(Editor’s Note: Continued from yesterday’s post, which, of course, you should read first!)
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Jack hoped to be one of the Chosen that fall. Of course he was called Jack—even the smallest pie pumpkins, or the foulest rotters in the field, are Jacks in name and in spirit. This Jack was a plump, round pumpkin, bigger than a basketball, somewhat wider than he was tall, with a thick stem that corkscrewed slightly from his crown.
He was perfect, except for a four-inch crease across his face where his Mother Vine pressed against him as he was growing. Jack had always believed he was destined for carving, but seedward, he wondered if that one flaw might change his Fate. One by one, the pumpkins around him were claimed by excitable children with their parents in tow. Three times he had been picked up and turned round and round, and three times, found lacking. The tall, skinny Jack from the next vine was gone, as was Yellow Jack, who had never fully ripened, and Lazy Jack, who couldn’t even stand up! He was beginning to fear he would be left to rot after all—and with such late start, he might linger in the field well into spring.
Then one grey and windy evening, a dark-eyed, dark-haired boy in a green raincoat approached. Jack felt his footsteps in the soft wet earth. The boy looked at Jack with a curious intensity. He didn’t pick Jack up, but Jack could feel the boy circling him, first to the right, then to the left. He crouched next to Jack and peered at the crease, then traced it with his thumb. He smiled.
A woman approached. “Did you find one, Sam? It’s beginning to rain,” she said.
“This one,” said Sam.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “It’s got a dent in it, see?”
“It’s a scar, Mom,” he said matter-of-factly. “This is the one—I know just what to do!”
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Sam sat in the back seat of his mother’s car with Jack on his lap, tracing that crease with his fingers over and over. Jack thrilled at the touch. This Sam knows pumpkins— I can see that with my eyes closed, thought Jack. And soon—maybe as soon we stop—my eyes will be opened!
When they arrived at home, Sam carried him to the kitchen. His mother spread newspaper on the table and placed a large silver bowl next to Jack. She then left for moment and returned with a long, gleaming knife. Her eyes went suddenly wide and twitchy, and Jack heard her speak to the boy in a loud and raspy voice: “Shall we … begin … Master?”
Sam laughed and said yes. Jack braced himself for the blade and the piercing pain that must surely follow.
The tip of the blade sank about a quarter-inch into Jack’s rind with little more feeling than a sharp pinch. Sam’s mother then pushed the blade through, which sent a strange tingle to Jack’s very core. As she slid the blade up and down, up and down, in a circle around his stem, the tingling sensation was replaced by sudden warmth as the air of the kitchen seeped in to fill him.
Sam’s mother grabbed Jack’s stem and twisted his crown free, dragging with it long, slimy tendrils of orange goo and pale white seeds. Jack felt as if the table had dropped from under him, and he was spinning down, down. He heard a voice say, “Now it’s time to get your hands dirty,” and it sounded half a world away.
Sam plunged both bare hands through the hole in Jack’s top, tearing loose fistfuls of goo and seeds. He called to his mother, held up his hands, and squeezed until pulp squirted from between his fingers. Then Sam used the edge of a steel spoon to scrape Jack’s insides clean. From inside his shell, the noise was deafening, and the falling sensation was replaced by a pulsing ache and waves of nausea.
When Sam finished scraping, he turned Jack upside down, and the pumpkin’s pale orange insides spilled into the garbage can. Instantly Jack felt better, and when Sam set him upright and replaced his crown, he was empty of seeds, pulp, and fear. The worst was surely over, and no other Fate would have him now. He was to be a jack-o-lantern—his eyes would now be opened.
Sam’s mom brought a short-bladed paring knife to the table. “Remember,” said Sam, “you said I could do it this year. You said I could use the knife if I’m careful.”
Jack heard a motherly sigh: “Alright, Sam—but be very careful!”
Sam slowly, painstakingly, carved Jack’s face into his orange shell. Jack could feel it taking shape, exactly as he’d imagined when he was green: first a wide, toothy grin with no less than a dozen sharp teeth; next, a nose like an upside-down kite …
Jack knew his eyes were next. Already the air flowed freely through him—he could smell the odors of the kitchen and his own insides in the garbage nearby; he could taste the metallic tang of the blade and bitterness of the wet oak outside. He couldn’t wait to see everything!
Sam pushed the blade home, and carefully slid it back and forth, back and forth, on a diagonal toward Jack’s nose. The tiny ribbon of daylight Jack saw was irresistible, and he felt he wanted to be filled with light, to shine like the harvest moon. Sam cut another diagonal, starting from the same point, this time moving away from Jack’s new nose.
A triangle! thought Jack. I knew it—wide triangle eyes!
Sam cut across the bottom of the triangle, and the piece fell inside. Light flooded Jack from everywhere—too bright, blinding, like waking to a camera flash. He felt his crown removed and felt Sam fish out the triangular piece and toss it into the garbage. He felt Sam’s finger retrace his scar, then begin cutting just below it.
By the time Sam had completed the cut below the scar, Jack had regained his senses, and was looking with wonder at the world around him. The cherry wood of the kitchen was bathed from above in a clean white glow. He saw Sam’s mother, and could imagine the vine that linked the two of them, from her dark hair and eyes to his. He could see Sam, carefully beginning a second cut below the scar, just the tip of his tongue sticking out, brow furrowed in concentration. From the inside, the boy seemed to have made a mistake: The second cut was nearly parallel to the first, and not at all like the cuts he had used to open Jack’s first eye.
“What on earth are you doing?” asked Sam’s mother.
“He has a scar over this eye so he can’t open it—see?” said Sam. “I call him One-Eyed Jack.”
Just one eye? thought Jack. All because of my scar? Barely any light seeped through the narrow slit where his second eye should be.
“Are you sure, honey?” said Sam’s mother.
“Sure, I’m sure,” the boy said. “He’ll be the scariest jack-o-lantern in the neighborhood.”
“You may be right!” said his mother. “Tell you what: let’s not set him out tonight, so nothing happens to him. We’ll put him in the garage, where it’s cool, overnight—then we’ll move him to the porch tomorrow for Halloween.”
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To be continued …
Photo: Gabe’s and Dad’s jack-o-lantern, 2007