The crunch of drying leaves, a thin layer of autumn's fire atop the mouldering mulch below. It's a dull, muted sound, wet with the memory of evening fog as the throbbing pulse of the bike's engine whispers through the forest, barely moving, a solid bulk of machinery and man prowling the trail at the lake's edge with no apparent purpose in being there.
Soon, there would be a bustle of bodies swarming the area, booths and tables to set up, massive gourds to haul in and arrange, smaller pumpkins carted in for carving and other festivities. Now, there's just the sleeping forest, settling in for winter. Some of it. Not all. Here, a delicate, pale vine breaks the forest's floor, weaving upward through the limbs of a tatter-leafed tree. There, another bulges the layers of rotten leaf, grass and wood, the tiny bones of a long-dead mouse crumbling into bits and disjointed pieces as a thick-veined leaf drinks in the cold, slowly spreading to soak in the cold and the light of dual moons. Silence, but for the soft, moist slither of fleshy vines coiling across the forest floor, the sigh of the breeze hissing among the dry leaves overhead, scattering them to form a tiny fleet on the water of the lake nearby.
The bike stands alone, propped on the brace of a kickstand with the tip of some ancient, deeply buried stone to prop it up. Boots crunch dully in the leaves, as thick vines coil around the biker's ankles, pale leaves nuzzling his legs like some fond, neglected pet. Stillness as he comes to a halt on the clearing's edge. Stillness of bone and blood, muscle and viscera. Not of sap and vine, root and leaf. The clearing boils, seething with the beast that wakes beneath its soil. The bits of a shattered seed casing mingle with the forgotten fragments of a long-dead rodent as the vine crawls upward, twisting and twinning around fall-chilled tree limbs. A golden bloom swells, thickens, flares and wilts away in the span of moments, but in those moments there's motion again from the watching figure.
Just the lift of a hand, to brush a pollen-laden stamen across the exposed stigma. Petals fall, and wither, and fade away. Fertility flares, swells and fruits in the span of minutes. Gentle fingers frame the thickening stem, support and guide as the fruit bulges, pale and golden in the moonlight. Supports and guides, leather creaking softly as the biker sinks to one knee, to settle the weight into a bed of broken loam. Milky leaves flare, drinking in the light of a reflected, absent sun greedily enough to suck it from the air around the clearing, drowned in that same darkness until even the sleepy chickadee who stirs on its twig and blinks at the half-remembered presence of noise tucks his beak back into fluffed feathers and settles again without startling. Roots sink deep, sucking in the rich fertility of the soil and the wealth of water from the nearby lake greedily, and the fruit continues to grow. Bulging, rotund and heavy, crushing any memory of bone or seed casing deep beneath its base. Skin thickens, flesh gradually deepens and hollows, and golden flesh darkens to bronze, to brown, finally brightening to a ripe orange.
Leaves fade, dull... crumble and drop away into withered skeletons to meld with the mulch below. vines wither, drying and hardening as they coil and wrap around the treasure they had birthed, flattening gradually into a guided form to frame and shroud the bulk filling the little clearing. The watcher stirs. A black snaps softly as its flicked open, moving with natural ease under the guide of a sinewy hand as the fruit is violated. Sliced, and sliced again... a section falls, heavy and dull, to lay on the ground. Tiny vines boil from beneath it, feasting on rich flesh as the slab crumbles, decaying rapidly beneath the onslaught. The same vines crawl and slither, spilling in a wave through the newly created doorway. In their wake a platform is left, flat and level, leading within. Motion boils inside the gourd.
The blade lifts again, small slivers falling from above the hole, as tendrils of ivy spill from within the plant's flesh to veil the wound. Circling the plant, he opens another rectangular hole, opposite the first... and finally, two more, smaller holes on either side. The dried husk of the stem above hollows, soft tissue nothing more than food for the ivy as it creeps throughout. Two holes, boring down through the floor of the great pumpkin to open access to the root-hollowed pit beneath. Within, a tangled matt of fibrous vines shape a wall across the cavity's center... veil the windows on either side from direct view. Green leaves and tendrils form a solid barrier at either side, though they'll yield to the pressure of a hand moving them aside. Finally, moss crawls across the vine-shaped roof, sealing it beneath a layer of pale, living frost, as white as the leaves of the Winter Gourd vine had been.
The soft throb of a muffled exhaust system barely stirs the night, as the machine drifts off again, threading a twig-thick trail to find the open expanse of a more inviting road. Behind, the pumpkin remains, ingloriously patient, to await its first visitor. Two doorways, one on either side. Above each is carved a single word: 'Men' on one, and 'Women' on the other. Let those who visit determine which door suits them, since all they'll find within is woody, thick pumpkin flesh, and a vine-shaped latrine stall. Just because bears s*** in the woods doesn't mean anyone wants to step in it. Hand-washing facilities are their own problem, as is toilet paper, unless they want to risk a handful of ivy leaves. The biker leaves with his own form of wealth - seeds, packed into the panniers of his bike, clean and pale to await the next reason for planting.