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October 03, 2022

Bruce O'Lantern

By Aaron Rowley

Bruce was starting to rot. Jim knew he needed to throw him out. But he couldn't bring himself to do it. Bruce was his best friend. He was the pumpkin Jim had carved for Halloween, and at first, he was going to name it Jack but that was too obvious.

Bruce had come to life Halloween night and now it was well into February. Jim kept telling himself he'd throw Bruce out when he finished writing a song about him. Frosty the Snowman got a song and he was only around for an afternoon. Jim figured that since Bruce had been around for three months, he should at least get a cartoon special for that.

Jim was having a hard time with the song; it was hard to find good rhymes for "Bruce." Bruce wasn't helping either -- most of his suggestions were filthy. He preferred rap. Jim had rejected most of his suggestions. People didn't like holiday songs about slappin' hos.

Normally, Jim hated Halloween. It was like Valentine's Day: a way to remind lonely people just how sad they are. When he was in fourth grade, Jim's parents stopped taking him out to trick-or-treat. "The boy should go out with his friends," Jim's dad had said. The problem was that Jim didn't have any friends.

He went out trick-or-treating by himself. He squeezed past the chattering packs of 7-year-old princesses and visited a few houses on his block. Before long, he felt lonely and awkward and turned back. Then a pirate and a ninja stole his bag of candy . After that, Jim swore off trick-or-treating completely. He hadn't dressed up for Halloween since.

Jim spent his Halloweens passing candy out to the visiting Supermen, Spidermen, and cats. His parents were nice, they told him they really needed him there. Jim played along. He told himself he couldn't go out to the parties because his parents were depending on him. He tried to forget that no one invited him.

For 7 years, Jim hated Halloween and everything to do with it.

Jim's "What I Would Do if I Were President" paper was about banning Halloween. Jim didn't know that he would have to read his paper in front of the whole class. Everyone figured that he must be some sort of religious nut. Jim told them that the paper was just a joke because English class was stupid. The paper wasn't a joke, and Jim loved English class, but he failed that semester just to keep up appearances.

Halloween wasn't much different that year from the year before. Jim's parents thanked him for staying home to pass the candy out, then left for a party. Jim secretly hated them for going to a party leaving him home alone.

Jim sat out on the porch with the bowl of Smarties and Snickers. He watched fairies and cowboys float up and down the street. Then he saw a boy in purple tights prancing up the street.

He nearly fell off the porch laughing. "Holy crap, man! You see that?" Jim said to himself.

"Course. So what do you think, is he going to go to Broadway or is he going to be an angry, repressed high school principal?" The pumpkin answered.

Jim jumped up, dropping the bowl of candy into a bush.

When he got over his shock, Jim asked, "Was that you?"

The pumpkin somehow shrugged without shoulders.

"So...uh...how long have you...uh...been...um..."

"Living? Breathing? Thinking?"

"Sure..."

The pumpkin shrugged again.

"So...how? How'd you...uh...When'd you...you know?"

"Don't remember."

"You don't remember?!? How could you forget something like that?"

"You remember when you started thinking?"

Jim decided that was fair question.

He named the pumpkin Bruce and gave it twigs for arms, which it only used to give him the finger.

Bruce and Jim spent their weekends together in Jim's room. One such weekend, Jim was changing channels and they came across a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime channel about a woman debating whether to pull the plug on her comatose husband.

During one particularly long shot of the man in his hospital bed, Bruce let out a raspy, "Kill me." They both laughed.

Bruce said it again. "Kill me." He turned on the bed to face Jim. "Oh, Jim. I just can't stand to watch you suffer like this..." Bruce grabbed a pillow and tried to smother him. Jim was laughing so hard that it took him almost 15 minutes to push Bruce off.

"Let's get outta here," Bruce said when they both stopped laughing.

"Huh?"

"I gotta get out of the house, man. I'm goin' crazy in here. Don't you ever do anything?"

"Sure."

"Yeah? Like what?"

Jim shrugged and turned to avoid looking at the pumpkin.

"C'mon, man, we're up in your room on a Saturday night watching the Lifetime channel..."

"So. What am I supposed to do dragging some stupid melon around with me?"

"Haven't you seen The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Guys with pumpkins have the most fun!"

"So...what? We're gonna go out and decapitate school teachers?"

"Well, I was thinking we'd start out a little smaller..."

