Pumpkin 2: Carve or Be Carved by Benson Phillip Lott
Pumpkin 2: Carve or Be Carved by Benson Phillip Lott
“Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.”
“You look beautiful, Ms. Sterling,” Sandra remarks, shutting off her Comfort dryer, spinning her in the chair
“Tell me something I don’t know, dearest,” Jackie remarks, opening her eyes.
Inwardly, Sandra groans. “I take it you’re seeing Carl?”
“I am, indeed,” Jackie says, examining her bangs. “Or rather I was. However — now that I’m seeing what you’ve done here — I’m thinking I’ll reconsider.”
Sandra bites her cheek, accustomed to “high maintenance”.
Glamour Beauty is known for difficult clientele.
Ms. Sterling is, by far, the worst.
A pageant queen at seventeen, Jackie Florence Sterling was a success, modeling hair commercials for Sisley- Paris and Vidal Sassoon. People claimed she resembled Italian singer, Gala Rizzatto.
Following graduation, Jackie worked tirelessly, opening malls, leading parades. Her agent (Ronald Davis, Face Inc.) made her countless headshots, building a portfolio. The goal was New York runway.
Unfortunately, Jackie’s height, (a mere 5′ 6″) restricted her to catalogue. Occasionally, she advertised for Aqua di Parma, but her limited options created cold bitterness.
Nowadays, Jackie dismisses everyone “beneath her” with open hostility. Beauticians like Sandra take the brunt. Even her voicemail is confrontational.
“You’ve reached Jacalyn Sterling. If you don’t know what do after the beep, you need more help than I can possibly give, dearest.”
“This is truly disappointing,” Jackie says, putting on heirs to Sandra. “I realize tomorrow’s Halloween, but I don’t recall asking you make me a monster.”
Sandra nods, obediently. Suffering a feigned apology. “I’m sorry you’re not satisfied, Ms. Sterling.”
Jackie waves at her, dismissively, reaching for her Prada. Without a word, she pulls out her checkbook, adding $75 tip to the original $380 charge.
“Perhaps this will encourage you to improve your skill.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Sandra says, accepting the gratuity. “I promise to do better, next time.”
Smiling thin, Jackie exits the salon, turning to Sandra with parting advice. “Never promise what you can’t deliver, hon.”
6:30 p.m., sunlight departs on the horizon. Autumn temperatures lower to near freezing. In two months, pure, glazing snow will cover every street. Christmas will flood the suburban areas. Rainbow lights will flash from every rooftop. Santa Clause will fill every mall. No shopper will avoid the ancient voices of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole.
Just thinking of it makes Jackie shudder in disgust. If scrooge had a female twin, Jackie would be her.
Exiting the freeway, she sends another text to Carl, confirming tonight’s reservations at Ave Satana’s. When he fails to reply, Jackie panics; convinced he’s resorted to “ghosting” her.
Men pull this shit all the time. Usually, around six weeks (about where they are now). To the male perspective, two months dating equals “relationship”, relationship equals “commitment”, commitment equals “responsibility”.
That’s precisely when they turn to shadow.
“Bastard!” Jackie curses, closing the phone.
Climbing into her BMW, she shifts her thoughts to an idea she wants to pitch for a reality-show: “50/50”. Her friend Noel Livingston works at ABC. And he promised to arrange a meeting with producers. Then again, “promises” in Jackie’s world, equals “dogshit”.
The outline is simple — A man is arrested on murder charges. Pleading innocence, he’s presented with two options: go to trial (with the standard twelve-person jury) or sign-up to star in “50/50”, a reality/court show, televised nation-wide. Where the viewers tuning-in can be the jury, interacting via 1-900 number, dialing-in private verdicts of “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”. Each caller/juror is charged to participate.
If 50% (or greater) votes one direction or the other, the defendant is convicted or set free. For the first, lawyers can truly plead their case to The People. Both prosecutor and defense speak directly to the camera. Audiences across America (outside US excluded) can weigh-in the evidence. Of course — as with all reality shows, the trial is scripted. The callers votes don’t actually count. The verdict is predetermined. Participants are actors (including the defendant). The gambling potential is magnificent. Think, 80’s “Running Man” meets 90’s “Court TV” meets post millennium “Glass House”. With the illusion of outside contribution.
If a “guilty” verdict is found, viewers can also phone-in sentence recommendation. For death, press #1. For life without parole, press #2. For life with possibility, press #3. (etc. etc.).
For acquittal, press #0.
Exiting the expressway, Jackie stops at Ruby’s Cleaners, hoping to drop off a pink Chanel jacket. She already has a grey Loro Piana suit being pressed (the one she wore during the interview for “In” magazine).
Funny how times change. New faces. New bodies. New slogans (“Beauty is a state of opinion”). Fashion has reached where everything goes backwards. “Throwbacks” is the industry expression. Trends are predictable. Originality is scarce. There are no more genius designers. The world has so many models, there isn’t a need for million-dollar contract, superstars. No Campbell, no Gia, no Turlington.
Ronald Davis hasn’t found Jackie a job in weeks.
“I’m old news!” she insisted, last time they spoke. “Twenty-three is ancient in this business! Look at me, I’m a stump!”
