Curcurbita Maxima

(c)2008 gekizetsu

_____________

 

Latin for ‘greatest pumpkin’. Written for spn_halloween and insanely late, but at least it’s still the right season for pumpkins. Prompt: the Great Pumpkin is real, and evil. Begun before the hilariously titled ‘It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester’ aired. Shoutout to girlguidejones for describing my monster to me in gory, fabulous detail at Wincon. Gen, 7770 words, PG-13 for language and gore (not Al...the other kind). Libby’s (R) is a fine upstanding company that offers delicious pumpkin products, and they do not do any of the creepy things mentioned here. There are no pumpkin ninjas.

 

Per Peanuts lore, and according to Linus, when writing to the Great Pumpkin, you don't ask him to bring you anything specific: you wait for whatever he brings you.

You wait for whatever he brings you.

-|-

 

The third time the same unknown number showed up on Dean’s cell phone, he decided to give whoever it was ten seconds of attention.

 

Numbers he didn’t recognize were telemarketers or some text spammer, 99% of the time. They were almost always pre-recorded sales pitches he could hang up on or delete, but every now and then it was some poor live dork trying to get him to take a survey. He didn’t usually mind taking the surveys. He just gave the worst answers he could come up with to skew whatever stats they were compiling.

 

Unfamiliar numbers dialing once were accidents or idiots; dialing twice, there was a 50/50 chance between telemarketers and someone actually looking for him or Sam. A third attempt to call meant someone wasn’t kidding anymore.

 

You have three new messages and no saved messages.

 

The first message was the sound of someone pausing a moment, then hanging up. Delete. The second was a low, hesitant male voice.

 

“Yeah, hi. Uh, I got this number from a friend. I don’t know if it’s still any good, but I...look, I’m sorry. Never mind.”

 

Click.

 

“Dude, get to the point already,” Dean said as he deleted that one, too, and went on to the next.

 

“I don’t know if anyone at this number still...helps people, or not, with unusual things? If you do, please call me back. My name’s Elwood.”

 

That had sounded stressed out but determined.

 

“Elwood,” Dean said. “Seriously? I hope he has a brother named Jake, because that would be awesome.” He saved the message and tucked his phone away. It was a midwest area code, maybe IL if he remembered correctly.

 

Sam came out of the bathroom and headed back to their table looking distracted.

 

They were in a bar in northwestern Iowa with decent domestic beer and indecently dressed waitresses, and it seemed like a mini vacation.

 

“That bad?” Dean said.

 

Sam glanced at him as he settled back onto his stool. “Huh?”

 

“If the bathroom’s that bad, I’ll hold it,” Dean said.

 

Sam blinked at him. “No, it’s...well, it’s like every other bar bathroom, actually. I’m just getting sick of looking at Halloween decorations.”

 

“They decorated the bathroom, too?”

 

Sam nodded and finished his beer.

 

Dean glanced around at the paper skeletons and witches dangling from the ceiling at regular intervals and shrugged. “In another week, you can start getting tired of looking at Christmas shit, too.”

 

“Christmas has been in the stores since August,” Sam said. “Where’ve you been?”

 

“Ignoring it so I can stay sane.”

 

There weren’t many other people around despite the fact that it was happy hour on a Thursday. With Halloween coming up on Friday, there were signs posted all over the bar about the amazing blowout they’d be having, with live music and prizes for best costume. Same old thing everywhere, every year.

 

“Might have a case,” Dean said.

 

Sam didn’t exactly perk up, but he stopped looking like one of the decorations might take a run at him.

 

“Somebody got my number from someone else, and might have a problem. Even if it turns out to be squirrels in the attic, won’t hurt to go look.”

 

Sam shrugged. “Whenever you’re ready.”

 

-|-

 

Elwood Jacobs lived in Morton, Illinois. He didn’t have a brother named Jake, but that was fine because his last name made up for it.

 

“I have a cousin who used to live in Connecticut,” he said. “Susan Tucker. Owned the Pierpont Inn. You helped her out with something that was messing with her daughter.”

 

“Yeah, I remember her,” Dean said. “Spirit, tried to drown the kid.”

 

“I’m not sure I believe in everything people talk about, but Susan was convinced about what happened, and she’s never been one for making things up,” Elwood said. “I wouldn’t be bugging anybody with this at all if it wasn’t so damn odd. It just keeps naggin’ at me. The stuff that Mike said, and then him going missing like that so soon after, and the damn rumors in this place? Something’s not right.”

 

Dean listened to what he had to say, asked a few questions, and gave Sam a thumbs-up long before he hung up.

 

-|-

 

“So he works at – get this – a pumpkin packing plant,” Dean said, shoving a wilted-looking dill pickle off his plate and onto the table of a diner in Waverly. “Say that three times real fast. The Libby’s plant, actually. Morton, Illinois is apparently the pumpkin capitol of the world. They have some big festival every September. The place is one huge pumpkin patch.”

