Gourds galore as Misty and company find themselves vine-deep in trouble. Halloween approaches and the sweet smells of autumn permeate the air. There’s the husked corn, the ripened fruit, and the squash fields torn to shreds by an unknown and hoofed assailant. Misty and Roland dive into the pumpkin-patch mystery and find they might have bit off more rind than they can chew when they’re faced with a most foul and unexpected creature.
It never ceased to amaze me how crazy the paranormal world was. This adventure was no exception.
This fun started in the same blood vein as the rest of our adventures: with me at the diner minding my own normal human business. The bell over the door rang at eight o’clock and I looked over the counter to see Jack walk in. He was one of the truckers for the local farmers, and I was surprised to see him that early.
“One of the plagues of Egypt come over the crops?” I asked him as he took a seat on a stool.
He smiled. “No, but I did hear old Ben Carter mutter something about a curse.”
“Old Ben lose his contracts with those big businesses?” I asked him. Ben Carter was one of the wealthier farmers in the area because of his contracts with some big-box stores. He supplied them with fruit and they supplied him with dough, and everyone could eat.
Jack shook his head. "Nope, he's still got them, but he doesn't have any gourds to give to them.
Can I get a cup of sludge with a side of heartburn and white dust?”
“Sure thing. So we’re talking the blight plague?” I teased as I filled a mug of coffee and wrote down an order of fried steak with mashed potatoes.
“We’re talking a herd of animals, and they must have been hungry,” he told me. “Happened last night, and whatever it was went through his whole field. I got curious and went up there just now to take a look.” I handed him his mug and he shook his head. “If the things didn’t eat the squash they stomped on it, and they left these weird marks on the ground. Kind of like hoof prints, but only the devil could make something like that.” He cradled the mug between his hands and shrugged. “Either way the whole crop’s ruined and I’ve got an empty truck to take back to the Depot. It was supposed to go out on the weekly train in a few days.”
“So what kind of animal do they think did it?” I wondered.
He took a sip of his coffee and shuddered. “Tell Ralph he’s gotta ease up on the tar or this stuff’s gonna be banned by the EPA.”
“Ah heard ya!” Ralph snapped from the kitchen.
Jack winked at me. “Just gotta make sure he’s alive now and then.”
“Ah’m not going anywhere!” Ralph shouted.
“So what do they think got the gourds?” I persisted.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. The police couldn’t get any good prints around the place, and Old Ben wasn’t sure what he saw go under the fence. He thought maybe it was some kid, but I don’t know.”
“I guess the police will find out,” I commented.
“Maybe, maybe not.” He slid the coffee mug over to me. “Could I get a spoon for this coffee? This stuff’s congealing at the bottom.”
“Sure thing,” I agreed.
I handed him a sturdy metal spoon and wandered over to a table in the far corner of the diner. This was an investigation job for more than just me. I dialed a number and waited for the pickup.
“Yes?” a voice answered.
“Roland, we may or may not have a problem,” I told him.
“What’s happened?” he asked me.
I glanced over my shoulder at Jack. He was busy spooning the strata of sludge out of the bottom of his mug. “I just heard about a farm that was attacked. A whole field of squash was squished.”
“Are there any suspects?” he wondered.
“Nope, but whatever it was left some weird marks, or at least that’s what the trucker who was supposed to deliver the squash to the Depot told me,” I whispered.
“Misty! Get yer butt over here and get this plate!” Ralph barked from the delivery window.
“Coming!” I called.
“We’ll talk later,” Roland promised. Click.
I sighed and pocketed my phone. Another night, another trouble.
I jumped when my phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled it out and saw it was Charlie. We’d swapped numbers just in case one of us needed help against the undead, ghosts, or a persistent door-to-door salesman. I glanced at the swinging doors to the kitchen and answered the phone.
“Charlie, I can’t talk long, I’m at work,” I whispered.
“Does silver work against vampires?” he asked me.
“I think so, why? Derdrom isn’t back, is he?” I wondered.
“No, just thinking about getting something for my truck, but I’ll talk to you later.”
“Wait, what are you-” Click. “-doing.” I looked at the screen and frowned. Maybe I didn’t want to know what Charlie was up to.
I put the phone away and got back to worrying about the midnight raid on one of the Great Pumpkin’s patches. My shift ended late the next morning and I stepped out into the chilly late-October air. Halloween would be here in less than two weeks, and the trick would be on me if I didn’t get some food soon to feed the little monsters that came to my apartment. Pity silver wasn’t a good deterrent on them.
At least I might be able to convince my roommate to answer the door. He didn’t even have to put on any makeup or plastic fangs to scare some of the younger ones.
I wrapped my coat closer to myself and walked towards my car. The weather was too cold for the Transylvania Express. I jingled my keys and jumped when a shadow dropped down in front of me. Roland stood in front of me with his soul box in hand.
“That’s it, you’re getting a bell collar for Christmas,” I told him.
“Is there any way we can inspect the farm at this hour?” he asked me.
“Only if we want to risk getting a barrel full of lead up our noses,” I warned him.
“Lead won’t kill me,” he reminded me.
“No, but it’ll definitely rearrange my face, and I’d rather not have plastic surgery this morning,” I persisted.
“I’ll drive,” he offered.
I covered a yawn with my hand. “All right, all right, we’ll go there, but you get to knock on the door.”
I directed Roland to the farm. It was only a few miles down the road from where I grew up. I was somewhat intimate with the owner, or at least with his watermelon patch. That love-affair ended when he found me and his prize melon sitting in the patch by moonlight discussing how the melon had too many seeds inside him. I was grounded for a year from that cardinal direction and was forced to eat watermelon every night for dessert until I started to turn green.
