I Grew Up in a Ghost Town

📅 Published on July 16, 2020

“I Grew Up in a Ghost Town”

Written by M.M. Kelley
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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Growing up, I never saw a single carved or smashed pumpkin. The only smashed pumpkin I ever saw was thrown down personally. It was years ago. I was still young. Maybe we’d gotten the idea from a story on the radio or a comic. A few friends and I thought it would be a fun new way to piss off some of our neighbors without doing any real harm. I had a grudge against one of the old women in the town. I picked her house. We snuck up after the neighborhood was fast asleep. I grabbed the biggest pumpkin from the steps leading to her porch.

I smashed it against her steps. Even now, as an old man, I can’t think of anything else in my life that’s made that such a mess. Orange tendons littered her steps, speckled with seeds. Something was inside all of the mess. Something was writhing and stretching in the orange goop and seeds. I was about to inspect it closer when the door on the porch burst open and the light switched on. She was infuriated. She was yelling. We ran. I couldn’t make out most of what she was saying, but I know it was angry. My heart was pumping; our legs were pounding the pavement. At the time it was the most hilarious thing we’d ever done.

I woke up to the smell of pumpkin. It was faint. I assumed that I had gotten it on my clothes. I threw on an old flannel shirt and jeans. No fresh pumpkin pie in the kitchen. My mom said she hadn’t smelled any pumpkin. I ate breakfast and went about my day. Everything was pretty normal, but I couldn’t help dwelling on whatever was moving in that pumpkin. That evening I reconvened with the guys. They didn’t notice a thing.

“Maybe it was a mouse?” was the best answer any of them could muster.

It was late. Maybe my mind was playing tricks. I decided it was for the best to let it go. I was on my way home around dusk. I stopped at a little store to grab a drink. I reached in my pocket to scrounge some change. Pumpkin seeds. I checked my shirt pocket. A few more pumpkin seeds. I gave the cashier a dollar and asked him to throw the pumpkin seeds away. I tried to reason the pumpkin seeds away, but I couldn’t.

I noticed how many people went for pumpkins on their porches during the long walk home. Most houses had easily five or six pumpkins each. I kept checking for someone following me. It just felt like someone was following me. It felt like someone was staring at me. The streets were barren save for me, the leaves and Halloween decorations. It felt like the pumpkins were watching me, like they turned as I walked by, scorning someone of a lower caste, or a monster walking through the streets. It put the weight of shame and guilt on my shoulders, like the entire town was gathered around me ready to watch me be caned.

I crossed a handful of streets and that feeling followed me through the neighborhood. I started trying to watch each and every pumpkin. Over my shoulder, short bursts walking backwards, trying anything to keep an eye on every angle. It was impossible to keep track of all of them, it was practically Halloween. Then I felt something crunch underfoot. I couldn’t see anything under the leaves and assumed they were the culprit. But, the more I walked, the more I heard crunching. Eventually I got to a place where someone had swept up their leaves. Pumpkin seeds, spread out in a line in front of me.

Following the pumpkin seeds helped distract me from the pressure of being watched. The trail looped me through the neighborhood. Somehow it took me past the house whose pumpkins we smashed three times before leading me home. As I neared the house, the seeds spread out further and further.

Even as I walked up my own yard, I still felt like I was being watched. I climbed our porch steps. Mom had decorated for Halloween while I was gone. Pumpkins lined our steps, some old cornstalks and fake spider webs tied everything together. I felt like the faceless orange orbs were staring right through me as I passed them. Once I stepped up onto the porch proper I was greeted with: Thump! Thump! Thump!

A pumpkin from the porch bounced down the wooden steps. I froze. My hands shot to the sky.

“Don’t hurt me,” I squeaked.

My mom poked her head out of the door. “Is everything alright?”

I tried to play it off like I was clumsy enough to have kicked it down. I picked it up. It was ordinary, I knocked on it. Hollow. I sat it back at the top of the steps. Dinner, then I headed to bed without a word to anyone. In the middle of the night, something woke me up.

It wasn’t a sound or even a feeling. I just woke up, wide awake. I looked out of my bedroom window. The streets were bare like most of the trees. There came the old woman, walking down the street pushing a wheelbarrow filled with pumpkins.

