3rd Runner Up in the 2013 Crimson Skull Contest: Pumpkin Pits by Joseph J. Patchen

Pumpkin-HeadThis pumpkin is a plump one: looks to weigh between twenty five and thirty pounds, give or take an ounce or two; wonderfully symmetrical in a vibrant bright orange with sleek, yet sturdy
bulging ribs and a thick, expertly curved stem.

This is surely the one.

Yes, this is the one to adorn my porch tonight on All Hallows’ Eve. All I need do is carve an interesting and horrifying design and plant a nice fat candle inside. Oh yes, it will marvel not only the little children as they come up my walk but their parents and escorts who are shivering by the curb.

“Sir, sir how much is this pumpkin?” What an odd roadside stand. I travel this road the same time every morning to the torture that is my job for the last six years, and this is the first time I have ever seen this stand. All this man has to sell is a handful of cucumbers, three tomatoes, two green beans, four cartons of eggs and this one ample pumpkin. And it is only seven in the morning.

“Sir, how much is this pumpkin?” I am the only person standing here. Vehicles are whizzing by on the highway right behind us without ever slowing, let alone stopping. It’s funny: the human condition is to be curious. After all, we rubberneck at accidents, and we hit our breaks for a glimpse of exotic animals lurking on the side of the road, not to mention the guys peeing without benefit of a tree.

I wonder if he can hear me above the traffic. He is an elderly man: shoots of white hair stick out like straw from underneath his beat up and filthy feed store cap.

“Two hundred dollars.” He never looks up once. His voice belies his looks. His tone is
evocative, but of what I’m not sure. His face is permanently sun scorched and trenched like a topography map. “I take cash only, no checks, no debit cards and no credit cards.”

I’m floored. “Wait, did you say two hundred dollars? My God. Two hundred dollars! I have never paid two hundred for anything – not for a pair of shoes, or a suit, or a microwave. A h—. Okay, I did that once, but I was very young and very, well, you know. My good man, did you say two hundred dollars?”

“It’s a special pumpkin.”

I knew he was going to say that. His voice had a kind of lilt to it at the end. ‘A special pumpkin.’ “So what is a special pumpkin?”

“It’s unlike any other pumpkin. It’s a magical pumpkin.”

“Magical? What do you mean magical? Do I get three wishes magical, like a genie magical? Or is the pumpkin itself magical, like you can pull a rabbit out of it magical?

He doesn’t even look up from his paper, answering my query in the most bored and relaxed matter of fact manner. “It’s just magical. I don’t know how it works. It’s just magical, that’s all.”

I am my own worst enemy. I should walk. I should tell this guy he is full of it and blow this pumpkin stand. “Well, can it ward off evil magical? Do magical card tricks? I mean, what exactly would I be buying here? After all, I am a consumer with rights and you are a merchant with disclosure obligations.”

He clears his throat and adjusts his cap, stands and adjusts his shorts and pants. If looks could kill, I would be bludgeoned repeatedly with a two by four. “It’s a magical pumpkin. That is all I can say without jinxing the magic.”

“Jinxing the magic? What the Hell does that mean?”

He waddles over to me. Up close, he is a full two feet taller and three feet broader than I. “Just how serious are you about purchasing this piece of fruit?” He places his hands on his hips.

I should have had a stroke by now, out of frustration, but my mini meltdown of legalese gibberish allowed the pressure to somewhat leave my skull. I take the bait. I gladly take the bait. Deep down I know I’m being hustled, but I like it; I like the bait and the bait tastes good. He’s reeled me in flopping and salivating and digging through my wallet and pockets for cash.

He leans into me with a penetrating look. With sharp eyes and tilted brow, he mumbles a harsh and crisp whisper, leaving no breath or space for me to answer. “I mean it. This is more important than you know. Just how serious are you? I see you fumbling around, fishing around in your pockets and all – you serious, or just a pervert? Are you just jerking my chain, looking to pump me for information while pumping yourself? You want to know just how special this pumpkin is? You really want to know?”

I find more composure than coin, or at least enough to stop ransacking my person. “Yeah, I’d like to know before I spend that kind of cash, once I find it.” The words spill out of my mouth and between the gaps in my teeth spraying the counter better than a misty rain.

This guy isn’t fazed. “Put your cash on the counter.” He thumps his left hand on the same spot three times.

I can talk a good game, always could. But I’ve always been a benchwarmer. “All I have is one hundred dollars.” I didn’t even know I had that.

“Then no deal.” I think I hear thunder. I know I heard a crack of lightning.

As I walk back to my car, across the highway, slowly dodging cars across the two lanes, I feel an actual heartbreak. I’m becoming preoccupied with an actual hole in my gut over the loss of that
pumpkin. Yes, for the loss of that particular pumpkin. The last time I felt this bad was when my brother died in a car accident eight years ago.

This is crazy. I’m crazy! But I can’t shake this feeling. I’m letting my imagination and envy spin various scenarios where some jerk taunts me as he carves a wicked face lit by a taper. I wish I had more money. I wish I were carrying that pumpkin to my car to bring home.

What I really need to do, is stop wishing and find a shrink.

As I step back onto the gravel and reach for my door handle, I spy out of the corner of my eye a slender, flapping piece of paper. It’s partially under the front tire but mostly visible. Of course it’s a one hundred dollar bill, a new and crisp one hundred dollar bill.

I guess I do know what kind of magic the pumpkin possesses. I wished for more money and I found it as easily as the breeze now teasing my back as I carry that very same pumpkin to my car.

I always take half a vacation day on Halloween. I always close my business, pay my employees for a full day and wish them and their children well for the trick or treat. I make sure I haven’t missed a single thing: my decorations are in their proper places, both inside and out; my candy is fresh and arranged in a large bowl. And this afternoon, I salivate at the potential design my perfectly plump pumpkin shall express to my guests.

I own no less than forty two books on pumpkin carving. I bet you never knew there were so many. I pour over design after design, but I have to admit I’m getting a little tired: the driving, the haggling, the excitement of finding such a perfect specimen, and now the anticipation of what’s in store for tonight, my favorite holiday of the year.

After perusing book number sixteen, I have to admit, I almost hate to cut it. I almost hate to gut this splendid pumpkin, to indelibly grave it with a scowl or wry, evil grin. Maybe my wish should be for a renewable pumpkin, a self-carving pumpkin that will heal itself by morning and wait patiently for another year. Yes, a reusable, self-carving pumpkin that lies dormant: that would be splendid. A short nap on the couch should alleviate my angst and tamp down my frenzied imagination. I’ll carve later …

My blood scalds and sizzles, streaming down into my eyes. I’m in a fog, light headed and nauseous. A headless man hunches over me, sawing at the top of my skull. Hands I see but cannot feel, turn my throbbing head in the direction of the table where I left the pumpkin before I laid down. My pumpkin, bathing in blood and carved to perfection, happily congratulates me on my wish coming true.

By Joseph J. Patchen

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