A short story: The Revenge of the Tattie Bogle
It was the week before the village fair. The marquees were being pitched, the food vans were on standby, the local children poised to process through the village in hope of a prize. The residents too had been preparing their gardens for show.
This year, in the “Best Garden” category, the “fun added extra” was that each garden had to feature a home made scarecrow.
Joe thought this quite a macabre idea. I mean, to win, the scarecrow would have to have some kind of an identity – a theme or quirk. He imagined that across the village a plague of effigies would spread. Life size grotesque likenesses of celebrities, heroes and politicians would populate the front lawns. It would look like some hideous post mediaeval-battle trophy display – although, one would hope that the scarecrows would all have their heads. And people wouldn’t set fire to them.
The other thing that bothered him was that, were the village to be fictional, and the story to be set in small town America – the night before the fair, the scarecrows would be sure to come alive and murder all the villagers. Or, at the very least, on the morning of the judging, one of the scarecrows would turn out to be a corpse in disguise – ready and waiting for a CSI to work the case and pin the crime on the mayor.
But this wasn’t a fictional village and it wasn’t America. This was small town Scotland – if such a thing as that existed. And the worst that would be likely to happen was malicious vandalism of others’ scarecrows or some other petty crime. The village wasn’t really used to the supernatural. Or to murder. Or supernatural murder, come to that.
In any case, Joe objected to the whole thing in principle. I mean, these wurnae “Scarecrows” onyway. These wur tattie-bogles. If he had been in charge, the judging would have been called “Ogle a Bogle” or something. But no. “Scarecrows” it was.
And then it began. Jim across the road made a large as life Barack Obama. Sheila at number 4 was working on “The Beatles”. Suddenly Joe realized that his son Sammy wouldn’t let him away with the football for a head and day-glo jacket slung over a broom that he was hoping for. But he had to dig his heels in before he had a static Old Firm match on his front lawn.
Sammy was very excited about the fair. He was part of the athletics club float. The theme of the parade was “Farming”, hence the scarecrows. Who is it who picks these things? Farming? The athletics club had gone for “Milking” for their float. They had to dress up as British Friesians and get bells for their necks, optional horns and, for the very daring, a comedy inflated rubber glove for an udder.
What Sammy really wanted, though, was to win the garden competition. And he knew how to do it. He would convince his dad to max out on the “farm” theme and have the best scarecrow, the most iconic “If I only had a brain” Worzel Gummidge of a scarecrow it would be possible to make.
He had started collecting all the relevant materials: blue denim dungarees, checked shirt, black wellies. He had plenty of straw from his guinea pigs and he had managed to swipe a hessian sack from the school’s sports’ day supplies.
He had given some thought to the garden too. He would have the guinea pigs out in their run, pretending to be sheep. He would set up the old fire guard as a pen for some relevant soft toys. He had hundreds. Literally. But he would be selective. Anything with whiff of Disney would be confined to the house.
That night, together, over toast and hot chocolate, Joe and Sammy refined their plans. Joe did his best to suppress the urge to shoot the sheriff and impale him on a sharp stick, shroud him in a Mickey Mouse costume and pop him on the lawn. Real life, real life. He thought.
The “dwarf sheep” seemed happy with their role, as did the cast of thousands from their IKEA baskets.
Sammy and Joe put Ozzy the Worzel together near the patio doors for ease of transition to the garden for the Day of Judgement.
They stood back. Mentally, Joe took photos for the CSI lab. He was pretty impressed with his own attempts at thatching. The wrists in particular were very tidy. The wellies had meant that the same precision was not needed in the ankle area. But there he was.
The last thing to be done was to put a face on the hessian sack. It had been stuffed with straw and was needing some features. They had a permanent marker ready for this task, but Joe was a little hesitant.
“What kind of a face should he have?”
“A Simon Cowell mask? Oh come on Dad. I want just the most scarecrowiest scarecrow in the village. Make him… you know… rustic.”
Joe frowned at the faceless face and tried to think. It was like starting the Hallowe’en pumpkin – the fear was that by making a face in it, suddenly it might have a soul – in the case of a pumpkin – a trapped soul. What would happen when he put pen to hessian now? Pah, he thought. It’s Scooby Doo Voo Doo and that’s all. I need to stop watching TV. He rubbed his eyes and gave his head a shake and began to make his mark.
The eyes he formed were spiteful, the nose aloof, the mouth was crooked and he could imagine the laugh in the heart of the scarecrow. Joe closed his eyes and imagined Ozzy, hanging on the front lawn, inert and mute. But if you listened with your fear, you could hear him laugh.
Joe said, “Sammy – I don’t think I can sleep with him in here, tonight.”
“Och, Dad, that’s mental. I could hide his wellies, so, like, if he comes to life, he cannae walk?”
“Maybe I’ll turn his face around and draw him a new one in the morning?”
“Whatever, Dad, ya loony.”
Sammy, suddenly bored with the whole thing, sloped off to watch TV leaving Joe with the corpse.
Nothing happened at night. Ozzy lay at the patio doors, as good as gold until the morning. Joe and Sammy had a quick breakfast and set about erecting their scarecrow.
It was like pitching a tent, somehow – only a top-heavy tent with a will of its own. His arms kept propelling with the least provocation. His head lolled alarmingly several times and his tidy wrists began to shed some of the straw. He nearly toppled. Joe was exasperated.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” encouraged Sammy, “it’s great! Look at him! He’s totally authentic!”
Sammy was right. With that momentary dishevelment during the fight to get him properly displayed, Ozzy became a real scarecrow. If it weren’t for the unslightly backdrop of their 1970s breeze block constructed home, it could have been… rural England in the 19th century.
Right on cue, a crow landed on Ozzy’s head.
Sammy and Joe set about turning the garden into a farm, carefully placing their pitiful laminated signs that turned their shed into a byre, their spade into a plough and their old fire guard into a pen and an oblong flowerpot into a drinking trough. Sammy swiftly turned into a British Friesian and off they went to the fair.
Once they were gone, Ozzy jumped down. He stole Obama’s mask, punched a hole in Ringo’s drum. He carefully peeled the sacking away from the straw that was his face and stomped up the stairs to Joe’s bedroom, placed the sacking over the pillow.
When the fair was over and Joe hit the hay, he would from that day be faced in the mirror with a face that was his own creation.
The tattie bogle would have gone, running to the fields, unclasping the dungarees, letting the straw blow free, strewing the wellies, shirt and dungarees and, slowly and at once, becoming nothingness, everywhere.