Analise and I moved to our new neighborhood in southern Kansas just under two years ago. I don’t feel comfortable saying the name of our town, because I don’t want anyone that hears this story to come here. I wouldn’t wish this place on my worst enemy. I wanted to stay in De Moines where we could both work big corporate jobs, but as usual, my wife won that argument. She had the suburbs etched in stone by the first time she could fashion a thought. I’m just here for the ride. Analise wanted to raise Kendra in an area like the one where she grew up: quaint, small, middle America suburb with a decent school system.
Only about a week or two after we made our decision, Analise showed me an old, but gorgeous house in a cute town of about two-thousand people. “This is it,” she told me. She always did have great instinct. Well, not this time.
Everything started out great. Perfect, even. We settled down quick, met some neighbors, joined the only synagogue in town. Everyone seemed to know our names the instant we moved in – even people we hadn’t met. Maybe especially people we hadn’t met. I was meandering around the food store about two days after we moved in and a guy in the produce section said, “Welcome to town, Tyler.” I’d never met him in my life, but I still said “hello” and smiled back at him. After all, this is a small town. Maybe its customary that everyone knows everyone’s name. On the same trip, a woman in the dairy section said, “Great to see you, Mr. Grayson.” To her I said “nice to see you too”, but after a while it all began to get suspicious. I noticed they didn’t all speak to each other that way: only to Analise and me.
About a week into living here, I felt a cold shiver run down my back whenever I was in public – like someone had a gun trained on my spine. On the surface it all seemed friendly, but I sensed it wasn’t. It was almost like every time they said hi and smiled, they were actually mocking us. The first time I felt this way, I bottled up the feeling and told myself, “You’re just being paranoid, Tyler. Relax.” But every trip to the food store, the gas station, the post office, Kendra’s school: it was all the same. That same nod, hello, and gleeful smile.
And then one in August, I came home from the gas station where I was ‘politely’ confronted by two men and a woman grinning like children who’d done something wrong and saying, “Good morning, Mr. Grayson.” At this point I’d just about had it and finally brought up the so-called townsfolk friendliness with Analise. “Hey,” I said, still hesitant. “Have people been acting…strange around you?”
She poked her head out from her book and pushed up her glasses. “Strange? What do you mean? Everyone has been nothing but nice around here.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess. But do you feel like – I don’t know – a celebrity here?”
“Of course I do,” she laughed. “We’re the first new people to move here in the last eight months. Enjoy it while it lasts. They’ll forget about us eventually.”
But they didn’t forget about us. The Jones family moved in about two weeks ago, then the Vickers family a few days later, and we were still the center of attention. And why? Why us? I didn’t want to press further with Analise. I didn’t want to scare her as much as I was scared. They all knew something. It’s like standing in a group of a dozen people laughing at an inside joke while you force a stupid grin, wondering what you missed.
But on a cool day in late September when I was fetching the mail, a man waited for me at the end of the driveway and it wasn’t the mailman. He was old, disheveled, wild-eyed and wearing a misbuttoned blue shirt, causing it to sag to the side. His pants were muddy and a couple rags for shoes, held together by nothing but thin threads. “Can I help you?” I asked. I hoped he’d say no.
“You can leave,” he replied.
“Mr. Grayson,” he began. “Nobody will tell you this, but…you need to get out. Get out as fast as you can. Get out.”
“Get out? What are you talking about? Why would we leave?”
He didn’t quite answer, but he gave me something else. Some clue to all of our celebrity. He cocked his head, his dangling arms swinging with the small gust of a breeze. His eyes scanned the house. I turned to follow them. He looked at the shutters, then the windows. The roof, then the door. He looked at the shrubs, then to me, and finally said, “The house. Get out. Get. Out.”
“Sir, I think you should leave,” I told him.
“Get out,” he said, not budging. Then he stepped forward. I stepped back. He stepped forward again, and before I could react, he shoved a crumpled piece of paper into my palm and tugged on my hand. I felt his every breath while his shaking fist laid in my palm. His head jolted and his trembling lips were in my ear. “They won’t tell you. None of them. They don’t care. Get out.”
