I’ve got something to tell you and every word of it’s the truth. I wanted to tell Mum, but she won’t believe me, and neither would Dad. I wanted to tell Oliver - he’s my little brother, but I think it would scare him – besides, he’s my little brother, what could he even do about it. I’d like to tell Leanne or Connor, my best friends, but they’d tell Luke and I hate him, and he hates me. He’d say I was a liar and make more people hate me. Anyway, what I’m going to tell you isn’t a secret, but there’s no proof, so if you tell people they’ll just say you’re lying. Trust me, people always think that.
Last Saturday, Mum took me and Oliver to a pumpkin farm so we could carve jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween. It fell on a Monday this year – definitely the worst day for it. Anyway, we were at the pumpkin patch and I loved it there. Families with those little wagons were walking up and down searching for the perfect pumpkin to carve. I was looking at a table of weird pumpkins they keep by the entrance. They were so many different colours and shapes. Yellow knobbly ones that stretched long and curved like a butterfly’s tongue, small orange ones that were mini versions of the big ones, brown round ones, and long green gourds so dark they could have been courgettes. Basically, all the colours of autumn leaves, except all the leaves have all fallen off already and turned to brown mulch.
I was running around with my arms spread like a plane’s wings, holding two smaller pumpkins as though they were my jet engines. I can make really good engine noises. The reason I was doing this, Mum had made me dress in my Halloween costume – Amelia Earhart, so I looked like I should be flying a plane. She’d made us dress like that so she could take photos for Instagram. I didn’t like the ones she took of me and I hoped none of the kids in my class had a mum who followed mine. It would be too embarrassing if they saw them.
Anyway, I was running around, and Mum told me off.
‘Put those down this instant. Get over here and choose a pumpkin.’
‘But I’m a pilot,’ I remember telling her.
‘No, you’re a silly girl with an overactive imagination.’
I didn’t like being told that. An active imagination is fine. Overactive is a word to make an excuse for something. Granny says she has an overactive thyroid… or is it underactive? Either way she’s fat and hates exercise but loves cake and sherry and won’t blame herself for being fat. Being told you have an overactive imagination is like that. Like it’s not my fault – and definitely not Mums’ fault, but it’s an excuse for being bad.
Sorry, I get distracted. Me and Oliver were walking through the field, or at least he was walking, I was flying whilst dragging the little wagon. There were so many different sized pumpkins that he kept running off to look at them all and I wanted to too, so I kept dropping the wagon handle and running over to look at the pumpkins. Mum tutted loudly so I could hear and began to drag the wagon herself. She was annoyed because she only had one free hand. The other held her Starbucks, she’d been photographing the cup so you could see all the pumpkins behind it, and she couldn’t do all that and pull the wagon.
Some of the pumpkins were so huge that Oliver, whose costume was a pumpkin, looked like a mini version of them. Some were covered in soil, and I had to brush it off our clothes before Mum saw we were dirty and told us off. The soil powdered into the air and as it dispersed, I saw the most perfect pumpkin I’d ever seen. It was as big as my body and as orange as a fairy-tale. I told Mum I wanted it. She said “Yes” straight away and took lots of photos of me with it. She even had me and Oliver pose together, even though it was mine and not his. She laughed when I pulled my pilot goggles on and said, “You’re so silly Jackie.”
I love it when she calls me Jackie, and when she smiles she’s the prettiest mum in the world. When my photo shoot was over, and my pumpkin was in the trailer, Mum and Oliver went off to find his pumpkin. I was finished so I ran off to explore.
You’re meant to start at the start when you tell a story, but this isn’t a story, it’s real and I guess this is the start really. If I’d started dressed up as Amelia Earhart in a pumpkin patch people would’ve been like “How’d you get there?” so I started before this point.
Anyway, I remember walking through the field throwing pebbles at pumpkins, they bounced off with a rubbery noise like a squash ball. This got boring though, so I went over to the large storage barn. It wasn’t really a barn, more like a huge greenhouse with a plastic roof and plastic sheets for walls instead of glass. Inside were piles of all the different types of pumpkins that still needed to be sold. The knobbly ones and green ones and weird shaped ones that had been at the entrance were in here too. I walked around, touching the different types and lifting them to see if they were heavy. Some of them were and I almost dropped one. A girl did that outside and the pumpkin had smooshed all over the floor, its insides spilling out like a gross dead body. I wasn’t going to do that; Mum would kill me.
It was warm in the greenhouse but the piles of pumpkins, some stacked higher than me or on tables, threw long shadows on the floor. It wasn’t any cooler in the shadows because the greenhouse made the whole room warm.
