lb_lee: A pencil sketch of me drawing/writing in my sketchpad. (art)
[personal profile] lb_lee
This story was prompted by [ profile] rolodexaspirin, who introduced me to the concept of vampire pumpkins.  This story ended up longer than any other writeathon story to date, and it was sponsored by Michael Sondberg Olsen, Neil Mitchell, Roman Esther Garcia, PLUS the bonus wordcount; you guys racked up 500 extra words, which is lucky for me!  Happy Spookathon, everyone!

The Demon Mother

There was a little boy in the woods, covered in mud and with long, tangled hair.  He appeared as startled to run into a stranger in the middle of the woods as Perfection was, but completely unafraid—a surprise, considering that she had horns, claws, and stripes.

“Hello,” Perfection said.

“Hi,” the boy said, and he smiled at her.

Perfection blinked.  She didn’t have much experience with children, never mind wild ones.  She smiled hesitantly back, and called over her shoulder, “Hey, Reverend?”

But when Alpert came out from behind the trees, still belting his pants, the boy’s eyes went huge, and his tiny mouth opened to release a bloodcurdling shriek: “MAMA!”

Out of the bushes lunged an enormous, rippling black shroud with a shriveled white face.  Perfection reflexively flinched, but it completely ignored her and hurled itself at Alpert with a raspy screech.

Alpert reached for his chalk, but Perfection was faster.  She leapt at the shadow, dug her claws in… and found herself grappling with something that smelled of dust and death and weighed practically nothing.  It disintegrated into black powder in her hands and with a whoosh of wind, fled into the woods like a shadow, taking the boy with it.

“What was that?” Perfection asked, sniffing around.  No good; it was gone.

He hadn’t moved from his spot, only held his chalk in one hand and rubbed his chin with the other. “My next job, I presume.”

“Nobody likes a smartass, Reverend.  You have no idea.”

He gave her a dry look and mopped his nose. “I would’ve said she was a rage-spirit, but they don’t care for children.  And I didn’t get much better a look than you.”

He coughed, and Perfection frowned.

“I’m fine,” he said.

“Sure, Reverend.” It’d been over a week since they left the Angel of Joy for good, and he still looked awful.

Over their heads, thunder rumbled.  No time for a diagram or a search; they had to get into town.  No more sleeping in the cold and damp, surrounded by rotting leaves and dripping mist; Perfection was determined to get Alpert into a warm bed for once.

They were lucky and made it in before the weather hit.  The first farmer they found made a double take when she saw Perfection, but her expression was one of deep relief, rather than fear.

“Are you an exorcist?” She asked Alpert.  When he nodded, her weathered face split into a grin and she stepped forward to shake Alpert’s hand.

“Well, doesn’t that beat all!  I was praying for one all day!  Haha, have I got a job for you!”

“Is it the rage mother?” Perfection asked. “Because we already met her.”

The farmer froze.  Her smile vanished.

“I wouldn’t mention Adele around here.” Her voice was quiet and grim. “Forget her, that’s my advice.”

Perfection frowned. “But—”

“I said forget it!  You don’t want to get involved in that.  Besides, we’ve got much more pressing problems here.” In long strides, she crossed a green field and led them to a small house, where she threw open the door, exposing most of the interior. “Look!”

Inside was a large pumpkin, frantically attempting to rearrange the furniture.  It was not succeeding.

“Ah,” Alpert said knowingly. “You left your harvest late.”

“The whole blooming crop!  Two days, I leave them, two, and look at them!  Do you know how hard it is to sell vampire pumpkins?  I couldn’t give them away!  My fall sales are what makes or breaks me, come winter!”

“Well, I can certainly solve that.  By tonight, they’ll be proper gourds again.” With a sniffle, Alpert began removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves.

Perfection stayed staring at the pumpkin.  She’d never seen a squash try to move a table before.  It was a little pathetic.  She turned to Alpert, but he seemed completely unperturbed by the situation.

“This seems ordinary enough, my dear, so I shouldn’t need your assistance for now.  Would you mind going into town for me, seeing if anyone else needs us?” He gave her a significant look.

