— 1 —
It was a beautiful fall day. October. Halloween day to be exact. Ah, glorious Halloween.
“OK, son,” my dad said when he came to get me out of bed for school. “Today’s a big day. But I want you to listen to your teacher and follow all the rules.”
“I will, Dad,” I said. “I will.”
“Because anything can happen in a pumpkin patch,” he continued. “Especially on Halloween day.”
I was going with my 5th grade class to the pumpkin patch. I couldn’t wait. I was wearing my Frankenstein shirt—my favorite shirt. When I got to school, the bus was already in the parking lot waiting for us to board. But we had to go to class first.
I fidgeted around in my seat as the teacher took attendance. It seemed to take longer than ever before. I just wanted to get on that bus. And I wanted that bus to hurry up to Lombardi Ranch—the greatest of all pumpkin patches. I was going to pick out the biggest and best pumpkin of the entire place. I’d look at every pumpkin in the field if it meant finding the perfect one: big, bright orange, perfectly round, no marks.
At 8:30, the teacher said it was time to line up for the bus. Oh, but first we had to do a quick math warm-up.
Who can solve math problems when you’ve got jack-o’-lanterns on the brain? Evidently, Charles had no trouble. Charles loves math. He probably wanted to skip the field trip so he could do class work instead.
Finally it was time to line up. I got to the door first. My plan was to get a seat at the front of the bus so I could be first off, first into the patch. When the teacher opened the door to head out to the front of the school, someone from the office was there to tell us the bad news.
— 2 —
The bad news was really bad. The principal quieted everyone down and then he said, “The bus broke down and we can’t go to the pumpkin patch.”
Everyone sighed and the teacher explained to the class that there would be no field trip and that we would have to stay in class and just do our normal order of learning.
What about picking out the best pumpkin ever? I thought.
I couldn’t believe it. How could you have Halloween without the perfect pumpkin? What are all the trick-or-treaters going to think? No kids would come to our house if we didn’t have a jack-o’-lantern out front to greet them. And my dad spent five days decorating the place with spider web, monsters and gravestones.
“But Halloween is today!” I said out loud. “How can we not have pumpkins?”
The bus driver yelled from the parking lot, “I FIXED THE BUS!”
I was surprised to hear him from all the way outside. Our teacher normally never left the window open. I looked. It was closed. That driver had some lungs.
In any event, all my plans were about to come true.
First things first—I had to get a seat at the front of the bus so I could be the first one out, the first one into the patch. I needed that perfect pumpkin for Halloween.
Brent is the class bully. He’ll even pick on kids his own size. Before I got up the steps of the bus, he was there to shove me back down onto the ground. Then all my classmates stomped over me to get a seat. By the time I got back up and onto the bus, there were no seats left for me. I could hear Brent laughing at me.
“Don’t worry,” the bus driver told me. “You’ll still get a ride to the pumpkin patch.”
“You’ll have to ride with the kindergarteners,” he said.
It couldn’t get worse than that.
Then it got worse than that. There was only one more seat left on the little-kids bus. And it was in the very back. Then it got worse again. The kid sitting next to me wouldn’t stop talking.
I had to stay focused on what really mattered here—I had the biggest and best pumpkin of the entire patch to find.
How, I thought, am I going to get to the front of the bus so that I can get off before anyone else and get into that patch and get the best pumpkin before anyone else gets it?
The kid sitting next to me popped his juice box and juice went all over my Frankenstein shirt—my favorite shirt. Halloween was horribly in bad shape. It was my job to fix it before it got worse.
As problems with the kid sitting next to me kept piling up—he kept fidgeting around, bumping into me and telling me about all the candy he wanted for Halloween—I found it hard to think of a plan to get off the bus first. It was too late—the bus came to a stop.
— 3 —
No, the bus didn’t crash. The perfect idea to get off that bus just hit me. My plan: I’d go out the emergency exit at the back of the bus right near my seat.
As all the kids on the bus were standing up to make their way down the center aisle to the door to get off, causing the teachers to yell at everyone to settle down and wait for the driver to open the door, I found my chance to sneak out without anyone seeing me.
On my first attempt, three kindergarteners bumped me to the ground in their excitement to get out of their seats.
On my second attempt, the teacher almost saw what I was doing. I played it cool and she turned her attention back to the out-of-control kindergarteners.
On my last attempt, I had the emergency exit door open.
“You in the back!”
— 4 —
I was caught.
“You, back there with the juice box,” the teacher said. “Don’t even think of using that as a water gun.”
That kid who shared a seat with me on the bus had no more juice left—it was all on my shirt—my favorite shirt. But he was the perfect interference as I snuck out the back exit.
