The boy found himself traveling in the most fantastic manner. The night before, the scarecrow had insisted that they head to Count Borsala's residence at once. William had been reluctant to make such a journey so soon. In fact, he had found more and more, as time passed, that the idea of leaving the family home was nearly unbearable.
“Spirit's agoraphobia,” the scarecrow had named it. “Those who die with great fear are often infected with it. It deepens over time, until the spirit is anchored to a place like a ship crashed on the rocks. It can be broken, though, if you act early enough and are willing to resist its power.”
He had taken the scarecrow's hand without a second thought at that point. The idea of roaming that single cornfield forever was far more frightening than anything that lay without. Before he knew it, they were standing on the side of the road. The rows of corn were behind them, waving in the breeze. William did not return the wave.
The boy was ready to move off down the road, but the scarecrow held him by the shoulder. “You have another mode of travel available to you now, William,” he had said. “Look now.”
William followed his direction, and indeed there had been something moving at them down the road. His jaw had dropped in awe.
And now they were in it once again. They had spent the day at Countess Borsala's residence, as the scarecrow had suggested. The countess herself was not seen, being asleep in the basement within her coffin. Jack was nowhere to be found, and Mr. Uzor was as quiet as ever. It had been a long day of waiting, while William was once again anxious to go on that fantastic ride.
The scarecrow had some way of calling it. It appeared this night before the stairs leading to the countess's abode. It was a black coach. The walls, which were minimal to allow as much visibility from within as possible, were inlaid with white intricate designs. It was only noticeable on closer inspection that the white was, in fact, bone. The roof was mounted with human skulls at every corner. Two huge black steeds, larger than any William had ever seen, stood at the front. Behind them, in the driver's seat, rode a massive man in a black overcoat buttoned tight to his collar. He wore no hat. In fact, one might notice on closer inspection, he had no head to seat one on. Instead, his head road in the seat beside him. It said nothing and moved not at all. Only its eyes would roll around to follow any action in the vicinity.
“Dullahan!” The scarecrow had called. “We have need of your service once again.”
The headless man-- this Dullahan, had waved toward the coach, then picked up his riding crop. It appeared he was as anxious as William to be off into the night once more.
Now they were hurtling through the wooded lanes surrounding town. Despite the ancient wooden wagon wheels, the vehicle traveled smoothly, ghostly across the rough ground.
“I must say,” said the scarecrow, “It is a pleasure to have your company once again, William. It could get quite gloomy around here without you.”
“Yeah. . .” as much as he was enjoying the ride, William couldn't quite respond the same to the scarecrow. “I wish I hadn't had to die to do it, scarecrow.”
“Every man must die.”
The scarecrow looked at him squarely. “I am no man, William. I am the scarecrow. I ask you not to forget it.” This was the first time William had seen the scarecrow appear remotely angry. “Many of my supposed friends seem to be doing so, of late.” He seemed to grow calmer after this, but an edge had crept into his voice. “You were a part of the Harvest. Early, no doubt, in season and in age, but you will come to appreciate it in time.”
“The Harvest?” William asked.
The scarecrow nodded. “Imagine if your grandfather were to plant a field, water it, and then watch it rot away into oblivion. Has he ever done that, dear boy?”
“No, of course not.”
“He takes from it what is valuable before it can decay into nothingness. A golden ear of corn is produced from what would otherwise be a dry stalk, rotting in the sun. The spirit of man is planted. It grows strong in knowledge and becomes robust with life. One day it must be harvested, to become something new.”
“So you let the witch kill me so I could be harvested?”
“I didn't let the witch do anything, mind you. If you recall, you disappeared with no way for me to follow.”
“Jack lead me away,” William corrected.
“Nevertheless, the witch did what she does to survive.”
“Witches eat children, you know. You are aware of that, are you not?”
“I am now that I was eaten by one. I just wish she would have been 'harvested' before me.”
“She may wish that, as well. She made some deal to the contrary long ago, and now her spirit decays.”
Decay,” the boy tasted the word. “Is Jack. . .”
“Jack is an enigma. He has secrets, kept from us all. Even if he told us one day what they were, likely no one would believe it was the truth. His spirit, if it can be called that, is as solid as it ever was.”
“So what is it like for someone like the witch?”
“You saw for yourself in that house: Her stooped form, her advanced age, her disproportionate frame. . .and besides how she appears. . . the long, slow descent into madness. But you are not entirely wrong, my dear boy. Had I been there, she would have known you were protected, one way or another.”
“Are you going to get her for me, now, then? She's just an old rotting witch, so what good is she doing anyone?”
“As I said, she has done what she has done to survive. You simply needn't worry about her again. She is from your past life, and it is best you move on from that.”
“I don't feel dead, though. Maybe there's some way you could make her help me. If she has spells, or potions, or my bones. . .”
“Dear William!” The scarecrow boomed very loudly. “Allow me to speak plainly. Of life and death, my boy, you stand not upon the precipice. You stand plainly on the side of death, of the night, of mystery and fear. There are many small wrongs in one's past, and while they may have fed one's spirit, to dwell on them is to lose sight of the greatness before you. Do not tread back into shadow of memory. Stride forward. Understand that you have risen above what ailed you in the past, and give those ails no regard now.”
“Stride forward,” William considered the words. “Or ride?”
The scarecrow grinned. “Dullahan, dear fellow! I believe the boy requires more speed.”
A whip crack was heard from ahead. The horses' hooves crashed into the path below them, sending up plumes of earth behind, and the coach hurtled into the night.