Perfection paused, then grinned.

“Of course I will,” she purred.

He smiled back and scratched her horns fondly. “Good girl.  Take your time and report back if you find anything.”

She nodded, and bounded out to go digging for gossip on the rage mother—on Adele.

The people in market square were less phlegmatic about demons than the beleaguered farmer, stopping dead and staring at her.  Parents clutched their children.  Wives clutched their husbands.

Perfection gave them her most dazzling smile.  Be nice, she told herself.  Think of the nice, warm bed. “Hi!  I’m with the exorcist.  What can you tell me about Adele?”

It was as though winter had come early.  The townspeople pulled back, avoided looking at her, hurried away.  They were afraid, she could tell… but not of her, it appeared.

Perfection frowned.  The rage mother had certainly had shock value, but she hadn’t seemed particularly interested in fighting.  Surely if she had the townspeople in such terror, they’d be flocking for an exorcist.  What was the deal?

Besides, she hated to be ignored.

She drew herself up to her full height, inflated her mighty chest, and raised her voice.

“What about the boy in the woods?  Adele’s son, right?  What about him?”

They were outright rushing to get away from her now, while still moving at a brisk walk, as though not wanting to get caught at actually fleeing.  One man seized Perfection’s arm from behind.

“Who told you about Adele?” He hissed.

He was a strong man, but Perfection didn’t like being grabbed.  She wrenched her arm out of his grip, not bothering to hide her strength. “I met her.”

“Well, shut up about it!  He’ll hear y—”

A voice boomed behind them. “Who saw Adele?”

The crowd contracted away from her.  The lone brave man gave her a dirty look, then disappeared into the crowd.

Perfection turned to see a large, angry priest, dressed in purple.  She tried to keep her smile. “I did.  What can you tell me about her?”

Perfection found Alpert on his hands and knees with cloth shoved up his dripping nose, drawing a chalk diagram on the floor and studiously ignoring the pumpkin, who seemed annoyed at the interruption in its attempts at interior design and was attacking him.  Well, bumping into him.

Perfection grabbed it and tucked it under her arm, where it hissed and jabbed her with its stem.

“Thank you.  Any word on Adele?” He asked her.

“Do I!  I met her husband and the kid’s dad.  Priest.  Real prize.”

Alpert’s face betrayed nothing, but he paused in drawing, and his shoulders tensed.  He sighed. “Of course.”

“According to him, she kidnapped the kid and made off with him a while back.  He wouldn’t give me a strict date, and he wouldn’t tell me how she ended up… well, like that.  He wants his kid back.”

“You don’t sound like you believe him.”

“I don’t.  The guy reeks of excess, and the entire town is petrified of this guy.  And you said so yourself, rage-spirits don’t take care of children, usually.”

Alpert sighed. “No, they don’t.”

“By the way, bastard tried to cleanse me.”

Alpert smiled. “And how did that work out?”

“Badly.” She winced. “And I… might have ruined our chances at a bed for the night.  He didn't--”

“Didn’t I tell you to mind your own businesses?”

They turned.  The farmer had returned, mud plastered to her boots and a wet pillowcase in one hand.  Judging by the sounds emanating from within, she’d captured another of her wayward pumpkins.

“I beg your pardon?” Alpert asked.

“The boy’s better off in the woods,” the farmer snapped, pitching the pillowcase over a ceiling beam and tying it. “Everyone knows that, but now, because you can’t keep your fool mouths shut—”

“If you’d told us in the first place—” Perfection started.

Alpert raised a hand.  He looked tired and sick, and he had a handkerchief hanging from his nose, but they both went silent.

“Perfection, does he know where we’re staying?”

“No.  I ditched.”

“Good girl.  That gives us time.” He turned to the farmer. “You’re willing to keep him as your priest?”

“Look, way out here, he’s the only one in town the weather gods talk to.  You think I want heavenly fire and hail to rain on my house for getting in his business?  I got kids, hands to look after.  It’s none of my business.  The woman was a mad man-hater anyway, even before she ended up dead.  She probably just took the kid to spite the priest.”

