Toby walked into the kitchen and sat down at the counter where his mother was making pancakes. He ran his fingers through his hair, heaved a big sigh, and dropped his head down onto his folded arms.
“Bad night?” asked his mother.
Toby answered with a groan. He lifted up his head and put his face in his hands and then spread his fingers apart just enough to see his mother.
“Must have been,” his mother said smiling. “I hope you're hungry.”
“Maybe I will be when they’re done,” Toby answered rubbing his eyes.
“You better be,” his mother said, “I’m making pumpkin pancakes.”
Toby looked at her wide eyed as if she had slapped him, groaned again, and, with much drama, acted like he fell from his stool.
“What’s the matter with you?” said his mother. “I thought you liked pumpkin pancakes.”
Toby began picking himself up off the floor. “Any other morning, yes,” he said, “but not today. If I don’t see another pumpkin as long as I live, it will be okay with me. All night…pumpkins. I would wake up, go back to sleep, and there they were again…pumpkins…pumpkins…pumpkins.”
“That doesn’t sound that bad,” his mother said with a laugh.
“It is no laughing matter,” Toby said with all seriousness. “It was more like a continuous nightmare than a dream.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Do I have to?” Toby said with whine in his voice.
His mother poured him a glass of milk and began greasing the pan with an expectant look at her son.
He took a sip and began talking with a milk mustache. “I dreamed I was in a pumpkin patch. There were all sizes of pumpkins. There were giant pumpkins like you see at the fair, and there were the little baby ones they sell for a dollar a piece. I was one of the baby pumpkins.”
His mother snickered as she began pouring the batter into the pan. Toby paid her no attention, but took another sip of his milk, darkening his mustache, and continued, “Someone else was in the pumpkin patch and they were smashing all of the pumpkins with a baseball bat. I was watching as he was getting closer and closer to me, smashing each pumpkin along the way. When he smashed the pumpkins, the guts flew all over the place. His bat was dripping with them. I was horrified as he went one by one through the pumpkin patch, sparing none. When he got to me, he swung his bat with all his fury, but when he hit me, the bat broke.”
His mother was bent over the counter, listening intently, as she waited to flip her pancakes. “Well, it sounds like you prevailed in the end.” She stood up and began flipping the pancakes. “You know what I think,” she went on, “I think you have been watching too much of the news.”
“What do you mean?” Toby asked.
“Haven’t you heard?” said his mother pouring circles of batter into the pan. “It’s the big local story. Two nights in a row now, someone has gone into one of the pumpkin patches around town and smashed all of the pumpkins. I think they said it was done with a baseball bat. Thousands of dollars of damage.”
“Have they caught him?” said Toby, sitting up straight.
His mother looked up from her pan and shook her head gravely.
At that moment, Toby’s little sister, Bonnie came into the kitchen and sat down next to him and inhaled deeply. “Mmm…pumpkin pancakes.” Feeling the seriousness of the conversation, she said: “What…what is it?”
“Toby had a dream,” said her mother.
“Nightmare is more like it,” corrected Toby.
“What was it?”
“Pumpkins,” said Toby
“Oh yeah?” Bonnie said, “Ollie, had a dream about pumpkins.” She snatched a pancake off the plate and ate it dry. “You and Ollie are watching too much news.”
“So, you heard about the pumpkin patches being vandalized?” said their mother.
“It’s terrible,” said Bonnie. “Who would do such a thing?”
“That’s what we were just talking about,” said their mother. “They haven’t caught the guy yet.”
“Wait a minute,” Toby interrupted, “Ollie had a dream about pumpkins?”
“I think it was more like a nightmare,” said Bonnie taking another bite of pancake. “Like yours. But I wouldn’t ask him about it if I were you. He’s in a mood.”
“He’s in a mood a lot lately,” said their mother.
“Well, why did he tell you?” asked Toby.
Bonnie snatched another pancake. “I don’t know,” she said, hopping off her stool, “I guess he just likes me.” She waved the pancake in his face, took a bite, and skipped off to another room.
After breakfast, Toby went upstairs and stood nervously in front of Ollie’s door. It had an “Enter at Your Own Risk” sign. Toby knew this sign to be telling the truth. One time he did enter without permission and began rummaging around looking to borrow Ollie’s walkie talkies. To his great misfortune, Ollie walked in on him, pushed him to the ground and picked him up by his ankles, suspending him in the air like a chicken about to be butchered. Thankfully, he wasn’t butchered, but he was dipped head first into the toilet.
He took a deep breath and knocked.
“Ollie?” Toby said timidly.
“What is it?” came Ollie’s voice from inside the room.
“I wanted to ask you a question.” Toby waited for a response but none came. “Um — Uh — ” he started hesitantly, “I wanted to know if I could borrow your bat.”
Immediately there was movement in the room, and the door was jerked open. Instinctively, Toby flinched and took a step back.
“What did you say?” Ollie stepped out of the door and made sure his full height was in display over his little brother.
