Pumpkin carving takes on new meaning…
“Mr. Nye. Bernie. I should say, Bernie.” The old man smiled slightly. “Now you have the power. Use it well. You will profit handsomely.”
“Thank you, sir. I, I really don’t know how . . .”
“Nonsense. An investment in the talents of an artist like yourself will pay back humanity many times over!” The lined face of the man deepened as a broad smile now appeared, showing crooked yellow teeth.
The young man smiled and shook the old man’s outstretched hand.
Buffy Summers walked around the art gallery with her friends, Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris. All three high school students, clearly out of their regular element, were scanning the older, mildly sophisticated crowd. Buffy’s mother, Joyce, managed the gallery and had specifically requested her daughter along with her high school friends to come enjoy a different kind of art show. She also wanted to make sure there was at least a small crowd at the opening.
“Mom, isn’t this a little – y’know, elementary school for a gallery? Pumpkin carving?”
“It’s not pumpkin carving. It’s a display of carvings in media that don’t stand the test of time. It’s a statement of the finite nature of everything.”
“So the guy carves fruit.” Xander stifled a laugh. His tall frame didn’t keep him from slouching when he tried to comprehend something.
“Oh, not just fruit,” Joyce brightened, “Roots, tubers, um, squashes–”
“Pumpkins.” said Buffy, trying desperately not to roll her eyes.
“Please, just stay a little while. I promise you can go off and have fun, but please–” Joyce pleaded.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Buffy said, “We will say ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ in all the right places. See?” She pointed to a large pumpkin, carved with a very intricate face of an old, wizened man.”Oooh!”
“Aaaah!” added Willow and Xander together.
“Thanks. Okay, I have to mingle. There are some buyers here, I can feel it!” Joyce turned and walked to some well-dressed gentlemen having an animated conversation on Brancusi’s sculptures.
“Well,” said Willow, staying typically positive. “This isn’t a complete waste. There’s some entertainment value here.”
“Said the girl who read the encyclopedia instead of comic books.” Xander muttered. He was obviously well past bored, but stuck with them out of loyalty. Willow pointed at display in the corner of the gallery. “The sculptor’s really good! Look at that big zucchini crocodile!”
The trio zigzagged to an art installment in the corner of the main floor. A mirror representing a pond bracketed by small palm trees was the setting for a nearly life-sized alligator made of large sections of carved watermelon. The eyes were hard boiled eggs with black olive pupils. The head was a carved zucchini, lined with candy corn teeth.
“That is the biggest zucchini I’ve ever seen!” Willow exclaimed, smiling.
“Naw, the biggest zucchini keeps making the rounds around town. Everyone’s trying to get rid of it by giving it to their friends and neighbors and – wow!” Xander slapped his forehead. “This is it! The final resting place for all the doomed, wandering zucchinis of the world. Wait. Is zucchini already a plural? Is the singular a zucchino or zucchina or something?”
“Well, if you ask me,” Buffy made sure her mother wasn’t in earshot, “this whole thing zuchks.”
A couple looking closely at the Zucchinigator screamed, throwing their drinks to the ceiling. Buffy’s eyes widened as the sculpture’s jaws opened and snapped at the man, who was just able to avoid being bitten by the creature. The fruit rind was now clearly real alligator hide. The creature was alive and had morphed into a full-sized alligator, walking toward a group of visitors.
Buffy cartwheeled past the reptile and grabbed the mirror from the floor, delivering a quick kick that broke it into several pieces of jagged glass. She took two steps and bounded onto the creatures back, and made a sweeping slice across the back of its neck with the razor sharp edge of the glass.
The zucchini head fell forward and rolled to one side. Buffy was sitting atop a carved watermelon cylinders, now arranged like a Greek column, broken and lying on the ground.
Joyce and the sculptor came running into the room. “Buffy!”
“Mom! I had to– The sculpture was –”
“My caiman!” The artist’s horrified face looked at his work. “What- Oh, how?”