 

“Great,” Sam said, shoving his BLT aside and booting up the laptop. “Is it sincere?”

 

Dean looked at him for a moment, his expression indicating that he recognized the reference but couldn’t place it.

 

Sam shook his head and Googled Morton, Illinois.

 

“So anyway, one of the guys he works with – worked with, I guess – started talking about something he’d found in September while checking the whole annual schedule for what fields get harvested and how much,” Dean said. “Turns out there’s one that produces pumpkins every year, but it’s never harvested. Instead of being scratched off the list, though, it was just hidden in some old file, and was missing from the maps, so he thought it was a mistake and put it back on the list. He went out to do some inventory, see how many machines and people were needed, and it was overgrown with pumpkins like they were on steroids or something, and all fenced up. He rolled one over and said he found something under it that made him run out of there, and he wouldn’t say what.”

 

“So he could just have been telling a tale to rile his buddies up,” Sam said.

 

Dean shrugged with shoulders and eyebrows. “He only mentioned it to a couple of people over beers, said he was going to turn it in to the cops, make them go back out there with him. But, he never showed up to work the next day. Or week. Dude just vanished. Cops said no big deal, file a missing person’s report.”

 

“Morton’s a village of about 17,000,” Sam said. “Small enough place, people would know each other pretty well.”

 

“Yeah, and nobody knew why this guy would just take off,” Dean said. “Elwood got somebody to go back over the maps, and the field his friend was talking about was back off the list, and there was nothing about it in there.”

 

“Okay, sounds pretty weird, but not much to really go by,” Sam said, scrolling and scanning. “Guy could have seen anything or nothing, and might just be on a bender somewhere.”

 

“Sure,” Dean said. “But this field? Was the first field ever planted by the folks who settled the village. The very first. And it hasn’t been tilled, harvested or seeded since 1966, the year the festival started. It does its own thing, it’s not on any map, and the one guy who goes out to find it goes AWOL.”

 

Sam glanced up at him. “The first field,” he said. “Dean, that’s kind of...shades of Burkitsville.”

 

Dean smirked. “Except I kind of doubt someone brought over a Father Pumpkin from the homeland. I can’t see a vanir getting worked up about pumpkins and needing an annual sacrifice over them. Can you?”

 

Sam made a clicking sound with teeth and tongue. “Better stay away from the pie anyway.”He tapped a few more keys. “First settlers came over from England between 1830 and 1835...and another wave of settlers arrived from Switzerland and Germany, mostly, from 1860 to 1875. It’s always been mostly farmland.”

 

“So who’s got pumpkin legends?” Dean said. “Anybody in Germany have a pumpkin god we should watch out for?”

 

Sam scratched at a spot just above his ear and made a face, still focused on the laptop. “Well, there’s always the Great Pumpkin.”

 

“Why the hell not,” Dean said.

 

“On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the patch he feels is the most sincere, and then he flies around the world delivering toys to all the good little children of the world,” Sam said, tone deliberate and slightly mocking as he quoted.

 

“Yeah, but I don’t care how sincere this patch is, I’m not sitting on my ass in it all Halloween night,” Dean said. “How about you, Linus?”

 

“We need to find it first, Snoopy,” Sam said. “Oh, and Morton stands at an intersection of two interstates, I-155 and I-74.”

 

“A crossroads,” Dean said. “Isn’t Sleepy Hollow in Illinois, too?”

 

“What, now we’re thinking the Headless Horseman got tired of his own village and found another?”

 

Dean flicked a shred of lettuce from his burger at Sam. “I’m just throwin’ stuff out there.”

 

“There aren’t really any specific pumpkin-related tales in the Swiss or German lore,” Sam said. “Not that pop out, anyway. Could be it has nothing to do with the pumpkins at all, if it’s even supernatural. And the village itself is about twelve square miles.”

 

Dean tapped on the back of the laptop. “How much of it is farmland that we get to trudge around in?”

 

“Most of the fields are laid out in a pretty obvious circle around it, if the satellite view isn’t too old,” Sam said. “If this guy went out there, then he probably told someone right where it is, or he marked it on a map of his own somewhere.”

 

“Elwood said the guy – Mike – told him it was ‘way out Chaffer Road by the old Lauten place’,” Dean said. “So we break into his place, maybe his car if it’s around, maybe his company car. He left something somewhere. Suppose the company car has a big pumpkin on top like the magnet signs taxis and pizza kids use?”

 

Sam ignored him and kept his attention on the laptop. “What’s the point of shutting somebody up about a pumpkin patch? Good dump site for an old murder, maybe?”

 

“Mob decided to get into the pumpkin business,” Dean said.

 

“Yeah, wow, Dean, and take over Libby’s,” Sam said, eyes wide. “And then hold a festival every year, get a bunch of tourists to hang around.”

 

Dean flipped Sam off and covered the offending pickle with a napkin, giving it a proper burial on the table. “Bitch. Who the hell goes to a pumpkin festival?”

