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A Halloween Tale

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    Posted: October/30/2009 at 10:58am
JACK O. LANTERN

     Ms. Sherman supervised very closely, but twelve-year-old Ralphie Jenkins did most of the actual carving of the pumpkin himself. She was a bit leery of letting him use the knife, but she sat right by his elbow the whole time, ready to snatch it away from him if he looked in danger of cutting himself. Ralphie always required this kind of special one-on-one attention, and it usually left Ms. Sherman feeling incredibly exhausted at the end of the day. Truth be told, she believed the boy belonged in a special school for children with his type of mental deficiencies, not in a classroom full of regular students with normal capabilities. Unfortunately the school board disagreed. Normalization, they called it.
     She had to admit, however, that Ralphie was actually being quite careful with his carving. In fact, he was far less reckless than most of the other kids who were hacking into their pumpkins like they were in some slasher film; Tony Cartwright and Andy Stevens were over in the corner brandishing their knives at each other and having a mock-swordfight. But they were Mr. Feldman’s problem; she was a teacher’s aide whose sole responsibility was watching over poor challenged Ralphie.
     And for the first time all school year, Ms. Sherman was glad. Normally Ralphie was a frantic ball of energy bouncing all over the classroom, being inappropriately loud and occasionally soiling his pants. But as soon as they’d sat down to the task of carving jack-o-lanterns, the boy had focused in a way Ms. Sherman had never seen before. Utterly quiet, he sat with the tip of his tongue poking out the corner of his mouth, meticulous and methodical as he made the incisions in the orange gourd. Ms. Sherman was almost proud of him.
     Of course, no matter how much care Ralphie put into the carving, the end result still looked like something Picasso and Dali may have collaborate on. The triangular eyes were set much too far apart, almost on either side of the pumpkin, one of them considerably higher than the other. The nose was too far to the left, practically underneath one of the eyes. The lightning slash of a mouth was tilted at a diagonal instead of straight across, almost making it look as if the jack-o-lantern were smirking.
     Still, for all its deformity, Ralphie seemed to love his creation. He actually hugged the thing to him and proclaimed it his new best friend. It would have been sweet if it hadn’t been so sad.
* * *
     Tony Cartwright and his buddies were hanging by the monkey bars during recess when Tony spotted that retard sitting on the low brick wall that ran around the flagpole, his warped-looking jack-o-lantern propped on his lap.
     Chuckling, Tony motioned for his friends to follow and they started across the playground. Tony’s favorite pastime at school was picking on the retard. It was so fun because the dope was too dumb to fight back or even tattle; he just took it, usually with a stupid grin on his face. Also, being only ten years old, Tony really enjoyed bullying someone a full two years older than he was and getting away with it.
     After checking to make sure no teachers were in earshot—the retard’s babysitter, Ms. Sherman, was over by the entrance flirting with Coach Grady—Tony sat down next to the boy and said, “Hi ya, (censored) for Brains.”
     The retard smiled as if the insult were a term of endearment.
     “What you got there?” Billy Williams asked, pointing to the pumpkin.
     “This my best friend in the whole wide world, Jack.”
     “Jack?” Tony said.
     “Yup, Mr. Jack O. Lantern.”
     The boys all laughed, loud and mocking, but the retard just laughed along with them, too brain-dead to know when he was being made fun of.
     “What’s wrong with it?” Andy Stevens said, still sniggering.
     The retard patted the thing on the head like it was his pet or something. “Nothing wrong with him. He perfect.”
     “I don’t know, looks kind of retarded to me. What do you think, Tony?”
     “Definitely looks retarded, but I guess that makes sense. A retarded jack-o-lantern for a retard. A match made in heaven, you ask me.”