“Now, Jackie – Jackie,” Ronald would say, with his peculiar habit of repetition. “Today’s technology can do anything! A little computer enhancement, we can turn a midget into Shaquille O’Neal. Just look at Georgia May Jagger, she’s tiny and she made it.”
“That’s because her father is a god damn Rolling Stone! My father works for Buck’s Fishing and Camping! Not a lotta clout with the designers.”
“Jackie – Jackie, what about Kate Moss? She’s only 5-7’?”
“Jagger? Moss? What is this? Some kinda ‘Rolling Stone gathers no Moss’ example? Besides, Moss is a freakin’ broom stick. I’m sure if I weighed 81 pounds and looked like Jack Skellington — instead of Jackie Sterling – I could be a CK model, too!”
“Now, Jackie – Jackie….what you’re failing to realize, constantly focusing on why you can’t — assures the universe you never will.”
“Oh, well, thank you very much, Mr. fucking Confucius!” Jackie hollers, spitting sarcasm. “Anymore, ten-cent, fortune-cookie wisdom? This ain’t ‘Karate Kid Part II’.
Dialing Carl’s office, Jackie leans against Ruby’s counter. The line rings three times until Carl’s secretary answers.
“Carl Masters office…”
“Yes, hello, Victoria. This is Jackie Sterling. Can you put me through?”
“I’m afraid he’s in a meeting, Ms. Sterling. Would you care to leave a message?”
“No message…I’ll try later.”
Outside, rambunctious toddlers storm out the convenience store (Papa Legba’s) neighboring Ruby’s. Three adults follow, talking amongst themselves. Jackie winces with frustration, covering both ears. Her fondness for kids equals her fondness for mud wrestling in pig shit. Instantly, her temper is lost.
“Christ! Put those brats in a box!”
The children quiet, looking to their parents for guidance. They gather them into a huddle, whispering to ignore “that crazy lady”. Jackie stomps her foot, furious from imaging Carl sleeping with Victoria.
“A little less talking, a little more parenting,” Jackie yells, crossing the street.
On a stretch of fencing next to her BMW, a cheap poster invites “all ages” to a local Halloween Festival, two blocks down.
Mildly curious, Jackie walks to the end of the sidewalk. A line of people outside a small ticket booth pass through a rotating turnstile. Closing the distance, she encounters a second sign, advertising the holiday activities: Rides, fun and pumpkins, open 10a.m. – midnight! Also, roasted seeds/$1.99lb—GHOULISHLY DELICIOUS!
Peering through the fence, Jackie identifies a large, unfinished pyramid, constructed from bales of hay. The top portion is strewn with webbing, reminding Jackie of the billboard she saw on the expressway: DEVIL’S PATCH (Next Exit ¼ Mile) Part of The Gris-Gris Halloween Festival “WE HAVE PUMPKINS!”
Paying the $2.00 fee, Jackie enters the fairgrounds, following a dirt road parallel to a parking area. Passing the pyramid, she sees groups of families and tourists, some carrying giant pumpkins.
Jackie glares, deciding she and Carl could make a Jack-o-lantern. If ever bothers to respond.
With the approaching holiday, crowds are heavy. Parking is scarce and children run rampant. A few people wander the gloomy cemetery (set up adjacent to the pyramid). Hidden fog machines spray white mist amidst the tombstones, amplifying the “ghoulish” atmosphere.
Each grave has a goofy epithet: Seymour Spirits, Barry M. Goode, Ma Ha Bonez, Izzy Dead; Al B. Bach (Schwarzenegger’s favorite), Bone Voyage, Dee Composing, Emma Goner.
Recorded sounds of cackling witches and howling wolves echo from overhead speakers. Jackie shakes her head, reading the foolish inscriptions: “Here lies Damon Blake, stepped on gas instead of the brake”, “Watch your step—I bite!”, “I told you I was sick!”, “Jeffery Fogle – loved his bacon – maybe, a bit much”, “Bob Sommers – caught a fishbone in his throat, now he sings an angel’s note.”
“Where’s the hell’s the pumpkins!?!” Jackie shouts, moving from cemetery to triangle-spiral cornstalk (beside an all-black tent). The unpleasantness of more screaming children induces her to vomit.
Thankfully, most of kids are lost in the labyrinth, running the maze like rodents, searching for cheese. A perfect metaphor to future existence.
Parents wait at the benches in front of a vendor (Baron Samedi’s Coffee, selling cider and lattes. A miniature scarecrow is propped on the top of his booth. Around the neck, a small, chalkboard sign: PUMPKINS FOR SALE! INSIDE TENT! The word “sale” crossed out, replaced with “SOUL”.
“Good day, madam,” says the stranger. A tall, slender man; elderly and frail. “We’re so pleased you arrived.”
Jackie turns, facing the shadowy figure. He’s dressed formally (an all-black suit). Like a 17th century Quaker or an Amish priest. A long, white beard covers most of his face. A furrowing brow and deep-set eyes suggests a subtle malevolence.
“And who are you supposed to be? The oatmeal man?”
The stranger bows, removing his hat. “Forgive me, madam. I am Samael. Harvester of the Field, Father of the Loa – proud owner of this establishment.”
