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Authors: John Everson

The Pumpkin Man (2 page)

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
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She closed her eyes to the mementos of George and remembered him as he'd been in life: broad and quiet, eyes shadowed, but always tender to her. Others had seen differently. They had persecuted him and called him evil.

Eyes shut and locked on the memory of her husband holding her close in the kitchen of their house, her fingers touching the planchette, Meredith called out to the room:

 

“Spirits close and spirits far,
call for me to my beloved.
Bring him here to where we are.
Let us speak more from beyond the end.
Bring to me my dearest friend.”

Outside, the wind howled, crashing the shutters hard against the windows of the small cottage. A storm was due by midnight. Appropriate, that on the night Meredith needed to reach beyond death, the skies boiled dark and angry. Inside, the candles flickered as the draughts blown in from the ocean slipped through cracks in the windows and doors.

“Are you with us?” Meredith asked. There was no answer but the wind.

“Spirits close and spirits far,” she called out again to the small room. Her voice echoed strangely.

 

“I have served you all my life.
Bring my George to where we are.
Let him speak to me, his wife.
There is no end to love in death;
we are one in two,
separate only by breath.”

The wood seemed to tremble beneath her fingers, and Meredith's lips trembled in a faint smile.

“Are you with us?” she asked a second time.

The wooden ring moved beneath her fingers, and Meredith opened her eyes to see it stop at the upper left corner of the wooden board. It rested atop the word YES.

“I've found the way to bring you back,” she said.

The wood darted to the opposite side of the board. She almost lost her connection to it. Looking at her partner, she saw sweat bead on his forehead. His eyes bulged as they followed the seemingly independent movement of the planchette. But he did not take his fingers from their place next to hers.

“We can be together again,” she promised. “And you can teach them all a lesson.”

The wooden ring slipped from letter to letter across the board. Beneath the YES and NO, a full alphabet was painted. The ring stopped first on S and then on O. And then it spelled out M-U-C-H. It paused for a moment and then quickly moved through the letters B-L-O-O-D.

“Yes,” she whispered. “But I need you. I've always needed you.”

The wood slowly moved to the P and then the A, the I and the N.

“Just a little,” she whispered. With one hand she lifted the candle at the edge of the U and dribbled its wax across the opening, closing the entrance, all the while keeping one finger to the planchette.

“You are with us now and forevermore,” she said. “My love to blind you, my blood to bind you.”

With those words, she lifted one of George's knives and lightly drew its blade across the wrist of her hand that still touched the planchette. Blood dripped across the board, spotting the knives with crimson, and the wind outside gusted and cried. Meredith murmured a sentence in an ancient tongue, and then said it again, louder, fighting to be heard above the howls. Then she switched to her own tongue and said the words she'd longed to mouth for months.

 

“Make them rue the day they hurt you.
My strength yours as long as you can
stay with me and make them regret
the day they hurt the Pumpkin Man.”

At last her partner made a sound. He screamed and pulled away from the witchboard. The front door burst open, and the wind finally found its way inside. All the candles blew out at once, leaving Meredith smiling in the darkness.

C
HAPTER
O
NE

Jennica Murphy's hands trembled from both emotion and the cold as she pushed the key into the lock on the door of her father's apartment. Rain slipped down the back of her neck, and she shivered as the metal shank wobbled, protested and got stuck in the keyhole. She blinked twice and pressed harder, worried that she might break the key if she forced it, but finally it slipped all the way in. Behind her, the gloomy February rain spattered the foyer windows with a quiet but persistent drum.

Happy Valentine's Day.
She grimaced.

It just didn't feel right being here. Not like this. And the leather of the rectangular key holder felt odd against her palm. The device was like a wallet; it looked like nothing when you saw it but then folded out to reveal clips at its top, where inner hidden keys were attached. It was like a secret-pocketed chest, but for locksmiths.