She’d walk up to a porch, pick up a pumpkin, rub it, knock on it, press her ear to it and bounce it up and down by the stem. Sometimes she’d swap it for a pumpkin in the wheelbarrow. I watched her work her way down the opposite side of my street. She swapped a handful of pumpkins at different houses before I lost sight of her from my window.

What was she doing? I didn’t think she was actually hurting anything, but even after I’d lain down, I couldn’t stop wondering. She was up anyway, I reasoned to myself, why not go ask her?

I remember the moon seemed like it was right above my head as I walked across the neighborhood to her house. There was still a splatter where I smashed her pumpkin, but the chunks and goop were gone. The porch light was off, but the curtains were lit up ever so slightly. After a moment of pulling my nerves together, I knocked on the door.

It felt like an eternity waiting for the door to open, all of my gathered nerves were melting away. Then the door swung open.

The old creep with the wheelbarrow was nowhere to be found. I was greeted by an apathetic lady who was about my age. She leaned against the door frame, tall and slender, with thick, curly black hair, porcelain-like skin, dressed in a black top that left her belly button out. She had a red V tattooed under her left eye and her entire right arm was covered shoulder to wrist in a twist of leaves, vines and letters.

It was unheard of for anyone to have tattoos in our little podunk town, let alone a young lady. I’d never seen anything like her. I was entranced.

“So you’re the little twerp who smashed my pumpkin,” she said matter of factly.

“I… uh… yeah… sorry about that. I thought an old lady lived here?” I stumbled through.

“Yes, that’s my grandmother.”

“I saw her out a little bit ago swapping pumpkins around and wanted to know why.”

She laughed and shrugged, “Just out being an eccentric spinster, I suppose.”

“You might wanna tell her not to. Seems like some folks might get touchy about it.”

She shrugged again, “She’s been doing that for years.”

We stood there awkwardly. I wanted to try to invite myself in, but something told me I should get on my way home.

“I guess I should get going then, thanks for talking to me in the middle of the night. My name is–”

“Johnny,” she interrupted.

My brain stumbled, “I– uh– yeah. That’s right.”

I gave her a cheesy wink and a thumbs up. She shook her head. “C’ya around, Johnny Pumpkin Seed.”

She vanished into the house before I could react. I banged on the door. No answer. How did she know? I was tired and would grill her next time I saw her. I decided there would be a next time.

I turned around to leave, tripped and hit my face on their wooden porch. I yelled, I cursed. The pumpkins were in a semicircle behind where I had been standing. I wiped my mouth and found blood on my hand. It felt like I’d knocked a few teeth loose from the impact. The chunks I spit into my hand were pumpkin seeds.

I pounded on the door again and growled in frustration. I saw a few lights turn on in windows of nearby houses. I ran home and back to bed. I woke up to my mom leaning over me, shaking my shoulder.

“Why are all of these seeds in your laundry?” she asked, agitated.

“Somebody’s fucking with me,” I mumbled to her.

And then she smacked me in the mouth.

“Don’t you speak to me like that,” she said, “and tell them to cut it out. They’ll get caught in the drier and burn the house down.”

The pumpkin seeds stopped without me telling anyone to cut it out. The weight of having an angry mob of pumpkins judging me as I walked down the street was also lifted. I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl, though. I didn’t know her name, and maybe it was just because she was taboo, but I started casually walking by their house whenever I had an excuse to in hopes of catching her outside.

I decided that was probably weird and she probably noticed me after a few days of walking past her house a few times a day. I knocked on the door on their dark wooden door. I peaked in the windows that were in the door frame. My view was obscured by tangles of vines and leaves on both sides. I knocked again, and waited. The door crept open and I was greeted by the old lady.

“Wasn’t watching me in the middle of the night enough?” she said in lieu of a hello.

“I wasn’t really watching you per se, I just happen to spot you–”

“That’s not what Megan said,” she interrupted.

“Megan!” I lit up, “Could I speak with her?”

She scowled and shouted back into the house, “Megan, the delinquent vandal is here to see you!”

“Let him in, I’m working in the back!” I heard her voice call from inside.

Grandma Pumpkinpatch led me through the door into what seemed like a jungle. Plants potted on shelves, raised beds built against the wall along the floor. She brought me to Megan, who was pruning and inspecting rows of plants in a greenhouse that seemed like it was in lieu of a patio.

