Above on a ridge, casting a shadow as the sun went down, like long broken eaves over the town, stood a large, it was supposed, maple tree. Its bark was deeply creviced with high, flaky walls to its furrows and valleys as if it was an ancient smoker, but its branches were plump beneath like gluttonous, bent snakes that had swallowed a pen of fat swine. They were naked, straggly branches, as unkempt as leaves in a hurricane and favoring no direction, each branch having begun in one way, but having ended in another like a visual argument, like elongated spines and limbs of prisoners who have tried, but failed to escape. There was no doubt by any villager who viewed the tree that it cried out for a well-clasped straightjacket. But there unfortunately the uneasiness did not end … nor the unrest. For that year in that wooded, shredded fat cobweb, during the falling leaves of autumn … the visitors appeared. No one knew where these visitors had come from, they just weren’t, and then they were there … those pumpkins. Not completely rounded, the pumpkins hung from every branch, from high to low, strung with a rope tied around their stems to the tree, swaying like heads that had lost their corpses, in varied degrees of lumpiness. Unlike Jack-o-Lanterns they were faceless as so many that have gone to their graves have become and have become forgotten. Was it an omen of things to come, what would happen to these folks of that quiet town, to be erased unnoticed … or was it a curse due to what had been, and the townsfolk liable to be punished even more severely because they’d failed to recollect what it might have been … which was surely so sinister? Either brought them fear.
At night the wind howled and stirred like the erupting broth of a witch’s cauldron. Muted thuds resounded down to the valley and the homes as the pumpkins rapped and pushed against one another as if jockeying for a place in the netherworld. Better if it had been burglars knocking with their spindly fingers across the windowpanes of the townsfolk’s cottages. That intrusion would at least have been human, and met with more idle regard than any impression that would be cast upon the face of the unlucky victim caught in the shadowed corners of these unknown, irregularly bulbous spirits who had come to profit on such. But even the thief in the night feared the loss of his very soul … and though, unlike all other times when they were unwelcomed, they were very much welcomed now, for satisfying or unsatisfying company, but company nonetheless … these crooks were nowhere to be had by any, regardless of that person’s most interior and irregular plea for them. The widows and widowers, fairing less, with no families, were left in the stench of a barren night, and had their backs up against the grave, the slender door between them and their mortality, the door that slowly chipped away with the repetitive sounding thuds from up the ridge.
“I crave not happiness … only survival” was a common cry from behind a stool in the corner during those slowly unraveling hours. “Leave us not left to the wanton,” was another from one kneeling beside her bed.
There is, as most assuredly there comes a dawn after the night, the witching hour … and in that witching hour there is a harvest. The question was and is: What is the reaper … and who does the reaper seek?
Real: Who knows?
Not Real: Who … really … knows?