Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"I'm Not BrainDaddy!"

I've never been what you'd call a "gamer".

Sure, I own a console. It's outdated by now. I like to play the odd game. But that's about it.

I'm almost forty. Old enough now that when I was at the height of my "gaming" years, all that really entailed was getting together with friends to play Mario or Castlevania, or Excite Bike, or Punch-Out. Maybe Sonic if a friend had a Genesis, which no one does anymore.

Keeping up with the latest trends in gaming was never interesting to me. I have a lot of interests; reading, watching movies and television, listening to music. But gaming? It was never a hobby. More like a pastime.

Like most pastimes, I don't really understand when someone makes a lifestyle out of it. Today the gaming scene isn't aimed at the casual gamer. You get accused of being a "n00b" if you aren't up to date on everything. It's almost a religion.

So I leave it alone, and have been content to do so for several years now. For the most part, the gaming world has also left me in peace.

There was one time, however, when the gaming world decided not to leave me in peace. In fact, the whole experience was enough to turn me off gaming for life.

It happened at a pretty low time in my life. I had just had my ex-wife file for divorce from me, and I had moved back in with my parents while looking for a new place to live. I had recently gotten a new job after the one I had been at fired me for all the time I missed due to divorce proceedings.

My new job was as a systems analyst for a major company. I was one of many, a cog in the machinery, but I had been in a few jobs like this in the past and they all operated differently. Some of them you only had to care about while you were there, while others expected you to bring your work home with you, and I had not yet figured out which kind of job this was.

So when the call came, and I didn't immediately recognize the voice or the number, my first inclination was that it was probably someone at work. My mother answered it, and I heard from across the room a mail voice ask if Brandon was there. Mom handed me the phone.

"Hello," I answered.

"Hello, is this Brandon Coates?"

"Yes...who is this?"

"Um...I need to confirm some codes."

At this point, I still thought this was a work call. I didn't recognize the voice at all, but I didn't know everyone at the office yet. Maybe this guy needed me to confirm my employee ID or something. Or perhaps he needed to make sure I had all the access I needed for the systems I was going to be helping maintain.

"What sort of codes?" I asked.

"Look, the fucking codes you provided aren't working," said the voice. At this point I began to realize this wasn't a work call. I was momentarily stunned, unsure how to respond to this jackass who was already getting hostile with me. His next words removed any doubt that he'd gotten the wrong Brandon Coates. "For NBA Live. On xBox 360."

I'm only barely aware of the game system called xBox. I've never played a game on it nor did I ever plan to. Also, my job had nothing whatsoever to do with game systems.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm pretty sure you have the wrong number."

"Don't fucking lie to me!" The dude was really angry now. More angry than he should be over something as simple as dialing the wrong person in the phone book. "You're Brandon Coates! You said so! Now fix these goddam codes or fuck you, fuckin' BrainDaddy punk!"

"Okay," I said. "I'm hanging up now. Don't call me again." He was still yelling as I hung up.

I didn't give the matter a second thought. Likely the guy was just pissed and said some things in the heat of anger that he would regret when he calmed down later.

But a couple of days later, I got another call. This time my father answered it, and after a moment, handed the phone to me with a concerned expression on his face.

I took it and said hello again. The voice on the phone was not the same man who called before.

"Brandon Coates?"


"Listen, fuck you, BrainDaddy. You're a fraud and a joke. If I see you again, you're fuckin' dead."

I couldn't help it. I got pissed. "Listen, fucknugget, you've got the wrong guy! I told your buddy a few days ago that I'm not the Brandon Coates you're looking for and this call is harassment!"

"Yeah? You like it? Wanna suck my dick?" I hung up. I almost couldn't muster the restraint to keep from hurling the phone across the room.

"Who are these people, Brandon?" my father asked. The look on his face made me realize that he was concerned, not for his son who was being harassed for the crime of sharing a name with another guy, but concerned about his son who might be involved in something dangerous. I hadn't said anything to them about the last call other than "wrong number" but a second call, from an obviously different person, cursing me out and threatening me? Dad was sitting close enough to me that I know he heard the other person's threat. His suspicions were raised.

My parents and I get along okay, but to say they haven't always been on board with things I pursue is an understatement. For one, they were against my marrying my ex-wife to begin with, and several times in my life I'd had money problems. I could tell by the way my father asked "Who are these people" that he fully expected me to answer, as if I knew. He likely thought they were money lenders or worse, wondered if I'd started selling drugs or something.

The truth, in this case, would truly set me free, at least as far as he was concerned. "They think I'm this other guy who has the same name," I said. "They keep calling me BrainDaddy. They think I'm involved with the xBox 360 or something. I have no idea what they want, but they won't believe they have the wrong guy."