“Whatcha need, Pumpkin Seed?” she asked without raising her nose from her work.

“Well, I guess the first thing is, how do you know about the pumpkin seeds?”

She bounced her head from side to side, “I guess one option is I put them there after you smashed the best pumpkin I grew this year. Oooooooor, maybe, I just thought it was a funny name for the cunt that smashed the best pumpkin I grew this year.”

She gave me a look that told me one thing: I was a cunt either way.

“So, why so many plants?” I asked, swerving away from the topic of pumpkins like a robber trying to lose a cop hot on his tail.

“Besides being my hobby, it’s also how I keep me and Gram afloat. We run Helping Hands Nursery out by the highway.” She tossed some dread clipped plant pieces into a bucket.

“What’s your favorite plant?”

“Pumpkins.” She stopped and stared me down.

My stomach knotted up. I could see pumpkins basically filling her backyard through the glass behind her. I turned my side to her and looked through the row of plants.

She laughed. “I’m just fucking with you. They love my pumpkins here in Moonville, but my favorites are the lilies.”

I think that was the first time I ever actually had a sigh of relief. “What’s the deal with your pumpkins? No one even cuts them.”

“They’re award winners, they essentially have no variation and most people will tell you that they’re absolutely perfect in every regard.”

“But still, don’t most people buy them for either food or jack-o-lanterns?”

“Not the good people of Moonville, it’s a matter of local pride that I grow the absolute best pumpkins.”

I looked over my imaginary glasses at her, “C’mon, spill the beans. I’ve never seen something inside of fruit move.”

She smiled to herself, “So you saw that?”

“I saw something twisting in the muck, but I ran because your lights came on.”

“Do you really think that’s something that you should go around saying out loud?” she asked with a glare.

I stopped and thumbed a vine that was nearby, I hadn’t really considered. She had stopped clipping and clearing dead pieces. She was waiting, clutching her shears with an air of aggravation. I wanted to take the shears and cut the tension.

“I guess not,” I gulped, “but you seem like the person who would know, and I haven’t mentioned it to anyone else because they’d have me locked up.”

“That’s fair,” she said with a shrug. She seemed to be mulling over something as she inspected the same bloom over and over. I caught her glancing up from behind her thicket of curls more than once.

Finally, she spoke, “Go grab a pumpkin from my yard, Pumpkin Seed.”

I complied. I stood in that little yard for an eternity trying to decide which pumpkin to take back to her. She had nearly every size imaginable, from softball sized up to one that I could have fit inside of as an 18-year-old young man. I decided on one roughly big enough for me to cradle in my arms. I lugged it back into the greenhouse and dropped it on the table she had moved over to.

“Gentle! They’re delicate!” she scolded.

She shook her head and held her chin, watching me. “Are you sure you want to know?”

“I’m sure, Megan,” I reassured her.

She pursed her lips for a moment. “Are you absolutely sure? I really shouldn’t show you.”

“It’s just a pumpkin,” I huffed.

She raised an eyebrow, “All you saw was just a pumpkin?”

“I guess it could have been a chipmunk,” I mused.


She shot me a sweet, yet mischievous smile, pulled her thick curly hair back, and then slowly slid a knife into the top of the pumpkin. It hissed like air was trapped inside. She gentled sawed a circle in the top and pulled the cut section out.

“Reach in,” she said, watching me with a smile.

Reflecting back, if she wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t stupid, I would have at least looked first. I shoved my hand in blindly. Wet. Squishy. Cold. Then something solid started to wiggle. My eyes went wide and my stomach jerked in anxiety. I ripped my hand out and looked into the orange void. I started to yell but was silenced by a soft finger to my lips.

“Shhh, you’ll wake it.”

She reached in with both hands and gently raised an orange, fibrous doll from within the pumpkin. It stretched peacefully in her palms as she stretched her arms out towards me.

“This is why we leave the pumpkins be in Moonville. They’re still growing inside.”

I stared at them both long and hard. She adored it like it was born of her own womb. The longer she held it, the fibers that made it up started fusing together and fading to a manila color. Its head pulsed, a mouth sucked in, eye sockets sunk in, a nose protruded. I can’t really remember how long it took, but it seemed to happen in a short span. It started to resemble a baby made from a gourde. A seed pushed through the surface in each eye socket, and inside the mouth to make teeth. It gnawed fruitlessly at her pointing finger.