I was in the Lombardi Ranch parking lot. I bolted to the side gate before anyone could see me and stop me and make me line up with the rest of the school. As my schoolmates were getting off the buses and gathering in the parking lot, I was entering the patch.
I made my way up the hill—that was where I’d find the best pumpkins. Everyone had already gone through the pumpkins down below days before. Whereas the ones on the hill hadn’t been touched . . . or even seen.
It took me a while to get to the top of the hill where I found all the really choice pumpkins. But it didn’t take long to find the perfect pumpkin, my pumpkin, the best pumpkin in the patch to make the best jack-o’-lantern in the world.
That was my plan anyway. But first: “You back there with the juice box,” the teacher said. “Don’t even think of using that as a water gun.”
Yup, I’d only imagined myself escaping the bus and climbing that hill. Now I had to do it for real. That kid with the juice box was the perfect interference so I could sneak out the back exit.
I couldn’t do it. If my dad found out that I wasn’t following rules, especially rules in a pumpkin patch where anything could go wrong, I’d be in trouble.
So I closed the door and sat down in my seat quietly, defeated. This was going to be the worst Halloween yet.
— 5 —
The kindergarteners on that bus were going wild—they were so excited to hunt for pumpkins. The teachers wouldn’t let anyone off the bus.
“I am so very disappointed in everyone’s behavior,” said one of the teachers.
Then she waited for everyone to calm down. The clock was ticking. The kids wouldn’t shut up.
“You’ve been quiet,” she finally said to me. “You’re allowed to get off the bus first.”
So I wouldn’t have to sneak off the bus after all. I took the easy way out—I used the front door. And I was the first kid in the Lombardi Ranch parking lot, this time for real.
As all the other kids finally got off the bus, I devised a plan to get to the top of that pumpkin patch, where I felt I’d find the best pumpkins.
“Everybody must stay together in this area of the pumpkin patch,” the principal told all the students. “That means no going up the hill.”
That ruins all my plans, I thought. All the best pumpkins are up that hill.
I was puzzled. I wondered if I should stay with everybody and obey the rules, or if I should go up the hill to find and grab that biggest and best pumpkin of the whole patch that I wanted, that I needed.
— 6 —
I decided to go up on the hill. It was Halloween, after all, a day of adventure, of mischief. I just had to have a perfect pumpkin.
I snuck past the teachers and took the journey up the hill.
Oh, wow, the pumpkins on that hill were all so great, as if they weren’t to be taken home and carved, as if they were supposed to remain on that hill for some reason. I couldn’t leave such pumpkin perfection.
I found the pumpkin of my dreams. I kept thinking it wanted me to grab it. Maybe it wanted me to see it. It signaled me to pick it up and take it home.
That was just my imagination.
I picked the pumpkin up off the moist ground. It wasn’t too heavy and it wasn’t too light.
I carried it down the hill and up to the register. The cashier looked at the pumpkin with a strange look on his face, examining the pumpkin. I tried to ignore his suspicion. I plopped my money on the counter.
The cashier looked at my money. Then he looked at me. And he said something that startled me more than it startled him.
— 7 —
“That’s a very nice pumpkin,” he said.
I was even more pleased with my choice after he said that. And I seemed to be getting away with snatching a pumpkin off the hill.
“You’re going to have to put it back,” he continued. “You went up the hill to get that pumpkin, didn’t you?”
“No,” I lied. I didn’t want to admit what I did and get into trouble. I knew I wasn’t supposed to go up that hill.
“Sure you did,” he said. “You can’t take any pumpkins from the hill—pumpkin patch rules. Anything can happen in a pumpkin patch if you don’t follow rules. You better go back up that hill and put that pumpkin back where you found it.”
How could I put back the perfect pumpkin? I thought about offering the guy more money. I still had a few more bucks in my pocket. I thought about telling him that I really got the pumpkin from down below, not on the hill.
Somehow I knew he wouldn’t believe me. It was as if he could read my mind.
So, sadly, I took the pumpkin and went to go put it back on the hill where I got it.
I came back down and looked for another pumpkin. I couldn’t find anything really good. I settled for one that was just OK. And I brought it to the register.
The cashier was gone.
And so was everybody else!
My first idea was to see if the bus was still there, but when I looked through the gate to see the parking lot, not a single car was around.
When I tried to open the gate, it was locked with chain. Next to the lock and chain was a sign that read, “Closed for the Season.”
It got dark fast as I waited for someone from my school to come back and get me. The full moon was coming up from behind the mountains. With no sign of anybody and the pumpkin patch abandoned until next Halloween season, I was going to miss my favorite holiday.
