On Scarecrows

Mad Old Farmer Frack was vexed, not on account of his cows, as would normally be the cause of his vexation, for his cows were unusually contented, in their field, chewing and munching, in balmy weather, contented perhaps because they were not being driven relentlessly from field to field, through gate after gate, by the mad old farmer, for no apparent purpose, as was his habit, come rain or shine, though rain was much more common than shine in that part of the world, where Old Farmer Frack had his farm, ee-i-ee-i-oh, no, for once the cows were being left to go about their cuddy business undisturbed, for Old Farmer Frack had other things on his mad old mind, things that kept him from attending to his cows, and what was vexing him on this merry May morning was seething envy, envy of his neighbouring farmers, whose names we know not, but whose farms gloried in their scarecrows, fantastic constructions of sticks and straw and hay and old rags and abandoned hats and what have you, serried ranks of them, scattered here and there across the fields, frightening any crows that might ponder landing for a peck at a growing crop, frightening children too, those traipsing across the fields to or from the village school or post office, who could imagine the scarecrows springing to life, uttering rustic curses and abracadabras, causing birds to topple dead from the sky and trees to wither and die, or such mischiefs as it amused them to wreak, out there in the country, where civilisation is held at bay, and weird and wild spirits are abroad in the land, none weirder nor wilder, some say, than the innards of mad Old Farmer Frack’s head, the like of which is the stuff of nightmares to city folk, the innards of that head atop the creaking frame that is leaning on one of his farm fences this May morning, his mad eyes gleaming as he surveys the neighbours’ fields and their numberless scarecrows, the cause of his vexations, for he has not a single scarecrow in his fields, having been banned from keeping one by the rustic authorities, on trumped up charges, gossip put about by the other farmers, terrible tales of cruelty and vice about which he was given no opportunity to defend himself before the ruling was laid down, at a conclave in a barn, on a thunder-booming evening, and ever since he has seen his fields beset by impertinent crows, unafraid to swoop, and it is this that vexes him, on every day God brings, until he is at his wits’ end, leaning on the fence, boots embedded in a puddle, gazing at the scarecrows, when all of a sudden, within the weird and wild innards of his head, there is a spark, a snap, and he has a bright idea.

*

It is many a long year since mad Old Farmer Frack provided a service to the woman he knew only as “Postie”, the woman who presided over the village post office. In his befuddled old head he cannot recall exactly what it was he did for her. If he concentrates hard he recalls something about her asking him for a hen, to be ritually sacrificed, its entrails scattered on the post office floor and the signs read. She seemed well satisfied with the signs, whatever they were, for they foretold that one day in the future she would leave the village post office behind and be known as international woman of mystery Primrose Dent. And lo it came to pass. And Old Farmer Frack still had, scratched on the wall of his barn, her metal tapping machine number. She gave it to him, she said, in case he ever needed to call in a favour. He had given her a hen at the necessary time. She could not promise him a hen in return, and in any case that would be foolish, a farmer in need of a new hen would not obtain one from an international woman of mystery, would he? But if he had a request commensurate with her power and status and fantastic mystery, he should not hesitate to contact her. Old Farmer Frack thumps his forehead repeatedly on a fencepost, in awe at his own stupidity. Why did he not think of calling her before? He turns his back on his neighbours’ scarecrows and trudges off to the barn.

*

“Is that international woman of mystery Primrose Dent?”

“Speaking.”

“This is Old Farmer Frack.”

“Ah, my sacrificial hen provider! After all these years! How are you?”

“I am sorely vexed.”

“Tsk tsk! And you are calling in a favour and asking me to undo your vexation?”

“That’s about the size of it, yes.”

“How may I help, you mad old farmer you?”

“I want to talk to you about robots.”

*

The merry month of May has come and gone. It is now September. Throughout the summer months there was much hammering and pounding and sawing and banging and grinding and cranking in the sinister subterranean headquarters, somewhere underneath the Alps, where international woman of mystery Primrose Dent holds sway. At the end of August, a fleet of container lorries set out along the winding mountain roads, ferrying their cargo to mad Old Farmer Frack. Now, as he wakes of a morning, and comes out to bellow at his cows, he gazes up at the sky, and sees crows, masses of them, all too fearful to come swooping down upon his fields. Yet there is still not a scarecrow to be seen anywhere on his farm. Instead, far more terrifying to crows than his neighbours’ constructions of sticks and straw and hay and old rags and abandoned hats and what have you, plodding across mad Old Farmer Frack’s fields are thousands upon thousands of robots, big and chunky and clunking and clanking and magnetic, lights flashing and buzzers buzzing, pitiless automatons whose computerised brains are programmed with the single instruction: “Exterminate Crows!”

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