There is a small mountain town of Nagoro in the southern mountains of Japan. Tucked away from the world around it, this town sat supposedly vacant. It was a ghost town, long abandoned by the inhabitants. From what has been reported, they moved for a number of reasons but mostly for the search of jobs and better state of living. According to the reports all that remained within the town were scarecrows, hundreds of scarecrows. They were not placed in fields like normal scarecrows, though some do reside out there. These scarecrows were dressed as people, adult and child, placed in schools, in cars, in restaurants. Everyone someone lived, the scarecrows lived.
When I heard about this city I couldn't help but wonder what it was really like. Sure there were a few photos here and there but it didn't really demonstrate how truly bizarre and surreal it really was. I was so curious about this city that I convinced some friends of mine to come with me when I decided to make the trek all the way to Nagoro. Now it's not as far as you might think. I was studying abroad in Osaka, Japan for my junior year of college. I was staying with the Sato family. They were nice, spoke little English but I was pretty well versed in Japanese. My grandmother was from Nagoya, a city several hours away from Osaka. After my parents passed away in a car crash, I was raised by her and she taught me how to speak Japanese. I was pretty fluent and it was her idea that I spend some time overseas to truly appreciate the Japanese culture.
Sato-San and Sato-Chan were actually family friends. Sato-San's mother was good friends with my grandmother so it took little effort for me to find somewhere to live. In fact it took longer for my paperwork to go through the university. Sato-San and Sato-Chan had two children, a twelve year old daughter Aiko and a fifteen year old son Michio. The family as a whole was amazing; they were not the traditional strict family that I was worried about having to live with. It was almost like living back home in the states.
I was twenty one when I went to live with them for a year so it was slightly awkward to be so much older than Michio. The gap in age was often bridged by common interests we shared like movies and video games. Michio loved videos games and trounced me at any opportunity he could. I was good but he was almost at a savant level. Aiko was a different story. She was often shy around me and made very little eye contact with me the entire year I was there. From what Michio told me later on after I returned home, she had an enormous crush on me. I would find it flattering if not for what happened. Now it just makes me sad.
However while Aiko's eyes were on me, mine were on Kimiko. Kimiko was Michio and Aiko's cousin. She was attending school in Osaka but was very close with Sato-San and Sato-Chan so she often would visit to make sure everything was going well at home. Long flowing black hair, slender but not too thin, she caught my eye the moment I saw her.
Kimiko and I spent a lot of time together. She helped me perfect my Japanese and I helped her learn English. I'm fairly certain her teaching endeavors went far better than mine. English is a tricky language that's always changing. While I would never say we legitimately dated while I was there, we might as well have. I think the only thing keeping us from it was the fact that I would eventually be leaving to return back to the states. I guess she didn’t want to place that strain on a relationship and I understood, but even after I left it didn't make it any easier. Of course, what happened at the Village of Scarecrows makes it easier. Kimiko still emails me about Sato-San and Sato-Chan and everything that's happening back in Osaka, but I never have that urge to go back. In fact in spite of my feelings for Kimiko, I can't go back. Not yet.
Everything happened near the tail end of my trip when I would be returning back to the states and back to my normal life. It was amazing to experience Japan and everything it had to offer. About once a month, Kimiko and I would go to Tokyo to be a part of that city life. The American interpretation of what Tokyo was like in pop culture was fairly accurate. It was amusing but not somewhere I would want to live. Like New York City; I enjoyed the times I visited but there was just way too much going on for me.
It was during one evening when Kimiko and I were watching TV when Aiko and Michio came into the room, arguing as usual. We tried to ignore them as we watched a Japanese dubbed version of the Bachelor. Kimiko loved the show and as someone who as in love with Kimiko, I put up with it. We managed a whole five minutes when their argument spilled into our laps.
"Jason, can I ask you a question?" Michio asked as Aiko froze as she realized that she was in my presence. I paused the TV knowing that this wasn't going to be a short conversation.
"Jason?" Kimiko cried as she reached for the remote. "I was watching that." I raised the remote over my head, far out of her reach. Unlike popular belief, Japanese people were not super short, but I was only half and I gained my height from my Norwegian mother's side, taking more features from her than my father, so while Kimiko was about 5'4", I was 6'2". That height difference made it difficult getting into vehicles and I had to watch my head for anything low hanging. Like I said, they weren't short, but neither was I.
"Kimi," I said laughing as Kimiko attempted to climb up my body to reach the remote. This was not at all an unpleasant feeling, something I was quite accustomed too. As I said, we were very close. Looking to Michio, I said, "Go ahead."
"Do you believe in ghosts?" Michio asked. I paused considering this. I never really took much stock in the concept but never really actively tried to dissuade others. I guess I would say I just had an open mind willing to accept natural and potentially supernatural reasons for things.
"I don't know," I said, "I never really put much thought into it."
"What about you Kimi?" Michio asked. Kimiko ceased her attempt at claiming the remote.
