Every day on the bus ride to school through the country, I would see it: the Mommet. That’s what we all called it, but no one seemed to know who had called it that first.
The Mommet was an old scarecrow, sitting atop the shallow valley my bus route cut through. The field it was intended to guard had long ago been abandoned, surrendered to grass and weeds and wild-growing Indian corn. Backdropped against it was an old woodlot filled with too many dead trees to count, long overdue for felling. Perpetually perched in those naked branches was a murder of crows, inexplicably indifferent to the insidiously imposing scarecrow beneath them.
The first thing that most people would probably notice about the Mommet was that it had been deliberately and irreverently placed on a life-sized cross. Its outstretched arms had been bound at the wrists to the horizontal beam, its body sagging under its own weight in an undeniable mockery of Christ’s crucifixion.
Even more bizarre was the fact that the Mommet’s head had been made from a leather plague doctor’s mask topped with a wide-brimmed black hat. Combined with dark gloves and a tattered black cloak on its outstretched arms, the Mommet had apparently been made in the image of the crows it was meant to fend off.
We kids told countless stories about where we thought the Mommet came from, of course. The most common – and most cliché – story said that the farmer who lived there had caught a man sleeping with his daughter. He murdered him, then hid the body in plain sight as a scarecrow, covering the face with the only mask he had at hand; which, for some reason, happened to be a plague doctor’s mask.
A related story claimed that it was the farmer himself who was the Mommet. Having grown fed up with a murder of crows that could not be deterred by old clothes stuffed with straw, the farmer grabbed his shotgun and took aim at them. He killed only one before they descended upon him in a murderous frenzy, hanging his corpse upon his scarecrow’s post and decorating it with bits of stolen clothes as a memorial to their fallen brother.
Others say that the Mommet was a First Nation’s man who could shapeshift into a crow. When the European settlers came, he ran afoul of the first white Witch he met; another local legend by the name of Elanor Flanagan. During a ritual, he swooped down and snatched her wand out of her hand, but that wasn’t enough to stop her from cursing him into a permanent juxtaposition of his crow and human forms.
My favourite story though says that an entire coven of Witches had been holding a Sabbath in the woodlot, and caught a man who had dared to peep at them as they danced naked around their fire. When he invoked the power of Christ to defend himself, they acquiesced by nailing him to a cross, and since he’d seen them naked, they draped him scalp to toe so that not one inch of him would ever be bare again.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that making up and retelling stories about the Mommet was a popular activity during my childhood.
As kids, we were all terrified of it. Every day, twice a day, we all went silent as we drove down Mommet Lane. Most of us tried not to look at it, but some just couldn’t help themselves, and at least once a week someone would shout “It moved!”, sending us all into fits of hysterics.
Everyone claimed to have seen it move at least once. Some of us were lying, some of us just thought we had when it was really just a trick of the light or the force of the wind, but some of us really did see it move. I know that now.
When we were kids, we said that if anyone ever saw the Mommet when they were alone, it would kill them, so we regularly dared each other to go to the top of the playground hill by ourselves. On a clear day, you could just barely make out the shape of the crucifix in the distance from the top of that hill.
What everyone wondered, and no one ever seemed to know, was who had actually made the Mommet, and why was it allowed to stay up? It was a simulacrum of a crucifixion, morbid enough on its own and disrespectful to anyone of any Christian denomination, and children as young as four were forced to witness it on their ride to school. We were all terrified of it and it gave us all nightmares, but there never seemed to be any discussion of removing the Mommet.
There was no official record of who had once owned that land, and no official explanation as to why no one else seemed interested in buying it. Surely the township, if not the county, had the authority to remove it. And even if they technically didn’t, who would object to the removal of an eyesore from an abandoned farm?
My parents didn’t see it that way, though. When I brought the issue up with them, they dismissed it as juvenile. All the stories and rituals around the Mommet were just normal silly games that children played, and the Mommet itself was harmless. It was a landmark, even. After all, what would we call Mommet Lane if there was no Mommet? Besides, the school’s mascot was a scarecrow, so the children couldn’t have been that scared of it. I was just making too much out of things.
Every other adult I spoke to seemed to be of the same mind on the matter, and assured me there was no course of action I could take that would result in the Mommet being removed.
So, I kept riding past it on the bus, falling silent each time, doing my best not to look at it. Sometimes I did, of course. It couldn’t be helped. But I – and seemingly I alone – was the only child who never saw it move.
Eventually, I graduated 8th grade – please, hold your accolades – and from there attended the high school in town. Their mascot was the Periwinkle Pines Porcupine, which as far as I was concerned was a marked improvement over a scarecrow. I never had to drive down Mommet Lane or see the Mommet again.
But, as the years passed, I thought about the Mommet less and less, and one night while leaving a friend’s house, Mommet Lane happened to be the shortest way home.
