Ep.53 – The Pumpkin King - Hungry Zombies Are on the Prowl!
On Halloween Night two of the most unlikely heroes you could ever imagine are tasked with fending off the undead and coming face to face with the impossibly evil Pumpkin King!
The Pumpkin King by David O'Hanlon
Music by Ray Mattis http://raymattispresents.bandcamp.com
Produced by Daniel Wilder
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Barley and Clyde Sawyer were not the nicest men in Boucher, Arkansas. If they were, they never would have found themselves in my employment. The rural community of Boucher was somewhere between a large town and a small city and had attracted, throughout its years, a veritable rogues’ gallery ranging from petty thieves to serial killers. The Sawyer cousins fell somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. The boys worked any number of odd jobs, but often supplemented their income by... creative means. The cousins were the perfect partnership, seeing as Barley was strong as an ox and Clyde was, well almost, smart as one. What Clyde lacked in intelligence he made up for in loyalty and tenacity. Qualities found rarely in men of his ilk, if they’re ever found at all. Clyde brought a heart of gold to the team— fool’s gold, as it may have been. And damned if he wasn’t the best shot, I’ve ever known. Barley on the other hand, was not. In fact, if the boy managed to hit the broadside of a barn, you could safely bet he’d been aiming the opposite direction. Luckily for him, he was hellfire in a brawl. Barley also served as the thinker of the two—a meager accomplishment, to be sure. It was, as it turns out, Barley’s bright idea that led the boys to my doorstep. My name is Barnabas A. Lambert and I will do my best to relate to you the events that would later bring me to employ Barley and Clyde. Some of the details may have been exaggerated in their recollections, so please try not to hold that against me—I’m only telling you, how I heard it. “Well sumbitch, Clyde,” Barley said. He said it a lot. It was only by the inflection that Clyde Sawyer knew exactly how to take it. The slow, drawn out tempo of the catchphrase told him Barley was not at all impressed by the turn of events. Clyde never missed a shot, not even on purpose. It was like every bullet he fired magically found the bullseye. The fat man’s head leaked across the truck bed. “Could’ve at least wrapped him in plastic,” Barley griped. “I ain’t have none.” Clyde wheezed and dug in his pocket for his inhaler. “That bastard weighs a ton and I had to pick him up all by my lonesome.” “If you hadn’t shot him in the head, you wouldn’t have had to pick him up at all.” Barley grabbed the man’s collar and jerked him out of the back of the truck in three tries. The body poured over the tailgate into a contorted heap. “Ugh! He squirted brain juice on me. I didn’t say anything about shooting him.” “Ain’t say nothing about not shooting him either.” Clyde straightened the corpse out. “Things got a little out of hand. I had to improvise.” Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 3 “Out of hand, my ass. You just needed to give him the brick and get the bag of money.” Clyde sighed. “I got the money and we can sell the brick again.” “Ain’t the point, Clyde.” Barley shook his head. “What kind of drug dealers can’t be trusted to keep their word?” Clyde scratched his head. “All of them, I reckon.” “Well, that shit’s gotta change.” Barley grabbed the man’s ankles. “Lift with your knees. We ain’t got no workman’s comp.” Clyde hooked the body under the arms and they began the arduous trek down the levy with their portly cargo. Thanks to Clyde’s hair-trigger and Barley’s short-temper, the duo was getting good at disposing of unwanted bodies—a skill they sold to others, as well. “Clyde, make me a promise.” Barley wrestled to fix his grip around the gargantuan thighs. “What’s that, Barley?” “Make the fat ones run a bit before you shoot them.” Clyde laughed and lost his grip, sending Barley and the body rolling to the bottom of the incline. He stopped laughing when he heard the splash and trotted down quickly. Barley shook off the water and unraveled the plastic sheeting from his pocket in silence—near silence, anyhow. A low hiss alerted them to another presence. “Clever bastard.” Clyde pointed behind Barley. “That’s the same one as last time.” The alligator inched closer, but