The charred, waxy smell of burning pumpkin was everywhere. It seemed to crawl down Chuckie’s throat only so far and then stop. He tried to swallow, but simply couldn’t. He wondered if he had made it back to his room, or if he was still in the lounge where last night’s party had ended in a brawl.
His eyes were closed and he feared opening them would bring in the punishing morning sun, though he wasn’t sensing light against his eyelids. His head was throbbing with pain.
He’d been dishing it out pretty good, but the last thing he remembered was a cracking blow to the jaw that left him swimming in blackout lake.
He tried a tentative stretch to assess the damage, but found he couldn’t move at all. Christ, he thought, I must still be dead drunk. He tried to go back to sleep, but it was no good. He was too uncomfortable. It was hard to breath, the air was muggy and smothering, and that disgusting pumpkin smell…
The pumpkins had been what started the whole mess. Romeo had squashed their plans to pick pumpkins out of the motel garden to make jack-o’-lanterns. “Madge’s garden is off limits to you mooks. Those pumpkins are good eating, Madge makes a hell of a pumpkin pie. I’m not going to sacrifice them so you guys can act like a bunch of kids,” he’d said in that irritating, condescending way he had.
Chuckie and the other guys had resentfully settled for drinking in the motel lounge, passing the time playing pool, pissed off and complaining about the lack of Halloween fun.
Michael, usually the quiet one of the bunch, complained the loudest and got the other guys riled up. “Why is it we gotta be treated like prisoners here? It’s like being locked up in a lunatic asylum, except even there they get to celebrate holidays.”
Jason agreed. “How hard would it have been to put up some decorations or get some candy? If Romeo and that little slut could pull themselves apart for a minute, she could have made us some treats or something.” He glanced out wistfully at the pool. “As warm as it is, we coulda had a swimming party.”
Freddie was the one who dreamed up the pumpkin raid and spurred them all to action, though. “Who says we can’t make our own fun? The spirit of Halloween is trick or treat, right? They didn’t make treats for us, so they earned tricks…”
Chuckie groaned and tried to open his eyes. It was as if his eyelids were pasted shut somehow, they felt gooey and thick. Jeez, he thought I must have taken some beating...
The men had waited until they were fairly certain the couple and that half-wit kid helper had gone to bed, then they snuck out around the front of the motel into the garden. The moon was up, and though not full, had given them enough light to judge their prey. Freddie had produced a couple of razor sharp knives and they'd set about picking the biggest, best looking pumpkins and quietly cutting them free of their vines.
They couldn’t just leave it at that. Freddie’d brought a roll of toilet paper from the john in the lounge and before they had a chance to consider the wisdom of their actions, they were tromping down vegetable plants, ripping down vines and streaming paper all over the mess as quietly as four grown men could, wrecking the garden.
Chuckie’d been resting off to the side stifling giggles when he’d heard a faint creak and a rustle of dry leaves right behind him. He’d glanced over his shoulder and nearly jumped out of his skin when he looked up into the face of the garden scarecrow looming over him. It was perversely real looking in the moonlight, its ragbag wardrobe complete––ancient, rotting cowboy boots, leather gloves, sun-streaked overcoat and a battered fedora. Its flour sack face leered at him, black button eyes gleaming.
It’d given him such a fright that he got mad and pulled it down off its pole. He’d ripped it apart with the relish of a murderer, not stopping until he'd pulled its head off and left it on the kitchen doorstep.
He’d picked up his pumpkin, twice the size of his own head, tucked it under his arm and spit on the scarecrow’s severed head as he turned and left.
He remembered they’d been having a hell of a good time back in the lounge carving up the pumpkins, but somehow they’d ended up fighting. His thinking was so muzzy, had it been Romeo who’d showed up, somebody had… or had they just got too drunk and started brawling amongst themselves?
Chuckie's eyelids slowly tore open at the sound of angry voices outside the lounge and muffled footsteps. He couldn’t hear clearly, and when he finally got his eyes open, he couldn’t see straight either. His field of vision was limited like he had a mask on and there was a beer bottle sitting right in front of his face. Was he laying on a table? It seemed like his chin was resting in cold mush, he hoped it wasn’t vomit.
Madge screamed. There was a commotion and that kid yelled at her to stay out, don’t look, and the patter of high heels running away. He heard the kid whistle, and his footsteps as he walked around the room.
Damn it, why couldn’t he move his head so he could see around that bottle? He heard more footsteps and Romeo’s voice coming closer.
“What the hell happened in here?” Romeo said.
“Looks like the pumpkins fought back,” cracked the kid. Little wiseass.
“Yeah, and the pumpkins won,” Romeo said, “where do you suppose this guy’s head is?”
More footsteps, shuffling nearer… the kid’s voice right in front of him, “There’s an awful lot of blood under this pumpkin,” he said.
He saw the kid’s hand move the bottle aside and then his face peering at him. The last thing Chuckie heard before the blackness overwhelmed him again was the kid shouting, “Found it!” as he pulled the lid off the top of the jack-o’-lantern to expose Chuckie’s head inside.
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