"Of course." She said matter-of-factly.
"See!" Aiko cried, "I'm not the only one." Michio rolled his eyes unconvinced.
"God, you are such a baby." Michio sighed.
"I am not!" Aiko screamed. I sensed that the situation was either going to escalate to fists or tears. Frankly I wanted neither. Sato-San and Sato-Chan were gone for the evening and I was to watch over the kids in their absence.
"Alright, enough." I said, standing. I towered over Michio who was only 5'5". "What's going on? Where is all of this coming from?" I asked. Michio handed me a tablet where an article was displayed.
"The Village of Scarecrows?" I read. "What is this?"
"It's a village made up entirely of scarecrows." Aiko said excitedly.
"Yeah, scarecrows made by people." Michio argued. Aiko stuck out her tongue in response. I was still confused by the argument since I haven't read the article so I decided to let them fill in the blanks and go from there.
''Okay, can someone explain this to me?" I asked. Kimiko stood up and took the tablet from my hands. She examined it for a moment before handing it back to me, a wry smile across her face.
"I've heard of this place." She said. "It's a town that was once a mountain village full of people but as time passed people started to leave and eventually the town was almost empty. From what I’ve read, a single woman created the scarecrows so that she didn't feel so lonely and as a reminder of what life was like."
I nodded, the story seeming very plausible. People cope in different ways when dealing with loss. I supposed that this woman made scarecrows. There was nothing untoward about it. Creepy, yes, but not evil. However my comfort with that story was instantly shattered as Kimiko continued.
"There is also another version of this story. Some say that the people didn't leave, but instead a witch turned them into scarecrows. Supposedly, if someone journeys to that village at night, the scarecrows come to life and to take the traveler and turn them into a scarecrow to add to her collection." Kimiko said.
I looked to Aiko whose complexion blanched. Michio simply looked bored by the story and Kimiko, though the storyteller looked a little taken back by the recitation. I glanced down at the tablet and saw the picture of a scarecrow. Shaking off the feeling of growing unease, I tossed the tablet onto the coffee table and sat back down to resume our show. Before I could grab the remote, Michio ran up to me.
"You don't believe this, do you Jason?" He asked. I shrugged.
"I don't know." I said. "I mean it's unlikely that something like that actually happened, but it is a good story." I smiled, but Aiko stomped her foot.
"It isn't a story!" She shouted. I was stunned by her sudden anger. For almost the entire year I heard her shout only a handful of times and never when I was around. This was certainly a first. "My friend said it is real!"
"Well, your friend is an idiot!" Michio shouted. With that Aiko snapped. Launching herself at her brother, she tackled him, knocking him to the floor. One moment Michio was standing and the next he was on his back attempting to stave of Aiko's fists of fury.
"She is not! She is not!" Aiko screamed.
"Get off me you lunatic!" Michio shouted back.
"Real peaceful tonight." I called to Kimiko over the cries of the children. Kimiko laughed but it was lost over the din. Jumping to my feet, I wrapped an arm around Aiko and lifted her off her brother. "That's enough." I said. Dropping Aiko to her feet, she lunged for her brother again, but I was faster, grabbing her around the waist once more.
"You're such a jerk! I hate you'" She screamed. Michio scrambled to his feet. Though sweaty from the exertion there were no obvious signs of injury aside from some minor redness on his face where she managed to strike him.
"You're nothing but a big baby!" He shouted in return.
"Not helping!" I said. The fight would have lasted longer but Kimiko's voice carried over all of us.
"ENOUGH!" She screamed. Silence filled to room as Aiko and Michio froze. I released Aiko who didn't try to make another swipe at her brother.
'Thanks." I said. Kimiko nodded and offered a brief smile before forcibly souring her expression. "What the hell is going on with you two?" I asked. Aiko said nothing, simply stomped her foot and stormed off to her room. A moment later there was as slam. "Michio?" I stared at him, clearly unamused by any other this.
"Aiko is just being a stupid kid." Michio said.
"Hey guess what," I said, "'So are you." Michio rolled his eyes, a typical response from him when confronted with something that he didn't like.
“I’m fifteen." He said as if that was a suitable defense. I’m not a kid."
"And I'm twenty one." I added, "And yes you."
"Michio?" Kimiko asked, "Why is Aiko so emotional about this Scarecrow Village?"
"She said that one of her friends went there to check it out and never came back." He said, annoyed by the fact that he had to explain why his sister was crazy.
"Why does she think that?" I asked. Michio sighed.
"Because she wasn't at school today and one of her idiot friends told her the story and now she wants to go and find her at that stupid village." He said.
"It's probably just a story that her friends are just saying to scare her. You know how impressionable she can be." I said. Michio did his patented eye roll before nodding.
"I know," He said and for a moment he sound genuinely sympathetic. This lasted only a second as he went right back to razzing his sister. "But she is just so immature."
