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The Halloween Project Day 15: The Carving

Halloween stories just kill me. Maybe I should use a different term. The mood, the evening, the leaves, the laughter and chatter of kids approaching the house. And then, of course, the potential for horror.

It began for Julian when he grabbed the huge pumpkin off old man Ryerson’s porch and took off on an attempt to run. His little band of runts and local tough guys thought they ruled the dark streets on mischief night. At 15 and 16 they were too old for Halloween but not too old to raise hell. The cops were onto them but could never really catch them. Patrol cars would softly roll through the neighborhoods, lights off. When an officer noticed some teenage wise asses down the block, they’d switch on their lights and sirens but it was already too late. The gang would explode in every direction, running through yards, leaping fences, heading between houses, through one block to the next, all meeting at a pre-arranged designated spot ten minutes later.

They always targeted Ryerson. With his cane and shouting he couldn’t do much but rant to the moon. It made them laugh. They tried to get him earlier that evening with the dog shit in a paper bag set on fire. Ryerson hadn’t bought that dupe. He emerged onto the porch with gloves on, picked up the bag in a dustpan and hurled it far enough to land beyond his yard in the street.

But it was when Julian had taken the bag to the porch and lit it afire he noticed the pumpkin set off to the side. It was one big mother of a pumpkin. He knew he could lift it, but not easily. Usually they would take a jack o’ lantern, run off a porch, and send it flying high, only to have it smash into coagulated mush on the street. This one wasn’t carved and Julian wanted it for himself. He thought of a plan and followed it to perfection. Crossing the street, hugging the pumpkin to his chest, he ran between two ranch houses and ditched it under a large bush. Then he ran off into the backyard. Sam caught up with him.

“Julian, why didn’t you smash that thing? It is huge!” he whispered.

“I want it,” Julian returned, “I’m gonna carve it.”

“Really?! That will be awesome!

“You’re damn right. I’m gonna make one badass, scary Jack O Lantern!”

Sam and Julian and their other pals started out a few years earlier ringing doorbells which was quite a hoot when they were 11. That grew over time. They began to soap the windows of houses and sometimes even the bodies of cars. They hurled toilet paper over trees and strung it between telephone poles. If a car stopped, they pelted it with eggs. They threw eggs at houses and that’s when the police started taking notice. The boys turned their attention to neighborhoods far off from their own. As long as no single member got caught they figured they were good to go. Each year things got a little crazier. They beat up a kid on Prospect Street when they tried to steal his bike. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was scared to death. Broken windows in an apartment house that was being built raised the ante even higher. Police Department was getting pissed. The boys knew it was about time to chill.

“Come on over to my house,” he said to Sam, “my mother’s not home. I think she’s out with her boyfriend. We can sneak some vodka and carve this thing.”

“What about the guys?” Sam asked.

“Nah, we’ll spend another hour or so hanging with them and then we’ll just take off. After we hit some houses, we’ll come back and grab this monster and go back and carve it.”

“Sounds good,” Sam replied.

Around ten P.M. they labored the pumpkin several blocks back to Euclid St. and Julian’s small Cape Cod house that needed paint badly. Everything about the place screamed neglect. Broken window sashes, one gutter hanging from the garage, leaves across a seldom mower lawn.

“Hey man, I bet this place was nice once,” Sam said.

“Shut the hell up! The mother lost her job” Julian replied.

Shoving the front door open, the hallway and living room took on quite a different look, orderly, clean and cared for. Whatever wasn’t spent on the outside upkeep was spent on the inside.

“This is nice,” Sam said.

“Shut up!” Julian repeated.

In just a few minutes they had put cut up paper shopping bags on the kitchen table, set the pumpkin aright and taken out several big carving knives.

“Vodka?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, for sure, do you want to mix it with something?” Julian questioned.

“Coke,” Sam said.

“Coke? And vodka? Are you sure?” Julian’s voice sounded skeptical.

“Why, you don’t like Coke?” Sam asked quizzically.

“No, no, man. Whatever you like,” Sam answered.

