I pulled my sneakers from the closet and let the laces fall across one another as I tied them into perfect bows. It had been awhile since I had gone on a jog, I was determined to get back into my routine. I looked in the mirror as I studied myself; white sneakers, black leggings, and a baby blue t-shirt. I threw my blonde, tousled hair into a sloppy bun and decided this will have to do.
I went to grab my water bottle from the kitchen as my aunt was getting ready to head to work.
“Cassandra, you are looking great today!”
I gave my aunt an annoyed smile, but then decided to humor her. I probably was looking a lot better in her eyes than when I first moved in with them.
“You going to head out for a run this morning?”
“Yeah, I figured it would be good to start getting some fresh air. I finally have the energy now.”
She grabbed her coffee sitting on the counter along with the orange chip sitting against my purse.
“30 days sober, Cassandra. You should be proud of yourself.”
I grabbed the orange chip from her hand and stared at the vivid color as I remembered the day perfectly. My mom and dad had drove in town that day to see me accept my chip, “Orange you glad you found NA?” My counselor joked with me. She shook my parent’s hands as my aunt and uncle stood from
afar. After one too many relapses, my parents thought it would be best to live out in the country with my aunt and uncle; less people equaled less temptation.
I was probably the only one not excited in that room. I wanted to be excited that I was 30 days sober, but I hadn’t felt normal in a long time. When would the cravings go away, when would I start feeling normal again, and when would my brain stop going haywire?
My aunt and uncle had been taking turns accompanying me to my NA meetings for the past 30 days. I could tell they knew the struggle I was facing, but my parents had no idea, they hadn’t seen me for 30 days. To them, I was a whole new person on top of the world. The counselor handed me the chip as my mom clapped her hands in excitement.
“In all seriousness, this chip has strong importance tied to it, Cassandra. Orange is the color of caution, you should be cautious at 30 days.”
That was 10 days ago, I was finally starting to have more and more energy. I clenched the orange chip in my hand and smiled back at my aunt.
“Thanks, Aunt Connie. That is a big accomplishment, isn’t it?” She grinned back at me and set off to work.
My sneakers thudded against the gravel road as I ran by each row of corn stocks. We didn’t have many neighbors, and hardly any cars came down our road which lead to me being quite bored on these runs. The occasional tractor would drive by, but that usually meant me jumping out of the way and having to pause my run. A wooden, run-down fence held the overflowing corn stocks from reaching the road. I ran harder and let my hand hit each piece of corn that hung into the road.
Day after day, I would run this route. I started having more energy, and I generally began to feel a lot better; physically and mentally. Each day I would push myself and run just a little further. Adrenaline was my new drug of choice, and I was basking in it.
Eventually, I had run far enough to reach a small trail off the gravel road. The trail looked wide enough for a car to drive down, but there was grass peeking through which made me think not many cars were driving down this way. Bored with my routine, I decided to run down this new-found path.
The browned October leaves crunched beneath my sneakers as I ran down the abandoned road. A beautiful display of orange, yellow, and red leaves danced above me in the trees. I took a deep breath in, enjoying the crisp fall morning. I stopped for a breather once I made my way to the bend in the path, and that’s when I noticed the house off in the fields.
I didn’t think I had ran too much farther than normal, but I swore there wasn’t a house nearby for miles. I decided to run down towards the house to see if there was anyone my age. It would be nice to have some sort of friend out here.
The tall grass swept against my thighs as I ran down the field. I could see the house more clearly now. It was an old two-story house with grey wood. It looked to be very old; must be a family heirloom farm, I thought to myself.
I stopped when I was about 10 feet away from the front lawn. This eerie feeling washed over me that I couldn’t shake. I noticed that there were no birds singing, no bugs were chirping, and nobody was outside. The area almost looked to be vacant. I was just about to turn around and head back to the road when something caught my eye. In the far-left field from the house, there was a scarecrow hanging. I squinted my eyes to get a better look.
That’s when I felt the prickle of a thousand army ants run up my back. The scarecrow’s hair blew in the wind, flashing the side of its cheek. The realistic flesh of the scarecrow made my knees cave in. I fell to the ground as I prayed I wasn’t seeing what I thought I was seeing. One strong gust of wind, and I saw the scarecrow’s face turn towards mine, a human face.
I shrieked and ran home as fast as my legs could carry me without looking back. I probably broke my record with how fast I made it home. I limped up the driveway as my legs started to give out. I could see my uncle park his tractor and run towards me.
“Cassandra, are you okay? What happened?”
He pulled my arm over his shoulder as he walked me inside. He set me on a bar stool in the kitchen and filled a glass cup under the running sink water.
