Valley of the Scarecrow, page 1
Free of his bindings at last, Joshua Miller dropped heavily to the floor, not at all used to supporting his massive weight on his own two feet, but he got the hang of things quickly, testing his powerful legs by walking around on the altar. When he was sure of himself, he leaped off the raised platform and moved down the center aisle, headed for the front of the church and the freedom of the fields beyond. At the front doors, he paused to look over at the dying fire and the trio of colorful plastic tents grouped near it. Inside, he knew the group of young intruders must be sleeping…
Valley of the Scarecrow
I’d like to give a shout out and huge pat on the back to Jimmy Z. Johnston, Rhonda Wilson, and Erik Smith, who went above and beyond mere friendship to preread this novel you are holding and helped me shape it into something comprehendible. I had a blast writing this one and I appreciate all of your hard work.
Table of Contents
Oak Valley, Iowa March 1984
Cedar Rapids, Iowa October 2010
Oak Valley, Iowa September 1936
Cedar Rapids, Iowa October 2010
Oak Valley, Iowa October 2010
Oak Valley, Iowa October 2010
Critics Praise The Chilling Prose of Gord Rollo!
Other Leisure books by Gord Rollo:
Oak Valley, Iowa
LAIR OF THE SCARECROW
Hungry, thirsty, and full of primal rage.
It’s dark in here and incredibly hot, but he can see enough to know the floor has collapsed in places, the lush green cornstalks growing right up through the gaps in the boards and entwining around his long, withered legs. He’s stood here so long he sometimes believes this was always his calling: to be a witness, a sentinel, a guardian endlessly standing watch over the bountiful corn. Sometimes he believes there is more to his existence than that.
What am I? he wonders. Man or beast? Some days he even knows the answer. He remembers talking in front of a large group of people in this very place once but has no idea what he could have possibly been saying. The fractured memories make him angry again, and he spirals back down into numbing madness, the only true home he knows. He tries to move, to tear himself free, to flex his shriveled, sunken muscles but has lost the ability. Or was it taken? He can’t remember.
Bound tightly in place but free to kill again and again in the bloody fantasies of his dehydrated mind, he yearns for release but can barely remember what it was like to actually use his arms and legs. Freedom is only a nightmare now, a curse to haunt his rare moments of lucid thought, but when he does think clearly, he remembers what the village elders did to him all those long years ago and how he vowed to make them pay.
Someday they’ll come back. He will be ready.
With a bone-dry tongue and mummified, paper-thin lips, he tries to speak for the first time in ages. Decades maybe. A bastardized snippet of words whispered from a long-forgotten book he used to read.
“Vengeance will be mine, sayeth the Scarecrow…”
Then he settles down to rest; to watch over the corn.
Days pass. Weeks. Months. Years.
Still, he waits…
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
The last thing Kelly Tucker expected to see on her way to this year’s Harvest Festival was a dead body. It just wasn’t the sort of situation anyone expected to have to deal with on your average second date. Nervous tension, awkward silences, overly hormonal boys, bad hair, garlic breath, or underarm perspiration—sure—but coming face-to-face with an accidently exhumed corpse definitely hadn’t been something on Kelly’s worry list at the start of the evening.
If they’d taken Blake’s car like they’d originally planned, they would have missed the whole debacle, but it had been such a warm, beautiful autumn night, Kelly had suggested they leave his black BMW at her place and walk to the nearby fairgrounds. Parking would be a nightmare there anyway, and besides, the walk would give them time to talk and get to know each other better.
It’ll let him see how fabulous my legs look in this new skirt too, Kelly thought, a naughty smile curling the corners of her mouth. At five foot ten, she was rather tall for a woman, but with her tanned athletic body and shoulder-length California blonde hair, no one had ever complained before. Besides, people were always telling her she should be a runway model because she was “all legs” and what guy in his right mind would criticize that? Definitely not Blake, not if he knew what was good for him. Or if he ever wants a third date.
Kelly had met Blake this past July at an Iowa State B-B-Q for the 2010 graduates. Both were twenty-two years old and had finished near the top of their classes, but where Kelly had studied business and wanted to open her own restaurant someday, Blake Wheeler was a science major and had already been accepted into the prestigious school of dentistry, the cornerstone of the university’s graduate program. If truth be told, Kelly had thought Blake was a bit of a stuffed shirt when they’d met, a blond-haired, blue-eyed rich kid from Des Moines whose family had made a fortune in agriculture. He had undeniable good looks but fell flat on his pretty-boy face in the personality department. She’d snubbed his early advances easily enough because she’d still been seeing Dan Sawyer, her high school sweetheart, and had only agreed to finally go out with Blake after she and Dan had decided to call their relationship quits. Blake was her rebound guy; the polar opposite of her old boyfriend, who had dropped out of school at seventeen to start up his own lawn care and landscaping company.