Folding her arms, Jackie steps back adopting her usual arrogance. “So, you sell pumpkins? Good. I need one. Here — take twenty. That should cover whatever outlandish price you marked for the holiday. By the way, super outfit, babes. Though it’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
Samael eases forward. “A sense of humor, madam. I like that. And I’m pleased to say, we have precisely what you need.”
“I see,” Jackie says, pointing to the rows of fold-out tables covered by plastic bins. “I take it those are the pumpkins?”
“Indeed madam, yes.”
Jackie sighs, walking forward. “No need to call me ‘madam’. My name is Ms. Sterling. Or ‘Ms.’, if it pleases you. And – wow — some of these pumpkins are ugly.”
Samael smirks, closing the lid on a bin. “I’m afraid we can’tbe perfect as you — Ms.”
Jackie brushes him off, waving her hand. “Beauty is a state of mind.”
Observing the tables, Jackie’s amazement grows. So much volume and size. Different shapes, priced by weight. Standard Orange, Naked-Seeded, Golden Cushaw. White pumpkins, green pumpkins, red pumpkins. Even miniatures.
Samael points to a glass case, holding a two-ton pumpkin for $1000 dollars.
“That’s our prizewinner,” he explains, noticing Jackie’s gape. “And over here — we have Atlantic giants, Winter Luxury, Autumn Gold, Baby-boos, Bushkin, Funny Face, Frosty and Harvest Moon. All ripe, ready to go.”
“My God,” Jackie says, looking them over. “Talk about your inventory!”
“Well, some are just decoration. Like the President Pumpkins…”
“Indeed. My brother, Amaymon. He’s quite the artist, carving pumpkins, resembling ex-presidents. Like George Bush, Richard Nixon or JFK. I think he’s still working on Ronald Reagan.”.
Opposite the bins, five women in aprons, ring-up the line of customers. One wears plastic gloves, shoveling pumpkin seeds (from a basket), scooping piles in the tiny oven. The scent is delicious, but fails to overpower the rank odor of manure.
“Well, as intriguing as this is,” Jackie says, stiffening. “I think I’ve smelled enough shit for one day. And I believe you claimed to have precisely what I need.”
“Of course, madam,” says Samael, motioning her to a small booth in the corner. A trio of merchants sell amulets and stones. “I understand your disregard for the smell. Unfortunately, pumpkins don’t grow by magic. Though in certain case, manure is not necessary.”
Ignoring the “charms” and bracelets, Jackie focuses on a woman in the far corner, dressed in a nun’s habit. Her face: wrinkled. Her eyes: black.
“I can see through you,” she whispers, pointing at Jackie. “I can see – nothing there.”
“Please tell me, she’s one of your stupid gimmicks,” Jackie says, turning to Samael.
“That is my wife, Isabel,” Samael relies, scanning the tent. “Somewhere around is my step-daughter, Lilith.”
The nun “Isabel” approaches from the corner, conversing with her husband in Latin. Jackie stands there, annoyed and losing patience.
The nuns eyes glare at her. With a bony left hand, she reaches into her habit, pulling out a square, blue box.
Raising an eyebrow, Jackie smiles at Samael. “Dare I ask?”
“Madam, this is your pumpkin, “Samael explains. “The finest of its kind. Each year, I produce a mere handful, reserving for them for special customers”
Jackie rolls her eyes. “Please, is this your way of upping the price?”
Opening the lid, Samael reveals a standard orange pumpkin, flawless in symmetry. With exceptional skin and ripeness.
“Madam, Messorem Animarum knows its special customers. As I said before, I am merely The Harvester. I serve whom its wishes.”
Jackie stifles a gag. “Whatever…”
Approaching the BMW, Jackie slips the box under one arm, reviewing a message from Carl; just received by specific ringtone (“Vogue” by Madonna).
CARL: Busy now. Let’s talk 2nite. CU later.
Unlocking the rear door, Jackie huffs, placing the box on floor, behind the passenger’s seat. Moving to the driver’s side, she smashes her fist on the hood.
See you later? What the does it mean?
Guess I’ll find out, won’t I?
Arriving home , Jackie heads straight for the wine, polishing the Romanée Conti she’d been saving for her and Carl’s 6 month anniversary. Apparently, that day will never come. “Let’s talk tonight” means he’s planning to break up. How many times has she sent the same message? Undoubtedly, this is karma.
On the bright side, another idea has popped in her head for TV. What about – a show about this guy, “Rick” who likes this chick “Bethany”, but discovers she’s lesbian. Only, he wants her so much, he moves away to have sex reassignment surgery, becoming a beautiful woman. He pretends to “bump into her” at a gay bar, introducing him/herself as “Claire”. The two fall in love and have a lesbian relationship.
Now Rick’s forced to decide whether or not to disclose his true identity. The man she rejected years ago. Before becoming a woman. The title should be something appealing to Lifetime or Oxygen: “Girl of my Dreams: Love and Times of Ula Mulligan”.
Sitting in her Eames swivel chair, inside her converted bedroom of a high-rise apartment (on the 15th), Jackie rests both elbows on the surface of a cherry-wood desk, eyes widening at the glowing iMac screen. Logging into Facebook, she counts 27 new messages (none from Carl).
