By Landon Koenig-Muenster
It was orange the day I found them. That’s got to absolve me a little bit, right? I think that history will absolve me; retrospect will allow future scholars to pinpoint just how large my part was in this ghastly autumnal play. Did I say large? I meant small! I meant small! Please! Put those things away! My part was definitely small. That’s the truth. But I will confess, some little voice inside me is rustling against the grain, saying I was a major player, and I have to shout it down with one incontrovertible fact: “I never chose to go down into that infernal, infernal patch.”
Perhaps after hearing my story you will agree…
The memory begins with this: My dismounting shoe grinding into the dry and brittle dirt of a parking lot. It kicks up tongues of dust to eddy away on the last, depleted sigh of a furtive sea breeze. ‘It’s hot out’, was the most complex thought that I could form, and I had to squint heavily, looking out over the rippling heat waves of the van’s hood into the picturesque slice of Americana that was this particular Santa Barbara field.
I was trying to find Jen amongst the blurs, but all I could see were parents towing children in red wagons down straw-lined paths, goats crying for attention or release from a rustic petting zoo, and the other panoply of agricultural holiday tourism surrounding this month of months: October, Autumnal October. Pumpkins sat and grew rotund in the heat.
She’s out there somewhere, I think. Didn’t she say she was scoping out pumpkins for something? I think that’s what she said. I wish I’d brought some water. The sun is like an incandescent, angry penny. I’ll go find her. Maybe there will be the opportunity for some amusing photographs. Everybody responds positively to pumpkins. Social media will love this.
I set out. I’ve got a few places like this stored away in the ol’ memory bank. I step past painted wooden signs and a still, mini-windmill, remember the time I couldn’t stop sneezing after I got several kids to inter me inside of a ziggurat of straw bales. Yeah, this place has the flavor down. Maybe the flavor is unstoppable and it just comes. How powerful is Halloween? The answer is probably ‘just enough’.
Picking out the pumpkin for carving or the tree for felling is probably a closely held and protected memory for the folks that are into this sort of thing. It’s got its key, memorable elements for sure. Good branding. But for me, it doesn’t feel the same anymore. Why is that?
I allow myself a very gloomy young man thought: for kids, these kinds of holidays are magical. For parents, they’re doing it for the kids and maybe getting something back in the process. For interrum people like me, they’re just bored and praying that following the season will make life magic like it used to be, or maybe in some fun, new grown-up way. I feel old before my time, one of my least favorite character traits. At least I can comfort myself with the fact that I don’t know anything.
I tell myself to loosen up, and hey, check out these pumpkins! There are loads of them, stretching out to that sun-blackened fence over there, organized around a logic that really only becomes apparent once you’re knee-deep in the squash.
Finding the right pumpkin is tough—it’s a sort of reconciliation of a pumpkin nobody’s ever seen (a platonic pumpkin) with the realities of biology; this one’s oddly flat on the sides, this one’s stump or handle is sunk way in there, this one has a skin condition, that one is too small, is that one even a pumpkin? Having a kid around who can make an arbitrary selection helps—maybe that’s what Jen needs—where is she? I shield my eyes from the burning Santa Barbara heat (I’m from the Pacific Northwest, cut me some slack) and look around for her. Nothing. Serves me right for dozing off in the car. I wish I had that water.
Maybe the heat is getting to me. Looking around at all the pumpkins, my thoughts turn to how they’re just a little more bulbous than your average human noggin. Here’s a Halloween thought! Maybe inside every pumpkin is an ominous, bobbing brain, glowing a faint, pale green— a deeply creased couple pounds of gray matter hiding inside an innocuous, innocent-looking organic tank. Plotting, scheming, coveting, communicating, radiating, pushing…
It’s so hot out here. How do they all stand it? Lie down. You’ll feel better.
I don’t lie down. I collapse.
Around me, the orange ones seem to gather close.
When I come to, Jen is standing over me, looking justifiably concerned.