To be fair to Blake, their first date had been surprisingly decent. Not great, but better than expected. He’d taken her out to an inexpensive dinner and a movie and hadn’t once tried to impress her with his family’s obvious money. He’d actually been kind of cool and funnier than she remembered from school. Hell, he hadn’t even tried to grope her like most boys would have, so Kelly gave him a solid B for effort and had agreed to this date, remaining on guard but hoping for the best.
Unfortunately it wasn’t starting off very well.
“I still don’t get it why you’d want to walk when we have a brand-new car sitting back in your driveway?” Blake asked. “I mean, really…it’s a BMW for God’s sake!”
Uh-oh, she thought. Strike one if you’re trying to impress me with your fancy car, dude. I don’t give a damn what you drive.
“Oh come on. Look at that s
“You’re kidding, I hope? How will I ever be a dentist if you’re gonna rot my teeth out before I even get through my first semester? No way. No sugar for me and to be honest, you really shouldn’t have any either. Who wants a wife with black teeth?”
“Wife? Gimme a break! It’s only our second date, Blake. Cart before the horse, don’t you think?” Kelly was fuming a little inside, thinking he was being a big baby about the candy suggestion. It was the Harvest Festival after all. If a person couldn’t cut loose and live it up a little at the annual fall fair, when could they?
“What? No, that’s not what I meant. I…I just meant, umm—”
“Right,” Kelly interrupted, saving him from making a bigger fool of himself. “I’ll remember to floss twice tonight, okay?” She almost added, Dan would’ve eaten the whole damn tray of apples if I’d offered, but held it in. That would have been a terrible mistake and she reminded herself she had to stop thinking about her ex-boyfriend and get on with life. Dan was yesterday; Blake was…well, Blake was Blake.
“Sure. Whatever,” he said.
They walked along Main Street, headed downtown, the tension in the air a bit thicker than Kelly was comfortable with and she was just starting to wonder what her friends Lizzy and Rich were up to right about now when Blake grabbed her arm and yanked her to a stop.
“Wow! Look at the Paramount,” he said, jabbing his manicured finger across the street. “What the heck’s going on?”
Kelly followed his finger over to the Paramount Theatre, a six-story brick building that was arguably the most famous tourist attraction in the city. Until fairly recently, it had been a beautifully restored example of a 1920s vaudeville palace and silent-movie hall and inside was one of the country’s few remaining full-size Wurlitzer theater pipe organs. The city had spent an incredible amount of money repairing the building back in 1975 and then again in 2003, but all their hard work had been ruined by the great flood in the late spring of 2008. On June 11 of that year, the Cedar River had risen an incredible thirty-two feet over its banks and flooded virtually the entire downtown core. The mess was cleaned up once the waters receded, of course, but the repairs done to the Paramount were token measures at best. Since then, there’d been a constant push from local politicians and the historical society to restore the building again but with the way the economy was stuck in a rut, it was going to be a while before anything serious was attempted.
Two police cars sat idling in front of the theater, their red lights spinning but neither had their sirens blaring. Kelly recognized the one tall cop as Matt Brown, a guy she’d gone to high school with, but had no idea who the other, more muscular officer was. Besides the cops, a group of men dressed in dusty work clothes were gathered near the front door, pushing and shoving each other trying to get a closer look at someone being carried out of the building on a makeshift stretcher.
“I don’t know,” Kelly said. “Doesn’t look good though, does it? Someone must have got hurt.”
“Cool. Let’s check it out,” Blake said, dashing across the road and leaving Kelly standing by herself.
Cool? she thought. What could possibly be cool about someone getting hurt? Reluctantly, Kelly crossed the street to catch up with her increasingly irritating date. It turned out the person wasn’t hurt after all. He was dead. Had been for a very long time, actually. What was left of the man on the stretcher was nothing but a husk, a dried-out shell of gray skin and exposed knobs of bone. The man was naked and there were frayed ropes tied around his skeletal wrists and wrapped around his desiccated chest. His leathery eyelids were still wide-open, but from what Kelly could surmise from the rest of his calm face, it looked like the poor man had at least died quietly.
“Gross,” Kelly said, turning away so she wouldn’t be sick. The corpse was so old there wasn’t any nasty smell coming from it, thank God, but by the looks of those ropes this man definitely hadn’t died of old age. Kelly was an avid fan of horror movies and blood and gore didn’t really bother her on a TV or the big screen, but for some reason she’d seen more than enough of this mysterious body. There was a huge difference between watching Hollywood special effects and being forced to see the ghastly remains of a real person. “Come on, Blake. Let’s get out of here.”