Scanning the posts of her newsreel, most wishing “Happy Halloween”, Jackie deletes all inquiries regarding costumes parties and haunted “get-togethers”.
Her friend, Donni Flores uploaded a photo (sent to her from “Debbie”); a blurry pic of her newborn “Miles”, dressed in a lime-green, baby dragon costume. The caption: “Debbie’s Dragonbaby!”
The post beneath that is from “Ashley Goode”, her second-cousin, complaining about midterms, declaring to make the test “her bitch”.
Jackie smiles, amused. Most of relatives are charming as toothpicks, but Ashley has potential to be “somewhat” okay. Maybe even a model.
The sky is black, a sliver of moon light pierces the night. The Romanée Conti take full effect. Increasing dizziness causes the keyboard letters to waves. Sliding from her chair, resentment for Carl sheering her emotions, Jackie climbs to the computer, logging from Facebook.
We’ll talk tonight. CU later.
Changing her search to “Black Sun”, a casual dating site, she anticipates the need for. Opening her account (two years old) she finds dozens of unread messages. Scrolling the list, she encounters a profile from “Adam Smith”. Cute, available, in her zip code.
However, his headline makes her reconsider: WANNA TRY NEW THINGS? HOW ‘BOUT U PISS ON ME? (um no, piss on yourself, loser).
Amazingly, they invites get worse from there: LONELY2NIGHT MY BALLS NEED CLAMPING (who are these freaks?) UR U BAD? DO U NEED SPANKING! (Oh please! knock it off or I’ll call your mother) SHIT ON MY FACE AND CALL ME GINA (no comment, just go)
Finally, someone interesting catches her eye: “Richard Holden”: LOOKING FOR NSA AFTER FRIDAY’S BALLGAME? LET’S MEET.
The blunt heading is the closest thing to “normal” Jackie can find. Especially since, she too, is a fan of baseball. Double-clicking the message, she reviews his profile. Her interest peaks at his impressive photo and description.
Approximate size of manhood 7/12 inches.
The only problem is digital photos can’t be trusted. Jackie could invite the guy over, expecting Chris Hemsworth, only to wind-up with some five hundred pound douche bag whose identical twins Elephant Man.
And if a man is going to share his penis length, can anyone expect real honesty? 71/2 inches. Please! He could really be 7./12 centimeters.
Worse still is Richard’s horrific tagline: “I’ll pitch my ball in your catcher’s mitt…babes!” (Are these guys competing to be lame?)
Another sip of wine, Jackie logs out, constructing a mental list of ex-boyfriends and one-night lovers. Every girl has a catalogue of guys, reserved for lonely-nights, after some asshole just broke her heart.
Much like the night she’s having now.
Problem is, most ex-boyfriends are “ex’s” for a reason. A lot of them can’t handle a single evening of drinks, deep-dick and doughnuts.
That’s pretty much all Jackie requires.
Mitchell Dawson (no, I hear he’s fat now), Ryan Mayhew (jerk, besides…no stamina), Ron Whalen (no, too into BDSM), Danny Biscoe (I think he’s with Sasha Bradfield), Jake Dykstra (too busy listening to Jim Morrison, feeding his dog mescaline), Henry Gates (too short, too whiny), Erin Dunmore (loser, I hear he’s a crackhead), Devon Johnson (even bigger loser, I hear he’s a homeless crackhead), Alex Emerson (hmmm, maybe, that is — if he’s not with that tramp, Jasmine Taylor!).
Of course, there’s always Billy Cole (that British personal trainer-guy from Sparks…do I still have his number?). Or what about Bobby Gleason? (Bobby, yes…Bobby…but, God is he stupid). Van Tyler? Or Van’s brother, Flynn? (hmm, maybe a ‘bro-bro-duo’, now that’s an idea!).
Other possible one night stands: Mike Davenport, Nathan Kendall, Jessica Dowling (just a phase I went through), Cameron Belmont, Reese Payton, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Bradley Cooper – all four at the same time – (okay, Jackie, stay in reality). John Rylee, Veronica’s cousin, Casper, (maybe, maybe…) Veronica’s other cousin, Von, or maybe – just plain, old Veronica (again, another phase).
Dangling over the armrest, Jackie slaps herself awake, thinking to herself: What I really need is more wine. Setting the empty Romanée on the desk, she slowly rises, fighting for equilibrium.
The kitchen is down the hall. A gold-framed vanity mirror, strategically hangs above a custom-made shelf. A ceramic bowl in the middle holds rose-scent potpourri. Matching floral vases (crystal) contain combinations of tulips, pink snapdragons, white lilies and diamond eucalyptus.
The bulbs in the twin sconces are deliberately dim. Jackie can barely see, staggering the hall, arms outstretched, pushing both walls for balance. Stopping at the gold mirror, she examines her reflection. Gina Rizzatto? Yeah right. Look at this fucking hair! God damn Sandra. Damn Face Inc, damn Carl, damn Ronald, damn everyone.
Yanking her roots, screeching in fury, Jackie covers her face, sobbing uncontrollably. The outfit she’s wearing (designer embroidered top, white denim shorts) suddenly feels tight— and this is a god damn plus-size!
