Ashley Brown awoke that Halloween Sunday morning, excited and ready to seize the day. She looked out her window, through the thin layer of dried dust, and saw crinkled, crimson leaves float to the ground. Across the street, The Banisters had their Halloween decorations on full display and the irritating whine from the electronic ghost hanging from a string on their front porch was getting on her nerves.
Ashley had lived alone ever since Jake Banister, her fiancée, broke up with her. They were childhood sweethearts and best friends. After they had the dreaded money talk, he just couldn’t handle her dire financial situation. He said she was irresponsible for borrowing over $100,000 in student loans to pursue a graduate degree in photography. He didn’t want to start a life with so much debt, and she wondered whether she would ever find her soul mate. Jake had struggled with financial problems his whole life, and his part-time job at the Hartsdale police department barely paid the bills. He was a rookie and had been temporarily assigned to patrolling the neighborhood. Every so often, he’d stop off at Ashley’s house for a cup of coffee. They remained good friends, but she wanted more.
Every officer at the Hartsdale police department was working overtime, investigating the four unsolved murders. The murders had sent shockwaves through the small upstate New York town. This October, the fourth murder had the entire town on edge. The Hartsdale police nicknamed him “The Pumpkin Killer.” The victims were two men and two women, living alone, and at each scene of the crime, was a smashed pumpkin. He marked his territory. The police were baffled, and Detective John Hammond was alone in thinking that the killer was a woman.
“There were traces of lipstick on the jackets of the first male victim.”
He pleaded his theory to his fellow officers, but they laughed at him, the vast consensus being that a woman wasn’t capable of such ruthless brutality.
At noontime, Ashley made a grilled cheese sandwich, turned on the television, and quickly grew tiresome. She was off from work today and her boring job as an administrative assistant for a struggling life insurance company had been taking a toll on her mental health. She tried to escape her depression by getting into the holiday spirit. The forty-pound pumpkin, with its bulging creases, reminded her of Jake’s muscular body, and she was happy to cut open the top and rip its guts out. And so she did, channeling her anger over the breakup. She imagined the volcanic pile of pumpkin guts and seeds were Jake’s heart and the orgasmic pleasure it gave her was riveting. Hundreds of pumpkin seeds were spread on the kitchen floor and her sticky hands reeked from pumpkin residue. She washed her hands with meticulous passion, as if she had just committed a murder. Ashley carved ‘Jake Ol’ Lantern.” She gave him triangular, sinister eyes, a small circular nose, and a goofy smile. Every so often, she would stare out the kitchen window, and watch the sun move steadily to the West.
She groaned while lifting heavy ‘Ol’ Jake and placed him on the white wooden beam on the outside porch. She lit a white oval-shaped candle and hot wax dripped onto her thumb, stinging her for a few moments until it cooled, and she peeled it off. The sky was orange-red. Dusk. She loved autumn in New York. The fall foliage gave her a sense of belonging and rejuvenation. The colorful, dying leaves, falling off the trees, would be reborn in the spring. It was a cathartic experience carving up ol’ Jake. She cursed aloud and argued with the wind.
“You are making a mistake,” She rehearsed it so many times.
She looked down Apple Creek road, heard the police siren before seeing the blue-and red twirling lights. Jake pulled up in the driveway. She was prepared for this ritualistic meeting. He would come by every Sunday at 6:45pm, but she determined that this would be the last visit. The intense pain had to end.
“What are you doing here? You should be up at your mother’s place in Cambridge. It’s not safe.”
” Killer or no killer. I’m staying put.”
“How you holding up?”
“I’m fine. You need to tell your parents to get rid of that annoying ghost. Do you hear it? It’s been like that for days. Driving me crazy.”
“Do you have any leads?’
“I’m not on the case.”
How deeply she missed these playful conversations. His jacket was filthy, covered in mud, and she wanted to take care of him. She always put him before anything and her maternal instinct kicked in.
“Take off your jacket. It’s a mess. Let me wash it.”
” Last night’s storm. I fell on the lawn.”
Jake handed her his jacket.
“I’ll be here.”
He sat in the rocking chair; silently staring at the setting sun, and carefully sipped the scolding green tea that she always prepared for him.
In the laundry room, Ashley washed his jacket with a lukewarm paper towel. The overwhelming odor on his jacket made her heave. It smelled like a mixture of black leather, feces, citrus gum, and vomit. She hurried back upstairs.
“Ugh, this jacket smells—“
A gentle breeze brushed against her face. Panic-stricken, she blinked a few times, and anxiously scrunched her face toward her nose. Ol’ Jake was dead, split open, stuck in one of the slits of the deck. Jake was gone. The fear crept up on her slowly as she took a few steps back inside the house and gently shut the screen door. Denial. The setting sun dipped below the horizon. Nightfall. She felt his cold breath whisk across her neck. It stung like dry ice.
“Goodbye number five”