“You’re the one that needs to get out,” I said. I pushed him off me with the piece of paper in one hand. “Leave before I call the cops.”
He stumbled back and fell to the grass.
“Is everything alright?” Analise called from the house.
I glared at him and he glared at the house – a pale, morbid fear in his expression. “Yeah, everything’s fine,” I said.
I turned around to make my way back inside. I told myself if he was still on the property when I got back to Analise, I’d call the police. As I walked away I heard him mumbling. “Get out. Get out. Get out. Get out.”
“Is everything alright? I heard yelling,” Analise said.
I reached Analise’s side, then looked back down to the crumpled paper the man had shoved in my hand. It’s of a man, a woman and their child, all dressed up in what looked like vintage scarecrow costumes. The father looked like the scarecrow from Wizard of Oz: a pointed hat, white scarf, and baggy shirt with a rope belt you could see beside his wrist. On his head was a potato sack with eye holes cut out. In front of him is what appears to be a male child in a suit with a white sack over his head with poked out eye, nose and mouth holes. On his feet are a pair of slippers like the ones Dorothy had. And on the boy’s left is his mother, who’s sporting a patterned dress and wearing a brown sack over her head.
The photograph was unsettling. it made my stomach flip if I looked at it too long. “What the hell,” I muttered.
“What is it?” Analise said.
I didn’t know how to tell her. I couldn’t describe it in the moment. So instead I turned the photo to show her. “What is that? Where did you get it?”
“That old man. He gave it to me.” I pointed towards the road in front of our house and she looked up to follow my finger.
“What old man?”
I looked up too. Nothing. No sign of the man. “He – he was there just a second ago.”
I turned the picture over. It was dated October 31, 1930. Halloween.
After a week or so had gone by, we still hadn’t seen the old man again. At this point, Analise and I started to joke about the photograph. We said it was probably photoshopped or just a prank. We even hung it on the refrigerator as a memento to our weird encounter. This all brings us to October 29th, 2020 when Kendra first noticed the photo hanging on the refrigerator. Analise was slaving over the stove, whipping up her Mom’s steak bits recipe we had at least once a week. Kendra came downstairs to help set the table, but she stopped short in front of the refrigerator. The picture was above her eye-level, so she pulled it down until it was in line. I watched her attentively, terrified of her curious reaction to the picture. She examined it and at first said nothing.
“Kendra,” I said. “Why don’t you come help Daddy set the table.”
It was like she didn’t hear me.
The stove sizzled in the background while I gathered three sets of forks, knives and plates and Kendra stroked the picture like a long-lost pet. She suddenly grinned, then mumbled something.
“What was that, honey?” Analise said.
Kendra repeated herself, louder this time. “Mr. and Mrs. Scarecrow. I think I’ll go with them this year.”
“What?” I demanded. I think they both heard it in my voice: fear. Kendra refused to elaborate and Analise did nothing but try to comfort me.
“Silly picture!” Kendra said and giggled, then ran over to help me.
“It is silly isn’t it? That’s a great name for that picture though,” Analise said. “Mr. and Mrs. Scarecrow.” She switched the stove off and I watched the blue flame retract and thought of that name over and over again. Mr. and Mrs. Scarecrow. I wanted to take the picture down immediately. We were practically inviting the idea of them into our home. To this day I don’t know if it would have made a difference.
And then came the night of the 31st: Halloween. Ninety years after that photograph was taken, but only ten months after we moved in. Kendra insisted on going as Snow White, switching her choice from the superhero Black Widow days before Halloween night. But my dear Analise managed to make the costume for her just in time.