“They’re a pretty good substitute for people.” She mused, finally looking at me.

As cliché as it sounds, I backed up into a table of plants. While the entire situation was as shocking as it was confusing, I felt a certain… familiarity with it. She laughed at my discomfort with the whole thing and sat it down on its feet. It wobbled towards me like an old kid’s toy, its mouth gnashing in time with its wobble.

“This is what you wanted to know,” she calmly reminded me as the thing climbed up my pants leg.

I tried to shake it off. I tried to push it off. It gnawed my hand with its seed teeth. Megan laughed and touched it on the back of the head. It fell lifelessly to the floor.

“You could have just told me,” I whined, trying to regain some composure.

“Would you believe me? Or would you have run to have me locked up?”

“I guess I would have.”

She came closer and wrapped her slender arms around my neck; her face glowed with a tender smile. Minutes or seconds, I’m not really sure anymore, but we were lost in each other’s eyes. Somehow, the terror I felt melted away because this girl had saved me from it. She gave me a single kiss. Fireworks. Everything was just right, and I’ve never had it again.

“The pumpkins stay between you and me, alright?”

“Oh. Yeah, absolutely,” I agreed without hesitation. No one was going to believe me anyway.

I stuck around for a few hours. We ate dinner, talked and laughed. She seemed to know every person in town, even things that seemed like she couldn’t possibly know. We felt inseparable. It felt like a weight had been lifted from her. I caught her smiling at me; the way she looked at me gave me butterflies.

After I left I was on cloud nine most of my way home that evening. Then that… thing drifted to the forefront of my mind. She hadn’t actually told me anything about it. She whipped it out, let it gnaw on me then put it away and threw herself to me. I noticed one of my neighbors standing on her porch on my way home. I shouted a “Hey!” to her. She silently turned and looked at me with this awkward, timid gaze.

My mom scolded me for being late and turned into Dick Tracy. “Where were you? Why are you so late?”

“I was helping the pumpkin lady’s granddaughter with some things in their house.”

“The one with the tattoos?” She wasn’t pleased.

“There’s only one pumpkin lady and I don’t think she has tattoos.”

“Don’t play dumb. You know I mean her tart of a granddaughter.”

“Oh, yeah, she has one or two little ones.”

“Johnny, I’ve seen her before. She dresses like a prostitute and has more tattoos than a sailor.”

I must have had a happy look on my face, because she smacked it right off.

“Your father should deal with this. I’ll speak to him while you’re at the store.”

She sent me with a few dollars and a list. I wandered the aisles, searching for things she’d never wanted before. I noticed a lady staring at me with the same shy eyes as my neighbor. She kind of followed me a little through the store as I shopped. The shyness of her gaze slowly slid into something that reminded me of puppy love. The cashier had the same look, albeit a little more slack-jawed.

I finally got in bed and as soon as I started to drift off, I heard tapping on my window. I ignored it, thinking it was just me being tired. A few more taps followed by two loud pounds rang into my room. I shot up in bed. There she was, that mess of curly black hair caught in the evening breeze, and a shy, love-struck grin.

I jumped up and opened my window. “Megan? What are you doing?”

“I just wanted to see if you wanted to do something tomorrow, I enjoyed myself more tonight than I have in decades.”


“Just a figure of speech. Gram isn’t the best company in the world.”

“I’ll drop by tomorrow,” I promised.

She squealed and hugged me through the open window. I lay back down and stared at the moon. Even after all of these years I can remember how bright it shone through my window. Then I noticed it, a huge orange blossom was sitting there on the sill. A pumpkin blossom. I opened the window again to pick it up. The sill was also full of pumpkin seeds. I had a good laugh with myself. I probably didn’t sleep that night, but I know I was up and ready to go see Megan first thing in the morning.

On the way to her house, it was like I was the most popular person in the whole town. It felt like everyone I saw waved or had a huge smile like they were happy to just see me walking down the street. Megan’s grandma was not thrilled to see me when she saw me from her rocking chair on their porch.

“Why’re you back here, you louse?” she called from her rocker.

“Megan wanted me to come by, Grams,” I replied as I walked up the steps.

“I’m not your ‘Grams,’ you delinquent,” she scowled.

“I’m a pretty nice guy, the pumpkin was just a big misunderstanding” I assured her as I knocked on the door.

