Bones in the Pumpkin
For one thing, we were certain the pumpkin’s bulges were moving around. We stopped letting Baby Chester sit on top of it and get his picture taken the first time we saw it pulse, its cancerous thrum shaking a knobbly blot on the side and then glugging it like the last swallow from a plastic bottle. We stopped touching it. We put police tape around it, even. The kids said the pumpkin gave them nightmares, and to tell you the truth, it was worth waking up screaming in the middle of the night over. I had a hard time telling them to shut up and go back to sleep.
We had stopped talking about what kind of face we would carve into it, and how much pumpkin pie we were going to eat, and we started talking about radiation in the soil and whether or not the pumpkin would explode if we set it on fire. This was a real worry. The mess would be legendary.
Anybody could see that we were dealing with a mutant. That much was clear. But what were we supposed to do about it? Annabelle got the idea of calling down to the University to get them to run some tests. To get it out of our hands. But in order to ship it down there we would have to cut through the tree-size stem with a chainsaw, and we were frankly afraid of what would happen if we did. So we called, and a professor agreed to drive down to our farm with an ultrasound.
We marked the day on our calendar and I promptly forgot about it until the professor called from a gas station down the street, lost and needing directions. Left, right, left, I said. He had a vaguely Spanish accent.
It was Saturday, and I could hear Annabelle in our bedroom playing with her vibrator. It was incredibly difficult to get sex toys down in the country, but she had somehow got her hands on a big grey one that had been modified with a clapper attachment. Every time you clapped, you got five seconds of buzz. The kids always wondered what she was doing in there, applauding herself, laughing, making squelching noises. We both found it hilarious. For fun, sometimes we would drive down to a tent revival meeting in town and she would stuff the thing up under her dress. Annabelle loved an audience. Hallelujah! Jesus fever!
I knocked on the bedroom door and told her we had to get ready for the man down from the University. This meant we had to cover up our real cash crop and pretend we were just another subsistence collection of boring old pumpkin farmers. Annabelle stopped clapping and yelping and said she would meet me behind the barn with the tarps and hay bales. I put on my straw hat and a pair of work gloves.
The pumpkins, you see, were just a financial cover for our poppy plants. We had to justify our existence somehow to the tax collectors, and pumpkins seemed like a fun, easy crop and a way to keep the kids happy.
Every Halloween we would throw a party for the kid’s elementary school, and this got us in pretty good with the local authorities and kept up our cover as a bunch of lovable, daffy reprobates from the city making barely enough to stay alive and working through some kind of yeoman moo-cow fantasy.
Really, though, we were opium farmers, and we were good at it. Noble opium farmers harvesting dreams and selling nirvana to the Southwest syndicate for fair and lucrative prices. Secretly, we were making millions. It wouldn’t be long now before we could retire altogether and cut out for the islands.
The kids were playing in the cottonwood trees that dotted our front yard. Mary, the oldest, was dressed up like a pirate and was swooping down on a zip line to waggle her plastic sword at baby Chester. He would scream in terror, run and hide behind a wagon, and then beg her to do it again. Violet was reading a book and watching them -- no doubt secretly hoping that Mary would break an arm.
“The man from the University is coming down to look at the pumpkin today, so I want you kids to be on your best behavior,” I shouted from the porch.
“We will, Papa,” said Violet with a cheery leer. Chester threw his arms open wide and then fell down into the grass like a crazed idiot.
“Are they going to take the pumpkin away?” asked Mary.
“Who knows?” I said. “Maybe they will cut us a check and turn it into their mascot.”
Mary looked dismayed. If the pumpkin were gone, she wouldn’t be able to tell the others horror stories about aliens and giant pumpkin monsters that ate cities.
I gave Violet a pat on the head and made my way to the back fields behind our ornamental crimson shed. This time of year, the field was covered in fat fall bees, and I kept swatting them with my hat trying to encourage them to pollinate something besides my eyeballs. Pumpkin bees are extraordinarily industrious, but this can translate into viciousness at any moment. They were unavoidable, however. We actively took care of two hives, and we didn’t discourage others from forming. The bees didn’t mind doing double duty – hitting the pumpkins and then hitting the opium flowers. And I certainly liked my bees to be a little bit stoned.
