I didn’t understand. I had those floaty things. My teacher said everyone did. An artifact of our eyes developing, or something like that. I guess he’d been told the same thing, but it did him little good. His parents were concerned, of course, and they brought him to ophthalmologists who were all in agreement: his eyes were fine. When he denied the experts’ claims and doubled down on his insistence that something was wrong, his worried parents got him into therapy.
I guess the therapist helped him a little bit. Malcolm’s paranoia seemed to diminish somewhat and his anxious habits like twitching and blinking weren’t as pronounced. That was good – a lot of kids made fun of the way he blinked. He told me it helped push the things out of sight for a couple seconds.
When I was a kid, I used to play games like “The Floor is Lava” with my brother, Greg. I didn’t like it too much. Greg was far more athletic than I. Older, too. He’d do all these graceful steps and great, balletic leaps that were way beyond anything my pudgy body could do. When I’d fall and lose the game, he’d gloat for a while and then we’d go off and play something else.
My neighbor, Mr. Clayton, would always watch us from the other side of the fence that separated our backyards. Mom said to stay away from him, but she couldn’t stop the guy from watching us play. He seemed harmless, if not a little weird. We didn’t pay him much attention. All afternoon, he’d watch us run races or throw the football around, only leaving his place behind the fence if he wanted to refresh his drink. Every so often, Greg would say, “hi Mr. Clayton” and give a big, exaggerated wave. Mr. Clayton just smiled awkwardly and looked down at the ground. To be honest, I felt a little bad for the man.
On an afternoon in late June, right after we’d gotten out of school and the day after Greg’s 15th birthday, he and I were roughhousing outside. We did that often. Even though he was older and taller, because of my extra heft, we were roughly the same weight. He was still much stronger and more agile, though, so he always got the better of me and pinned me down. After another win by Greg, he had me helpless on the ground while he crowed over me. While I waited for him to get off, I glanced over to the side. I could see Mr. Clayton watching us with rapt attention. His right shoulder was moving back and forth. Even though I was 11, I had a pretty good idea what he was doing.
I’ve been riding since I was six. It’s always felt natural and effortless. It’s nothing but the wind in my hair, the steady, pulsing steps propelling us forward, and a communion between woman and beast that transcends individuality. Once I’ve mounted her, we stop being separate entities. We become a singular machine with one, undeniable purpose: motion.
Sometime around my 14th birthday, I concluded that a saddle and bridle defiled the purity of the riding experience. They were training wheels. They had to be taken away before I could consider myself a real rider. So I insisted that I learn to ride bareback.
It was much harder than I’d anticipated. I fell often. I had a terrible time trying to get Millie to obey my commands. There were many occasions when she would roam in random directions and I couldn’t turn her. But I learned. Gradually, I learned.
I began wearing spurs. When I dug them into Millie’s sides, she’d whimper and stomp the ground, but she learned quickly that the pain meant it was time to move. The harder I spurred her, the faster she was to go. Before long, she knew I was in control again. I’d grab the thick hair by her ears and pull her head in one direction or another, depending on where I wanted us to go. My thighs would ache as I held on, but slowly, methodically, our oneness was reinstated. Our purpose was renewed. We were speed. We were power.
On the morning I’d intended to ride through sprawling, wooded acres of our property, I stepped outside to find a note on the doorstep. It was from our stable hand. With a growing sensation of rage and contempt, I read every messy, scribbled word that he’d written. He was reprimanding me for my treatment of Millie. He called me cruel. In the envelope, along with his note, were photographs of bloody streaks on her side from my spurs and raw patches from when I’d pulled her hair too hard and it had come away in my hands.
The audacity of the stable hand – the stable boy – infuriated me. When my parents died, they’d left me everything. Their fortune. Their land. Their stables. And, most importantly, Millie. Millie was my property. That the servant in charge of caring for my property could have the temerity to scold his better was incomprehensible. It was seditious. It was vulgar.
In a rage, I stormed down the hill to the stables and saw him brushing Millie’s hair. He saw me coming with the envelope in my hand. The fear blooming in his dull eyes gifted me with a modicum of satisfaction, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.
