Do you ever feel that you fully deserve the terrifying fate chasing you? Even as you are trying your hardest to outrun it?
Here's my story about that.
I am just starting my shift, filling the shelves with tins of beans. But this bright orange pumpkin is staring at me from across the aisle and I get lost in its unique beauty. It is sat atop a pyramid of pumpkins artistically arranged on a charming plastic cart and it has odd ridges that look like rivers running around its whole body, wrapping it in beautiful streams, and in between the streams it has spots that look like trees from above and I can see a patch of mottled skin looking perfectly like deer and tiny mushrooms. The pumpkin lays out an enchanted forest in the network of its little imperfections, and it trusts my ability to see it. I put down the beans and step up to my wonderful find. This year, I will make the most inspired carving. Children will admire its glow and tell all about it.
I hide the pumpkin in the middle of the stack, so no one buys it, and return to filling the shelves. I needn’t have worried. By the end of the day, all the other pumpkins are gone, and the store manager lets me keep the beautiful pumpkin because, in his opinion, it’s too ugly to sell.
I start scooping the flesh. It's hard work, and I realise that I have never carved a pumpkin before and always assumed it was easy. It takes me all evening just to hollow it out.
I go to a poetry night. I throw a glance at the pumpkin as I leave. I notice the spots moved a little, the deer are further from the forest and the streams are bigger, like rivers now. ‘I will carve you tomorrow,’ I say.
I don't own any good knives. Maybe I could carve with a screwdriver. I can’t find my screwdriver. I notice the hollow pumpkin looks softer, the enchanted forest slowly rearranging itself to a new pattern, the rivers swelling and winding tighter around. I give up searching and wrap it in kitchen towels for protection.
I hear an odd noise, like stone shifting over stone, and feel a breeze. I shut the windows and go to sleep.
I find myself walking in the enchanted forest among huge vines, big squashes, and, in the distance, a glowing pyramid of pumpkins. I follow the glow, crawling through the undergrowth toward the ever-moving pyramid. I finally emerge in front of it and walk inside. Deep in a crypt is a stone-carved dinner table covered in beautiful glistening baked pumpkins, surrounded by children, eager to eat a slice. I greedily reach out to grab a pumpkin. I hear a roar behind me.
‘Who disturbs my table?’ A pumpkin is rising above me, and I recognise it though its rivers are now completely covering it, like wraps, and it has a pair of furious, glowing eyes. ‘You are cursed,’ it whispers. I trip over the kids, then get to my feet and run.
I wake up, terrified. I scramble to the kitchen: the pumpkin is on the worktop, silver in the moonlight.
‘I'm sorry,’ I say. ‘You're beautiful and I'll carve you tomorrow. Definitely.’
I open the fridge and the pumpkin flesh is staring at me. I make pumpkin soup out of it and freeze it. I roast the seeds and put them in a jar. ‘It’s all fixed now,’ I tell the pumpkin. ‘I’ll totally carve you tomorrow.’
I get a response on a recent audition: I didn’t get it. I just know that if I carve it the day I didn’t get it, I’ll think about it every time I see a pumpkin, ever. It was my fault; I let myself think I’d get it, I really did believe it this time.
I almost expect the chase now, and sure enough, as soon as I’m asleep, it’s on and I’m running and crawling and hiding behind trees.
I call my parents. I don’t say much; what could I say, that I didn’t get the role and I built a D&D character, and I awakened the wrath of a Mummy Pumpkin? They talk to me about the grandkids, which is nice.
‘Tomorrow,’ I whisper to the pumpkin as I turn out the kitchen light. In the moonlight, I see that the marks on the inside form a screaming face.
I see this pained face every time I look back as it’s chasing me through the night. I want to stop because I deserve what’s coming. Instead, I am jumping through vines and ducking under branches, and throwing children at the Mummy Pumpkin.
It’s a dry day so I go skating and stay out until dark. I hear someone shout Happy Halloween on the way home and realise it was today.
This time, I fall asleep and dream that I am in my bed, and as I look around, I see the Mummy Pumpkin’s glowing eyes in the mirror. I jump out of bed and run down the stairs. The Mummy Pumpkin corners me outside Mrs. Rainbow’s flat. It is telling me that I'm the bad guy, like all those grave robbers in the Mummy movies.
‘19 million pumpkins go to food waste,’ it says, shaking a newspaper at me. I can't even draw, and I thought I could create an enchanted forest with a screwdriver. The pumpkin is now drinking a screwdriver; it throws it in my face. I wake up to a spray of mist on my face and a pair of glowing eyes above me. It’s the cat; she likes to sneeze on me when I sleep.
‘I made soup,’ I say to the cat, defensive, ‘I roasted the seeds.’ I wash my face, carefully tiptoe to the kitchen, and hold the pumpkin. We both know it’s not about the food waste; it’s about the Art. ‘I am sorry,’ I whisper.
I drop off back to sleep, and the pumpkin and I are sitting outside Mrs. Rainbow’s flat. ‘Take me to the park’s allotment,’ it says, exhausted, still sipping the screwdriver. ‘My true resting place.’
It gives me the newspaper and I read that the allotment needs pumpkins to make bird feeders at their kids’ crafternoons. I vaguely remember seeing a poster about that somewhere.
The park is covered in autumnal morning mist rising above the grass. A pyramid of old carved pumpkins emerges from the fog at the allotment gate. I gingerly move towards the heap of grins, cackles, shrieks, and smiles, and place the Mummy Pumpkin on top. I step back and bow.
‘Upon your throne, you have your peaceful rest,’ I say. ‘Children will be the true artists showing you passage to your final, majestic form. Winged birds shall feast on your generosity and carry you to the Gods in return.’
‘That's a guilt I know well,’ I hear someone mutter behind me. I turn and see a guy holding a half-hollowed, uncarved pumpkin.
‘What was yours going to be?’ I ask.
I lean closer, inspecting his pumpkin. I suddenly see it holding a thousand wisdoms.
‘I was going to carve out a face with stars and planets on the forehead and light it up and you ask a question and pull out a reading or a picture,’ he says, and puts down the pumpkin. His hands are now fluttering around his pockets, pulling out long bits of paper full of scribbles, like the wraps of a mummy. ‘I wrote so many lines but never got around to carving the thing.’
I see the pumpkin on the ground in the mist, I see his vision and his love for the project, his desire to connect, to be part of this world, and the way he scribbles thoughts and the way he tries, every day, to make it through and I see how excited he must have been when he had the idea.
‘I’d want a reading from it,’ I say.
‘And what's that?’ He points at my pumpkin.
‘An enchanted forest.’
He steps up to the heap and leans close to it, inspecting it. I point out the spots of trees, the web of rivers, the deer, and the mushrooms.
‘Beautiful,’ he says, nodding. ‘I see it. Wouldn’t have seen it before but see it now.’ He points to a bigger patch: ‘a lake,’ he says, and I nod in surprise.
He puts his pumpkin at the foot of the pyramid, and steps back, stuffing some papers in a pocket and pulling some out from another and I don't know if he's talking to me or himself or reading a strip of paper as he mutters: 'Apply to yourself the kindness you have for others.'
I look up and see that the Mummy Pumpkin is finally at rest, the glow of the autumn sun drawing every detail onto it and lighting it up and it’s beautiful and there’s no chase and there’s no fate, just sunrise.