Thursday, February 6, 2014
Louis Loscalzo spent twenty minutes deciding what pair of socks to wear to work that morning. He spent another ten minutes debating if he should wear a brown tie or a red tie. He wore neither, instead choosing the gold and silver striped necktie he had worn every day for the past three years.
Louis suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD as the self-proclaimed experts have christened it. It started with light switches. He’d walk into a room and switch the lights on and off three or four times. He’d even do it at a friend or neighbor’s house, and it was harder to explain to them than Louis had imagined.
Then his disorder progressed. It went from light switches to door locks to items of clothing. Sometimes, he’d circle the block three times with his Ford before he pulled into the driveway.
But Louis didn’t have to debate anything when he came home from work on the first day of October. His mind was set. And so Louis spent the evening carving pumpkins and putting up his Halloween decorations.
Louis was swept up in the spirit of Halloween. A devoted horror movie fan, October was that special time of the year he looked forward to the most. The time of the year where they show horror movies twenty-four-seven on every channel and it’s deemed socially acceptable to dress up in costumes.
Louis had nailed a bunch of plastic bats upside down from his awning. He plastered the windows with Frankenstein and Dracula stickers. A rubber spider dangled from a string tacked above the front door. It fooled the mailman on more than one occasion. And it scared his wife half to death every time she left the house.
Donna didn’t share her husband’s love for mummies or werewolves or Halloween decorations, but she let him have his fun. It only lasted thirty-one days after all.
For the jack-o’-lanterns, Louis spent hours efficiently carving each pumpkin to bear resemblance to characters from movies. He carved one with the likeness of Dracula, complete with faux fangs. And spent hours carving one to match the look of Frank the Bunny Rabbit from Donnie Darko. This wasn’t just a hobby to Louis. It was something he lived for.
Donna could tolerate the movies, the pumpkins, the decorations. What she couldn’t tolerate was the centerpiece. You see, that year Louis decided to create a special attraction.
The Pumpkin Man, he called it. Like a scarecrow, the body was stuffed with hay. Louis had dressed it in a red flannel shirt and gray slacks he had outgrown. The body was propped against a wooden stake Louis had hammered into the lawn and held in place with plastic coated wires. For a head, Louis had jammed a pointed stick through the center of the body, sparing enough room so that the top of the stick protruded past the neck of the shirt. Then atop the stick Louis had placed one of his carved pumpkins.
This particular jack-o’-lantern was not carved to look like any individual. It was just a sculpture of terror. The inside was gutted and two triangles were carved at the top for eyes. The mouth was a round, gaping hole; but Louis had traced and cut along the indented ridges of the pumpkin to make rows of needle-like teeth. From a distance they looked real, all jagged and filed down. The teeth of a predator.
The sight of the jack-o’-lantern placed atop the scarecrow body was unsettling to Donna. She didn’t know why, but something about it frightened her more than the rubber spiders Louis placed around the house to give her a scream.
When their son got off the bus from school the next day and saw it, his first instinct was to run inside and lock the door. It scared Mike as much as it scared Donna.
But Louis didn’t see the harm in it, even when his wife begged him to take it down. “Give it a week,” Louis had said. “Some punk teenager will probably smash it with a baseball bat and then your problems will be solved.”
Except no one ever did smash it like Louis had predicted. Their property remained untouched for weeks until the big day finally arrived. He requested to leave work early that day so he could take Mike trick or treating.
Mike was heavily influenced by his father’s geeky exploits, and was currently swept up in the comic book craze. So Donna had purchased him a Spiderman costume from the hardware store, the only place in Dorchester that sold costumes. Louis went as Dracula, as he did every year.
They hit every house in Dorchester and came back at nine o’clock, Mike lugging a pillow case behind him that looked ready to burst. He had enough candy to last ’til Christmas. Donna was fuming. Mike’s dental bills were a few grand the year before. She couldn’t imagine what they were going to be this year.
Upon returning, Louis immediately noticed something was absent. His masterpiece was missing. Someone had absconded with Pumpkin Man, leaving only the wooden stake behind.
His first instinct was to accuse Donna, but she denied any involvement. She said she pulled up from work and it was gone. She suggested calling the cops, but Louis instantly shrugged off that notion. He could picture the cops laughing right in his face when they showed up to file a report.
He decided it was best to leave it be. Instead of making a fuss, he settled for flipping through the channels to see what horror movies were playing as Mike sorted through his candy.
“Don’t eat too much,” Donna warned him. “You’ll get a bellyache.”
“I won’t, mom,” Mike smiled innocently. “I promise.” But Mike didn’t heed his mother’s warnings, and Louis put him to bed an hour later with his swollen tummy aching.
“Good night, Mike,” Louis said as he stood in the doorway. “Feel better.”
“Thanks dad,” Mike said, still smiling. “Night, night, sleep tight.”
Louis flipped the lights on and off several times and then closed the door. Standing in the hallway, he was smacked by a sudden craving for something he hadn’t craved in years.
He didn’t smoke anymore, but Donna always kept a pack of Parliaments in her purse.
In the living room, John Carpenter’s Halloween was playing. Donna was busy in the kitchen, cleaning up all of Mike’s Butterfingers wrappers and stashing the rest of his candy away in drawers.
As Louis fished through Donna’s purse for a smoke, an awful scream echoed from the kitchen.
“No! Please, this isn’t happening! Stay away! Get away from me!”
Louis dropped her smokes and rushed into the kitchen, just in time to see his wife crawling on her belly, blood spurting from her throat. She hadn’t been stabbed. She was bitten.
And the culprit was standing face to face with Louis, staring into his eyes of disbelief. The Pumpkin Man had returned, and he was grinning, his needle-like teeth stained red.
Mike heard his father’s screams, which lasted a total of eight seconds. Then a shadow fell across his door, blacking out the light from the hall.
From the glare of his nightlight, he saw the doorknob twist and the door swung open and banged against his wall with a heavy thud.
The Pumpkin Man could’ve turned Mike into the main course. But he spared his life with the sole intention of letting Mike go on to spread the legend of Pumpkin Man.
“How do you know all this?” One of the campers asked. The others boys seated around the bonfire murmured and voiced their suspicion as well.
“It’s simple,” the counselor explained. “I was that boy. You all know me as Mike. But my full name is Michael Loscalzo.”
“Baloney,” the skeptical camper said.
“Fine,” Mike said. “Don’t believe me. But believe in the Pumpkin Man. They never did him. He’s still out there, watching, waiting. And if I’m not mistaken, Halloween is right around the corner…”
As the fire crackled and the campers all roared with laughter at the counselor’s corny attempt to scare them, the sound of crunching leaves filled the air and a voice called out from the woods.
“Hello, Mike,” the voice echoed. “Long time no see. You’ve done a good job spreading the legend of Pumpkin Man. And you’ve done an even better job by leading me to all these delicious children.”