Mascara smudged, eye liner, running, Jackie stumbles the remaining distance to the top cupboard, grabbing the Argentine cabernet (down-sizing from Romanée).
Wine is wine. Drunk is drunk.
Stained plates and dirty coffee mugs fill the chrome sink. The entire kitchen is filthy. The dishwasher, full.
Biting her lower lip, Jackie growls annoyance.
Time to fire the maid.
But thinking about it now — she already did. Last month when she came home early from a Macy’s photo shoot, catching that tramp, “Yolanda”,sampling her Eau d’Hadrien ($1,500 for a 3 ounces) from her bedroom collection.
“Conniving, little thief,” Jackie mutters, searching the utensil drawer for a corkscrew. Only to discover the damn thing’s on the microwave, right where she’d left it.
Slamming the drawer, Jackie snatches the lever cork, peeling the cabernet’s protective seal with its tip. “C’mon, you fucker. Open!”
The bottle slips, shattering on the tile floor. Splashes of red liquid ruin her white, leather peep-toes.
“Christ on a dildo!” Jackie hollers, punching the cupboard. “Not the fucking Giuseppe Zanotti’s, you bastard!
After a minute of squealing moans, she glares at the crimson puddle beneath her, visualizing “CU LATER” forming in the wine.
A series of under-the-breath expletives, rage from her, gathering large chunks of glass, dumping them inside a vanilla-scented liner of the metallic, step-on trashcan.
Using a pink-handle broom with matching dustpan, Jackie sweeps the tinier bits of glass, soaking the split wine under a half a roll of Brawny towels. Her cursing continues, glancing at area of counter by the Kenmore stainless steel refrigerator. That stupid pumpkin (still in its blue box) is set in the center of the Corian cutting board.
A pleasant memory from yesterday morning flashes in Jackie’s mind: her and Carl, preparing coffee.
“What should we do for Halloween, hon?” Carl inquires. Jackie answers with a noncommittal shrug, adding her loathing for office parties. Carl nods, suggesting they check out the expo Face Inc advised they attend. Or, better still, stay home and rent Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder” from Netflix (the scariest movie ever made).
“I think the latter for ‘Ladder’ is the best idea,” Carl jokes. “Let’s avoid the commercial bullshit this year, maybe just get a pumpkin and say we did, whaddya think?.”
Jackie sighed. “I suppose you want me to carve it?”
“No, I’ll do it. I’ll carve you a Jackie-lantern.”
Rolling her eyes, Jackie closes the distance between them, kissing low. “You’ve gotta be the corniest man I know.”
Smiling, Carl nods, kissing back.
We’ll talk 2nite.
Enraged, Jackie fires the broom and dustpan against the far wall, pulling the 8-inch carving knife, magnetically attached to a Chroma Bamboo board.
Pointing the tip at a downward angle, she steps toward the pumpkin, preparing to lunge.
Suddenly, an echoing, raspy voice cries out, pleading with to wait.
“Don’t do it, Jackie!”
The words resonate through the kitchen like a sonic boom, retreating Jackie to the hall, clutching the knife, mortified.
“Who the fuck is that?” she cries. “What the hell are doing in my apartment?”
“I’m here because you brought me here, Jackie,” says the voice.
Jackie frowns, sensing the location of the voice. “Holy mother of shit!”
“What’s the matter?” asks the pumpkin, clearly speaking. “Don’t you have any sarcastic witticism? A snide remark, perhaps. Something to dignify your existence?”
Jackie quivering with a rush of breath. “Who…who the fuck are you?”
“Does it matter?” replies the pumpkin replies. “I’m sure we can find a more stimulating topic. For instance…Carl.”
Jackie’s eyes narrow, heart pounding.
“Hmm, I see I’ve aroused interest. Speaking of ‘aroused,’ how ‘bout that secretary ‘Victoria’? Do you have any inkling what she’s doing right now? At this very moment? I can’t assure you, it’s not typing.”
“How did you…what the hell’s going on?” Jackie says, shrouded in confusion.
“I think we both know Carl’s fucking her?”
Throwing the knife, Jackie strikes the counter, missing the pumpkin by inches. “Watch your god damn mouth!”
“Okay, now we’re havin’ a conversation! Must be refreshing from your superficiality.”
“We’re not having any fucking conversation!” Jackie protests, slowly realizing she’s yelling at a pumpkin. “My God, this is insane! What the hell am I doing? Christ, I must be shit-faced.”
“Well, there’s no arguing that,” jests the pumpkin.
The florescent fixtures overhead flicker several times – on, off, on, off – until the power fades completely.
“And where are you, Jackie, while Victoria rides Carl like a Rodeo champion?” the pumpkin asks, maliciously. “Sitting here, in this over-priced apartment, alone — boozing it up like some fat, reclusive housewife, waiting for dear-hubby.”
“Eat shit,” Jackie retorts, looking up at the ceiling, wondering if the power will return.
“You know what I hear?” the pumpkin inquires. “I hear sounds of bliss. Echoing, carnal, ecstasy. And do you know who’s responsible for these passionate shrills?”
