Rusting Away

Children's Fiction, Writing

This short children’s story is based largely off a collaboration I was part of on Story Wars a few years ago. I did a fair amount of revision as well as adding new content this last month to bring it to its current format. Next step is some illustrations.

 

Chapter One

Charlie woke up in the middle of a field, just as he had the day before.

The sun was rising and the cornstalks tickled his body as they moved in the gentle breeze.

Charlie stretched his tires and blinked his headlights, being careful with the battery power he still had left.

Beside Charlie was his old friend Scarecrow.

Scarecrow had a good view across the cornfield, and Charlie would often ask him about the things he could see in the distance.

“What do you see today, Scarecrow?” asked Charlie.

“The dirt road. And the telephone wires,” replied Scarecrow. “Same as yesterday, Charlie.”

At times, Charlie and Scarecrow would be visited by passing birds and Charlie would always ask them the same questions.

“Is there much traffic on the road today?” he would say, or “Have you seen any little cars like me?”

“Not much traffic today,” the birds would reply, and “No, no little cars quite like you.”

Charlie’s gears ground against years of rust. What he wouldn’t give for some gas, new tires, and a driver!

Every night, Charlie dreamt of the road.

 

Chapter Two

One morning, Charlie woke to a tickle in his engine.

“Hey!” Charlie cried. “Cut that out!”

A little bird fluttered out of a hole in Charlie’s hood with a twig in its beak.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were alive,” the bird chirped.

“Well, I most certainly am!” said Charlie, flashing his headlights angrily. “And even if I weren’t, you ought to have a bit more respect for the dead than that!”

“To be quite honest, either way you would make a great spot for a nest,” replied the bird.

“A nest! What do I look like?” snorted Charlie. “I’m a sports car, not a bathtub!”

“But what’s a sports car doing in a cornfield?”

Charlie relaxed a bit, sensing an opportunity to tell his story.

“Well, little bird, my driver ran me off the road one night. Right through that fence over there and into this field. He must have forgotten the spot, because he hasn’t returned— and why else would someone leave a car like me?”

“Gee, that must have been a long time ago,” said the bird. “May I ask what year you are?”

“You birds! Don’t you know it’s rude to ask a car its age?” snapped Charlie.

“I’m sorry,” said the bird. “But I just can’t help thinking what a great nest you would make! My wife and I flew down here in the hopes of starting a family, you see.”

“Forget it, bird. One day I’ll be out on the road again. This field’s only temporary for me!”

“Well, I hope you’re right,” said the bird. “It’s good to have a dream. Goodbye for now, little sports car!”

And with that, the little bird flew away.

As Charlie stood there sourly, his friend Scarecrow spoke up.

“You know, it might be nice to have some company around here,” he said.

“Don’t you start, too!” replied Charlie. “I didn’t hear you offer your body as a nest. “

 

Chapter Three

 The years raced by like lines on the road until one morning, looking a bit older, the little bird returned.

He stood at the edge of Charlie’s hood and waited respectfully for the sleeping car to wake.

“Oh, hello,” said Charlie, as he opened his eyes. “I remember you, little bird. You were off to build a nest last we met. Did you succeed?”

“I most certainly did! And raised a family since then,” said the bird, happily. “And you? How have you been?”

“I’m still here,” sighed Charlie. “Mind you, I haven’t given up on returning to the road as I said! Speaking of which— is there much traffic out there today? And have you seen any little cars like me?”

“No… not much traffic today,” replied the bird. “And no, I don’t think I’ve seen any other cars like you.”

“That’s because there aren’t any!” laughed Charlie. “None quite like me, that is. Just you wait and see. I’ll be out on the road again soon enough!”

“I’d like to see that— I surely would,” said the bird. “But for now, I must get back to my family. It was nice to see you again, little sports car.”

“Come back again soon, little bird,” said Charlie, with a touch of sadness in his voice.

“My name’s Jake,” said the bird.

“Jake! I’m Charlie. And this… well, this is Scarecrow.”

The bird nodded to them both and flew away.

Charlie and Scarecrow stood for a moment in silence.

“Don’t say anything,” said Charlie.

