Barbara pulled into the neighborhood and instantly felt out of place. The houses were all much too large, and the lots were more than twice the size she was used to seeing. Amongst the multicolored leaf strewn lawns, she drove down the winding road glancing at her GPS. The house that she was fooling herself that they could afford was less than a quarter of a mile away. Passing what could easily be described as a manor, it was well over six thousand square feet. She almost turned around feeling overwhelmed. As she rounded the corner, she saw the house from the listing. It was perfect in every way. The tall, gabbled roof stood three stories in the air, giving the cottage home a look of elegance amongst the perfectly manicured lawn. As she pulled into the horseshoe driveway, the GPS made an odd beeping noise she had never heard before, and the screen flashed ‘Wrong Address’ repeatedly. She hit the large X on the digital display, canceling the navigation. Hers was the only car, assuming she beat the real estate agent there, she pulled up the listing. It would be the fourth time she viewed it today, but still wasn’t tired of it.
Reading once more about the five bedroom must see property, she held her phone up and matched the opening photo to the actual face of the house. She was amazed at how the photography made the impressive front porch seem even larger. As she looked on the side of the house, the area that had an exotic flower garden and a tan pergola, she saw the scarecrow. It was the most distasteful decoration she had ever seen. The body was wiry and crooked, hung from a single rod that held the arms out at odd angles, making it appear as if it was about to begin a cartwheel. Weather worn clothing hung from the body in an abhorrent mixture of colors making it look like stained blood. Atop its head was a party hat with a thick elastic strap across it's a pointy chin beneath rows of glimmering pointed teeth. Even from this distance, it was obvious they were sharp enough to tear whatever they came into contact with to shreds. The eyes looked like oversized convex buttons and the nose was two simple black cavities. Its oversized head was ridiculously disproportionate to the skeletal like body below. Staring at it made her feel like she did something dirty, reminding her of the time as a child she walked in on her parents having sex.
Pulling her from her harsh memories, there was a loud rap at her window. The tap, tap made her jump violently enough to pull her seat belt across her slim waist, causing pain. With an exhaled laugh, she let down her window.
“Mrs. Stevens, so very sorry to startle you like that!”
Placing her hand on her chest, she laughed more then said, “No worries, Mr. Roberts. I guess I was just caught up in thought.”
“Well if you are ready and feel up to it let’s begin the tour.”
They entered through the main double door to a very plain foyer that lead to a nicely sized great room with a back wall made mostly of glass.
Mr. Roberts flashed his smile. “This room makes quite the first impression, doesn’t it?”
“It is gorgeous.”
“Imagine Christmas here, the tree would fit nicely in this corner.”
She knew this being the eighteenth house this month that they viewed he was subtly manipulating her, but she didn’t care. This was the very first time she could envision her family living in any of the many homes she had toured. Before his suggestion, she already pictured Harry at the fireplace and the kids at her side helping to decorate. “Yes, that would be ideal.”
They moved to the kitchen, “some appliances are dated, and ugh Formia countertops, which of course you would want to update but as the price is right now, it would be easy to handle any remodeling budget.”
“Why is it so low? I mean this neighborhood, this house at that price, what’s the catch?”
“Motivated sellers and they are “by owner” so do not understand the true value.”
“Is the place in good shape?”
“As far as I can tell, it is solid. Of course we will hire an inspector, but I believe you will not find much of anything other than a few cosmetic suggestions.”
Barbara walked to the sliding glass door. The grass seemed to go on endlessly. Almost beyond her line of sight, there was a lake with some wild shrubs at the far end of the property. Just off to the right there was what appeared to be a child standing with his hands flaying in the wind.
“How can it still be on the market?”
“Like I said, it is a private listing. My firm is the only group with access, at least for now. I was just assigned it yesterday.”
“Ah, interesting. So you are sure the price is accurate?”
“Astounding as it is, yes, it is accurate. Would you like to view the laundry it is right through here?”
She followed the impeccably dressed man down the narrow hallway. The laundry room was modern and all in stark white. With the fluorescent lighting above, the room almost seemed to glow. Barbara opened the appliances. Inside the washer, she saw a group of pumpkin seeds, they were over dried with a pasty white crust. Feeling slightly disturbed, she smiled and said, “Very nice.”
“Yes the room is remarkably clean as you can see.”