I unfolded the tarps and stretched them out until Annabelle was there beside me, looking flushed and pretty as usual. We grabbed opposing edges and gently veiled our budding horde, very careful about accidentally popping loose some of the milky blossoms.
Your average backwoods cop didn’t know the first thing about making opium, but it paid to be paranoid. Our real threats, as always, were from other criminals and opportunists. College professors could be a little bit of both. I kept a loaded shotgun handy, but I think it is safe to say that we had a veritable monopoly on the unrefined opium trade in our little neck of sleepy, forsaken edgeland America.
“I hear a truck,” said Annabelle, blowing hair out of her eyes, looking at our hidden cache of sunshine ecstasy. “I guess we made it.”
I wiped my hands on my jeans and walked back to the front yard just in time to watch the man from the University drive up. The kids stopped what they were doing and gathered around my legs. Baby Chester tried to climb up my back and I swatted him with my hat just like he was a bee. He fell down onto his diaper with a plunk, and Annabelle picked him up and held him sidesaddle against her waist. How domestic we looked!
The dusty blue panel truck came to a stop and a little man with a pointy hat and pointy beard got out and took off a pair of driving gloves and tossed them in the seat behind him. I went out to meet him, sizing him up. He was tiny all over and beside the truck he looked like a monkey that had wrangled a mastodon. He was wearing a rumpled tan suit and did not look as if he spent much time doing farm work of any sort. I wondered what department he was with.
“I am here about the pumpkin,” he said, holding up a tapered index finger. “My name is Dr. Cesar Vallejo, and I am very interested in the hieromantic oddities of this natural world. I hope you don’t mind that I haff swooped in and astolen this research opportunity from the agriculturists.”
“I guess you talked to my wife,” I said. “I’m Dan Grant, and this is my wife Annabelle. What field are you in exactly, Dr. Vallejo?”
As I dove in to shake his hand, I noticed that there was something strange about his left eye. It was hollow, like a hamster ball or a glass mug. It was slightly frosted, so I couldn’t see through it into Dr. Vallejo’s brain, but it was certainly unsettling nonetheless.
“I am in experimental psychologies,” said Dr. Vallejo, producing a card like magic from his sleeve. Dr. Cesar Vallejo, Professor, was all it said.
“What does experimental psychology have to do with pumpkins?” I asked, suspicious.
Before he could answer, Mary had walked right up to him and given him an angry interrogative stare, leaning forward as if he were the child and she were the professor.
“What’s wrong with your eyeball?” she asked. Tact is an artifact of the working classes, I suppose.
Instead of losing his cool, Dr. Vallejo merely harrumphed and reached inside his head, plucking the orb from his Mediterranean skull and gripping it in his tender, well-manicured fist. He shook it vigorously and then extended it to Mary, pinching his eye between thumb and index finger. Violet screamed and Baby Chester probably shit himself.
The hollow glass eye was full of swirling snow, which whirled and hurricaned like eddies of foam on the surface of a river rapid. Dr. Vallejo smiled underneath his hat, looking positively demonic behind his pointy beard and the gaping hollow that vented his ocular cortex.
Mary looked back at me and I shrugged.
“Can I hold it?” asked Mary.
“Certainly,” said Dr. Vallejo, letting it drop into her hands.
Mary stared into the spinning snowball and shook it back up when it started to settle. She breathed on the glass surface and then wiped it with her shirtsleeve. She whirled around and made like she was going to throw it at her siblings, who whirled around and dove into the grass. Finally, she gave it back with a smug air of professional approval.
“Neat trick,” said Mary. Dr. Vallejo popped the glass eye back into his head, where it spun inside his face like leaves in the fall.
“I haff always been ainterested in nature’s mistakes and malfunctions,” said Dr. Vallejo. “As an experimental psychology, I have learned that scientists learn nothing by studying the ordinaries and commonplaces. A real scientist, a real hot-shot cabron, will flee astraight to the edges to study the bends and folds of the impossible and bedamned. I can’t give two shits about the mill of the run. I ascour the bottoms of the trenches, the hinsides of the mind and the outs. You must gift me a psychopath or a serial murderer or a giant pumpkin if you want to make me happy.”
