gathering about Pumpkin House in silent gray folds. Standing on
the edge of the veranda, Kim closed her eyes and took a deep breath
of the heavy evening air. Had she done the right thing, she wondered.
She had wanted to look for the missing piece of her history, her
great-aunt Emily, who had died mysteriously when still in the
bloom of youth.
understood why her mother refused to talk about Emily. "I
won't talk about nonsense," her mother always said, "I
refuse to believe in vampires..." Her mother would refuse,
but she would look troubled. "Think of good things,"
her mother would say, "Emily made the best pumpkin pie, and
that's what I want to remember." The best pumpkin pie, but
the recipe had gone to the grave with her.
So Kim had
come to look through the library and the town records of this
old town, to stare at the grave marker where Emily was buried.
It had been a six hour drive, but now she felt only dread and
fear. Should she have listened to the inner voice that warned
her to drive past the unlit inn?
At the first
sight of the shuttered house, almost obscured by
swaying trees, her instinct had told her to turn back. The only
light came from a line of pumpkins, their expressions so ferocious
that she wondered what evil hand had picked up the knife that
had cut into the orange flesh. She had seen nothing but woods
for the last few hours, and knew she'd find no other place to
stay, so she drove towards the darkened house, shuddering as she
passed the pumpkins. Don't be silly, she said to herself, trying
to ignore the fact that there were no other cars parked in the
drive. She shoved away the premonition of evil.
Another shudder raced through
her when she pushed open the creaking front door of the inn. The
hall was dark, lit only by a single candelabra that stood under
an blackened oil painting of an unsmiling young woman. She stared
at the painting. The mouth was pinched, one eye was larger than
the other, the hair drawn tightly back.
"Hello, " she called,
"hello, is anyone here." No one answered.
Kim heard a creak and the
clatter of metal hitting metal. She whirled, and her eye fell
on a side table where she saw a key lying on a metal tray. That
wasn't there when I came in, she thought, but she walked to the
table. Under the key was a note written in a spidery hand. 'Take
me,' said the note, 'Room six. Top of stairs.' Her hand hovered
over the key. Did she want to pick it up? She thought again of
the long drive to this remote place.
Slowly she climbed the stairs
of the unlit hallway. Old photographs lined the walls, the faces
pinched and scowling, the same expression as the pumpkins in the
drive. She walked past them slowly feeling the stares of their
eyes which seemed to follow her as she groped up the stairs.
Room six was at the top of
the stairs. Kim put down her suitcase and started to put the key
in the lock. Before the key was even in the slot, the door opened
as if pulled by an unseen hand. Moonlight streamed into the darkened
room, falling on a small table, lighting a small stuffed owl whose
eyes glowed yellow in the night. Unnerved, Kim stepped back. A
gust of wind blew the curtains and she thought she saw the outline
of a form hidden in the heavy velvet folds.
Forgetting her suitcase ,
Kim ran stumbling down the stairs, past the eyes, tripping on
fraying carpet. At the bottom of the stairs, she stopped. She
had to find someone. "Hello, hello, is anyone here, please,
is anyone here?" At the end of the hall was a closed door,
but orange light seeped through the crevice at the bottom. Groping
in the darkness, she approached the door.
Slowly she pushed the door
open. Lit by the eerie glow of carved pumpkins, Kim gasped to
see a large dining room littered with pumpkin pies. They covered
the tops of a small refrigerator and were squashed side by side
on a large hutch. They were piled, one on top of another, on a
sideboard. There must be hundreds of them, she thought to herself.
Another note read 'help yourself.' None of the pies had been touched,
Kim noticed, though a large knife, covered in pumpkin, lay next
to the food. She was hungry, but she shrank away from the food.
The door to the veranda was
open and Kim thought that air would help her steady herself. She
gripped at the railing of the porch and took deep breaths of the
night air. From across the lawn she heard a whimpering cry. Squinting,
she looked into the deep woods that surrounded the large old house.
"I am Ugolino, Count
of Alighieri, " said a voice from the shadowed eaves of the
The speaker stepped forward.
The dark clouds obscuring the moon parted briefly, and Kim saw
an ashen, hollow eyed figure swathed in a dark cape. She shrank
away from him, her only thought one of escape.
"There is no escape,"
said Ugolino, as if he read her mind. "Your tires have been
slashed and the road is empty. If you value your life, you will
follow me and do as I say."
