“The Great Pumpkin” – the October 2018 short story

Donny took another swig of his vanilla milkshake as he drove the gleaming white station wagon into town.  His window rolled down, Donny smiled as he rolled past the quaint little wooden sign announcing that he was now in Patchville, New York.  His son, Donny Jr., slept soundly in the back seat, his tiny frame snuggly packed between suitcases, pillows, and stuffed animals. Mel dozed in the passenger seat, her cateye sunglasses making it difficult to see if she was sleeping or just bored.

After that debacle with the secretary back in Manhattan, Donny felt like he needed a change from the Big City life and wanted to move his family somewhere more rustic and homey, with fewer reporters and media shills to breathe down his neck.  He could still run most of his businesses remotely, and he’d still be close enough to drive into the city when he needed to go into his office.

When Donny had initially looked into buying some property, he really wasn’t sure where to begin, but he had run into one of his old classmates from Wharton at lunch, who had recommended he look up Patchville.  Rudy had told him that moving to Patchville had been the best decision of his life, and he should think about it. Rudy himself had just moved there, and already his bank account was growing five-fold.

Donny had never really liked Rudy even when they were in class together, and now he had a weird bandage over his eye which made him seem even more creepy and weird. Rudy had shown Donny his bank statement though, and that was enough to put aside Donny’s usual judgments about his classmate.  

Now, as he steered his family into what would be his new hometown, he noticed that every property seemed perfect.  All of the homes seemed freshly painted, all the lawns were neatly manicured, and the streets were well-paved and clean.

“We’re almost to our new home,” Donny announced, and in the rear-view mirror, he could see Donny Jr. yawn and start to stir.  

“Donny, everyone’s watching us.”  

Donny turned to Mel to see what she was talking about, and caught her meekly waving out the window at all of the people who were staring at their car as they drove past.  Whether they were inside or outside, as they drove by, everyone stopped to watch them with a smile.

“Wow, everyone’s so friendly here.”  Ignoring Mel’s furrowed brow, Donny smiled heartily and waved back.  “I think you’re gonna love it, here, babe!”

As the station wagon rolled into what seemed like the center of town, he realized that the buildings seemed to radiate outwards from towering, steepled church that seemed to take up an entire block.  The church was painted a stark white, which glittered in the sun, making the dark purple stained glass windows stick out even more.

Looking up at the belfry, a circular window caught his eye.  The cames were strangely geometric, and the glass panes seemed to radiate from a blood red in the center to a dark purplish black on the edge.  It seemed to look like a red eye in the center of a spoked circle, and the whole thing was then encompassed by a triangle.

The image brought up thoughts of the all-seeing eye, and definitely gave Donny the chills.  He felt that something was strange about the church, but he quickly pushed the thought out of his mind when he remembered Rudy’s bank statement and reassured himself.  

Donny turned on the radio, and he was quickly lost in Buddy Holly’s new song.  He had taken a surprising liking to this “rock n’ roll” music that the teens were getting into, and he quickly forgot the strange feeling he got from the church.  

Donny piloted the station wagon into the driveway of his new home, and saw that the movers had beat him and were eating sandwiches as they waited for him.  Donny parked and waved to the movers.

“Hello, gentlemen!  Let’s get started!” Donny opened up the front door and waved at the movers, who begrudgingly packed their sandwiches back away into their metal lunch boxes and rolled up the moving truck door.

Mel went inside to direct the movers, while Donny Jr. went inside to explore his new home.  As Donny started yelling at a mover to be careful with a wooden wardrobe, he noticed a man wearing all black walking towards him.

“Hello there, friend.  Looks like you’re moving in.  Welcome to the neighborhood!” The man looked to be in his fifties and his hair was immaculately slicked to one side.  Donny thought if this guy grinned anymore he’d split his face open.

“Nice to meet you.  Donny Winner, at your service.”  Donny extended his hand and the smiling man shook it heartily, then continued to shake it.  

“The name’s Father Egon Innsport. Great to meet you, Mr. Winner.”  Innsport finally released Donny’s hand. “Winner..such a fortuitous name.  Count yourself a lucky man, Mr. Winner?”

“Why not?”  Donny pushed his recent lawsuit out of his mind.  “Yeah, I am a lucky guy.”

“I am glad to hear that, Mr. Winner. I’m glad to hear that.”  Innsport turned his head towards Donny’s new house.

Donny turned his head and followed his gaze to see Mel leading the movers around the kitchen with Donny Jr. holding onto her legs. Innsport had taken out a small, leather bound book.  

