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She grips the black handle of the jagged butcher knife with her right hand while grasping the smooth skin of the chosen pumpkin. Her intended victim, the round bulbous vegetable, remains perfectly still as she slowly pierces its skin with the tip of the blade. Inch by agonizing inch. She begins sawing away at an incline. With each up and down motion of her hand, the blade glides through somewhat, but not without some resistance. The pumpkin’s screams with each push of the knife, resembling a soft thumping.


She pauses before placing the messy knife down upon the newspaper lined kitchen table. She grabs the thick stem, which feels like splintered wood against her soft fingertips. Clenching her muscles, she wiggles and pulls until plop! The Pumpkin is officially scalped. “Whew, that’s my arm workout for the day,” she says to her young daughter, who’s watching her mother butcher then mangle this innocent thing. “Now, for the fun part,” the woman smiles as she inserts her arm into the gaping hole. She claws at its internal organs, ripping out globs of seed and gooey strings of pulp. The daughter lets out an involuntary “eww” while poking at the innards.

“It feels soft and squishy, huh?” The little girl nods. “Take a handful of the guts and act as if you’re lotioning your hands,” the mother says as she removes one last dollop. “It’ll make them soft and stinky.” It’s a weird little-known fact that pumpkins can have variety of smells. Raw and freshly pumpkin cut smells ripe, like any other pungent vegetable straight from the farm. Canned puree smells a tad sweet with softness tucked in. “Do you remember those Pumpkin Spice Lattes we got while we shopped for your Halloween costume last week?” The girl nods. “It’s all one big disguise. There’s no actual pumpkin in those.” Confusion radiates off of the daughter as the mother stifles a laugh, “Yet, we all still line up for our beloved coffee that tastes like it does. Willful ignorance is bliss.”

The mother picks up a black permanent marker, draws two large triangles and one small one below those. “Should he be angry or happy?” she asks while smiling at her daughter, who’s hands are squishing clumps of pumpkin guts as if it were slime. Her eyebrows are pulled down and that button nose is crinkled. Her thin lips are loosely forming an O. “Can he be silly? Or will that not scare off the evil spirits like you said?” The mother wipes her hands upon her apron, which is stained in a variety of vibrant multicolor. Such as the splashes of bright red, which is from when the marinara sauce bubbled rapidly and burst into the air one spaghetti dinner night. “We can carve any kind of face. Remember, baby, this is all legend. Like fairytales. Or Disney movies.” The daughter nods as the mom hands her the marker, “You can do this one.” She draws a large halfmoon, then connects it to a wide, serrated line, which resembles massive ocean waves hellbent on causing shipwrecks. She then connects the two points and encloses the mouth. “Perfect,” the mother picks up the knife once more.

She cuts along the black outline, careful to not stray too far. With the last swish, she pokes out the triangles and mouth, revealing the now exposed hollow cavity of the pumpkin. “Last step, we take a candle and place it inside,” she grabs the small white tealight. “Then, we place our pumpkin on our front patio,” she picks it up and carries the pumpkin towards the front door. The daughter holds the creaky screen door open as they both step outside into the cool night air. The gentle breeze carries whiffs of crunchy leaves through the thickets of a pine forest beyond the driveway. The mother sets down the sacrifice to the evil spirits, places the candle inside, and flicks a small blue lighter with her thumb. A mini flame is ignited. She places it against the candle wick. Mother and daughter watch as the pumpkin becomes illuminated from the inside. “Will it work for Daddy, too?” the daughter asks as she peers upward into her mother’s face. “What? You mean will it keep evil spirits away from him in heaven?” The daughter nods. “Daddy doesn’t have to worry about those ever again.” The daughter attempts to blow out the flame as if she’s making a birthday wish, but the mother stops her mid huff. “That doesn’t mean we can’t keep it lit for us,” she says. “But you said it’s not real.” The mother pauses before saying, “neither are pumpkin spice lattes, yet we still drank one.” The mother and daughter make their way back to the front door, leaving the candle to eventually burnout. The mother says, “We’ll leave it. Just in case.”





Bethany Bruno is an Irish/Italian American writer. She was born and raised in South Florida. She obtained a BA in English from Flagler College and later earned an MA from the University of North Florida. Her writing has been previously featured in several journals, including The Sun, The MacGuffin, The First Line, Every Day Fiction, and Lunch Ticket Magazine. She was a contributor to the chapbook, Those Who Scream. She was previously nominated for “Best of the Net” in 2021. She currently lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband and daughter. You can find her at