A Doll in the Garden
Every Halloween the scarecrow had been fun for our family. Practically a Kingsley tradition. Gorgee, as we called it, had never done much of a job scaring away crows. They actually seemed to enjoy perching on its floppy hat, its crooked outstretched arms. That big, old, tattered mannequin stuffed with rags was better used scaring kids. And the most fantastic of holidays for kids had always been grandly improved by Gorgee. I say had. My twelfth Halloween was very different.
Our family first got the idea to make the scarecrow part of the holiday when my sister and I were young children. I think my father was the one with the bright idea. He was always coming up with practical jokes and crazy antics for celebration. Whenever a birthday or any holiday occurred, dad would always make a big production out of it, not in the ordinary domestic way of cake, gifts, and costumes, but in the most outlandish scenarios.
So we were not surprised when dad turned the scarecrow into a Halloween creature. That was not exactly its birth; it had been hanging futilely in the garden for years. But that October he embellished it as a thing in keeping with the season and the day of all souls--that most wonderful time when the whole world seems orange and black and sweet, and when darkness means both fun and fear.
This particular garden dummy began in the style of all scarecrows: worn out clothes stuffed with dry grass. My mother sewed my father's castoff longsleeved shirt and pants into one continuous garment, and he molded it to resemble a man, then stuck it on a stake in the garden to keep the crows away.
Crows are scared of humans but quickly learn the difference between a flesh and blood human and a fake one. And before three days their cacophonous calls were scoffing at my father's effort. They appeared even to enjoy the new decoration in the middle of their vegetable plot. They would perch on the pathetic bag of weeds while resting from their systematic plundering of our cornlets and salad green sprouts. So my father had to devise another use for the "unscarecrow", as he started calling it. Being the imaginative man he is, he naturally turned it into the perfect Halloween fixture.
First, he motorized the thing. The funniest part of the Gorgee episode. Using a small battery motor, dad made the stake impaling the thing rotate back & forth, causing the dummy's jointless limbs to flop and its head bob crazily. That was the first thing dad did to make Gorgee scary, and it worked well till the kid's figured out its movement. When my father added the sound effects, though, the scariness reached another level. Then we started calling the thing Gorgee.
My father had the sound system rigged so that the dummy seemed to howl in a reverberating noise: "Gor-gee! Gorr-geee! Gorrrr-geeee!" I never could figure out what it was supposed to mean, but it was terrifying, especially after dark--on Halloween. When the thing not only danced maniacally on its spike but also hollered in the chill blackness, we all got goosebumps. And the costumed kids hopeful for bags full of sugar in various forms turned tail and ran, till the spine-thrumming noise faded behind them. All much to my supercilious pleasure. During the Gorgee years, little of the candy in the bowl by the door disappeared, much to my and my sister's delight. A bountiful bonus for having the scariest house on the block. In our neighborhood I felt like a prince of the unholy night. But then the tide of terror turned. And for some reason, it turned on me.
After a particularly prodigal Halloween night, I was lying in bed, my belly stuffed with candy corn, licorice sticks, and chocolate kisses. My bedroom looked out on the garden, so I always had a full view of Gorgee beyond the giant oak tree that framed my window. After his annual horror show, he would hang on his spike like an executed man. I used to feel sorry for him--alone and dampened by the chill cusp of November. But I was more preoccupied with my sadness at the inevitable end of the too brief holiday frolic. In the midst of my centripetal focus it happened.
Nearly midnight. A full moon like none I had ever seen illumined the land around our house so brightly I could see dew forming on the rim of Gorgee's old Stetson. Besides being quite dyspeptic I was rapt. The scene was so gothically intriguing I had no interest in sleep. But then, just as a warm drowse was overtaking me, something happened that would keep me awake for hours. I thought I saw it move.
Of course I was imagining it. But I swore Gorgee moved. Subtly at first. So subtly I wanted to believe it merely my eye twitching. But then he moved again. His pillow head dropped slowly to his chest as though he had died. I focused my eyes, trying to figure it out. What in hell--? Had the thing simply fallen off the spike? Did dad do it? Had to be so. My father was the master of such machinations. And I would have made him responsible for it, had I not suffered the next hours in fear for my life.
Gorgee's head lay still as stone on his distended breast for several heartbeats when slowly, as slowly as the turning of the Earth, he swiveled and faced me. I swear to God! He looked at me. I use the word looked figuratively, for he had only outlined eyes. Still, the scarecrow faced my window and looked right into my eyes with his blank face.
