BY SOPHIA CIAMPAGLIA
Over the rolling grasslands and the black chestnut forests, the husky frog ponds with clusters of cattails and the vast gourd and squash farms lining the dirt pathway, laid a small town tucked away in a serene nook. Each little home was built at a distance from one another, yet were never too far apart to carry the sense of community. The smell of crisp apple and snapping spice wafted through the air, mixing with the scent of cookery seeping out of each chimney. It was like watercolor how the oranges and browns melted together over the landscape, and the leaves gently detached themselves from weakened branches of the chestnut to scatter. A crunch was heard from the stepping of frail foliage vastly laid around the village. The clap-clap of a steed’s metal hooves, the murmuring gobbles of the seasoned wild turkey, and the friendly chat of folk joined the sounds.
It was a peaceful time. It was also a silently busy time, as autumn was deep within them. The Doctor kept his thermometer, stethoscope and other knick-knacks at the ready, waiting for any little boy or girl to come running in accompanied by a worried mother to remedy the fall sickness that took place at the dawning of the schoolhouse. The baker kept his bakery running at all hours of the night, emitting the sweet smell of baking bread, as the sticky-pecan rolls were in high demand. The tailor fashioned thick cotton shirts and knitted coats for the harsh weather. Everyone in the town had their part to do. Mothers nurturing, fathers working, children playing when they should be doing school work. Yet, the season was an excuse for families to gather close around the fire to savor each other’s heart beats.
The Smith family did it the best. Mother Sarah grasped her young child Oliver in one arm, while the other held a younger Susie, all the while reading an old nursery rhyme to them which was planted on her lap as they snuggled in front of the fire.
“This wonderful dog
Was Dame Hubbard’s delight,
He could read, he could dance,
He could sing, he could write;
She gave him rich dainties
Whenever he fed,
And erected this monument
When he was dead.”
When she read those last lines, little Susie let out a sigh, rubbing her fatty cheek into her mothers’ warm arm. “I wish Walter was here, he would like this.” She said.
“Yes, I know.” The mother responded as Oliver agreed. She seemed to be jarred into thought by her daughter’s comment, before hastily attempting to flip the little book in her lap to another rhyme with her full hands.
Little did they know that they were being watched through the opaque window and their voices were carried through the glass. Resting his hands on the chilly glass, the boy could almost image the warmth radiating from the inside onto his nimble palms. He wanted to enter the tender home, but knew it was not his place. His place was elsewhere.
The boy lingered for a moment longer, before wandering down the dirt path to travel throughout the rest of town. He kicked a fallen apple then hopped along, sticking his hands in his trousers’ back pockets. The boy’s pale lips slid into a smile. He enjoyed times like this, to be in town simply to observe. A nice long walk. It was like his own little odyssey. He didn’t even twitch when a black cat screeched out a hiss at him before scampering across the road. That was Mrs. Tompkins’ kitty. She loved that kitty, and so did everyone else. It was like the town cat. There was also Mr. Badger’s dog, Champ. He was like the town dog. The boy preferred the dog over the cat anyhow, but that didn’t dictate his smile as he stopped for a moment to watch the kitty disappear into the grass. Suddenly, the smell of those long-awaited sticky-pecan rolls drifted past the boy to draw his attention. He wandered toward the smell, ending up at another window now— that of the bakery. He watched as Mr. Cadbury rolled out dough with his daughter Elizabeth at the counter. The boy could have sworn his stomach had a grumble when he spotted those apple pies resting to cool on the rack. He giggled to himself, noting that he had always had a sweet tooth. The little troublemaker would even smuggle a few taffies from the jar when he was younger.
When his attention was spent, the boy turned again to continue down the path. He found himself at the wooden steps of the Town Hall. The dry white paint of the building had begun to peel slightly, but it will be left to stand until it will receive a fresh new coat in the spring. Rows and rows of prized pumpkins lined the building. The plump orange gourds sat squat one by one with beautiful mums planted in between—a gorgeous decoration. Yet, the boy felt the need to alter one of the plain pumpkins. He sat himself down by the stair and pulled one of the gigantic squashes into his arms, handling it gently. He grabbed his father’s old hunting knife from his back pocket and began to mutilate the squash, cutting a hole in its head and reaching in to scoop out its guts. After all the seedy slop was removed, the boy began fashioning a traditional face. Triangle eyes, nose, and the zig-zagging mouth.
When he finished, he beamed proudly at his masterpiece, holding the pumpkin out in his hands to observe it. He loved creating Jack-o-lanterns.
