Mona Finch placed another pie in the showcase cabinet taking care to arrange each just right for customer presentation. The fruit and cream pies sold year around, but from September through December, more pumpkin pies sold than the rest of the year combined. She loved pumpkin above all other pies. Her pumpkin pies had always won many county fair contests since she was old enough to cook.
But, Mona had a larger vision — to go down in history as creator of that one special pie, inventing a recipe like no other. That dream led to the purchase of her own business. Not long after school, she was the proud owner of a well-known pie shop and her loyal customers traveled miles just to buy her exceptional desert and to sign her customer guest book. Why, she alone was putting their small town on the map!
Mona didn’t feel like she was arrogant, such a snobbish word, that. No, she just knew hers had no rivals, be they fruit, chess, or cream pies and she had the blue ribbons to prove it. That wasn’t arrogance, that was just a fact.
But still, that yearning to be truly infamous, to leave your mark on the world for all your hard work, tickled at the back of her soul daily.
Not what one would call beautiful, but certainly not an ugly duckling, Mona had eschewed all personal relationships early on in her life — not that she had that many beaus, anyway. She would drift, lost in her own off-topic thoughts during their conversations and be completely lost as a question was presented to her. No –satisfaction came from the attention and accolades she received from her baking. That was all she needed, all she ever wanted, really. A relationship just got in her way.
Mona ran her business as efficiently and respectably as she ran her home, her orchards, and particularly her pumpkin patch; she doted on them meticulously with organized care.
Her pumpkin patch did not go unnoticed by the community, either. The mayor had asked once if she would be interested in opening it to the public. The children, he noted would especially enjoy it. She could make some money on the side and help make Halloween fun for the whole town.
Mona, however, declined the offer. While she was extremely proud and flattered, of course, she refrained from telling him how she abhorred the holiday and children in particular at that time of year.
No, she chose to concentrate all of her attention and efforts to her baking perfection, and the secret to perfection was the very best and freshest ingredients. Namely, her own pumpkins. Along with growing her own fruit, she ground her own spices, and used the local creamery, too. However, the real secret to her recent pumpkins pies lie with her one new special ingredient.
She’d fortuitously met a seller at a farmers market booth in a nearby town. The seller’s name was Mildred Pfister and she bragged quite extensively about this new squash she had, one like no other in the county. It was called DeDelicata sweet squash.
Mona bought a bushel of them and couldn’t wait give them a try. She steamed one with her meal that night and was rewarded with flavor the likes of which she’d never tasted before.
She licked her lips, savoring the unique combination of flavor. There was a hint of pumpkin, a touch of creamy sweet corn, and the richness of sweet potato. It was all incredibly rolled into one winter vegetable. It was exquisite! The taste rivaled no other and she continued to buy all that Mildred had that season. She canned them, saved and dried out the seeds, and made plans to grow her own crop.
The idea to blend the pumpkin with the squash came to her in the middle of night that very winter. She baked one pumpkin pie after another, adjusting the spices until, finally, she knew she had a winner. She’d found that single special ingredient that makes a person say — What is that? — to which she would answer in this instance “pumpkin, only better!”
She couldn’t wait to introduce the new pies to her customers. Then she had another thought. And an even better idea began to form — what if she crossed-bred the squash with pumpkins, creating a hybrid. If she did this, she would make history. She’d be mentioned in The Farmer’s Almanac! This could be her one chance she’d dreamt of.
But. Would the flavors be lost? Would the consistency be the same? She had much to do. She couldn’t introduce the pie to society until she tried out and perfected this new hybrid.
It took three seasons to get it right, but Mona had the final product, a brand new pumpkin. She dried and saved hundreds of the new hybrid seeds, waiting for the right fall, the right moment in time to introduce them to the world.
These things had to be guarded, protected. There were scavengers in this world that do nothing but steal others hard work. She vowed right then no other entrepreneur in the whole country, no the whole world, would garner her tremendous efforts. This would be hers, and hers alone, claim to fame! She was near bursting wanting to shout her discoveries to the newspaper and agricultural ranks, but knew much better. She would keep her secret to herself to savor just a bit longer. She trusted her own mind to know when the moment was right.
Mona hummed as she ran a rag needlessly over the green letters that spelled PERSNICKETY PIES on the large front window. Once everything was out out of the oven, she drew on her hat — tucking a graying brown strand underneath the brim. She drew the shades, locked the door, and began her mile walk home.
At the town’s edge, she drew up short. A new sign hung above the once-thriving haberdashery across the street. The vacated store had a fresh coat of whitewash and forest green door, shutters, and window letters — the very same green as hers! Ivory lace curtains framed the window. But it was the sign that captured Mona’s attention. It read: NOTHING BUT CAKES.
Mona was flabbergasted. A gloved hand flattened against her bosom. She forced herself to breath again and resisted the urge to cross the street and take a peek in so badly her bones ached. Instead, she reset her hat pin, threw her nose into the air and clipped down the sidewalk.
Cakes, indeed! We shall see about that.
