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The Magic Pumpkin
By Benji Alexander Palus
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Benji Alexander Palus
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe enormous pumpkin flew across the bright pink sky, leaving a trail made of little wisps of its magic glow: autumn colors of red and orange and yellow and green, and even a bit of violet which swirled and faded into nothing a few seconds after the pumpkin had passed. Atop the pumpkin rode two small boys, brothers named Owen and Oliver. Owen was five years old at the moment and Oliver had just turned three, though he didn't know it.
Being the older brother, Owen got to "drive." That is, he sat on top of the pumpkin with his legs around the giant stem and steered with a piece of deep green vine that grew out of either side of the stem into a loop, much like the reins on a horse. In fact, it was this loop of vine that had first given Owen the idea to climb up onto the pumpkin and pretend that it was a horse, only to find himself flying away from the ground and from Oliver, who had started to cry, but that is another part of the story. Oliver was not crying now. Quite the opposite; he was laughing, as was Owen.
Riding the magic pumpkin was the boys' favorite thing to do. They looked forward to it every day. After Owen was up and settled at the reins, Oliver would climb up after him. Oliver was much smaller than Owen and often had trouble getting on the pumpkin. Owen would always try to help him but Oliver was determined to do it by himself, every single time, no matter how many tries it took or how many times he fell down.
Sometimes Owen would get impatient and yell at Oliver to hurry up. "Come on already, Oliver! You're never gonna get it! No! Not like that, you're doing it wrong! Put your foot there!"
This would only make Oliver more frustrated and half of the time he would sit on the ground, crying and pouting and hitting the pumpkin. "Shut up, Owen! I hate this stupid punkin! I wish we never found it! I don't evuh wanna ride it again!" Of course, Oliver didn't mean any of these things, nor did he mean to yell at his brother, but sometimes his temper got the best of him. He was only three, after all, and was easily discouraged when things did not go his way.
Owen would usually feel bad when Oliver couldn't get on the pumpkin. He never meant any of the angry things that he said, either, and the sight of his baby brother crying would almost always make Owen's anger melt away. That's when he would gently or cheerfully say, "It's okay, Oliver. You can do it!" and then Oliver would do it, grabbing at the piece of vine that Owen pretended he hadn't lowered and scrambling up behind him with a giggle or two of excited anticipation as he squeezed both arms around Owen's middle, pressed his head tightly against Owen's back and closed his eyes tight, waiting for the moment when the pumpkin would rise into the air and tickle the bottom of his belly.
The pumpkin flew over the gently rolling hills, carrying the young brothers who laughed at everything, and at nothing. They laughed at the black birds that yelled at them for flying through their flock. They laughed at the singing fish. They laughed at the feeling of the wind in their faces and because the sun and the moon were rising over the horizon together. They laughed because it was so ridiculous and at the same time so wondrous that they were actually riding on the back of a pumpkin that could fly through the air. Mostly they laughed because they loved each other and because they were together.
As close as the brothers were, they did not necessarily look like brothers at first glance. Owen had dark brown eyes, straight and thick dark hair that barely touched his collar in the back, and at age five he was already a bit lanky. It was obvious that he would someday be very tall like his Daddy. Oliver had bright blue eyes and long, reddish-blonde hair that grew out of his head straight, but then landed in curls on his shoulders and just above his eyes. He had lean limbs like his brother but didn't seem as if he would grow up to be quite as tall as him (although at age three it can be hard to tell such things), and Oliver still had some baby fat in his face and a plump round belly that often poked out from beneath his shirt.
Although these differences were striking, if one were to look a little closer they would see that both boys had the same friendly, round nose - nice and short. They would also see that although their eyes were different colors, the shape was almost exactly the same: big and round and bright, and with long lashes. Both of the boys had the same mischievous curl in the center of their upper lip and the same clumsy-looking ear lobes.
Strangely, where the brothers were probably most alike was in their little boys' hands, not just in the shape but in the curious way that they moved them. It was as if each finely shaped finger had a mind of its own and could move how it liked without regard to the rest. That is not to say that their fingers were constantly wiggling in all directions like the tentacles of an addlepated octopus, far from it. Rather, they moved in the way that the fingers of a talented pianist moved over the keys of a piano; all doing what they're supposed to be doing and doing it where they're supposed to be doing it, but no two fingers in the same place, often nor at the same time. Of course, neither boy could play the piano, indeed they had no piano to play even if they could, but this was how their fingers and hands moved no matter what activity occupied them, whether they were buttoning their shirts, picking rainbowberries or waving goodbye to the cow-pies in Springland. Their hands looked nimble even when they weren't doing anything at all. Most fingers rest together, sometimes curled this much and sometimes that much and sometimes laid flat, but Owen's and Oliver's fingers would rest at different angles from each other without the boys even noticing it. It was as if they had been carved by a master sculptor who had studied for weeks to find the perfect position to convey fluid grace, and yet the boys' hands never came to rest in the same position twice. Sometimes Owen would cross his fingers when he was content and sometimes Oliver would lay one finger aside his chin while he thought; it was all very bizarre, this finger business, especially in contrast to how clumsy the rest of their little bodies could often be.
