One day, not so long ago, a young man named Amos stumbled upon a shack in the woods.
Inside he found a girl named Lorna. She was pale and soft-spoken, coughing as she offered him some food. He gratefully accepted. Lorna continued to tidy the house as he ate. He explained that he had been wandering in the woods for a long time and asked if she knew how he could get home. She had never heard of his town, and explained that she hadn't left their cottage in years. She lived here with her auntie, and due to her illness kept as far away from other people as possible.
Amos lingered, reluctant to go back out into the cold, hoping that perhaps this aunt of hers could advise him once she got home.
He should have taken the bread and run.
By the time Auntie Whispers arrived, all that she found of him was a half-eaten crust and Lorna sobbing over a pile of clothes and bones.
She comforted the girl, rang her bell, and ordered that Amos be added to the collection.
This winter was a magical time for Lorna. Her illness was gone. She felt stronger than she had in years. She no longer had to work all day, and she could even go outside, stroll in the nearby forest and gaze at the beautiful snow and the endless gray sky.
At one point, near midwinter, some travelers stopped by. Lorna and her aunt invited them in. They ate and brought glad tidings, that the Beast had been vanquished and that peace now reigned throughout the land.
They left without incident. Lorna started to cry from joy, while Auntie Whispers looked thoughtful.
Slowly, after many weeks, the snow began to melt as spring came into the world. Then Auntie Whispers surprised her by saying that they would be leaving the cottage soon.
"Leaving? But why, Auntie?"
Auntie Whispers caressed her cheek, a small smile playing and her wide mouth. "Our home here was meant to protect you, my child, so that none could come and tempt you into wickedness. This place has seen too much death. We may move on, now that the evil spirit will trouble us no more."
"Do you mean to a village?" Lorna said hopefully, clasping her hands together. "With neighbors and friends and all sorts of other people?"
"Indeed, my dear. But not yet. We must settle matters here first. We cannot find peace until we offer it to those who have been lost."
Lorna did not understand at first, but her aunt bade her only wait until spring arrived.
The ground was soft when they began their work, digging and moving bones from the cellar, until each of the spirit's victims were resting in the earth.
When they were done they stood back, staring at the newly-turned soil with solemn expressions.
"As long as wickedness ruled in this land, those poor souls were doomed to never find peace," Auntie Whispers said. "But the Beast is felled and the evil spirit fled. Their bones are sown, and can now prepare for a joyous harvest." She turned toward the house. "Come now, my Lorna."
The girl stared at the graves for another moment, then followed her aunt back inside.
For a long time, he had no real thoughts, only a sense of pain and darkness, like a nightmare that you won't remember upon wakening.
But then, the torment ended. It was the feeling of peaceful rest, wrapped in a warm comforter, protected from the cares of the outside world.
He had a sense of movement, like a child half-asleep, being carried to his room in the arms of his father. Peace returned as he found his new place.
Finally there was light, like the sun through your bedroom window. Amos sat up, climbing out of the hole as naturally as if it were his bed at home.
He was a wide field of bare earth, with corn growing on one side and a forest on the other. Everyone around him was dressed in pumpkins and vines, and as he emerged they all cheered and called him by name. A massive form loomed over the scene, a great pumpkin with a wide smile drawn onto its face.
Amos felt strange and light. He looked down at himself and found a naked skeleton. He was surprised by this fact, but somehow not frightened. He put a hand to his chest, his finger bones passing easily between his breastbone and ribs.
"Welcome to Pottsfield, my boy," said the looming figure.
"Pottsfield?" He craned his head up in confusion, staring at the leader through empty sockets. "I don't understand. I-I was trying to get home. My family..."
One of the figure's vines came forward, laying itself calmly across Amos' shoulder. "I'm afraid you can't return there, Amos. This is your home now. But don't worry. Your loved ones will join us soon enough."
His voice was low but comforting, and somehow, Amos could sense the truth in his words. He was too dazed to object as the figures around came closer and dressed him in pumpkins. They spoke, introducing themselves. Many said that they were newcomers themselves, and were here for the same reason that Amos was.
Then there was music, simple but lovely and lively. It drove away Amos' confusion and fear. A thrill of joy went through him, and he felt like himself once again.
The people of Pottsfield began to dance. A half-dozen were going in a circle before Amos, and cheered for him to join in. He had no lips beneath his mask, but somehow he felt like he was smiling as he took their hands and began.