I guess that wasn’t my real problem. Worse than anything, I was stuck in a pumpkin patch for the night.
Maybe, I thought, it’d be kinda cool to be in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night.
The time was ticking away and no sign of anyone.
I heard a screeching sound up on the hill. It seemed to come from something mechanical.
I looked up at the hill and saw an old red car up there. I didn’t remember seeing it there before but it seemed to be part of a scary display next to some scarecrows.
I wondered: Is someone here?
I crept up the hillside, up to the car, and checked it out. The car had been there for a long time. It was cold and still like fossils in the ground. I couldn’t even see through the windows they were so caked with dirt. But there was a crack in the back window. I peeked in to see if anyone was inside. I saw blood on the seats.
As I looked more closely, I thought I heard a voice say, “You there. Come closer.”
I stepped closer to see if I’d really heard a voice.
“Closer,” the voice said in a terrifying tone. The voice was real!
Then something jumped out at me. I shrieked in terror.
— 8 —
Something got a hold of my jacket and pulled me down to the ground. I couldn’t escape.
The creature showed itself. It was hideous. It had a pumpkin head with the stringy insides of the pumpkin all over the outside, the eyes and nose and mouth cut in a hurry.
I tried kicking my way out of the creature’s grasp, but I couldn’t move. I fell to the ground and tried to escape, but the creature’s claws still held me.
“Ha ha ha haaaah!”
The creature laughed and let me go. Then it took its pumpkin head off. This thing wasn’t a creature. It was the class bully—Brent.
“What do you want”? I asked. My clothes were covered with dirt. Even my Frankenstein shirt—my favorite shirt—was ruined.
“What are you doing here?” he asked
“Well, I . . . Wait a minute. What are you doing here?” I demanded to know.
“I asked first,” he snorted.
“I’ll tell you after you tell me,” I responded.
It was a typical kid conversation.
“OK, fine, first the best, second the worst,” he said. “I went up the hill to get a good pumpkin but the cashier told me I had to put it back. And when I came back nobody was here. What’s your story?”
“The same thing happened to me,” I told him in shock. “The exact same thing. Why did you have to scare me half to death?”
“I thought I heard a screeching sound,” he barked, “so I hid in the car. Jumping out at you and scaring you and seeing you cry like a little baby was a bonus.”
“I thought I heard a screeching sound, too,” I told him.
“I thought that was you,” he said.
“Wait,” I stopped him. “So the screeching sound wasn’t you?”
— 9 —
Brent and I got into the car to get warmer as the night grew darker and colder.
That screeching sound was back, louder this time. It seemed to be coming from the top of the car.
Something crashed through the windshield of the car, the glass shattering onto the floorboards and onto the tips of my feet. A black cat came swooping through the opening and we both gasped.
“It’s just a cat, you scaredy cat!” Brent laughed.
“You screamed, too,” I said. “And for good reason. Those black cats have bad luck.”
“You believe that?” he asked me.
“Well, they’ll rip your eyes out,” I told him.
Thunder rolled and lightning struck. A big Halloween moon hung in the sky. Still, there was no sign of anyone.
“Everyone’s out trick-or-treating right now,” I sulked. “No one’s gonna find us here now.”
Brent laughed even harder.
“It’s not funny,” I cried. “What are we gonna do?”
“Relax doofus,” he said. “And quit crying like a baby. Ol’ Einstein here will figure a way out of this place.”
Ol’ Einstein had no ideas at all. But neither did I. I had to admit—I was really scared.
“Jackpot!” Brent boasted.
— 10 —
Beyond the cobwebs in the glove compartment of the old car, Brent found our ticket out of that pumpkin patch.
“Who’s the genius now?” he asked.
He held up a key and put it into the car’s ignition.
The key fit!
The car lights flashed on and the engine slowly roared to life.
“Fasten your seatbelts,” he said to me. “This might be a bumpy ride.”
While Brent was cracking himself up, I was wondering what exactly he planned to do.
So I asked. “What exactly are you planning to do?”
“Drive this old piece through the front gate.”
I just had to ask, didn’t I?
“You don’t even have a driver’s license,” I reminded him. “You’re only 10 years old.”
“Actually, I’m 10 and a half,” he corrected me.
Before I could get out of the car, Brent put the car in DRIVE and hit the gas pedal.
We went flying down the hill, smashing dozens and dozens of pumpkins in our way, pumpkin pulp splattering all over the car and, since the windshield was broken, all over us.
As we got closer and closer to the front gate, I noticed a sign nearby that read, “Electric Fence.”
“STOP!” I yelled. “The fence will electrocute us!”