“How large is your family, Mr. Winner?  Anyone else besides you, your wife, and your son?”

Donny took a step back.  His brow furrowed as he looked hard at Father Innsport.  As he stared, he noticed that the man had one glass eye.

“I’m not sure whose business it is, Mr. Innsport.”

“Father Innsport, please, and Mr. Winner I assure you I have no ill intent.  You see, I am acting here on behalf of the Church of the Great Pumpkin, and it is part of my job to make sure there are accurate counts of the town’s residents.”  

Donny tried hard not to laugh.  “The Church of the Great Pumpkin?  What are you, trying to be a comedian?  You practicing to be the next Jack Benny or something?”  

“I assure you, my friend, I am not joking.  The Great Pumpkin is a deity that serves every person who lives in Patchville.  I am deadly serious when I say that the Great Pumpkin is the ruler for all who call this town home – including you and your family.”

Donny smirked.  “Okay, buddy, I don’t know what your problem is, but where I come from you don’t just interrupt someone’s moving day to try to convert them to some quack religion.  Thank you for coming all the way out here, but I still need to unpack-”

Donny tried to finish his sentence, but he found he couldn’t speak.  It was as if he tongue was frozen in his mouth. His breathing suddenly became labored, and Donny tried to clutch his throat, but it was as if something was keeping him perfectly still.  He struggled to move, but was completely petrified by some unseen force.

“My apologies, Mr. Winner, but usually a display of the Great Pumpkin’s power is necessary to convert the un-initated.”  Innsport stepped closer. “Before I let you speak again, please know that you don’t really have a say in the matter. The Great Pumpkin is willing to give you and your family riches and power, but there are rules here that must be followed.”  

Donny could only stare into Innsport’s fake eye as his paralyzed body screamed for oxygen.  

Innsport snapped his fingers and Donny almost collapsed.  He sucked air deep into his lungs and coughed. He found he could move again.  

“Goddamn, man, what the holy hell was that?”  Donny placed his hands on his knees as he leant over and coughed.  

“Nothing holy about it, Mr. Winner.  Nothing holy at all.” Innsport sidestepped Donny, placed something in Donny’s sport coat pocket, and began to walk away.  “I’ll expect to see you and your family at tonight’s gathering at the church. 7pm. All will be explained then.” The man in all black walked away, his footsteps falling away on the pavement.  

Donny coughed again, his chest heaving for air.  He wiped his watery eyes then looked down the street.  Innsport was gone. Donny turned the other way, and ran out into the street, but there was no sign of his mysterious visitor.  He reached into his pocket and found a stack of hundred dollar bills wrapped with a sheet of paper with the church’s address on it.

At the church that evening, Donny hesitantly stepped into the heavily ornamented doors with Mel and Donny Jr. trailing behind him.  It had been hell to convince them to attend with him, but after the weird trick Innsport had pulled with him earlier (and the fat wad of cash he had left him), he figured it wouldn’t do any harm to listen to him drone on a bit about some Santa Claus-like magic pumpkin.

He was surprised when he saw how full the church was.  Nearly every seat was taken, and it seemed like everyone in town was here.  He quickly scanned the room, and saw Rudy sitting in one of the back pews. He debated whether it would be better to sit with someone he knew, even if it was Rudy, but then his decision was made for him.

“Hey there, Donny!”  Rudy had stood and shouted at him.  “Come on over and sit with us!”

Donny smiled weakly, and hesitantly returned the smile as he noticed the congregation all looking back at him.  He quickly dropped his head, grabbed Mel’s hand, and took a seat.

“Hey there, Rudy.  Uh, good to see you again.”

“Same, Donny!  I’m so glad you took my advice and moved here! Oh, by the way, please meet my wife, Penny.”  

Donny gave the largest closed-mouth smile he could as he shook the hand of the woman sitting next to Rudy, who had a large, empty socket where one eye should have been.

“Ah, nice to meet you, the name’s Donny Winner.”  Donny introduced his own family, just in time for the church organist to take her seat and start to play.  People began to quiet down as the haunting melody, unlike any Donny had ever heard in a church before, resonated through the room.  

Donny watched as Father Innsport took to the pulpit, an simple podium stained a dark black.  Innsport had on a long, black robe, with a embroidered sigil of some sort in crimson thread on his chest.  He couldn’t be sure, but he guessed it was the same spoked wheel with the eye in the middle, similar to the symbol in the stained glass in the church belfry.  