As I neared the end of the room I heard a strange scrabbling noise. A bit like a dog trying to scratch through a door whilst eating at the same time. I remember thinking it was weird to let a dog run around in here but wasn’t sure if they eat pumpkins… maybe they don’t. Only when I saw it, it wasn’t a dog. I’m not sure what it was. It was like a little person, maybe three rulers long which is ninety centimetres. Its skin looked like the white pus from a spot that’s a bit yellowish, but really greasy like it was covered in lard. Its long fingers were scratching at a pumpkin with sharp, chipped, black nails, shovelling the insides into its mouth in a noisy, greedy sort of way. It was really, really skinny. I could see all its bones through its skin. The spine stood out in a ridge along its back, each bone visible, some sticking out like piano keys. I could also see that it was a boy. I know this because it wasn’t wearing any clothes and I could tell. Because I hadn’t expected to see this thing I gasped, and it instantly froze, spinning and looking right at me. Unlike us, his face was really wide but squashed. Pumpkin fibres were caught between his pointy teeth and juice running down his tiny chin onto his bare chest. His eyes flared with the same orange as the piles of pumpkins, but the thing that got me most, he had a little side parting on this wide head. The black hair was neatly combed, and this seemed so out of place with everything else that, even though I was really scared, I snorted a laugh.
I knew this was a mistake. Baring his pointed teeth, he hissed at me. As he did, pumpkin seeds spat out across the greenhouse floor - which was disgusting. If I’d spat them I think they’d have gone further. Looking from where the seeds landed and back up to him, he’d closed the gap between us by more than halfway. Taking slower steps now I was watching, evil intent scored on his face. He was still hissing and taking steps towards me when the next weird thing happened. Three little creatures, far smaller than my attacker ran out in front of me, shouting “Boo” at the naked thing. He didn’t like this and with another hiss bolted past us, making sure to take aim at one of the little guys with a swipe of his sharp claws. He ran around the corner and out of the greenhouse without looking back.
I turned back to those little creatures. The one that had been swiped at was looking sadly at its arm, which lay on the floor in a puddle of marrow flesh. It picked it up and tried to reattach it, only for it to drop off again in a spurt of juice. These little guys were lumpy and only as large as a butternut squash. I know this is all hard to believe but it’s the truth. The two that still had their arms were looking up at me, their raisin sized eyes the same white of pumpkin seeds stared unblinkingly.
‘Erm, what are you?’ I said. It seemed a good place to start.
‘We are Courgini,’ the tallest one said in an old gravelly voice. He was part dark green and part orange, like a ripening pepper in the supermarket.
I didn’t want to be thought of as rude or stupid, but I didn’t know what Courgini were. I asked anyway, looking rude and stupid.
‘Us,’ said the second one. He was a dull muddy brown and looked a bit potatoey
‘I get that it’s you. But what are you? What was that thing? Why are you here?’
They didn’t answer for a while. The lipless mouth of the one-armed Courgini drooped down at the sides, it held its severed arm in its remaining hand. Goop slowly dribbled down the fibres that hung from it, making a small puddle on the floor. Finally, the green one spoke.
‘That was a lot of questions.’
Its mouth closed and parted a few times as it thought about what I’d asked. ‘Courgini are Courgini. We protect pumpkins from the Plugkrile.’
Obviously, I could figure out what a Plugkrile was. I didn’t question them on it to make sure though, they already thought I was dumb.
‘What’s wrong with the Plugkrile thing eating pumpkins. It was ugly but we… as in humans – we eat pumpkins too, and it’s not hurting anyone… except maybe you?’ I added, nodding at the one-armed Courgini, my goggles falling around my neck as I did so, probably making their opinion of me fall with them.
‘The difference is,’ said the brown Courgini, ‘humans carve jack-o’-lanterns from pumpkins.’
‘And turnips,’ added the green one.
‘And marrows… sometimes,’ sniffed the one-armed one.
‘Yes, yes. And the carvings keep the Great Darkness away. A darkness so deep and so hungry that it consumes every living thing,’ said the brown one.
‘So, light a candle and place it in a pumpkin to keep the Great Darkness away. And beware the Plugkrile and its wicked tricks. It destroys the pumpkins to make way for Darkness. It will try to destroy you too if you get in its way.’
Part of me thought they were lying, but I’d seen the Plugkrile with its sharp claws and teeth. I’d seen the Courgini and heard their warnings. They were telling the truth. As the little creatures retreated, fumbling into the piles of pumpkins, beads of juice dropping to the floor from the torn arm, I ran. I ran until I found my mum and hugged her tight.
When we got home me, Mum and Oliver hollowed out our pumpkins. Mum roasted the seeds and put them in a bowl. They aren’t as good as chocolate, but I still love them. Oliver didn’t like them, so I had loads. Next, we both carved faces into them. Mine was brilliant, it looked just like the spooky ones you see on TV. Oliver’s wasn’t so good, and I laughed and said it was too ugly to go on the front porch. He got upset and Mum looked at me like I was in trouble.