“Mr. Nye, I’m sure we can compensate you for this. Um. Please come to my office. We’ll make out a purchase order.” Joyce grabbed his arm and with a pained smile pulled him away. As she guided him through the crowd, she turned one last time to Buffy. Her face was a combination of pain and disappointment Buffy had seen a hundred times.
Buffy looked up at Xander and Willow, a large frown on her face.
“Can we go have fun now?”
The next day, Buffy met her pals in the school library for the briefing on what Rupert Giles had found. Giles was the librarian of the school, but was also Buffy’s Watcher, a member of an ancient order of mentors whose role was to guide every generation of vampire slayers. Whenever trouble came to Sunnydale, this was where they preferred to meet. The student academic level being what it was, they were virtually assured of privacy.
“Bernie Nye!” Willow exclaimed, shaking her head with some disbelief.
“Who is he again?” asked Buffy, grabbing a jelly doughnut from the table.
“He was two years ahead of us.” Willow continued, “We go to temple together. He always was good in art class. I think he went into his family’s catering business.”
“And now he’s making center pieces that eat people.” Xander chimed. “Oh, the irony! Turning the tables- hah! Tables?” he made a flat circle in the air with his finger, “Get it? Turning the tables on the people that eat– okay, I’ll shut up now.” Cowed, Xander looked at the floor and became silent.
“Poor Xander never knows quite when to quit.” Willow offered a sympathetic frown.
Giles looked up from the heavy, leather-bound book in his hands, “Willow, you said you did get to speak to him afterward?”
“Oh, yeah.” Willow turned, recharged with the energy that she was being listened to, “Bernie said he had a sponsor or mentor or something. Some old guy that he thought was a distant relative from Russia or Ukraine. Pavel Tikvich.”
“Thought he was related? Didn’t he know?” Giles furrowed his brow.
“Well, Bernie said he wasn’t sure, but the guy gave him some lessons in sculpture, and Bernie got it really fast. Almost like-”
“Magic.” Buffy said.
“Of course.” Giles closed the book with a dull thump.
“Giles, you said that vampires and demons don’t work on Halloween! Why the Haunted Buffet?”
“Well,” Giles looked up, thinking, “it’s true that vampires and higher demons think that Halloween is, shall we say, beneath them. But, it doesn’t mean that some lesser demons wouldn’t be willing to set up humans to cause mayhem in their place. Although All Hallows’ Eve is the time vampires and demons take the night off, there is still plenty of magic in the air, and the barrier between dimensions becomes increasingly thin and traversible, especially here on the Hellmouth.”
“Good thing there’s only one.” Xander said.
“Well, actually,” Giles replied, “There is one near Cleveland. But, that’s another story. The fact is that demons don’t have to be present for their magic to work.”
“Yes, as well we know from Ethan Raim. Son of a bit–” Buffy stopped herself. “bit-ca.”
Buffy was referring to the Halloween of their sophomore year, when a sorcerer distributed enchanted costumes to the population of Sunnydale on Halloween, with resultant chaotic and violent results. The fact that he was an old crony of Giles’ always made for a rather tense discussion, but he was now clearly an opponent of the librarian, not a buddy.
“So Bernie is a stooge, conned by a guy named tikvich,” said Buffy, eager to avoid the subject of Ethan, “What do you think, Giles?”
“Tikvich.” Giles smiled to himself, gave a short chuckle. “I’m sure we know what means, don’t we, Willow?”
Willow sat, staring at Giles. Her large eyes looking even larger than normal.
Giles seemed puzzled. “Willow! Oh, come now. Tikvich!” He pronounced the name slowly.
“Well, teak is a wood.” Xander ventured, trying to be helpful.
“’Tikva’ is Hebrew for hope.” Willow said with assurance. “How is ‘hope’–?”
“Not Hebrew! Slavonic!”
Willow frowned and said, “Hey! Gimme a break! I just finished extra research time last month with Old High German! Which, wasn’t that easy, plus, y’know -” she pointed at herself, “Jewish! The language of das Vaterland! Not exactly comfort zone!”
