November 3, 2016

Fiction by N.D. Coley: "The Pumpkin Hatch"

N.D. Coley currently serves as an instructor of English composition at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, Community College of Allegheny County, and the University of Phoenix. He was trained at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg as a literature major (2005), with a minor in writing. He furthered his studies at the University of Pittsburgh, earning an MA in English (2007), with a specialization in literary analysis. In his spare time, he laments the human condition, plays old school video games, reads dark, depressing literature, and tries to keep a smile on his face.

The Pumpkin Hatch

It is going to be dark soon, and Sissy tells me to stay put while mother and father go get a cart for the pumpkins, but I just walk off into the patch like the dummy that I am. I can’t help it. I swear. There are just so many of them. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands of them.  When I look at them I think that I’m looking at a bunch of little worlds, like mine, where people like me are living in the pumpkins and walking around pumpkin patches of their own, sipping hot apple cider and waiting for the moms and dads to get carts for their own pumpkins. It’s kind of fun to imagine things like that.
It’s cold outside. I thought it would be warm today, and here I am again, stupid me. I can feel little bumps on my arms. My shoulders shake a little and I think I should’ve grabbed my jacket like mom and sissy said ,and here I am, just in my t-shirt and my blue jeans, and the sun is going to go down soon and I’m going to get even colder, and I hate being cold. I hate it more than anything.
On the outside of the pumpkin patch are some dried corn stalks, like a fence around the pumpkin garden. There are scarecrows along this fence, and they have pumpkins for heads and faces painted on them. Some of them are happy and others are sad and others are scary, and I hope the scary ones don’t give me nightmares, because if I wake up screaming, like I do so much, sissy will want to hit me in the mouth and climb back to the bottom bunk. I wish sissy had her own room. It’s not fair that we have to share one. If she had a scary dream about a scarecrow I wouldn’t get mad at her, because I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night and feel cold and afraid. Mom and dad say there’s nothing under the bed or in the closet or the dresser, but I don’t believe them even though I know that they are right. I am such a stupid boy.
Where are they? There are so many people walking around, moving their hands up and down the pumpkins. Nobody ever picks the little ones and I feel bad for those ones. Do they get sad that everyone passes them up for the ones that are bigger, where it’s easier to carve out pictures of cats and witches and haunted houses? The little pumpkins just sit there and I want one of my own but I need the cart. Mom and dad have the cart. I hope they have not forgotten about me.
Oh it’s been so long! People keep passing me, eating candy apples and tugging along their little boys and girls. So many people in flannel shirts and overalls. I hate overalls. I’m glad that mom doesn’t make me wear them. The people don’t look at me at all because they don’t know me or care about me and they probably think that my family is right there. But they aren’t there. Is anyone there? It’s scary to be around so many people and feel so alone. I tug at a grown up to see if they can help, but I miss and my face just goes splat right on to a little pumpkin. It cracks open and I can feel sticky pumpkin stuff on my face, but it’s ok. Nobody was going to bother with that little pumpkin anyway. I hope nobody notices because I don’t have any money to pay for it.
I sit up and put my hands on my knees. It’s getting darker now, and there aren’t as many people around. Everyone has gone home to carve their pumpkins because tomorrow is Halloween, and everyone must get to work right away. The boys at school tell me that the pumpkins are important because when you cut them up and give them scary faces, the pumpkins frighten away all of the ghosts and goblins and witches that roam about on Halloween. Sissy thinks that’s stupid, but I don’t. If ghosts weren’t real, why would so many people cut up these pumpkins to keep the spirits away?
Now that the sun is down I can’t see the faces on the scarecrows anymore. All of their faces look like little shadows and for the first time I feel really afraid. Where is mom? Where is dad? Why haven’t they found me? Is it true what sissy says about me, that they would leave me behind at the first chance they could get? How hard can it be to find a little boy in a pumpkin patch?
The scarecrows move back and forth in the wind, just a little. The wind blows through their ripped up hats and shirts, and I wish I could see the ones that had smiles on their faces because that would make me feel better, but I can’t see anything and for all I know they have mean faces now. Maybe they’re angry that I’m just sitting there and that I haven’t got home yet. Maybe they have their own things to do on Halloween, and they need to be go home, just like everyone else.
It’s dark right now and I can’t see anything except for the pumpkins and the shadows of the scarecrows. From far away I can hear one car start up and drive away, and then another, and then another, and I just sit and listen to the cars drive away so much that I don’t realize that I’m crying. I don’t want anyone to find me crying now, because then they would think I’m a baby, and I’m not a baby. I’m not, and I have to brave, especially the day before the ghosts come out to play.
Can you hear that? It sounds like someone is whispering. Not just someone, but a lot of someones. A lot of little whispers, right on the floor of the pumpkin patch. I get down on the ground and put my ear to it and yes I swear I can hear the whispers. You might think they sound like the wind, but they are whispering. I know it. I imagine that the pumpkins are talking to each other and saying things like look at the silly boy, look at the stupid boy, nobody loves that boy, that boy was left here because he’s small and silly and stupid.
The wind is even colder now. I wrap my arms around myself and nearly step into a scarecrow that I’m sure wasn’t there before, but how would I know? It’s so dark and it could have been there the whole time. I’m close enough where I can see it. It has a sad face, like you might see on a clown mask. Someone painted a pipe in its mouth, but I guess it’s ok if scarecrows smoke. They don’t smoke like dad does, over and over, and they don’t smell bad like he does.
