The Pumpkin on the Porch
[cw: light body horror] Rebecca was never one for holidays, and Halloween was no exception. The idea of spending her hard-earned money on frivolities such as temporary decorations and one-time-use costumes made her lips purse. She was a grown woman after all, and had much more important things to put her money towards. Her friends teased her every year for showing up to the parties “dressed as herself,” but she was never easily influenced by social pressures. They are more than welcome to role-play as the sexy green M&M for an evening, but she was going to spend HER $60 on a new set of plush towels for the guest bathroom.
As Rebecca predicted her friends were once again relentless, taking harder jabs as the faithful day grew closer. They claimed she had lost her connection with her inner child, that she had become miserly at the ripe age of 30. She didn’t see herself that way, she liked to think of herself as mature, practical, and prudent. And she was secure enough in herself to not let the haranguing get to her.
It was the night that she was returning from Julie’s annual Halloween party when she discovered the pumpkin. Rebecca had exited the Uber, proud of the only slight wobble in her step after an evening of imbibing. As she was slotting the key into the door she caught an unfamiliar smudge of orange out of the corner of her eye. With the door slightly cracked she turned her head to find a plump and vibrant pumpkin sitting on her spotless stoop. She paused and blinked at the gourd; had it been there as she was walking up? Who would have put it there? She considered that her friends might have escalated their festive criticisms to action, or perhaps a delivery found the wrong porch. Certainly, there was nothing sinister about its presence so she left it on the step and took herself to bed.
Rebecca forgot about the pumpkin until she stepped out of her home the next day. She paused and considered it, toying with the idea of throwing it out or handing it off to a more seasonally motivated neighbor. But it was here, and free, and didn’t look too bad against the off-white of her door-frame. After resolving to leave it be Rebecca made to step down but turned back suddenly as if a discordant bell had sounded behind her. Certainly, it had been dark last night, and yes she had enjoyed a couple of drinks, but she didn’t remember that slim smile and those beady eyes carved into the face of the pumpkin. But here in the light of day she could make out those features perfectly. A small shiver ran across her shoulders as she turned and left.
As Autumn trundled on a few visitors came to visit Rebecca and systematically commented warmly on her pumpkin. They were impressed to see her embrace the seasonal spirit if only just a little bit. Content to be receiving praise rather than condemnation Rebecca decided not to mention its mysterious appearance. It wasn’t until Daniel visited for the second time in November that it was brought to her attention that carved pumpkins typically only last 3-5 days. Never having decorated with them in her adult life, it didn’t occur to her what a dalliance they truly were. Her renewed justification in her own frugalness was tampered by the tiny and peculiar pocket of dread hiding deep in the pit of her stomach. It had been 25 days since the pumpkin had appeared on her doorstep, and she could have sworn its expression was growing wider despite the lack of rot to cause its sag.
Since Daniel’s last visit, Rebecca had been keeping a close eye on the pumpkin. She watched it like she imagined a scientist might watch a lab rat, anticipating a change in its behavior. She peaked out the front window multiple times a day to scrutinize it through the glass and ventured out the door to meet it face to face only when passing through on the way to, or returning from other obligations. She imagined to anyone else that the features of the pumpkin had remained the same, but under her watchful eye, she cataloged every otherwise imperceptible change.
At the end of December one of Rebecca’s clients commented on her appearance, asking if she was getting enough rest, or perhaps had fallen ill. Rebecca tamped down her offense and waved the comment away with an air of professionalism, but as soon as the call ended she rushed to the bathroom. Had she really been so obsessed with the pumpkin on the porch that she had failed to study herself? Looking closely in the mirror now she could see the changes in her appearance; The deep shadows beneath her eyes, the sagging skin of her jowls, and the thin lines tugging her lips backward into the dark cave of her mouth. She stumbled back, knocking the plush guest towels to the floor.
By January Rebecca had stopped leaving the house, hosting visitors, or even taking video calls with her clients. She had also moved the pumpkin inside to the dining table where she spent most of her time staring at its unblemished skin as if it it were a tawny crystal ball. Next to the pumpkin sat a table mirror, which she glanced at frantically at odd intervals hoping to catch the transformation, or the wicked transference as she now believed it to be.
Rebecca slept only when it overtook her and always woke with more of who and what she was rotted away. Her eyes hollowed, her cheeks became sunken, and her complexion sallowed. The pumpkin was always there to greet her, fresh as the day she had discovered it; though its eyes were now dark orbs the size of saucers, and its sharply cut grin stretched from one side to the other, open wide as if caught mid-laugh.
On Valentine’s Day, they found her on the porch, leaning against the off-white doorframe, the broad, jagged grin of the jack o’ lantern fixed on her shoulders, the collapsed basin of her face putrefying beneath.