Owen's fingers tightened on the vine as he steered the pumpkin up and over a hillside covered with long yellow grasses and withering weeds. Leaving the fire trees behind, the brothers headed toward the Dead Wood Forest where they liked to chase the leaves that fell from the black hole trees and blew about in the gusty winds. The pumpkin flew lower as it neared a light wood of tall, soft-colored trees whose rich fall foliage seemed to brighten the sunlight that shone through it. The boys were in Autumnland and it was a perfectly crisp autumn day.
The pumpkin landed with a quick bounce and a fwump! in a pile of leaves, sending up a rustling shower of red and yellow and orange and brown into which Owen and Oliver jumped and were immediately buried. The boys' laughing heads popped up, bits of leaves in their hair and sticking to their sweaters, and they waded out of the leaf pile. For a while they took turns running and jumping into the piles of leaves, until they had spread them all about, and then the brothers left the leaves and the pumpkin behind and walked off toward the black hole trees, holding each others' hands and knowing that by the next time they visited that place, the wind would have swept the leaves into piles again.
The boys walked hand in hand to a large stand of evergreen trees. It was dark amidst the evergreens, whose dense needles let little sunlight through, but the boys weren't scared. They cheerily strolled in among the trees and soon were walking downhill. The ground grew steeper and steeper until they came to a narrow open glade, enclosed on both sides by the tall evergreens. This was their favorite place to catch leaves. It was one of the few places in Autumnland where the grass was green and soft (for catching leaves entailed much falling down). This patch of grassy hillside sloped down to a place where the ground leveled out for a very short distance before the thick, black trunks of the Dead Wood Forest began. These were the black hole trees, which then continued, following the hillside down again all the long way to the bottom of a deep ravine and back up the other side. The black hole trees that grew out of the side of the hill had only three or four, or at most five dead leaves clinging to their dying branches, and yet few leaves littered the bare dark soil. The grass stopped shortly after the trees started, right at the place where the ground began to steeply slope downward again. These trees that grew out of the slanted ground twisted and turned in all manner of strange shapes and angles, trying to keep their footing in the steep earth. Many of these trees looked as if they would soon fall over, though they never did. Owen and Oliver often crept up to the edge of the grass to look down at this vast forest of black, serpentine trunks and branches that fell to a bottom that they could never quite decide if they could see. They were afraid to climb down among those trees. The evergreens that grew on either side of the glade stopped at the edge as well, as if they, too, were afraid.
A few trees grew almost in a line across the bottom of the grassy glade where the boys chased the leaves. These trees stood on the edge of the grass, just before the hill dropped again. They were also black hole trees, but they grew very differently from the ones growing out of the hillside just below. They were straight and tall, as tall as three-story houses, and they held up their branches proudly to show off the bright autumn colors of their leaves, or perhaps they held them up because they liked the feeling of the wind blowing through them; you never can tell with trees.
Powerful gusts blew through the smooth, black branches, sending their leaves toward the waiting brothers. The wind made a sound that is hard to describe if you've never heard it. It was an exciting sound and a soothing sound, all at the same time. It started with the rustling of thousands of dry leaves, which slowly grew louder and was then joined by the creaking of hundreds of branches. The howling of the wind then grew louder between the trunks, and its whistling reached higher through the tiniest, top branches. Added to this was the deep sound that the wind made as it blew through the wide, deep holes in the tree trunks, almost like a fog horn or someone who never runs out of breath blowing in a jug.
Something in the way that all of these different sounds built up and joined each other made Owen and Oliver feel as if something were building up inside them, like a growing excitement combined with the way that uncontrollable laughter bubbles up. It felt to the boys like life itself filling them and tingling in every single part of them, from the tops of their heads to the pits of their stomachs and even that place behind their kneecaps that made them want to kick their legs in excited anticipation of the giddiness that was about to burst free.