After a time had passed, Charlie spoke once again.

“What do you see across the field, Scarecrow?”

“Just the dirt road and telephone wires,” replied Scarecrow. “Same as yesterday, Charlie.”

 

Chapter Four

The years went by like fence posts running beside the road, until one cold evening the little bird returned once again.

“Jake!” said Charlie. “It’s good to see you. How is your wife and family? And what of the roads? Busy out there today?”

“The family is all grown, with children of their own,” replied Jake, shaking his feathers to warm himself. “To be honest, there’s not much room left for us in our old home, and I’m afraid we may not have enough to eat this cold winter.”

“Oh,” said Charlie, pausing. “Well, I’m sure you’ll think of something. You seem such a clever bird, after all. But tell me of the roads. Have you seen many cars? Any as marvelous as me? Soon you’ll see me out there, racing along the road. Just you wait and see!”

Jake shook his beak. “No, I haven’t seen any cars quite like you, Charlie. In fact, the roads are quite empty these days.”

“Oh?”

“They’re building a new highway, and soon these old roads won’t even be used.”

“Really? But what will I drive on then?”

“I wish I could tell you something you want to hear, Charlie.” Jake paused. “But it’s hard for me to imagine there’s a road for you anywhere, my friend. The truth is— your body is rusty, your axles are bent, and your wheels are falling off. Even if there were a road for you out there, how would you possibly drive on it?” The bird softened his tone. “You must know that all things pass with time, Charlie, and most of all ourselves.”

Scarecrow said nothing. Charlie sat for a very long moment, quietly. Then the little car spoke.

“You’re right, Jake. You’re quite right. You know, I’ve held onto this dream for so long—” Charlie paused. “How foolish I must have sounded, talking about driving on the road again while looking the way you’ve described.”

“No, no, Charlie,” replied Jake. “For all of us, it is difficult to let go of the things we love most.”

“Do stay awhile and talk with me, will you?” said Charlie suddenly. “I’m feeling so— I’m feeling just as empty as my gas tank right now.”

“I wish I could, I truly do,” said the bird, “but I really must be going. My family is depending on me to feed them, you see.”

“Oh, my feathered friend. How I wish I had been more welcoming to you in these past years! Do return again soon, will you?”

“I will, my friend,” replied the little bird. “As soon as I can.”

Jake turned to Scarecrow.

“Before I go, would you mind terribly if I took some corn from your field for my family?”

“Please,” said Scarecrow. “You’re welcome anytime to it.”

“Thank you,” said Jake, and fluttered away.

Charlie was silent for a time. When he finally spoke, there was something different in his voice.

“You didn’t know me before my crash, Scarecrow,” Charlie said quietly, “but how I did love racing. I know I’ve talked so much about it already, but can you imagine being a scarecrow without a field? Or a bird without the sky? Yet I’m a car without a road— and now the end has come for me and my silly dream of ever finding myself racing on the road once again!”

“Oh, come on, Charlie,” said Scarecrow kindly. “Don’t sound so melodramatic. Sometimes an ending is just another beginning. You’ll see.”

Charlie and Scarecrow watched the sun go down over the wide, open field as they sat together in silence.

The stars appeared above them, and the full moon shone down as if to comfort Charlie in his sadness.

 

Chapter Five

In the morning, the sun rose and with it came a sight that made Charlie blink his headlights in surprise— dozens of birds or maybe more filling the sky above the cornfield!

They settled upon Charlie and Scarecrow chirping a happy chorus in the bright morning sun.

Jake appeared from the flock, and perched upon one of Scarecrow’s arms. “Meet my family!” he said, proudly. “And these, my dear ones, are Scarecrow and Charlie.”

Charlie was so overjoyed that he suddenly cried out without even planning to do so.

“Welcome, my friends! Please, make yourselves at home! This winter will certainly be cold, but my body will protect you and keep you warm while the cornfield that Scarecrow watches over becomes your food. Come, please! Make yourselves at home!”

The tiny birds chirped as they began to pull straw from Scarecrow (with his good blessing, of course) and explore every inch of Charlie’s rusty body in order to build their new nest.

