The Pumpkin Patch
by Thomas Maxwell-Harrison
Once you die you go in the ground, right? Wrong. Crazed Edward is determined to maintain, please and talk to his crop of pumpkins. Doomed to a seemingly horrific life, he sees no way out of his role…
The year is 1792 and Edward Finch is once again hunched over the muddy patch of earthy soil in his front garden. Twelve large, ominous orange pumpkins lined two rows of fertiliser.
Edward had a task to complete, a duty. His patch would not go un-watered this chilly evening. Sun streaks beamed across the empty skies, cast down on him like a lamp from God. Purple-pink rays of fading sunshine pierced over the distant hills. His small patch was his life. He shuffled along the rows, tipping the water canister on them. Little by little, it filled the patches with water. Streams of it ran through the soil, collecting in the lower basin of the containers.
He grinned as he finished watering the last pumpkin. Edward ran his thin, hairy finger along the edge, fingering the grooves. He walked back through the middle of the rows, heading to the cubicle hut at the end. A house. His house. Under the harsh gales, the red wooden door creaked and cracked. Dust had piled in the window frames, so thick that he couldn’t see inside. The roof, a haystack combined with some variety of mud concoctions leaked into the guttering, seeping onto the dry grass below. A foul, nose-attacking foul smell of rotting wood engulfed the tiny property. A smell that anyone but Edward would not tolerate.
Inside was no better. His legs slogged along the bare wooden floorboards, trailing like tails as he stepped into the sitting room on the right. An even smaller room, one dirt-covered armchair. Torn in several places with loose wool stuffing crawling out of it. Edward fell into the armchair, his legs melted onto the floor. Without another person in sight, he had no need to concern himself with hygiene. His sink had cracked in five places, anyhow. What did it matter? He thought.
There was no television, or bookstand, or even a magazine or paper loose. The browning floorboards dominated the room. Wallpaper peeled from the walls, revealing rotting, mouldy green stonework. He held his hands on his lap and glared into the walling. Without water, his lips had dried, cracking in several thick bloody lines. His overgrown, ragged hair decorated his shoulders and neck like a wig. His frail teeth chatted together as he ground them to pass the time.
Time, he thought, was meaningless. Edward knew all too well the meaning of both life and death. The sun disappeared from the window, plunging the room into dark. Edward would go and check on the pumpkins, but they had just been watered. Or had they? What if the worms, the caterpillars, the beetles, and ugly monstrous crickets were to consume them? He rushed from the ancient armchair to the open front door, moving with surprising speed considering his broken right femur.
The bone stuck out of his flesh. Blood had coalesced and dried around the open wound. He didn’t feel it anymore. The pumpkins might, and he returned to his chair, unable to bring himself to touch them. They would understand. He’d touch them tomorrow. Whenever tomorrow was.
Edward stuck his hands down his ruined paint with no discernible colour. Crows swooned in, nestling on the outside windowsill, squawking at him. He wanted to kill them. If they went near his crop, he’d swoon at them, and devour them.
It had been roughly fifty-five days since he died.
His body, albeit rotting and covered in maggots by now two feet under loose soil in the rear garden. A dry land of weeds and cracked earth. Should he need to, he thought, he’d remove it. Whatever he needed to do, to keep his patch.
There was a gaping hole in the kitchen roof. Rainwater poured in as the thunderstorm raged over the land. The occasional lightning strike would hit one of the crows, killing them stone dead. It gave Edward a meal. He knew the Gods had blessed him with this home.
Daybreak and Edward had trudged his way through the house to the pumpkin patch. Sat on a straw wooden chair. He basked under the sun and it baked his body. Odour fumes rose from his being, emanating far and wide. The stench had scared the local wildlife away. Except for the ravenous, deadly wolves. He was too afraid to move when a wolf showed itself, which fortunately hadn’t been for some time. The mist was approaching from the west, and soon the pumpkins would be covered in glorious rolling moisture. Although, he thought that Lucy – the biggest pumpkin second in the first line – would hate it.
She tended to talk to him. “How are you?” she’d asked this morning. He hadn’t responded verbally, but taken the time to stroke her hair, awaiting the return of her gift to him. It wouldn’t be long. He wondered when they might let him go and when they might look after themselves. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he groaned, words that slivered from his bloodied lips. “You?”
“Nothing.” There was silence. He didn’t like it. Edward rushed from the chair and walked into the middle of the pumpkin patch. He eyed the pumpkins, slapping a few on their bulging bodies.
