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Authors: John Everson

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BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
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Nick fell to the ground, clutching the knife. His expression was clearly one of surprise. “What have you done?” he whispered, and then his eyes fluttered closed.

Jenn pushed herself away, kept herself crouched in a defensive stance. After a few moments without seeing Nick move, she rose, wary of the strength of the spirit. But her boyfriend did nothing. She could see his chest rise and fall, a stain of blood seeping wider across his shirt with every breath. But who knew if she'd obliterated the Pumpkin Man? Who knew what exactly would send the evil spirit back to wherever it had come?

She took her hammer to the rest of the bones, attacking any shards larger than an inch. When she was done, the floor was covered with white powder and shrapnel. And the body of her boyfriend lay motionless in the middle, one arm extended in her direction.

C
HAPTER
F
IFTY-ONE

On the tile floor of the crypt, Nick moaned. His voice was different. More familiar.

“Nick?” Jenn asked. She stopped hammering the small shard of bone she was pulverizing and moved next to him.

“It hurts,” he wheezed. “I can't breathe.” His voice was definitely warmer, fuller. Even riddled with pain it sounded more like her Nick, not the monster that had taken him over.

“I'll go call an ambulance,” she promised. She leaned over and kissed his lips.

“No,” he said, his hand clutching her shoulder. “Don't leave me down here.”

“I don't think you should move,” she said. “I'll be right back.”

“Help me up,” he insisted.

Carefully, slowly, Jennica wrapped an arm around him and helped him to his feet. He grunted and moaned with each movement, but at last he was leaning on her for support as they walked out of the crypt, through the basement and one by one up the stairs. Jenn looked at the jars of blood and dead things at the base of the stairwell as they passed and wondered if something there would help right now, if she only knew how to use it. In the back of her mind she vowed to study the things that Meredith had left behind.

She helped Nick to the couch and laid him back. He was gasping in pain. Sweat rolled down his forehead.

“Do you remember anything?” she asked.

He shook his head. “We were trying to use the Ouija board to talk to your aunt and then . . .”

“Then the Pumpkin Man came,” Jenn finished. When he moaned, she kissed his head. “Wait here a moment.”

She ran into the kitchen and ducked through the pantry. Inside the hidden room, the body of Travis lay motionless. Jenn grabbed it by the ankles and dragged it into the kitchen. She grabbed a large spoon from the sink and then ran back. She found the eyeballs lying there on the floor, and with the side of a finger pressed them onto the spoon.

“Ew,” she said to herself, but took them anyway. She tossed them on the tile floor near the body when she got back to the kitchen. Then she backed up and locked the hidden room before closing the pantry. The police didn't need to know about that room, she'd decided. Not until she knew more about it herself.

After a survey of the kitchen, Jenn nodded, returned to the front room and picked up the phone to dial 911. “There's been a murder,” she announced when a woman answered. “And another man is gravely hurt.”

“Someone will be right there,” the woman replied. She sounded bored.

Jenn had barely hung up when a knock came on the door. “She wasn't kidding,” she mumbled.

Officer Barkiewicz was there when she answered. He immediately asked, “What happened? I've been outside all night. I didn't see anyone around, but I just got a call on the radio—”

“You missed all the fun,” Jenn agreed. “The Pumpkin Man was here, but I think we've sent him away for good.”

“There's an ambulance coming,” Scott said. “Who . . . ?”

“Nick's been stabbed,” Jenn explained. She pointed to the couch where Nick lay with his hand holding the knife protruding from his chest. “But Travis, from the grocery . . .” She pointed to the kitchen and shook her head.

“Oh no,” Scott said, and walked past her to look. When he
came back, his face was white. “But I was outside the whole time.”

Jenn shrugged. “I'm afraid you missed the action.”

“I'm sorry,” he said. Then his face changed as he realized the connotations of what she said. He spoke fast. “Did he get away, or is he still here in the house?”

“No and yes,” Jenn said. She pointed to the kitchen. “The Pumpkin Man was Travis.”

Scott looked shocked and confused. He opened his mouth to say something but then shook his head. “Let me check on that ambulance.” He disappeared out the front door.

Jenn knelt by the couch and kissed Nick's head. “Hold on, okay?” she whispered. “Just hold on.”

Nick coughed. “I'm not giving up 'til I get another chance at seeing you on Baker Beach.”

Jenn smiled. “I'll go there every week if you want, so you need to stick around to see. And
you
have to get naked. In front of the gay guys. Not a problem for me, really.”

Nick started to laugh but then choked. “Deal,” he managed.

Jenn brushed a piece of hair from his eye and leaned down to kiss his forehead again. She felt horrible that she had done this to him, but he hadn't been himself at the time. She wondered where the devil that she'd stabbed had actually gone. And was he really gone? She hoped that destroying the bones he'd used as his anchor was enough. Jenn vowed to throw the dust into the sea as soon as she could.

Nick closed his eyes, and she leaned back on her heels and looked around the room. Her aunt's interests were everywhere, and she was just beginning to understand their power. Statues of Maldita snakes and books of the occult, candles poured from bee's wax mixed with virgin blood . . . Jenn suddenly realized that she wanted to know more. She needed to know more.
There are some things that a woman has to do to protect what she loves. No matter what.
She was going to make sure she would never be
powerless against something like the Pumpkin Man—or any man—again. She had the house. And the library. She just needed to study and practice.

If only she could talk to Meredith one more time. If only she could understand just a little bit more about what could be accomplished here.

Maybe she could.