Her personal key ring was Spartan: a round loop of metal that held a car key, a mailbox key, an apartment key. Slim and portable, and ultimately hers. The thing she held in her hand? It was thick. Weighty. There were nine keys on it, and most of them she had no idea what locks they worked. But the one with the silver
K
emblazoned in the center was what the lawyer had told her to use. He'd said it with a tired smile, as if he assumed she already knew. But the sad fact was, she hadn't. She'd never had a key to her dad's place.

She'd never wanted one. She still didn't. And this wasn't what
she wanted to be doing on a rainy Saturday. This wasn't what she wanted to be doing
ever.

Jennica twisted the key and felt the lock click before she pushed the door open. A rush of stale air passed her nose. It had been quite a few days since the police tape had X-ed over the door frame.

She stepped inside and pressed the door shut behind her with a dull click. In the living room, the dark green couch beckoned like an old friend. From somewhere down the hall, probably the kitchen, the steady tick-tick-tick of a clock broke the silence. That was the only sound besides the patter of the storm on the windows. The building was deathly still. Just like her dad.

She'd seen his framed photo atop the closed casket again at the wake, so still and . . . Even now she kept thinking to herself that this couldn't be. It couldn't end like this.

They hadn't always seen eye to eye. Hell, half of the time she'd been close to calling him an ass. But now, as Jennica stepped past a pile of catalogs on the hall floor and into the kitchen, where a coffee cup still sat half-full on the two-person Formica table, she realized he'd been all she really had, the only one who knew her history. The only one who'd known her from the first moment she came into this world. Maybe he hadn't known her inside and out, but nobody else even understood where she'd come from. She'd relied on him to always be there. Now he was gone.

She stepped through the dark apartment, flicking on lights as she went. They didn't push away the shadow of her father. His sad smile was reflected in the Led Zeppelin poster framed in the corner above the ratty blue recliner; his quiet laughter echoed from the ashtray on the coffee table emblazoned with the simple catchphrase, “Light up, everybody.” She took down the Zep poster and leaned it against the wall. The unraveling time had come. Time to roll up and put away the remaining pieces of her father's life.

Sinking into the familiar cushion of the old couch, Jennica
stared at the steer skull on the sand-colored wall behind the TV. Kinda summed it all up. A week ago her dad had been living here, within these walls, doing whatever he did when she wasn't visiting. Then someone had come and sliced him up, leaving his insides on the out.

She stifled a glimpse toward the hallway that led to the kitchen, where the police had gathered up the remains. She didn't want to see the stains there, and she knew there probably were some. Was it right to see the shadow of your dad's blood on the floor? Was it right to see anyone's life as a stain? She leaned back and wished for a day not so long ago when she'd come here and he'd asked her about her latest boyfriend, then insisted that, whoever it was, he wasn't good enough for her. Less than a week ago she would have brushed him off and turned the conversation to something less personal. Now she could only look at that faded blue recliner and wish he were in it, being nosy as only an old dad could.

But, he wasn't coming back.

Jennica pushed herself out of the cushion and walked to the back of the apartment. His inner sanctum. It didn't feel very private anymore, just held an old queen-size bed with a dark comforter, a cheap dresser littered with matchbooks and coins and receipts and a couple photographs tucked into the corner of the mirror. She looked at herself in the mirror, and saw a ghost she rarely admitted to. The stark lines of her cheekbones were absolutely her father's. She remembered when she was a kid how her mom traced those lines and said, “Your father could never deny you.”

“Stop it,” she told herself, shrugging off the memory. She had neither of her parents to lean on now, and it was pointless to get sentimental about family heritage when she had a job to do. Family cleanup. She was all the family there was left.

Someone had killed her dad. Sliced him up like a Cuisinart. Left what was left bleeding on the hallway floor while they
walked away . . . with his head. Now she was here to put away the pieces of his life. Because someone else had already put away
his
pieces. The investigation and the funeral were all over, and now it was just the crap he'd left behind that was hers to sort and salvage before it was thrown into a Dumpster out back.

