Charity lifted a leaf and smiled at the perfect orange pumpkin hiding underneath it. “You can’t escape me,” she cooed. She ran her hand over its bumpy surface, marveling at how evenly round it was. She would carve this one first. It needed nothing fancy, no clever embellishments or complicated stenciling, just a classic triangle-eyed and -nosed jack o’lantern with a menacing toothy grin. She pulled the knife from her pocket and hacked until the stem gave way, then hoisted her prize from the rich, dark earth. Beautiful.
She spread newspaper over the kitchen table to make cleaning up the guts easier. You couldn’t say she didn’t learn from her mistakes. Her first stab, somewhere around the fellow’s left temple, was firm and decisive and made it all the way through the flesh on the first try. She was getting better. She sawed a carefully jagged circle around the top and lifted off its lid. She made a face. Guts were so off-putting.
Charity set aside the lid and put on long dishwashing gloves. The guts still squished and squelched as she pulled them out, but at least nothing horrible was lodging itself under her fingernails where even a stiff brush couldn’t get at it. And her cuticles wouldn’t be stained. She still gagged as she dumped the smelly mess into the garbage.
Now it was time for the precision work. Careful, small cuts with a very sharp knife. Start small, because you can always cut a hole bigger, but you can’t uncut it. She was pleased with her first triangle, and she measured carefully to be sure the second one would be even with it. A couple of small adjustments and she was satisfied.
Time for the teeth. They had to be menacing, truly terrifying, the kind of gaping maw that scared away demons from your door. A cruel hint of a smile, like he knew you were scared and he was pleased about it. And sharp teeth, teeth that could rip and tear. Teeth you would run from.
Nowadays those LED lights were popular, but this jack o’lantern was a masterpiece. He deserved a stubby candle to sputter unevenly and glow as only real fire can. Some things just can’t be simulated. This fellow could bite and burn. A thing of nightmares. She popped on his lid and turned off the light, plunging the room into darkness. Shadows played ominously over the walls. Her breath quickened and she had to remind herself that it wasn’t a real monster. There were no monsters here anymore. She’d made this, grown it, carved it herself, and it—he—was glorious.
In life, Jack hadn’t given her anything but pain and loss and terror. Now he was finally useful, nourishing her crop from below. And she’d learned a thing or two about carving thanks to him. She watched the candle burn between the strangely familiar smile. Oh, yes. This would keep the demons away.