Corey swung his legs over the side of the bed. It was still dark outside and only the green glow from the alarm clock provided any illumination. He leaned over and switched off the alarm that was still 15 minutes away from sounding. Faintly he could hear the TV on downstairs. The only person in this house who slept less than he did was Gramps. With a groan, his feet slowly descended to the cool hardwood floor. Coming to a standing position, Corey felt and heard his lower back crack and pop. Some days on the farm made him feel like he was forty-five not his actually twenty-five.
Five minutes later, Corey was dressed for a dirty work day and on the stairs headed downstairs. About three steps from the bottom, the smell of strong coffee filled his nose. Gramps loved him some strong coffee but Corey never really developed a taste for the stuff. Give him a kidney killing energy drink or an ice cold beer and he had the whole day covered beverage-wise. The TV volume grew louder. Corey cut through the kitchen and into the living room.
Gramps was in his favorite overalls sitting forward in his burgundy leather recliner staring intently at the TV mounted above the fireplace with remote in hand. On the screen an attractive blonde female news reporter was standing in a field gesturing behind her.
“…local farmer Mackenzie Brooks made the discovery and subsequently called the police to report the vandalism. When we spoke to police chief Al Warrenton he said, the case was actually classified as a theft. Five acres worth of pumpkins, of all things, were stolen. The thieves picked everything clean. Not a single pumpkin, not even the rotten ones were left. The whole field was picked completely clean. Mr. Brooks estimated that there were probably five to six hundred pumpkins here just yesterday and now, nothing.”
Corey felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end for a second and then the sensation passed.
Gramps thumbed the well-worn Mute button on the remote and tossed it onto the couch cushion next to him. “Aint that some donkey dumps”, he muttered.
Gramps full body flinched before turning a surly eye to Corey. “Damn it, Corey. You practicing to be a ninja again?”
When Corey had been younger and into Kung Fu plus the Ninja Turtles, he used to sneak around and tried to spook everyone in an unsuspecting moment. Once he had caught Gramps in the bathroom by surprise while he was standing in front of the commode doing his business. It was a lesson learned in consequences and also in adult vocabulary. Simultaneously Gramps sprayed Corey with a stream of curses and also some asparagus enhanced urine. From that day forth, Corey learned the bathroom was a safe zone for all shenanigans.
“Sorry Gramps, no need to be all pissy.”
Gramps rolled his eyes and shook his head at the much used pun. “Funny. You see that story on the TV from Virginia about that pumpkin farmer that got robbed? What’s this world coming to?”
Corey shrugged, “I dunno. Every day it seems the world thinks of weirder and weirder stuff to do to each other. What time is Marquez showing up today? He is supposed to help me on the south side according to the schedule.”
A frown creased Gramps face. “Well if he puts in an effort like he did for me yesterday, I hope his sorry butt stays home. I aint gonna keep paying him to half-ass it. Lots to get done in the next couple of weeks and he has been useless as truck with no tires.”
Nodding, Corey grabbed the last wheat bagel and a cold Venom energy drink from the fridge before heading for the front door. “I’m going to go out to the barn and check on that litter of puppies before I get started.”
“You shoulder probably eat more than that”, Gramps indicated by nodding towards the bagel.
With a big smile Corey took a big bite of the bagel and mumbled around the mouthful, “I will at brunch.” And with that turned and went out the front door. The screen door closed with a hollow muffled sound. Two quick steps and he was boots on gravel headed for the green barn. Gramps called them the Christmas barns as the one on the south side was green and the one on the north side was a faded red.
After a quick check on the litter of mutt pups nursing and sleeping up against Molly the collie, Corey pulled the string on the overhead naked bulb to extinguish the light. He had left the light on for them overnight but they could deal with the dark for another 45 minutes or so until sunrise. Retracing his steps to the entrance of the barn, he had done this so many times he didn’t need to see, he paused. On the front of the barn was a motion activated flood light that had been tripped when he had approached. It lit a circular area of about 25 feet directly in front of the barn entrance. The glow was a bit dulled by dirt and dead bugs that accumulated on the surface of the light. An odd thought occurred to him. Around the far side was a quarter field of pumpkins that they grew each year for the local town festival for the week leading up to Halloween. He decided to make a deviation from his normal routine and go check on them.
Stepping out of the light and into the shadows, Corey walked the path that was outlined with inset square concrete stepping stones. The stones made getting between the barn and the field gate less like walking in quicksand during the rainy seasons. Overhead the stars were muted and seemed to be in retreat with dawn soon to arrive. His boots made almost no noise except a swishing sound through the almost grass that was in need of having a final cut this year. Just ahead the path inclined and the four foot gate loomed as a gray shadow against the darkness.
Corey reached the gate and worked the stubborn bolt free to open the gate and let it swing inward a few feet of its own volition. It took a few seconds of squinting before Corey could process what he was seeing…or not seeing.