Destiny is no great mystery to a pumpkin. From seed to vine, vine to ripening shell, each knows (or can reasonably guess) the time and nature of its doom. The life of the pumpkin is born of the earth, in germination and the dark push skyward, in leafing and looping, spreading and blooming, drinking the deep spring rains and soaking the warm summer sun.
But death for a pumpkin is born of the ether. On cool summer evenings, the pumpkins whisper amongst themselves in nervous anticipation of the Three Fates: the Decayer, the Devourer, and the Destroyer. Sure as night falls and leaves fly, no pumpkin escapes its assigned Fate—and each brings its own trials and glories.
The Decayer arrives first, but works her magic most slowly. She drifts over the patch as a mid-summer fog, seeking the stunted, deformed and diseased. These she crudely marks so that man will not touch them, and they return to the earth to renew the soil and, perhaps, to try again—a noble calling for neglected fruit, but one must suffer in silence the trail of a glistening slug across one’s face, the creep of fungus and tickle of ravenous arthropods, and the warm stench of rot beneath the winter snow.
The Devourer arrives in early autumn, harvesting souls in broad daylight. She takes only the smallest and sweetest, to be consumed by people in pies and cookies and breads. There is no shame in spreading cheer to other creatures, but it is also no mean feat to be cleaned, cubed, cooked and consumed in utter silence and submission—or heaven forbid, canned: puréed and sealed in tin for months, unmoving, in juices not your own.
For the pumpkins that remain—the biggest that have not succumbed—the Destroyer settles upon them as frost in mid-autumn, severing at last their ties to the dark earth and cultivating in them a desire for grand adventure and phantasmagoric death. These are harvested for the greatest and most frightful doom of all: to be jack-o-lanterns on Halloween night!
This is every yellow pumpkin-blossom’s dream—to grow fat and orange, and to have its eyes and mouth opened with the blade of a knife. To be Chosen is the highest honor; the pumpkins have not forgotten that to be a jack-o-lantern is to be called to defend a home and its children from evil spirits and parlay with the unsettled ghosts of the dead.
Much of humankind has long since lost sight of the nether world, but open a pumpkin’s eyes, and it sees all.
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Continued in Part II …
Photo: Brendan’s jack-o-lantern, 2007