“Your bat. Can I borrow it?”
“Get your own bat.” Ollie said. “What do you want my bat for?”
“I can’t find mine. Besides, I want to practice with a heavier one. Can I borrow it?
“No,” snarled Ollie.
Ollie hesitated a moment and then said, “I lost mine too.”
Toby tried to look past him to get a view into his room. “Can I come in and look for it?”
Ollie’s eyes narrowed. He bent down into Toby’s face and said seethingly, “Don’t even think about coming into my room. Do you hear me?”
“Mom and Bonnie were right,” Toby answered with a courage that surprised him. “You are in a mood.” He turned to walk away. “Maybe I’ll go look for it in the garage.”
Ollie thundered out of his room and took Toby by the collar of his shirt. “Just forget about the bat. You got it. Just forget about it. You’re not going to look for it in my room. You’re not going to look for it in the garage. You’re not going to look for it anywhere. You got me. Now go on!”
Toby said no more and went down the hall to his own room and sat on his bed. He didn’t move for ten minutes. Finally, he got up, and went down the hall to Bonnie’s room. The door was open. Without hesitation, he went in and lay down across her bed. She was lying on the floor on the other side of her bed writing in her journal. The current page was half filled, and she was hard at work thinking about what to write next.
“What are you writing about?”
“The Pumpkin Smasher,” she said coolly. Unlike most girls who might have thrown their body across their journal and yelled at their big brother to get out, Bonnie was completely confident in herself and cared not what others thought of her. This was why Toby admired her like he did.
“What about him?
She sat upright, “Here — I’ll read it to you,” she said. She cleared her throat and spoke importantly: “There is someone terrorizing our town by creeping into pumpkin patches each night and smashing the pumpkins to pieces. He is trying to ruin Fall for everyone, not to mention ruining the livelihoods of pumpkin farmers all over the county.”
“Wait…wait…wait,” Toby said, incredulous at her use of the words "terrorizing" and "livelihood". “You didn’t write that.”
Bonnie closed her eyes and handed him the journal. “Read for yourself.”
Toby looked it over, his face deflating with humility as he saw that even her spelling was perfect.
“Read on,” Bonnie encouraged. Toby’s eyes went back to the page and he began reading where she left off.
“I hope he gets caught soon or there won’t be a pumpkin left to decorate peoples’ homes or to carve into jack o lanterns, or to turn into pies. Apparently both of my brothers are very upset over the whole thing, because, last night, they each had a nightmare about the pumpkin smasher. It has put both of them in a mood.”
Toby handed over the journal.
“Speaking of moods,” Toby said, “I just about got eaten alive by Ollie.”
“I heard,” Bonnie said as she started to write another sentence. “What was going on?”
“It’s about my dream and the Pumpkin Smasher. Mom said that, in the news, they were saying it was probably a baseball bat used to smash all those pumpkins.”
“Yeah,” Bonnie interrupted, “But there are lots of ways to smash pumpkins. You can jump on them, kick them, smash them with a sledgehammer, pick them up and throw them.”
“They said so on the news. And in my dream, that’s what the pumpkin smasher was using…a baseball bat. In my dream, I was a little pumpkin in the pumpkin patch and I was watching as the pumpkin smasher went from pumpkin to pumpkin with a baseball bat, swinging away like a madman, until he got to me. When he finally got to me and hit me with the bat, the bat broke.”
Bonnie looked on with astonishment, “So the bat broke?”
Toby nodded and then Bonnie said:
“Ollie dreamed he was on the home team playing baseball and was hitting home run after home run, but instead of cheering the crowd was booing. But his last at bat, the pitcher threw one of those baby pumpkins instead of a baseball. When he hit the baby pumpkin, his bat broke, and the crowd cheered.”
Toby’s eyes widened, “In my dream, that is what I was, one of those baby pumpkins you buy for a dollar.”
“Just the size of a baseball?” asked Bonnie.
“Exactly the size of a baseball,” said Toby. He looked passed Bonnie out the window for a moment and then down into his lap before regaining eye contact with his sister. “I didn’t tell Mom this, but, in my dream, Ollie was the Pumpkin Smasher.”
Bonnie blinked. She put down her journal and looked again at Toby. “I’m no interpreter of dreams, but I think your dreams are connected, and they mean the same thing. In Ollie’s dreams, he is hitting home runs with his baseball bat. In your dream, Ollie’s hitting pumpkins with his baseball bat. It means the same thing: That’s him smashing pumpkins. The reason he is getting boos instead of cheers from the crowd is because the people are getting angry over it and are turning against him. You are the little pumpkin that breaks the bat. The little pumpkin means you are the little brother, small in size, insignificant, inferior. Yet you break the bat and the people cheer. I think that means you are going to be the one who stops him and saves the town from the pumpkin smasher, and the people are going to be happy.
“So, do you really think Ollie is the pumpkin smasher?” asked Toby.