“Here, here. Drink this.”
I took three big gulps of water, then huffed and puffed as I tried to catch my breath; my uncle waited patiently.
“I saw a dead body hanging in the field!”
My uncle stared at me and didn’t say a word.
“Uncle Bill, you have to do something!”
He tapped his fingers on the counter top as he watched my every move. I sat with my mouth hanging open, how could my uncle not be running around the house in a panic right now?
“Cassie, honey. Where did you get it?”
“Get what? What are you talking about?”
My uncle shook his head as he stared down to the floor.
“You had made it to almost 60 days sober. You were doing so well. Who was the son of a bitch who got you hooked again? Hell, there isn’t even hardly anyone out this way!”
I stared in amazement as my uncle tried to connect the dots. I felt the fear dig even deeper into my heart the minute I realized my uncle didn’t believe me. He thought I was high.
“I haven’t done anything!”
I paced up to my bedroom and pulled open my laptop. Surely Google Earth would list the location of the house I saw. Then, I could at least investigate a little further. My fingers clicked the keyboard as I searched our address. An immense spread of trees and fields covered the area around my aunt and uncle’s house.
I clicked on the screen and dragged the mouse around to search the area. I knew I took a left on my run once I left the house, then I took another left on the road I had found. My eyes scanned along the gravel path as I pulled my curser across the screen. It was hard to follow my trail because many of the trees covered the path.
I finally had that, “Ah ha!” moment when I came across that same old house in the middle of the field. I zoomed in as far as the “plus” sign on the computer would let me go. The house looked to be about five miles away from my aunt and uncles, six if you include the time it took to get to the house off the trail. I didn’t realize how far I had been running.
The image would only go in far enough to see basic landmarks on the property, there wasn’t enough detail to see any evidence of a scarecrow, let alone a human scarecrow.
I shut my computer for the night and decided I would run down that path again. If I could get a little closer this time, I could take a picture with my phone and prove to everyone what I had seen.
I awoke to feel the warm sunlight on my face, my muscles bounced like a rubber band as I stretched and yawned. Immediately remembering my plan for the day, I jumped out of bed, swished some toothpaste around my mouth, threw on some clothes, and then headed out the door.
It was a cool fall morning, grey clouds rolled along the horizon as a crisp wind blew through my hair. I set off, one foot in front of the other. The only thing buzzing through my mind that morning was my destination, and the mission I was on. Leaves rustled beneath me as each foot sprang up from the ground. My lungs filled with air as I took deep breaths in through my nose.
I finally came up to the clearing on the left side of the road where the abandoned road laid. I turned down the road and ran straight down the middle of the path. The road creeped me out, it looked like the perfect haunted road you would see in a scary movie; twigs dangling from trees, leaves covering the path.
The bend in the road started to wrap around, and I paused to catch my breath. I was going to need all my energy for this. I took a few swigs from my water bottle, then screwed the cap on and peered towards the field.
The house sat, hunched over in the field just as I had remembered it. Grasshoppers jumped out every which way as I disturbed the once quiet field. My sneakers slid against the grass as I made my way down the steepest part of the hill; skipping the rest of the way down.
I glanced at the house, it looked to be abandoned. I ran up to the windows and peered inside, the inside was grey and empty. Feeling uneasy, I turned to head towards the field I saw the scarecrow in. As I made my way around the trees, I saw the scarecrow blowing in the wind. My heart was beating out of my chest as each step grew closer. I had never been up close to a dead body, and I didn’t know how I’d handle it. What if it was someone my family knew; this town wasn’t that big.
I was a few feet away from the scarecrow when I heard a rustling in the bushes. My legs grew wooden as static ran through my body. Here I am investigating what might be a homicide; a dead corpse hanging out in a field, and I didn’t think twice about if the murderer was still in the area.
The rustling stopped just as I turned my head towards the bushes; panic set in. What was I going to do if someone came out of those bushes? Having seen what they have done, surely, I would have the same fate as the scarecrow. I bit down on my lip and waited, but nothing emerged from the bushes. I took a deep breath, and slowly walked up to the scarecrow.
I was on high alert now. For starters, I was nervous that I was inches away from a dead body, and second a killer could be watching my every move. I stood in front of the scarecrow, eyes down to the ground. I guess I was scared to look up, what exactly was I going to see? Would the images haunt me forever?
The pole stuck deep in the ground with a small amount of red clay on the part sticking from the hole. My eyes slowly followed the pole up, first the shoes, then the legs. Fear ran through my veins as I saw the hands dangling.
Stiff, purple skin covered the fingers of the arms that stuck out straight from the shoulder blades. The red flannel shirt swayed in the gentle wind. My eyes finally met hers; the corpse of a woman.
