Pumpkin Heads: A Short Story


Noelle Buehrer, Author

My whole life, I’ve hated Jack-o-Lanterns. I can always feel them staring at me. Whether they’re smiling all cheerfully or grinning maniacally, I just can’t handle them. It’s all because my mom said to me when I was three, “Look at the pumpkin heads, Ruby. They’re looking at you.” Because of my fear, I’ve never gone trick-or-treating. I tried once when I was five, but I wouldn’t stop crying and my mom took me home. I’m about to turn thirteen, and my best friend decided this is the Halloween I’ll face my fear.
“Come on, Ruby. You can’t go your life without trick-or-treating because you’re afraid of Jack-o-Lanterns,” my best friend, Jay, said to me at school on October 24th.
“I can, and I will. Pumpkin heads just make me too uncomfortable.”
“But you’re twelve, turning thirteen next month. This is like the last year it would be socially acceptable for either of us to go trick-or-treating. It’s time for you to face your fear and have some fun.
“I don’t know. Give me some time to think about it. I really want to, but I just can’t handle the pumpkin heads.”
“And stop calling them ‘pumpkin heads’. You’re making this worse on yourself.”
The rest of the day, I thought about whether or not I should go trick-or-treating. The pumpkin heads would all be staring at me, but Jay would never forgive me if I said no. I didn’t think I would be able to suddenly handle the constant feeling of being watched, but I also wanted to know what it was like to get free candy. I went back and forth and back and forth, until I made up my mind: I was going trick-or-treating that year.
The school day ended, and I went to find Jay.
“I made up my mind. I want to go trick-or-treating,” I told her.
“Awesome!” she said, “Do you want my help with a costume?”
“Yeah. That would be great. You want to come over to my house and talk costumes?”
“Totally!” We began the brief walk from the school to my house. Jay texted her mom on the way to let her know where she was going to be. When we got home, we made our way to my room and started our discussion. She was suggesting fairy or Disney princess, but I was leaning more towards zombie or skeleton. I decided on vampire, and started making a list of everything I would need. Fangs, a cape, fake blood, and a creepy dress all ended up on my list. My mom even promised she’d take me to Goodwill to find everything I needed over the weekend. Jay went home, and I went to sleep that night excited for Halloween.
Time flew, and October 31st was upon us. After school, I raced home and laid out my costume. I obviously had some time to kill, seeing as it was only 3:30, so I watched some TV and did my homework. I ate dinner at 5:30 and headed over to Jay’s house.
“Wow. You look awesome!” she said as I arrived at her house.
“As do you. Way to bring back the 20s,” I complimented (She was dressed as a flapper).
“Shall we begin your first quest for candy?”
“We shall.” I followed her out the door and into the street filled with other kids in costumes. At the first house, the pumpkin heads made me uneasy, but Jay kept me calm. Same thing at the next several houses. By house 10, I was starting to get more comfortable with the pumpkin heads. I started to believe it was all just my imagination that made me think they were watching me.
At the end of the night, Jay asked me, “So, Ruby, you think you’re over being freaked out by Jack-o-Lanterns?”
“I think so. Pump-, I mean, Jack-o-Lanterns are done haunting me.”
“Good. You know what might finish off your fear for good?”
“Going to a pumpkin patch.”
“Why would that help?”
“To prove completely that there’s nothing to be afraid of. My parents took me to a circus to get me over my fear of clowns.” Before I could agree or disagree, Jay started walking toward the nearby pumpkin patch and I had to follow her.
We got to the patch and Jay dragged me with her through the rows of pumpkins. I thought that seeing all these pumpkins would get rid of my fear like Jay said, but it didn’t. It made everything worse. I felt like every single pumpkin head was starting right at me, and I couldn’t make it stop.
“See? The pumpkins aren’t staring at you. You understand there’s nothing to be afraid of?” Jay asked me.
“Well, no, I—” I was cut off when a man came out of nowhere with a flashlight, shouting, “What are you kids doing here?! Don’t you have any respect for privacy?!”
“Mr. Averbrook, it’s just me,” Jay stated.
“Oh, Jay? I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize it was you. And is this your friend, Ruby?”
“It is. I brought her, just like you asked.”
“Thank you, darling.” The man came up to me and placed his hand on my head. “Ah, yes. A perfect pumpkin head,” he said to me. I was frozen in fear. Suddenly, there was a burlap sack over my head, and everything went black.
When I regained consciousness, I didn’t recognize where I was, and the sky was beginning to get dark. I saw houses surrounding me. I realized I was probably sitting on a porch. I gazed all around me, and I noticed children starting to appear in the streets. Children wearing costumes and carrying pillowcases. It was Halloween, and, I was a pumpkin head. I didn’t know what was going on or how to react. I was panicked, but I didn’t feel panicked. I felt safe and at home. I didn’t know what on earth was going on.
That night, I saw plenty of children come up to the house I was at, but there was one in particular who seemed to catch my eye. He was a little boy, maybe two or three, dressed up as a tea kettle. Cute, I thought. He waltzed up to the door with his mom, and I heard her say to him, “Look at the pumpkin heads, honey. They’re looking at you.”