Alas, today is my day. I went playful — or a little playful — with this years Halloween story. I want to thank all my colleagues for the opportunity to participate.
These stories are free — we just want to write something fun for you. No gimmicks, no in-app purchases, no clickbait. But I will tell you most of us have books, and we’ve even written a book together, that we would love for you to consider purchasing. Books make great Christmas presents. Keep in mind, you don’t have to read these books, just buy them. Doorstops, flyswatters, coasters for glasses, and furniture levelers are all secondary uses. Tertiary uses include firewood, large Jenga pieces, and self-defense.
But enough about that. Enjoy the story. We will drip these stories out until Halloween and then come back at you in November with Thanksgiving stories. Thanks for reading.
By Jamie D. Greening
Reginald Uphill was a traditionalist.
An angel was put atop his Christmas tree, which was always a real tree he cut himself. He used honorific titles when referring to anyone of significance such as his neighbor who was a doctor. They had lived by each other for fifteen years yet Reginald Uphill always called him Dr. Johnson, never David. Someone he had not formally been introduced to was always Mr. or Mrs. and if it were a young woman, he used Ms. The President of the United States, regardless of party or his approval was always referred to as The President of the United States. Even if there wasn’t another car for five miles, he used his turn signal to indicate he was changing lanes. Popcorn was eaten at a movie theater, hot dogs at baseball games, and funnel cake at the fair. His home was filled with elegant but old wooden furniture, tiffany lamps, oriental rugs, and heavy curtains. The church he attended sang hymns and read the liturgy, and he wore a suit and tie to worship, even though every other person in his church wore blue jeans or cargo shorts. He flew his American flag on Patriots’ Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, September 11, and Election Day.
Tradition was his default setting.
New, trendy, innovative, and groundbreaking were not words or ideas he valued.
He always preferred to stand on ceremony if that were an option.
This was also true in Mr. Uphill’s daily life. It was his personal tradition to have roast beef every Monday. The only other day with a traditional meal was the Saturday morning oatmeal and two pieces of toast. It was his tradition. Even when traveling he needed to have these meals set. Once while on a business trip in Florida, he drove forty miles to another city to eat pot roast at the only restaurant in his vicinity that had it on the menu for Monday. The meat was tough and not savory, but that was beside the point. It was Monday, and Mondays are roast beef day, so he left the restaurant satisfied.
His wife and two young children accepted Mr. Uphill’s oddities as a part of his personality. They enjoyed it, for with his traditionalism and formalities came dignity and respect for the other people in his life. His wife, whom he always called, ‘My Bride,’ and his children, whom he always referred to by their full names, ‘Elizabeth Roth Uphill’ and ‘Dominic Tuttle Uphill’, depended upon the constancy and regularity that came from their father. Elizabeth’s middle name was the maiden name of his bride and Dominic’s middle name was his mother’s maiden name. Very traditional.
There were other strange traditions Mr. Uphill kept, totally unique to him and which came from his childhood. One example of these traditions was his insistence that only yellow legal pads were to be used in the home. His grandmother had told him these formal writing tools were the only correct way to record anything needing written down. He once threw out an entire box of spiral notebooks because they were inferior. True to his character, he replaced them with a box of yellow legal pads without comment.
Perhaps his strangest tradition, and definitely most immature reflex, was rooted in the Charlie Brown cartoon It’s The Great Pumpkin from his childhood. A traditionalist personality is always present within people with that bent regardless of their age, and at the age of ten, deeply impressed by this jewel of Americana, Mr. Uphill began standing watch in nearby pumpkin patches every Halloween. He certainly did not believe in a Great Pumpkin, but it was something he started doing as a child, and now as an adult, he simply could not break the habit. It had become his personal Halloween tradition.
In his younger years this was easy, as pumpkin patches were abundant. However, most of those patches had been replaced by strip malls, big box stores, and housing developments. Finding a pumpkin patch, sincere or otherwise, was an arduous task. The patch he had visited the last three years was paved over in preference for a mega-church worship center where they only sang choruses and never repeated liturgy. For Mr. Uphill it was a double-abomination.
As All Hallow’s Eve approached, he busied himself with finding a patch. The nearest one was an hour drive away. When the sun dipped behind the trees and children began to crawl the neighborhood, he packed a thermos of hot cocoa, a bundle of smores, and a blanket. He kissed his bride goodbye as she took the children trick-or-treating. Elizabeth Roth Uphill was dressed as Elsa from Frozen. Dominic Tuttle Uphill wore a powdered wig and dressed as George Washington. The costume had been used earlier that year at a school performance where different children had been chosen to present brief speeches by various presidents. Mr. Uphill had been greatly pleased that his son had been chosen to represent the first president, who was by far the most traditional of all our leaders.
His bride loved the fact the costume could do double duty.