stayed to the water’s edge. Gators were smart critters and knew the sound of the Sawyers’ 1978 Dodge Warlock meant a free meal was coming. Barley laid the sheet out and rolled the man onto it. “If they’re working, they might as well be getting paid for it,” Barley said and unsheathed the knife from his boot. “Hell, we might even get a couple of them to keep at the house. Be a damn sight better than coming way out here to dump a body.” Barley ripped open the man’s shirt and set about the grim task of hollowing the corpse while Clyde went up top to retrieve the bags of landscaping rocks. By the time the younger Sawyer brought the duffel back, Barley was finished with his end. Barley tossed a kidney to the gator to thank him for waiting patiently while Clyde stuffed the body with stones. They wrapped the plastic around the man and secured it with duct tape before loading him into the camouflaged johnboat. As they rowed away, the gator went for the viscera left ashore. The channel wound around a series of bends and into the maze of swamps that occupied the southeast of Fagan County. There was little in the way of civilization in that nook of the Natural State. Barley and Clyde paddled until they reached a tiny island known locally as Frog’s Ass—so called because it was bare and wet as an amphibian’s behind. Arkansans can be quite colorful in their colloquialisms. They rolled the body into the water before mooring the boat to the ramshackle pier. Frog’s Ass used to be a popular spot with the peculiar church of Ebenezer Whitt. The sinister minister, and founder, of the nearby community of Whitt’s End was something of a local boogeyman. The Spanish Flu found its way into the tiny village and spread amongst the congregation like wildfire. At least that’s what they say. Fact of the matter is, like most stories in the South, there’s the truth... and then there’s what really happened. Whichever version you believe, the ending is the same—everyone in Whitt’s End died badly. As the years went on, some of the yokels began venturing to Frog’s Ass Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 5 to party without the nuisances of local law enforcement. Reports of strange occurrences were rampant, as were the disappearances. The island, not much larger than a Walmart, was eventually forgotten about except by those of ill repute—those like Barley and Clyde. The boys got off the boat and stretched their legs. Rusted beer cans poked out of the dirt like headstones of fun times long since dead and served as the only proof anyone had ever come to the isle before them. They didn’t use the small motor when carrying anything of legal ambiguity and the two hours of rowing took its toll, so they rested on the island whenever their work took them so far into the wetlands. Barley laid back and let the cool mud sooth his tired muscles. A single cloud drifted lazily across the full moon. “Hey, Barley,” Clyde called as he urinated noisily against a stone protrusion. “Come look at this.” “I reckon I’ll pass.” Barley sat up and pulled his shirt back on. “Best keep it away from the water though. Some snapper might think that little white wiggler of yours is a minnow and bite it off.” “This is why you ain’t got no friends, Barley.” Clyde’s zipper punctuated the statement. “I meant come look what I was peeing on.” “This better be good.” Barley left his flashlight sticking out of the mud and joined his cousin. He took of his ball cap and scratched at his shoulder-length hair. “Yep, that’s definitely interesting.” “It’s one them devil altars, that’s what it is,” Clyde informed him. “That’s just lies they tell in movies, Clyde,” Barley felt the carved lines of the knee-high stone pillar. “The pentagram means good things, most the time. Folks used it to symbolize the Five Wounds of Christ, for example. It’s even big in China.” “Damn, you always learning me something, cuz.” Clyde spat tobacco juice across it and inspected it with his penlight. “So, this is a good thing, then?” Barley checked his watch and grunted. “Well Clyde, I don’t reckon this one is actually.” “How’s that?” “You see, Clyde, we was here two nights ago... and it weren’t.” “That is a bit worrisome.” Clyde leaned closer to the symbol. “Maybe we just overlooked it.” “Could be.” Barley snugged his hat back on his head. “But it’s been Halloween for about three hours now and it’s a full