The next half hour was consumed with design and execution. Excavating the pulp and pumpkin seeds was finished in short order. Julian had a fine eye and fashioned razor sharp fangs, eyes that looked tormented and then Sam slipped with a knife and slashed his finger, blood spouting into and around the pumpkin.

“Holy Shit!” Julian yelled, “You’re bleeding all over my pumpkin. Grab a towel!”

“Damn! Damn!” was all that Sam could say. And bleed Sam did. The finger cut dripped long and hard and the pressure of the paper towel finally helped it to subside but not until a smattering of deep red blood had matted and coalesced inside the haunting face.

“Wow! Wow about my finger and wow about this pumpkin. This killer is amazing. Tomorrow night you put this out with a light inside and kids will be scared shit to come by your door.”

“I know. This is the best, worst Jack O Lantern ever.”

“I got a crazy idea. You want to really, truly scare the crap out of a bunch of little turds who come by your door?”

“Of course I do,” Julian replied, “I don’t know if my mother will get candy, but I’d love to freak them out!” Julian said.

“Listen,” Sam went on, “This thing is gigantor. Cut a huge hole in the bottom, then we’ll lift it up and put it on your head. You can wear it like a mask. It’ll be outrageous! You can scream and moan, sit in a lawn chair out there, don’t move. They’ll all think it’s a dummy. Then you move. Holy crap, can you imagine their faces.”

“Yeah, but it’s got all your blood in there. It probably stinks,” Julian countered.

“Nah, looked you dabbed it all up. All you can see are little smear marks. There’s nothing in there,” Sam said.

Julian inspected the inside of the ugly Jack. Sam was right, just a few splotches here and there.

“Let’s do it!” Julian sounded excited.

In five minutes they were lifting the pumpkin up in the air and lowering it slowly, very slowly onto Julian’s head. It descended and came to rest on his shoulders. They had even fashioned two level notches so it stood perfectly, straightforward, eyes on an even keep with Julian’s, mouth where his mirrored.

“Man, oh, man! This is awesome! Awesome Julian! Crazy!”

“Boo!” Julian jumped toward Sam and they both laughed. He went to the bathroom to look at himself and Sam could hear him say “Shit!” He walked around for another 10 minutes with the pumpkin Jack on and finally said, “Alright let’s give this a rest. It’s kind of heavy and feels a little tight.”

Four hands, four 16 year old arms, gave a push upward. The pumpkin would not budge.

“Come on, just push a little harder,” Julian asked.

They did. The pumpkin stayed.

“It feels tight, man. Get this thing off me,” Julian’s breath came shorter.

“I’m tryin’, believe me I’m trying.”

They pushed, lifted, grunted. Sam stood on a chair, grabbing both hands under the edge and pulled with all his might. The pumpkin refused.

“Sam!” Julian strayed to the edge of panic, “Get this fuckin’ thing off me. It’s getting tighter. It’s starting to squeeze my neck!”

“Julian, Julian, stay cool. It’s not getting tighter. That’s impossible. We’ll get something like Vaseline or something.”

“No! No! Hurry! Hurry up! It’s getting tighter, all around it’s tighter! Oh my God! Help! Help me!”

The massive pumpkin was shrinking. Sam could see it clearly. A minute ago it enveloped Julian’s head like a large easy balloon, now it encompassed and collapsed like a glove to fingers.

“Jesus! Julian! I can’t get it off! What do you want me to do?!”

Muffled screams tumbled from the fanged mouth. Gurgles and garbled grunts rang out. Julian fell to his knees, the shrieks growing, intensifying as the pumpkin continued to tighten.

Sam looked around, panicked, and grab one of the large knives from the kitchen table. He began to hack at the pumpkin, cutting, slicing, low near Julian’s shoulders, now at the top across his crown. Near the sides of his head the blade came up and down, up and down. He moved around the screaming, kneeling Julian. Again and again, he slashed where pumpkin met face, ears, nose. Hair came off in clumped strands, pumpkin meat with flesh. Julian never stopped screaming. The carving went on. And on. And on.