Card Challenge: Day 84 – The End
Wow, so this is it. It has finally come to the end of the Card Challenge, and the last card has been storied. I will likely post a longer wrap-up post tomorrow, but it’s been quite a journey. I hope you enjoy this final story, a fitting end to the Challenge, I believe.
Card Day 84: A scarecrow holding a scepter amid a field of sunflowers.
Caroline had been scared of the scarecrow when she was younger. To be fair, the thing sagged and had seen the worst part of a few winters and springs. It lacked a face, but did have an old, beaten down cap stuffed on top of the stake, and its hands hung limply from the sides. Most of the stuffing had fallen out or been carried away by birds, so now all that remained was a mostly empty set of clothes hanging uncertainly from the stake and cross beam.
The fifth time Caroline woke from a nightmare centered on the benign farmyard staple, her mother had reached the end of her patience with the fixture. It was an important component of their garden, but the irrational fear had gotten beyond her ability to handle. Fortunately, Caroline’s mother was also quite brilliant. The next day, she and Caroline gathered together a pair of old, sagging overalls from the back of her father’s closet, as well as a flannel shirt a few sizes too small, a pair of work gloves from the shed, a burlap sack from the barn, and the old floppy sunhat that hung in the doorway but had never been worn.
Caroline disappeared under the pile of odds and ends, carrying them dutifully out to the scarecrow’s preferred haunt overlooking the corn field. Her mother held her hand firmly which was likely the only thing that kept her for bolting back to the house. The empty shadow beneath the hat leered at her, and she imagined she saw pinpoint red eyes glaring at her from that darkness. But once her mother pulled the hat away, she saw there was nothing beneath it. Looking at old clothes hanging on the frame was far less terrifying when it was clear no malevolent presence inhabited it.
The afternoon project went smoothly. Caroline helped her mother remove the old, thread bare clothes and place the new ones on it. The flannel shirt went on first, followed by the baggy overalls. Caroline’s mother brought fresh twine and bound the ankles and wrists so that the new straw stayed within the body. She then filled the burlap sack with the remaining straw, giving him a strange triangle-oval head.
“Now, you draw on his face. Make it nice.”
Caroline took the black sharpie, the strong scent tingling her nose. She made an exaggerated face, but carefully drew a wide smile on the bag just below a crooked nose. Her tiny fingers traced wide circles for eyes, filling them in with a round dot. Her mother inspected it, hmming to herself as she considered it, and then added two slashes of eyebrows.
“Perfect. Now he just needs a name.” She lifted the head onto the shoulders of the frame securing it tightly in the collar of the shirt. While Caroline eyed the new scarecrow carefully, her mother attached the gloves, giving them a friendly lilt, and then draped the sun hat over its smiling head.
“Harold,” proclaimed Caroline after a prolonged silence and intense stare into the face of her scarecrow.
“Harold?” her mother asked, her eyebrows knit together in consideration of the odd choice.
“Lucy at school has an uncle named Harold. She says he’s really fun.”
Her mother sighed and shook her head slightly, but there was a smile on her face. “Harold it is, then.”
And now, Caroline looked up at Harold with watery eyes. As she had every sunny day since she and her mother put him together, she settled in with her back against the stake, the empty legs of his overalls hanging down by her shoulders.
“Harold, today’s the day.” She dug the toe of her once-white tennis shoes into the dirt, kicking up a tiny mound in the soft soil. Good growing soil she knew now. Not that it would help her on the next stage of the journey. Harold, as always, remained silent.
“You know, I’m not sure where I’ll find a listener as good as you, Harold. You’ve never interrupted me or told me I was wrong,” she sniffed back a tear. “Then again, you never gave me any good advice either.”
