Saturday, October 31, 2015



AT FIRST I DIDN'T KNOW IF it was chemtrails, GMOs, an underground Area 51 offshoot facility nearby gone awry or what, but when I saw a fat little pumpkin waddling around on stubby vine legs in the middle of the road, I knew somebody had to help. So I opened the gate and the bright orange beastie followed me in.

"Well hello there," I said, marveling at the peculiar limbs, which looked like four additional stems. "Do you want to come inside?" I said. The fat little pumpkin was cute as hell, and pretty smart, too. Even knew to shut the gate before it marched right on up the sidewalk.

Following the pumpkin around I saw the front yard through new eyes. Or no eyes, actually, rather a perfectly blank pumpkin face, as yet featureless. When the pumpkin found the bike shed, it showed that it wanted me to give it a ride in the red wagon by clambering in, plopping down, and scooching. "All right then," I said, pulling out the clanging wagon by the trusty old handle, "we'll take the full tour. Better hang on tight!"

We clattered around the front yard, checking out all the little areas. At one point the pumpkin wanted the TracFone in the case on my belt. I went ahead and handed it over. Knowing exactly what to do, the pumpkin took a selfie.

After exploring the front, we went on around to the back yard. Wobbling excitedly, the pumpkin pointed at the swing  "Thought you might be interested in that," I said. When I'd pulled close enough, the pumpkin climbed from the wagon into the swing. Then I moved the wagon away and pushed the pumpkin for awhile. I could hear faint humming sounds coming from within it. No particular tune. Just happy humming.

"You know what it is," I thought, "there's that one suspicious woman down the street. I bet she's a witch."

Aloud, I asked, "I have some paper and some crayons. Do you want to draw pictures and color?"

The pumpkin shook no.

"Okay. Are you thirsty?" It didn't have a mouth yet, but I figured it could take in nutrition through a stalk, anyway. Sure enough, the pumpkin affirmatively nodded when I offered something to drink. So I told it to wait for just a moment, went inside the house, poured some water in a dish, and brought the water back outside. But the pumpkin didn't want any water. Instead the pumpkin pointed at the knife in the sheath on my belt. Gently taking my hand in its cute little stalks, the pumpkin pointed at my fingertip, then pointed at the knife, then my fingertip again. When the pumpkin placed what I'll call its palm against my fingertip, and held it there, I understood. "You want to drink my blood?" I said. Vigorously nodding as though overjoyed, the pumpkin hugged my leg.

Surveying perimeters, I took the neighbors into account. There were only a couple of spots where anyone could see. "All right," I said, "I can spare a few drops. We should go inside, though." I gave the pumpkin a wagon ride back to the bike shed. When we put away the wagon, the pumpkin was extra helpful, being sure to help shut the shed door. Then we went inside and I wiped the dish dry so my blood wouldn't be watered down. With the tip of my knife I pricked my index finger. "Why don't you go have a seat on the sofa?" I said, transferring several bright red drops from my finger to the middle of the clean white dish, "I'll bring it to you." Nonchalantly I checked through the windows one more time to see if anyone was watching. If people knew I was feeding a pumpkin my blood, they'd think I was out of my gourd.

I considered turning on the TV, maybe finding a movie, but I didn't want to teach it commercials. Besides, there was basically nothing out there with strong depictions of bright young pumpkins. I did happen to have a copy of Washington Irving nearby, and began reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow aloud, changing a few parts now and then to suit my audience. A bit of embellishing, for example, going on only twenty minutes or so, which included the rather intriguing back story of the pumpkin chosen by the decapitated Hessian to serve in the stead of his head. During which time I quickly observed the pumpkin to make short work of the meager allotment of nourishment on the plate, squeaking the end of its stalk pathetically against dry porcelain. It wasn't any big deal for me to periodically remove the paper towel I had pressed to the end of my finger and reopen the cut for more while I went on with the story.

After awhile I started to get kind of tired. Pumpkin didn't seem tired at all. I went into the kitchen, got an orange from the refrigerator, and brought it over for the pumpkin to have as a toy on the condition that it stay there on the sofa and be good while I take a short nap. "Here," I said, "you can show your little friend the book."

