The boy found the bags under a pile of gray dust. He had been digging around in the kitchen cupboard for something to eat and noticed the pile of dust gathered in one corner on the floor. Under this layer of grunge he found one mangled penny, a lid to a soda bottle, and two ten piece packages of Halloween treat bags.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Timothy C. Hobbs is a consummate horror writer and his stories are both horrific and beautifully crafted. The Pumpkin Seed is Timothy Hobbs first published novel scheduled for re-release in the next few months through Visionary Press.
From Visionary Press
By Timothy C. Hobbs, The Smell of Ginger: It’s Halloween in Jasper, Texas and Butch and Suzy are driving with their dad to trick or treat at the strip mall and the local churches. They didn’t count on the truck breaking down, getting lost in the woods, or coming across the ordinary old cabin, but there’s nothing ordinary about the tenents – two spinster sisters who have been waiting eternally for children to call their own.
“Must have been from who lived here before,” the woman who cared for him said as she blew the grit off the cellophane wrapping. She saw the hollow expression on the boy’s face and felt a pang of sorrow. “You know it’s too bad there wasn’t something to eat under that dirt in the corner, something that hadn’t gone bad like those beets we found on the top shelf last week.” The woman smiled and ran her fingers across the boy’s thinning hair. “But it is Halloween tonight. At least I think it is. That calendar on the wall looks like it’s still current. Maybe we could make up a few bags just in case some Trick or Treaters pass by.”
The boy looked up at her. “No candy,” he said weakly. A small line of drool formed just in the corners of his mouth but was too thick to flow out.
The woman reached down and wiped the congealing drool away. “No. No candy. But there’s all that junk we found in the bedroom and in the garage. There might something we could put in the bags.” She knelt down and hugged the boy and then put a hand under his chin and gently lifted his face. “What do you say? Might be fun. Might help the day to pass. Make things feel normal if only for a little while.”
The boy shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “Okay,” he said.
* * *
It was junk mostly, but the woman and the boy managed to fill six treat bags with bits of broken, colored glass, some small washers, and the real find—two cocktail umbrellas that they broke into small pieces for each bag. There was no indication that whoever had occupied the house in the past had had any children.
“Mostly old folk’s things,” the woman had told the boy as they sifted through the litter. “Probably a couple who had been married for years,” she said. Her eyes teared up as she thought of her husband. “They must have gone off to be by themselves.”
The woman saw that the boy had fallen asleep. She noticed his respiration was shallow. She placed her fingers on his wrist and felt a distant, slow, erratic beat. She knew it would not be long now.
The woman placed a soiled blanket over the boy. “It will be so much colder once the sun goes down,” she told herself.
The woman walked to the front of the derelict house and gazed out the spider webbed cracks in what was left of the front window. She looked down the rest of the block. The houses there were all dilapidated. She wasn’t sure if anyone else occupied any of the abandoned structures, but there had been times since she and the boy had decided to stay off the road and in this house that the woman thought she saw shadows move further up the street. It was hard to tell if they were people or not because they only appeared after sunset, and only briefly then.
“I fell asleep.” The boy stood in the bedroom doorway. The blanket was still draped around him.
The woman sat down and motioned for him to join her. The boy came and sat in her lap. “Did anyone come for Trick or Treat,” the boy asked as he nestled against her and shivered.
“Too early yet. You didn’t sleep that long.”
“I’m hungry,” he whispered.
“Later. I’ll see how much dry pasta we have left.” She held him close to try and share what little warmth her emaciated body could offer. “Sorry we used the last of the water. I’ve still got some matches. We could have made spaghetti.”
“It’s okay,” the boy said. “I like how it crunches.”
It wasn’t long until he had fallen back into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
When the boy awakened, he saw the slim flame from a stubby candle that sat outside on one of the remaining porch timbers. The cold night shimmered like graphite around it. The woman noticed the look of concern on the boy’s face. “It’s all right,” she told him and pointed out the other two partial candles she had burning inside the house. “I only used one match to light all three.”
The boy stood up from the floor where the woman had laid him when he was still asleep. He rubbed his eyes. “We have a light on then,” he remarked. “You have to have a light on for them to come.”
“That’s right. But it wasn’t always like that. When I was a child we went from house to house whether there was light on or not.”
A sick odor wafted across the room from the boy to the woman. He coughed dryly and asked, “Did you get a lot of chocolate? I love chocolate.”
The woman fought off the smell. “You bet. Chocolate and candy apples and pumpkin pie and popcorn balls. . .” She stopped when she noticed the strange look on the boy’s face.
“No. You couldn’t have had those things. You can’t wrap candy apples or pumpkin pie,” he remarked. “My parents would never let me eat them if they weren’t wrapped.” A shadow of despair fell over his face. He turned and looked out the window. “I still miss them,” he said with melancholy. “Will I ever stop missing them?”
The woman moved behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. “No,” she told the boy. “We never any of us stop.”
The woman then felt an unexpected gasp catch in her throat. Coming gradually down the street was a faint light. “Look,” she said. “Something’s moving toward us.”
The boy backed away from the window and picked up the treat bags he and the woman had placed in an old wicker basket. His fingers traveled along the top edge of the bags. “Can I give out the treats? Is it okay?”
It was the first genuine smile she had seen light up the boy’s face since the time she had found him over a year ago.
* * *
The little girl was garbed in what looked to be a combination Hobo and Fairy costume. Her dress was patched with pieces of different quilt sections. She also wore the wire support of what once must have been wings tied on underneath her shoulders. In one grimy hand she held a make-shift bag for candy that was made from old newspapers, and in her other hand she grasped the remnants of a wand that probably had matched the wings. The star on the end of the wand was broken and had only two bedraggled points.
