Lester Whittaker returned from a business trip a few days early. As he stepped off the bus he noticed old Mrs. Shackles’ scarecrow. Lookin’ kinnda scrawny. I could fix that for her. Anything to delay going home to Jaylan, his unfaithful wife. Not that he was any better.
He stepped into the cornfield where Mrs. Shackles worked and examined the stalks. “Hmm, no corn.”
Mrs. Shackles wiped the sweat off her brow. “Lazy scarecrow.”
“I’ll leave you to it then.”
That’s when Lester Whittaker lost sight of Mrs. Shackles and found a small table set for one-with a glass of purple juice and a slice of blackberry pie. His first bite was sweet. His first sip was quenching. He never had a second.
When the sun rose over the cornfield, blood soaked the soil and a new scarecrow hung above the cornstalks. Blackbirds pecked at its straw and picked clean the fleshy eyes.
Mrs. Shackles saluted the scarecrow. Bloody eye sockets gazed back. “Ack!” She spat out a wad of tobacco chew. “Need more scarecrows. I wonder if Jaylan Whittaker …” She sighed and shook her head. “That woman would never set foot into the cornfield.”
With garden gloves on her scarred hands she cut the purple flowers encased in sharp-toothed leaves. The needle-like spines never failed to slice her skin. “Don’t mess with me today!” She tossed the flowers into a rusty bucket, cursing each new scratch.
The brambles, growing beside the thistles, shuddered as Mrs. Shackles harvested their blackberries. “Blackberry pie,” she mumbled, “for Jaylan Whittaker. After all–“
“Hello … Lucy Shackles!” Jaylan Whittaker, a tall brunette with blue eyes, stepped onto the crooked porch. “Looks like you could use some help cutting down these weeds.”
Mrs. Shackles pursed her lips. “Mornin’ Mrs. Whittaker. These … are not weeds. They are food … and medicine. Here, put these gloves on and make yourself useful.” She whiffed the purple flowers. “Good for the liver.”
“Or poison, if one is not careful. But your blackberry pies … those are to die for. Lester loves blackberries.”
“Is that so?”
Jaylan nodded, twisted her hair into a bun and put on the garden gloves. “Mrs. Shackles, why is your cornfield dying?”
“Need one more scarecrow … and some meaty fertilizer.”
For the rest of the morning the women hacked through the thorny jungle with sugarcane machetes.
“This will do nicely.” Mrs. Shackles gathered the fallen blackberries and purple blossoms.
By the time shadows loomed, two pies were baked and the table was set with a cup of purple juice and a slice of blackberry pie.
Jaylan Whittaker was dead by sunset.
Lucy Shackles dragged her into the cornfield. “Your helpmate Lester.” She shook the dirt off her clothes. “I’ll leave you to it then.”
The ground beneath the corn maze rumbled. The earth swallowed Mrs. Shackles, her dilapidated shack, and parched land; but spat her out next morning when wafts of jasmine spilled from cool breezes. Lucy Shackles stood on a beautiful white porch. And two scarecrows guarded a field of healthy, golden corn ready for harvest.
Mr. Thornton, the grocer, offered Lucy Shackles more than a fair price for all the corn. “Who helped you fix your house Mrs. Shackles?”
“That nice couple down the road.”
Mr. Thornton cleared his throat. “Hmmm, I didn’t think Jaylan–“
“You know her?”
“We’ve met.” The grocer loosened his tie. “Mrs. Shackles, it was a pleasure doing business with you.”
“Likewise, Mr. Thornton. Please, have a slice of my blackberry pie … and a freshly-squeezed cup of juice before you leave?”