In the Pumpkin PatchbySabledrake©
Full and ripe and round. Bulbous orange gourds in tangles of thick green vine and rustling leaves. A bumper crop again this year.
"Thank you, Melvin," Annie said, leaning on the split-rail fence that surrounded the pumpkin patch.
The irate caw of a crow was her only answer. She saw the bird take off, flapping-black, into the dissipating morning fog from the top of the plywood sign.
"Auntie Annie's Farm," it read. "Corn Maze, Pumpkin Patch, Hay Rides." Below that, the dates and hours of operation. "October 1-31, Ten A.M. to Five P.M." The paint was weather-faded, but still legible enough that she didn't think she had to re-do it this year.
Steve, her handyman, said that she should get herself a website and put it on there, too. He might have looked like an extra from the cast of Hee-Haw, all rawboned with sunbleached blond hair and a genial farmboy's face, but he was addicted to computers, video games, and all sorts of modern gadgets that didn't interest Annie at all.
The sign stood beside the long gravel driveway that led to the farmhouse, and was angled to be visible from the main road. Beyond it was her barn, old and picturesquely ramshackle. The big doors were propped open, and more signs advertised snacks, drinks, the direction to the Port-a-Potties, and prices.
In a few hours, that barn would be full of people. Town people, who would park their cars and SUVs out in the muddy west field. Bundled against the brisk wind, red-faced, chapped-lipped, they would make the most of their "day in the country." Picking their own pumpkins. Feeding seed corn from the coin-op dispenser to Sadie the goat. Buying homemade cookies and jars of blackberry preserves.
The money she'd bring in this month alone would allow Annie to pay Steve's wages, plus those of the trio of local kids she hired for seasonal labor. With enough left over to keep her nicely the rest of the year.
"And all because of you, Melvin," she said to the pumpkin patch.
To think, initially, she hadn't wanted to leave the city and move out here to the middle of nowhere. Melvin had found the farm, pressured her into it. That had been ten years ago, and it was amazing how the time flew. He hadn't wanted to actually be a farmer, no, of course not. Not Melvin. He styled himself a "rustic poet," when he wasn't composing greeting-card verse for a Hallmark rival, and felt he needed to get back to nature.
"You sure did that, didn't you, Melvin?" Annie chuckled, but there was an unpleasant edge to it. "Back to nature, all right."
He'd had it coming. She had warned him time and again that he better not drink around her, because when he drank – he said all poets had to drink, it was part of the image – he got mean. When he got mean, he hit.
So, seven years ago this Halloween, she'd bashed his head in with a shovel and buried him in the pumpkin patch.
She told everyone that he'd moved to New York to starve in a garret while he tried a new approach to his poetry. Anybody who'd had even a passing acquaintance with Melvin hadn't doubted that story for a second.
And ever since, boy howdy, the pumpkins had been tremendous. Best she'd ever seen. All of them plump and perfectly shaped. True, they'd tasted a little funny at first and she quit using them for pies. But they were just right for jack-o-lantern carving. It had given her the idea to not just sell them to the produce stands and grocery stores, but to turn the farm into a Halloween destination. She'd started with the patch, then added the maze, and business had boomed from there.
Annie herself had never felt happier. She'd been a dumpy, miserable woman when Melvin brought her out here. Now, after all those years of hard digging and working in the fields, living a simple and healthy life, she was in better shape than ever before.
Her figure would never grace the cover of those magazines, because she had strong arms, broad shoulders, and wide hips. But once she'd slimmed away her excess pounds, she'd discovered a fine pair of tits, good legs, and a grade-A behind. In the right pair of jeans, with one button too many left undone on a snug flannel shirt and her wheat-colored hair pulled back in a ponytail, she could turn heads.
Even Steve, the handyman, had made noises once or twice that indicated he wouldn't mind working nights, as it were. Annie hadn't yet taken him up on those hints. Flattering though it was, she was still ten years older than him. And people did talk. Word would get around. She didn't care for the idea of hearing whispers whenever she went into town to do her marketing, or having people cast knowing looks her way.
The sun burst through the fog, turning the pumpkins to globes of brilliant orange flame. Annie surveyed them, smiling. Not many left. Tonight was Halloween, and the past week had been so busy that she'd fallen into bed each night plain bone weary.
Her smile faltered as she spotted one particular pumpkin.
