The night was dark and humid, storm clouds homing in on the island from the south-west. Lightning danced in forks on the horizon, thunder grumbling like an awakening beast. The island lay in wait, no wind; just eerie calm. A scarecrow stood in the middle of a cornfield, lifelessly gazing out over the ocean. It had wooden arms and legs, with a coat and trousers packed with straw. But its head was once a living thing; a human skull with the vacant eye sockets of a long-since decomposed face. On top of the skull hung the tendrils of an old mop, over which rested the traditional straw hat. Its coat began to flutter as the breath of the storm finally reached the island. Lightning cracked closer to shore, the thunder louder. The high moon and stars were quickly blotted out as the storm consumed them. The scarecrow continued to stare inanimately out to sea, as if watching the storm approach, waiting for it. A gust of wind hit the cornfield, blowing the stalks to forty-five degree angles. The wind brought with it the first drops of rain; big drops that spread to the size of a baseball when they struck the dirt. The scarecrow was quickly drenched, its coat and trousers now hanging limply with the weight of the water. Sheet lightning flashed high above. A random bolt struck the water a hundred yards offshore. Thunder boomed. The water hissed and sizzled. Another bolt struck, this time on the beach; getting closer. The scarecrow still stared ahead. Still waited. A third bolt of lightning struck the ground, this time in the cornfield two hundred yards from the scarecrow.
Dirt and cornstalks exploded. Thunder cracked like a thousand whips at once. Two lightning bolts shot down simultaneously, joined together like a Y and hit the scarecrow between the eyes. There was another crack of thunder, but the scarecrow wasn’t destroyed. Instead, it glowed with an aura of white light. It seemed to fill out, take on a more human shape, but at the same time remained a scarecrow: Made of wood and straw and that human skull. The air around it crackled with static. The aura began to undulate as the scarecrow slowly, stiffly, began to move. It uprooted its legs from the ground, took one step, two. Then it was walking freely, most of the stiffness gone. In the jungle two hundred yards to the east, an old man hid in the darkness, the rain pelting into his face. He looked on in disbelief as the scarecrow walked through the cornfield. His heart hammered and a pulse beat rapidly at his temple. Then he fled into the night.
The scarecrow continued to walk, the storm raging around it. A barn loomed at the southern end of the cornfield, a farmhouse adjacent to it. The scarecrow moved purposefully toward the barn and entered its open doors. It searched inside. The interior was dark, but it could see. Its eyes were alive now and glowed like red-hot coals. When it found what it was looking for, it left the barn and moved toward the farmhouse, a scythe in its hand.
The helicopter flew over Fishook Island. Beside the pilot sat a young black man, lines already appearing on his face from the pressures of police work. Sergeant Rhafne had got the call an hour ago. Fishook Island was his jurisdiction, so he flew straight out from Nassau. They circled the island to prepare for landing. The island was small, maybe three miles long and two wide at its broadest point. It was easy to see how it got its name. It was, in actual fact, the shape of a crude fishhook. The island was home to maybe a hundred people; mostly fisherman and their families, a few small-time farmers. In the curve of the hook, which formed a small bay, lay the little township of ramshackle huts. A few trawlers and some other rather unseaworthy-looking boats were moored in the bay. The helicopter landed on some bare ground in the centre of town, greeted by half the population; who got excited every time life from outside visited. Although they didn’t look too excited today. When the blades had slowed, Rhafne climbed out onto the patchy grass and quickly walked away from the chopper. He hated getting out of those things; always feared the blades were going to drop down and take his head off. A white man walked up to him. He was a rough looking fisherman named Shaw. He’d been the one who made the call to Rhafne an hour ago. He’d found the bodies. “Sergeant,” Shaw grunted and shook Rhafne’s hand.
