OCTOBER 31, 1955
Skip Anderson waited and watched the Gourd King’s place for four nights. He wasn’t going to let Pete win the game, and tonight was the last night because it was Halloween. November 1st would be too late. He needed a large man-shaped gourd to win, but they were only found inside the center of the garden, and not around the edges. The largest gourds were always found near the center.
The week before Pete managed to bring out a smaller man-sized gourd. Everyone marveled at it, how knobby the skin looked, but it was the unmistakable shape of the gourd which enthralled them. It wasn’t the fact that the gourd had arms and legs like a man did, it didn’t, but how much the gourd resembled a real face. The bumps resembled a man’s nose, eyes, and crooked mouth.
As a joke, one of Pete’s buddies, Phil, said the gourd looked like Skip Anderson after he lost the game. It was the challenge Skip needed. He couldn’t allow Josh to win. So he staked out the Gourd King’s place each night from across the street. The frustrating thing about the Gourd King was he never left the garden. It was like the guy never slept watching over the garden.
He wondered if he could get in there. Pete’s taunting was just too much. He imagined showing off the biggest gourd anybody had ever seen, and how the tables would be turned, and Pete admitting defeat. This scenario kept him going night after night.
But first he needed to get into the garden.
It was late, and most of the trick or treaters had long gone home, and the porch lights were flicked off up and down the street. There was still plenty of light by the full moon. It illuminated the whole neighborhood in its bluish white glow. Other than the deep shadows, it was quite possible to see everything.
His biggest fear was Pete and his buddies spoiling his attempt to get a gourd, but he had not seen anyone after 10 pm. It was like the town went to bed early on Halloween night. Tonight was his night.
There was no sign of the Gourd King. All the lights were off in his house. Skip looked down into the garden from a tree across the street. Nothing moved inside the garden except for a few leaves. The wind created several waves upon the leaves like it did on Lake Michigan next to Chicago.
There was one particular open space next to the shed where he wanted to look. It was an open patch with four pumpkins sitting on the bare ground. Other gardens had only dead vines and orange pumpkins, but the Gourd King’s garden still looked pristine despite how late in the season it was.
This would be his fourth trip into the Gourd King’s garden. The first time he snatched flowers, the second time he brought out a small gourd, and he had smashed a pumpkin on the third visit. That’s when Pete started to take him seriously. He thoroughly enjoyed watching Pete squirm.
And then Pete showed up with a man-shaped gourd. It was considered a victory, until he had bet Pete he could bring out a bigger man-shaped gourd. Pete accepted his five buck bet, surprising him. He didn’t have five bucks. The bet sort of slipped out of his mouth, and once he said it, he had to follow through. Now he had to bring out a man-shaped gourd.
Once he got the gourd he planned to shove it in Pete’s face, demanding the five bucks owed for the bet. Skip pictured Pete’s wallet opening, and Pete pulling out the five ones found inside, and counting them off one by one into Skip’s palm. He could imagine Pete’s chagrin at losing the bet.
In the distance he heard the 11:30 pm train rumbling on the edge of town. He had a half hour. A giant yawn escaped his mouth. It was late, but he had to make sure the Gourd King was in bed. He looked around for the umpteenth time, and it was dead. A cloud covered the moon, and he heard the rustling of wind through the leaves. It was now or never.
He dropped down to the ground, and landed with a light thud. Using the shadows, he edged to the street, waited, then darted across. Only the street light glowed, as the darkest part of the cloud covered the moon’s brightness.
The vine covered fence loomed above him, and he leapt up and grabbed the top, and used his left foot to vault him up and over. He landed in the pumpkin vines, and crouched low. The vines stood tall, and helped to conceal him.
Pumpkin and gourd leaves rubbed against each other making a whispering sound like girls gossiping at the back of the classroom while the teacher went over the lesson. A thrill made Skip’s hands and feet twitch. “That five dollars is mine,” he kept repeating, softly.
Something moved under the leaves, off to his right, like a bird or rabbit in the bushes. He saw a couple leaves move just above where he heard the noise. He must have startled something.
The garden shed acted like a lighthouse, its white walls shining brightly in the night, when the moon came out from behind the clouds, bathing the whole garden in white light.
He saw mostly pumpkins where he was by the fence. The prize had to be nearer the shed.
After five paces, he caught his right foot in a vine, and tripped. The vines crisscrossed everywhere under the big broad leaves, and it was impossible not to get tangled up in them. He lifted his right foot up, but the vine tightened around his ankle its barbs biting into his ankle.
He landed hard, crushing a leaf with his left hand and the vine underneath. He felt dirt in his right palm. Cold and damp. He clawed the earth, making an oblong wad conformed to his fingers and palm.
It didn’t matter because he’d have the man-shaped gourd, and everybody would know he was the winner. Pete could go suck eggs for all he cared. This thought encouraged him as he kicked his foot free, and stood up.
A strong wind blasted through the garden from the west. The hills often hid these sudden storm fronts, creating moments when many a kid found themselves inundated by rain while across town on their bikes.
He looked up and saw the dark clouds moving across the sky. In the garden corner, the large maple’s top began to bend eastward as branches bobbed up and down in the wind. Another gust came down and washed over the garden, making the vine leaves rise up, exposing their silvery underbellies. Skip’s heart sank. He didn’t want to get stormed out, but he knew he only had a short amount of time before a wall of water hit, soaking everything in its path.
