Everyone touched by these events was changed forever. 
  I was one of the lucky ones who got to make new memories, though I've never been able to bury the old ones.   

"Mom? Mommmm?"

It never fails to amaze me. One minute you're Ellie, a jaded teenager with pink hair, and a split second later you're Dr. Elliot Camerra, and someone's calling you 'mom.' Sweet Jesus.

Sometimes I think about that when I hear her calling me, soft and a little sleepy. I think about this small person that my husband and I made, with her own thoughts, her own future stretching out ahead of her. Mostly, though, I just drag myself up the stairs to see what she wants. At six, she already has that delicate, ladylike air about her that I could never quite manage, or never maybe never quite wanted to. Pink, gauzy dresses and stick-on earrings in a hundred different shapes and colors. This week she's royalty, and in the dim glow of her nightlight I see that she's still wearing the sequined princess hat that I made for her. 

"What's up, kiddo?"
"Mommy, would you read me a story? 'm not sleepy at all," she declares firmly, before stifling a yawn.
"What kind of story?"
"A scary one, like we read at school. It was about a bad witch who got all burned up."

A witch, huh? Sitting in the pink, dimly lit little room, holding one of my six-year-old's hands in mine, I find myself remembering one horror story in particular. It's similar to a thousand other stories played out in this imperfect world of ours. The only difference is that it happened to me, to Michael, to the rest of the kids on Mayflower Lane.

A 'normal childhood' is almost a rarity these days, but incredibly, that's what we had. Looking back, it seems remarkable that our little community remained relatively untouched for as long as it did. Our parents had good jobs, gardens, and just enough money for the occasional luxury. And while they were gossiping over fences, doing those mysterious 'grownup things,' us kids had the run of our neighborhood and the surrounding woods. We rode our bikes, skinned our knees, and dared each other into brave, pointless little schemes. 

As a self-proclaimed tomboy, cursed with a girly 'prettiness,' I usually ended up spearheading these ventures (much to my parents' chagrin, I'm sure). Our little gang usually included Jenny, Cheech, Michael, Caleb, and me, with Michael's little sister Ashley sometimes tagging along. Our games reflected everything, from what we were reading in school to our childish, exaggerated interpretations of the news our parents discussed over dinner. We made worlds for ourselves every evening until well after dark in the woods and fields of Mayflower Lane. For those few hours we could be pirates, spacemen, gangsters, Indians, or any of a hundred other things we could think of. A normal childhood can be a pretty exciting thing.

'The Giant Pumpkin Murders." Even the name, the pride and joy of some particularly inventive journalist, is absurd. And the events of those few months could have been taken directly from a cheap Hollywood thriller. I was fourteen when it started.

I was fourteen when Edvard and Bernice moved into the old house at the end of the street. For years I had believed privately that that house was haunted, and that, of course, only added to its allure. It certainly looked the part, with hollowed out rooms and that peculiar, sour smell of decomposition. Of course, eighth graders were too old to believe in ghosts, so I kept my theory to myself. Edvard and Bernice appeared in our lives so unexpectedly, so quickly, that they never really belonged in the same world as school days, homework, or bedtimes. They came at night, a withered old Lithuanian mother and son who had lived together for so long that their faces were almost indistinguishable. 

Michael was the first to see them. His mother, almost as curious about the new neighbors as us kids, paid a visit to the old house a few weeks after they arrived. As far as anyone could tell, they hadn't gone outside once since they'd arrived. The whole gang waited in the bushes outside to hear Michael's description of them, and of the house. We had all been inside at one point or another for dares, me probably more than the rest of them, but the sagging, faded building had an all new attraction as the den of these two adults, so utterly different from our own moms and dads. Michael came out with strange stories of jars filled with bits of animals.  He's the one who nicknamed Bernice 'The Butcher,' though I suspected he was making most of it up to impress us. After all, how many of the stories you invent to frighten yourself actually come true?  I determined then and there to meet Edvard and Bernice. They couldn't be as strange as Michael claimed — you meet people like that in stories, not in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