I pulled a riding crop from the wall and beat the cowering worker across his face and neck. I screamed at him and demanded that he not cover himself. He obeyed. Blood poured out of the thin, deep canyons I left in his flesh. With one, final swing, I watched his left eye split as the tip of the crop carved through the organ.
Millie paced around her stall, frightened. I saw the scabs on her head and sides that’d been featured so prominently in the photographs. I unlatched the door and beckoned her out. She looked in the direction of the stable hand and saw the blood on the floor. She hesitated. I screamed for the hand to leave, and he did. After a moment, Millie stepped out of the stall.
Her towering bulk trotted into the aisle. She brushed up against me, obviously happy I was there. I looked at my watch. There was still enough time to ride. I patted her on the butt, and she knelt down.
“Good Millie,” I whispered. My spurs clinked on the wood floor. “Now, up!”
She lifted me with one massive arm and placed me on her hunched, twisted back. Her misshapen breasts dangled as she arched, then moaned slightly as I gripped her thick, black hair. She turned her head, and for a moment, I was startled by how familiar a portion of her profile looked. That one, small sector of her deformed face looked like me. It looked like our mother. The memory brought a tear to my eye. I gathered myself.
“Let’s go,” I ordered my older sister, and with a grunt of assent and a whimper of pain as she felt my spurs, we galloped off into the dewy morning.
I don’t want to bring my son into town because I know people will stare and try to interfere. You know the kind of folks I’m talking about. Gossips and busybodies. They’ll look at him and say he’s sick; that his color looks bad; that he’s lethargic. A couple men, Jehovah’s Witnesses, I think, rang the bell last week. I answered with my boy in my arms, and they had the audacity to gasp when they saw Cullen. I just slammed the door in their stupid, pious faces. I have my own faith, anyway – my Lord tells me everyone is welcome, no matter how they look.
When Cully’s mom died giving birth to him, I buried her myself. It’s what we’ve always done in our family. We’ve had six generations of Dempseys come and go. Each one is on our property, six feet underground at the foot of the rock face. No gravestones. No need to tie them to their earthly names when they’re beyond. Their memories live on through our journals and essays. It’s what my great-many-time-over grandfather, Finian Domnall Dempsey, demanded of all his children, grandchildren, and so on. It’s how our legacy will endure.
I’ll admit to not being the best father over the first couple months of Cully’s life. I often forget to feed him. Sometimes I leave him alone for hours at a time if I need to run errands. I’ve never once heard him cry or whine, though. He’s very sweet like that. Not a complainer. One thing I’ve always remembered to do, though, since it’s hard to forget, is bathe him. As the time has gone by, his smell has gotten worse and worse. In the back of my mind, I know the reason. I’m not ready to admit it yet. My boy is healthy. Strong.
FDD MICROCYCLE: Angel-Sunflower-Lamb
This was one of our shorter microcycles, as we’re nearing its end. It feels good to write an update so soon, though; only about a month after the last one. Cullen hasn’t moved. The food I tuck into his mouth, hoping he’ll swallow, just sits there and putrefies until I turn him over and let it tumble out. That thing in the back of my mind I mentioned last microcycle is hard to deny nowadays. Cully’s gone unwashed for at least three weeks. Whenever I tried to do it, he’d get damaged. I can’t bear to hurt my boy. I’ve since swaddled him up in the tiny blanket Sine had knitted for him. I wish she could’ve seen him in it. He looks so peaceful.
FDD MICROCYCLE: Archangel-Thistle-Lion
I had to stop denying the reality of Cullen’s situation today. More and more of him had leaked through the blue pastel blanket his mother had made to keep him warm and safe. The entire house smelled of death. The end of the macrocycle just made the impending trip to the rock face that much more of a necessity.
At the foot of the rock face, above the bodies of those who came before me, countless flowers grew. Their bright faces shone with hope and encouragement, doing their best to cut through the morosity I felt. I carefully placed Cullen on the grass. I unwrapped the blanket and stared at the carcass of my son. As the wind took his odor away and poured it into the woods, I thought about the long wait I’d have to endure. Another three quarters of a year until I’d see my next Angel.
