“So. You finally show up.”
It was a tick past the witching hour, and the thing had risen from the field, blinking and staring about in confusion. In its powerful, vibrating basso it said, “Where?”
“This is my field.”
The thing bent down, squinting through its giant hollow eyes, peering at the man with the rat’s nest hair. “Oh. You.”
“Me,” said the man, voice shaking with horror and fear and exultation. “Me. A thousand times, me!”
“You should not haunt me so.”
“Haunt you? Haunt you?!” The slight hysteria in his laugh was mirrored in his eyes. “My family thinks I’m mad. My church has cast me out. My political career, destroyed. And for what? For you! For this moment. Years spent cultivating acres upon acres of your pathetic fruit. It is a fruit, you know. The seeds are on the inside.”
“I never claimed otherwise.”
“No.” The man clutched a holey rag closer to his chest. Once, it had been a pristine blue. Now it showed more of the black night through its many gaping tears. Yet it was obviously precious. “That was my mother. Eat it, she’d say. It’s a vegetable.”
“You blame me.”
“For that? No. For everything else – why did you wait so long?!”
“I never felt that you were sincere.”
“And now you’re satisfied?”
“I am here,” was the creature’s only reply.
There was a prolonged silence as the man struggled with his feelings, and the creature examined the night.
“Well,” said the man at last, “do I at least get my share?”
“Of the toys.”
“Ah. The toys. They are for children.”
The man shook his fists, waving the tattered cloth in his hand like a flag. “No! Unfair! I’ve waited too long for you to deny me now!”
“It is too late. Besides, you would not want these toys.”
The creature gestured, and the man noticed sacks of bulky objects that lay scattered all through the viney field. Opening the nearest, he saw devilish toys with sticky handles and sharpened ends.
“You give these to children?”
“Sincere children do not see them for what they are.”
“I am sincere!”
“Even so, you are too old.”
“But I still have the heart of a child!”
“Truly?” said the creature, wild whippy limbs sliding it inevitably forward. “Let me see it, then.”
* * *
Dawn, a red autumnal light against the darkness. In the small house beside the vast field, a woman stirred. Rising, she checked the clock, then peeked into her brother’s room. The bed was empty. She grunted derisively.
Stomping down the stairs, she decided to make herself some coffee before she went out into the fields to retrieve him. But the coffee can was empty. She threw it across the room, and with a lip curled in disgust she made herself some of her brother’s herbal tea.
Since her divorce from the musician – she refused to even say his name! – she had been reduced to living here. The judge had not only stripped her of every conceivable asset, he had also questioned her right to practice! ‘Emotional cruelty’ indeed! And the blockheads on the state board had agreed, suspending her license. Oh, when her lawyer got through with them…
There was a creak and the backdoor opened. “Finally found your own way back?”
But it was not her brother. “It’s me,” said the bald man.
“Oh. I was just thinking of your sister. Has she talked about my case?”
“No.” The bald man shrugged. “We don’t talk much.”
“Oh.” She tried to make small-talk, a thing she hated. “How did the team do? I didn’t watch.”
He shrugged. “It’s a rebuilding year.”
“Of course it is,” she snorted.
The bald man looked around the kitchen. “He’s out there?”
“Where else would he be?”
“I usually go get him.”
“Well, I’m here this year,” she said haughtily, pulling a coat on over her robe. “I’ll do it. He’s my responsibility.”
“I’ll go with you,” said the bald man.
“Whatever.” She opened the back door and lead the way out into the field.
Thus they were together when they found him. He was lying still, and at first they thought he was sleeping. But the frost on his cheek had not melted.
She was stricken, and kicked his lifeless body several times, screaming at him for his stupidity. The bald man looked like he wanted to stop her, but waited until she was through before he went and looked his old friend over. “There’s not a mark on him.”
“What, did you think he was bit by a snake? You blockhead.” She suddenly sagged. “It’s never been the same since that stupid dog died.”
“I know,” said the bald man.
“They ever find out who shot him?”
“You know they didn’t.” The bald man pried the tattered old blanket out of his friend’s hand and, fittingly, laid it over him.
As it unfurled, three trapped white teardrops fell to the ground, all unnoticed. For it was no great thing to miss three little seeds in this grand pumpkin patch. Standing in its center, one had to admit there was nothing but sincerity as far as the eye could see.