If Anyone Asks


You know when you have something in your house or yard for so long it just becomes part of the scenery? You don’t pay any day-to-day attention to it, but you’d know right away if it was missing or damaged? Well, I’m a retired farmer. I’ve got more property than I know what to do with and more stuff than I know where to put. After 65 years of living in the same spot with the same junk, everything is just scenery. Me included.

Early this morning, when I was making some coffee, I noticed the scarecrow out back was different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. It’s pretty far away from the house, and the way my eyesight is these days, I wouldn’t be finding out what had changed until I hauled myself across the field to look from up close. But with the rain coming down as bad as it was, I wouldn’t be satisfying my curiosity any time soon.

I forgot about the scarecrow and went about my daily routine. Coffee with a bacon sandwich on rye with butter. I still have no idea how I developed a taste for rye. When Peggy was still around, she’d always make fun of me for having “exotic tastes.” I did my best to downplay my love for the stuff when she made her own bread. It was good, but wasn’t rye. That said, I’d give up my stupid rye if it meant getting her back.

I had my breakfast at the kitchen table while reading the obituaries. Some poor bastard had published an obit for his Golden Retriever, Happy. Peggy wanted a Golden all her life and I kept putting it off and putting it off until her doctor found the cancer. A month later, I was a widower who never got his wife the one thing she’d always wanted. I hated how that felt. Still do. I tossed the paper across the table and went into the living room to watch some TV.

Morning television is horseshit. One of the things that really stinks about getting older is you just can’t sleep in anymore. It’s not even the fact I’m wide awake as soon as the god damn rooster starts screaming outside, but it’s how I’ve been back and forth to the toilet 12 times since I nodded off the night before. It’s hard to rest when you’ve got a prostate like a softball. Anyway, I was in my recliner watching some awful television about a judge who yells at people when there was a loud “bang” outside near the kitchen.

I figured some poor, dumb bird flew himself into one of the windows or the storm door. I dragged myself off the recliner and headed toward the kitchen, fairly certain I’d have to be replacing some cracked glass. The last thing I needed was water getting in the house.

To my surprise, despite the telltale shape of a bird’s dusty body on the window, all the glass was fine. Filthy, because I’m too lazy to wash them more than once a month, but fine. Satisfied yet tremendously bored, I stared outside and remembered the change to the scarecrow. With my curiosity still piqued, I directed my gaze at it. Same weirdness. The wind was making the remainder of the cornstalks bend pretty badly, but the rain had finally tapered off. I pulled on my boots, opened the back door, and headed out into the field.

The scarecrow stood about 500 feet, or around 150 meters for you Euros, away from the house. Peggy suggested we get it back in the 70s. I never really knew why. We didn’t have any damn crows. She’d dressed the thing in an old tuxedo she’d found at some thrift store, and that was that. Still no crows. Over the decades, the clothes became worn and tattered. The tux was just scraps of cloth but its cork or whatever-wood body stayed pretty intact. That’s why I got surprised when it looked different that morning. The thing was built like a tank.

I couldn’t see a damn thing as I walked through the field in the scarecrow’s direction. Most of the viable corn plants were gone, but lots of crappy ones still grew pretty tall. I was soaked from the dripping stalks after just ten steps. I figured I might as well keep going just to satisfy the diminishing curiosity and feel like I succeeded in doing something today. After a couple minutes, I got to the scarecrow.

It stood about 15 feet high. When I looked up at it, I felt like an asshole’s asshole. Why’d it look different? The wind had blown so hard it turned the body around so instead of its front facing the window, its side did. And if I actually got glasses when the doctor told me to, I would’ve seen that from the kitchen and saved myself a walk and a soaking. I headed back.

I stepped out of the cornfield and went around to the front of the house. I’d forgotten to put away my motorcycle the night before and I needed to make sure the wind hadn’t blown it over. Once I saw the bike was fine, I turned and saw that the fucking storm door was shattered. On cue, the torrential rain resumed, further soaking me and pouring into the house. I was not happy.

Blood-covered glass from the storm door crunched under my boots as I walked through the front hall. The thing that hit the door must’ve been huge; it’d left a trail of gore all the way into the living room. Whatever it was stunk so bad my eyes started to water. As I looked around for its corpse, I stopped in my tracks. The scarecrow, the pouring rain, and the shattered door were put out of my mind when I saw a dog standing next to my recliner. It was terribly injured. Injured to the point where I couldn’t believe it was still alive.

Loops of intestines clung to the floor, leaking putrid grease that bloomed outward as it spread over the hardwood. Its remaining fur, once yellow or some variant thereof, was matted with encrusted blood and other nauseating fluids. It looked emaciated; the flesh of its chest clung to its ribs like rotting shrinkwrap. Through the patchy fur by its neck, a massive infestation of maggots writhed and chewed at the meat. But still, somehow, the dog stood.

When it saw me, the remaining part of the tail swung weakly, as if it was happy to see me. Something clicked and my blood chilled. Happy. The color of the dog was definitely gold. I could see it now that I’d made the connection. I said aloud, “Happy,” and the ruined animal’s tail wagged even harder. Its smell was incomprehensibly awful. Behind the odor of putrefaction, though, something else lurked. Something familiar and, dare I say, pleasurable. I told the dog to stay, assuming it would die from its injuries before I came back, and I walked into the kitchen. Happy, like all Golden Retrievers, disobeyed. He followed me; bowels dragging behind him.

The other smell intensified as I got closer to the kitchen. I looked on the table. A loaf of rye bread sat on a cooling rack with tendrils of steam rising from its surface. My confusion was turning into frustration. Who the hell brought me a loaf of bread? Why’s there a left-for-dead dog stinking up the house? My questions were answered when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I jumped half a mile and spun around. In the same green dress she was married in; the same green dress she was buried in, was Peggy. Wisps of blonde hair grew from the desiccated flesh of her scalp. The empty sockets which housed the eyes I’d gazed into so often gaped at me. Then I knew.

I embraced my wife with care. I didn’t want to damage her. Then I released her and sat at the table, chewing on the best rye bread I’ve ever eaten. Happy sniffed at Peggy, who knelt down, joints cracking like gunshots, and wrapped her arms around its rotting body. She pressed the side of her head against his wormy neck. I could tell she loved him. After I’d eaten my fill and watched Happy’s ragged, dry tongue adoringly lick between Peggy’s teeth, I started to write. And here I am. Well, here we are.

Peggy had gotten the revolver down from the shelf in the pantry. She placed it on the table while I wrote, then came behind me and wrapped her arms around my torso. Now her head is resting on my shoulder, waiting for me to finish up. If anyone asks what happened to the old farmer who lived on the edge of town, just show them this letter. I’m ready to go spend time with my wife.

Unsettling Stories is on Facebook.