By Sally Holland
Barney Brown was scared of many things – beasts, black cats, beady-eyed spiders, and bachelorettes with a pointy hats and frog green skin. Windy nights gave him the willies. Thunder put him under the bed. Lightning was frightening.
He did not fear pumpkins. Their orange color was simply ordinary. Their ribbed skin was routine. Even when they grew to be giant, he couldn’t muster any misgivings.
Barney lived with his dad in a farm house with straight shutters and a well-swept porch. His father was a plump chump who kept a clean kitchen – for he did all the cooking. Barney’s father’s pumpkin pies were renowned in the town. The smooth filling, the flaky crust, the pumpkin spice all made for a delicious desert.
Early Halloween morning, Barney’s father woke him up and sent him out to the pumpkin patch to harvest what he needed to make his pies. His father stayed behind in the kitchen to roll out the crusts and lay them into pie pans.
As Barney pushed a wheelbarrow past the apple orchard toward the garden, the sun peeked over the horizon. Soon it would burn off the morning dew. After that, the day promised to be clear. Everyone knew that beasts and witches and black cats stayed home when the weather was good, so Barney had nothing to fear.
At the garden, he pondered whether to choose several small pumpkins to stack in his cart or one large pumpkin that would fill it completely. Thinking that he couldn’t lift a large one by himself, Barney set his sights on a middle-sized one. He wrapped his arms around the pumpkin and tried to pull it from the vine. Sharp teeth bit into his hand.
“Ouch!” he shouted. He dropped the pumpkin. It rolled then stopped when it reached the end of its vine.
Barney looked around to make sure he hadn’t missed seeing any biting beasts in the area. He saw none. He tentatively stepped toward the pumpkin. One of the vines wrapped around his ankle. He reached down to untangle it. A mix of stringy pumpkin pulp and seeds hit Barney in the face.
“Hey!” he stood up. “It’s not nice to spit!”
“Is it nice to pull me off my vine? Is it nice to chop me up and make a pie out of me? Is it nice to EAT ME?” The voice was angry.
Barney wiped his face with his arm and tried to get away. The vine tightened around his ankle.
“Y-y-you can talk?” he said.
“Of course, I can talk,” said the grumbly pumpkin. “It’s Halloween.”
The pumpkin rolled back and forth like it was trying to get some momentum to move but couldn’t quite do it.
“A little help here!” The pumpkin sounded annoyed.
The rest of the patch broke out into a chorus of “Do it yourself!” and “Shut up!” and other rude things that Barney would never say.
“The boy turned me over and now he is refusing to put me back!” the angry pumpkin shouted.
“You’re LYING!” the other pumpkins yelled in unison.
They were so loud that Barney’s ears hurt. He covered them with his hands and shouted, “STOP!”
The pumpkin patch settled into what looked like normal. The orange gourds lay silently on their sides connected by thick vines with big green leaves. A black crow landed on a nearby pumpkin and Barney started to believe he had imagined the whole thing. He reached down and untangled his ankle.
The crow squawked and Barney jumped. His nerves were on edge.
He looked down at the red marks on his hand where the pumpkin had bitten him. No, he hadn’t imagined it. He turned to get away.
“Wait,” the pumpkin said. This time he sounded nicer. “I’m sorry. I really am. Can you please turn me over before you go? I can’t do it by myself. I really need you.” The pumpkin was begging for help.
Barney stopped and went back. He squatted down for a closer look. The pumpkin looked completely normal. No teeth in sight. Barney reached out with tentative fingers and touched it. He jerked his hand back as if it were a hot coal but it wasn’t. It felt like a pumpkin should feel.
“I’ll turn you back over if you promise not to bite me,” he said.
“I promise,” the pumpkin mumbled.
Barney rolled him over and for the first time he noticed some indents where the pumpkin had eyes and a wide, toothy mouth that was drooling out pulp. The pumpkin slurped it back in.
“You didn’t have to bite me,” Barney said.
