The knife cut through the thick flesh of the Pumpkin with practiced ease. The meager light thrown out by the overhead bulb glinted dully on the blade as it moved in and out, carving the shapes of the eyes, the mouth.
The Old Man had always lived a solitary existence, but every year, he carved a series of pumpkin heads which he displayed on the front porch of his old shack on the edge of the town. The kids seemed to like it, in a laughing-nervously kind of a way, daring each other to cycle out each Halloween to shout curses at the old man, while the pumpkins, flickering in their candlelight, looked silently on. He enjoyed it, really. He was a solitary soul, and he knew his place in the scheme of things. All kids needed a “scary old stranger” in a creepy house. It was a part of the harmless fun of growing up, and he guessed if he fulfilled any kind of need in society, then that was it.
He would carefully grow the pumpkins in a patch behind his ramshackle old house, picking the best ones and carving deliciously wicked faces into them in preparation for All Hallows Eve. He’d been doing it for twenty years now, watched some of the kids grow up, move away, or become fixtures in the town, like him.
The sun began its descent into the West, as he finished the last of the five pumpkins and placed it carefully alongside the others. When the sun finally disappeared, he would come out and light the candles. He went back inside, wiped his hands on his overalls and poured himself a shot of Jack Daniels. “Should call you Jack’o’Lantern tonight” he said to himself, grinning a toothless grin.
Within the hour, darkness fell, and he dutifully lit the candles one by one, each casting a ghostly yellow glow across his porch. He surveyed his work, and with a grunt of satisfaction, returned to his armchair, oblivious to the rustling sounds coming from behind the old wooden house.
As long fingers of shadow fell across the pumpkin patch, the ground seemed to buck and writhe, trickles of earth spilling down the sides of newly created mounds. Tendrils and roots began to snake out of the soft damp earth, fat bloated and white in the moonlight.Impossibly mobile, the roots took form, reaching out like bony fingers… A large pumpkin suddenly twisted in its bed, and with shocking speed, pushed clear of the earth, preternaturally held aloft by the animated roots. Clods of earth, skittering woodlice and glistening, writhing worms formed a filthy cascade as the Pumpkinhead rose higher, its roots and tendrils taking the form of some terrible facsimile of a human corpse.It turned its dead gaze to the house.
The old man had fallen asleep in the welcoming arms of Jack Daniels, a handful of pretzels spilled in his lap, his own drunken snore his only companion.He didn’t hear the curious dragging sound across the bare floorboards of his lounge.He didn’t smell the dampness of decay, of corruption, as it filled the room.He barely stirred at the barely audible scrape of his carving knife as it was picked up from the table by inhuman fingers, but he surely felt the white-hot pain of the blade entering his face, causing his eyes to snap open, and to gaze in horror and disbelief at the Pumpkinhead looming large in front of him, its flesh slit open in an unholy grin, fixing him with a sightless stare.
“Your turn, old man” said a voice from beyond hell.
Josh was nine years old. He knew he was as good on his Diamondback BMX as anyone in the year above him, but they always treated him like a goddamned kid. He was sick of it. That was why he’d accepted the dare to go down to the Old Man’s house and steal one of his Halloween pumpkins. Man, he was scared to death, but he’d have serious respect when he got back with his prize. He drew nearer, pedalling furiously, the soft sodium lamp glow gradually fading as he hit the outskirts of the town.
Up ahead, he could just make out the outline of the Old man’s ramshackle place, and the flickering lights on the porch.“I’ll show ‘em who’s a kid,” he said to the indifferent night, urging his BMX onwards…..
When he arrived back at the rendezvous by the coffee shop some thirty minutes later to meet with the six boys from the senior year who’d set the dare, Josh threw his rucksack down on the floor in front of them.The drawstring came loose and the Pumpkin head rolled out onto the sidewalk. Except it wasn’t a Pumpkin head at all. It was a grotesque parody of the Old Man, a necklace of torn ragged flesh, a cruel, exaggerated bloody slit where his mouth should be, and deep, black hollows for eyes, a window into emptiness, for the inside of his head had been brutally hollowed out. From the look on the boys’ faces, Josh knew they’d never call him a kid again.
“It wasn’t me” he said, in a very small voice.
In the stillness of the garden behind the Old Man’s house, the earth began to settle, and the roots returned underground. The pumpkin head twisted back into position and waited patiently for the sun’s return.
© Kev Moore 2007
An Old Man, a small boy, and a spooky tale for Halloween!