‘Skrik’ was an experiment in collaborative story telling that started on my Facebook page. I shared an idea for a story, wrote the first paragraph, and invited others to add their piece. It quickly grew too big for a Facebook post, so I gave it a home here on my website.

The story is about Skrik the scarecrow and Jaco, the farmer who made him. Jaco has something to learn, and Skrik might be the one to teach him.

The completed story is too long for this page, so you can either read the sample below and then download the entire story once you decide you love it, or just go ahead and get 'Skrik' here.

Click to read Skrik for free

Skrik

Jaco Gardiner looked out over the cornfields that were his life. These dry stalks, all that remained after the harvest, were the source of his family’s food, their shelter, their life, all that they held dear. Home. The fields seemed dead now, their summer-green and the fat yellow kernels gone. The land was barren, empty, only the stubble left, waiting for the plough that would begin the process of renewal. Empty, but for old Skrik the scarecrow on the cross that Jaco had made for him all those years ago, hanging from the rusted nails that held him through hand and foot. The harvest was over, there was nothing to scare away, nothing for Skrik to be bothered about. No matter now if the birds swooped down; no matter if the locusts arrived in their cloud-swift swarms. Skrik hung through the wind and dust, storms and rain, hail and scorching sun and never uttered so much as a whisper of complaint.

Jaco looked out at the scarecrow and remembered how as a young boy he used to visit Oom Louwtjie Louw on the neighbouring farm, Verblyden. It wasn’t far, if you followed the road to the dam, through the bluegums and past the once-yellow Bedford truck which had long ago lost its will to live, and hopped the fence where the labourers’ old stone graves lay parched in the dry winter sun. Young Jaco always slowed at the graves, not so much as a sign of respect for the departed souls, but to listen. Sometimes, as the wind blew down from the surrounding hills, it seemed that the stones where whispering, trying to tell a story. Sometimes, Jaco thought that if only his heart would beat more softly, he would be able to make out what the voices were trying to say. But then he would tell himself that it was just the grass sighing in the wind, or the distant rumbling of the tractor, or the gruff muttering of the crow perched on the fencepost.

It was here, among the graves, that Jaco found the piece of wood that would become the backbone and the heart of Skrik the scarecrow. It was thick and heavy, nearly as tall as the boy, with a fine grain twisting around its tapering length. The grain was overlaid with marks as if the wood was worm-eaten, but the surface was smooth to his touch. It seemed to young Jaco that these marks must be the whispers of the stones, their grave tales somehow inscribed on the surface of the wood in a language that perhaps only the long-dead labourers could understand.

The boy picked up the wood and struggled home with it slung like a yoke across his shoulders and neck, every step a calculation in the balancing of its weight. His forehead was soon covered in perspiration, and he could taste the salt that collected in the corners of his dry mouth. With every step the branch became heavier. The salt taste intensified to a metallic sharpness which reminded him of the taste of blood, and his eyes burned with the determination of a man on his way to some personal Calvary. The voices in the wind seemed to urge him on and now they carried across the years of faded memory to where Jaco sat on his stoep and looked out over his fields towards Skrik the scarecrow. For all these long years he had given hardly a thought to those days or to the unusual wood from which he had made Skrik, but now with the image of the curious markings once more clear in his mind and the long-forgotten whispers echoing through his memory, he felt a compulsion to cross the fields and renew his acquaintance with the old scarecrow.

Read the rest of 'Skrik' here.