I’ve lost count now of how many times I’ve walked by this field. It’s just easier for me. Sure, I could use the roads, but given where school is, it’s much shorter to go through the fields. This path allows me to shave off at least half of the forty-minute walk around the village.
Most of the neighbors are OK with me taking this shortcut. They’ve all caught me at least once in their fields and, after I explained the situation, let me continue taking that path, telling me which way to go around the crops to cause minimal damage to them as I walk. But not old man Jacobson. I have to kind of sneak around and make sure I don’t get caught. And I don’t want to just go around his field or the whole point of the shortcut is almost entirely lost.
But there’s another reason I like to go through that field in particular: Geoffrey. He talks to me every time I take the path. Sometimes, in fact, I leave a bit early and stay a few minutes to chat with him. He tells me tons of fascinating stories about places I’ve never heard before. I don’t know if they’re true, but I’d like them to be. I honestly can’t imagine him having genuinely visited those places, after all, given his situation. Maybe he’s just bored and making up these stories to entertain himself. But I don’t care. At the very least they’re fun stories even if they are complete fiction.
I should clarify one thing: when I say he talks, it’s not as if he actually moves his mouth. It’s more like some kind of telepathy.
The first time this happened, I was pretty stunned. I’d just passed him when a voice in my head said, “Hey, kid!”
I was pretty deep in thought back then, so it took me a few seconds to realize the voice was in my head. As it is, I thought I’d heard someone, and started looking around.
“Over here!” I looked to my left. “Further left” I followed his indication and saw nobody. I started to look even further to the left.
“No, that’s too far. Back to the right.” I turned my head back. There was nobody there. I wondered if the person might be too small to stick out past the wheatstalks and started scrutinizing them, trying to catch a glimpse of someone between them.
“Hey, eyes are up here” I looked up. There was only a scarecrow.
“Yup, that’s it. It’s me.”
I remember feeling concerned that I might be losing my senses at that point. But I was in perfect form, not ill or delirious, not tired or hungry, it was just a regular hot sunny day and I was just on my way to school, the same as a zillion days before that. I tried to pinch myself to see if I might be dreaming, but it was real all right.
“Um… You… You talk?”
“Well, in a manner of speaking. Let’s just say I communicate. What’s your name?”
“But how… how…”
“Strange name, Buthowhow… Are you foreign? My name’s Geoffrey.”
“What? No, I… No! My name’s Randy. I just… I meant… How can you even talk, or communicate, or whatever you’re doing?”
At this point he actually sounded offended. “Oh so just because I’m a scarecrow, I’m not a real person? Now that’s hurtful.”
“No, no, I’m sorry, I meant…” I couldn’t figure out how to finish the sentence. At this point I had a nagging suspicion again that something wasn’t right, that this couldn’t be happening. I pinched myself again, thinking I might have done it wrong the previous time, or done it as part of this hallucination.
“But I mean… You… Well, you are just a scarecrow, aren’t you? Just… fabric stuffed with hay and wrapped in old clothes?”
“Yes, physically speaking, that is what I am. But why the hell should it mean that I can’t think or communicate?”
“But… I mean, inanimate objects can’t think! Can they?”
“Well this inanimate object can. Screw your assumptions, and deal with it.”
This surprisingly aggressive answer left me speechless. Then again, I guess he did have a bit of a point: me judging that it shouldn’t be able to talk was… No. It couldn’t be. I had to be imagining this.
“Say, where is it you go every day through this field? I can’t imagine Jacobson is all too thrilled about it” he then said, casually as anything.
The sudden change of tone and subject genuinely threw me off guard. I tried once more though.
“But is it magic, or are you just posing as a scarecrow?”
To my surprise, he responded by repeating his previous question, this time in a firm, impatient tone. After a moment of bewilderment, I gave up and explained about the shortcut. We chatted on for a couple of minutes, then I said that I had to run, that I was late for school, and bade him good-bye.
“See you tonight!” he said. I wasn’t sure what to answer to this, so I said nothing and instead took off. I kept wondering about this encounter all day. And still I wondered whether I might have just imagined it. But sure enough, as I walked back home that night, Geoffrey talked to me again. This time I wasn’t as rushed, so I took some more time to chat. Making sure to steer clear from how he’d gotten there, I tried to understand more about him: who he was, what he knew, etc. I hoped to glean some hints from that.