I had to watch to see if he would move again, or to know if the whole episode had been my oversweetened imagination. Apparently not. The thing raised his shapeless arm and waved his limp white garden glove, the boneless fingers foolishly flapping around his pudgy face. That was it. I dived under the covers like a squirrel into his hole. What I could not see could not hurt me. Panting and trembling I lay there, waiting, listening. But nothing happened. Calming down, feeling confident, and gasping for air, I dragged the covers from my face.
Gorgee's face smashed against the window pane, its fabric squeezed to form what appeared to be eyesockets. Worse, he was smiling! Not happily but madly! And his flimsy hands were rattling the glass. I could not believe my eyes. But he was there. Somehow he had unhooked his back from the nail on his post, scrambled across the garden and over the fence, and climbed up to my bedroom window.
With my eyes attached to Gorgee's bobbing head, I backpedaled out of my bed then slipped and slid backward to my bedroom door. I dared not let the thing out of my sight for fear he would enter my room. Irrationally I thought he would stay where he was, if I kept him in sight. Maybe my hiding under the bed covers had allowed him to move. I was not going to let that happen again if I could in all my boy power prevent it. I struggled to find the door knob. Locked. I had been lately given to locking my door at night. Privacy. Now I was trapped by my own minor neurosis.
I reached around and behind my head frantically and futilely but could not find the lock. I was going to have to turn my head. If I could escape the room, I could escape the scarecrow. Calculating as quick a move as I could muster, I spun my head around, spotted the brass fixture, unlocked it, then snapped my head back to find the scarecrow. Still at my window?
Had I been seeing things? Had the whole episode been a movie of my sugared brain? He was not at the window. I stretched my neck to see, to make certain the thing was back on his pole in the garden where he belonged. But I could not clearly see. Without taking my eyes off the window, I wobbled toward the bed. Then something long and slack caught the blurry edge of my vision.
Not thinking, only sensing, I shot a look at the bed and instantly flew backward, landing on my butt and sliding across the floor. Gorgee was lying on my bedsheet, his limp legs crossed, his loose arms folded behind his head. Looking straight at me and about to speak.
I flew to the door, flung it open, and ran with terror powering rubbery legs down the hallway to my parents' room. I pounded on their door and pushed it open without waiting for an invitation. This was a dire emergency. No time for protocol. A matter of life and death. A big stupid doll stuffed with weeds was all it was, yes, but one that had apparently developed the ability to move around at will.
Before my father could blast me from the room for invading their privacy, I screamed my reason. But I could barely get the words out of my mouth as I felt a paralysis overtaking my whole body. "G-g-gor-gee!" I gasped.
"What?" my father snapped.
"G-g-gor-gee!" I squeaked.
"Gorgee!" he cried. "What in hell has that damned scarecrow got to do with you coming into our room without permission, boy?" father bellowed. And he was flexing to fly out of bed, naked or not, when my mother stopped him.
"Wait, dear." She scrutinized my expression. "What is it, Ronnie? What about Gorgee?"
I could barely catch my breath. "He, he--" I tried to point my meaning in the vague direction of my room.
"He what, son?" my father said.
"He moved!" my parents said in unison.
"He jumped off his pole, walked to my window, and climbed into my room."
"Jumped! Walked! Climbed!" My father was on the verge of blowing his top.
"You must have been dreaming, Ronnie," my mother said.
Maybe it had been only a nightmare. I have always had a hyperbolic imagination--as my mother says. Maybe the whole incident had been simply a Halloween fantasy. Yes, that was it. Of course. What had I been thinking? Climbed into my window--bah! Gratefully, I smiled at my mother's wisdom. She knew. My father knew too but he was not going to let me get away without a token tongue lashing. So I turned tail and sped out of their room, mortified to have invaded their holy of holies. They could have been in the middle of--well, luckily they were behaving themselves.
I trudged back to my room but before bounding into it I peered around the door carefully to make sure Ol' Gorgee was not still taking a nap on my bed. He was not there. I had imagined the whole thing. And I could verify it by looking out the window to see him hanging where he belonged--in the garden. But I did not do that. I was certain he was there, just as mom had implied. Deep inside me, though, the residual fear had not dissipated. And it prevented me from making rigorous confirmation. I preferred to dwell in the comfortable reassurance my mother had offered without knowing any other possibilities. She was right. Always right. Had to be right this time too.
But when I slid into bed I sensed something wholly unsuitable. I knew my bedroom like my own body. Something was amiss--out of place or--I stared into the blackness for a few moments and listened the way a prey animal listens. Nothing. Not a sound. Not even my own breathing. Slowly I reclined and laid my head on the pillow. Still I could not relax. I felt that something or someone was in the room with me. Was it the memory of Gorgee? Or my imagining of Gorgee? Or was it--?