 

-|-

 

They were in Morton before dark. There was a Relax Inn on Queenwood Rd, not all that far from the area the supposed patch was in.

 

Dean looked at the brochures while they were checking in. “We missed the annual ‘punkin chuckin’ contest,” Dean said. “Shit.”

 

“There’s always next year,” Sam said. “I’m thinking keeping you away from trebuchets is safer, though.”

 

They’d decided on the way down not to talk to Elwood where he or they would be seen by locals. Not yet, anyway. Elwood had already been asking around, and if that was all it had taken to get the other guy to vanish, no sense getting the wrong attention directed at their only contact in town. There was still the possibility that the missing plant worker would turn up with an excuse, and the whole thing would blow over.

 

There was no need to flash FBI badges at anybody when they went out to Mike Strickland’s apartment building near Southwood Park. It wasn’t a security building, just two stories with outward facing front doors. Not hard to pick the lock after a check of the windows showed the place was empty. No lights, no sign that anybody had been there within the last day.

 

It smelled stale and closed up, but not like anyone or anything was rotting in there. It didn’t look like there’d been any kind of search of the place already. The local cops weren’t interested in that particular missing persons case.

 

“They think he’s on a bender, too,” Dean said. “Place doesn’t look like it belongs to the kind of guy who brings his work home.”

 

They gave it a superficial tossing, putting everything back the way they found it when they were done. No big secrets, no uncrackable safes, no malevolent pumpkins lurking behind the shower curtain. No blackmail photos under the mattress.

 

They locked up and left.

 

“Elwood said he drove a ‘97 Buick Skylark,” Dean said. “You see one?”

 

“Dude, I have no idea what the hell one looks like,” Sam said. “Knock yourself out.”

 

Dean snorted but didn’t comment. They circled the ‘lot, but found nothing resembling what they were looking for, and headed back through the village.

 

Despite the fact that it was the night before Halloween, and the place was the pumpkin capitol of the world, not a single house they passed had a jack-o-lantern on the porch or in a window.

 

Not one.

 

County records confirmed that the Lauten family farm was the first official farm on the rolls, 1860. There were birth, marriage and death dates for various family members, but nothing stood out along the lines of ‘entire family murdered in their beds’ or anything tragic enough to have left the kind of mark on the land that would make anything grown on it become off limits. Just because there was no official record didn’t mean something hadn’t happened, but they were running into a dead end without finding the actual field. The village hadn’t begun printing a local paper until 1889, and from then until 1966 when the festival started, the Lautens were regular news in the paper. Marriages or funerals, awards won at state fairs, the first deal with Libby’s in 1902. After 1966, they never appeared in print again.

 

Sam checked until they were kicked out of the library at closing, but the family never came up again.

 

-|-

 

“Holy crap, this place has a lot of pumpkins.”

 

They’d been there less than 24 hours, and Sam was already tired of pumpkins. Sick of saying the word, sick of looking at endless acres of them, sick of looking for one small patch of them on a road that wasn’t more than a mile long.

 

Punkin chuckin’ was beginning to sound like a good idea.

 

Where there weren’t real pumpkins, there were cardboard and plastic ones on shop windows, but still not on any of the homes they saw. They’d passed a craft store in town advertising foam ones for decoration.

 

They left the car on a farm service road back in the trees after the second pass up Chaffer. There were a couple older homes and one large farmhouse, and the rest was fields, a mix of long-harvested pumpkin and corn. It should have been easier to spot a patch that hadn’t been picked clean.

 

“So, he would have said something if he had to work an obstacle course to get to it,” Dean said.

 

“Unless he didn’t want anyone else to come looking before he brought the cops out,” Sam said. It was a cool, dry afternoon, the sky a pale, washed-out blue. They walked shoulder to shoulder on one side of the road, hands in pockets, just a couple of guys strolling along who had learned the hard way not to get noticed by small town locals when crops were involved. “If he walked or partly drove into one of these fields, it’ll show.”

 

“Elwood said ‘the old Lauten place’,” Dean said. “It doesn’t belong to anyone but the plant, now, or he wouldn’t have been out here scoping it at all. So it’d be part of an old farmstead, long off the official map for anyone who didn’t grow up here.”

 

Sam kept his eyes trained on the sides of the road, looking for obvious breaks where there was fencing and tire tracks where there wasn’t. “Likely off the map for most of the people who did grow up here, too.” 

 

They were three quarters of the way up the road before it began a sharp turn to the west and then north, ending at the 150. It was Dean who saw the chalk mark.

 

He leaned down and rubbed at it with his fingers. “Not that fresh,” he said.

 

“Maybe about as old as the last time anybody saw our guy,” Sam said.

 

They both immediately turned their heads to look at the opposite side of the road. The bushes directly across from the mark were disturbed, like they’d been tamped down and then patted back into place again.

 

The brothers shared a look.

 

They were careful to take a glance around and lift the bushes back into place behind them.