“Well,” said Giles, sighing deeply and ceremoniously cleaning his glasses, “if certain parties had studied their Old Church Slavonic word roots -“, his arched eyebrowed gaze turned to Willow.
“Old gin and tonic?” said Xander, looking around for help.
“Church Slavonic – the predecessor to most modern Slavic languages – tikvich basically means, well,” Giles replaced his glasses. “Pumpkin.”
“Pumpkin? Je comprend!” Buffy, exasperated, but drew upon the sophomore French which comprised the total store of her non-English vocabulary. “So, an alias.”
“An alias,” confirmed Giles.
“Oh, not his real name.” Xander said, greatly relieved that he understood what was being said.
“Phoney as a 3-ruble note.” quipped Buffy. “Wait, are there 3-ruble-?”
A resounding chorus of silent, shaking heads answered her.
“I suspect that Mr. Tikvich is really a djavol, a chaos demon from Slavic Eastern Europe. Really a lesser demon. Shouldn’t be much for you, Buffy, but, still you should, uh, be cautious.”
“Okay, Mr. Tikvich is a slobby chaos demon who likes to give art lessons, and his artworks are like demonic time-bombs that go off, even if he’s not around.” Buffy looked around at her friends.” Maybe it’s time to paint a portrait of the artist as a young corpse.”
“Despite the number of metaphors you’ve just violated. I agree with you. Tikvich must be stopped.” Giles nodded.
Back at her house, Buffy shared a light, microwaved dinner with her mom. Joyce was clearly upset with her daughter, but was trying not to display her anger.
“Mom, I’d really like to explain, but-”
“Buffy. I know you like to have fun, but you really caused a mess. Fortunately, Mr. Nye was very forgiving.”
“Forgiving? Really?” Buffy brightened at the thought that the world didn’t hate her at the moment.
“Yes, he was mollified by selling one of his works.”
“The pump-,” Joyce stopped herself, shook her head. “The ‘Ancient Man'”.
“Who bought it?” Buffy asked. There was a tone of “uh-oh” in her voice.
“The Corn Maze people. I know. I know. But a sale’s a sale. Mr. Nye was really pleased. They paid a lot more than-. Buffy?”
Buffy had grabbed her backpack and was out the door before Joyce could finish.
In an old, vacant lot, known locally as the Cornfield, a haybale maze was set up for Sunnydale families to celebrate Halloween. Vendors in costumes sold popcorn, candied apples, and spiced cider from booths lined up alongside carnival game displays. A roaring bonfire added to the autumnal atmosphere. The presence of large crane to help put up the maze walls and Sunnydale construction workers, standing around making sure the haybales and other flammables were safe, didn’t spoil the atmosphere. More than a few college students would point at them with a too-loud, “Dude! Great costume! You look just like a construction worker! Nice crane!”
Buffy arrived at the entrance. Above her was a large sign with “The Maize Maze” painted in garish orange and black.
A loudspeaker attached to a nearby pole ran a looped recording, “Come one, come all, to the Maize Maze for an A-MAAAAZING GOOD TIME!”
At first, a scream caught her attention, but just as quickly she realized a young woman was being teased by her friends, perhaps being shown a plate of eyeballs or having a rubber spider dangled in front of her face.
Then a student from school came running out of the entrance to the maze. He was clearly terrified. Buffy stopped him, grabbing his shoulders and looking into his eyes.
“What was it? What did you see?”
The young man, panting, took a breath. “Oh, man! I thought it was a robotic thing, but then he really took a swing at me with that big sickle! He nearly took my head off, then he started walking!”
Buffy loosened her grip and the boy took off.
“Time-bomb go boom.” She said under her breath. Buffy charged into the maze, but quickly ran into several dead ends. Another scream.
“Screw this.” Buffy said aloud as she climbed quickly up to the top of the maze wall. She ran along the top, bounding over the spaces, looking for the screamer.