Just as there was a runt in every litter of pups or piglets, each crop contained a few gourds that weren't up to standard. They'd be lumpy or misshapen, or they wouldn't rest flat on their bottoms, or they'd have blotches and blemishes. Come early November, she always had a few to plow back under.
This one, though, was downright hideous. It lurked under a nasty snakelike nestle of vines as if hiding, as if ashamed. Instead of being a rich shade of orange, it was mottled rust and green, gnarled with mustard-colored growths like tumors.
Nobody was going to buy that ugly fucking thing, she was sure. As a jack-o-lantern, it'd be too scary even for Halloween. Unless it was on a psycho's porch, but as far as Annie knew, none of her neighbors or even the people from town were bona fide psychos.
She heard an engine and turned, shading her eyes against the morning glare. Now that the fog was burning off, it was shaping up into a dazzling autumn day, the sky pure blue, the sun warm but the wind carrying a hint of chill.
Steve's truck rattled and jounced down the gravel road. He must have seen Annie, because he honked and waved. Moments later, the truck sputtered to a stop by the side of the barn. Steve had stopped on his way to pick up Cissy Potts and the Beaker twins, all of them in costume on account of it was Halloween.
Cissy was dressed as a convict, in black and white stripes with a plastic ball and chain hooked to her ankle. Randy Beaker was a pirate, with a clip-on gold hoop swinging from his earlobe and a red scarf tied over his head. Ricky Beaker had on a set of hospital scrubs and wore a stethoscope slung around his neck. Steve was Elvis, with a blue-black pompadour wig and white jumpsuit.
"Time to get to work, Melvin," Annie said, dusting her hands on the seat of her jeans. She spared a final glance at the ugly pumpkin. Damn thing turned her stomach
"Aww, Annie!" Steve called. "Not dressing up?"
"I am, I am," she said. "But they're only voting on you four, and Butch and Sadie."
All day long, visitors to the farm would have a chance to cast their votes, and at the end of the day whoever had the most votes would get a special bonus prize – a ten dollar gift certificate to Suzy Q's diner.
While the others went about their various tasks, Annie headed into the house and got into her own costume. Annie the Sexy Scarecrow. Tufts of straw stuck out of her sleeves and the cuffs and bib of her overalls. She smudged charcoal on her nose and brick-red rouge on her cheeks, tucked her hair up under a floppy hat stuffed with more straw, and called it good.
By then, the early-bird cars were already creeping up the drive and negotiating the west field. Annie hurried to dress up the animals. Sadie the goat got a polka-dot clown suit and rainbow-haired frizzy wig. Butch, Annie's old hound dog, submitted to wearing a cowboy hat and bandanna.
She'd advertised in the local paper, too, that anyone who showed up wearing a costume of their own would get a dollar off the pumpkin of their choice. Most of the ones who did were kids, but a few grownups got into the spirit, too. There were bumblebees and superheroes, ghosts and dinosaurs, hoboes and fairy princesses.
Soon, the day was an amiable buzz. People trundled out into the pumpkin patch with the mud-caked old wheelbarrows Annie kept on hand. Older children whooped and hollered from the high rows of the corn maze. Littler ones entertained themselves in the corner of the barn, where hay bales and a tall, loose haystack provided them a place to jump and tumble and fling clumps of hay at each other. They ate popcorn balls and cookies, drank cider, took pictures of clown-Sadie nibbling corn from toddlers' chubby hands.
And the money just rolled in. By four o'clock, the crowds were thinning, the snack stand was just about sold out, and the jars of preserves were gone. By five, with the sky already beginning to darken, Annie decided they could call it a day. No one else would be coming to get pumpkins this late.
The votes were tallied, and Steve-Elvis was the big winner. He did a passable impression, "uh-huh-thank-ya-verra-much," as he accepted his prize.
"No, thank you," Annie said. "Thanks, all of you. It's been a good season, and I couldn't have done it without you."
She handed out their final pay envelopes, reminding them that there'd be work next fall if they wanted. Then Cissy, the twins, and Steve piled into his pickup, and away they went.
Alone, Annie counted up her profits and decided to leave the rest of the clean-up until the following day. She took off Sadie's clown suit and wig, and Butch's cowboy hat, leaving the bandanna because it seemed to give the old dog a jaunty air.
"Another five hundred and eighty-nine bucks today, Melvin," she said, leaning once more on the fence by the now empty pumpkin patch.
Well, not entirely empty. As usual, there were a few rejects. And not surprisingly at all, the gnarled and knobby one was among them. Someone had been curious or tasteless enough to roll it out of its bed of vines to get a better look, and it lay there now like a grotesque alien fungus asteroid.
