ACT I

Franklin the Pumpkin-hunter, a new reality series

Franklin frowned. He crouched low in the tall yellowed grass, scratching his calf where something had bitten him—for the hundredth time. He didn’t know why he’d worn shorts today.

A grasshopper panicked as he got too close, and leaped at him, fluttering past his plain face as Franklin toppled over and swatted at the evening air.

“You alright over there Franky?” a girl’s amused voice called from nearby. She’d been watching Franklin interact with Nature for the last half hour, and at this point it was all she could do to keep from laughing out loud.

“Yeah. I’m just—” he swung at a wasp that was nowhere near him, “—I’m just great,” he grumbled, pulling himself up to his feet. He looked over at his companion.

She wore a self-styled park ranger outfit—her usual garb for this kind of outing: a tan khaki shirt with matching shorts, a yellow bandana tied around her neck bandit-style, and a leather Indiana Jones hat that sat atop her long purple hair. Franklin always called her Wildlife Warrior Kimberly when she wore this get-up—though never to her face.

It was the day before Halloween—and Kimberly wasn’t wearing a costume. This was just one of her ordinary outfits. She believed in “dressing for the job you want,” which—like most of the things Kimberly rattled off—didn’t make much sense to Franklin.

Because right now they were pumpkin hunting. Which wasn’t only not a job Franklin wanted, but wasn’t actually a job at all. There were no professional pumpkin-seekers. There weren’t even any reality shows about it.

“Remind me why we’re out here again? Why you didn’t just let me grab a pumpkin from the supermarket two weeks ago?” he asked miserably. Franklin noted that she was also wearing shorts, but she seemed to be just fine. Not a single bite on her. The lesser creatures knew, almost instinctively, not to mess with Kimberly.

Sometimes Franklin wished that he’d been that smart.

Kimberly sighed, and crossed her arms. “I’ve already explained it to you enough. You should have it memorized by now,” she said lazily, as he stomped over to her. “Jann? Do you remember?” she quizzed. She turned to face the third member of their pumpkin-finding expedition, a stocky, unobtrusive girl wearing jeans and a baby-blue hoodie, hood zipped up past her chin.

“Reason one,” she squeaked, “is because you don’t decorate for Halloween until Halloween’s Eve…”

Franklin was pretty sure that rule only applied to Christmas.

“…and reason number two is that the very special pumpkin that will represent the Konquest Klub just can’t be found in a grocery store—where they only sell genetically-modified scrub pumpkins,” Jann finished, sticking her tongue out at Franklin.

They weren’t exactly the best of friends.

“Very good Jann!” Kimberly said proudly, as Jann beamed at her. “Besides Franky, you wanted to get one of those fake foam pumpkins! Ugh!” Kimberly chided, making a face. “What’s the point of that? They’re all exactly the same!”

Franklin couldn’t understand why she thought that was a bad thing.

“Exactly. That’s exactly right,” he said, then muttered under his breath, “That’s why I wanted one.”

Franklin hated doing things differently than everyone else, but when you were friends with Kimberly, that’s pretty much all you did.

Which is how they wound up here, Friday, after school. Miles from anything Franklin considered civilization. Standing in a field with hay bales and swarms of locusts and random vegetables, most of which, Franklin observed, weren’t even pumpkins.

He heard a hound bark in the distance, and a sudden worry surfaced: “You asked the farmer who owns this field, right? I mean, it’s okay for us to be out here?”

“Of course I did,” Kimberly lied smoothly. “Believe me, old man Farragut wants us to have his very best pumpkin. It’s so generous of him. I think I’ll include him under the Special Thanks section in the credits.”

“The credits of… what?” Franklin couldn’t help asking.

Kimberly waved his question away.

“Prince just sent us a picture of his costume!” Jann exclaimed, holding up her tablet for them to see.

Franklin looked down at the screen, and saw a thin, pale boy dressed in a regency-era tux, with a long black cape swept up in front of him and held just below eye level. His hair had been dyed back to its natural black, and slicked back. He wore red lenses, thick eye-liner and prosthetic fangs.

In other words: Dracula.

“He actually looks like he’s wearing less makeup than normal,” Franklin remarked.

Jann huffed angrily and pulled the tablet away, but Kimberly knew that Franklin wasn’t mocking Prince, he was just making a serious observation. Franklin was always serious.

Kimberly shrugged. “Yeah, well, you know Count Dracula isn’t supposed to be as pale as a Cullen, right? He’s not wearing his sparkles either,” she added.

Prince Xavion was the fourth member of their group, suspiciously absent today. He usually LARPed as a Twilight fan-boy.

“Oh yeah. Why isn’t he out here—having fun—” Franklin batted at another bug, “—with us again?” he demanded, suddenly irked that Prince had gotten to sit out this trudge through farm-ville.

“Because it’s not dark yet, and he’s allergic to sunlight. Obviously,” Kimberly answered, her tone indicating that she wasn’t joking either. “That’s why he offered to pay for our Uber fare.”

Franklin nodded, not really paying attention. He just wanted to be done with this and back in bug-free suburbia as quickly as possible. He scanned the surrounding grass for orange. “How about that one?” he suggested, jabbing his hand at a colorful break in the hay.