The sermon was basically the same of any other church Donny had ever been to (usually dragged there by someone else), but with the twist that the savior was a giant pumpkin god.

Donny thought it was absolute madness, but that afternoon’s events had got him shaken.  

As the sermon drone on, Donny started to look around the room.  What looked like a fake hand caught his eye on an older woman sitting in the pew adjacent to his.  He then saw a glass eye in the man next to her. Although they were far away, he could have swore that there was a whole row of people with fake noses sitting behind them.  

After the sermon, Donny made to get up and leave, but Rudy grabbed his arm.

“Donny, didn’t you get a visit from Father Innsport?”  Rudy’s face grew serious. “All newcomers need to go speak with him in private after their first mass.”

“He never said anything about that.”  Donny shrugged off Rudy’s hand and straightened his jacket.

“Well, he probably knew you would talk to me, and that we know each other, so he probably trusted me to tell you.”  

“What do you mean ‘He knew that we know each other?’”

“Father Innsport knows most things.  He’s the only one the Great Pumpkin speaks to, and the Great Pumpkin knows everything.”  

“Let’s get out of here, Mel.  I appreciate the tip, Rudy, but I’m not really into any of this.”  Donny turned and started to walk away, but Rudy called after him.

“You’ll want to listen to the Great Pumpkin, Donny.  Trust me, I didn’t believe in it either at first, but..well, it’s a lot easier to go along.” Donny gave a dismissive wave without even turning around.  “Donny, I’m only trying to help you. You and your family.”

 

Deep into the night, Donny was watching the evening news by himself. Mel had already gone to bed, and Donny Jr. was fast asleep.  There were still boxes to be unpacked, but there would always be time for that tomorrow, and the unexpected church visit had put him in a weird mood that he was hoping the television would numb.

Donny started to doze off, when a large thump startled him.  He looked up, as it sounded as if something large had landed on his roof.  He realized how silly he was for staring up at the ceiling as if he could somehow see through it, so he pulled on a sweater, put on his slippers, and stepped outside into the darkness.  

The moon was high in the sky, and his porch light was the only one still on.  It took him a minute or two for his eyes to adjust, but he didn’t see anything on his roof.  Had he just imagined the noise? Surely if a tree branch had fallen, it would still be there.  Donny scratched his head, looked around at the empty, quiet street, and went back inside.

As he walked by Donny Jr.’s room, he heard a thud coming from his son’s room, as if a window had been closed.  Donny paused. He slowly turned the doorknob and stepped inside the room, wondering why his son was still not asleep at this hour.  

Donny didn’t remember falling to the ground, or shouting out, but Mel was suddenly there beside him.  As she began to scream, he realized he was screaming as well.

Donny Jr., or what was left of him, was spread out across his bed and was dripping off the wall behind his bed and part of the ceiling.  His eyeless head was mounted where the wall met the ceiling by some vines, and gore poured down the wall to the dark, bloody pile of viscera lumped together on his sheets.  

Donny slammed the door shut and held Mel in his arms.  As he sobbed, it took him awhile to realize that Mel had stopped crying.  

“Mel?  Mel, what’s wrong?”  Donny shook his wife, but she remained frozen in place as if time had stopped.

“Mr. Winner, my deepest sympathies for your loss.”  Father Innsport stepped out from the shadows.

“My son.  What did you do?”  Donny ran at the intruder, but Innsport snapped his fingers and Donny fell to the ground as if all control of his limbs was stolen from him.  “You son of a bitch, what did you do to him?”

“I did nothing, Mr. Winner.  It was you who decided to avoid your friend’s warning.  You tried to spend your first night in Patchville without making the necessary offering.”

“What are you talking about?”

Father Innsport squatted down so he could look at Donny’s pain-wracked face.  “I told you the Great Pumpkin rules over this town. He is one of the spokes of the black wheel of life, the true source of power in this world.  He sees everything, he knows everything black and twisted in each of our hearts.

“He is willing to provide great riches, but you should know that nothing in life is every free.  You took the money I gave you, but never inquired to the cost. The Great Pumpkin demands a blood sacrifice, and since you didn’t offer one, he took what he wanted.”

Father Innsport stood and walked towards the front door.  He removed a thick envelope from his jacket pocket and threw it on the ground.  

“The Great Pumpkin just wanted an eye, but he was hungry and took a few extra organs, so this is to compensate you for your son’s..service.”  

