by Rebecca Birch
Walter Ocherman rolled along the two-lane highway at five miles an hour under the speed limit, scanning the road’s left-hand side for the turn-off to his uncle’s old pumpkin farm. Marked by nothing more than a dilapidated sign-post that might once have been green, the overgrown dirt road hidden between two poplars was easy to miss on a good day. The fog that rolled in off the river made finding the place harder, but nothing was going to wipe the grin off Walter’s lips. Today was Halloween and his ex, Minnie, had agreed to let their son come out to the farm with him for the night. Their first boys’ night in almost a year.
He glanced at Jason, who had spread his twelve-year old self over the back seat an hour ago, his straw-blond head pillowed on a stuffed pumpkin Walter had picked up at a yard sale to help set the holiday mood. His steady zzz-snerk snore could have been annoying, but Walter got so few chances to hear it that he turned off the radio. The news was depressing anyway, trying to settle a fog over more than just the river valley.
Walter looked back at the road just in time to glimpse the turn-off. He slammed on the brakes and torqued the wheel, holding his instinctive curse-word behind his teeth. His 1984 Civic’s gears squealed a skull-piercing protest and the right front bumper just missed colliding with a poplar. A sudden pressure in the back of his seat told him Jason was awake and braced.
Walter brought the car to a dead stop, his heart thudding.
“Jesus, Dad! If we die, mom’s going to kill you.”