The Garden of Earthly Delights
When the first pumpkins rose up, small and more brown than orange, Mr. Englebright ripped them from their vines and handed them out to the neighborhood children. They simply laughed and threw them in the streets, more gestures aimed at ridiculing him. They squished the gifted pumpkins with bicycle tires and baseball bats and skateboards and soon the heavy tires of Explorers and Navigators laden with snotty babies and groceries rode over the remnants of the pumpkins, plastering the seeds and skin into the pavement where they became an All You Can Eat Buffet for seagulls and crows.
This made Mr. Englebright mad. He had offered the pumpkins as a Welcome-Wagon gift in reverse, thinking that giving a piece of himself, his garden, his babies, to the neighborhood kids would finally make him welcome.
Mr. Englebright stalked back into his house, saying nothing to the ungrateful children who stood around watching the birds peck at the pumpkin guts and muttering rude nicknames for him under their breath.
Soon, the bigger pumpkins arrived, shapely and large and a proper shade of orange. The parents of the ungrateful little slobs would walk past the house during their power strides around the block and whistle appreciatively or remark to Mr. Englebright about the orangeness, the largeness of his pumpkins.
One day Mrs. Merriweather stopped mid gait and gawked at the monstrous pumpkins rising from the garden like fall moons.
“That is quite a lovely pumpkin patch you have there.”
“Mmhmm” Mr. Englebright refused to engage in conversation with a woman who could raise such a beast as Devon Merriweather.
“They would really make excellent carving pumpkins,” she said in the form of a request phrased as a nonchalant sentence. Mr. Englebright wasn’t stupid. He knew what she was getting at.
“Well, Mrs. Meriweather, I already handed out pumpkins and your son saw fit to smash his in the street and ride his skateboard through the innards.”
“Oh come ON, now. Mr. Englebright. Those weren’t good pumpkins. They were runts.”
“The point is,” he said, ignoring her insult, “they were a gift from me and they smashed them right in front of me.”
“Oh, Jesusmaryjoseph, get over it. A gift.” She rolled her eyes.
Mr. Englebright turned to her and said “Your son and his friends are snotty little prigs, Mrs. Meriweather. And I can see the rotten apples do not fall far from the tree.”
Mrs. Meriweather gasped a bit and as her mouth hung open, waiting for her brain to fire off the correct indignant verbiage, Mr. Englebright stalked away into his sunroom, slamming the screen door behind him. The thin walls of the sunroom shuddered and Mrs. Meriweather stood by the pumpkin patch a moment before she stuck up her middle finger at the space where Mr. Englebright berated her.
“You know what?” she said to nobody in particular. “Fuck him.”
She bent down and pulled the largest, smoothest, orangest pumpkin off of its vine. She scanned the street and looked toward Mr. Englebright’s sunroom to make sure no one had seen her and then she lumbered down Williams Court, balancing the pumpkin on her hip like a weighty laundry basket, smug in her vindictiveness.
She had intended to carve the pumpkin, even gave thought to carving a likeness of Mr. Englebright’s face into it, but the thing was so huge, so perfect that Mrs. Meriweather, ever the happy homemaker, decided to bake a delicious pumpkin pie. No, no..not even a pumpkin pie. Pumpkin muffins, so all of Devon’s little friends could surreptitiously share in the bounty of Mr. Englebright’s gardening skills.
As Mrs. Meriweather was happily buzzing around her kitchen in her little checkered apron lining up the baking soda and flour and cinnamon and leveling off the brown sugar, Mr. Englebright was standing in his garden in the very spot where an rather large and rather orange pumpkin once lay, befuddled, flummoxed and, after doing a sort of math theorem in his head having to do with pumpkins and Mrs. Meriweather, enraged.
Mr. Englebright was not the sort to let his rage get the better of him. He simmered and stewed and stroked his scraggly gray beard for an inordinate amount of time, just standing right there in the garden, the sun slowly sinking, and it was not until the darkest of sunset shadows was cast over the shallow imprint of where his missing pumpkin once was that Mr. Englebright did a slow walk back through his yard, into the sunroom and down, down, down the winding, splintered steps into his workshop.
“Best cupcakes EVER, mom!”
