Saturday, November 4, 2017


Anyone who ever sat down in front of a pumpkin with a desire to give it a face knows the feeling.  It's intimidating.  Feels something like a living canvas in front of you, hoping that you don't screw up its one big break, as it spent the summer growing for this very moment.  I was never one to pre-draw the face on a jack-o'-lantern-to-be.  Just always felt wrong to me.  And I'm not sure why.

So there I was on Halloween morning, sitting in front of a tableful of orange beauties my wife and I had brought home from a farmers' market a week prior.  And there I was feeling the intimidation and self-doubt.  The frustration gave way to a frozen panic of sorts.  Sounds silly to put it that way, but that's how it felt.  Halloween felt ruined by this daunting chore in front of me.  Orange doubt.

Then the welts started to form.

It's difficult to explain what I was seeing, but imagine very distinct raised lines forming on every pumpkin.  Very slowly, and just high enough to be seen.  The morning sun created tiny shadows on the orange skin, and it was truly breathtaking.  For there were faces, perfect faces, on each pumpkin.  Perfect is the only word that fits what I was witnessing.  Though it seems too small to describe what was happening.  Each face was comprised only of four outlines - two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.  And that's the difficult part to convey...  only four cuts, four openings, but they were each arranged in such a way as to create stunningly perfect traditional Halloween faces.  The faces were, or, rather, were to be, gleeful, sorrowful, sinister, terrified, playful, and wicked.  It was truly art.  True art.  Overwhelming beauty and perfection,..minimalism making the Exquisite.  And I had an almost uncontrollable urge to begin cutting.  I'd say it was more of a compulsion to cut, but that would suggest that it was against my wishes, and there was nothing further from what I was feeling.  I HAD to cut,... I wanted to cut.  I needed to cut.

So I began, excitedly gutting the pumpkins and nervously half-expecting the strange raised lines to be gone when I blinked my eyes.  But they remained.  And waited for my knife.

Dusk came and we moved the pumpkins to the porch and began lighting the waxy candle stubs inside each rounded masterpiece.  Faces of flickering candlelight came from every corner of our old porch.  We placed some on the floorboards, some on wooden chairs, on ceramic flowerpots, and on each of our creaky wooden steps.

I saw movement down the block and heard laughter and a very faint "Trick-or-treat!"  Even after all these years, that moment of the official start of Halloween trick-or-treating made my stomach fill with butterflies.  We prepared our large candy bowl and quickly made our way to our usual positions for handing out candy - two very old and very flimsy (and ugly) folding beach chairs - a Halloween tradition of ours.

Again, I can't properly convey the reactions of anyone who saw the jack-o'-lanterns.  I'd say it was one of overwhelming excitement and wonder.  An almost physical reaction that made folks run to our house upon first spotting the pumpkins.  Then they'd stop at the end of our walk, try to take it all in, and then slowly approach the porch.  Candy seemed to be the last thing on anyone's mind.

People lingered, studied each face, and tried to articulate their feelings.  Effusive and grateful, their words proved what I was already feeling upon first seeing the slowly-appearing faces - that this was Halloween magic.  Actual magic.  And I'm not ashamed to admit I was taking full credit for the incredible designs.  After all, the faces appeared to me.

It was the absolute most incredible evening.  Crowds of people patiently awaiting their turn to view our exquisite gallery of Halloween.  The sounds of laughter and children running filled the air.  There were loud Oohs and Aahs every time the wind blew, as it caused the faces to flicker and dance, to wink and wince, to snarl and spit.

Just before midnight, the vast crowd, us included, now waited as each candle was slowly extinguished.  Like melting snowmen, the candles inside the jack-o'-lanterns were now smooth flat pools of liquid wax, with tired dimming wicks.  They were dying, one by one.  As each pumpkin passed on, the crowd would applaud and shout, saying things like "That one there was my favorite!" or "Oh No!  There it goes!"  It was both exhilarating and bittersweet.  And it seemed we all knew we were witnessing a very special event.

The last of the pumpkins expired, and the crowd thinned until it was just me and my wife.  We looked at each other and laughed, trying to fully process the whole affair.  An intensely strong sense of satisfaction settled in.  The night was over.  The exhibition was over.  The gallery was closed.

I crawled in bed exhausted but restless.  I laid on my side and did what I always did to help me fall asleep - I listened to my wife sleeping, watching her smooth bare back in the moonlight, as she lay slowly breathing.

Then the welts started to form.


Theo said...

LOVE this! And love that it opens like a true anecdote of yours, before turning into something else entirely... and then that ending. So chilling.

Pumpkin5 said...

Lovely story, very vivid imagery. :)

K.O. said...

WOW!!! What a scary, extremely clever story! I thought it was non-fiction until I reached the very end. And then I loved the twist!!! Wonderful writing--great descriptions, details, suspense, and pacing. Very intelligent work.
Damn, you write good. ;D

Ann said...

That was a sweet and magial story (that I thought was memories of Halloween past and not fiction) until that last line kicks you in the teeth. Well done!

Rot said...

Thanks, guys!

girl6 said...

SO Beautiful. feels lonely too. like that lonely feeling of loss, the helplessness of it somehow. Margaret Atwood makes me feel like that a lot. & i'm sure Poppy Z Brite would approve of your feelings/intentions. : D

Jen said...

I love this

Rot said...

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.