Cast of Wonders 142: Marrow by Mav Skye


Marrow

By Mav Skye

 

I have eyes but do not see.

I have ears but do not hear

I have a nose but I cannot smell

My mouth wears a stitched frown…

And if I get close, I suck bones out your crown.

 

What am I?

 

A gaggle of teens stalk sugar on All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a beaut of a night and we’ve got ourselves a whole crowd of ghouls. Why there’s Frankenstein and Vampire, Werewolf and Gorilla, also Kitty, Witch, and Dorothy carrying a live Toto in a basket. Toto yaps and all the kids laugh. They’re high on sugar as the moon is full. Werewolf howls, and the girls giggle. They’re carrying pillowcases overflowing with candy, pitching rocks at Mr. and Mrs. Vandyke’s cornfield. The cornstalks are picked clean as bones. And the dry, leathery sound they make when the wind blows is eerie enough to scare the nuts off a squirrel.

Up high on a pole, erect in the moonlight, the Tall Man gapes. The scarecrow’s head is a stuffed old potato bag cinched at the neck. Mrs. Vandyke sewed in coal buttons for its eyes and scissored slits for its nose. Mrs. Vandyke swears up and down she’d stitched in a frown to scare the crows, but its mouth hangs open as if screaming to the world. A former farm workers straw hat sits on top at angle. And for the life of Mr. Vandyke, he can’t figure why it doesn’t fly off.  Tall Man wears Mr. Vandyke’s old flannel and a blood stained pair of butchering over-alls. Sticks and cornstalks jut from the sleeves and pant bottoms. And just this year, the Vandyke’s adult children had the idea to tie a fancy tomahawk to one of its flannel sleeves. And boy howdy! It scares more than just the crows away.

But not tonight.

No, boys and girls, not tonight– nothing can scare Gorilla or Vampire, so they huck rocks and tootsie rolls at Tall Man, trying to impress the girls. Every time one strikes, Dorothy screeches (there’s no place like home!) and Toto barks. Witch hides behind Frankenstein, cackling with every toss. Kitty is thinking of ways to keep them walking to her house, her safe warm house with hot cocoa and a wide screen TV and best of all no freaky scarecrow with an axe. She hopes her new friends will stay for a while, and they can watch Pumpkin Head and carve jack o’ lanterns. She can tell Dorothy wants to come over, but Witch has been avoiding her since they turned down Ol’ Joe road.

Witch bends and hunts beside the road. When she finds a smooth, black stone she lifts it into the air cheering as if she’d won a trophy. “It’s a moonstone!” she bellows, and Werewolf howls. She swings her arm like a pitcher, aims it for Tall Man’s hat, and off the moonstone flies above the sea of cornstalks. It hits on target, the straw-hat shifts, and the guys go wild! Witch screeches and pumps her fist, then bows for her male audience.  She gives a snide look to Kitty, and Kitty wrings her hands, glancing behind them on the long deserted road.

Witch watches Kitty a moment. Tonight, with the full moon and a whispery cornfield asking for a beating, Witch would rather hang out with the boys and cause a ruckus. She’d been the single female in the group the longest. Kitty and Dorothy were nice, but what scaredy cats! She says to Kitty, “What’cha looking down Ol’ Joe road for? There ain’t anything down there… except those pumpkins we smashed at the Philips.”

Frankenstein burst out laughing. “That was your idea, not mine! If they knock on my door tomorrow I’m blaming you, Dorothy and Kitty.”

The guys give each other high fives.

Dorothy and Kitty find each other’s hands. Now, at this point of the story, I’ll say on record that Dorothy and Kitty hadn’t participated in the great pumpkin bash at the Philips farm earlier on. No doubt, the Philips children will be in tears tomorrow morning, and Mr. Philips will be looking to find the culprits! I will also have to go on record to tell ya, much to Dorothy’s dismay, that it was Toto who gnawed out the teeth of those ol’ jack lantern smiles. And poor Dorothy is worried sick that Toto’s actions will be enough to incriminate her. So there’s good reason Dorothy and Kitty hold hands and shiver in the breeze. Every time the wind shifts the stalks, the girls yelp, and then it’s as if a coyote pack is set off. Vampire and Frankenstein whoop and holler leaping around– beasts of the night they are! Gorilla grunts and scratches beneath his arms, and Werewolf yowls like a rabid dog.

After awhile, the ghoulish crowd toss all the rocks they can find. Kitty and Dorothy suggests they all go watch a scary movie. Getting a bit bored, Gorilla and Werewolf agree. Vampire and Frankenstein stare off at Tall Man, thinking of other ways to distract themselves and fulfill their need of ultimate destruction and debauchery on this night of trickery and fun.