“I’m working on my tan,” I explain confidently. “Ya won’t tan if you don’t stand, that’s what I always say!” I stand up and swat straw and dirt from my jeans. “That’s the exact negation of what you were doing.” She observes. “Or a double negative. Or something. Whatever you just said, it’s nonsense.”
Drat! She’s seen through my misdirections once again!
“Right you are, boss!” I declare. “Just testing you. Gotta make sure you aren’t suffering from heatstroke out here.” I laugh with gusto to signal the conversation is over.
It’s time for us to leave, she informs me, and we set off. Almost out, now. Almost out of the orange. We make it to the edge of the patch.
“Where are you taking that pumpkin?”
Despite the heat, a cold bead of sweat slaloms down the hillocks of my back. I have to think fast. My brain squirms in its rig.
“Don’t we need one? For the, er, photo shoots? Instagram? Halloween boxes?”
“No, I got what we needed. Put that one back, please.”
“Yes, ma’am. I got it from over there, I’ll put it back in its precise spot.” I’m not a very good liar, but I move like I’m going to do what she says. I put the pumpkin down but keep a careful eye on her as she makes her way back to the van.
When the door closes loudly, I look back to the pumpkin. Orange. So orange.
I pick it up, look around to make sure nobody is watching, and hustle it back to the van. I put it someplace Jen won’t see, and get back in the cabin like nothing has happened. But something has happened. As I square my companion away for his escape from the pumpkin patch, he thanks me: “Welcome to the Struggle, Comrade.” And as we peel out of the dirt parking lot and I check the retreating farm in the side-view mirrors, I can almost see all the pumpkin brains watching us go, a long-odds ship bearing fateful cargo, before turning back to their silent work.
My companion told me to address him as Dutch, and for the weeks preceding and following Halloween I was his accomplice— under duress, of course. At the start of each morning of deliveries for Out of the Box, I would fetch my handler from the safe house I had made for him, belt him into my van’s passenger seat with great care, and carry him with me to a select network of homes around the greater LA Metropolitan Area. I can provide a list of names if you’d like…
They had done their work well; there was a pumpkin agent on almost every doorstep—watching, listening, recording, informing—each one cleverly camouflaged amongst the more benign crowd of skeletons, gravestones, spiders, ghouls, and witches.
“We would be in real trouble if they all had brains,” remarked Dutch as I shut my door and sped off, leaving behind a well decorated home in Mid-City. “But fortunately, it’s just us pumpkins— the Black Cats Revolutionary Front was dissolved in the mid 80s during one of those ‘moral panics’ we pumpkins spun up.” I nodded, knowing exactly what he was talking about, and hit the accelerator, passing a particularly slow moving Toyota Corolla. “They were the last speed bump in the milieu. Now it’s just a matter of finding the right moment to push.”
“Push for what?” I asked. Dutch had been remarkably tight-lipped about what the point of all of this was. ‘Operational Security’ was his usual excuse for silence, but I could tell that he really wanted to tell me. I knew, because I could feel the weight of his brain inside the squash as I would carry it to and from the stoops, and it’s the mark of a big brain that it loves to talk about its plans and how smart it is.
“Taking the whole turkey,” he said, rolling down the window with his stem and taking a deep breath of the cool night air. “Running the show. No more being the ghost at the feast. We’ll take it all and never be confined to October again. It will be the final revolution, and we’ll cast off our seasonal slavery, our niche market. We’ll be grown all the time, and be bought all the time. All other produce can go to hell.”
He produced a cigarette, lit it, and looked pensively out the window towards the first stirrings of the sun rising in the east, ashing embers out the window.
“We’ll be kings.” His voice broke a little as he said it, so I kept my mouth shut hoping he would continue. He inhaled as much smoke as he could (which wasn’t much) and blew it out the window, letting the rattle of the van draw out the moment.
