Read on to discover the story so far of MR JACK PUMPKINHEAD…
As the golden early days of autumn with their misty mornings, warm afternoons and cobweb carpets became cooler, windier and damper, green seedlings began to prick through the soil. Rooks eyed them hungrily from the branches of nearby stretching oak trees. So the local farmers placed scarecrows in their fields in the hope of keeping the birds away from the new crops.
On blustery days the calls of the scarecrows could be heard as they chatted to one another. The older ones who had tended fields for years, taught the youngest, newest one, a scarecrow by the name of Jack. Though his black coat was a little torn and frayed, it wasn’t as faded as the clothes of the older scarecrows, so they’d known straightaway that he was a new boy.
On a particularly cold and windy day, rooks were circling above and then landing on the wheat fields below in their hundreds, pecking at the crop. When the farmers were in the fields the scarecrows stood motionless, apart from the wind catching their clothes. But when the farmers had gone the scarecrows shouted out, “Shoo! Shoo!” They leapt about on the spot, flapping their coat arms and trouser legs about with great gusto, causing a swarm of rooks to rise up in the air and fly around in a a great big circle.
“They’re stirring the weather up,” Scarecrow Cecil called out.
Then the rooks swooped down again. The wind blew; the rooks pecked; the scarecrows leapt and shouted; the rooks took flight, circled and landed; and it all began again.
“Watch out for that one-legged rook, young Jack!” Scarecrow Basil called out.
“Why?” Scarecrow Jack called back. He watched the black bird hobbling amongst the clods. “What harm could you possibly do, little fella?” he said.
“You mustn’t let him land on you,” Scarecrow Robert shouted.
Jack chuckled to himself.
The one-legged rook turned a glinting eye towards Jack.
Jack straightened. “Why?” he called again.
“You just mustn’t,” Cecil shouted.
“Because of the terrible legend,” Basil shouted.
“What legend?” Jack shouted, not taking his eyes off the rook.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash. Jack blinked his big black eyes slowly open and shut. “What was that?” he said to himself. His eyes came to rest on the one-legged rook standing in front of him, its beak shuddering open and shut as if it were silently laughing.
“Don’t mess with these things, Jack,” Robert shouted.
Jack shouted and leapt but the rook just stood there watching him. So Jack shouted louder and leapt higher. Eventually, the rook cocked its head and fluttered off to join its friends. Jack sighed with relief.
The next day the one-legged rook was back on Jack’s patch again, hopping around on the earth in front of him. Jack flapped and leapt and shouted. The rook slumped down. Jack gasped. He spun around and around. The rook busied itself, pecking under its wing. Finally, out of breath, Jack fell down. The rook stopped cleaning itself, hopped up, twitched its wings in a bored shrug and flew off.
Jack dragged himself up and took his position again. “I hope sunset comes soon,” he said to himself. When the sky turned pink and he heard the mass “crawing” of the rooks flying back to the rookery for the night, Jack felt safe for the first time since sunrise. Stretching out his arms and legs, he fell into a deep sleep.
“Wake up!” Basil called across the still, quiet landscape.
The sun was rising. Prickles of frost on the ground tickled the bottom of Jack’s broomstick base.
“You overslept!” Cecil called.
Jack laughed nervously and brushed his coat and trousers, getting ready for the day.
“Craw! Craw! Craw!” Rooks were coming into view, silhouetted against the streaky pink sky like a hundred tiny darts.
As the rooks came closer they looked like a black sea swarming overhead, swooping as one, landing as a hundred, littering the fields like confetti. Jack marvelled at how the other scarecrows shouted and jumped and flapped without a note of panic. They saw a bird, they did their job, the bird flew away. How Jack wished he was like the other scarecrows. Maybe he would be one day, with practise.
Later, as the sun sank down, Jack began to whistle to himself.
“Someone’s cheerful,” Basil called.
Suddenly, the one-legged rook swooped down and landed right in front of Jack. Jack stopped whistling.
“That’s a pretty little tune,” the rook crowed.
Jack blinked his big black eyes hard.
“Whistle it again.”
Jack stared at him, unable to make a sound.
“I said WHISTLE!”
Jack began to whistle, his tune shaking. The rook began to dance merrily. Faster and faster. Around and around. And then around Jack, in circles. Jack spun around and around, trying to keep an eye on the rook, but he couldn’t. He began to feel dizzy and sick and started to lose his balance. At that moment the rook hopped up off the ground.
“N-O-O-O-O-O!” Basil shouted from across the field, his voice echoing.
The rook landed on Jack’s shoulder and with one swift, sharp jab the rook’s beak plunged deep into Jack’s arm.
Jack shrieked. A high pitched, chilling shriek that seemed to reach the ends of the earth. The sound grew lower and louder until it was a terrifying roar. Jack’s hat and grubby white shirt fell onto the ground and shrivelled up, his purple trousers tightened around his legs, and his open welcoming smile turned into a sinister zigzag. The yellowy, orange pumpkin which had once been Jack’s head turned a blazing bright orange. But perhaps most disturbing of all, Jack’s black coat shifted and enveloped him, morphing into long, glossy black rooks’ feathers as it did so.
“Haw-haw-haw!” the one-legged rook laughed. “How do you do Mr Jack Pumpkinhead?”
Jack jumped up off his broomstick and began running around the field like a crazed wild animal, roaring and howling. The other scarecrows shrunk down in their spots, muttering to themselves that Jack should never have let that rook land on him.
“Food! I must have food!” Mr Jack Pumpkinhead roared. “I fancy a nice tasty scarecrow or seventy.” A crack of thunder echoed all around. “Oh, my poor stomach, how it rumbles!”
Black darkness rapidly descended across the land until only the bright orange of Mr Jack Pumpkinhead’s pumpkin head, bobbing about like a floating lantern, and the glint of the one-legged rook’s eyes could be seen.
“You might be safe from me for now, you miserable scarecrows,” Mr Jack Pumpkinhead roared, “but I’ll get you at first light!”
“Haw-haw-haw!” the one-legged rook laughed.
On a slightly more technical note, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could crochet a toy without sewing the limbs on separately. “Mr Jack Pumpkinhead” is the result. Using the method I devised, the joins are rather sturdy, which was what I was hoping for. I would use this method again but it hasn’t made me want to favour this type of pattern over another. Different methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, and each toy or item needs different things, since they have individual potential weaknesses and strengths when they’re being made.
Illustrated scroll of this story.