"Yesterday I caught you watching a video online of a guy lighting his farts on fire." I reminded him. The sheer mention of the video made him start laughing once more as if watching it for the first time. "Yeah, you're the modicum of maturity."
With that Michio went to his room, still laughing about the video. I sighed, glad that the fight was over, but I wasn't feeling comforted. It wasn't the notion that some evil witch was kidnapping people and turning them into Scarecrows, but it was more that Aiko was so upset. Over the year I spent there, I grew to feel that Aiko was like my little sister. Being an only child, it was kind of nice to have someone like that. She was sweet, but very sensitive. I grabbed the remote to restart the show, Kimiko taking a seat next to me, but instead paused. She looked at me and noticed my hesitance. Sensing my unease, Kimiko rose to her feet.
"Come on, you know you want to." She said. I smiled and nodded. Setting the remote down, I went to check on Aiko.
The talk went as well as it could, given how upset she was. She was curled in a ball on her bed, pillow covering her head. I could hear Michio laughing from his room, no doubt watching the aforementioned video again and again. Sitting on the bed next to her, I lifted the pillow to see two raw and wounded eyes. She tried for the pillow again but I tossed it to Kimiko who was standing in the doorway.
"You can get that back after we talk, okay?" I said smiling. Aiko didn't say anything but allowed her hand to fall back to the bed. "So, why do you think something has happened to your friend?" I asked. Aiko said nothing, only rolled over to her nightstand. She picked up her phone and after unlocking it, handed it to me. I saw that there was a video ready to be played. Accepting the phone, I pressed play and watched.
The camera work was shaky and at times difficult to see. The camera didn't have any image stabilization so it was often unclear. There was no audio only video. The camera panned taking in several scarecrows and I had to admit it was fairly eerie. The scarecrows were dressed like normal people. One wore a suit and tie, a hat resting on its straw head, another worse a dress. I could see why people would create stories about the scarecrows just because it was so bizarre. The camera stopped in front of one, the cameraperson taking great care to record this one in detail. The outfit was that of a school girl. The patchwork legs were covered by long white stockings, running up to a plaid green and white jumper, much like Aiko wore to school. Atop the burlap head was short black hair that appeared lifelike, almost human. Then before the video ended, the camera spun around to record the image of a hideous hag, face scarred, teeth rotten. I visibly jumped at the image and that was when the picture went black.
"Whoa." I cried. Kimiko joined me by my side. I rewound the video and showed her. She too was taken aback by the video.
"Aiko, who sent that to you?" Kimiko asked.
"Sakura." Aiko said, "She got the message yesterday. She was so upset that she had to tell someone, so she told me." I looked to Kimiko but she still looked shaken up by the video.
"Aiko, it's possible that it's just a prank on Sakura and you just got pulled into it." I said trying to reassure her but my words clearly missed their mark.
"Look at the uniform." She said. I scrolled the video back to the scarecrow. "Okay?" I said as I waited for my next command.
"Do you see the pin?" She asked. I looked at the blurred image as best I could, but it was difficult given the poor quality of the video. I pressed play to let the video smooth out and on the breast of the jumper was a small flower.
"It's a blue flower." I said, squinting. Without moving, Aiko pointed towards her own jumper that hung on her dresser. I saw that same blue flower.
"It's a Jasmine for our group, the Jasmines." She said. Aiko was in a dance troupe that performed in dance competitions. I had seen her dance a couple times and they were pretty good. Perhaps a bit oversexed by American standards, but beyond that they were very talented. "Yuka would never leave her pin for a joke. She wore it on everything. She was so proud of it." Aiko was near tears again so I placed placating hand on her shoulder.
"Hey I'm sure she's fine." I said, but Aiko sat up in a flash.
"Then why wasn't she at school today?" She demanded.
"There are a number of reasons." I said, "She could be sick."
"Then why didn't she answer any of my phone calls or texts?" Aiko questioned.
"Maybe she's asleep?" I said but Aiko shook her head. She grabbed her phone and started sorting through her apps until she pulled up one with a map. On it were several red blips. It was a map of Japan and the majority of the blips were over Osaka. There was one single dot towards the southern end of the country. She handed me the phone.
"Touch that bottom dot." She said. I said nothing, only did as told. When I touched it a small flag came up with the name Yuka on it. Below it were GPS coordinates. It was an app to keep track of friends.
"You can see where your friends are?" I asked. Aiko nodded.
"Yuka's dot is at the village. It's been there since yesterday." She said. Now there could have been a number of reasons as to why the phone was still there. Maybe she forgot it or this was the last known location and would refresh the next time her phone turned on or when the app was used by her. I didn't say any of these thoughts because just as I handed the phone back to her she broke down in tears once again.
I looked to Kimiko, quietly begging for an answer on how to fix this. She simply shook her head. Aiko was devastated and there was nothing I could do to help. As I said Aiko was like the little sister I never had and with it came a feeling, a need to protect her. As I watched her weep, I was struck with an idea.
