Summary: The Cartwright boys build a scarecrow for the Harvest Festival. Little do they realize how one scarecrow on display in the middle of the schoolyard could cause such trouble.
Rating: K (4,060 words)
“Are ya ready to see it, pa?” A very anxious Joe Cartwright peered in from the front door and steadied his gaze towards his father. He was sitting in his favorite chair near the fireplace. Ben Cartwright immediately lowered his book and eyed his son.
“You bet I am,” he stated with enthusiasm, slamming the book closed and then setting it upon the table as he arose. “You three sure have been working hard on completing it in time for the Harvest Festival.
The 7 year old pushed the door open wider as if to encourage his father to hasten his step. “Come on, pa. Adam and Hoss are out in the barn putting the finishing touches on him right now.” He then scurried out of sight with his father following closely behind. Joe raced ahead towards the barn door, announcing to his brothers, “Here he comes… here he comes,” before grabbing the door and disappearing inside. A moment later, his father entered through the same door and was greeted by a much anticipated sight. There in the middle of the barn attached to a pole was a very carefully made scarecrow. He wore an old black hat and his face was made out of a gunny sack. He saw the world through two button eyes separated by a brightly painted triangular nose. His mouth wore a casual expression of one that would be lackadaisical in nature. Just like any scarecrow that spent his days guarding a field from its enemies.
His puffy straw legs were covered with a pair of worn out pants that Ben could tell was donated by his middle son. They were tied by a thick rope around his waist, and knotted in a way that assured they would never be removed again. His chest wore a plaid flannel shirt with a pocket right over the spot where his heart should be. Each arm was topped off with straw at the cuffs and two work gloves formed his hands.
“Well, well…” Ben chuckled as he eyed his son’s work up and down. “I must say that’s the finest scarecrow I’ve ever seen.” His two youngest sons straightened tall at his words of praise with broad smiles abound. Adam, his oldest, remained knelt down in front of the scarecrow, obviously working on the scarecrow’s feet.
“There!” He announced loudly as he stood up and stepped to the side for all to see. “A scarecrow must have good walking shoes in case he has to chase after those crows.”
All eyes gazed downward where two worn out boots were attached to his feet.
“How’d ya get them to stay on, Adam?” Hoss looked down in amazement at his brother’s handy work.
“Oh, I just bore a hole in the soles and ran a wooden pole up each leg. Then I twisted each boot on through the hole and hammered a wedge into the bottom of the pole so that the shoe wouldn’t fall off.”
Hoss just shook his head. “I don’t know how you think of such things anyway.” Then he turned his attention back to his father.
“We plan to bring it down to the school tomorrow morning, pa. Ms. Johnson wants to put it in the school yard as the center of the decorations.”
“Yeah, pa,” Joe piped up with enthusiasm. “Adam said he would take us to school in the wagon in the morning. I can’t wait until all the kids see it.”
Ben lifted an eyebrow and turned his gaze towards Adam, “Oh, he did… did he?”
Adam’s eyes shifted downward as he walked over towards his father rather sheepishly. “I said I’d take them, pa only if you can find a way to give me a couple hours late start on that fence work that needs to be done.”
“Oh, I see…” Ben chuckled as he rested his arm on his oldest son’s shoulders. “I guess that fence can wait a FEW hours.” The 19 year old smiled at his father in a knowing sort of way and offered a simple, “Thanks, pa.”
“Can I help you load him in the wagon, boys?” Ben clapped his hands together in his excitement of having the opportunity to be a participant.
Adam was quick to reply. “That’s okay, pa. We still have a few things to finish up and then we’ll probably let him stay upright until morning.
Ben’s face showed mild disappointment, but he understood. “Very well then, I expect you boys to finish up within the hour and get to bed. You have a busy day tomorrow.” He then turned and strolled out of the barn into the crisp fall night air.