He moved with a purpose, bending low in order to find the right type of gourd. There were countless pumpkins, some green, others orange, both big or small; and twice as many gourds, round ones, oblong ones, flat saucer shaped ones, and twisty ones, but no man-shaped ones. He began pushing leaves out of the way, their needlelike spines biting into his hand.
The garden seemed to come alive all around him, as the wind whipped and churned, creating mini vortexes; vines and leaves appeared to jump and prance about as if free from bondage.
That’s when he saw two bottleneck gourds run past him, holding a vine between him. In a moment he was airborne, and then on the ground. He had tripped again, and the lightning had played tricks on his eyes. Gourds didn’t move.
He brushed it off as his nerves playing tricks on him, and used his opportunity on the ground to scout below leaf level. It was like another kingdom next to the ground. Lightning and wind raged above him, but down here, all was quiet.
A shadow darted in front of him and disappeared off to his right. Something scrambled across the back of his legs, just below his knees. It felt like a heavy rope. He looked behind him to catch what it was. He managed to see a green and orange gourd disappear between two vines, disappearing in the gloom. Something brushed his right hand, and he whipped around to see what it was.
Suddenly, he was afraid. Lightning flashed. His eyes were playing tricks on him. He fought to regain his feet, realizing a thick vine had pinned down the back of his legs.
A wild man’s cry tore through the night, only to be drowned out by the loudest thunderclap Skip had ever heard. Leaves tore through the air, slapping Skip in the face.
Next to the shed he saw countless leaves rise up from below. Two claw like hands pulled the vines apart, causing the vines and leaves to drop to the ground around it like a blanket falling to the ground around a person. In its place stood a hideous shape, bumpy and stripped dark green, browns, and light green. Two intense fiery bright green eyes burned at him.
Tendrils grab his ankles and vines entangle themselves around his legs, as he stood transfixed by the apparition before him. The bright green eyes tore into his soul and burned in his chest.
Thick cold raindrops hit his shoulders, head, and face. The rain, he thought.
“Oooooouuuuuuttttt,” screamed the Gourd King off to his left. He just had time to turn and see lightning light up a grotesque angular face racing toward him, hoe upraised in the Gourd King’s hands. He screamed, and ducked, as a hoe whipped past his head and came down hard on the vines entangled around his legs. The blow made it easier to move.
He darted forward and away from the crazed man, running toward the creature next to the shed, mistaking it for the world’s largest man-shaped gourd. He’d snatch victory despite the storm and the Gourd King attempts to stop him.
It was then that he realized the flaw in his plan. He didn’t bring a knife. How could he cut the vine? His heart plummeted. Of all the stupid things to do. He berated himself, just as another vine tripped him.
He heard the whoosh of the Gourd King’s hoe whip past him. One part of his mind said, that was too close for comfort, while the other part of his mind realized he was falling into a thick patch of vines, and it looked like ten or twelve gourds were there to break his fall. The gourds moved aside at the last second as he landed palms down on the ground, on all fours. That’s when he noticed the little faces on the gourds, and their bright green eyes, and tendril like arms and legs. He shook his head, believing he was hallucinating.
A knee knocked him onto his side just as he looked up and saw the Gourd King’s garden hoe swinging down in a wicked ark, straight for his head. “You will not do this,” the Gourd King shouted. Skip turned at the last second, and heard a “kathunk” next to his ear, as he felt the cold insides of a gourd, cut into two, hit the side of his head.
Before he had time to react, he suddenly found himself beneath what felt like a football pile, except there were no football players, but the kicks and jabs and disorienting mass associated with multiple bodies on top of the ball carrier. The left side of his face and ear were shoved into the ground.
No matter what way he tried turning, he seemed to be bumped or kicked, and the vines felt like they were wrapping around his arms and legs. It suddenly felt like he was the football, and both sides were fighting for possession of him.
It became difficult to see, because mud had slopped into his left eye, making it useless; he could not hear out of his left ear as well. The Gourd King screamed above him, and then he knew he shat in his jeans. Despite how soaked he was, he knew by the unmistakable oder, he had pooped. Shame swept over him.
There was a loud hissing and rustling sound in his ears, and he kicked and tore at anything around him. Despite soiling himself, he wanted to get out of the Gourd King’s garden, to get away. Each time he managed to free his wrist, something else tangled it up again.
Terror washed over him, and he thrashed as hard as he could, feeling contact with a solid object now and then. The bright green eyes darted in and out of his vision. They weren’t real, he told himself. He was scared, and all this was just a Halloween prank Pete put together to scare him, and win the game. But, deep inside, he knew it wasn’t a game; the tendrils entwining his arms and legs felt real enough.
There was a continual chopping sound all around him. It landed near his head or next to his hands, and once he felt a stinging pain on his left arm where something nicked him. The Gourd King was killing him.
Lightning flashed overhead, and he had time to see the giant gourd creature swing a large club, hitting the Gourd King’s head, and the Gourd King fell on top of him. He could have sworn the giant creature had bright green eyes, as well, burning with a hate so malevolent, he feared something worse than death itself.