Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
I killed my best friend when I was thirteen. It wasn’t what I wanted, or what the others involved wanted, but that doesn’t matter now, he’s gone. Most people look back at their childhood and realize that there was a day they went out to play with their friends for the last time without realizing it. That’s not the case for me.
Andy was my friend since we were in kindergarten. Growing up we were inseparable; always sitting together, playing on the same team, reading the same books and playing the same video games. The teachers even had to make us sit with other kids from time to time so we couldn’t distract each other during class. Nothing could keep us apart though, not for long.
I had a twin sister, Penny, who was shy and always wanted to tag along with me rather than try making friends of her own. I told Andy that she would be joining us when we hung out, and Andy was just fine with that. In 1st grade, he got seated with a kid named TJ, and Andy told me we should spend more time with him. I didn’t argue.
By the time we reached 4th grade, another boy joined the crew after we were put into a group project together. His name was Billy. He was shy like Penny, and never talked unless you spoke to him first. Penny liked him, and we accepted Billy into the group with open arms. That was as big as the group would get, and we spent the next four years seeing each other as much as we could. We studied together, played football together, and of course when Halloween came around, we went trick-or-treating together.
It was the Halloween of our 8th grade year when something happened that would change our lives in ways we could never have predicted.
We went trick-or-treating together just like we always had before. We’d gone as the ghostbusters that year, with Penny as our ghost. Afterwards, we came back to my house for a sleepover, where we traded candy, watched a scary movie, and finally settled in past our bedtime for spooky stories. This was the part that Andy had been most excited about. Billy was happy just to be with us, and opted to listen. TJ tried to make something up on the spot about a Mummy at a museum, but it ended up being more funny than it was scary. Penny and I didn’t really have anything, and Andy was too eager to wait to tell his anyway.
“I have a good one for you guys tonight,” he told us, pretending to crack his knuckles. “But be warned, it’s really scary. You may not even be able to sleep.”
I remember saying, “Well it can’t be worse than TJ’s. So go ahead, do your worst.”
Andy smirked at me in that moment and gave an affirmative nod, which I see much differently looking back. “Okay, but no lights. Everyone listen close.” He told us.
We gathered our favorite pieces of candy and turned off the lights, circling up with only the sound of Andy’s voice to keep us company. He told us a story about a Scarecrow on a farm, and it still gives me chills to this day when I remember how easily he slipped into the story, never stumbling on a single word.
The Scarecrow lived its days tied to a post in a cornfield, unable to scare the crows away and failing at its only purpose in life. The crows mocked him for it. They would land on his post and peck at him, cawing in his ears. They thought nothing of him except when they thought to torment him. One night, it became too much for the Scarecrow, and he began to weep. He cried so loudly that the farmer came outside to see who was trespassing on his property, only to find the weeping Scarecrow.
“Please,” the Scarecrow begged the farmer, “please let me down. I can’t take it anymore.”
“Let you down?” The farmer scoffed. “You have a job to do. You don’t come down until the crows are gone.”
With that, the farmer went back inside and the crows returned the next morning. They taunted him further, cackling and boasting that not even the farmer cared a thing about him. They pecked away at the corn and they pecked away at him, tearing small bits of his body away. The Scarecrow sobbed louder than ever, but he was drowned out by the amused crows. He tugged at his restraints, thrashed his head desperately, but the crows were not dissuaded from their feast or their cruelty.
Finally, after hours of tugging and torment by the cursed birds, the Scarecrow pulled himself free.
In his anger, he grabbed the nearest crow and crushed it in his hands. The others flocked to him, trying to rip him to pieces with their beaks and their talons, but the Scarecrow fought back. He killed one crow after another until only a handful remained, and they fled the field in terror. Freed, the Scarecrow brought the dead birds inside and offered them to the farmer.
“The crows are dead,” he told him, “I’ve done my job.”
The farmer was surprised, but he was glad to see it. He gathered up the crows and plucked their feathers, cooking them up for dinner like they were his own chickens. The farmer decided he liked the taste of crow so much, that he wanted more to come back. He wanted the Scarecrow to stay on the post and to kill more for him to eat.
The Scarecrow had kept his end of the bargain, but the farmer had broken his promise. As the farmer sat at his table with his hands over his full belly, the Scarecrow lost his temper once more. He grabbed the knife and fork and drove them into the farmer’s eyes. As the farmer screamed in agony, the Scarecrow dragged him from his home and nailed him to the very same post in the cornfield.
“Please!” The Farmer cried, his eyes still gauged by the bloody fork and knife. “Please, let me down! Let me go!”