“Just go in, she knows you’re coming.”

I bid Grandma Pumpkinpatch farewell and let myself in the front door. I wandered back to the greenhouse. No one. I looked all over with no success.

“Megan!” I called out. “Where are you?”

“I’m coming!” her voice rang back through the house.

Megan appeared from behind a thicket of leaves and vines. The plants she kept inside had hidden a door into the stairwell that I didn’t realize even existed. Her smile, her eyes, her red cheeks. It all screamed that she was as excited for me to be here as I was to get here. She practically dragged me out the door. We went to a little diner just down the road.

I can’t put into words how right everything felt while we sat there, talking and laughing. It was like we’d known each other our entire lives. Her cheer was absolutely infectious. It was like everyone in our little community was just as happy as she was that we were out and about. The thing in the pumpkin was weird as hell, but, for some reason, it didn’t matter at all to me. Her mere presence was intoxicating.

Still, it should have been a red flag when I really pissed her off.  I can’t recall exactly what I said, but it was a joke one of my buddies had told me. She took offense, and she was fuming. I looked around for someone to take my side. Literally the entire restaurant stopped what they were doing and gave me a death glare. Each and every patron, the exact same expression, the exact same fire in their eyes. The same vitriol I saw in Megan’s eyes. It occurred to me that I was possibly about to be burned at the stake.

“I’m really sorry,” I stammered. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought it was a funny joke from my buddy Jim.”

Megan’s blazing eyes calmed and everyone went back about their business.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered across the table. “I just get sensitive about certain things sometimes.”

Looking back, it was always like that. Sudden moments of nearly everyone in town being perfectly in sync with Megan. I asked her about it once; she dismissed it as “After you live somewhere and you’re a part of the community long enough, they become very empathetic to your dispositions.” It was good enough for me at the time, but it was still unnerving. Imagine sitting on a park bench with a gal and there are five or six people staring at you with the same longing, the same want as she has.

I wondered if the entire town really had her on that kind of a pedestal over her nursery. I’d lived here my entire life and didn’t know a thing about her until that night on her porch. That’s the thing about looking back after decades; everything is more obvious after the dust has cleared. I can confidently say that I was young and dumb, and absolutely blinded by her. We spent essentially every waking moment with each other. My dad’s business was booming. It seemed like suddenly the entire town had work for him, so much that he hired someone to help with the load. My mom’s garden even boomed.

I realized how off the whole thing was when we had our first real fight. I told her I wanted to move to the city. She was absolutely not hearing it.

“Moonville has all we need!” she shouted. “If you don’t want to be in the coal mine, there is more than enough work at the nursery.”

“It’s not just that!” I snapped. “Wouldn’t it be nice to just be two faceless people in the crowd? Not have everyone always watching us?”

She was fuming, but quiet. Even though we had only known each other a few short months, I could read her like a billboard. Simply suggesting that we move was like an attack on her very core as a person.

“Just go if you want to get away from me that bad!” she sobbed, breaking the silence.

“Fine!” I yelled, throwing my hands up in the air, “If you won’t even talk, why should I bother?”

I slammed the front door behind me.

“That lasted real long,” her Grandmother mused to herself.

I ignored her and walked home. It was cold, and the snow had frozen while I’d been inside, leaving a thick layer of ice I broke through with every step. Yet there were a lot of people out on their porches. Staring at me. Some of them were so angry you could cut the tension between us with a knife, and others sobbed like they’d lost their last family member just then.

Crunch, crunch, crunch! I jerked around just in time for some guy I’d never seen before to punch me square in the jaw. I wish I could say it was graceful, like something choreographed in a Kung Fu flick. I slipped and stumbled on the ice. He did, too. I got semi-upright first. I leaned down to punch him back, and my feet slipped again. I ended up punching him, followed by the force of my entire falling body, right on the bridge of his nose. His face collapsed under my weight and my fist went through. I scrambled off of his limp body, jerking my hand out of his face. Cold, wet. Orange and seedy. He was a goddamn pumpkin. I sat there in the snow, in shock, staring at the trail of orange innards trailing from his head to my hand. I frantically flicked my hands trying to get the guts off. The body started spasming in the snow for a moment, then went still.

