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A Twist in the Tale: The Great Pupkin

pupkinleaf

By Jenny Kalahar

Another Halloween was eerily approaching. As the winds howled through bare branches, empty amusement parks, lonely beaches, and deserted dairy-bar parking lots, our thoughts turned to all things orange-hued, apple pie-flavored and pumpkin-spiced. Crisp leaves scuttled at our feet on every walk, reminding us of something we’d nearly forgotten.

We’d nearly forgotten about the Great Pupkin!

His name is rarely mentioned at all through the spring and summer months, when bathing suits outnumber angora sweaters, and when school is out at last. But, once the leaves begin to change into their colorful funeral suits, the Great Pupkin’s name is heard again in certain circles, but barely above a whisper.

“What do you think your costume should be for Halloween this year, Weegee? Want to dress up as Edgar Allan Poe again like last time?” I asked my Terrier while on an early morning walk. Our breath was shown as puffs in the slanting sunlight, the shadowed ground still crisp with overnight frost.

She paused to sniff the breeze that was sailing over a leaf pile snugged against the remains of a wooden shed not far from our home. “Maybe.” Her answer visibly swirled from her lips in a tiny cloud.

“Have any different ideas? I know!” I said, walking backwards for a few steps to look at her face for a reaction. “How about dressing up as an asparagus spear? Or, a cute little devil dog? Or … a cupcake?”

I could see these suggestions were too ridiculous to justify a reply, so we continued on in silence until crossing a road to another gravelly alley.

She finally said, “I think I’d like to sit in a cornfield and wait for the Great Pupkin this year.”

I chuckled, feeling brave in the morning’s bright, yellow sunlight. “You don’t really believe that old wives’ tale, now, do you Weeg?”

She rolled her dark brown eyes at me without moving her head, and I saw that there was definitely a stubborn surety there.

“That’s nothing but a story!” I said, trying to remember the details I’d learned as a child.

“Well, I’m a dog. Dogs know the truth. I’ll get three, whole years of good luck if I do spot the phantom. I could use some luck. My poetry is not getting accepted for publication in any of the literary journals. It’s getting to be so disheartening.”

I nodded in sympathy. “Maybe one of these times. You never know.”

Weegee woofed to a black cat who was licking a paw while balancing atop a white fencepost. “Still no word from The New Yorker yet, either, I’m afraid. No one appreciates my sense of humor. Or my style of abstract poetry.”

I smiled encouragingly. “Pat and I do. And, you’ll find an audience eventually, I’m sure. But, getting back to our topic of Halloween, are you sure you don’t want to go trick-or-treating? We had an absolute blast showing off your costume last year, and so many people took your photo. I’d hate for you to be disappointed if you spend all night outside without seeing the Great Pupkin.”

Weegee paused to look around at the cows who stood nearby at the end of the alley behind their wire fence, and then turned to head home. “I want to try.”

I frowned, but didn’t let her see. Part of me worried about her sitting in a cornfield getting colder and colder hour after hour—and me along with her—and part of me was heartily disappointed that I wouldn’t be taking her around the neighborhood in a bright green asparagus costume.

Before long, Halloween night came, and Weegee was still determined to try to win her three years of good luck. I bundled her up into two coats, and put a winter coat and hat on, myself. We had snacks and water, flashlights and blankets, a phone, portable radio, and pillows for our expedition out to the field a mile down the highway where we’d keep watch until dawn.

“By the way … what, exactly, does the Great Pupkin look like, Weeg?” I asked as we got out of the van. I’d parked on a small drive that was cut into the rows of brown, dried stalks.

She looked up at me, her eyes nearly glowing with excitement there in the near darkness. “Like some sort of dog, naturally. But he’s magical. You know. Magical.”

I didn’t press for more details. This was going to be a long, cold night.

And then, just about two hours later, it happened. With an old-time spooky radio drama playing on the radio, a tasty biscuit hanging half out of Weegee’s mouth, and a bite of peanut butter sandwich in mine, we saw what may have been a smallish phantom in the distance, between the crisp, dead cornstalks.

“Didya see that?” whispered my dog.

I dropped my sandwich. I held my breath. Weeg held her breath. A car approached and then passed us, but in its headlights I was sure I’d seen an orange thing just twenty feet away! I grabbed Weegee’s paw, feeling how cold she had gotten, and we sat like statues in fear.

Another car, another set of headlights, and yes! It was he! It was the Great Pupkin! There, standing on four short legs, was a pug dog in a pumpkin costume, his tongue lolling magically, one eye winking at us, the little green, curly stem of his costume jiggling like a spring from the top of his head. With one arf he vanished. The car passed, and the cornfield darkened again.

“Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!” exclaimed Weegee, getting to her feet and bouncing around on the blanket.

I had my doubts. I mean, it was Halloween, right? It could have been a living, breathing pug who had run away from his people while trick-or-treating. Or, it could have been our imaginations.

“It was him! The Great Pupkin! Oh, Jenny! Three years of good luck! Now I’m going to get published for sure!”

I considered about eight different replies in the space of two seconds, but I finally settled on: “That was amazing! He’s really real, Weeg! I’ll admit I didn’t believe in him. But, you sure showed me!” I picked her up after I’d stood, giving her a hug. I could feel the tremors of excitement still coursing through her body.

“Let’s go home,” she said after we’d both warmed up in each other’s arms. “I have a lot of writing to do tomorrow.”

I surreptitiously texted the local humane society that I’d seen a stray pug wearing a pumpkin costume in a cornfield at the west end of town, and then we packed the van with our treats and supplies. As I was backing up from the little drive at the edge of the field, Weegee asked, “What are you going to do with your three years of good luck?”

I paused. I hadn’t thought about it. I hadn’t believed enough in the Great Pupkin to plan ahead for this outcome. “Hmm. I don’t know that I’ll notice the difference, to tell you the truth. I’ve got Pat, I’ve got you and the cats, and we’re doing okay, aren’t we? I don’t need anything more than that.”

When we got home, Weegee stood still to have her coats removed, and then dashed downstairs to her basement writing room, even though it was well past her bedtime.

“Where are you going?” I called. “Don’t you want to head up to bed?”

She walked up the stairs again to say goodnight, and then said, “I’ll be up later. I thought of the start of a really exciting poem about the Great Pupkin that I just need to type out.”

“Oh, well, then …”

Weegee then recited, taking the stairs slowly,

“the howly moon brushed stalk tips and called
to the Great Pupkin to appear
from out the rows and stubble
and dead corn husks
howly moon, be friend not foe
oh call him and his magic here”

***

Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. She is the author of a fantasy novel about teens stuck with the worst-ever magical power, This Peculiar Magic. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog.

More from Jenny:

An Interpretation of Animal Photos

The Quest for Fred

The Grey-Pink Pig of Nar Wood

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