And this is the moment, folks, the very instant, when our Frankenstein comes up with an idea. It’s as if someone yanked on a noodle chain with a direct connection to the right side of his brain, and on comes an itsy bitsy light bulb. And, just for clarity’s sake, I’ll repeat itsy bitsy light bulb, though by now I’m guessin’ you’ve figured out that our boys here, aren’t the brightest, even with names like Doctor Frankenstein. Frankenstein says, “Let’s light him up!”

“What?” all the girls shriek together in unison, as teenaged girls tend to do. Toto mimics their shock with a sharp, quick bark.

Gorilla, all chump like, says, “Tall Man?”

Frankenstein heartily nods.

Vampire says, “Oh yeah! Yes! Of course—yes!” As if this were the greatest idea in the entirety of the history of all mankind, and to seal this moment in human grandiosity, Vampire boasts, “And I got a lighter!”

He flicks it on, and holds it high for all to see. There is silence as all the ghouls acknowledge this historical moment. Even if it isn’t written down in the encyclopedias of the time, it will forever be written in their minds (and tomorrow morning’s newspapers!), for this is the moment when everything changes. When Halloween goes from fun to, well, scary.

Dead scary.

“Where’d you get that?” asks Dorothy, frowning, glancing around as if the Wicked Witch of the East is about to fly straight out of the clouds and blast her with evil flying monkeys. Why, she wonders, why did Toto have to eat the jack o’laterns’ teeth!

Vampire says, “Sniped it from my brother Carl. Man, he’s gonna be so pissed!” The guys high five.

Dorothy says, “But what if the Vandyke’s come around?” Well, if you must know, in addition to being worried about criminal arrest and going to juvie on account of Toto’s wrong doing, Dorothy doesn’t like Mr. and Mrs. Vandyke. Mr. Vandyke once shot at Toto with a .22 when Toto followed Dorothy to school one day. Mrs. Vandyke claims Toto was after their chickens, but Dorothy, as well as yours truly, think the Mister and Missus are mean ol’ hogs and were looking for an excuse to shoot at something.

Kitty is new to town. She came to live with her aunt after her mother was arrested (again!) for driving under the influence and side

Kitty says, “I’m not so sure guys, I mean, I’ve heard some stories about Tall Man at school…” Kitty is new to town. She came to live with her aunt after her mom was arrested (again!) for driving under the influence. This time her mom managed to rear end a school bus full of preschool kids. The judged jailed her for a whopping two years. Kitty’s aunt is too old to drive, which means Kitty has to walk by Tall Man, day in and day out, coming and going from school. Kitty knows Tall Man watches her with its beady coal eyes. And sometimes, she swears its head turns in her direction as she passes, as if smelling the scent of her bones, judging if her bone’s marrow would fill its desire for a cold October’s feast. I for one believe her, but you’ll find out later why. Goodness knows, Kitty was grateful when Dorothy could walk to school with her. Dorothy lives just down the road from the Vandyke’s cornfield, but lately Dorothy had to be school early for choir practice, and Kitty was left alone with the scarecrow and cornstalks. She says, “I think it’s a real bad idea.”

“Me too,” Dorothy nods her head for she isn’t without fear of Tall Man either. She and Kitty clutch their mittened hands together, as if the power of their unity will sway the others.

Vampire says, “You didn’t say that when we lit the old barn on the Joneses property on the 4th! Yeehaw!” He and Werewolf slapped a five at each other, and missed.

That isn’t entirely, true, but teenaged boys have a way of mingling the facts with their own made up fiction.

Witch laughs. “You guys are so lame!”

Frankenstein, towering above all of them, a keen 6 foot 3 inches at just fifteen years of age had his say, “Wait a minute, now. Yes, I’ve heard some stories too about Tall Man. I heard he stalks the lone streets and alleys in town, sniffing out the marrow of children.” They all turn and watch the scarecrow. You can turn and look too if you’d like. See how the straw from his flannel arm gently waves in the wind, the axe head of the tomahawk chinks against the post, and if you look close enough, a reddish glare peers out from under the straw hat. Frankenstein continues, “And when he finds a child he likes, he follows him. He follows him in the shadows of buildings and hides in the cover of trees, waiting and watching for the child to be alone, and when he is….” Frankenstein makes a loud slurping sound in Witch’s ear. And she startles and slaps at Frankenstein. “Geez, Frankie!”

Werewolf howls.

Frankenstein makes the slurping sound again as if he was slurping up a whole plate of noodles. He adds, “Tall Man slurps their little bones right out their ears!”