“Would you like to be pulled you off your vine, chopped up and then cooked?” The pumpkin was back to being mean. Barney jumped back.
“I don’t suppose I would—” he said.
“We get mashed up and mixed with that disgusting pumpkin spice stuff.”
“I don’t suppose I would like that either—”
“Then we are baked and EATEN! How would you like that?”
Barney imagined big green claws with pointy fingernails reaching toward his head that was stuck in the middle of the pie and a fork was about to be stab him in his ear. The thought scared Barney more than spiders and thunderstorms combined.
Another murmur went up from the pumpkin patch. Barney heard, “Down with Pumpkin Pies!” and “Pumpkin spice is yucky!”
One of the vines slid across the ground toward Barney’s foot. He stepped out of the way before it could wrap around his ankle.
“I just want to give you a hug around your ankle,” one of the pumpkins said with a fake innocence.
“That’s okay,” Barney said as he moved out of reach. He did not trust the pumpkins. “I need to go home now.”
“That’s right. Run away.” The grumbly pumpkin glared at him. “We don’t like you anyway.”
A wad of pulp and seeds hit Barney on his cheek. He grabbed his cart and hurried for home. Once away from the angry pumpkin patch, Barney slowed down.
If he went home without pumpkins, his father wouldn’t be able to make pies. Barney couldn’t see going back to the patch–the pumpkins were crazy. But, he was equally afraid of disappointing his father. No one would ever believe him about the mean pumpkins.
An hour later when Barney got home, his cart was fully loaded. His father came out to greet him wearing an apron covered in flour dust from making pie crusts.
“What have you done?” his father exclaimed putting his hands on his head in bewilderment.
“Dad, I think it’s time to try something new,” Barney said.
A red apple fell out of the cart and rolled over to where his father stood. His dad picked it up.
“These aren’t pumpkins!” he said.
Barney tried to look casual. “Pumpkin pie is old-fashioned.”
His father scratched his head and looked closely at Barney.
“A-a-apple pie is the wave of the future,” the boy said.
His dad’s eyes found the red mark on Barney’s hand. He wasn’t fooled at all by Barney’s casual countenance.
“One of the pumpkins bit you, didn’t it?” he said.
“Yeah,” Barney admitted.
“Those pumpkins are always bullying,” said his father. “And much worse so on Halloween.”
Wait. His dad was talking like he knew about the pumpkins.
“I didn’t think you would believe me,” Barney said. “Who has ever heard of biting pumpkins?”
“That patch has been always been ornery for a while, and lately it has become outright mean. We can’t have that kind of behavior here. Especially from the vegetables. First the pumpkins are rude, and soon the butter beans are bossy, and the next thing you know the spinach is spiteful.”
“All those vegetables can talk?” a wide-eyed Barney asked.
“No,” his father smiled. “I’m just teasing you. Pumpkins are the only vegetable that can talk. It’s a Halloween thing.”
His father tossed the red apple into the air. He caught it and said, “Come on, son. I’ll show you how to make the best apple pie you have ever tasted.”
Barney was relieved. He wasn’t crazy for thinking pumpkins could talk. His dad wasn’t mad at him for bringing home apples. And, later when he tried his father’s apple pie with ice cream on top, it was delicious. This had been by far the strangest day of his life.
After that Halloween, Barney was never again afraid of beasts, black cats, beady-eyed spiders, and bachelorettes with a pointy hats and frog green skin. He slept through thunder storms. He thought lightening was lively. He did, however, always keep his distance from pumpkin patches. Where they were concerned, you could never be too careful.
Come to the house at the corner of South 16th and Quincy in Arlington, VA and you will find a painting in the front yard that goes with this story. Feel free to take a photo of yourself as part of the pie. I’ll try to keep it up through Halloween 2018, dependent on weather. Although I take credit for the crude parts of the painting, it sings because Bret Alexander is a much better artist than I am. You can see his work at http://www.alexanderarts.com.