In the fading light, its bumps and hollows gave it the look of an oversized severed head, one from which the flesh had only partway rotted.
"Ugh," Annie said. "You are one ugly damn pumpkin, I must say. I'll be glad to plow you under and be rid of you."
She itched from all day in a scarecrow suit, the straw chafing her wrists and neck. Annie pulled off her hat and set it on a fence post. She unpinned her hair and scratched vigorously. A bath was going to feel wonderful.
First, though ...
Picking up her trusty old shovel – you couldn't even see the blood on the blade anymore, not after seven years of hard use, though she expected those fancy-pants investigators like on that CSI show could have turned some up if they gave it a squirt with that stuff what turned blood electric-blue – Annie clambered over the fence and into the pumpkin patch.
Every year, in her own way of celebrating the anniversary, she liked to take one of the leftover pumpkins and do to it what she'd done to Melvin. This year, there was no trouble choosing the unlucky candidate.
She would swing the shovel hard, and bash it with the flat of the blade. The rind of a pumpkin would give some easier than Melvin's skull had, but would be less messy without all the hair and blood that came with a head wound.
He had pitched face-down on the ground, maybe unconscious or maybe only stunned. Annie, not wanting to wait and find out which, not wanting to give him a chance to roll over and look at her, had reversed the shovel so she held the blade pointed down, and she'd chopped with it, chopped, the edge punching through skin, sometimes punching through bone in the thinner spots like the wrist.
She'd made sure he was good and dead by hacking through his neck. It took a dozen jabs or more before Melvin's head had rolled loose, coming to rest on the ragged stump with his eyes bulging and his tongue sticking out.
Then she'd buried him with the selfsame shovel.
Now, standing over the nasty, cancerous pumpkin, Annie cocked the shovel back over her shoulder. She'd bring it down –
Her foot snagged on a vine. Off-balance, Annie dropped the shovel and pinwheeled her arms. Her other foot came down on a stub of woody stem. Her ankle turned.
She fell full-length in the vines, making a papery crunching sound as she crushed leaves beneath her weight. Her breath escaped in an "oof!"
More irritated than hurt, and thankful that Steve and the kids hadn't been here to see her graceless sprawl – let alone the paying customers! – Annie levered herself up on hands and knees.
A vine coiled around her wrist.
She saw it move, heard the dry rasp of it slithering. It encircled her wrist like a bracelet, and then yanked. Her supporting arm shot out, and Annie thumped down on her chest.
The vines seethed under her, wrapping her legs, trapping her arms. It was as if she'd fallen into a pit full of constrictors, all of them writhing and twining. Alarmed now instead of irritated, not understanding how this could be but knowing it was wrong, Annie tried to wrest herself loose of the vines. Some ripped out of the ground, trailing roots, but the others held her fast.
A scream pealed from her throat. Butch the dog howled a mournful reply from the porch, but didn't bother to come investigate. There was no one else to hear but Sadie, and the goat was penned. Her nearest neighbors were half a mile away.
Hastily, though, as if it didn't like the idea of her being able to cry for help, a vine as thick as a man's forearm snaked around her throat. Annie gagged and wheezed, struggling to suck breath through what felt like a pinhole. The coarse plant matter scraped at her tender flesh.
With a violent convulsive heave, the vines wrested her over onto her back. She was totally entangled, barely able to move, barely able to breathe. She'd purposefully chosen old clothes for her scarecrow costume and now seams gave way and cloth tore. Rough vines rubbed and abraded exposed skin.
Her mindless fright took a sudden terrified leap as the vines hunched and slithered over her breasts, tearing away her bra. Her underwear, too, were shredded. Although Annie couldn't comprehend how this was happening, instinct made her clamp her knees together as hard as she could.
Which wasn't hard enough. The vines around her legs pulled them wide apart. Annie thrashed. The fecund, earthy scent of the harvest rose around her, a brown and green smell, just beginning to be touched with decay.
The leafy tip of a vine slid menacingly up the inside of her thigh. Annie tried desperately to squirm away from it and couldn't.
Encroaching darkness clouded her vision, darkness speckled with fuzzy pinpoints of light. She realized that she was about to pass out, and was glad. Better to pass out. Maybe when she woke, this madness would be over. Maybe she'd wake in her own bed with the memory of a horrible dream, but nothing worse.
