The Last Straw
The Last Straw


Jeremy Bro

Corn. That was Jacob’s life. Corn. All day long, he sat in a field looking out over the corn. Guarding it from all those dangerous birds. God forbid they might take some of this precious corn. Six acres of corn, and not a single ear could go to waste. Jacob wouldn’t even have minded so much if old man McGreggor would spare a kind word every now and again. “Nice job Jacob. Way to keep those birds away.” But no, it was always, “Stupid scarecrow. Waste of good hay if you ask me. Could be put to better use feeding the horses.” What a life.

It was raining now. Jacob’s hat, ripped and tattered, offered little protection from the rain. Drops of water gathered in what was left of its wide brim, then dripped down over his face and down into his shirt, dampening the hay used to make up his body, hay which had long since gone rotten. There was a stirring in the corn as Farmer McGreggor appeared. He inspected the corn carefully, taking each ear in his hands and examining it.

“Well well well,” he said, “What do we have here? Why it looks like bite marks. It looks like some birds came along and helped themselves to my corn. But shoot, that can’t be right. I mean after all, I have this fearsome scarecrow to keep the birds away. So what I’m wondering is if the scarecrow doesn’t keep the birds away, why in tarnation is the stupid scarecrow sitting in my field taking up my space?”

The old man spat. “Good for nothing sack of hay. You really think you’re something don’t you? Sitting here all high and mighty watching over the corn.” He grinned. “That will all end soon though. You’ve been a pain in my side for far too long. If you only knew how long I’ve wanted to get rid of you, how long I’ve waited. You’ll meet your end soon enough though. Stupid scarecrow.” Farmer McGreggor kicked at the post which held Jacob up. The thin wood tilted and shook. Loose hay fell from Jacob’s arms, as the old man walked away.

Jacob thought of all the things he would do if he were ever able to get off this cursed stake. A thin smile crossed his painted lips as he imagined throwing Farmer McGreggor’s withered old body out to feed the birds. Jacob often indulged in such fantasies. Playing out cruel and twisted fates for the farmer in his mind. It helped the time go by. Jacob had seen the old farmer and his family die more times than he could imagine, each death different, each with it’s own subtle irony. There was a sparkle in Jacob’s button eyes that night as he fell asleep. Some day, he thought. Some day.

Jacob awoke the next day to see the toothless grin of Farmer McGreggor as the old man stood looking up at his straw guardian. It was not a pleasant grin. The corners of his mouth twisted, mocking. Jacob couldn’t help but wonder what sort of evil scheme this decrepit old man had concocted to further demean and humiliate him. The scarecrow felt confident, however, that nothing this miserable old man could do could possibly make his life any worse than it already was. In fact in some back corner of his mind he looked forward it. Let the old fool do his worst. Jacob would enjoy watching him fail.

A tall man in a dark suit walked out of the corn and stepped towards McGreggor. The farmer turned to face the newcomer. “So this new poison of yours’ll keep the birds away?”

“Yes sir. A blanket of our new stuff over your crops, and the birds will be dropping like flies.” The man squinted against the sun, as he turned towards Jacob. “I guess that will put this guy out of business.”

“I reckon,” McGreggor said, “’Bout time too. Worthless bag of hay.” The farmer cackled to himself. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. You never thought this day would actually come, did you?” McGreggor threw his head back in laughter.

“Sir?” the other man said, a touch of concern on his face, “Are you,” he paused, “all right?”

“What?” Farmer McGreggor looked confused, “Oh yeah I’m fine. Just you let me be.”

“Okay,” said the man in the suit, all too ready to get out of here.

“Now where were we?” the farmer grinned again, as he lifted up a nearby ax. The ax stuck the flimsy post once, splintering it. Jacob swayed back and forth up top, unable to believe what was happening. The second blow split the post in half, sending Jacob crashing to the ground. He fell through the tall corn, which he had stood watch over for so very long, and landed face down in the dirt. The soil covering his head, and filling up the tiny holes in his button eyes. He could here the old man’s cackles, and feel his approach. The farmer’s hands wrapped around Jacob’s chest, and lifted him into the air. The farmer swung Jacob’s limp body around, the dirt still clinging to his face, and finally tossed the battered scarecrow onto the back of his tractor.

