Carving the Pumpkin

by Thomas Scopel

Author's Note:

Starting off as a 250 word piece aimed at a local newspaper scary story contest entry, it fast became something far too dark for the standard, family oriented publication and was never published.

The face, sliced, carved and trimmed, took longer than expected, at least longer than any of the couple prior years’ pumpkin carvings did. Gazing at the distorted and gawking back creation, Johnny beamed pride. Little droplets of moist trickling down, streaking the sides almost like tears, he was certain it was his best work ever. He peered closer and it spoke to his fractured, eight-year-old mind, no longer distraught with fear and helplessness.

Good job pal. You’ll need a candle.

With his lonely mother remarried, something Johnny hadn’t agreed with, he was expected to embrace the man as he had his real father. Initially, he tried. But, this was not the loving and now deceased man who bore him, bought him ice cream and shared ball games, and now he usually kept to himself in a room painted blue, scattered with toy gifts meant as bribes for silence or flagrant attempts to eliminate sorrow.

Having tried in vain, over and over, to tell her the horrible things that went on while she was away, it always fell on deaf ears, thinking the bruises came from somewhere or something other than violence, and he finally gave up on explanations.

When she walked in with the large pumpkin, as she always had this time of year, with thoughts planted by his teacher, Mrs. Wrinkle and the Jack-O-Lanterns and smiling ghosts she had decorated the classroom with, he had already settled on a design that was not too scary and not too happy either.

Meticulous with wiping, he was careful to eliminate all vague references of blotched dried dirt clinging in the crevices, and before long it sat centered on the table glistening and waiting.

Considering the pumpkin’s size, the biggest he had ever had, assuming a larger knife would be in order, he fetched the biggest from the wooden holder on the counter by the sink.

“Just be careful,” his mother’s concerned voice implored as she, yet again, headed out the door for work, leaving him with the step monster, his non-affectionate and secret reference.

“I will mom. Don’t worry,” Johnny replied, voice harboring more than a touch of elation, hoping to complete the carving before the second bottle of the day was cracked.

With two lines already cut and wanting to finish the third, thus completing the first of two eyes, Johnny took too far too long in the fetching. For soon after, the pumpkin lay smashed on the tile floor, vicious work of a bitter drunk during angry throes of not having the whiskey bottle delivered quick enough.

Standing over the stringy, oozing broken fruit, looking from bruised and blackening eyes filled with tears of rage, Johnny listened intently for the usual snoring to loudly permeate, drifting in from the living room.

The carving complete, insides scooped, cleared and piled nearby on the day’s folded newspaper, a content and confident smile slid across Johnny’s red marbled face.

It was right, he did need a candle.

He pranced off to the kitchen junk drawer, previously having seen a leftover box of small, colored ones reserved for birthday cakes.

The candle slurped a little when inserted, but stuck nicely and flickered brightly after lit. Using two hands, he gingerly carried the creation out onto the porch.

Taking a moment to consider perfect location, he decided and placed it down on the stoop, facing outward before turning around and going back inside, leaving small hand sized, red smudges on the white door and threshold.

He had his pumpkin, and began contemplating whether a headless horseman would be a most wonderful contribution this year.




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