“All right, boys! Into the car.”
The boys were Blake, Zak, and Jeremiah, though everyone called him Pilpus. Blake and Zak were brothers, aged 14 and 12. Pilpus was Blake’s best friend and the two of them did everything together.
The car was a Buick station wagon. It was a sort of mildew green with wood paneling on the sides and tailgate, positively deluxe in every way but the color. The boys clambered aboard, hopping into the back where there were no seatbelts because that’s what they always did. They were on their way to the pumpkin patch.
The father figure, Garland, chain-smoked American Spirit and listened to a lot Tom Petty, even though his wife, Peggy, once referred to him disdainfully as “that yellow scarecrow.” But this was a boy’s only trip, so everyone could let their freak flag fly.
“One, two, three, four — I declare a thumb war.”
“Five, six, seven, eight — try to keep your thumb straight!”
“Loser gets an Indian rub!”
“Settle down back there!” Garland shouted. “I don’t want no roughhousing in the car.”
Blake said “Fine” in such a way to indicate it was, in fact, not fine at all. Blake and Pilpus shot Zak a look that suggested it was all his fault.
Drinion’s Pumpkin Farm was utterly typical in every single way. A green tractor was connected to a flatbed trailer. The plot of apple trees had been picked clean the week before. Halloween was just a few days away. All the leaves were brown and the sky was gray. Endless rows of pumpkins populated the area to the left of the barn. To the right of the barn was a corn maze.
The barn stank of wet straw. A black cat mewled when it saw the car pull into the lot.
Garland let the boys out of the back of the car. “What do youse want to do first?”
The response was hardly unanimous.
“Pumpkins!” said Zak.
“Tractor ride!” said Blake.
“Caramel apples!” said Pilpus.
Garland lit a cigarette. “Well, ya gotta pick one. Here,” he put a leg atop a hay bale, bent over, and removed a few pieces of straw. Tucking them into his hand, he offered them to the boys, who knew this ritual well.
“Fudgesicles!” Blake cried.
“Awww man!” Pilpus cried.
“Yesssss!” Zak cried. He leaped into the air like he’d just snagged a winning lottery ticket. The two other boys groaned.
“Pumpkins it is,” Garland declared. “Choose three big ones and two small ones.”
“Fine,” Blake huffed and kicked at the dirt.
Zak started to skip towards the pumpkins but tripped over Pilpus’s extended foot, which Garland didn’t see.
“Jerkface,” Zak said, pushing Pilpus in the chest.
“Hey now, you two knock it off. Want to spend the day in the car?”
“All right, then. Hop to it.” Garland made his way over to the barn to pay the price of admission and speak with old man Drinion.
The three boys descended upon the pumpkin patch with a feral ferocity. They had the entire spread to themselves. Many of the pumpkins were grossly disfigured outcasts, left to rot by families who’d already chosen the premium gourds to carve and display on their front porches. Blake ran towards a decaying orange cluster and jumped. Pumpkin shrapnel went everywhere.
“Ew, gross!” Zak wiped some flaxen ectoplasm from the front of his shirt.
“Watch this!” Pilpus said, lining up a miniature pumpkin in his sights. He approached with impeccable form like a varsity kicker and his foot connected, sending it soaring deep into the patch. It landed somewhere with a sick thud.
“Come on, guys,” Zak implored. He dropped to his knees to hug and safeguard a pumpkin that had caught his eye. “We’re gonna get in trouble.”
“Pilpis,” Blake waved. “Come ‘ere.”
Pilpus shook loose the seed-strewn snot stuck to his shoe and jogged over to Blake’s position. Zak wandered around the patch, seeking prime specimens of engorged orange squash to bring home. Blake reached into his back pocket and pulled out a switchblade, which he then opened with flair. He stabbed at the fleshy skin of one of the largest remaining pumpkins on the lot, carving a misshapen hole into its side. Pilpus unzipped his backpack and handed Blake a wad of firecrackers. Blake stuffed them into the hollow space he had scooped out with his hand.