I could not allow my mind to go where it was heading. And I desperately wanted to return to the sweet oblivion of sleep, hopefully a dreamless one. So I buried myself under the covers and huddled as a fetus. I struggled to clear my head of any fantastic fears but the more I tried, the more awake I became. No use. I was condemned to wait restlessly for the dawn. I would be exhausted but then I would be safe. No scarecrow or any other monster would dare walk the Earth in the true light of day.
Then it happened. I am to this day not sure what actually occurred. All I can remember is that I was lying there, hoping the morning sunlight would soon illumine my bed covers. But some time during those cold, dark hours before dawn, my fantastic fears became real, embodied.
I felt a tugging at my covers. At first I thought Trixie, our Spaniel, was pulling on them, so I looked out of my hiding place and over the bed side to see if she was there. No. She never left my little sister's bed at night. They were inseparable. Seeing nothing in the darkness, I retreated to my makeshift womb.
Presently I felt something tickling my feet. I scratched it as if an itch that would go away. And to my immense dismay I touched a coarse material that could not be part of my bed. I jerked my feet up as close to my butt as I could place them. Maybe my foot was going to sleep, having been motionless for so long.
Then something grabbed my ankle and pulled me to the side of the bed. I latched onto the other side of the mattress to keep from sliding. I knew what had me, who had me. It was Gorgee! He had hidden under my bed, a wild animal lying in wait till I was completely vulnerable and to make sure my parents were not going to show themselves in my room. He was a shrewd scarecrow.
His grip for being a sack of weeds was that of a shackle, one with stickers in it. I could not free myself no matter how much I yanked. He was pulling me off the bed to get me under it to commit some horrible act on my tender young person. I was helpless. I was going to die--be beaten to death, eaten alive, or worse by a rag ‘n' weed doll. I could not believe it.
I tried to scream for help but could not fill my lungs. I only gasped and choked on my terror. And I was weakening. I could not hold on for long. Even though my grip was supercharged with adrenaline, I was failing. If I lost my tenuous hold I would be at his mercy. But Halloween monsters show no mercy.
With untapped strength I stretched my arm across the bed and grabbed the side of the headboard with my fingertips. Clawing and scratching at the polished wood I curved my trembling fingers around the edge. There I found a renewed passion to survive. "Daddy!" I screamed. "Daddy! Daddy! Help--me! Daa-ddeey!" I knew my father was the only one on the planet capable of fighting off a maniacally animated scarecrow and saving me from an odious ruin. I held on bravely till he could come to me, burst like a knight errant into my room, and tear Gorgee limb from weedy limb. He had created him, he could destroy him. "Daaaaddddeeeeey!"
The thought of succumbing to that garden variety incubus underneath my own bed charged me with superhuman effort. With all my might I pulled my body to wrench it loose from Gorgee's grip. Miraculously I felt him give way. Could I escape his hideously unholy intentions? Could I, a mere child, break free from the clasp of this demon?
No. I was being dragged under the bed despite my superboy efforts. And when he gripped me with his other ragged hand, I knew I was lost. I felt, I watched, myself being hauled into the bowels of iniquity. Securing me with one hand, he grasped my pajama top and yanked me down, down to the pit of horror that I knew had always lain under my bed. I was going to die, not only die but be defiled by the hand of the most horrible monster I had ever read in books or seen in movies. Most horrible, because this one was real. "Daddy! Daddy!" I screamed as loud as I could, making my throat raw.
I turned to look at my attacker. Now that I was done for, I felt a strangely numb indifference surge through my being. Since I was going to be killed, I wanted to spit in the eye of my murderer, go out with a little pre-adolescent spunk. But Gorgee had no eyes in his sack face. He had, however, developed a mouth. It was smiling and it had become full of big sharp teeth. "Daad-deeee!" I was desperate to know why my father was not there yet. He had always come to my rescue when I was having bad dreams. Why not now when my nightmare was real?
Gorgee opened his mouth like a garmented gargoyle and lunged at my mid-section. What? He was going to take a large bite out of my belly. Oh, God! I could not stand a bite out of my belly. That would really hurt. I tried to kick him in the crotch the way I had seen women and boys and some unfair men do in the movies. But he gripped both my ankles with his huge hand, actually an old garden glove stuffed with weeds, yet red as if covered with blood. I was amazed that something apparently so flimsy could grip so tightly and hold me so fast.
As his round head full of musty grass pushed toward me, I sucked in my belly and prepared to scream like the devil, one last scream to wake the living and the dead, since I was about to enter their dark domain. At the moment Gorgee was about to bury his straw-yellow fangs into my quivering flesh, my father crashed through the door of my room. He always entered rooms that way, as if to save someone in danger, and at last he arrived in the nick of time to save his only boy child from a certain and disgusting demise.