“Well, I hope you know what you are doing,” said Annabelle. “We just want to get rid of the damn thing.”
“I am even prepared to buy it,” said Dr. Vallejo. “IF it is as repulsive as you say. I hope I haben’t driven out here to see some table-size farmer’s market head turner. I hab seen such things before. Snore. Snooze. Goodnight.”
I narrowed my eyes and flared my nostrils, keeping my temper.
“Get your equipment,” I said. “And your truck isn’t going to be big enough, just so you know. I said flatbed on the phone.”
Dr. Vallejo grinned like a wolverine. I guess he was intrigued, but he certainly didn’t apologize for maligning my pumpkin and veracity. Did we look like butter-churning rubes? I turned on my heel and stormed off into the pumpkin patch. Dr. Vallejo took a duffel bag from the truck cab and followed, Annabelle and the children bombarding him with questions about his eye and his practice.
“What sort of experiments do you do?” asked Annabelle.
“I am amainly interested in the cognitive nexuses between matter and machina. I like to take very small rats and put a little bit of acid on important parts of their developing brain top see what happens. Also, I like to build little machines for them and teach them to fight each other,” said Dr. Vallejo. “I charge money, and the other professors like this very much.”
“What’s your favorite color?” asked Violet, shyly.
“Brown,” said Dr. Vallejo.
“How come you talk so funny?” asked Mary.
“How come you talk so funny?” asked Dr. Vallejo.
“Have you been at the University very long?” asked Annabelle.
“Three years,” said Dr. Vallejo. “Before that, I haff my own private practice. It did not go well.”
“How’d you lose your eye?” asked Mary.
“I asked the wrong person a nosy question,” said Dr. Vallejo with a hint of menace.
“That was stupid,” said Mary. “You should be more careful.”
We had arrived at the pumpkin. It was like finding a huge, roiling pustule of ick right at the upturn of your cheekbone the hour before your wedding. Pow. I heard Dr. Vallejo’s duffel bag hit the ground and a strained gasp erupt from the prison-bar whiskers of his pushbroom mustache.
I ducked underneath the police tape and leaned against the horrifying gourd to give him some idea of scale. The pumpkin was a good 10 feet tall and easily again as wide. It was not yet ripe, and still maintained the sickly green tinge of youth. In fact, it was not healthy looking at all. There were bulges in all the wrong places and knots jutting out at broken angles. There was a spidery latticework splot of some kind of rot or fungus along one side like a window, plastic-coated with burnished infection. As we watched, one of the bulges hefting from the corona shifted, glacier-like, to settle around the middle, like a plate of beans in the belly of an emaciated child. It would have been hypnotic to watch the pumpkin throb, if it hadn’t been so repulsive. As I felt my shoulder suck nauseatingly into the side like a knuckle into a bruise, I shuddered involuntarily and crawled out from under the police tape to rejoin the others.
“It used to look sort of normal,” I said. “It was always punchy, but it used to have a more elegant shape to it.”
“I think she is rotting,” said Dr. Vallejo. “Maybe she is so big, so she has a brand new big rot.”
“Maybe,” said Annabelle. “But it keeps getting bigger. I take a video-still every day if you want to see the time lapse.”
“Perhaps later,” said Dr. Vallejo, unzipping his bag. “While I am out here, however, I might as well perform some tests.”
“Can we go play inside now?” asked Violet.
“Sure,” said Annabelle, handing her Baby Chester. “Watch a movie or something.”
“I want to stay and watch this,” said Mary. “Watch him pop it.” Violet stuck her tongue out at her sister and headed back to the house with her brother slung over her shoulder, his black sweet pea suit turning him into a merrily burping jackdaw bindle.
“I am not going to pop it, little girl,” said Dr. Vallejo. “Not until I see what is inside it first. It is probably not candy and whistles like in one of your piñatas. No seeds for bakings, no goo for munchings.”
Dr. Vallejo bent down and bounced back up with a white enamel canister that had two straps for arms to go through. There was a probe attachment, headphones, and a wire that led to a laptop in his pack.
