In the spirit of everything Halloween, we hope you enjoy this free spooky story, brought to you by N.M. Brown.
This is my mother’s first Halloween without my dad. He passed away unexpectedly at the beginning of February, and they’d been married for most of her adult life. Enough time has passed for her to be able to smile again, but I still worry about her being alone in that empty house, on her favorite holiday no less.
College had taken me out of state during the golden years of my father’s life. Love and parenthood had kept me there, eager to settle into a beautiful family life. Kira and I never married; she was too free for that. When she told me that marriage was a meaningless construct, a mere piece of paper, I became worried about losing her. If she couldn’t commit to that I don’t know why I thought two kids would have made her stay.
So when I found out my Dad had died it wasn’t difficult to pack us up and move back home. Mom would need me, and selfishly I also knew she’d help with the kids. We settled into a nice three-bedroom house that had decent rent, about twenty miles from my mom’s place.
Anyway, Halloween. I offer to bring the kids over for the evening and stay with her, order pizza, watch scary movies, that whole bit. “I’ll get you whatever snacks you want from the store. We can watch Bride of Re-Animator, I know you’ve always had the hots for Jeffrey Combs. Come on Ma, what do ya say?”
Surprisingly, she adamantly refuses.
“I’m fine Jake. I already have a full evening ahead.”
“Not even for wine, chocolate and Combs?” I tease.
“Stop it,” she laughs, swatting at me. She starts to ramble about the pumpkin that she grew in her garden, saying it will be the best jack-o-lantern the world has ever seen.
“All these summers I’ve tried to have a pumpkin patch, and all these years I haven’t gotten anywhere, barely a single sprout. This year’s different though. I didn’t get a whole patch, but I was able to grow a single pumpkin. Isn’t it gorgeous Jake?”
She holds the winter squash proudly in the air with both hands, as if offering it to the heavens. It was larger than a pie pumpkin, rounder than a Cinderella pumpkin but smaller than a jack-o-lantern.
In reality it looks like a mutated tomato. The skin is smooth, and has a rust-colored hue. If not for the traces of orange at the top and bottom I’d think my mother lost her mind. Yet she grew it, and I’m happy for her.
Once she starts explaining the slow, patient process of roasting the perfect pumpkin seeds I politely concede, and promise to leave her to her evening.
On the drive home I can’t shake the feeling that something’s off. I make a mental compromise with myself, deciding to bring the kids by for a quick hello before trick-or-treating. If everything’s fine we’ll be on our way. Surely she can’t be annoyed once she sees them in their costumes?
The kids are in costume when I get home, Jeremy in a shining knight outfit while Bella dons a black wedding dress and face paint. “We’re going to stop by Grandma’s on the way to the big neighborhoods, okay? I thinnnnnk I saw two full-sized candy bars sitting on her kitchen table. Wonder who they could be for?” I tease.
Neither sun nor moon are in sight when we get to Mom’s house, a perfect state of dusk. Her porch light shines off of the metal witch that sits on the porch. I announce my entrance as I enter the front door, the kids bounding past me to look for their grandmother.
An acrid stench curls my stomach, along with the hairs in my nose. It smells like distrubed earth, along with sweet, stale rot. My stomach flips as my mouth fills with spit in order to purge itself, but my daughter’s words stop the bile midway in my throat.
“Oh my god Grams, are you okay?!?” I hear Bella’s voice squeak out against the silence. I run to them, hundreds of fatal scenarios flashing through my mind all at once about what I’ll see when I turn that last corner. The silence, the smell...
What I see isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it's still very alarming. My mother stands at her kitchen counter with her back to me, feverishly hacking away at a pumpkin. Flecks of blood speckle her bare feet and the kitchen floor, and each time she draws her arm back streams of crimson shoot from in front of her.
“Christ, Mom, what happened here?” I ask. She turns to us slowly, a hauntingly wide smile on her face. I look her over quickly, finding no abrasions or even evidence of broken skin. The red liquid was coming from…the pumpkin.
“I bought rare seeds to grow a special type. Pretty cool, huh kids?” She winks at my children, now with wide smiles of their own.
“No freaking way,” Jeremy exclaims. “That’s so cool!”
My mother then turns to me, the smile quickly melting into a scowl as she meets my eyes. “And you...coming to check on me. What, did you think I’d fall and break a hip?” Her hands wave with emphasis as she speaks at me, covering herself with pumpkin blood spatter. The smile returns to her face as she looks at my son. “I swear...kids. You clothe them, feed them, wipe their ass for them...only for them to treat you like a Life Alert commercial.”
We help her clean up the rest of the pumpkin guts before heading out. She pops a raw seed into her cheek as she walks us to the door. My face scrunches in unease. “I thought you were gonna roast 'em, Mom. How can you eat them plain like that?”
“They will be. I only need this one,” she comments before swallowing the seed like a pill.
The kids visit most of the houses that participated, though there aren’t nearly as many as there were last year.
Contact fell off with my mother a little while after that. We would call and text intermittently, but each time I told her I’d come by she told me she wasn’t feeling well. I gave her some deserved space and privacy, figuring the sickness may have been mental and not so much a common cold. When she didn’t want to get together for Thanksgiving, well...that’s when I started to worry. I was about to show up randomly for a visit, whether she wanted me to or not, until a voicemail changed my mind.
I’d missed the call due to being at work, and didn’t get to listen to it until I got home later that evening.
“Jake. It’s your mother calling. I’ve been feeling alot better lately, and want to make up for the time we’ve missed. I so miss the kids, and yeah…I guess you too. But only a little,” she jokes before continuing. “I want you to come over with the kids and stay for Christmas. We can have presents and music and food…just like when you were little. I love you.”
When we arrive for Christmas I reel to see that state my mother’s in. The skin across her belly looks stretched and swollen. Her face is drawn, pale and gaunt.
After dinner she joyfully calls us around the Christmas Tree, saying she has big news.
“I planted my garden over your father’s body. Even from death,” she pauses, smiling at her growing belly, “he was able to give me his seed.”
N.M. Brown is an international best-selling author from Florida. She's a happily married mother who sheds light on the dark corners of the mind that we like to keep hidden. She's dabbled in fantasy and science fiction, but the horror genre is where her heart has a happy home. Her other publications include stories in Sirens at Midnight, the recent award winning series Calls From the Brighter Futures Suicide Hotline, the Scary Snippets Collections, Mother Ghost Grimm children's horror anthology, Dark Xmas, along with several others. Her passions include soap making, publishing and spending time with her horror loving friends and family. Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/NMBrownStories/ Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/user/BunnyB03