"Aiko, what if we went to the village to check on her?" I asked. Aiko stopped crying, wounded eyes looking at me in wonder.
"What?" She asked.
"What?" Kimiko added.
"We can go tomorrow morning and check things out. I mean it can't be that far, maybe a few hours drive." I said, "I've done longer drives back home." Aiko sat up, wiping her tears away with a trembling hand.
"Do you mean it?" She asked. I nodded and instantly, Akko's arms were around my neck. "Thank you Jason!" She cheered. I hugged her and told her I would check with her parents but I suspected it would be okay.
I left Aiko to get ready for bed, since we were going to get up early the next morning. Kimiko followed me to the living room where I collapsed on the couch, drained by my conversation with Aiko. Kimiko took a seat next to me and even though my eyes were closed, I knew she was still watching me.
"What?" I asked.
"Do you really think this is a good idea?" She asked. I sighed.
"It'll be fine." I said, "I mean it's just a place where an old woman got bored and made some burlap friends." Kimiko grimaced, bemused. Our eyes met and I for the first time I saw genuine concern in them. It was then I realized that she truly believed in the story of the Witch and the Scarecrows. As I said it wasn't that I disbelieved the supernatural, I just tended to lean more on the rational first and opted for insanity later.
"If you are going then I'm going too." Kimiko said.
"You don't have to." I said but Kimiko simply shook her head.
"There is no way you are going without me." She said. I was about to protest but Kimiko continued, "You may not want anything to happen to Aiko, but I don't want anything happening to you." She said. I wanted to say that she was over reacting to the whole situation but I opted against it. I was only going to be in Japan a few more weeks before returning home and the last thing I wanted to do was antagonize her. I wanted our last days together to be as happy and memorable as possible. Of course by the end of this, only one of those would apply.
The next morning I asked Sato-San to borrow his car so that I could take Aiko and Kimiko for a drive to the country. We read about a village full of scarecrows and were interested in checking it out. Sato-San almost laughed when I told him. He remembered hearing about it and thought it was nothing more than a stunt to bring tourists in. I laughed and told him it worked since I was driving four hours just to check it out. He gave me the keys but noted that the radiator had been leaking recently and that I should be careful not to push it too hard. I agreed and even loaded an extra gallon of coolant in the trunk.
As Kimiko, Aiko and I hopped into the car, Michio jumped in after. If Aiko was my adorable little sister, then Michio was my annoying little brother. The moment Michio was in the car, Aiko immediately protested this, knowing that the entire time he was with us; he would do nothing but torment her. This was not going to be a short car ride and the last thing I wanted to do was listen to arguing and crying for the next four hours. I tried to convince Michio to stay home, that this was just going to be a waste of time and he would have more fun playing on his computer or PlayStation. He returned with that the place sounded creepy so of course he wanted to check it out.
I eventually relented but made some rules and seating arrangements. With Kimiko's agreement, she decided to sit in the back with Michio while Aiko sat up front with me. This would ensure that there would be no bickering or fighting. Aiko was already high strung and I wanted to make this as pleasant as possible. She was convinced something bad happened to her friend and so it was up to me to ensure she didn't lose her mind. Michio promised that he would behave, deciding to play on his Gameboy and phone for the duration of the trip. Once the ground rules had been established, we were on our way to the village of scarecrows.
The drive wasn't too bad. In fact it was probably the best part of our journey. It was quiet and we spent most of the drive just listening to the radio. Kimiko was in the back so it was difficult to engage in any sort of conversation with her. Aiko kept checking her phone and the GPS coordinates for Yuka and they still haven't moved since the night before. Michio was plugged into his games so it was mostly up to me to provide my own entertainment.
We arrived at the village by noon, our trip having been delayed by Michio's decision to join us and some starter issues when we stopped to get gas. It took some effort and tinkering but the car got running and we were on our way. As we pulled up to the village I was taken aback by how empty it was. I knew it was essentially a ghost town but to actually see no one at all was unsettling. To worsen matters, as we pulled into the village, we immediately saw the scarecrows. Aiko gasped as she saw them and almost started crying right there. The bizarre setting was enough to pull Michio from his game. Kimiko snapped several photos with her phone.
"That's so weird." Michio said, nose pressed up against the window.
"Come on let's go find Yuka." Aiko said.
Putting the car into park, I shut it off and instantly Aiko was out of the car, staring at her phone. As I stepped out, I saw her pacing back and forth, phone rising higher and higher into the air. Michio and Kimiko hopped out to join us. Michio immediately approached one of the scarecrows. I joined him, curious by what he was looking at. It was sitting on a chair rather than secured to a post like normal scarecrows. Its body seemingly full of straw, the skin was a patchwork of different fabrics. The hands had five digits like a real human and were long and thin. Fabric covered the fingers but as I touched them I recoiled slightly. They were not soft and pliable as I had expected. Though there was padding, straw no doubt, there was something hard underneath just like a real finger. I figured it must be a large stick or piping. The face was perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the scarecrow. There was a face that was stitched to resemble a real person's. In this case a man. Fabric was formed to make ears and a nose that were then sewn to the head. They were remarkably accurate but that was where the resemblance ended.
