A jack-o-lantern sat staring off into the distance on a porch. The edges around the opening to his eyes, nose, and mouth were darkening. His face slowly curled inward as he quietly imploded. This time on the porch gave him a lot of time to think. About the falling leaves, about people passing by him, about death.
Another pumpkin sat outside jolly and whole. It was decided his fate was to sit happily on a stoop, uncarved and plump until long into the winter. Hands were too clumsy to carve him so the family let him age. On the outside he looked confident, commanded the season in a decorative way. And even though he was rotting on the inside, he stood strong until one snowy December day, he sighed and collapsed in on top of himself.
Other jack-o-lanterns on the block had a more sudden departure. A swift kick demolished three of them at once. In the morning, their pieces lay strewn about on the sidewalk.
“I’m not ready to be compost,” thought the jack-o-lantern.
The jack-o-lantern was given the official name “Jack” by the family who carved him. It was a title that supposedly gave him a personality and defined his character. Made him stand out. But in truth, Jack never really felt comfortable in this face he was given. He felt it was hastily created. Jagged. His features weren’t defined as much as the other jack-o-lanterns he saw. His appearance was frozen into a careless, toothless smile of feigned astonishment. Vacant eyes staring in fake disbelief as if someone spoiled a surprise party for him and yet he still had to act like he didn’t know.
He wasn’t even given a votive. So he sat blankly in the dark as clueless as everyone. He was mad.
“I can help,” he thought. “I can light the way and keep away whatever frightens you in the dark.”
Even despite his facial expression, he felt like he could muster a snarl if the right ghost crossed his path. There were no ghosts, but the family’s cat perched by him and kept him company.
In the beginning of his stay, the family moved Jack around the house. First on the porch, then on the window, but eventually he was brought in and sat patiently on the kitchen table, facing the hearth. He felt hollow inside–not just because his insides had been roasted and devoured, but because he started to think those seeds were the only reason he existed.
“They don’t care about me,” said Jack.
“What makes you say that?” asked the cat.
“I can’t look outside anymore.”
“They like seeing your face. You’re always smiling,” said the cat.
“They just want my seeds.”
“Sounds like a way of saying they care about what’s inside of you,” the cat said smugly, pleased with his statement.
Suddenly pumpkin understood why he was there. He wasn’t looking outside at a world who didn’t need him, he was looking inside at his family. A family who loved his insides and didn’t care about the way he looked. They liked his company during Halloween even though their time together was limited.
That single thought brought him peace. And so, throughout the remaining weeks of November, when cardboard witches and cotton spiderwebs were put back in boxes, the pumpkin sat proudly standing guard and slowly said goodbye to his family. His skin folded in on itself and his smile seemed less surprised. He eyes sagged in quiet contemplation. His expression wilted, but not his spirit.
The family put the pumpkin outside in the crisp autumn air to preserve him longer–he didn’t mind–but the pumpkin didn’t particularly want or need to see the winter’s snowfall.
“Pumpkins are for fall, not winter,” he thought.
The pumpkin once believed he was dead the moment he was plucked off the vine. Being carved was just a quicker way to exit this world. But as he watched his family smiling by the hearth he realized he was like them in some ways. It wasn’t dying he was experiencing, it was life. He left the cozy womb of the pumpkin patch and lived until his body had had enough. Both him and his family knew when it was time to say goodbye to one another. And so they did. And it was a happy Halloween.