There it was, its ribbed skin split from stem to end, its body turned inside out. I didn’t even see it firsthand, but I could imagine it: the way the tendrilled brains slopped to the sidewalk, its seeds spilling forth like a constellation among the gourded Rorschach test.
I was out minding my own business when the call came in—“We got a problem, chief”—and already, I had a pretty good idea of what that problem was.
I mumbled some reply—“Yeah, yeah, I’m on it”— then hung up the phone and touched a match to the cigarette bowed between my lips.
From my place beneath the lamplight, I peered out at the gashed smiles and triangle teeth that lit up every last home on the street.
Well, almost every last home.
Thanks to some sicko with fresh gourd on his hands, now there was at least one home without a jack-o-lantern, and more to the point, one dame in desperate need of a detective.
The girl—let’s call her Fay—couldn’t have been a day over 4-years-old or an inch over three feet tall.
Still, I ran her through the usual line of questioning.
“Got any enemies, kid?”
She assured me she didn’t.
“Not a one?”
I raised an eyebrow; I’d dealt with her type before.
“Sweetheart, you mean to tell me that you can’t think of a single person who might have a bone to pick?”
She paused, and in that moment of hesitation I believed we were finally getting somewhere.
When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you learn a lesson or two. And one of the lessons is this: no one, no matter how sick, goes around smashing some poor dame’s pumpkin without a darn good reason for doing it.
“Think hard now,” I pushed. “Any grudges? Any business deals turned sour?”
She assured me that her business deals never soured; when it came to her lemonade stand, she never shorted on the sugar.
I sighed, flipped my notebook shut.
“You’re not giving me much to go on here,” I told her.
“You’re the detective,” she said, boarding her trike. “You figure it out.”
And then she was gone, pedaling off into the dark horizon and leaving me to choke on her dust.
I couldn’t sleep; every time I closed my eyes I pictured Jack smashed to smithereens. I’d seen so many terrible things in my day—some too terrible to tell—but nothing could’ve prepared me for the thought of that poor, wide-eyed pumpkin begging for its life.
Sometime before dawn I rose from my bed and took to pacing around the room. This had become a usual occurrence for me, a part of my routine. If I could get the blood moving in my body, I learned, then eventually it’d get to my brain.
And so I paced for an hour or more, wearing a trail in the carpet as I reworked every last clue.
Not that I had many to begin with.
After all, all I knew was what Fay had told me: that sometime before sunset our perpetrator had grown emboldened, then helped himself to her jack-o-lantern.
The rest of the story was all over the sidewalk for the world to see, the kind of mess you could never fully clean from your mind.
But surelythere’s got to be more, I thought, some clue I’m not yet seeing.
I downed an entire coffee pot searching for that clue.
But in the end, all I was left with was a caffeine buzz, coffee breath, and a mystery not even I could untangle.
I spent much of that day playing the part of the bad cop, saddling up to one jack-o-lantern after another and asking them what they knew.
None of them talked, just grinned at me in perpetual silence.
“I’d sure hate for the same fate to fall upon one of you,” I said, flashing a trio of Jacks a few photos of the crime scene. “Would hate for some creep to lose his head and take to bashing yours.”
I was getting nowhere fast, so by mid-afternoon I took to drowning my sorrows in the darkest bar I could find. The place was filled with miscreants; any one of’em might’ve done the horrible deed.
I was desperate—it was Halloween Eve and there was no telling what atrocities another night might bring—so I downed my drink and stumbled from one bar fly to the next, asking what they knew about poor, old pumpkin Jack.
None of them claimed to know nothing, which wasn’t a stretch to believe. Those men were no better than the mold that grew on the bottoms of their barstools. In fact, they were that mold: slimy and infectious.
Some time after my liquid dinner—as the hour grew late and the facts remained few— I pulled my trench coat from the nearest hook and returned once more into the night.
“Hey buddy,” a panhandler called as I eased out the front door of the bar. “Got any change?”
I reached for his collar and pulled him so close he could smell the ginger ale on my breath.
“What I got,” I hissed, “is a dame with a broken heart and a pumpkin with a broken brain. You read me?”
The man shook in his skin.
“Hey buddy,” he said, “I know nothin’, I swear.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled, tossing him back to the night, “I know nothin’, too.”
Here’s another one of those lessons you learn from being too long in this biz: sometimes there ain’t no easy answers. Sometimes, in fact, rather than catch the crook, you right the wrong, instead.
Which is what I did that Halloween Eve. It was all I knew to do.
And so, while the rest of the world took to their dreams, I took to a pumpkin patch. And there, under cover of darkness, I snagged the biggest pumpkin I could find. I pulled my knife; I gave it a goofy grin.
I knew it would never be Jack—poor Fay had lost him for good—but I hoped my humble offering might help her to forget.
As dawn approached, I took my place beneath the lamplight and touched a match to my cigarette. I took a puff, then another, to try to steady my nerves. I flicked what was left into a nearby bush, then bent down to retrieve my newly carved pumpkin.
Shrouded in shadow, I placed the new Jack right where the old Jack had once been.
Staring at him, something in me must’ve gone soft, because the next thing I knew I was using my very last match to light his face aglow.
I left Fay a note right there alongside him:
Kid, The world’s more good than bad.
I sure hoped I was telling the truth.
And then, I disappeared into the dark, and for the first time in a long time, I felt real good about what I’d done.
Keep in mind, though, that this was me at my best, and at my worst I could’ve been the one smashing Jacks myself. You see, the thing about men like me is that we’re forever walking that tightrope between good and evil, always leaning one way or the other at the mercy of a stiff October wind.