"Well, these calls need to stop, son," said Dad, the tone in his voice exactly the same as the one he used to use when I was in school. "These bad grades need to stop, son." Just the same tone, like the calls were my fault.

I honestly didn't know what to do. Contrary to whatever my father's suspicions are, I have never been involved in any criminal activity, and I didn't know how to deal with harassing phone calls. Also, a naive part of me thought the calls would stop on their own. That sounded like the easiest way to deal with it.

And for about a week, it was. And then, one Saturday when I had nothing else to do and both parents were gone, the phone rang.

I took one look at the caller ID and let it ring. The number and caller's name were blocked. It would most probably be someone calling for Mom or Dad. I had made it a point to not answer their phone if they weren't there. After all, I had a cell phone and most people who needed to contact me would use that.

My parents are very old-fashioned people. They don't have voice mail. In this case, it was probably a good thing they didn't, or it would have been them that heard the message. They still had an answering machine, as if it was still 1988, and, like all answering machines, it didn't give a shit about privacy.

Blasting through the house loud enough that two senior citizens could hear it no matter which room they were in, came the following message.

"BraaaaaaaainDaddyyyyyyy..." drawled a gravelly voice. The person on the other end sounded either like they had just woken up, or was drunk, or had a bad cold. "I saw you at GameCon....sooooo was like lightning through my penis,'re gonna take my dick up your ass so sooooooooon....."

There was more, but it was just muffled curse words. I let it finish, and then I immediately erased the message. I decided it was time to get serious. Clearly they weren't going to stop. I could hardly believe what was going on. These people, all of them sounding like young men in their early twenties tops, had taken what I was starting to realize was an online vendetta way over the line. Their actions were bordering on illegal, and I knew I had to do something before they decided to...who knows? Show up at my parents' doorway armed?

I fired up my laptop and googled "Brandon Coates" "Brain Daddy". Search results were plentiful. The first three hits were nothing close to what I was looking for, but the third had the headline "BrainDaddy Brandon Coates gives his opinion on Call of Duty: Black Ops..." There was more, but that was all I needed. Clearly this was the guy that the assholes calling me had thought they had reached.

I opened the link and read a little way. It turns out there was a guy in my city, a really young guy by comparison, who did indeed have my name, and who was apparently quite the gaming guru. I'd never heard of him, because I wasn't a gamer, but if I were, there's no way I wouldn't have known who BrainDaddy was. He had a following on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and several gaming websites, wherein he would offer advice, reviews, offer cheat codes, etc. Apparently he was one of the most sought-after game reviewers in my area. He had had made friends with some of the most influential names in the gaming scene. And from what I was starting to pick up on, he had also made several enemies.

Finding his email was no challenge. As luck would have it, he did have it listed on his Facebook page. It was probably a business address, maybe one that he didn't even personally check, but I didn't care. Even if one of his subordinates read it, they would at least take the message I was about to send seriously.

"Mr. Coates,

You don't know me but we have the same name, and apparently this is enough for several severely misguided people to confuse us.

Over the past few weeks I have received several harassing, threatening phone calls from people who believe I'm you. I neither know, no care what you did to piss them off so badly, but I urge you to take action to get this all to stop.

You appear to have resources to contact your followers, and if I were you, I would use those resources to inform them that they have been contacting a person with your name and behaving in an illegal manner. If these calls do not stop, my next step is legal action. I have a feeling you don't want that. I urge you to take this seriously. These calls stop, or you'll hear from my lawyer."

I know what you're probably thinking. Why blame him for this? Why threaten him with legal action? After all, it wasn't him that had made the calls. No, it wasn't, but I know a thing or two about online flame wars, and I know that generally when it's reached a level like this obviously had, both parties likely share blame. If legal action was being threatened, this other Brandon Coates would take me seriously.

It turns out, I really, really should not have done that.

The next call was not to my parents' house. It was to my cell phone.

I wasn't able to answer when the call came through. I was at work. In fact I didn't even see the call until my lunch break, when I checked my phone and saw a waiting voice mail.

My call history showed one missed call. Naturally, it was a blocked number. I had no way of reaching the person who had left me this message. Of course, I knew who it was.

My heart was hammering in my chest, more with anger than with fear, but I was a little afraid, too. Whoever these assholes were, they had gotten ahold of my unlisted cell phone number, which I had only recently acquired (after changing cities to move in with my parents) and which I had in no way shape or form put online, even in an email.

I went to my car and retrieved the message. I sat there, feeling hotter than I should considering it was snowing outside, and listened. The voice that spoke was deep, raspy, haggard, and barely qualified as human.