The Scarecrow stood before the Farmer, watching the blood drip from his face and hands. “Not until the crows are gone.”
Andy never said ‘The End’ or anything like that, he just let us sit in the dark with what we’d heard. When he turned on the lights we didn’t even move, and he looked at us with this big, curious grin. “What did you think?”
We all told him it was a good story, unsure what else to say, and then decided we were ready for bed. I can’t remember how long it took me to fall asleep, but I remember how my eyes flicked towards every little sound until I did, as if my mind was creating noises that didn’t belong. When I finally did drift off, sleep proved no escape from the story, and I dreamt about the Scarecrow with a bloody knife and fork in hand, while the screams of the farmer echoed throughout the dark woods wherever I ran. Dead crows littered the ground at every turn, and my path became blocked by the wooden post, waiting for me to be stuck to it next. That was when I woke up the next morning.
I went into the bathroom to try and calm down away from the others, only to find Penny sitting by herself, tears streaming down her face. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that she had had the same dream. She didn’t just have a nightmare about the same Scarecrow; she had the same dream as I had, scene for scene. As if the nightmare wasn’t frightening enough, seeing my sister in such a state and hearing that our dreams were mirror reflections of each other nearly made me fall down.
Andy had to leave early that day, and after his mother picked him up I asked TJ and Billy how they slept. Penny and I were distraught when TJ described exactly what we’d seen without us telling him our dreams first. I remember looking at Billy while TJ talked, and seeing the color drain from his face as he heard his own nightmare described by someone else too. None of us knew what to make of it, but we were scared.
The next time I saw Andy, I asked him if he had the same dream. He said no. “It was just a story,” he told me. “I’m sorry for scaring you guys. But, that was kind of the point, you know?”
I didn’t feel like it was fair to be mad at him then, but that didn’t stop me from developing a fear of the dark. When the lights were out, I felt like I was brought back to the moment he told us the story, and I would panic before turning the light back on. It made it harder for Penny and I to sleep, but when we slept, the nightmare would come back. It was the same one every time, inescapable no matter what we tried.
TJ and Billy were no better off, frightened of their own shadows from then on. TJ even started bringing a knife to school, and Billy went from speaking only when spoken to, to not speaking at all. I started finding it nearly impossible to focus at school, my mind always ended up wandering back to the scarecrow and imagining the pain that the farmer went through on that post. At church, when they talked about Jesus on the cross, I saw the farmer instead. I even prayed for protection from the scarecrow, imagining him when the pastor said ‘deliver us from evil.’
Part of me wanted to talk to Andy about what was happening, but since he was the one who scared us so bad, I felt as if it would be no use. All of us ended up talking to him less, and when he asked what was wrong it was Penny who said that his story had done a number on us. I remember him rolling his eyes and saying how it was just a story, and that we were making too big a deal out of it. Andy was always in my corner for anything before then, so to hear him be so dismissive about it made me resentful.
After a few weeks it got so bad that I began losing control. Every night that dream kept haunting me, and so every day got worse. One day at school, the teacher called on me to answer a question when I hadn’t been paying attention. It was the third or fourth time, and she scolded me in front of the class for always being distracted. I snapped at her and said a few things that got me sent straight to the principal’s office, and I had no excuse for my behavior that they would believe. My parents decided it was a result of violent video games and movies, so they limited my access to those things and told me to spend more time outside when I wasn’t studying.
I lived in a rural area with plenty of farms and wide open fields, so going outside was effectively like throwing me into the lion’s den after the onslaught of nightmares. As if to pour salt on the wound, a flock of crows showed up near my property one day. They scared me so badly that I took my dad’s BB gun from the shed and began to shoot at them. Every time I missed, I got so frustrated that I felt like my head would explode. I screamed at the crows to go away, like a kettle finally brought to boil. They didn’t leave; they just kept cawing away like they had when he tried to make them leave.
At this point, I’d had enough. One weekend, on a night when our parents were away for conferences at school, I called TJ and Billy over. We talked about what was happening, how each of us kept having the same nightmare ever since that Halloween, how our grades were all suffering because we couldn’t think of anything but that story, and how Andy was doing just fine.
“He did this to us.” I told them. “Andy did something to us, and he has to undo it.”
TJ agreed with me right away, as if he’d been waiting for someone else to say it first. Penny and I had confided in each other enough that she was willing to passively follow my lead and I had taken full advantage of it, getting her to offer no resistance to whatever I wanted us to do. Billy was even more easily swayed, so all I had to do was ask him if he was in, and he gave me an affirmative nod. TJ asked me what the plan was, and I felt there was no time to waste.
“We get him to make it stop.” I said definitively. “And we do it now.”
