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Halloween Writting Contest Entry 13

The following story was submitted as an entry in The Wanderer first annual Halloween Writing Contest.
The winner will be announced in the October 25, 2007 edition.
Stories will be posted on-line as they are available in print.

Pride and Pumpkins

It was true. The Fates had conspired, pulling his friends away to far off places and leaving him behind sitting on the sidewalk watching the industrious nature of insects.

A sly cat crossed his path. A bumble bee buzzed. A few clouds shifted in the sky. A breeze blew. The ants marched on. A page from The Presto Press fluttered by tickling his calf, stopping by his feet. Our hero, being the sentimental type, folded the paper and slipped it into the back pocket of his shorts.

Let Edgar have his sailboats and Vincent could keep his London, thought Peter, I've got bugs and litter. A long shadow enveloped him. Time sped up.

"Whatcha lookin' at four-eyes?" Bully's foot came down on the ants with a squish and an intentional twist. Peter saw the little victim's; some dead, some wounded, some scattered scattered confused. "Why us?" they seemed to ask.

Peter was horrified. "I was looking at your mother, but she's too ugly and stupid to answer." Not the best comeback, but it would have to suffice.

"Oh, you are so dead." A swing and a miss. Peter was lucky. Bully made another attempt at inflicting pain. Peter felt the hand take some of his hair. Perhaps a bit of scalp, too. He was already moving; running without thinking, zig-zagging across front lawns and into backyards. The words, "I'll get you four-eyes. You are dead," echoing in his ears as he went.

In relative safety, behind Mr. McGregor's tool shed the last bit adrenaline ebbed through Peter's veins. He squatted for a while, remembering better days and felt for the previously pocketed piece of newspaper. CLASSIFIED. He glanced over the usual small town fare. FREE KITTENS, OLD CAR FOR SALE, SOMEONE LOST A WATCH, SOMEONE FOUND OLD KEYS ... COULD THEY BE IDENTIFIED WHEN CALLING? Then one simple advertisement caught his eye: HELP WANTED AT FARNABY FARM. FLEXIBLE SCHEDULE. TRAINING AVAILABLE FOR THE RIGHT PERSON.

Bully was busy, he'd tied firecrackers to a dog's tail.

In less than an hour Peter had walked the distance. A large canopy of trees had opened up revealing a vast acreage of young corn. He reached out to knock on the screen door, then hesitated. In the distance stood the strangest scarecrows Peter had ever seen. I guess the real ones are different than the ones I've seen on television, Peter thought. Peter took a deep breath, straightened his posture, and tried to knock confidently on the farmhouse door.

Mr. Farnaby answered with a cheery tone. "Just a minute." Peter could see a large man seated at a table, eating a large sandwich with a floppy eared dog lazily waiting for his master to share his meal. A woman wiped her hands dry on a dishrag and came to the door. "Well, who is it?" the farmer asked.

"It's a little boy," Mrs. Farnaby answered.

Our hero's face flushed red. Peter began to introduce himself, explaining why he was there knocking on unknown doors, interrupting lunchtimes, but he could see the woman just didn't seem to understand. He pulled the ragged advertisement from his pocket, and pointed to the small type boxed neatly in the corner. Mrs. Farnaby asked him to wait on the porch and retreated inside. He heard snippets of conversation, "Weird ... that was six years ago," blah blah blah.

Once again his attention turned to those odd scarecrows dressed in such unusual clothes. One had a tie-dyed shirt with bellbottom pants, another wore a faded fedora hat and trousers with suspenders. The farmer appeared, towering above him. "So, you want to come work for me?" It was a statement rather than a question and Peter felt the intensity of the farmer's critical eyes.

"Yes, Sir."

Farmer Farnaby's expression softened a bit. "Tomorrow. Be here at six am." With a wave of his hand he gestured toward the corn acres, greenhouses, and the blueberry patches. "That stuff I grow for profit, but giant pumpkins are my passion. Do you like pumpkins, Peter?"

"Yes, Sir."

So it went. Summer passed the reins to Autumn. Peter earned enough money to buy a bicycle. Long days on the farm began to grow shorter. October school days were a daydream. Peter only longed to return to the pumpkin patch. He worried about them. His friends were bored with his stories of one thousand pound pumpkins, and the DNA of seeds.

"If you take care of the pumpkins, the pumpkins will take care of you."

He'd seen the vines grow and thicken into green ropes. The flowers had bloomed and shriveled. The gourds that appeared tender and small swelled with size, growing stronger, becoming a brilliant orange. Now that the nights were cooler, Peter and Farmer Farnaby covered them with blankets. It was getting closer to the weigh in deadline.

"The pumpkins will tell us when they are ready."

Peter finished up for the night, double-checking with a flashlight for signs of suspicious vermin and any other potential threats. The corn stalks whispered that it was time to go. Peter took their advice. Where Farnaby's rutted farm road became public property, trouble waited.

Trouble reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. Wearing a black t-shirt bearing a skull and crossbones, Bully stood behind with a heavy stone in his fist. Peter's blissful pedaling came to a sudden halt; glasses knocked from his face. He tasted blood in his mouth. Trouble stole his bicycle. Bully, still slow, made a grab only to catch a piece of Peter's shirt. A rip of fabric was there to sound the start of the chase. Peter ran somewhat blindly, Bully following closely behind trampling corn beneath the grinning moon. In the distance, Mabel the floppy eared dog was barking.

Both boys stumbled into the pumpkin patch together. Momentum propelled the smaller boy off his feet. Bully knew that he'd cornered his prey. A grin stretched wide on his face. Peter squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable. The earth itself began to vibrate and shake.

Peter opened his blurry eyes and squinted. Three large orange orbs stood up surrounding his foe. Three thousand pounds of pumpkins had come to life, bouncing Bully around like a pinball caught in the bumpers. Suddenly the thick skin opened up, sucking the boy inside. Peter heard a sickening, choking sound. A muted thumping. Then nothing at all as his consciousness went elsewhere.

The warmth of the farmhouse kitchen contrasted with the cool cloth on his face. Mabel licked his hand. A deeply concerned Mrs. Farnaby called his mother. Peter would only claim that he had fallen. Farmer Farnaby was angry. He stood on his porch with a shotgun full of buckshot. The police briefly looked for a teen aged runaway.

Later that week Peter carved a most amazing Jack-O-Lantern. Farmer Farnaby erected a new scarecrow in his pumpkin patch wearing a skull and crossbones t-shirt and old blue jeans.