legs to run!
I can’t see where I’m going. Blades of grass are whipping at my face as I try to dodge the sounds of dead things twitching to life. I can hear the stranger raging after me. I can’t stop. The Ferris wheel. Where is the Ferris-?!
DAMMIT! Get off me! Tripping over, I kick towards a burgundy scarf where a crawling scarecrow has latched its one hand around my ankle. It releases with ease, and I scramble backwards.
That fall was all the stranger needed to catch up. Blood staining his knife, he steps forward. The crawling horror wheezes and reaches for the stranger. He kicks it aside and moves right for me. Nearly on top of me I see his face. His scarred lip reveals shark-like teeth, and his coal black eyes reach for my life.
Sounds rustle from every direction. Emerging from the grass, the remaining scarecrows encircle us, tightening their trap. The maniac swipes at the air as if to scare them off but they continue their slow shamble.
Coming straight for me is one of the scarecrows, bruised and bleeding. The leather jacket is tattered with wounds, but its host remains whole. I shield myself right as it’s about to attack and then…
It passes by… The six scarecrows surround the stranger. He pushes, beats, and stabs at them as they enclose. Limbs wrestle for hold and wrench him to the ground. I ran away but not before seeing the stranger tear one of the mannequin heads from its body.
The straining groans of my pursuer linger at my back. C’mon, where’s the Ferris wheel?! I race through the maze of grass, desperately searching for some sort of landmark. Craning my neck over the tall grass I finally see… a light… Hundreds of lights. The turning peak of the Ferris wheel rose to view. At the same time, a circus fanfare relieves my heavy breathing.
I made it Evie. I made-
WwhEere… am I? Dark… everything is so…
Why do I… hurt all over…
Evie? Evie is that-!?
No. You’re not- the scarecrow. I’m still in the field. I- I gotta get away! I-
Why can’t I move? I’m tied to something… Oh God! No! HELP! HELP ME!
What is that?!? Is that me?! Auck! I- I can’t- I can’t breathe! Hurt…
Evie… Ev –