Kim took a deep breath. The
clear night air steadied her. She had come to solve the mystery
of her great-aunt Emily, not to take orders from a living ghoul.
Count whatever he called himself. She remembered her mother brushing
away the thought of Emily and vampires as silly.
"Now just a minute there,
Count. I have no intention of doing what you tell me, and if my
tires are slashed, well, I'll just walk out. I want to know what
kind of a prank this is, and I want to know now."
"This is not a prank.
Your life is in danger. I beg of you to come with me without protesting."
"I'm not going anywhere
unless you tell me where you want to go."
Ugolino was silent for a moment.
"I am taking you to the kitchen in the basement. You must
bake the perfect pumpkin pie or you will die. To help you, I have
prepared 700 pounds of pumpkin. I am your friend."
She stared at him briefly.
He was not lying about preparing pumpkin, she thought, because
his hands were stained, his cape smeared, and his hair so stiff
with pumpkin fibers that it stood up in an orange burst around
his ashen face. Kim looked at him and thought she saw kindness
in his haunted eyes. Could she trust him, she wondered? She turned
to look at the deep woods. A silver figure moved in the shadows.
said, "there is no time." An owl hooted in the woods.
Without speaking, she nodded her frightened assent.
Kim followed Ugolino back
into the house.. They passed into the dining room, and she saw
that a large pile of pumpkin pies had disappeared.
"She eats ravenously,"
said Ugolino. "Malignant is she, so that the craving of her
pumpkin appetite is fed, and after food is hungrier than before.
Now come, there is no time to waste."
Ugolino picked up a lit pumpkin
and opened the small door that led to the basement. A stench more
foul than a slaughterhouse assaulted Kim's nose, but she followed
him into the rank and fetid stairwell. The stone walls on the
side of the steps were thick with slime The rotting wood of the
stairs splintered under her feet. Kim paused. Why was she doing
The door clicked shut behind
Too late, she thought, too
They wound down a long spiral
staircase until they came to the dirt floor of the basement. Squinting
in the darkness, Kim was able to make out a pile of bones and
a dust-covered skull heaped in a corner.
"Alas," said Ugolino,
"all that remains of the Duke of Prosciutto. "It was
pride that killed him. He was too proud of the salt he used so
he used too much. I hope you have no such pride," he added
They continued on led by the
orange glow of the pumpkin. As they passed through the hallway,
she heard the scurry of rats. Ugolino raised his pumpkin, shining
the light in the corner where she saw the half-eaten corpse of
a woman, her face gnawed away. The smell from that corner was
putrid and thick.
"Ah, poor thing,"
said Ugolino, " she was very beautiful. That is the Countess
of Gorgonzola. But she was too lusty, and too reckless. She loved
cheese and said she didn't care, she would put it in the pumpkin
pie. Take heed if you are lustful. "
He walked on with Kim stumbling
"You have arrived at
your destination," said Ugolino, stopping before a small
door with a sign written in a cramped, spidery hand.
Here must thou
every fear perforce neglect,
Here must perforce be killed all cowardice.
Kim looked at
the words and stiffened with determination. She would not end
up in the corner of this basement for the rats to gnaw on. Ugolino
pushed the door open , and a burst of light from a massive glowing
furnace nearly blinded Kim. She stepped into the room where she
would have to fight for life itself. It was a kitchen of sorts.
There were freezers, refrigerators, stove: there were sacks of
flour, large containers of spices, a deep larder stocked with
bottles of whiskey and bourbon. A massive table in the center
of the room was thick with flour. Vats of cooked pumpkin littered
safe here for a while," said Ugolino, " and so I can
tell you this tragic story of jealousy and revenge."
was a schoolmate of your great-Aunt Emily. Gertrude was beautiful.
She had amber hair and eyes the color of new grass in the spring.
She was also very brilliant, never having gotten less than a perfect
score in any her studies. She was the only child in her family,
and as Gertrude's intelligence and beauty blossomed, her mother
became increasingly jealous. Gertrude went to school in the morning
and returned in the afternoon to obey her mother's dictates. And
her mother dictated. On the coldest, snowiest day of winter, she
would order Gertrude to drag all the carpets outside to beat them
until they were clean. On the hottest day of the year she would
send her to the basement to scrub the floor. Gertrude bore it
all. The one thing she could not tolerate was that they were alone
On the day after
a holiday, Gertrude would listen to the other girls talk about
about how they helped their mothers fix turkey stuffing, or mashed
potatoes. She was eaten with jealousy, and it was your great aunt,
Emily who Gertrude envied most."
