Next up in Gutteral Screams, a story about how much fun precocious kids can have on Halloween. Fun for them if no one else.
Pumpkinhead by Paul Heatley
You’re the first this year, I don’t reckon you’ll be the last. It gets to Fall, all the leaves start droppin and the nights draw in, I figure it’s time to steel myself for y’all comin round, lookin for some local colour to add to your garish Halloween stories. I’m glad you ain’t got a camera, though. You can probably tell I ain’t much for doin myself up these days.
Just cos you’re first don’t think you’re gonna get anythin special. It’s been fifteen fuckin years now, you’re gonna get the same story everyone else does. You know how many times I told it? I’m treated like it’s the only damn thing happened in my life. Before it I was anonymous, just another single-mother care-worker trynna make ends meet. Then all that shit happened, and…
Okay. My boy’s thirty-one now, was his birthday a coupla days ago. Not that he’d see me. I don’t even bother tryin no more. Then, he was sixteen. I was gone a lot, worked all hours I could, try and keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table. Alden was left to his own devices for the most part. When he was younger his grandfather usedta look out for him, but he died when the boy was about ten, and Alden was on his own from then on.
Now I ain’t got any explanation for ya, all right? All I got is the story as far as I know it, and what I saw, and what I’ve been told since. I didn’t see no warning signs. There was no great traumatic incident in his childhood that set him on this path, and yeah the cops found all those dog and cat skulls under the house that he’d practised on, but they were fresh. It wasn’t like he’d been killing animals his whole life, working his way up like they say the serial killers do. Pets didn’t go missing in our neighbourhood.
As for those kids he killed, well, Alden was a loner, sure, but I never heard tell he was bullied, I never saw any evidence of it. Teachers, classmates, they all said the same thing. Before it happened, Alden was anonymous, too. Kept to himself, kept quiet, the kid at the back of the class that most other kids forgot was there half the time. The victims, those six kids, nothin linked them, neither. They didn’t run in the same circles, they didn’t hang out. Totally random. The whole thing was just…it just was. I can’t explain it. Only one who can is Alden, and he won’t talk. Fifteen fuckin years, he ain’t never said a word since – a whole stream of shrinks trynna coax just one word out of him, anythin, and they get nothin.
So it was Halloween. I had a twelve hour shift, started six in the mornin and finished six in the evening. I’d heard about the kids that had gone missin over the weeks before, but I didn’t think nothin of it. Why would I? Sure I felt bad for them, felt bad for their folks, but deep down I figured they’d turn up. If you ain’t from round here, you at least got a good look at the town when you drove on through. It look like a place where bad things happen to you? Well, shit, I guess now it does. But back then, uh-uh. I wasn’t worried. Deep down, I reckon I and a lot of other people thought it was just some kind of prank. It was Halloween, right?
Course, they were dead. Alden had killed them, one at a time, stalking them in darkness as they went about their business – to or from a friend’s house, back from the library, a job, sport practice, whatever. He followed them, he killed them, he took their heads. By Halloween those six bodies were sittin under my fuckin porch, and I had no idea. And their heads were up in his room. I looked in on my boy every night, and I never saw no heads. I don’t know where he hid them, closet maybe, under the bed, I don’t know. It don’t matter. What matters is what he did with them.
All right, you ready? This is what you want, ain’t it? The gory details.
He hollowed out the skulls, scooped out the eyes. On Halloween, he took those emptied, jawless skulls onto the porch, and inside each one he put a lit candle, and he sat in a rocking chair with a pumpkin over his head and handed out candy to all the kids that came by.
No one thought anythin of it. No one recognised those skulls, disfigured the way they were. Thought they were decorations. You know who realised what was wrong? Me. When I got home at seven, and saw him just sittin there, I looked at those heads and I could smell them. Alden, I said, what’ve you done? I think he was lookin at me. I couldn’t be sure, the way the slits in that pumpkin were filled with darkness. Wherever he was lookin, he didn’t say a word, didn’t move a muscle. I came inside and I locked the door, and I called the cops.
He didn’t try to run. The cops came and they cuffed him, they took that pumpkin off his head and they took him away. He never said a word, not a word, and he wouldn’t even look at me as I called his name. Last time I saw him was at the trial, and by then his name didn’t matter anymore cos your people had taken to callin him Pumpkinhead. That’s all he is now. And on Halloween night I’ll lock the doors and windows, turn out all the lights, and listen while kids throw pumpkins at my fuckin home.Okay. You got what you came for. Go print it up. Get on outta my house.