“So what’ve you been up to tonight?” I asked my driver.
“Cleaning the apartment,” he replied.
“And foraging for food.”
“You make people sound like leafy vegetables.”
“Would you rather I compare humans to a hunt?” he countered.
“So do we taste like lettuce or chard?”
“The taste of human reflects their diet,” he told me.
“So if I ate garlic every day I’d be invincible?” I guessed.
“To vampires and humans alike,” he assured me.
“I’d be popular at Italian restaurants,” I pointed out. I glanced ahead and pointed to an entrance to a driveway. “That’s the place. Turn in here.”
Roland turned the wheel and we bumped onto a dusty road that led to a tall, wide farmhouse with a large barn behind it. The fields on either side were filled with viny plants and gourds of every color and shape. There were round ones, long ones, fat ones, and a bunch of broken ones. Their sticky guts littered the vine leaves and dirt.
I glanced out my window at the fields. “Wow. Somebody really has it out for squash.”
“This is a great deal of destruction for a simple vandalism,” Roland commented.
I turned to him and raised an eyebrow. “You thinking something a little more supernatural had a claw in it?”
“It’s possible,” he replied.
I settled back into my seat and frowned at him. “How come this place is spook central now that you’re here?”
“Rumors of my soul will attract a great deal of the paranormal,” he explained.
I glanced down at the box in my lap. “So any idea what might want to squish some squash and steal a soul?”
He shook his head. “I won’t be able to tell without more investigation.”
Roland parked the car in front of the dark house. The lights turned on near the front entrance and a shadow of a man stepped out onto the porch. A glisten of metal in his hands told me he wouldn’t greet us with open arms, but with barrels cocked.
“Who’s out there?” yelled the man.
“Hold this,” I hissed at Roland as I handed off the soul box. I stepped out of the car and lifted my hands in the air. “It’s me, Mr. Carter, Misty.”
The man shuffled to the end of the porch and squinted at me. “If you’ve come for more of my melons I ain’t got none left. Somebody’s already gone and wrecked ‘em.”
“We’re not here to take any, we were just wondering who did it,” I told him.
Old Ben pointed the ends of the barrels in the air above him and frowned. “Why would you be wanting to do a thing like that?”
“Just think of it as compensation for the melon,” I replied.
“Yer a few years too late for that, but I suppose better late than never,” he commented. He leaned towards me and squinted at the car. “Who’ve ya got in there?”
“A friend. He’s kind of a-well, a specialist in this type of stuff,” I explained.
“Well, tell yer specialist to get out of the car and follow me. It’s damn cold out here and my old bones won’t take too much before I need to go back inside,” Old Ben ordered me.
Roland stepped out and Old Ben stepped off the porch. My vampire companion walked over and shook the farmer’s hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Roland told him.
Old Ben pulled his hand away and looked Roland over. “You look like you could use a year on a farm, boy. Yer paler than the behind of a shaved chicken.”
Roland smiled. “I’d be glad to help you on your farm right now. Where did the attack originate?”
“If yer asking where it started, it’s over here,” Ben replied.
He led us across the yard to the opposite side of the driveway. A road led through the squash patch, and we followed that until we hit a barbed wire fence. Ben pointed at a hole in the dirt beneath the lowest wire.
“Sure as I can tell the fiend got through here and rampaged through my fields. A year’s worth of work up in smoke,” he told us.
Roland knelt down and brushed his hand over the ground. His fingers stopped over some strange marks in the mud beneath the sun-blocking leaves. They were rounded at the front and back like a hoof, but there were three splits so that it had four toes.
“What are these?” Roland asked Ben.
Ben shrugged. “I was hoping you could answer that. I’ve never seen anything like it, and the police don’t know what they are, either. They hemmed and hawed when I asked ‘em, and promised to keep their eyes peeled. I don’t think anything’s going to come of it, and I’ll end up with a bunch of empty talk and wrecked fields.” He shivered. “If ya folks don’t mind, I’ll go back to the house.”
“Could we remain out here?” Roland requested.
“Sure. Ya can’t wreck anything,” Ben replied.
He walked off back along the road. I turned to Roland.
“So what do you think, Sherlock?” I asked him.
Roland stood and shook his head. “There’s not enough evidence to deduce anything.”
I picked up a white pumpkin and held it towards Roland. “This one’s almost as pale as you,” I teased.
“A common occurrence among gourds,” he assured me.
My eyes caught on something on the back and I squinted. “And why does this look like teeth marks?”
He frowned and slipped beside me. “Because they are,” he confirmed.
“It looks like a pirahna took a bite out of it,” I commented. The fangs dug completely through the two inches of tough pumpkin hide and out the bottom. “Any idea what would use teeth like that to bite into a vegetable?”
Roland shook his head. “No.”
I set the wounded squash onto the ground among its fallen brethren and gestured to the carnage around us. “So now what?”
“Would you care to visit your family?” Roland suggested.
I snorted. “For a vampire you seem to be a pretty enthusiastic family-man. You’re not trying to make a family happy meal out of us, are you?”
He smiled. “No, but your aunt and uncle are amusing to me.”
“What about the sun? I don’t know how I’d explain dragging a dead body up to my apartment,” I reminded him.
“I could remain at your aunt and uncle’s home,” he told me.
I sighed. “All right. At least we’ll get a pumpkin pie for the visit.”
Roland raised an eyebrow. “How can you be sure?”
I smiled and gave him a little push towards the car. “You’ll see.”