The ground beneath Lucy Shackles’ pumpkin patch was unusually hot and dry for Autumn. Lucy Shackles stomped her heels releasing pockets of foul air. “Small harvest,” she grumbled and picked up a handful of soil. “Need better fertilizer.”
When evening fell, vines shuddered, and earth’s groans ascended from the pumpkin patch; ghoulish giggles echoed into the night sky ’till a loud knock rattled Mrs. Shackles’ cottage. When she opened the door, a long shadow loomed onto her wooden floor.
“Hello, Mrs. Shackles.” A tall, thin boy stepped out of the darkness. His red hair too stringy; his head too big. “I’m Jack.” He shook off crumbs of dirt and wisps of mist. “Small crop this year.” Jack lifted his lantern.
“Just need one pumpkin.”
“Yes, and who shall I carve it for?”
Jack crunched his eyebrows. “And Lily is …?”
“You’ll see in the morning.” Mrs. Shackles hurried Jack off her porch and watched him shuffle into the pumpkin patch.
When the sun rose, costumed children ran about in a sea of orange. Mrs. Shackles trudged through waves of little goblins, witches and elves and found Jack playing tag with them. “Jack! Did you carve a pumpkin for Lily?”
“Of course!” Jack pointed to a pumpkin, with two hollow eyes and a triangle nose, grinning a toothy smile.
“Well, that’s not scary at all. Kindda looks like you.”
Jack shrugged his shoulders.
At sunset, when all the children had gone, Mrs. Shackles and Jack sat on the steps of the porch.
“No Lily, Mrs. Shackles?” Jack tilted his head; apple cider dribbling from his lips. “Who is she anyhow?”
“Dr. Payne’s ten-year-old daughter. … Such a beautiful child. He claims she’s very clumsy. His way of explaining her bruises, cuts, and broken bones. ‘Lily crashed into a glass window,’ he says, ‘and fell out of it too.'”
“Dr. Payne?” Jack sighed. “The dentist?”
Just then a shiny new sedan rolled into the driveway.
“Speak of the devil,” Lucy Shackles muttered.
The dentist, a husky man, opened the door and yanked out a little girl. She fell on her knees and cried, wiping blood from her nose. When she spotted the pumpkin patch, she held back the tears. “Pumpkins!” She dusted herself off and stumbled into the pumpkin patch. “See Daddy, I didn’t make us late.”
Jack skipped toward her; Mrs. Shackles followed. “You must be Lily.”
With little scarred hands, Lily covered the bruise on her neck.
Dr. Payne cleared his throat. “We just came for a pumpkin, and we’ll be on our way.”
“That pumpkin?” Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Yes, we’ll take it.” The dentist reached for his wallet. “How much?”
“It’s not for sale.”
Lily bowed her head. “It’s not?”
Mrs. Shackles grabbed Lily’s hand. “Come inside, Lily. I’ve got a special pumpkin just for you, and some warm cider too.”
Alone in the pumpkin patch with Jack, Dr. Payne’s knees became very wobbly as Jack’s eyes lit up like flames and smiled a toothy smile.
By the time Lily and Mrs. Shackles walked through the door of the cottage, Jack’s pumpkin had tasted blood. Vines wrapped around Dr. Payne’s mouth so he couldn’t scream; around his neck so he couldn’t breathe; around his arms and legs so his bones would break. Then the ground imploded and swallowed him whole.
“Wait for me!” Jack picked up his lantern. “Bye, Mrs. Shackles! “twill be a better crop next year!” He leapt through the air and dove into the hungry soil.
Mrs. Shackles sang a happy tune as Jack’s ghoulish giggles faded away. “See you next year, Jack.”