The Lonely Pumpkin PatchDan was driving down the humble dirt road at night. His headlights bobbed up and down as the car bumped along the uneven surface. There was a pumpkin patch on the right-side of the road. The patch was a favourite topic of bored housewives. It was a mystery to everyone how the patch still flourished when no one cared for the land. The previous owner of the pumpkin patch had disappeared some sixty years ago and it sat vacant. But Dan couldn’t see the pumpkin patch, in fact, there was hardly anything visible in the dim lights of his car and even the full moon was barely noticeable in the fog. The sudden sputtering of his car caused him to groan. “Not now, Betsy,” he thought, “not now.” Betsy was his extremely old and troublesome car. He named it after the family cow, which he detested. Countless times he’d been kicked by that cow when he was milking her that he had often wondered if he’ll have a permanent dent in his thigh from her hoof. True to the namesake, Betsy sputtered again, stalled and the engine cut off completely. Cursing, Dan grabbed his flashlight from the glove box and exited the car.
After kicking the car to vent some frustration and swearing as he hurt his foot on the blasted thing, he limped off in the direction he hoped would bring him towards civilization. A cacophony of night animals plagued his ears. The crickets chirruped, a distant frog croaked, the hooting of an owl... it was all very outdoorsy—which was something that Dan was most assuredly not.
At seventeen, Dan had only set foot into the outdoors when he absolutely had to. He didn’t camp or play sports and would much rather be drawing or reading than anything else. Sure, he’d milk the cows, feed the chickens and so on, but he had no aspirations to be a farmer. In fact, tucked away under the mattress was an acceptance letter to a lovely college in New York, far away from the country and the farm. It was his love of the city that brought him so far into the country. His brothers challenged him to drive out into the most remote area and spend the night. “Your fancy-pants phone won’t get no signals in the docks,” they had reminded him, “so that pretty touch pad ain’t gonna do you a lick of good.” The docks referred to the word boondocks—which was the middle of nowhere and they were right about the cell phone. There hadn’t been a cell phone tower for well past an hour.
Trudging along the dirt road, Dan kicked himself for letting his brothers get to him. What did he care that he didn’t fit in? Why did it matter to him what they thought? He was opposite them in almost every way. Everyone in town swore up and down that if they didn’t know better, they would never have thought Dan was kin to the boys. The notion of feeling like he belonged had been long since abandoned. It was an age old story to him: they were country, he was city. A loud howl brought Dan out of his musings. “Was that a wolf?” he wondered.
Forget hearing his heart beating, he could feel it crash against his chest, as he heard another howl. It was definitely closer this time. Panicked, Dan tore off into the pumpkin patch. He hoped he would come to a house before he ran out of energy. Naturally, he tripped on a vine and landed hard onto a pumpkin which broke on his impact. Mud and pumpkin guts mixed all over him. In no time he’d be a gooey, sticky nightmare to clean, but now he wanted out of the patch. Scrambling to get back on his feet, he’d forgotten about his flashlight. It had rolled away and out of sight. He was alone, in the dark and he couldn’t tell which way to go.
He felt pain radiate in his body sending him crashing back to the earth and breaking yet another pumpkin as he fell. He could feel the juice from the pumpkin spread like blood into his clothing. It was well into the night when his eyes fluttered open, but he could see unaided. The pumpkins were as bright to him as if it was midday. He tried to move into a sitting position, but found his legs were stiff. Thinking he must have been laying on the ground for a long time, Dan tried to stand up. His legs almost immediately collapsed under him. He looked at his legs to see if they were injured and it took Dan several minutes to grasp what he was looking at. His shoes had been shredded, littering the ground with bits of leather and rubber. His feet were replaced with long roots that curled and flexed as he had ordered his toes to do. His legs were no more; in their place was the bark of a tree. He reached out to touch his feet and gasped. His arm was olive green and his fingers had yellow round knobs where his nails should be. He felt leaves coming from his head, which also felt like a bud. What in hell had happened to him while he had been unconscious?
It took Dan the rest of the evening to work out how to move. So using his roots and hands, he lumbered like a wounded bear towards a small garden shed at the edge of the pumpkin patch. Just as the sun began to rise, he pulled his last straggling root into the shed and closed the door. He was exhausted and the sun was hurting his eyes. At the corner of the shed, there was a bunch of rags that would work as a make-shift bed—at least until he was rested enough to figure out what happened and how to reverse it.
Over the next several days, Dan worked hard pruning the pumpkin plants, removing weeds and trying to work out exactly what had happened to him. He had watched as his brothers search for him. They frantically combed the area where Dan’s car had stalled out, but they never would understand that their brother had turned into some weird plant creature; so with a heavy heart, he’d hidden in the garden shed as they searched. While he waited for them to leave, he read through all the books in the shed and was very surprised to see how well stocked the shelves were.
Through the aid of the books, Dan had learned about the magic of the full moon and surmised that when he landed on the pumpkin and broke it, the magic of the full moon turned him into a guardian of the patch. However, the longer Dan stayed in the pumpkin patch the less he thought of his brothers and returning home. His thoughts were becoming less complex. He lived for caring for the pumpkin patch in the dead of night. ****************
As his first Halloween approached, Dan was energized with the magic of the special night. His pumpkins had flourished and he was excited to start carving them or making pies and other treats with them. He carved well over two hundred of them, setting them all along the dirt road and lighting them on Halloween night. No one would know who made them, but the sight had people coming from miles away just to see the carved pumpkins and gossip about the teenager that vanished in the patch over a month ago.
To this day, town folk wonder what, or who watches over the pumpkin patch. No one ever bothers the patch and they often heed outsiders, “If you find yourself on the middle of the dirt road in the lonely pumpkin patch, best beware. Something is guarding it, and it don’t like anyone harming its pumpkins.”