“Eww!” cackles Witch, and pushes Frankenstein away.

The crowd quiets once more, their focus on the scarecrow in the center of the field.

“I always wondered, why is he called Tall Man?” asks Dorothy.

“I don’t know,” mumbles Gorilla, he scratches his fuzzy head to confirm this.

Kitty, who had spent most the beginning of the school year listening in on the gossip and conversation of girls at school, says, “I overheard girls talking in the bathroom, one of them is totally BFF’s with the Vandyke’s granddaughter, McKenzie. And McKenzie told her the summer that Tall Man was erected, like fifteen years ago, all the other farms started having problems. Like one farmer kept seeing a dark shadow with a straw-hat trample through his corn stalks, making a sort of maze. He thought it was a play on his eyes. Until one day, when he went to harvest he followed the trail, round and round, and at the end of it, the farmer found a pile of dead dogs.”

Dorothy gasps. Toto barks.

“And the crazy thing is, none of the dogs had bones. There weren’t any cuts or incisions, the bodies just lied there like grape jelly.”

“Dog jelly,” Vampire whispers.

“And then, McKenzie said, chickens began disappearing off the farms. Soon it wasn’t just chickens. Cats and dogs,” Kitty glanced at Toto, “And then larger animals like pigs, cows, and horses. Nobody saw who or what was doing it. They were just disappearing. One day, a farmer’s grandkid saw a tall shadow with a straw hat outside his bedroom window. The shadow held his pet kitten, and had its mouth to the kitten’s ear.”

Dorothy squeezes up to Gorilla, and Gorilla put his arm around her. The wind whistles through the cornstalks, adding dimension to Kitty’s tale.

Kitty wraps her arms about herself. “The kitten laid limp in the shadow’s hands. And the shadow glancing up saw he was caught. He opened his stitched mouth and screamed at the little boy. And it sounded like the cry of one thousand souls being tortured.”

“Oh,” said Witch, she gulped loud enough for them all to hear her.

Kitty turns to her. “The little boy called the shadow Tall Man, and claimed it was the scarecrow from the Vandyke’s cornfield.”

“Geez, I’ve never heard that before,” said Werewolf, his howling forgotten.

Kitty swallows hard. “And that’s not the worst of it. Soon after, the little boy disappeared while riding his tyke down his grandparent’s very own driveway. Later, they found his body in the Vandyke’s cornfield at the very pole of Tall man. All his bones… gone.”

I don’t have to tell you that after Kitty’s story, all the kids glance nervously at each other, then at the cornfield and the straw creature hanging on the pole. I imagine you and I would do the same thing. Hot doggie! I’ll tell you what! Something has changed in the moments between the rock throwing and the story telling. Dread plum fills the air like maggots on a dead pig’s snout.

Vampire fiddles with his brother’s lighter, flicking it on and off. And oddly enough, it is the only sound in the night, and it echoes and echoes like a lone voice in an empty tunnel.

Witch breaks the silence. “Omg! We totally have to burn it, you know, the scarecrow. Just like in the old days: Burn the beast! Burn the beast!”

Dorothy sneers at Witch. “I think it’s ‘Burn the witch!’”

“Shut up!” cackles Witch. “Burn the beast!”

“Burn the beast! Burn the beast!” the boys chant. Gorilla beat his chest, Werewolf howls, and the hunt is on.

The boys dash, one after the other, wooping and hollering, into the cornstalks.

Toto, wanting to join in the fun, leaps out of Dorothy’s basket, yelping and barking, giving chase to the ghouls racing into the night.

“Toto! Bad dog! Noo….” says Dorothy, and she feels tears on the verge of bursting the dam.

The stalks split wide like a mouth opening to eat them, and, suddenly, the ghouls and dog vanish.

Witch laughs and dances on the road, she swings her pillowcase of candy above her head, singing, “Ding Dong! The beast is dead! The wicked beast is dead.” She pauses. “I’m totally going to take a selfie with Tall Man burning in the background! Who’s with me?” She turns to the other girls.

Kitty folds her arms. “Yeah, that’ll make it easy for the police to arrest you.”

Witch says, “Oh, no, they so wouldn’t. Would they?” she turns to Dorothy.

Dorothy shrugs, not hearing the question, too worried about her little doggy. “Toto! Come back to me Toto!”

“Where’s the Tin Man when you need him, huh?” Witch cackles her wicked little laugh, then puts her hands on her hips. “You girls are so wimpy, I don’t know even know why we hang out with you. If you don’t go into that field with me, right now, consider yourselves out of the group.” She smacks gum and looks at her nails. “What do you say?”