By then, my fear of the Mommet had largely subsided. I just wanted to get home as soon as possible, and I can’t say I didn’t have a desire to face my fear and prove my childhood phobia wrong.
It was a mostly clear sky with a full moon that night. The world looks so different under the light of a full moon, familiar and alien at the same time, like some kind of nocturnal fairy country, a world that you don’t quite belong in.
As I drove past the abandoned field, I slowed down, turning my head to the right to look at the Mommet for the first time in years.
I don’t think I had ever seen it after dark before. Sure, there was the occasional school play held after hours, but if there had ever been one during a full moon, I had deliberately avoided looking at the Mommet on the ride home.
Now though, I deliberately looked straight at it and saw that it hadn't changed one bit. Its cloaked form fluttered slightly in the night breeze, moonlight glinting slightly off the glass of its eyes, its cross itself a miracle for never having collapsed.
It was creepy, sure, but harmless. I let out a sigh of relief and was just about to turn my head back to the road, when I saw it tip its hat and nod at me.
I screamed, slammed on the breaks and craned my neck, desperate to confirm if what I had seen was real. I saw that its hat was on its head and its arm nailed to the cross, with no indication that it had ever moved. I stared at it, barely blinking, waiting for it to move again. When it didn’t, I got out of my car and squinted at it from the edge of the road, staring for several minutes at the very least, but it still didn’t move.
At this point, a rational person would have accepted that they had imagined it, gotten back in their vehicle, and headed home. But something in me snapped at that moment. That thing had tormented me since I was a child, and I wasn't going to put up with it anymore.
If no one else was going to take it down, then I’d do it myself. I didn’t care if I got charged with vandalism or trespassing, I didn’t care if people thought I was crazy. I just wanted that thing gone.
I threw open my trunk and riffled through my emergency kit and some leftover camping supplies for a hatchet and a lighter. If I couldn’t cut it down, I’d burn it down.
With the hatchet in my hand and the lighter in my pocket, I marched across the field and up the valley of ripe Indian corn, my heart pounding in my ears as the Mommet implacably gazed down at me all the while. I refused to take my eyes off it, my hand poised to swing the hatchet defensively should the need arise.
By the time I was standing right in front of it, it still hadn’t moved again, and I had calmed down enough to reconsider what I was doing.
“It’s just a Halloween decoration that no one ever took down,” I said to myself, shaking my head at the ridiculousness of it all. Before heading back, I paused to take a good look at the obscene strawman, since I would likely never be that close to it again.
I considered taking out my phone and taking some photos, but thought better of it. I wasn’t technically supposed to be there, after all.
The Mommet was tall, but still within the range of normal for a man, about six and a half feet. The body was also very manlike in shape, more so than should have been possible for old clothes stuffed with straw. It was easy to understand why most stories about the Mommet said it had been made from a corpse.
As I continued my inspection, I noticed that its cloak, mask, and hat were all in fairly decent condition, far too decent condition for items that had been neglected outside for decades.
The glass of the mask’s eyes was unshattered, all the rivets along the length of the beak were still in place, and the leather was so fine it could’ve been used to make a pair of dress shoes. The hat was likewise in near mint condition, and the tatters in the cloak which had been obvious from the road now appeared to be merely decorative.
Most distinctly though was the deep, black colouring of all of them. Decades of sunlight should have faded them to a much lighter shade, and yet they remained an inky, obsidian black.
I was so perplexed by the Mommet’s inexplicable condition, that I actually took a step closer and dared to place my hand on its torso to see if I could deduce what it was made from. The cloak was smooth, supple leather, exactly as it had appeared to be, but when I pressed harder I found that the body possessed a firmness that was quite unlike straw.
I turned my gaze upwards to its outstretched arms, nails the size of railroad spikes driven through its wrists, its dark hands splayed open and poised to grasp anything that might come too close.
It was then I realized that my favourite story about the Mommet couldn’t have been true, because the Mommet was not wearing gloves. Rather, its hands were covered in black, avian scales with long, curved talons glistening in the moonlight, for all intents and purposes appearing to be giant crow’s feet.
I stumbled backwards, my nerve whole-heartedly diminished by this revelation. I wanted to run away, but I didn't dare to take my eyes off the Mommet just yet.
Then, it slowly raised its slumped head, curiously cocking it sideways at me.
I spun around and bolted, and the instant I did so the crows roosting in the dead trees behind the Mommet awoke with a cacophonous cawing and a thunderous beating of their wings. The murder swooped down upon me before I could get to my car, pecking and scratching and flapping all at once. I swung my hatchet wildly, but razor-sharp beaks swiftly pried my fingers from its handle and it was lost to me.
Screaming, I dropped to the ground and curled up into a fetal position, shielding my head and torso as best as I could against the onslaught. After a few moments they relented seemingly without cause, and when I dared to raise my head I saw the Mommet free from its cross, towering over me while blocking out the moon, little more than a vague silhouette in the night.
