100 Pumpkins for 100 Princesses (Part 1)
Joe had no idea who had dumped the pumpkins in front of the C-store in the middle of the night, or why they had done it, but when he found out the secret, it was beyond anything he could have imagined.
Joe was driving to work at go-go’s C-store in the hypnotic light of a swollen moon. He felt a little bummed. Working midnight shift was okay; it meant he’d missed the costumed crazies that invaded the store during prime time Halloween and didn’t have to wear a costume while serving customers, but even out here, in the sticks off of a main highway, he was likely going to face an insane bar rush between one and two in the morning.
He had asked Mr. Habib to schedule a second person to work with him—partial insurance to keep random drunks from doing anything too stupid or felonious—but Mr. Habib declined the request. The Big Data he poured over every day proved, so he said, that additional staffing at this time of night wasn’t economically warranted.
Joe felt like saying, “Dude, it’s Halloween—don’t you remember last year?” But he held his tongue. He’d learned in the little over a year he had worked at go-go’s that you don’t argue with a manager and his metrics, especially when you had to literally fight off the old technology to install the systems that could provide the necessary data. Besides, when Mr. Habib found out that Joe was taking an excruciatingly long time to get through graduate school and was in no position to take out yet another student loan, the owner had helped him out by promoting Joe to assistant manager and giving him a raise. It came with a gentle admonishment about his lack of scholastic discipline, a recollection that did little to improve Joe’s mood. Thankfully he was about to begin his shift. He figured that might take his mind off of things.
He didn’t know the half of it.
As he pulled in, he noticed the lot was empty save for one car. Through the lit glass, behind the bats, jack o’lanterns, and sexy vampire beer posters affixed to the windows, he saw Marcella drumming her fingers on the counter. Dressed as a cigarette pack, against a backdrop of cigarette packs, she almost blended in.
He opened the door greeted by an onrush of heated air and the smell of go-go’s special spiced cider. He now saw that Marcella’s costume was basically a painted box with holes for her arms, legs and face. He wondered how she managed to work in the thing.
“You laughing at me?” she asked before he had a chance to say a word. “Don’t. I didn’t get hit on once tonight. Plus it protected me when some vato threw an egg at the security guard and hit me instead.
“Mr. Habib sprung for a security guard for you?” He was dumbfounded and a little angry.
Marcella ignored him. “Adios, amigo. It’s party time. Que las pases bien.”
She headed to the back room to change, Joe guessed. He took his position, logged into the POS, and closed out the shift. The printer came to life, grinding out reports. He’d brought his thesis to work on, but found himself staring aimlessly into space long after Marcella left.
That’s when he heard and felt it. First a loud thump, like something very large and soft had crashed to earth, followed by a short shock wave. Nothing fell off the well-stocked shelves, but there was some product shifting and the unmistakable clink of bottles.
Thinking it might be an earthquake, Joe moved out from behind the counter to get under the door frame, but when he saw what was outside, his jaw dropped. Stacks of pumpkins piled in front of the store as if they had dropped from the sky. Given what he had just heard, that was as good an explanation as any.
He moved closer to examine them. They all seemed in extraordinarily good shape, with few blemishes or scratches. Almost too perfect. Had he nodded off and missed a late delivery? If so, it seemed a little strange to be receiving such a big shipment of pumpkins now, when the season for them had ended, for all intents and purposes, tonight. He was sure Mr. Habib’s metrics would back him up on that one.
Joe felt a bit dizzy. Had he missed anything? He became aware of a faint buzz behind and above him. It started out faintly, like a distant swarm of bees, but grew louder and louder. Up in the black sky Joe noticed a blue glow that soon expanded to reveal itself a formation of smaller points of light.
As it grew in volume, the noise finally broke into numerous feminine voices. As they grew larger, the points of light revealed themselves to be women of many shapes and sizes, dressed as if they had stepped out of a storybook. Lighter than air, they floated to the ground in his general direction. When they landed, their feet didn’t make a sound, although their constant laughing and chattering made it hard to say for sure.
There were so many of them, they took up the greater part of the once vacant parking lot. When they saw Joe, the group quieted, while one stepped forward to speak.
“Joe Smith, you better be taking good care of our pumpkins.”
Click here for Part 2.