Neither Kitty nor Dorothy make a move towards the field, nor do they say a word. I’d hope you wouldn’t either. Witch is one mean egg, and bullying is her game.

Witch stamps her foot. “That’s it, I’m going out there by myself. Don’t wanna hang with you losers.”

Kitty gulps, eyeing Tall Man. She swears his head has moved to the right, in the direction the boys were charging in from.

“Don’t go,” she moans at Witch.

But it is too late, Witch has already sauntered out into the field. The stalks fold her into their darkness. Witch calls, “Vampire! Gorilla! Wait for me!”

Gorilla yells, “Hey! That’s Witch- wait up for Witch!”

Dorothy and Kitty hold hands again. “I don’t like this,” says Kitty.

Dorothy shakes her head. “Me neither. Toto…”

“He’ll come back.” Kitty squeezes her hand reassuringly, more reassuringly than she actually feels.

“Where is he?” Dorothy whispers, a sudden quiet quality shivers in her voice.

“Who? Toto?” Kitty scans the field for the little dog.

“Tall Man… He’s not there.”

Kitty gasps. The pole stands all by its lone, bare self where Tall Man used to hang. “Did they take him down?”

“No,” Dorothy says, “I don’t think so.” They listen and can still hear the crowd walking through the rows, Witch and Gorilla playing Marco Pollo to find each other.

A scream pierces the still night. And then another, and another.

Kitty and Dorothy hug each other. “That’s Witch!”

“I know!”

Kitty says, “We need to go to your house. It’s closest.”

The boys call, “Witch? Witch! Where are you?” Another high steeple scream answers back, but this time its fainter, and it fades like a candle burning out.

“We’re coming!” yell the boys.

Grand dandy! Kitty’s face is pale as a ghost, her eyes big black quarters, and her kitty ears lop over to the side. “We need to go now!”

“No! I can’t leave Toto!” Dorothy takes a deep breath, not realizing she drops the basket she’d been carrying her doggy in, and belts out. “Toto!”

Kitty covers Dorothy’s ruby red lips with her mittens. “Shush, you idiot! Now he knows where we are!” She points at the field.

In the distance, stalks split in half as a tall shadow with a straw hat blazes through toward the road, his tomahawk raised and bobbing through the leaves.

“I’m not leaving Toto!”

The girls split, their hands coming apart. Kitty turns and races down the midnight road, praying she doesn’t fall as she runs full speed toward Dorothy’s house. She feels her feet are like cement blocks, and she’s running in slow motion, the endless corn field matching her footfall for footfall.

Dorothy watches her for one second, hesitates, then turns and dives into the corn stalks. “Toto! Toto, come to me!”

A bark greets Dorothy, and she runs further into the field.

The night whips out another strangled cry; only this one is long and tortuous, ending with a loud CRUNCH! at the end of it. We can only guess what that crunch is.

Kitty pauses in her running to look behind her.

She hears Frankenstein voice, “Is that Witch?”

Werewolf’s voice above the others yell, “She’s back that way, toward the road!”

“Which way’s the road?” yells back another.

Kitty knows, as you and I do, the last scream wasn’t Witch– it was Dorothy. Kitty searches the cornfield for the shadow with the hat, but didn’t see it this time. She turns and runs again. Hot tears burn Kitty’s wind chapped cheeks, and she knows, knows, that going out with her new friends was a bad idea, possibly the worst idea of this century. She should have gone to the Halloween party with her seven year old great niece, Rosie. Rosie is her aunt’s great grandchild. Rosie had begged and begged her to go to the kiddie Halloween party, but no, Kitty wanted to go out with her new friends, her cool pals from school. If only she’d stayed with Rosie, she’d be at home now, safe and warm, eating popcorn and watching a scary Disney movie with her little niece.

A rustle of leaves snap Kitty out of her haphazard running daze and pulls her attention to the cornfield.

If you peer closely, boys and girls, something sprints, silently, ghostly, just inside the cornrows, racing beside Kitty at her exact speed. To Kitty’s horror and ours, she spots a straw hat on its head and a tomahawk whacking the air beside it.

Turn your focus back to the midnight road, and up ahead, you’ll spot a house, Dorothy’s house!, with warm lights on and her family’s minivan heating up the frosty night air. And lookee there! There’s Dorothy’s mom and pop chatting outside. They’re admiring their family’s hoard of lined up jack o laterns, and how pretty they look on All Hallow’s Eve.

And just so you know, they do look pretty. Sinister pretty. The carved pumpkins all smile, with sharp rows of teeth, eyes slanted devil-ishly. It is as if the pumpkins keep an inside joke, one only they know.

