He had come to visit his friend’s farm in the Finger Lakes of upstate New York just for a change of scenery, really. The hectic pace of New York City was starting to bear down on him too overwhelmingly, to the point that working on his latest novel just resulted in endless frustration. He felt like his brain was in some kind of vise, being slowly squeezed until he couldn’t think at all. The constant hum of activity outside his Brooklyn apartment, usually comfortable, almost soothing, now just seemed maddening.
So here he was at Jean’s farm an hour east of Rochester, trying to get all that tension and stress out of his system and get back in the groove of writing. He had been there three days now and was already starting to feel more calm. And he hadn’t realized until he came here exactly how much he had missed autumn, real autumn, the sort of autumn where brilliant red and orange maple leaves swirl around you like woodland fairies, where hot mulled cider, complete with sticks of cinnamon, is the only way to end the day. It made him nostalgic for his New England childhood, which had not been on his mind in some time. In New York, even strolling through Prospect Park, the trees and ponds never quite let you forget that you were trapped in a beehive of ten million people.
But at the same time, there was something rather unnerving about being here, where the closest neighbor was a good two miles away. He did not consider himself a paranoid person in general, but he had to admit this isolation in a way felt much more dangerous than the big city. In the country, no one can hear you scream. Of course he felt safe around Jean and his wife Patricia, they were old and close friends, but it wasn’t them he was worried about. Too many residual campfire stories of crazed killers with hooks for hands targeting those who had no one to go to for safety.
But then, there was also some part of him that relished that creeping fear. And it was that part of him that had brought him outside now, alone at the twilight that was edging up earlier and earlier all the time, walking slowly around the sprawling pumpkin patch with his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt with wide brown and blue rugby stripes, listening to the last caws of the crows that seemed to be everywhere around the edges of the patch but would not venture further in, as if they knew something was lurking within.
He had not been out into this particular part of the farm before as it was a ways further from the house, so he had no idea about the makeup of the patch. As twilight bled further into nightfall, the sky now filling in with navy blue and the first of the sprinkled stars beginning to wink through (so many stars here, he could not get used to that), it was hard for him to see too far in front of him. He nudged his thick black-framed glasses further up his nose, moving into the patch more deeply, weaving his way through the plumping pumpkins like an autumnal obstacle course. He was looking down at his beat-up white Converse hightops, working carefully through a particularly crowded section, when he bumped right into it.
Startled, he looked up and saw something that actually made him shiver. It was a scarecrow, nearly as tall as him and dressed in a tattered plaid shirt and threadbare jeans, and he had smacked into it so hard it momentarily tipped backwards on its post, but then quickly straightened itself. He knew the whole ostensible purpose of the things were to, well, scare off crows, but they still were normally folksy in a cheerful way, almost whimsical. The leering, overwhelmingly creepy face of this thing, combined with the sudden darkness and the deserted farmland stretching around him in all directions, made him decide that it was definitely time to go back to the house. He backed away from the scarecrow slowly, afraid to make a sudden movement or turn his back on it, as ridiculous as he was fully aware that was. He dimly recalled a childhood nightmare, that feeling of waking up with the covers bunched around him, waiting for his heart to stop pounding.