“Where are you all going?” he yelled. “Busy, are you?” Lucy didn’t say anything. None of them did. “Why are you all so quiet?”
He stomped his broken leg around; the bone cracked some more and then snapped in half. He collapsed face-first into the soil. His arms crashed into the other pumpkins. “No, forgive me. Please,” he pleaded.
“We do,” Lucy laughed. He shook his broken leg around and then started to crawl toward the chair again. It was a slog, and he wondered what he might use to get around now that his limb was finally gone. A crow flew down, landing on his back.
“Get off, go away.” He shook his hand, yet the bird ignored it. It pecked at his decomposed spine, pushing through to the bone. Every inch closer he got to the chair, the more bone he lost. The bird carried on until he reached back, snatching it up in his left hand and then bringing it in front of him. It tried to peck his face, squawking loudly. The sound was like a drill in Edward’s head. The only pain he could feel was that of harsh sounds. He grasped the bird, squeezing it until it squawked its last breath. “Die.” He crushed the bird’s bones in his hands. Blood and guts seeped out onto his yellow hands. After a moment of observing the lifeless bird, he opened his mouth and chomped down on its neck. He only needed two bites to fill his belly and satisfy him.
It was still a distance back to the house, and the water can sat patiently for him on the doorstep. I’m coming, he thought. With his leg bent at ninety degrees to his body, trailing tendons behind him and leaving a bloody wake, he crawled on. One last watering, one last push. It took what seemed like forever, but Edward reached the can. He wrapped his arm around the green tin, pulling the heavy load close to his head. “We need watering,” Lucy cried out.
“Yeah, I’m thirsty!” another cried. Soon, the moans of the pumpkins bellowed through the calm morning, a crescendo of nagging voices tugging at his ears.
Each syllable pounded his brain.
“Shut the fuck up,” he cried. “I’m coming.” After some thought, he pushed himself to a sitting position and brought his bent leg onto his lap. “You’re not useful anymore.” Edward ripped the bone from the joint and tossed it to the adjacent grassy knoll. He twisted the tendons, turning his leg in unthinkable positions before finally ripping it free. The blood had dried, and what remained were the rotting insides of his corpse. Maggots wiggled from the open parts and dropped onto the grass. He licked the wound and then threw the skinny thigh to the side. “I’m coming,” he whispered.
“Hurry up, I’m going to die without water. Stop torturing us.” Lucy was becoming a bit too sentimental. She’d never used that word before.
“You’re not going to die. There’s water in the soil.” Nonetheless, he grabbed it, resting it on his groin between the usable leg and the chunk of lower hips of the other. He shuffled along the earth, moving with pace. As he reached the foot of the patch, the can tipped over, and water poured over his wounds, skin, clothing, and soil. Not the pumpkins’ soil, but their competing neighbour. If he had a heart, it was pounding, thudding with every beat. More crows swooped down.
The endless fight to satisfy his friends and keep the patch happy had failed. He sobbed, wallowing in self-pity. Lucy had called him lazy, and he thought better of it. He hadn’t let it go, though. “Get your own water.” His lips quivered. The crop fell silent. He attempted to stroke one but was filled with an invisible itch that grounded at his hand as he did so. Edward snapped his hand back. “I’m going.”
His patch, Lucy, had not said a word. He’d made it back to the house as well. Waiting and waiting, and then some. Day blended to night. All the while, the crop starved of thirst. None of them spoke up, and he thought they might have cracked by now.
When the sun rose the following day, Edward had woken to find his body laying in a load of soil. He gazed at the fields, at the pumpkins. “What happened?” he asked. They were still silent. He stood up and… astounded by his feet, his legs and his seemingly intact body, Edward punched the air. My God, a miracle! It wouldn’t hurt to run a few laps around the field. Afterwards, he ran to the patch, petting his large orange friends for their gift. New life poured from his eyes, his smooth, healed lips whistled tunes of joy to the heavens.
He wanted to thank them, running to the rear of the house to gather his fertiliser. Edward tripped, falling into the mud, dirtying his fresh face. “What’s that?” A shoe was sticking out of the soil, and he dug into the soil. The shoes became a foot, became a leg, became a broken femur. He dug, not because he now had the energy, no. He dug because a body was laying in his rear yard with a broken leg. It took him all but five minutes, getting elbow-deep in the mud, to realise it was his own.