"Hello, Mr. Brandon Coates, a.k.a. BrainDaddy. Obviously you don't know what's good for you. You think you can fuck with us, but you're wrong. We know where you live. We've watched you sleep. We're watching you right now, as you sit in your car. You will never see us, but we always see you. You belong to us now, fuckball. Your worst nightmare has only just begun."

Cold sweat broke out all over me. I was shaking. Never in my life have I felt such fear. My head began to whip around, looking at everyone who was passing by where my vehicle sat, just on the side of the road, less than a block from my office. That guy in a grey suite, was he looking at me? No, he was looking behind my car at a female jogger. What about the seemingly benign homeless man just a few feet away? Or what about that guy about to cross the street...

My gaze went past the man waiting to cross. Behind him was a silent, still figure, staring straight at my car. No one else seemed to notice him, but I couldn't help it. He was short, almost dwarfish, and his proportions were strange. One arm was longer than the other and his head and neck sat at a strange place on his body, almost to his shoulder. He was wearing a Halloween werewolf mask.

In shock, I straightened in my seat and blinked my eyes a few times. When I looked again, he was gone.

My phone rang just then. It sounded to my stressed ears like an air raid siren.

"We've let you see us, BrainDaddy. I hope you understand we mean business now."

I swallowed. Clearly this person would not be threatened by legal action. "What do you want?" I croaked.

"We want you," said the voice. "To die."

There was silence on the other end for a while. I thought the person had hung up. And then:

"But first we will kill your parents. First your mom, and then your dad, so he can watch her die. Then we're gonna kill your cheating whore of a wife. Then we're gonna kill your brother. When everyone you care about is gone, we're gonna kill you."

"Why?" I heard myself ask, as if from far away. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because you don't know who to fuck with and who not to fuck with, BrainDaddy. You don't know the kind of deep well of shit you've disturbed. Apparently nobody told you the kinds of things we can do. Or maybe you don't believe we can do them. I hope you believe now, BrainDaddy."

I swallowed again. I was totally dry, so it felt like my throat was rubbing against sand paper. "I thought...this was just about...cheat codes or something."

"It always starts small," said the voice. It kept getting deeper and more evil-sounding. If Satan ever spoke to me, I imagine this is what his voice would sound like. "High-minded shits like you think you can scam and scam and never get caught. We're here to show you just how wrong you are. You have no idea how badly you've fucked up."

The line went dead.

I spent the rest of that week in a cloud of fear and misery. I could hardly eat. I could barely breathe. I didn't dare call the police or try to warn my loved ones of what was happening to me. I knew they were watching. I knew that one false move from me would only hasten the punishment they felt I was due.

I spent most of my time at home staring at my laptop screen, wondering what I could possibly do to end this hell I had found myself in through no fault of my own.

And then, in the corner of my screen, a chat window opened.

I hadn't used MSN chat for over a year. Most of the people I used to keep in contact with were no longer a part of my life. I had forgotten that the program was in my startup list and constantly running in the background.

At the sight of it, I felt the panic rise. My vision blurred and for an instant, I was certain it was these people again; these faceless people who were always watching.

But the screen name was "BrainDaddy". Here's a copy and paste of our chat (it was still logged in under my now-ancient screen name "DrinkPBR":

[[BrainDaddy]]: I'm sosorry, dude
[[DrinkPBR]]: WHAT THE FUCK, MAN??!!
[[BrainDaddy]]: I can't stop what's happingin
[[BrainDaddy]]: Real sorry
[[DrinkPBR]]: What's happening!? I can't breathe, I'm afraid to go outside!
[[BrainDaddy]]: It's complcated, man. I can't really explain. I never ment it to hurt people.
[[DrinkPBR]]: Dude, I warned you that if you didn't make this stop I'd get the police invovled!
[[DrinkPBR]]: Who are these people??
[[BrainDaddy]]: Nothin the police can doo
[[DrinkPBR]]: What the hell is that supposed to mean?
[[BrainDaddy]]: Lisen, I dont have much time to explian. They where after em but I pankiced and told them I wasnt me. I saw your name come up on facebook and I said it was me
[[DrinkPBR]]: Okay, first, your ass is so sued. Second, your smug fucking face is plastered all over these gaming sites. How did you manage to tell them I'm you?
[[BrainDaddy]]: They dont see like we do. Not really. Can't expaln much beter. There not like us. They love to play games but they hate it it when you ofend them. Told them once to go fuck themselfs. Now they want me dead.
[[DrinkPBR]]: No, they want ME dead, asshole! And they're watching me right now, so don't tell me they don't see!
[[BrainDaddy]]: They hear you and they smell you but they dont see. Lik I said its complicated. That's why I'm messenging you. If you don't talk, they don't knwo.
[[DrinkPBR]]: Just tell me who they are. I don't want to spend the rest of my life afraid!
[[BrainDaddy]]: Thats not how this works. You dont get to escape. They say there coming for you, then your dead.
[[DrinkPBR]]: You escaped them by telling them I was you!
[[BrainDaddy]]: Got lucky. There was another Brandon Coates in my city. But were the only 2.