I first saw Edvard only a few days later. It was dark, just after sunset, and I was playing alone out in the big field near my house, ignoring my mother's calls. A pale, wide face floated up in front of me unexpectedly, and I almost screamed. The eyes were dark, half closed, and his skin was oily and translucent. Despite my determination not to be labeled a 'girl' in the eyes of my male friends, without a doubt the worst fate imaginable to a 14-year-old tomboy, I had to fight to keep from running when that gray, misshapen mask appeared in front of me. After a moment, though, I could make out the rest of his body. His black clothes blended almost seamlessly with the darkening meadow, creating the illusion of a ghostly visage that had frightened me. More to redeem myself in my own eyes than anything, I reached out to touch his paper-white cheek. Time had so warped and shrunk him that he was almost my height, and seemed suddenly less frightening. Without speaking, he reached one bony hand up and laid it on mine, before turning abruptly and walking away. I stood for a few minutes, wide-eyed by not really scared anymore, and watched him shuffle up the road.

I didn't tell anyone about my unexpected meeting with Edvard. I'm not really sure why—the strange, silent interaction seemed too precious and unusual to submit to my peers' pre-teen criticism and speculation, and I figured my parents would just tell me to stay away from the old house, which I had no intention of doing. Instead, I started following Edvard around whenever he came outside. Instead of getting annoyed, he seemed completely unaware of my presence. That didn't bother me, and soon the rest of the gang was following him on his daily walk to the rusting mailbox at the end of Mayflower Lane. Our parents told us he had Down's Syndrome and that we should be nice to him, but I don't think any of them even began to trust him until the day his pumpkin seeds arrived.

Edvard grew giant pumpkins. As far as any of us could tell, that was all he did, but he sure was good at it. From the moment his seeds arrived in the mail he began to open up to us kids, and soon we spent most of our spare time hanging around this strange, wizened little man, this thirty-year-old boy who still lived with his mother. That was when kids began to disappear.

Jenny disappeared first. None of us could quite believe it, because things like that never happen to you, to your friends. People just don't disappear. That's what the police thought too, and the woods and fields we had played with Jenny in for years were searched again and again. We discussed the matter with Edvard, but he was strangely uninterested. As far as we could tell, nothing but pumpkins ever interested Edvard. And his pumpkin had already gotten huge. 

Then Caleb was gone. I don't think the horror of any of this hit me until I saw my mother's gray, haggard face the day he didn't come home from the old house with us. That night I couldn't sleep, couldn't stop shaking. I sat in a corner of my room and decided, with the fragile self-importance of children, that it was up to me to solve this. 

I don't think I've ever been as frightened as I was that night, but I was also angry, so angry that my whole body felt hot. A few nights later I went out through my window. I don't remember much about what felt like an endless walk down our street. I was barefoot, and I could feel the damp pavement under my feet. I headed immediately for the old house at the end of the road, unsure what I planned to do, but convinced that the two Lithuanians had something to do with the disappearances. I'm not sure what I expected, but it wasn't the sight of the house sitting, peaceful and completely silent, in the moonlight.

I pushed open the little white gate surrounding Edvard's pumpkin patch, and stepped soundlessly onto the dark, moist loam. For a moment I stood looking at the giant fruit, the moonlight gleaming on the eerie, misshapen globe. Something caught my attention, a shape huddled in the corner of the garden, rocking slowly back and forth. It was Edvard, both arms wrapped around his legs as his twitched and muttered to himself. For some reason I thought of our first meeting, and my apprehensions faded away as I walked slowly towards him. His small, glinting eyes fell on me, and his muttering grew more agitated.

"What is it?" I whispered, kneeling on the soft earth. He reached one hand towards me, his long white fingers curling around a few strands of my long blond hair. His eyes closed slowly and his rocking gradually ceased, though his lips kept moving. I suddenly realize that the little man was almost paralyzed with fear.