The next morning, Adam took Joe and Hoss to school. They were the first to arrive and hurried into the school house to get their teacher. Ms. Johnson came out and praised them for their hard work. The scarecrow was in his new location in the center of the schoolyard before any of the children arrived. Adam wished Joe and Hoss well and set off to keep his promise to his father about the fence. The students soon began arriving and the scarecrow immediately drew a crowd. Everyone gathered around him to take a closer look.
There were a lot of “Wows!” and, “Oohs and aahs” from most of their classmates and Joe and Hoss were very proud and accepted their words of praise. When Ms. Johnson started guiding the children back towards the schoolhouse, a few of the boys hung back and made sure they were behind Joe and Hoss. Just as soon as the teacher was far enough away, they started a conversation of their own.
“Hey, Mark,” Timothy Michaels turned to his best friend. “I don’t think that scarecrow is anything special, do you?”
“No, I don’t Tim. It looks like it was made by a bunch of girls.”
Joe’s expression instantly turned to anger. He spun around to confront them. “You guys are just jealous the teacher asked us to make it and not you.”
“Jealous…of that?” Timothy laughed out loud. “Cartwright I can assure you that that piece of junk is just a rat’s nest for mice.” He then tapped his friend’s arm and added, “Come on, Mark. We don’t want Ms. Johnson to think we’re dawdling.” The two boys than ran ahead of them and scurried into the schoolhouse.
Hoss could see their little game had worked on his brother. “Don’t let those guys get to ya, Joe. They’re always trying to get ya riled.”
Joe said nothing, but he wanted to run after Timothy and knock him down to the ground, but then he remembered what happened the last time he chose to take matters in his own hands. Let’s just say his father made it very clear that fighting for any reason would not be tolerated at school. Joe pounded his fist into his hand and turned around to look at the scarecrow. “Don’t pay any attention to those two bags of worms,” he uttered before turning away and heading inside with his brother. The scarecrow was left alone.
“I see through my button eyes that there’s trouble in the field. I know not what this trouble will bring, but trouble there will be.”
The children just loved their new friend and soon it became a custom to gather at the scarecrow’s feet to eat lunch or chat with friends. The schoolyard slowly became more decorative with other students’ projects, but the scarecrow seemed to be everyone’s favorite attraction. Well, everyone except Mark and Timothy. They tried to get the kids to come over to their side and make fun of him, but when no one came, their teasing stopped. But then…
The scarecrow suddenly changed. One morning, the children found their friend in a different state of mind. His mouth had been altered into a hideous scowl. When Joe and Hoss arrived, all the kids were gathered around staring at the transformation. Joe immediately dropped his books to the ground and went over to Timothy and Mark.
“You had no right to do that!” He shouted at them as he stood erect with his fists clenched tight.
“Now hold on, Cartwright… I didn’t touch your stupid old scarecrow,” Timothy was quick to retort as he took a step away from Joe.
“Yeah, we were only joshing you is all. We’d never do anything to him,” Mark added.
“You did, too!” Joe accused and he was just about to take a swing at the boy’s face when he felt his teacher’s hands upon his shoulders.
“What’s this all about, boys?”
Joe was so angry that he couldn’t even answer. He stood there glaring.
Hoss was quick to step up alongside his brother. “Someone changed the scarecrow’s face, Ms. Johnson and Joe thinks it was Mark and Timothy.”
The teacher’s eyes turned towards the scarecrow to analyze the damage before turning back towards them. “What do you have to say for yourselves, boys?”
“We didn’t touch it, ma’am, honest,” Mark answered.
“Just because we haven’t been gushing all over him like the rest of you doesn’t mean we’d try to do something to him,” Tim added in their defense.
The schoolyard fell quiet as all eyes stared at the two boys.
“I’m telling ya, we didn’t’ do it,” Mark announced pleadingly to break the silence.
Ms. Johnson tapped Joe on the shoulder. “All right, children. It’s a shame this had to happen, but we can’t accuse people unless we have proof of their involvement. Joe, do you have any proof that Mark or Timothy did this to the scarecrow?”
