Colonel Wilde

Scarecrow Moon

It was back in the autumn of ‘44, I was on my way to vote in the town elections when my car busted flat. It was a dark road and not much frequented, neither by men nor by ghosts. I was young and fearless, and being in a hurry to get to the town hall before the polls closed, I set off directly through the woods.

I hadn’t gotten far when I heard leaves crunching behind me. My scalp prickled. My pace quickened. The footsteps continued undeterred. In the distance, I saw Miller’s scarecrow, and I resolved to duck behind it with the hope that I might catch a glimpse of my dogged follower. I walked faster, then suddenly darted forward through the crops, rushing madly toward that figure of a ragged man.

I hid in the shadows against his legs. As I panted, trying to catch my breath, a memory rose up of a story I’d heard as a youngster, the tale of how Colonel Wilde ran for alderman back about a hundred years ago. When he lost, he went mad and burned the town hall, trapping himself and the aldermen inside. As the story goes, his spirit roams the countryside restlessly on Election Night, seeking votes from unwary travelers.

I waited, listening, but I heard no sound save for the wind. I convinced myself that it was only an echo of my own steps that had given me such a fright, and laughing at my foolhardiness, I continued on toward the town hall.

Thinking back now, I had no other choice; whether I was bold or careless, I could not have stayed in the scarecrow’s shadow for long. There was an energy bond on the ballot. My townsfolk needed me.

The town hall was packed with people standing in orderly queues. I gave my name to Mrs. Ellsbury and she handed me a packet of papers in various hues. I had just stepped into the line when the lights went out. An eerie light appeared and grew brighter, taking on the shape of a man. His eyes were hollow black and his lips skinned back in a horrible grin. His voice was a hissing poisonous whisper. “All those in favor of Colonel Wilde…” he said.

No one spoke. No one moved. We were frozen in terror of his ghastly image. “Come now,” his words cracked like ice, “Let’s have a show of hands.” His horrible laughter filled the hall. His image burned brighter and brighter until he burst into a holocaust of fear.

Then the screaming began and everyone cleared out. By the time we were far enough away to feel safe, the town hall was consumed with flame. Fire glowed in every opening like the mockery of a carved pumpkin. Gradually, the onlookers began to disperse and I set off back across the fields to change the tire on my car and head home. I had just entered the woods when I heard footsteps behind me once more. Dread stopped me in my tracks. A deadly voice behind me hissed, “I want your vote.”

I swallowed hard and turned to face the ghost. “Then take it,” I said with as much bravery as I could muster. Barely a glint in the moonlight, but still I saw the outline of his blade, sharp in the darkness. He laughed wickedly as he rushed toward me, cleaving my hand neatly from the wrist. “Let’s have a show of hands,” he chuckled again as he vanished into the darkness.

And that’s how I gave the Colonel a hand after his spirited showing in the runoff election that year.


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