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I live in a picturesque little housing development overlooking the Avalon River, just a short drive away from Sombermorey. It’s surrounded by enough woods to muffle out the sound of traffic on the adjacent highway, and the road leading into the neighborhood is so discreet that delivery drivers regularly have trouble finding it. It always felt safe to me, secluded, an isolated little bubble that the rest of the world seemingly couldn’t find even if they wanted to.

But that changed on October first.

It was a gorgeous, crisp fall day, the leaves on the giant maples and oaks that surrounded our neighbourhood were just starting to change colours, and I had gone out to get my mail from our pair of community mailboxes; the newer ones with the windblown maple leaves emblazoned on the side. As I stepped out, however, I noticed that there was a small, impromptu gathering of my neighbours on Mr. Cackowski’s front lawn, fawning over something that I couldn’t quite make out.

Whatever the commotion was about, I figured it was probably worth delaying getting my junk mail for a few minutes, so I casually walked over to inspect the spectacle for myself. When my neighbours saw me approaching, they politely moved aside so that I could get a clear view of whatever it was that had them so enamoured.

It was a Jack-O-Lantern Man; a snowman made out of Jack-O-Lanterns. There were three hollowed-out pumpkins stacked on top of each other, and together stood about five feet high. The top pumpkin had been carved with a fairly stereotypical Jack-O-Lantern face, but the bottom two had been carved so that it looked like the figure was dressed in a brocade, 19th century suit.

“Is that, real?” I ask incredulously. While it was obviously completely possible for it to be real, it seemed far more likely that it was some sort of mass-produced, plastic Halloween decoration.

“It’s absolutely real, Mr. Lacombe,” the preteen girl Lorelyn Eisley assured me excitedly, her eyes shining like it was Christmas Morning. She stuck her finger inside the Jack-O-Lantern’s mouth, ran it along the inside, and pulled it out to reveal still fresh seeds and pulp. “See!”

I stepped closer and tentatively poked the fleshy fruit of each of the three pumpkins. They looked real, felt real, and smelt real, and thus I could only conclude that they were, in fact, real.

“These are remarkably intricate carvings,” I muttered as I ran my hand along the middle pumpkin. I glanced up towards the elderly Mr. Cackowski, who looked like it was taking everything he had not to yell at us to get off his damn lawn. “You didn’t make this, did you?”

“What do you think?” he asked, holding up his clearly arthritic hands. “No, the damn thing was here when the sun came up. Someone must have dropped it off in the night. Very peculiar. My gut reaction was that it was prank of some kind, but the thing’s too beautiful for that to make any kind of sense.”

“And no one else saw anything?” I asked, turning around to face the rest of the neighbours, all of whom shook their heads.

“I’ll look over my security footage later, but I don’t think it will have a very clear view of Cackowski’s place at night,” Heidi, Lorelyn’s mom, offered as she used a wet one to clean Lorelyn’s hands. “I’ll send out some e-mails and put a notice on the bulletin board asking about it, but I’m sure it’s just a surprise Halloween decoration.”

“If it is, it was poorly thought out. This thing will be a pile of mush by Halloween,” Cackowski said with a shake of his head, giving the pile of pumpkins a disdainful whack with his cane before turning to go back inside his house. “You’d damn well better find who’s responsible for this before then, because I’m not cleaning it up.”

“Wait, Mr.Cackowski! I want to get a picture with the Jack-O-Lantern Man while we’re all out here together!” Lorelyn pleaded, excitedly waving her phone in the air. Cackowski stopped in his tracks, hung his head, and let out a theatrically reluctant sigh before turning around and joining the rest of us for a group photo.

Lorelyn posted the pictures she took of the Jack-O-Lantern Man on her Instagram, and I decided to run a reverse image search to see if I could gain any insight about who had made it. The results were… unexpected. I thought I would get results for a local craftsperson or something, but instead, the algorithm matched it with a picture on, a local paranormal discussion forum. The picture was a black and white illustration from an old newspaper article, maybe as far back as the 19th century, depicting a much more monstrous and ferocious looking Jack-O-Lantern Man.

According to the poster, the Jack-O-Lantern Men started inexplicably appearing in a nearby (though suspiciously nameless) hamlet on October first. There were exactly thirty homes in the hamlet, and each day until Halloween a new Jack-O-Lantern Man would arrive in the wee hours of the morning, with no one ever seeing where it had come from. That detail unsettled me a little, since our housing development also had exactly thirty homes.  

