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Authors: John Everson

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BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
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“Oh God,” she whispered.

What if the Holy Name parents were right and the killer was coming for her, too?

C
HAPTER
F
IVE

The knife moved with great speed. It cut easily through the man's thick skin, carving a precise line through the flesh. The carver sniffed, and a moment later sniffed again with obvious irritation. He had a chronic nasal problem that made his detailed carving work ever more challenging. But he kept on without stopping, not losing a beat as he wiped the dampness from his nose and upper lip with the back of his shirtsleeve, never looking down, struggling not to break focus.

He reached out to pull one of the subject's eyelids open. It held that way, the white orb beneath swiveling crazily, pupil wide and black. The face wore a look of abject terror. The earlier disengagement of the model's vocal cords kept the carving room quiet, however, as the carver preferred to work in silence. He could brook no distractions at this stage if he was to capture the essence of the man with his knives before the man's life fled. So he was doubly irritated when his sinuses suddenly hitched up, trembled, and then he let out a series of six rapid-fire sneezes. Again he wiped his face with an increasingly wet shirtsleeve and continued his work.

The carver had a kit of knives that he used, like the OR tray of a surgeon. He kept them in a black leather case that folded outward to reveal differently shaped blades, each prized instrument tucked into its own sleeve. His fingers used each as if it were an extension of him.

His knives were relentless. Piece by piece, the face of the victim took shape in the pumpkin beside him. First he dipped
his knife into the model's face, sampling the essence of the man with his blade, drawing something of the model into his tool. Then he moved his fingers to the pumpkin and slid the wet blade into the hard shell, carving the image of the man into the gourd, with the man's blood as lubricant, and his lost soul as the bridge between flesh and portrait. The carver cut first with a long, curved edge, outlining the form, marking the way. Then he set the opener to the side and refined the incision with a tiny wire-thin implement: a shaper. His hands moved back and forth from pumpkin to knife kit in a blur. Time was short. Some blades were hooked, with edges on both sides. Others stabbed. Still others shaved. They all worked together to reveal the face beneath the surface.

After three decades of carving, nobody could match him in speed or artistry. In years past, he had performed his carving magic for audiences at festivals and carnivals and even private parties, albeit with less terminal consequences. He was like a sidewalk caricature sketch man, turning pumpkins into the garish portraits of boys and girls, men and women, even dogs and cats. It was almost as if he imprinted their souls in the gourds, his viewers had marveled. But they also shivered.

Why did they shiver? It was creepy to take your pumpkin home, prop it in the window and then later walk into your living room and see yourself staring back, lit by the flickering tremor of a candle flame. And, moms got a frightened feeling when they watched him duplicate little Billy or Sarah on the skin of a twenty-pound pumpkin. They cringed when he touched their children, though he did so gently with one hand while the other stabbed the gourd. He always touched his subjects as he worked. The connection helped him pour something of them into his art. It made his carvings true. It almost gave them breath.

But, that had been then. This was now, and now he had to work fast. And to work fast, he had to do more than touch his subjects with a finger. No . . . he stabbed the knives into them,
and carried the blood over to the pumpkin as he re-created their faces on orange canvas.

The carver sneezed and impatiently honked to clear his throat as he sliced the knife deep into the man's cheek, drawing out the essence with a deft slice and then removing the knife from the heat of the dying face to transfer the model's essence to the pumpkin. The flicker of energy in the man's glare was fading. With short, tiny slices the carver slit the vinyl-like skin in the pumpkin to form the tiny breaks in the man's smile. The man's pumpkin-cut smile.

He dipped his blade into the man's bloodied, tongue-less mouth, and it returned a brilliant, vibrant red—both color and lubricant. Then he drew a long, thin slit on the side of the gourd and brought the blade around, like following the delicate spiral of a conch shell. He repeated the motions on the other side, providing the pumpkin head with the representation of ears. Then he held his palm over the man's mouth, as if trying to stop the last breath of life from escaping.

The carver chose a different knife; thinner, razor-sharp. He stared into his victim's dying eyes, his other hand working seemingly without guidance, shaping and refining the features already roughed out on the pumpkin skin. The hand finished the mouth with a long flourish, slicing away a millimeter of orange pulp and casting it to the floor. It glimmered there in the half-light, the last viscera of the act of transference.

His model choked on his own blood, eyes blinking frantically in the final moments of life. So the carver picked up a heavier, longer blade. He sat astride the man's chest, held the butchering blade to his throat. Then, with one hand, he pressed his fingers to the new face he'd fostered on the pumpkin.

It ended quickly. The man beneath him gave a short cough in sync with the pull of his knife. The carver pulled the knife through again. And again. At last the blade rebounded from the wood of the floor with a
clink
, and when it was finished, the
carver lifted his model's head from its body by the hair. He set it momentarily to the side and replaced it with the glistening pumpkin. The dead head looked deflated without its eyes, and with trails of blood from the thin tears in its cheeks. But the new head, next to it . . . now that was a work of artistry!

