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“The Pumpkin-Carving Contest” by Dayle A. Dermatis

My name is Annemarie Ling-Hernandez, and I am in Mrs. Stefan’s class. I live in Mount Pleasant, New York. This is my essay about my entry in the pumpkin-carving contest.

I would really, really, really like to win this contest because I never win anything ever. Like at Halloween in school when we play musical pumpkins. It’s like musical chairs except that there aren’t any chairs, just construction-paper pumpkins on the floor, and when the music stops we each have to grab a pumpkin. Every year for as long as I can remember Jacob Leister and me are the last two people and there’s one pumpkin on the floor and we both grab for it and it rips, and he always has the bigger half, so he gets the prize.

And it’s usually the one I made. I know because I always put the biggest green stem on.

How I carved my pumpkin:

First we went to the pumpkin patch on Route 9 and I looked and looked to find the perfect pumpkin ever. A couple of times my dad looked at his phone and asked if I had found it yet, and then my mom hit him in the arm and told him this was a special thing and someday I wouldn’t want to do this anymore. Of course I will! My mom took a picture of me in the pumpkin patch and then she went back to reading stuff on her phone.

So anyway, I found the perfect pumpkin, it was round and not lopsided and had a really long stem.

My mom made me put it on the back porch on top of lots of newspaper, and my dad scooped out all the squishy insides which made me glad because I didn’t want to touch them.

Then I sat there looking at the pictures that came with the pumpkin carving kit trying to decide what I wanted to do. I’d mostly decided to do a cat when the man showed up.

I’m supposed to come in when it gets dark, but the porch light was on and I figured it was okay if someone was with me.

Anyway, he said I should look at it from all angles, and I didn’t understand what he meant, but then he said I should roll it onto its side, and when I did I could see that the stem looked like a long nose.

I know we’re not supposed to get any help with our pumpkins except if we can’t use the knife, but he didn’t do any of the carving, he just made suggestions, and that’s okay, right? I could see that it looked like a nose, and all he did was say make the mouth bigger or make the eyes egg-shaped with points at the edges, not round.

When I was done he said he wanted to take it with him. I cried because it was my only pumpkin and my parents were too busy to take me back to the pumpkin patch. And he said it was okay as long as I gave it to him after I turned it in for this contest. So I need to have my jack-o-lantern back so I can give it to the nice man.

I really, really hope I win!

Annemarie Ling-Hernandez

***

Addendum from Heather Stefan to the Judging Committee:

I know this looks incredibly sophisticated for one of the children in my class. I did call the parents in for a conference, and they both swore they didn’t help Annemarie with the project at all. Given how wrapped up they are in their jobs, I’m inclined to believe them. They acted like they’d never seen it before, even though Mr. Hernandez carried the jack-o-lantern in for Annemarie.

They are not familiar with any man who might have helped her and, indeed, are disturbed (as am I!) over the possibility that a stranger approached her that night—especially given that their back yard is fenced in.

I have asked Annemarie about the man, and she has been unable to describe him with any degree of certainty. She says that it was dark and she couldn’t see his face. When pressed, she said that it looked like he didn’t have a head—clearly, she didn’t want to continue the conversation, so I let it drop.

Although Annemarie isn’t prone to fanciful tales, I can only assume she was inspired by the artwork we have of Ichabod Crane in the school library: The long, crooked nose; the wide mouth; the way his eyebrows are uneven – all echo the facial features of Crane, almost eerily so.

Of course, we don’t tell the stories about the Headless Horseman in class, as it may be too disturbing for children this age. However, it’s possible Annemarie heard the tale elsewhere. I asked her, but she seemed unaware of the legend.

Yes, the work she did on the pumpkin is beyond what we expect from this age. Although she hasn’t shown latent artistic talent before, it’s possible that Annemarie is finally coming into her own, especially given the creative essay she provided. I recommend that she be allowed to join the advanced art class if a spot comes free.

***

I gave the man the pumpkin today. He put it on his head, and nodded, and I laughed because the pumpkin nodding looked funny, and he said thank you and that he would see me next year. Then he got on his big black horse and rode away, and I ran inside and told my mom and dad, and they told me not to make up stories that weren’t true.

I don’t care. I won the pumpkin carving contest!!! I’ve never won anything before!!! I put the blue ribbon over my bed so I can see it all the time. It’s even better than the candy I’m going to get when I go trick-or-treating tonight.

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About the Author

Dayle A. Dermatis has been called “one of the best writers working today” by USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith. Under various pseudonyms (and sometimes with coauthors), she’s sold several novels and more than 100 short stories in multiple genres. She lives and works in California within scent of the ocean, and in her spare time follows Styx around the country and travels the world, all of which inspires her writing. She loves music, cats, Wales, TV, magic, laughter, and defying expectations. To find out where she is today, check out www.DayleDermatis.com.

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