It’s made to look right, and at first glance it does, but on closer inspection something seems off. One can’t quite put their finger on what exactly is wrong, but the sense of wrongness only increases and never fades. It’s like the uncanny valley or the verisimilitude of the thing comes too close to replication, but its otherness invites primal fear and revulsion to the surface. Something in the heart and soul plead with the mind not to believe the eyes, and, yet, neither can one look away. To blink is to give opening for the sinister heart of the unsound thing to strike.
The veil between worlds unfurled itself and lay open like a door before him. Beyond was the grey space. A muted world where lost souls and marauding spirits linger or hope to find passage into the land of the living. Crudely, a place he called the Deadlands.
He had never come across a doorway through the veil before. The idea seemed impossible, but perhaps, if spirits and souls could slip between worlds, it might be feasible for the process to work the other way around.
There was a hesitation in drawing near the doorway. He had seen through the veil, communicated through it, even banished beings back into it, but never had he trespassed into the Deadlands. What would happen? To him? His physical form?
He took a step forward and paused.
Blessed Be the Little Children
They were sick. Always sick, it seemed. Their withered and pale forms with skeletal outstretched limbs reminded him of molted and diseased birds—almost alien. But he knew they were human. Like those before. All children, and all abandoned by their caregivers.
It was as if this disease, or virus, or whatever the hell it was taking healthy thriving children and twisting them into malformed mockeries of humanity had somehow managed to reflect the hideous nature of the uninfected. Entire communities had resorted to simply turning out these poor souls. Leaving them to die in the streets, or in the wilds, or wherever the most convenient place be for them to die.
Even those left to wander aimlessly in community spaces were ignored and given wide berth by the uninfected. Their cries for mercy falling always on deaf ears. They had always been among the most vulnerable in every society, and now even their natural guardians refused them. Choosing, instead, to insulate themselves from that which might take their healthy children.
Healthy, of course, being a relative understanding. After all, how healthy can one be whose soul has been seared? What soundness of mind can there be in those unwilling to work to end the slow, agonizing, deaths of their children. Society has never been so unhealthy.
Humanity had managed to lay aside its humanness. Whatever the cause—political affiliation, religion, social philosophy, etc.—didn’t matter in the end. Humanity had lost itself, and he was left to do the only humane thing left.
Other men joined him in corralling as many of the infected into a single sobbing cluster of suffering. Malformed and twisted though they were, their fear was unmistakable. He wished there were more he could do, some greater kindness he could offer, but instead gave them the only thing he could give; mercy.
At once, streams of fire spewed out over the children. Night after night the same torment, their pitched screams shattering parts of his souls like glass. He wondered how much of his soul even remained intact.
You mean like a scarecrow? I had one once. Years ago. An antique. I know, I know, how does one find an antique scarecrow? They are, after all, mostly old clothes and straw filling. Yet, there it was.
I had taken a wrong turn trying to avoid the 99 back into town. I followed nameless backroads this way and that thinking I could outsmart distance and beat the traffic home. I failed to take into account that I’m terrible with directions. It was then that I past an old farmhouse which had not aged well in the last century. In front of the place was a wide assortment of antiques which had obviously been part of the house since the day it was built.
I don’t know why I stopped, but I did. Something compelled me to have a look around. The stone grey eyes of a stern old man in his rocking chair on the porch followed me as I looked about. Very little was without rust or severe wear. When I asked the man why he was selling all his old stuff, he just stared silently at me. No. Not at me, through me. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to get out of there, but my anxiety refused to let me leave without a purchase. That is when I saw it; a very old, very worn, scarecrow.
The thing was dressed in dingy overalls, a black duster, and a sun bleached straw hat. It unnerved me, but it was the only thing among his overpriced junk I could afford. Really, it was also the only thing I could fit in my vehicle.
I eventually made my way back home. I caught up with the 99 and crawled through it at a snail’s pace. There had been an accident or something. I saw lights and heard sirens in the distance at one point.
I placed the scarecrow on my balcony facing out onto the empty dirt field next door. I thought it made for a creepy harvest accent–and I was curious to see how long it would take before someone in the community complained about it to the city council.
The next morning the scarecrow had been moved. Not fallen over, but moved in front of the sliding glass door looking in my bedroom. I thought my kid was trying to be funny, so I moved the scarecrow back to where I had first set it. It was not the last time the scarecrow would move without my help. I often found it away from its place, and every time I thought it was my son’s attempt at a prank.
Finally, I confronted my kid. Told him I didn’t think his antics were funny. Of course my kid denied all wrongdoing. Soon after, things escalated. Not only would the scarecrow be misplaced, but also found with dead rodents and snakes stuffed in its pockets or laid at its foot post.
My kid continued to deny this strange behavior, so we had no choice but to have him committed. Things had quieted down for a while, but within a few weeks the scarecrow started turning up all over the house again, and no one confessed to moving it about.
I began having strange nightmares. I would wake up in a panic to the sounds of pained screaming. No one else seemed to notice. Then the whispers started. Disembodied voices emanating from the scarecrow. It urged me to offer up my home and family for its dwelling place.
It needed us…it needed me…and I needed it. It revealed amazing secrets. Insight which transcended our limited understanding of the cosmos. I gave it what it wanted. My home, my family, and my life.
We served it in violence, but it was going too far. I think I came out of my stupor when it asked me to sacrifice the souls of my family to it. I couldn’t do it. I packed it up, took it to the dirt field next to my place, doused it in gasoline, and lit it up.
I had never heard such terrible screams in my life. It’s been gone for a number of years now, but I still wake up from time to time to the sounds of screaming coming from the dirt field next door.