I called Andy and told him to meet us at the edge of town, where the dirt road ran by a vacant farm. There was no traffic out there, no one to see or hear us. We’d always wanted to camp out in the field, so I told Andy that that night we were finally going to give it a try. He agreed right away and said he’d meet us there, and the four of us grabbed our bikes for the ride. I was barred from the shed after the BB gun incident, but dad left his toolbox in the garage, so I fished out the hammer and two nails before leaving.
It was cold that weekend, and it was even starting to snow when we were halfway there. Penny suggested we turn back at one point rather than freeze, but we were determined. I often wonder how things might have turned out had we listened to her. When we got to the dirt road, we saw Andy waiting for us by an old boxelder tree, shivering next to his bike. We wasted no time, telling him about the dreams and that we wanted them to stop. “That’s what this is about?” he asked incredulously. “It was just a story you guys, I told you that.”
That wasn’t good enough.
The four of us blew up on him, surrounding him with his back against the tree and demanding that he lift the curse. He was like a deer in headlights, frantically looking between us and trying to get a word in, but we wouldn’t let him. We’d finally come completely undone, unable to control ourselves in a fit of panic and rage. I shoved Andy against the tree and told him to make the dreams stop, or else.
“I can’t!” he screamed back, shaking with terror and cold. “You’re all crazy! Let me go!” Saying that he couldn’t make the dreams stop just made me more frantic, and I told TJ and Billy to hold him against the tree. Andy tried to fight, but they each took an arm and pinned him there while I took the hammer and nails from my jacket pockets. Andy screamed for help, but we were the only ones to hear him, and we weren’t listening.
I approached my best friend as he begged us to stop, put one nail to his right palm and hammered it in. He screamed so loud that my ears began to ring. The ringing almost drowned out his screams as I nailed his left hand next, stepping back with TJ and Billy as Andy was powerless to follow us. When we had left the house, I imagined putting those nails in his eyes, but turning him into a Scarecrow must have been enough.
A nearby flock of crows had taken to the air when he screamed, and we watched them fly away until we couldn’t hear them anymore. Penny got on her bike in tears and rode away as fast as she could, while TJ and Billy insisted we should do the same. I can’t remember much else about that moment, only that we ended up dumping Andy’s bike in a ravine before heading home.
The search for Andy started the next day, and the four of us gave the police our pre-rehearsed story about how Andy never showed up to our proposed get together. I wasn’t stupid; I figured they would find him and that they would come for us. Strangely enough, I was wrong. Police looked for him all over the county with their search dogs and local volunteers, but they found nothing. The end of the year came and went, and there was no sign of Andy dead or alive. It was all over the news, and our school held a vigil for him when the search was eventually called off.
Andy just disappeared. He was gone, and there was no trace of him left behind. The dreams stopped haunting us after that, and we clung onto the belief that we’d done the right thing. All we really knew was that we traded one evil for another, and a new batch of nightmares awaited us.
Our group’s friendship didn’t last long after that. Billy stopped talking to us after a while; he was the last to join our group and the first to leave. TJ got expelled during our junior year when the school found drugs in his backpack along with a six inch blade. Even Penny and I started to grow apart. By the time we were seniors, we hardly spoke to each other, and our parents just wrote it off as life’s natural changes at that age.
The crushing loneliness I felt after that was enough to make me question if life was worth living. I was left with nothing but my own thoughts and I wouldn’t have wished those on my worst enemy. Near graduation, when Andy had been all but forgotten and life was as normal as I could hope for, I started wondering how all this was possible. The way he just disappeared was confounding, to say the least. I started to wonder if it could have possibly been real, the way I remembered it. On the four year anniversary of the day Andy was killed, I walked all the way out to that dirt road in search of the boxelder tree where we’d left him.
I don’t really know what I was expecting to see, or to hear, or even to feel. It wasn’t like there was much of anything that could bring me peace or closure after what I did. I walked up to that tree just to put my hand on the bark, to feel the body of what was meant to be Andy’s final resting place. When I did, I saw the nails still planted right where I’d hammered them in, darkened by age and rust, and by what looked like old traces of blood that the years hadn’t managed to wear away.
Even after leaving town, starting a life far away from that place, I’ll sometimes find a weekend to go back and visit that tree, and the nails are still there waiting for me every time. All these years later I find that I’m no less haunted than I was back then, and it keeps me up at night wondering where Andy went, why they never found his body or whether he might still be out there.
The Scarecrow was able to pull itself from its restraints, and exact its vengeance on its tormentors. To this day I live in fear that Andy might do the same thing.
Credit : Jesse Frawley
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