26) Joris O'Lantern

By Manuel Royal
May 28, 2020 · 386 words · 2 minutes


[Excerpt from Deaduns: The Donnetown Devil and Other True Visitations of the Southeast by Rutger Frears (Barrow Press, 1989)]

My "uncle", Thoomas Bosch, utterly unsentimental when it came to human remains, was curiously ceremonious about his annual Hallowe'en Jack o' Lantern.  Not only did he make the candles himself, but on each pumpkin he delicately carved upon it (using some of the same instruments he used at Bosch Funerals) a human face, paring the pumpkin walls so thin that the candle's light would make the face glow with startling realism.  He did this each year from the late 1950's until his disappearance in 1978.

Each face was that of a recently deceased Donnetown citizen.  Six-year-old Simoen Joossens trudged up the steps one Hallowe'en, plastic Fred Flintstone mask on his face and paper shopping bag in hand, ready for his Bit-O-Honey (the only kind of candy Thoomas ever gave out).  Having gained the porch, Simoen came face-to-face with, so he thought, the glowing yellow ghost-face of his father Joris, who two weeks earlier had died in a golf ball-washing accident.

Simoen rang the bell, recited the traditional request-cum-warning, received his candy from Thoomas, and thanked him for keeping his father's soul in a pumpkin. Thoomas explained that there are no souls, and people simply cease to exist, like a candle flame.  He illustrated this by snuffing the candle in the Joris o'Lantern.  The smoke made both him and Simoen sneeze together, and then laugh together.

The next morning Simoen came back to visit, and together he and Uncle Thoomas buried the Joris o' Lantern in the back yard.  I (ten that year) was there, as I was every All Saints' Day, eager to wield the shovel.  I couldn't wait, every year, to get those things in the ground and out of sight.  I knew that not only was the carved face that of somebody who'd recently passed through the funeral home -- a sort of vegetable death mask -- but that Uncle Thoomas made each lantern's candle using body fat from the same person.

This always made me worry that the buried pumpkin, grown comically humanoid and bearing a dead man's face and saturated with his remains, would somehow be magically reanimated and rear out of the ground the next night seeking some kind of supernatural justice.  But with one exception this never happened.

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