The White Pumpkin
by Grey Harlowe
“It’s October 30th,” warned Connor McCann. “Don’t go out alone tonight.”
“Tomorrow’s Halloween, moron,” said Aiden Paley from the front seat. “Why would anyone go out a night early?”
“Tonight is worse than Halloween. Tonight’s when they go hunting. Halloween’s just when they get rid of the remains. Tonight is when you don’t want to be out alone. Don’t even go in your front yard.”
“When who goes hunting, Con?” asked Bryce, Aiden’s brother, who was driving. He was seventeen, which is why Aiden got to ride shotgun. He sounded amused.
“The cannibals,” said Connor.
“The cannibals, eh?” said Bryce, with a wry smile.
“Yeah, they’re out tonight, looking for a victim. They eat him for dinner tonight, and then bury the rest in the woods on Halloween.”
“No, no—” said Aiden, joining in, “I heard they don’t eat all of him. Only his head.”
“His head,” repeated Bryce, sounding less amused now.
“Yeah. But there’s no hunt. They get his parents to agree to it.”
“Someone’s parents would agree to that?” said Connor, clearly preferring his version of the story.
“For the money. It’s a sacrifice. The cannibals get their dinner, but they know a whole bunch of magic, right? The parents hand over their kid and then they get a bunch of money or good business, you know, until next year.”
Bryce was silent a minute before asking the other boy in the back seat, who had been silent until now. “So what do you think about the cannibals, Ian?”
“I don’t know,” said Ian Hastings. “Kinda dumb, I guess. I mean, that’s not possible, right?”
Bryce stopped the car at a light.
“No, it’s not.” Turning his head in Ian’s direction he said, “These guys are pulling your leg. I heard this same story when I was in middle school, and nobody ever got eaten by a cannibal.”
“The same story?” Ian said.
“Yeah, but back in my time, it was supposedly a bunch of demon worshippers, looking for a family to give them a sacrifice. I remember, it was supposed to be the youngest child for some reason.”
“Uh oh, Ian, you’re screwed!” said Aiden. They all knew Bryce and Aiden had a younger sister, Ella, and Connor had a baby brother named Zach.
Ian’s older sister was named Grace. She had been in a bad accident the previous winter while she was bicycling home from school. It was why the boys weren’t allowed to walk home on their own anymore, even though they lived just a few blocks away. It had been a hard year for Ian’s family, because of the medical bills, and Ian’s father’s business partners forcing him out of his share of the store.
The boys quieted down while Bryce finished the drive to Connor’s house. Connor got out and Aiden went with him. It was a Friday night, so Aiden was going sleep over at Connor’s. Ian had wanted to go, but his mother had forbidden it.
“Look, “ Bryce said after he started the car again, “that story really is a total lie. Cannibals don’t exist—not outside of the movies, anyway.”
“Okay,” said Ian. “But you heard it when you were in seventh grade?”
“Yes, and it was a lie back then, too. The whole thing got started because, well, do you know what an urban legend is?”
“It’s a crazy story that’s based on a true event. People see something in the news, then everyone starts taking about it, blowing it out of proportion, and then what you hear in the end has nothing to do with what actually happened.”
“Alright.” Ian was worried. He could see Bryce’s face in the rearview mirror. It had a strange expression.
“When I was your age, a family here in town had something happen to one of their kids. A boy who didn’t show up for school one day, and eventually the police investigated. After they searched the family’s property, they turned up a skull, but not the body. The whole thing happened around Halloween, so folks started saying it had to do with demons or Satan. Now it’s cannibals.”
“So it’s not true?”
“No.” Bryce swiveled around to look Ian in the eye again. “No way.”
“So cannibals don’t go hunting kids so their parents can get tons of money.”
“Of course not. I mean, I don’t blame you for thinking that, kids thought that in my day, too. Except it was the other way around.”
“The demon worshippers or whoever—they didn’t look for the parents, the parents were supposed to look for them. They were supposed to do something to let the Satanists know they had a kid to sacrifice.”
“Ah, I remember. A white pumpkin.”
“What?” Ian felt cold.
“A white pumpkin. Not an orange one, like the other houses. White. That was the signal.”
Bryce pulled up to Ian’s front gate. “You alright? I didn’t scare you too bad?”
“No,” said Ian.
It was a long walk from the gate to his house, and he walked as slow as possible. The pumpkin was where his mother had put it that morning, at the edge of the stoop, carved neatly, with a wide toothy grin. White as a piano key.
His mother met him at the door. She was holding something behind her back. He tilted his head and saw the edge of it. It gleamed.
“Ian!” she said. Her voice was odd. Determined. “I’m glad you made it. We have guests. You’ll never guess what’s for dinner.”