Small feet in small shoes, clasped with small buckles, ran along the rows of sleeping pumpkins.
‘In the pumpkin patch! Hurrah!’ came the shout of joy from the small girl. A beagle gave chase behind her, nipping at the shoes’ heels. ‘Run! Before the pumpkins wake up!’ Her feet kicked up dirt, kicked through vines. She looked back at the dog. ‘They’re gonna eat us, Benny! Come on!’
The beagle yelped, sprinted, jumped with all four paws off of the ground.
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! They’re waking up, Benny!’
The small girl stopped, suddenly, and threw herself between two pumpkins. She did her best impression of a damsel in distress, in pure terror. ‘Gah! The pumpkins!’ Her hand held out to the dog. ‘Help me, Benny! Help me!’ The beagle growled at the pumpkins, then barked and barked. ‘It’s no use, Benny! Run! Before they get you, too! Gah!’ She laid her head down, and said, ‘I’m dead.’
Benny went on barking. The small girl opened her mouth and let her tongue fall out.
BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK! barked the dog.
She lifted her head. ‘I’m dead, Benny. Stop barking.’
The dog tilted his head.
She said, levely, ‘Go on. You’re supposed to run away. When I say I’m dead, you’re supposed to get.’
Benny’s head remained at a tilt.
‘You know, get. As in get a move on.’
Benny barked, once.
The small girl shook her head. ‘More trainin’s what you need.’ She lay her head back down. ‘I’m dead, Benny. Gah!’
The beagle sniffed the girl’s shoes. And BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK!
Looking at the clouds, the small girl sighed. ‘Needs more trainin’. That’s for sure.’
She leapt from the ground. ‘Raa!’ she roared.
Benny hopped back. Again, tilting his head.
‘Raa!’ The girl raised her arms, dangling her fingers like talons. ‘The pumpkins infected me with poison! I’m becoming one! A pumpkin!’
She ran at Benny, and he turned, racing down the path from which they came. The small girl followed, buckled shoes slamming onto the hard-packed dirt and trampled grass.
Arms in the air – ‘Raa!’ – like a phantom under a bedsheet. ‘Run faster, Benny! I’m gonna eat ya!’
The beagle turned left, turned right, turned left, evaded the girl-not-yet-pumpkin-monster. And then, Benny did not hear her muffled stomps. His paws slowed and soon stopped running. The dog plopped down onto his hind legs.
Benny looked back. And forth. And forward. And backward. And down at his dirty paws and dirty toes. The small girl had vanished. He whimpered. And glanced at the pumpkins around him. One of them wiggled – and out jumped the girl!
‘Raa! Benny!’ She fell on top of him, cradling him in her arms, kissing his wet nose. ‘Gotcha! Now you’re a pumpkin, too!’
The beagle licked her cheeks and chin. Rubbed his muzzle throughout her short, blond hair.
‘Gotcha, Benny! Always gotcha! We’re pumpkins now, Ben!’
Benny did not feel like a pumpkin. And the small girl certainly did not look like one. She had not changed. They were just playing. The dog licked her chin, once more, and nestled his head in the crook of her elbow. She had not changed. She could not change.
Girls cannot become pumpkins. Nor can good beagles.
He nestled, nestled, and tried to purr like a cat.
‘Always gotcha,’ spoke the small girl with small feet in small buckled shoes.
Benny closed his eyes. Perhaps to sleep, if only for a moment.