My stomach gurgled, I could feel the vomit crop up my throat. I turned to throw up in a nearby bush, careful to not leave evidence that I was once present. I pulled myself together and took a few deep breaths, I came here for a reason and I wasn’t leaving without my evidence. I pulled my phone from my pocket and steadied the lenses, aiming towards the human scarecrow.
I took a close shot of the face, a shot from afar, and I was about to take a picture of the house when I heard another rustle in the bushes. I froze and looked to my left, everything ran still. The only thing I could hear in that moment in time was my heart beat. Thud, thud, thud.
My eyes were locked on the bush when I saw a pair of glowing eyes, then a snout that popped out; a black bear. In a panicked shuffle, I dropped my phone in the grass and high-tailed it out of there. As I ran up the hill, I looked back and saw the bear tracking close behind, thick black fur stood straight up from the bear’s back. A gnarly growl escaped its mouth, too close for comfort. What a stupid idea this was, I thought to myself. I saw my life flash before my eyes. How ironic would it be that I had escaped addiction to only later die by a bear attack?
My feet finally met the bend in the road, I looked behind me to find the bear nowhere in sight. I bent over and grabbed my knees with both hands as I panted. I wasn’t familiar with the nature of bears; was it hiding from me, ready to pounce at my weakest point? Was it trying to scare me off? Either way, I wasn’t risking it to go back and get my phone. I sprinted home as fast as I could go, just in case.
I was dripping sweat from my run by the time I made it up the driveway. The only thing I could think about was notifying the police, but I was desperate for a shower. I walked through the front door of the house and headed to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Just as I made my way around the corner, my aunt and uncle stood in the kitchen eyeing me down. I knew this wasn’t going to be good by the way my aunt Connie had her arms folded in front of her.
“Cassandra, is there something you need to tell us?”
I let out a sigh of relief, my uncle must have told her what I had seen the other day. She was going to be on board with me. I wondered when the cops would get here for questioning.
“Aunt Connie, do you know about the body? Did uncle Bill tell you?”
“Aunt Connie, Uncle Bill! What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to trespass on someone’s farm, but I think maybe it’s a good thing. You know? We can get a murderer off the streets!”
My Aunt Connie started crying, my uncle glared at me and started shaking his head. I was so confused, were they mad at me for what I had discovered? What was going on?
“Cassie, your aunt is upset because she feels like she has failed you, and I feel the same way.” My mouth dropped open in disbelief. What was my uncle talking about?
“How long has it been Cassandra?”
“How long since what? You guys, I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Oh, yeah? Then can you explain why you missed your NA meeting today for your 60-day chip?”
Shit. I had forgotten all about today. My aunt and uncle must have been sitting, waiting for me. Of course, I knew this looked bad, but with all the excitement of finding a body, it completely slipped my mind.
“There is a murderer on the loose in this area. I can prove it! I got pictures of the body. You have to believe me, that’s why I missed today’s meeting.”
“Okay, then show us these pictures you speak of.”
I reached in my pocket for my phone, then remembered the bear incident.
“Well, I did have my phone, but a bear almost attacked me, and…”
My uncle cut me off after that.
“Of course, it’s never your fault, Cassandra. We aren’t going to fall for these excuses. We told your parents we would take you in. You were doing better, Cassie. We had high hopes for you. It pains us to have to do this, but we just think it is in your best interest to go off to rehab at this point.”
A wave of dread washed over me. My own family didn’t believe me, they thought I was hallucinating from the drugs. Truth is, I haven’t felt so alive in a long time. This mystery had me forget about drugs for the first time in a while. I was clean, and I had a mystery to solve. I couldn’t go away to rehab, if there was a killer on the loose, my family was at risk.
“You have until tomorrow. We are going to leave here at 2 p.m. to check you in. It would be easier on everyone if you just cooperated, Cassie.”
Tears shot down my cheeks as I ran off to my bedroom. What was the point of being sober right now? I had to go off to rehab tomorrow, if I was going to be treated like I was high, I might as well be high!
I shuffled through the pockets of my jackets hanging in the closet, my usual hiding spot. I pulled out a bag of white powder and set it on the dresser. I paced back and forth as I gawked at the baggie. I felt desperate, I felt down, I wanted to take a hit. I thought about being 60 days sober. Nobody believed that I was 60 days sober, though. Should I do this? I thought about the euphoria that would wash over me as soon as I took a bump; it was enticing.
