Short Fiction — The Gevkahahal
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m not personally a huge fan of Halloween. Again, it’s just a personal view, but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, don’t find much horror to be “frightening” compared to the real world (that doesn’t mean that it’s not good, just not scary), and playing with identity feels silly to me. That said, I know that many people—especially people working in the arts—love all of those, and I respect that. And I’m well aware how stupid it would be to not indulge that world when there’s an excuse to do so on the blog, like a Sunday post landing on Halloween.
So, accept the following concept with my compliments, and I apologize in advance for its inevitable lack of eeriness.
In the early days of man, the drunkard Hia meant to take the knowledge and cunning of the mighty Coyotl. Spreading word far and wide of a great, private banquet and sacrifice, he laid his trap. When his first visitor arrived, it could only be Coyotl, as nobody had been invited. So, Hia insisted that he could not serve the meal until half the seats were filled around the table.
Coyotl considered, and by skipping between rays of sunlight, gave the appearance of dozens of guests arriving. Not satisfied, Hia then insisted that three quarters of the seats must be filled, then seven eighths, and so on, until only two seats remained: One seat for Hia, and the other for the mysterious guest of honor. Hia watched Coyotl with glee as each new face appeared, and all of them began to look tired and hungry.
Hia began serving the grand meal, a hot and hearty stew, but demanded that no “guest” could eat until the guest of honor had taken his first bite. When asked who the guest of honor could be, Hia had a simple answer: Coyotl.
With effort, dodging rays of sunlight around the banquet table, Coyotl retained the presence of the “guests” and appeared suddenly as himself. But Hia needed proof, demanding that Coyotl bring him light that could never be extinguished. By then, Coyotl was hungry from his efforts and was willing to grant any request, tiring himself out even more.
At the end of a delicious first course, Hia shackled Coyotl—still distracted from the exertion—to his chair, causing the other guests to fade from the table. “You have deceived me to eat much of my food, and all I have left to eat is this pumpkin. Yet I have trapped you, instead, Coyotl,” Hia shouted. “I will free you, but only if I may live forever, with my belly full like the pumpkin.”
Coyotl thought a moment, and replied, “what you ask is possible, though it can only be done in exchange for a small amount of your labor. Do you agree?”
Hia accepted the agreement and Coyotl said, “forever more, you shall be an agent of harvest. Each year, you must reward the good children and punish the evil. But you shall not do so as Hia, for Hia is lazy, abrasive, and too gullible. No, as you asked, you will become like the pumpkin, becoming a pumpkin, yourself. You shall serve the world as…the Gevkahahal!”
And with that, Coyotl vanished, his laugh echoing as Hia felt his feet take root in the ground and his limbs stiffen into vines. Terrified, he cried out, hearing only his voice echo back. But it was not an echo, for he had no mouth. Rather, it was from a distant pumpkin patch, for he was here, and he was there. A part of him—a part of Gevkahahal, rather—was spread through all pumpkins, allowing him to lure children to be tested and decide whether they are worthy, whenever the autumnal harvest is ripe.
Halloween, 4:52 p.m.
“Run!” Devansh keeps hoping that he might come up with better direction for his friends, but increasing the distance is all that he can think about, especially when—
“We’ll kill you brats!” The kids can still hear Terryn’s bellows, even as he and the other older kids fall behind.
It wasn’t a big deal. This shouldn’t have been a big deal. After all, it was a funny prank. Terryn and his pals just happened to walk into the middle of it, and they were…less than amused. And now they’re trying to make the night less amusing.
Erbol started to fall behind, but caught a second wind. “What’s with them? It’s not like they’ll be sticky forever.”
“Just keep running,” Khadija screamed. She could be further ahead, as the fastest runner in their class, but she would never leave somebody behind. Plus, she could see that they’re pulling away.
Or are they? Mair shouts “I’ll burn your hair off, just like my accident last year,” and she sounds worryingly close. Whose sister is she? It’s hard to remember details like that in absolute panic.
“Yeah, and I’ll smother the flames with my body,” Bambang adds, raising the question of how he runs so fast, not that there’s time to ask.
“🎶 This way to gate, this way, direction you must weigh. Are you good, are you bad? I may just need your head… 🎶”
“What was that,” Erbol blurts out. “Did they find someone else to be angry?”
Devansh eyes the road ahead, still hoping to find their next move. “What was what? Did you hear something?”
“Yeah, a song. It was—”
“🎶 This way to gate, this way, direction you must weigh. Are you good, are you bad? I may just need your head… 🎶”
“OK, now I hear it, too,” Khadija admitted.
“I don’t—” Devansh finds his voice and his path cut off by a wall of flame. “Wait, this is good. If we can make it through, those bullies won’t follow us.”
“Bad idea, Devansh,” Khadija suggests. “There’s an opening to the side.”
