The Perfect Pumpkin
by John Claude Smith
“If it wasn’t a week before Halloween, I’d be scared crazy. But I know you well enough, Danny, to know that you like to tell stories, and I’ve already heard this one a dozen times over the last two weeks—”
“But it’s true, Melinda. Cutter’s farm is where old Dr. Ranier does abortions, or at least did them. Look, it’s perfect: it’s just far enough out of town as to be kind of anon…anonymous. He used to be a doctor, a…a baby doctor—”
“Yeah, yeah, an obstetrician. And he was disbarred—”
“That’s for a lawyer.”
“Well, shit, Brainic! He lost his license and moved out here, about ten, maybe twelve-years-ago, and since he’s not really a farmer, he has to have some income, so he—”
“So he sets up office as a country abortionist—”
“And the babies are supposed to come back to haunt anybody who trespasses—”
“Stop! I’ve heard enough. He must be doing some farming now, otherwise, where’d all these pumpkins come from?”
“I dunno, they must grow wild. Creepy stuff, eh?”
“Just nightmares or rumors, made-up stories meant to scare kids from having sex, and in this case, ‘cause of the abortionist slant, getting pregnant and all that. Kind of a gruesome safe sex message, don’t you think? And isn’t that what all horror stories made primarily for kids are up to, anyway? Just like in the movies, if you’re a teenager and you have sex, the boogyman’s gonna get you—ooooOOOOOoooo, I’m soooo frightened.”
With whiplash precision, she shifted her attitude from mockingly scared to salaciously seductive, easily distracting him. “Danny, oh, Danny, bab-eeeee...” She purred the last syllable, long and languid. She grabbed his crotch, squeezing hard, whispering something nasty and oh-so-enticing in his ear. As his penis turned to steel, his brain turned to mush.
Having gotten his attention, she let go and backed away. “You gonna help me get a perfect pumpkin from this patch or not?”
“What about my—”
“Later, big boy, when we’re out of range of any sexually oppressed boogymen disguised as abortionist farmers.”
Danny Cruise peered out at the fog-mottled field, wispy tendrils like plumes of thickening smoke eerily weaving through the pumpkins, looking like a congregation of ghosts…or a herd of monstrous beasts lashing the pumpkins with writhing tentacles; his imagination sprang back to life with a potency that unnerved him while coinciding with the deflation of his penis. Melinda Harner, his girlfriend, folded her arms across her burgeoning bosom, trying to fend off the October chill. She peered at him, obstinate in her quest to obtain the perfect pumpkin. Now that she had spotted what she claimed was the most perfect pumpkin for miles around, in which she would carve the winner in the school contest, something that brought a wee bit of fame in a small town like Bloomfield, she was dead set on obtaining this pumpkin, and only this pumpkin. No other pumpkin would suffice.
Danny hopped over the barbed-wire fence, ragged metal tips ripping two fingers; he winced, put the stinging fingers in his mouth, and sprinted toward the fog-embraced pumpkin patch.
“Which one did you want?” His voice seemed not to carry, trapped in the puffy white shroud of fog. But it did carry, and she responded
“There,” Melinda harrumphed, pointing to his right at the perfect pumpkin, she thought, for her to carve a masterpiece. Her voice hit Danny with the force of a thunderclap; goosebumps tickled his flesh.
After having heard about the fat, perfect pumpkins in this patch, as well as the sordid recent history of the farm via whispers in the hallways at Lincoln High, anxiously retold by Danny mere minutes ago, Melinda knew she had to check it out. Her nature was competitive and she was always looking for that special edge. If this patch actually had the perfect pumpkin she coveted, she knew the edge would be hers. No horror stories were going to stand in her way.
“Here,” he said, pointing at one of the dozen or so seemingly perfect, unblemished pumpkins in the direction she had pointed. How could she even tell the difference?
“No, there,” she bellowed, the volume almost knocking him over again. It was cold and he was tired and if he didn’t really love her, he’d already be anywhere but here with a space heater melting his icy flesh and thawing out his freezing blood.
Without speaking, he pointed, and she shook her head, yes--thank God! He pulled out his switchblade and cut the coarse vine, trying to disengage the pumpkin. After a brief struggle, he was victorious, but noticed that he’d smeared blood all over the ragged stem. He assumed it was from his still bleeding fingers, not inclined to inspect it any further.
He plucked it from its roost, amazed by its weight. It was about as big as a slightly super-sized basketball, not huge, but its heft made his arms ache. She better be really appreciative for this, he thought, and ran back to the fence. He handed the pumpkin to her so he could hop over the fence again.
“Careful, it’s heavy,” he said, as he put it in her eager hands. She grunted and agreed.
“Damn! For its size, that’s gotta be the heaviest pumpkin I’ve ever felt.”
Danny braced himself and leaped, this time with even less grace, catching his foot and plopping down hard on his butt. Melinda laughed at his awkward predicament. He frowned at her.