Jacob still couldn’t see anything, but felt the tractor as the engine came to life. He felt the corn strike his body as it gave way to the tractor. He felt the wind hit his body as they emerged from the cornfield. For the first time in his life Jacob was outside of the corn. All these years he had dreamt of this moment, and now that it was finally here Jacob felt nothing but defeat. Guarding corn was the only life Jacob knew. Now suddenly even that had been taken away from him. Jacob felt useless. Maybe the farmer was right after all. He was just a useless bag of hay. Not needed in life, not missed in death.

The tractor finally came to a stop. Jacob still couldn’t see, but he knew they were in front of the stables. The tractor creaked as McGreggor stood up. Jacob once again felt the old farmer’s hands wrap around his flimsy body. He didn’t fight however, he simply allowed the farmer to take him away. McGreggor dropped Jacob on the ground as he opened the large barn door. Jacob lay, crumpled on the ground, listening as the door creaked slowly open. Farmer McGreggor picked Jacob up again, and tossed him unceremoniously into the barn. “Good bye scarecrow,” the old man cackled as Jacob crashed to the ground. He heard the door creak once again as the old man closed it, then all was silent.

Jacob lay collapsed on the barn floor, alone with his thoughts. The drafty barn remained silent the horse Jethro, Jacob decided, still asleep. He lay there motionless for hours, wishing Jethro would wake up and get it over with. The farmer’s crooked grin filled his mind, haunting him. There was a stirring over in the corner, as the horse rose to his feet. Jacob wanted more than anything else to wipe that vile grin off the old man’s face. Jethro made his way over to where Jacob lay. The horse prodded at Jacob with his nose, sniffing the scarecrow out. Jacob couldn’t stand the idea of old man McGreggor winning, returning home to his family, smug and confident, remembering Jacob from time to time, and laughing. Cautiously, Jethro lowered his head and took a mouthful of straw from Jacob’s arm. Jacob swung his other hand, hard, into the horse’s nose. Jethro pulled back, and shook his head, unsure of what had just happened. Determined not to give up, Jethro tried again. Slowly he moved his nose forward, and ever so gently prodded the scarecrow. Again Jacob smacked the horse, this time harder. The horse leapt back, cast one final glance at Jacob, and moved on.

Slowly, Jacob pushed himself off of the ground, and tried to stand. His legs gave out beneath him, and he tumbled to the floor. Again and again he tried, only to fall. All this time, Jacob realized, the only thing keeping him up had been that stake. What he thought of as his prison, binding him to the ground, was actually the very thing holding him upright. Cursing his luck yet again, Jacob looked around the barn in search of some sort of makeshift crutch. The horse lay in the far corner, staring intently at Jacob. On the opposite wall, a torch hung above Jethro’s food bin. His water trough sat nearby, nearly empty. A large canister of gasoline for McGreggor’s tractor sat near the door. That was it. Now determined not to let the old man win, Jacob dragged himself along the ground to the horse’s food bin. With great effort, he pulled himself up, leaning against the large crate. Prying the lid open with what was left of his stake, Jacob reached inside. His straw fingers sifted through the various oats and grains inside, and finally settled on a carrot.