Joe hung his head. “No ma’am, but I know they did it and that’s good enough for me.”
Ms. Johnson turned to her class. “Go inside now, children,” she directed and everyone started walking towards the schoolhouse. Hoss came up to his brother.
“We can fix him, Joe. He’ll look just as good as new.”
Ms. Johnson patted Joe’s shoulder and turned him towards the schoolhouse.
“Your brother is right, Joseph. You can take the scarecrow’s head home with you tonight and bring him back tomorrow. No harm done.”
“No harm done,” Joe muttered under his breath. “I’ll get even with them if it’s the last thing I do.”
“I see through my button eyes a lantern comes towards me through the darkness of the night. It sways calmly back and forth in front of my face, blinding me… blinding me…I know not who or what is there.”
The scarecrow was back to his humble self the next day, but what had happened produced a buzz around the schoolyard and soon stories began being told. Some kids said that when a scarecrow is altered in some way, his spirit rises and walks around looking for the one that marred him. Others said that there was something evil building up inside of the scarecrow that would eventually take control of its whole body, and when that happened, terrible things would begin happening.
These stories kept building and building and soon the children were afraid of the scarecrow that stood in the center of their schoolyard. They practiced the art of avoidance at all costs and they turned their fears into anger towards Joe and Hoss for even bringing the scarecrow to school in the first place.
One morning, the children found footprints in the dirt matching the scarecrow’s boots. The laid out path went all around the schoolyard, stopping at various places and causing damage wherever they stopped. A small tree had been ripped out of the ground. Amongst the now wilting branches, lay strands of straw. The see saw had been cut into two pieces and in the sawdust lay one button eye. The side of the schoolhouse had been vandalized as well with a message, “I will find you,” written in bright red paint. Those brave enough to approach the now one-eyed scarecrow, discovered a paintbrush dripping in its hand. These actions brought the sheriff, Roy Coffee, to the schoolhouse for a well needed lecture.
“Now, I’m only going to say this once, kids. This foolishness stops now!” Roy paused to slam his hand down on the teacher’s desk for emphasis. “What has happened here is a crime, not a joke. Whoever is responsible has broken the law and I intend to find out just who that person or persons are.”
The sheriff adjusted his hat upon his head as he eyed the class over. Everyone stared back with fearful widened eyes. They knew the sheriff meant what he said.
“Thank you, Sheriff Coffee. I’m sure we will not have any more trouble. The children have agreed to come to school on Saturday to help paint over the damage and Mr. Cartwright has agreed to replace the tree and the seesaw for us.” Ms. Johnson escorted the sheriff to the back of the school house.
“Thank you, Roy. I didn’t know what to do.”
“You are welcome, ma’am. I guarantee you I will find out who did this and justice will be served.” The sheriff then walked out of the room.
“I see through my one button eye very little. I feel my body moving… moving yet I move nowhere.”
That afternoon as Joe and Hoss were walking home from school, Joe asked his brother, “Do you think the stories are true?”
Hoss glanced nervously down at his brother and offered a curt, “Of course not, Joe.”
“But how do you know that, Hoss?”
“I don’t, Joe. But I do know that I don’t think Mark and Timothy would take that kind of risk and do all that damage.”
“Yeah, I know,” Joe admitted before adding, “But they looked pretty scared when the sheriff was talking to us to day.”
“Well, I looked pretty scared too, Joe.”
Hoss and Joe walked side by side in complete silence for some time.
“Hoss,” Joe finally said carefully. “Maybe we should sneak out one night and just see if we can see anything.”
This statement stopped his older brother dead in his tracks. He spun around and faced Joe. “Are you nuts or something? Pa would skin us alive!”
Joe hung his head. “Not if we didn’t get caught. I mean we could sneak out, take a look and return before anyone knew we were gone.”
Hoss let out a laugh. “You make it sound so easy. No, no… I don’t want any part of it.” He then turned away and started walking towards home.