He stood back to admire his work, sneezed again and rubbed his arm against his face in disgust. Then he gathered his knives and the man's head and walked out of the house into the black of night. Nobody saw him come or go. But the next day the entire town knew one thing for sure:

The Pumpkin Man was back.

Meredith Perenais's Journal

April 23, 1981

Sometimes I feel like I've lived most of my life under a rock. There are so many things that I'm learning here: How the world really works. The difference between a wish and a dream—and a curse and a hex. The library George's family has amassed is fascinating and helping me understand. He won't talk about any of it, though.

Animal totems and their powers are one thing I've focused on. I have always hated snakes, but if you need the ability to slip into places unseen, theirs is the strength to court. And, who knew that bats are the true guardians of the dark way? A bat can open the door to the spirit world or keep it closed. With a bat as your familiar—ha, I can't even believe I wrote that—you can gain so much protection . . . and entree.

I wish that I could have known George's family instead of trying to pick up their wisdom from the things they left behind. Still, this house is rich with history. Rich with the invisible. I know they've been here with me these past months and years, guiding me to this point. Opening the way.

Today I nailed a bat to the doorway into the basement. I placed a warding spell on it that will protect whoever sleeps in this room. It's a simple thing, a simple spell. But it will ease my mind as I try to sleep. I won't have to worry about the things in the walls. I won't have to worry
about losing my George. In the end, it's all about protecting those that you hold dear, isn't it? In any way you can.

I never thought that I would do anything like this . . . but there are some things that a woman has to do to protect what she loves. No matter what.

C
HAPTER
S
IX

Midterms came and went in a blink. Jennica struggled to keep up, but the days passed in a blur. She still got calls from newspaper reporters following up on the mysterious murder of her father, but the story faded from front-page news to back-page updates. The police still said they had nothing, and Jenn was growing frustrated with their handling of the situation. Whenever she asked about the exact details surrounding the discovery of the body, the lieutenant grew taciturn, suggesting there were a couple clues that they were holding close to the vest.

She'd given up asking, though. It didn't matter. Her dad was dead, and the killer had walked away with his head. His
head!
What the fuck? How much more did she really want to know?

The fourth-period bell interrupted her musings, and the class slapped shut chapter seventeen of their textbooks as one. In moments the room was empty except for a familiar figure in the doorway. Sister Beatrice again. Jennica groaned. The presence of the principal was never a good omen. The name sounded so sweet and unassuming and kind. The woman was anything but.

“Ms. Murphy,” the sister said, her mouth drawn in a thin line. “I need to see you in my office.”

That was an even worse sign.

Jennica scooped up her papers, grabbed her bag and followed the nun down the hallway. Sister Beatrice cut a path through a mob of young teens all scurrying to their lockers to stow books and grab lunches, but Jenn had a sinking feeling that she wasn't
going to be hungry for lunch after this meeting. And she was right.

“Sit down,” Sister Beatrice instructed, taking her place behind a large desk whose blond wood was almost completely hidden by stacks of paper. “As you know, we've had to look very closely at the budget for the remainder of this year and next. We started the year with fewer students than we expected and have had several switch to public schools since. At the same time, expenses continue to climb. Last night, we approved a reduction in force.”

Oh crap. RIF'ed in her first year? That meant she'd be without a check come summer if she didn't move fast.

“This impacts several of our staff,” Sister Beatrice continued, “and I'm sorry to tell you that you are one of them. Unfortunately, it is effective immediately. If you could turn in your grade books before you leave today, we'd appreciate it.”

Jenn didn't know what to say.

The principal didn't give her time to think of anything. She pushed a formal-looking letter forward and pointed to a line with her name at the bottom of the page. “Please sign.”

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Jenn sat in a stall in the bathroom and cried for a few minutes, but that didn't help. She finished up her classes, then opened and closed the drawers on her desk five times, looking for possessions she didn't want to accidentally leave behind. On the sixth look, she pocketed a box of the school's paperclips. She'd need them for résumé letters.

She dropped off her grades at the front desk without a word, then fled to her car, just barely holding back another spate of tears. She'd thought that her dad's death bled her dry, but from somewhere deep inside she found a new reserve of saltwater—and remorse. She tried to picture Rudy's face and told herself
that at least she wouldn't have to deal with the Neanderthal any longer, but instead of cheering her up, the idea of never seeing Rudy “pee” on the floor again just made things worse. As angry as he'd made her, she still cared. That had always been her problem with boys, really. No matter how much they hurt her, she forgave them. They used her, and still she opened her arms. Usually to empty air.

When she finally arrived home, Jennica walked into the foyer and checked the mail slot. Apparently Kirstin was still out, because the box was full. Typical. They rarely drove to work together because Kirstin was always traipsing off somewhere else afterward.

She riffled through the envelopes as she walked up the stairs: Advertising coupons. An electric bill. A Visa bill. A “Have You Seen This Child?” flyer. An unstamped envelope, hand-addressed to her . . .

Frowning, she opened the last and pulled out a single sheet of paper. It was from her landlord. Absently, she let herself into the apartment and kicked the door closed behind her. As she read the short but painfully clear letter, she sat on the couch and found yet another reserve of tears.

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
13.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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