The wind filtered through the corn, perhaps whispering its response. Caroline simply let her head drop back against the rough wood behind her. She could just see one of Harold’s eyes looking cheerily down at her. The shirt had once been bright red, standing proudly against the waves of green corn. But now sun and the elements had dulled it to a dark shade of pink. The overalls had held up better, but were covered with a fine mist of dirt. It had been a dry summer, after all. Still, there were tattered portions, a bit of the cuff was missing from his overalls, and it looked like his shirt had come part of the way untucked. Still, he was the dapper, cheery figure he had been since that fateful project.
“I still can’t believe they’re making me do this. I mean, no one even asked me. I’m eleven, Harold. I’m old enough to make my own decisions.”
She left the pause in the conversation for his imagined response, though his drawn on mouth never moved.
“I know, I know. They are just looking after me, tryna’ do the best thing for the family. Geez Harold, you’re beginning to sound like my mom.” She rolled her eyes at him in a way that would have gotten her sent to her room with her parents. The crows squawked from the trees, and Harold sat staunchly at his post. Caroline continued to dig a small hole with her toes, creating a tiny mound of rich dirt.
“You remember Jamie at school, right?” Harold’s hand swayed in the wind in response. “He said he’d write me. Do you think he will?”
She suddenly pushed away from the post, looking up at him with sudden concern in her eyes, “It’s not like I like him or anything like that. I just wonder if he’ll let me know. I mean, we did help Mrs. Morrison chose a class pet, and he said he’d tell me how Cheesy’s doing.” His empty eyes watched her. “Yeah, I think he will, too. He’s my good friend. And he was real nice to you, too.”
There was a long, heavy silence stretching between them, Finally, Caroline sighed. “You know, I asked them to take you with us, Harold. I really wanted to. But they said we wouldn’t have a garden at our new place. I tried my best.”
She waited in the silence, nodding while she sat in his shadow. “Yeah, I’ll miss you, too, Harold.” The breeze ruffled her hair, carrying the sound of a slamming trunk out to her.
“Caroline!” echoed her father’s voice over the now empty farm. The house was barren inside, the car laden with an entire life’s worth of stuff. Caroline closed her eyes, tears sliding down her cheek, and took a deep breath. “Time to go!”
The small girl stood tall, staring up into Harold’s waiting eyes. She felt a pang of guilt at his apparent lack of understanding; she hated that he might feel she had abandoned him. “Goodbye, Harold,” she whispered, her voice tiny. In a sudden motion, she threw her arms around his waist, hugging the empty clothes and letting the dusty denim catch the occasional tear.
Her parents were both waiting for her, watching her climb over the fence and wander across the open pasture. Her father checked his watch a couple of times, while her mother held a small bag.
“Say goodbye to Harold?” her mother asked once she was close enough to hear. Caroline’s only response was a sullen nod as she marched past them towards the back door of the car.
“Honey, wait. I have something for you.” Her mother held out the small blue paper bag, looking equal parts eager and scared. Her father looked frustrated and hurried, but squeezed a smile out.
Caroline sighed deeply and walked back towards her mother, grabbing at the bag and looking sharply into the bag. What she saw gave her pause.
“I know you really liked having Harold, especially after we put him together. And, while he couldn’t come with us, I thought I could—“
Caroline pulled the doll from the bag, recognizing the familiar worn overalls and faded flannel shirt. He even had little white gloves and a hastily drawn on face. That explained the missing patches of clothes.
“Little Harold?” asked Caroline, an edge of hope in her voice.
“Well, yeah. It’s all Harold, just in a portable form. I figured Big Harold could stay here and watch over the field, while Little Harold could keep an eye on you and update you about the farm.”
Caroline hugged the doll tightly. “You should have told me you were coming!” she whispered to the little figure. Had she been paying attention, and had she been older, she might have noticed the shared glances between her parents.
Stop babying her, said her father’s. She’s too old for this nonsense.
Moving is hard enough, returned her mother’s soft eyes. What harm could it do?
But Caroline only had eyes for her Little Harold as she clambered into the car, ready to open a new chapter in her life in a new place, but with old friends.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.