Kim cut in. "My mother told me that Emily was shy, and that
when she died they found poems she had written and stored away
in a trunk."
true, said Ugolino. Emily was shy and she did write poems, but
she was a dickens on a pie. It was her holiday job to make the
pumpkin pie which became famous throughout the town. All the girls
loved it and they all went to Emily's house, just to have a small
sliver of her pie. Year after year, Gertrude would listen to the
girls talk. Her mouth would salivate, and with every drop of saliva,
envy would grow. As would her teeth. Year after year, and no one
noticed it at first, but every year Gertrude's eye teeth grew
year, Gertrude could stand no more. It was Thanksgiving and she
begged her mother for pumpkin pie. Her mother promised something
better than Emily's pie. For once Gertrude felt loved.
But when desert
came, her mother brought forward a pie made of brussels sprouts
and brown rice, baked in a unflavored egg custard.
Rage broke within
Gertrude and her teeth grew to fang proportions. She picked up
the pie and smashed it on the dining room table then drove her
newly proportioned teeth into her mother's jugular. Her mother
All the demonic
forces of hell were loosed within the small town. People everywhere
heard howling from the woods as the evil forces woke. Gertrude
flew to Emily's house, just as your poetry loving aunt was about
to cut into her pie. Gertrude grabbed the pie from the table and
ate it in one loud slurping inhalation. Then she ran at Emily,and
drove her fangs into Emily's neck.
Ever since then,
the forces of hell assemble at this time of year and Gertrude
is unleashed upon the town. The only way to stop her is to find
Emily's recipe for pumpkin pie. Many have tried. Many have failed.
Many have met with death. Now it is your turn. If you find the
secret, Gertrude will die this night. If you fail, she will drink
mother cooked the pies, not me."
over a large bowl of cooked pumpkin.
prepared several crusts which are in the refrigerator, and I have
cooked these 700 pounds of pumpkin. Every conceivable spice is
here. It is up to you to find the combination."
Kim looked around
the basement kitchen. How could she do this? What did she know
about pumpkin pie? She thought of the great pies her mother used
to make. Why, oh why, hadn't she asked her mother for the recipe?
And now her life hung in the balance. She turned to Ugolino.
me an apron...."
Ugolino handed Kim an apron.
It was a white bib apron, oh so dimity-sweet.
"Now what am I going
to do with that? " said Kim.
"Wear it in the spirit
of your great-aunt Emily," said Ugolini, "and remember
that she was the dickens on a pie. Know, too, that she died for
"And I may die for truth,"
said Kim, "and the search for truth requires a heavier apron."
She tossed the ruffled apron
over the end of the table. Ruffles! And at a time like this. She
looked at the table full of ingredients, an alchemists dream,
all they needed was precision balance. Kim knew that only logic
could guide her now. But was there any logic to a ghoul who slurped
her food so fast that she almost drank it? Kim's eye fell on the
row of bottles in front of her. Bourbon, rum, whiskey. She tried
to remember her mother's pies of all the years past. Didn't her
mother make a pie with bourbon one year? Or was it rum? She turned
"Has anyone put rum in
a pie before?"
"No," said Ugolino.
He frowned. "Those are my bottles, for me to imbibe when
this night is over, and desperation clutches me."
"Well, you won't need
it, and I'm using it," said Kim.
Kim began mixing spices,
pumpkin, cream. And then she poured in a discreet 1/4 cup of rum.
She stirred her mix, combining well, of course. Then she paused
and began to laugh. She picked up the bottle of rum, and poured
the entire bottle into the mix.
"Spirits for the spirit,"
she said. "I am
going to get Gertrude so drunk that she'll forget she's a ghoul.
Now, be a good boy and put these in the oven. "
Ugolino threw his cape back
and scurried to obey. Then he took one bottle and hid it behind
a vat of pumpkin.
Kim was thinking. "Do
you have ice cream?"'
Ugolino was so perplexed that
color came into his face, but he nodded yes, and brought her ice
cream. In no time, Kim had pumpkin ice cream pies in the refrigerator
She continued, making pie
after pie, commanding a willing Ugolino to put pies in, take pies
out, pile pies up. The dank basement turned aromatic with every
possible combination of mace, ginger, allspice, clove, nutmeg.
