This story is the second one to my Squish-Squash, Pumpkins and Gourds Prompt Call. New characters, unknown world.
“They say she only comes out when the pumpkins are ripe.” Harriet tried for a creepy voice but ended up, to her ear, sounding more sick then spooky.
“They say,” Yasmin tried to top her, “she spoke to Charles Shultz, but he tried to banish her by creating the Great Pumpkin.”
“They say she spoke to Matt Groening and he tried to warn the world in his Treehouse of Horror ‘Great Pumpkin,'” Doc countered.
They all leaned a little closer to the fire. It wasn’t, perhaps, a real campout – they were in the woods behind Harriet’s house – but there was a real fire and real tents and real spooky stories. This year, that would have to do.
“They say,” Harriet picked up, “that she was born from the pumpkin patch itself – the first pumpkin to be grown here sprouted her from its seeds.”
“They say she rides around in a giant pumpkin.” Yasmin made gestures, suggesting the size of a pumpkin big enough to serve as a cauldron. “That’s where the Cinderella thing came from, actually. Not that the Pumpkin Witch was her fairy godmother, no. But Charles Perrault had heard stories of her flying pumpkin, and that’s where he got the idea.”
“A flying pumpkin – oh, that’s why they have those contests every year!” Doc leaned forward until her braid nearly touched the fire. “The person who can grow the biggest, prettiest, best pumpkin is blessed by the Pumpkin Witch. Great crops, delicious food – of course, the blessing has a hidden dark side. Like the Treehouse of-“
“Don’t say it,” Harriet interrupted. “But of course, there’s a side that’s interpreted as dark. People often think that a price is the same as a dark side, and if you give the Pumpkin Witch – not that that’s her real name, it’s just what she was called. She’s Peporitzai, she’s the goddess of the pumpkin patch. She’s brilliant, of course-“
“-but she believes in balance. She’s a goddess of harvest season.” Yasmin popped a perfectly-done s’more in her mouth and looked pleased with herself, until she realized that meant that she’d forfeited the rest of her turn.
“-which means a deity of the end of life. Not for us.” There was something sad in Doc’s voice. “But that’s the lovely irony of her. Because she is of the fruits of survival, of the long cold times – the light against the spirits. That’s why the pumpkin was such a good choice for the jack-o’-lantern in the US. She wards off the cold and the dark as long as she can. She holds off the spirits who want to devour-“
A twig snapped in the woods. All three girls pulled themselves a little closer to the fire.
“-She protects,” Harriet picked up. She knew that she sounded shaky now. She made her voice firmer. “She is a witch because she understands the way the world works. But the true irony of her in the modern age is that certain scents and certain trends can attract her, can pull her closer. Certain rituals and celebrations bring her right down on the celebrants’ heads. Certain things call to her the way nothing else does.”
The moon – a full one – came out from behind the clouds. The three looked at their decaf pumpkin spice lattes and at each other. They breathed in the heady smells of autumn – it was autumn, if only by a day – and didn’t look up at the sky.
“She’s a goddess of the end of middle age.” Yasmin, like her friends, was closer to the end of childhood than the end of middle age. They all looked at Harriet’s house, where her mother’s aunt was laid up with an unknown ailment.
“She’s the protection against the cold times.” Doc blew on her drink as if summoning the scent to her nose – or to the air.
“But she is summoned by jack-o-lanterns and by hearty spices.” Harriet looked over at the three they’d carved earlier, flickering weak light compared to their fire. It was early for such things – but the world was so uncertain right now, they had wanted to be sure they got in at least one of their traditional camp-outs, one way or another.
None of them could remember the world being uncertain like this before.
“By costumes and pranks. By loud noises against the chill silence.” Yasmin smiled a little. They had agreed to this format – to creating a story in round-robin – after last year’s disastrous attempt to tell each other ghost stories from the internet.
“She’s summoned by youth.” Doc made a face. Doc, of all of them, disliked being a kid and was in a hurry to move to adulthood.
“By celebration of autumn. By the smells of a very good harvest and a very good trade.”
They all looked up at the sky this time. They hadn’t given her a voice, perhaps, but they had given her a shape.
It could have been a cloud crossing the moon, but all three of them sipped their drinks and chose to believe that the pumpkin witch had come, that Peporitzai had seen their lights, heard their celebration, and smelled their spices, and she had come in her flying chariot of hollowed-pumpkin.
It was sweeter than the sugar in their lattes, that belief.
So our teenagers are scholars. 😀
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinderella#Cendrillon_ou_la_petite_pantoufle_de_verre,_by_Perrault – Charles Perrault, in 1697, introduced the pumpkin carriage. This would’ve been well after settlers to the new world would’ve discovered the pumpkin goddess – and also pumpkins.
http://www.topsfieldfair.org/explore/pumpkin-weigh-in/ – a lot of giant pumpkins are kinda flat. I believe a few counties just must do “best pumpkin-shaped giant pumpkin” for the pumpkin witch.
Cucurbita pepo covers pumpkins and a variety of other things called “squash”, at least in my neck of the woods – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cucurbita_pepo
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumpkin#Etymology_and_terminology The word pumpkin originates from the word pepon (πέπων), which is Greek for “large melon”, something round and large. The French adapted this word to pompon, which the British changed to pumpion and to the later American colonists became known as pumpkin.
By naming the goddess something that starts with pepo, I wasn’t so much ignoring that as considering the option of dual etymologies or unknown origins – like the fact that common folk etymology suggests Buffalo, NY was named for “beau f ‘leau” (I think I must have that one wrong… aah! Beau Fleuve, beautiful river, not beautiful – f? – the water. (I’m taking calc, okay? Beautiful (f)l’eau?) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo,_New_York#Etymology
And the non-Cinderella pop culture:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pumpkin – The Charles Shultz running Hallowe’en deity
Which also comes with the reference to the Simpsons I was mentioning – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pumpkin#The_Simpsons – Written by Matt Groening – although TBH I don’t know if he wrote that episode. Neither do the girls telling the story!
And now that my notes for this are as long as the story itself, cheers!
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