Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dark Passages: "The Companion"

Like many other terrific Joe R. Lansdale works, "The Companion" (1995; collected in Bumper Crop) did not make the Top 20 Countdown, but the story is worth citing for its featuring of a wicked scarecrow as the antagonist.  As can be seen from the passage below, Lansdale (who authored the piece with his children, Keith and Kasey) gives some unique touches to the familiar figure, creating a special sense of menace and mystery:
As Harold approached the scarecrow, he was even more taken with its unusual appearance.  It was dressed in a stovepipe hat that was crunched and moth-eaten and leaned to one side.  The body was constructed of hay, sticks, and vines, and the face was made of some sort of cloth, perhaps an old towsack.  It was dressed in a once expensive evening jacket and pants.  Its arms were outstretched on a pole, and poking out of its sleeves were fingers made of sticks.
From a distance, the eyes looked like empty sockets in a skull.  When Harold stood close to the scarecrow, he was even more surprised to discover it had teeth.  They were animal teeth, still in the jawbone, and someone had fitted them into the cloth face, giving the scarecrow a wolflike countenance.  Dark feathers had somehow gotten caught between the teeth.
But the most peculiar thing of all was found at the center of the scarecrow.  Its black jacket hung open, its chest was torn apart, and Harold could see inside.  He was startled to discover that there was a rib cage, and fastened to it by a cord was a large faded valentine heart.  A long, thick stick was rammed directly through that heart. (127) 
When Harold removes the pinioning stick, the soulless straw man comes to life and pursues the boy with deadly intent.  With "The Companion," Lansdale proves that R.L. Stine isn't the only writer who knows how to give goosebumps to young-adult readers.

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