     The dolt just stared back at Tony with wide and empty eyes, not a trace of understanding evident in his gaze. Suddenly that lack of reaction, which usually thrilled Tony, started to bug him. Sure, it was a kick messing with someone who didn’t know to stick up for himself, but that got old after a while and Tony found he wanted tears and pleas. After all, if you bullied someone who wasn’t even aware they were being bullied, what was the point? Where was the fun?
     “I’m talking to you, boy,” Tony said, jabbing the retard in the shoulder, trying to provoke a reaction. “Is your pumpkin a mongoloid like you or what?”
     The boy finally looked stung, but it was clear from the way he pulled the jack-o-lantern closer to him that he wasn’t hurt for himself but for the damn pumpkin. This gave Tony an idea and he changed tactics.
     “So Jack’s your best friend, huh?”
     “The bestest.”
     “Sure would suck if he went away, huh?”
     “Jack never gonna go away. He be my friend forever. Keep me safe and from being lonely.”
     “That so?”
     The retard nodded so vigorously it seemed his head might fall off.
     Tony smiled, glanced at his friends, then made a swipe for the jack-o-lantern. The retard moved surprisingly fast, jerking the pumpkin out of reach almost as if he’d been anticipating Tony. Some of his buddies actually laughed at him, and Tony felt his face burning with both embarrassment and anger.
     “Gimme that pumpkin, you retarded bastard,” he said, his voice quiet but deadly.
     The boy clutched the jack-o-lantern tighter. “No, Jack stay with me. He my friend, he not let anything bad happen to me.”
     “Oh, something bad’s gonna happen to you, alright. Like I’m about to bash your head against this brick wall until it cracks like an egg unless you hand over that pumpkin.”
     The boy’s head swiveled toward Ms. Sherman, and Tony could tell he was about to call out, so he reached out and shoved the retard hard in the chest, making him topple over backward. The boy fell off the wall, hitting his head on the flagpole as he landed on his back. When he did, the jack-o-lantern was jostled out of his grip, and to Tony it looked almost like the thing leapt into the air, headed straight for Tony. Before he had time to raise his arms, the pumpkin smashed into Tony’s face, bouncing off his nose and ricocheting back to the retard, who caught it without even looking up despite the fact that he missed every ball ever thrown his way in gym class.
     Tony could feel hot blood gushing from his nostrils, and he tasted it as it seeped into his mouth.   A rage overtook him like nothing he’d ever known, and his hands twisted into claws as he started toward the wall, intending to vault it and pound the retard’s ass into the ground, but then Ms. Sherman came running over.
     “What happened here?” she said, kneeling next to the retard.
     Billy was the first to speak up. “Ralphie here threw his jack-o-lantern at Tony and busted him in the face.”
     “It was an accident,” Tony was quick to interject. “Ralphie just lost his balance and slipped off the wall, and when he did the pumpkin went flying. That’s all.”
     Ms. Sherman looked skeptical but she seemed to accept the story. She helped the retard to his feet and dusted off his clothes. Turning to Tony, she said, “Go see the school nurse and have her clean you up and take a look at that nose.”
     “Yes, ma’am.”
     Tony started toward the school, his buddies following along. “Why’d you do that for?” Andy asked. “We could have really gotten the retard into some trouble.”
     “Don’t you worry. That idiot’ll get his payback, trust me.”
     Andy started to smile. “Cool. What you got in mind?”
     “My older brother is supposed to take us out trick-or-treating tonight, but he just wants to meet up with his girlfriend so they can smooch and grope which means he’ll probably cut us loose and let us do our own thing.”
     “Yeah, what’s that got to do with anything?”
     “I know where the retard lives.”
* * *
     Tony couldn’t believe his luck. He and his buddies had put off going by the retard’s house until later in the evening, waiting for most of the other trick-or-treaters to call it a night and leave the streets nearly deserted. It was around 9 when they turned the corner, and there was the dolt sitting all by himself on the porch steps, that stupid jack-o-lantern he’d made right next to him, its insides alight with candle flame. There was no one else about, and not an adult in sight. Things couldn’t have worked out any more perfectly.