Pleased with myself, I stretched out on the couch. It was the middle of the afternoon, but I had woken up in the night and didn't have much sleep. I wasn't even sure if I'd actually nap. Mostly I just wanted to close my eyes a few minutes. Next thing I knew though, I opened my eyes to find it was already dark outside. My arm had fallen asleep, or seemed to. Unable to feel it at all, I figured I'd have to flop it around and start vigorously returning circulation. This attempt, however, met unexpected resistance.

No lamps or overhead lights were on, yet the digital displays on a couple of appliances produced enough light for me to see the dark shape of the pumpkin next to me on the couch. The tug at my shoulder told me the pumpkin was pulling my wrist. "What are you doing to my hand?" I said. Reaching with my free hand behind my head, I fumbled for the switch.

When the light came on, the pumpkin jumped. Tearing away from my arm felt like a leech was just ripped free. Immediately I realized that whatever it was the neighbor witch cooked up, the darned thing had gotten greedy. "Hey! I never said you could help yourself to my blood while I slept! What's the matter with you? It isn't enough that I slice my finger to give you snacks?"

The pumpkin turned from side to side.

"You're shaking your head no?"

The pumpkin nodded.

"You listen to me right now: I am very disappointed in you. I know where you live. You're that witch's pumpkin, aren't you? Aren't you?"

The pumpkin paused, as if searching for courage, then slowly nodded.

"What's the matter? Is that witch mean to you?"

The pumpkin seemed to stare at the floor. Then it shrugged its little vine shoulders, plopped down, and began to make soft sounds of little pumpkin sobs.

I always knew that witch was no good.

"I wish there was some way that you could tell me what's going on," I said. "Do you know how to write?"

The pumpkin seemed to brighten up considerably by way of response to this question, and excitedly nodded when, crayons and paper in hand, I asked if it could show me.

Taking an orange crayon in its little vine grip, the pumpkin proceeded to scribble complete gibberish.

"No," I said when the pumpkin held the swirly lines and incoherent jumble of nonsense proudly up for me to examine. "I mean, can you write real words?"

The pumpkin shook no.

"Well," I said, "you can draw pictures. Would you like to draw me pictures? If you show me, it will help. If that witch is being mean to you, I'll protect you. What does she do?"

The pumpkin paused. Then started to draw. When I tried to see what the pumpkin was drawing, the pumpkin stopped and covered up the work. So I puttered around and did a few light chores. I took out the garbage, put a new roll of paper towels on the roller, and trimmed my fingernails.

"Can I see what you've got so far?" I asked.

But the pumpkin only stopped and covered up the work.

"Still not done, eh? Well, I mean geez, come on. I don't have just endless gobs of time for devoting here." I could feel myself getting ticked off. "Hell with it, I'm having a beer. You want some blood?"

The pumpkin nodded yes.

"Don't tell that old witch, but you're in luck. Just so happens I received a little something in the mail today. Ever heard of H.R. Pufnstuf? Didn't think so. Well listen, you're gonna love it. It's got a witch. Hold on now, don't tremble. She always loses."

On hearing this news, the silly little pumpkin got up and jumped around the room.

"All right, settle down now. You have to finish your work. I'll put on the second episode in a minute. Just gonna grab a brew and slice a finger for ya."

Opened the fridge, pulled a Beck's, grabbed the opener, popped the cap. Got a fresh plate. Pulled out my knife, cut the next finger--just enough--and drained a good bit of red juice onto the plate. "Okay, all ready. Better get it before it coagulates."

When I turned around, there was the pumpkin with the drawing. 

"That's it?" I said. "That's all?"

The pumpkin nodded. Vigorously.

"I waited a long time. You were supposed to show me the bad things that the witch does to you. This is just a picture of a jack o' lantern. Damn it, this is exactly the sort of thing I was afraid of. That's why I wanted to see what you were doing! Damn it! I could have been doing something else!"

From behind the first drawing, the pumpkin produced a second.