Long green tendrils snaked out of his shattered face and shambled through the snow. I crawled backwards and scrambled up to my feet without turning my back to it. Vines. Vines were reaching out from the void in his face. They grabbed the missing pieces, dragging them through the snow. It was like a train wreck, I absolutely couldn’t look away from it. I think it was the first time something really had me awestruck. Each piece squished back into place, the guts in the snow slid back into the hole as it was reassembled.

He lay there, completely still in the snow. Then he shot upright, and then slumped over. I skittered back until my back was against an old, broad tree. He shook his head like he’d just woken up from getting knocked out. Eventually he rose up, with a confused look on his face.

“Son, did I fall?”

“Uh…” I stammered. “Y-yeah. I guess you stepped wrong and slipped on the ice.”

I looked around myself. No one had seen us. I remember being surprisingly calm, the adrenaline from the sudden fight slipped away as fast as it came. How many people in our town were these facsimiles of people? I couldn’t decide if I wanted to bother talking to Megan about it. Did she send it specifically for me? I decided I needed to leave Moonville faster than I had initially planned. I went home with every intention of packing up my things, leaving a note for my family and hopping on the next train out. If they were my family. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I might very well be the only genuine human being in that entire coal town.

On my way home, every person I saw in a window or trudging through the snow gave my stomach knots. When I got home, my mom was sitting in a chair with the radio on. She didn’t so much as acknowledge me entering our home. I locked the door to my room behind me. I stared out the window, on top of the snow on the sill there were fresh pumpkin seeds. A man walked by, he stared up, directly at me through the window. He didn’t break his gaze until he walked into our mailbox. He wheezed an “oof” that I heard through the window, shook it off, and went about his business. The seeds started to shake, then the stiff shells split and green tendrils worked their way out. They branched and snaked, spelling out “Hi.”

Could she see me? Hear me?

“Is my mom one of those things?” I asked aloud.

The tendrils bent into “No!”

I had to talk to someone about this whole thing. Maybe they’d noticed the oddities of our town, too. I headed back out into the snow towards James’ house. We’d been best friends for most of our lives, and he had been with us the night that I started all of this. He was on his way behind the house when I got there to split a little more firewood after warming up inside.

“Does Moonville seem weird to you?” I blurted out as he swung his hammer at the iron wedged in a log.

“It’s just another coal town,” he grunted, the log halves toppling into the snow.

I nodded along with his answer. “Sorry I haven’t been around, after that night we smashed the pumpkins, I ended up kind of seeing the girl that lives there.”

“The old spinster?” he squinted at me with more than a little concern.

“No! She has a granddaughter that lives there,” I assured him, “Tall, curly black hair. She’s got an arm full of tattoos and a scar on her cheek.”

“So she’s a sailor?” he asked, standing another log on end.

“Of course not! She owns the nursery.”

He leaned on the sledgehammer. “Tell me about her inside. I’m done with wood for the day.”

I followed him into the back of the house through an addition they kept tools in. He hung the hammer on the wall, then doubled back and looked out of the door. He must have closed it with too much force. Something had been loose on the wall. The axe fell from its hook and crashed into his skull. He collapsed to the ground like a sack of potatoes. I dove down to his aid.

“James!” I cried as I shook his shoulder. “Can you hear me? Wake up!”

No response. The head of the axe went deep into his skull. I got up to go find someone from his family. Mom, dad, siblings, anyone. I was running, blind with tears and almost into the house from the addition when I heard a heavy thud on the wood floor. I stopped dead in my tracks turned slowly. The axe had fallen onto the floor. There wasn’t any blood, but there was a trail of green tendrils going to the axe.

I watched the tendrils slowly slide back into his gaping wound with a quiet slurping sound as they drug across the floor. I fell down, lost in the shock of the moment as I watched the tendrils grab the sides of the wound and pull it shut from the inside.

He crawled up onto his hands and knees and held his head like he’d hit it and fell over. I cried harder than when I thought he was dead. My thoughts raced. What if she was lying about my mom? Was everyone I knew a monster? My chest was tight; I couldn’t catch my breath as I curled up on the floor. Loneliness washed over me in a wave that felt absolutely insurmountable. Did everything I had ever known boil down to just Megan and I?

“John! Get up!”

The next thing I remember is James standing over me, shaking me like I’d shaken him. I tried to scoot away from him, but I was too disoriented.