Except he was quite wrong about that. He was the only Brandon Coates in the city. I was, in fact,  born Warren Brandon Coates, Jr. I went by Brandon, because my father went by Warren.

I quickly logged off the chat room and went to work. I went to my Facebook page and changed my name to Warren Coates, Jr. I did the same to my Twitter name, my LinkedIn resume, my email address. I changed the voicemail message on my phone to "You've reached Warren...", etc. I pulled out my driver's license and smiled, seeing that my name read "Coates, Warren Brandon Jr.".

And I waited. It wasn't until the next day that I heard from them again. I let the phone ring. Eventually it went to voicemail.

I waited for over an hour before I had the courage to retrieve the message. It was the same voice, but the tone of his message was light and friendly. "Oh, sorry. I must have the wrong person."

I never heard from them again. After a few years, I was able to relax, finally, convinced that I was safe.

Yesterday I googled "Brandon Coates" "BrainDaddy" again.

The first hit was his obituary. That suited me just fine. Fuck him, anyway.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bored? Come Try This...

Maybe it's late at night, but you can't sleep. You're bored, or you can't stop a bazillion thoughts from racing through your skull, or maybe you had too much coffee, or you're a little drunk. Whatever the case, I've been there, my friend. I know how it feels to sit there and realize that you're not really living right now. You're just existing. Surely there's something you can do, right?

But no matter what, no options presented seem like something that feels right. It's definitely not clubbing night. Watching TV or playing video games seem like mind-numbing options and you've likely been surfing the net all night and have realized how little satisfaction you're getting from that, too.

Well, good news, because I have a solution. This option might require you to put on pants and walk somewhere, but it's worth it, I guarantee it.

See, there's a building not even a block from where you live, and at any time of the night you'll find the rear entrance unlocked. During the day the place is locked up tight as a drum, but for some reason, once night falls outside, whatever time of the day that happens to fall on at any time of year, you'll find that rear entrance is open and waiting.

What are you waiting for? Christmas? Get your pants on, put on your shoes and get your ass down there. Didn't I promise it would be worth it?

Only, one thing. You've got to follow my instructions to the letter. To. The. Letter. That's very important. Got that? Okay, good. Are you ready? Then let's go.

The building is just up ahead. See it? It's an old office complex that's currently unoccupied. I'm not sure what businesses were once housed here, but for now, it's empty. It's been here for years, and I don't recall a time when there was an actual business open there.

Yes, of course I'm sure the rear entrance is unlocked. Didn't I say that? Let's head around the back. Don't worry, I know the lights are off. It's not like this building advertises itself to the general public. Only a select few have ever attempted what you're about to attempt. Stop worrying, okay? You'll be fine, as long as you follow my instructions.

There's the entrance. Go on and try the door. See? It opens, just like I said it would. Now, proceed to the first elevator you see. What do you mean, it's too dark to see? Just use your flashlight. You didn't bring a flashlight? Didn't I tell you to? Oh, no. My bad. Well, you've started now. You can't turn back. You don't want to know what happens if you ignore me and turn back now. You'll just have to use what light there is from the moon to proceed.

Okay, the elevator is ten paces forward and to the right. This building is ten floors tall. You will be going to the eleventh floor. What you...shut up, I'm explaining. What you need to do is get in the elevator and immediately press and hold the button for the tenth floor. When it starts to flash, let go of it right away and tap the button for the first floor...

Phew. You did a good job there. Now the elevator is proceeding the the eleventh floor. If you'd pressed those buttons any differently you might have wound up on a different floor, and believe me, you don't want that.

The elevator doors open on a hallway that leads straight forward to a brightly illuminated EXIT sign. This is not our path. You run for that exit, and you'll probably never make it there. If you do, you'll find out that the sign lies. Instead, you need to turn to the left and take the first door you see.

Wait! Is that really the first door you saw? You were about to head into it without even realizing that it was not the first door you saw. It was the second. The first door you saw was the one your eyes cast upon as you were turning. It's the second doorway on the left, true, but it wasn't the first door you saw after I gave the instruction.

See what I mean? You have to follow my instructions to the letter. That was the last time I'm going to warn you that you're choosing wrong. Pay careful attention from now on or who knows what will happen?

Head through the door and sit down immediately.

