Scary Spooky Stories: Pumpkin

Every year, my aunt would carve pumpkins for me. Yes — for me. In some households, Christmas was the holiday to await, an advent calendar counting down the days, chocolatey treats eaten in anticipation. But in mine, it was Halloween.

Tall grass would wave in the autumn breeze as I stepped out on the porch to fetch the morning paper. There, each day for the whole month of October, a pumpkin would sit proudly on the dirty doormat, some intricate design or message carved into its cheery flesh.

At five years old, it was often a toothy jack-o-lantern, or a letter a day, spelling out messages like “BOO” or “GRR.” My squeals of delight, hitting the same tone and frequency of the pigs we kept ‘round back, would make my aunt grin, an unfamiliar expression against her weathered skin. I never knew when she had the time for this, but that was part of the magic.

At eleven, the theme was princesses. Every single one immortalized on a pumpkin along with tiaras, slippers, fairies too. It was as if Auntie was reading my mind. That year I watched Beauty and the Beast twelve times, Cinderella ten and Snow White seven — in retrospect, it was not my mind she was reading, rather, it was the constant blaring of the television informing her of my obsession. That Halloween night, when the sun had set over the farm, and we headed home from the Smith’s annual party, a beautifully detailed pumpkin rested on the porch, sizeable and decorated like a carriage. I dropped my bag full of candy, tiny heeled feet stopping in their tracks. “How did you do it?” I said, brown eyes wide with wonder.

“I didn’t do anything,” she stroked the pumpkin’s flesh, admiring her craftsmanship. The photo of me next to it, in my Cinderella dress, is still hung by a magnet on Auntie’s fridge.

As I grew up, pumpkins continued to be our thing, my aunt and I. I figured they were acquired from our pumpkin-patch-owning neighbours in exchange for a dozen of our fresh eggs a week for the month of October — or at least, that was how many Auntie sent them every Sunday, a silent “thank you” for the pumpkins. Then, I surmised, she’d carve them and stash them on the property somewhere — probably in her toolshed, while I was at school, or doing chores, or mucking about with my friends.

When I was fourteen, I started to receive letters alongside the pumpkins, which were all carved in Taylor Swift or Twilight themes that year. Never signed, the letters were always anecdotal and heartfelt. My Aunt would summarize how the year went — what she was proud of me for, how I’d grown, her hopes for me — it was sweet. It is sweet. In fact, I look forward to them every year.

At twenty, Halloween this year feels hollow. In my humble loft, fluorescent lights flickering just enough to be bothersome, and the shower running just a little too cold, I hear my neighbour’s radio blaring, always set to some station where someone is always winning a hundred dollars or concert tickets to groups I don’t particularly care for. A result of my moving out and 2,000-ish miles away, this year there are no Halloween parties with the Smiths, no waving blades of field grass, and no smiles from my Aunt as I burn my tongue on cinnamon-dusted apple cider, rocking on the creaky porch swing. Even the air here is different, lacking the fresh farm scent I’d actually grown to miss during my time alone. I think the grey walls of my apartment would look much better painted bright, pumpkin orange.

Suspending my homesick fantasies, the doorbell rings. I open it a crack, my eyes making their way down, focusing on the lively orange pumpkin on my doorstep. I pick it up and rush inside, dialling my aunt at record speed. How did she pull it off? My cheeks raise, laughter interrupting the city noise. She picks up on the first ring.

“Hi Auntie, it’s me. I just wanted to say, thank you so much!”

“Always lovely to hear your voice. I’m not one to reject praise, but,” she pauses, “why am I the recipient of such gratitude?”

“The pumpkin, Auntie, I got it,” I say.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Auntie, don’t. Seriously, thank you. I miss you.” I roll my eyes, her dedication to maintaining her ruse not surprising — she’d only been pretending it wasn’t her for 20 years.

“I miss you too,” she says, “but love, it was always the neighbours that gave you those pumpkins — Johnny and Beth, you know, that sweet old couple from two doors down. They just adored you.”

“But Auntie, Johnny passed in March, and Beth lost the patch in July.” I’d flown back for the funeral and everything. I spin the pumpkin around, examining the design.

“Exactly,” Auntie says “so what are you going on about?”

The pumpkin reads, FOUND YOU!

“Auntie?” The line goes dead.

Dread washes over me, the opposite of a summer splash-around in the farm sprinklers, the chill all too unwelcome.

I didn’t lock the door.

A hand grasps my shoulder, tight.

“I’ve been watching you for a while now, Pumpkin.” The grip tightens, breath hot on my neck.

“Happy Halloween.”