He said he’d been in that field for at least three years. He didn’t mention the time before he’d gotten there, but implied he remembered a before, though without ever going into detail. I just assumed he was made before old man Jacobson placed him there, but some things he mentioned – or let slip, really – seemed to imply there was more to it.
Over time I kept seeing him and sometimes talking to him. I often reflected again on how this could be possible, but every time I approached the topic he either shut me down or changed the subject. There were a few times when he let slip a bit more than he intended, but quickly walked his comments back. To me, this confirmed there was more to it than he wanted to admit.
He was always friendly, and kind, and seemed to very much enjoy our conversations. He said at one point that it was nice to have someone to talk to. Old Jacobson never responded. Geoffrey didn’t have proof, but he was pretty sure Jacobson looked up in response once, even though he never replied verbally.
So our chats became part of our daily routines. Of course, he let me run past in silence when it was raining. Once I expressed a bit of pity for him, having to stand there in the rain as well, but he said it really wasn’t a problem, he didn’t feel wetness or cold. Of course, I thought at that point. That’s when I realized I’d started seeing him more as an actual person than the object he was. Somehow I didn’t mind any more. It helped pass the time and he’d become a pretty interesting friend.
Until it all changed. At first, that day was no different. As I walked through Murray’s and Pritchard’s fields, I saw Geoffrey standing alone in the distance. I reached him and the conversation began.
A bit of small talk ensued, catching up on my news and his extremely boring life. He said the crow from the tree on Malloy’s field came and plucked another couple strands of hay from him for its nest.
“Kind of defeats the purpose of being, you know, a scarecrow!” he said sarcastically. We kept chatting and joking.
Then, just as I got up to leave, he turned serious and said, “Hey, could you do me a favor?”
“Uh, yeah, sure” I said uneasily. I wasn’t sure what kind of favor he was going to ask, but it couldn’t be that hard.
“Could you just reach into my sleeve and tuck the hay back in? That’s where the crow plucked the strands. I don’t like how these bits move in the breeze.”
“Sure.” I went right up to him and reached for his right hand. Of course, I didn’t suspect anything. It didn’t even occur to me he’d already said he didn’t physically feel anything. I tucked the strands in and made to get back on my way.
Only I couldn’t.
I tried to move a muscle, any muscle, but nothing happened. It was only after a few seconds that I realized that my head wouldn’t turn either. Instead, I was looking out toward Malloy’s field from a high vantage point. A boy dressed just like me had just appeared where I’d been a second earlier. He smiled widely at me, picked up my backpack and headed off toward my school.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I tried to say. I couldn’t move my sown-up mouth of course. But he did pause in his actions right as I thought, so he must have heard me like I’d heard him. But he didn’t reply. He just left at a brisk pace, beaming like he never could as a scarecrow. I myself felt dejected but couldn’t move my face to show it.
“Geoffrey? GEOFFREY!” No answer.
“At least tell me what’s going on!” Still nothing. He’d left me alone in this field, immobile, unable to do anything. I didn’t know what was going on, and couldn’t do anything about it. All I knew was that I was stuck as a scarecrow myself. I couldn’t call for help, I couldn’t contact my parents, I was completely helpless. A wave of frustration, anger and grief overcame me, but of course I couldn’t actually cry.
I never saw Geoffrey again.
Over time I learned to get used to my new situation, and had time to think about things. Eventually I realized that this must be the same thing that had happened to Geoffrey in the first place. I even started to make connections between some of the things he’d let slip in our earlier conversations.
I’ve been out in that field day and night, for days, weeks, months, years even. I’ve been drenched by rain and swayed by wind, frozen by the cold and baked by the sun, picked at by birds and inhabited by insects, oddly without feeling any of it. Just like Geoffrey had said, really.
My only company now is Jacobson when he comes to clean out the field or for the harvest. And still he refuses to talk to me. One time he did seem to look up at me and do a double take, however. He looked aghast.
“Not again” I heard him mutter in the quiet air, “How am I going to explain this to the parents? This is a mess. I warned him not to cross my field.” Then he went back to his work.
It took me a few seconds then to realize he meant my parents. Then it shocked me to realize that I’d almost forgotten about them, about the grief my disappearance must have caused them. The guilt and grief and anger overcame me again, though I was yet again forced to take it stoically.
But finally today, after so many years, a girl has just come through the field along the very same path I used to use. I see my chance and decide to start to seize it, just like Geoffrey did with me.
“Hey, you!” I think to her.