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.
So, tomorrow is kind of a big day for me. It means I may or may not post tomorrow, depending on if I get wonderful or terrible news at around 9am in the morning. The whole internship thing I have mentioned wraps up tomorrow, and I find out where or if I will have a place next year. So, if you are the praying sort, I gladly accept those. But any good thoughts, warm wishes, or positive vibes are also appreciated. As much as I like the idea today, I feel like I was not really able to focus sufficiently to execute it very well. Please let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions, and happy reading!
Card Day 47: A collection of toys for sale in a shop window. There is a rabbit, a car, some clothes, and a sad looking doll of a young boy.
Little Danny Vicars had been missing for three days, something which set the sleepy town of Crowncrest on edge. Those sort of things happened in the big cities so many had fled, not in the smiling streets where everyone knew your name—and your business. Nevertheless, somehow the shadows had crept along the sunny, picket fences and stolen away one of their own. On that third day, the owner of Jack’s Pawn and Thrift found a Danny-faced doll in his donation bin, complete with the scuffed tennis shoes, red windbreaker, muddied jeans, and unruly blond hair that had been on all the descriptions. A sick joke, decried the good people of the town, casting mistrustful stares at one another. No one knew who could pull such a cruel joke, and Mrs. Vicars pained wails echoed along the streets yet again.
Of course, no one understood that, with the grim discovery of the callous doll, Little Danny had been found. In all of their tracing and retracing of his last day, the true event was lost.
The day before his vanishing act, Danny was playing in the cul-de-sac with his friends, riding bikes and pretending to command armies in battle. Eventually, as many eleven year-olds are wont to do, it became an opportunity to show off and impress one another, drifting from the cul-de-sac to the nearby woods, pulling complex tricks—little more than hops and millisecond wheelies—with their bikes, and using the words their mothers so vehemently objected to.
Danny played along, but he had that quiet, cautious side that so often made him the butt of jokes. His attempt at a bike stunt had ended with him rolling in the dirt, his friends howling with laughter.
“You just ate it!” mocked Joey, holding his sides with laughter. Calvin was content to simply point and laugh. Grumbling, Danny picked himself and his bike out of the dirt and wheeled over to his friends.
“How about you shut your damn mouth, Joey,” he snapped, the uncommon curse words stumbling off his tongue.
“Oh, now you’re a big tough guy, huh?” Joey’s laughter stopped sharply, cutting off mid howl. His face turned into a hard mask, staring down at his friend. “Think you can just tell me off like that?” Joey gave Danny a push, which was all it took to ignite the two into a contained brawl.
“Hey, stop! We’ll get in trouble,” pleaded Calvin as he tried unsuccessfully to break the two up. They continued to spar, both making feints at one another, but both too afraid to throw the first punch.
“That’s what I thought,” spat Joey as the two circled, “too chicken shit to do anything.”
“Am not!” yelled Danny as he watched his opponent, throwing fake punches that Joey avoided with unsteady ducks.
“Oh yeah?” questioned Joey at the height of his youthful impudence, “then—“ he swung, the blow swinging just over the top of Danny’s head—“prove it.”
“Joey, that’s not fair—“ began Calvin, but the leader cut him off.
“I double-dog-dare you to go into Widow Madison’s creepy old shed.”
Widow Madison was, clearly, the town’s requisite loony. The old woman had, however, been in the town longer than anyone could remember, and she was rather harmless. Most people said that she had once been a very well-respected, polite, and successful citizen, working in the elementary school for years. There was little evidence of such success now in the face of the withered old woman. She was most often seen sitting and glaring from her back porch, if not tending to whatever hid inside the creepy lean-to in her backyard. The adults of the town admitted that she was old, likely quite demented, but ultimately harmless. She had lived a hard life, always trying to complete her happy family with some beautiful, successful children, but never doing so. When her husband left her, the woman who had once been so vibrant faded into the shadow that now haunted her own home.
The children made no allowances for the personal tragedy, and instead invented dark pasts and secret evils for the lonely woman. Rumors had always swirled and deepened about the old woman and her eccentricities, most commonly falling back on the old witch trope. Thus, her home had become the ultimate place of secrets and danger.
