Jack squinted at the pumpkin that would soon scowl back with its new face. His cousins squawked and made piles of orange mess as they scooped seeds for roasting. No longer would his carvings wilt, disappointed. This year, Jack would redeem his art.
With apprehension and resigned curiosity, Jack bit into his first seed, hot from the farmhouse oven. Visions of ghoulish grins and winking hollow eyes shifted and twisted. Bite after bite, the visage refined itself into one both cheery and grotesque. Nana Sally wouldn’t like this one bit.
Jack smiled to himself and began to carve. With the swift, sure skill of a master craftsman, Jack shaved away orange skin and began to shape the flesh beneath. Ignoring the din of cousins and siblings as they carved their simple smiles, Jack worked his blade with surgical patience.
Jack savoured his seeds while he worked, ruminating on the vision each wrought as his pumpkin revealed its face to him. Readying himself to carve the mouth, Nana Sally crept up behind him and gasped. “Jack!” She hissed. “You’ll give everyone nightmares for weeks!”
Before Jack could say a word, Sally grasped the pumpkin, grinning with gruesome pride, took it outside and smashed it to the ground. “Go fetch another and be sensible about it,” she commanded as she bustled back into the house, slamming the door behind her. Jack did as he was told.
The new pumpkin, with sad smile and empty eyes, already looked defeated, wilting alongside its kin on the porch. Its candle flame sputtered and grew dim. Unable to sleep, Jack stole out of bed and carved with skilful fury through the night.
With solemn purpose, Jack placed his final lantern in pride of place, a king among minions. Illuminated from within in the pre-dawn darkness, the lantern winked with contented evil. Sharing a final conspiratory grin with his creation, Jack crept back to bed.
Awoken by the shrieks of small children, Jack tiptoed down the hall. The youngest were crying, while the adults looked disturbed. Jack knew there’d be hell to pay, but for now he nibbled his remaining pumpkin seeds until the last laughing visions faded from sight.