This was a Halloween themed competition. The limit was 750 words, and the guidance was parallel worlds. I really enjoyed writing this one (and also did a version featuring zombies), but struggled to find a solid finish, a point which was mentioned in the very nice feedback I received explaining why I’d missed out on placing.
I think there’s definitely a much bigger story here, and may well return to this world in the future.
By Jason Gibbs
Behold, the incredible Hopkins Pumpkin Farm, wonder of the modern world. Be amazed by the giant chimneys, spewing forth the by-products of pumpkin production, standing tall above the fortress-like barns at the centre of the farm. Shall we go closer?
This is the main barn. All the pumpkins are fed in here, and these giant machines sort them. The wheels, belts, smashers and knives are all powered by pumpkin steam. Where are the people you ask? As well you might. This wonderful machine was built by Theodore Hopkins, even before the plague hit. He was rather an unpleasant man, and did not like people.
Theodore, never Ted, had a gift with machines; with steam, and, as we shall see, with wind up mechanisms of all kinds. He built machines to help his workers, to make them faster, and save wages of course. Then there was an accident. A smasher hit a head, and not a head-sized pumpkin. The poor victim took hours to die, and the screams lived on for some time. Then a cutter took off a man’s leg instead of the stalk of the pumpkin. The wound was so deep that eight pints of blood had coated the floor long before the doctor arrived. The other workers, petrified, refused to work with the frightening machines, so he fired them, all of them. Just like that.
The farm was closed for weeks, and the field workers heard mighty crashes, and some said, mighty screams too. Then one day Theodore walked out and told them to start loading the pumpkins again. They peered in to see a monstrous iron creature, all cogs, wheels and steaming pipes. They fed pumpkins into the monster’s maw, and it cleaned, chopped and selected them. It boxed and labelled them. It was even able to cut lanterns, though some said that the designs were so ghoulish they must be tainted by the blood of the dead workers.
Then the plague struck. The field workers seemed most susceptible to its evil charms, and soon Theodore had almost no one to work the fields. He had been tinkering, but hadn’t been ready to unleash his new mechanisms, until he realised he had no choice if he was to gather in his pumpkins. The first of his cog-driven men stumbled out into the field. The few remaining workers laughed; convinced the old man had finally gone mad. The cog-men could do the job though, and they didn’t stop at night. Every few hours they would return to the innards of the factory, where they would be wound up again by the main machine. They wouldn’t stop, even if someone was in their way. A field worker didn’t move fast enough, and cog-man shattered his leg. In previous days this would have been the cause of a strike. Now the tired workers just packed up their bags, picked up their fallen comrade, and trekked home, never to return.
The pumpkin farm prospered, even as the plague strangled the life out of the countryside. Theodore continued to tinker. When the coal stopped coming he barely noticed, as he’d already converted the boiler to run on pumpkin waste, and gas from the giant compost heaps. His greatest invention though, was the Pumpkin Master. He invested it with all his energy, and gave it the magic of imagination. It created the next set of cog-men. These could plough up new fields, move boulders and even put in fences. The plague emptied the neighbouring farms. The pumpkin farm expanded.
Theodore Hopkins’ last day came. He was ill and wanted to see his creation one last time. He stumbled into the factory, and beheld the wonder he had built. He went to see the Pumpkin Master, and after stroking it a final time, fell dying to the floor. No human came for old Theodore, instead one of the cog-men came and picked him up, and carried him to the compost heap. Nothing was ever wasted on the pumpkin farm.
The years passed, and the farm grew ever larger. Farms were swallowed up, their fields converted to pumpkins, their buildings knocked down for more space. Each year saw yet more tens of millions of pumpkins produced. The factory farm produced them as whole pumpkins, as sliced pumpkin, it created lanterns in hundreds of designs and even experimented with pumpkin pies, all ready for Halloween.
What a wonder, a marvel even. Where are the people you ask? As well you might.