The swollen torso of Cullen collapsed inward as his livid flesh melted into the grass. His little mouth stretched open, popping softly as the decayed jawbone separated. His swollen tongue pushed itself out over his nose and forehead, followed by his esophagus, stomach, and intestines. A wanton orgy of flies descended upon the viscera, only to die the moment they touched the glistening surface. From the soil beneath my beloved boy, countless black tendrils of the finest gossamer erupted in an infinitely-long, omnidirectional spread. In my mind, I remembered the last words in Finian Domnall Dempsey’s journal he’d left before inaugurating the very first macrocycle: “…and corruption will begin its inexorable metastasis in testicles and breasts and bones.”
The carcinogenic tendrils of Archangelic filaments continued their eruption until the last of my beautiful boy had dissolved into the dirt. And he was gone. I mourned for what felt like hours and watched snowdrops, sunflowers, and thistles rise from the Cullen-fertilized ground. I felt empty. Alone.
I walked back into my home, trudged down to the basement, and unlocked the cage which held the soon-mother of my future Angel. I told her what her name would be, then I handed her a ball of yarn and two needles. Sine got to work immediately. Later that afternoon, I planted the seed of the new Cullen. All that’s left for me to do is wait.
I’ve lived in the same house for 40 years. After Ralph passed and I was left alone for the first time in three decades, I turned to my neighbors for comfort. They provided it in spades. I was honored and brought to tears by their kindness. Not too many places would make sure a lonely old man was taken care of. I’m surrounded by wonderful, beautiful people.
I took on the role of a grandfather to some of the neighborhood children. I was more than happy to babysit; Ralph and I always wanted to adopt but it wasn’t permitted in our state. So, having the opportunity to be a formative figure in the lives of these children was a great privilege. It made me feel like I was getting another chance to do everything that had been denied to me. I wish Ralph could’ve been here to take part. Still, I know he’s watching with the same love and pride he expressed every day he was alive.
One girl, Madison, formed a particularly strong connection to me. Her father was out of the picture. Her mom, Helen, who was forced to work full time, was rarely home during the day. Helen had always been the most supportive and loving of the neighbors after Ralph’s death, so when I had the opportunity to help with Madison and watch her during the work day, I was more than willing.
I started looking after Madison soon after her 10th birthday. She fell in love with the collection of toy kangaroos all over the house. Ralph was born in Australia and I always used to call him my little roo – especially when he got excited and his accent became more pronounced. On his birthdays, I’d give him some type of kangaroo toy. They’d been gathering dust after his passing and I was glad Madison could give them some life again.
Years passed and Madison started to grow up. I worried she was becoming depressed. She never had very many friends in school. She’d come straight over when her day was done and do her homework while waiting for her mom. Her mood was less bubbly than I’d remembered. Part of it, I’m sure, was her age. Adolescence is tough for everyone, let alone someone with a difficult family life like Madison. Still, I worried about her. She was perfectly nice to me and was never rude or disrespectful, but she’d withdrawn. She didn’t watch television with me anymore after her homework, either. She’d just sit on the floor in her kangaroo pajamas, which were far too small for her at that point, playing with Ralph’s figurines. Just like she did when she was little.
When Madison was 16, she got a boyfriend. Her first one, as far as I knew. I didn’t like him. At all. He was your typical teenage tough-guy type; a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed loser. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, though. Madison wouldn’t bring him over and I think she sensed I didn’t approve. But it wasn’t my business. I told myself years before that such situations were purely between Madison and her mother. Only if I felt like Madison was in danger would I interfere.
Madison spent more and more time with the boyfriend and less and less with me. The house grew quiet again. The other children I’d taken care of had grown old enough to watch themselves. Their parents stopped by every so often for coffee, but my general person-to-person interaction was far less than I’d previously enjoyed. I was lonely.
One night, Helen came to me in a panic. Apparently, Madison had admitted to using drugs. Helen had no idea what kind or anything like that, but she was terrified for her daughter’s safety. I tried to reassure her that there had to be something the school could do, but that was when she told me the other half of the story: Madison was pregnant.
This floored me. I’d seen Madison around town over the last few months and I’d noticed she’d gained some weight, but it never occurred to me she might be pregnant. Now her drug use was even more worrying. We tried to figure out a plan together and the only thing we could agree on was that the school had to know. Even though the local school system wasn’t the best, they had to have some resources dedicated to problems like these.
