Her story for our Hellicious Halloween showcase Smashing Pumpkins spirals down witchety pathways until we fall across something far more sombre and macabre. Listen up...
SMASHING PUMPKINS by Gill Hoffs
Pumpkins aren’t supposed to bleed. They’re not supposed to cry, either. But this was Hallowe’en…
When Jenny scooped soft innards from the pumpkin she felt no sense of unease. No chills, no jitters, and certainly no sense of foreboding assailed her as she scoured the thick orange skin with a spoon and listened to Hallowe’en Hits Vol. 3, tapping her slipper on the kitchen floor. It was a grey day, the sky thick with drizzle and falling leaves, but nothing out of the ordinary, nothing unusual for this time of year.
Singing along to ‘Thriller’, not quite hitting the high notes but not caring about it either, she thought about what was for dinner later and tried not to look too hungrily at the tub of lollipops and chocolates meant for visitors tonight. One would lead to two would lead to a trip to the Co-Op for replacements and a plague of spots for the rest of the week, and she fancied neither.
It was when she took a knife to the smooth curve of what was to be its face that things changed. Not just her no-chocolate resolve; everything. She’d decided on a cat theme this year, had little paper ears all ready for the lid, and was trying her hardest not to cut through the narrow pupils when a tear slid down its face.
Jenny was not a nonsensical person, she had no time for ghosts and if something went bump in the night she went to sleep certain of a logical cause for it. But the drop of water dribbling down onto the worktop gave her pause. Especially since it was followed by several more in quick succession, the water puddling at its base.
Perhaps it was an unusually wet pumpkin, she reasoned, it’s certainly a damp day. Maybe I’ve bruised a patch inside, yes, that’s it. Better for it to leak now than when there’s a candle in there, or it’ll never stay alight. And if there’s not a pumpkin in the window, shining with the hope of Hallowe’en, then she’d be left with the whole tub of candy to herself, and not a child to share it with.
She took her time on the nose, trying to get the curves right, then cut narrow slits for whiskers, three on each side. She’d chosen well, this one was the best of the patch, smooth, round and a deep reddy orange. The farmer was an old friend, glad of her help in the fields now and then. He always said she must have green fingers, holding her hands a little too long as he pretended to check; wherever she dug or sowed the plants came up greener, bigger, more lush than they had before. It meant she got her pick when harvest came.
Finally she carved the teeth. The fangs fringed the mouth with menace, and Jenny smiled at the snarl, thinking of the reactions of her little visitors later. Then it bit her…
She banged the pumpkin up and down on the counter with a scream, pushing at the heavy gourd until it let go. Red dripped off the edge of the work surface, spattering on the lino floor. There were deep incisions in the pads of her fingertips, and tear marks around them where she’d ripped them pulling free.
It spat at her, blood speckling the front of her blouse as she clenched her injured hand and stared. When it spoke, her jaw dropped open in disbelief.
It had the voice of a child, a young, angry child. One that she recognised.
“Why did you-" but at this Jenny had run from the room. It screamed and squealed, more noise that she recognised, but it wasn’t till she found the cricket bat by her bed that she considered her return. Screaming herself, she walloped the pumpkin with the bat, her hand throbbing with pulsing pain. Smashing it to a seething pulp, it was a little while till she realised it was her voice still screaming. Calming down, she knew she had to go.
Fingers bandaged, blouse changed, pumpkin mush left to simmer on the stove, she drove out to the farm. Her farmer friend must have been busy, there were perhaps a dozen on the roadside display, including happy faces, angry faces, vampires, and more bloody cats. Parking in the layby rather than approaching the farmhouse as usual, she got out, cricket bat in hand. Maybe she was going nuts, but she couldn’t risk making another mistake.
When they saw it was her, they screamed. Boys, girls, it was hard to distinguish amongst the screams and the rage. The bat was heavy, her fingers sore, but she took a deep breath and started.
“Where’s my mum and dad?” squealed a cat.
“Why did you take me?” screamed a vampire.
“Why did you leave us out he-“ she managed to shut an angry face up.
It was hard for Jenny to hear the siren over the screams. At the trial, she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The police officer who saw her smashing pumpkins as he headed back to the station for his tea mentioned hearing screams, but chose not to mention in his report that he believed them to be from murdered children. Attributing them to Jenny, apparently mad with guilt, seemed the most sensible course of action. Especially when they dug up the patch to find out what made her fingers so green and the produce so big.
Twenty little trick or treaters, skeletons and costumes showing bright in the light. Twenty girls and boys. Twenty little bodies showing signs of Jenny’s cricket bat and teeth.
When Jenny choked on pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, nobody was at all surprised. The warders who sourced the ingredients least of all…
Gill Hoffs lives in Warrington, England with her husband and 4 year old son though her mind wanders all over the place. Her work has won several prizes including the Crimson Skull competition, and is available widely online, and in print.