"Now... run..." he said almost inaudibly, choking the words out. His eyes were still closed, and he looked so strangely peaceful that I reached out to touch his hands. They were still clenched, belying the confusion I could see on his face, and the knuckles were a ghostly white. His voice, low and guttural, startled me as he spoke again.


Soft and spidery, I felt two hands grasp my shoulders. I threw myself backwards, crying out as the hair Edvard had been grabbing was ripped from my head. I reached up to touch the sore spot, and my hand came away bloody. Shivering, I looked up into the cold, wire-thin face of Bernice. It took me a moment to realize that her face was twisted into a smile, an uneven, bloodless gash. She reached towards me, leaning down. Her hands looked like claws—I keep remembering that. I remember the sharp, earthy smell of the garden that night. The moonlight hitting her face from above hid her eyes in dark, sunken sockets. And I remember how, as her clammy hands brushed against my skin, Edvard threw himself at her with an animal whine. She staggered, a little off-balance, then shoved him bodily against the fence. His head hit it with a sickening crack and he collapsed instantly like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Bernice started dragging me towards the house, stunning me with a slap as I sunk my teeth into her hand. The last thing I saw was Edvard, crumpled in a corner of his garden, one white hand still clutching a few strands of my hair to his chest.

I woke to the bitter, fetid smell of decomposition. I was lying on my side in a darkened room, my head aching. I longed for it to be my safe, soft bedroom, and for a moment I savored the thought that it had been some vivid, horrible dream, but there were bits of straw poking into me, and a putrid stink in the air. 

"Can't be happening. Can't." I found my self whispering, over and over again, as if the words would somehow make it true. A bluish florescent light snapped on, and in the blinding glare I could just make out bars, blocking my vision. I was in a cage. The thought brought a sharp stab of raw panic, and for a moment I flailed against the bars hopelessly, until a low, croaking noise brought me back to myself. Bernice, looming larger than I remembered, was standing a few feet away. She was laughing.

She called me little one. That's another thing I keep remembering, how she used such an ordinary term of endearment. Always in the same sweet, scolding voice, just a little high-pitched. I remember that there was a jar in one of her hands as she walked up, laughing in a harsh, rasping screech. I found myself trying not to look at it, not completely sure why. She noticed, and pushed it up against the bars 

"Like my souvenir, do you? Pretty little thing." She was talking to me, but I couldn't hear anything beyond the vicious buzzing in my eyes. Inside the glass jar, gray and bloated, like some grisly seashell, was a human ear.

"What is it?" I asked, my hands shaking. I pleaded silently for there to be some other, innocuous explanation, something I could cling to. "Ah-ah, little one," she said, grinning and shaking a finger in some gruesome mockery of parental scolding, "Not what. Who."

Suddenly, I felt a sick, twisting, and above all helpless anger filling me again, mingled with an unshakable conviction that none of this was real. It couldn't be. They wouldn't let this happen. Whoever they were. I threw up, and as I was doubled over, splashing my disgust onto the dirty basement floor in a messy stream, Bernice moved closer to the cage.

"That's not very nice, little one. Ah-ah. You're going to have to clean that up." She wrapped her long, thin hands around the bars, watching me hungrily. I still couldn't speak, couldn't see anything but that jar with the gray, floating whorl of skin. With my head still down, I raised my middle finger towards her in a childish gesture of defiance, throwing out my small hand in a gesture she couldn't possibly misinterpret. She clicked her tongue, and I realized with a sudden, gripping fear that she was right beside me in the cage. She grabbed me by my outstretched finger, cold hands stronger than I had imagined. I squirmed and bit, but she ignored me completely. All her attention was on my hand, on my middle finger.