“Hold on a sec…I wanna see this,” he said, dodging and weaving into the gathering crowd to get as close to the body as he could.
Kelly was surprised by his behavior, but without any other option she headed back across the street and stood waiting for him to come to his senses. The longer he made her wait, the angrier and more frustrated she became. Is Blake some kind of closet sicko? Does he really find that morbid old body interesting? What could he possibly be thinking? “Strike two, bucko,” she muttered under her breath.
Eventually, Blake came back to join her, an excited wide-eyed look on his face. “Isn’t that fucking incredible?” he said, totally oblivious to the fact Kelly had her arms crossed and from her body language was clearly ready to explode. She bit her tongue and let him ramble on. “Unreal, man. Apparently there’s been a few work crews inside the theater lately, working in the basement trying to install sump pumps or some damn thing. Anyway, they’re down there using a jackhammer today and all of a sudden part of the foundation wall beside them crumbles away. Inside there’s a little hidden room and this dead dude on the stretcher is tied to a chair inside. There’s no doors into the room, or windows, or nothing.”
“Someone sealed him inside the wall?” Kelly asked, taken aback.
“I guess. Isn’t that great?”
“Great?” Kelly said. “What’s wrong with you? Someone’s been murdered and you’ve got a big smile on your face. It’s horrible, for God’s sake. I mean think about it…that’s somebody’s father or grandfather lying there.”
Blake shrugged, dismissing her concerns. “Who gives a shit? He’s been dead forever. Probably been in that wall for thirty or forty years. Maybe longer.”
“So what? Where’s your sense of compassion? He’s still part of somebody’s family, you know? What if that was your relative lying over there? How great would it be for you then?”
“Heh…Least I’d get my inheritance sooner, right?”
“Wrong!” Kelly said, disgusted, and started walking away. This was strike three for sure with her. Boring and arrogant she could probably put up with, but not this. Her creepy jackass alarm bells were ringing loud and clear and as far as she was concerned this date was officially over.
“Hey, where you going?” Blake asked. “I was hoping to stay until the coroner showed up. Doubt there’s any identification on the guy so they might have to identify him using his teeth. Dental records…right up my alley, you know? I wanna stick around and watch.”
“Go ahead. I’m outta here.”
“But what about the Harvest Festival? What about our date?”
Kelly stopped walking and turned to speak to Blake face-to-face. She’d always been a straight shooter and wanted him to understand things were over between them; not that they’d ever really gotten started. It wasn’t that she thought he was a psycho or anything like that; she just knew deep down they had nothing at all in common so why pretend any longer. She’d prefer to just tell it like it was and be done with it.
“Forget it, Blake. The date’s over and so are we. You’re a nice guy and all but it’ll never work between us. I’d rather just make a clean break now and go away friends.”
“You’re breaking up with me? You’re kidding, right?”
“But we were getting along just fine. What the fuck’s the problem? Don’t tell me you’re gonna go back out with that nigger again? That guy’s a total loser!”
“What did you just say?” Kelly yelled, walking right up and getting into Blake’s face. It shocked her that there were
“Right! He’s a high school dropout, Kelly. A nobody. You deserve better than that. You gotta be crazy to pick him over me. Girls don’t break up with me!”
“Well this one did. Go fuck yourself, Blake.” Kelly started to walk away again, hoping he was smart enough to just let it drop. To his credit, ten seconds later when she glanced behind her he was already gone, back across the street with his new buddies.
“Wow. Sure took him a long time to get over you. Oh well…his loss, but now what?” Normally, after a bad date she’d have just gone home and had a big bowl of ice cream and maybe a good cry, but with Blake having to eventually make his way back to her place to pick up his car, she didn’t feel like going anywhere near there for a while. Besides, this egocentric bastard wasn’t worth crying over. Her only other choice was the Harvest Festival, but showing up there on her own sounded like an even worse option. “God, what a loser I am!”
Kelly spun around and started walking back toward the fairgrounds, which was embarrassing as it meant she had to walk past the Paramount Theatre again. Blake was staring at her and had a smug look on his face that said he thought she’d changed her mind and was coming back to beg his forgiveness. “Check that…it’s him that’s the loser, not me. Screw him.”
Kelly was seriously considering giving Blake the middle-finger salute but before she could pull the trigger, a car pulled to a stop beside her, blocking her view. When she turned to see who it was, she squealed with delight. Inside the blue Ford Taurus were two of her most favorite people in the entire world, the couple she’d been curious about earlier tonight. “Rich! Lizzy! I was wondering where you fools were tonight. Got room for a third wheel?”
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