The school did nothing. Madison’s reckless behavior continued. Helen was too terrified to notify the police because she feared she’d be put in a foster home. I, too, was clueless. Time went by and the rare times I’d see Madison in town, she’d be stumbling around drunkenly with her idiot boyfriend, her protrusive belly an obscenity against the background of her intoxication.
On a late afternoon in February, I was leaving the supermarket when Madison spotted me from across the parking lot. She wasn’t with her boyfriend, thankfully. She rushed up to me and gave me a big hug. She didn’t seem drunk, but she had to have been on something. Her pupils were dilated and her words were slurred as she said how much she missed me. Then she asked if she could come over later to see the kangaroos. I told her that would be wonderful and that I missed her.
At some point around 7, Madison came over. I ushered her in quickly; it was way below freezing outside and she looked ill. I could tell she was high. She shuffled in without saying hello and went to the mantle where the kangaroos stood. In a singsong, childish voice, she talked to them. When she was 11, I thought that type of thing was cute. Now, though, knowing she was under the influence of something that was poisoning not only her, but the baby as well, it was far less adorable.
I walked up to her and asked if I could take her coat and if she’d like some tea and chocolate cake. She didn’t reply. She just kept talking to the kangaroos. I sighed and sat down on the couch, waiting for her to either snap out of it and talk to me or leave and hopefully go home to her mom.
Madison went down the line of the kangaroo toys on the mantle, saying “I love you” to each one. Then she walked back, doing the same thing in reverse order. Then she faced me. “I love you too, Michael,” she cooed, a thin smile cracking her pale face. “But you know what? I love Roo most of all!”
Madison dropped her heavy coat to the floor and I screamed. A gaping wound had been carved across the top of her belly. The blue head and chest and right arm of her baby stuck out from the opening. “Look at little Roo,” she said weakly. “Such a good little Roo.” Madison tried to hop toward me, mimicking a kangaroo. The limp head and arm of the child flopped back and forth with the movement.
“Sweet little Roo. All warm and safe in his pouch.”
Last Halloween at 11:25 pm, the doorbell rang. I’d just gotten into bed. Thinking I could ignore it and go to sleep, I clicked off the TV and pulled the covers up. The doorbell sounded again. And again. And again.
I threw off the covers, put on my bathrobe, and stormed out of the bedroom. If it was a group of kids playing a prank, I told myself, even their parents wouldn’t be able to identify their bodies. I unlocked and opened the front door.
On the doorstep was a young boy wearing a Native American headdress and an ornately-beaded leather vest and pants. He was clutching a bag of candy to his chest. No one else was around.
It was unseasonably cold that night, and without any adults around, I couldn’t let the kid stay out there and freeze. He looked miserable. I held him by his shoulder and guided him inside, then I picked him up and placed him on the couch. I didn’t know what to do. Calling the police seemed like the only safe bet, so I dialed the non-emergency number. While I waited on hold, I heated up some water to make the kid a mug of hot chocolate.
The kid stared at me while I stood in the kitchen. He didn’t say a word. I felt bad for the little guy.
The receptionist at the police station answered and I told her what was going on. She said she hadn’t heard about any missing kids, but as soon as a car was free, one would be sent over. She cautioned it might be a while, though. Apparently Halloween’s a busy time for them over there.
With the water boiled and the instant hot chocolate made, I went over to the kid and sat down next to him on the couch. I placed the mug on the table across from us. After cautioning him that it was hot, I figured I needed to talk to him.
“Nice costume,” I told him. It wasn’t really that nice. Pretty culturally insensitive nowadays. But whatever.
“Thanks,” he replied.
“So, um, did you lose your parents?,” I asked.
The kid shook his head.
“How about your brothers or sisters? Or friends?”
“Want to try the hot chocolate? It’s really good.”
“I don’t like chocolate.”
“Oh, okay.” I picked up the mug and started drinking, wondering if the kid was slow or something. Who doesn’t like chocolate?
We sat in silence for a little while. He kept his eyes on the unpowered television while I did everything in my power to not appear creepy. I never know how to act around kids.
