ACT II

you’re not really losing a pumpkin—you’re gaining an enemy

A group of five fashionistas stood in front of Kimberly in a tight huddle, glaring down at her by the light of their phones. They looked as miserable to be out here as Franklin did, scratching and swatting at anything that crawled near.

The way they huddled together reminded Franklin of a herd of zebra from some animal show he’d seen, each trying to minimize their exposure to Nature’s predators—which in this place just meant killer bugs. Even so, Franklin sympathized. He wished he could huddle with them, but he was afraid they’d start smacking him instead.

At the head of the herd stood the leader, gazing down at Kimberly with obvious contempt. Immediately, Franklin was struck by the odd resemblance between the two girls. They both had the same pointed chins and fine features, they both held the same bossy pose—but all the little similarities just made the differences even louder, because everything else gave him the impression that this girl was a filtered version of Kimberly: she’d had all her originality strained out.

And that’s not the only thing that’s strained, Franklin thought, she looks like she hasn’t eaten in a week. He looked up from her bony arms to the straight chutes of her brown hair and her sour-looking pout.

She smirked at Kimberly, and even in the dim light he could see that she wore a massive amount of makeup; something made even more noticeable by the fact that Kimberly didn’t.

Kimberly treated imperfection like a badge of honor—each freckle, each scar made you unique. This girl looked like the living incarnation of a teen beauty mag. What was really underneath the Clinique, no one could tell, which was exactly the way she wanted it. All traces of uniqueness and imperfection traded for a generic glaze. A real-life photoshop, that made her look like a very beautiful… copy.

Kimberly could look like that if she wanted to, Franklin realized. Would that be a good thing?

For the first time in his life, he felt a splinter of doubt in his belief that normal was better.

She smirked down at Kimberly with obvious contempt.

Kimberly rose to stand head-to-head with this new challenger. Her eyes locked onto the brunette and stayed there. She didn’t blink.

On the outside, Kimberly looked calm—almost too calm. But Franklin knew her better than that by now. Even from this distance, he could read the wild intensity that pooled behind her eyes. She seethed with an inner fury, and the stare she leveled at this intruder would’ve made a King Cobra back down. Suddenly, this new girl wasn’t so sure of herself.

Her smug smile disappeared. She looked back to her entourage for support. That restored a bit of her attitude, and she dared again to meet Kimberly’s piercing gaze.

She was either brave—or very, very stupid.

Franklin hiked his way over to Kimberly, casting a quick glance down at the pumpkins as he passed. He wished he could just sink down into the itchy grass and disappear until this fresh drama had ended. Wake him up after Halloween—after all the holidays actually. They were more trouble than they were worth. He felt his legs get heavier with every step. The holidays just filled him with dread. Every year. He didn’t even know what this one was about. Druids? Monster Mashing? A cynical bid by candy companies to push their product?

Finally, he made it next to Kimberly and stood quietly by her side, lost in his own seasonal depression. Franklin thought that was an appropriate amount of solidarity.

“I think you’ve got my pumpkin there, Pilgrim,” Kimberly stated lightly, careful to keep the threat out of everything but her eyes.

“Your pumpkin?” the new girl demanded. She stared at Kimberly like she didn’t know what to make of her. “Who are you?”

Kimberly thrust her hand forward. “I’m Kimberly. And that’s my pumpkin because… farmer Farragut is my granddad. So all these pumpkins are mine—ours,” she said smoothly. If Franklin didn’t know she was lying, he would’ve just accepted it.

“Oh… really? What—could it be? Is that you—sister?” the starved teen sneered, looking back to approving nods and smiles from her clique. She didn’t shake Kimberly’s hand.

Kimberly donned a small smile and let her hand fall, but a quick glance at Franklin out of the corner of her eye said that she was confused. Franklin responded with a broad shrug. He didn’t get the joke either, and he didn’t care enough to pretend that he did.

No one said anything for a few seconds. Then Franklin blurted, “Oh, you mean you’re old MacDonald’s real granddaughter.”

He was tempted to feel proud that he’d caught on—but no—he still didn’t care enough.

She snorted. “That’s right. I’m Emma—Emma Farragut,” she answered—with way more attitude than the situation called for, Franklin thought. “And I know who you are Kimberly King. We go to the same school.”

Kimberly just stared at her.

Emma paused. “I’m on the debate team,” she prompted. “We… didn’t win last year.”