All I had to do was go get the fabrics from the strip mall at the center of town. And as Halloween approached, the celebrity treatment in town wasn’t getting better – it was getting worse. Far worse. People I didn’t know didn’t only greet me by name, they seemed giddy about it. The cashier at the fabric store said, “See you around Tyler Grayson,” to the snickering customers behind me and the other cashier rolling her eyes. See you around? What did that mean? At this point it wasn’t just like an inside joke – it was an inside joke. But I still didn’t know about what. Not yet.
Analise and I dressed up as a Lois Lane and Superman respectively, and took pictures of our elated little girl in her Snow White costume. She made poses in the kitchen and skipped around the dining table, jumping every few steps like she was attempting to fly. After our little family photoshoot was done, we gave Kendra her pillowcase to collect candy and headed out for a night of trick-or-treating. Kendra grabbed the pillowcase and ran out the door at least five minutes before Analise and I could get our acts together to leave. I took the keys, and Analise grabbed her work handbag that conveniently matched her fictional journalist’s outfit. She went outside and I followed, readying to lock the door.
But before I could make my way outside I heard a loud gasp from the porch. “Analise? Honey? What’s going on?” I thought she was going to say she forgot her phone or something like that, but she didn’t even respond. I ran outside to meet them and see what the gasp was about.
When I got there, I stopped dead just behind Kendra and Analise. My wife was petrified, but Kendra seemed…relieved is the only way to put it: like she was expecting our guests.
Before us stood three people – a family in matching outfits. The mother and son were dressed up in old, but fine-looking dress clothes: a dress on the mother and button-up shirt and blazer for the son. The father on the other-hand was dressed up in a baggy sack of a shirt with a rope belt holding up his loose pants. All three of them wore white bags over their faces made of potato sacks with janky holes poked in them. “Trick or treat,” the little boy croaked in a shockingly dry voice. So dry, that I almost wanted to offer him water instead of candy. He held out his plastic pumpkin with both hands, awaiting our deposit. His parents stood behind him in eerie silence. I’d seen them before. In the moment I couldn’t quite pinpoint where. “Happy Halloween,” Analise said. “What are you all supposed to be?”
Again, the little boy was the one to speak. “We’re the Scarecrows.”
Kendra turned back and looked up at me. “Mr. and Mrs. Scarecrow.”
I stared at the mother: into her burlap sack of a stitched, sagging face. Her hands were the only sign of skin poking out from her costume – long, wiry, and scarred fingers.
I looked to Analise. She was managing to maintain more composure than me, but I could tell she recognized them too.
At this point I noticed something lingering beyond the straw family before us – everyone. The entire town. Most of them weren’t wearing costumes, but a few were: all of them dressed in a homemade white sack over their faces. I recognized a number of them: Frank from the produce isle and his wife Linda. Sal from the dairy section, then Rita from the fabric store. There was David from the Deli, and Helen from Kendra’s school. All of them. Everyone was there.
The boy shook his plastic pumpkin, startling me. “Trick or treat,” he groaned again. His parents stood mostly still, but I saw his mother’s arm subtly flop down and sway from her flowing dress. Something shined from beneath her patterned dress: a blade.
“Kendra,” I whispered through gritted teeth. “Get back inside.”
She didn’t listen. “Mommy, mommy. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Scarecrow.”
Analise was pale. She didn’t say anything – she didn’t look like she could.
I bent down slowly, as not to startle anyone on our porch – especially the mother. Once I made it to the ground, I picked four candies at random out of our bucket, then cautiously stood back up. “Kendra. Inside now,” I demanded, stricter this time. Again, she didn’t move. I extended my arm and felt my heart racing. I didn’t know if my wrist would be taken off before it reached the kid’s plastic pumpkin, but I didn’t know what else to do. If I did as I was told, maybe we’d be allowed to go…alive. The rest of the town watched this whole saga unfold from the street, but did nothing. It was like we were all putting on an act for them. I half expected them to all break out into laughter and tell us it was one big elaborate prank. They never did.