“I don’t know. Do you?”
“Well…this morning, after Mom telling me about the news and saying that Ollie dreamed about pumpkins too, I couldn’t stop thinking about him in my dream…and that bat. So, after breakfast, I knocked on Ollie’s door and asked if I could borrow his baseball bat.”
“Ooh…good thinking,” Bonnie said enthusiastically. “But,” she said, “He probably wouldn’t let you borrow it anyway.”
“I knew that, but I wanted to see his reaction.”
“You heard it didn’t you? Ollie is grumpy on a good day, but that was out of the park.” Toby stopped himself and smiled, “No pun intended.”
“What did he do?” Bonnie asked.
“He threatened me,” Toby answered. “He said he lost his bat, and when I said I would go look for it myself in the garage, he got real angry and grabbed me by the collar and told me I’m not to look for his bat in the garage or anywhere.”
Bonnie got up on the bed with Toby. “That is suspicious. He obviously doesn’t want you to even see it.”
“Nope,” Toby agreed. “I was thinking…in my dream the bat had pumpkin guts all over it…maybe the bat has evidence on it.”
Bonnie bounced off her bed. “Let’s go look in the garage,” she said excitedly.
“Shhh”, Toby put his finger to his lips and then motioned for her to sit back down. “Are you crazy? He’ll kill me if he sees me.”
“Not if I’m there to protect you.”
“Yeah, but as soon as he got me alone, I would be done for. Besides, I’ll bet the first thing he did after talking to me was get his bat, wherever it is, to clean off any evidence.”
“Maybe we should just ask him if he’s the pumpkin smasher,” Bonnie suggested.
“Well, what do we do? We have to stop him before he strikes again.”
“Maybe it’s not him. It was only a dream. And he is our brother.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bonnie, “If it is him, he’s gonna be in a lot of trouble.”
“Jail, probably,” said Toby.
“But, if it is him,” Bonnie said, “It is our duty to stop him. We can’t just let him get away with it. How can we prove it’s him?”
“The bat would have been proof enough don’t you think?…if it had pumpkin guts on it anywhere.”
“Yes,” Bonnie said, “But we really need to catch him in the act.”
“Well, that’s not gonna happen,” Toby scoffed. How would we do that? There are a lot of pumpkin patches set up around town. How would we know which one to stake out?”
“Yeah," Bonnie said, disappointed, "and it's not as if we're going to sneak out in the middle of the night. We should just tell Mom.”
“She’ll never believe us.”
“What do we tell her? Mom, I dreamed Ollie was the pumpkin smasher. You need to call the police.”
“Maybe if we had some evidence,” said Bonnie, “Let’s sneak down to the garage anyway and see if we can find any clues.”
After sitting in silence without any other ideas, they tiptoed downstairs. Thankfully, the door into the garage was in the opposite direction of the kitchen and living room. They put their ears to the door to listen for any motion in the garage. Hearing nothing, they went in carefully, and continued to tiptoe around as they searched for clues.
“We need to hurry,” Toby whispered after they had searched a good five minutes without finding anything. “Ollie could come down here any minute.” Bonnie kept looking, paying him no attention.
“Bonnie,” Toby whispered hurriedly, “Come on.” He lead the way out the side door into the backyard.
“I don’t know what we expected to find anyway,” Toby said.
“Well, his bat wasn’t there anyway.”
They leaned up against the house and folded their arms. Across from them, hanging on the fence, were a variety of lawn and garden tools. The lawn mower was parked in the corner and next to it were the bicycles and scooters. After a few moments thought, Toby said, “You know…if he was smashing pumpkins, he would probably have some evidence on his shoes, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” Bonnie said excitedly. “But how are we going to get a look at his shoes?”
“I don't know,” Toby said. “ And...he has several pairs.”
“You know what that means,” Bonnie said. “We would need to go into his room to look at them all.”
They gave each other a defeated look. Then, with a frustrated sigh, they both slid down the wall into a squatting position. It was in that position that Toby’s eyes wandered to the bicycles.
“Bonnie,” he said, “How do you think Ollie would have gone to and from the pumpkin patches…if he was the pumpkin smasher.”
“His bike probably,” she answered.
“Right,” Toby said. “He wouldn’t have gone on foot. It would have been too slow. He would need to get away fast.” Toby stood up and walked the few steps to the bicycles. “Since it is likely he would have stepped in a lot of pumpkin guts from smashing so many pumpkins, we can assume some of it remained on his shoes.” Toby stooped down to the pedals on Ollie’s bike. “And if he pedaled all the way home with pumpkin guts on his shoes, most likely some of those pumpkin guts would be stuck in his pedals.”
Bonnie squatted down beside Toby as he carefully rotated the pedals. It only took a moment. “Oh no,” Toby said quietly. There, lodged in both pedals were orange colored strings and moist slime and the unmistakable white seeds…three of them. Toby looked at Bonnie and said:
“I’ll go get Mom.”