Following Part 1 of our story, the trick-or-treat queen and werewolf, in search of the Pumpkinheart, discover a mysterious field inhabited by a strange weather-vane scarecrow, and before it's all over, someone disappears...
Watrous & Valmora: Further Tales of Pumpkinheart
“Why?” Another high-pitched cry curls upward into the air around the werewolf who is now physically pulled by the hand of the young queen. “Mom said stay close! That lady’s house was already past the neighborhood… just stop!” And again the last word comes out in a long drawl of wavering notes as the boy is able to jerk hard enough to halt their forward motion.
“Ouch! Behave!” The girl lets go of his hand and scowls. “You better follow me or you’ll lose your way back home!”
It was true; his greed long ago made him all too happy to follow her out of the neighborhood’s boundaries, following the promise of more candy. Now he is suddenly aware that he isn’t sure where here is, or how to get back. His wide eyes start to water and his grip on the pillowcase slackens. Maybe the sweets aren’t all that important. He is honestly ready to throw it all away if it means he can return home, safely held in the arms of his parents.
“Oh, just look,” the girl sighs. She sits by the side of the road, making him seem the bigger and braver of the two. “We’ve almost just passed this half of the Kilkenny’s corn field. See the water tower there? That’s where we’re going, and after that, then we’ll turn right back around. I promise!”
The boy looks skeptical. The town would someday stretch out with new developments but currently this area is occupied with only fancy signage and vacant cul-de-sacs. Streetlights are few and far between as the road travels mostly through old farming country, with distant houses slightly revealed in the pools of their own weak light. She had promised they would turn around after that last house, hadn’t she?
Unfortunately his arguing power and limited vocabulary comes out something more like, “But I’m scared,” which he immediately regrets, knowing this statement has just put the power in her hands. She is his only way to get back home.
“Right,” she says, “so let’s just stick together. I know this area because I used to go to the old school we just passed. So we’re not that far now. Just a few more steps right over there toward the water tower.” And, as if sensing the right words that will make the smaller kid less nervous says, “You see, there’s a light right there, on the rigging of the tower.” And at that she stands as if she has also just convinced herself this is the normal thing to do, ignoring the urgent whispering in the back of her mind that says they are stuck in the no-good of nowhere on the dark side of an unwelcoming night.
The little werewolf sniffles and clutches harder at his bag of candy. Making sure she has his hand, he follows past the final stretch of the field where a dirt road will lead off toward the water tower. But the new scene, now in view, causes him to pull backward and stall again. Sure the water tower has a light on it, but between stretches many feet of thin and rutted road bordered on either side by tall crops. His imagination doesn’t dare consider what monsters might be crawling through there!
“Look,” proclaims the girl, pointing to a house not too far in the distance. She speaks in a manner that helps quiet her own doubts. “That’s the Kilkenny’s farmhouse and you know them. If they can live out here, and sleep in peace every night, then it’s going to be fine. Their lights are still on, so after this we could head over, tell them we got lost and ask for a ride home, maybe...” And she starts to work out her account of the night’s chain of events, explaining the matter in some way that keeps them from getting into trouble.
Beside her the little wolf-boy groans but takes her hand again and trails off behind her down the overgrown road. On either side of them the late season harvest and weeds rustle dryly in the breeze, and the light ahead makes shadows dance underfoot as they approach.
The tank climbs high and fat, sitting heavy on a crisscross pattern of wood framing. Above, a light juts horizontally outward from a rickety curved pole and casts its orange light dimly downward. Behind the light, a weather-vane or some sort mechanical device occasionally ticks and clatters above them.
Past the tower, the road runs further into darkness, and all around surround fields of corn with the exception of one large low-growing patch of vines dotted with pumpkins, light bouncing off smooth orange surfaces. In the middle of that patch stands a strange scarecrow, less like a person than a mishmash mobile of crooked sticks, sagging burlap bags, rusted cooking pans, and dented mirrors, all pushed about on the whims of the wind. The assemblage slowly turns on its axis and completely unnerves her when the contraption comes to a halt, facing them. The construction is topped with a round piece of worn plywood painted crudely with a face topped by old and wrinkled aluminum Christmas tree icicles fluttering in the breeze. The face stares glumly, mouth open, in their direction.
“OK, can we go back now,” says the young werewolf. If it were possible, his corduroy fur would be standing on end.
The girl looks off into the distance at the farmhouse for some reassurance. “Well,” she says weakly, “I guess the Kilkennys were always a bit artsy…”
She directs the young boy to a bench beneath the light. And with strict instructions for him to stay in place, she turns toward the field and crosses the weed-choked road. She is glad for a dry season, because her shoes are completely inappropriate for the farm. But pretty soon she discovers some of the previously foot-worn paths and this makes the going somewhat easier. Quickly she heads in the direction of the weird scarecrow that, if she didn’t know better, is following her with its gaze. With no idea where she will find this jewel, she figures the scarecrow is a good place to start even though it gives her the willies.