It bent down and picked me up, slinging me over its shoulder and carrying me off. I flailed my limbs, kicking and pounding at it, but I could not escape its grasp. I screamed and screamed in the hopes that someone might hear me, but the murder erupted into a cawing chorus that completely drowned me out.
The Mommet carried me past its cross and into the woods, and everything went as black as crow feathers.
When I regained sight - or consciousness, I'm not sure which - I was deep within the woodlot and tied to the trunk of a dead tree. The rope around my waist and arms was old and coarse, and reeked of crow guano and stale blood.
I looked up, and in the dappled moonlight I saw the murder of crows perched all around me. If I tried to scream or shout they’d all caw in unison to drown me out like they did before, destroying any chance that someone might hear and come to my rescue.
I looked down, and I saw that the tree was encircled by scarecrow posts fashioned from fallen branches and spools of twine. All but one was decorated with an unstuffed flannel shirt, straw hat, and animal skull. Only the post straight ahead of me lacked a scarecrow, and I could only assume that I was intended to fulfill that role. I briefly wondered why I hadn’t just been killed straight away, but the perverse reverence of the setup that surrounded me made it clear my death was intended to be highly ritualistic.
I looked around for the Mommet, but it was not to be found. Perhaps it had been compelled to return to its cross before someone noticed its absence. The ground by my feet was littered with various animal bones, dead leaves, and gnawed cobs of corn.
I had no idea if it intended to come back to murder me or if I was just meant to slowly die of thirst, but I knew that I couldn’t squander whatever time I had.
Though my arms were tightly bound to my sides by the rope, I was able to move my hands enough to reach into my pockets. To my relief, I found that both my keys and the lighter were still there. With one hand, I very carefully pulled out my keyring and flipped open the small pocket knife I kept on it. Then, I started sawing at the rope from the bottom up.
It was slow going, and I was constantly glancing up at the murder of crows overhead to see if they'd interfere. Crows are smart, but fortunately, those crows weren’t smart enough to realize what I was doing.
Thread by thread, the rope began to fray, and eventually, it was weak enough for me to snap it by brute force alone.
That’s when the crows went crazy.
Shrieking loudly, they descended upon me in a mad frenzy. Ducking, I dropped to the ground and rolled to the boundary of the ritualistic circle. Whipping out the lighter, I set fire to the first flannel shirt I could. Fortunately, it was dry and caught flame quickly. The crows' caws immediately changed from aggressive to a mix of caution and anger, but none of them dared to get too close to the blaze.
I grabbed the post by its base and pulled it upwards as hard as I could, freeing it from the earth it had been embedded in for God knows how long. I then ran around the circle, setting each of the other posts on fire, starting with the one that had been intended for me.
The crows were in pandemonium now, but despite their ruckus, I could hear a large creature crashing through the brush towards me.
It was the Mommet, of course. I saw it emerge from the darkness and into the moonlight, its wicked talons poised to claw my face off.
I didn’t give it the chance though. I swung the burning branch I was holding as hard I could and struck it across the head, knocking it to the ground and sending its mask flying into the sacrificial circle.
What I saw was an ashen, wizened, hairless human head with beady black eyes and the broken remnants of a beak where its nose and mouth should have been.
Shaking its head in pain and disorientation, it looked up at me as I stood firmly with a burning weapon in my hands, as though trying to assess my threat level and importance. It then looked over at the rest of the burning scarecrows, and with only a moment’s hesitation, sprinted off to douse the flames.
I ran off in the opposite direction, out of the woodlot and across the field and back to my car. I abandoned the scarecrow on the side of the road and sped out of there at over a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour, constantly checking my rearview mirror for any signs of a pursuing were-crow.
But, the Mommet didn’t follow me. I got home without incident, and that was technically the end of it. I followed the local news to see if there was anything about the Mommet going missing or a fire in its woodlot, but there was nothing. As far as I know, no one even found the burnt scarecrow I left by the road. I can only assume the Mommet collected it itself.
I’ve given a lot of thought on whether or not to tell someone about what happened, and I don’t think I’m going to. The Mommet is dangerous, yes, but it's managed to avoid getting found out for this long. Even if I could convince the relevant authorities to go out and investigate it, I have a sinking suspicion that they wouldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, or that if they did they wouldn’t admit it, or be able to remember it.
I still don’t know exactly what the Mommet is or what it’s capable of, but I know it will always be looking out over Mommet Lane.
I took another drive out there last week, this time in broad daylight with my doors locked and the biggest axe I could find propped up in my passenger’s seat. I looked out my window and saw it at the top of the valley, exactly where it had always been, its mask back on and in perfect condition. There was nothing to indicate that it had ever moved, or that there had ever been a fire in the woods behind it.
I could’ve almost convinced myself that the entire strange incident had never happened at all, had the Mommet not once again tipped its hat and nodded at me as I drove past.
Written by The Vesper's Bell