THE PUMPKIN PATCH by Author Joseph J. O’Donnell

Joseph J. O'Donnell
Author Joseph J. O’Donnell

     Cindy was a loner and never related to kids her own age in the neighborhood.  Some teased her others avoided her, and everyone seemed to talk about her behind her back.

       It was tough to be an eleven-year-old and she could never fit in.   As with other children in her predicament.  She developed make believe friends that she could relate to.  Her friend was real as it was a scarecrow her grandfather put up in his pumpkin patch in her backyard.  He had passed away two years ago after living with her family for a while.  He was a widower and his daughter, and her husband took him in after his wife died.  He had a farm a distance outside of town and Cindy’s mother and father thought it better that he lived with them because he was getting on in years and the farm had become too much for him to handle alone.

Cindy took to him right from the start, and he became a constant companion to her.  They enjoyed each other’s company every day and he proved to be a boon to her parents as a babysitter.  She filled his time after the loss of his wife, and he shared his knowledge of farming with her in the small plot on the property her parents let him cultivate.  It became quite a productive garden.  Vegetables and herbs became abundant year-round in the family kitchen after he moved in, so it became a great relationship for everyone.

       After Cindy’s grandfather passed away, she became the caretaker of the garden. Her parents remarked that she inherited her grandfather’s green thumb.  After school you could always find her there, fussing about her garden and weeding and pruning the plants where needed.

What everyone did not realize was that an imaginary friend waited there every day for her in the guise of a scarecrow.  If you could come near enough, unseen, you might even hear her talking quietly to it and the wind in the little field served to be communicating back to her.  She always knew of your presence though, as if the scarecrow alerted her.  She stopped and turned her head in your direction.  Her classmates just thought of her as being strange and there was no end to the derisions, they made toward her.

       It was around Halloween that several of her classmates decided to crank up their bullying of her and decided to play a prank on Cindy.  Three of the girls, named Alice, Barbara, and Patty, made up their minds that something needed to be done about the garden.   

“That Cindy is too strange.”  Patty said to the other two girls.

       “I don’t think that she’s right in the head.”  Alice added.

       “I’ll bet she thinks that she’s too good for us.”  Patty said.

       “I said hello to her a number of times.”  Said Barbara, “and she never said “Hi” back.  She acted as if I wasn’t there.”

       “What an odd ball.”  Patty said with an answer.

       It is said that all children are cruel with their treatment of others and these three girls were no exception.  What started out as chiding remarks soon generated into mean pranks and nasty jokes?  Other children getting no closer to Cindy that they did often did so with laughter when the pranks went a little too far.  Cindy just passed them off and just looked forward to her afternoon in the garden.  She would never complain to the teachers but often sought solace in confiding her problems to her friend, the scarecrow.  His quiet whisperings always soothed her troubles, and she was quick to return to her gardening with a lightness of heart.

       The girls decided that they should pay Cindy’s garden a visit on the traditional ‘hell night”, which takes place on the evening before Halloween.

       “It would be perfect.”  Patty stated.  “It could always be blamed on some older kids, and nobody would know that we had done it.”

       “What did you have in mind?”  Barbara questioned.

“Well, I know that she grows a lot of stuff back there, but her favorite’s thing is growing pumpkins.”  Patty replied.

“How do you know that?”  Asked Alice.

       “Because I snuck into her yard last night to see.”  She replied.

       “What did you see?”  Alice asked.

       “I couldn’t see too much because it was dark.”  Patty said.  “There were a bunch of stuff she was growing but I could only make out the pumpkins.  There was an old scarecrow too.”

       “What did it look like?”  Barbara asked.

       “It was all raggedy looking.”  She spoke.  “Probably something that she put together out of old rags and socks.”

       “Piece of junk then, huh” Barbara chided.

“I told you she was an oddball.”  Patty answered.

       They all began to laugh.  Children are cruel, as I said, and they know bounds in hearting one another.  They decided to get some of the boys to help them and they seemed to falter when asked, but thy were able to recruit a few volunteers.

       Finally on Hell Night the handful of young hoodlums were ready to launch their evil deed.  They had waited until the cover of darkness to enable to afford themselves some protection so that no one would notice them.

       It was about ten o’clock at night when they finally made their way to Cindy’s house.  They were careful not to cause a commotion as they made their way back to the garden.  The three girls had enlisted the help of two of the boys in their class and they in turn brought an axe and a sledgehammer in order to do the most damage.

There was a slight breeze that caused the trees to sway and the leaves to rustle.  It set the children on edge but afforded them additional cover from any noise that they might make.  As they entered the garden, they peered around to make sure they were unseen.  The wind picked up a lot and created a slight moaning sound as they began to hack at the plants.

       “Not too loud” Barbara whispered.   

       “Shish!”  Said Patty then continued to kick at some plants.

       But their task didn’t go unnoticed as the wind began to grow.

       Suddenly from out of the darkness, they heard Cindy say, “Why you are here and what are you doing?”

They froze at the sound of her voice but could not see her.  A beam of light flashed around all the children and Cindy could recognize their faces.  She placed the flashlight on the ground around them and gave a slight gasp after she saw their handwork.

       “Why did you do this?” she asked with a hurt voice ending in a short sob.

       “Because we don’t like you.”  Patty retorted.

       “I never hurt you.”  Cindy said, “Any of you”

       “You’re just stupid.”  Barbara accused.

       “And a loser.” Alice chimed in.

       The children started to laugh and one of the boys asked. “What are you going to do about it?”  He said while he kicked another pumpkin. 

       Cindy gave a sniffle, then replied, “I ‘m not going to do anything.”

       “Why not?”  Patty replied brashly.

       The children laughed again believing that Cindy was going to break down in tears.  “Because he is” she said and played the flashlights beams of light above their heads.

       They turned slowly and looked up to see the scarecrow standing behind them.  Before they could make a sound, the pumpkins vines wrapped themselves around the children’s feet and they moved upward to entangle their legs and then their bodies.

       Unable to move they tried to struggle free and two of children tried to call for help.  The vines began to strangle them as the earth below their feet seemed to come alive.  Quickly the vines began suck down one of them, then another under the soil, then in rapid sequence they all disappeared.  Not a sound more was heard as the earth swallowed them up.

       “Are you okay?” the sound of the wind seemed to ask.

       Cindy looked up and saw that the scarecrow was once again on its stand.  “Yes” she said.  “Thank you”

“I always said that I would protect you.”  The wind said in her grandfather’s voice.

       “I know, and I love you.” She said as she smiled and walked back to her house. 

       News of the missing children had the town buzzing for the next few weeks.  It was the topic of the discussion that would replay itself every Halloween, and parents used it to frighten their children when they felt it helped keep them in line.

       For years it remained a mystery, and only Cindy, her garden, and the scarecrow would know the truth of what happened that night.

       . . . and the garden?”  Well, it grew prize pumpkins for a long, long time.

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