The pumpkin met me on our patio, rolling up onto an Adirondack chair and settling in.
"Good evening," I said.
The pumpkin said nothing, but sat there and eyed me cautiously. Then:
"You've kept your part of the bargain?"
"Yes. Of course."
"Neither spoons nor pie tins?"
"Not a one."
"No candles up your sleeve?"
I shook my sleeves in a show of good faith.
"Alright, then. What is it you wish to know?"
I sat down across from this venerable symbol. But symbol of what?
"I wish to know," I began, "how the pumpkins became associated with Halloween."
The pumpkin began. "We pumpkins go back a long, long way. You know, we show up in folk tales from America to Africa. People know we are scary, but most don't know why. Do you know why?"
I shook my head in negation.
"We strike deep down at your primal instincts. We stir up your sense of myth and feelings so ancient that they were even forgotten by your ancestors. We are ancient, are we. Great fun for us: people being scared, but not knowing why."
"Well," I asked, "how did something as cheery looking as you ever get such a frightful reputation?"
"Ages ago, we became symbols of harvest and sun. Many cultures mark the time of harvest as the beginning of the ancient New Year. Big round orange things such as we are, we were naturally associated with the sun.
"But," the pumpkin continued, "dark superstitions come with this time of the year, as well. Plants die, fields are bare, it's colder, and the dark shadows of the night descend earlier and linger longer. And that means that the Will o' the Wisps have more time to lure people into trouble."
"I always heard that the Will o' the Wisps were just big glowing balls of swamp gas that blew around on the wind over damp ground. Right?"
Then, from the pumpkin, "If you know everything, why'd you want to talk to me?"
"You'd better be. And, if I were you, I would never ever say such a thing to the Will o' the Wisps, for they are powerful spirits, wandering souls who cannot find refuge in heaven or hell. So they turn mischievous and sometimes lure people astray, into marshes, swamps, and bogs, and then . . . then they leave them there.
"And if there is quicksand, so much the better! Sometimes they chase people till they become lost, confused and terrified, and then they leave them there with a hollow sound of mocking laughter echoing all around them."
I tried to steer the subject back to pumpkins. "Well, what about Jack-o'-Lanterns?"
"Carving pumpkins," the pumpkin replied, "is a tradition that has been around for a very long time. Children in Ireland used to hollow out large rutabagas or turnips or potatoes and then put faces on them and candles inside of them.
"Same with we pumpkins. We are a symbol for the Will o' the Wisp, light floating in darkness luring people into all kinds of mischief. As we are also a symbol of the sun and this being the New Year and all, we symbolize the darkened sun, ready to burst forth in renewed light."
The pumpkin shifted position, rolling into a corner of the chair.
Then: "The name Jack-o'-Lantern comes from an old Irish story about a stingy fellow named . . . are you ready? . . . Jack! He tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree to get him a piece of fruit and while Old Ned was up in the branches, Jack carved a cross on the trunk of the tree so he couldn't get back down. Then he made the Devil swear he wouldn't harm him in any way or try to claim his soul.
"The Devil agreed. But when Jack died, they would not let him into heaven because of his ornery ways. And the Devil, being a man of his word, wouldn't take him, either. So Jack was forced to return to the earth. To help him find his way around, the Devil threw Jack a burning coal right out of the fires of hell. Jack put it inside of a turnip he'd been eating and made a lantern. He's been Jack of the Lantern ever since."
"Thank you," I said, "for shedding light on all of this."
"You trying to be cute or something?"
"I don't think so," I answered, not realizing what I had said. And, "I do want to thank you, though, for all your cutting-edge information."
"That's it. Interview over. Fete accompli!"
"I mean, I only wanted to help you carve out the details for people so they could . . ."
Too late. The pumpkin edged gingerly off the chair and rolled out of sight.
"Happy Halloween," I called.
From somewhere came a hollow voice, "And to you, and yours, as well . . ."