moon and I’d much rather we didn’t fuck around with the pentagram in the swamp if it’s all the same to you.” “Big Barley scared of an old star? Ain’t that something.” Clyde pointed at an indentation in the center of the star. “What you reckon that is?” “Looks like a hand. Let’s get on back to the house. We promised we’d do them hayrides for the kiddies tonight.” Barley turned to leave. “And don’t touch the—” A cypress exploded in a flash of lightning across the swamp. The animals went silent, like scalded children cowering before an angry mother. Barley rubbed his eyes to clear the spots from his vision. Frog’s Ass shuddered twice and the muddy bank bubbled. The ground shook again and Barley’s boots sunk into the liquifying soil beneath him. He exhaled sharply and shook his head before looking back at his cousin. Clyde’s jaw was hanging open—and his hand was pressed firmly in the middle of the bizarre altar. “Well sumbitch, Clyde!” The carved star glowed brightly and the younger Sawyer jumped away, immediately sinking into the island up to his knees. Barley plodded over quickly as he could and pulled him Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 7 free. They made slow progress to the johnboat as the ground sucked at their legs, trying to pull them inside. The edge of Frog’s Ass dissolved into drifting clumps of muck as the landmass became nothing more than sludge and broke apart before them. The remnants of the dock collapsed entirely. “I told you not to touch it,” Barley exclaimed. “But you knew I was gonna!” The island broke away in a flash and dumped them into the swamp. Barley clung to Clyde’s back, trying to stay afloat. Barley swam slightly better than a boulder, after all. A pillar of fog rose from the dying island, crackling with its own lightning storm inside its swirling mass. The moon dimmed and, over the symphony of horrid destruction, the Sawyers could hear something much worse. It wasn’t laughter, as we’d call it, but rather the perverse imitation of the act by a thing born in a place where joy did not exist. Clyde took great motivation in this and got them to the boat right quick. Barley kicked his feet to keep his head above the black water while Clyde submerged and cut them free of the shattered dock. They clamored inside the boat and Clyde shook water from his inhaler for three puffs of salvation. The remains of Frog’s Ass drifted lazily in all directions and the tower of fog spread out across the sky, blotting out the moon for all of Fagan County. “Think that’s a bad omen, Barley?” Clyde spat swamp water. Barley clicked the switch of the spotlight mounted on the nose of the boat and shined it across the swamp. A piece of plastic sheeting reflected it back as it floated away. Bubbles popped next to the boat and a pudgy face rose silently above the surface. Water streamed through the bullet hole like a broken faucet. The man gripped the rim of the boat and jerked it down, sending Clyde into the water with him. Clyde bobbed up in time to see the obese corpse breast-stroking to his revenge. Zombie- teeth snapped at the air in anticipation of Clyde’s flesh. Clyde shut his eyes tight. The trolling motor hummed to life and he knew Barley was skinning out before the corpse could eat him too. Then the motor bogged down in an entanglement, whining as it tried to break free. Sticky chunks pelted Clyde’s face. Barley must have gotten stuck in the broken remains of the isle Clyde feared. The revenant would have his vengeance on both the Sawyers, soon enough. Clyde opened his eyes and watched the headless body sink into the swamp for the second time that night. Barley shut off the motor and slung it over his shoulder with a grin. “You swimming home, or you wanna get yourself in the boat?” Barley remounted the motor to its bracket. Clyde pulled himself in and sighed. “There’s a chance this might be my fault.” The rest of the day was without further zombie attacks and the boys felt assured the incident on Frog’s Ass was an isolated one. With it being Halloween, they didn’t have any jobs lined up and focused on the evening’s task—preparing their truck for the hayrides. The Dodge Warlock growled into the daycare’s gravel parking lot. Barley stepped down from the lifted pickup and the much shorter Clyde slid out. The screen door swung open and clacked against the siding as she came out to meet them. Barley