Ruth O’Connell clutched at the door frame as she staggered into the kitchen, her dirty gardening gloves leaving dark smudges on the paintwork. She swore beneath her breath as she negotiated the high step.
Damn and blast her cursed hip.
It was the same every year: as soon as the weather turned, her bones started singing the Hallelujah chorus; belting it out at the top of their lungs. The rest of the year the tune was kept to a constant hum, but as soon as Autumn showed its face her arthritis began singing.
She pulled the gloves from her hands and tossed them in the sink. All they needed was a long soak in detergent and they’d be as good as new. But that could wait. What she needed was a drink. A nice mug of cocoa; while there was boiling water in the kettle she’d fill the hot-water bottle and give her hip a treat. She took the bobble hat from her hair - last year’s Christmas present from her granddaughter Megan - and hung it on the peg beside the door.
The pumpkins were nice and ready. She’d start baking this afternoon.
As Ruth filled the kettle at the stone sink, she frowned and cocked her head. The warbling sound of a police siren could be heard passing by along the lane out front.
It was October the thirty-first.
DI Peter Harrison looked across at the young female police constable sitting next to him in the unmarked patrol car and nodded. “Yes. Not very original is it? Thought up by some bright spark in the local newspaper office five years ago, when the first child disappeared.”
“The first child? Five years ago? This has happened before?”
Harrison faced the front, concentrating on the twists and turns of the narrow lane. He nodded again. “I forgot. You’re not from around here are you?”
“And you’ve not read about it in the papers? The national papers?”
“Oh my god.You don’t mean that Pumpkin Jack? The one that strikes every Halloween?”
Harrison nodded for the third time. "The one and the same."
The police constable’s shoulders sagged. “Oh my god.” She repeated.
“And we’re still no nearer to catching him now than we were five years ago. He never leaves a single trace of himself behind - not a hair, not a flake of skin, not a thread of clothing. Nothing. It’s so frustrating. Parents dread Halloween around here. Children are kept under lock and key. There’s no trick or treating. All Hallows Eve goes uncelebrated.”
The WPC looked out of the window. They were passing a lone white cottage half-hidden behind a screening of rowan trees. “Are you not stopping?” She said. “Don’t you want to question whoever lives there?”
Harrison chortled. “No. That’s Ruthie O’Connell’s place. She’s been a widow these last few years. Lovely lady. Her husband was a police officer. One of the best. No doubt you're meet her tomorrow.”
The young woman raised her eyebrows. "Oh?"
“She makes the best pumpkin pie for miles around and she always brings one into the station every year." DI Harrison licked his lips. "Deeelicious.”
The O’Connell garden was surrounded by a shoulder-high brick wall, but there was no fear of anyone peering in. The nearest house was over a mile away, and nobody came walking in these parts.
The vegetable patch was nestled against the wall furthest from the house,where it could take full advantage of the mellow autumn sunshine. Eleven plump orange pumpkins took pride of place; their long green tendrils snaking along the ground. Some of them still entwined around the remains of the young boy. Feeding on his flesh, sucking up his blood. The child’s eyes had gone; empty sockets stared upwards into the dull October sky. Bloated pink earthworms crawled in and out of the holes.
Soon the pumpkins were replete.
Bright and early the next morning, just as she did every November the first, Ruth O’Connell walked into the small village police station, limping slightly. In her arms she carried a big white cardboard box. A cheer went up and thanks resounded all round.
She smiled. Dimples dancing at the corners of her mouth.
She set the box down.
“Enjoy.” She said.