Marnie Crump saw faces in everything. You know the phenomenon; you look at a pile of laundry and you see an angry old man in the folds and shadows. Marnie Crump saw more than faces in the laundry. Marnie could see a face on a trash can, or a traffic cone, or a water bottle.
Growing up, Marnie’s imagination allowed her to make a puppet out of anything. She always had a drawer full of ping pong balls to make eyeballs for her creatures. With her love for creation from nothing, Marnie naturally loved Halloween. Every year she would try to top last year’s costume. She’d won years and years of costume contests, but those days had passed for Marnie.
She quite liked being able to quiet down the loud burden of her creativity. Having a family was a good distraction from herself. The kids were three and four (four and a half if you asked the elder.) Marnie decided to teach them to carve a pumpkin. Buying the department store kit to dig them out put the magic back in Marnie’s eyes. The creative juices started flowing again.
Marnie drove up to a pumpkin patch with her two kids. The kids ran ahead, but Marnie took her time, watching her boots displace the mud parking lot below her. She thought about a mud monster with her shoe prints as eyes. She smiled. Up ahead, the kids stopped upon a giant pumpkin, surely a showpiece for the farm. Marnie caught up to her children.
“Oh, did you find a really big pumpkin? I don’t think we can buy this one.”
Her kids both looked back at her, their faces sagging with sadness.
“This pumpkin is sad, mommy,” the younger child squeaked.
“Why is the pumpkin sad?”
The older child pointed. “The pumpkin said.”
The younger child put both hands on the gigantic orange rind. “He’s crying.”
“Pumpkins don’t cry, babydoll. They don’t have eyes! Not until we carve them.”
“This pumpkin does.”
Marnie Crump was uncomfortable. She appreciated the empathy in her children, to be able to connect with a gourd, but something about it gave her an eerie feeling. Kids can be unsettling sometimes, that’s why they are so effective in horror movies. She dismissed her feelings to that. She dragged the children along, taking each of their hands. They continued to the pumpkin patch ahead, a field of pumpkins here and there. It was close to Halloween, so the place looked heavily picked through.
The Crump children stayed put, glued to Marnie’s legs. They were so excited on the way in the car. Marnie got a sinking feeling in her abdomen. She checked on the children at her sides, then followed the horrible feeling she was having up with her eyes. The pumpkins in the field all wore faces, cracked and smashed and rotting. The pumpkin closest to Marnie shifted in place, its face cramped in discomfort. The faces were primitive but human, like old carvings in ancient art. Marnie closed her eyes and when she opened them, the faces were gone.
The children looked ahead, their faces hollow.
Marnie performed for the kids like she often did. Maybe she was exhausted. “Let’s find some pumpkins!”
“I don’t want to,” the younger child whispered.
“Me either,” the older responds.
“Okay. We can go home.”
The kids took the invitation back to the car. Marnie took a moment, looking at the pumpkins, then backed away. She followed the children up the hill they’d walked down, then she reached the giant pumpkin once again.
She heard a voice. “Are you here to take me away?”
Marnie crept around the pumpkin, revealing a broken, smashed in visage. The inside of the pumpkin was dark, like the inside of a cave that could have gone on for miles inside. Marnie felt empty when she looked inside of it.
“No, I’m not taking you away,” she humored the voice.
The pumpkin’s eye holes slowly crunched closed and oozed, like pus-covered plates shifting in bedrock. Marnie glanced back to her kids, who were watching her.
The pumpkin grumbled, then gasped, releasing a rotten stench. Marnie turned and gagged. Her eyes watered from the smell. The pumpkin’s face started to push into itself at the mouth, then used the reverse momentum to open and stretch wide open. The seed-and-gut membrane of the pumpkin dripped at the orifice. Something about the open abyss had a draw on Marnie. She looked back once again at the kids, and they nodded. The children held hands, with their free hands raising, each of them waving too Marnie. Marnie waved back. The children approached, joining her at her sides once again.
Marnie Crump turned to the pumpkin and crawled into the opening. She wasn’t sure why she was doing it, she didn’t feel like there was a choice. Her children followed behind, they didn’t know why either. When the final shoe, a kids’ sized-10, passed through the opening, the pumpkin’s mouth lowered and shut.
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