That was two nights before Halloween, the night of the twenty-ninth. We put our pumpkins outside with candles in them. Mum wanted to get all the use she could out of them because they take a lot of effort to make. We were all in the lounge watching TV and I nipped out to the toilet. I go a bit overboard on the orange squash, so this happens quite often. In the hallway I heard weird grunting noises – like my aunts’ pug when its run about too much. It was coming from the other side of the front door. I didn’t know what would be on our doorstep, so I crept up, thinking it would most likely be a small harmless dog that had gotten lost. When I yanked the door open, there stood the Plugkrile. It was stomping and scratching at Oliver’s pumpkin, ramming handfuls into its mouth. Flesh and candle wax were everywhere and when he turned to look at me those orange eyes were furious. I didn’t know what to do. I panicked and I screamed.
Mum and Dad ran out to see what had happened. The Plugkrile fled and I moved forward to check Oliver’s pumpkin.
‘Jacquline what are you doing?’ said Mum so sternly I knew I was in trouble.
‘Did you see it? It was the Plugkrile – a monster. It smashed Oliver’s pumpkin.’
Mum looked shocked. She hadn’t seen it, but Oliver had heard me. He ran out of the lounge and saw the pulpy remains of his carving. It looked like smashed brains and I’d accidentally stood on what remained of it. Pulpy flesh squelched out from under my soles and it was all over my shoes. He cried a lot.
‘I only see one monster, and she’s going to bed. NOW.’
‘B-but,’ I stuttered, struggling to explain.
Dad said nothing. He never does when Mums mad.
‘There was a monster.’
‘Don’t lie or you won’t be trick or treating this year.’
I felt my face glow red, like the time when I’d hit Luke so Mum and Luke’s mum were called into school. We had a meeting with the teacher and Luke’s mum kept calling me Jack. When my mum called me Jacqueline, Luke’s mum said “Oh, you’re a girl,” and acted shocked. Both Luke and his mum grinned at me and I felt my face grow warm and wanted to cry. I’d been right to hit him then and I was right now. I wasn’t lying. I knew I couldn’t let the Plugkrile smash my pumpkin too. I had to stop the Great Darkness.
Halloween was cold, but I didn’t mind. I was comfortable in my Amelia Earhart jacket and gloves. We went to every house with a pumpkin or decorations and got loads of sweets from people all down the street. Even the sensible man on the corner gave me an apple and I still said thank you even though I didn’t want it. I said we could get more sweets if we went to the houses without decorations too, but Mum said they probably didn’t want visitors so we shouldn’t bother them.
We were halfway down the street when I began to notice lots of the pumpkins were smashed or at least a bit mushed up. I pointed this out, but Mum told me to be quiet. She was still mad about Oliver’s pumpkin.
The next house we went to belonged to an old lady who has a security light that flashed on as we approached. Something dashed into the shadows as soon as this happened.
‘The Plugkrile,’ I screamed.
‘Quiet Jacqueline. It was just a cat,’ said Mum. She still didn’t believe me.
Anyway, whilst the nice lady was giving us sweets I was looking at her pumpkin. There were scratches gouged deep into the shell and a small footprint had caused one side to cave in. The candle inside had gone out. I pointed this out to the old lady.
‘Goodness, what happened there. Must be those teenagers. They’re always in the street just standing there. Don’t kids do anything these days? This seems to happen every year,’ she sighed, placing another candle inside.
As we left I thought I heard something breathing in the garden, out of reach of the light. It sounded like they were breathing hard, through wet jagged teeth.
Back on the street the houses’ spotlight went out, plunging the garden into darkness. I kept my eye on the porch, the candle in the smashed pumpkin flickering weakly through the night. Oliver tried to hold my hand, but I wrenched free, taking my eye off the flame for a split second. When I looked back, I couldn’t see the flame.
The rest of the night I began to feel sicker and sicker – and I hadn’t even eaten any sweets. Most of the pumpkins we passed had been smashed to smithereens. The jack-o’-lantern’s faces turned into downward pouts instead of the usual grins. Sometimes there was a noise in the dark, or the candle wax was still wet. The Courgini had said that the Great Darkness can return on Halloween night. I didn’t know what to do. I held Oliver’s hand so he didn’t get scared. For the first time ever, I didn’t want my sweets.
As we walked home, I noticed that there wasn’t a single lit candle on the porches of the houses we’d visited. When we got to our house my pumpkin was still intact. It might have been the last one in the world.