Danny did not dare hesitate, even as his heart fluttered in his chest. “Deal!” he said. Calvin’s eyes grew wide, looking at the two, and Joey merely looked smug.
“You’re going to be sorry,” spat the older boy, his arrogance etched on his face, even if internally he realized how risky his gamble for superiority truly was.
The three wheeled their bikes back to the country roads, towards the old part of town with its larger homes and sweeping backyards. Widow Madison was at her station on the front porch, watching them with her weathered eyes as they tried to stroll casually along. Of course, being eleven, their casual was about as convincing as if they had walked into the Main Street Bank with ski masks on. Nonetheless, they felt confident in their ruse, giggling to one another as they passed.
After finding the old woman, they looped back around, skirting behind the Wilson’s backyard to reach her rickety fence. “Are you two going to watch?” asked Danny, a slight waver in his voice. On the one hand, he hoped they would in case anything went wrong, but on the other, he hoped they would not be able to see through the knot holes in the wood well enough to know if he completed his quest.
Joey squeezed his eye against one of the holes, then pushed away. “Can’t see a damn thing with all those bushes. Last winter, Michael Stringer said he saw body parts in there,” he grumbled. “You better bring back proof. Tell us what’s really in the shack.” Joey grinned, malice flickering in his eyes. Danny glanced nervously from the two boys to the wooden fence, then dutifully pushed himself up and over.
The garden on the other side was overgrown with weeds and flower gardens that had not been tended in ages. True, in the winter, it would have been a desolate graveyard of spindly limbs and wilted plants, but in the midst of the summer, it was a jungle. Danny picked his way along the ground, keeping one eye on the backdoor of the house as if waiting for it to open.
He reached the shack without incidence, putting one hand on the door, its peeling paint flaking beneath his hand. His heart thundered, a stampede pounding in his temples as his breaths came in rapid gasps. With one deep breath, he shoved on the door.
It groaned with the pain of opening, revealing shelves upon shelves of old dolls lining the walls. They all stared down with empty eyes, girls and boys, men and women, all arrayed neatly on the shelves. Each one had a nameplate attached to the shelf below them.
“Olivia Madison, 1953,” read one in spidery script. The little girl smiled vacantly at him, her arms slightly outstretched as if welcoming him inside.
“Jimmy Madison, 1954,” read another. He walked along, watching the years climb and the dust fade from the dolls. One of the dolls, a man rather than a child, had her husband’s name, and a date the town busybodies would have recognized instantly.
Fearing discovery, Danny rushed towards the door, grabbing one of the last dolls on the shelf on his way out. Judith Madison came along with him, her legs dangling as he ran towards the wooden fence. Her pretty pink dress got tangled by the rosebushes, ripping a large tear into it, and he unceremoniously tossed her over the wooden fence, resulting in a large scuff over her right eye, a hairline crack on the back of her head.
Danny then threw himself over the fence, catching his breath as Calvin and Jeoy stared in wonder at the doll.
“You did it?” whispered Joey, his eyes wide with shock. Danny simply nodded, trying to see if his heart was going to slow down or spring right from his chest.
“Did she see you?” asked Calvin in fear.
Danny went o shake his head no, but paused, He did not think so, but he hadn’t checked. Panic flooding him, he scurried to the knots in the fence, trying to catch a glimpse of the back porch. His heart froze, breath caught in his throat, when he saw the pruney face glaring out the back window towards the fence.
“No,” he lied.
Unable to revel in his victory due to the queasiness in his stomach, Danny made an excuse to go home. “Don’t forget your girlfriend!” mocked Joey after him, tossing the battered doll at him. That night, Danny shoved the little doll under his bed, but felt her eyes peering at him all throughout the night. His conscience began to gnaw at him. He was not a thief; he was not a bad kid. The next morning, he left early for school, planning to swing by Widow Madison’s before school and leave the doll on her front porch. He could make it right.
Of course, Danny never made it to school, and three days later, there was an empty spot in the shed, a smudged marker vacant for “Danny Vicars, 2010.”
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.