Kimberly shook her head. “Franky, that’s a squash—and it’s yellow,” she said, annoyed. “Come over here. I think this is where the old man grows pumpkins.”

Franklin left Jann behind—lost in her Instagram—and followed Kimberly around a bale of hay twice as tall as them. Franklin could see what he guessed was a pumpkin patch clearly in the distance.

Finally, Franklin thought. Even his thoughts were exhausted.

“Kimberly?” he said quietly, standing by her side as she crouched in the weeds. He watched her inspect each pumpkin with an eye more critical than a judge at a county fair. Each one she rejected for imperfections that were invisible to Franklin.

“Yes Franky?” she asked, in between mumbles of, “…not orange enough…” and “…not pumpkiny enough…”

“What I meant was, Why are we really out here? You said that you hated Halloween.”

Kimberly stopped her search and looked up at him from under the brim of her hat. Her small features tilted into a frown, then she relented and flashed him a mischievous smile, like he’d guessed the punch line to her joke. He wanted to smile back, but he had a general rule about not smiling, especially when he didn’t know what the occasion was.

“Can’t slip anything past you, eh Franky?” she teased.

Franklin just stared at her, trying to develop an immunity to her infectious grin. It was hard—even for him. Dressed for adventure, and surrounded by pumpkins, Kimberly looked like a dangerously cute farmer’s daughter. Franklin felt his face going red, and it had nothing to do with his recently acquired case of sunburn.

“It’s true,” she continued. “I can’t stand Halloween. But how’d you figure it out?”

Franklin wasn’t sure if she was mocking him or not. “Probably because you’ve been saying, ‘I hate Halloween,’ every day this month,” he deadpanned.

Her smile fell back into a frown. “Have I really?” she asked. “I know I’ve been thinking it. But I didn’t think I said anything…”

“So why don’t you like Halloween?” Franklin pressed.

“Ugh,” Kimberly scoffed. “Are you kidding me? It’s the worst! It’s just a day that everyone lies and pretends that there’s magic and a veil between worlds and wears stupid costumes. It’s not real. They don’t really believe. They just want to take slutty selfies,” she finished angrily. “Halloween. It’s all a big joke to them. That’s why.”

Franklin kept his lips pressed tightly together, afraid that even the slightest twitch would lead to a nervous breakdown of laughter.

“So you don’t like it when a group of people dresses up and pretends to have magic powers?” Franklin said, pronouncing every word slowly, and forcing his voice to remain calm. That was literally all that her unfortunately named group—the KKKK (Kimberly King’s Konquest Klub)—did. Not one of them was really a vampire, genie, or six-star general. Not once had they actually made progress in their goal to “take over the world with magic.” They were just playing a game—or they were unhinged. Franklin still hadn’t fully made his mind up about that.

Franklin felt like he was standing on a lonely pier, staring into a giant wall of water—a tsunami of irony—and he resolved to just let it wash over him.

He took a deep breath and shook the thought away. “Well, I sort of understand. I get why you feel that way,” Franklin said sympathetically. Maybe he could make her see reason for once.

“You do?” she said, surprised.

“Yeah. I feel the same way about…” he considered, “…everything—pretty much.” Franklin was happy that for once someone shared his apathy. “I hate Halloween too,” he enthused. “Because, you know—”

He was going to say, “—a bunch of normal people decide that on one day it’s okay to stop being normal and play kids games and act like maniacs.” Basically, he hated it for the same reasons she did—just from the other side of the coin. But Kimberly cut him off; so she would never know that.

“I know that,” she interrupted, only hearing the part that she wanted to, “but that’s because you and me—we believe,” she whispered like she was confiding a secret.

Franklin couldn’t believe his ears. He bit his lip to keep from screaming. He had no idea why she still thought that about him. He didn’t believe. At. All. He didn’t even clap for Tinker Bell. He hated magic.

But he’d come to like Kimberly, so he’d started keeping his anti-magic thoughts to himself.

Once before she’d asked him how he felt about the supernatural, and she hadn’t taken his honest answer very well—which was actually an understatement, at least according to the polar bears at the zoo.

It was a long story…

“So if you hate Halloween, and I hate—I mean, if we both hate it, then why are we out here? Let’s go back to Glanville’s Coffee and—I don’t know—lead an anti-Halloween rally or something. One of your normal insane schemes,” Franklin suggested with as much enthusiasm as he could muster—which wasn’t much.

But once again, Kimberly had chosen not to listen. “There it is,” she proclaimed, “the perfect pumpkin!”

Franklin followed Kimberly’s gaze to the far end of the crop. From the look in her emerald eyes, he’d expected to see something impressive, even Cinderella-esque, maybe with a spotlight shining down on it. But it was just an ordinary pumpkin. It didn’t look any more orange or pumpkiny than any of the others.

In other words, Kimberly saw something in it that was special, and Franklin thought it looked ordinary—so maybe it was the perfect pumpkin.

“Hey! What’re you—” Franklin yelled in protest, as Kimberly used his body to climb to her feet. She still had to work on the whole idea of personal space.

She stumbled through the thick brush, leaped over a row of lesser pumpkins and leaned forward to take her prize—

—but another pair of hands got there first.

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