“Guys, I found a good one!”
Pilpis and Blake gave each other a look.
“What a dork,” they said at the same time. Pilpus passed Blake the lighter, who sparked the fuse. The two boys ran for cover.
Zak watched them head for a rusty wheeled wagon covered with hay.
“Hey! What gives?”
The rat-a-tat-tat of firecrackers startled him and he fell backwards, dropping the last beautiful pumpkin on the lot and splitting it asunder. Two other gourds broke his fall, which he impaled with his elbows.
Blake and Pilpus snickered as pumpkin shell and guts sprayed everywhere.
“WHAT IN TARNATION?!” Drinion came running out of the barn with a double-barreled shotgun, followed by Garland carrying a glass of spiked cider.
“Vandals!” he cried, firing a warning shot into the air. “You’ve awakened it!”
Terrified beyond reason, Blake and Pilpus sprinted for sanctuary in the corn maze. Zak followed.
“Boys. Boys!” Garland called but by then it was too late. They were gone.
Left. Left. Right.
A mysterious fog descended upon the tall husks of corn. Blake turned, expecting to see Pilpus behind him, but he was nowhere to be found.
“Hey, what gives?”
He walked on, faster and faster, feeling like he was spinning in circles.
“PILPUS! ZAK!” He tripped and ate a mouthful of dirt. A swirl of vines slithered and wrapped around his ankles, arms, and mouth. He tried to scream. Then the vines pulled him from view.
Pilpus stood at a crossroads in the middle of the maze. He didn’t know which way to turn. He put a finger to his mouth, licked it, and held it to the air. He chose the left passage and encountered a dead end. He tried to turn back and found that way blocked too.
“Hey, what gives?”
He reached into his backpack for the lighter and considered torching the place. A pumpkin dropped from the sky and landed on his foot. “OW!” Stunned, he looked up and another smashed into his face. He hit the deck. Another dozen followed, landing each time with a sick splat.
Zak quickly regretted entering into the maze. A trickle of piss ran down the side of his leg. He welcomed the warmth. The fog brought with it the cold and he could see his own breath like a chimney of cigarette smoke. That reminded him of his father.
“DAD!” he shrieked. There was no response. His voice cracked. Puberty already? He didn’t know which was scarier.
He walked on until he came upon the body of his brother, wrapped from head to toe in vines. The life had been literally squeezed out of him. His face was empty and gray, except for his eyes, which glowed a sick neon orange. Zak barfed the same color.
He turned to run and soon discovered what remained of Pilpus, who had been pulverized by pumpkins. His body was a blood orange pulp. Zak picked up the backpack lying beside the body on the ground. Inside were dirty magazines, a baseball glove, and a lighter that had been rigged to shoot a four-inch flame.
“Worthless,” he muttered. He tried to break through the wall of corn to no avail. “Shit biscuits!”
“We like you, Zak.”
“You’ve been kind to us, Zak.”
“You defiled our home, Zak.
“We don’t want to hurt you, Zak.”
“We want to kill you, Zak.”
“Join us, Zak.”
Terror filled the whites of Zak’s eyes. “Who’s there?”
A purple and white pumpkin with a regal bearing emerged from the thick wall of corn.
“I am Gourd.”
Zak held the lighter in one hand and a rolled up porno mag in the other.
“Stay back, sicko. I know how to use this!”
“The motion in the lotion is smoother than the ocean,” Gourd said.
Zak’s eyes crossed in confusion.
“Seize him.” Rotting zombie pumpkins encircled Zak and slowly closed in.
In a panic, Zak applied fire to the magazine and waved it around, spinning wildly, as if casting a spell of protection to ward off his encroaching attackers. Gourd did not move, for he was a pumpkin and a king.
Garland was sucking on the core of a caramel apple when he looked towards the corn maze and saw smoke begin to rise. He stamped out his cigarette and ran towards the rising flames.