“This is a mobile diagnostic ultrasound,” said Dr. Vallejo. “We use her for seeing what’s inside people’s heads without surgerys. She has many other uses. I sometimes take her to drafty old houses and search for hidden treasure inside their walls. Also, she is excellent for searching the trunks of cars at supermarkets and large sporting events for bodies or drugs. No whale belly, safe deposit box, or magician’s footlocker is safe from a competent experimental psychologist and his powerful probe, and you can trust me on that.”
I trusted him. Annabelle shot me a dubious eye.
Dr. Vallejo began pressing buttons on his laptop, adopting the competent frown of the merciless mercenary academic. Finally, he stood up, smoothed down his suit coat, shouldered his pack, tested the probe on Annabelle’s forehead, nodded smartly, and addressed the pumpkin in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, but in my head he said something like “Ah ha, and now we two shall be married by the mighty hand of modern science.”
“Cucurbita pepo,” said Dr. Vallejo, looking over his shoulder. “I am nearly certain this is some kind of record.”
“We haven’t really investigated,” I lied. In fact, we had the record by about 300%. So what? The last thing we needed around here were a bunch of reporters and meter-stick waving hog farmers.
Dr. Vallejo dragged the probe against the side of the pumpkin and began stroking his goatee. He pushed the gleaming vinyl attachment up along the top as high as he could reach, and then he brought it down around the pumpkin’s waist and followed the gourd at belt level. He made smacking noises and ticking noises and cursed several times when his cord came unplugged and he was forced to recalibrate. At one point, he took out a sheet of notebook paper and made some quick calculations, finally crumpling the paper into a ball and tossing it over his shoulder. Mary picked the piece of a paper up and unfolded it, but evidently she could make neither heads nor tails because she crumpled it and tossed it over her shoulder in the same exact way, in silent homage to her new hero. I suppose next we would find her with a goatee pasted across her chin and a burlap sack suit on her back.
“It is unaccountable, to be sure,” said Dr. Vallejo. “I cannot understand it.”
“Yes,” I said. “It is a horrible, giant pumpkin. Will you please take it away now?”
“There is much more than that, senor,” he said, rolling the cord around the ultrasound and placing it back inside his duffel. “Come, look at these readings. Look at the picture I have made with the sonics. Tell me what you see, and then tell me I am crazy.”
We all hunkered down around him as his laptop began to flash.
“It seems impossible in every way,” said Dr. Vallejo. “But there it is.”
He pointed and made lines on the screen with a long, pointy finger. His finger looked as if it had been ground sharp by an electric pencil sharpener.
“The sonics only bounce off so clean from one element in such a manner that I know of,” said Dr. Vallejo. “You see the clean striations? You see the slender walls and the contortions of it? I have used this ultrasound in many, many ways that it was not specifically intended to be deployed. I expected to do that here. However, inside your pumpkin is something that would make any obstetrician blink. These are bones, senor. The bones of some kind of beast.”
It was unmistakable. The section that Dr. Vallejo was mapping out with his finger looked to be a bent appendage of some sort. A coiled spring. It looked powerful, and therefore terrifying. It wasn’t a pumpkin we were growing; it was an egg.
“What kind of eggs are orange and grow in a pumpkin patch?” I muttered to myself.
“Do you think there is flesh attached to those bones?” asked Annabelle, covering Mary’s ears with her hands. Mary tried to squirm away and looked at her mother like a finking jailhouse traitor, but Annabelle held her tightly.
“It is difficult to say,” said Dr. Vallejo. He twisted his goatee up in his hand and then yanked it straight again. “There are definitely lines of meat, but it is difficult to tell how much of that is pumpkin, how much is placenta, and how much is flesh. We are not dealing with absolutes here. We are no longer in God’s territory.”
Yes, yes. No longer in God’s territory. I coughed and started to choke on my own saliva. That happens, sometimes. Especially when I haven’t smoked in awhile. Annabelle gave me a good whack on the back and I got a hold of myself with a choking gasp.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said. Dr. Vallejo looked meaningfully at Mary and then back at me. Annabelle whispered something to Mary, who stared at her defiantly, and then began walking back to the house.