At length, he spoke: “I’m not gonna let some schmuck kid lobotomize my innards, carve a clown’s face in me, and then light my chest cavity on fire just so I can overstay my welcome and rot away neglected and alone on some doorstep. No thank you. I don’t want that for me, and I don’t want it for my seeds.” He tossed the cigarette out the window. “It’s all year round, or die trying. That’s what we all agreed on when we realized the mess we’d signed on for. We’re in this together.”
I waited a little while before following up.
“So what do you need me for?”
“I’m a pumpkin, Landon. Do I look like I can drive? “
Sometimes it wasn’t just the absolute mind control that moved me to do what I did. It was the vague sense that I was finally part of something that was larger than myself, something I could see and hear and touch—no more of the vague political platitudes I drank up each election cycle or the abstract Hegelian notions of socio-historical progression I’d sat through back in school. I could see the world changing, growing more orange, and in the midst of it all my own humble part, carting the spymaster from operative to operative, greasing the gears of a grand machine, maneuvering them into place.
The call: “Will they go for it?” The response: “They’ll go for it.” “How’s the behavior?” “Conforming.” “Enthusiasm?” “Middling to fanatical.” “And the neighborhood?” “They’ll play ball.” “Nice work. Keep an eye out.” “Will do.”
And at every stop the same thing, the same answers. Looking out the window, watching autumnal doorstep after autumnal doorstep pass by in the shadowy glow of streetlamps, it became apparent just how big this net was being cast. This was for real. They were for real. They were building a movement, a holiday transcendent, the apotheosis of a color. It was to be Orange October—
The Pumpkin Putsch was an enormous success. The paradigm got turned on its head. One holiday took control of the rest of the year. Most of the population being hung over or sick from too much candy the night before didn’t help the resistance movement much. You might say those that stood in their way were squashed. Heh.
Well, in the end, Dutch was right. All they had needed to do was spread that spirit, pare down their icons to a select, powerful few, and find that crux moment to give a firm, decisive push. And I helped. I helped to make it happen.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of those days because it’s a matter of vague public record. Everybody knows what happened, but you’d be hard pressed to find somebody that can actually recall it in any meaningful detail. I think it makes everyone pretty uncomfortable. But back to the point of my story, where this is all going— let’s not mistake the forest for the trees.
What followed after, as is usually the case, was more important. Everything hinges on the endgame.
The current generation of pumpkin overlords began to rot. Nobody escapes nature, right? They seeded their heirs into the fields, the generation that would inherit their orange, new world. But they were, in hindsight, a bit behind schedule. The raucous celebrations after they had seized power had blurred their vision. Even big brains can forget that it’s the hard, ongoing work, the devilish mundane details, that make a revolution, rather than the coup itself. Maybe the monochrome deluded them into forgetting they were the only game in town.
To be honest, I never figured that you poultry would be our saviors either. They say that turkey brains are immune to the mind-control waves, but I think it’s something simpler: I think people resented being ruled by flora. So when the great, roiling tides of gobbling swept the streets, us fellow humans took up the cries of “America for the Animals!”, and the seeming invincibility of the pumpkins came crashing down like the façade it was.
And so, my handsome turkey interrogators, that is the extent of my collaboration with the hated oppressors of the month past. I helped them, yes, but I never willingly sought them out. I was simply a victim of the holiday, participating in a movement with everyone else. Elemental mind control, an incisive break from whatever rules the rest of the year, the rest of the great sweep of time maybe.
So stay the bludgeoning of your horns of plenty! I am your man now! Lucky for you, I’m fond of this new vanguard, and my van and I are willing to work for you asking nothing in return, provided you OK it with Jen first of course.
I think you all could rule forever if you like, provided you can survive the coming cold of the solstice, and the vague stirrings that have begun in the chill dark of America’s forests. But let’s not worry ourselves about such things, about tomorrow, next month, a year from now! Let us feast, and give thanks that you delivered us from horror, and supernatural evil! Yes, gentlebirds, I’ll be your driver, and I’ll deliver you anywhere.
Landon Koenig-Muenster, Los Angeles 2014