Pumpkin Lanterns - a short story for Halloween
Mandy screwed the lid back onto her mascara wand and placed it in her velvet wash bag. Without looking away from the mirror, she shouted, ‘No problem. I won’t forget. Have fun.’
The front door snapped shut and she heard the distinct clink of her mother’s heels, jogging toward the car. The engine had been running for at least ten minutes. Philip, Mandy’s step-father sat behind the steering wheel, tapping his manicured fingers impatiently.
‘I’m sorry,’ Mandy heard her mother say. ‘It’s just ...’
Philip cut her short. ‘They’ll be fine ... and we’ll be late.’
The Saab’s engine purred as it pulled away from the house toward a Halloween party at Philip’s boss’s condo on the other side of the city. It was the first time Mandy had been left in charge of her step-brother, Jamie, since ... well for a long time. Her mother had given her verbal instructions that she’d then written out in triplicate and attached to the fridge door, the phone in the hallway and Mandy’s mirror. It wasn’t that Mandy was particularly forgetful, but ... well that was a story for another time. Right now Mandy was putting the finishing touches to her Queen of the Damned costume before the first Trick or Treaters arrived.
‘Hey!’ Mandy shouted at Jamie as she opened the kitchen door and saw him stuffing a fist full of candy into his sticky mouth. ‘They aren’t for you. Put them next to the front door while I ... shit!’ Mandy stared at the three bloated pumpkins on the kitchen counter. ‘Dammit, I forgot to carve the pumpkins.’
‘Can I help?’ Jamie asked.
‘Too dangerous, kiddo. Sharp knife. Sort out your costume then you can watch telly until the first Trick or Treaters call.’
‘Why can’t I go Trick or Treating?’
‘Mum and Philip went out and left us in charge of the house. Hocus Pocus is on at seven. It’ll be a blast.’
‘When are Mum and Dad coming home?’
‘Who’ll scare the monster away?’
‘I guess that’ll be me, champ.’
‘Mum said don’t forget ...’
Mandy shooed him out of the kitchen. ‘Yeah, yeah. I know. Take my meds. I won’t forget.’
Mandy glared at the first pumpkin. She’d seen better, but it wasn’t too bad. The face she’d carved might be the love child of Jack Skellington and Minnie Mouse, but she would make the next one scarier.
She opened the cupboard above the sink and pushed aside boxes of pills to reach the tea lights behind.
She had to admit that it looked kind of awesome on the front steps with candlelight flickering behind its triangular eyes. Not bad at all. One down, two to go.
Three kids – a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf, were gliding down the road carrying plastic cauldrons. The festivities were already beginning. She waited just inside the front door until they knocked.
‘Trick or Treat.’
Her fingers dove into the ghost shaped bowl and pulled out a fist full of candy for each of their containers.
‘Happy Halloween,’ they said before heading off to the next house.
‘Was that Trick or Treat?’ Jamie asked, poking his orange face over the bannister.
‘I thought I was answering the door.’ Jamie pouted.
‘You were getting changed. You can get it next time.’
She returned to the kitchen and picked up the knife. Three bloated pumpkins waited patiently on the kitchen counter. Three seemed like too many. She shrugged. Perhaps she miscounted before.
Mandy rotated the second pumpkin a few times. She was definitely getting better at this. This one’s carved eyes hinted at malevolence rather than cuteness. She picked up her phone and took a picture just in case it was the best one she carved all night. Another tea light and the second pumpkin joined its brother on the front steps.
As she strode back to the kitchen she heard a knock at the door.
‘I’ll get it,’ her brother said, racing past her in a flash of orange.
Mandy nodded and returned to the kitchen. Three plump pumpkins waited on the kitchen counter. Mandy slid the sharp blade through tough peel and into the soft wet flesh. Seeds stuck to the knife as she pulled it out again, wondering what face she would carve this time.
This face appeared disturbingly human. Mandy shuddered as she stared at the wide set eye sockets, gaping nostrils and lopsided sneer. Her skin crawled and she imagined the pumpkin seeds as tiny beetles burying into her flesh in revenge for the destruction she had wrought on their host. Not real, she thought briefly, take meds. She placed the knife down carefully and, scratching her skin, made her way back to the candle cupboard where her tablets were also stored.
Jamie ran into the room. ‘Cool!’ he gushed. ‘It looks like me.’
‘Watch out for the knife, Jamie. It’s very sharp.’
His fingers hovered over the blade as if drawn to it in spite of her warning. Mandy hurried over, grabbed his shoulders and pulled him away. ‘Who was at the door?’
