In Search of Mary
- Bee Rowlatt
The Awakening - GB Prabhat
Lusting - Sivakami Velliangiri
Scarecrows - Indrashish Mitra
Cricket Blues - Goirick Brahmachari
A Cat They Say Has Nine Lives - Sheela Jayawant
Goodbye - Mridula Koshy
(Extract from Bicycle Dreaming)
The Gift - Pravin Vemuri
The Clockmaker - Michael Lee Johnson
When Experience is Key - Neera Kashyap
A Coat of Many Colours - M Mohankumar
The Surprise - Natalia Suri
Something Died That Day - Prachi Priyanka
Memory - Abhinav Kumar
A Brief History of Seven Killings
-Marlon James (Mita Bose)
The Letters of John F Kennedy
-Edited by Martin W Sandler (Randeep Wadehra)
The Adivasi Will Not Dance
-Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar (Sushmita Sridhar)
-William Boyd (Mariam Karim)
-Kunal Basu (Sheila Kumar)
The Heart Goes Last
-Margaret Atwood (Mita Bose)
Asian Absences: Searching for Shangi-La
-Wolfgang Buscher, translated by Simon Pare (Sheila Kumar)
Ashes, Wine and Dust
-Kanza Javed (Wafa Hamid)
The Devil is a Black Dog
-Sándor Jászberényi, translated M Henderson Ellis
East of Suez
-Alice Perrin (Randeep Wadehra)
Half of What I Say
-Anil Menon (Binoy Bhushan Agarwal)
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma’
-Ratika Kapur (Monica Arora)
-Ashapurna Debi, translated by Prasenjit Gupta (Wafa Hamid)
-Sameem Ahmed, translated by Arunava Sinha (Suneetha Balakrishnan)
- Indrashish Mitra
There were three scarecrows in Uncle Tom’s yard. One in the garden, on one side of the house; another next to the wood pile on the opposite side and a third waiting to greet visitors at the front door. ‘Come on, it’s just a little yard work. It isn’t going kill you. Besides, Uncle Tom had mentioned that when he got back, he’d pay you appropriately. It’ll be a piece of cake, I assure you,’ Mike’s dad encouraged his son as he pulled into his brother’s driveway. Mike groaned, glaring out of the window at the three disturbingly realistic scarecrows around the yard. As he stepped out of the car, their hollow gaze pierced straight through him and he quickly turned back to his dad. ‘Dad, it’s not really gonna take all day, is it?’ His dad smiled. ‘With that attitude, it might. Now get to work. The more time you spend talking, the less you can spend working. Tools are in the shed out at the back. I’ll be back to pick you up just before dinner.’ And with that he peeled out of the pebbled driveway and sped off, spewing a cloud of smoke and dust behind the vehicle. Why Uncle Tom needed three scarecrows in his yard for one small garden was something Mike failed to comprehend. But then again, he was Uncle Tom.
Instead of gathering the tools from the tiny shed beside the house, Mike immediately headed inside to grab a bite. There was nobody in , so it was pretty much up to him to decide what to eat. With a thick piece of bread in his hand, slathered generously with fresh butter from the kitchen, he looked out of the window and stared at the scarecrows in the yard. An uncanny silence had spread over the place, unnerving him. He had had nothing since morning and was starving, so he quickly munched down his bread. He could hardly work on an empty stomach. Besides, it was early in the morning and he needed fuel to finish waking up from his indolence. After that, he plodded over slowly to the shed and looked about the broken down facade. From the corner of his eye, he kept a steady watch over the two scarecrows on this side of the house. He shook his head and threw open the door to find a variety of yard tools that looked like they hadn’t been used in years, maybe decades. A thick layer of dust and cobwebs coated every inch of the old wooden structure. Shovels and spades lay there in the darkness, unmoving.
What to start with? Mike sighed, stretched half-heartedly and pulled out the old rusty lawn mower from the corner. Finding the gas tank to be practically empty, he filled it up from a bottle of gasoline lying nearby and gave the starter cord a hard tug. Nothing. Not even a cough. Several tugs later it had hardly done more than cough a bit before dying out again. He leaned his head back and groaned loudly, expressing his frustration to no one in particular. Glancing around the yard, he saw that two of the three scarecrows visible from the backyard were now facing him, almost menacingly. He could feel their stares bore into him as he turned his back to them. He could’ve sworn they’d been facing towards the road when he got there.