But ol’ Einstein just laughed. “Quit being a baby,” he shouted.
I went for the door, but it was locked or stuck.
— 11 —
Brent and I were lying on the ground several feet from the car. I looked over at the car and saw that it was totaled. Then I checked to see if Brent was OK. He was laughing. I was OK, too, but far from laughing. My Frankenstein shirt—my favorite shirt—was really ruined now. It was ripped.
“Great,” I said. “Now I’ll have to patch up my shirt like the real Frankenstein Monster.”
“We’re out,” Brent said. “We’re out of the pumpkin patch! Ha ha ha ha haaaaah!”
Or were we?
When I turned to look at the Lombardi Pumpkin Ranch behind us, I saw an old, old man!
“Boys, boys, boys,” the old man said to us in an evil tone as he walked up to the car and examined the pumpkin guts splattered all over. “Look at the mess you made of my babies.”
“We’re so sorry, please don’t tell the school or our parents,” I begged.
Brent just laughed. “He doesn’t know who we are,” he said. “Let’s go.”
But the man grabbed Brent by the arm and held him still.
“Where do you think you’re going . . . Brent?” he said.
“Let go of me,” Brent said as he tried to break away.
“You two are coming with me,” the old man said, “back into the patch.”
He grabbed my arm and dragged us both back toward the ranch.
“Please,” I pleaded with the man. “Don’t tell anyone about this. I’ll be in so much trouble. I just wanted to get the perfect pumpkin. I didn’t mean to disobey the rules.”
“Rules are rules, boys,” the old man said. “But I wouldn’t be so worried about what the school or your parents are going to do with you. I’d be more worried about what I’m going to do with you.”
“W-w-what do you mean?” I asked.
Brent and I knew exactly what he meant. He was going to kill us!
Back at the cashier stand, the old man was going to get his pumpkin-carving tools and carve us into jack-o’-lanterns.
I bit the man’s arm, pulled myself free. Brent did the same.
“Run!” Brent shouted.
The two of us ran. But I could hear the old man laughing. He didn’t even try to chase after us.
“Oh, boys!” he called out.
Our curiosity made us turn around. And we saw him removing the skin and hair from around his head as if it were a mask. Underneath was a jack-o’-lantern skull. The slits for his eyes and nose and mouth lit up bright yellow.
We turned in terror and kept running.
Then there was that screeching sound behind of us. It must’ve been the old man all along. When we looked back, though, he wasn’t there.
He was in front of us! We crashed into him.
“Remember me?” he said. “You picked me. Now you’ve got me.”
He was right. The pumpkin on his shoulders was the same pumpkin I’d picked from the patch—it was the same shape and size, the perfect pumpkin.
“That’s the pumpkin I took from the hill!” Brent exclaimed.
The old man grabbed us, though he no longer had hands. Not normal hands anyway. His fingers were chunks of straw, all the way up his arms and body. This was no real man. This was a pumpkin man!
Brent did something that surprised even me.
— 12 —
Tears came pouring down Brent’s face. He started crying . . . like a baby.
Brent wasn’t going to be any help. I had an idea, though. As the pumpkin man dragged us closer and closer to the entrance of the Lombardi Ranch, I figured a way in my head to swing him into the electric fence . . . and burn him alive!
If we pulled free once before, we could do it again. As we got to the fence, I bit at the pumpkin man’s arm. But it was all hay and my chomp didn’t even faze him. I pulled away hard to escape the pumpkin man’s grasp. It didn’t work.
He took us through the front gate and we were losing the opportunity to electrocute him to death.
“Look, squirrel,” I yelled.
I couldn’t think of anything else.
But it worked. The pumpkin man looked in the direction I pointed, gave out a, “Huh?” and I broke away from him and tried to push him into the fence. He was too big to push around. But Brent got an idea—his idea was to help me push.
The two of us had the strength to send the pumpkin man into the fence. His straw hands caught fire first. We stepped away as the rest of the pumpkin man’s body flamed up. Finally, we’d escaped the horror.
— 13 —
The next day I woke up tired, ready to obey rules from then on.
“OK, son,” my dad said when he came to get me out of bed for school. “Today’s a big day. But I want you to listen to your teacher and follow all the rules.”
“Oh, don’t you worry, Dad,” I said. “I will this time. I will.”
“Because anything can happen in a pumpkin patch,” he told me. “Especially on Halloween day.”
Robert Picarella is a junior manager at Jack-o'-Lantern Press. He operates the JLP Instagram page. He wrote "It Happened in the Pumpkin Patch" for his blog in 2013 when he was 10 years old. His dad, Michael Picarella, edited the story.