Donny gasped as he found he could move again.  Mel began to sob again, and when Donny reached for her, she turned away.  Donny wiped the tears from his face and stood. He walked over to the envelope and picked it up.

The heft of it surprised him.  He looked inside and began to count quietly to himself.

“It’ll be okay, darling.  It’ll be okay.”

 

It had been almost a year now, but he still fought to hide his grimace everytime he looked at Mel’s glass eye.  She used to be so beautiful, but that creepy, lifeless orb disgusted him.

Overall, she was so listless after Donny’s Jr.’s death.  She hadn’t adjusted well to their new life, and even though she could now afford the dresses and handbags that she used to put on their credit cards, she barely left the house.  

Not that Donny would ever complain about that.  His occasional trips down to Manhattan sans-wife allowed him to indulge in women who still had two eyes.  

The money they received from her eye had completely paid off his lawsuit fees, and they still had quite a bit in their savings from Donny Jr.’s service to the Great Pumpkin.  Mel’s volunteering to have her eye removed also had put off his own offering for at least a year. Now that it was getting closer to when he would have to go into that evil back room in the church with the black walls and the smell of grave rot, and that well-used surgical table, he was beginning to rethink his options.  

Donny had decided to call it quits while he was ahead.  He told Mel he’d be gone for a few days for business, and packed up a suitcase.  He figured he could buy anything else he’d need, and drained their joint savings account, hiding it in the safe in his office back in Manhattan.  He was sure Mel would be fine – he saw that often times people who had already give up an eye could also sell of their fingers or toes, so it seemed the Great Pumpkin was’t too picky in what human parts it would trade for cash.  

As Donny eased the suitcase into the taxi he had called, he noticed his neighbors watching him, expressionless.  Donny waved and put on his biggest smile.

“Hey Mitch!  Taking care of some business down in Florida.  Want me to bring you back anything?” Mitch slowly smiled and waved back.  

Donny cursed under his breath and waved the taxi on.  He might have been spotted, but at least it wasn’t Innsport.  He was the only one to really fear, and Donny figured as soon as he was clear of the town and at the airport, there wasn’t much that crazy priest could do from afar.  

The taxi slowly rolled out of town and down the road past the church.  Three more hours and then he’d be on a plane with a bag full of money in his lap.  He would never have to worry about demon pumpkins, organ sacrifices, or creepy wizards ever again.  

“You from around here, sir?”  

Surprised, Donny looked up to meet the taxi driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror.  The driver was pretty quiet when he picked Donny up, so this question was a bit of a surprise.

“Not originally” Donny replied.  “You?” Donny shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Oh, me neither, sir.”  The driver kept his eyes fixed on Donny.  “I’m from far, far, far away.”

“Uh, maybe keep your eyes on the road, huh buddy?”  Donny waved the driver’s gaze away, as he wiped his brow.  It was getting warm and humid, as if some warm wind was being blown into the car.  

The car continued down the road, and Donny took a breath of relief as they past the “Welcome to Patchville” sign.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Winner.  I know where I’m going.”

The hair on Donny’s neck rose.  “How did you-”

“I know everything, Mr. Winner.”  The driver continued to stare back at Donny through the rearview mirror.  It was almost if the driver’s eyes were inside the rear view mirror.

Donny grabbed for the door handle, but the door was locked.  Just then, he saw a thick drop of clear liquid fall from the ceiling.  It fell on his hand, and as he swiped it off on the seat, he found himself recoiling as the seat seemed to move.  Donny looked down, and the seat’s black leather was undulating, as if it was a massive writhing muscle of some sort.  The color slowly lightened to a greyish-pink.

Another drop of slime hit Donny on the head, and he looked up to see the ceiling of the cab rippling into reddish-pink ridges, dripping saliva.  He turned to the driver and tried to grab the man by his shoulder, but he watched as the driver melted into the floor. Donny kicked at the door just as the edges of the windshield began to form a row of jagged teeth of a jack o’ lantern.  

Donny screamed as the windshield dissolved into a sheet of thin slime and the Great Pumpkin closed its mouth, the thin screams giving way to the crunching of bones.

The End.

 

Special thanks to all of the patrons of the Evil Pin Club:
–Tony P., Chris M-P., Derek S., Melissa S-O., Mario M., Aaron S., Matt O., Ryan B., Jason F., Kengyi K., Mike F., Derek M., Russell S., Sarah F.,Timothy and Danika, and Trisha – Happy Halloween! YOU made this happen!

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