Copyright © 2012 Kaje Harper
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Ryan glanced up as John came into the kitchen. “Just the man I was looking for. Can you pick that pumpkin up off the floor for me? I put it down, and now I can’t bend and lift it properly. I’m afraid I’ll drop it.”
“Sure.” John grabbed the big pumpkin by its fat stem, and then with a grunt, bent to put his other hand under it. He heaved the thing up onto the counter. “God, how much does this monstrosity weigh? No wonder you couldn’t lift it.”
“Isn’t it great?” Ryan’s eyes were sparkling. “Biggest one they had. I about killed myself getting it home.”
“I’ll bet. So why the giant squash?”
“It’s Halloween,” Ryan said, as if that should be obvious. “I’m going to carve it.”
“I don’t usually make a big deal out of Halloween.” Not when the kids aren’t here.
John remembered past Halloweens. Torey had always wanted the most random costumes, like a cell phone or a milkshake. Somehow he’d become the costume designer. The milkshake had been his masterpiece, topped with inflated white-balloon bubbles flowing over the side, and a giant flex-pipe straw. He’d let the kids trick-or-treat longer that year, for the ego boost of having people admire the costume. Marcus had always wanted to be something dark and spooky. Purchased costumes were fine for Mark. He didn’t have that obsession with being unique.
The kids had still been trick-or-treating the last year they’d all lived together. Now they were probably too old. At least Mark would be. And it would be different in LA anyway. No crisp leaves, no chill air forcing parents to argue about wearing a jacket over that skimpy costume, no scent of burning leaves. Probably the kids went to some fancy party now, with Hollywood special effects. He’d bet they looked back on their younger days as corny and boring.
“Well, I like Halloween,” Ryan said firmly. “And I’m going to carve this pumpkin, and the other one too if you don’t want to.”
“Yeah. I bought one yesterday. But then I saw this, and it was just so awesome, I had to have it. So I figured you might do the other one. But if you don’t want to, I’ll do them both. If you promise not to laugh at my efforts, mister artist man.”
“I won’t laugh.” John eyed the kitchen knife Ryan was brandishing. “Although I also don’t want to have to drive you to the emergency room. Is that what you’re going to use as a carving tool?”
“It’s sharp enough.” Ryan punched the blade into the thick orange flesh and began to saw around the top.
John winced. “Hang on. I think I have a better knife, and a small saw blade. Let me get them.”
He hurried out to the studio and dug through his tools for something appropriate. A couple of short, strong blades and a saw-edged knife or two looked right. When he got back to the kitchen, Ryan had mangled the top off the big pumpkin and was slicing the seeds from the bottom of the stem into a bowl.
“Here. Try these.” John put the better tools on the counter and took the big knife out of Ryan’s fingers. “Jesus. To think you might be a surgeon one day.”
“Probably not,” Ryan said cheerfully. “Too much standing involved. Can you get a metal spoon out of the drawer?”
John passed it over and stood, hovering, as Ryan began scooping handfuls of slimy pumpkin guts out of the shell.
He really should go do some work. There were things that needed his attention. Or he could put some time in on the carved cane he was working on. It was going to be good. Not five-hundred-dollars good. For that money, he figured he’d be making Ryan a series of canes. But this one was coming out fun. Although if he was going to carve something… “Where’s the other pumpkin? At least I can fetch it for you.”
“By the back door.”
John trailed through the house and stepped out onto the back porch. The warmth of the late-October Sunday turned the yard to gold and green. No jackets needed for trick-or-treating this year. The sun was getting low, but it would be a couple of hours before the little mendicants came out.
The pumpkin was sitting against the siding beside the door, and it was no runt either. John grunted as he hefted it up and lugged it back to the kitchen. “You had this one, and you needed more?” He slid it onto the counter a couple of feet down from Ryan’s.
Ryan stepped back and compared the two for a moment. “Well, that one’s not shabby. But this one is fucking fantastic.” He dug back into the slime.
“So what are you making?”
“Yeah. On the pumpkin. What are you carving?”
“A face.” Ryan made an exaggerated grimace at him. “That’s why they’re jack-o-lanterns, because they have a face.”
“I liked to do other stuff,” John told him. “One year, I made a pumpkin with cats all over it, in front of a full moon.”
Ryan glanced at him. “You would. I’m making a face. If I’m lucky, the teeth won’t fall out from being cut through too far, and it will have the right number of eyebrows.”
“And what about this one?” John laid a proprietary hand on the big pumpkin he’d set down.