Jacob held the carrot out. The horse didn’t move. Jacob waved the carrot around, it was old and limp, and bent back and forth as he waved it. The horse slowly raised his head, looking at the scarecrow’s offering. Emphatically, Jacob swung the carrot back and forth. Slowly, the horse rose up. He stretched and yawned, going to great lengths to show Jacob just how uninterested he was. Desperation was clear on the scarecrow’s face as he continued to bait the horse. Jethro began walking towards Jacob. He stopped just outside Jacob’s reach, and looked the scarecrow skeptically. He had not forgotten their last meeting. Jethro walked around Jacob, approaching him from the side. Jacob turned to face the horse, and again offered the limp vegetable. Jethro inched his head forward, sniffing at the carrot. The horse cast Jacob one last cautious glance, and reached out, taking the carrot and most of Jacob’s hand in his mouth. Jacob smiled, as he swung his straw body up on top of the horse. With his bad hand firmly inside Jethro’s bridle, holding him in place, Jacob begun plotting.

In the cool autumn evening, everything was calm on the McGreggor farm. The lights had long since gone out in the farmer’s house. The animals too, had retired for the night, leaving the farm silent and still. The silence was ended when a large crash emanated from the old barn, shaking the creaky wooden door. Again and again, something struck the old barn door from the inside. Splinters began to appear on the outside as the ancient wood split. Finally, the door slammed open, and a shadowy figure on horseback rode through the night, silhouetted in the light of the moon. A sinister laugh echoed through the farm as the horseman galloped past the cornfield. The animals all woke from their sleep, and watched with interest as the dark rider raced to the farmer’s house.

Inside the house, old man McGreggor was awoken by his wife. “Honey,” she said, “Do you hear that?”

“It’s just the dogs,” came the tired reply, “Go back to sleep.” They lay in silence for a moment.

“Honey,” the farmer’s wife tried again, “I don’t think that’s the dogs.”

By this time it was clear the dogs were not the source of the strange noise, though their howls had been added to the mysterious sound. “It’s probably just those stupid raccoons again,” said McGreggor, wanting desperately to go back to sleep.

“It’s not the raccoons, dear. I think you ought to take a look.” “Oh for crying out loud,” McGreggor grumbled, as he swung his legs out of bed. “Where’re my glasses?” By this time it was clear the noise was growing closer. As the old man struggled to find his glasses, he could hear something striking his bedroom door. “What in the blazes?” His hands, now trembling slightly, finally fell upon his glasses. At the same time the old wood of the doorframe gave way, and the bedroom door collapsed.

Farmer McGreggor put his glasses on to see his horse reared up on his hind legs. Atop the horse sat Jacob, cackling madly, one hand clinging to the horse, the other wildly swung a blazing torch. “What in tarnation is going on here!” gasped the startled farmer.

“What is it dear?” asked his wife.

“I don’t know,” came the confused response, “It looks like that stupid scarecrow.”

“What does it want?”

Jacob felt giddy as he listened to them, as he saw the exasperated look on the old farmer’s face. He laughed harder and harder as their conversation progressed, as he struggled to control the horse. Finally the farmer looked up at Jacob, “What do you want?” he asked in a trembling voice.

Jacob said nothing in response. Instead he threw the torch, casting it down into their bed. The scarecrow threw his head back in laughter as he heard them shriek, scurrying to get away from the flame. He sat atop the horse watching them, and smiled wickedly as they realized Jethro was blocking the room’s only exit. Old man McGreggor threw the enflamed quilt on the floor and began jumping on it. Jacob watched through a smoky haze, as the flames began to smolder, looking like they wanted to die out. But Jacob had come much too far to let the farmer escape now. He had anticipated this, and knew exactly what he must do.

Quickly, the scarecrow wrapped Jethro’s reins around a heavy lamp, preventing the horse from running away. The farmer looked up at Jacob, a tiny spark of confidence in his eyes, as he continued to stomp at the dying fire. Jacob looked down at the farmer, and smiled. The tired scarecrow cackled as he threw his body from the horse, landing atop the smoldering quilt. As the dying flames touched the scarecrow’s gasoline soaked body, they sprung to life again, erupting into a quickly spreading fire. Jacob’s laugh spread through the house. Seeing the expression of horror on the old farmer’s face, he knew it had been worth it, dousing himself with gasoline. A crooked smile spread across Jacob’s painted lips as the life burned from his body.