 

-|-

 

Half a mile of heavy brush later, there were still signs that someone had been through there recently, and it wasn’t hard to follow the tracks. At one point, it began to look like someone had been dragged. There was no blood or other traces left behind to confirm who or what.

 

“Brought him back here, made him walk most of the way so they didn’t have to drag him, then ganked him right about here,” Dean said. “Harsh.”

 

A hundred or so yards later, the brush began to open up into a partial meadow, and the ground underfoot turned slightly muddy.

 

Dean was humming. It sounded like the same jingle, over and over, and it sounded familiar. Sam was going to snap at him when Dean finally sang the words softly almost under his breath.

 

“Libby’s Libby’s Libby’s, on the label label label.”

 

“Knock it off,” Sam whispered.

 

“What, because mystery pumpkin ninjas are kidnaping people and might jump out on us?” Dean said. “Christ.”

 

And then he stumbled over a pumpkin that was half-hidden in the bushes.

 

He caught himself and straightened to look down on it. It rested on its side, muddy and out of place. It had probably rolled down the slight incline.

 

Sam and Dean looked up and saw the top edges of a weathered and cracked board fence ahead of them.

 

The whole plot was roughly a quarter of an acre in size, and was fully fenced with the same elderly boards. The fence had obviously been repaired over time, but never with newer materials. Nearly every square inch inside the fence was covered in pumpkins. They were all roughly the same size and shape – and a little too perfect. The leaves were too large and covered whatever the pumpkins didn’t, leaving large, dark shadows among the gourds. The stems twisted in wild, thick curlicues around and among the pumpkins, but didn’t touch the fence or reach underneath it. The patch was carefully contained.

 

“Stepford pumpkins,” Dean said.

 

“Could just be some experimental type,” Sam said. “People get pretty serious about their secret ways of growing stuff.” Still, he didn’t lean his forearms on the fence.

 

“Yeah, some little 4H girl is up here talking to them every day, getting all homicidal, thinking about her blue ribbons,” Dean said. “Sure.”

 

There was no evidence of weeds or bugs inside the fence. There were no weeds or bushes growing close to the fence from the outside, and it didn’t look like it was just because someone had been out there to weed carefully.

 

They circled the fence a little, watching for movement of any kind, checking to see if there was evidence of another exit in the bushes. There were muddy boot prints well outside the fence line, two sets, and they stopped well before the back of the fenceline was reached. No one had been around the back. Nothing registered on the EMF meter.

 

Sam circled around the front to Dean’s side and drew his gun. Dean leaned in under the second slat and laid a hand on the nearest pumpkin. He was able to rock it easily despite its size.

 

“This feels like one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done,” Dean said. He shoved the pumpkin over.

 

It rolled away only a little, hampered by its vine, but stayed on its side. Nothing jumped out at them. The soil underneath was damp from being trapped beneath the gourd, and looked healthy. The smooth and off-white face of a stone jutted up slightly from the ground. There was nothing else.

 

Dean straightened and rolled up his sleeves.

 

Both men paused at the sound of a car on the road far below them. It kept going.

 

“Tip another,” Sam said.

 

“You realize you’re standing there all ready to shoot a pumpkin?” Dean asked.

 

Sam shifted his weight but didn’t lower his gun. “We’re all the way out here, so we may as well make it look good.”

 

Dean leaned in and shoved another pumpkin without the hesitation he’d shown the first one. Same result.

 

Same stone.

 

Dean tapped on the stone, knocking on the strangely smooth surface with first fingernails, then knuckles. He leaned in further and scratched at it, then straightened and wiped his hand on his jeans unconsciously. “That’s not rock. That’s bone.”

 

They looked at each other.

 

“Those are the tops of skulls,” Dean said.

 

There was smooth bone under the next four pumpkins as well, but not under the fifth. Dean got his knife out and started digging in a rough circle around one, going down several inches in loose soil. A brow ridge emerged, then eye sockets packed with dirt.

 

“Human,” Sam said.

 

Dean nodded. “Just the heads, though, or are these guys buried standing up?”

 

“What’s the point? Why do this?”

 

Dean straightened without answering and went back to the pumpkin that had no skull underneath. He dug down a little and didn’t encounter anything. He eyed the pumpkin for a moment, then reached in and shook it a little. When something clunked inside, he split it partway open with the blade, sticking his fingers in and shoving the shell apart.

 

A gleaming, eerily clean skull grinned out at them.

 

“Maybe no one is doing it,” Dean said. “This is one goddamn sincere patch.”

 

Three pumpkins near the back had skulls that were much, much fresher, skin and hair still intact. Dean’s face said everything about how he felt when he tried to yank one up by the hair and it came off in his hand along with most of the scalp. He dug down further instead, and there were shoulders covered in rotted clothing.

 

“Whole bodies are in there,” Sam said. “With a pumpkin sitting right above the head in each case? That’s pretty ritualistic.”

