THE PUMPKIN MASTER • by Gretchen Bassier

If only rotted flesh had more appeal, then Peter wouldn’t have a problem. If Halloween were about swans gliding across glass-smooth waters, or roses in full, fat bloom, then he would have no trouble choosing an image to carve. As it was, though, the squat pumpkin sat untouched on Peter’s desk, next to the equally-neglected contest entry form, with its deadline in bold black: OCTOBER 31.


Peter sighed, pacing past posters of fractals and world-upside-down drawings by Escher. There were so many beautiful, brilliant things… Why did Halloween have to be so ugly?

“What are the other boys making?” his mother had asked. “Maybe they could help you…”

Peter had spent the past week listening to the “other boys” expound on their gruesome jack-o-lantern designs: intestine-munching zombies, hellhounds mauling one another, a Satan-possessed clown… How could Peter carve an appropriately ghoulish pumpkin, when just watching the ketchup fall in thick blood-drops off his classmates’ French fries made him queasy?

With another sigh, Peter slumped into his desk chair and plopped the three-dollar pumpkin on his lap, feeling glad he hadn’t wasted extra money on a carving kit. After a moment, he closed his eyes, and began to turn the pumpkin over in his hands, letting his thumbs run rollercoaster over the ridges. Something nice, but Halloween-y… Something nice, but Halloween-y… Something nice —

And then, in a lightning crackle-burst, he saw it — the perfect picture. Peter’s eyes flew open and he grabbed the carving knife. Within minutes, a slimy pile of orange guts sat in his trashcan. His hands were sticky and stringy, but for once he didn’t care — line by line, the image was coming alive.

In the end, the knife wasn’t enough. Peter used pencils and toothpicks to punch out the finer details. When he finally finished at five AM, his eyes felt as gritty as his hands. The peach-scented Glade candle he’d swiped from the bathroom fluttered wildly when he lit it. Peter turned off the desk lamp, sat back, and felt his breath catch. The scene glowed at him through the darkness, painted in warm yellow light:

A family of four, out trick-or-treating. The toddler son, dressed as Pooh Bear, was stopping to fix his mitten-paw, while his older sister, a haughty princess, swung her candy bucket high in the air. Behind them, the smiling parents walked hand-in-hand.

All the beauty of Halloween — none of the gore. Peter sat gazing at that joyful, candlelit moment for nearly a half-hour before extinguishing the flame.

The next day, his pumpkin beat out the demonic clown for the blue ribbon — making Peter, at twelve, the youngest to ever win the district-wide competition. The first thing he bought with his gift card prize was a carving kit.

In the years that followed, Peter won several more times, his designs becoming increasingly intricate — from six wary kittens investigating a cat costume, to a troupe of snappily-dressed skeletons enjoying their 200th class reunion. Before graduating from high school, he’d already had two designs featured in American Pumpkin Carver, and was earning regular paychecks from Genevieve’s Flowers, making original pumpkin creations for birthdays, fundraisers and even funerals.

Peter was at college, learning how to launch his own business, when he met a girl who could play the cello the way he could carve a pumpkin. And suddenly, carving just wasn’t the same without a little Bach playing in the background. Soon, Peter and Maria were strolling around campus hand-in-hand, Peter humming as Maria’s thumb rubbed dried orange bits from between his fingers.

One night, Peter led Maria through an array of celestial carvings — comets and constellations and planets, all strategically perched on tree-stumps. Just past Mercury, the very last stump stood empty. Peter lifted Maria onto it and gazed at her: the center of his universe. Sinking to his knees, he asked,

“Will you marry me?”

That winter, white gourds lined the church aisle, casting flickering patterns of snowflakes onto scattered rose-petals. The lanterns were so breathtaking that Peter had booked three more wedding jobs before the end of his own reception. Afterwards, a reporter commented, “Not many people can make a living carving pumpkins. How do you come up with the perfect design for every occasion?”

Peter shrugged and smiled. “I just pick up the pumpkin, close my eyes, and then, in a flash, I see it.”

Several decades and thousands of pumpkins later, when his hair was thin and his fingers crooked-bent with arthritis, Peter officially retired from carving. He still did charity work, though, and was out in his garage one afternoon, carving roly-poly puppies for the Humane Society, when he felt a small tug at his elbow.


Peter looked down to find little Katie peering up at him. Over in the doorway, Maria stood smiling, her snow-silk hair captured in a bun.

Peter smiled fondly at his granddaughter. “Yes, my dear?”

Katie pointed at the pumpkin in her grandpa’s liver-spotted hands. “Make one for me?” she asked meekly.

His heart did a little flip-flop — she’d never asked this before.

“Of course,” he said.

He set down the large pumpkin he was holding, and selected a petite round one, perfect for Katie’s small hands. Peter carefully balanced the pumpkin on his bony knee, closed his eyes, and waited…

…But the flash didn’t come.

Swallowing nervously, Peter opened his eyes. Katie stood on tiptoe, blinking hopefully. Peter hesitantly began to carve. Once finished, he held the pumpkin out to her shyly, almost fearfully.

There was a beat of clock-ticking silence, then Katie’s delighted shriek filled the garage. She hugged the pumpkin close, and pressed a soft kiss to her grandfather’s cheek.

“Thank you, Grandpa!”

She admired her new jack-o-lantern’s face: an equilateral triangle for each eye, one for the nose, and a gap-toothed, crescent-moon grin.

“Would you like to dance?” Katie asked. She made the pumpkin nod, and off they went.

And Peter watched his granddaughter twirl round and round, giggling and pink-cheeked, the most beautiful creation of all.

Gretchen Bassier has a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan. She works in healthcare, and her socks are often mismatched.