“Totally, Mrs. M. I don’t even like pumpkin and these taste amazing.”
Mrs. Meriweather beamed a thousand watt smile across her kitchen at the boys.
“What’s your secret, Mrs. M?”
Should she tell them? Oh, how could she not?
“The secret, boys, is Mr. Englebright.” She put her hand up nervously to her mouth like a dainty woman about to let loose a forbidden word. “I stole the pumpkin from him!” She nearly giggled.
The boys howled with laughter and lined up to smack a high-five into Mrs. M’s manicured hand.
“Way to go, mom.”
“Yea, way to give it back to that old creep, Mrs. M.”
“Fuck, yea,” said Mrs. M., and the boys nodded approvingly.
Devon Meriweather woke at 1am with a need, a desire to see Mr. Englebright’s pumpkins. There was no rhyme nor reason to his need, it just was. He rose out of bed, slipped into his sweatshirt and headed down the stairs and out the door. Four minutes later, his mother, struck by the same sudden need, also walked out the door. In the street they met Kevin and Ryan and Brad and a couple of other kids, all with vapid smiles and dazed eyes. Kevin said, “Nice muffins, Mrs. M.,” and the others mumbled the same.
They walked like a troop of somnambulists, Mrs. Meriweather their yawning, lumbering den mother, until they came to the corner of Williams and Forest, where Mr. Englebright’s house and yard filled the expanse of the curve. They each straddled over the wood post fence and tromped across the lawn toward the pumpkin patch. And one by one they filed right into the patch, each boy, and then Mrs. M. digging their heels into a spot in the ground, burrowing their feet in the damp soil.
As the minutes and hours wore on, they became a bizarre garden of flesh and bone, vines trailing up and around their legs, their skin becoming like vinyl, soft and lumpy and quite orange, their faces contorting until they disappeared completely, just rounded lines formed up and down around their heads. And all the while they could think and breathe and see and hear. They could not move, they could not scream, they could not escape the path of fate that Mr. Englebright had set them on. They could only stand and witness what was happening to each other. They could only glance - while their eyes could still see - and see skin turning orange and legs entwining with leaves and feel the pain of transformation, a pain that Mr. Englebright probably could have lessened but chose not to.
Mr. Englebright stood silently in the sunroom, watching through the screen door. He waited while the moon moved through thin clouds, shedding odd light and shadows upon the planted humans. He waited while a light rain fell, while the clouds moved, while the moon waned and he didn’t move from his perched place at the door until the last of Mrs. Meriweather’s face was obscured by a thick skin of pumpkin.
He pulled the boys from the patch first, so Mrs. Meriweather could watch each boy being ripped from the ground and dragged into the house. He saved Devon for last and for a brief moment held him upright in front of the Mrs. Meriweather pumpkin and then chided himself for gloating, for wasting valuable time. When the boys were all dragged down to the workroom, Mr. Englebright came back for Mrs. M., and whispered to her in a sing-song fashion as he slid her across the lawn, into the sunroom and down, down, down the stairs.
"Do you like Halloween, Mrs. Meriweather, do you?"
Clunk, her body went on the stairs
"It’s my favorite holiday."
"I love to decorate."
"Especially with pumpkins."
"Lovely, lovely pumpkins."
"You know what I like? Scarecrows with pumpkin heads! That’s just spooky, don’t you think, Mrs. Meriweather?"
Finally, Mrs. M. was heaved onto the pile of pumpkin boys, all the while screaming inside her head, Nononononononononooooooooo, but unheard by anyone but herself.
“Don’t you just love Halloween, Mr. Roberts?” Mr. Englebright was standing on his porch, talking to the postman.
“I do, Mr. Englebright. I love the weather, the atmosphere. It’s a great time of year.”
He handed Mr. Englebright a few bills and the latest copy of People. “And I just love those pumpkin heads on your scarecrows!” He looked over toward Mr. Englebright’s garden, where a row of small scarecrows and one larger one hung on makeshift crosses, each with a pumpkin head, each head with a face carved into a frozen grimace of horror and pain. “That ought to scare the bejesus out of the obnoxious boys around here.”
“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Englebright. “I’m sure.”