Her days as a teacher were done, she knew. She knew it suddenly and with complete finality. She would call Sister Beatrice. She would not be going back home to teach the kids in Chicago where the capital of Nebraska was. No, she needed to become a student herself again. Her new schoolroom was here, in this house. And she was the sole student.

Jenn felt wetness on her side where Nick had slashed at her with the knife in the basement. She slipped a hand under her shirt and traced the cut. It didn't feel deep, but her fingers still came back red. She took them and touched Nick's forehead, tracing a smudge in the shape of a sickle.

“My love to blind you, my blood to bind you,” she whispered, repeating a line she'd seen in Meredith's journal.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” she replied.

She stroked Nick's hair once and stood up. She kissed him quickly and then walked into the kitchen, and from there, into the pantry. Unlocking the secret room. She didn't slow as she walked, because for some reason she no longer had any fear of the hidden room or the dark. She just hoped Officer Barkiewicz didn't return while she was in here.

The Ouija board was there, where she knew it would be. It lay on the floor where it was left. She had a feeling there was still a power and a mystery here for her to uncover in this room, but now was not the time. Closing the door tight behind her, she took the Ouija board and left.

She closed the pantry door and walked past the dead body of
Travis, past the unconscious body of Nick. Quietly Jenn pulled out the fireplace stone and slipped the witchboard back into the secret compartment. Then she replaced the stone, checking to make sure it fit snugly. No evidence.

Just as she finished, a knock came at the front door. Jenn took a deep breath, crossed the room and opened it. Scott was there with two paramedics in blue shirts.

“Over there,” she said, and they passed her to help Nick. “Be okay,” she whispered as they took him out of the room on a stretcher minutes later.

Almost as soon as Nick was gone, Captain Jones appeared at the door. He was in plainclothes, a deep blue polo shirt and jeans.

“What happened?” he asked. His face looked careworn.

Jenn shook her head. “It's hard to explain. But . . . the Pumpkin Man came. And I think I finally sent him away. Banished him.”

Jones looked around and then hard at her. “‘Banished,' huh?” He gave a grim chuckle. “Sounds like you've become a part of the Perenais family.”

“Yeah,” she said. She couldn't read his expression. “I don't know if they'd want me, but I'm here to stay. In River's End, I mean. And I think the Pumpkin Man is gone for good.”

“That's really all I care about,” Jones said. He glanced around again. “You'd best have a solid story for the police statement we need to take tomorrow. Just sayin'.” He raised an eyebrow and gave her a look that said,
And make it a good one
. “The ambulance is taking your friend to Sonoma County Hospital. Are you going to follow?”

Jenn nodded. She went to get Nick's keys.

“I'll lead,” the police chief offered. “I'd like to know he's going to be all right.”

“Thanks,” Jenn said. “So would I.”

The captain nodded but didn't leave. He stared at her without speaking for a moment, and then he took a breath as if to marshal
his thoughts. Finally he spat out what he was thinking: “If you're going to stay on and live up here, I'd rather be on good terms with you than bad. I'd like you to keep me in the loop on . . . well, on how things are going. I helped your aunt out of a jam once, and she was always good to me. I'd do the same for you, if you needed it.” He cracked a weak smile. “I hope things are better here in the future.”

Jenn shook her head. “Thanks, Captain. I didn't expect any of this when I came here, but I think my aunt Meredith would have liked for me to stay. I'd like to break down the local legends that have to do with this house and family. But I'd like to try to fit in.”

Jones laughed. “Maybe you can organize the first witches bake sale.”

Jenn stared at him. “Are you calling me a witch?”

“Aren't you saying you want to become one?”

Jenn thought about the witchboard she'd just hidden away, about the history of the Perenais family that she still needed to understand, and about the blood-spattered
Book of Shadows
lying open somewhere in the basement crypt amid dozens of broken powdered bones. Some secret place in her chest that she'd never felt before warmed. And for maybe the first time in her life she felt at home, secure in herself despite being surrounded in dark mystery. The Pumpkin Man had done horrible things, but that didn't mean there wasn't good to come of witchcraft. Did it?

Without answering, she followed the captain out of the house. “Yes,” she said, “maybe I'm saying that after all.”

 

John Everson is the Bram Stoker Award–winning author of the novels
Covenant
,
Sacrifice
,
The 13th
and
Siren
, and the short-story collections
Deadly Nightlusts
,
Creeptych
,
Needles & Sins
,
Vigilantes of Love
and
Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions
.

John shares a deep purple den in Naperville, Illinois, with a cockatoo and cockatiel, a disparate collection of fake skulls, twisted skeletal fairies, Alan Clark illustrations and a large stuffed Eeyore. There's also a mounted Chinese fowling spider named Stoker courtesy of Charlee Jacob, an ever-growing shelf of custom mix CDs and an acoustic guitar that he can't really play but that his son, Shaun, likes to hear him beat on anyway. Sometimes his wife, Geri, is surprised to find him shuffling through more public areas of the house, but it's usually only to brew another cup of coffee. In order to avoid the onerous task of writing, he holds down a regular job at a medical association, records pop-rock songs in a hidden home studio, experiments insatiably with the culinary joys of the jalapeño, designs photo collage art book covers for a variety of small presses, loses hours in expanding an array of gardens and chases frequent excursions into the bizarre visual headspace of '70s euro-horror DVDs with a shot of Maker's Mark and a tall glass of Newcastle.

For information on his fiction, art and music, visit John Everson: Dark Arts at
www.johneverson.com
.

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
4.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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