 

“I don’t think humans did this, Sam,” Dean said. “People do some crazy shit, but come on. Look at these things. There’s one pumpkin for every head, and I’ll bet there’re no extras. Most of these heads are decades old. It looks like a new one is going in every year. And no way, no matter what kind of crazy ass farming anyone’s ever tried, does anybody get a skull to grow inside a damn vegetable.”

 

Sam finally tucked his gun away. “Then I don’t know what the hell this is,” he said. “The people here know about it, and they’re protecting it if not outright helping it. Why not burn the whole area, stop this thing? The town’s not gonna die with or without this, if it’s a vanir. A company the size of Libby’s isn’t going to just fold, all of a sudden.”

 

“They might have been promised something else,” Dean said.

 

They circled the fence again, looking for remnants of a path or any other sign that could point them in the direction that the farm’s house might have been located. At the back the ground raised slightly again to the north, and Sam scuffed at the most uneven spot and found what could easily have been a flagstone.

 

They hiked up through the bushes until the land opened up more, and about a quarter mile so further up was the river rock foundation of an old farmhouse. There was no evidence that it had burned or otherwise been destroyed; the homestead had fallen in over time and been left to die in peace.

 

It looked like it had been abandoned for at least fifty years. Which would put it back to the year the festival began.

 

They went back down to the patch and stared at it again.

 

Sam began counting. “The festival started in 1966,” he said. “The math is coming out right. Thousands come through every year, but I’ll bet one never leaves. If the people who live here aren’t sacrificing somebody on this patch, then what the hell is?”

 

Dean kept staring at the split pumpkin with the skull inside. “Gotta sit in the damn patch all night and find out,” he said, disappointment audible. “And tonight’s as good as it gets.” He started to walk away. “Dammit.

 

-|-

 

They went back to the car for the serious weapons. Dean bemoaned the absence of coffee, but they weren’t going to risk leaving the place at all when it was Halloween and they’d already staked it out. No telling who’d try and come up there, or what. So they prepared for anything.

 

-|-

 

Mostly.

 

-|-

 

Luckily, it didn’t get all that cold, it didn’t rain on them, and the faintest sliver of moon that was setting didn’t offer enough light to give them away once it started to get dark. They sat on a couple of old burned stumps back in the trees, within sight of the patch but not immediately visible to anyone who might approach.

 

The pumpkin with the special prize inside was at their feet but the open part was faced away.

 

“I’m sitting in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night,” Dean whispered. “This is...this is bullshit.”

 

“Charles Schulz would be so proud,” Sam whispered.

 

“It looks like someone only comes up here once a year anyway,” Dean whispered. “Check the fence, check the new head, run like hell.”

 

“We’re not going to be able to burn it,” Sam said, keeping his voice low. “All these bodies have to be found, Dean.”

 

“With a major world-famous factory down the road, specializing in the same things these people are all buried under?” Dean said. “That story’ll be buried faster than these unlucky suckers were, ‘cause otherwise no one’ll buy another can of pumpkin, ever. No one would believe it was just one field. We find out what’s up here, we end it, we burn the place.”

 

“Then we leave an anonymous tip when we’re done,” Sam said. “The bodies will still be recoverable, but if we really torch this, the skull’s’ll be damaged.”

 

“Not our problem,” Dean said. “Can’t do anything to help these people, Sam, except keep ‘em from getting more company.”

 

They fell silent. A vehicle passed on the road below, some kind of truck by the sound of it. It slowed, and they tensed when it stopped directly below them.

 

A door slammed, but the engine stayed running.

 

They remained still, listening.

 

Long minutes passed. There was no sound of bushes being disturbed, no voices, no approaching footsteps.

 

A door slammed again, and after a moment, the engine sound receded.

 

They continued to wait. Only one door had opened and closed, but that didn’t guarantee that there wasn’t someone left behind on the road below.

 

It stayed quiet, with nothing more than a low, dull hum of distant traffic audible from the 150 and the I-74 even further on.

 

The moon finished setting and left starlight to cast barely discernable shadows before Dean finally moved. He stood and stretched, and nothing else moved to counter him. He leaned over and nudged Sam. Sam nudged back in acknowledgment and stood as well, hands tucked away in pockets again to keep warm instead of resting on his gun.

 

The pumpkin with the skull in it rolled away from them, suddenly, picking up speed near the fence and bouncing away down the incline. There was a soft thumping sound when it encountered something, then the crash of disturbed bushes.

 

They stared after it in shock for a moment.

 

“Did you touch it?” Sam whispered.

 

“No,” Dean said, sounding a little breathless. “I sure as hell didn’t.” 

 

Silence crowded back in. Wherever the pumpkin had come to rest, it was apparently satisfied with it.

 

“I’m not gonna go pick it up,” Sam said.

 

“Fuck it, let it tour the world,” Dean said.

 

Something moved in the back corner of the fenced plot, opposite their position.

 

They froze again, waiting for more, then went as one for their guns, motions quick and silent from practice. They were both able to center on the spot the noise had come from when it came again, the rustling of leaves and something solid hitting fenceboards.