Kimberly just kept staring. Zero recognition.

“And I’m on the track team—I placed second,” she continued, her irritation mounting, “and the Presidential Scholarship recipient!” her voice broke on the last syllable; then she waited in strained silence for anything from Kimberly.

Kimberly shook her head. “Not ringing any bells, Toots.”

“You stole my scholarship from me! I got suspended for three weeks! You ruined my life and you don’t even remember?” Emma shrilled.

Franklin let out an involuntary groan. He could sympathize.

Kimberly smiled darkly. “If you’re going to smoke weed under the bleachers, don’t let the Scholarship Board see the leaked photos,” she said matter-of-factly. “There’s an important life lesson there.”

“You do remember!” Emma screamed. “And I don’t know how you took those pictures!”

Kimberly raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. “I remembered your face, but not your name,” she said absently. “But there was something familiar about you. I knew that.”

She sighed. “But really Emma, don’t dig up old grudges. I hurt you, you hurt me, we hurt others and we all got hurt ourselves. You know the drill. Don’t dwell on it. That’s not healthy. All of that stuff is in the past. God, you’re pretty. Let’s just let bygones be bygones. We both got our closure. Relax. Move on. It’s okay. Let the poison go,” Kimberly rattled off her impromptu grief-counseling session so quickly it set all of their heads spinning. “So just pass that pumpkin my way and we’ll get out of your hair. It’s so easy I can’t believe you haven’t done it already.”

Emma looked stupefied by Kimberly’s speech. Her grip on the pumpkin loosened. She held it up like she couldn’t care less about the stupid pumpkin.

If Kimberly made a move now, she could probably take it. But her victorious smile betrayed her—and that broke the spell.

Emma hesitated. Her grip tightened. “But what are you doing out here stealing our pumpkins?” she snapped. Her eyeshadow narrowed. “Honestly, Kim, I thought your family was poor, but what kind of white trash needs to steal pumpkins from a farm? That’s just pathetic.” She opened her purse and pulled out a five dollar bill. “Here. Now you can buy one from the store. Okay Kimmy?”

The cool Fall breeze faded away. The world went quiet. Everything that chirped, buzzed, or barked went mute. Like someone had unplugged the sound. The temperature in the air began to rise.

Franklin wanted to chalk it up to the sudden tension in the scene, but that didn’t explain why he could feel the ground beneath his feet start to tremble. And he had to admit that this sort of thing seemed to happen a lot—always when Kimberly got mad.

He started to panic. He wished he could warn these girls—whoever they were—that they were in way over their heads. They had no idea who they were dealing with. They probably thought Kimberly was just an ordinary girl. Someone they could bully. They didn’t realize they were poking a polar bear—and the cage was open.

He couldn’t text them. He didn’t know how to sign. Maybe if I had some cue cards, Franklin thought, rolling his eyes.

“Listen Emma: easy way, hard way—either’s fine by me. Now just hand over my pumpkin. I’m not gonna ask you again,” Kimberly declared, her tone said, We can still be friends—or I can bury you out here, and they’ll never find the body.

Kimberly still looked casual from a distance, but Franklin could tell that diplomacy had failed, and she was about to pounce.

Franklin drew in a deep breath. This situation called for a distraction. Something to defuse the tension. And Franklin reasoned that, unless one of Emma’s blonde friends were going to volunteer, he’d have to throw himself on this particular pyre. Just wonderful, he thought, because if there’s one thing I love, it’s being the center of attention.

Franklin opened his mouth to speak. He didn’t know what he’d say. Would he try talking to one of Emma’s clique? Would he remind Kimberly that the Law of the Jungle doesn’t work in high school, and that all the kids they meet aren’t automatically enemies? Or should he just go berserk and start kicking pumpkins?

“Hey, is that? It is! Look everybody, it’s Kinny!” one of the girls squealed. Franklin didn’t know which of them had said it, but he didn’t care. They all owed her their life.

It was a small distraction—but it was enough. Sound gradually returned, the air started to cool again, and the earth stopped moving. They all turned to look in the direction the girl was pointing.

There was no mistake. The blonde girl was pointing at the only other person in the field.

Jann?

She stood beside the large bale of hay, stone-faced, like she’d just seen a ghost.

So they all knew each other. Except for Franklin. Small world, he thought.

