I had just finished a second full round of The Baby Tree when I heard a quiet stringed instrument accompanying me.
To my delight, it wasn’t a guitar, but a theorbo. I’d been to live performances that featured one, and the instrument fascinated me — to my childlike mind it seemed like an extra-terrestrial bass guitar.
I looked diligently for it everywhere but, to my disappointment, couldn’t find it or the player anywhere. But it kept on playing so I sang a few more rounds with the theorbo. Then it grew quiet.
Instead, I heard another sound – although I couldn’t be sure if it was a tin whistle, flute or recorder. At first I thought it had taken up the accompaniment, but quickly realized this wasn’t the case.
But the new melody and verse were familiar to any English-speaking kid who’d ever been exposed to a piano’s black keys:
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater
Had a wife, but couldn’t keep her
Put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
I followed the sound past some hedgerows and round a bend in the road, where I found a giant pumpkin, perhaps the size of a back-to-back, lit on the inside, clearly intended as a cottage-like residence. In front of the door stood a tall, lanky man with a gentle feminine appearance not too dissimilar to my own, but who had wavy hair past his shoulder blades, playing the culprit wind instrument.
He smiled at me, gesturing at a boxlike edifice that had the color and texture – if not the shape – of a pumpkin. I’d initially taken it for some kind of planter or garden box, but I noticed on closer examination that there were no visible plants – indeed there was a lid on top of it, which also looked like the top of a pumpkin. Disconcertingly, there were also brass handles along the side. He opened the lid and pointed inside.
There, in a white shroud fringed in lace – so much so that at first it looked like a wedding gown – lay a young, dark blonde, sylphlike woman, with flowing hair. She looked as if she was asleep, but her skin was cold to the touch, her body stiff. His smile was no longer sweet and gentle, but fiendish – he was Peter pumpkin eater and had indeed “kept” what he must have considered a straying wife ”very well.”
He dropped to a crouch, his face no further than an inch or two from mine, his smile wider, demented. I took off running, not daring to look back.
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018