“Take me there,” Rhafne quipped. A jeep was parked beside a tiny hotel in the sandy street. Shaw got in behind the wheel, Rhafne beside him. The engine fired to life and the jeep lurched off, heading south. They followed a dirt track. On the left was palm-tree jungle, on the right lay a field of sun-baked corn. The road was littered with tree branches and broken palm fronds. “Bad storm here last night. Lightning struck the ground several places. You can see where it’s gouged holes and burnt the corn.” Shaw drove on past a barn and pulled to a stop in front of the farmhouse. They got out. “I came here to deliver some fish to the Richardson’s this morning. That’s when I found them….Or what’s left of them.” Shaw entered the house, Rhafne close behind. “I hate this part of my job,” Rhafne said, referring to the moment just before he was about to lay eyes on a corpse, not quite knowing what sort of carnage was going to greet him. He steeled himself and followed Shaw into a bedroom. “In here,” Shaw said quietly. Rhafne held back a gasp. On the bed lay two headless corpses; presumably Mr. and Mrs. Richardson. The bed was soaked in blood, the walls splattered with gore. Rhafne forced himself to take a closer look. He touched the blood-stained sheets. The blood was dry. He prodded one of the corpses with a finger. It was stiff. They’d been dead for some hours. “Notice something?” Shaw said. Rhafne nodded. “Of course I notice.
Their heads are gone.” “Not just cut off,” Shaw went on. “They’ve been taken away.” “Let’s search the house,” the sergeant decided. “Maybe the psycho dumped them somewhere.” He had another thought. “Are there any other bodies in the house?” “No. The Richardson’s had no children, thank God.” After a thorough search they came up with nothing. Rhafne sighed and said: “Let’s try the barn.” The barn yielded zero as well. Rhafne lit up a cigarette and offered one to Shaw. Then they stood in the doorway to the barn and smoked. “Want to know somethin’ else that’s unusual?” Shaw said, dribbling smoke through his nostrils. “What?” “The Richardsons had a scarecrow out there in the cornfield. Now it’s gone. I thought maybe the storm blew it down or somethin’. I checked. There’s no sign of it.” “So what do you think? Someone murdered the Richardsons just to steal their fucking scarecrow?” Rhafne was incredulous. “I don’t think anything,” Shaw returned. “It’s just damned strange, is all.” Rhafne considered it, couldn’t see any possible connection between the missing scarecrow and the murder. He shrugged it aside and finished his smoke in silence
“Better fly the coroner out here,” he decided.
Wes Marshall rubbed his eyes and glanced out the window beside his bed. It was still dark outside, silver moonlight washing in through the window like a stream. Something had woken him. Some sound, he guessed, but couldn’t recall what. He’d been in a deep sleep, not consciously hearing the sound, just jolted awake by it. Now he heard a creak somewhere in the hut. Clumsy footsteps approached the bedroom door from the other side. Wes lived alone, so he was out of bed like a shot, reaching for a bowie knife he kept on the bedside table. The footsteps stopped outside the door. He held his breath. In the silver light he saw the doorknob slowly turning, the door painstakingly slow to creak open. Wes watched, open-mouthed, as the figure entered the room. His blood ran cold when he saw the glint of moonlight off the steel blade of a scythe. But what shocked him the most was the figure that held it. It was unmistakable, even in this dim light. The scarecrow moved towards him, red eyes glowing in its skull of a face. Stunned by the impossible and frightening sight, Wes’ muscles went to jelly. The bowie knife slipped from his grasp and clattered to the floor. He tried to say something but his mouth wouldn’t work. He just started to babble as the thing raised the scythe for a strike. Terror gripped Wes’ heart like a cold fist. But he didn’t have to endure the fear for long as the scythe struck like a lightning bolt, severing his head clean off the shoulders. Wes Marshall’s head bounced off the wall onto the bed. The body remained standing for a moment, gushing up blood through the neck like a fountain, then gradually fell forward and hit the floor with a dead thud. The scarecrow retrieved the head, briefly examined it, then stuffed it in an empty canvas bag. It studied the mess it had made and, pleased with its work, walked stiffly out of the bedroom.
In a hut set back in the jungle, the scarecrow found a heavy black woman and her daughter sleeping in the only bedroom. It struck swiftly and silently, first decapitating the sleeping woman. The point of the scythe gouged a hole through the mattress as the blade separated the head from the body. The little girl stirred as blood spattered her face. Her eyes fluttered open but saw nothing, not yet adjusted to the gloom. She touched the stickiness on her face and was about to let out a scream when the scythe took her head off as cleanly as a knife chops a vegetable. The scarecrow gathered the two heads and added them to the bag with its first prize. Satisfied with the evening’s efforts, the thing left the outskirts of the little town and headed south, the three skulls in the bag only the very beginning of the harvest it planned to reap.