edited by Rhonda Parrish
(World Weaver Press, August 2015)
Reviewed by Eric Kimminau
In her introduction, anthologist Rhonda Parrish ends with the sentence “So yes, Corvidae came first, but Scarecrow is second to none.” After reading and reviewing the Corvidae anthology, I demanded the opportunity to review Scarecrow. I was pleasantly surprised to see that both anthologies had many of the same authors in common. We shall see if the editor’s assertion is proven true.
“Kakashi and Crow” by Megan Fennell is a wonderfully dark fantasy tale of scarecrow and crow fighting the darkness together to make the world a safer place. They make each other stronger. Kakashi is the Scarecrow. Johnny Crow, aka Karasu-tengu, is the crow. Both are ancient souls capable of magic and transformation. In the modern age, the powerful ancient Crow may be forgotten by his kind, but the Scarecrow has been made useless in the technological world, resulting in their kind slowly going mad. These two are not enemies, today, but who knows what prophesy may bring. My imagination ran wild reading this story and it only made me yearn for more.
“The Roofnight” by Amanda C. Davis is a fantasy tale of Quentin Meeks, tasked to climb to Mount Whiterock, a Northern mining town, with two missions by the current ruler of the land, Duke Greeble: first to conduct a census of its citizens, and second, and more secretive, to find the source of a smuggling ring supplying a foreign liqueur known as “glint” made by the Northern Witches just outside the Northern borders of the Duke Greeble’s kingdom in some secret process from some unknown Northern flower. Quentin arrives in town just before the Roofnight celebration. For Roofnight, the townspeople set up scarecrows a few days ahead, then all go into the town lodge and pass the night drinking and telling stories. Shortly after the contest begins, Quintin steals away to search the mine, where he is sure the glint is being stored, or possibly made. He finds much more than expected and leaves with much more than he could have imagined. A simple fantasy tale with just a twist of darkness.
“Skin Map” by Kim Goldberg is a rambling fantasy of an older, unnamed woman who experiences daily torment from the ambient electromagnetic waves that surround us, which scorch and burn her skin, leaving behind a map of sorts. A sudden turn introduces the scarecrow and change in story direction that was completely unexpected and raised many unanswered questions.
The title of “A Fist Full of Straw” by Kristina Wojtaszek immediately tickled memories of the 1964 Sergio Leone spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars which many are unaware was an unofficial remake of the 1961 Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo. I found myself whistling those famous seven notes written by Ennio Morricone as I began to read. This dark fantasy abruptly turned into a twisted remake of Romeo and Juliet as the scarecrow and housewife separated by a witch proceeds to a (possibly?) happy ending. I again thought of the Man with No Name and screamed to myself “Who are you!!!???”
“Judge & Jury” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh is the reason I had to review Scarecrow. It‘s a continuation of “Sanctuary” from Corvidae. I simply had to see how it came to a conclusion. You can read my review of “Sanctuary” here. In summary, an Asian man, Dr. Jun Hirata, a behavioral scientist in the ornithology cognition research lab from a local university, was murdered. He has appeared as a “solid” ghost to Sophie a “licensed wildlife rehabilitator,” and assisted her in training an injured black crow, Anabel, to count. This leads to Sophie’s discovery of Jun’s murder and to his murderer, Everett Stapelton. “Judge & Jury” picks up in the courtroom where the trial is underway with the testimony of Dr. Hollie Madison who insinuates that if crows witnessed Jun’s murder, they would remember the threat and would pass that fear along. Jun’s crows are slowly, steadily driving his murderer mad. As the story progresses, Jun and his assistants bring Everett closer and closer to insanity until he forces himself into action. Let’s just say this story ends with karmic fate. If you read Corvidae, you must read Scarecrow, if for this story alone.
“Waking from His Master’s Dream” by Katherine Marzinsky is the story of Vincente, a man in the hospital in Cielotriste due to a ruptured appendix, and his sister, Rosa, along with Vincente’s “Ficcion,” or “Solidification” of a fictional character, in this case, a scarecrow named Strel. “Ficcion” are created by their “authors” and are in some way an extension of their personality, capable of doing things with, or for, or instead of their “authors.” In this particular case, Strel has become Vincente’s “brother” and has comforted him since the death of his parents, much to the dismay of Rosa and her other real brother, Luis. The conclusion I am left with is that Strel is somehow mentally and emotionally tied to Vincente and experiences the emotions that Vincente is either unable or incapable of feeling and displaying, but how or why is never really made clear. It is certainly a thought provoking concept that needed more room to grow.
“The Straw Samurai” by Andrew Bud Adams is the story of a young, apparently Japanese girl, Okamiko, and her playmate/weapon/walking stick, a bamboo stick named Take (which means bamboo). Okamiko is homeless and moves around between a group of mountain villages, each named after their populations: dogs, cats, fox, turtles, cows & pigs. The animal parents don’t like Okamiko but she is least disliked by the dog-people, the Inugami. After another day of visiting and being chased from the villages, she falls asleep in a rice field, to be awakened by four Chough-people who are stealing straw (and the rice). She makes a bargain to trade Take to the Chough in exchange for them making her a straw man the following day at Tengu House, on a neighboring mountain. What follows is a magical tale of a demon and a butterfly, of samurai and betrayal and a return to Okamikos’ true form. This is a wonderful children’s story to teach honor and trust, and to be true to one’s self.