“I have a confession to make,” said Dr. Vallejo. “I am not here strictly in a University capacity. In fact, it is not actually the policy of the University to investigate claims of the perverse and scientifically outlandish without sending officers of the law first to check the sources. Evidently, the University has been bamboozled before by veritable teams of crackpots and lunatics out to make a name and a pocketful of dollars. But I intercepted your call, and I decided to make a weekend of it. As I said before, I have a rare taste for the shits of God. None of my colleagues know I am here, and this is important. I must keep my respect as I gawk.
“You see, I have a theory about the creation of our world, and whether or not it is true, it is the delusion under which I am persisting. I see our God making the planet Earth, and doing all of the things necessary. Planting the trees, and crafting the animals, and burying the minerals and making the rains. He is going about in his white robes, ticking everything along like clockwork. In fact, being God, the perfection comes easy to him and it is not long before he has created our planet in perfect harmony. The squirrels leap into the mouths of lions to steal chunks of fruit, and the hippos fairy the dogs across rivers that flow too fast and high. The pumpkins grow in neat, perfect rows and seven toadstools, one for every color of the rainbow, grow in each of their shadows.”
Dr. Vallejo walked to the pumpkin and put his palm flat against it, and then put his other hand to his forehead, as if checking for fever.
“But God looks down on his creation, or perhaps up at his creation, and he realizes that he has sinned. He has made a pile of junk. Not because it isn’t beautiful. Sure, it is the very acmean of beauty. Such beauty would kill a human or a cockroach. But because it is boring, God has made junk. So God frowns, he picks his nose, and then he gives the Earth a flick – right at the top, where the vine grows out of the pumpkin here. The Earth doesn’t fall over or go spinning into the void like crumpled newspaper. But it tilts, you see! It tilts!
“This is enough, of course. Then come humans. And snakes. And diseases. And hurricanes. And mutation, despair, and sickness, and drama, and laughing, and horror. My friends, I am one of the very few who do not worship the spin and cycle of our planet. I do no celebrate holidays, I do not keep schedules, I am not gratified by the constant recurrences of banalities and trivialities. No, I am one of the very few who worship the tilt. I study its signs, and I learn its language. And each time I find something that shouldn’t be, I am gratified beyond all comprehension. I relax. I breathe. And then I cut a check.”
Dr. Vallejo’s good eye glinted.
“How much?” he asked.
I licked my lips and looked at Annabelle. Annabelle raised an eyebrow and then frowned.
“Dr. Vallejo, I think I speak for both of us when I say that we don’t want any money from you. In fact, the only think we want is for you to take the damn thing away. The sooner the better. Whatever it is, it is poison. You can just smell it, can’t you?”
You COULD smell it. It smelled like an old plastic bag full of lawn clippings that had started to melt in the sun and stretched like taffy under your fingers as you dragged it away.
“Don’t you even want to see what is inside?” asked Dr. Vallejo.
“You can send us pictures,” I said.
Dr. Vallejo grinned again. I realized for the first time that maybe we weren’t the only ones with something to hide. When you are hiding a big, horrible secret yourself, you forget that other people might have big, horrible secrets of their own. I realized that there was absolutely no reason I should think anything but the worst of Dr. Vallejo. He was a terrifying old man with one eye and sharp little fingers that reminded me of cocktail forks.
“I don’t know what you could possibly be afraid of,” said Dr. Vallejo, gently stroking the monster. “Surely nothing could GROW inside a pumpkin. What would nourish it? The bones are a fluke in the machine, or some kind of rare new organic composition. Whatever is in there is certainly dead. Always was. I mean, I don’t really want the pumpkin. I want the corpse of the beast in its guts.”
Who was he kidding?
But I didn’t have time to respond. Dr. Vallejo tore his arm back and then punched the pumpkin as hard as he could. It shook on the vine and then shuddered like the cellulite-mottled ass of a porn star past her prime willing to do anything, only shocked now by the pittance of her paycheck.
“Stop that!” I shouted.
“What are you doing?” screamed Annabelle.
