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Scarecrow Gods
Scarecrow Gods
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Powell's Books Powell's Books

Weston gives an overview of the book:

Winner of the Bram Stoker Award! Scarecrow Gods is the tale of Maxom Phinxs, a black man tortured and disfigured in Vietnam. Maxom, called the Maggot Man by the Tennessee locals, is feared and reviled because of his appearance. Even so, he takes under his wing a troubled young boy named Danny who's fighting incest rumors to repair a shattered family, wondering every day if his sister will return to clear it all up. In southern Arizona, John the New Baptist has created a new religion promising salvation. Most people believe in his strange ways. They don't understand he is establishing a herd for his personal use. Only Simon, a faithless Alexian Brother, and a homeless man named Billy Bones who speaks in palindromes, anagrams and metaphor realize the evil and engage the Scarecrow Gods-a circle of immense saguaro dressed in Salvation Army clothes who speak wisdom in the...
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Winner of the Bram Stoker Award! Scarecrow Gods is the tale of Maxom Phinxs, a black man tortured and disfigured in Vietnam. Maxom, called the Maggot Man by the Tennessee locals, is feared and reviled because of his appearance. Even so, he takes under his wing a troubled young boy named Danny who's fighting incest rumors to repair a shattered family, wondering every day if his sister will return to clear it all up. In southern Arizona, John the New Baptist has created a new religion promising salvation. Most people believe in his strange ways. They don't understand he is establishing a herd for his personal use. Only Simon, a faithless Alexian Brother, and a homeless man named Billy Bones who speaks in palindromes, anagrams and metaphor realize the evil and engage the Scarecrow Gods-a circle of immense saguaro dressed in Salvation Army clothes who speak wisdom in the wind from pursed coke bottle lips. Maxom, Simon, Danny and Billy, all fight and converge upon the center of evil as each journeys through the world of imagination, the Land of Inside-Out and across America, striving to defeat demons both personal and real to ultimately discover their deserved salvations.

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Saturday – June 9th Chattanooga, Tennessee

The sky was a burnished gray and its greatest effect on the weather was to lower the temperature to a manageable seventy-five degrees.  Even with the impending storm and chill, the boys were at the lake, cavorting among the pilings of their favorite dock, deeply involved in their game of Marco Polo.

     The community dock lay at the head of a shallow inlet on Chicamauga Reservoir.  The inlet was just over two hundred yards long, ending on muddy clay banks where a small sailboat was perennially tied to a short well-maintained dock.  Other docks continued around both sides of the water.  Great homes boasting five and six bedrooms as well as impeccably well-cared for lawns reached to the cool water of the lake.  The neighborhood was considered affluent by most of Chattanooga, boasting doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and even a state politician. 

     The property itself was filled with head high weeds and scattered trash that the boys sometimes unearthed.  A thin but well-beaten path descended from the street to the dock area.  To the left of the dock was open water and half a mile away across the lake, Hixon, Tennessee could be seen with a like number of houses, similar in style and size.  To the dock's right was a partially submerged stone foundation.  Water lapped over the edges and filled it with a dark stagnant murk.  It was plain that it had once been a fresh-water swimming pool, something that the rich had once installed to allow their children to enjoy the freedom of the lake while safely penned in by concrete walls.  One could imagine chairs and tables once sitting on the now abandoned concrete pad overlooking the pool, affluent parents drinking mint juleps or gin and tonics, while citron torches kept the mosquitoes at bay and a hired lifeguard assured their progeny's continued existence.

     The dock was a study in the sturdiness of nineteen fifties construction.  Posts, double the size of any telephone pole, carried the structure twenty yards out into the water, the dock blocking half the entrance to the inlet.  The boards had grayed over the years, assaulted by thousands of feet, the southern sun and the constant moisture.  But the construction was still firm.  Except for the occasional nail that worked itself out over the years to pierce the foot of a running child, it was safe.  The dock was L-shaped, the longer portion six feet wide and running like a wooden path to the large square that was the primary landing for sunbathers and children.  This area was a twenty-by-twenty foot platform boasting two old rusty lifeguard chairs and a single moss-covered metal ladder that allowed the boys to climb up and hurl themselves out and over the water from the precarious fifteen-foot high lifeguard seat.

     "Ready or not, here I come you suckers!" yelled Danny, leaping up and out. 

He grabbed his knees, hugged them tightly to his chest and hit the water in a perfect cannonball.  He sank deep into the green depths, immediately changing his posture, pulling the blackened mask over his eyes.  The mask had been Bergen's idea who was always the first one to get caught.  He’d suspected his friends of cheating, so it was on the first day of summer this year that he’d proudly unveiled his creation--an old diving mask, blackened with several coats of waterproof tape, making the Marco man truly blind.