Anyway, all manner of misfortune started to befall the sleepy hamlet, and the increasingly paranoid villagers blamed the orange interlopers. They tried destroying or moving them of course, but each morning they’d be back like nothing had ever happened. Some of the villagers – children at first, but later some adults – claimed to have seen the Jack-O-Lantern Men moving around at night, wreaking as much havoc and destruction as they could without getting caught.

Naturally, the villagers’ hysteria grew stronger the closer it got to Halloween, fearing some sort of inevitable climax on the thirty-first. Some fled, of course, and some stayed, but ultimately it didn’t matter; none of them were ever heard from again. There were no physical remains, no signs of violence or bloodshed, they were just gone.

The rest of the forum thread was just increasingly bizarre and baseless speculation about the nature and veracity of the event, and it quickly became silly enough to put my mind at ease regarding any similarity to my current situation.

I didn’t give it any more thought until I came home from work that night, and saw that the Jack-O-Lantern Man had been lit up. It struck me as odd, given Mr. Cackowski’s seeming exasperation with the thing, but maybe one of the neighbours had lit it up instead.

The next morning, when the sound of Lorelyn’s joyful, excited cries came in through my open windows, I tried to deny that they filled me with an ominous sense of dread. I cautiously stepped out my door, and sure enough, there was another Jack-O-Lantern Man in our neighbourhood. It was right next door to Cackowski’s house, the Cranor’s place, number two Willow Wood Crescent.

It wasn’t identical to the previous one, either, clearly made from three real, once living pumpkins with its own distinct design carved into them.

“I don’t suppose anyone saw where this one came from, did they?” I asked without much hope as I approached the crowd of onlookers, its size surpassing the one from the day before.

“No one, which is pretty damn weird when you think about it,” Jeremiah Cranor remarked, more confused than concerned by the Jack-O-Lantern Man’s presence. “This thing’s not exactly light, but there are no marks on the lawn from someone dragging it, like it just popped out of the ground where it is.”

“Do you think they’re magic?” Lorelyn asked, jumping up and down.

“They’re mysterious, Lorelyn. Let’s leave it at that for now,” Jeremiah replied noncommittedly, not wanting to crush her exuberance.

“I’m going asked to my aunt Samantha to come look at these. She’s a Witch, so she’ll know if they’re magic,” Lorelyn proclaimed.

“Sweetheart, we’ve been over this. Your aunt Samantha is not a real Witch,” Lorelyn’s mother reprimanded her gently. “She was just lonely, got taken in by a New Age cultist, and now works for her as a brainwashed fake psychic.”

Lorelyn rolled her eyes at her mother’s rationalism, but didn’t argue with her.

“Hey, Cackowski’s Stack-O-Lantern’s been moved,” I heard Tyler Yablokov shout. We all turned to where he was pointing, and sure enough, the Jack-o-Lantern Man was now right up against Cackowski’s front window, peering inside. There were no signs of it being hauled across the lawn, not one blade of grass out of shape, and yet there it was, as though it was as portable as an inflatable Halloween decoration.

Lorelyn excitedly ran over to the Jack-O-Lantern and began knocking on Mr. Cackowski’s window, only to scream when she saw what was inside. Her mother and several others immediately ran over to see what was wrong, and as Heidi comforted her daughter the others either called for an ambulance or tried to break their way into the house.

Cackowski had suffered a massive heart attack, and was lying dead on his living room floor when Lorelyn found him. The EMTs estimated his time of death as just after sunrise. The prevailing theory among the neighbourhood was that the sight of the Jack-O-Lantern Man at his window had been what triggered the heart attack, and most of us wanted to know who was responsible for it. No one wanted to fess up, and I decided to keep the urban legend I had read about to myself, so no one really had anything to go on.

But even without knowing about the legend from Harrowick Hallows, a lot of people suspected that another Jack-O-Lantern Man would be gracing our neighbourhood come October third. Everyone who had anything that could be used as a security camera made sure they were set up and activated, and pointed towards house number three if it was possible. We also coordinated a watch around our work and sleep schedules as much as we could, ensuring we had the best chance of catching whoever was responsible for these things in the act.

