BOY, 13, MISSING IN HALLOWEEN MYSTERY" read The Times headline. That boy was Jason Daniels and I knew where he was. I couldn't tell my parents or the cops that just left, but I'll tell you.
Last night was Halloween. Jason and I had big plans. Plans that included two dozen eggs, two bars of soap and our big black stompers.
We opened with a couple rounds of window soaping and egg flinging. We nailed houses, passing cars and Dewey Whitehall, the computer nerd from down the street. That geek never knew what hit him or where it came from. We were invincible.
When it got late we started smashing pumpkins. At first we'd sneak up, count to three under our breath, kick the pumpkin and run. As it got later, Jason got bolder and louder. "This one is Mr. Carpenter" (our math teacher) and crunch , he would cave in its face. He picked one up and crowed, "Oh Ms. Redbrow [social studies], can you fly?" Splat on the driveway. "I guess not," he'd sing. He was out of control, smashing pumpkins and swearing and screeching, "I am Jason, the pumpkin god."
Then we heard the siren and saw cop lights coming out the main road to Hunter's Glen, where we were raging. We scooted through an empty lot, over a fence and into Hackleman's pasture where we laid down in the dark grass.
The siren whined by and the lights disappeared around the corner.
We lifted our wet faces. The purple glow of the Get-N-Go sign and the sound of traffic drifted across the empty fields from Halsted Road. We headed toward it and got onto a dirt road. It wound down into a gully where Mrs. Hackleman's neat house crouched. Sounds faded as we approached, no dogs, no traffic, just a suffocating stillness. Even Jason finally shut up. It was after midnight and the Hackleman place was dark.
We hurried as we passed the shadowy yard.
Blink, fizzle, fizzle, blink, pop.
Small lights appeared, not lights but faces. Jack-o-lanterns on the porch. A chill ran up my spine and I started to dart, but Jason grabbed my jacket.
Squatting dark among its leering brethren was an enormous pumpkin. Its lopsided grin was filled with blunt teeth.
"Rad Jason, now let's fly."
"No dude. It's judgment night and I am the pumpkin god."
He hopped the low picket gate and crept up to the porch. Thud. He drove a blackjack boot deep into the toothy smile.
"Huh . . . hey, my foot's stuck."
At first I giggled, then hooted outright when he said it was biting him. I swallowed my laugh when his voice grew shrill and he fell flopping in the gravel path screaming, "It's eating meeeee !"
I came through the gate to see Jason in its maw up to his waist. A gnashing, slurping sound filled the yard. Jason wailed, jerked and was still.
I started for him. I wanted to save him. Bzzzzt. The lights went out. Plop, plop, plop on the decking, whump, whump pumpkins rolled to the edge and snap, crunch, snap they fell over into the dry weeds and gravel of the walkway. I heard a gentle rustle as they came for me through the dry grass and fallen leaves of the yard. I ran for the gate and slammed it behind me. Bang, bang it rattled as the coven of small pumpkins rolled up against it.
Turning, I prayed to see Jason laughing but my eyes were seared by the caustic red light that splattered the yard.
I was frozen with horror, my brain screamed at my feet to run and they did all the way up to my room where I sat all night--gazing out the window in numb denial at the scarlet stain of light spilling across Hackleman's field. I knew I couldn't sleep. If I closed my eyes the vision would return.
The final vision of Jason standing in the pumpkin, eyes wide and mouth open in silent scream as the vicious flames engulfed his head. The pumpkin face aglow in a contented smirk.
* Joe and Denise Altick, both 38, live in Ventura. He is an agriculture consultant; she is a nurse.