Danny drifted up slowly like a frogman from a movie infiltrating an enemy compound.  As he surfaced, he listened for giggles, whispered conversation or any tell-tale splashing, but heard only the lapping of the lake's small waves as they struck the pilings and the sound of a motorboat somewhere off in the distance. 

     "Marco."

     "Polo," came the simultaneous answer from five throats.

     He turned a few degrees and dove deep.  Like always, they’d answered all at once, confusing his senses and making it hard to locate.  He headed towards the nearest piling, knowing that when he’d turned in the water, he’d turned right, which made the nearest the outside shore pole.  Chances are no one was hanging onto it, but he'd have to try.  Spreading his fingers wide, he pulled himself deeper, then held his arms wide in front of him.  Unerringly, he felt the pole to his front.  Moving towards the inside of the pole, he let himself float up slowly holding his arms and legs out to touch anyone who might be sliding by.

     He rose to the surface slowly again, "Marco."

     "Polo," came the replies, followed by the sound of sluicing water. 

     Danny was closer now and knew where they were.  The trick was to get to them before they changed places.  It was always a game of bluffs and double bluffs, where the Polos tried to anticipate what the Marco would do and vice-versa.  He sank deep, hoping they’d think he was pushing off, but held onto the pole with his feet.  He felt the stir of water to his left and knew his bluff had worked.  He shot up and tagged the boy.

     "Ha!  I got you, sucker," he said, looking around to see Bergen, Doug, Clyde and Tony, hanging onto various poles, bobbing up and down beneath the dark shade of the dock.

     "Ain't got me," replied Doug.

     "No shit," said Tony, his fake drawl getting better.  "But he would have in about another minute you slow non-swimming redneck."

     Doug dove at Tony and shoved his head under the water.    "Who you calling slow, Yank."

     Danny ignored their wrestling.

     Eddie popped out of the water by the far right side pole.  He’d pushed off underwater after he was tagged, coming up far away and pretending it had never happened.  "Hey, you took your mask off.  That's cheating."

     "No way.  I got you, Eddie."

"You didn't get no one, I've been under here waiting is all."  No one would ever accuse Eddie of being a good actor.

     "What, jerking off again?" asked Clyde, reminding everyone of the incident last year.

     "No.  I wasn't jerking off.  And I told you guys, there was something in it.  Like a leech or something."

     "And we told you," Bergen piped up like a professor lecturing a stubborn student, "There aren't any leeches in Tennessee."

     "Come on, man.  I got you fair and square.  You're it."

     "Fine, I’ll play your game," said Eddie, “but you never got me."

     Danny tossed him the mask and the boy hauled himself angrily up the ladder, exaggerating each step.  Eddie was the true jock of the bunch and the best athlete.  His only problem was that he could be bluffed easily, letting smaller boys, even Bergen with his bum leg, catch him in any games requiring guile.

     They played for an hour longer, but when the sun finally pierced and drove away the thick blanket of clouds, they climbed out and sunned themselves upon the hot wood.  They didn't have towels.  Towels were for girls and grandmas.  They merely lay upon the planks, peering through the slats at the water below as the sunfish and crappie returned flitting back and forth to inspect the water dripped from their shorts, thinking each kerplunk of water was a bug.

     It was Doug who let go, releasing a small gush of yellow droplets that poured into the water like a tiny spontaneous waterfall.  Ten eyes watched as three brown fish snapped over to see if perhaps a cornucopia of bugs had been served for dinner by a benevolent Fish God.  When they reached the yellow water, they whipped back, their faces puckered in fishy disgust.

     The boys laughed raucously.

     "That's why they're called crappy, cause they go so well with pee," said Tony, making the boys laugh even harder.

     The laughter faded and the boys closed their eyes, day dreaming about summers past and present.  Danny stared at Bergen.  The scar was still red and puckered, even after two years.  The kid had never lost his fear of dogs and you couldn't even get him on a bike again.  The scar ran the entire length of his leg, a visual mnemonic to the double compound fracture.  The main problem was that like all of them, Bergen had grown a few inches...except for the leg.  It hadn't grown at all, making him a perfect target for taunting, words like gimp and mutant the most preferred. 

     Bergen turned to Danny as if he’d heard the other boy's thoughts.  "How are your folks?" he asked softly, so the other boys couldn't hear.

     "Fine, I guess."

     "Come on."

     "Shit.  I don't know."

     Bergen was silent.  He swiped at his blonde hair, pushing it out of his blue eyes.

     "My mom is still crying," said Danny.

     "Yeah.  But how are you?"

     "I don't know.  I mean I don't know what to think."

     "Any news?"

     Danny sighed.  Such a simple sentence.  What did it mean?  Any news of his sister?  Had she been found?  Any news of the police?  Had they decided to arrest his dad yet?  His mother had found his sister's diary after she’d run away.  Elaina's scrawlings were cryptic and never named names, but the truth of the sexual abuse was right there in black and white.  The phrase, I want to tell her, but there’s no way she will ever believe that he did this to me, had been hanging over the family's head for six months. 

