Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Tale #2 - Harvest Queen

 Harvest Queen

The sun was so hot, she felt as though she were being baked alive. She could almost hear her flesh frying in the heat, sizzling like bacon.  Her stomach growled at the thought of food, and that lead her mind back to her thirst. Her tongue was parched, lips already cracked a little. Her throat felt like sandpaper, dry and rough. She’d been here all day, alone. They’d brought her here before dawn; she could remember the darkness, the terror of not knowing where she was, praying for the dawn so she could see. Now she just prayed for the darkness to come again.

Over the constant murmur of the wind she heard another sound, listened again, her soul cringed. Wing beats sounded, closer now. She opened her eyes and gritted her teeth against the lancing pain of the light as it struck her eyes. There were three of them this time, greedy eyes gleaming as they hopped carefully closer.  She lifted her head and screamed at them, her hands and feet wriggling as she tried to scare them into flight. 

“Go! Get away!”  Her voice was raw, she’d already been at this for hours, but the crows always came back. They’d warned her they would keep coming, warned her what would happen if she didn’t keep them away.  In the darkness they’d whispered it to her as they’d brought her here, repeated it over and over as they’d bound her and left her to the corn. The only words they’d given her as she’d begged them to let her go.
 “Keep the crows away from the corn, away from the harvest. If you don’t they’ll take your eyes and feast on your flesh. Your only task is to keep them away from the corn until He comes for you.” With the whispered litany still in her head she screamed again, struggled against the bonds that bit into her baked flesh, drawing fresh blood as she flailed and flapped to keep the crows at bay.
When they flew off, she sagged against the ropes and whimpered in exhaustion and pain. The sun was overhead now, it was afternoon, and still no one had come.  She looked around at the miles of corn that surrounded her, an ocean of green and gold and her hanging just above it, a living scarecrow.  She slipped back into blessed unconsciousness.

Her mind drifted and replayed bits of the past, shattered and scattered shards of memories, all disjointed and hazy. New to town, the awkwardness, the small town minds watching from behind closed curtains. Her mother preaching patience as they unpacked. The dreams had started within days, something out in the corn, calling her. She’d started sleep walking for the first time in her life. They’d find her out in the backyard, staring at the cornfields.  Momma was worried, but the doctor said it was just the stress of moving, not to worry.  Pat on the head, it’ll all be fine as soon as she’s settled in. Lies.  The dreams continued, she woke up in the corn, barefoot and only in her nightgown.  They put a lock on her bedroom door. 

Momma started praying more, but it didn’t stop the dreams. The local priest came and prayed with them both. Still the dreams came. The town folk finally started to warm to them as summer wound down. Smiles at first, then apple cobblers delivered by neighbors who came out from behind their curtains. There were invitations to barbeques and church picnics. School started, friends appeared, and she still dreamed of the corn and the voice that called her name.

Harvest time was special to towns like these, their livelihood tied to the land in ways she’d never seen. When October came, the whole town closed down to celebrate the harvest with a fair. Hot dogs and cherry pie, Ferris wheel rides and three tries for a dollar, win a prize for your girl. She’d gone to the harvest dance, music and laughter and twirling in the darkness. Momma had bought her a new dress, told her to go have fun and not to worry about curfew, not this one time.

She’d danced and danced and as the moon rose they’d named her the Queen of the Harvest, given her a sash and a little tin crown. She’d been so happy.  She had learned joy had a flavor, like cotton candy and strawberry wine.  The memories grew hazier, time ran together; she’d danced again, there’d been more wine, more laughter. She’d grown tired, so tired. She’d dreamed again, of the voice in the corn. When she’d woken though, she was not alone. They’d been there, voices in the darkness, familiar voices but no faces.  They’d been so gentle with her, washed her face, brushed out her hair. All the while telling her she had to keep the corn safe, keep the crows away.