Jackie looks down, scowling. “What are you babbling about?”
“Victoria…” Pumpkin finishes, laughter in his voice. “He’s got her pinned down, right as we speak. His fingers caress the skin of her neck. His lips touch hers, kissing gently as they –”
“Stop!” Jackie cries, pointing. “Just, shut up!”
“Stop, what? The truth?” the pumpkin says, ignoring her. “You wanna live in a romance novel, is that it? What you can’t see doesn’t really happen, that’s your philosophy?”
“You should really hear the way Carl’s chair squeaks every time she bucks in quivering convulsions…”
“Enough!” Jackie hollers, stomping her foot. “I said, shut your fucking mouth! Who are the fuck are you and what the fuck do you want?”
“I want you to pay attention!” shouts the pumpkin. “I want you to stop your pathetic rationalizing and take heed what I’m telling you! Afterall, I’m just confirming what you already know.”
“Carl isn’t doing anything!” she insists. “I trust him.”
“But there are signs, Jackie,” the pumpkin persists. “You’ve seen a few. Think. Why is he avoiding you? Why doesn’t he answer your messages?”
“He’s probably busy,” Jackie counters, not even believing herself. “There’s a million reasons he might not be able to call. Those accusations are just…suspicion.”
“Oh? So, let me get this straight,” the pumpkin says. “First, you say you trust him, now you’re telling you have suspicion. Well, I’ll give you suspicion!”
The overhead lights flash in surges of blue electricity. Brilliant charges zap through the outlets of the apartment, piercing sparks, spray all over the floor.
Everything electronic bursts to life. A loud sizzling noise follows an immense rush of power, activation Jackie’s entertainment center. The stereo speakers switch on, blasting a rush of harsh static with earsplitting screeches.
The incredible force ruptures the Dolby stereo. Thousands of sparks fly everywhere, vanishing mid-air.
Suddenly, a series of muffled wails combined with orgasmic panting reverberates the walls of the apartment. An intense hush of a female’s breath echoes in the kitchen, causing Jackie to whirl around, storming into the living room.
“What the fuck is this!?!” she cries, bending before the stereo.
Sound of an invisible chair squeaking, repeats over and over, increasing in rhythm. Simultaneously, ruffled clothing and slapping nakedness blares from the speakers.
“Turn it off!” Jackie screams, kicking at the Dolby stereo. “Turn it the fuck off.”
Another electric pulse shoots across the apartment, zapping stereo, shutting down. The last thing Jackie hears before the speakers fade is heavy grunting as a woman’s voice moans the name “Carl”, again and again.
“You know,” says the pumpkin. “It ceases to amaze me, how many times a woman can climax. Victoria is quite the noise maker.”
Biting her lip, Jackie smashes both speakers, knocking them to the floor. Charging back to the kitchen, her face is solid red, fuming with rage. Marching to the front door, she grabs her coat off the rack, preparing to walk out the door.
“And where are you going?” asks the pumpkin.
“I’m gonna see how much of this shit is true!”
“Yes!” Jackie hollers, reaching for the key. “I’m going to his office! I’m gonna find out just what the fuck’s really going on.”
“I don’t think you’ll get very far!” the pumpkin claims. “Not with those little…stumps.”
Motionless at the door, an incredibly sharp pain hits in Jackie in both feet. A swelling begins in the ankles. Her toes become grossly enlarged, the augmentation moving to her legs.
Jackie winces, bending down to remove her shoes. Suddenly, the walls around her stretch upward as though made of putty. The distance to the ceiling doubles in height. Her mouth gapes, staring dazedly at the frame of the front door. It grows like magic, becoming a towering structure, impossible to open.
Dear God, I’m getting smaller! Oh Christ, I’m shrinking! I’m fucking shrinking!
The pumpkin’s echoing voice calls out from the kitchen, beckoning Jackie to return. She turns away, making her way in slow, careful steps. The kitchen is massive. Her feet continue bloating, numbing to the touch. A transparent liquid protrudes from the skin.
“Dear God, help me!” Jackie begs, tears pouring from her face.
A new pulse of electricity, activates the living room stereo. This time switches the CD player starts. Madison Avenue’s “Don’t Call Me Baby” blasts at maximum volume.
“Jesus!” Jackie shouts, covering her ears. Her world continuing to distend. “Turn that fucking shit off! The stereo’s gonna fucking explode! What’s happening?”
Entering the kitchen, Jackie walks to the far side of the room, still drunk, fighting for balance. Vicious pain attacks her shins, she stumbles forward, collapsing on the tile in agony.
“Look at you, Jackie,” says the pumpkin. “Your modeling career is over, your boyfriend is fucking his secretary, nobody at your agency has use for you, Douglas never calls, they scratched your pathetic interview with ‘Women’s Wear Daily’ — Now here you are a wailing, little munchkin. I have to say, if a genie gave us opportunity to switch, I’d to him, ‘go to straight to Hell.’”
Burying her face in both hands, Jackie erupts, sobbing uncontrollably. Her lipstick smears, her eyeliner runs down on her cheeks.
The pumpkin waits, gradually moving in for the kill.
“You know, Jackie — there’s something about your face that just — isn’t right.”
