The following story is my entry in Suess’s Pieces 2012 Writers Week Writing Contest. The prompt I chose was “For a full year, Cooper Hillard…”
For a full year, Cooper Hillard grew watermelons. He cultivated crop after crop, talked to them, and stored them in the old barn. His harvests were the best the old farm had ever produced in the six generations that had lived there. There had been corn, beans, wheat, but none of those crops ever amounted to anything. The only thing that ever grew with any success was watermelon. It surprised everyone , considering Cooper had a screw or two loose upstairs.
In hindsight, the people should have known better. Bullied mercilessly by the other children, Cooper became a recluse. The year he started decapitating stray cats around his farm should have been a reminder. However, it wasn’t, and he stopped, so eventually the people forgot. Besides, the watermelon he grew was the sweetest anyone had ever tasted, so the forgetting came easy for the majority of the people. The destruction of the village should have been much, much more difficult. Perhaps the village elders’ biggest mistake was not in the forgetting, but in the forbidding.
The village began as a small group of people who wanted freedom away from the sins of the world and the devastating losses thereof. They sequestered themselves from the modern world, outlawing all modern technology, choosing instead to live off the land like the olden days. They multiplied amongst themselves, dividing land in their own courts based on lineage. They taught the Good Book and followed the Golden Rule. However, nothing in their teaching, in their belief system, or in their very faith, prepared them for what was to come.
When the first watermelon showed up on Katherine Hillis’ front porch, no one thought anything of it since Cooper lived next door. The village chalked it up to his being neighborly and left it at that. When Katherine Hillis passed away less than a week later, no one thought anything of that either, since no one knew how old she was anyway. Then, a watermelon showed up on another doorstep, only for a death to follow within a week. All the deaths seemed like accidents– Matthew Culver fell from a ladder while painting his house and skewered himself on the fence, bleeding out before his wife returned home from Bible study; Katrina Ambry died in childbirth while her watermelon still sat on her porch; John Astrid, the village shopkeeper, swallowed a needle, the internal bleeding causing his demise. Because the deaths were so random, the appearance of the watermelon never became anything worth discussion. As a result, the people planted, hoping for their own sweet watermelon to grow, never putting the deaths and the watermelon together.
A watermelon commission began, with the villagers scattering the various chores among themselves. The families of the northern sector-the Williams, the Everdeens, and the Phillips-gathered the seeds. The families of the western sector-the Parrishs, the Whites, and the Johnsons– dispersed them, careful to ensure equality among all the villagers. The families of the south tilled the lands, loaning their own sweat and blood to the other sectors until all the farms were ready. Finally then, the eastern families came and planted the seeds until each farm had the beginnings of their own watermelon crop. This pleased the people. They left gifts of fresh bread, newly crocheted blankets, and offers of assistance on Cooper’s porch as thanks.
Then, one bright, sunny morning, Jimmy Anders received a watermelon. It was the biggest his family had ever seen and they’d delighted in it, making quite an affair of the gift. A picnic was packed, and they headed for the river that ran through their farm. His four children laughed as juices dripped from their chins. They turned the rinds into weapons, doing battle with each other, and challenged each other to seed spitting contests. In the midst of their festivities, the youngest child, Zethro, fell into convulsions after swallowing a watermelon seed. When the village doctor couldn’t save him, that’s when the remembering came, and the fear began.
The few who remembered packed their homes quietly, abandoning their crops and heading for the woods. When no one heard from them again, a new fear gripped the hearts of the remaining villagers. Secluded for so long, they’d forgotten there was life beyond the trees. As more death crept over the village, they attributed the disappearance of the families to a devil roaming the woods, the same devil that decapitated stray cats, left poisonous watermelons on front porches, and stole life away in the darkness of the night.
If you happened upon that village today, you would find unattended, rotting watermelons growing on every property. The homes are all abandoned now, their doors locked, and the shutters closed. The visible grass is tall and choked with weeds. Wild vines wrapped around the tree trunks further lend a sinister appearance that sends a chill through even the hardest soul. If you stay long enough, you might even catch a glimpse of old Cooper, thin and frail, his hair gray, setting one more watermelon on a dilapidated porch, before shuffling off into the strange mist that refuses to leave, no matter what the season.