Mr. Uphill arrived at the field as the quarter moon rose over the horizon. He’d called ahead to the owner to ask permission, so he knew where to go. They had left a gate open for him along the highway’s edge under the sign that read, ‘Pumpkin Spice Emporium’. It wasn’t long before he’d found a nice spot in the middle of the field to hold his annual watch. He always stayed until midnight, and then he would return home. The benefit of the evening was more than the fulfillment of the ritual. The time alone in the crisp air always blessed his soul. He would often think about his life, his family, and the world. It was a solace for a simple man trapped in a busy and chaotic culture.
The cocoa was superb. His bride made it with rich, creamy milk and Mexican cocoa and that perfect hint of vanilla he loved so much. He devoured half the smores and held the other half until right before he left.
His mind wandered, but eventually he began to think about his parents. His mother had died the previous year, and his father lived in the same home he’d grown up in across town from him. He decided he needed to spend more time with the older Mr. Uphill, and perhaps needed to record some of the stories his father had told him over the years. In particular, he thought about the stories regarding his great grandparents settling in America from Europe. He was thinking about life in England in the nineteenth century when he spotted a pair of headlights on the dark highway. He checked his watch, and it was half-past ten. The lights pulled in behind his Buick.
Soon he saw the semblance of a man walking through the vines towards him. He assumed it might be the owner coming to check on him. He’d prepared his speech of gratitude, as well as a twenty-dollar bill for the owner’s trouble. The shadow moved toward him.
‘Hello,’ the man said to Mr. Uphill. ‘I see I have found another Great Pumpkin pilgrim tonight.’
‘Indeed,’ said Mr. Uphill. ‘Are you the kind owner of this patch.’
‘No,’ the man said. ‘I am just another person looking for a sincere pumpkin patch. Do you think this is it?’
‘That remains to be seen,’ said Mr. Uphill. ‘Midnight has not yet come.’
‘Fair enough,’ said the man. ‘My name is Richard. This is the third patch I’ve visited tonight. You’re the first person I’ve seen. For years I would find at least a handful of people each year, but the last five autumn’s or so it has been much lonelier. We are a dying breed.’
‘I suppose we are.’
‘What’s your name?’ Richard asked.
‘I am Mr. Reginald Uphill.’
‘Mind if I call you Reggie?’
‘Actually, I do. No one calls me Reggie. You may call me Mr. Uphill. What, pray tell, is your formal name?’
‘Just call me Richard.’
‘Very well, Mr. Richard.’
Mr. Richard sat on Mr. Uphill’s blanket next to him. There was an uncomfortable silence until Mr. Uphill offered the intruder a smore. It seemed like the decent thing to do for this man who had barged in on his moment.
‘Thank you,’ Mr. Richard said. ‘I’ve never seen The Great Pumpkin, have you?’
‘No, but I don’t expect to. It is just something I do. Do you expect to see anything?’
‘Absolutely,’ Mr. Richard replied. ‘I waited every year as a child, but nothing ever happened. Several years ago, I decided The Great Pumpkin might want something. So, I started bringing various offerings. For about three years I brought bags full of rocks, you know, because that is what Charlie Brown kept getting.’
Mr. Uphill chuckled. ‘That’s funny. I see that didn’t help.’
‘No, so I started bringing sweet treats in those plastic pumpkins kids use. That didn’t work either.’
Mr. Uphill’s eyes narrowed. ‘That’s strange, Mr. Richard. You know this is just a made-up story, right?’
‘But all stories have some kernel of truth. The Great Pumpkin must be real, or Schulz would have never written about it. He knew something the rest of us didn’t know. He left us clues.’
‘Clues?’ Mr. Uphill scooted over a little away from the stranger beside him.
‘Yes, clues.’ Mr. Richard said. ‘I’m determined to find The Great Pumpkin and learn his secrets.’
‘Mr. Richard, I am worried about your plan.’ Mr. Uphill checked his watch again. It was now a quarter of midnight. ‘I do not think there are any secrets beyond contemplation and self-awareness. A night in the pumpkin patch is good to keep tradition and habits, but there is no meaning beyond that.’
Mr. Richard didn’t seem to hear Mr. Uphill. ‘Do you have any more of those smores. That was good.’
Mr. Uphill gave him another but held back the last smore for himself. After this strange encounter, he would need it for the ride home.
‘Last year,’ Mr. Richard began, ‘I brought a Beagle to this very patch.’
‘A dog? What did you do with a dog?’
‘I sacrificed it.’
‘The rocks, the treats, and the blood of the Beagle weren’t enough to bring The Great Pumpkin. It was very discouraging, so I need to try something else.’
‘That is insane. What do you think this imaginary Pumpkin wants?’
‘‘The blood of a sincere human is what makes a pumpkin patch sincere, Mr. Uphill. The Great Pumpkin will come tonight. I can feel it.’
Mr. Richard shoved a butcher knife through the warm coat and into Mr. Uphill’s kidney. ‘Happy Halloween,’ he said to his victim.
The last thought Mr. Uphill had was of the last uneaten smore in his bag.