Feeling the strength of the wind build as it blew through their hair and over their skin, and even gently tossed them about, made it seem like a living thing. The wind was like a friend that was happy and excited to see the brothers and to play with them. It blew the leaves from the trees for the boys to jump about and try to snatch from the air. It carried the sound of their laughter as they missed and fell and rolled down the hill, and it shared in their shouts of glee when they actually caught a leaf.
Everything about this simple play of catching leaves filled the boys with a special joy that only children can feel, and being children, they never stopped to wonder at this or to ask why it was so. They didn't think about how long it would last or if they would ever feel it again. They simply enjoyed themselves as if the fun would last forever.
"Owen! I got one! That makes a hunn-jed!" Oliver ran about waving a big, brown leaf.
Owen rolled his eyes in an amused fashion and corrected his little brother, "That's only five, Oliver, and besides, I got eight already!" He had to raise his voice slightly to be heard over the wind.
"Nuh uh! A hunn-jed! I can count to a hunn-jed, you know!" Oliver confidently waited for an answer to what he felt was an inarguable point.
Owen did not give the answer that Oliver was hoping for. "I know you can count to a hundred, but you're cheating! You can only count the ones that fall from the trees."
Again, Oliver felt that he had the winning point in the discussion. "They all fell fum the chwees, Owen!"
Owen was half-frustrated and half-entertained by Oliver's straightforward logic. Rather than explain, he let Oliver think that he was winning. Owen stopped chasing leaves for a moment to watch Oliver. Sometimes, he liked to just watch his baby brother play. He loved him very much, and thought he was very funny. He watched Oliver run all around with his hands in the air, snatching at the leaves that flew by him. Oliver's upraised arms made his sweater lift up so that his belly poked out. Owen felt a warm surge of love and amusement, and grinned widely at Oliver's exposed belly button. Owen couldn't have put his feelings into words, but the term that would describe them best would be endearing; at times like that he found his brother's unaffected antics endearing.
But Owen's feelings went deeper than that. Just because he was a child and didn't have the vocabulary to describe his emotions or the experience to help him sort through them, that didn't make them simple. Just because he spoke and thought in unsophisticated terms didn't mean that he felt things that way. Owen might look at a color and call it purple because that was the only word he had for it, but that didn't mean that he couldn't tell the difference between violet, magenta, eggplant and indigo. It was the same with his feelings toward his little brother. He watched Oliver and thought that to do so made him feel happy, but only because he didn't know how else to express it, even to himself.
There is a love that grows for the things we take care of, and Owen took care of Oliver. This was something else that Owen would never have thought out for himself: part of the joy he felt when watching Oliver play was the satisfaction of doing a good job. He could be proud of himself because he had worked hard to provide his little brother with all of the things he needed, so that his laughter could come as easily as it did. Sometimes, when Owen felt afraid, he hid it from Oliver because he didn't want him to feel scared, too, and at times like that, Oliver's smiling face would in turn help Owen to find courage.
In this and many other ways, the boys had helped each other through many dark times, sometimes on purpose and sometimes it just worked out that way, but as we have said, feelings are not simple things, even for a five-year-old boy. Every bit as deep a reason for Owen's affections for his brother was something inside Oliver himself, something all his own, for Oliver was a child of incredible light and beauty. His inner glow spread to everything around him and made living things feel lighter inside themselves. Owen was a bit in awe of his little brother, though he didn't realize this, either. It was a fascinating thing; this delight Owen felt in having successfully protected the thing which delighted him.
Oliver jumped at a passing leaf, missed it by quite a lot and fell to the ground. He rolled over several times and sat up with a leaf in his hand that he had grabbed from the ground. "Owen! I got another one! That's two hunn-jed!"
"Oliver, that's not right! First of all, two hundred doesn't come after one hundred. Second of all, a hundred and one does. Third of all, that only makes six! And fourth of all quit cheating!"
Owen sounded angry but Oliver knew that he wasn't so he started to sing a song about the two hundred leaves he had caught until Owen interrupted him.
"I'm tired of catching leaves. I'm hungry," Owen said.
At these words Oliver stopped singing immediately and sat up. He asked, "Hungry for whut?"
While the boys had been playing, the bright pink sky had faded to white, and now began to darken to gray. There was a stillness in the air, as if the wind, sensing that play time was over, was resting.
"Well, Owen? What we gonna eat?"
Owen thought for a minute and said, "Let's eat some parrots."
Excerpted from The Magic Pumpkin by Benji Alexander Palus Copyright © 2013 by Benji Alexander Palus. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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