Where the eyes should have been were empty pits. I tried to look into the holes but I saw no straw, or fabric. It was just dark. Michio tried to jam his finger into it, but I grabbed his arm first.
"I think we should just go find Aiko's friend." I said to him. Surprisingly, he didn't argue. I guess he sensed what I felt. There was just something off about those things.
Cell phone service was spotty at best. When I guessed that Yuka's GPS was merely the last known coordinates, I was right. While our reception was around one or two bars, that was at best. Most of the time it was no service. It took several minutes of convincing that Aiko finally put her phone back into her pocket and hopped off of the car. In spite of Aiko's obvious panic, Kimiko could not help but stifle a laugh.
"Alright," I said, "So what are the coordinates?" Aiko looked at a screen shot of her phone, having taken it upon my request. I suspected a town this far out wouldn't provide much cell phone coverage so I opted for getting as much tangible information as possible. She held the phone up to me so I could read them. "North 33 degrees, 24 minutes, 32 seconds. East 132 degrees, 59 minutes, 12 seconds" I read. I pulled out a map of Japan that I printed out last night form my backpack. More specifically a series of maps that showed detailed topography and coordinates of the area. Reaching into my back pack once more I pulled out a GPS locator. I had it from when I went backpacking around the mountainous areas of Japan when I first arrived. I figured it would come in handy then and so it should be helpful now.
"So where do we go?" Kimiko asked. I looked at the compass on the GPS locator and pointed into town.
"This way." I said. I lead the way with Aiko next to me, Michio behind and then Kimiko taking up the rear.
The city was even creepier than anticipated. Scarecrows were everywhere. They sat outside of stores, on benches, inside buildings. We passed a school and saw 'children' sitting at desks while a 'teacher' stood at the front of the class. There were farmers and bakers, cooks and even a doctor. To add to the macabre sight of the scarecrow was the eerie silence and our uneven footfall as we explored the village. We tried to speak, to make some noise but even that made us feel uncomfortable. Every so often I had to stop to collect Michio who would take a moment to check out the scarecrows.
The buildings stood vacant, save for their manufactured inhabitants. It was like a tableau created to give visitors a brief glimpse at day to day life. Cars sat rusted and tires flat. The filthy windows obscured the interior but I could see a scarecrow sitting behind the wheel of one car. After seeing my twentieth scarecrow I stopped counting and just focused on the GPS.
We reached the edge of town which happened to be the cemetery. I prayed that this would not be where we would find Yuka's phone but as I check the GPS, I was sorely disappointed. Now while my device offered precise accuracy, a cell phone was far less exact. I remembered one time trying to follow a way point I had set for myself to find my car but when I tried to follow it back I wound up two streets over. GPS on a phone is handy but only in a general sense. Her GPS indicated that her phone was within the area of the cemetery. However, the cemetery was surprisingly large and overgrown with weeds and grass. The headstones were well worn and the characters were very difficult to read. With so much ground to cover we decided to split up and look around.
The graveyard was fenced off, but someone took it upon themselves to post scarecrows all along the back. It was creepy having an audience watch us. Unlike the others that simply rested against or sat on something to keep them upright, these were hung like normal scarecrows. I was uneasy seeing those black holes staring at us but kept this to myself. We examined the area as thoroughly as possible but just could not find the phone. The GPS coordinates led us to that cemetery but there was no sign of Yuka or the phone. This led me to believe that Yuka was safely at home and we were out in the middle of nowhere looking for something that doesn't exist.
"So there's nothing out here." Michio said, kicking at some grass. "This was a waste of time."
"She's out here!" Aiko screamed. I sighed. I didn't want to agree with Michio because that would only redouble his efforts to annoy his sister, but there was just no proof that Yuka or even her phone was out here. "I'll prove it!" She shouted pulling out her cell phone.
"You can’t because there's no cell reception." Michio called back. "So ha!" Aiko ignored her brother's taunts and started playing her phone when Kimiko and I approached her. She was crying freely now, no doubt for several reasons. She noticed us but said nothing as she continued playing with her phone. Kimiko knelt down next to her, gently touching her arm.
"Aiko, Yuka's not here." Kimiko said. Aiko had finished with her phone when suddenly there was a high pitch beeping sound.
"What's that?" I asked, looking around but the open graveyard made it difficult to pinpoint the source of the beeping.
"It's Yuka's phone!" Aiko screamed. "Where is it?"
"How can it be her phone? What did you do?" Kimiko asked.
Still looking around, Aiko said, "Messenger app." Kimiko and I exchanged a glance.
''Don't you need data and a cell connection for that?" I asked. Aiko simply shook her head before turning and walking towards the fence.
