Following the mysterious pumpkin patch scene of Part 2, our story now takes a frightening turn as the magical Pumpkinheart is caught in a struggle between our young trik-ot-treat queen and a terrible witch. And later, an affable fellow named Carbon comes to the rescue, but with a frightening suggestion.
Watrous & Valmora: Further Tales of Pumpkinheart
As she emerges beyond the tall stalks of the cornfield, and steps upon pavement, the girl is surprised to see not the little werewolf, but instead find a certain old lady. With each footstep ever slowly passing the other, the frail woman approaches from the direction of the old school. And not too far off down the street, passes through a wan streetlight. The girl immediately runs, meeting in the twilight of the lamp.
“Hello. Have you seen my brother?”
The woman gazes downward and smiles warmly but with a furrowed forehead. She stops and takes some labored breaths. “Oh dear, no, my child. Has our royal highness misplaced her very blood line?”
Having no idea what the old lady is rambling on about, the little queen continues, “His name is Watrous. I left him over there by the water tower,” she points, “and when I came out of the pumpkin patch he was gone!”
The woman tenses just a bit, straightening upward rather quickly against the protest of old joints. She seems perhaps less frail than the little monarch had imagined.
“And what,” the fractured voice crumbles, “could have distracted you enough to lose that poor innocent little boy?”
The little girl takes in a breath and remembers the prize. She brightens up just a little bit, forgetting the worries of their predicament. “Oh, ma’am, you were right. I found something just like you said - a jewel, I think. A jewel fit for a queen!” She digs into her plastic cat pail until encountering the peculiarly shaped object brought out into the night. There it catches the light of the streetlamp and it glitters, throwing off shards of luminosity.
“Just look at that!” A weird exhaling whistle comes out from behind the elderly woman’s dry cracked lips, the air tunneling through rotted dental gaps. The ancient eyes now wide, admire the object as the face moves closer. “That is mighty beautiful. It does look a bit like the jewel I mentioned… but you should let me take a closer look,” and the old woman puts out her hand.
Doubtful, the girl looks at this kind gesture of invitation, and up into the face of the elderly woman. The woman’s dark black eyes gleam and the little girl imagines what appears to be a wet membrane, like a second eyelid, twitching at their edge. But the woman’s pitiful smile is grinning down without malice, and again there is an impression of her own dear grandmother. The girl looks back at the waiting hand while again the wind seems to kick up. The corn at the edges of the road sways and chatters, and rusty metal is rasping from the hollering scarecrow in the distant pumpkin patch.
The girl shivers but says, “Well, okay,” and reaches out with her prize. “You did tell me where to go find the jewel, but I wasn’t sure if this is what you meant?”
As the jewel hits the palm of the woman’s hand, the change is immediate. The fingers extend, stretching around the object like black stalks. They wrap around the object as the girl’s fingers retract in surprise; the once pale stooped figure is transforming into a towering dark-skin witch of a most hideous sort. The mouth grows dental work that is frighteningly, perfectly sharp bordered in lips of dark olive green parting with a sickening grin. The nose stretches out downward over the mouth, and a wart pops out with long dark hairs at its tip. The once-friendly eyes become animalistic, as the now obvious second membrane blinks. Above, the middlebrow of the forehead creeps downward turning the once friendly expression into a dreadful leer. And all around the face, the white unkempt hair turns oily black extending about her as a dark halo, while a deep and disgustingly phlegmatic cackle emerges from the woman’s throat.
In terror, the young girl backs away from this hideous vision holding the jewel up into the light. But almost at once, bats from the pumpkin patch mob the witch, burying the singular creature in a cloud so thick the girl can no longer see the terrifying face. The now horrible witch is topped with a swirling blackness; and inside it, the satisfied laughter turns into a screech of frustrated annoyance.
The scene worsens as a second dark cloud of crows begin orbiting and attacking the first. Their loud sonorous voices deafen, and the girl is horrified to see them picking off bats with their sharp beaks to do unmentionable bloody things. Not wanting to see any more, she turns fast on her heels and runs toward the Kilkenny’s farmhouse.
Wanting only to see the welcoming sight of that distant place, to find her brother waiting… the little girl lets her royal accessories drop to the road. Between her flight and the ink-black spectacle, there spans a stretch of glittery debris. Back near the troubled witch rests a splattered bucket of candy, followed later by a crown here, and later with a scepter there.
With great relief she finally arrives yet, distressed from this illogical nightmare, weeps and pounds at the door. But there is no answer. Exhausted, she sits on the doorstep, and realizes the house is empty. Maybe it would be best to wait here for just a while… to figure out what to do next?
As her breath returns to a quieter pace, a rustling from the hedges catches her attention. Startled, the girl spies two yellow eyes peering outward. And for a time the two gazes meet, doing nothing more until the mysterious watcher blinks slowly, and steps cautiously out of the shadows. The creature, a cat, is dark as midnight, and as it steps haltingly forward, attends a series of motions that involve feigning interest in anything but this stranger at the door.
“Hello kitty,” the girl whispers in a soft sob, drying tears from wet cheeks.
