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Monday 11 March 2013

'The Scarecrow Game' by Scarecrowgirl

I have a story to tell about one of my imaginary friends. I don’t know if it’s the scariest story, but it’s a real one, so I thought I’d type it up and share it here. But it requires a bit of background before I get to the real crux of it. I hope you’ll bear with me.

When I was young, my family lived in a small, rural town in Virginia. It was the kind of town where no one locked their doors. It was bordered by patches of old farmland and forest, and the yards were huge and sprawling, many with fruit orchards at the back.

The street I was on didn’t have any other children on it, unfortunately, but I had a few friends at school, and we went on hayrides, picked pumpkins, and visited each other often. At home, I probably would have been lonely, except, like many children, I had imaginary friends to keep me company. What maybe made me different from other kids was the sheer number of imaginary friends I had, and the very specific circumstances in which they showed up.

There was a little boy that played with me in my room at night. I remember I used to make fun of him for wearing a dress, this weird lacy blue thing, and he would scowl and throw blocks at my head and sulk, and sometimes disappear entirely for days on end, so I learned to stop teasing him about it. Years later, I realized it was an old-fashioned nightgown, the kind both little boys and little girls used to wear. Maybe I’d seen it in a book, or on TV, and incorporated it into my daydreams. At the time I just knew he was dressed funny. We played with his toy trains, which he could send spinning through the air, something I never got the knack of myself but thought was a lot of fun. Sometimes he would bring them out while I was eating dinner with my family, and I’d point them out to my parents, the trains dancing around the ceiling. They laughed, and told me they couldn’t see them, which annoyed me at first, but I eventually got used to it.

The one time I remember my parents being concerned about any of my imaginary companions was when I said I had made friends with a man named Michael, a young man in old-fashioned clothes, with a funny cap, and he always carried a stick over his left shoulder. I told them that I met him in the orchard and that now we were boyfriend and girlfriend, that we were going to get married. This naturally concerned them a bit, which I found it baffling at the time, but once I chattered away at Michael in front of them, they calmed down. Obviously this was yet another of my cadre of imaginary friends, not a strange man preying on their daughter.

Then there was Judy, the only one of my friends that did occasionally frighten me. Even I couldn’t see her – she was just a voice and an invisible presence, but we played all the time in my room, always during the day, wild games that usually resulted in enormous messes that I, not Judy, got yelled at for, which I always thought was completely unfair. What frightened me was that she had a temper. When we fought, she’d throw things at me until I burst into tears, and then she’d apologize over and over until I forgave her. We fought and made up constantly. My parents thought it was cute, I think.

The list of imaginary friends and comrades goes on and on, probably more than anyone here would be interested in hearing about. I had them everywhere. There was the girl in the wall by the playground – she only came out sometimes, during cloudy days. I don’t know if she came out at night – I never went to the playground after dark, of course. And there were the eyes in the magnolia tree. I called them my squirrel friends, and they freaked my babysitter out, even though she couldn’t see them.

None of these figures seemed malevolent to me, though like I said, sometimes Judy’s temper scared me. But considering that I was a bit of a scaredy-cat as a kid, terrified of skeletons and prone to hiding my face and shrieking in terror whenever the Wizard of Oz or Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid came on TV, it’s no wonder that my imaginary friends never worried my parents. They must have seemed both funny and harmless. Maybe even healthy, for a kid with no one to play with during the day.

Besides, they had other things to worry about – though all I knew at the time was that my mom was sick a lot, I now know she was having miscarriage after miscarriage, almost always of twins, which probably made it worse. They wanted me to have a sibling, a little brother or sister to play with, but something kept going wrong. I didn’t wind up getting my little brother until later, when we’d moved to South Carolina.

On top of that, my dad was always away for work – sometimes for weeks at a time. My mom was very quiet and distracted back then, with the end result that she seldom noticed when I disappeared for hours on end. I don’t think this made her a bad parent – as I recall, a lot of my friends’ parents were the same way. I certainly ran amok mostly unsupervised at my friend Marcus’ house, too, throughout the corn fields and forests near his house. It was a safe, sleepy town. There was no reason to worry.