“Black Birds” by Laura Blackwood is a look at having a bird as one’s conscience, critic, and commentator. Lisa begins her day with a crow going everywhere with her. He keeps her focused and criticizes her flaws. Soon the crow is joined by a magpie who is a much harsher critic. Then a Jay also joins the menagerie and is more like a self-conscious friend, echoing her insecurities and worries. Then the raven joins in. “Like a friendly youth pastor.” Finally, the scarecrow, who tells her exactly what she was already thinking. And then it ends, with Lisa going to sleep. Very anti-climactic and unfinished. This felt like an autobiographical expulsion without closure. Maybe that was the intent?
“Edith and I” by Virginia Carraway Stark is told from the perspective of a scarecrow, created by Edith from her late husband’s clothes to guard her garden. Scarecrow started, became “alive,” began, and was “born” as Edith sewed on his blue glass-bead eyes and completed his construction. He pulled up energy from the soil and radiated menace. The plantings became his “children” with his creation goddess. As the garden grew, so did his strength. The goddess sacrificed to the earth and still he grew until the day came that he chose to stretch forth and seek out Edith. A warming tale that ends in mystery and dread. Or was it desire and forethought?
“Scarecrow Progressions (Rubber Duck Remix)” by Sara Puls is a dark tale. He/carney meets she/scarecrow, a young, strawberry blonde girl transfixed on a path to becoming a scarecrow. Not just in appearance. In reality. The angst of young love through its progression from aloof disinterest to guilt-ridden broken heart and longing for days past takes the reader into the story and along the journey to commitment, love and longing. But every love story is also a horror story.
“Truth About Crows” by Craig Pay is a futuristic tale of Laykah and her father on a planet with dual suns. Together they operate a solar energy collector farm. There are human sized “crows” whose purpose is to scare away a local pest that feeds on and damages the collector wiring. A wandering crow that had been damaged arrives looking for scare-work but it is soon discovered the father does not like crows due to a terrible past event. Laykah doesn’t have the same preconception or perhaps even “racism” against them and works to take advantage of the crow in more ways than are initially apparent. The story ends with many open questions and left me wanting the answers. A strong world environment was built and I can only hope the opportunity to discover how it ends presents itself at some point in the future.
“Two Steps Forward” by Holly Schofield started simply enough. I don’t want to give away the punch line because it is worth the wait. A dusty traveler is out trying to find some truth to a rumor at a remote farmhouse in Canada. The initial assumption was that the timeframe is in the past, and phrasing reinforces the premise, but this is merely a beautiful sleight of hand. A very cool premise that in very short order takes one from a Pinocchio style story into something more akin to a 2001 film Metropolis spiffy hoofer meets Frankenstein. But I’ve given too much away already. This was one of my favorites in Scarecrow.
When young Grace volunteers to become the Scarecrow for the Clearing, it breaks her father’s heart. But Grace has God in her heart and is sure she will be one of the few that return. In “Only the Land Remembers” by Amanda Block, the Untamed are gathering and one chosen by the luck of the draw must stand against the Gathering as the Scarecrow and drive the dark forms known as “crows” away to protect the village. Where the macabre began, a very different story emerges. The Untamed are not evil and the town is not the holy place where Grace has grown up. When the light embraces you after seeing the depths of the blackness you must live through, the wounds will not be forgotten. I think I may remember this story long after any other.
”If I Only Had an Autogenic Cognitive Decision Matrix” by Scott Burtness more than carries the Wizard of Oz metaphor into this future look at exobiology within the precept of space mining and taking the Artificial Intelligence extrapolation of figurative-literal conversion to an abrupt conclusion. I couldn’t help but think the Three Laws of Robotics would have prevented the surprise ending. The technology grabbed hold of my shoulders, the techno babble tickled my brain and gave my heart a jump. But where was the Cowardly Lion? This Scarecrow had me thinking of the Frank L. Baum interpretation throughout.
I was repeatedly surprised by the twists and turns, the creative direction and misdirection of each of these stories. As each new story added in the pieces of the construction of the Scarecrow, there to protect the garden or the village or the soul, I too became more and more intrigued by each of the conceptual figures on a post. Rhonda Parrish delivered tales of character that were “evil, doomed or both.” The scale and range in Scarecrow kept me turning pages, seeking the promised huge variety of story and the authors delivered. A fantastic partner to Corvidae with something again that unique. This truly has been yet another amazing group of stories!
Eric Kimminau is a BBS geek turned IT professional for a Fortune 10 global IT company. And now seeker of further Corvidae & Scarecrow stories. He’s looking forward to Sirens.