Good job. You apparently understand now. Do as I say, and only as I say if you hope to get through this with your sanity and/or life intact. Ignore that cold sweat on your scalp and congratulate yourself that you didn't close the door but instead sat down as soon as I told you to.

The room before you is black. Blacker than anything you've ever seen. You cannot see your hand in front of your face. You need to sit there, perfectly still, not moving a muscle, until I say move.

Count your heartbeats. When you get to twenty, stand up. One...two... Remember to count heartbeats, not seconds.

There. You got to twenty and you are standing. Now, announce to the room, "That which is darkest is closest. That which is closest is watching. That which is watching is furthest."

Did you say it? You didn't hesitate after standing, did you? Did you speak as I told you the words or did you wait until you heard them all? If you waited, you are done for.

Okay, it looks like they're satisfied. That's good news for you. You may proceed. Take one step forward and then immediately turn right. Walk forward until you come to a door. Open it, close it immediately, and stand with your back to the room. This room will be as dark as the first.

Stop breathing. Hold your breath and no matter how much it hurts, do not let it out. What is in this room follows the sound of breath, and if it hears any, well, I won't tell you what it will do or you will release that breath and bolt for it. Keep holding your breath and count another twenty heartbeats.

Now, the breath must really be straining your lungs. I understand that. Stay facing the door, but walk backwards until your back presses against the far wall. Keep that breath held. Walk slowly. Ooh, I bet you just can't stand it anymore, can you? You simply must release the breath. I can't stop you. All I can do is remind you that you are not alone in this room, and breathing would be so much worse than simply keeping your breath held...

There's the far wall. Without looking, feel for a door handle. Open it. Step through and close it. Now release that breath. Feels good now, doesn't it? You're about a quarter of the way through, and you're still alive and still yourself. You're doing quite well so far.

The room you are now standing in is not dark, as the others have been. It's lit by a small fire on the far end. A huddled figure is sitting by that fire. Don't turn around! At least, don't do so, until you stand straight, and announce in a clear voice, "Might I share your fire for a moment?"

Now wait. Count your heartbeats again. If you get to ten and have heard nothing, hold your breath again and run back through the door you came in through without looking back.

There. Was that a soft grunt? Did it come from the figure? Be careful. Think hard about it. If you decide that it was indeed a soft grunt of ascent, turn and go to the fire and huddle before it like the figure is. While walking, you likely noticed that there are five doors in this room, including the one you came through.

Huddle on the opposite side of the fire as the figure, but make sure you huddle yourself in the same position. Never look directly at it. You won't like what you see. Now you may ask it any question you want to. Here's the catch. If it's the wrong question, you will be stuck huddled in this position while it can get up and leave. Most people ask it which door to take.

Good, you're asking him which door to take. And if you listen, he will tell you that it's the right-hand door closest to the one you came in.

Don't get up yet! Consider the fact that this figure is not your friend. It doesn't know you, and it  probably doesn't like you very much. Could it have lied? Maybe you should take exactly the opposite door it suggested. Or maybe this creature cannot lie, and you should listen to it.

No, don't ask me. I truly don't know. One of these doors is the right one, but it's never the same door. You get to choose whether you believe the figure or not.

Seems like you've chosen to listen to it. Let's see what happens...

Wow. Looks like today is your lucky day. You're doing very well so far.

You find yourself in another long hallway. This one is longer and much, much darker. There are two doors at the end. If you walk straight to those doors, you will be forced to choose one, and neither is marked. You can feel that presence, can't you. The one that's right behind you. You can feel its breath on your neck. You can sense how close it is. The hairs on your neck prick up.

It's going to follow you. If you look around, you will regret it. Don't speak to it. Don't acknowledge it in any way. Just walk. Walk until you hear whispering. If I were you, I would pay attention to that whispering. Not so much what's being said as which door it's coming from.

You're hearing it now, aren't you? Yes, just right up there to the right. You stopped as soon as you heard it. You're still listening. You're doing so well. Yes, it's still there, and yes, you still need to ignore it. Turn to the door you hear it coming from and walk straight toward it. Place your hand on the knob.

Now, here's where things get complicated. On the other side of that door is whatever you're picturing in your head when you turn the knob. So it's important, vital, that you do not think of the thing you fear the most. You know that thing that sometimes keeps you awake at night because you're certain that if you close your eyes, it will come for you? That creeping feeling you get when you think someone's watching you? That idea or thought that your deepest nightmares try to hide from you?

I'm warning you, if you're thinking about it, stop. Don't turn that doorknob until you've cleared it from your mind. Are you still thinking about it? You are, aren't you? The presence behind you is getting closer. You have three ways out of this. You can run for the two doors at the end and accept whatever fate lies beyond them, you can let the presence behind you catch you, and do whatever it's going to do, or you can stop thinking about your fear right now and open that door!

