The Castle of the Stunted Pumpkins “You may wonder why all of my pumpkins were stunted early in their

growth,” grumbled the bald, retired taxidermist. He shifted uneasily in his red velvet coat, his armchair, upholstered in faux-raven feathers, creaking under his corpulence. “The thought had crossed my mind,” said Inspector Gelmer. “Whatever….” “Don’t touch that crab!” squealed Mordle, his unattractive high-pitched voice presenting an unsettling mismatch to his puffy appearance. Gelmer moved his finger away from the dead crustacean. “That is one of the crabs of Gibraltar, a very rare species. You have no idea what I endured….,” wheezed the old man, interrupting himself for a deep intake of breath, “to bag that crab.” “That’s as it may be,” admitted Gelmer. “But you still haven’t described your pumpkin techniques.” “I did it all on purpose,” revealed Mordle, his eyes settled in their sockets like two unmoving, grim spiders. “All of my life, I’d been haunted by the perfectly round pumpkins produced by my successful brother, Frederick. He was known far and wide as the Pumpkin Magnate of Montreal.” “I didn’t know you were from Montreal,” said the Inspector. “I’m not,” replied Mordle. “Relight the candles!” he yelled at Pinstripe, the undernourished butler. “So all of these pumpkins were merely a manifestation of your sibling resentments?” “You obviously haven’t visited the Upper Tower Chamber.” “No. Where is it?” “In the Upper Tower. There you will find the petrified hand of my daughter.” Gelmer made a deep, choking sound, as though a small dog had somehow found its way into his throat and was scrabbling for a favored bone. “Good God, man, why would you have the petrified hand of your daughter in a chamber, regardless of the tower it’s in?” Mordle’s features curdled into a prunish display of nostalgic horror. “Frederick had been fascinated with Mittle in a macabre way. He visited her with alarming frequency, flying out from Montreal to give her old magazines, used dental equipment and faded posters of Broadway showgirls. He liked to dress her up in tafetta and silver jewelry then have her pose for photographs with baskets in front of Renaissance dioramas. Why didn’t I see it coming?” Mordle seethed with unrestrained regret, tiny bubbles appearing on the left side of his mouth and floating toward the stone ceiling. Pinstripe finished lighting the candles. “Will that be all, sir?” Mordle and Gelmer ignored him, locked in their lockbox of the ugly past. “Are you saying Frederick petrified your daughter?” “I won’t draw you a picture,” hissed Mordle. He looked away, toward the mask of Ernest Borgnine that hung over the dining room. “She was dead. From the noodles. It was only then that he petrified her.” “Still, not a brotherly thing to do.”

Mordle looked at Gelmer with a glance of Mediterranean pity. “You still don’t understand do you? And you call yourself an Inspector. I’m an orbaphobic. Anything perfectly round terrifies me.” “Of course,” said the Inspector. He suddenly understood everything, but that was when Mordle began choking, choking with a brittle midnight violence, and Gelmer realized he was too late. Far too late.

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