“Johnny, are you alright?” his usually stoic voice shook a little. “I turned around for a second and you hit the floor!”

I felt even worse. Was he completely oblivious to what he was? My gut wanted to give the poor bastard pity. How long had he been like this? Did he even know that he was a pulp filled abomination?

“What are you?” I asked, choking back an ocean of emotions.

He furrowed his brow and squinted at me, “What do you mean, ‘what am I?’”

It felt like an elephant was playing piano on my chest. I didn’t know what to tell him, Hell, I wasn’t sure what to tell myself. His blue eyes were confused, concerned, and a little angry. His expression shifted to confused and scared as I started laughing. I couldn’t do anything else. Then the laughs turned to tears as the absurdity of the situation, no, the absurdity of what I knew as my life had become.

”You’re a gourd! A melon!” I laugh-cried to the thing I had thought was my only safe haven from the world.

”You’re out of your gourd, Johnny,” he grumbled, backing away from me with his palms up.

”That axe,” I said, voice shaking, “fell from the hanger and took a chunk out of your head. Then it just grew back, good as new. “

James looked at the axe lying on the floor. The blade was still damp. He bent over and picked it up, inspecting the blade. He sniffed the wet streak. Bit his lip. Something was welling up inside of him. He gripped the axe up near the head and took a firm swing at his own arm. Like a hot knife through butter. His hand slammed into the floor with a wet thud.

He looked on in horror, the green tendrils whipping out of his stump and out of his hand. They stretched and reached for each other. Once the writhing masses connected, the hand snapped back to his arm. I stared at his newly reattached hand, and so did he. Both absolutely speechless.  Then he went blank. He was breathing, standing, warm to the touch. Yet completely unresponsive, like he was some kind of empty husk without a person to pilot it.

Then the screaming started. It was the most god awful, loud, inhuman sound I’ve ever heard. He, it, just stood there, staring at the wall behind me with mouth gaping, just shrieking. The commotion and yelling attracted his mother. She ran to him, frantically trying to get him to snap out of it. Smacking his face, throwing water at him, shaking him. All she got in response was more of the same continuous screaming. All the while, all I could wonder was whether or not all the members of their family were monsters in disguise. Then the axe fell from his hand and he went silent. I thought for sure it’d cut her open.

I ran in, disregarding that my second mother might be one of those things. “Miss Jenkins!” I shouted.

The axe just barely grazed her cheek. It left a small laceration from her eye to her chin. Any other time in my life the sight of blood would damn near make me faint, but this time it was the only thing I’d wanted to see. Miss Jenkins was a person. The same lady who would insist I eat a second plate, or stay when the weather got bad. I wanted to tell her the truth about her son, but I didn’t really know what to tell her, or how to bring it up. I decided it was for the best if I got out of town. I ran for the train station.

I waited on the platform for the next train to come; either direction was fine by me. It could have been a passenger train, a coal train, or a train filled with manure. All I cared about was it was going away from Moonville. I tried to bury it deep inside me, but the other people on the rickety wooden deck had me anxious. Then, I saw the train in the distance and checked my watch. Right on time, everyone on the platform lined up. A few people got on ahead of me, but the last four people before me had stopped right in the doorway. I tapped one on the shoulder. No answer. Then another, and another, and the last one. No one even acknowledged my touch.

“Excuse me,” I groaned, “I really need to get on this train.”

Nothing. They just stood there, shoulders jammed awkwardly together so I couldn’t squeeze between them. The train whistle hissed through the cold winter air.

“C’mon! Get out of the way!” I bellowed, “I have places to be!”

No response. I tried to force my way through. It felt like they were a stone wall. I kept struggling to get them to move, even as the conductor stared me in the eye and slid the door closed, latching it. A cloud of steam blew as the train started to inch away towards Cincinnati.

I didn’t have a choice. I started running down the platform as fast as I could make my legs run. It was faster than me. I dove for the handrail on the rear of the last car.

I landed on it hard enough that I thought I broke something, and I held on for dear life. The train kept moving, however. It ripped itself from my hands, and I braced myself to land on the cold steel tracks. I remember flailing in the air, screaming for at least a minute for what should have been a few seconds of falling. I never fell to the tracks.