It wasn’t long before Oliver had eaten too many sweets, and Mum was getting short with him. I still hadn’t eaten my sweets and I kept getting up and checking my pumpkin. Mum got cross with this as when I opened the door I “Kept letting all the heat out,” and we “Aren’t heating the whole of Nottinghamshire.”
My pumpkin was still in one piece, but I thought I heard noises a couple of times. I don’t know how many jack-o’-lanterns there are in the world but all the ones around where I lived were probably destroyed. I couldn’t let the Plugkrile get mine too. I had to defend it.
Unfortunately, Mum didn’t share my goal, so at nine o’clock I was told to go to bed. At least I’d been allowed to stay up later than Oliver, he is my little brother after all. I’d have to sneak down and guard my pumpkin and stop the candle going out, but my parents stay up super late so would hear me use the front door. I emptied my sweets onto my bed and packed my sleeping bag into my trick or treat bag. I also packed a lighter and some birthday candles, just in case. I kept the Amelia Earhart costume on – like I said, it’s warm. When I was ready, I climbed out of my window. The garage is beneath my room, which is good because there’s a slanting roof I can walk on to reach the drainpipe that I can shimmy down. Normally the garage beneath me is a bad thing because it isn’t heated so my bedroom is freezing and Dad won’t turn the heat up, he just says “Put a jumper on.”
By the time I reached the front door the candle in my pumpkin was really low. It was starting to hiss as the melted wax drowned the flame, the carved face falling into shadow. That’s why I brought more candles. I lit two of them and pushed them down inside. I’d brought loads more because I didn’t know how long they’d last.
My watch said it was nine fifty-seven when I woke up. The candles were running low and I placed a couple more inside. One was green – my favourite colour. The problem was, my sleeping bag was so cosy that I’d have to get out or I might fall asleep again.
I woke up still in my sleeping bag because of an excited gnashing noise. At first I was confused, then I froze. The Plugkrile was stood, peering over my legs, looking straight at my pumpkin. I didn’t want to move but I’d have to. Still in my sleeping bag I swept my legs, knocking him backwards down the path. He shrieked and turned on me. I struggled to get out of the sleeping bag and waved the lighter at him to scare him off. He ran at me, his claws bared and his mouth open. Kicking myself free I stumbled forward straight into him. As I landed on top of him he hissed angrily, swiping at my face with his free claw. It cut through the night, brushing under my jaw. I squealed, blood trickled out and I started to cry. I couldn’t let him win; the world depended on me. Grabbing his greasy wrist, I held him still then grabbed his hair, slamming his head into the floor. He went quiet and lay still. He was so thin I thought I’d really hurt him. As I moved closer until he leapt up onto his feet, hissing savagely. My heart sped like a boat engine and I kicked wildly. I know you shouldn’t kick boys there, even an evil monster, but I did. He should have had clothes on. The second my foot connected with his groin he threw up all this orange pumpkin flesh. It landed on my leg and I fell back, trying to avoid it. He retreated, whimpering on all fours. As I fell, I nudged the side of my jack-o’-lantern. The candles inside fell and blinked out. The streetlights blinked out too.
I was panicking now. Still crying and my hands were trembling. I’d never known it to be so dark. Even the moon and stars had disappeared. I fumbled for the lid of my pumpkin. It was mushed together where it’d collapsed. The wind had picked up and billowed through my clothes, chilling me and numbing my hands. It seemed to whisper to me, probably to everyone. Not words though… ideas. A chittering voice told me that I was its slave, that I was its food. I was fumbling around for the candles; my hands were covered in pulp and they slipped through my fingers a couple of times. The wind kept growing louder, the darkness thicker. It felt like I was moving underwater. The Great Darkness crept heavily, dragging itself like a giant severed hand or a spider with one leg, creeping towards me. The lighter fumbled in my hands and I breathed deeply through sobs. Unseen fingers spread a freezing cold up my spine. I thought all was lost. That’s when I finally managed to light the candle.
The wind stopped the second the candle was in the jack-o’-lantern. The streetlights, the moon and the stars all returned. It was like nothing had ever happened.
I spent the rest of the night guarding the jack-o’-lantern and lighting more candles. The Plugkrile never reappeared. I didn’t sleep for a second though. At dawn I climbed up to my bedroom, onto my bed and fell asleep in my costume. I didn’t even knock all the sweets off it first.
No one will ever believe I saved the world. I’ll be told I’m telling tall-tales again. Mum will believe I used all the birthday candles when its Oliver’s birthday next week. None of that matters now though. I need to stay awake today in school. At least I know that this year everyone’s safe.
Author Notes: Kids are often told they have overactive imaginations and are accused of telling tall tales. I wanted to write a story where a child takes matters into her owns hands instead of risk being called a liar.