Years later, I came to the same conclusion as my parents: wow, I had a crazy imagination. All those things must have been a combination of dreams and playacting and wishful thinking. I was a weird kid who didn’t have a lot of friends outside of school, my parents didn’t have a lot of time for me, and clearly I was making up for the lack in my own head.

But recently something happened that made me started thinking back. There’s one thing, just one, that really makes me wonder if more was going on than just the overactive imagination of a lonely kid.

You see, the year I turned six, something happened to Marcus. I didn’t understand what happened then. I was a kid, and at the time it wasn’t something that especially frightened me --- it did upset me, but I was a kid. Kids get over strange events easily, especially when distracted by other, even stranger events. We moved pretty soon after it happened, and my mind was occupied with worry over that --- over the friends I was leaving, over whether I would make new friends in my new home, over whether my mom really would let me get a puppy, over the new little brother I was being promised and whether my parents would love him more than me. Normal worries, but all-encompassing ones for a six-year old.

I didn’t have a lot of friends at school back in Virginia, maybe because I talked to myself so often back then, but I did have a one really good friend, my best friend. Marcus. He was a bit of an oddball himself, a goofy looking kid covered in freckles, with red curly hair like Ronald McDonald and a giant mouth that was always laughing or smiling wider that seemed humanly possible. I liked him a lot, and he loved hearing my stories about my invisible companions. Judy hated him, so we usually played outside when he visited. He would troop around with Michael and me, listening to me prattle on. I’d convey Michael’s occasional comments, and we all had fun exploring, climbing trees, finding the best hiding places and secret fortresses.

I visited him, too. His house was an old farmhouse from an earlier century, probably the 1700s or 1800s, I’m not sure. It had a barn, and a silo that was out of use and rusting away, which we were forbidden to go near but we occasionally snuck in through the side door anyway. We used it as clubhouse, but his parents always yelled if they figured out that we’d been in there. They said it was old, and dangerous, and kept threatening that eventually they were going to tear it down. We kept sneaking in, though, sneaking in flashlights and blankets and stuffed animals that his parents repeatedly cleared back out. Eventually they boarded up the door so that we couldn’t get in anymore. I remembered the day we discovered the boards, how we pried at them for ages and then sulked back to the house, full of splinters.

Anyway, like I said earlier, his house was surrounded by cornfields. Many of them had scarecrows, which somehow sparked an idea in our heads. Somehow, who knows how the minds of kids work, but at some point we came up with the Scarecrow game. This was the game we played the most – at school, at his home or mine, wherever. The object of the game was this: one of us would play the Scarecrow, standing perfectly still, hands outstretched and head down, not moving, totally silent. And the other would do their damnedest to make the Scarecrow move or jump or make a noise. This could be done by trying to either scare the Scarecrow, or make them laugh – you could pretend to be an elephant, or make funny faces, or sneak up behind them and shout as loud as you could.

As I was a giant fraidy cat, and also rather excitable to boot, it quickly became apparent that I was a horrible Scarecrow. My turns never lasted long, especially because Marcus could pull some truly spectacular faces. Even now, nearly two decades later, I still remember his impression of a giraffe being born and can’t help laughing. He had a gift for comedy even at six years of age; even adults cracked up constantly around him.

I was less adept, or maybe Marcus just had nerves of steel and the patience of a much older kid, because he could stand there for what seemed like hours (probably no more than ten minutes, but time passes differently when you’re a kid), and often the game would finally end when his arms just got too tired for him to hold them up any longer. This never happened to me, mind. Like I said, I was a horrible Scarecrow.

In kindergarten, Marcus and I were paired up as partners – the way our class worked, each pair had a task to complete. Ours was to clean up and stack the blocks back in their treasure chest after morning and afternoon play periods. So when Marcus didn’t come in, I always noticed and fumed – he was leaving me with all the work! Never mind that I did the same to him the week I had the flu, or the time mom was too sick to walk me to school.

One morning, I think in October, or maybe November – it was just before it’d gotten cold enough to bundle up during the day, still warm enough during recess to run around without a jacket. Anyway, one day Marcus didn’t show up. I was already mad at him because for some reason, he hadn’t been there to play all weekend, his parents not answering the phone when mine called. So I was extra mad that morning as I stacked the blocks alone, throwing them around haphazardly.