He shook his head, telling himself that it was early and he was still tired from the previous night’s adventures. A final pull on the cord and the lawn mower coughed and sprang to life. An hour and a glass of water later, Mike grabbed a rake and began pulling dead leaves and sticks out from the dead soggy mulch around the house. He had just started on the woodpile side of the house when he heard an odd thump behind him. Turning around fearfully, he saw the scarecrow a few metres behind him stood awkwardly without its head, just the thin frame studding out. Cold shivers crawled up his spine. But it could’ve been the wind, he thought to himself. Or a fearless inquisitive little bird, probably. Or simply a weak neck support.
Since having a scarecrow with a head stare at you was slightly less unnerving than having a scarecrow without a head stare at you, Mike decided to go reattach it. He put his rake down and walked up to the structure. Once he reached where it had fallen, he hesitated. Smooth, featureless milky orbs stared up at him. He could feel the eyes reading his thoughts, aggravating his fears. The tanned canvas wrapped around them was soft to the touch and slightly moist, a little too sticky, and its weight suggested that something more than straw served to comprise its cranium. But what unsettled Mike more than anything was the inclusion of a mouth; a small tubular hole curved from the face to the severed neck. The particularly unnecessary detail with which the figure was crafted seemed to suggest that either Uncle Tom was a sort of scarecrow enthusiast or it served a purpose other than simply scaring crows from the garden. Quickly replacing the head back onto the wooden frame, Mike resumed raking out tree waste from the mulch.
The sun had begun its descent. Threads of light lingered in the sky, mingling with the rolling puffs of clouds, dyeing the heavens first with a beautiful shade of garish orange, then a ruby-red glow, then finally a purple tinged blue, until all that was left of the sunset was a chalky mauve which soon melted away as a stygian darkness took over the sky. Mike continued working at pulling weeds from the garden under the scrutiny of the scarecrow on that side of the yard. ‘Don’t go losing your head, now, too,’ he muttered, glancing over at it from the corner of his eye, almost expecting its head to roll over and fall to the ground. He reached down and yanked out a massive weed from the ground. He stared at it momentarily before noticing something shift on the dirt near his legs as he tossed the weed aside. It moved again and he realized it was only a frog, a tiny one jumping about carelessly. He watched it bound away until it reached a thin wood post. A moment later he realized it was the scarecrow’s support beam dug into the ground. But now, it suddenly seemed … closer… much closer. Hadn’t it been a good fifteen feet back just a few moments back? Now it appeared to be only about ten. Hesitantly, Mike went back to work, trying to push all his horrid imaginations out of his brain while at the same time keeping a vigilant eye on the scarecrow behind him. A pickup truck roared in, excessively loud music blaring out of its open windows, that broke the serenity of the place. Mike turned towards the sound, his hopes lifting. When he turned back, the scarecrow was no more than six feet away from him, staring down at him. There was a kind of desperation on the slimy face as it gazed upon him. It also seemed to have grown taller than Mike. Determined to prove he wasn’t hallucinating, Mike stood up defiantly, turned away, closed his eyes, and pinched himself hard. He took a deep breath and spun back around, imagining the scarecrow to be back in its original place.
He dropped back to the ground in terror when he saw the replaced head inches from his own. He could hear his father calling out for him but his muscles were not under his command . He tried screaming out loudly, but all that escaped his mouth was a whisper of horror and disbelief.
When Mike’s dad entered the garden, he scanned the area, confused to see nobody around. Mike was nowhere in sight. And he hadn’t even replied to his call. Birds chirped happily in the trees around the house. Squirrels prowled the grass at the edge of the tree line. The scarecrows’ empty gaze sent a few chills up his spine, just as they had when he had dropped his son off. And just as they always did when he came for a visit to this place. But something was really off. He couldn’t yet figure out what was out of place, except for his missing son. He had been expecting the happy laugh of relief upon his return, but all he had was the uneasy tranquil of the night.
Mike’s dad scoured the area to find out what it was that was different when horror struck him.
There were four scarecrows in Uncle Tom’s yard, instead of three.
Indrashish Mitra is a student based in Thane, Maharashtra. He is passionate about writing and has written two thriller novels. At the moment he is looking for the right publisher for them.