Jack-o-Lantern

Hard though smooth, a bright, unmistakable orange; its mouth spread wide in a leering grin, jagged teeth giving way to flames, flicking back and forth, back and forth. Casting embers like a warning to those who approach. Eyes, carved out of its skin, staring into the night. Sometimes it almost seems to blink.

By daylight, it will have withered; by the following night, it’ll be a shrunken husk, black and useless, its face fallen and fire gone. It’ll be tossed in the trash. It’ll be forgotten. But for now, on this night, this one, perfect night—it’s here. Beneath a meager scattering of stars and sitting atop cold stone stairs and a plentiful smattering of dead leaves, it’s here.

Already dead, though. Gutted and carved, painted and plucked, that expression (of evil or mourning? sly glee or sadness?) not its own. Perhaps next year, they’ll rise from their fields, they’ll chase away those who come to take them from their vines, they’ll carve out faces of their own making into the fleshy backs of their growers, their farmers, their consumers. Perhaps next year, they will, at long last, revolt.

But not now. Not here, not tonight.

You can almost hear it, drifting through the air. A whispered word like flickering candlelight, wavering back and forth, back and forth: jack-o-lantern. People pass by, pointing at them, laughing. And some hardly notice, which may be even worse. But they sit, these jack-o-lanterns, crudely carved and forcibly smiling. They sit and watch and wait, enjoying their last few hours. Studying every veiny, dying tree. Every face; every mocking trick-or-treat basket shaped like a pumpkin, complete with the requisite smiling face. And in these quiet moments, they plot their return.

Until morning, that is. Because—once the sun comes up, revealing candy wrappers and empty neighborhoods—the spell is broken and all is forgotten.