 

A darker shadow stood up among the pumpkins, shape indiscernible from that distance. It was inside the fence and began to head toward them, loudly and clumsily, like a drunk trying to navigate a lot of obstacles and failing. The hollow sounds of what could really only be boots colliding with and open human hands slapping down on pumpkins registered once it got a little closer. They kept their guns leveled on the figure, waiting for a better idea of what they were dealing with.

 

When it reached the middle, it straightened itself and lit up from the inside.

 

There was a humanoid figure standing there, headless, clothes tattered and hands still at its sides. From the lower half of the ribcage to the pelvis, it was hollow all the way back to the shiny white knobs of its spine. What remaining flesh stretched across the top half of the ribcage glowed with the light from below.

 

There was a large candle wedged into the bottom of the pelvic girdle, and it flickered steadily in its housing.

 

Sam heard Dean make a huffed noise of surprise next to him, but neither of them moved, hands steady as they tracked the thing with weapons.

 

It headed straight toward them, stepping over the pumpkins as if it could finally see them. Boots were still on its feet, torn and ruined workpants slung low over hollow hips. The first hint of burning flesh reached them, sweet and nauseating as the candle’s flame began to catch scraps of veins and tendons still hanging down inside the thorax.

 

Dean tucked his gun away, then leaned over without dropping his gaze and picked up the shotgun, cocking it. The sound was loud and final in the night air. The human lantern kept coming, and they waited for it, waiting to take it down until they could level the most firepower on it, waiting until it made the first move.

 

It reached the fence and paused, and a pair of large and still-intact hands gripped the top board with force.

 

After several attempts, it was able to wedge a booted foot between boards and begin to climb over the fence. It swung one leg over the top and nearly fell, almost comically uncoordinated. The sight of its gutted, scraped insides, the reek of it, and the single-minded ferocity it used to complete the task ruined anything amusing about it.

 

It made it over the fence and stood facing them, melting wax spilling out the front, candle flickering higher.

 

It felt like a standoff.

 

Sam felt something change about Dean, sensed the tightening of a finger on the trigger, and reached over with one hand to rest it on the barrel of the shotgun.

 

It lurched to its right and away from them, beginning down the incline toward the road.

 

“Let’s see what it does, before we put it out,” Sam whispered.

 

“I think we just found Mike,” Dean said.

 

-|-

 

It found and picked up the skull-pumpkin before lumbering down the hill.

 

They followed it at a healthy distance, with Dean carrying their duffel of weapons. It flickered and glowed in front of them, leading them along like an oversized and ghastly will o’ the wisp. It acted like it could see just fine and knew where it was going. It made it down to the road without falling, then took a right and began walking right down the center line.

 

Sam and Dean checked the road carefully before following, and then only on the extreme right, keeping close to the ditch in case they had to get back out of sight. They kept their guns out but held down; it hadn’t shown any further interest in them.

 

“This explains why no jack-o-lanterns,” Dean said. “You want a lit pumpkin on your porch while this guy is out on his rounds? ‘Cause instead of driving evil spirits off, I got a feeling that just waves the flag.”

 

“But what’s it want?” Sam said. “It’s probably not out looking for another head to put a pumpkin on. Whoever that is, he is the new head. If it goes on a big killing spree every year, everybody would clear out instead of just keeping their doors locked.”

 

“There’s nothing up there to show a summoning,” Dean said. “So if it’s remote, and it’s under someone’s control, then we gotta run into them sooner or later, right? It’ll head for them, or they’ll come to watch it roll heads.”

 

Sam checked the road behind them again. “And if it just gets up on its own, then it has to want something.”

 

“I don’t think we should babysit it until it takes a crack at whatever that is,” Dean said. “If it heads for the village, we’re gonna run out of chances to do something without plenty of people around. And I think we already know the locals are letting this go on.”

 

Sam made an impatient noise in the back of his throat. “If we take it down before we find out what’s actually going on, then we’re gonna miss something and this’ll just keep happening every year, maybe even if we destroy the patch.”

 

“Now is not the best time to hash this out, Sam,” Dean said. “It’s headed for town.”

 

“Now’s pretty much what we’re stuck with, Dean,” Sam said. “We don’t know what the hell happened to the Lautens, so it’s crazy to do anything without knowing what started this.”

 

“Skulls inside pumpkins, Sam,” Dean said. “Okay? That’s all we need to know, here. Whole new meaning for the term manolantern, leading the slowest marathon in history, right in front of us. We make a wish, blow him out, and torch the whole patch.”

 

It veered off the road in front of them and began heading up the driveway of one of the two older homes they’d seen earlier. The boys followed, closing the gap.

 

“I’m telling you,” Dean said. “Here we go.”

 

It approached the house without hesitation, put the pumpkin down and began pounding on the door with one fist.

 

“Trick or treat,” Dean said, raising the shotgun.

 

No one came to the door, but he wanted to wait until the thing moved away from the windows so he could get a clear shot with the salt and not risk hitting anybody inside if it took out the windows.

