Flash Friday - Jack O'Lantern
This story was inspired by a Facebook post from Dumbarton poet, Stephen Watt. He graciously agreed to let me use it for this piece. Enjoy! Remember, you can support my writing and get more flash fiction as well as other rewards at Patreon
Warm light spilled onto the grass when I opened the door. I pulled the neck of my jumper higher, against the cold and dashed down the garden to the bins. Frost was starting to form on the lid and I tugged my sleeve down over my hand before grabbing the handle and throwing the lid back. Lying at the bottom of the bin, a sad-looking carved pumpkin looked back at me, the grin we had carved last week starting to sag with age.
‘Sorry, Jack,’ I muttered, throwing the bin bag in on top and dropping the lid back down.
The kitchen was warm and inviting. I closed the door and took the milk I had been heating off the stove top, pouring it into a couple of mugs with some honey and cinnamon then headed through to the living room with them.
Jason looked up from my laptop. ‘Almost finished. Thanks for letting me use this.’
‘No problem,’ I said, handing him a mug and flopping down on the couch beside him. ‘Did you find what you were looking for?’
‘Not really. It seems there were similar traditions over most of western Europe. Some people think the carved pumpkin represented the souls of people in purgatory, some think they were to ward off evil spirits and some think they represent the spirits.’ Jason closed the laptop and leaned back.
‘Maybe different cultures did it for different reasons,’ I suggested.
Jason rubbed his eyes. ‘Most likely. I thought the tutor was joking when he told us to research this but it’s much harder than I expected!’
We enjoyed our hot drinks in companionable silence, Jason’s hand resting on my thigh. My evening was starting to look up.
When he took the mugs back through to the kitchen, I ran my fingers through my hair and took my jumper off, undoing the top two buttons on my shirt.
‘I think we need to let this guy go,’ Jason said, appearing in the doorway with Jack, the pumpkin in his hands.
I frowned. Had Jason gone rummaging in the bin?
‘I know, he’s past his best. That’s why I threw him out,’ I said.
‘He was on the table,’ Jason said, looking confused.
He wasn’t the only one who was confused. ‘I put him in the bin earlier today.’
‘Maybe you meant to take him out but forgot.’
‘I saw it in the bin when I took the rubbish out a little while ago!’
‘I’m sorry, Paul, but I swear it was on the table. I’m not winding you up.’
Could I be confused? Jason seemed sincere and I couldn’t see any point to him joking about it.
Determined not to let it spoil the night, I took the pumpkin from him and headed out to the bin again. Shivering, I dropped it in, the droopy face peering up at me as I slammed the lid.
Later, I stood in the dark kitchen, sipping from a glass of water. I could hear Jason snoring from the bedroom and smiled. It had been a while since we’d both had a whole night at home and I had missed him. I glanced out the window and the glass fell from my hands, shattering on the floor. The pumpkin was on the windowsill.
This time I had no doubt at all. I had put that in the bin. Someone must be playing a prank on me, but Jason hadn’t been out of my sight so it couldn’t have been him. Why would anyone tease me like this?
Still shaky from the adrenaline rush, I started to clear up shards of broken glass from around my feet. I put the pieces in a tub and thought about taking it outside but it was late and too cold to go out in my dressing gown. Placing the tub on the table and straightening up, I looked once more at the pumpkin outside the window. I would have to warn Jason about the glass before he got up in case I had missed any. I shook my head and went back to bed.
‘Jesus!’ Jason’s shout woke me, heart pounding. The bedroom was full of shadows; my eyes darted around the room.
‘What is it?’ I croaked, voice fuzzy from sleep. I cleared my throat and tried again. ‘Jase, are you ok?’
‘This isn’t funny, Paul,’ Jason snapped, pushing the bedroom door open. ‘I could’ve had a heart attack!’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Huh?’ My sleepy brain couldn’t quite process his words.
‘I can’t believe you fished that thing out of the bin and left it in the hallway. It’s disgusting.’
The hallway? How did it get inside the house?
‘I didn’t do that,’ I said, voice trembling.
‘So, what? It came back from the bin by itself?’
‘Or someone got into the house,’ I said, climbing out of bed and pulling on the jeans that lay discarded on the floor.
‘Do you hear yourself? Why would someone break into our house to leave a smelly old pumpkin? Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?’
‘Jason, I did not bring the pumpkin inside. You have to believe me. Something very weird is going on.’
Jason stared at me and I could see his anger and a hint of fear. But there was doubt on his face too. He wanted to believe me.
‘Please, come here. I think we need to stick together,’ I said, reaching out a hand to him.
He started moving towards me when a shadow formed on the wall behind him. I tried to cry out a warning but the words caught in my throat and all I could do was croak. The pumpkin blazed to light, although there was no longer a candle inside, and the shadow cringed back.
Jason cringed back from the pumpkin, leaning against the shadow that he had not yet seen.
‘No!’ I screamed but it was too late. Jason was gone.