by Kim McFarland
Dedicated to the memory of Charles "Sparky" Schulz
It was a dark and cloudy night. The moon, full and bright, shone onto a pumpkin patch, gleaming off the orange pumpkins and green vines. It also shone down on a small group of children. All but one - a boy with stringy hair - were wearing costumes.
"Come on, Linus," a black-haired girl dressed as a witch said to the uncostumed boy. "Every Halloween you sit out here all night and miss tricks or treats!"
"This year The Great Pumpkin'll come. I can feel it," Linus said confidently.
Lucy, the witch, rolled her eyes. "You don't even have a costume. But you don't need one. You could always go trick or treating as a blockhead!"
The other children laughed and walked off with Lucy. All but one, a boy in what was supposed to be a ghost costume. However, his clumsiness with the scissors had resulted in extra eyeholes in the bedsheet, making him look like the ghost of a potato. He said to Linus, "I'll try and get some candy for you."
"Thanks, Charlie Brown," Linus said. The potato phantom went off to catch up with the rest of the group. Linus wished he could have persuaded his friend to stay with him. After all, you could buy candy at the store any day, but the Great Pumpkin only comes once a year!
The moon arced slowly across the sky as the night deepened. The distant chatter of trick-or-treating children faded, leaving the quiet of the night. The only sounds Linus heard were crickets chirping and owl calls. Spooky sounds, he told himself hopefully. All the better to set the stage for the Great Pumpkin.
He kept telling himself that as, sitting with his back against a large pumpkin, his eyes began to drift shut.
The boy's head dropped forward as he fell asleep. Good. A figure who had been waiting, hiding within the thickest tangles of vine and leaves, moved noiselessly into an open area. He selected a pumpkin and with unearthly speed and silence began carving it into a jack o' lantern. Within a minute he had a perfectly hollow pumpkin with a leering, toothy face in his hand. After briefly inspecting his work, he cut the bottom out and lowered it over his head.
He looked at the boy again. Yes, life was sweet, he thought as he crouched down out of sight. Then he took two of the pumpkin vines in his hands and shook them hard, rustling the greenery.
Linus startled awake. Had he heard something? He was sure he had. He looked around, and saw nothing but the moonlit pumpkins and vines. They rustled again, shaking visibly. That couldn't have been the wind! His heart pounding, he watched with wide eyes, the moon shining in his face.
He saw movement. Something was rising above the patch not far from him! At first he just saw a pumpkin. Then a spindly, scarecrow-like body unfolded beneath it. It stood, silhouetted against the moon, facing Linus, as if waiting for him to say something.
Linus was transfixed. All the times he'd waited for The Great Pumpkin, he'd never thought of what he'd do if he actually saw him!
Light flared inside the pumpkin. Flames danced within, illuminating an evil sneer. The figure tilted its head back and laughed, a wicked cackle, then leaned forward and reached for Linus with a thin, clawlike hand.
Linus screamed, "AUUUUUUGH!" and fled.
He ran through the pumpkin patch. Where was the path he had come in by? He tripped over a vine. He felt hands touch him, turned and saw that its fingers were white bone, and with a scream scrambled to his feet before it could get a grip on him. He found the path. Whooping and cackling, the pumpkin-headed figure chased after him.
Linus ran for his life, breaking through underbrush and squeezing through holes in fences. Though his "shortcut" slowed him, the skeletal figure never quite caught up. He made it to the street. Glancing back, he saw the figure's thin, spidery legs pumping. The flame in the pumpkin flared bright, then the shell shattered. The burning fragments that fell away revealed a white, grinning skull. It laughed wickedly and reached out for him with sticklike arms.
Linus put on a burst of speed and sprinted for home.
Without remembering getting inside, Linus was standing on the other side of the locked door, his back against it, panting in terror. Something struck the door. And then - silence.
Lucy, in her nightgown, came into the foyer to see her brother panting, wide-eyed, in the darkness. She turned on the light. He startled. "So, you finally gave up. Did you see the Great Pumpkin?" she asked mockingly.
Linus panted, unable to shape words.
She raised her eyebrows. "What's the problem with you?"
Linus stammered, "I - I saw... I saw-"
She rolled her eyes. "You didn't see anything. I'll *show* you." She reached for the doorknob.
"No!" Linus yelped. "It's out there!"
"There's nothing out there," Lucy said as she shoved him out of the way. Linus cringed as she unlocked the door and opened it. After a few seconds she looked at him in exasperation. "There's nothing out here but your candy."
"My candy?" Linus echoed.
She bent down, then closed the door and tossed a small black and orange sack at him. "You dropped your candy, you blockhead," she said.
He looked into the sack. It held all kinds of candy - lollipops, gum, candy corn, tiny chocolate bars. But he had never been trick or treating! He looked up to tell his sister. She had already gone back to her room.
The skeletal figure watched through the window, standing in the darkness so he would not be seen. The boy looked so baffled! The figure cackled with delight. The boy's eyes widened in fright, and he scampered off to his room.
Every year he brought Halloween to the world. He and his cohorts came on this one night to bring some fright and adventure to the lives of the children. It was what he lived for, inasmuch as a skeleton could live, and he was good at it. Up until now his plans had always been elaborate and grandiose, However, this year he had let the others take care of the more fantastic plots and went for the personal touch. And, oh, this had been a wonderful night. The boy would tell his friends stories about "Jack Pumpkinhead" for years to come!
Jack had learned a few things from his friend Sandy Claws. That was why he had left the candy for the boy. After all, candy was part of Halloween, Jack's domain, and he wanted everyone to celebrate it properly! Plus, it would add to the mystery of the night.
Happy at the end of a job well done, Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King, melted into the shadows to return to Halloween Town.
All "Peanuts" characters were created by Charles Schulz and are copyright © United Features Syndicate. Jack Skellington is copyright © Touchstone Pictures. This story is copyright © 2000 by Kim McFarland (Negaduck9@aol.com). All copyrighted characters are used without permission, but with a heck of a lot of love and respect.