Scarecrow swayed happily as the small birds scratched itches he thought he would never be able to scratch himself, while Charlie’s engine felt as if it might burst from the joy of seeing all the tiny birds as they settled within his cozy and safe interior.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, Charlie and Scarecrow!” cried the birds. “We shall always be grateful to you both!”

And that… is how Charlie learned to let go.

 

Chapter Six

The years passed as the clouds above.

Birds came and birds went, growing old and birthing new babies in time.

Charlie watched over them all, content in their warmth and their gentle breath as they slept within him at night.

But slowly and surely, Charlie began losing power. His headlights grew dimmer and his thoughts began to lose their former curiosity.

“Do you want to hear about the new power lines, Charlie?” asked Jane, the great granddaughter of Jake. “They’re gigantic!”

“What was that, dear?” asked Charlie, slowly.

“The power lines.”

“Oh. Yes. Of course. Tell me again.” Charlie smiled gently as the little bird chattered on.

Scarecrow watched his old friend as the setting sun reflected off the few remaining clear spots on his rusted body.

When Charlie passed, all his friends were there for him.

Scarecrow stood above, shading those who perched silently on Charlie’s hood, their beaks bowed in silence. Around Charlie were more birds still, representing the many families that had come to know Charlie as their home.

The elder bird, Jake, had long since passed himself, but his grandson now stood respectfully on Charlie’s windshield and spoke a few gentle words in loving memory of their departed automotive companion.

The little bird told the story of how his grandfather had met Charlie— and then Scarecrow shared Charlie’s dream of returning to the road once again, and how that dream had faded, and how Charlie’s heart and hood had instead been opened to the many birds in attendance now.

It was a lovely moment for all.

And then as it is with all things, the moment ended.

 

Chapter Seven

Life went on for the birds.

Though Charlie’s rough, old voice was no longer with them and his windshield wipers had given their last baby bird a ride, his comfortable body still provided for them all.

In wind, in rain, in sleet and snow, Charlie’s body was still their beloved home, and though rusted through in so many spots now, it held up very well for its age.

And then one morning, Scarecrow saw a strange sight. He blinked his triangular eyes and watched as a man approached from beyond the wooden fence.

The man was headed in their direction, and as he climbed over the fence and neared them, the birds exploded up from Charlie’s body in alarm, scattering to the nearby cover of field and the safety of telephone line.

“Gee…” breathed the man. “It sure is a Corvette. 1953. Boy-oh-boy. What are you doing out here, little fella? You’re a long way from the road.”

The man turned, whistled, and waved up the dirt path. In the distance, a black tow truck rolled toward them.

“Henry! Look at this thing. What a beauty it must have been in its day.”

Henry, the other man, stepped from the truck with a cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth. “Looks like a wreck, Dan.”

“Yeah. The weather’s certainly rusted it away. Nothing we can do about that.” Dan struggled to open the hood. “But let’s have a look under here, shall we…?”

“Is it a 235?” said Henry, coming near.

Dan leaned over the open hood. “Blue Flame engine, alright. Boy, they don’t make ‘em like this anymore.” He stood up straight and looked fondly at the car. “None quite like you, little fella,” he said.

In that magical moment, something happened that neither of the men were quite able to explain even many years later.

From above them, the birds all seemed to break into applause— that was the only way one could describe it. In unison, the birds seemed to be cheering, and after only a brief moment of this, they fluttered away and disappeared in the distance.

“That was strange,” said Henry, picking up his cigar from the ground where he had dropped it in surprise.

Dan made his way over to his partner and helped him draw a large hook from the truck’s underside.

“Let’s get this little sports car home.”

Scarecrow watched in silence as his oldest and last remaining friend was hooked up to the truck and then slowly bounced along the dirt road until disappearing from sight.

 

Chapter Eight

It was a perfectly warm Spring day, and little Jane was resting on Scarecrow’s arm just as her great grandfather had so many years before.

Jane was talking excitedly about a recent trip to the airport, and having seen a new shopping mall being built, as well as how she hoped one day to fly out west where there were mountains the color of pumpkins and tomatoes just like she remembered Charlie’s old, rusted body.