But what the jack o’laterns don’t know, is that Kitty knows what they know, so do you and I.

“Help!” Kitty shrieks. She can’t help but turn and look at the long shadow racing beside her. It’s closer now, almost out of the cornfield. Every so often, a leaf crushes under its shadow feet, leaving split stalks in its wake.

“HEEELLLPPPPP!!!!!” Kitty screams again. This time Dorothy’s parents turn toward the cornfields. They point towards her. And she hears Dorothy’s mom say, “Oh my! Is she running? Is she the one screaming? Call 9-1-1!”

But Dorothy’s dad is already jogging towards Kitty with a flashlight.

Kitty throws herself towards Dorothy’s dad, willing her body to enter the safety of soft flashlight and human connection.

A whisper of leaves beside her, and the shadow is there. Out of the corner of Kitty’s eyes, she sees the fancy tomahawk. It is raised. She won’t look at Tall Man, refuses to. She just keeps running, dashing to one side of the street, then the other. She doesn’t have far to go now, but before we know it, she feels the scratch of straw against her arms. She smells the scent of rotted flesh. Hears crunching teeth. Diamond red eyes scorch her skin. And she is lifted into the air and is now flying towards the cornfield in the clutches of Tall Man’s shadowy arms.

His flashlight in hand, car key held like a dagger, Dorothy’s dad races along the pavement and dives into the cornfield after the tall shadow carrying Kitty.

But you and I know a car key ain’t going to do lickety split for the likes of Kitty.

No siree.

And as it is, between the rows of corn, Dorothy’s dad hears a wet sickly sound like worms being sucked through a straw. He hears a crunch, crunch. He blazes the cornrows one by one with his flashlight, looks as if he’s darn well set the whole field a fire… and finally, his flashlight beam finds what we dread most. Something sharp and shiny raises over a dark shadow’s head.

It’s swingin’ now, swingin’ down hard and fast.

Thunk!

I think you know what that is.

So does Dorothy’s dad, and he faints right there in the cornfield. But don’t you worry about him, his flashlight is bright as the North Star, plus he is a grownup. Ghouls and ghosts and scarecrows don’t want nothin’ to do with grownups cause they lack imagination. Course, I think you’d agree heartily with me right now that Dorothy’s dad just got a good dose of it.

We all did.

Little series of barks yap down the road as Toto leads the ghoulish crowd of boys. Werewolf who was no longer howling, Vampire who long ago dropped his lighter, Gorilla who appears to be running on his knuckles, and finally, Frankenstein, whose eyes say for the first time he realizes his own existence– He’s alive, Dr. Frankenstein! Really alive!

Dorothy’s mom meets the dog and the boys round bout the place where Kitty disappeared. Sure enough, just aways into the cornfield, they follow the flashlight beam and discover Dorothy’s dad still passed out. When he wakes up, he doesn’t remember a thing except running into the cornfields after a tall dark shadow.

But you and I remember, don’t we folks? Sure we do.

They search the cornrows and call for the girls until the police show up. A search party is soon underway, including Mr. and Mrs. Vandyke, and by dawn, the cornrows are stomped into dirt and nothing is left in the field but a scarecrow hanging on a pole.

No one but the boys turn a leery eye toward Tall Man. And not even they notice the fresh blood stains on the edge of the tomahawk. But I’m sure you noticed. You and I both know whose blood it is too. And we both know who done it.

Next spring, when Mr. Vandyke goes to sow his fields. He finds a curious thing. A single hand flops out of the ground, cold and wiggly as jelly.

Instead of causing a brouhaha with the locals, he figures the body has been laid to rest, and laid to rest it should stay. So he shovels some dirt over the hand. And keeps it all to himself, as small town folk tend to do.

And so know this, boys and girls, and let this be a lesson to you. When the moon is high and October is in full bloom, beware ye children of the night. Mind the cornfields cornering the outside of your towns and villages.

For Tall Man is only one of many, and they are hungry.

Very hungry, indeed.

About the Author

Mav Skye

Mav Skye author photo

When Mav Skye isn’t turning innocent characters into axe murderers, refinishing old furniture, chasing around her spring ducklings, or reading the latest horror novel, she’s researching true crime, missing person cases, and grizzly murder scenes. She adores puppies, pirates, skulls, red hots, Tarantino movies and yes, Godzilla. Especially Godzilla.

Find more by Mav Skye

Mav Skye author photo
Elsewhere

About the Narrator

Barry J. Northern

Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.

All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.

Find more by Barry J. Northern

Elsewhere

About the Artist

Barry J. Northern

Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.

All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.

Find more by Barry J. Northern

Elsewhere