Looking up, Jackie shutters, maneuvering her body until she’s positioned on hands and knees.
“Yes,” she says, vacantly. “Something isn’t right…”
Crawling to the pumpkin, the lights flicker in a strobing fashion. Jackie stops midway as the vanity mirror falls from the shelf. Staring into it, Jackie sighs relief, her appearance still the same.
Still Gala Rizzatto.
After a moment, her nose starts protruding outward, tripling in size.
“Jesus, God!” Jackie screams, horrified, Jackie.
Backing from the mirror, the pumpkin calls to her, confirm her deformity.
“I don’t know, Jackie. That schnozz is offensive. You should have that thing fixed. You went from Rizzatto to Pinocchio. Then again, it’s nothing compared to your hair.”
Jackie screams, pulling out two handfuls of hair.
Chunks of blonde highlights fall to the floor in lumps.
“Helllp! Help! Help meeee!”
Returning to the mirror, Jackie gasps in sheer horror. The balding monster, staring back at her has grotesque, inhuman features, causing her to vomit.
“Please, help me!” Jackie wails. “I just want beauty again. I just want Carl to love me…”
The pumpkin laughs, sadistically. “You think Carl will love a monster like you? Never! Look at you, Jackie, you’re revolting! Look at your tiny legs! Look at those wrinkles under your eyes! Your bloating stomach, sagging breasts! You think runway’s gotta job for you now?”
Sharp nails dig into Jackie’s head. Immediate thoughts of suicide provoke her to get up and jump out the window. If she splatters all over the street, maybe spare the coroner the horror she’s become.
“I have to do something,” Jackie whispers.
“Yes, Jackie,” whispers the pumpkin. “You do.”
Breaking her trance, Jackie crawls to the pumpkin, repeating the same instructions as though hypnotized. “I have to do something…I have to do…something…”
Reaching upward to the sink, Jackie legs permit her to grow. Once tall enough, she dips both hands into the mound of dirty dishes.
Selecting a water glass, she smashes the material on the counter, grabbing the largest bit of broken shard.
Groveling before the pumpkin, she puts the shard to her face. “I have to do something…what must I do?”
“You must peel off that monstrosity covering your beauty,” instructs the pumpkin. Why don’t you use that glass in your hand and make the proper adjustments?”
Jackie nods, eyes slipping into her head.
With one outstretched hand, Jackie grips the edge of the counter, leaning forward.
“Thank you,” she whispers, her lips pursing, granting her mentor a soft blowing kiss. Thank you for giving me beauty…”
“The pleasure is mine,” says the pumpkin, waiting.
Placing the sharp tip in the center of her forehead, Jackie sinks the shard into her skin. A stream of blood falls down face like a river.
Scanning the floor of the kitchen, Jackie locates the knife, severing her giant nose, sawing it until it drops.
Still cutting, Jackie giggles in happy delusion, genuinely believing she’s scraping away the ugliness.
“I need more!” Jackie cries, opening several drawers, grabbing a pair of scissors and spoon. “I need…something sharper!”
Racing to the bathroom, she gathers more materials. She dump everything in piles on the living room chair, returning to the kitchen to collect the pumpkin.
Carrying it to the pile, she begs for further instruction. “Please, tell me…what else must be done?”
“Pick up the mirror,” orders the pumpkin. “And maybe the knife, as well. Now, drop the piece of glass and slowly….begin.”
The checkered taxi pulls over to the left-side curb. The rear-side opens. Carl steps out to the street.
Grabbing his attaché briefcase and a bouquet of white roses, he tips the driver, thanking him for his help. The roses smell terrific. Personally selected for tonight’s occasion.
Carl spent the entire day, venturing countless jewelry stores, searching for the perfect ring. The day before, he asked Victoria to clear his schedule, canceling all appointments. He further explained not to mention his whereabouts if Jackie called, looking for him.
“It’s a surprise,” he explained. And fortunately, Victoria isn’t very fond of Ms. Sterling. So, she had no trouble acting curt over the phone.
Ignoring the texts Jackie sent, Carl haggled with lowball jewel dealers, picking out roses with Lithuanian florists, barely speaking English.
Perhaps the “CU later” text was a mistake. But once Carl arrived, producing the Tacori 22-karat gold and platinum engagement ring (selected (after three and half hours of shopping), she’d probably forgive him.
All too aware how “sensitive” Jackie is, especially regarding “cold-shoulder” treatment, Carl smiles, imaging her destroying the apartment. All of his over-night Christian Dior dress shirts, torn to shreds, hanging from the ceiling.
Better still, Carl’s toiletries, dumped in the toilet with his iPhone charger.
You never know with Jackie.
Subtle emotions isn’t really Jackie’s style. So, with ring in his sport coat pocket, briefcase and roses in separate hand, Carl walks the short distance to the lobby, smiling how she’s gonna freak when she realizes what he’s been doing.
She’ll be so guilty, she cook dinner for a month.
Arriving through the twin doors, entering the lobby, Carl halts mid-step. A magnificently tall old man (dressed in a black like a Quaker) exits from the elevator, tipping his full-brimmed hat.
Under his left arm, is a square, blue pastry box he carries while exiting through building, thanking the door man for his assistance.