The lush feline stops about a foot distant and sits. It looks up into the stranger's face, blinks some more, and bobs a curious nose in the air. Stretching out its neck, the cat replies not with the expected mewing, but in the courteous tones of a gentleman, “Good evening. And who are you?”
Stunned, the girl stares for some time without a word. With the youth seemingly catatonic, the cat sniffs the air and occasionally looks off into the night around them. When his randomly-placed interest returns, the cat looks directly into her face and tries again. “Well, can I help you? You were knocking at our door. Remember?”
Being ever so polite but feeling the need to return the upturned world back toward familiar territory, the young girl whispers, “Cats can’t talk.”
That cat takes it all in great stride and answers with complete civility. “Oh, well, that is quite true. Cats don’t talk like humans, that is.” The cat seems a bit embarrassed and tests the air again, looking sheepish but still ever so curious of the girl at the door. Then, suddenly, at complete ease prattles on as if he can share with her the oddities of this Halloween night.
“And you know what’s most surprising to me is that just before you arrived, I was singing like a human. Yes, singing a song, an old cat classic it would seem about two cats competing in a game of mouse-catch. Now how could I translate and sing such a song in human? I guess you are aware that cats don’t sing either, not as you do, but I’m certain you are well aware.
“Well, it would seem tonight that I do talk and sing, like you. I think it quite strange, but it’s that whole Halloween thing, you know? Happens every year. I never know what it’s going to be. The best year was when I had wings! That surprised a mouse or two, not to mention the bats and owls! I certainly showed them how to terrorize the night with a pair of terrible wings!
“Anyway, it’s all quite interesting is it not? I’ve never before talked with a human. I always thought your kind was a pretty rackety bunch, but it would seem you’re a bit of a sullen type. Maybe you’re just bewitched by the night too?”
The girl tenses up at the choice of words, and shrinks away from the dark animal. “Are you a witch’s cat?”
“Humph!” At this abrupt twist in the conversation the cat looks away with his ears down a bit, “I suppose it’s because I have black fur,” the cat says scornfully. “So, no, to ease your mind, I’m not a witch’s cat. I’m the Kilkenny’s cat. They are simple loving folk, and you, by the way, still haven’t told me who you are, or what you want here.”
The young girl, only recently dethroned in a shocking turn of events, wakes up a little, and worrying she has caused insult is quick to apologize, “Oh no, I’m sorry, you don’t understand. I just met one... a witch... and not far from here. I thought maybe you were together.”
The cat’s nose twitches in the air, and his whiskers shudder. “Well, I don’t sense any witch around here at the moment. We are safe for now. So please, do tell me about this witch you met, and why you are here”
The girl then relates her dramatic evening of trick-or-treat and ends with a question, “What can it all mean and what should I do? Oh, and my name is Valmora.”
“Well, Valmora, pleasure to meet you, though these do sound to be most unfortunate circumstances. My name is Carbon. And I’m not sure what to make of your wild tale. I’m a simple farm cat in a human’s world. I sleep around the barn during the day, and hunt around the grounds by night for mice. However, I do occasionally come across some extraordinary things such as witches and their ilk.
“Now, as I recall there is a spirit that passes around here on nights like Halloween. It’s a wandering thing called a ghost. Not much of a life, or what’s left of it, I should say. It just goes about the fields moaning… and floating about… but perhaps it knows of more things than either of us? I believe we should ask it.”
The girl starts to tremble again. She had become rather calm holding this matter-of-fact conversation, even though it was with a cat. But at mention of possible ghost-hunting, she stutters, “I don’t know. Sound dangerous. And I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Oh,” the cat blinks. “I see.” He gives her a moment, and then begins again. “It appears to me as if this night may have changed a few of your opinions, like or not. It would seem something is afoot, and you are in the middle.
“The Kilkennys are not here, and in any case, I suspect they wouldn’t be able to help in matters of this charmed mayhem. No offense, but humans are a bit inept when it comes to the inner workings of Halloween night.”
At that the former queen, now a scared little girl, agrees. She has indeed made a royal mess of things. She is far from home, running from a terrible witch... and hiding at a deserted farmhouse while her brother is lost… or worse. And here she is conferring with a cat about a ghost. She sighs and resigns herself to further weirdness and, supposes, will have much to tell her instructors at school the next morning.
“Okay,” she gulps, “how do we find this ghost?”
“Hmmm,” the cat peers thoughtfully out into the night. “That could be tricky. He is a wandering ghost after all, and not a very happy one.”
(to be continued...)
Stay tuned for Part 4 of Watrous & Valmora. Our heroes find the ghost they are seeking, though it is not at all happy to see them. And who is there to help when a murder of crows has you cornered in a playground?
Tonight's story was brought to you by Bindlegrim - maker of fine vintage-style arts for the autumn season. We thank you for tuning in to this special presentation, celebrating the release of On Stranger Winds: Tall Tales for Shorter Days, (a book offering both light to dark writings of whimsy for autumn and winter), coming soon in both digital and print formats.