Once there was a scarecrow, and he was very good at his job. His arms and legs were stuffed in a very realistic way, so that he looked like a farmer looking over his fields. His face was drawn in a ferocious scowl that would frighten away all but the bravest of birds. And for those who were not scared away by his mere presence, he knew all the tricks. He could lean off his post just enough that the wind caught his shirt and spun him about dizzily. He could shift his weight on the sturdy post that held him up, causing it to creak and grown in a terrifying way. No crow ever stood up to the creak and spin. The fields were safe, the corn grew tall, and the scarecrow found great satisfaction in a job well-done.
But he was lonely.
The problem with being very good at scaring everyone away is that it leaves you out in the corn alone. Even the farmer didn’t visit often because he knew the scarecrow was taking good care of the fields without him. Scarecrow tried to ignore this feeling, but it would creep up on him at night, when he was hanging there under the moon, and he couldn’t help but wish for someone to talk to.
Then one day a new kind of bird came flying into the corn. Scarecrow saw him coming, of course, and straightened up. His ferocious face put on its most terrifying scowl. He rocked forward causing the post to creak loudly. This caught the new bird’s attention, but instead of flying away in alarm, the bird turned toward the scarecrow and flew straight in his direction. Scarecrow could now see the bird more clearly, and what an ugly bird he was. His feathers were black but he was much too big to be a crow. His neck was long and bent in a strange way. His head was red and knobbly. In some ways he was as scary looking as the scarecrow. Seeing that the crooked old bird was not scared off by creaking and flapping, Scarecrow leaned forward as far as he could. The wind caught him and spun him in circles, his outstretched arms swinging crazily. The ugly bird never even hesitated. He flew straight up to Scarecrow and landed at his feet, looking up patiently. As soon as Scarecrow stopped spinning, the bird flew up and perched on Scarecrow’s right arm.
Scarecrow did not know what to do. He had never seen a bird that wasn’t afraid of him before. He had never failed to scare off anything he put his mind to scaring, and he felt rather guilty about how nice it was to have someone sit next to him unafraid. He put on his fiercest frown. The strange bird stared at him a moment before looking away out over the corn. Scarecrow tipped this way and that, making awful groaning noises. The bird calmly began to clean his feathers. Scarecrow was shocked. Who was this bird? He tried to think of a new trick, something he’d never done before that might be frightening to this new strange kind of bird.
“It won’t work, you know,” said the bird. “I’ve watched people for a long time. I know you aren’t really one of them.”
Scarecrow was stunned. Not only was this bird not afraid of him, he wasn’t afraid to watch real people and spoke of them as if they were old friends. There would be no getting him out of the corn. Scarecrow drooped. If he couldn’t scare the bird away, he would eat the corn. Then Scarecrow would be a failure.
“Don’t worry,” the bird croaked. “I don’t eat corn.”
Scarecrow cocked his head to the side. A bird that didn’t eat corn? He had never heard of such a thing. This must be some kind of trick. If he didn’t eat corn, what did he eat? The bird didn’t volunteer any more information. Scarecrow’s curiosity grew. Finally, he knew he had to ask. He had often thought he must have a voice, though he had never had any occasion to use it. It took a few tries before he creaked out, “What do you eat?”
“Meat,” said the odd bird. “But only if someone else has killed it for me.”
Scarecrow thought about this for a long time. He had never heard of such a thing. Of course, he had to know more, so he asked. Soon the strange bird was telling him all about it, not just what kinds of things he ate but also about all the places he had traveled and things he had seen. Before Scarecrow knew it, the moon was up and the night was all around them. Scarecrow had never known time to go by so fast. When the bird fell silent, it was quiet and dark. Normally, this would have been the time when Scarecrow felt sad and alone, but tonight he had so much to think about that he had no room for sadness and the warm pressure of the bird on his arm reminded him that he wasn’t alone.
In the morning, the big bird stretched his wings and prepared to fly away.
“Where are you going?” asked Scarecrow.
“Wherever I can,” said the bird. “I never stay long in one place. No one wants a vulture around. We’re not exactly pretty to look at.”
“Scarecrows aren’t pretty to look at either,” said Scarecrow. “But I always stay in one place.”
“You haven’t got to eat,” said the vulture.
“True,” said Scarecrow sadly. He was sorry that his new friend was going away. He didn’t want to be all alone again. A little sound escaped him, kind of like a gulp and a sniffle combined.
“What was that?” asked the vulture.
“Nothing,” said Scarecrow, but his voice didn’t work right and it came out more like, “Nnnnkin.”
“I don’t think I know what Nnnkin means,” said the vulture.
Scarecrow couldn’t answer that.
“I suppose you are ready for me to be gone,” said the vulture. “Thank you for a pleasant night. It’s been a while since I had someone to talk to.”
“No,” said Scarecrow.
“No?” asked the vulture. “Do you mean no, it was not a pleasant night or no, you are not ready for me to be gone?”
“No, I am not ready for you to be gone,” said Scarecrow. “I have never had anyone to talk to before.”
“Never?” asked the vulture in surprise.
“Never,” said Scarecrow sadly.
The vulture looked at Scarecrow for a long time. “Well,” he said finally. “I really do need to find something to eat.”
Scarecrow just nodded his fierce head.
“But I suppose I can come back here tonight to sleep. If you really don’t want me to go.”
Scarecrow looked up hopefully. His face was still scowling, but it was a very happy scowl.
“All right then,” said the vulture, and off he flew.
All day long, Scarecrow waited, afraid that the vulture would not come back. But just as the sun began to set, the vulture returned. He told Scarecrow of all his adventures that day searching for food. Scarecrow listened and nodded in the wind.
And so the unlikely pair became fast friends. Every morning, Vulture would set off to look for food, and every night he would fly back to Scarecrow with a new story. Scarecrow would spend his days scaring off all the other birds, but he never felt lonely because he knew that at night, his friend would be along and he would have someone to talk to and something to think about all through the dark hours.
And the farmer, passing through the corn field at dusk, would see the vulture perched on the scarecrow’s arm and chuckle to himself. “There’s someone for everyone,” he said as he went in to the supper his wife had made. “There’s someone for everyone.”