A Short Story for Halloween


An Appetite for Halloween
By
Alan Hutcheson

“Wow, that’s a big punkin,” said seven year old Alexa. “My mom’s are lots smaller.”

“Your mother has a few lessons to learn when it comes to gardening,” said Wendell Taylor. He scratched his bald head under the wide brimmed hat Alexa had never seen him without. His good luck gardening hat he called it. “You want prize winners like this beauty,” he patted the enormous pumpkin, “you need a whole lot more than homemade compost and a few ladybugs going for you.”

“I bet,” said Alexa, nodding her head. “Are you gonna carve it for Halloween?”

“Of course,” said Mr. Taylor. “Well, that is Mrs. Taylor does the carving around here. I’m sure she’ll do this one justice. She always does.”

“Cool.”

Alexa patted the huge pumpkin as she had seen her neighbor do, then quickly withdrew her hand and stepped back from the sprawling vine. She tripped over her own feet and sat suddenly.

“Are you all right, dear?” said Mrs. Taylor, who had just come out of the house. She was wiping her hands on her bright red apron. Invariably, whenever Alexa came over Mrs. Taylor had freshly baked cookies just waiting for a hungry little girl. And contrary to what her parents always said about sweet snacks spoiling a person’s appetite for the real meals of the day, Alexa always ate her dinner ravenously after visiting the Taylors, even if whatever was on her plate wasn’t something she particularly liked, like pasta with green pesto sauce or fish. Even vegetables went down easier after a few of Mrs. Taylor’s marvelous cookies. In the year since the Taylors had moved into the neighborhood Alexa had gone from a pencil thin, pale little girl to the picture of robust health.

Her parents attributed this turnaround to their only child finally acquiring a taste for a diet designed to be healthy. After struggling to get their daughter to do more than pick at her plate she now took seconds and thirds of spinach salad, stuffed roasted peppers and stir fry with fresh snap peas, carrots and napa cabbage. Patient persistence had paid off.

“Upsie daisy,” said Mr. Taylor, offering Alexa his hand. “Goodness, Alexa, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Alexa shook her head. “It talked,” she said, nodding at the giant pumpkin as she allowed Mr. Taylor to help her up. Her eyes were wide, if not with fear, then with wonder and not a little excitement. “It talked.”

“What talked, dear?” said Mrs. Taylor. She knelt next to Alexa and placed a reassuring hand on her back.

“It did,” said Alexa. “The punkin.”

“Well now!” exclaimed Mr. Taylor with a big smile. “I knew my pumpkins were something special, but I never knew they talked!”

“Hush, Wendell,” said his wife. She wrapped her arm around Alexa’s shoulders. “Don’t you pay any attention to him. No such thing as a talking pumpkin, is there?” She directed a you-had-better-agree-with-me look at her husband.

“Absolutely,” said Mr. Taylor, still smiling. “No such thing.”

“But I heard it,” said Alexa.

“Probably just those grackles,” said Mr. Taylor, indicating the six dark birds sitting on the top of the eight foot tall block fence surrounding the yard. The original fence, a barely five foot high redwood slat affair, had been replaced shortly after the Taylors moved in.

“There you go,” said Mrs. Taylor. She put her other hand under Alexa’s elbow and helped the girl to her feet. “Nothing but a bunch of pesky birds.”

“Shoo!” said Mr. Taylor, waving his hand at the birds. They rose in the air with a noisy chatter and flapping before coming back down on the opposite side of the yard.

“I heard it,” insisted Alexa.

“Tell you what,” said Mrs. Taylor. “We’ll listen together.” She urged the little girl back in the direction of the giant pumpkin. “We’ll both lean down,” she bent over the pumpkin herself, “and see if we hear anything.”
Alexa shook her head. “I don’t want to.”

“We’ll all listen together,” said Mr. Taylor. Holding his hat in place with one hand, he leaned over the pumpkin on the opposite side from Alexa and his wife. “Well now, Queen Pumpkin, what have you got to say for yourself?” He directed a wink and reassuring smile at Amelia. “Not a word!”

“Isn’t he silly?” said Mrs. Taylor. Her grip tightened on the little girl and she leaned over the pumpkin, her head almost touching that of her husband. “He’s right, though, I don’t hear a thing. Come, listen, Alexa.”

The little girl leaned in just a little closer, then with a sudden start broke free.

“What’s the matter, dear?” said Mrs. Taylor. She reached for the little girl, but Alexa backed just out of her grasp. “Come on back. Nothing to be scared of.” She held out the plate of cookies. “Come have a cookie.”

But Alexa shook her head. “No thank you.” Her eyes grew even wider. “ I think I’ll just go home.”

“Just as soon as you’ve gotten over this silly talking pumpkin nonsense,” said Mrs. Taylor. She began to stand, but found that the pumpkin vine had wrapped itself around her legs, holding her fast. “Wendell!”
But there was no one on the other side of the pumpkin, just a big brimmed hat on the ground and a hole that was quickly and silently filling itself in.

“Hi sweetie,” Alexa’s mother said when she came into the kitchen. “You’re just in time to help me make some granola. Oh, look at you! Have you been playing dress up?”

“Sort of,” said Alexa. “Mr. and Mrs. Taylor gave me these.” She adjusted the much too large apron to keep it from dragging on the floor and tilted her head way up in order to see from under the wide brimmed hat. “They have a talking punkin.”

“Really?” said her mother. “What does it say?”

Alexa shrugged.

“Not much. Just ‘this one’s still too small.’”