“Pumpkinder” – Part I
“Where are you going? The store’s this way,” Kirby yelled to his brother. “Or did you forget about mom’s pumpkins again? She’ll kill us this time.”
“Nah, I didn’t forget, but I’ve got a plan. Come on,” said Cole. He looked down at Kirby with a mischievous grin.
“Cole,” Kirby whined. “Let’s just go to the store and grab the little pumpkins that mom wanted. Why do you always have to have a plan? Your plans always end with me getting grounded.”
“They do not.”
“Oh yeah? What about when…”
Cole interrupted. “Just follow me. I’ll buy you a candy bar if you keep your mouth shut and go along.”
“Liar. You don’t have any money.”
“I do now.” Kirby reached into his right pocket and held up a weathered twenty-dollar bill.
“But mom gave you that for the pumpkins.”
“Exactly. Come on.”
Kirby followed Cole through the nearby neighborhood of Marbury Estates, his short legs struggling to keep with Cole’s urgent pace. The street lights flickered. Mom would soon start to wonder where they were. As they walked, they passed only three houses fit for Halloween. One wore orange and purple lights, one housed spiders, cobwebs, skeletons, and gravestones, and one hosted a projector that sent green witches flying on their brooms across the red brick facade. Most of the houses in this neighborhood waited patiently for Christmas decor to be in season, if they decorated at all.
Kirby thought about mom’s stories of Halloween when she was a kid; a magical time when every kid dressed up in bed sheets and every house was haunted. Kids trick-or-treated until their pillow cases grew too heavy to haul, then made a stop back at home to heap the tasty loot upon their bedspreads before venturing back for round two. “Those were the days,” she always said.
The brothers came upon the older section of the neighborhood, where the houses were larger, wooden, creaky, and though refurbished and in fashion, largely uninhabited.
“Cole, what are we doing over here?”
“Shut up, we’re almost there.”
They approached one of the few houses that looked occupied. A large black cauldron lay by the front door and an old wicker broom was propped up on the other side of the door-frame. The house itself looked right at home among these seasonal props with its chipped paint, off-white lace curtained windows, and brown, dilapidated fenced-in yard.
“Why are we here?” Kirby sighed.
Cole pointed with both his index and middle fingers simultaneously. “For those.”
Kirby placed one foot on the bottom bar of the decaying wooden fence and lifted himself to better see where Cole pointed. On either side of the house’s long, winding, concrete walkway were small orange and yellow pumpkins, just like the ones mom had seen at the store, un-carved and un-guarded.
“Let me see your backpack.” Cole said without looking in his brother’s direction.
“Okay, look. Forget the candy bar. I’ve got a crisp ten-dollar bill back at home. I’ll give it to you when we get back. That’s 50/50. Half the proceeds. Mom will never know the difference.”
Kirby felt lost. Cole’s plans were usually losers, but the odds of mom finding out where the pumpkins came from were slim, and he thought of all the things he could do with that fresh ten-spot; one whole week’s allowance. He still needed a new tire for his bike. Besides, adults always had money for things like pumpkins. Whoever lived in that house could always buy more.
“Fine. You better pay up, though.” Kirby slumped off his backpack, pulled out a math book and his pencil box to free up room. He laid it on the ground at Cole’s feet.
“No, no, no,” Cole said. “You go. You’re quicker. I’ll keep look-out and make sure no one drives by.”
“Cole,” Kirby protested. There was always a catch.
“Go. Hurry up. If I have to do it myself you don’t get a dime.”
Frustrated as Kirby was, he knew it was useless to argue with his big brother. Kirby shoved the book and pencil box into Cole’s chest, grabbed the backpack from the ground, and stomped off toward the front gate. He looked back at Cole who motioned with his hand for Kirby to move faster. Kirby reached the gate and lifted the rusty latch. The gate’s iron hinges creaked as they swung open. Kirby began down the walkway.
The pumpkins were staggered one left of the walkway, then a few feet, then one right of the walkway, beginning two-thirds the way to the stairs of the house’s wrap-around porch. Kirby had never seen a front yard this big. He walked slowly at first – watching the windows to make sure no one was peeking out – then approached the first pumpkin quickly. He stuffed the pumpkin in his pack. It was heavier than it looked.
He scurried toward the second pumpkin, swiping it with his right hand before turning his attention to the third orange squash. Kirby felt his resolve slacken. He wanted to turn around, to ditch his stash altogether and tell Cole to keep his money, but he pictured mom’s face, disappointed when he showed up with any less than 4. He carried on. His pack began to droop. He threw the straps on his shoulders and leaned forward to counter-act the hulking load.
As he approached the fourth pumpkin, Kirby felt his skin prickle, the hairs on his arm raise. He sensed he was being watched. He scanned the windows once more, but spotted no on-lookers. He glanced at the porch. His heart jumped. In the middle of the staircase, carefully placed on its own bespoke wooden platform, was another pumpkin, orange and yellow like the others, but three times the size of the small gourds weighing down his shoulders. The others smooth and rounded, this pumpkin’s shape leaned slightly askew and featured at least two hefty warts and more than a few runty ones. Why would someone choose to spotlight that ugly, overgrown veggie? And how did he miss it there before?
Kirby tossed the final small pumpkin into the bag and sprinted back to the street without stopping to shut the gate. He darted past Cole. “Wait up,” Cole yelled, but his little brother never slowed. Kirby scampered hastily home while gravity tugged at the extra weight upon his shoulders.
Thanks for reading. If this story brought a thought to your mind, leave a comment and let’s discuss! Read last week’s Weekly One-Pager here and check back tomorrow on Halloween for Part II of this spooky short story.