Catching the elevator before it closes, Carl looks to the uniformed watchman, sitting quietly at the visitor/check-in.
“Hey there, Raoul,” Carl shouts, expecting the usual sports talk.
Only, Raoul seems different; detached. His composure is stiff and the haunting expression has Carl mildly alarmed.
My God, he looks hypnotized.
“Raoul? You alright, buddy?”
Glancing up from his fixed stare at the twelve-screen surveillance monitors (built into the desk), Raoul gazes at Carl, responding as a stranger, in whispery monotone. “Ms. Sterling is in room 322, on the 15th floor.”
“Uh, I know that, buddy,” Carl says, awkwardly. “It’s me, Carl Winthrop? I’ve been coming here for months. The Cubs fan, remember?”
No sign of recognition.
Instead, Raoul repeats verbatim: “Ms. Sterling is in room 322, on the 15th floor.”
“Uh, okay, pal. Guess I’ll talk to you later.”
Entering the apartment—door unlocked— Carl removes the velvet box with the ring, hanging his sport coat on the rack. “Honey, it’s me! I’m home!”
She must be pissed.
Clearing his throat, Carl ventures through the hall, toward the living room.
“Honey? Listen…I’m sorry I couldn’t call. I was in an important meeting and couldn’t get a break. I’ve got some good news, though. Honey? Jackie? You here?”
In the living room, Carl notices thick strands of bloody hair, scattered over the carpet.
What the hell?
Kneeling down, scooping the hair, Carl panics, jumping back. Crashing into a lamp, he stumbles the hall, yelling for Jackie, entering the kitchen. Shattered glass covers the tile floor. Trails of blood are everywhere.
“Oh, Jesus! No —Jaaaaacckkkieeee!”
Facing the rear wall, Carl gasps at the bloodied carving knife sticking out. Fleshy strips of muscle are lumped together in the corner. A splattered spoon is on the edge of the counter, beside two hazel eyeballs, removed from the skull, staring lifelessly as though they can still see.
Floating in the crimson water of the kitchen sink, the tip of a small, narrow nose, clashes with severed ears and a strip of chin.
“Mother fucker!” Carl screams, racing the apartment for a phone, forgetting he has a cell. “Somebody help! Jackie!”
Remember the Samsung in his pants, Carl dials the police, gushing with paralyzing dread, fighting the urge to vomit.
“Police? Jesus, help! I need an ambulance. I’m at—”
Carl’s words are cut short, noticing a woman’s body: on the mattress, in the bedroom. Dropping the cell, He walks cautiously to the room. With each step, he’s crushed with trepidation.
The corpse on the bed is Jackie’s — soaked with blood, positioned against the headboard. Her legs are mutilated—shaved to the bone—and spread. The denim jeans she wears are smeared with gore and viscera. Her breasts are cut off, lying in a ceramic bowl of blood and tissue (next to a shattered hand mirror held by her severely mangled left arm.
It appears as if all wounds are self-inflicted. Somehow Jackie carved five pentagrams into stomach, slashing her skin – from her elbow to her wrist.
On the wall above her head are dozens of red handprints. A dripping message, written with Jackie’s severed, purple tongue, freezes Carl with dumbstruck awe.
A fresh horror, beyond any he’s known.
Rushing forward, Carl yanks the blood soaked dishtowel, covering her face.
The towel drops.
Petrified disgust chokes his words and tears. “Wha-wha…J-j-j-j…Jack..”
Jackie’s neck has been removed with expert precision. A perfect detachment. In its place, resting evenly on her bloody neck is a standard orange pumpkin, symmetrical and untouched. At the center of Jackie’s shoulders.
Whimpering like a defenseless child, Carl continues, crying out. Only this time, much softer. “J-j-j-j…Jackie…Jackie…”
“Hello, Carl,” says the pumpkin.
“Jesus Christ!” Carl shouts, flying backward, unto the floor.
“What’s the matter? Did I spoil your happy occasion?”
With a sibilant hiss, it adds: “She would’ve said ‘yes’ you know. She would’ve said ‘yesssssss’”.
Carl blinks twice, struck by a sudden urge to slap himself. His rationality fights hard for a believable explanation for what just happened.
The god damn thing spoke! It spoke!
“What in God’s name are you?” he asks, no longer capable of screams. The police will be here, soon. Someone must verify this lunacy. Either way, Carl’s losing his mind.
Without actually seeing it. And despite the pumpkin lacking a face, Carl swears he can sense the damn thing smile; a wide, malicious grin.
“You know, Carl. There’s something about your face that just – isn’t right…”
In the backseat of the cab, the very same which dropped off Carl, minutes earlier, Samael gazes out his window, caressing the edges of his blue box.
Sedated with contentment his pale expression is blank.
The bottom of the box has moistened. Thick red stains form on all sides. Samael glances down, dabbing his index against the sticky substance at the base.
Casually, he permits himself a taste, savoring the delicious bitterness. His mind turns to Ms. Sterling, his “special” customer. This year’s soil for the harvest.
Don’t worry, madam.
The barrier has dissolved.
You’re with us now…
You’re part of the family.
Copyright Benson Phillip Lott 2020