Suddenly, the double doors of the Town Hall entrance flew open. A very round gentleman in a suit and a top hat appeared. He also had a thick, salt-an-pepper mustache and a sepia sash that stated: MAYOR, in big bold letters around his chest. That was Mr. Endecott. He was a nice, robust fellow. This would be his third term in office. The Mayor took a deep inhale through his nose, breathing that crisp apple scent, then he took out a wooden pipe from the inside of his jacket and stuck it in his mouth. That’s when he caught a glimpse of the Jack-o-lantern at the final step of the stair. It surprised him, but then he smiled, saying, “It’s a beautiful day. Very fitting for Jack-o-lanterns.”
The boy nodded with ecstatic agreement, turning to look at the creation once again himself. All it needed was a candle to illuminate it.
“Alright then, I should be on my way.” The Mayor gave another smile before hopping down the stairs to make his way down the path.
“I wish you the best Mayor Endecott.” The boy spoke with a farewell wave. He folded the hunting knife before sticking it back into his pocket, and placed the Jack-o-lantern back in its spot next to the other pumpkins. He should be on his way as well.
The boy scooped up the pumpkin guts that were still laying on the dirt with his hands, and carried the slop all the way to the farm down the road to dump it in the compost. To his left and beyond the road laid a valley of tall yellow corn shoots and to his right, the farm that raised wild turkeys and pigs and chickens. Mr. Gramm and his three boys ran this farm. They did a very good job. They also tended to the corn and did business with the gourd and squash farms over the valley.
The boy was startled by the rushing of little feet and sudden barking. The Gramms also had three little Dobermans.
Daisy. Darla. Diane.
They barked and barked at the boy, but they were restricted from him by the little white picket fence they were behind. He simply smiled at the doggies and held out a hand. “Good girls.” He praised softly. They were simply protecting their farm.
The boy turned and was on his way again down the path. He ran his hand through the corn stalks as he walked. He passed a few younger boys on the road that were going in the opposite direction, back to the central hub of town. They carried bags in their hands and the smell of fresh candies emanated from them.
As the boy rounded the hill, a horse drawn carriage trotted past him in the same direction. The boy quickly got a chance to peek inside, and he saw a family of four dressed up in quite formal attire, holding various bowls and dishes.
“Did you forget the stuffing?” A female voice carried out from the buggy, but they were long gone before the boy could hear an answer.
Continuing on, the boy walked on dirt road for a long while it seemed, before reaching another cluster of homes that lined the outskirts of town. He could smell the delicious smell of turkey seeping out of each house, and could see families meeting friends at their front doors, inviting them in after kisses and hugs. The boy smiled as he observed but continued on, not wanting to disturb anyone.
After the stretching row of homes, the boy was met with more corn. However, he stopped to look at the scarecrow that was hoisted up in the middle of the field. The way the Scarecrow was bound up to the cross reminded the boy of Christ. Its hay body was held in by a tightly buttoned up pair of trousers and a plaid flannel, its head was a Jack-o-lantern with a scary face, only to frighten away the crows. The boy wasn’t afraid of Scarecrows perusal, but what happened next really started up his heart. The jack-o-lantern head slowly turned to look at him and there was a wailing sound through the wind. The boy nearly shrieked at the inhumanly sight.
However, he was relieved to then see a black cat pop its head out of the top of the pumpkin, and climb its way out. Yes, there was nothing to be afraid of. The boy chuckled at himself, feeling embarrassed for being so easily frightened.
Finally, as the path came to an end, the boy was met with the chestnut wood. It was nearly past dusk now, and the forest was ominously dark. He never liked the forest, as did many imaginative children did. But, the boy had to finish his journey. He pushed on.
He momentarily stopped by the husky frog pond, but alas, the froggies were nowhere to be seen, in the probability that they were fast asleep in their long seasonal slumber under the mud. A chill went down the boy’s spine as he continued. The chestnut wood tangled and scratched at each other’s bare limbs- the only sound in the forest it seemed, despite the cold wind howling. As the boy trudged through the thick of the wood, he began to smell the scent of baking fruitcakes, which probably traveled from the bakery. He was almost to the clear of the wood now, there was a faint white light ahead. And soon, the boy finally reached the little opening. The ground was a little icy, so the boy stepped ever so carefully. He cautiously rounded the headstones, until he reached the one he was looking for. This was the conclusion of his journey. He stood on the hardened grass in front of the tall stone. It was a beautiful stone, and the boy loved it. It read: WALTER SMITH, BELOVED SON 1831-1845.
The boy took a deep breath, breathing in that scent of the fruit cake, and took a step forward, but before he could head home, something had stopped him momentarily.
Drifting onto the stone, a white little star landed then melted. A snowflake.
The boy looked up to the lovely sky, which seemed to be a white color despite the night, and witnessed the gentle descent of thousands of little snowflakes upon him.
Yes, it was very much time to head back home.