It was time. Now was the time to plant her special seeds; to nurture her new hybrid; to make her new pumpkin pies. She hurried home not stopping once to admire the spring’s abundance. There was much to be done before fall.
* * *
The crisp autumnal breeze whipped dry leaves in a mini vortex around her shoes as Mona hurried past the new shop each day. Her head hunkered toward her chest from the bite in the air. She hurried home not from the cold, but from the need to get as much done after work as possible. Her eyes unwillingly slid to NOTHING BUT CAKES window.
A bright orange banner displayed Pumpkin and Spice Cakes with flourish.
Her traitorous feet slowed to a stop. There were cakes sitting on multilevel pedestals everywhere; jelly-rolled tree logs, layered confections in shapes of pumpkins decorated in colorful sugary shades of brown, golds, oranges, and reds.
She watched one of her own customers, Mabel Hunsaker, exit the shop. Mona looked down at her watch. It was past closing hours, yet customers still poured out of the tiny shop carrying their cakes in boxes.
“These pumpkin cakes are positively the best our family has ever eaten.” She overheard Mabel gushing her goodbyes from the doorway to none other than …
Mildred Pfister? The farmer’s market Mildred owned NOTHING BUT CAKES?
And she was making pumpkin cakes? Well, of all the…
Mona’s eyes narrowed. She turned sharply, doubled her speed and fumed down the worn path home, crunching acorns and kicking pebbles in her haste.
“The best pumpkin ever eaten indeed,” she spat, “I’ll show her whose is the best!”
Once home, Mona rolled up her sleeves and went to work. She chose the prettiest, the best of her new hybrid pumpkins, of course, tossing the uglier ones to a far area in the patch. She scooped out seeds, washed and dried them, then cut away the meat. She cooked and mashed, and canned well into the night. The pies this season just had to be the best.
She heard a noise, a thunk, outside her kitchen window. What in the world? She stopped stirring, wiped her hands on her apron, and went to the backdoor.
It was was moon-lit gray and quiet. Pushing the screen door open, Mona saw a pumpkin had been thrown on her back porch, the seeds and guts splattered everywhere. It was an odd color and the skin wrinkled grotesque-like, and it stunk as if it had been rotting for days already. She grabbed a broom, stepped over the mess and looking left and right.
“Who’s there?” Mona’s voice sounded tiny in the chilled night. This is why I hate Halloween. All the pranks kids do. And they think is it their right!
Wind whistled through the bare branches of the orchard. She heard a splat in the distance and headed toward the orchard. More pumpkin guts were dripping down the bark of an apple tree. Then another and another farther still toward the woods. Mona followed the sounds, taking her well past the pumpkin patch, the orchards, and past her property into the dark woods to the area where she always pitched her previous deformed and unchosen pumpkins, year after year. There she left them to rot, to be eaten by wild animals.
It was just two days ago when she wheel-barreled out this season’s unchosen hybrid pumpkins. She could still see uneaten ones scattered about here and there. The full moon provided sufficient, but eery light, and Mona walked gingerly passed them.
Suddenly, stopping dead in her tracks she gasped.
Ahead, in a small clearing were hundreds of pumpkins, one as large as her display cabinet in the store! It looked as if left to grow and grow for weeks and weeks. And all were decayed, wrinkled and rotting. Mona covered her mouth and nose trying not to gag.
An ear-splitting crack pierced the night. Eyes, pumpkin eyes, one pair after another popped open, glowing green all around her. Another horrendous crack resounded, like the sound of a tree being felled. It came from the largest pumpkin to her right. Mona’s eyes slid to the beast. She dropped her broom and stifled a scream, backing away.
The horrendous sound had come from the pumpkin beast cracking open it’s own middle. Moldy decayed guts spewed out leaving a jagged and gaping uneven hole for a mouth with arm-length spikes of hardened dried vine for teeth. The ground rumbled and ropes of brown vine snapped hard as freed pumpkins began wobbling toward her. There were hundreds closing in on her, surrounding her. She screamed, falling over the thick vines entwining up her legs. She hit the ground hard.
Mona screamed and screamed with no one to hear her. Then, the only sound was the chomping and grinding of bones and sinew in the darkness.
* * *
Mildred Pfister wasted no time purchasing PERSNICKETY PIES after the sudden disappearance of the previous owner, Mona Finch. She had been runner up to Mona for twelve straight years at the Hansford County Fair, and had plenty of time to perfect the DeDelicata sweet squash. Timing Mona’s purchase of her creation at the farmer’s market had to be perfect. She sold it only to Mona that year and predicted her snobbery, knowing no bounds, would do the rest.
It did. And Mildred’s patience was rewarded.
“What did you do to make this taste so yummy?” A plump lady inquired of Mildred in the newly refurbished bakery. The sign out front read SINFULLY SWEET.
“Now, Marge.” Mildred joked, straightening her framed certificates of awards on the wall. “You know I never divulge my recipes. But, I will tell you this … the secret’s in the pumpkin.”
“You know, I think I’ll take three. This pumpkin pie really is … just to die for.”
The ding of the cash register drawer opened and Mildred placed the bills inside. She looked up at large Marge, her best customer, and replied.
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?”