“Hello,” she says timidly yet not really looking at it, as she reaches the large post that holds the wild contraption in the air. She turns in a slow circle looking out around the field, taking it all in, catching sight of her brother waving back from the water tower. She mutters to the scarecrow without looking at it, “I don’t suppose you know anything about a really fabulous pumpkin jewel?”
She feels really dumb as she speaks the words. But, as if in answer, the contraption behind her swings a grating three-sixty, with a rusty moan that sends shivers down her spine.
She swings around too and stares at the eerie bogle. Once more it has coincidentally come to a stop with its gaze in her direction. However as an educated girl, she knows that such inanimate things are just that, and not something one should let trouble you. But as if to argue her mental note, the contraption spins around again as all about the leaves of the pumpkin plants shiver.
She gawks. Staring at the ghastly face of the contraption, she ponders the weirdness of this whole adventure, and wonders if she should be over at the Kilkennys asking for permission. But she shrugs it all off and remembers the words of the kind old lady who reminded her of her own sweet grandmother. Such a lovable old soul would not fabricate tall tales to little children, leading them into trespasses and theft. Satisfied with this assessment, she turns toward the field, to the task at hand. She crosses her arms, bringing the tiara-cat candy bucket close.
Looking around again, at her feet she notices a particularly hefty pumpkin vine coming out of the ground. She begins to follow it, putting some distance between herself and the bothersome scarecrow whose rusty moans seem to continue with greater frequency. But with the courage of her desire, she traces the path of the huge vine as it snakes off, sometimes hiding beneath the canopy of its own leaves and often with fingered tendrils pulling it away into the distance. Finally, she arrives at a most incredible pumpkin that glows in the moonlight; the hull is almost transparent from something inside, deep yet bright.
The scarecrow’s corroded metal grates with continuing spins that screech as a rusted siren.
As she walks, the doubtful queen turns to look back at the sound, and falls across a vine. As she sits up and straightens her crown, she reaches out to recover a few pieces of candy, and shudders. The canopy of pumpkin leaves are moving in the wind, and was it just her imagination that a breeze alone could push vines across the ground?
Again, not one to be frightened by inanimate objects, but definitely shaken, she decides this is all very fine, but it’s time to leave and quickly but not without reward. With renewed commitment she pounces back toward the odd glowing pumpkin. Having carved innumerable pumpkins in her short days, and being ever so resourceful, the girl uses her royal staff to stab into its translucent flesh toward the glittering seed.
At this, something awful occurs. As the scarecrow moans, a dark cloud of wings descends in front of her face. “Bats!” she screams. She is surprised but as an educated girl is also not one to go running off in a wailing panic, and instead assumes they are just confused during their nightly hunt for insects. She drops down lower into the vines near the shimmering pumpkin, and works more quickly toward the magic glow. It is not long until she extracts a large seed-shaped object that, without hesitation, she crams among her stash of sweets. All the while the bats are frantic, flapping and squeaking.
Before she can bother with further worries, she flees toward the distant light of the water tower. Unconsciously she hurdles strange movements that cross her path among the pumpkin vines. The near-distant scarecrow screams, and a shadow of dark bats trail behind her. Yet she clears the border of the patch without further incident, at which point the night seems to fall into a shocked silence. To her amazement, all is as before with the scarecrow again staring bleakly, noiselessly toward her.
She turns to claim the young werewolf, only to find he has not stayed on the bench as earlier instructed. She calls out, and walks about and beneath the frame of the tower, and lastly sits for a few minutes on the bench pondering the incurable little brat. Most probably, she thinks, he has headed back home or toward the Kilkennys. As she ponders, she also digs through her candy bucket, and pops a piece of gum in her mouth. She rifles through the sweets for a glimpse at the jewel sparkling from the electric light of the tower but dares not, conscious that the scarecrow contraption is still staring in her direction, bring it out into the night.
“This is worth it,” she whispers admiringly. “Best to get you home.”
She buries it safely among the night’s loot, and begins her journey back. If she doesn’t find the little werewolf out by the main road, she will head to the Kilkennys who she has determined will be glad to help a couple of lost trick-or-treat children. But she better move fast. It most certainly won’t do to have him arrive first and destroy her carefully fabricated explanations.
(to be continued...)
Stay tuned for Part 3 of Watrous & Valmora, as our trick-or-treat queen finds herself in terrible danger after witnessing a horrifying transformation. Can an affable fellow name Carbon come to her rescue?
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.