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Every Day Fiction

  • M.Sherlock

    I must say I enjoyed this story a lot. The imagery was great and the ending was perfect. You also managed to fill a whole rich life into only a thousand words (to the point where i actually had to check the word count myself)

    Five stars! excellent.

  • Gail V

    Lovely story!

  • Randy whittaker

    Awesome story…

  • I got the impression that too much was packed into this story. A longer versions would have felt less rushed.

  • Jen!

    beautiful description

  • Rose Gardener

    It’s incredibly hard to write a story that spans a character’s entire lifetime using the flash format, but this succeeds. And with a delightful finish as a bonus. Well done.

  • Jennifer Ripley

    Lovely story. I want pictures of the pumpkins he carved! But the ones you created in my mind will have to suffice. 😉

  • Linda Fode

    I hate the darkness of Halloween week. Your magical, story touched my heart .,I have forwarded the link to several friends. I would love to read more of your stories. Fantastic job. You motivate me to get my fingers a time & creating similar magic in words.

  • Joanne

    This story is so full of life and beauty. I especially love the descriptions of the images carved on the pumpkins.

  • Rob

    Ha! You touched upon the beauty of Halloween rather than the kid’s gore. I Loved it.

  • Lydia Vonwyler

    I enjoyed this story very much. Very beautiful. I look forward to reading more of your work Gretchen.

  • Tee Ways

    Interesting. I didn’t mind the rush through Peter’s life so much–it was a bit quick in the middle, but his life is almost a fantasy, so it kind of flew by like magic. My only critique is that the adjectives could be cut down a little, so the story can be told with less fluff and more meat. But I say that a lot, so maybe it’s just a personal thing…

    I think the ending is lovely and I understood that his talent was passed down to someone who appreciated the happy side of Hallowe’en. A nice twist.

  • Thanks so much for the comments and critiques, everyone! You all made my day.

    @ #1.) M. Sherlock: I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it! I’ve read a number of stories here on EDF that impress me with the amount of material they cover in such a low word-count. I’m excited this fell into that category for you. Many thanks for your lovely comments.

    @ #2.) Gail V.: Thank you! You gave me a smile :).

    @ #3.) Randy Whittaker: Glad you dug it! Thanks for the awesome review!

    @ #4.) Paul A. Freeman: You definitely hit on one of the major issues with the story. The middle part, in particular, was sort of like a fast-forward through the character’s life. I remember rewriting that part, reorganizing the paragraphs and trying to give it a little more room to breathe, but ultimately you may be right that it was just too much to include in a flash – at least for someone at my skill level, LOL! Maybe there would have been a way to do the middle section in a “more show, less tell” way? I appreciate your critique and will definitely take it into account for future stories. Thanks so much!

    @ #5.) Jen: Thank you for the compliment, and for being such a great community member and reader at EDF. You take the time to critique virtually every single story, and it means the universe to the authors.

    @ #6.) Rose Gardener: I will always remember you as the first person who said “yes” to one of my stories. I’m so happy you enjoyed this one, and grateful that you let me know. Many, many thanks!

    @ #7.) Jennifer Ripley: You could try searching Google images! I bet there are some gorgeous real-life creations. Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the story – I’m glad you could see the jack-o-lanterns in your imagination!

    @ #8.) Linda Fode: And here I was, all worried that people were going to hate the story because it wasn’t about zombies! I had no idea so many readers would be willing to celebrate the lighter side of Halloween, and it was such a nice surprise. Your comments were lovely, and I treasure them. I hope you write your story – I would love to read it!

    @ #9.) Joanne: Thank you so much for the wonderful comments! I wanted people to see the pumpkins as I imagined them, glowing beautifully in the dark, and I’m happy to hear that the descriptions worked for you! 🙂

    @ #10.) Rob: Thank you! I seriously was not expecting a good reaction to this story – I could see the combination of the title and the first line leading to disappointment when people realized there was not a zombie or some type of pumpkin monster involved. How cool to know that people like the nice part of Halloween, too! 🙂

    @ #11.) Lydia Vonwyler: Wow, thanks for the great comments! I’m so happy the story worked for you, and if I’m lucky enough to have future stories published, I hope I don’t let you down.

    @ #12.) Tee Ways: Loved your cool, detailed feedback! Thanks so much! I’m sure you’re right about the adjectives – I’m addicted. I almost always have adjective, comma, adjective before a noun, and I’m also a junkie for stringing them together with hyphens. I’m not sure I can stop, but I’ll try to be a little more aware of it in future. Glad you didn’t mind the rushed middle section too much. I hadn’t thought of Peter’s life as a fantasy, but it essentially is. If it’s actually possible to make a career out of carving pumpkins, then I need to start looking into that :). Nice to hear the ending worked for you – it was my favorite part to write. Thanks again for the feedback!

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  • I really enjoyed this story and kept thinking about it last night as I carved pumpkins!

  • @ #16.)Thanks, Melissa – I hope your jack-o-lanterns turned out great! 🙂

  • Jeremy Bassier

    Great story, Gretchen. Sorry I am a little late catching up on this one. Very heartfelt and entertaining at the same time. My only complaint: I think the milestone of having a child of his own warrants at least a paragraph and a small gourd or two…

  • Gretchen, since you complimented my story with a reading, I needed to read yours in return. I love this simple gem: “…he met a girl who could play the cello the way he could carve a pumpkin.” Also, I love the idea of using carved, lit pumpkins for any occasion.

    One of my boys is named Peter. When he was a baby, we carved a large pumpkin, set him inside and sang “Peter, Peter pumpkin eater…” For a few years more while he was still a toddler, if he was ever upset, we could sing that song to him and cheer him up.

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