But on that morning, there was no wind. Not even so much as a whisper.
All that remained was a man in a trench coat trying hard to find his way home.
If you are unfamiliar with Redivider, we are a literary journal produced by the graduate students of Emerson College in Boston, and this year we are commemorating our 10th anniversary. Looking back over the past decade, we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far: We’ve published amazing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art since our inception from writers such as Sherman Alexie, Tracy K. Smith, Steve Almond, and Denise Duhamel; we’ve been catapulted into the digital age with the release of our first e-book this past winter, reaching wider audiences than ever; and we created our annual Beacon Street Prize with $500 prizes, for both fiction and poetry, as well as publication—which is open for submissions February 15 to April 30. Each year, we have special guest judges, and we’re thrilled to announce that this year our judges are Amy Hempel for fiction and Heather McHugh for poetry.
With AWP just around the corner, we’re ramping up for a Redivider Birthday Bash— complete with cake, party hats, and piñata— that you don’t want to miss. We will also hold our AWP Quickie Contest which challenges attendees to write a short poem within the span of the conference. The winning entry will be published in our Winter 2013 issue, 11.1, alongside the 2013 Beacon Street Prize winners and our selection of both established and emerging writers.
For our current issue, 10.1, we designed a cover that commemorates some of our favorite covers from the past ten years. It is a simple, yet beautiful, design that showcases what has come before while looking toward the future of our journal. The content includes the winning entries from 2012’s Beacon Street Prize and a breathtaking array of original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art from Kim Addonizio, Jen Hirt, Diane Cook, and many more. You can read it in print or on any reading device by ordering through Amazon or our website. But, for now, please enjoy an exclusive sneak peak of 10.1–a short fiction piece titled “False Teeth” by Glenn Shaheen right here, the only place you will find it online.
For more details about the Beacon Street Prize, our Redivider Birthday Bash, the fun we’ll have at AWP, submitting your work, or anything else Redivider, check out our website, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.
by Glenn Shaheen
Sarah loves Halloween. She puts weeks into preparing these parties, putting cobwebs on all our books, fake severed hands in each of our drawers. The parties are always hits. Everybody has Facebook photo albums of them from all different angles. This year Sarah went as a vampire. She got those fangs that they specially make, the really expensive ones. But she left them in even after the party, after Halloween. At first it was funny, like some kind of novelty. Everybody just saying “Oh, Sarah!” and getting back to work. But now it’s almost December. Thanksgiving has passed. I said to her that it can’t be good for her real teeth, to leave those fake ones in for most of the day. I wore mine just during the party and my mouth hurt for like two days. She said that was because I threw my werewolf costume together at the last minute and bought my fake teeth from a gas station. Hers were real art. I said it was probably time to take them out, people are talking. She just raised her arms above her head and said “Blood! I vant your blood!” It’s tough to argue with her when she’s being cute. I can’t stand vampire movies, but when we started dating I told Sarah I loved them. It’s way past the point of no return on that lie. We actually have sex to the Lost Boys soundtrack a lot more frequently than I’d even care to admit. People are strange, thou shalt not kill spilling from the speakers. Jesus. Sarah’s great, she’s not like a goth or anything. But when does that road start? When we fight she wishes aloud sometimes that “her romantic vampire” would just come and take her away. I don’t know how I get jealous of that but I do. Of some imaginary creature that would never exist in a million years. And when we watch any new vampire movie I just get furious secretly. The guys flash teeth and I’m sure she’s getting off on it. I can’t picture my life after her, if she left, but I can feel the air being let out, the pressure letting up. I tell her she’s pretty, she’s the best, there’s no end to my love. “Fangs a lot,” she says.
To all writers and artists who have contributed work this season for submission in Superstition Review, we interns are very grateful and appreciate your hard work just as much as you appreciate ours. If you’ve been solicited and responded to our submissions crew, or have already sent in your work via e-mail, take a load off your shoulders and sit back. Halloween has come and gone, and there’s plenty of left-over candy to relax with.
While the fall season is finally, truly and undeniably setting in with the holidays, the time to think of harvests and bounty has arrived. Among the harvests most significant to those of us here at Superstition Review is the PolyHarvest CSA. If you’ve been to any of our readings or are planning to go to the next one, you should know that the wonderful catering we have done with fresh fruits and veggies is courtesy of the PolyHarvest CSA.
What is the PolyHarvest CSA? A CSA is a Community Supported Agriculture program. In a CSA, community members buy “shares” of produce through a contract. They pay up front for these shares, and as a result, farmers benefit by receiving steady upfront payment in order to support themselves, and the community benefits by receiving fresh fruits and vegetables, and by learning more about where produce comes from.
In the PolyHarvest CSA, produce shipments come in every Thursday. The PolyHarvest CSA is affiliated with Arizona State University’s Polytechnic Campus. This program is especially relevant to Polytechnic campus because of Polytechnic’s theme of “healthy living” and ASU president Michael Crow’s focus on community involvement.
Superstition Review got involved with the PolyHarvest CSA when our supervisor, Patricia Colleen Murphy, contacted PolyHarvest CSA’s coordinator to see if catering was available. Forming alliances in the community is important out here–PolyHarvest CSA also donates to the House of Refuge in Phoenix, which is a shelter and support system for homeless and other disadvantaged people.
PolyHarvest CSA recently has had kale, arugula, bokchoi and other greens in season. Additionally, they’ve had potatoes, tubers, squash, melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, green onions, and more available. Their next season begins very soon, so visit the website and contact their coordinator, Chris Wharton, for more information or to get a contract and get involved. Donations are also welcome!