     “Hey (censored) for Brains,” Tony said as the group walked across the lawn. There were four of them, Tony dressed as a pirate in the lead, followed by a mummy, a vampire, and Frankenstein’s monster.
     The retard looked up with a bright smile on his face, obviously having already forgotten about the incident at school earlier in the day. He was like that dumb-ass blue fish in that Finding Nemo movie, his memory lasting only seconds before it was wiped clean again.
     “Nice retard mask,” Andy said, the wrappings of his mummy costume jiggling when he laughed. “Oh wait, that’s just your regular face, huh?”
     Tony sat down next to the boy. “So what are you doing out here all by your lonesome?”
     “Mama put Jack out for trick-or-treaters to see. I’s afraid he be lonely so I keep him company.”
     “Oh, isn’t that just the most precious thing ever,” Tony said in a sugar-sweet mocking tone. “Tell me, where is your Mom?”
     “Inside. I go get her, she give you candy.”
     “No, no, don’t rush off. We got enough candy to last us ‘til Christmas. We came by to see you; we want to play a little game.”
     The retard’s eyes lit up like he’d just been told he’d won a million bucks. “Me like games.”
     “Yeah, so do we. You probably haven’t played this one before; it’s called Payback’s a Bitch.”
     Before the retard could say anything, Tony grabbed the front of his shirt and yanked him to his feet, tossing him out toward the others. Andy and Billie grabbed him and held his arms. Wes Taylor, who’d always been the pussiest of the bunch, started backing away.
     “Muh-maybe we shouldn’t duh-do this,” he stuttered.
     “Why not?” Tony said, advancing on the retard, who didn’t even bother to struggle. “I pummel him and he probably won’t even remember it five minutes from now.”
     Wes fidgeted from foot to foot, looking like a Frankenstein that badly needed to take a water, glancing back toward the sidewalk. “It’s guh-getting late, my folks’ll be wuh-worried.”
     Tony turned a withering stare on his friend. “Fine, Mama’s Boy, you run on home, but don’t even think about hanging with us at school anymore. You can eat lunch with the losers and dweebs from now on.”
     Wes seemed uncertain, but then he turned and made a dash for the street. Tony shook his head, making a mental note to make an example of Wes on the playground next week. If there was one thing Tony couldn’t stand, it was a chicken-(censored).
     Turning back to the retard, still held in place by Andy and Billy, Tony said, “You bloodied my nose at recess. Remember that?”
     The boy shook his head.
     “You don’t remember? Maybe I should refresh your memory.” Tony lashed out suddenly, punching the boy square in the nose, feeling it smash flat against his fist. He was gratified to see blood dribbling from the retard’s nostrils. “Now, does that ring a bell?”
     “Wasn’t me, was Jack. He saw you hurt me and tried to protect me.”
     Tony and his two buddies laughed at the idiot’s little fantasy of a jack-o-lantern as his knight in shining armor. It didn’t get more pathetic than that.
     “Let’s see if Mr. Jack O. Lantern can protect you from this,” Tony said then rammed his fist into the retard’s gut. The boy woofed out air and tried to double over, but Billy and Andy kept him upright. “How about this?” Tony backhanded the boy across the face, raising a red welt on his cheek. “This?” Next was a karate chop to the back of the boy’s neck. With a nod from Tony, Andy and Billy let go, allowing the retard to collapse to the ground, tears and snot and blood coating his face.
     Tony made a clucking tsk-tsk sound with his tongue. “I have to say, your pal Jack’s not exactly doing a bang-up job as a protector. Maybe he’s on his lunch break.”
     The retard was on his hands and knees, and he looked up at Tony. No, he was looking past Tony toward the house. Tony turned quickly, suddenly afraid the boy’s mother was going to be standing at the door, but there was nothing there but that jack-o-lantern. Yes, the jack-o-lantern, that was what the retard was looking at. In confirmation, the boy reached out a hand and said, “Jack…” in a pleading tone of voice.