If he were honest, Scarecrow would have to admit to often losing his concentration when Jane was talking, as he was getting older himself and it was just plain hard to keep up with the energy of young folks these days.

“Are you listening, Scarecrow?”

“Yes, yes, of course, dear. But tell me again— I’m afraid I must have missed the last part.”

Jane sighed and was about to start again when a bright red pickup truck came bouncing along the dusty dirt path and stopped just for a moment on the other side of the wooden fence.

In the truck sat Dan, the man who had taken Charlie away some time ago. He leaned his head out of the window and looked in Scarecrow and Jane’s direction as if searching for something. After a time, he pulled back inside and drove off once again.

Scarecrow and Jane were both silent for a moment.

“Well that was strange wasn’t it?” quipped Jane. “I wonder what he wanted.”

“How are you enjoying your new home?” Scarecrow asked, trying to steer the conversation in a simpler direction.

“Oh, I just love it Scarecrow! It’s an empty barn no more than ten miles from here— well, as the crow flies. But we all miss you, you know.”

“I miss you, too, dear. I miss all of you birds. But I know that all things must change in time.”

“And one can never know what’s coming next, right?” said Jane, cheerily. “Well, I really should be going. My family will be waiting on me.”

“Goodbye, dear,” said Scarecrow, as the little bird fluttered off into the darkening sky.

 

Chapter Nine

Scarecrow was standing as usual on a cold autumn evening with the full moon hanging in the sky when the same red pickup truck came rolling down the road once again.

It stopped on the other side of the fence, and out stepped Dan and what looked as if it might be his son.

“There he is, Mike. Just like I said.”

“Wow! He’ll be perfect, Dad.”

“Let’s get him down from there and lay him in the back of the truck. We’ll need to pay the farmer on our way out.”

Scarecrow watched as the two approached, suddenly realizing with both excitement and some nervousness that he was about to leave the cornfield just as the others had before him.

Dan loaded Scarecrow into the back of the pickup truck and drove from that lonely cornfield to a loud and joyful Harvest festival.

He and his son Mike re-stuffed Scarecrow’s thinning body with fresh straw, and placed him at the center of attention on an outdoor dance floor, with people spinning and stomping and laughing and singing all around him beneath warm lantern-light the whole night long.

When the celebrations were over and everyone had gone home, Scarecrow was loaded up once again and taken to what would become his new home— the large backyard of Dan and his family.

Scarecrow hadn’t been there more than five minutes when a familiar chirp met his ear.

“Scarecrow!”

It was little Jane, perched atop the branch of a nearby oak tree.

“What are you doing here, Scarecrow?”

“What are you doing here, Jane?”

“We live here, Scarecrow! Out there in the clearing!” She nodded in the direction of a large and weathered barn the color of rust several hundred feet beyond, and suddenly Scarecrow realized that he had been reunited unknowingly with those he loved most.

He couldn’t imagine things getting any better.

And then, from Dan’s driveway came the warm rumble of an engine.

Scarecrow turned and looked closer at the red pickup truck, and how could he explain it— Something felt so familiar about that little truck though they had only just met.

And that’s when it struck Scarecrow.

Charlie’s old rusted body, but his beautiful engine… Dan the mechanic… Of course— It all made sense now!

“Charlie—” Scarecrow called out with a tickle in his voice. “It can’t be… Charlie, is that you?”

“Oh, Scarecrow, my old friend,” came Charlie’s voice, strong and true through the well-oiled valve lifters of his rebuilt engine. “I almost couldn’t contain myself this whole time!” Charlie began to laugh. “But yes, it’s me! My dream came true in the end; you see? Though my body may be different, it’s still me— new tires, a full tank of gas, a fresh battery, and a driver to care for me! But best of all— the birds and now you here with me again! I can’t imagine a dream any better than this!”

And neither could Scarecrow.

And so it was that endings became new beginnings.

Days and nights passed, and months and seasons as well.

The years raced on like lines on the road.

 

Thanks to: webscape, Kelvin Wilson, Michael Emerson, Maddy wright, Luke Meyers, Mnop Rarotunga, Intellikat, and of course, Joakim.

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