Joe ran to catch up. “But someone has to do something about it, Hoss. The Harvest Festival is only two days away. You heard the kids. They said they weren’t coming unless the scarecrow was taken away. We’ve ruined everyone’s fun by building him, so I think we need to do something.”
Hoss stopped once more,
“Yeah, we can mind our own business and let Sheriff Coffee take care of it.”
“Well, I’m going try at least if you’re too chicken.” Joe then took off running towards home, leaving his brother muttering about his “Doggone stubbornness.”
That evening after everyone had gone to bed; Joe snuck out of his window and shimmied down the trellis. He grabbed a lantern from the barn and was lighting it when he heard the barn door creak behind him. Joe spun around, afraid that it was his father or Adam. He was relieved to see that it was Hoss.
“I knew you’d come, Hoss,” he announced with enthusiasm.
“I don’t know how you talk me into such fool things, Joe.” He then helped his brother light the lantern and the two set off towards the schoolyard. When they arrived, the moon was full, casting eerie shadows upon the ground. There was a slight breeze that sent a chill down both boys’ spines. Hoss and Joe blew out the lantern and nestled in behind some bushes where they could wait and watch. Soon the wind began to blow harder and rain began to fall.
“Dad gum it, Joe. How we gonna explain to pa how our clothes got all wet?”
“Shhhh! I think I hear something.” Joe was quick to retort.
Both boys looked up.
“What was that?” Hoss announced.
Their mouths dropped open at the sight. The scarecrow was moving. Back and forth and back and forth as if to pry the pole that supported him out of the ground. Back and forth and back and forth they watched it move.
Hoss was the first to speak. “Let’s get out of here.”
The 13 year old sprung to his feet and grabbed his younger brother by the shoulder to hasten him. Both boys tore out from behind the bushes not looking at all where they were going. They ran full speed right into the sheriff and knocked him to the ground.
A single shot echoed out into the night then silence. Joe and Hoss looked down at the sheriff lying in a heap at their feet. He tilted his head upwards towards them as the rain pelted down upon him, making it difficult for him to see.
“Don’t you two even think of moving,” he uttered as he stood up covered in mud and damp dirt. He scooped his hat off the ground and grabbed his gun, placing it back in his holster.
Joe and Hoss bowed their heads and stood there trembling; waiting for the worst.
The sheriff was so angry he said nothing, and gruffly directed them towards the jail.
“I see through my one button eye very little. I feel my body moving… moving yet I move nowhere.”
Joe and Hoss sat in the sheriff’s office waiting. Sheriff Coffee had sent his deputy out to get their father. It was the longest wait of their entire lives. Roy had calmed down enough to speak with the boys.
“Now what were you two doing out there?”
Hoss swallowed hard, “Well, Mr. Coffee, um… Joe and I sort of feel like we’re to blame for what has been happening…”
“Oh I see,” Roy interrupted. “So you admit to being the ones that smashed the windows.”
“Windows!?” both boys exclaimed in surprise as the door to the jail opened swiftly and in walked a familiar figure draped in a huge raincoat.
Ben quickly hung the dripping wet garment on the coat hanger and spun around to face his sons.
“I came as quickly as I could, Roy. I hear you caught the culprits.”
Ben folded his arms and glared down at Hoss and Joe as rain dripped off the brim of his hat. Anger and disappointment exuded from his face.
“We didn’t do it, pa,” Joe managed to squeak out. “We … we just wanted to catch who did do it.”
“Yeah, pa. We were just hiding in the bushes waiting to see if anyone came.”
“Well, someone came alright, Ben. They smashed all the windows in the schoolhouse.”
“They what?” Ben’s voice boomed out as he took a step closer towards his sons.
“I can’t believe you two would do such a thing…” he began
“Pa, you gotta believe us. We didn’t do it,” Joe wailed as he buried his face in his hands. “We didn’t do it…”
Hoss immediately put his arm around his brother as a means to show their unity. “Pa, we’ve never lied to ya …really.”