“What? I do this favor for you and you laugh at me now, ‘cause I’m cold and tired and...”
She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead as he brushed the weeds out of his hair and clothes.
“Carry this, would’ya?” More insistent than requesting, already handing him the pumpkin.
“I’m just your slave—”
“Slave to my beguiling charms.” She put on the act, puppy dog eyes and pouting lips on full display.
They started the two-mile trek back into town, their pace brisk, trying to keep warm.
“It’s probably cursed, probably why I tripped up going over the fence.”
“You’re just clumsy. There’s no curse for takin’ a pumpkin. No dead babies gonna haunt you. I’m just gonna carve a winner out of this one.”
“That stuff is true. I mean, all that about Dr. Ranier doing abortions and stuff.” He put his fingers in his mouth again, balancing the pumpkin against his chest. Apparently the cuts were deeper than he’d thought, and continued to bleed profusely.
They both fell silent for a handful of minutes, purposeful strides taking over as the night grew even colder. The overcast skies portended rain and they just wanted to make it home before it started.
And then Danny stumbled, dropping the pumpkin. Not hard, catching it before it really hit the ground, but enough to have it land with a leaden thump on the dirt.
“Damn it, klutz! Do you need walking lessons or what?” Melinda was beside herself with anger, squatting to inspect the pumpkin. All this for naught, she thought; all this for naught.
“Shit, Melinda. It’s not like I meant to—”
“You bleedin’ on it?”
“Yeah, cut my finger on the fence, bled on the stem…”
Melinda scooted away from the pumpkin, inexplicably alarmed. “How can that be? The pumpkin’s got blood comin’ from inside.”
They both watched as a thin line of blood trickled from a miniscule crack towards the bottom, where it had hit the ground. The red liquid pooled in the dirt.
“T-That’s impossible,” she said. “Can’t be any blood comin’ from inside a pumpkin, only pumpkin, seeds and all. You must have bled a lot more than you thought,” she said, forcing a smile, obviously in denial of what she was witnessing. More blood seeped from the crack.
Danny pulled out his switchblade and approached the pumpkin. He knelt before it, not really sure what he was going to do, but feeling safer with the knife in his hand.
With suddenness, curiosity took over, and he plunged the knife into the thick hide of the pumpkin. Blood gushed out, mixed with another unknown fluid that diluted the crimson tide, along with stringy pumpkin guts and pumpkin seeds, spattering the dirt and his shoes. He pried with the knife and his fingers, pulling the pumpkin apart.
“Oh, Christ!” He moaned in revulsion at what he saw.
Melinda squealed, “What is it, Danny? What is it?”
The pumpkin had split wide open like a cracked egg. Danny jumped to his feet, hands dripping wet. An intolerable stench was belched from within the split pumpkin, forcing him to cover his face with his sleeve, while Melinda openly retched, dry and empty. She was on her feet as well, fingers digging crescents into Danny’s arms. He didn’t feel a thing. They both just stared in horror and disgust.
Within the womb of the pumpkin, entwined within a network of ripped veins, a ruptured clear sac, and pumpkin guts and seeds, two large yellow eyes, like jaundiced moons and devoid of pupils, attempted to blindly seek out the source of intrusion. It probably did not see them, thought Danny, as his stomach roiled like a fist-sized hurricane, battering his insides.
It was a fetus, a mutation of inconceivable ugliness borne of nightmares and rumors and curses made real.
“Oh my God, Danny…Danny!” Melinda cringed, teetering on hysterical.
The obscenity, skin stained with blood but otherwise as orange as a healthy pumpkin, turned itself in the direction of Melinda’s voice, the tiny holes where ears should be steering it in her direction, their direction. Gurgling noises emanated from its throat, wet sounds and orange spittle passing by its lipless slit of a mouth.
“We need to go--now!” Melinda, beside herself, doing a nervous dance of desperation: she wanted away from here posthaste…or sooner!
“Wait,” Danny said. “I think it’s trying to…say something.”
Melinda pulled harder on Danny’s arm, afraid to leave without him, the night and clouds and vast darkened landscape uninviting despite her urgency to run as far away from here as possible.
“C’mon! Let’s go!”
The sound that rose from the baby’s mouth unhinged the muscles in Danny’s legs. He slumped to the ground, transfixed by the fetal abomination squirming and convulsing and hideously alive within the pumpkin. Melinda tumbled with him, but not for long. He scrambled to his feet and dragged her to hers, his feet pounding the dirt like a chorus of hammers, matching the freight train rhythm of his heart; his swiftness almost lifted Melinda into the air as one would a kite. The utterance, repeated again and again, insistent, scarred the night with its cawing message, resonant and haunting, cursing both of their ears forever.
One word, only one, but Danny and Melinda would remember it until the day they died.
“Daddy,” it screeched, it begged.
Yeah, perhaps I do have problems, hahahaha...
Saw this photo posted recently on FB, a pretty good fit for the story, eh?