Alpert and Perfection exchanged a glance.  Perfection remembered the look of terror on the boy’s face when he saw Alpert, the way he had instantly, eagerly fled into the rage mother’s shroud without a second thought.  She remembered how unperturbed he was by the sight of her.

Perfection’s tail lashed the floor and she tossed the pumpkin at the farmer. “If you like him so much, how about he unvampirize your stupid pumpkins?”

The farmer caught the pumpkin (who had gone suspiciously docile once the argument started) and slung it into another sack around her waist. “He’s a weather priest, not a blooming exorcist!  Things were perfectly fine the way they were, and look at you getting all self-righteous.  You don’t know what happened, and you don’t got to live here.  I do, and—”

“I’ll take care of the priest,” Alpert said calmly. “And Adele.  As you said, we have more pressing matters: your crops.  You’ve done good work catching those two, so if you could continue…”

The farmer looked at him incredulously.  Her fists were clenched and a vein was throbbing in her damp forehead.

Alpert raised his eyebrows and lowered his gaze. “The sooner they’re caught, the sooner I can exorcise them, and the sooner we’ll be off your property.”

The farmer ground her teeth, slung the second sack over the beam, and stomped out. “Travelers!” she hissed, and slammed the door behind her.

Perfection spun on Alpert. “You’re not going to exorcise her stupid vampire pumpkins, are you?”

Alpert went back down on his hands and knees with a wheeze. “Of course I am.  We need the money.”

“But she just let—”

Alpert slammed his hand to the floor. “Of course she lets terrible things happen,” he snapped. “They all let terrible things happen.  They are small and afraid, awash in a dangerous, incomprehensible world, and letting this woman’s crops rot and rearrange her furniture won’t help a damn thing!”

Perfection had never heard him raise his voice before.  He couldn’t maintain it; he lapsed into a fit of coughing.

“And don’t worry,” he rasped. “I’ll take care of Adele.”

“And what do I do?”

He smiled at her and though she’d always known he was at least fifty, for the first time, he looked old to her.  Though it was against her nature, she felt a pang of regret.

Then he handed her a sack and the feeling vanished.

“You’re a sick man, Reverend,” she said.

“Good luck catching pumpkins, dear,” he told her sweetly. “And don’t let them near the other squash; they’re mortal enemies.”

She rolled her eyes.  Of course they were.

She had to give the possessed crops credit.  What they lacked in intimidation, intelligence, and dignity, they more than made up for in sheer aggravation.  They rolled away at high speeds, or flapped into the air with their leaves, forcing her to get down on all fours and chase them across the muddy fields, or leap into the air to catch them.  Once she got her hands on them, they’d smack her in the face with their leaves, or try and jab her with their vines, making vegetative sounds of fury the whole time.  Eventually, though, she and the other farm workers developed a strategy, gathering together to herd the crops into the barn, then letting a few of the more nimble people, including Perfection, rush in to grab them.  The produce eventually caught on and started hiding, but the red on their stems always gave them away.

It only took a few hours, but it was dirty work, especially there, in the wet forest climate.  By the time they were finished, everyone’s clothes were covered in mud and stuck to them with the damp.  Sticky and grouchy, they hauled the sacks, pillowcases, handbags, and baskets into the house, where Alpert had finished his diagram.

Even with the size of the room and the diagram, it took four rounds of exorcism to cover them all, especially since the pumpkins had to be kept away from the other squash.  By the time they were done, Alpert had gone ghastly pale, but they had gotten paid.

The farmer was cold but civil, and rushed them out of the house as quickly as possible.  Perfection glared at her as they left, but she merely turned away to usher her children in for dinner.

Alpert’s cough had worsened, perhaps from all the chalk dust, and outside, it drizzled.  Perfection took his pack and added it to her own.  She could smell rain in the air.

“So what are we going to do about the priest?” She asked.

“Avoid him,” Alpert replied with a grimace. “I’m not in a position to fight a weather shaman, and you’re hardy, my dear, but I don’t care to test your resilience against lightning.”