I ask the scarecrow where everyone is and why nobody has come for me, which is stupid because scarecrows are just straw and old clothes and pumpkins on sticks. A chill of wind comes by and I look at the scarecrow again, and somehow I think he looks even sadder this time, but that’s just my little silly stupid boy brain, imagining this. It’s ok to imagine things and even friends if you need to. That’s what I do when father is still at work and mother is cooking dinner and sissy is playing a video game.
I won’t bring any of my imaginary friends here. They wouldn’t like it. They’d be frightened of the whispers and the cold and the dark, and how you can’t see the faces of the scarecrows but you can see their shapes. I let my arms go down, and I start walking back down the pumpkin patch, where I think the cars would be parked, or would have been parked, and I keep going right down the same path that I came, but it just keeps on, like there’s no end to it. I’m careful not to step on any of the pumpkins because if I were a pumpkin I wouldn’t want anyone to step on me. My shoes make soft crunching sounds on the ground, which seems like a nice sound to me, but I forget that when I realize that I’m still going, and there are just more pumpkins behind me and in front of me, and more scarecrow shapes along the fences. I look back to see if I can see the sad scarecrow who looked like a clown, but I can’t see him anymore.
Pumpkin after pumpkin after pumpkin, and don’t think I haven’t forgotten about the whispers because I haven’t. I just tell myself that the whispers are the wind because if I do that I won’t be scared and I won’t cry so much.
Have you ever been alone at night, lost in a pumpkin patch? It’s not nice at all. It’s fun to read about in stories but when you’re in the story it’s not fun.
Ahead of me I think I can see someone, or something. I don’t know. It’s so dark. It’s the shadow of a man, and he seems to be stooping down. He stops for a little then stands up, and stoops down again. I walk forward but really slow, so that he won’t see me or hear me, and that’s when I see what he’s been doing. In one line, pumpkin after pumpkin, he has cut off the top of the pumpkin and just let it rest. I walk along this line a little, following the shape in front of me, and it’s here I notice that I don’t hear the whispers anymore and I’m telling you that I’m not fibbing. I heard them before and don’t you dare call me a liar.
I don’t know why, but I break another way and sit down by some of the pumpkins, the ones that haven’t been cut, mostly the small ones, because everyone had taken all the big ones, and I listen, and there is a sound that may be the wind again but, I am pretty sure it is the sound of whispering, and I go back over a few steps to the trail of pumpkin tops and then it is quiet again, and I follow the shape. It is still moving slow and stooping, moving and stooping just like before.
Soon the shape stops in front of a large pumpkin, and it must have been much larger than the others because I can see how big it is, even though it is dark, like when it’s dark in the hallway and I’m afraid to go bathroom in the middle of the night. You might think I’m a baby but I’m not, because I approach the shape. It has the face of an old farmer. He’s wearing overalls and a straw hat, and his face is wrinkled and dirty. In his hand is a knife, and I’m sure he’s going stab me in the stomach and pull out of my squishy insides, and that I’ll bleed just like in the movies that mom and dad say I’m not allowed to watch, and just lie on the ground and die, and birds will come and peck at my body and think how tasty I am, just how I think other things are tasty when I eat them.
But he just looks at me, and he turns around the knife and hands it to me, the handle in my direction, and holds it. I ask sir excuse me, I’ve lost my mom and dad and my sister and would you help me find them, and that’s when I hear the whispers get louder and louder, and by now you have to know that I’m not lying, know that I’m not lying at all, that the sounds are not the wind, that they were never the wind, and this large pumpkin next to him, it seems to be whispering the loudest of them all. It is a large, sad, misshapen pumpkin. I do not think anyone would want it. He looks at it so sadly and pushes the handle of the knife into my hand and I take it.
It’s funny how you know how to do things, even when you’re scared and alone in the dark and when nobody has told you what to do. I sit in school for hours, with the sunlight blinding me through the windows while teacher blabs on and on about math and George Washington and all that stupid stuff that stupid boys like me will never need when they grow up; I never know what to do with any of that mush they want to put in my brain, but here, with the man looking at me, handing me the knife, I know exactly what to do. That must mean that I am not such a stupid boy, right?
I crouch down just like the man and look at him to make sure I’m about to do the right thing and his eyes say yes, and I stick the knife into the top of the pumpkin, and even though I’m a small and stupid boy I’m not a weak boy, and I carve round and round in a circle, just like we do every Halloween, right before we make the pumpkin faces that we light with candles to protect us from the evil ghosts that walk around at night. I turn the knife and I twist it and then I give a yank and the top of the pumpkin comes off.
I look at the man and his eyes are not sad anymore, and I think I can see a glow in them now. He stands up and looks at me and tips his straw hat, and I think I can almost hear him chuckle a little, but his mouth isn’t open and he’s just smiling, and I drop the top of the pumpkin on the ground and look at the man again, only he’s not quite there anymore; it’s like the wind is taking him away, just a little bit at a time, like when I make a mistake at my writing and have to use my eraser. And then he’s just gone, as if he weren’t there at all, and I notice that the large pumpkin isn’t whispering anymore.
Soon I see a flashlight, and then another, and then another, like little fairies all coming dropping by to say hello, and I hear voices and screams and I know that the screams are yelling my name, and before I can even get up sissy has her arms around me, hugging me, and she's screaming as hard as she’s squeezing and saying you stupid, stupid, stupid boy.
Have you ever found yourself lost in a pumpkin patch at night, where the scarecrows don’t have faces and the ground whispers, when the wind is cold and soft and it makes bumps on your arms, and when you imagine that there must be awful things in the dark, sitting, and waiting to eat you up?  Don’t be scared. It isn’t so bad at all.
~N.D. Coley

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