The Last Straw
On their way home from their father's funeral, brothers John and Danny encounter a sleepy little town where someone has the hobby of making very realistic scarecrows. What starts out as an oddity ends up as a fight for their lives.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all." John glanced down at the odometer.
"How far have we gone?"
"It says three miles, but it seems much longer, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, more like ten." Danny rolled down the window and peered through the camera to pass the time. "Maybe we should turn back."
"I would, but the road's too narrow. There's no way we could get turned around. Let's hope we don't meet a car coming in the opposite direction."
"I think the chances of that are pretty slim. Wait," Danny shouted, "stop the car."
"Again?" John replied, placing his foot on the brake and slowing to a stop. "What now?"
"Back up a little," Danny said. Twisting the lens of the camera, he shouted, "There! Do you see it?"
"Yeah, it's just another forgotten scarecrow. What's the big deal?"
"What's it doing out in the middle of that marsh?" Danny lowered the camera and looked out across the landscape. "And this one has..." He looked through the camera again. "It's dressed in a wedding gown."
"Looks as if she was...stood up. Ba-boom." John slapped the dashboard.
"Very funny." Danny shook his head. "You would have made a terrible comedian." He paused then added, "You don't find this weird?"
"It's rural Maine. Of course, it's weird." John playfully slugged Danny's shoulder.
"I'm being serious, John," Danny said. "It's creepy."
John could tell that the trip was starting to get to Danny. Turning off his smart-ass brother routine, he tried again. "Look, you remember what it was like growing up here. We did all sorts of strange shit when we were kids." John eased off the brake and continued down the road.
"I suppose." Danny shrugged then turned on the radio. Static filled the car. He pushed the seek button and waited as the radio scanned for a strong signal.
"It doesn't sound promising." John looked at Danny. "I can sing for you if you like."
"I've heard your singing voice. I'd rather listen to the static." He turned the radio off. "John?"
"You know I love you, don't you?"
"What?" John glanced at his brother and noticed the serious expression on his face.
"I never got a chance to tell Dad that, and well...I just wanted you to know."
"I love you too, kiddo." John ruffled Danny's hair again.
"I'm twenty-six. I don't think you have the right to call me kiddo anymore." Danny half grinned.
"I'll call you kiddo for as long as I want. It's a perk of being the older brother." He winked. "Hey, looks like we finally found it." John pointed to another Welcome sign. The small town of Winthrop Falls revealed itself as the road opened up from the heavily wooded landscape.
"Welcome to the thriving metropolis of Winthrop Falls," John said. He brought the car to a stop and stared out across the long, narrow road. "This must be Main Street."
"It's the only street by the look of it," Danny said.
Weeds and wildflowers snaked their way through the cracked and blistered asphalt street. The storefronts, faded from the weather, age, and what looked like a lack of a population to care for them, lined both sides of the street. The town appeared to be too small for traffic signals or even a stop sign. Behind the stores, the landscape climbed into the wooded hills. Large Victorian homes making up the residential area of Winthrop Falls dotted the landscape, keeping a darkened eye on the town from above.
"It looks like a ghost town," Danny said. "Maybe we should turn around and leave."
"The gas station is right there. Let's at least get some gas." John eased his foot off the brake and coasted into one of the stalls. Placing the car in park, he rolled down both windows, turned off the engine, and popped the gas tank cover.
"Are you sure they'll work?" Danny asked, as John got out of the car.
"No." John turned and leaned back into the car. "I'm not sure anything around here works." He smiled at Danny then walked toward the back of the car, opened the gas tank and lifted the arm. The machine buzzed on. "Looks like we're good." He slipped the nozzle into the tank and squeezed the lever. Leaning against the car, he peeked back inside the driver's window. "Maybe we can find a few snacks in the station and just hit the road."
"I'll go check." Danny opened the door and darted across the cracked pavement. John watched him disappear into the building then looked around to see if he could see anyone. It's Saturday morning. Where is everyone? The gas line clicked off. Tapping the nozzle, John returned it to the pump.
"John?" Danny's startled voice rattled the town out of its lifeless silence.
"What?" John looked up as he tightened the gas cap. Even from his distance, Danny's spooked expression was obvious. Flipping the cover closed, John ran over to Danny, who stood in the doorway. "What's wrong?" John placed his hand on Danny's shoulder. "Danny?"
"See for yourself." Danny held the door then followed his brother inside. "Look behind the counter." Danny pointed to the left.
"What in the hell?" John said as he glanced back a Danny, who simply shrugged. John's attention returned to the life-sized scarecrow standing behind the counter with one hand resting on an old fashioned manual cash register. Leaning against the counter to get a closer look, John said, "It looks almost human. He even has a name stitched into his overalls." John stood up straight to compare his height to that of the scarecrow. "Joe's a big guy. What do you think? Six-four? Six-five?"
"Yeah, he's a few inches taller than you. How about a picture?" Danny grabbed the camera hanging from around his neck. "Go ahead. Get behind the counter there with Joe."
"I thought you didn't like the thing." John walked behind the counter and stood next to Joe.
"I don't. These things are giving me the creeps. That's why you're behind the counter instead of me." Danny smiled, took off the lens cap, stood back, and adjusted the focus. "Say cheese." Danny clicked the shutter before John could respond. "John, don't touch it." Danny lowered the camera.
"It's not going to bite." Touching the scarecrow's body, he felt the rise of its chest and what felt like a rib cage beneath the clothing. "What in the hell is this made of?" He unbuttoned the top two buttons of the red flannel shirt to expose the body.
"What is it?" Danny questioned with curiosity but apparently not enough to make him get any closer.
"The outside is burlap, but I can't tell what's beneath it. The stitching is too tight, but I swear the curve and structure of this thing feels almost human, like there are bones holding everything together." Buttoning the shirt up, John began to study the face. His fingers twitched nervously as he followed the intricate stitching that gave the strange figure its high cheekbones, square jaw line, and protruding chin. "The detail on this thing is amazing. It must have taken someone months to create him."
"Those eyes are freaking me out." Danny said. "It's like he's staring at me."
"They're just marbles." John flicked one with his finger. "Granted the man-made eyelids with lashes are a bit disturbing, but you have to give the person credit for originality."
"I've seen enough, John. Can we please get out of here?" Danny turned and made his way to the door.
"Hello?" John called out. He walked around the counter then crossed to the other side of the small store.
"John, what are you doing? Let's go." Danny turned, sighed then quickly caught up to John.
"I thought I heard something." John nodded toward the door that led to the one service stall. "We need to pay for our gas." John walked to the service entrance and opened the door. "Is anyone here?" He called out again. "I swear I heard this door close."
"I didn't hear anything, John. Maybe it was an animal bumping into something."
"Yeah, maybe." John walked back over to the counter. "Can we leave the money with you, Joe?" The scarecrow stared back at John with its dead eyes. "Thanks." John pulled out a twenty out of his wallet and slipped it into the chest pocket of the overalls. "Keep the change, Joe." He patted the scarecrow's shoulder. It rocked on its makeshift legs. "Take care, Joe."
"Really, John?" Danny responded as he opened the door.
"What?" He smiled. "Come on. Let's walk down the street and take a look around."
"Why not?" John placed his arm around Danny's shoulder. "Come on. Where's that sense of adventure?"