In the middle of a dead end was a girl from school named Heidi. She was curled up in a corner, covering her face in terror. Above her loomed a large figure, a scarecrow with a familiar looking face. It was the pumpkin sculpture of the old man. The figure held a long-handled scythe in its gloved hands and drew it back, preparing to deliver the deathblow to the trembling girl. “Hey, squash-breath!”
The scarecrow looked up. Buffy had grabbed a haybale from the wall and held it over her head for a second before throwing it down on the scarecrow. But the scarecrow stood his ground and swept the air with the scythe, slicing the bale in two in mid-air, each half falling harmlessly to the sides.
“Oh, crap.” said Buffy, frowning. She jumped to the ground in front of the scarecrow, who now towered over her. She turned to Heidi.
“Run! I’ve got this!”
She was frozen, trembling in terror.
“I said, ‘RUN!'”
Heidi snapped out of it and bolted past both of them, leaving Buffy facing the scarecrow.
Buffy twirled and gave the scarecrow a kick to the midsection, but it only seemed to stop his advance. Made of hay, it didn’t have any vital organs. Her kick didn’t find any solid placement.
“Okay, Mr. If-I-only-had-a-brain, let’s see how fast you can follow the Buffy brick road.”
Buffy turned and ran out of the dead end, the scarecrow in pursuit. As she led it to the opening of the maze, she looked around, making sure there weren’t any civilians standing too close. As the monster approached, she waited for him. She slowly backed up to the hay wall. It heaved the scythe back and swung an arc aimed at Buffy’s neck. She dropped to the ground, leaving the scythe to cut air. The blade head buried itself in the haybale wall. The scarecrow struggled to get the scythe loose, when Buffy tumbled forward and landed a series of punches to the scarecrow’s midsection. Again, the straw man barely reacted.
Buffy retreated again, turning to make sure the scarecrow was following her. Now without the scythe, its gloved hands were outstretched as it charged, seeking to strangle her.
Buffy kept moving away, dodging first left, then right. The scarecrow followed her every move. Now certain, Buffy ran to workman’s site. The scarecrow followed. Buffy jumped into the cab of the crane and pulled the control, releasing the bale cable and hook. The hook swung free and caught the scarecrow, lifting it up and toward the bonfire. Screaming people scattered as Buffy pulled the lever on the crane, loosening the cable and dumping the scarecrow into the fire.
The flames immediately consumed the dry straw and the scarecrow’s pumpkin head ignited. The body hung limp on the logs. It was finished.
Climbing down from the crane, Buffy met Giles, Xander and Willow who had just arrived after hearing from Joyce how Buffy had so typically run out before finishing dinner.
“Late again. Sorry, Buffy.” Willow apologized, out of breath.
“No worries.” Buffy smiled, “Well, one less pumpkin-demon-monster-scarecrow, uh, thing.” Buffy’s smile stopped and she turned to look at the burning scarecrow.
“What’s up, Buff?” Xander asked.
“I dunno. Something about the head.”
As if to answer, the pumpkin exploded, raining orange goo on the gang.
Back at the library, Buffy was hefting the scythe, looking at it with interest.
Xander shook his head, “What a dumb name. Scythe? Who thought that up? What a dumb idea for a weapon. I mean, – crossbows, yeah, but something that’s just a big hoe.” He started laughing, “Get it?”
“Stop.” Giles stared at Xander. “Just stop right there.”
“I dunno,” Buffy continued to hold the scythe. “It’s too long, but there’s something right about it. Oh, well.” She tossed it into the corner with a clang. “So, the son-of-a-tikvich is gone, well, at least for now. What about Bernie?”
“Well, Bernie really wasn’t guilty of anything. The police had nothing to charge him with. He’s learned his lesson about trusting magical strangers. I hope.” Willow said. “Um.”
“Something wrong, Willow?” Giles asked.
“Well, he got a scholarship at a culinary institute. He’ll be a professional chef.”
“Hey, that’s great! He gets to get out of Sunnydale and make a life doing what he loves.” Buffy smiled, happy that some good came of this episode.
“Yeah,” said Willow, “the institute’s in Cleveland.”
They all looked at each other.
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