"Works off of Bluetooth." She said. I instantly understood. While most text and SMS messages utilized data that's fed off of a Wi-Fi or cellular network, there are several types of apps that work via Bluetooth. It allows people to operate on a closed network so that only those permitted on the network can see what was being shared between senders. It was the same system that Chinese protestors used to spread news around the country when the government blacked out the media. And since the system was closed and only worked with open Bluetooth systems on the network, Yuka's phone had to be nearby.
Aiko picked up her pace as the sound of the messages that she barraged the phone with grew louder. Kimiko and I followed, with Michio close behind. We reached the fence where the scarecrows lined. They towered over us, their bodies suspended, almost crucified overhead. I examined the scarecrows, searching their pockets as I listened to the beeping. Michio wanted to help but I refused. I know he just wanted to mess with things, as any teenage boy did, but I didn't like these scarecrows. They just made me feel… off.
The scarecrow I examined was the same one that I saw on the video that Aiko showed me. Apparently that video was recording in this very cemetery. Upon seeing the scarecrow, Aiko started crying, recognizing the pin as the one that Yuka wore. I searched the scarecrow but found nothing. I knew that the beeping was coming from it but couldn't quite figure out where. The scarecrow had no pockets and so there were no other ways to store the phone but it just wasn't there. It wasn't until I had a grim realization that I considered that the phone was not on the scarecrow but rather it was inside it. I lifted the blouse and saw a seam was just visible underneath it. I tried lifting the scarecrow from the post, thinking that it was just hanging by a hook, but was taken aback by just how heavy it was. The body refused the budge, only the legs folded and twisted as I gripped them. I thought that someone went to a great deal of trouble to make these as like life as possible, minus the gaping holes for eyes.
Seeing that there was no way to get it down, I decided that climbing up may be the way to go. It was getting dark, having spent over hour searching the cemetery. The sun was starting to descend below the horizon, the mountains’ shadows drifting closer and closer, like a blanket being pulled over the village. I climbed atop the wooden fence post. It was fairly solid, no obvious sign of rot, so I was confident that it wouldn't collapse under my weight. Balancing on one foot, I gripped the scarecrow. I was careful to remove the pin, tossing it down to Aiko before doing anything else.
Then taking a small pocket knife, I sliced through the fabric of her jumper until it was completely open. I was stunned to see that not only was there a white blouse underneath but the scarecrow also wore a pair of panties. This struck me as very strange since this was an article of closing that was not meant to be seen by anyone aside from the wearer and perhaps a significant other. However this doll was meant to represent a girl Aiko's age, it was just plain disturbing. I shook off the uneasy, slightly disgusted, feelings that this scarecrow sent through me. In the center of the scarecrow, running the entire body of the scarecrow was a large seam.
With my knife I started cutting through the strings but as I did so I gasped, pulling my knife away. I just cut through the first stitch when a dark liquid began to ooze from the seam. Pulling free my phone, I turned on the flashlight and shined it on the substance. It was dark, difficult to determine the color. I dipped the tip of my blade into the liquid and saw that it was crimson, almost like blood. That was when I heard a rustle of straw. I looked up at the scarecrow but saw nothing. A slight wind blew from the mountains, but as I felt it, I didn't see anything move, let alone the scarecrows.
"What is it?" Kimiko asked. I said nothing as I examined my blade. "Jason!" I looked back to find her hands on her hips. The daylight was fading quickly and I knew that we still had a woefully long way to go back home.
"It's nothing." I said, but as I turned back to face the scarecrow I jumped as I realized that the two empty holes that were in the burlap material of the face were now filled with eyes. Human eyes. The sclera was a yellowish white, the irises a dark brown. The lips, a sewed crease on its face, split with the sound of tearing fabric casting droplets of blood across my face. As the mouth opened the most horrific shriek escaped those terrible lips.
Fear overtaking me, I lost my balance and fell off the post but not before dropping my knife and phone. As I landed, I fell upon the upright blade; it slashing through my thigh, rending flesh and fabric. I screamed in both fear and pain. Kimiko ran for me but I saw that Michio and Aiko remain rooted to the spot. In that dimming light they looked so pale, almost alabaster. Kimiko ran to me, prepared to speak but as she spoke she looked up at the scarecrow. It moved and jerked as if trying to get free from pole that it hung from. A terrible shriek rose from its throat, the cry echoing into the night. Beside it on either side were others as they struggled against their restraints. The sound of ripping fabric intensified with each movement from the army of scarecrows.
Kimiko grabbed my arm and struggled to help me to my feet. Running, let alone walking was entirely out of the question. The knife was deep, up to the handle. With a trembling hand I grabbed at it, eliciting more pain from the injury. I knew that removing it slowly would only cause me more pain so with as much strength and speed as I could muster I yanked on the handle. Unfortunately, my fingers were slick with blood and sweat and it slipped free sending fresh pain erupting from my leg as more blood leaked from the wound. I cried out, almost losing my footing and bringing Kimiko down as well.