“Definitely a bad idea,” Erbol stutters. Did his home burn down, once? It’s funny how disjointed memories jump out in an emergency.
“We’ll split up, then. It’s the only way, and we can catch up later, on the far side of the graveyard,” Devansh decides. With a good running start, he jumps. And as he passes through the flame…it vanishes, replaced by a wall, with Devansh nowhere to be seen.
“Devansh,” the others cry. They can’t stop, because their lead isn’t that long.
“Erbol, this way. It’s where the fire didn’t cover,” Khadija points. “We’ll have to find Devansh later.”
They rush off, toward the town graveyard, when Terryn, Mair, and Bambang arrive. “You two follow them,” Terryn orders. “I saw one of those freaks get into this building, and I think I hear the coward.”
Mair and Bambang shrug and return to chasing Erbol and Khadija, as Terryn vanishes into the wall. Seeing an empty bottle on the street, Mair picks it up as she runs and throws it. The glass missile nudges Erbol’s hair and lands in front of the younger children, shattering between them and the entrance to the graveyard.
“🎶 Side by side, two by two. Prove yourself, ere night’s through. 🎶”
“I don’t like this,” Khadija admits. As if on cue, the shattered glass from the bottle began to jitter and shake, almost appearing to be alive.
“🎶 Side by side, two by two. Prove yourself, ere night’s through. 🎶”
Splinters of glass explode out from the ground, creating a low wall, from the graveyard back into town, separating Khadija from Erbol, Mair from Bambang. As the glass rises, Erbol shouts out “we’ll have to meet on the other side of the graveyard, like Devansh said. I just don’t want to be alone.”
“Oh, you won’t be alone,” Bambang screams, starting to gain ground. Erbol runs for the graveyard.
Flames shoot out from the graves, sending Erbol and Bambang into each other’s arms, before Bambang pushed his “enemy” away. “Get off me, loser,” he stammered.
“🎶 One of you little ones may meet your end tonight. A contest of obituary that must shine light. In verse, your panteone you shall speak, a literary skull to commemorate your peak. 🎶”
“What even is,” Bambang started, before getting cut off.
“🎶 Speak! 🎶”
“We don’t understand,” Erbol tried.
“🎶 Speak! 🎶”
“I—I don’t know if this is what you mean, but…Erbol was a boy beloved, once forced to memorize Ovid. He leaves behind a family with a cat, and they all loved to chat?” As Erbol spoke, flames danced around him in a circle, then dissipated.
“🎶 A lack of lies is not truth in disguise. 🎶” The ground trembled and the light of fires shifted to Bambang.
“Truth? Well, here goes. Bambang died angry, this is true, because he hated both of you.”
“🎶 An emotion is a start, but only a small motion. 🎶” Again, the lights shift.
“Erbol wanted to grow up, to live. But because of Bambang’s ire, he lies in this grave, unable to cry, unable to flee. Erbol would rather be anywhere but with thee.”
“You started it, though.”
“It was an accident. We’re in this mess, because the three of you chased us.”
“🎶 Silence,” the voice shouts. “You must go deeper to show that understand stakes, rather than just know. Hold no secrets, nothing above reproach, lest you tour the underworld from its stagecoach. 🎶”
Bambang takes a deep breath. “Bambang’s father beat him for not liking girls, Devansh and Mair the few who accepted him, more valuable than pearls.” He gasps, shocked by his own words.
“I didn’t know, Bambang. I’m so…” Erbol is cut short, as Bambang vanishes into a gout of flame. “What did you do to him?”
“🎶 Your opponent is safe, more than can be said of you. You have one last chance to show yourself true. 🎶”
Erbol steels himself for what might be the final time. “A fire destroyed my home when I was younger. There isn’t a day that I don’t think about the loss. The flames here set my fears to hunger. Yet to save Bambang, into them I’ll toss…myself.”
Halloween, 4:58 p.m.
Khadija screams out for Erbol, but hesitates on approaching the wall of flame. As Mair runs at Khadija, fists out, she comes to a sudden halt. Flames spring from the ground all around them, but these flames die down quickly, replaced by corpses surrounding the girls.
“🎶 Action is the key to save thee. Confront and embrace mortality. Do your best, or cease to exist. 🎶”
“Whatever, that doesn’t even make sense,” Mair mutters.
Khadija spins on her heel, looking at each of the undead in turn, speaking to herself under her breath. “Explorer, beggar, warrior, soldier, chief, child, businessman, captain,” she trailed off. “Mair, we need to join their dance. ‘Embrace mortality,’ the voice said. These zombies or whatever they are come from all walks of life, but they aren’t attacking. What we have in common with them is that…we all die.”
“Speak for yourself, kid. You know who my parents are. They could destroy any of them.”
“Mair, that won’t stop anyone from dying.”
