* * * * *
Jack spent that night on a small table in Sam’s bedroom, next to the clock radio. With his one good eye, he watched the trees outside toss their leaves into the gusting winds. The streetlight shining through the waving branches flung manic shadows across the room. Jack watched the street in silence, Sam’s words running circles in his thoughts: He has a scar over this eye so he can’t open it … he’ll be the scariest jack-o-lantern in the neighborhood … call him One-Eyed Jack … he can’t open it.
Jack thought the scraping had been the worst part of being Chosen, but this anticipation was as bad. Tomorrow night was Halloween, and he was to guard Sam and his mother against whatever evil or undead spirits might haunt the neighborhood. But his eyes—or rather, his eye—had only just been opened. Would one eye be good enough? Would he recognize a ghost if he saw one? A demon?
Jack didn’t know—but he was all but certain that two eyes would be better than one.
And yet, before Sam’s mom had turned off the hall light, Jack had seen his own reflection in the window. Sam had carved a narrow gash below the natural crease, then had stapled across the cut in several places—“like stitches,” he said. The effect did make Jack look uncommonly fierce for a pumpkin—like one who had weathered the winter and emerged hardened, not soft. And the crease was a birthmark of sorts to Jack; he took strength from this sign of his Mother Vine.
Something moved in the street. Jack’s wide triangle eye strained into the darkness. A tall, thin figure in black was coming up the street. It moved not unlike Sam, so Jack reasoned it was human—but still he felt uneasy. His steady gaze never left it as it drew nearer.
When the figure crossed under the streetlight, Jack saw it was a boy—older than Sam, with spiky yellow hair like a dandelion atop his head. His hands were jammed deep in his pockets as he sauntered past. He glanced once toward the house, and fierce eyes glittered blue above a narrow nose and thin lips.
* * * * *
Sam woke before the alarm in the morning and turned Jack to face the room while he dressed for school. “It’s gonna be a great night, Jack,” he said as he pulled on his socks. “I’m dressing as a pirate, and you already look like one!”
After Sam left, his mother moved Jack to the front step and placed a small, vanilla-scented candle in a glass holder inside him. Jack beamed at the thought of the fire to be lit in his belly at dusk, and spent the day watching the street for Sam to come home.
When the bus rumbled to a stop at the end of the street, Sam wasn’t the first to emerge. Instead, Jack saw a stocky, crew-cut boy in jeans and a black t-shirt, and a familiar, lean figure with spiked blond hair and pale eyes that seemed to lock on Jack immediately, then turn away.
Behind him, a little man with a beard, moustache, and feathered hat was walking with another wearing and eye-patch and a colorful scarf tied around his head. The one with eye-patch said, “Wait ‘til you see Jack—he’s the best yet! He’s got one eye, just like me!”
Sam! Already in costume!
Sam and his friend Bryce ran to the porch in their pirate garb, and stopped to admire Jack.
“I’ve never seen a jack-o-lantern with just one eye,” said Bryce. “That scar looks terrific!”
“Thanks,” Sam said. “If they’re supposed to keep evil spirits away, they should look creepy!”
“Right,” said Bryce, and they went inside for an early supper.
* * * * *
That evening was exactly as Jack had imagined. Sam’s mom lit his candle, and he glowed orange in the failing daylight. His grin radiated Halloween cheer to scores of trick-or-treaters—princesses and goblins; ghosts and wizards; vampires, mummies, knights, and superheroes—but his eye was ever watchful, and his gleaming yellow scar earned many wide-eyed looks of admiration.
As the evening deepened from violet to purple to black, Jack began to notice other forms among the false ghouls and monsters prowling the neighborhood for candy. These forms moved differently from the children—at times effortlessly; other times, disjointed—and appeared silvery-grey, casting no shadows in the streetlight. The spirits grew bolder as the night drew on, approaching homes behind the children, hoping to pass the threshold when the doors were opened. Jack was vigilant, glaring balefully at any spirit that ventured too close to Sam’s house.
Slowly the constant flow of trick-or-treaters diminished, and Sam returned home with a false pumpkin filled with candy. As he approached the house he held out the plastic pumpkin for Jack to see.
“Happy Halloween, Jack!” he said. “I told you it would be great!”
Sam’s mom let Jack’s candle continue to burn even after Sam turned in. All the lights were off in the house, and she sat in the family room, watching TV. The apparitions hovered high above the houses now, looking for doors left ajar and homes left unprotected. Jack kept his one good eye on these spectral creatures, but his mind wandered. He thought back to the summer, his green and growing days, his ripening, and his worries just two days earlier that he may never be Chosen. Now Halloween was drawing to a close, and his purpose was nearing fulfillment. In the frosty dawn, he would appear shrunken and old; his teeth would fold inward, his facial features soften and wither. He might not last the weekend, but no matter. He need only last the night.
A gust of wind sent a swirl of dry leaves across the porch, and Jack’s candle flickered and went out. Vanilla-scented smoke rose slowly from his eye and his scar. Jack heard whispering. He looked up the street to see two boys approaching—one thin, one thick, both dressed head to toe in black.
“It’s just a stupid pumpkin,” rasped the thin one. “What are you worried about? People do it all the time—I bet your dad used to!”
“I dunno, man,” said the thicker one. “What if we get caught? Don’t you think he’ll suspect it was us? Besides, this one’s pretty sweet.”
“Yeah, one eye—real cool,” said the thin one. He glared at his reluctant partner: “I want that little freak to know exactly who it was. He won’t tell a soul if he knows what’s good for him.”
Jack’s darkened eyes watched as the thin one started across the lawn toward him. His partner stayed behind. “C’mon, man—let’s go. His mom’s still up!”
The thin one’s eyes and teeth gleamed as he smiled. He grabbed Jack in both hands, walked to the paved driveway, raised the pumpkin high above his head, and brought him crashing down.
There was a sickening crunch as Jack’s shell gave way, followed by the sharper sound of the glass candleholder smashing on the concrete. “Man, let’s go!” shouted the stocky one, and the two boys raced down the street.
Sam’s mom opened the front door in her bathrobe. “Who’s there?” she called. Then she saw the smashed pumpkin on the driveway. “Anthony,” she said, clicking her tongue in disgust. “Sam will be so upset if he sees this …”
She stepped back in the house to dress, leaving the front door ajar. Jack was scattered in pieces across the driveway. The Destroyer, he thought. No one to protect them, and hours before dawn. His triangular eye lay flat on the cement, staring up into the void.
A silvery figure floated into his field of view, hollow eyes expressionless, but a ghastly toothless grin across its ancient face. A small, thin voice, like the hiss of a cockroach, spoke directly to his mind: Most unfortunate for you, Jack. And the woman left the door open—an open door; an open invite tonight! Tell me: Does young Samuel seem soft to you? Will he scream? Wet himself? Oh, this should be fun!
NO! shouted Jack, though he had neither a mouth nor a voice.
Stop me, then, Jack, if you can. You’re a broken shell; you have no power over me now.
Jack’s mind raced. If he could stall this ghost long enough for Sam’s mom to return, she would close the door tight behind her—but it would follow her close when she went back in …
Well, I should be going, the ghost hissed. Go rot, Jack. Enjoy death.
Wait, said Jack. I have a proposition …
* * * * *
To be continued …
Photo: One of the old man’s jack-o-lanterns, 2007.