     "The police said she used the credit card in Texas.  They think she’s heading West.  To Hollywood probably.”

“That’s good news.”

“Not really.  They didn’t get there in time and still don’t know where she is.  It’s dangerous out there...you know?”

“Yeah.  All sorts of bad people.”

“I just wish she’d come back and clear everything up.  I mean I always picked on her when she was around, but that's what a younger brother's supposed to do.  Right?"

     "Right," said Bergen softly, turning away and staring out over the water.

     Danny turned as well, and saw that Tony had been listening.  The boy smiled then closed his eyes.  He was a good friend too.  Tony's dad worked construction and had moved the family down from New Jersey two years ago.  The small Italian kid had sounded just like a gangster.  His accent had only caused him problems.  It wasn't until he’d been beaten by a six foot sixth-grader, a mountain kid who’d been held back three times, that Tony finally began to adjust, trying to talk Southern or not at all.

     The sound of a car door slamming and a girl giggling woke the tired boys from their half-slumber.  They scooted to the side and slipped into the water, meeting at the far post so they wouldn’t be seen by anyone coming onto the dock.  All five boys held on to the piling in anticipation.

     About once or twice a week a seventeen-year-old boy named Ernie arrived with his girlfriend.  They’d all seen her, but had never heard her name.  All they knew was that she was tall, blonde and had the biggest hooters they’d seen outside of a magazine.  Their dream was to finally see them.  Them, those mystical mammaries that were suddenly powering their bodies like jet fuel.

     The slap of the girl's feet as she ran upon the dock sent shivers through Danny’s small frame.

     "Come on.  Let's go," Bergen whispered.

     Doug wrapped a hand across the younger boy's mouth and gave him the eye.  Doug was a redneck through and through.  He biked over from a different neighborhood.  His size and strength were his membership to the group.

Above, the girl giggled as she threw down a large towel.  They could almost feel her lie on the wood, taking the weight themselves, each boy's eyes growing larger in anticipation. 

     "Come on, Kimmy, hold up.  You could at least help me."

     Kimmy.  The boys stilled, watching closely as the large boy hit the dock, his arms filled with a cooler, a portable radio and a yellow cloth bag that dangled from the crux of his right elbow.

"You can carry it.  Here, rub some oil into my back."

"I don't know why you couldn't help me."

     "I got everything ready here, didn't I?" she replied.

     The boys, their vision blocked by the towel, could only imagine.  Doug caught his friend’s attention, pointed dramatically at the dock above them, and with a pubescent leer made a circle with one hand and shoved his index finger back and forth through it.

     Tony and Eddie smiled and nodded at his wise assumption.  Bergen rolled his eyes.  Clyde and Danny pointedly ignored him.  From above, they heard the radio click on to a classic rock station, KZ106.  The heavy bass and insane guitar sounds of Def Leppard accosted the silence of the cove as the lead singer screamed out his ballad. 

The boys wished they could hear what was going on.  The association between boy and girl and anything even coming close to sex was as mysterious as the Bermuda Triangle.  The towel was becoming mussed as whatever was happening above them was dislodging it, making it dance.  All eyes were waiting for even a glimpse of bronzed skin, anything that would validate what they had seen in Clyde's collection of Playboy magazines which Danny and Tony still believed were full of fake women.

Then, it was as if God had passed by and heard their tiny voyeuristic prayers.  The towel shifted and as one, the boys mouths sagged as they saw flesh through the slats, and like a strange minute acorn, a reddish-brown nipple poked through.  A collective sigh was released and the boys held the moment, hoping it would never end.  But Bergen, in his own intellectual way, broke it like no one had ever broken a moment before.  And until he died, he’d never live down the word, "Momma."

The boys momentarily turned and stared at each other.  When they returned to their nipple vigil, they saw that their Eldorado had been replaced by a green eye that, at first contracted and then widened.  All hopes were shattered as the girl's scream drowned out the drum solo on the radio, sending a large crow flapping into the air.

"Scatter!" yelled Clyde, realizing too late that he was the only one who hadn't.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Weston

Weston's first story was published when he was seven. The backlash of this first literary effort caused the elementary school to recall their newspaper at the behest of irate parents. One day he hopes to achieve this sort of acclaim again. Since then, he's written five novels...

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Published Reviews

Nov.12.2008

"It’s rare to find a first novel with the depth, clarity, and complexity Weston Ochse’s Scarecrow Gods. The author seems to have dragged his characters form his own Land of Inside Out, kicking and screaming...

Nov.12.2008

"God speaks through odd prophets in this schizophrenic tale, which won Ochse a 2005 first novel Stoker Award. Hideously disfigured Maxom Phinxs, known as the “Maggot Man” for his disgusting job at a chicken...