Penny sat on her bed, admiring the pumpkin with its triangular eyes, nostril slits and smile of fangs, sitting on her windowsill. It seemed to almost gleam in the sunlight shining over the rooftops of the terraced houses on the other side of the street. Several hours later, the orange pumpkin contrasted starkly with the navy sky and the looming silhouettes of the houses cowering beneath its cloak. Penny thought that the pumpkin made such a nice Hallowe’en decoration that it would be a shame to close her curtains and shut it out. So she left them open.
With smooth, minty tasting teeth, freshly combed long brown hair, and feeling all warm in her pink pyjamas, Penny crawled into her bed. Her mum wandered into her bedroom carrying a hot water bottle.
“Goodnight, dear,” she said, pulling the pink heart patterned duvet over Penny. “I’d better just shut these curtains. You don’t want the world and his brother staring in here in the middle of the night.”
Penny frowned as the pink heart patterned curtains hid the pumpkin like an actor on stage at the end of a performance.
The next morning Penny’s mother opened Penny’s bedroom door and bustled in.
“Good morning, Penny dear. Rise and …” She started to cough. “Goodness, dear, what is that sour smell?”
Penny opened her eyes sleepily and slid herself up in bed. Her mum cast her eyes around the room, searching for the culprit, until her gaze settled on the closed curtains. She walked across the room, leaned over the bed and tore the curtains open, looking at the pumpkin, accusingly.
“Yes, its’ definitely that,” she said, putting her hands on her hips.
Penny looked at the pumpkin. “It’s just because the door’s been shut all night,” she said and yawned.
Penny’s mum held her chin in her hand. “Hmmm. Maybe. But if it gets any worse it’ll have to go somewhere else.”
Penny nodded and her mum left the room. Pinching her nose, Penny reached up to open the storm-light.
That afternoon Penny, wearing a red jumper and grey skirt, ran into her bedroom and shrugged her Goselee Primary School rucksack off her shoulders. Suddenly she started to gag and covered her nose and mouth with her hand. Her mother followed her into the room, carrying a pile of clean, neatly, folded clothes. Penny pretended to sneeze, turned and bent down. Covering her face again, Penny began to rummage purposefully through the exercise books in her rucksack.
“It’s no good,” her mum said, “the smell is much worse. The pumpkin will have to go outside.”
Penny turned and looked at her mother sadly, but holding her breath all the while.
“I’m sorry, Penny, but that’s the way it’s got to be.”
Slowly, Penny carried the grimacing pumpkin at arms’ length down the stairs. Her mum opened the front door for her and Penny placed her Jack O’Lantern sombrely on the front room windowsill. She waved to it and turned it around. At least she would be able to see its face from indoors that way, she thought, and that would be better than nothing. She sighed. Her mum patted her shoulder and they went back inside.
Penny sat down by the front room window and spent a long time staring out at her pumpkin. She couldn’t help thinking its expression was somehow sadder. When teatime came she gave it a little wave and left her station.
* * *
“Look at that pumpkin, Fred,” a woman said as she walked along the pavement past Penny’s home. “It’s got no face. Why would you put a pumpkin with no face outside for Hallowe’en?”
“Strange,” said the man with her, as they walked on up the street.
“I hate being dumped outside,” the pumpkin grumbled in a muffled voice.
“Did you hear that, June?” One woman said to another as they walked past Penny’s home.
“Hear what, Dot?”
“I could have sworn I heard someone say something, but I can’t see anyone except that couple up ahead.”
“You must be imagining things.”
Dot frowned and they continued on their way.
“It’s typical,” the pumpkin grumbled. “I’m always left out. Left out in the cold. I never get my own way. As usual I’ve got nobody to do anything with. And no body to do anything with.” He harrumphed. “Oh, how I wish I could walk places and pick things up and put things down.”
Darkness descended like a giant navy parachute, turning the terraced houses on either side of the street into black boxes which sucked pedestrians’ silhouettes inside. Bright yellow squares of light appeared in windows, sending white blocks of light stretching across the street until they dimmed with the closing of curtains. Gradually the street turned grey between the charcoal shadows of the houses as a full moon rose high above the rooftops. A “miaow” could be heard from the shadows but no cat came into view. An empty cardboard carton rolled clumsily down the street as the wind began to whistle.
Suddenly a figure appeared from nowhere, hovering a couple of feet above the ground. He wore a skin tight suit from the top of his neck to the bottom of his bell tipped pointy feet. It was green on the left of its top half and on the right of its bottom half, and blue on the right of its top half and on the left of its bottom half. Under the crook of his left arm he held his head. On his head was a tight fitting hat with a green point at each side and a blue point on top. A bell tinkled on the tip of each point.
“Oh, if it isn’t the Gambling Spectre,” the pumpkin grumbled.
“You’re a faceless wonder, aren’t you?!” The spectre said cockily.
The pumpkin spun around, his triangular eyes and slit nostrils contorted into a scowl led by his upside down smile of fangs. “What?” He said, sounding suddenly louder.
“Oh you shouldn’t have turned around. You’re an ugly one, aren’t you? If the wind changes you’ll stay like that.” He smirked. “Why are you so glum, anyway? Want to go Trick-or-Treating but got no body to go with?” The spectre roared with laughter.
“Oh dear, did I touch a nerve?”
“Pumpkins don’t have nerves, but if they did I can guarantee you’d be getting on mine. No GO AWAY!”
“You should think yourself lucky I stopped by at all.”
The pumpkin rolled his eyes.
The spectre held the nose on the head under his arm. “I’ve just won lots of money in a card game. I could be anywhere in the world tonight, buying anything.”