“Did you have a good time trick-or-treating?,” I asked, then realized it was a stupid question. He’d gotten separated from his family or friends, for fuck’s sake. How good could it have been?
The kid, to my surprise, nodded. “I got what I wanted,” he said.
“Oh? And what was that?”
The doorbell rang and I hopped off the couch and answered it. Two officers. I invited them in and they saw the boy on the sofa. They greeted him and asked the same questions I had. He had nothing to say to them, though. In fact, he looked angry – almost like he hated them.
After a few minutes of getting nowhere, the officers said they were going to bring him back to the station. There still hadn’t been any reports of a missing child.
As they were about to leave, there was a call on the police radio. Something about a murder on 113 Chestnut Place. The three of us stood very still for a moment. I live at 115 Chestnut. My neighbors, Paul and Lynn Chesney, had lived there for decades and were the curators at the local museum.
The officers answered the call on their radio said they were nearby. They were told backup would be there shortly.
“Wait here,” the cops ordered, and the kid and I just looked at each other while the two men left the house and headed next door.
“Don’t worry, it’s okay,” I promised the boy. He looked flat. Unaffected. Then he turned and looked straight at me.
“Bring this to the MTIC. It all belongs to them.” He handed me his bag. I was extremely confused for a second, wondering why the local Mohegan tribe would want Halloween candy. I opened the bag and gasped.
A bloody, stone knife sat atop a pile of beautiful, beaded vestments, ornate carvings, and other, old-looking artifacts.
“Your neighbors have been keeping these from us. We tried to get them back, but they just laughed and mocked our efforts. But they’re too important to give up – especially after we’ve been forced to give up so much.”
I stood like an idiot, holding the bag as sirens approached and the commotion outside grew.
“Give it to them,” the kid shouted with a deep, adult voice that was entirely out of place coming from his small body. And with that, he vanished. The headdress and pants and vest dropped in a pile on the rug. I spent a good 45 minutes convincing myself I hadn’t gone nuts.
Hours later, an officer came back for the boy. “What happened over there?,” I asked the cop. I already knew, but I needed confirmation.
“Looks like the couple got killed in a robbery attempt,” he told me. “Their daughter came home from a Halloween party and found them with their throats cut. I’m sorry.”
I let out a long sigh and nodded.
“Where’s the kid?,” the officer asked.
I had an answer ready. “There was a family going door to door with a picture of him. I guess he’d run away. But he’s back with them now.”
The cop shook his head. “And they didn’t even call us? Christ.” He paused. “Well, okay. Goodnight. I’m sorry about your neighbors – we’ll have officers in the area until whoever did it is found.”
I thanked him and closed the door. It was almost 5:00 am. It was too late to go to bed; I had work in a couple hours. So I sat down at my computer, and with the kid’s bag on the desk next to me, I mapped out directions for my drive to the MTIC.
The farm near our house had a jack-o-lantern pumpkin patch on Halloween. It was pretty cool to look at; a whole field filled with meticulously-carved pumpkins with their grotesque faces glowing from the candlelight within. There was candy strewn about in little baggies, and kids of all ages visited either before or after they trick-or-treated to get some extra loot.
We moved in across the street from that field a couple years ago. At first, we loved the idea of the jack-o-lantern patch. It looked quite haunting and really spoke to the Halloween spirit in me and my wife. But when Halloween was over, the farmer didn’t take the jack-o-lanterns away. He left them to rot.
I assumed it was to fertilize the ground for whatever crop he’d plant in the spring. It made sense he wouldn’t want all that organic material to go to waste. The problem was, they’d attract animals. Animals and bugs. In the unseasonably-warm November we had last year, the smell of the rotting gourds brought critters from far and wide to the field, and when they were done eating, they’d wander the neighborhood.
Being a small town, there was little anyone could do to stop the farmer, whose name was Ruben, from doing what he wanted on his property. We had to deal with the deer and skunks and coyotes and foxes and flies and bees and bats all eating and shitting and fucking their way across the town until no more pumpkins were left.
Last year, I approached Ruben while he was setting up the jack-o-lanterns. He was a friendly guy, there was never any doubting that. I explained the issue and he listened and nodded. He said a few other people had told him the same thing, and he’d fixed the fences over the summer so that wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
“Besides,” he told me with a smile, “last year was just a test run. This Halloween, everything’s going to be just perfect.”