The vapors around the room grew sweet with sugar, molasses and
honey, and intoxicating with the smell of rum and bourbon. Ugolini
looked sadly at the bottles lined for his use at the end of the
night. They were empty. He took a deep breath of the aromatic
basement air. "Inebriate of air, am I," he said, the
sadness in his eyes deepening.
The clock struck three. "Gertrude
must be fed," said Ugolini. As he spoke, Kim heard a noise
behind her. She turned to face the ghoul. Looking at the apparition,
Kim lost her fear. This ghoul was her enemy, possibly her killer,
but this was a beautiful ghoul indeed, her forehead of amplest
blond, her cheek like beryl stone. How tragic, thought Kim, that
this beauty was condemned to walk the night airs looking for prey.
Kim stepped back and watched as Gertrude consumed the first of
the pies, this one laced with rum. With one long happy slurp,
she downed the pie, then put her hands over her mouth to hide
her fangs. She laughed a long, shrill, laugh that derided Kim's
effort to get her drunk. She downed pie after pie after pie, until
finally, Ugolino brought the ice cream cake from the refrigerator.
And then the miracle happened.
Not able to drink a frozen
pie, Gertrude shoved it into the side of her mouth and bit down
with one long, hungry fang. As she bit, the fang broke and tumbled
to the the floor, its enamel glowing with light. Startled, Gertrude
put her hand to her mouth to feel a normal sized tooth. She began
to tremble. She picked up the rest of the cool pie and bit down
hard with the other fang. Only the slightest tip of the fang fell
to the floor. Gertrude covered the fang, looked at Kim and began
to cry. Kim looked at Gertrude, stuck with that fang which was
cosmetically very unattractive. Kim, too, began to cry.
But they knew it was not over.
One of them had to die. Gertrude put her hand to her mouth and
felt her teeth. The tips were growing again, preparing her for
battle. In an extraordinary gesture, she reached for the white
ruffled apron and handed it to Kim. In long drawn out syllables,
she whispered, "E...mi...ly."
Puzzled, Kim accepted the
apron. The spirit of great-aunt Emily was in this apron. Somehow,
she didn't know why, what could it have been, Kim had felt Emily's
presence around her throughout the entire evening, but now Gertrude
was giving her a hint, an advantage. She put the apron on, and
suddenly remembered the lines of a poem that had been stashed
away in Emily's trunk.
morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town."
Was that the
secret? Then she remembered another poem..
flavors cheer departing guests
With banquetings to be,
So spices stimulate the time
Till my small library."
What did this
mean? Kim closed her eyes and let Emily's gentle spirit enter
her. When she opened her eyes she spoke with authority.
go out to the bog," she said to Ugolino. "And I must
make my own crust. None of this pre-made stuff, for heaven's sake,
that's for amateurs."
Kim set to work
again, but this time she browned nuts in the oven, and when she
rolled the pie dough she sprinkled it with spices. Ugolino returned
from the bog with fresh cranberries which Kim chopped and lightly
cooked. Once again, Kim assembled an array of pies. She counted
them. There were forty, each with its own minute difference in
Kim was ready
for the adversary. She and Ugolino stood waiting.
returned, her hand was over her mouth. Kim knew that she was hiding
fangs that had grown back to their full neck-piercing splendor.
Unconsciously, she put her hand to her neck.
slowly, as if she knew that Kim would fail and she would be forced
to kill again. When she reached the pies with the spiced crusts,
her fangs began to shrink, her power to dissolve. Gertrude would
die without her fangs.
As she took the
last bite, she knelt before Kim, lifted the hem of the apron,
put it to her face and began to intone
rack can torture me
My soul's at liberty.
Behind this mortal bone
There knits a older one."
She wept into
the edge of the apron, using one dimity ruffle to wipe her eyes.
"That was a poem," she said. She stood in front of Kim.
Her fangs were gone.
"Now I die,"
she said. And then she smiled, a radiant smile with a hundred
years of dawn in it. "That was a poem," she said. "A
poem. I wrote a poem. Just like Emily. "
Her spirit rose,
grew thinner and thinner, melding into the aromatic vapors of
the basement until she disappeared.
Kim stood motionless,
clutching the edges of the apron. She had found great-aunt Emily.
nose had grown redder throughout the evening, rushed to look behind
the empty vat of pumpkin for his hidden bottle of bourbon.
From deep in
the woods, a voice was heard, crying happily,