“Just showing you how silly your fears are,” said Dr. Vallejo. “Truly, the most frightening creature in the universe is manunkind himself.”
Evidently, Dr. Vallejo had never smoked opium and chased the dragon.
The pumpkin gurgled and a jiggly purple blot formed out of the side where he had socked it. It was as if he had given the pumpkin a knot. As if the pumpkin was capable of swelling.
“I’m sorry,” said Dr. Vallejo, turning away from the pumpkin. “I am being a horrible guest.”
Annabelle and I relaxed.
Suddenly, Dr. Vallejo spun around and kicked the pumpkin right in the bruise he had welled up. There was a nauseating squelch, and the blot cracked in half with a jagged tear like a lightning bolt. A line of bright orange gunk pussed up out of the gash, formed a bubble, and then popped.
“Uck,” said Dr. Vallejo. Wiping his shoe on the ground.
“Would you please leave that thing alone?” said Annabelle. “Just take it away.”
“I will need a bigger truck, of course,” said Dr. Vallejo, staring at the dripping blister he had made and then popped.
The pumpkin shifted its weight. The bulk that had shifted down to the bottom like a settling soufflé crawled back up to the top. Something was happening inside of it. A bolt of fear deep in the back of my brain made me slowly back away as Annabelle and Dr. Vallejo were held rapt, out of disgust and fascination, respectively.
“I’m going to cut the stem,” I said. “There’s no reason for all this. Let’s just put the thing out of its misery.”
“It’s going to burst!” shouted Annabelle.
It did burst. The pumpkin split down the middle as if it had been cleaved by a hatchet. I took off running for the woodpile where I kept the chainsaw. It was only 30 yards away, but by the time I came back with the machine pumped and primed, the pumpkin had completely cracked, the shell sluicing in two and landing in a clump like boiled egg-white halves. I dropped the chainsaw, grabbed Annabelle, and shoved her to the ground.
Inside the pumpkin was a face as big and as wide as the side of a barn door. The face emerged from the interior like a diver emerging from the sea and turned to look at the three of us cowering over the ultrasound equipment and rippling chainsaw. It was a human head, or at least simian, and rose up out of the smashed pumpkin shell to sit like a bust on the shelf of an aristocratic library. There was no neck, and the face was attached at the chin to the bottom of the pumpkin by orange strands of gloop.
There was no flesh on the creature and all you could see was the porcelain frame of its bones and skull. The face was held together by stringy orange tendons with giant seeds hanging off in repulsive, glowing clumps. There were no eyeballs and no flesh to form a nose, but the creature did have a strand of flat teeth the size of open umbrellas that jutted from the dragging chin.
The creature tried to wiggle forward, but it was chained to the ground by the shards of pumpkin that formed its organic collar and by the pumpkin stem that kept the thing growing. Since all of the other pumpkins in a semi-truck sized swathe were stunted and malnourished, one could easily infer that our monster had been leeching their nutrients for itself. But as the face stretched out on the piles of its orange veins to snap and chew at us, it was easy to see that it had grown sick of rainwater and minerals. The pumpkin was ready for protein, like a venus flytrap.
“It has bitten my arm!” shrieked Dr. Vallejo. “My arm has gone numb!”
I stared at him, confused. The face had come nowhere near us. It couldn’t, what with the way it was tethered to the earth. Nevertheless, Dr. Vallejo began writhing on the ground like a cat with a string tied to its tail.
The face smacked and gnashed. Pieces of purple and orange bruise dripped from the flat suggestion of its pearly forehead and landed in chunks around the pumpkin’s collar.
Dr. Vallejo struggled to his knees with snow blowing in his eye. His face was twisted in a rictus of pain and he had broken out in a strained red sweat. His goatee and long eyelashes dripped with velvety perspiration. I realized that he was having a heart attack.
“It is the face!” shouted Dr. Vallejo. “The face of the tilt! I renounce you, face! I renounce and I laugh at your pitiful attempts to crush the great-souled.”