The vine around her throat eased up, and she could breathe again. The darkness receded. She was still here, still caught and helpless and awake.
The leafy vine played with teasing, tickling malevolence over her pubic hair and along her labia.
"No!" she said in a harsh gasp, through her raw and throbbing throat.
Still, the vine tickled, its leaves fluttering against sensitive skin. Other vines slithered over her breasts and probed the crack of her buttocks from underneath.
Annie twisted her wrist, got her hand on a vine, uprooted it. Hot tears of pain and horror streamed down her face. Even as she flung away one vine, two others took its place. The ones on her breasts were catching her nipples between delicate green end-filaments and rolling the fear-stiffened peaks. Something fibrous wormed its way into her anus.
She tried to scream again, but only a choked gurgle came out.
Then a large shape loomed in the twilight. Through her tears, she first thought it was a man. She didn't care that she would be seen like this, only cared that she would be rescued. It was Steve, it was one of the Beaker twins ... hell, it could be the town mayor or the preacher and she would only be glad.
But the shape ... the shape was wrong. Strange and wrong. Thin. Spindly-limbed. With a too-large head set at a bizarre angle on a pipestem neck.
It moved closer. She saw it clearly.
The thing's body was made of braided and twisted lengths of vine formed into a manlike shape. Leaves fluttered from it, and the prickly curves of pumpkin stems formed its fingers and toes. Its head was the ugly pumpkin, the one she had tried to smash with the shovel, and now as it leaned over her, Annie saw that the tumor-growths did look like a face.
Smiling at her.
No, not smiling.
It rustled as it moved, and the stench that wafted from it was nothing like the harvest now. This was the stench of jack-o-lanterns left out too long, sagging and softening, the tinge of charred pumpkin meat mixing with spongy white rot. The stench of sodden autumn leaves in a gutter, slowly turning to sludge. The stench of root-cellars and open graves.
"Melvin ..." Annie croaked.
The Melvin-pumpkin-thing shuffled between her widespread legs. Its grin widened, the rind splitting to let dribbles of pumpkin guts and a couple of seeds splatter on her thighs and belly.
The strangling vine tightened as Annie was about to try to apologize, to try and beg for mercy. She waited instead for her mind to snap, so that she could go crazy and not have to deal with this.
Melvin crouched by her knees and placed one leaf-fingered hand on her crotch. With a fresh surge of revolted strength, she thrashed. Some vines slipped but the rest held, and pinned her spread-eagle to the ground.
There was a sneering look in Melvin's eyes, a look familiar to Annie from the nights that he would drink but, instead of hitting, decide that he wanted to work out his drunken aggression with sex. On those nights, the usually apathetic man she'd married became a brute.
Unable to speak, she shook her head pleadingly.
The split of his mouth gaped open. A stringy orange thing, a tongue made of pumpkin, poked out and wiggled lewdly. Melvin plunged his bloated, misshapen head down and burrowed that vile tongue into her vagina. She was dry down there, but his tongue was slippery with pumpkin-slime and, thus lubricated, sank deep.
Annie bucked frantically against the vines. Sloppy noises, grunts and slurping, came from Melvin's head. The vines relentlessly tweaked her nipples. The one probing her anus was joined by others, thicker ones, pushing into her.
She couldn't believe this, couldn't believe any of it. This was a nightmare. It couldn't be the real world. Could she really be here, in her own pumpkin patch, being violated by vines and a mutated vegetable monstrosity with her dead husband's grin?
Yet as the Melvin-thing licked and slurped and slobbered, coating her inside and out with the slimy juice, as the vines held her and molested her, it felt too vivid to be even the worst of nightmares.
Worst of all, even as her mind recoiled in abject revulsion, the slick friction of the tongue somehow spurred a tingle of lustful sensation. Annie squeezed her eyes shut and willed it to be over, willed him to finish with her before her body betrayed itself.
As if hearing her silent plea, the tongue withdrew with a long wet smacking sound. Cool autumn-twilight air rushed in against her damp flesh. Shuddering, not wanting to look but having to know, Annie pried one eye open.
The Melvin-thing knelt over her, its grin more salacious than ever, juices smeared across the lumpy rind. But even more awful a sight awaited her – from the juncture of the twisted-vine legs and body, a hard curve of pumpkin-stem stuck out. It was nearly a foot long and as big around as a grown man's forearm. At its base was a bushy nest of leaves, mimicking pubic hair, and a pendulous pair of miniature pumpkins each the size of her fist.