She pulled me up the stairs and finally came to a stop in the kitchen. I had gone limp, too exhausted to fight. She was bleeding where I had sunk my teeth into her arm, but it didn't seem to bother her. I wondered dully what she was going to do next, but couldn't summon even the energy to care. She brought my hand up to her mouth, rubbing a surprisingly soft cheek against my skin. Then, unexpectedly, she licked me. She ran her sticky wet tongue along my hand, from the wrist to the tip of my middle finger, then pinched a tiny fold of skin between her teeth. I tensed, closing my eyes and raising my shoulders, but she became suddenly very businesslike, and firmly held my hand flat on the table. Against the thick scarred butcher block table.

The sun was just rising, and it gleamed coldly off the blade of the little meat cutting saw she was holding. Everything was too sharp, too strange to be real, and I couldn't stop expecting to wake up. But as she began to lower it towards my hand, as I squirmed ineffectively to get away.

The light glinted off the little butterfly ring I always wore around that finger. Michael had won it at a fair, and he had given it to me. Not to Jenny, not to that pretty little Sue who lived two streets over, but to me. I was both scornful, and quietly, secretly, ecstatic. And somehow, each morning, I forgot to take that pretty little butterfly ring off. I wore it every day until that nightmarish night with Bernice.  You could say I wore it the rest of my life.

I had time to remember all that as she moved the blade towards my exposed hand. The cut was messy, intentionally so—I suspect Bernice could cut with a surgical accuracy when she wanted to. She hadn't this time, and I fell back onto the kitchen floor with warm, sticky blood gushing onto my shirt, my face, everywhere. A few spots had landed on Bernice's fingers, and she gently licked them off, holding up her horrific prize for inspection. I could just stare at my hand, at the hot blood spilling onto the grimy kitchen floor, pooling around me. I couldn't believe there was so much.

I didn't even struggle as she pushed me down the stairs, and back into the cage. I was shaking uncontrollably, and still bleeding freely, but something in the corner of the little pen grabbed my attention. It was the bright orange shirt that Caleb had worn almost every day. The one he had worn the day he disappeared. It had that slightly tattered look that favorite clothes tend to acquire, but it also had something they don't, usually — bloodstains. I staggered over, and underneath were more clothes, belonging to Jenny and Caleb. I could smell the rose-scented soap Jenny had always insisted on using. And it was right then that I knew they were gone. Jarred.  The room grew dark as I passed out on the stone cold floor.

When I awoke I was on my feet again.  My wrists were tied together and I was dangling helplessly from a hook in the ceiling.  There was a loose cloth gag in my mouth and I worked my tongue against it trying to push it out of the way. I remember hearing Bernice tottering around, then some interaction taking place upstairs. I could pick out Michael's voice, and tried to scream to him, but I could only whisper. "Please," I said over and over again. Please don't hurt Michael, please let me be wrong about Caleb and Jenny, please get me out of this nightmare. A thousand pleases.

Dimly, through a thickening fog, I heard someone drop like a log on the kitchen floor above me.  After an almost unbearable wait, I saw Michael walk come slowly down the stairs. I tried to call to him, but couldn't choke the words out. I can't  tell you how he got me out of the cage, how we escaped from that horrible house, or even what my parents' faces looked like when I walked in my front door. 

I know all that happened, but everything is blurred past recognition in my own memory. I know that Edvard had been arrested, but I was able to clear him. I know that I ended up marrying Michael, and that we each struggle with our memories of that night. I know that Bernice went straight to jail, where she had nothing but prison bars to wrap those long, thin fingers around. And I know that, afterwards, the rest of Mayflower Lane tried so hard to pretend that everything was back to normal, that it was, almost.

"Pleeeease, mommy?"

My daughter's voice brings me back to the present. I look into her eyes, shining in the dim light, and softly rub the stump of one of my fingers with my other hand. I shake my head, trying again to bury the sad little curl of skin, the stained pile of clothing, under the sweetness of my daughter's sleepy smile. And I almost succeed, this time.

"No, sweetie, I'm not reading any scary stories tonight. You don't want to have bad dreams."

The world is scary enough, baby.

GrouchyOldMan encouraged me to try adding another perspective to the story, so blame him...  :-) Milgracias to my mentor Momomom for her support...