Agent Mathews awoke to the sound of gunfire. Then laughter. Chilling, inhuman laughter, filling the air from everywhere.
Mathews had fallen asleep at his post, the radio tower several yards away from the main Site. Satellite Site-66, Zone-097. The Pumpkin Patch, as it was known to the researchers and security tasked with looking after it. A younger Agent, Mathews had been stationed here for the better part of a year now; the most ‘excitement’ he’d enjoyed was when the cherry tree grew human eyes last month.
He rubbed his eyes, confusion and panic welling up inside him. Blinking the sleep away, he opened his eyes to see a figure staring back at him; a child with pale skin, oily black eyes, and bloodied teeth.
One week earlier, a hundred and fifty miles away, a television in a dingy basement flickered to life.
“This just won’t do.” A colourful, sinister figure stood with its arms crossed, looking out the box with a disappointed expression. The being watching the television snorted awake. Tall, broad, a being of wood and wire and chain and cloth, of thorn and barb. A living scarecrow, brought to life by a stray bolt of lightning years ago. A bastardization of nature, neither alive or dead.
“I’d have expected that a creature like you would have better things to do than waste your life watching television.” sighed Bobble. “Honestly. What a sad, sad picture.”
“… Do I know you?” murmured the being. “Feel like I should know you.”
Mathews screamed in terror. He stumbled out of his chair, tripping over himself, running as fast as he could out of the room and down the hall. The building was dark; quiet laughter followed him, closing in fast.
Bursting through the station's emergency exit, Mathews stumbled and fell, scrambling to keep on his feet. It was raining, and nighttime; a cool wind blew, one which would be refreshingly brisk in any other context. The main complex’s floodlights flickered on and off, power surging randomly; the wilderness around the complex was pitch black otherwise. Mathews could hear gunfire and voices he recognized, each cut far too short to imply survival. The site-wide breach alarm began to wail; it too, was cut short mid-scream.
The lights all faded at once, the dark closing in totally. After what felt like an eternity, a pale yellow glow surrounded Mathews. Disembodied flames danced high above; pavement had been replaced with lush grass and ragged brush; hundreds and hundreds of pumpkins covered the landscape, for miles around. Dozens of glowing eyes peered through the dark, a chorus of giggles rising through the dim.
“So yor telling me…” the scarecrow in the basement knelt on one wooden knee, at eye-level with Bobble. “Yor the Horseman of War…"
“And you know this. You understand it. You can see what I am, can't you, scarecrow?”
The entity made a sound like a creaking wooden door; a snerk, perhaps? “What c'n I do for you?”
“For lack of a better phrase, I want you to bloom.” Bobble grinned. “Seeing you like this breaks my heart. You had such potential. Such promise. Whatever happened to you?”
“The fucking scientists and creep-killers. They’re on to me. Almost got me last time. Jus’ gotta lay low for a while. Find a new haunt.”
“Mm. So you're hiding in a shack in the woods, with stolen electricity, wasting your life away." Bobble tsk-tsk'd.
"Fuck off, clown."
"What if…" Bobble offered, ignoring the cuss. "What if I were to tell you… that I could give you a way to beat them. To become more. More than an urban legend?”
"… I'm listenin," muttered the entity.
"A friend of mine- a very good friend, you'd like him- went and borrowed an item you might find interesting, from our mutual enemies."
All at once a chorus of laughter welled up from the wilderness surrounding the Zone-097. In panic, Mathews fled towards the failing floodlights, unable to think for fear. In his terror he passed the bloodied and torn bodies of past comrades; behind him, he could hear the sound of tiny feet splashing through pools of blood, chasing him through the dark.
Mathews burst through the doors to the main containment yard, his foot catching on a root - he fell, tumbling face first into a pumpkin. It exploded from the force of the impact, hot blood splashing out everywhere, soaking Mathews. As he choked, trying to pick himself up, something grasped his neck; a tiny, skeletal hand, reaching out from the remains of the pumpkin.
"Yor types always got a catch."
"Oh, I don't know… I'm War, after all, and this IS the autumn of the world. The coming of the Great Harvest and all that." Bobble adjusted his gloves, smirking proudly. "It's all very meaningful. And we do have a history, you and I."
The scarecrow peered back at the clown, shifting in its seat. "Is that right?"
"Oh, yes. You came to life when some horrid human kids tried to summon a demon, didn't you?" Bobble's expression changed subtly. "I have a thing for kids. I have a show just for them, see. I teach them all sorts of wonderful things. Murder, arson, torture, all the fun stuff. I wonder what I taught those horrid kids that made you?"
The demon leered. "… Yor telling me…"
"Yes. Yes you get it now."
Struggling, Mathews threw the bloody skeleton away to shatter against a tree. He wiped the blood from his eyes; slowly, he realized that everything stopped. The wind, the rain, the screaming and the laughter. Everything was utterly silent.
He slowly, shakily, turned to look behind him. Dozens of figures quietly watched him, surrounding him in a wide circle and trapping him away from any exits. Some sat on the containment wall, others peeked out from behind pumpkins and trees.
Some were indistinct grey and black shadows. Others were almost human, save for sallow skin. Still others were simply skeletal, holding blankets or stuffed animals in a twisted charade of innocent life.
The rustle of leaves behind him made him jolt.
"The world is ending, Scarecrow. And I am War." Bobble spread his arms, hands outstretched. "It's the Great Autumn, and time for a bloody harvest. The fruits of the age of Man are ripe and ready."
There was a knock at the door. The Scarecrow paused, narrowing his eyes.
"A special delivery. Oh yes, yes. Go on. Open the door."
Mathews looked back, frozen in terror. A figure - the Scarecrow- loomed up behind him, eyes burning like coals. It laughed; a horrible sound, like a drowning cat.
"This is your army. Delivered by Fear itself."
"All of em?"
"So long as you hold that flute. And there's more."
"Tell me… do the words 'haunted pumpkin patch' mean anything to you?"
The Scarecrow struck, slashing Agent Mathews' throat, laughing and kicking him aside. All at once the children around him - the ghosts, the wraiths, the undead, the unliving - howled in a hellish chorus.
The sounds of drums and pipes began to drown out the din, the sky splitting in a peal of thunder. The Scarecrow turned to the centre of the containment yard, eyes burning like coal, fires burning in the sky.
All of SCP-097 - the ruined fairgrounds, the trees, the tangled thorns and vines, the hundreds of pumpkins - suddenly shifted, the myriad plants uprooting and crawling to one side or another. It was as if the entire place had awoken and was now standing at attention.
"Oi, Clown. Tell me somethin."
"Hmm? Anything for you, my friend."
"What's in this for you?"
"Oh, silly, silly Scarecrow. You haven't got a brain, have you? I am War. It wouldn't be a very good war without a general, would it?" Bobble replied with a sly grin. "And what better general to have in the autumn of man, than the symbol of harvest itself? A walking Scarecrow, riding the physical heart of Autumn, leading an army of dead children forth in a bloody harvest. It's all very metaphorical. Don't you appreciate the imagery here?"
The Scarecrow paused a moment, considering the logic. A low creak escaped its throat, something between a sigh of contentment and a grunt of approval.
"I love it."
SCP-097-1, the great pumpkin at the heart of the chaos, began to pulse, like a heart. Slow at first, it began to beat faster and faster, the drums and pipes beating and singing in time with the light. The Scarecrow approached, holding the pied pipe to its twisted wooden lips.
A new song began.