Ben eyed his boys for a moment. He could tell that they were telling the truth.
“Roy, did you see anyone else out there?”
The sheriff looked up at Ben in surprise. “Anyone else? Ben, these two practically ran me over as they tried to flee. They’re as guilty as the day is long.”
Ben turned towards his sons. “Why were you running,” he asked coldly.
Hoss swallowed hard. “Well…” he began and then changed his mind. “You wouldn’t believe us if we told you anyway.”
Both boys hung their heads in defeat.
Ben knew his sons. He knew there was more to the story regardless of what the sheriff had said. He walked over to Joe and Hoss and bent down on one knee.
He lifted Hoss’ chin and looked directly into his eyes. “Tell me son. I’ll listen.”
Hoss’ eyes turned towards his brother but Ben guided them back upon him.
“It was the scarecrow, pa. It started moving back and forth…” Hoss paused to analyze his father’s expression. “It was moving, pa… and we got scared.”
Joe sniffed. “Pa we couldn’t do such things… please believe us.”
Ben rested his hand upon Joe’s shoulder. “I believe you son. I believe you.”
He then quickly arose and walked over for his raincoat. “You boys stay here.” He commanded.
“Come on, Roy.”
The sheriff arose out of instinct to the command. “What? You don’t mean we’re…”
“… It’s exactly what I mean. I think we need to have a little talk with that scarecrow.”
Ben pushed open the door and stepped out into the storm. It had subsided to the point of a calm drizzle. Soon Roy stepped out behind him and the two headed for the school yard. When they arrived, they found that more damage had been done to the school. Red paint spelled out the same message as before, “I will find y…” but this time the message was unfinished. The paint can lay in the dirt below. It was tipped over and splattered all over the ground. This definitely confirmed the innocence of Joe and Hoss.
“Someone left in a mighty big hurry,” Roy announced as he looked down upon the ground. There in the red paint was a shoe print that showed the path of the one who had departed.
Ben knew exactly where this path would lead, so he briskly walked over to the scarecrow and wasted little time in beginning a conversation.
“Well, Mr. Scarecrow, I do believe your mischievousness is about to come to an abrupt END!”
He stepped behind the scarecrow and lifted up his raincoat; quickly removing his belt. He then moved in closer and lined himself up with the scarecrow’s backside.
Roy had to stifle a laugh as Ben swung his hand back and then forward connecting the belt to the un-expecting scarecrow’s bottom. A howl of surprise shot out into the night air.
Whack! Whack! Whack!
The scarecrow shook from the impact and howled with each blow. Ben paused for a minute to ask, “What’s wrong scarecrow? I thought you were made of only straw.”
Whack! Whack! Whack!
Ben stepped back and allowed the sheriff to reach up through the back of the scarecrow and pull out a now very humbled young man. His hair and shirt were covered in straw and tears were streaming down his cheeks. He immediately thrust his hands back and began rubbing his bottom.
“Timothy Michaels! You are in a heap of trouble, young man.”
The boy began to wail and Roy showed no mercy.
“Come along now,” he said as he grabbed hold of the boy’s arm and led him towards the jail.
Ben followed behind.
“I see through my one-button eye that my friend has gone away; the one that understands me most and steps inside to play.”
Ben took Adam, Joe and Hoss to school the next morning. It was Saturday, and they all planned on working hard to get the school back into its original condition and ready for the Harvest Festival that night. When they parked the wagon in the schoolyard, they noticed the scarecrow was gone. They all rushed over to take a look at where he once had stood. The ground was still muddy but you could see his tracks that led off into the woods with a deep grooved line between each step, indicating he had taken his pole with him.
Ben put his hands on his hips in anger. “I’ve had just about enough of this foolishness…”
His words trailed off as his eyes fell upon the side of the schoolhouse building. There in red paint was another message:
“I have set off to find another friend.”
(I don’t think I left you shaking in your boots, but I sure had fun trying!