That night, as I kept my vigil on my porch, I saw the lights in both Jack-O-Lantern Men spring to life, even though I knew nobody would have dared to light them now.

Come October third, there was a grand total of three Jack-O-Lantern Men, and the first two, while still on their original properties, had moved as well. None of our cameras had caught their movement, and by now we were all starting to get seriously unsettled, Cranor most of all. If these things were here to pick us off one by one, then it made sense that he’d be next.

Tyler was the first one to try to get rid of the damn things, and called some of his friends to help him load them up into his pick-up truck. I don’t remember where he planned on taking them or what he was going to do with them, because it didn’t matter. Before he could even get out of the neighborhood, one of his back tires exploded, he lost control and crashed into a street lamp. No body died that day, and Tyler himself was fine aside from some whiplash, but that’s when most of us became convinced that these things were cursed.

Each day, a new Jack-O-Lantern Man would appear at the next house, and the ones who were already present would have changed positions, all without being seen or recorded. They didn’t decay as the days ticked by either, always appearing as if they had been freshly carved. Dogs hated them, but they were probably just picking up on their owners’ unease.

Nobody wanted to try moving them again, not after what happened with Tyler. There were no more heart attacks or car crashes after that, but the threat the Jack-O-Lantern Men posed still loomed over all of us. Each morning we’d regularly find things broken or missing, the Jack-O-Lantern Men seemingly to blame. They had a tendency to block off drive ways, doorways and garages, or sit in flowerbeds or play equipment. It was almost as if they were daring us to move them, but we just worked around them rather than risk it.

We didn’t talk about them much after the first couple of days, and never within sight or earshot of them. We had come to a general consensus that they were trying to troll us, to egg us into somehow disrespecting them to give them license for revenge.

It was around the middle of the month when Lorelyn came knocking at my door. When I answered her, I found her standing next to a woman with long red hair, clad in a long red dress and cloak, with a pentagram necklace and triple moon belt buckle on prominent display.  

“Ah, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’re her aunt Samantha?” I presumed.

“Yes, that’s right. I’m Samantha Sumner, I’m a Metaphysical Counsellor and Spiritual Wellness Advisor at Eve’s Eden of Esoterica in town,” she spoke confidently, as if those were actually valuable credentials. It wasn’t hard to see why Lorelyn’s mother had described her as a brainwashed fake psychic. “Lorelyn asked me to stop by and take a look at the Jack-O-Lantern entities that have been manifesting in your neighborhood.”   

“Yeah, they’ve just been popping up one after the other all month. No one wants to just come out and say it’s supernatural, but it’s pretty damn weird we’ve never been able to see who’s doing this,” I admitted, awkwardly rubbing the back of my neck.

“Well, I can confirm for you that all of these Jack-O-Lantern entities are definitely paranormal,” she said with confidence. “I’ve been honing my clairvoyance for the past three years now, and there’s no doubt in my mind that these Jack-O-Lanterns are serving as earthly bindings for some manner of non-human spirits. The bindings are strong enough that they can at least manifest some minor misfortunes, and I suspect that at night and when no-ones watching them they might be able to manipulate the Jack-O-Lanterns directly.”

“I see,” I nodded, humouring her at first, but unable to deny the fact that I had no rational explanation for how they we moving or getting fresh candles. “Well, do you have any idea why this is happening?”

“Unfortunately, no. I have found records of at least one similar event over a century ago, but I wasn’t able to find any clear cause for that either,” she admitted. “What I do know is that these kinds of spirits demand respect. Don’t try to move or damage them, and they’ll have no cause to retaliate. You can also buy some goodwill with a token sacrifice, like a coin or a piece of candy.”

“Aunt Samantha and I have already fed Halloween candy to each of the Jack-O-Lanterns that are already here, and I’ll feed any new ones to try to keep them from hurting anyone else,” Lorelyn said doggedly. She was clearly still shaken by Cackowski’s death – hell, I was too – and it was kind of heartwarming to see how determined she was to keep the rest of us safe. I smiled warmly at her, while her aunt gave her a consoling pat on the back.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.