"Jason, are you okay?" She asked her eyes on me but constantly drifting back to the scarecrows. From the corners of my eyes I saw them moving more feverishly. The sound of ripping fabric grew louder and longer as they managed break away even further from their restraints. They were desperate to get free. To get us.
I ignored the question, gripping the handle of my knife again. The pain was incredible. Just touching the handle sent new waves of agony through me. Nausea struck me hard but I tried my best to ignore it. Breathing deeply and with a single powerful tug, I freed the blade from my thigh with a primal scream. My voice carried high into the night but as loud as I was, the cries from the scarecrows grew even louder. Rather than just one scarecrow crying out, all of them were.
"Let's go!" I shouted. Kimiko did her best to support me, but it was difficult. She wasn't strong enough to support my entire weight but I could barely use my leg. If I tried to place any weight on it, I would feel only pain. Our progress was more of a limping stagger than a running sprint.
We made it halfway across the graveyard when I realized that it was only me and Kimiko fleeing the area. I stopped, Kimiko screaming at me to move but I ignored her as I looked back and saw Michio and Aiko standing rooted to the ground. The scarecrows were free now, their bodies falling to the dirt with all of the fanfare of, well . . . scarecrows. However, unlike normal scarecrows, they began to climb to their feet, fingers gripping the fence as they struggled to stand. I screamed back at Michio and Aiko, but they either couldn't hear me or were too terrified to move. Fighting against Kimiko's grip I pulled us both back into the graveyard.
Kimiko screamed at me to go with her, pulling at my shirt, but with a powerful swipe of my arm I broke her grip on me. I almost fell to the dirt, my good leg giving way but I caught myself on a head stone and clambered upright. I pushed through the pain, limping over towards them. In the dying light I could see their obvious terror. The scarecrows were on their feet and slowly moving towards us. I screamed for the kids once more, this time my voice reaching Michio. He jumped at my cry but his senses had returned enough that he quickly realized what was happening.
"Aiko, let's go." He screamed. He grabbed his sister's arm and with a firm tug, broke her trance. They ran to me and Kimiko. Putting my arm around Michio and Kimiko, they helped me move and we managed to escape the graveyard with the scarecrows in pursuit. However, we didn't get very far.
The scarecrows didn't move quickly. Like Romero/Kirkman style zombies their movements were slow and clumsy. However just like them, they did not let something like falling down to keep them from pursuing. They were slow but were driven. Now there was an inherent issue with trying to escape the scarecrows and make it back to the car. One was that my leg was in bad shape. There were a surprising amount of blood. The blade had nicked an artery and though I wasn’t dying, I had lost a fair amount of blood. Aside from the blood loss and dizziness I felt, the second problem was the fact that Aiko was barely holding it together, and that Kimiko and Michio had to practically carry me, we were in the middle of a village full of scarecrows. And finally the third was that those scarecrows were also coming to life.
We made it several dozen yards outside of the cemetery when we ran into another group of scarecrows. We stopped, seeing an intersection and moved down another street. Unfortunately this was leading us away from the car. As we passed a shop, a patchwork arm shot out through the window just missing Michio's shirt. He screamed but managed to get away before the scarecrow could make another swipe. Aiko lagged behind us. Believe it or not she was moving far slower than the three of us. I suppose it was just everything that was happening that she just couldn't help but stare. The Fight and Flight reflex has two other reactions that are often forgotten. Perhaps it just becomes a mouthful if you say all of them, but those ignored biological responses are Fainting and Freezing. I only mention these become Aiko was already suffering from one and on the verge of suffering the other.
As we rounded another corner a group of scarecrows were about to pounce on us. Kimiko and Michio stopped and carried me the other direction where the street was still open. As we moved I realized that Aiko was still standing in the middle of the road, staring at a group of scarecrows that were encroaching on her. I screamed at her, but my voice was lost amongst the cries of our pursuers. I tried to slow Kimiko and Michio's escape, calling out for Aiko but was unable to. Their own fear drove them and I was just along for the ride. I screamed for them to stop, called for Aiko to run but my words were lost to everyone as the Scarecrows continued their slow shamble towards us. As we rounded the comer of one of the shops, I briefly saw Aiko disappear, lost in the crowd of scarecrows. Through all of this, I swore that I heard a light hint of laughter drifting through the air as the wind slipped through the village.
As we ran the world around me was beginning to swim as my injury was starting to get the better of me. My sense of direction was tentative at best and I wasn’t until the starry sky vanished that I realized we had made our way into a building. The windows had been shuttered, the door open, but as we entered, Michio slammed it shut, locking it. It was dark, the little light left in the evening blocked out by the shutters. Kimiko pulled out her phone and aimed her flashlight into the encompassing darkness. The light did little to banish the shadows but it was enough for them to guide me to a chair that sat alone against a wall. The pain in my leg was excruciating, perhaps the worst I have experienced to date. The bleeding had stopped on its own fortunately but once resting I knew I needed to bandage it up. Unfortunately as I reached for my backpack, I realized that it was still at the cemetery. This did not discourage me, however. In my waning consciousness I instructed Kimiko to take off my shirt and rip it apart to use as a makeshift bandaged.