When we broke for recess, though, Marcus was waiting outside, waiting for me. It was a sunny day, sky bright blue, and I remember there was a strong breeze blowing. Leaves were falling everywhere, skittering around in the breeze in swirl of crackly color, and a bunch of my classmates were already racing around, making piles and throwing them at each other, shrieking and making the normal sounds of a playground filled with kids. But Marcus just stood there in a bubble of silence, arms outstretched and head down. He was wearing a red shirt that clashed with his orange hair. He was playing Scarecrow.

I was still a little miffed that he’d skipped out on his block duties, but I was glad to see him. There were always the other girls in my class that I could have played with, Peggy and Meredith and Ashley, but I never got along as well with them as I did with Marcus. Marcus was my best friend. It was always more fun when he was there.

That day, though, Marcus played the Scarecrow better than he ever had before. There was a cut on one of his hands, but he just stood there and let it bleed, the blood dripping off his fingers and falling on the leaves. His hair looked weird, too, matted down on one side and wet. That scared me a little, but Marcus had never minded cuts and bruises as much as I did, and was good at hiding them from his parents later so we wouldn’t get in trouble, so it wasn’t that strange.

What was strange was how well he played that day. Nothing could make him move, not even when I got frustrated and broke the rules and shoved him. He just stood there, head down, arms out, mouth unsmiling. He didn’t get tired, didn’t put his arms down, didn’t obey the unspoken rule that after a while, the game had to end. That was the rule, and he wasn’t playing fair, and he hadn’t even helped me with the blocks that morning.

“Fine!” I yelled, frustrated enough that I was practically crying, and stomped off to go play tag with the other kids. He was still standing there when recess ended. I didn’t say anything because I was still mad, but I was even more aggravated when that afternoon, before I could go home, I had to put up all the blocks by myself, again. I complained to our teacher, who was a young pretty woman, more a girl, really, not very experienced. I remember she seemed upset, and then she gently suggested I maybe I should get a new partner, which really infuriated me. I shouted no, and that I wanted Marcus, and he should just come inside and help me. When he still didn’t I pitched a tantrum, and my mom had to come and get me. I don’t remember what my mom told me, I just remember that I was mad and didn’t want to listen. I went to bed early after refusing to eat dinner.

The next day Marcus still wasn’t in class. The teacher didn’t make me put up the blocks that morning – instead she had Peggy and Meredith do it. When we had recess, though, Marcus was still there, standing in the same place, in the same red shirt. Playing Scarecrow. At first I decided to ignore him, running and playing with the other kids, slipping in the leaves, climbing the slide and playing king of the play fort. But I kept peeking at Marcus out of the corner of my eye. Was he mad at me? I finally shuffled up next to him through the fallen leaves and wood chips and stood next to him, and this time I played Scarecrow, too. Two Scarecrows, but I kept losing. My arms got tired, I had to put them down. I didn’t understand how he was doing it, and he didn’t turn and look at me, or try to scare me or make me laugh, or do anything. He just stood there, stiller than anything.

When the teacher called us to line up to go back inside when recess ended, I ran up to her and tugged her skirt, and asked her to make Marcus come inside, too. She stared at me and covered her mouth with her hand, and then turned without saying anything to walk the class inside like we always did.

I lost it. I didn’t understand and it wasn’t fair and I wanted Marcus to come inside. I screamed, and yelled, and when the principal himself came out to talk to me and bring me in, I threw myself on the ground and kicked and bit.

I don’t remember a lot after that. I remember my mom came and got me, and that my dad came home from his work trip soon after that, and that they told me Marcus wasn’t coming to school anymore.

“But he was there!” I sobbed into my mom’s neck, pretty much worn out, but still determined, because he had been, he’d been right there, playing Scarecrow. My mom said in a funny voice that I shouldn’t play that game anymore, which just infuriated me all over again. Why not? It didn’t make sense.