A door from the opposite side of the street creaked open, leaking a line of light out onto the pavement and down across the street beyond. The spectre disappeared. A man peered out of the door, from side to side.
“There’s nothing out here,” he said, moving back from the doorway.
“I could have sworn I heard voices, George,” a woman’s voice came from behind him.
“It don’t half stink out here, though.”
“I don’t know, but it’s putrid.” He slammed the door shut, stealing the line of light back inside.
“Charming!” The pumpkin snorted out into the silence.
A little while later a young man and young woman came walking by.
“We’ll just have a quick half at the pub,” the man said, “then we’ll…”
“What is that stink?!” The woman exclaimed.
“Someone must be Trick-or-Treating a night early,” the man sniggered, “and that’s the trick!”
They both laughed and walked off to the end of the street and around the corner.
“Humph,” said the pumpkin.
Minutes later a man and his dog came along the pavement from the other way. The dog stopped and sniffed.
“Hurry up and do your business, boy,” the man said. “Though it smells as if someone else already has.”
The pumpkin gritted its fangs but kept silent. Then the dog began to sniff insistently at the windowsill. His owner followed the direction of his dog’s attention and spied the pumpkin.
“Oh it’s you,” the man groaned and held his coat sleeved arm over his face, tugging the lead to pull his dog away.
When all had been still and silent for a while, the spectre reappeared, but this time his head was not with him.
The pumpkin snapped his triangular eyes quickly shut and open again. “What happened to you?”
“I might ask you the same question,” a whisper came from the top of the spectre’s neck. “You stink worse than ever.”
The pumpkin screwed his eyes into smaller triangles, wondering how the spectre could still sound so cocky even in a whisper. He returned his gaze to the gap beneath the crook of the spectre’s left arm. He couldn’t take his eyes off it; he could see the street through it!
“I tell you what,” the spectre whispered, “I’ll do a deal with you.”
The pumpkin’s triangular eyes spun in a frown. “What?” He asked in a suspicious tone of voice.
“Speak up. I can’t hear you as well without my ears.”
“WHAT?” The pumpkin shouted.
“If you give me money you can join my body and become my new head.”
The pumpkin laughed uncontrollably.
“What’s so funny?” The spectre whispered.
“You’re a jester, aren’t you? A joker? Isn’t that how you got beheaded in the first place, because you told the king a joke he didn’t like? I’m merely doing you the service of appearing to find one of your jokes funny so you won’t feel so redundant.”
A rasp of annoyance came from the spectre’s throat. “Look,” he whispered, “I’m giving you a real opportunity here. Are you interested or not?”
The pumpkin sighed as if the answer should have been obvious to the spectre. “You have no intention of giving my head a body. At best you’d just carry me under your arm like you used to with your own head. That’s if you didn’t lose me.”
“I never lose my head. I’m a very calm spectre.”
“Then where is it?”
“Um, well, I’ve lent it to another spectre who, er, beat me at cards tonight.”
“You lost it in a bet?! Well, no, you’ll not be doing that with me, thank you very much! What sort of self-respecting spectre gambles away his own head?”
“I don’t gamble!”
“Then why do you want money from me?”
“I play and win.”
“You gamble and lose. If you could get you head back you wouldn’t want me, so you must need money for another game.”
“It would be a good deal for you.” The spectre’s whisper was so desperate it sounded like a hiss.
Suddenly they could hear several sets of slow, shuffling footsteps. The spectre disappeared into thin air. A group of teenage boys slouched along, half of them on the pavement and half of them on the street, kicking atin can back and forth between them.
“What’s that smell?” One of them sneered.
“Darren,” one of them replied, “you coulda waited!”
All of them except one laughed as the group ambled away.
The pumpkin’s eyes scrunched up and his mouth contorted downwards at the corners. “That’s IT!” The pumpkin growled. He began to shudder and judder and then he began to shake violently.
The spectre reappeared. “What’s going on?” He whispered. “I sense something strange.”
“I’m fed up with you and everyone else complaining about me and my smell. I can’t help it. It’s not my fault. And I’ve had enough!”
“Keep your hair on. Oh, you can’t, you haven’t got any.” A sinister, smug whispered laugh puffed out of the spectre’s throat.
The pumpkin shook so violently that cracks began to appear in the top of him and they started to split down his sides. With a loud “WOFT!” the pumpkin exploded. Pieces of his skin flew off in wedges. His seeds pinged and popped and flicked off into the distance. His pulp oozed out of his middle, up over what little was left of his sides and seeped out all around him, expanding all the while and turning into a thick, sticky, orange slime.
The spectre’s huffy, whispery laugh continued insistently until his feet were suddenly caught up in the slime. Gasping for air, he lifted his feet and legs, the bells becoming ever more muffled as he stepped and stamped, trying to free himself. But the more the spectre tried, the less elastic the slime became, stiffening up and holding him tighter.
While the spectre struggled, the sticky, orange slime continued to ooze and expand, creaking and bubbling as it slid all the way along the street in both directions. The slime sprawled up the walls of all of the houses, covering windows and doors. Whenever its noise alerted inhabitants, causing them to look out to investigate, the slime would cover them, turning them into orange statues, and then it would seep into their homes, filling them until the thick orange liquid overflowed out of their chimneys and poured out and down over their rooftops. The slime surged into other streets, creeping over every building it came across. People tried to run away from it but were caught up and covered by it.
The lower the moon slid in the sky, the further the slime seeped and the stiffer it became. In the early morning, when the moon set, the slime had also set. Beneath the sun rising on the morning of Hallowe’en, all that could be seen were orange people as stiff as wood, stuck in various stances among orange buildings on orange streets. But perhaps the most disturbing sight of all was an orange statue of a headless man trapped in an eternal stamping pose.