The Squash Babies
It gets lonely here in the forest day after day, with no kith or kin, nary a soul to speak to. My old dog, Baggly, long since gone to the heaven to which all good dogs go, rest his loyal soul. The cat that once lived under the house lost a tussle with a fox one night. I found it dragged up on the step in the morning, and put it out of its misery, poor thing. It lies out yonder next to old Baggly. I sometimes wish for someone, anyone, for the company.
All summer I coaxed my little garden just outside my window, hoping enough would grow to tide me through the cold dark winter. Winters so long and dreary here in the forest, alone, gathering wood to sell in the town. It is a long way to the town. Without a horse or even a dog to draw the cart, I do not go there but thrice a year.
Potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, squashes, those were the crops I hoped would hold the winter. But alas, little rain came. Pitiful was my crop. I gathered what I could. Even the chickens did poorly, so few eggs, and then the weasels found the hens.
Fall came, and the rain. My last venture with wood to the town and hope for some small stock of food before winter rained and rained away.
It snowed last night. An inch or so, not much. A curious thing. There are tiny footprints in the garden. Baby footprints. About the remains of the squash and pumpkins that never grew.
It's getting dark early now. I light a candle only an hour or two in the evening to read by. Mostly, I sit by the window all day. It's been a long time now since anyone has been near to speak to, even passing by out in the forest. No huntsmen, no woodcutters, no foragers, no one. I only talk to the mice. I wonder if I may have forgotten how to speak to real people.
Lately, there is the strangest sound in the night, a little whispering sound. Like children telling stories, they don't want others to hear. I wake and hear it sometimes. I wish there were someone to talk to besides the mice.
The snow is getting deeper—the days shorter, colder. I don't lack for firewood. That is the joke. All else, mayhap, but not firewood.
Just listen to that wind moan. It seems to speak of the ache that is in my creaky, old bones today. They tell me a storm is coming.
I burrow deeper under the old patched quilt and listen to the splot of the sleet and whine of the wind outside. Behind the sounds of the storm are other sounds. Patters. Little foot patters. Sometimes on the roof, sometimes by the windows. Scritching at the walls. Murmurs. Voices. I can't quite catch the words.
The last potato is in the pot today. The squash was gone three days ago.
I saw one today. I was sitting by the window. It was a baby. Or perhaps a very small child. In the garden, crawling out of one of the squashes. All pink and naked and round like a little child. It ran about, then crawled back into the squash. It quite startled me.
Another snowstorm. There's snow almost to the roof now. I can barely see out the window, even though I dig it out each storm. I wish there were someone to talk to, at least. The squash babies come up to the window now and look in at me. They scratch at the door. They run on the roof; they want to come inside.
There is nothing left for the pot.
I lie in bed and pull the old quilt high over my head to try not to hear the digging in the snow on the roof—something tunnels at the walls. Little faces peer in at me through the snowy window. Pink and round. Plump and tender. Why don't they freeze? It's so cold. I know they want to come in. In here where it's warm. I hear them telling me to let them in. "Let us into the warm." They whisper.
I won't be talking to the mice any longer. I ate the last one this morning.
I dreamed of little children running in the house. Chattering, playing, talking to me, sitting on my knee, arms about my neck.
Listen to the wind howl.
I dreamed of roasting meat. I can smell its delicious odors even now, awake. I can smell it while I watch the pink, plump squash baby faces filling the window.
I shove more wood into the stove until it is roaring. I curl into a ball under the old quilt to listen to the wind yet another night. My stomach knots -- my nightshirt hangs like a shroud, I've grown so thin.
"Let us in." the whispers say in my sleep.
"Let us in." I hear in the day.
"Let us in." I hear.
I stand at the door.
I stand at the door, little faces fill the window. Pink and plump.
I shove more wood into the stove until it is roaring. The roasting pan ready.
I stand at the door. I lift my hand to the latch.
The faces are gone from the window.
I stand at the door, the ax in my hand at my side, and lift the latch.
The door swings open.
The doorway swarms with grinning squash babies, broad bright red mouths grinning with voracious needle teeth. From behind, from the rafters, swarm squash babies.
I swing my ax.