Each year, in October, people would drive for miles around to get to the Johnston’s Pumpkin Farm to pick out the perfect specimen for their family’s jack o-lantern. There were some who drove several counties to get there. The pumpkins were always so big and well formed that for many families, going to the Johnston’s was a several generation long tradition. The Johnston family had been running their pumpkin patch for close to 200 years, and no matter what was going on in the rest of the country economically, they always did fine. Their neighbors often wondered how they always seemed to break a profit.
They had seen many families come and go over the years, as agriculture had always been tough. It seemed to be one of the areas which had always taken a hard and early hit when things got tough. Many had even asked them what their secret was as their own farms had fallen on hard times and they tried to hang on to the last vestiges of hope until they had to face the reality that they were going to have to give up. As much as the Johnstons had liked some of their neighbors, they knew that they couldn’t tell their secret and had to watch as they had to sell the homes that had been in their families for sometimes a hundred years or more. They couldn’t even tell some of their best friends what was going on because the consequences were too great…in more ways than one.
October 1st had arrived and the whole family was working hard to get things ready for the onslaught of people which would be arriving over the following weeks. The pumpkins had been getting bigger over the last month, and this year, some of them had grown to epic proportions. Then again, they had asked for a reprieve from the rules last year, so it was to be expected. They placed their ads in the newspapers for three counties, and put their hand painted sign out by the main road. This was all of the advertising that they had ever needed to do to draw in the crowds. On the evening of October 1st, the people had already started to turn up, which was even earlier than the previous two years. It had started to get busy within the first week of the month, but this year was different.
After the crowd had cleared out for the night, Mr. Johnston walked to the middle of the pumpkin patch and untied the strings which were holding the scarecrow up on the pole. As soon as the last string had been untied, the scarecrow slowly slid down to the ground. After a few moments of lying flat against the earth, it slowly sat up and looked around the field before making eye contact with Mr. Johnston. He could feel that it wasn’t happy to see an empty field, so he explained, “Sorry, this year the people came earlier than they have ever done before so there wasn’t time to set you free. They’ll be back tomorrow.”
In a raspy voice, the scarecrow replied, “Well, this year, I’ll be taking two.”
This filled Mr. Johnston with dread, but he knew that it had to be done if the farm were to survive. Sure, he felt bad about all of the lives which had been taken over the years and that there would likely be a price to pay at the end of his days, but there was nothing that he wanted to do with his life other than pumpkin farming. So, he knew that he would let this happen and even though it could never be made up for, he would do his best to make up for it a little by giving back to the community in as many ways as he could. Each year he donated to as many charities as he could and volunteered in any efforts being made to enhance the lives of his neighbors. So, he simply nodded at the scarecrow and wandered back to the house.
The following night, people started coming to the farm in the early evening after work. He could see the scarecrow peering up over the weeds at the edge of the parking area. He knew what would happen. As with every other year that the scarecrow hunted, it would pick out the person that it wanted and wait until the coast was clear to flatten a tire or do something else with that person’s car so that they’d be delayed in leaving. With this being the case, it was usually among the last of the people to show up that the scarecrow would select, and it was usually someone who was alone. Sometimes this required some patience because not many people came without their kids, but at least a few people each year were in too much of a hurry to go home and pick up their kids before coming out. These were the ones that the scarecrow usually harvested for itself.
On the night of October 2nd, oddly enough, there was a lone man who pulled in to the pumpkin patch about 15 minutes before closing time. Mr. Johnston knew that this would be the man’s last night on earth. Once he saw who it was though, he felt a little better about it. This guy drank like a fish and cheated on his wife all the time. If he were a betting man, he would have put down money that the guy was only here to try to convince his wife that he was a good guy. Even though he shouldn’t have, Mr. Johnston snorted at the thought. He led the guy out into the far end of the patch so that the scarecrow would have enough time to mess with his car, even though he didn’t typically help it to do its bidding, he wanted to make an exception this time. As they got about thirty yards away from the parking area, they heard the weeds rustling. When asked what it was, Mr. Johnston told him that it was just a deer. “We have a deer that’s been hanging around this year. As long as she leaves the vines alone, I don’t mind her being here.” That seemed to be good enough.
The man picked out his pumpkin. Mr. Johnston cut it off the vine for him, took his money, and excused himself. “Sorry to take your money and run, but I have to go start the end of the night stuff. Thanks for stopping by.”
The man turned in the other direction and made his way back to the parking area with his enormous pumpkin. With the way he was walking, Mr. Johnston thought that he’d probably stopped by the bar before coming over. He shrugged and made his way back to the house, telling his wife to turn the TV up. This was their signal to make sure that the kids didn’t hear any screams if things got out of hand. So, Mrs. Johnston turned the TV up and they put in one of the kids’ favorite movies.
As the man approached his car, the scarecrow watched. It had decided to wait for the auto club driver to show up and take both of them at the same time. It might even be fun, because it had been years since it had decided to challenge itself with a possible chase and fight. After about 45 minutes, the scarecrow watched the tow truck pull in behind the man’s car. It slowly crept out of the weeds and waited for the two men to lean over to look at the flat tire. As soon as they were bent over with their backs turned, it came up behind them with a knife in each hand. Mr. Johnston didn’t actually provide the scarecrow with knives, he just “forgot” to take in the ones he used to cut the pumpkins off the vines. He slowly reached around each man and with a quick motion, slit their throats. Even though the challenge would have been fun, the scarecrow knew that its quota had been met, and that there would be no more hunting this year.
It dragged them out into the field quickly, letting the blood seep into the soil. As the scarecrow feasted, the pumpkin vines sprang to life, dipping their leaves into the blood. The field filled with the almost deafening sound of leaves rattling. Even over the noise of the TV, some of the sound still made its way into the Johnston’s living room. The kids looked at their father with questioning faces and he told them that the wind had been picking up before he had come back into the house. Luckily, they were still small enough to believe him without asking any questions. That was among the worst things in the Johnston family…having to explain to the children the way things worked for when it was their turn to take over the farm.
After the scarecrow had devoured the last traces of the two men, it climbed back up the pole and waited for Mr. Johnston to come back down and refasten the ropes after the kids had fallen asleep. At least for another year, the scarecrow was appeased and the success of the pumpkin patch was guaranteed.