Whatever your choice, you're not bored anymore. Told you it was worth it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Scarecrow" by R. Scabree: A Review-as-I-Read Post

I have been in the mood to read something that truly scares me. That's pretty rare. I'm not a person who scares easily. It's possible that some modern writers are told to dial it back when they write scary books, because who knows, a kid could be reading them.

I dunno. But I do know that I have been feeling the lack of genuine scares lately, so I went to my local used bookstore and browsed the shelves in their horror section. I like used book stores because they usually have much larger horror sections than a chain store might, and they definitely have a lot of older stuff there, stuff you will never see on book shelves in modern book stores anywhere ever again.

I happened upon this book almost by mistake. It was one of the last ones on the shelf, and it was shoved behind some others, almost like the store wanted to hide it. One look at it and I knew it was old, quite possibly a first edition. The book was clearly first published long ago, and this one has been well-loved. Its pages are yellowed, dog-eared all over the place. The cover was peeling up and near to falling off. Actually, the cover is what caused me to pick it up. There was precious little description on it. Other than its title and the author's name, the front contained no information, and on the back cover, there was simply a Yeats quote.

"The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

That poem always gives me the shivers, and I was impressed by the decision to put it on the back, even if I did wonder what it had to do with a scarecrow. The first page had an excerpt, and it seemed to be about a farmer and his haunted scarecrow. That...really didn't sound too horrifying, but if the cover made me pick it up, the quote is what made me take it to the cashier. At worst, I would have wasted five bucks. At best, I might have a genuine undiscovered classic on my hands.

The cover of the book made it feel both ancient and timeless. It was very simplistic, but it evoked something in me; some primal feeling that I found impossible to ignore. I might be making too much
out of it, but I got a sense of foreboding looking at that cover. Modern novels tend to go all out, and create an image of a monster that might be found in a special-FX-laden big-budget horror schlock-fest designed to do little more than get teenaged asses in seats. This cover was far more minimalist, but conveyed more of a sense of unease in me than a million "killer scarecrow" movies ever could. So, I picked it up and brought it home.

I'm only a few pages in, but already starting to feel like I've made a mistake. I've never heard of R. Scabree before, but from the first few pages, he doesn't strike me as much of a writer. He goes pretty light on the scares and when he does try and scare you, he uses a torrent of cliches that I doubt would scare a five-year-old. I'm being a little more forgiving, though, because the book isn't very long, and it's not unlikely that these cliches weren't cliches at all when Scabree was writing them. Hell, he might have invented some of them.

The story, believe it or not, spends surprisingly little time out on the farm, or anywhere near the titular scarecrow. It's actually strangely political; mostly about this fifty-ish farmer named Fenton McCall and his tireless efforts to throw the local Farmer's Union rep out of his town, because he doesn't feel that they'll be fair to the workers. At least, that's mainly what it's about in the first three chapters. The only time the scarecrow itself makes an appearance is at the end of chapter one, wherein McCall has just finished setting it up, and thinks to himself that it's a "mighty fine scarecrow". That's literally all the scarecrow action we've gotten thus far.

There was one scene that was slightly unsettling, wherein McCall, who has been depicted as a stern but loving husband, snaps at his wife and calls her a "nosy bitch" when she asks about the assembly meeting he's just come home from. Just that one part, that's all that's gotten under my skin, and even then it was less about the out-of-character behavior and more just a sense that scene gave me that not all is well.

UPDATE: As it turns out, I was right about the scene being meant as unsettling. It's becoming clear as I read that Fenton McCall is slowly losing his mind. That's kinda more like a horror story, but still not particularly frightening. What does it have to do with the scarecrow, you ask? Well, as McCall's madness grows, he begins to imagine the scarecrow talking to him and following him as he does his work on the farm. It whispers horrific ideas, or at least, ideas that Scabree clearly hopes you'll find horrific, in his mind about murdering his nagging wife, and burning down the town assembly hall at the next meeting.

However, there was one thing I wasn't prepared for. The book is illustrated. I'm not kidding. I don't know how I missed that when I flipped through the book at the store, but there it is. The art is something special, not at all in tone with the rather boring book. I flipped to the incredibly sparse credits page and could not find mention of an artist, except the one for the cover image, and he clearly isn't the guy who made the illustrations on the inside.