“Trick or Treat,” the little girl cried.
“It was the best I could do,” a low, gravely voice said from behind the girl. The man moved forward into the dim candle light. “I sewed the dress together,” he explained. “What was left of the wings and the wand I found in the attic of that two story down the street at the end of the block. We’ve been there for awhile now.”
The woman took in the man’s appearance. In the dimness she could see he was wearing gray sweat pants with a matching long sleeved hoody. She couldn’t see his feet, but the woman assumed she would find tennis shoes had there been enough light to reveal them.
“I though I saw movement up the street,” the woman remarked. “But it was always getting dark and I didn’t want to take the chance on what I might find there.”
The man stepped forward. The woman saw that the flesh on his face was sunken and sallow. He had a full beard.
“Trick or Treat,” the little girl cried again.
The boy came out and dropped two of the treat bags into her sack.
“Can I open them now, Daddy?” the girl asked with excitement.
“Maybe the nice lady here will let you go inside,” the man said. “Maybe you and her son can play a little.”
The woman wasn’t sure that was a good idea, but the sudden elation on the boy’s face changed her opinion. “Sure,” the woman said. “Let’s all go in out of this cold.”
* * *
The woman and the man stood nervously by as the children opened the treat bags. They mostly smiled at each other and were content to watch the boy and girl.
“Look at these, Daddy!” the girl exclaimed as she held up the cut pieces of the drink umbrellas. “Look at the colors.”
“Very nice,” the man commented.
“How old is your daughter?” the woman asked.
Before the man could answer, the boy had a coughing fit. The woman rushed to him. The boy looked at her with pleading eyes as splatters of blood flew from his mouth. She knelt down and held his head forward. “Try to relax,” the woman said. “It will stop in a minute.”
The man came forward but offered no help. The little girl had abandoned her treat bags and stood behind the man.
The woman looked up at them. “Too much excitement, I guess.”
The boy seemed to calm for a moment and then was accosted by another attack of coughing. This time the blood came up in large clots.
“Oh, no!” the woman cried. “Help me! Please help me!”
The man picked up the boy. “Is there a bed or a cot?” he asked.
The woman led him to the bedroom where blankets lay spread on the floor. “This is where we’ve been sleeping,” she said. The woman looked back over her shoulder and saw that the little girl was bent over in the other room as if searching for something.
“I think he’s gone,” the man said.
“What?” the woman asked as she bent down and held the boy. She turned the boy’s face toward her and saw that the light had left his eyes. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she told the boy. And then she broke down.
When the woman appeared composed, the man said, “I’ll come back tomorrow and bury him for you.”
The woman nodded. “Thanks,” she said weakly.
The man collected the little girl and left the house. As they walked up the street he handed the girl a handkerchief from the side pocket of his hoody.
“Wipe your mouth,” the man told the girl.
* * *
The woman watched through the torn screens on the back porch as the man filled the hole he had dug to bury the boy in. The little girl had not come with the man today.
After the man had patted down the earth, he came inside. He had covered his head with the hood. Now that he was inside, the man pulled it from his head.
“Thank you,” the woman said. “He’d been suffering a lot lately. “
The man nodded. He reached in the pocket of his hoody and pulled out what looked like dried jerky. “Here,” he said. “You need the protein.”
The woman took the dried meat. She held it under her nose and took a long sniff. It smelled strongly of pepper. She took a small bite. Her taste buds came immediately alive. The flavor was savory, and she started to take another bite. That was when the under taste came through. Her stomach tightened and threatened to revolt if she swallowed.
The woman spit the wet lump of meat into her hand and let it drop to the floor of the back porch. She shook her head. “I never could develop a taste for it. Neither could the boy.”
“I see,” the man remarked.
The woman locked her eyes on those of the man. “Will I have a head start?” she asked.
“I’ll give you a week,” he answered. “I suggest you go back north. Everybody is heading south. They think salvation waits there.”
The corners of the woman’s mouth lifted in a weak grin. “Well, I can’t very well tell you which direction I plan to go, can I?”
The man laughed softly. “No I suppose not.”
“I’ll leave sometime today,” the woman said. “After you’ve gone back up the street.”
The man nodded and made to leave. The woman stopped him. “Promise me one thing,” she said.
The man raised his eyebrows. “If I can.”
“Promise me you or the girl won’t dig up his body. Promise me you’ll let his little soul rest in peace.”
The man was silent for awhile. He then nodded. “Okay. I’ll promise you that much.” The man then asked her, “May I ask why you told him it was Halloween? It’s really closer to Christmas. I’m pretty sure October has passed us by awhile back.”
“It was his favorite holiday,” the woman told the man. “Just a moment before you leave,” she said and left the porch. In a few minutes she came back out and handed the man a crumpled photo. The boy was in it dressed in a vampire cape. Two people stood behind him. Their hands were placed on each of the boy’s shoulders, but their heads had been cut off by whoever had taken the picture. It was easy to see that one pair of hands belonged to a female, and the other to a male.
“I’m pretty sure they were his parents,” the woman commented. “I thought I could at least give him one more Halloween. This picture was all the boy had in his possession when I found him wandering on the road.”
The man studied the photo for a moment before handing it back. He smiled briefly, and then he left.
The woman watched as he disappeared from her view. She glanced at the desolate landscape. She went back into the house to gather what she could before leaving. As she moved herself toward the front door, the woman found the sack made of old newspapers the little girl had carried for treats. It was lying where the boy and girl had played.
The woman picked up the wadded mass of paper. The newsprint had faded or had been destroyed by water. One picture was still in tact though.
The woman felt her eyes water as she studied the haggard face of The President of the United States.
The woman dropped the paper bag to the floor and walked out of the house on trembling legs and into the fading light of day.