“Just avoid disrespecting the Jack-O-Lanterns, and when yours appears, be sure to honour it with a small sacrifice of some kind,” Samantha replied. “For good measure, you can make a sacrifice to the rest of them as well. Avoid them at night as much as you can. They’re stronger when the Veil between the physical and spiritual planes is weaker. It’s weaker at night, and it will be weakest of all on Halloween. I don’t know what’s going to happen on Halloween, but if you can avoid offending them, I think you should be okay. If you like, I can perform a blessing on your home that should make it a little harder for any malicious spirits to harm you; no charge.”

With a reluctant sigh, I let the potentially crazy woman into my house. She did a little ritual, and left me with her business card in case I wanted to invest in any of the protective charms they sold as well. That did make me start to wonder if the whole thing might have been some elaborate guerilla marketing campaign, but I couldn’t deny that Samantha did seem sincere in her convictions.

I watched through my window as she and Lorelyn went over to Tyler’s house, only to be shooed away like Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was still pissed with the Jack-O-Lantern Men over his truck and neck, and I knew he wasn’t going to follow their advice.

Somehow, that gave me a very uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

The next day, I and probably everyone else in the neighbourhood were woken up by the sounds of Tyler’s cursing. He had gotten his Jack-O-Lantern Man, and it had appeared on the roof of his truck. It seems they had finally crossed a line that one of us couldn’t abide by, and I watched helplessly as an enraged Tyler climbed up into the back of his pick-up truck and furiously shove the Jack-O-Lantern Man on to the asphalt below.

The pumpkins cracked, but largely remained intact, which Tyler apparently thought was a fate too good for them. He grabbed what I think was a monkey wrench from the tool-box in his truck and just started pulverizing the thing, stomping its hide until it was mush.

He was so engrossed in his vengeance, that he didn’t notice when the parking brake to his truck suddenly gave out, and it started rolling down his inclined drive way. I watched as it swerved, seemingly without cause, and crash into an electric poll.

I’m not a physicist, but there’s no way that truck was moving with enough kinetic energy to topple that poll. And yet somehow, that’s exactly what happened. I heard it snap like a tree from a bolt of lightning, and saw it fall forward into Tyler’s house. Taught power lines snapped, flailed about wildly, and started a fire that would burn Tyler’s house to the ground.

Even in broad daylight, the smoke and flames from that inferno could be seen for miles. Tyler was devastated, of course, but more than that, he was terrified. A lot of us were terrified. We had no reason to think that burning down Tyler’s house would be enough to sate the Jack-O-Lanterns’ need for revenge. For all we knew, Tyler was a dead man, and we might all be next.

The day after the house fire, Tyler’s Jack-O-Lantern Man was in one piece again, holding a marshmallow on a stick over the still smoldering rubble.

A lot of us decided to leave the neighbourhood after that, at least until after Halloween, but not me. I honestly didn’t think running away would do any good, and if anything, I’d just be putting innocent bystanders in danger. I stayed, placing spare change into the mouths of each and every Jack-O-Lantern Man, exactly as Samantha had said.

Today, October 30th, the last Jack-O-Lantern Man appeared, and it appeared on my lawn. I’m at house #30, you see, right across the street from Cackowski’s house, since it’s a crescent and all. I slowly pulled back my curtains, knowing it would be there, but dreading the confirmation nonetheless.

It was the worst one so far. It was bigger too, bigger than I was in both height and girth. Its face was a monstrous, sneering gargoyle, or maybe more like a Japanese Oni. Its bottom two pumpkins weren’t carved to resemble an outfit, but rather medieval depictions of Hell, embellished by the candle glowing inside it. I noticed then that not only it but all the other Jack-O-Lantern Men had their candles lit in the daytime, and they were burning brighter than they ever had before.  

Knowing what I had to do, I steeled up my courage and went outside, a bowl of Halloween candy in hand. I fed my Jack-O-Lantern Man first, then went door-to-door to feed the rest of them. Lorelyn’s family was among those that left, and I promised her I’d keep making offerings to the Jack-O-Lantern Men.

I’ve fortified my house a little, but what happened to Tyler’s place is proof that won’t stop them. I can only hope that we’ve managed to appease them. They’re all here now, all thirty of them, and they’ve got one night left to do whatever it is they’re going to do.

Tomorrow it won’t be children but the Jack-O-Lanterns doing the trick-or-treating, and I can only hope that our treats will be enough to stave off their tricks.

Written by The Vesper's Bell
Content is available under CC BY-SA