His style is very vivid even if it's also simplistic. His drawings look almost like photographs, except blurry, or with eyes shown as glowing holes. I've scanned in the first image, which I trust you will agree is rather...strange looking.
That's literally supposed to be McCall and his wife. Yeah, I don't get it either. There's nothing scary about this scene in the book. They're just walking home from church and discussing the union leader. But this is how our illustrator chooses to convey that scene. If the book itself were one tenth as frightening as that picture, I'd probably give it a much more favorable review than I have so far.

I know that some of you might think the image is cheesy-looking. Okay, I'll grant you that even looking at it here on my computer, it looks way less intense. But there's something about looking at it from the page itself that I can't even begin to describe. A feeling like they're...looking at me, somehow. Maybe I just stayed up too late reading.

UPDATE: Taking a break from reading this damned book today. It's starting to get to me. Not Scabree's writing; it still sucks, but just the...I can't really explain it.

There's more pictures in the book than I realized. I'm not going to upload any more of them for now because I'm having a hard time bringing myself to look at them. It's not so much what's in them as what feels like is there behind them. Whatever it is, I don't like it.

I'll say this; the story has taken a strange turn. It's still barely talked about but Scabree at one point has the scarecrow, while talking to McCall, make mention of "they", as if he has someone he's reporting to behind the scenes. I don't want to dig out that passage right now because when I read it, it gave me a chill. There was a picture on the next page and somehow, I knew that "they", whoever they are, were in the picture. The picture only showed two young girls, but I could sense "them" in the picture, just the same.
That's enough of that. I sound paranoid, or something. It's really not as bad as I'm making it sound. Not really.

I decided to google "R. Scabree" today. See if there's anything else he's written. Literally only three hits came up. I'm pretty sure I would get more hits if I googled my own name. The first hit was a used book site that had once been selling Scarecrow, but it was out of stock and the site looked like it hadn't been updated in years. The second hit was a dead link, which was too bad because it looked like it might contain the most actual info about this book. Maybe it would even tell me who did the artwork within the book.

The final hit was a pure black page, and the "wait" circle kept spinning in the center, as if it was loading a video or something. I waited for nearly ten minutes and, while no video loaded, I could swear I heard whispers coming out of my speakers. They were low, and I never could make out what they were saying, but I could hear them, even as the circle kept spinning.

Now, here's where things get weird. I went back to the search page later on because I was gonna try and let that page sit there as long as it took to load, but the hit wasn't there anymore. The first two useless links still were, but not the last one, which was the only one that I seemed to get any kind of result from, even one so unsatisfactory as a blank page attempting to load a video.

So instead I googled the name of the publishing house that printed the book, Margrave Press. I got tons of hits, but when I put the name in quotes, only two pages of hits loaded, and only one hit seemed to have anything to do with a publishing company. It makes a brief mention of a guy named Tom Harky, who worked as a copy editor at Margrave Press for a short while in the sixties before leaving for Bantam when Margrave went under. I googled Tom Harky, who has his own web page with contact info, and so I sent him a short email. It went like this:

"Dear Mr. Harky,

I recently picked up an older, used book that was published by a now-defunct publishing house that you worked at until it closed. Do you remember much about your time at Margrave Press? If you do, I hope you can give me some information about a writer named R. Scabree, who wrote the book I'm reading. It's a horror novel called Scarecrow. Specifically, I'd like to know who it was who contributed the in-book artwork for the book, as it's very well-done, but I can't seem to find the name of the artist, and online info doesn't seem to help either.

Any help you can offer on this would be appreciated."

I also decided to google Wesley Childs, the artist who did the work for the front cover. He also has a website, but nowhere on it did I see the simple, yet evocative picture he had done for Scarecrow. In fact, nothing he had up on his website looked much like that.

We'll see if I ever hear back from either man.

UPDATE: Well, I am almost halfway through the book now. I decided to keep reading despite any misgivings I felt the other day. Scabree's skills with prose and dialogue haven't improved, but the story has taken a much darker turn. I guess I understand a little better why Yeats's "The Second Coming" was used as a quote now. As McCall's madness grows, the more he starts speaking in poetic, gloom-and-doom language, like the poem. He even quotes it a few times. At one point he screams at the man leading the town assembly meeting that "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity!"

He turns murderous later, and finally kills a fellow farmer, one that was the most outspoken that the Union should be formed, and just before slitting his throat hisses at him "Things fall apart. The center cannot hold."

My first reaction to this usage of the poem is to say "bullshit" because, honestly, it's like Scabree just liked the poem and thought it sounded scary, so he decided his murderous farmer would start spouting passages of it. There's no clue elsewhere that he's the kind of man who would even read Yeats. However, there is an Apocalyptic tone to the poem and the scarecrow has an Apocalyptic tone when he speaks to McCall. He warns him that the tide is turning and soon all innocence will be drowned, which also comes from "The Second Coming". Somehow, Scabree's able to make the lines sound like the scarecrow came up with them. Maybe he's not as bad a writer as I thought.

