This story is by Camille Simonds and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The pumpkin wasn’t orange. Tess wasn’t a pumpkin expert, but she was pretty sure pumpkins weren’t normally an iridescent shade of gray.
“People say it’s haunted”. Startled, Tess turned to see an elderly man hunched over beside her, motioning down the lane. Directing her gaze beyond the pumpkin nestled against a rotting log, she followed his gaze down the rutted lane to an old house fighting a losing battle with vines.
“Where’d you come from?” She pointed to the house. “Do you live here?”
The man smiled, suddenly less intimidating. “No one lives there now. Don’t like the ghosts.”
Tess rolled her eyes and looked back at the pumpkin.
“Why isn’t it orange?”
“What, the pumpkin? Legend says it only turns orange when someone new becomes a ghost.” He laughed. “Probably just moldy.”
Tess started moving down the lane, drawn toward the rustic beauty of the house.
“I haven’t seen you around before.” It wasn’t exactly a question, but Tess shook her head.
“Moved here yesterday. Little blue house down the road.”
“I know the one. You like it?”
Tess hesitated. There was no point in lying.
“It’ll get better. You’ll make a lot of friends when you start school.”
“It’s not that simple.”
They reached the porch, a mess of cobwebs clinging to the railing. Tess plopped down on the top step, cupping her face in her hands.
“You remind me of another little girl. Her hair was blonde though, not brown.”
She glanced up at the man; he was staring off into a distant place that Tess couldn’t see.
“Her favorite thing to do was play in the leaves. Like these everywhere now. She’d rake them up and jump in. Build houses, make leaf cakes…” his voice trailed off.
“Where is she now?”
The man didn’t answer for a little while, and when he did, his voice wasn’t steady.
“She couldn’t stay here any longer. She was too special.”
In the silence Tess picked at a tiny hole in her jeans.
“We’ll just move in a couple of months anyway. We always do. No point in making friends or getting a pet.”
“What kind of pet would you want to get?”
“A cat. I’d name it Pancake and we could be best friends.”
“My daughter loved cats too. You would’ve liked her.”
The sun was turning everything to a brilliant golden color.
Tess stood up slowly.
“I need to go. Mom said I had to be there for supper.”
“Let me show you something first.” The man motioned toward the house, a house that loomed dark in front of them. A shiver went down Tess’s spine, but she shrugged it off and followed the man through the door. As she stepped over the threshold, a sudden coldness washed over her, seeping into her veins and pulsing through her body. A scream pushed its way out of her throat, but ended in a whisper. “Mister? Please, I want to leave.” An eerie silence greeted her. She ran to the next room, but she was the only one there.
Running back to the front door, she tried to open the door, but couldn’t grasp the knob. As if her hand weren’t quite solid. As if…she flung herself at the window and peered down the lane.
The pumpkin was orange.