stumbled, drawing an amused snort from Clyde. Everyone in Boucher was in love with Maude Beaumont. The streaks of green, cascading through her blonde French bob, shimmered in the late afternoon sun. She waved to the cousins with her slender fingers dancing playfully and smiled in the way that only she can. It was a tactic that melted the hearts and befuddled the minds of men across the county. One had to be careful Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 9 with Maude, for if you looked into the depths of her eyes you might not ever return in the same manner you left—as was the case for Barley Sawyer who fell into those eyes in the seventh grade and found himself perpetually entwined around those playful, slender fingers. I must admit, I myself have fallen for her charms on some occasion which has kept the boys employed... and alive. As he rounded the vehicle, Barley spotted a hunk of brain clinging to the tailgate and quickly tossed it into the bushes before Maude could see it. She’d convinced Barley to pull the trailer through Driscoll’s Corn Maze for the daycare’s annual hayrides. Three trips through the field and Barley would be in a position to finally admit his love for Maude, though he wouldn’t because he’d been in that position on at least thirty-three other occasions and chickened out every time. “Hi Barley,” Maude said sweeter than Georgia tea. “And Clyde, of course. Are y’all set for the rides?” “Howdy, Maude.” Clyde pulled the trailer hitch from the bed of the truck and slotted in below the bumper. “We are now. Is Driscoll gonna have them damned scarecrows out this year?” “Just like every year since 1963,” Maude assured him. “Fuck.” Clyde’s face soured. “I don’t like them, not one bit. Ain’t no reason Halloween needs to be scary. After all, we’re taking little kids through that maze.” “Language, Clyde.” Barley shook his head. “I can’t take you nowhere.” “I’m used to him by now.” Maude smiled and gestured to the trailer with its square bales arranged into benches amidst a bed of loose straw. “I figure we can take them in groups of ten, except the pre-K kiddos. There’s eleven in that bunch.” “Sounds like you got it all planned out.” Barley smiled and took his trucker cap off. “Will you be riding in the truck with me... me and Clyde, I mean. Unless you’d be more comfortable if it were just you and me. Clyde don’t mind riding in the back none.” Clyde’s face twisted in confusion. “I definitely mind riding where them scarecrows can see me.” “Man up, Clyde.” Barley’s shoulders sagged. “I reckon I mean to ask if you would like to ride up front with me, is where I was going with that.” “I was thinking Clyde could sit up front, where he’s safe.” Maude squeezed Barley’s arm. “And that you might like to ride with me in the back. I even got a special Halloween blanket we can sit on.” Maude looked up at him with those damned blue-green eyes and Barley went toppling down into them. His affirmation came out in a squeaky, bashful yip of excitement and he quickly set about moving the truck and getting the trailer hitched to it while Maude went inside to prepare the plastic pails the kiddies would be carrying on the ride. Clyde wrestled loose bales into the bed of the Warlock for Barley and Maude to ride on. The first carloads of kids pulled into the parking lot and went inside to get their baskets. Clyde slipped the aluminum bat from under the seat and patted it against his palm. “The hell do you need a baseball bat for?” Barley asked. “Well, I reckon we got attacked by a zombie this morning and I might’ve sank an island after fiddling with that magic doohickey, so we should have some protection tonight.” Clyde beamed with pride of his forward thinking. “There’s also the time to think about.” “What about the time, Clyde?” Barley checked his watch. “It’s a quarter-to-six.” Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 11 “Exactly, cuz.” Clyde pointed up at the sun, or where it should’ve been anyhow. “Why’s it dark already?” Barley looked at the dense blanket of clouds folded across the sky. Somewhere beyond the fluffy barrier, the sun struggled to come through, staining them a hellish red. The screams of excited children swarming out of the daycare interrupted the cousins. The little gremlins piled into the trailer with their haggard parents shuffling behind to wish them a plentiful bounty. Maude strode up to them. Barley, forgetting the rest of the world existed, lifted her gingerly into the bed of the truck before joining her. He leaned over the edge and tugged Clyde to him by the collar. “It’s probably just a storm blowing in, but keep your eyes open nonetheless.” He glanced over his shoulder at Maude before turning back to his cousin. “Give me your gun.” “I ain’t bring one.” Barley stared at Clyde until he begrudgingly pulled the revolver from his boot and handed it up to him. “Don’t know why you want it,” Clyde said. “You shoot straight as the letter S.” “Just drive and watch for out for the dead.” Clyde made the turn into the corn maze. Sure enough, Driscoll’s scarecrows were waiting at the entrance. The whole Driscoll clan was there as well, tossing candy into the trailer to the joyous wails of the children. They were deep into the maze before the lightning started. Clyde slowed the truck to a crawl and watched the clouds crackle with tangerine bolts of electricity. He mashed the brakes and put her in park before leaning out the window to whistle for Barley. He jerked a thumb at the storm. Barley stood up and looked to the clouds. They rolled like waves, cresting in saffron strobes. The laughter echoing from around them turned to harmonious singing—a hymn known only to the forgotten cult of Whitt’s End. The stalks rustled with sudden excitement. Clyde sucked his finger and held it up to the sky. “Ain’t no wind blowing, Barley.” He slipped out of the cab with his bat in hand. “Nope. There sure ain’t, Clyde.” Barley climbed down from the truck and looked to Maude. “Best you wait here, my dear.” The miniscule forms, adorn in temple garments, ambled out of the maze, not much higher than Barley’s waist with pumpkins resting atop their scrawny shoulders. Clyde took tentative steps toward the nearest of the infernal carolers and swung for the fences. The singing stopped in a collective gasp as they watched one of their number drop flat. “Well sumbitch, Clyde!” Barley pulled the pistol and kept it trained on the mob. “You can’t just go whacking little kids with a bat for being creepy.” “Weren’t no kid.” Clyde pointed at the shattered remains of the pumpkin and slithering worms oozing out of the neck. “It’s an imp. They’re like goblins but they serve a... oh shit.” “Serve a what, Clyde?” Barley asked. A earth-shaking roar answered. The imps shrieked in agreement. A vine whipped out of the maze and twisted around Barley’s legs, jerking him under the truck. He screamed for help, clutching the corn stalks while the vine pulled tighter. He drew the pistol and fired into the maze. Still the vine fought against him, snapping the stalks and pulling him deeper inside. Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 13 Clyde found himself swinging at the swarm of charging imps, unable to aid his cousin. Maude jumped into the trailer and ushered the terrified children into the truck bed. “Stay here, we’re leaving soon,” she promised them. The tire iron screeched across the bed as she pulled it to her and joined Clyde in the game of demonic whack-a-mole. More gunshots cracked in the maze. Clyde cursed the whole situation and smashed another pumpkin, spraying Maude with the wriggly contents. She swiped the worms from her hair and slapped Clyde hard enough to dislodge the tobacco glob. “Watch where you’re swinging,” she shouted. “We need to get the kids out of here and rescue Barley. You got a plan for that?” “Barley does the planning.” Clyde kicked one of the creatures between the legs and laughed as it collapsed. “Imps got nards too!” “That’s not helpful!” “Get in the truck and tell them crotch-dumplings to hold tight.” Clyde winked. “I think I got me a plan after all.” The Warlock bounced violently through the field, following the bent and broken path of Barley’s abduction. The truck was designed for off-road shenanigans, but the trailer slid and twisted, tossing hay bales into the field like mortar fire. The truck jerked hard, narrowly missing Barley as they caught up with him. Clyde pulled the truck alongside and Barley grabbed the chrome nerf bar. “This is not a plan!” Maude shouted as she tried to keep the kids from bouncing out of the truck. “Well it’s working like one!” Clyde shouted. Clyde leaned out the window. “Told you, Barley, you can’t shoot for shit. Now, hold on.” Clyde jerked the wheel and pulled Barley away