The real estate agent walked past her, and they made their way through the kitchen and viewed a sizable dining room, a full bath, and a study that was lined with mostly empty bookshelves. The books that were on the shelves looked very old and the lettering on the binding appeared to be handwritten. There was a curved staircase just beyond the great room. As she followed Mr. Roberts up the stairs, he asked, “Did you tell your husband you were seeing another home?”
“No. We had a bit of a tiff last night after he tried to talk me into buying the place on Currant.”
“That house is not for you, it is far too plain for someone of your taste.”
She didn’t quite know how to take the compliment from the man who insisted on using last names. It was flattering to think a younger man would flirt, but she also knew he was trying to make a sale. Not knowing what to say, she said nothing and followed the agent to the upstairs hallway and a maze of doors.
“This is the first spare bedroom. It is rather small, but it has its own bathroom. As you can see, it could use some minor updating, but it is serviceable.” They came to another closed door in the hall. The walls were very narrow and there was little light. “This could be converted into a bedroom. The current owners were using it as a hobby room.” In the middle of the room was a table with an odd assortment of tools. “The table is bolted to the hardwood, but that could easily be patched.”
Staring at the stains on the table Barbara was beginning to think the reason the price was so low was because someone had been killed here. The table had hammers, saws, and other unrecognizable sharp implements. Each item was laying neatly arranged on the stained butcher block.
As if he sensed her discomfort, Mr. Stevens said, “They make floral and other plant-based arrangements. That is why there is such a large garden on the west side of the house. Do you like to garden?”
“Not at all.”
“Good, you will not be disturbed by the birds trying to eat the flowers then. Apparently, the lake attracts them. The master is just this way.” The room was almost the size of the great room, it had its own fireplace and a sliding glass door with a balcony. Stepping to the side, he politely said, “Mrs. Stevens, I am very sorry but with your permission I ask if you wouldn’t mind continuing the tour on your own at least for a few minutes. I have a call with my son’s teacher and I simply must take it.”
“Please do, I will be fine.”
With a bright smile, “Thank you, feel free to look around, I will be back in a few minutes.”
He left the room with an unnatural swiftness. Barbara walked to the balcony. On the other side of the glass just past the lawn she saw the lake in every direction. The view was stunning. Wondering how large it actually was, she continued the tour. The walls were lined with photographs. Off to the right she saw a picture of the scarecrow sitting on a swing and another a few feet from it of the scarecrow sitting in front of the fireplace. It was posed with its legs crossed and its head back as if it was relaxing. Wondering what kind of twisted sense of humor the owners had, she felt a wave of repulsion. Wishing to no longer be alone, she left the room leaving the depraved display behind her. She placed her hand on the handle of the adjoining door; it felt like the windup of a jack in the box, each slight twist building tension leading to some unescapable scare. Suddenly she lost all interest in continuing the tour. Quickly she darted down the stairway. As she approached the first floor, she heard the murmur of Mr. Roberts on the phone. She had never felt such a strong inclination toward not having a roof over her head as she presently did. Not caring about anything else, she dashed out the front door and to her car. As she drove away, she could see the scarecrow in her mirror, it was two days later before she saw it again in her own yard.
Tuesdays were Barbara’s night to catch up on chores. Harry had night sessions with his patients and the kids attended a reading group at the library, leaving her three hours of peace. As she made her way through the house, putting away the clothes the kids had been neglecting, she had to come to a decision on moving. Pulling her from her thoughts, she heard ‘Don’t stop, Believin’ from her phone. Fishing it from her pocket, she was happy for the distraction from her sister, “Hey.”
“Hey yourself! What are you up to?”
“Living the glamorous life of putting away clothes.”
“Lame. You still fighting with the master of the house?”
The teasing was getting a little too poignant. “We have chosen to stop talking about moving for now. So yes, we are fighting but just not actively.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but you know you have to make a decision within two weeks, right?”
She was well aware of the rate lock and didn’t need to hear it. “Thanks for the reminder.”
“Has anyone bought the lake house yet?”
“I haven’t checked.” It was a lie. She checked it daily. It was still available. “After the way I spazed out, I don’t think I can face Mr. Roberts again. Especially at the same place.”
“Do you really think he cares about anything more than his commission?”
“It’s more than that.” There was a long silence.
“You still there?”
“Well, are you going to say anything else?”
