“Hurry up! Smash it, smash it!” the girl shrieked, stamping her foot in the dirt. Her frilly purple dress was filthy, smeared with mud from the pumpkin patch—all their clothes were. The masks on the children’s faces, however, remained mostly unblemished, catching the moonlight at odd angles.
From the ground, the two young boys struggled in vain to lift their quarry, an enormous round pumpkin that outweighed them both by at least twenty pounds. The effect was comical at best.
“It’s no good!” the first one complained, limbs shaking from the effort of suspending the pumpkin mere inches off the ground. The boy’s bright red pajamas were streaked brown with dirt, unrecognizably grimy; he’d slipped and fallen on the ground half a dozen times in his fruitless attempts to lift the target. “It won’t budge!”
“Not even a little!” concurred the second boy, a bit younger-looking, tottering unsteadily with his hands beneath the greater bulk of the pumpkin. He swayed back and forth, trying to find a position that would allow him to keep a hold of it without collapsing.
The girl wouldn’t stand for their complaints, tearing off her pale green mask in a sudden burst of annoyance. Beneath it, her face was largely the same in shape and color, with pale, almost green-tinted skin and a long angular nose. “Keep trying!” she demanded shrilly, brandying the mask about like a weapon in their direction. “Smash it all to bits! I’m hungry!”
It was no good, however: the first boy’s arms gave out, and the pumpkin promptly dropped to the ground—his partner caught the weight dead-on, grunting in surprise as he found his hands pinned uncomfortably beneath.
“Aw man!” he said, dismayed, tugging his arms in an attempt to get free.
The first boy only laughed at his expense, taking off his own devil’s mask to reveal a long, pale face with a pair of sunken yellow eyes leering down at the younger child. “Ha! Way to go, dummy!”
“You’re the dummy!”
Fed up with their antics, the girl cut them off, shrieking, “Quiet! You’re both dumb! Hurry up and get back to work!”
Before either of them could heed her words, however, another voice called out from the edge of the pumpkin patch: “What’s all that noise? Who’s there?”
The three children turned to each other, hissing in unison, “Rats!”
“What’s going on out here?” the voice continued, flustered. The children could make out a shadowy figure approaching in the dark, inelegant and willowy like a scarecrow, movements jerky among the tangled vines. “C-Come out this instant!”
The children exchanged another look, this time in amusement. No way! Giggling in unison, they replaced their masks and took off running, the youngest boy tugging his hands free from the pumpkin in one swift movement to follow his cohorts.
“Hey—no!” the voice called after them. The warning was followed by a sudden yelp, and the sound of something heavy crashing into the plants. Then came the amusing sounds of the figure struggling to get back up again, shouting hopelessly, “Wait, you hooligans! Get back here!”
“Have a nice trip!” the boy in red called gleefully behind his shoulder, darting through the pumpkin vines with ease on small, nimble feet. The other two giggled shrilly in agreement, calling out similar insults to the poor farmer as they made their getaway.
Before long, they’d lost their pursuer entirely and made it out safely to the other side of the pumpkin patch. The children roared with gleeful laughter at their successful escape, collapsing over one another into a tangled pile of limbs and grins and masks.
“Did you see ‘im? What a chump!”
“We’re far cleverer!”
“I’ll bet he stays in there all night!”
Eventually, though, the adrenaline from the chase wore off, and after quieting down a bit, the three children gradually remembered once more the situation that had led them to the pumpkin patch in the first place—namely, a dreadful, persistent hunger, with no food around to fix it.
“…This stinks,” muttered the older boy mutinously, tugging away from his two cohorts to plop down on the ground by himself, crossing his arms and legs. He was dressed in a red devil’s costume, tail and all, although it was somewhat unrecognizable streaked with mud. “That pumpkin was ours!”
“Then you shoulda pulled harder,” grumbled the younger boy. His own skeleton costume was dirty from the escapade, but still recognizable, a simple bone print on black clothes. “I was the one doing all the work.”
“Shut up!” the girl screeched again, standing with her hands on her hips. As the eldest of the three children, she was the most cunning, and often came up with the trio’s ideas. Her witch’s costume was frayed but unmistakable, complete with a pointed hat that was currently askew from running. “You both messed up! If you hadn’t been so loud, we wouldn’t have been caught!”
“You were the one shouting at us!” the older boy snarled.
“Guys,” the younger boy interrupted, removing his own circular skull mask. Underneath it, his round face was eagerly alight with mischief, and his wide mouth split into a toothy grin as he pointed off into the distance with his free hand. “What’s that?”
The others turned to look. Down the road, the dark silhouette of a large house towered against the night sky, set directly beneath a glowing full moon. The effect was delightfully spooky, and the children’s imaginations immediately twisted the spindly shadows of the house’s wooden structures into crawling spider webs. What fun!
“Let’s go see!” the older boy said excitedly, jumping to his feet, all hunger forgotten. The children were used to traveling, but they rarely saw anything of real interest—in most places, the three of them were lucky just to find a good meal. A haunted-looking house would be a real treat.
“I’ll lead the way,” said the girl importantly, rudely shoving him aside. The younger boy stalked after her with a devious grin, leaving their final cohort to spit at the ground before leaping up after them in hot pursuit.
The three children fought and shoved and giggled all the way to the old manor—little realizing, naturally, how drastically their lives were about to change…