She heard the flap of wings again, the crows. Have to keep them away. She struggled to open an eye; her voice was more croak than scream now. One was sitting on the cross bar, staring at her.  She screamed again, her hands writhing, her body twisted against her bonds.  The crow fluttered away, landed in the corn, still watching.  She screamed again, thrashed, her hair whipped around her face, the tin crown slipping to one side. Her dress flapped in a gust of wind, a banner of red above the sea of green. 

The crow flew off at last. She glanced upward; the sun was much lower in the sky, not sunset yet, but soon. Her eyes closed and she dreamed again. She dreamed of crows that croaked her name, eyes gleaming red in the setting sun.  Sharp beaks flashing, talons tearing flesh.  Something else stirred out in the fields, her name whispered on the wind, “Tara, I’m coming.”  The dream crows flew away, left her to sleep in peace, to dream of the green and gold corn.

When she wakes again it is sunset, the air seems golden as the last rays kissed the cornfield and then faded into the darkening sky. The wind still played in the corn, a steady noise like waves on the seashore. The cooler air is a balm against her sun seared skin, blistered and red as the sunset sky. She laughed; her voice raw and crackling as she cackled in victory. The crows hadn’t taken the corn, she’d won. They’d promised her if she protected the corn he’d come. Come and take her away from this terrible place. Her laughter turned to sobs.

“Tara.”  That voice, the voice of her dreams. But she wasn’t dreaming now.  “I’m coming Tara, my queen.”  There was a rustling out in the corn, more than the wind now. The air grew cooler, then cold.  She shivered as she hung there; watching the harvest moon rise up, blood red over the fields. The wind brings the smell of fresh upturned earth, clean and damp. Out in the moonlight, the corn moves. Something is coming. She watched, unable to tear her eyes away from the cornstalks that bent and fell away as something made its way towards her. It left a path straight as an arrow through the moonlit fields, coming ever closer.  “Tara, close your eyes.”  

She did as the voice bid and shut her eyes tight, waiting. The wind picked up and she grew colder, icy tendrils tugging at her dress, so cold now.  The sound came closer, a rustle that seemed to move with its own cadence, swish, crackle, swish. The scent of earth grew stronger, no longer fresh but musty, the perfume of the graveyard. Something brushed her legs, the ropes fell away.  She groaned in relief and then cried in pain as the blood returned, fiery needles prickling the skin.  Another touch to her arms, something soft but scratchy touching her skin. The ropes were gone; she fell from her perch and into darkness.

When she came too something was carrying her, cradled like a doll in arms that felt like they were stuffed with straw.  Tara opened her eyes and screamed.  The stench of raw earth and fertilizer filled her lungs, stale straw and moldy sack cloth; she gagged and turned her face away. Away from the nightmare that was carrying her back into the corn.  “Tara.”  Its voice was the same as the one in her dreams, “My Queen.” 

“No.”  She whimpered.  “Please, no.” She tried to banish the vision of misshapen lips and glowing eyes that was burned in her mind.

“My Harvest Queen.” Claws stroked through her hair, leaving dirt and debris tangled in their wake. She felt the crown lifted away, something else took its place.  She reached up to touch it. Dead leaves, dried wheat, a harvest crown. The smell of broken earth grew stronger; the air was heavy with it. 

“Take me home, they promised me you’d take me home!”  She struggled in its grasp, straw and burlap tearing at her sunburned skin. 

“You are home.”  It whispered and held her tighter, claws curving around tender flesh, just on the edge of drawing blood.  Around them the wind blew, cold and mournful as it sang in the corn. The earth shook beneath them, gaping wide.  As she fell into the darkness again she screamed, screamed until her voice failed and the earth blotted out the night sky and sealed off her voice from the world forever.


The officer dropped the missing person report onto his desk and went to grab a coffee. The kid was a runaway, just like the others. They got bored of small town life and decided to get out while the getting was good. Everywhere he’d worked it had been the same story. Sometimes they came back, most times they didn’t. Funny thing though, how they always seemed to go missing right around the harvest.  He shrugged.  Who could understand kids these days?