Entry # 12


Pumpkin’s Revenge
Margaret Callow
 
    Walking across the yard, October left Joe  in no doubt of its intentions. The sky was slowly releasing its night shades to  admit shards of peach and the crisp air enlivened his face. What little early  morning sun there was shed a brittle light on the grey stone buildings and a  puddle crunched underfoot. It was a gentle sound, but thin ice nevertheless.
  Hunched into his jacket, he  picked up the empty feed buckets and headed for the barn. In need of repair, the  timbered door no longer shut properly creaking complaint at the slightest touch.  As soon as its edge scraped the earth and flint the yard came alive with animal  noises. Calves, pigs and the chickens clamoured, their empty bellies adding  urgency to their voices.
      In the barn the gloom was sudden. Wearing  cobwebs for curtains, the high narrow window slits filtered light and he didn’t  see the wayward chicken until shrieking in feather-fluffed outrage it dashed at  his legs. Too late to join its own the night before in the henhouse it raced  away it’s rolling gait carrying it at speed across the yard.
         “Stay,” he warned, as his sheepdog wormed  its way on it stomach across the floor ready to pursue.
  Inhaling deeply, Joe savoured the smell  of grain, warmth and peace. The harvest gathered safely for another year the  dryer was silent and the feed bins full. It was a source of satisfaction that it  should be so, yet there was still work to be done. Mice had scattered wheat off  the towering shape of the grain heap still to be bagged, his ageing tractor  waiting to be serviced stood hunched in a corner and if he was not much mistaken  dark pools on the stone floor told him the rotting thatch needed patching in  places.
   Fluttering paper  hanging from a nail reminded him a page of the calendar would soon need turning,  but not before Halloween was over and done with. Dates, there were always dates  to be remembered. Farming and those days, the right days for planting winter  wheat, hoeing beet, weaning piglets, spraying vegetables, loading beasts for  market and picking the pumpkins. Every year he must be in the field picking  pumpkins to send into the town, as long as the weather complied with the dates,  that is.
   He unhitched his  hook from its peg in the wall, running his finger down the blade. Old and well  used, the wooden handle resting in his palm was worn smooth. Its tactile  response felt reassuring like a worn pair of shoes whose leather moulded to  every bump and turn of the foot it rested on.
Leaving the tool by the door,  he filled the buckets with pellets and went to feed the stock.
    He grew over an acre of  pumpkins. This year they’d grown well and most were cut, a source of relief as  he trudged toward the field. He could see them in the distance lolling amongst  their dark foliage, the orange orbs in neat rows one a clone for another. As far  as he looked they presented calm and ordered perfection.
  Almost at the gate the noise he suddenly  heard was alien to his ears. It was an odd sound and he paused to listen. Used  to the sound of a winnowing wind in a cornfield, the restless rustle of poplar  leaves in a breeze and the plaintive sighing of a gale as it sought out crannies  in the yard, this was different. It sounded like voices, not one or two, but a  hundred or more, pitched low, muted, whispers even.
   Shaking his head, Joe scrubbed  roughly at his ears. Was he losing his hearing so it turned his ears into  receptacles of flannel? When the dog’s whimper distracted him, he ran his hand  over its coarse-coated back surprised to feel it trembling.
   “Daft dog, what’s up with you,  eh?” he said affectionately, grateful he’d heard it.
The whimper was louder  this time, almost tempered by aggression, he thought and the animal’s eyes  rolled into their whites. Then backing away, it retreated some yards.
       “Murphy, for Christ’s sake what’s got  into you? Imagining things are you? Well you and me both, old fellow. Come on,  there’s only a day to finish this field.”
   The last of the pumpkins to be cut  from their vines were over on the far side. Picking his way between the rows,  Joe glanced over his shoulder. Murphy trailed behind him reluctantly slouching  low. Whatever it was had gone now. The field was quiet almost eerily so and when  a pheasant suddenly flew up with its clattering cry it startled Joe. He noticed  the dog ignored it. Strange, since his chasing skills were more advanced than  his staying ones, but there was little time to dwell on anything apart from  cutting and picking the ripe pumpkins.
    
   With the last load of pumpkins  deposited gently off the trailer and into a towering stack ready for the lorry,  time and light ran out. Easing his stiff shoulders with a calloused hand, Joe  teased himself with images of an indolent wallow in a steaming bath. It would be  some while off still. Another round of feeding, a sick cow to tend to and  mucking out were only a few of the chores left before he could discard his boots  in the porch.
  Looking across  the yard, he could see it would be a cold night. There was a steely-grey  sharpness on the horizon and not a breath of wind either so the smoke from the  house fire drew ruler straight from the pot. His final task of the day was to  choose two of the best pumpkins. One for each of the children carefully hollowed  out with eyeholes and a smiley face. That after all was what Halloween was all  about...
***
   In the town the hands on the church  clock were inching their way through the night. Half a moon surrounded by ebony  blackness managed to shed a lemony glow on the rooftops and pavements, but where  it failed only shadows dwelt in the doorways. Apart from the small concrete  building on a corner signed in blue with the word Police, life seemed to have  vanished completely.
   Cluttered with a fresh mug of tea and several empty china cups, a heap of  paperwork and loads of heavy files, the front desk propped up the Duty Sergeant.  Scratching his head, he stared thoughtfully at the pen in his hand then reached  for his tea instead.
       “Time you  were on the road, young man,” he called into the dim recesses behind him.  
       “Just  getting my helmet,” the police constable replied from somewhere.
In the  patrol car, the constable threw the helmet in question onto the back seat and  started the ignition. Sighing loudly, he grated the gears and finding the one he  wanted steered the car out of the parking lot. It wasn’t he really minded night  duty, but driving about was the bore. It was a small place where most were in  bed by eleven and crime was about minor misdemeanours. He dreamt of a wild car  chase, a mugging maybe or a raid on the jewellers shop in the High Street. One  day...
    Leaving the  built up area, he exited town by the only main road there was. Long and  straight, few lived beside it apart from an old recluse in a rickety shack and  some distance farther on, Joe and Patches Farm. The long miles to nowhere,  that’s how he thought of it, at least until you arrived at a crossroads and the  wider world.
   He should be  used to it, but his eyes still needed to strain through the inky black. Once he  thought he saw a pair of eyes, deer height he reckoned, but by the time he  reached the place it was gone. Seeing the outline of the farm buildings he  slowed the car. Sometimes Joe was up late with calving or some such and a chat  broke up the tedium.
  Frowning,  he peered through the windscreen. He could have sworn it was a clear night, yet  ahead of him, swirling like wisps of chiffon, what he thought must be a thin fog  rolled along the road towards him.
       “What the heck is that?” he muttered, calm turning to  fear.
Unnerved, he stopped the car and seemingly frozen in his seat stared  at the undulating shapes approaching fast. Never had he seen orange mist and  closer to him now it didn’t drift, but bounced on the road surface.
      “Christ almighty, pumpkins, they’re  bloody pumpkins.”
When the first hit his windscreen, hairs stood up on his  arms. He fumbled for his phone and dropped it. The car lurched under the impact  of them as they kept on coming, hundreds of them crushing one another so their  flesh was jamming up the windows, blocking the radiator, obliterating the air,  suffocating him with their weight. Sinuous green tentacles found the smallest  gaps, reaching for his throat...

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