Also, those pictures keep appearing. I swear earlier today I flipped ahead five or six pages to see when this chapter would be over, and there weren't any pictures. Just now I flipped to the third page, and I was greeted with this:
I mean, what the hell is that!? It has nothing, literally nothing, to do with the story. And I could swear it wasn't there earlier today. Much like the others, those eyes, man. I want it to just be my imagination, but I swear they're looking at me, and seeing me. Writing it down like that it feels stupid. But all I can say is, read this damned thing for yourself and tell me it doesn't creep you out.

UPDATE: Heard back from Wesley Child today. He says he only barely remembers making that drawing. The dude is something like 80 now, and he was commissioned for that piece in the early 60's. He said he's never read the book himself, and that he only remembered the painting when I emailed him. He seemed surprised that anyone is reading this book in the modern age because according to him they only printed a handful of copies. He wasn't sure how many. He was not aware that anyone was hired to do in-book artwork or even that there was any.

This inspired me to try and get a hold of Tom Harky again. I decided it had been long enough that I should have at least gotten a form response. So I sent a quick email to him asking if he'd had time to consider my request. Almost immediately, and I mean like five minutes after I hit "Send", I received this from what I guess is one of his staffers:

"Do not attempt to contact us again. We are blocking your email and your IP address. Further attempts at contact will be considered harassment and will be dealt with by the proper authorities."

Whoa. I wasn't expecting that. I mean, I waited a week between emails and I was pretty polite both times. I'm trying not to read too much into that.

I went back to the book today, still not sure if I had the constitution to keep reading it. I don't want to see those pictures again. I don't want to feel them looking at me. The scarecrow is not actually speaking to McCall but it's clear that something is. Every time there's a mention of "them", the next page has a photo of those strange silhouetted people and I have to believe it's just the way the artist had with his work that makes me sure that something is watching me from behind those pictures. Something that doesn't like me. And it isn't coming, it's already here.

UPDATE: Okay, I'm sorry for the tone my review-as-I-go read has taken. I am trying very hard not to let my concerns show in my posts but it's slipping through.

I haven't had the strength to pick the book up since the last time I wrote. I got worse after receiving a second email from Wesley Childs. He apologized for lying to me, and told me that the reason he didn't remember the scarecrow painting is that he had been purposefully trying to forget it. According to him, as he was painting it he kept hearing whispering from it, and once it was completed, he could swear it was coming to life and talking to him through his dreams. He mailed it as soon as he could and spent days after that trying to get rid of the feeling of being watched, or believing that he heard whispers. He says he's never made a painting like that before and never has been able to again. It was the first and last work he did for Margrave Press.

He also told me that he met R. Scabree, but only once, and that it was just a pen name, but unfortunately he doesn't remember what the man's real name was. He said Scabree was a small man, who seemed nervous all the time. I wrote back and asked him why he thinks Tom Harky would wish to block me and threaten me with the authorities just for asking about this book. He replied just a few minutes ago to tell me that Harky has been asked a couple of times before, during Q&A sessions, about his time at Margrave, and any time he is asked, he immediately concludes the session and walks out. He won't talk to anyone about Margrave. Childs himself once tried to reach any other contacts that commissioned him for the cover art, but he found none. It's as if Margrave Press never existed other than its tenuous connection to one man.

UPDATE: It's been another week. Woke up this morning to an email from Tom Harky in my inbox. It wasn't the website address. It looked more like an account for personal use. It said only this:

"If you have that goddam book in your house, burn it. Burn it right the fuck now."

I haven't burnt it. It's on my coffee table right now. I can barely bring myself to look at it. Whatever is seeing me through that book can now see me even when it's closed. I have a feeling it's the Rough Beast, moving its slow thighs, slouching toward Bethlehem.

Maybe that beast inspired the great poet William Butler Yeats to write about it, and just over forty years later inspired a hack writer who called himself R. Scabree to do the same. I don't know. I don't care anymore. I just want it to stop talking to me, dammit.

UPDATE: I tried to burn it. I did. I used kitchen tongs and took it out to my back yard. I dropped it in an old steel bucket and struck a match. Then I held it there. I waited. I couldn't drop the match. Something was angry with me. Something was going to make sure that if I burned the book, I would feel every flame the book did tenfold. I put the match out and left the book in the bucket. I'm not going back for it.

UPDATE: I'm nearly finished the book. Somehow, I'm gonna make it. There have been no pictures for the last several pages. There don't need to be any. They see me through the words I read. They tell me what is going to happen. What has already been happening. I don't know why they would want me to know.