“Then what are we going to do about Adele?”

He smiled and held up a small leather pouch. “I’m so glad you asked, my dear.”

Perfection walked through the woods, feeling wet pine needles and moss under her bare feet.  Her breath fogged and rain dripped down her skin, but she was immune to the cold.

“Adele?  Adele?  I’m here to help!”

Even with her demonic night vision, it took a while to find the dead woman.  She was strung over tree branches like a shroud, wrapping her child within a dark cocoon to protect him from the cold and rain.  She hissed a little at Perfection’s approach, then calmed when she saw Perfection was a demon.

Up close, she appeared to be a desiccated corpse of a woman, flattened and wrapped in shadows.  She held one skeleton finger to her parchment lips.

“Ssh,” she said, and gave a significant look to her sleeping boy’s face.

Perfection nodded then held up the leather pouch. “The priest is looking for you.  I brought you this.”

The dead woman extended her neck on a cord of vertebrae, carefully looked the pouch over, sniffed it, licked it.  She looked Perfection over with beady eyes, wary.

“I know you don’t like priests, but mine’s a good one.  Give this to your son, and it will bind you to him, rather than where you died, and you can get out of here.  Make sure you both whisper your fears into it every night, and it should stay potent.  If you stop smelling the power in it, send word to the Gestaltists and ask for Alpert; he will find you.”

The dead woman paused, then took the pouch, folded over her son, and fastened it around his neck.  Her image sharpened, clarified; now she was clearly visible as black against the blue and grays of the world around her.

Moving with preternatural silence, she extended tendrils of her shadows and began climbing away.

“Wait!” Perfection said.

The dead woman halted.

“I… uh.  Kind of wrecked our rep with the priest, so we need to get out of here. Alpert can’t see in the dark, and I don’t know the area.  I know, you don’t like preacher men, I can’t blame you, but…”

The woman tilted her head like an owl.  Then she beckoned with her bony fingers.

Even with her guidance, it was a miserable trek.  Alpert had to cling to the back of Perfection’s pack to stay with her, and he continuously stumbled.  His coughing got worse and worse, until he had to stop and double over with the force of it.  Rain dripped down their backs, and the dead woman wouldn’t shroud Alpert.  Her goodwill didn’t extend that far.

Finally, she led them to a cave, and then vanished into the trees with a sigh.  The last thing Perfection saw was her skeletal smile.

Setting up a wet tent in the dark was a miserable exercise, but somehow, they managed, and at least their packs kept the rest of their gear dry.  Huddled together under the blankets, Alpert’s skin was icy cold and clammy, and Perfection rubbed his hands to warm them.

“I would’ve just left them all to burn,” she said.

“That’s why I’m the exorcist, my dear, and you are the demon,” Alpert rasped.  He was losing his voice now. “I merely hope I helped the right party.”

“I’m not worried.”

“How I wish I had your assurance.”

She shook her head.  Humanity.  Who could fathom it? “I’m a sins-of-flesh demon, Reverend.  You think I don’t smell a soul of excess when it’s near me?  You did fine.”

He was silent.

“What a job you got, Reverend.  Vampire pumpkins.”

Alpert tried to laugh, but had mostly lost his voice. “I wish they were all pumpkins,” he rasped.

And they slept as the rain poured down.

Date: 2013-11-26 10:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

aww yeah

This was pretty awesome.

Date: 2013-11-27 01:34 am (UTC)
ext_413051: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
If you'd like a link to what I believe is Snow's source for vampiric squash, here's the start of the few pages of it:

Date: 2013-11-27 03:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I knew of vampiric squash before I ever read Digger.

James is very fond of bizarre mythology.

Date: 2013-11-27 03:50 am (UTC)
ext_413051: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Alright, but Digger is still awesome enough that I want LB to take a look at it. :3

Date: 2013-11-27 03:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A link to Digger was supplied once "okay, I HAVE to hear about this" was said.

Because seriously, how many depictions of vampiric gourds ARE there?
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