Halloween Ghost Story Contest -- 2013
Adult Winners

First Place

Our first place Adult category winner was written by Dante Pappano.

Pieter, Pieter of Valatie Kill

Dante Pappano

“You don't just lose an arm.” Pieter had wanted to say. But it was enough to bury the woman and be done with it. He tried to force from his mind the image of the blackened stump, the last part of her to sink below the dark earth he'd shoveled over her.

“She is with God now.” He said instead, holding the reins loosely so that the percheron could move at its own pace following the well-worn route alongside the swollen Kinderhook. Mary rocked slowly at his side, silent in her grief. It was much for a newlywed wife to bear. Behind them, carefully packed in straw, was her Aunt's china, a cast iron stove, disassembled, to replace their own failing one, a bushel of apples, and the largest pumpkin he'd ever seen. The rest : some more apples, a few bushels of dried corn, but mostly many sacks of rye, were to be sent down on a poleboat along the Kinderhook to the upper part of the Valatie Kill from whence he could more easily fetch it. And, for the cost of two goats, a boy was to drive down the remaining livestock within the week. Among these a yearling pig! Naught else did he take for fear of some kind of contagion, instead he razed the house and barn.

At home, Mary ate little and provided little to sustain her husband in the field for some weeks. But finally, as the frost threatened to harden the earth Mary regained her amiable temperament. Midday supper always began with soft rye bread heavy with butter, and fresh fruit pies were apt to greet Pieter at the days end. For the young farmer they were long days, necessarily long so as to finish the harvest, such as it was. The wheat and corn had suffered for the wet and relatively cold summer. Still, he'd plenty of peas and root vegetables. Alfalfa would substitute for wheat as his cash crop. And the vine vegetables: cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash were as big and plentiful as they'd ever been. No pumpkins like in size as to the one taken from Mary's Aunt, that one he'd placed on their porch, but still a bumper crop.

“Come Pieter.” She beckoned one evening, drawing him from where he sat whittling by the fire. He came and allowed her to press his calloused hands against her soft lower belly. There was an unnatural movement below his hand. He looked at her in wonder.

“I am with child!” she cried happily. He swept her in his arms. “You'll need to work some larger pieces of wood to make a crib.” She cried.

“Indeed I shall, Mary! But small ones too! A babe needs toys as it does a place of bedding!” He returned to his whittling only to cut himself. He knit his brows. “Look there is no pain and it does not bleed.” He showed his wife, smiling. “This is good fortune.”

It was true that the cut did not hurt him, but there was pain, a constant burn in his fingers and toes that had been creeping on over several days. It was worse when cold on the hunt and better when warm by the fire. But it did not stop him from taking to the woods with his Pennsylvania long rifle. And, while he could not feel the trigger well, the rifle still served him measurably by the wild turkey and deer he brought in. Mary was productive too. With the wheat dwindling, there were fewer pies. But with her Aunt's rye, poled down the Valatie Kill now a month back, fresh rye bread and butter was a house staple.

It was later when the first real snow came that Pieter, low on corn, dipped into alfalfa and rye to feed the livestock. Thankfully they took to it. He wanted that pig nice and fat by Christmas supper.

“I'm off to hunt.” He told Mary one day, planting a gentle kiss on her lips, then again over her swollen abdomen. “The crib, it is almost done.”

“Stay, you don't look well. Have you the ague?” She asked feeling his forehead.

“Just a pain in the head, it will pass. I will be back to sup with you by noontime” He said forcing a smile.

But, he did not return at noon. The day waned. Mary, unwell herself, heavy with the baby inside, fell asleep in the chair by the fire. It was close to sunset when she awoke to the draft of the open door. Drawing her shawl about her shoulders, she rose. At the door she saw no one.

The giant pumpkin on the porch was mottled with dark orange patches where the alternating frost and thaw had softened it. Snow had formed a thin rim on the outer porch and footprints heavily shadowed in the orange setting sun led around behind the house.

She found Pieter huddled by the well.

“Mary!” he called gratefully upon seeing her approach him. “I am glad to see you! I got lost and hoped to use the porch pumpkin as a beacon when once I would find it.” He'd lost a glove and his fingertips on that left hand were black like the cock spur on the rye grain.

“Pieter, your hand!” She said cupping it warm between her two own.

“Hah! It don't hurt me.” He replied.

She led him inside, and seated him by the fire. But he was soon up, pacing the floor, despite his drained face.

“I shot the percheron.” He said.

“I'm sure you know best, darling.” She answered hopefully.

“No, I took it for a deer.” He picked up an apple and began to munch. “That's how I come to get lost and take so long to return.”


“Yes, love?” Pieter said, his lips almost white.

“What are you doing?” Mary asked, concern registering heavily on her face.

He looked questioningly at his hand. “How did this...?” It was no apple, but a small half-eaten orange and green gourd in his hand. “Oh, Mary, I am not well.” He said before collapsing.

While Pieter was sick, Mary made to care for the animals. To her dismay she found the yearling pig bloated, dead. Dragging it out into the snow, it was clear to her that it had been that way for some weeks. Trudging back inside she noted a gaping hole had opened in the back of the huge porch pumpkin where the rot had taken to it. She had a passing fancy to crawl inside and rest as in a cocoon or huge squash womb. But, exhausted though she was, she knew she must go on.

She did her best to keep the house and the remaining animals, but it took a toll on her. Pieter was just some few days in bed when Mary suffered a sharp pain. The baby came, unmoving, armless and stiff with dark purple clots of blood and stench that reminded her of the yearling.

Pieter, out of bed for the first time in day, staggered to her side. “We have to celebrate.” He said. “It's a boy.”

“No, Pieter no.” She cried, but could not halt him.

“I meant the yearling for Christmas, but I will slaughter it now.

“” Her words were little more than gasps.

Fresh snow was falling when he staggered out into the failing light of the late afternoon, Mary pulling at his arm. Slaughtering the pig was good. After those few days in bed he felt reinvigorated to be working. He chose the leg loin to bring back for Mary to cook. But trudging back in the snow, he'd found that he was no longer holding it. Wiping his bloodied forearm on his brow he considered the situation. Where had it gone?

He circled the barn, chancing upon a trail of footsteps and pig's blood that led toward the house.

“Mary!” he called entering, but got no response. In the bedroom he saw the malformed creature wrapped in a linen. His stomach churned.

“Mary!” he called again. He grabbed his long rifle from over the hearth. There was evil here. It had come from Mary's Aunt. He was sure of it. “I blame myself.” He cried aloud. “I was too eager for her tainted goods!”

He stumbled outside and slipped off the slick porch, landing on his ribs in a crust of snow. He looked back, seeing the huge pumpkin on the porch as if for the first time. The pumpkin, ungodly in size, an evil gift from her dead aunt. Mottled orange it leered at him. “Pieter you are not well,” it said.

“Where's Mary!”

It only moaned in response.

“Give me Mary!” he yelled back. He lowered his rifle and shot.

The pumpkin wailed then moaned. “It was the rye.” It said.

Trembling he reloaded and shot a second time. He stared queerly at the holes he'd made in the huge orange squash. The pumpkin was bleeding.

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