"We have to go back." I said as Kimiko tightened the bandage. I bit back a scream, allowing my entire body to tense for several moments before relaxing.
"Are you nuts?" Michio cried, "There are tons of those things out there."
"Aiko is still out there." I managed. In the dim light of Kimiko's phone I saw their faces morph from fear to shock and then to complete terror.
"What?" Kimiko shouted. I nodded, but doing so made me even dizzier. She turned flashing the light around searching for the young girl.
"Yeah," I said, but as I spoke my own voice felt distant. The pure exhaustion mixed with the pain, fear and blood loss. I was afraid that I was going to lose consciousness at any moment. "She was surrounded by those things but I lost sight of her."
"Why didn't you say something?" Michio cried.
"I did!" I said, glaring at him. I was right up against their ears, screaming at them to stop but neither heard me. They didn't even flinch. Kimiko stared at me unblinking. I don't know what she was thinking about or what Michio was thinking about but my thoughts were on Aiko. Through my fading senses, I still possessed the need to find her.
"We have to..." I started but my mind drifted into darkness as I felt the world fall away from me. The last thing I remembered hearing was Kimiko screaming my name.
I awoke; my mind sluggish. I knew that I was not at home or back in the states. The sun was creeping through the weathered slats of the shutters. Large, jagged holes had appeared in the wood overnight. I remembered them being in one piece when I was last awake but it appeared that something had happened after I passed out. My back was sore, my leg was stiff and with any movement new pain ran through my muscles. Though I knew I was unconscious, there was no sleep, no rest. I looked around the room and saw that Kimiko and Michio huddled against the wall. The front door was barricade with a book case and anything that could have been moved by hand. Glancing up I saw an enormous hole above me where a window was. Looking around me I saw that I was surrounded by splintered wood. I tried to sit up but pain ripped through my body and I cried out before falling back onto the floor.
"Jason?" I heard a voice cry. There was the sudden sound of movement and within moments I saw Kimiko and Michio appear over me. They looked as exhausted as I felt. Dark circles traced their eyes, dirt and old sweat clinging to their brows.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"It's morning." Kimiko said. "I'm not sure what time though." She held up her phone, the screen blank. She must have used up the last of the battery before dawn.
"What happened?" I tried to sit up but a pain shot through my back and a barked in pain.
"Easy." Kimiko said placing a hand on my shoulder. "You passed out. Michio and I kept those things out." She gestured towards the front door and the barricade.
"Where's Aiko?" As I spoke, I saw Kimiko's brow furrow. Looking over to Michio, he simply looked away. "You didn't go find her?" I screamed.
"We were scared." Michio shouted. 'Then those scarecrows tried to bust down the door and break through the windows. They would have gotten us."
I understood but didn't like it. The need for self-preservation was at the heart of one's being. I knew that they just wanted to stay safe, to survive whatever was happening but at a horrible cost. They both knew it, I knew it but it didn't make me feel any better. The thought of Aiko all alone with those things and what they could have done to her made my stomach turn. I knew that before we did anything else, we would find Aiko. Michio and Kimiko helped me to my feet. I couldn't put any weight on my leg, so they had to carry me like the previous night. Moving all of the furniture from the door, we stepped out into the morning light.
The village was quiet again, the only sign that something had happen the night before was pieces of straw scattered all over the dirt and the footprints. So many footprints. I led them to the last spot I had seen Aiko but as we rounded the corner, my heart sank when I saw there was no sign of her. They led me to that spot but aside from obvious signs of disturbed dirt, there was nothing to indicate that she was even there. I told them to take me to my bag and my phone. My phone was probably dead but I wanted to gather my things before we tried to retrace our steps. I was convinced that she had run to somewhere familiar, maybe even ran back to the car.
The scarecrows were back in their rightful spots. Sitting in chairs, cars, benches. Some hung from their posts; others leaned against store counters waiting for their scarecrow customers. Back at the graveyard, the scarecrows were back on their posts as if nothing had happened, though the littering of straw and disturbed grass was proof otherwise. My bag was just where I left it as was my GPS and cellphone. I got halfway, staring at the scarecrows, when I froze. Kimiko and Michio pulled at me but my good leg refused to budge. I refused.
You see I remembered the scarecrows that were on the fence line at the far end of the cemetery. That morning I saw something different. My heart broke, fear and sadness overwhelming me, I knew that my life would never be the same. I collapsed, Michio and Kimiko losing their grip on me. This was fine since they too were lost to their own inner thoughts. Where my bag rested was the scarecrow that resembled Yuka. However next to it was a new scarecrow. Wearing a jumper and white blouse was another scarecrow and this one looked just like Aiko.