Now I was convinced I could escape the fiend. With renewed energy I yanked at my captured feet, shoved with my hands against the scarecrow's soft head, and waited for my father to attack the monster, tear him to shreds, and bundle me in his arms.
"Ronnie! What in hell are you screaming about?" he bellowed. I had not expected to be the target of his wrath. I had thought he would see my predicament and assail the bag of evil attacking me beneath my own bed. But no. My father lit into me--not Gorgee--as I lay under the bed. "You're worrying your mother, sick, son. Now, get into bed and go back to sleep."
I stared at him in disbelief. Did he not see the seedy thing about to devour me? Could he not notice that the beast was trying to feed upon me? It was dark in the room, but the full moonlight illumined enough space for anyone to see even the filigree patterns on the rug that lay between my bed and the door. Why could my father not see the macabre monster that was threatening to ravage my tender person? Why would father not save me from evil? He was my protector. He was supposed to keep me from harm. And this was harm in the first degree. "Daddy!" I screamed with the full force of my terror. "Gorgee is trying to eat me alive!"
"Gorgee!" he said curiously. "That old scarecrow again?"
I felt a firm human hand grasp my arm and yank me from under the bed and expected Gorgee to attack my father for trying to deny him his frightful supper. But miraculously the thing let go of me and withdrew like smoke sucked into a vacuum. My father picked me up and lifted me onto my bed. I saw him look out the window. After he had stared into the garden for a moment, a slight smile crept across his shadowed face. "So he got to you too, eh?" He was stifling a laugh. I could not believe it. My own father was making light of my terrifying and near fatal collision with the unholy. "I guess he did his Halloween job this year," father said. "May not be much good for scaring away crows but he sure does good work scaring kids." His smothered laughter was utterly annoying.
I wondered what my father appeared to have seen in the garden that made him so gleeful. How could any father be gleeful after seeing his firstborn nearly consumed by an agent of the Night of the Dead? Unbelievable. Unable to contain my curiosity and starting to feel safe once again, I peered through my bedroom window and surveyed the garden in the waning moonlight. What?! Could my eyes be trusted? Had I been dreaming afterall?
There in the middle of the small patch of desiccated vegetable plants right beside the house Ol' Gorgee hung on his stake just as he had hung for years. Not a monster. Not a bloodthirsty destroyer of little boys. Not even a puppet that could move all by himself. Only a stuffed thing on a stick. An object that frightened away no birds but only boys and girls with big imaginations on the night when the souls of the dead rise from their graves and walk the Earth with witches and goblins and countless other beasts born from timeless human fears.
I looked at my father's face. He was smiling at me with reassurance. I threw my arms around him and denied my tears. He patted my back and stroked my head and lay me on my pillow. "You have a wonderful mind for the fantastic, Ronnie, my son. But remember--this is real. Here with your mother and your sister and me. He kissed my forehead with his bristly face. "I know you may not be able to close your eyes for the rest of the night," he said, "but try to go back to sleep. I want you rested so you can help me in the yard tomorrow."
I did not want to let go of his big hand. I wanted him to stand guard over me for the rest of the night, the rest of my life. And when he turned and walked away from my bed, I held my breath with residual fear. But when he stopped in the doorway, turned, and again regaled me with that worldwide smile of his, I knew I was going to survive.
When he was gone I turned toward the window and gazed into the glowing night sky. The great oak outside my window framed Gorgee in the middle of the garden where he belonged. I kept my eyes on him for a long time to confirm his stationary position. Not once before my eyelids became too heavy to sustain further vigilance did he as much as flinch in my direction. Only an autumnal breeze tousled his rags and the weeds that stuck out of his neck. Straightening the bedsheets and reflexively sweeping off a few small sprigs of grass, I let go of my fear for the season. And as I let myself fall into that sweet warm void, I thought I certainly must have been dreaming to think a dumb old thing had become spontaneously mobile.
The scarecrow was on his stake where he belonged. My coffers were filled with candy. My family was asleep in the house. And my father was ready to drive away the ghouls and ghosts should I beckon. All was well in the Kingsley home for another night. Nevertheless, every fall season I always recollect that particular October holiday with a shiver from head to toe. And Gorgee the Scarecrow's imagined attack was so vivid that I will never again look at another big stuffed doll in a garden in the same casual way. From then on they were mysterious things that could incorporate strange powers only children on Halloween would ever know.
Surviving early life in Los Angeles, Jack Forge has been writing, and making pictures since he was thirteen. After completing graduate study at the University of Iowa, he taught English for many years. His poems, stories, graphic art, and novels have been published on the Internet. Regardless of the storm and stress of the world, he lives for art, nature, and love. More about Jack at www.Dreamuse.com.
Published by permission of the author.