In the Essence of the Gourd

He did everything he could to avoid the pumpkin. But when there was nothing left to distract him, he peeked. It really was a great pumpkin, even with the brownish tint and wrinkled base. He stood up and punched it. And when that hurt more than expected, he punched it again.

“I hate you, pumpkin.” And he did. He did hate it.

#

“You’re a ghost that no one can see or hear but me,” Charlie said in the half-finished clown outfit, his body slumped against the bus stop, his face pressed against the map of routes.

The people beside him nudged over a bit and checked the time, hoping their bus would arrive soon. Charlie did not notice.

“And, and, are you okay, I’ll say, and you’ll tell me yes, and are you going to die, I’ll say, and you’ll say no.” He sobbed. Tears and snot and makeup smeared against the Plexiglas. “And that will make me feel okay and everything.”

He went on like that. The sun set. Bus after bus left with him moaning, his ear pressed to the asphalt, trying to hear Linus’s heartbeat. He could not think of a single reason to get up. The commuters left, the drunks left, the bus stop closed. But Charlie remained, slumped in the corner with red eyes.

For hours he sat in the silence and watched the moon rise and sink. He made promises that were impossible to keep. He broke into tears. He wished that Linus would come back.

In the distance, a figure paced from trash can to trash can, its arms loaded with cans and bottles. When it made it close to the bus stop, Charlie looked up and wiped his nose.

“Linus?” he said.

“No, sir, just old Keith showing up,” the man said.

“Oh.”

“What’s going on here, anyway?” Keith said.

You’re Alone, Charlie Brown.”

#

In the dream the Great Pumpkin grew larger and larger and larger until it was the size of the free health clinic but more orange and round with a large mouth that it opened and unrolled its enormous hot tongue that turned to steps, and Linus walked up and inside the Great Pumpkin’s face and lived there and ate there and the seeds were made of gold so that he did not need to leave and Charlie didn’t need to do stupid accents and acts trying to make a buck and then that didn’t even matter in the end because outside he watched the stem of the Great Pumpkin grow and sharpen to an iron bar that rammed through Charlie’s face, and then Linus turned around and saw himself in the Great Pumpkin mirror for the first time and saw not the Linus he had known for his whole life but a Linus with an orange tint and a rounded face and he knew then that he was turning into a Great Pumpkin himself.

#

“Has it been many moons since my departure?” Linus said upon waking, the pumpkin shading his face.

“Two days.”

Charlie tried to pour some leftover ketchup into his friend’s mouth, but Linus just coughed it up, spilling it across his striped shirt.

“Where did you find me?”

“Over there.” Charlie pointed to the overgrown weeds under a distant bridge.

Linus nodded. “Yes, yes, that seems right.” His chapped lips cracked with every word. Blood coagulated and crusted in the corners of his mouth. He closed his eyes.

“Goodbye,” he said. What remained of his essence, the leathered skin and gaunt arms, was seeping into the soil. He sighed. A single breath gurgled out.

Charlie nudged his friend with the tip of his shoe. Nothing happened. How many times had he left a friend like this? How many of the gang were buried beside these highways? But this was different. Linus. Sweet, lovable Linus.

He kneeled down and said his goodbyes before draping the blue blanket over Linus’s face. He stood up. The world seemed empty. Without Linus he was nobody. Even his acts were gone. All he had left was Linus’s “Great Pumpkin” obsession. He looked at it. He pulled out his copper-cutting knife.

Unfolding the blade, he leaned forward and dug it into the pumpkin’s soggy flesh over Linus’s head. Pressing his weight against the tool, he forced it through the thick meat, carving as big a hole as he could. Sweat streaked his arms. Tears trickled down his round cheeks. He didn’t know what he expected, what he wanted. He cut and cut and cut until the hole burst open.

A jettison of pumpkin innards oozed out, squirting filament, seeds, and loose meat onto Linus’s head. It flattened his hair and ran over his face, over his neck, over everything. He vanished under the pumpkin viscera, and yet the pumpkin stream showed no signs of slowing.

Charlie watched in silence. If Linus had drowned in pumpkin slime, it was, he decided, how he would have wanted to go. He thought about the past they had shared, the excitement and love spread out over backyards and baseball diamonds. He thought about the future they were supposed to share, rich and famous beyond their possible dreams. He sighed at the innards still leaking out. There’d never be another Linus. He sighed again.

“Goodbye,” he said to the mound.

The mound rose. Just an inch at first, but soon it pulsated. It grew taller with every beat until a few fingers emerged from the pulp. They clawed at the opening until an arm erupted. Then a curly head of hair. Finally Linus sat up with great strength, his body rapt with energy, his face fresh as it had been during their comic days.

“Join me,” he shouted, his voice potent and youthful. “Join me in the essence!”

And Charlie did. He slogged through and laid himself upon the pile of goop. The cool pumpkin innards oozed over his yellow shirt, his simple brown shoes.

And though they would later act like it had never happened, under pressure of life and fear of death, under the intoxication of the essence, and under the pumpkin innards that flowed down their faces, Linus kissed the round top of Charlie’s head. Just once.

Ian Golding’s fiction has appeared in CutBank, Mid-American Review, Hobart, Pank, and other journals. He is currently working on a novel.