     “Jack can’t save you,” Tony taunted. “In fact, your good buddy Jack is about to get his face kicked in.”
     “No!” The boy lurched up but Billy and Andy were ready and grabbed him again.
     Laughing, Tony stepped up to the deformed pumpkin with the lopsided eyes and crooked mouth. For whatever reason, the retard had really latched on to this gourd, and Tony was going to take great satisfaction in pulverizing it while the boy looked on.
     Tony kicked out hard with his right foot, figuring the pumpkin would explode into a hundred pieces, but instead his foot slid right into the jack-o-lantern’s mouth, which seemed to gape wider than before. Worried that the candle inside might catch his shoelaces on fire, he tried to pull his foot back out but it was stuck in there. He went to pull harder but suddenly an intense pain shot up from his ankle; it felt like a steel bear trap had snapped shut on his foot.
     Falling onto his back with a strangled cry, feeling as if he might lose consciousness from the pain, Tony looked down at his foot and found the jack-o-lantern glowering at him. Which was absurd, of course; it was just a pumpkin with a crude face carved into it, an inanimate object. And yet he was sure he saw intelligence in those eyes, and malevolence as well. As he watched, one of the triangular eyes closed in a mischievous wink.
     Tony began frantically trying to pull himself backwards on his elbows in an attempt to free his foot, but the jack-o-lantern’s mouth clamped down harder, and Tony could feel his flesh tearing and bones crunching. The damn thing was biting through his ankle. He tried to scream but his voice was locked inside, the fiery agony traveling up his right leg freezing his vocal chords. Sweat poured from his body, and he tilted his head back to look at his friends, who would surely help him.
     Andy and Billy stood with wide, frightened eyes, their mouths hanging open. Then moving as one, they both let go of the retard and took off running. But not toward him, not to lend a hand; they ran away from the house, leaving him alone with a man-eating pumpkin.
     Desperate, Tony reached out to the retard, his eyes pleading, but then he felt another crunch and his body slid along the ground toward the jack-o-lantern, and with horror Tony realized it was pulling him into its mouth.
     Tony began flailing, grabbing handfuls of grass to try to slow his progress, but by the time the thing had eaten him up to the knee, the pain was so all-encompassing that he felt light-headed and could barely move. He just lay there panting, his vision graying around the edges, as he was gobbled up by the retard’s pumpkin.
* * *
     Felicia Jenkins opened the front door and found her son standing out in the front yard, staring at the jack-o-lantern he’d carved in school today. “Ralphie, honey, what are you doing?”
     The boy looked up at her blankly and just shrugged.
     “Well, come on inside, it’s late and chilly and you’re not wearing a jacket.”
     The boy shuffled forward, pausing to pick up the jack-o-lantern and carry it inside. It was surely just her imagination, but the thing seemed bigger than before.
     “Honey, I think you should leave the pumpkin out on the porch.”
     Ralphie cradled the thing protectively against his chest. “Please, Mama. Mr. Jack O. Lantern my friend, need to stay with me.”
     Felicia smiled down at her son, so innocent and pure, and knew she could deny him nothing. “Okay, but blow out the candle inside.”
     Ralphie did as he was told, he always did, and patted the pumpkin on the head. “Jack not let anything bad happen to me.”
Mark Allan Gunnells
10/30/09
We are not strangers to ourselves, we only try to be. --Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote dnurse64 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October/30/2009 at 11:51am
Yea! I hate bullies. That was fun!
I'm inclined to believe in parallel worlds filled with dark bound Snow and Odd adventures.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote FinalExam Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: October/30/2009 at 11:52am
I had written some non-horror Halloween tales this year, but I wanted to write one that was just a funny, kind of cheesy Halloween tale, and this is what I came up with.
We are not strangers to ourselves, we only try to be. --Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
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