Later that night, Jim stood outside the movie theater arguing with the teenager working the register through a thick plate of transparent plastic.

"C'mon, it's just a pumpkin," Jim said. "It's not like I'm gonna eat it. So, you know, it's not outside food, if that's what you're worried about."

"No."

"Man. Fine. I'll buy an extra ticket. Okay? I'll buy the pumpkin a ticket."

"No. You can't. You're gonna chuck it at the screen or something and then I'll have to mop the whole thing up right before my boss fires me for letting you in."

Jim sighed, "Fine," he said and walked away. The overweight woman who'd been waiting impatiently hurried up to the window and demanded a ticket to the schlocky romantic comedy that was also showing.

Bruce drove his splintery elbow into Jim's gut. "Go back," he whispered.

"Why?" Jim whispered back to the gourd he was holding in the crook of his arm. "The guy said no. He's not going to let us in. Let's just go."

"Wuss."

"What? C'mon --"

"Hey, no, I get it. You just let every pimple faced geek push you around. I get it, it's cool."

"Oh, yeah, what the hell would going back get us?"

"I don't know, maybe it would prove that you've got a pair."

"Shut up, maybe I'll leave you in the bushes and I'll go see the movie myself."

"Yeah, right. You'd go see The Cuddle-bears Make a New Friend: Part 3."

"Shows what you know," Jim said. "They haven't made part 3 yet."

He turned around and walked up to the window again. The overweight woman had gone into the theater, leaving the boy behind the register alone.

"You're in my English class, right?" Jim asked.

"Yeah."

"You do your research paper already?"

"No..."

"You can have mine, if you let me bring my pumpkin in."

The kid was interested but he hesitated.

"Listen," Jim continued, "I'll keep it in a bag under my seat the whole time."

"Alright," the kid said warily. "But I'll rat your ass out in a minute if you pull anything."

"Fine," Jim said.

The kid passed Jim a ticket and a plastic grocery bag through the one hole in the window.

"Okay," Bruce said from under Jim's seat as the lights dimmed and the credits began to roll. "Let me up."

"No."

"What?!?" Bruce said too loudly. The woman in front of Jim turned around and shushed him. "You gotta let me up, man," he continued. "I'm sorry I called you a wuss. Now let me up."

Jim shushed Bruce.

"I hate you so much," Bruce said.

Jim and the woman sitting ahead of them both put their fingers to their lips and hissed at Bruce.

Halfway through the movie, Bruce got bored. He'd tried to apologize. He'd begged. He'd bargained. He'd tried flattery. But he was still trapped in the plastic bag under Jim's seat. Now, he began to randomly shout things out.

"Don't go down there!!!" he yelled whenever he heard a door open. Whenever he heard a man enter a room, he'd let out, "Run!!! He's the killer!!! Don't trust him, he's the killer!!!" Surprisingly, he was only wrong about half the time.

After about 15 minutes, the woman sitting in front of Jim got up and walked out of the theater. She came back with a couple of ushers who dragged Jim out. They were kind enough to let Jim grab his bag before they herded him out. The audience applauded.

"You still owe me that paper," the kid behind the window shouted at Jim as he hurried back to his car.

Jim threw the bag onto the passenger's seat. Bruce pulled the plastic away from his face.

"What the hell, man!" Jim screamed at the pumpkin. "I can't believe you. What's your problem? Screaming out like that --" Jim tried to hold it back but the laughter came boiling out of him.

"Yeah, I knew you'd like that," Bruce said very proud of himself.

When Jim caught his breath, he turned his key and started the car.

"Hey," Bruce said. "I'm not tired. Let's do something else."

"You hungry?" Jim asked as he backed the car up.

"Yeah, I could eat."

"You know what I could really go for? Pumpkin pie. Doesn't that sound great?"

"You're sick," Bruce said, trying very hard not to smile.

Bruce made up for getting Jim kicked out of the movie by writing the research paper for the kid from the ticket booth, whose name, Jim learned, was Trevor. Bruce was sure to write the kid's name as Travis. He wrote his paper on Scandinavian comedy. He made all his references up. Trevor got a B+.

Trevor thanked Jim for the B by inviting him to a party that weekend.

"You gotta bring me," Bruce said, when he found out.

"How am I supposed to do that? Just say, 'Hey guys, Merry Christmas, I brought my Jack O'Lantern'?"