"Another jack o' lantern. This time with arms and legs. And pointy little shoes. Any more pictures?"


"All right. Well, these are pretty good, actually. I like the shoes. Oh what the hell. Here's your blood. I'm gonna go ahead and put on the second episode."

As the pumpkin's vine squeaked on the plate placed on the floor while it sucked up my blood and the show came on, I saw how easy it would be to make a plywood version of a magic boat shaped like a whale for the pumpkin to enjoy. I really didn't want to have to go around the corner and confront my neighbor with accusations of abuse, having never even spoken with her before. What did it look like inside her duplex apartment? A sense of dread set in as I contemplated the forthcoming scene to ensue. But it had to happen. And it would.


"Hold still," I told the pumpkin, standing outside the witch's door. I went ahead and pushed the doorbell again. "Wow. That is the most ominous-sounding doorbell I've ever heard. I guess she really is a witch." When a voice from within addressed us, sounding small and muffled but distinctly clear, the pumpkin scooted around behind me, pliable vine limbs clinging to my leg.

"What do you want?" said the voice on the other side of the door.

"I've got a pumpkin here. Says it's yours, I think."

Behind us, on the moonlit dirt road, wary street dogs neared. Looking around for a great big rock, I spotted one and picked it up, pumpkin clinging the while. With the rock in my grip, I cocked back my hand. But just then, the door opened.

I had expected to see the witch. No one was there, though. Only a cat, fluffy and black.

"My mom's not here," said the cat...


Monday, October 5, 2015


 John Barrymore as Mr. Hyde in 1920

The story comes from a dream. Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, woke him up from a nightmare one hundred-thirty years ago. He had been screaming. According to her, he said, “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.” She had awakened him during the first transformation of the good Dr. Jekyll into the evil Mr. Hyde, and he was as anxious to see it again himself as audiences have been ever since.
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published in 1886. Three years after Stevenson’s dream, actor Richard Mansfield was under suspicion of being Jack the Ripper because of his disturbing change into Mr. Hyde. (The 1988 made-for-TV “Jack the Ripper” has Armand Assante as Mansfield in a terrific transformation scene.)
The Jekyll and Hyde switch speaks so strongly to people, it’s part of the lexicon. Stevenson himself was not satisfied with the story, evidently even irked by its success. Yet it has inspired over a hundred film renditions and untold offshoots from Altered States to The Silence of the Lambs.
The best film version is from 1931 starring Fredric March. The 1920 silent version has John Barrymore looking suitably creepy in stills as Hyde, otherwise it’s as stagey and dated as one would expect. Not so with the 1931 film.

Rouben Mamoulian’s innovative direction puts the viewer in Dr. Jekyll’s shoes at the start, and again during the transformation. Thick fog in Victorian gaslight sustains the Gothic atmosphere of this Academy Award-winner. For many years the puzzle of how the transformation was accomplished in the film remained secret. Turns out, different colored filters were removed in stages through the shot, allowing makeup on March to convincingly appear.
On one level, audiences respond—presumably particularly during the Depression—to the monstrous inner self of the outwardly respectable rich. However, the malleability of the change and what it means means everything. Certainly repression is involved. On the one hand the change into the bad self, which comes from drinking a potion, may clearly be likened with alcoholism. But then in the 1941 version, Spencer Tracy as the doctor says in one scene that the bad needs to be segregated—and this from the director of {Gone with the Wind}—segregated to “destroy itself in its own degradation.”
Sean Young in Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995) and Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly (1996) further said malleability. The Incredible Hulk and the Batman villain Two-Face also both owe a debt to Jekyll and Hyde.
Classic Looney Tunes episodes and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) willfully ignore Stevenson in making Hyde huge. In the novella Hyde is “smaller, slighter and younger” than Jekyll. This is due to the lack of Jekyll’s evil being exercised. The callous trampling on the poor does not require an impressive physical presence, only the presence of evil. Jekyll’s dehumanization of himself as a product of the Industrial Age cuts closer to the heart of it. As a story about a doctor seeking to eliminate human imperfection, it even anticipates eugenics and genetic modification.

 Stewart Kirby writes for