A nasty smile broke on Emma’s face. She looked like she’d just gotten the upper hand, and neither Franklin nor Kimberly knew why.

“Hey there Kinny! Long time no see! Where’ve you been hiding?” she called, passing the pumpkin to one of her cronies, and walking over to Jann.

Kimberly cursed under her breath. The herd was guarding the pumpkin now. Which meant she would have to kill them all. Quintuple homicide was a horse of a different color. Probably not worth it, she concluded glumly.

Emma grabbed Jann by the arm and pulled her into a phony squeeze. When she released her, Jann looked like she wanted to faint.

Emma turned back to them. “I’m sure she’s never told you, but little Kinny here used to be a part of our group. One of our BFFs. Didn’t you Kinny?” she prompted.

Jann just nodded, still struggling for speech. “I… uh, I go to Saint Ursula’s now,” she mumbled.

“Do you really? I didn’t think your parents could afford something like that,” Emma confided loud enough for them all to hear. “Well, be careful. You know what they say about girls from Ursula’s.”

Franklin, who’d so far been mercifully ignored in the encounter, knew that he’d regret asking, but his limited curiosity got the best of him: “I don’t get it. Why do you call her Kinny?”

Jann mustered a hateful glare his way.

Franklin ignored her.

Emma looked up like she’d only just noticed Franklin. “Who are you?” she asked.

“You don’t really care, do you?” Franklin pointed out.

“Not really,” Emma said bluntly.

Franklin shrugged. “I’m good with that.”

Emma laughed, amused by his response, and for the first time Franklin saw Kimberly glare at her.

“We call her Kinny because of, you know, South Park,” one of the girls from the herd piped up.

“Because she’s always mumbling under a hoodie, and we can’t understand her,” Emma explained. “Though now it looks like we should call you Cartman!” She poked at Jann’s more-than-curvy sides. Emma and her groupies laughed. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again. We should get together and catch up—just like old times!”

All the color drained from Jann’s olive skin.

Emma gave the group one final smirk, then turned to leave, her entourage in tow. “Oh, you really shouldn’t hang around here. Grandpa lets out the pits at night. They’re like monsters when they’re hungry, and he doesn’t feed them enough. I hope I can remember to tell him you’re out here. I’d hate for an accident to happen,” she demurred, then laughed. “Bye Kinny, Kimmy, and…” She flicked a finger in Franklin’s direction.

Then Emma and her coven headed off for old man Farragut’s house, disappearing out of sight, and leaving behind two very pissed girls—and Franklin.

Like most things in his life not related to the supernatural, the ordeal had left Franklin unfazed. But standing between Kimberly and Jann made him very uncomfortable. He felt like the grilled cheese in a hate sandwich.

All at once three things happened: Franklin started to complain about the dogs, Jann started to cry, and Kimberly started to march.

The next hour was incredibly awkward.

“…all I’m saying is that farmers have mad dogs—like rabid…”

“…couldn’t tell you because it was too horrible…”

“…Jann, keep up! You can sob and walk at the same time…”

“…and I know heard barking. So, can we go faster? It’s almost dark…”

“…and I thought she’d stop bullying me if I joined her group, but it only got…”

“…come on! Arm around me! Do it Jann! Franklin, you take her other side. I’m not about to leave a man behind…”

Somehow they managed to end up back at the road. Night had fallen. An autumn chill stabbed through the air, as if to welcome in the holiday. The only lights out here in the dark, unspoiled country were the two lanterns on the front gate of Farragut Farm—and the headlights from their Uber.

“What?” Franklin hissed. “He’s still here?” He shot a questioning look past Jann’s bobbing head to where Kimberly stood.

“I told him to wait for us,” she grunted.

“Why would you do that?” Franklin asked incredulously.

“Franky,” she pried open the mini-van door and they hoisted an exhausted Jann inside, “how long do you think it would take to get another taxi out here? Plus then we’d be paying for one extra trip. I’m not stupid!”

“Whatever,” Franklin snapped, piling into the car after Kimberly. He was too tired to even think about how much he didn’t care. “Are we getting back at Emma or what?”

Kimberly looked to her left at Jann. She expected rousing support, but all she got was a snore.

She sighed and turned back to Franklin. Even Kimberly was slightly fatigued from their fun-sized tour of duty. She shared a smile with him, under the cover of the night, one that he wished he had the energy to return. Then she whispered, “She has my pumpkin.”

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