“Another face. My best pumpkins have cool faces. My worst pumpkins have kind of screwed-up faces.”
“You don’t want two the same, though. Maybe I could…I guess I could do something with this one, so we wouldn’t have two the same.”
“If you like,” Ryan grunted, hauling slimy strings from the bowels of his squash.
John looked at the tall round shape, considering. Bats, perhaps. He’d had a design he didn’t use once, for bats hanging in front of the opening of a cavern, and then flying off, silhouetted against a moon. Like the cats, but even better. Considering, he hauled out another bowl. He’d need to scoop it out first. It would give him some planning time.
He lost track, working with the firm orange shell. It was much easier to carve than wood, but you had to be careful about strength. He made the last bat’s wing a bit wider. It overlapped the rim of the moon, providing the free-flying shape with its anchor point. Too narrow and the bat would just break off. He should have scraped the wall of the pumpkin down thinner, but he had been impatient.
Then John shuddered and yelped as something cold and slimy went down the neck of his shirt. He jumped back, digging the pumpkin guts out of the back of his hair. Ryan was eyeing him from a safe distance.
“What the hell was that for?”
“Fairness. Take a look. Your pumpkin. My pumpkin. I figured a little slime down the shirt was required to balance the equation.”
John glanced at the two pumpkins. Okay, so his had a cluster of slit-eyed bats with taloned wings hanging from stalactites, while two more soared off across the moon. Ryan’s had…a nose, two eyes, fangs, and was that one eyebrow, all the way across?
John snorted involuntarily. “Um, it’s very nice.”
“I think it will take more than pumpkin guts to even the score.”
Ryan laughed. “You think?”
John’s bowl was still on the counter. John was between Ryan and the door. His fingers slid to the bowl as he was speaking. “Really we should save the pumpkin seeds and roast them or something.”
“Except the ones in your hair.”
“And the ones in yours.” It was only one long step, really, and the handful of slime made a satisfying squish on Ryan’s head.
Ryan blinked, and brushed a seed off his nose. “You know this means war.”
“Just don’t hurt the pumpkins. They’re non-combatants.”
It turned out that there was enough goo in two pumpkins to liberally coat two men, a counter, a table and half a kitchen floor. John had Ryan pinned on the floor, with a final handful of guts held suspended over his face, before Ryan cried uncle. John was laughing almost too hard to get off him.
“God, that’s disgusting,” he said, trying to dig a seed out of his ear.
“But fun.” Ryan lay back on the floor, grinning. “My brothers and I used to do that all the time, once the pumpkins were carved. That’s one of the reasons to have the biggest pumpkin, you know. More ammunition.”
“Your mother was a saint.”
“She made us wash the kitchen after.”
“And your clothes?”
“My mother was a saint.” Ryan laughed and sat up. “Your pumpkin is freaking fantastic. It will be embarrassed to be seen with mine.”
“I like yours. The spirit of Halloween at its purest.” John stood and pulled his beslimed shirt away from his chest. “I need to shower and change before the kids start ringing the doorbell.”
“Wait!” Ryan held up a hand for a lift off the floor. “I get to go first. I’ll be fast. Promise.”
John clasped his warm, gooey hand and hauled the man upright. They stood chest to chest, smelling of pumpkin and sweat. Ryan wavered, and John shifted his hand to the man’s arm. I hope I wasn’t too rough on his leg. He looked at Ryan’s black hair, falling forward over those emerald eyes. There were seeds in it. John found himself reaching to pick the bits out of Ryan’s bangs. “I could promise to be quick,” he said. His voice was hoarse, for some reason.
“I wouldn’t believe you. You’re not one for a quickie.” Ryan choked. “All right, not the way I meant that to come out. You take longer in the shower than anyone I know. I have no knowledge of…other things.”
John let go of Ryan’s arm as if it burned him. Because the words, the closeness, were reminding him how long it had been since he’d had sex of any kind. Too long, if wrestling on the floor with a guy could make him hard. Damn, he needed that shower.
“Okay, you first,” he said. “I’ll start cleanup here. But you will do your share.”
“Yes, Mother.” Ryan left the kitchen, limping a little more than usual, and headed up the stairs. From the sound of the footsteps, he went into the bathroom without pausing in his own room. He’d be coming out of the bathroom draped in just a towel, skin damp from the shower. As he had sometimes done before. John knew how Ryan’s chest and arms would look, sparse dark curls over hard muscle, rounded biceps and strong forearms, flat lean stomach. John shook his head hard to get rid of the image of a half-naked man upstairs.