100 Pumpkins for 100 Princesses (Part 2)
You can’t run away from mysterious doings when you’re buried beneath a pile of pumpkins in front of a convenience store.
If you don’t read Part 1 by clicking on this link, you’re going to be really disoriented. Come to think of it, this story might disorient you anyway.
The scent of something nutmeg-like permeated the air. Joe blinked in disbelief at the conclave before him. Now that they had landed, he saw each had butterfly-shaped wings attached between the shoulder blades fanning out behind them. They were big wings; perhaps half their body height.
The wings were fine, translucent things delicately veined and, as it happened, the source of the bluish aura. The unearthly light revealed their somewhat outlandish ankle length gowns, sparkly and satiny, each a different color, seemingly inappropriate press given the pervasive chill in the air.
The intersection, never densely trafficked, was now completely deserted. Joe might have freaked out, but it was hard to panic when the unexplained gathering looked more or less like a bunch of grandmas out on the town. “These aren’t your pumpkins,” he said, more defiantly than he felt. Truth was, he had no idea.
“Oh, those most certainly are our pumpkins,” said the one that had stepped forward. Smallest in stature and plumper than the rest, she was the only figure clad in white. She also happened to be the loudest, a good thing since the group had begun jabbering again, mostly at once, creating an almost overwhelming vocal blur.
Joe backed up as if the surrounding din pushed against him. The pint-sized leader, if, indeed, that’s what she was, moved towards him. “Most of the time I use force as a last resort, but if you insist…” She reached inside her gown and pulled out what looked like a glow stick that was especially bright at one end. She waved it around. Joe flew back into a pumpkin mound. In defiance of any physical laws with which he was familiar, the pile parted momentarily to accept his body before it collapsed in and around him. Buried and unable to move, he maintained a clear view of the goings on thanks to an opening that just happened to appear near his face. Laughter filled the air.
“Watch, Joe Smith,” the wand-waver commanded. “Watch and learn.”
She turned to the group behind her. “Sisters, the time is now.”
A hush replaced the giggles and chuckles as the figures, each with a strikingly different physical appearance, formed a line—indigo gowns first, then violet, then blue, and so on until a rainbow queue snaked back out through the parking lot and into the street. Those at the rear showed no fear at the prospect of being run over by an unannounced vehicle. Seemed they knew something Joe didn’t.
The first in line stepped forward. She had long black hair with a slightly Asian cast to her pale features, contrasting with the bun of gray hair and blustery face of the leader. From a pile next to the one in which Joe was entombed, she selected a pumpkin and set it on the asphalt a few paces away. Producing a wand identical to the one responsible for Joe’s present predicament, she waved it in a circular motion around the pumpkin as a faint residue spilled forth from its end, emanating the essence of sulfur.
Dumbstruck, he watched the pumpkin grow. And grow. And grow until it was big enough to comfortably accommodate two people. Sometime along the way it acquired four wooden wheels, two branchlike axles, a windowed door, and a small elevated seat in front.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Joe thought. He watched the woman—if that’s what she was—bend down to pick up the long leather reins that had also appeared out of thin air. She pulled on them gently as her wings began to flutter, increasing in speed until they vibrated so fast they were little more than a suggestion. Up to speed, she flexed her knees, jumped upward, and just kept going, up in the sky in the direction of the moon. She pulled the pumpkin coach behind her.
The next in line stepped up and Joe watched the same sequence of events play out. It happened again and again until all the pumpkins were gone except for those that imprisoned him. As if on cue they tumbled apart around him. He stood up, feeling a bit overheated even though it was only a few degrees above freezing.
Instead of stepping or running away he remained glued to the spot as the proceedings continued. In time the entire group, save for the white personage, had departed. A single pumpkin remained.
“Now can you see how serious a business this is?” the smaller figure asked. “We’re delivering 100 pumpkins for 100 princesses and could not be slowed down by anyone, and certainly not an underachieving grad student like you.”
A shock ran through Joe’s body. “How do you know—“ he started, but the smaller figure frowned, putting a figure to her lips. Joe felt kind of obliged to shut up, happy, though not surprised, that not one customer had stopped by during this whole…episode.
“I’d thank you for being less than a nuisance than you were,” she continued, “but that really doesn’t deserve recognition, now does it?”
“Wait a minute, I—“
She ignored him. “I know who you are and even though managing a C-store is fine, noble work, it’s not your destiny, and take it from me, you don’t want to be at cross purposes with your destiny.”
“So I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to help you get through grad school as fast as possible, despite how unmotivated you are.”
Joe was almost ready to believe anything right now, but in the end the skeptic came through. “And just how are you going to do that?!”
“By providing you a companion—one that will shine a light brightest whenever you stray from your intended path. Enjoy!”
With that she waved her wand and seconds later left the ground, carriage in tow. Joe craned his neck upward, watching until she shrunk to the size of a small blue dot and finally disappeared.
On his way back into the store Joe noticed one car rolling by then another. His watch read 12:05. If the reading was accurate, time had stood still.
He stood in the lot and decided that he felt about as little urgency to finish his studies as he had before, which seemed about right considering the whole episode might well have been a figment of his imagination.
That’s when a small explosion appeared to erupt in his vehicle. More apprehensive than he had been at any time this night, he ran over to see what had caught fire. The last thing he needed was a car in flames, but what he found was more shocking than cooked upholstery.
In the backseat was a gourd. With a face. In fact it was looking right at him right now. It moved its mouth. A neck-like appendage extended upward from its round body, ending in a small flame. Joe threw open the back door. A gravelly voice greeted him.
“Hey there, Joey Baby. Glad to make your acquaintance. Just call me a gift from your fairy godmother. I’ll be with you until you graduate.”
Joe tried to dislodge the green apparition from his back seat. When his discovered he couldn’t (and after almost being bit once or twice), he decided to do the next best thing: he completed his graduate program in record time.