“Shadow at Sunset”

It stood in the razed cornfield, black against the orange fall sunset, and Dee frowned at it because it wasn’t supposed to be there.

It looked like a man, the silhouette of a man, smudged a little by distance.

Dee stared at it. Dried corn husks and broken corn stalks chattered in the harvested field. There was no wind break on this side, no line of trees at the far end of the field, so Dee could see all the way to the horizon.

And three-quarters of the way there stood this black silhouette that almost looked like a man.

Dee frowned and squinted.

It couldn’t be a man, though. Nobody was out in the fields today and Dee was the only one at the farm. The boys had gone into town to watch the high school football team lose. And it wasn’t anyone cutting across the field either because it wasn’t moving. It just stood there like a scarecrow.

But it wasn’t a scarecrow. They didn’t use those old things. Dee hadn’t actually seen one outside of a craft show since she was a kid when her grandpa stuck one in the middle of his little five acre plot to keep the “birds, beasts, skeletons, and spooks away”, winkwink.

Dee stared at it for a long time, long enough that the bright orange sunset began to deepen into night. It never moved, never changed shape, never revealed its identity. Finally, Dee gave up and turned to go into the house, thinking it wasn’t anything more than the dying light of day playing tricks on her eyes.

At the door, Dee looked back.

The black smudge of a shape was still there, but it was less of a smudge now. It had grown more definite, more defined. It had grown.

It had moved.

Dee’s suddenly clammy hand slipped off of the door handle as she took a few steps toward it, calculating distance in her head. With the corn down and nothing but flat land all around, distance was a trick of the eye and a guess of the brain and a farmer’s intuition developed from spending year after year looking at the same plots of generic earth. It took Dee a minute but only because she had to check herself and then check again.

It had cut the distance between it and the house by half in the few minutes it had taken Dee to amble to the backdoor.

Panic ballooned in her chest, crowding her lungs.

Dee spun around, thinking it would only take a second to get into the house and away from it, just a second.

She fumbled with the door handle, taking two tries, too long, to get it open. Dee scrambled into the house, slamming the door shut behind her and locking it. She looked outside.

It was still there. In the few seconds it had taken Dee to get into the house, it had cut the distance down again. It now stood at the edge of the backyard.

Though the blue-purple of night had begun to encroach upon the territory of the red-orange sunset, the silhouette had not changed. It still stood out against the dying light of the day, a head, a body, and now arms, held out at both sides, but slightly askew, like a badly tangled marionette.

As she stared out the backdoor watching the blue-purple of night take over, watching it stand there frozen as the dark engulfed it until she couldn’t see the outline of it anymore, Dee wondered if maybe she shouldn’t get a scarecrow after all.

 

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