"Sure, you know these kids love irony like that."

"C'mon, these kids already think I'm a nerd..."

"So? You are a nerd. Besides, it was my paper, I get to go."

Jim fought with Bruce about it all week but he wouldn't budge. Jim even offered to take him to five movies, he promised that he would even let him see. But Bruce was adamant.

"I hope you appreciate this," Jim said as he pulled up to Trevor's house. He picked Bruce up and walked to the door.

A girl answered the door. She sat next to Jim in Physics and U.S. History. Her name was Michelle. Jim had dreamed about her all year, though he'd never been able to say more than two words to her.

"So," Michelle said. "Uh, what's with the pumpkin?"

"Oh, um, what?"

"Why'd you bring a pumpkin?"

"Oh, well, um, I thought it was a Christmas party."

"Yeah..."

"My family always carves pumpkins for Christmas."

Michelle stared at Jim unsure of what to say.

"I'm kidding," he said.

Michelle exhaled and smiled. "Oh, cool. So...what is it?"

"Oh, um, I found it. You know, in the discount bin at the gas station. It was a buck."

Bruce turned and scowled at Jim.

"Oh, gross," Michelle shouted. "Did it just move?"

"Um, yeah, it, um...dances..."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah, you put it next to like a speaker and it'll move with the music. It's kinda cool."

"Cool. Lemme see." Michelle grabbed the pumpkin and carried it across the room, placing it in front of the speaker. Bruce immediately began doing the tootsie roll.

A small group formed, watching Bruce move to the music.

"That is cool," Michelle said, her eyes fixed on Bruce. "You got it at the gas station?"

"Yeah."

"They have any more?"

"No, I don't think so."

Bruce was the life of the party. Not that Jim really noticed, he spent most of the night talking with Michelle. They agreed to hang out over Christmas break.

Jim had to be home by 1. It was the first time in his life that he'd had a curfew, but that was mostly because he'd never been out without his parents. When he'd told them about the party, it'd taken them a few days to figure out how to react. At 12:50, he picked Bruce up and made his way to the door. Several people groaned with disappointment to see the pumpkin go. Trevor offered Jim twenty-five bucks for Bruce. He said no, feeling good to finally be the envy of his classmates.

When they got back to the car, Bruce said, "You're welcome. Just name your first kid after me, I don't care if it's a boy or a girl."

"Oh, c'mon, man. I would never do that. I'll like my kids."

"Fine," Bruce said. "I wouldn't want one of those nerds running around with my name anyway. I just thought that I would offer you a chance to have one cool kid."

The two of them laughed as Bruce pulled the car away from the curb. "Thanks," Jim said after a while. "Thanks for being cool though."

"No problem."

Now, Bruce was rotten. His teeth curled back, his head was full of mold, and he smelled terrible. But still Jim couldn't throw Bruce out.

"Kill me..." Bruce said when he saw Jim come in after school one day.

Bruce had been saying that a lot lately. Jim was starting to wonder if it was still a joke.

"Kill me..." Bruce said, "Or I'll take a dump in your bed."

"You wish," Jim said. "You couldn't even get up there."

"That's what you think...Seriously, man, take me out back and bury me. Bury me deep, I smell like crap."

"You make crap smell like roses."

They both laughed.

Jim sighed and nodded. He took Bruce's tub out back and dug the hole.

"You dig like a sissy," Bruce said.

Jim dumped Bruce in the hole and filled it back up and then danced on Bruce's grave. He was pretty sure he could hear Bruce laugh when he did.

The next year when Jim's mom bought pumpkins, Jim held one and thought long and hard about how he was going to carve it. He did his best to carve Bruce's winking smirk into the pumpkin. It didn't work out. The pumpkin looked constipated. Jim laughed; he was sure that Bruce would get a kick out of it.

Jim set the pumpkin on the porch and sat down and waited for Bruce.

Article © Aaron Rowley. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-04-25
1 Reader Comments
Alexandra Queen
10/28/2009
03:07:17 PM
Loved it! I was going to quote a few of my favorite lines, but there were too many. The part where Bruce got arms reminded me in a most moving manner of Josh, who I'm sure did the same thing as a fetus.

I think I've left a little piece of myself waiting on the porch with Jim.

Loved the story, Mr. Rowley, thank you.
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