Runner Up: Thea Oxbury
In-Between Time, or The Pumpkin Princess
The magazine had provided instructions: Pumpkin Perfection: A Fabulous Festive Face in Ten Easy Slices.
Alice had wanted to practice alone, master the technique before she sat down with the children, but there’d not been time. When was there ever?
Still, she’d made the initial incisions herself: stalk handled discs trepanned from each gourd’s pale crown. Then, her half-hearted attempt to convey the magazine’s primary instructions to Jessica and Rory: a single, crescent-shaped slash to map the smile, carefully placed, mirroring chevrons to plant a suggestion of laughing eyes.
Too late. Rory digs a fist into the pale hollow. Jessica grabs the potato knife, hazel eyes glinting keenly as its sturdy blade. Alice remembers the overalls she’d set aside, but forgotten to usher the pair into. And then a slew of realisations: tomorrow’s deadline for the committee’s report, her stepfather’s birthday (yesterday!), her overdue response to the neighbour’s planning application.
The boy licks sinewy pulp from his knuckles. (Raw pumpkin? Toxic?) The girl incants, knife gashing gaping sockets into a hollow, vegetable skull.
Samhain, remembers Alice, the in-between day, neither last year, this year, nor the next. Outside time itself. Souls roam and riot as they will.
Silently, she steps back from the table. Her children oblivious, she unlatches the garden gate, paces past the house, out, out, onto the windy road, towards the trees, the clatter and clamour, the raging in-between time, no time, the howling, boundless freedom of the celebration of All Souls. Alice walks and then runs
Runner Up: Thom Willis
The King’s Promise
The Pumpkin King was wrong.
He made the same speech every October, as his subjects grew ripely orange in mist-laid fields. He meant it to inspire them, to give them hope in their futures, to push them on to greater things. He spoke in good faith. He was wrong.
He told of transformation, of becoming. How the destiny of pumpkind was to be the jackolantern, how the fierce light would burn from all of them, how it would push the shadows back into their corners, how they were, for one night, the stars come to ground.
He told the stories humans tell, of headless horsemen with guardian lanterns, he told rousing jokes about the traditions of the season, of tricks played and treats given. He delighted the rows and ranks of his fellows. They saw how important they were, they felt unstoppable.
The Pumpkin King was wrong.
Stacked high in cardboard troughs, the harvested pumpkins sat and awaited their ascension. Days passed. The terror of those at the bottom of the pile became feverish as the first blooms of decay appeared at their stembases. This was not their calling, this was death.
The day approached. Those pumpkins with healthier skin, whose roundness and orange glow was undeniable, were taken. This was the it, the King’s promise fulfilled! Only for the chosen few, they realised now. Only the elect.
And for the elect, for the most pieous, the lighted ones, what horrors now awaited them.
The Winner: Sarah Nash
The woman thinks this is fun. She thinks she’s in charge. They never learn do they?
Susie’s got a knife. A very sharp knife. Makes it easier.
The volunteers are so sweet – doing their bit for the poor little orphans. Then going back to their comfy homes and forgetting all about us.
They never ask how we became orphans. Who taught us everything we know. Taught us how to fend for ourselves.
I’ve really perfected this kooky little boy bit. Tongue out’s particularly good, don’t you think?
Sometimes I’m afraid Susie’s going to waver – think it would be cosy to be NORMAL. Disgusting word. Sometimes I’m afraid she’ll crack and ask if we can go home with one of these losers. Play happy families.
There’s no such thing as a happy family.
Sometimes I have to give Susie a pep talk. At least she’s been perfecting her knife skills. One day she started talking about working in a restaurant when she grows up. Silly cow. I told her, people like us don’t grow up. They make sure of that.
It’s the moments just before I enjoy the most. The tension. The build-up. I feel myself growing calmer, happier, sunnier.
“What a dear little boy,” they say.
Any minute now I’ll give the word. No-one will even look up, not at first.
They don’t know she’s the one who taught us what to do when the time came.
Any minute now.
I didn’t know quite how many sinister interpretations you’d all manage to get out of that adorable scene up top, but I do know exactly who I’ll have to blame for the nightmares I’m going to be having for the next few weeks. Congratulations to Thea, Thom and Sarah and many, many thanks to everyone that sent in their spooky tales! I’ll be back next week — same time, same place. Less horrific prompt.
For a look back at our previous #QUICKFIC flash fiction competitions, click here.