Immediately distracted, Jamie grinned. ‘A zombie, a witch and some sort of sack-faced monster ... I think it was a scarecrow.’
‘How’s the candy doing?’
‘Still got loads.’
‘Try not to eat it all, okay champ?’
Jamie mumbled something very non-committal and left the kitchen, presumably to huddle over the television screen once more.
Mandy stared at the open cupboard door and the pumpkin, trying to remember what she’d been doing. Candle, of course. The lit pumpkin looked less like her brother and more in keeping with the season. Pleased with the result, Mandy took it to the front steps.
The garden path was awash with flickering lights. The street was busier now. Prime time for Trick or Treaters. A few doors down she saw the sack-faced monster Jamie had described. It was creepy. Maybe too creepy.
Mandy scowled at the bloated pumpkins on the kitchen counter. Three left to carve. A thought flitted through her head. She grasped hold of it, but it was slippery and darted away before she could examine it. The knife was there already, a zippo lighter too. She was forgetting something. The list. There was a list on the refrigerator. Her mother had left it there to remind her. She should check it. She wandered over and plucked the paper from beneath the grasp of a ghost magnet, cute. She stared at the letters. Her mother’s handwriting was usually very easy to read, but this made no sense at all.
She shook her head and tried again. But there was no sense to be made of the note. She strained to remember her mother’s instructions – candy, pumpkins ... Trick or Treaters ... Hocus Pocus? Mandy growled and rubbed her forehead. She considered phoning her mum, but didn’t want to spoil their night. If her mother thought Mandy couldn’t cope, she might force Philip to drive her home then Philip would be angry and Mandy would spend the rest of Halloween cowering inside her wardrobe. If she carved the pumpkins quickly she should be able to catch the second half of the film at least. Maybe later the note might make more sense. She lifted the ghost magnet and popped it back on the fridge.
Three more pumpkins ...
The first one was warm when she touched it. She stared at the orange mass on the kitchen counter, knowing on some level that this wasn’t right. Pumpkins felt cool to the touch. Maybe this one had been warmed by the last rays of the slanting sun. Her fingers sank into soft and silky fur. No that wasn’t right either. Pumpkins were smooth, not hairy. She poked it hard with her index finger and it made an angry mewling sound and leapt onto the floor. Mandy just accepted the weirdness. Life had a habit of confusing her.
She checked the second pumpkin.
This one was cool. She picked up the knife and pressed the point against the skin of the pumpkin. It resisted so she pushed harder. The knife slipped and Mandy yelped in pain as the blade bit into the palm of her left hand. Dropping the knife, she stuck her hand in the sink and turned on the tap. Cool water splashed onto her skin and into the cut. The stinging calmed until it was just a warm, gentle throb and then she couldn’t feel her left hand at all. She saw it dangle at the end of her arm, but there was no pain, no sensation, nothing. She turned off the tap, relieved.
‘Are you okay?’ the third pumpkin asked.
Mandy nodded. The knife lay between her and the talking pumpkin. She was reassured by its presence.
‘You’re bleeding, Mandy,’ the pumpkin said.
She nodded again, although she couldn’t see the blood dripping from her fingers. She remembered it was important to agree with talking fruit and vegetables. Her body was pulled forwards on the left. She didn’t fight against the compulsion, but grabbed the knife before she was pulled too far away to reach.
Mandy let the talking pumpkin push her onto the couch. In front of her three witches were chasing a black cat. She heard knocking and felt relief when the pumpkin moved away and out of the room. She noticed the hand it had left resting on her lap was deep red and wet. A dark circle on her gold skirt framed it like a partially hidden eye. See no evil.
Voices wafted in from the front door. The pumpkin seemed to be asking a squeaky pirate for help. When the door closed again and the pumpkin returned, Mandy was ready. She gripped the knife and plunged it through the strangely pliant orange peel. She would need to get a tea light to finish the Halloween decoration, but she was strangely tired and found her legs unwilling to support her weight. A few minutes of rest and she would add candlelight to the face of the now silent pumpkin and place it on the front steps for the Trick or Treaters to enjoy. Just a few minutes ... that was all she needed ... then she’d finish.
Pumpkin Lanterns is one of thirteen
tales of the macabre featured in the collection-
by Carmilla Voiez
Meet a confused ghost, a vampire, searching for love, and a woman bent on revenge; visit a gateway to hell, a hotel in faery and an abandoned asylum, in this unique collection of stories. Includes the novella Basement Beauty.