We weren’t supposed to move until the new year, but somehow the schedule changed, and we left for our new home in South Carolina soon after that. Judy pitched a fit like I’d never seen before, and then stopped talking to me altogether. My parents didn’t make me clean up the mess. I never got to say goodbye to my classmates, or the girl in the wall, because I never went back to the school again. When I asked Michael to marry me and move to South Carolina with us, he just looked at me, not smiling, and ruffled my hair, and I, already overemotional and exhausted and upset, yelled and kicked his shin and ran back home. I never saw him again.

For years I assumed the timing of our move was just coincidence – it turned out my mom was pregnant again, and this time it seemed to be sticking. I was going to get a new brother, and my dad had just gotten offered a new promotion. They hurried to find a house available, found one, and bought it immediately. It was a good time to move; as a kid growing up I never questioned it. I was happy in South Carolina. I made new friends quickly, and I had a baby brother and a puppy to play with. Virginia was just a memory, and the horrible last days there faded quickly in my mind. I’d had a fight with my best friend, I moved, I grew up.

But now I wonder.

You see, I never really thought about that time of my life with any real seriousness. I was a kid, it was a long time ago, I had a wild imagination. Whatever, lots of kids do. As I grew up, I stopped making as many imaginary friends, stopping entirely once I hit middle school.

But recently, one of my classmates from Virginia friended me on Facebook, and I thought for the first time in a long time about that funny-looking kid, my best friend from kindergarten. The Scarecrow, I remembered that game. I never really played it once I’d moved – no one else played it right, and over the years I’d almost forgotten about it. I tried to look Marcus up online, but couldn’t remember his last name and I couldn’t turn anything up in Meredith or Peggy’s friendslists, either. For some reason I felt weird asking them about him, so I waited until I was visiting my parents over a holiday break. I brought it up nonchalantly over dinner.

“Hey, Mom,” I said in between bites of casserole. “Remember that kid, back in Virginia? Marcus, right? I don’t remember his last name, do you?”

“Oh, honey,” my mom said, and reached across the table and patted my hand. “We worried so much about you after that happened.”

I took a deep breath and made myself keep eating, and with my mouth still full mumbled an agreement, both hoping and fearing that she’d say more.

“It’s so hard to lose a friend when you’re that young,” she continued. “And it was so sad, too. We were so relieved that the move seemed to help you deal with losing him.”

“Right,” I said, and tried not to look like how I felt, which was like I was about to pass out face-down in my plate. The rest of the conversation passed in a haze, like I was hearing my family talk from far away, underwater. My brother was asking, curious, and my parents were telling him about little Marcus Brown, how he’d contracted what his parents had thought was a bad cold over the weekend, a cold that had turned out to be tetanus. By the time they’d taken him to the doctor, the case of lockjaw was so bad he could barely breathe, could barely move at all.

He’d found a new way into the silo, something we’d always plotted to do. He must have done it without me, and cut himself on the metal as he did. Not badly, but when metal is rusty it doesn’t have to be bad. He’d died there, in the hospital. That’s why he hadn’t come to school that morning, or any morning after that. He’d died, and I’d gone into hysterics. That’s what my parents remember. It fits with what I remember, too. Mostly.

I keep telling myself now that he must have died after I left school. He must have. That cut on his hand and on his head, that must have been what killed him, killed him after that last time I’d seen him. That’s what happened. Even if not, it’s not like I could trust my own memories. I’d made things up before. I’d made things up all the time, entire people, whole conversations and friendships. The boy in my room, and the girl in the wall, and Judy, and Michael, all of them. I just had a vibrant imagination, and I was an upset little girl who didn’t know how to deal with the death of my best friend. That’s all.

What makes me shiver, even now, though, is that Marcus wasn’t one of my imaginary friends, except for those last two days, when no one saw him but me. It seems like a strange coincidence, and I can’t help but wonder. Not just about Marcus, but about all of them. About why I saw them, and who they were, what they were. I wonder if I go back to Virginia, if I’d find Michael waiting in the old orchard. If the girl in the wall is still there. I wonder if I go back to my old school, to that playground, if I’d still see Marcus standing there, arms outstretched, head down, waiting for me.

I wonder what it would take to make him look up.


Written by Scarecrow Girl
Original Source: NoSleep

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