from the vine, snapping the tendril in two. The agonized scream drowned out the roar of the Warlock’s big engine. Clyde stopped the truck and got out. Barley handed him the revolver and went to check on the kids and Maude. Clyde opened the cylinder and cursed. “Only left me one bullet?” he asked. “You ain’t never needed more than the one.” Barley climbed into the truck bed and tried soothing the children. “What do imps serve, Clyde?” A wall of corn dropped away with a swish and two scarecrows staggered forward with scythes held high. Maude hopped out of the truck and cocked the tire iron back. Hellfire burned in the mouths of their jack-o-lantern heads. Barley broke a board free of the Warlock’s bedrail and joined Maude. “You boys can fuck right off,” Maude warned them. They didn’t listen. They reaped the air with their blades and ambled closer, side-by-side in their pursuit. The gunshot silenced the wails of terrified kiddos. The two pumpkins wilted and their fire spread, engulfing the straw bodies. “I hate scarecrows.” Clyde spun the pistol on his finger and blew smoke from the barrel. “Barley’s right. I ain’t never needed more than one bullet.” Lightning crashed to the ground in scores. The maze ignited in their wake and twisting vines, curled out of the flames like snakes seeking mice. The ground split open, crazing in fissures that stretched to the boys and Maude. The sulfuric fumes rising out from them stung their nostrils and brought tears to their eyes. “Imps serve the royal family of Hell,” Clyde grumbled. Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 15 “How do you know that?” Maude whispered. “Learned it from the YouTube.” Clyde pressed a wad of tobacco into his lip. “Really wish you ain’t wasted my bullets, Barley.” “I was trying not to get killed, Clyde.” Barley hoisted the two-by-four. The three-story jack-o-lantern tore out of the earth on the verdant, coiling vines sprouting from the white fuzz along its spongy, orange belly. A great guffaw resonated from the pulpy mouth of the beast, matched by the torso of a man rising where its stem should’ve been. Tiny gourds grew out of his flesh like tumors and more greenery sprouted amongst his white hair. “I was Ebenezer Whitt, prophet of the Ascendant One, Hammodai!” he bellowed. “For as the angels fall, so shall the demon rise.” “That sounds bad,” Barley whispered. Maude ran over to the truck bed. “Kids, I’m going to need y’all to get on down from there and sit in the trailer nice and sweet. Can you do that? Just like when we play the Quiet Game.” “For my sacrifice and the lot of five-hundred souls, I am beyond the limitations of the flesh,” the creature continued. “I am the Pumpkin King, Pontifex of the Temple of Blight and the Harbinger of Famine.” Clyde spat tobacco juice down a fissure. “How about you come on down off your pumpkin and Barley’ll just go ahead and whoop your ass?” Barley nudged him with the board. “Why me?” “Damn it all to Hell, Barley.” Clyde threw his hands in the air. “I took care of them scarecrows and Maude helped with the imps. Carry your weight some.” The vines lashed out and Barley rolled away from them. He tossed the board aside, switching it out for one of the sickles lying on the ground. Clyde wasn’t as nimble. The creeper constricted around his narrow figure. The blade flashed before him. Chlorophyll sprayed his face as the tentacle shrank away. “What’d YouTube say about killing this guy?” Barley swiped at vines, cracking like whips at the boys. “Need virgin blood.” Clyde jumped over a fissure and grabbed the other scythe. “I think we’re in trouble then,” Barley grunted. “Got a whole trailer full, I reckon.” Clyde cut down an attacking appendage. “We’re not feeding the kiddos to the pumpkin.” Barley grabbed Clyde’s collar and swung him to safety as the field cracked open beneath him. “I’m never gonna get a second date now.” “Fools!” The Pumpkin King lunged forward. The jack-o-lantern mouth stretched wide, unleashing a wave of orange and green bugs. Millions of aphids poured across the ground. Their tiny bodies sliding across one another like sand in an hourglass. “This is entirely your fault, Clyde. I told you not to fiddle with that damn thing!” Barley stomped at the early arrivals. The cousins stood back-to-back while the famished horde besieged them. The Warlock’s engine revved, rumbling through the smokestack exhausts. The