 

It kept pounding on the door.

 

“Okay, he’s trying to make a delivery,” Sam said. “He’s trying to give someone the damn pumpkin. This is some weird cycle, that’s all.”

 

“Then is he just choosing the nearest house?” Dean said. “Because I’d fuckin’ move, after the first time this happened.”

 

“Maybe that’s why the Lautens abandoned their house,” Sam said. “Or, everything up there is what’s left of the Lautens.”

 

“Pumpkin patch turned family burial plot?” Dean said. “One that just keeps on giving?”

 

“If everybody here knows about it and no one is willing to do anything about it, then it’s probably because there’s guilt,” Sam said. “Somebody killed that family, or they vanished to get away from something that happened here, and whoever was left behind in the first field ever planted around here adds one more body every year because they’re trying to fix it or get revenge.”

 

“That your best guess?” Dean said. “Right now, all I see is a monster knocking on doors and I don’t think he means well.” He raised his voice to a shout. “Mike! Mike Strickland!”

 

It stopped pounding on the door but didn’t turn to face them. The candle flickered wildly through stretched skin.

 

“Come on!” Dean shouted. “They’re not home, so leave it with a neighbor.”

 

It left the pumpkin where it was and headed straight for them.

 

“Good,” Dean said. “Let’s get this done.”

 

He waited until it got into the street before he opened fire on it. The salt seemed to have no effect.

 

Sam reluctantly put three silver bullets into it in quick succession, and it reacted to the impact but didn’t slow down. It didn’t have a heart to put the silver through.

 

Dean dropped the duffel and went for the flame thrower, lighting it up and then pacing a half-circle around the thing, spiraling in close enough behind to blast it from the back.

 

It went up perfectly, flames leaping straight up and engulfing the entire form. It went to its knees first, then prone in the street, the last of the flesh curling and blackening away from the ribs, exposing them to the flames. Grease and candle wax began to spread away from beneath.

 

Sam stepped further back and pulled the collar of his shirt over his nose. “So now that we’ve pretty much told everybody we’re here – ”

 

“Take the stuff and head for the car,” Dean said. “I’ll get the pumpkin.”

 

-|-

 

No one responded to the shots or the fire. They sat in the car and waited for nearly an hour.

 

With the pumpkin in the back seat.

 

Dean kept an eye on it through the rearview mirror, waiting for it to move. If it rolled across the seat, he’d take it out and torch it, too.

 

-|-

 

When they got back to the Relax Inn, there was a pumpkin sitting in front of the door to their room.

 

They kept their distance and waited to see if there were signs that someone had been in, or was still in, their room.

 

“They’re gonna try and make us eat the pie, aren’t they,” Dean said.

 

They approached it. Dean prodded it carefully with a foot.

 

It was made of some type of hardened foam material, and had a cute little ‘Welcome To Morton! Happy Halloween!’ tag dangling from the stem. When they looked, a couple of the other rooms had them by the doors, too.

 

Dean drop kicked it across the parking lot.

 

-|-

 

“We take it out of town,” Sam said. “Far enough that no one from here will be able to stop it, close enough that it’ll get a fast response. Peoria. We drop it off at...the coroner’s office, with a note about where the field is, and we let them take care of it.”

 

They were still searching the room out of caution. There was nothing about it that told them anyone had been in it. Not even housekeeping.

 

“It’s not staying in here with us, and if we leave it in the car it might escape,” Dean said. “So if we’re going, we’re going now, and it’ll make me happy because I’ve had it with this crazy ass place.”

 

They put the pumpkin in a bag in the trunk and left town.

 

-|-

 

The coroner’s office in Peoria was on East Seneca and had been closed since 4:30 that afternoon. All the other nearby businesses were closed by then, too, since it was after midnight by the time they got there. There were no visible security cams. They parked at the end of the block anyway.

 

Sam put gloves on and wrote a brief note on the back of a store flyer to go in the bag, and left it by the main entrance.

 

They sat in the car and stared at it for a little while. It didn’t move.

 

Dean got out and went to check it, just to be sure. The skull still grinned at him from inside the cracked shell of the pumpkin. He looked at it for a moment, waggled his head in indecision, then picked up the bag.

 

He used the butt of his gun to shatter the glass on the top half of the door only, then pitched the bag inside and headed for the car. An alarm began to blare from somewhere inside the building.

 

“Not taking any chances,” he said as he got in behind the wheel and got a glimpse of Sam’s wide-eyed, incriminating stare.

 

They parked several blocks away and waited. Sirens came and went in the still night air. Dean continued to bemoan the lack of coffee.

 

After about an hour, they drove by the coroner’s office again, and it was lit up with more cops than it should have been for nothing more than a broken window on Halloween night. The pumpkin had landed.

 

They drove further north, up to Davenport, and checked into a small motel just after 3am.  

