This was first published in October 2015. I figured that many people had cornered the market on scary during Halloween, but there was still room in the humor department.
A chilling tale about jealousy and jack-o-lanterns.
When I got home that night, I noticed the smiling jack-o- lantern in my front yard was
crushed. A wave of indignation washed over me, quickly followed by a ripple of dread. Let me
tell you about the indignation, first.
It is my sincere hope that you would find the indignation self-evident; my daughter Jane,
poured her artistic soul into crafting “Jack,” over the previous three days. Three days, whereby
she gutted pumpkin seeds all over the kitchen table and, eventually, the newly-laid hardwood
floor. Three long days in which the house reeked of rotten Thanksgiving. At one point, I came in
with my laptop in my hand, the view screen blindfolding my eyes to the carnage of Jack’s
innards beneath my $40 slippers. While my laptop went straight upwards, I did not fare so well.
My wife, Karen, had the presence of mind to springboard herself airborne and dive-catch the
computer, but she only did so at the expense of my rib cage, which unpleasantly became her
trampoline. My loving daughter used this moment to “express her discomfort” over our kitchen
antics, now guilty of disrupting her artistic…whatever. I hope you can appreciate what I mean
when I say that a hefty price was paid by all for that infernal pumpkin, which now looked as
though someone punched its teeth out.
Now, the dread. Something curious ran through my mind. I left the house at 7AM that
morning to get a jump on Sunday’s sermon. Or, at least, that’s what I thought I did. Standing on
the porch, staring at the mutilated melon, I racked my brain trying to remember leaving the house
in the morning, with little success. I’m not a morning person by nature and it is not unreasonable
to conclude that I don’t achieve true consciousness until somewhere between the daily run up I-
30 and the elders’ meeting at 9. Still I was puzzled that such a smelly orange mess would have
escaped my gaze, so I quickly concluded that something happened to Jack while I was at the
church all day.
I re-arranged the sprinkler on the lawn, still nagged by my lack of memory. I wrinkled my
brow, as I realized I didn’t remember part of the night before, either. The part I did remember
was Karen’s Staff Halloween Party (she works at Franklin’s Friendly Flowers). Like the mature
spiritual community leader that I am, I whined like a spoiled ten-year- old all week that I had to
attend this party. “Your work buddies spend the whole evening walking on pins and needles
because the pastor showed up,” I said. People generally change their behavior when I walk into
the room. The off-color jokes get swept under the carpet and the liquor gets locked up in the
cabinet. Anyway, I did inevitably go to the party and I did eat stale crab cakes and the Franklins
did lock up the Pumpkin Schnapps when I walked in the door.
Then the rest got a little fuzzy. Someone at the party served up Halloween squares for dessert
(of which I had more than a few to kill the taste of the crab cakes), someone else told bad jokes
in a Donald Trump costume and…nothing.
I shrugged my shoulders and walked through the front door, welcomed by the icy glare of my
daughter, holding two splintered halves of a Reggie Jackson-autographed Louisville Slugger,
caked in pumpkin guts.
“What happened?” I asked before my daughter went into Angry Princess mode.
“All you had to do was tell me you hated my jack-o- lantern! You didn’t have to go all
mobster on him!” She ran in apoplectic fury upstairs to her room.
I repeated myself as my wife calmly made her way in from the living room. Her reply was
cryptic, but calm. “Pop quiz, honey. How many of those Halloween squares did you eat last
“I don’t understand. My daughter accuses me of pumpkinslaughter, and you — ,”
“As near as anyone can remember, the best guess is fourteen, dear,” she answered herself.
“So, I ate pumpkin squares! Who cares?”
“Spiked pumpkin squares, dear.”
“Spiked…what do you mean, like liquor-spiked?”
“I mean like Pumpkin Schnapps-spiked.”
Everyone experiences shame differently. Some turn red, others cry. I feel a burning flame
ignite in my heel and slowly burn its way up to my forehead, which was now a little moist from
anxiety. “What did I do?” I whispered.
“You ranted for fifteen minutes about how everyone needs to forget that you’re a pastor and
just lighten up and relax. You stumbled to the piano and attempted to strong-arm the room to join
you in a chorus of ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady,’ after which you suddenly bolted out the door,
leaving me to scrape our dignity off the floor.” She stayed as placid as a January pond.
I guess it all started coming back to me, then. Around the four-squares point, I remember a
conversation with Ms. Brenner about how she wished church music wasn’t so “anal,” er, she
meant “stiff.” At eight squares, I preached a sermon to Old Man Franklin about alcohol and how
the Apostle Paul said that “everything is permissible.” By twelve squares, the room resembled a
rainbow doing Mach 3 down I-30. It was at this point that Dr. Portobello, a retired 93-year- old
dentist, told me that he went into Franklin’s Flowers a few days ago to buy flowers for Mrs.
Geranium (yes, really), an 87-year- old widow in his nursing home he’d taken a shine to, and
noticed the handyman Jack Studmann flirting with my wife and thought that I might want to do
something about that. “If it were my wife, I’d take a club to him!”
I looked at the remains of the Louisville Slugger in silence. As I grabbed the snow shovel
from the storage closet to scrape poor Jack off of my front porch, Karen asked, “So, why did you
smash Jane’s pumpkin?”
I glanced over my shoulder only for a moment and muttered, “Why do they have to call them
jack-o- lanterns, anyway?” She said nothing and I proceeded to the porch like a good mobster to
dispose of the dead body.