Death made people respectful—for a day or two. Now Jennica needed to remove the final traces of her father so that the landlord could put up the
FOR RENT
sign.

She sighed and stepped to the dresser. With the swipe of an arm and a plastic bag, things began to disappear. She found it almost impossible to even look at what she was throwing away: business cards and lost buttons and receipts—clues to a life she had never been part of. She found a stash of porno magazines in his closet and grimaced; the cover photo featured two blondes in fishnet, their hands crisscrossed to cover their private bits. The discovery made her feel icky inside. Of course he'd looked at naked girls; intellectually she acknowledged that. But she didn't really want evidence of her dad's kink. The pile slipped unopened into the bag, but the flagrant pink of a nipple flashed out at her from a glossy page inside.

Someone from Goodwill was coming later for his clothes, so Jennica ignored everything on the closet hangers and reached above to the dusty things piled on his closet shelves. Old tax returns and their accompanying receipts bulged from folders held together by string. She hesitated at tossing those, leafing through some of the forms before finally shaking her head and throwing them atop the trashed porn. His life was over and his will was filed. There wasn't any need for credit card receipts.

She pulled down a shoe box that clouded the air with motes of dust when she lifted the lid and found dozens of letters and postcards and photographs. Pulling out a random photo, she saw an attractive brunette in a yellow sundress holding a child. The woman squinted at the sun, and Jennica recognized the woman's thin nose. It reminded her of the one she saw in the mirror
every morning amid pale freckles. Just as the tousled dark curls trailing across the woman's mouth looked personally familiar. And the dark, wide eyes.

“Mom,” Jennica whispered. Her eyes welled with tears. The little girl in the woman's arms was her, maybe three years old, still chubby with baby fat, legs covered in white tights and her hair still sunny brown; it had darkened in grade school. She stared at the photo for a long time, leaning her thighs against the bed and thinking of those long-ago days when Mom and Dad had been together, and for a little while, at least, they'd been a typical suburban family.

Jennica cleared her throat and shook her head. Then she shoved the photo in the box and went back to the closet. There'd be time for tearful, bitter trips down memory lane later. Right now, she needed to just get through.

She went back to the closet and filed a bunch of odds and ends worth keeping in a large box: binoculars, a Scrabble board, an old 35mm camera, a zither . . . She wondered if anyone at her school would even know what a zither was, but she remembered picking out melodies on its taut fine strings when she was a kid.

Pulling down a brown varnished box with a golden cross on its lid, she frowned. What the heck? Inside was a pair of candles, a bottle of holy water and a small pamphlet titled
Last Rites
. She'd never known her father to be religious, so why he had an antique bit of religious history like this tucked away she had no idea. She put it back in the box.

Returning to the closet, she saw one string hung from the bare bulb. She pulled it, dousing the light. She wasn't touching his old shoes and dress shirts. The closet was done.

She next checked all the drawers of the oak bureau and tossed the last few pairs of musty shirts and old underwear into a garbage bag, which she left by the closet door for Goodwill. The nightstand was filled with old paperbacks, mostly adventure novels: James Bond, The Executioner, Doc Savage. Jennica
smiled. Her dad's tastes hadn't changed since she was a kid. Or maybe he just hadn't
read
since she was a kid. She put a few of the beat-up paperbacks in her “save” box, liking the idea of remembering her dad by some of his old favorite things, even if she'd never read them.

There was an old leather book on top of the nightstand, no title on the front. She opened the cover. The inside page was a maze of faded bronze filigree, the paper yellowed and blotted. But the next page revealed the book's purpose. Line after line of thin, slanted handwriting filled the page. At the very bottom it was signed
Meredith
.

Jennica raised her eyebrows. This must have been her aunt's journal. Meredith had died just before the holidays, and her dad had flown out to California and done exactly the same thing Jenn was doing now: sorting through what was left. He must have been reading this just before he died. She shivered involuntarily at the thought. Weird. Or at least sad. She took the journal and set it by her purse in the living room.

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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