 

-|-

 

The skull-pumpkin in Peoria hit the local news cycle just after 9, with the catchphrase ‘grisly holiday prank’ being thrown around with enthusiasm. Nothing about the note. The coroner was going to try and identify the remains.

 

They stayed put. Dean finally got his damn coffee, and they both slept for awhile. Sam started looking for another hunt. By the evening news, the pumpkinhead story ran again, but there was still nothing else to go with it. Online news didn’t turn anything up, either, about the remains right in the middle of Chaffer Road, or dozens of bodies planted standing upright.

 

“They’re out there,” Sam said. “They’re out there looking at the patch, trying to decide what to do. Or they’re still trying to find it.”

 

Dean shot him an annoyed look. “Or the Libby-lawyers are out there, covering it up. Maybe paying off the cops, the locals, you name it.”

 

Sam shrugged. “They’ll do something about it. And if they don’t, we will.”

 

“Got all the way until the festival next September,” Dean said. “Because, you know, I love going back and taking a second shot when there should only have been one.”

 

“Your way isn’t always perfect,” Sam snapped.

 

“Hey, fine, get defensive,” Dean said, tone level despite the words. “I wasn’t putting this on you. I didn’t wanna erase those people like they never existed. I just don’t think there’s justice to be had, on this one.”

 

Sam shook his head, flipped the channel away from the news, and went outside.

 

Dean thought about going after him for a moment, then flipped channels until he found a Ghost Hunters marathon on SciFi. Aaaaaaaall weekend. Damn, those guys just killed him.

 

He knew what day it was, what day it would be. It would never be easy. Sam had every right to be upset, but it wouldn’t change anything. They did the best they could with what they had, maybe sometimes better than they had any right to due to luck and skill and who knew what else. But none of it was ever going to make up for their parents, or for Jessica. Trying to make up for what anyone else had done to anyone else wasn’t going to clear that slate, either.

 

Dean was not going to say sorry, dude, the world sucks even if it was true. Sam didn’t need it.

 

Instead he watched that douchebag Brian bitch about not being able to find some of his equipment, and then the others bitched about him bitching, and then eventually someone hung around in the dark and said did you hear that?.

 

Then he went outside.

 

Sam was sitting on a raised cement curb in front of one of the empty parking spots, forearms braced on his knees, staring out across the lot.

 

“Dude,” Dean said, “can you believe there was a skull inside that fucking pumpkin?”

 

Dean watched Sam try not to smirk. Watched him fail.

 

“So awesome,” Dean said. “Gotta write this one in the journal.”

 

Sam nodded. “Never seen that one before. The Great Pumpkin turned out to be pretty real.”

 

“Give ‘em a week,” Dean said. “They’ll do what they’re gonna bother to do, and if it’s not enough, then we’ll take all the skulls, and a hell of a lot of pictures, and dump them in Katie Couric’s lap.”

 

Sam nodded again.

 

It would have to do.

 

-|-

 

They checked out a possible sighting of one of the Four Horsemen near Stratton, Nebraska, but it had turned out to be a really, really old bony guy riding around the countryside naked on a really old, bony horse.

 

“If the Four Horsemen were appearing, it would be a bigger deal than this,” Dean said. “Seriously, there’d be angel action, on that one. Cas would show up, maybe have an expression.”

 

He made sure Sam didn’t catch him glancing around after he said that. Damn angel listened a lot.

 

-|-

 

On the way back toward Morton, Dean got a message from Elwood.

 

“They found Mike,” he said. “Field dressed like a whitetail, burned to a crisp. ID in his pocket survived. Be weeks before DNA comes back, but they’re pretty sure it’s him. Thanks for tryin’ to find him, anyway.”

 

-|-

 

A week had significantly changed Chaffer Road. It was closed north of Queenwood and all the way up to where it ended at the 150.

 

They stared at the signs and barricades.

 

“Road work,” Sam said. “Huh.”

 

-|-

 

After dark, they were able to get close enough from adjoining fields to see the floodlights and hear the heavy machinery. The whole area was being dug up.

 

“Think there’ll be a witch hunt?” Sam said. “All makes it look like they’ve had a serial killer of the regular variety, up here.”

 

“Sure,” Dean said. “Someone’ll build a career off it, if they get a chance. I bet it all stays under the table, though. I wouldn’t want my town known for this.”

 

They left Morton. But they did look back.

 

-|-

 

The skull inside the pumpkin was identified by dental records as once having topped the shoulders of someone named Ian Sadly from Crescent, IL, last seen with friends at the Morton Pumpkin Festival in 2004.

 

-|-

 

Dean did not eat pumpkin pie once, that holiday season. Sam did, and offered it to him nonstop.

 

-|-

 

By the opening of the next festival, the entire area the patch had been in had been commemorated as the Lauten Family Memorial Park. It had gardens, and gave an in-depth overview of the area’s history via kiosks.

 

-|-

 

Three people vanished from the festival, but were later found hungover in a camper behind a gas station in Caldwell to the north.

 

-|- -|- -|-