Genre: Man from UNCLE
Prompt request: Anything you desire about our TV guys.
I hope you enjoy your Halloween treat!
After a while, it was all they could do to hold each other up. Exhausted and weak from the tender administrations of their THRUSH hosts, the best they could do was to keep one foot in front of the other. At times, it was Napoleon supporting his partner and at other times, Illya returned the favor.
They stumbled through harvested fields, severed cornstalks jutting out of the ground to trip them up. All around scarecrows stood, their protection no longer needed, their now-matured charges on the way to market or in barns to help weather the oncoming winter.
“Reminds me of a story,” Napoleon murmured, panting even though they barely moved. He’d never really liked scarecrows, even as a boy.
“Save your breath, Napoleon.” Illya wasn’t doing much better. “You will need it.”
“On All Hallows Eve, the people gather and pay tribute to the King of the Scarecrows. They have a huge bonfire and celebration. Then, after the last person has retired, the scarecrows come to life and have a celebration of their own. It’s forbidden for people to attend or even watch. If you do, they toss you on the fire and roast your flesh. To this day, it’s said that no one has observed their special celebration.”
“Okay, one question.”
“If no one has survived, how has this information been verified?”
“It’s a story, Illya.” Napoleon’s legs buckled and he fell back against Illya, who sagged from the extra weight and they both dropped to the ground, earth smearing their already filthy clothes. “Sorry.”
“S’okay.” Illya winced, feeling the heat of his partner’s body. “You’re burning up.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m hot stuff.”
Illya somehow got back to his feet and glanced around. Night would befall them soon and they needed shelter. That’s when he spotted an outcropping of rocks. “Let’s keeping moving.”
“I think I see some place where we can stop for the night. It won’t be the best of accommodations, but at least it’ll be cover for when the storm hits.”
The rocks were haphazardly piled to form a crude shed, its tin roof now rusted through in spots. Once it had been filled with a farmer’s possessions, but now it was empty. They arranged stones to block the entrance and keep out the weather.
They squeezed in and got a small fire going just as the rain started. They collected handfuls and drank. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
Napoleon started to shiver and Illya pulled off his bloodstained jacket and draped it over him. “What about you?” Napoleon had curled up in a ball close to the entrance. It was fairly dry there and the night air was blessedly cool against his skin. “That’s your favorite awful jacket.” It was true. Napoleon hated that burgundy suit jacket, so Illya wore it as often as he could.
Illya smiled tiredly. “I’ve got the fire to keep me warm. You try to get some sleep.”
Napoleon wasn’t sure what woke him, but he sat straight up, feeling more refreshed than he had in a long time. The fire was out, but he could see Illya tucked back into their little shelter, obviously asleep. He sat there, puzzling as to what had woken him up. He was pushing Illya’s jacket away when he heard it.
The night is ours;
We are dread
As we dance and play
Don’t look once;
Don’t look twice
If you look then you must stay.
Our teeth are sharp;
The blood is red,
We are ready for our feast
Don’t look once;
Don’t look twice.
If you see, you will be triste.
“Triste?” Napoleon murmured aloud as he twisted around to look out a gap in the rocks. Not far away, there was a bonfire and people dancing around it, apparently chanting. He squinted for they were the oddest looking people he’d ever seen. Bone thin and clothed in rags, they staggered and wrenched their way around the edge of the flames.
There was a sudden flare and inside stood a towering figure.
All hail the Scarecrow King;
All hail our King
All hail the Scarecrow King!
“I smell blood!” The creature roared and the figures around the bonfire writhed and shook. Belatedly, Napoleon realized they were scarecrows. That certainly explained their movements and dress. They started to stagger towards the shelter.
He pulled back from his viewpoint and held his breath. A heartbeat later a shadow obliterated the moonlight and a spindly hand poked in. Napoleon froze as the grasping fingers came closer and closer. Then suddenly they closed on Illya’s jacket and pulled it free.
“This, Your Worship!” The voice was right by Napoleon’s ear. “Our prize! Our prize!” It retreated, but Napoleon didn’t move save to take a small breath.
“Mine! Bring it to me!”
Napoleon heard movement away from their hideout, but he stayed quiet and hoped Illya would do the same.
The chant rocked him from his paralysis. He chanced a look out and saw the Scarecrow King holding Illya’s jacket to the sky. “Earth! Blood! Death! This one will soon be ours.”
Then there was a blur of motion and hands caught him. Napoleon wanted to scream, but he was so tired, so weak. He tried to lash out, but his hand was easily pushed aside. They grabbed him and started to drag him from the shelter. He could smell blood as their bony fingers dug into his flesh and he sensed death, his death, was close at hand…
They knew his name? He chanced opening his eyes and saw Illya kneeling by him. Sunlight was creeping through the cracks in the rocks. “Illya?”
“Finally!” Illya blew out a big lung of air. “I was beginning to think you were never going to wake up.”
“Me, too, partner.” Napoleon sat up and looked around. Nothing had changed from the night before, except for possibly the gray pallor of Illya’s face. He reached out and touched Illya’s cheek. “What’s going on?”
Illya gave him a lopsided smile. “I’m not feeling too good.”
For Illya to admit that screamed a warning to Napoleon. Without waiting for more, Napoleon pushed aside the rocks barricading them in and crawled out, half dragging Illya after him.
“What are you doing?” Illya tried to push Napoleon’s hands away, but Napoleon wasn’t hearing of it.
He paused, smelling smoke and looked around. In the distance, there was a farm house, a thin ribbon of smoke escaping from its chimney. He hauled Illya to his feet and took off in that direction, half carrying, half dragging his partner.
**** The doctor stepped from the bedroom, wiping his hands on a cloth. “Your friend should be resting more comfortably now. I’ve called for an ambulance to take you to the next town. They have a very well equipped surgery there.”
Napoleon looked up from his study of the floor and smiled tiredly. “Thanks, doc, you are quite literally a lifesaver.”
“You are the lifesaver, Mr. Solo. Your partner was just a few hours from death. How did you know?”
Napoleon thought back to the Scarecrow King, holding Illya’s jacket to the sky and proclaiming that he would soon be theirs. No one would believe that story, so he just shrugged his shoulders. “Just intuition, I guess. When Illya says he’s not feeling well, it’s usually pretty bad. I was just lucky that you just happened to be here.”
The mistress of the house patted his shoulder gently. “I think maybe a bit of rest for you would be good, too. Come with me.”
Napoleon nodded, stood and started to walk away.
“By the way, Jeb, I noticed that one of your scarecrows is dressed very stylishly. Wherever did you get that red jacket?”
“Burgundy,” Napoleon murmured under his breath.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Solo?” The doctor asked.
“Nothing.” There were some things best not shared.