I opened the bag and poured out the white dust, straight into the toilet. I had a mystery to solve and I wasn’t going to let an addiction get in the way; I needed to have a straight head on my shoulders. I knew I didn’t have much time, less than 24 hours to solve this crime. I grabbed a flashlight and a pocket knife, then descended out of my window; I had a long night ahead of me.
I ran through the weeds as crickets chirped a melody that echoed throughout the night. I snaked around the house, being sure I wasn’t spotted, and took off down the gravel road at lightning speed. My feet slid across the gravel as I made the sharp turn to the road on the left. The adrenaline piercing through my veins gave me the energy to run as if I was flying, I wasn’t tired or out of breath. I caught up to the bend in the road, and darted straight down the hill.
I fell to my knees and shuffled around the broken leaves, looking in the area I had lost my phone. I was so enthralled with tossing the leaves in the air, that I didn’t even hear the footsteps coming up behind me. Two hands grabbed my shoulders. I shot up in the air in a frenzy and ran away, running straight into the scarecrow.
I laid on my back, blinking up at the straw dangling over me. I sat up and examined the scarecrow, straw was one very important detail I didn’t remember seeing last time. I stood up and looked the scarecrow in the face, stuffed burlap stared back at me.
The rustling of the leaves distracted me from my confusion, I looked to my right and saw my uncle staring at me.
“What did you do with the body, Uncle Bill!”
He walked towards me very slowly with both hands held in the air.
“Now, calm down Cassie, you are going through withdrawal psychosis. The doctor had warned us about this.”
“You stay away from me! Does Aunt Connie know the sick things you’ve been doing out in these woods?”
“Cassie, it’s time to cooperate. Come with me now.”
I took off to run in the opposite direction when I felt a hard thud on the back of my head, then saw black.
I awoke to the soft beeping sound of the heart monitor I was attached to. I rubbed my eyes and looked around, I was lying in a hospital bed. My mom sat in the corner chair with a red puffy face and tissue in hand.
She popped out of the chair like a jack in the box and hunched over my bed.
“Cassandra, you were doing so well. What happened out there that made you start using?”
I laid there in silence staring at the ceiling.
“Honey, we know about your slip up. The doctors did a blood test which turned out positive.”
The doctor came in shortly after that with a folder in his hands. His hands shook as he opened my file, clear rimmed glasses sat on the edge of his nose. “Cassandra, do you know who this is?” He pointed to my mom, I shook my head yes.
“She’s my mother.”
“Very good. You are experiencing what we call substance-induced psychotic disorder. Your uncle informed us of the dead bodies you have been seeing. He found you out in the field getting high, which is probably why your mind created the delusion that the scarecrow was a dead body. We have prescribed you some medication that will help with that. Do you have any questions for me?”
I sat in silence. Maybe I was going crazy? It seemed so real though, and how did my uncle know where I was going? I told him I saw a dead body, I didn’t tell him where I found it though.
“Thank you, doctor. No questions.”
The wheel chair squeaked as I was rolled down the hallway to the parking lot. My mom sat patiently in her car as two nurses helped me into the car.
“I bet your aunt and uncle will be happy to see you out of the hospital a day sooner than expected.” I rolled my eyes.
“Can we go pick up my belongings now? Plus, I left my phone out in that field and I want it back.”
My mom was hesitant at first, but eventually agreed after I had sworn up and down that the antipsychotic medication had kicked in.
I ran out to the field and found my phone after a few minutes of shuffling through the leaves. I looked up at the scarecrow, straw hung from the lifeless body. I remembered the picture I had taken on my phone, and thought about how funny that would seem to have taken a picture of regular old scarecrow.
We pulled down the driveway to my aunt and uncle’s house. Mom parked the car and got out first to embrace my aunt in a big hug, then my uncle.
“You guys should stay for dinner!” my uncle exclaimed, my mom looked back at me, I grinned back to her. “We would love to, Bill, thanks.”
As they walked inside, I turned my phone on. I had finally come to accept the doctor’s diagnosis. I had been doing drugs for a long time, and maybe I was in some sort of psychotic state; crazy people don’t know they are crazy, after all. My aunt and uncle are truly amazing, I thought in my head. I must have been such a basket case to handle. They went through so much, just for me.
I stared at the bright light from my phone and clicked the photo app with my thumb, I wanted to get one last laugh at this scarecrow that I was so scared of once before. Then I would be ready to put this all behind me. It still amazed me that my mind could play such an evil trick on me; drugs are one hell of a ride. I clicked on the photo and opened it full screen. I felt my cheeks run white as all the blood drained out of my face. The hairs on my arms stood straight up as adrenaline raced through me.
In the photo was the picture of the scarecrow hanging lifelessly from the pole; a human corpse, smiling back at me.