I was suspended in the air over the tracks. Composure came back to me pretty quickly. The people who kept me from the train had formed a human chain, bear-hugging each other’s hips and snatched me right out of the air.

They dropped me onto the tracks, and went back about their business. I curled up on the tracks and screamed in frustration. I drug myself off the tracks and shuffled home. I sat in silence at the supper table. How could I get out? Would she have planted them in the woods? Could I just slip out with the night?

Nothing seemed like a good idea. It felt like someone ripped the hope from my chest. I grabbed a bottle of whiskey my dad kept in the cabinet and tried not to feel like a prisoner. I’d never really drank before, and that day I learned why Mom called it liquid courage.

I marched myself right to Megan’s.

“Let me leave!” I bellowed at her house.

Nothing. No one. So, I threw the bottle at the house. That grabbed her attention. The shrubs and nearby pine trees started to rustle, but the air was perfectly still. She stormed through the door. The vines tattooed to her arm writhed as she got closer. Even the blades of grass seemed to lean away from her angry steps.

“Then go!” she roared. “Get out of my town!”

The look on her face ran the booze right out of me. Lips pulled in, brow furrowed. I tried to speak, but I couldn’t muster the words. I reached out for her hand, she snapped it away.

“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked. “If you want away from me so bad, go!”

“I’m terrified,” I managed to mutter, “This isn’t normal. I don’t think you meant for it to be Hell for me, but what about everyone else?”

I teared up and choked out, “Are the people I used to know alright? Were they ever flesh and blood people?”

She held tears back. Her watery eyes told me that, at the very least, I didn’t want half of that answer. I turned to walk away. I needed to leave. So did my family, before they were toiling away for Megan until they rotted or whatever happened to those things.

“Johnny!” she shouted. “I did what I had to do to keep me and Gram afloat. I hadn’t been happy with someone being in my life for longer than I can remember.”

“Are they dead?” I asked flatly, my back still to her.

Silence. It was so quiet you could hear snowflakes landing on the grass. I waited. It was only a few seconds, but in all of the years I’ve lived, I think I lived ninety-nine percent of them right there in those moments. My gut knotted, my chest tightened. I was hoping for the best. I was terrified of being next, mortified that everyone I knew could be dead, and there was a little part of me hoping they were all alive and well.

“Are. They. Dead?” I demanded.

“Some of them.” I could feel the regret. It shook in her voice and resonated through my body.

She kissed me. I wanted to hate her. She turned my life into an absolute Hell. It wasn’t fireworks, but as alien the feeling, there were still sparks. All of this was friendly fire. We were victims of circumstance, I rationalized.

“Let’s go somewhere else! Leave those things behind and have a normal life.” my mouth blurted, independently of my brain.

“I can’t,” she said behind thinly veiled hurt. “They won’t make it without me. I made them. I have to see them through.”

I left Moonville after that. I landed some work in Cincinnati, then Dayton. I never got to spend more than a couple of years in a city. As I’d settle in, I would find some little sign, a gift. A pumpkin blossom on my nightstand, seeds in my shoe. I never saw her, or her pets. I kept mailing my parents my address with invitations to visit me, but they never did. I’ll never know for sure if she replaced them.

I managed to have a wife and a daughter despite staying on the run. They didn’t deter Megan’s reminders that she hadn’t forgotten. I never told a soul about what happened in Moonville. These days nothing really remains of the old town but the train tunnel and the forge. I never went back to check.

This past September, I was driving to Pennsylvania to visit my granddaughter and her newborn. I saw a produce stand and pulled off the side of the road. Apples, berries. I bought a little bit of everything to surprise Beth with.

I didn’t think anything of the clerk’s arm full of tattoos. All of this generation has them. She lifted her head up from her phone. The first thing I saw was the red V across her cheek, followed by a flood of long black hair. My heart stopped for a moment. I didn’t know if I should be filled with butterflies or preparing for death.

“Will that be all, Pumpkin Seed?” she asked, curling her lips into a smile and taking off her large hat.

I stared at her. She looked exactly the same as she did all of those years ago. Not a wrinkle, or a single gray hair. We spoke to each other silently for a long moment. She nodded, and I knew she understood.

“It’s on the house today sir, you have a safe trip,” she said softly, a bitter look betraying her smile as she sent me off.

Rating: 9.50/10. From 6 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by M.M. Kelley
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: M.M. Kelley

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