Her sister's voice was playful yet searching. Thinking it was now or never, she blurted out, “I really want that house, but something happened after I left.”
“Like I think someone is messing with me. A couple of days after I came home, I saw that scarecrow thing on the Florence’s lawn. It was pointed toward my bedroom window.”
“Well that’s…. odd. Are you absolutely sure?”
“I know I sounded like a crazy person, but I am telling you the scarecrow was there. Well, it was before it was moved again.”
“It was on my front lawn just two days ago.”
“I am not going to lie, you sound kinda batshit crazy right now. Sorry.”
“Oh, believe me, I know. But that doesn’t change what I saw.”
“You are under a lot of stress right now. I read somewhere once that moving is consistently listed as one of the most stress inducing moments a person can have.”
“I am not seeing things!”
“I am not saying you are. I just want to make sure you are careful who you tell this story to.”
“Good bye Cindy.”
“Come on, don’t be like that!”
“No really I have a lot to do anyway, I will call you tomorrow on my way to work.”
After a night of cleaning and organizing, Barbara walked through the garage to throw out the trash. As she passed her car, the scarecrow opened the back door. Frozen by its hideous glare, she watched his overlong arms stretch out and overtake her.
“It has been a week since she disappeared, and you have done nothing!” Harry was sitting in his living room staring at the detectives who were assigned to the case. The girls were upstairs. Cindy, helping out just entered the room.
“Mr. Stevens, I understand you are upset, and you have every right to be. I know it may seem like we haven’t been very productive, however I assure we have done all we can. Cindy thought of the ignored pumpkin seeds she found under the car in the garage. “Did you interview Mr. Roberts?”
“Yes, we had a conversation with him. He was at church with his wife and children that evening. The man is an upstanding citizen, and we have ruled him out completely.”
She wanted to slap the smirk off of the pudgy detective’s face. “I know you don’t believe me, but that man did something to her. That very night she told me she was being stalked.”
“Miss Bennet, we have been over this. Your sister thinking she saw a Halloween decoration is not something we can do anything about.” She put her hand up to cut Cindy off. “I believe you that Mrs. Stevens may have been harassed leading up to her disappearance and it might have some connection, but there isn’t a single bit of evidence leading back to the real estate agent.”
“What about the owners of the house then!”
Harry cut in, “Cindy let it go.”
“Why! There is nothing else to follow!”
“We don’t know what she actually saw, and we can’t waste the detective’s time chasing after Barbara’s overactive imagination.”
Cindy, frustrated, went back upstairs without saying another word.
It was a rainy Saturday early evening. The sun had just disappeared, making the now darkened sky appear to glow. Using her sister’s car, Cindy followed the GPS. She was using the last programmed address to find the lake house that did not appear in any internet searches. She swerved the minivan along the snaking road following the commands. Just as she passed a ridiculously large house, the GPS began flashing ‘Wrong Address’. Ignoring the irksome noise, Cindy pulled the car to the curb just short of the horseshoe shaped drive. In the cover of the darkness, she began her slow walk up the driveway, looking for cameras on the brick building. Feeling confident she was clear she walked around the west entrance through the garden. Like the detectives said, there was no scarecrow. Seeing lights on inside, she ducked and walked to the sliding glass door. Listening to the chirp of crickets, she could make out movement inside the house. Hiding behind a large hose wheel, she was inches away from the glass. Looking inside, she saw two scarecrows sitting on a couch. The larger of the two was wearing a torn flannel shirt, it held a leash attached to the one next to it wearing a patchwork dress and a bright red wig. The color was a perfect match to her sister’s natural color. The couple sat perfectly still, appearing doll-like staring at a blank wall. As if they could sense her presence through her fear, they slowly moved their wide heads in unison until they were staring directly at her with shiny button eyes. The redhead raised thin straw arms covering a wide frowning mouth. Her flannelled captor tugged violently at the leash, then smiled a wide smile, revealing rows of pointy teeth. As Cindy quickly tried to stand, she saw the dull reflection in the glass of a smiling pumpkin headed child behind her and the gleam of a large butcher knife that quickly disappeared tearing into her lower back. Feeling frozen except for the warm trickling blood, she lurched backward as the child began digging into her wound with its straw-like fingers. As Cindy was blacking out from the pain, she watched as the redheaded scarecrow shook her large head as tears formed beneath the reflective eyes. Laying on the cold concrete Cindy whispered “No.”