Dr. Vallejo managed to struggle to his feet before he was overcome by another wave of blood boiling infarction. His features contorted in misery, and his tongue lolled. His glass eye fell out the socket, and he crushed it as he stumbled in pain. Finally, he keeled over, moaning, twitching. His hat floated down to land on his chest like lilies for a virgin suicide. He shouted something in Spanish and then he stopped breathing.
“Well, that’s just great,” I said, staring at the corpse. The pumpkin-face quizzically lifted an eyebrow. “That’s just great,” I said again to the pumpkin. It was looking at me like a dog looks at its master before running to chase a tennis ball.
Annabelle had dusted herself off and joined me next to Dr. Vallejo.
“Maybe we should do CPR,” she said. I shrugged.
“Be my guest,” I said. Annabelle pounded on his chest a little bit and then gave up. Instead, she took out his wallet and began going through his credentials.
“Now there’s going to be cops, and explanations, and whole armies of reporters,” I said. I looked over at the house. Three wide-eyed, rosy cheeked children of staggered heights stared back at me through the window in the kitchen. As I looked, the curtain snapped shut.
The pumpkin face turned its chin up to the sky and looked to be howling, although no sound was coming out. Which made sense. No lungs, no vocal cords. Just a face, teeth, and some sort of organic decomposition system. I was no biologist, but I figured the pulp mass of chewed flesh was absorbed directly into the soil.
“Maybe not,” said Annabelle. “He said he didn’t tell the University he was here. And the truck is a rental. We could drop the truck off at the rental place, and say that Dr. Vallejo had to leave unexpectedly and asked us to do it for him. As long as they get their car, they are happy.”
“What about the corpse? What about the missing person’s report?”
“People disappear all the time,” said Annabelle. “Especially lunatics with theories.”
“Okay, fine,” I said. “But what about this giant mutant pumpkin face we’ve got now? How do we get rid of it?”
“I’m sure if we cut the stem it will just wither up and die on its own,” said Annabelle.
I looked at Annabelle. I looked at Dr. Vallejo. His tongue hung from his mouth like a corpse hanging from the broken rear window of an overturned ambulance. The cavern of his eye-hole revealed curves and gradients I would rather not see.
“Grab his legs,” I said, taking Dr. Vallejo by the arms. We picked him up off the ground and began to swing him back and forth. His hat rolled off of his chest and then we let him go. The face snatched him out of the air by his midsection, clamping down through the soft meat of his belly and then twisting through his ribs. The face gritted its teeth and blood squirted out from either end of Dr. Vallejo like ketchup and mustard squeezing out of the ends of a hot dog.
An arm came free and started to fly toward us, but the face snatched it out of the air and swallowed it. Before the face could choke down the rest of Dr. Vallejo, his shoe came off and I saw the toes twitch. Maybe he wasn’t dead. Maybe we should have called for an ambulance. But maybe it was just reflex. Either way, he was certainly dead now.
“I hope the kids didn’t see that,” I said.
“Kids forget everything anyway,” said Annabelle.
I picked up the chainsaw.
“What are you doing?” shouted Annabelle. “We have to let it digest first.”
“But look at it! We can’t just have this thing in our yard, howling at the moon.”
We both pondered the issue, flaring our nostrils at one another. Looking back on it, I can’t remember who came up with the idea first, but it was obviously the right answer. There wasn’t even really any question. We made a mad dash for the poppy fields and came back with our arms full of bulbs. For ten minutes we tossed poppies at the face as it caught and chewed them into fragrant pulp. For some reason, this was more horrific to me than the plant eating Dr. Vallejo. This was cannibalism! But the drug took effect quickly, and we soon found ourselves sitting watch over a snoring, stinking pumpkin face.
“How long will it last, do you think?” I asked.
“It just has to last eight hours,” she said. “That’s how long it takes to turn meat into fertilizer. Then we ditch the car, cut the stem, burn the thing, and bury it. No body, no problem”
Suddenly, there were tiny hands encircling my legs. Mary and Violet were cowering behind me, staring at the blood-drenched, sleeping pumpkin blossom.
“What happened, Daddy?” asked Violet.
“There were bones in the pumpkin,” I said slowly. I looked at my daughter aslant. “It’s a lesson about growing up too fast.”