On Halloween, the jack-o-lantern field looked even better than it had the year before. Even though the arrangement was the same, Ruben had hired some artists to collaborate and create truly monstrous designs for the pumpkins. They were awesome. I even did a walk through by myself in the early afternoon before the candles were lit just to take it all in. I felt like a kid again.
As the evening was coming to a close and we’d given out the majority of our candy to the neighborhood children, we were getting ready to turn off the light and lock up when we heard sirens approaching. I looked outside and saw a procession of police cars and fire engines and ambulances heading toward us. I stepped out on the porch and watched as they passed our house and took the sharp left into the driveway of Ruben’s farmhouse.
I sat on the steps with my wife and watched as lights were flipped on and the field was partially illuminated. “Oh my God,” I whispered.
In the harsh, overhead lights, I saw bodies on the ground among the glowing jack-o-lanterns. Small ones. Small, costumed ones. Kids. “Oh my God,” I repeated, louder.
Paramedics and rescue officials descended on the field and worked to resuscitate the still bodies. One by one, they gave up. Parents were arriving in droves and the sound of wailing and hysteria filled the air. My wife and I held one another as little bodies with sheets over them were loaded into ambulances.
The next morning, it was all over the news. “32 children dead in an apparent poisoning.” Ruben was arrested and questioned. He refused to speak to the investigators and he was held without bail.
Funerals were held and pumpkins began to rot. It was another unseasonably-warm November, and on cue, insects began to discover the field. Clouds of flies drifted in and out, blanketing the field in a gray haze as they left their eggs in the pumpkins’ softening flesh.
In the following days, toxicology reports on the autopsied children came back. Whatever had poisoned them was still unknown. They’d exhibited all the outward signs of a poisoning: cyanosis, hemorrhage, paralysis, etc. – but no toxins were found in their bodies. Tissue samples were held for further testing, but the corpses were released to the families.
Two weeks later, the air was still thick with flies and bees. We still hadn’t had a frost, and things that crawled and flew feasted on the pulpy remains of the jack-o-lanterns. From the house, I could see their deformed, hideous faces; faces which no longer evoked a feeling of holiday fun. They were faces that mocked the dead.
The incredibly warm autumn continued. 20 degrees above average, according to the weather man. Flowers were blooming and the cherry trees had blossomed a full five months ahead of time. The pumpkins were still there, but mostly formless, having succumbed to rot and the ravenousness of vermin. As the hot November slouched into December, the luckiest of us had started to forget about the tragedy that had befallen the town. But we still got reminders – especially on December 2nd, when Ruben broke his silence.
My cousin, Ron, works for the police department as a mechanic. He doesn’t have any access to criminals or official information, but he talks to cops a lot. And the cops like to talk.
Ron came over on the 2nd before any news had gotten out about what Ruben was saying. It was clear he was uncomfortable. Lillian and I sat and listened while Ron relayed what his buddy had learned from the detective.
The Ruben I knew was nothing like the man being described by my cousin. He’d blanketed himself with cuts and scars of indecipherable symbols and words. Every inch of his flesh was carved or mutilated in one way or another – something he’d done with his fingernails over the course of the time he was in jail.
The detectives learned that Ruben was ready to talk when he began to scream the names of each dead child. Just after midnight on the 2nd, he shouted each first, middle, and last name until his voice was hoarse. Detectives stood on the other side of his cell and transcribed what he said. They didn’t understand most of it, but it was better than nothing. The main takeaway was a date and time. December 5th, 11:00 pm.
No one could figure out what he meant by it, so there was a lot of speculation. All the police could do was park a unit over by the farm overnight just in case he had something planned. On the 5th, I sat with Lillian and Ron on the front porch and stared at the black field in front of us. 11:00 came, and nothing happened. We waited for a few minutes. I saw the cop across the street standing next to his car, smoking a cigarette.
As we were getting ready to go inside, I saw something flicker in the field. A tiny flame. “Look,” I told the others, and pointed. They saw it too. More flickers came into view.
“Hey!,” I yelled to the cop, and kept pointing at the field. The cop snuffed out his cigarette and walked around the barn to take a look. He got to the side of the field, then raised his radio to call for backup.