aphids slowed their advanced and halted altogether when the engine roared again. The cousins looked at the truck. The rumble of the motor shook the gold-striped body. Through the window they saw Maude, wringing the steering wheel in her fists as she pumped the accelerator in an uneven rhythm. The aphids turned, Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 17 the movement imperceptible on account of their size, and seemed to rewind into the coriaceous flesh of the Pumpkin King. The Warlock’s tires spun, flinging dirt across the kids hunkering in the unhitched trailer, before jumping forward. The engine roared like a lion pouncing at its prey. The bull-bars struck the cottony peach fuzz growing along the demon’s belly. The rind collapsed under the full force of the redneck limousine’s V8. The cousins, dumbfounded more than usual, stared at the brake lights glowing within for the moment it took the whole thing to collapse on top of it. The house-sized gourd putrefied in a puddle of pie filling that heaped over the truck, swallowing it like the tide takes the beach. The pickup pulled out in reverse, its smokestacks bubbling hot pumpkin puree as it slid in a j-turn beside the Sawyers. Maude jumped down from the driver seat. Orange goop covered her body and dripped from her hair down her stained blouse. She wiped her lips and muttered, “Clyde left the windows down.” “Maude,” Clyde started and then snorted with restrained laughter. “You look gourd- eous.” “Fuck you, Clyde” Maude slapped her hands over her mouth and looked to the trailer. “I’m sorry, kids! Miss Maude shouldn’t have used that word.” Most of the children were sobbing or calling for their mothers, others simply rocked silently. I’m sure they’ll recover eventually. After all, nothing builds character like supernatural trauma in early childhood. I wouldn’t be the man I am today, if it weren’t for such events. Barley watched the mutated form of Ebenezer Whitt pulling himself out the puddle, dragging his entrails behind him. Clyde charged at him with the scythe overhead. Whitt slithered down a fissure. Clyde narrowly missed, sinking the curved steel into the earth. Clyde threw his trucker cap to the ground. “Damn it all to Hell!” Tubular, yellow flowers bloomed around the blade and Barley knelt to inspect them. He plucked one and stood up. “Pumpkin flowers.” He slipped it behind Maude’s ear. “I reckon that means this is just the beginning.” “Whatever comes next,” Maude said, lacing her sticky fingers between his. “We can handle it, just like tonight.” “How did we handle it?” Clyde asked. “Aphids don’t like acoustic stressors, so I used the truck to drive them away.” Maude pointed at the remains of the former Pumpkin King. “And that was just a case of phytophthora blight, obviously.” “Obviously,” Barley agreed. “You know, I was thinking, after we get these kiddos home, we should go on over to Orville.” “Oh, no.” Clyde shook his head. “I know what you’re gonna say next. We ain’t never going near that shack again.” “What shack?” Maude asked. “There’s an old woman lives in the woods outside Orville,” Barley said. “She’s a witch, or a ghost, we ain’t too sure which one. She used to scare the bejesus out of us as kids. She’ll know what Clyde done did.” “I ain’t going!” Clyde crossed his arms. “You know what happens when you mess with ghost-witches?” Author’s Surname / Barley and Clyde Meet the Pumpkin King / 19 Maude shook her head, splattering Barley with pumpkin juice. “Me neither and we ain’t finding out. I draw the line.” Clyde swiped his hand, making an invisible line in front of him. Barley hitched the trailer and got behind the steering wheel with Maude snuggled up against him. Clyde pouted on a hay bale next to the kids while they drove out of the corn maze. They told the parents the scarecrows had been extra scary that year and promised the children would stop crying eventually. Then they headed out across the old highway to Orville to see the Crone of Cock’s Call Holler... I told you, they got some colorful names for things in Arkansas. It was Barley’s bright idea to see the Crone and it was that idea that brought them to my door. Sometimes, things just work out. And that’s the story of how Barley and Clyde first met the Pumpkin King. It might not all be true, but that’s how I heard it. The End
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