I inched forward so my hand was hovering over the boy’s bucket. He shook it again, anticipating my deposit. Then I dropped the candy and immediately the boy retracted his pumpkin and groaned. The four pieces missed his bucket and fell at his feet. He vehemently shook his head. “Trick or treat,” he said again. “Trick or treat. Trick or treat. Trick or treat.” With each iteration his voice sounded more guttural, drier than before. Analise only got paler and I more terrified. I knew we should have stayed in Des Moines. I should have seen the writing on the wall. They were all in on it – this. Whatever this was.
“In the house, Kendra. Now.”
Once again, she didn’t listen. Kendra wasn’t terrified, not like us. It was like she’d seen a best friend for the first time in decades. She stepped slowly, but confidently over to the boy’s side. She then turned to me and looked up from beneath her brunette bangs and said, “I’ll go with them this year.”
“No you won’t, Kendra. Sweetie, now. Back in the house.”
“I go with them this year.”
“Trick or treat. Trick or treat. Trick or treat.”
The mother’s blade disappeared into the abyss of her patterned dress.
Then I noticed the onlookers: their phone cameras pointed at our house and eager smiles strapped across their cheeks. In monotone unison they said, “She’ll go with them this year. She’ll go with them this year.”
Kendra nodded. “I’ll go with them this year.” She giggled when she finished saying this. Saying it for the last time.
All of them fell silent. “Sweetie, no,” Analise cried out. Come back here. Come back right now.” The four of them turned away toward the street and the town began to disperse back to their homes. “Tyler, do something. Do something.”
I leapt off the porch, not knowing what I’d do when I reached them. I swiped hard at the man, suddenly ready to kill him if I needed to. No – I wanted to. But I felt nothing more than a dry, muffled thud when my fist met his back. And he didn’t react – not at all. The four of them just kept walking with that stupid plastic pumpkin and their creepy burlap hoods. Analise was crying now. “Please come back, baby. Please come back.” She collapsed to her knees. I punched the man’s back again and again and he never reacted. I tugged on his sleeve and got nothing but a fist full of straw.
And then they reached the end of the property, just before the street, and stopped as if waiting for the bus. A gust of wind swept through and their clothes shook harshly against its force.
“Kendra, no. Please come back.”
The wind howled and roared and the sacks came loose, but so did their dresses and blazers and even the Snow White costume. It whipped by them and suddenly there was nothing – nothing but clumps of needled straw lifting off into that Halloween night.
Our town was too small for a local police force, so we ended up calling the state troopers to report our daughter’s kidnapping. They seemed hesitant, like they were just going through the motions filing our case. And the investigation – or sorry excuse for one – panned out the same way. They sent a few troopers to investigate the town and the house. The only evidence they ever asked for was a description of the kidnappers. So I thought of the photograph hanging on our refrigerator and went to get it for them. But when I grabbed it I saw someone else in the picture: a daughter in the family of creeps. I know she wasn’t there before. She was dressed in a flowing white dress and wearing a white sack over her head just like the rest of the family. Kendra. There she was in her Snow White dress, that was all too familiar. On her head was potato sack with eyes and a mouth hole poked in, matching those of her new family. With shaking hands, I turned it over and saw the date: October 31th, 2020. I couldn’t believe it. It was still old and crumpled and sepia-colored. By all measures it looked like it was still from 1930. But the date read clearly and my little girl stood a part of that ghastly family. I made a copy of the photograph before I gave it over to the state troopers. This is the last photo we have of Kendra.
As for the rest of the town, we received no help. I wanted to move out, but Analise and I agreed to stay and hold out hope that our daughter would return one day. But I watched her – I watched her get swept away by a gust of wind and turned into straw while the town turned its backs on us. They all knew it was going to happen, but not one had the dignity to say.
The case ended up going cold after only a couple months with no evidence besides that picture of Kendra in a sacked hood in front of Mr. And Mrs. Scarecrow.
As Halloween approaches again this year, we won’t be dressing up this time. Our plan is to sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in an empty, sobering house hoping we will hear that knock on the door. The one from Mr. and Mrs. Scarecrow. All we want is for our baby girl to come trick-or-treating with us this year.