As we watched, the flickers intensified, as if they were from new candles that’d finally started properly burning their wicks after sputtering and threatening to go out. After only a couple minutes, more police cars arrived. I got up started to cross the street. I needed to see what was going on.
“Don’t,” said Lillian as she grabbed my hand, but I shrugged her off and headed toward the fence. I heard Ron walking behind me.
The police arrived and lit the field up with their search lights. We could see the rotten pumpkins sitting in the field, all with single candles sticking out of them. They were shaking. One by one, candles fell and hit the dry straw. The straw ignited. Police officers called for emergency assistance from the fire department, but there was no chance they’d get there in time. The fire began to rage.
Entombed in flame, the rotten pumpkins started to burst. Only after their pulpy bodies had disintegrated did we see what was inside. “Oh my fucking God,” Ron half whispered, half prayed.
In the place of each pumpkin, there was a small, human-shaped thing sitting with its head down and its knees clutched to its chest. The heat intensified further and I backed up, but I still saw it all. One by one, the things rose on sturdy legs and stood erect. They were growing, and soon they reached the size of the children who’d died.
Their skin began to char, and they walked out of the flames toward the crowd of police officers. Without any idea what to do, but terrified out of their minds, some began to shoot. The bullets did not stop them. Round after round tore through the fire-spawned children, exiting their backs and legs and heads in a geyser of gore, but they walked ever forward.
Soon, the officers who’d fired fell to the ground. They didn’t move for a second, but then they started to rot. Just like the pumpkins. Other officers backed away. I’d backed all the way up to my house, and I watched from the doorway with my wife and cousin. We were horrified.
A procession of children walked down the street, followed by the police cars. Firefighters worked to put out the blazing field, and after a little while, they’d succeeded.
Ron turned on his police scanner and we sat in the living room, listening with horror as news of dead cops and other officials came in:
“The children have reached the prison.”
“The children have burned through the cell of Ruben Rendell.”
“The children are carrying Rendell back the way they came.”
“Oh fuck,” I said, and opened the front door. They were coming back down the street – a procession of blackened, smoldering kids carrying a burning man. Ruben. And he was screaming.
“IT’S ALMOST DONE! IT’S ALMOST FINISHED!”
He screamed with peals of hysterical laughter as he burned. The children carried him to the field and placed him in the center. They then placed themselves in the same spots as the pumpkins from which they’d emerged. Most had gone out, while some still glowed with dull, red fire.
Before Ruben burned to death, he unleashed one final scream:
“PLEASE ACCEPT THIS OFFERING! IS THIS ENOUGH? IS THIS WHAT YOU NEEDED? SEE ME THROUGH! SEE! ME! THROUGH!”
There was no sound from him after that final word. Nothing but the crackling of dying flames.
The following days were a whirlwind of investigations, media visits, and speculation. No one knew what happened. No one knew what Ruben had done. And for a while, it was still a mystery how the kids had been poisoned in the first place.
A mystery, that is, until Jasmine McCray, the mother of a child who was fortunate enough to have been too sick to trick-or-treat, found a small letter in her son’s toy chest. It read:
“For a special night of Halloween fun, draw this little picture on a piece of paper and swallow it, then come to Farmer Ruben’s pumpkin patch to trick-or-treat. You will never, ever want to leave.”
The picture was of an inverted star. A pentagram.
Jasmine’s son told her Ruben had given them to kids at recess one day after he talked to the classes about what it was like to be a farmer. He came to them individually and made them promise to throw it away after they read it and not to tell their parents.
Jasmine gave the letter to the police, and then told the media. While the superstitious residents of the town took that as an answer to what had happened, skeptics like myself couldn’t believe it. Even after what I’d seen, I couldn’t believe something supernatural had occurred.
But then the photographs came in. The aerial photographs from the news helicopter the day after the holocaust at the field. Clearly marked in carbon and ash was the shape of a pentagram – the exact shape the pumpkins had been arranged in. No one had noticed it from the ground.
And at the center of the pentagram, where Ruben had screamed his final, pleading prayer, four words were burnt into the dirt. The answer to the old farmer’s prayers.