Mair’s eyes mist over. “It…might? No, it will.” She faces the dead. “Do you hear that? I’m better than all of you.”
“Suit yourself, Mair,” Khadija said, as she joined hands with an athlete and a legless pauper, dancing along with them. “But reconsider, just in case it doesn’t work out.”
“You can. Mair, ignore them. We were friends, once. You didn’t think that you were better or worse than me, then. You have more opportunities, but living forever might not be one of them.”
“But then what?”
“Then? Then we make the most of what we have.”
“I should just…give up?”
“You heard the voice, wherever it is. Play along or we die here and now. You don’t have a chance if the zombie-master kills you.” Khadija reaches out.
“I…I guess.” Mair takes the offered hand, joining the dance. “It is a dance, and money doesn’t make better dancers.”
Halloween, 4:56 p.m.
Devansh stares at a blank wall that was once a wall of fire. While trying to find an exit, he is knocked over as Terryn lands on top of him, fists swinging.
“Stop! We’re trapped, you idiot,” he cracks his nemesis in an unkind location to get his attention, and to stop the pummeling.
“🎶 Objects are here, which remind each of you of your ends. Display them, and you may yet reunite with your friends. Fail to secure or deliver the prize, and you may well cause your own demise. 🎶”
Flames encircle the small room, startling Devansh, the light revealing a table piled high with something.
“A spooky voice wants us to dig through a pile of junk? Your prank has gone too far, shrimp,” Terryn made a move to hit Devansh, but a gout of flame stood between them.
“This isn’t a prank, at least not mine. And what happened to you wasn’t part of my prank, either. That was an accident, and…I’m sorry.”
“You’re going to be sorry, when we get out of this.”
“Look, you heard the voice. Maybe it’s a joke, but we both passed through a solid wall,” Devansh gestured, “and that’s pretty real. And if this is real, we have to play along or die.”
“At least you die with me.” Another flame interrupted the older boy.
“The voice seems to disagree. Truce?”
“Whatever, man, but if any of this is someone’s prank, I’ll shove their prank so far—”
“Yeah, I get it.”
Terryn runs for the table, grabbing items almost at random. “This is easy. These bones, this knife, a black cloak, and a picture of a moth. Sure. And I got the good ones before little Devansh.”
Flames show a path from Terryn’s place at the table to a display cabinet against the far wall. “🎶 Correct yourself but once, if there be need, but settle up before you can be freed. 🎶”
Devansh starts digging through the table carefully, thinking aloud about what he sees. Terryn wouldn’t intentionally help, but maybe he would blurt out something useful. “A clock for time running out, maybe. Skulls remind everybody…wait, we were told that each object needed to remind us of our own deaths. This candle looks like the ones at my grandmother’s funeral. My dog died eating sugar-free snacks. That weird neighbor used to talk about mirrors being gateways to the dead. And the black and white ram from the mosque.” He rushed over to his cabinet to hastily arrange the items.
It was only as the room faded that Devansh noticed items from the table stuffed into Terryn’s pockets.
Halloween, 5:07 p.m.
The graveyard seems normal as Devansh, Khadija, and Bambang emerge from the shadows. “I guess we won,” Bambang suggests, eyes strangely red and swollen. “So, now what?”
“🎶 All six survive, though three hang by a thread. Bring the avatar to heel to save them, or mourn the dead. Confront your mortality at last, or join your opponents as a thing of the past. 🎶”
“Oh, no,” Khadija realizes. “We must have one our contests, and now the three of us need to solve a final puzzle to save our…enemies…partners…whatever.”
“But I already confronted my mortality. What could—” Devansh is unable to finish that thought, as the ground rumbles, and vines twist through the graveyard. The tendrils come together, massing into a bulging sphere, then peel away to reveal a jack o’lantern dwarfing the children.
“It’s…it’s not a prank. It’s the Gevkahahal,” Bambang manages to push out between screams.
Halloween, 7:39 p.m.
“Honestly, I don’t remember much,” Khadija explains. “I guess it was the fear. It’s hard to pay attention in situations like that.”
Devansh tries, “there were pumpkin guts everywhere, I remember that.”
“And…candy,” Bambang offers, questioning the word as he says it.
Mair laughs. “So what, the three of you bravely subdued a magic piñata-monster to save our lives?”
“Mair, you laugh that idea off like we’re not wading ankle-deep in generic-brand candy and squash,” Terryn chides, downing yet another chocolate-covered something-or-other. “Not to mention…what the rest of us saw.” Erbol shudders, still not quite willing to speak up, again.
“I don’t know what happened, or even if something happened. For all I know, we fell asleep and had nightmares, maybe fell to explain the cuts and bruises,” Bambang suggests. “Except…”
“Except,” Terryn says flatly. “It makes sense, except for the candy all over the graveyard, except for the vegetable crud, except that we all had basically the same dream that included everybody else, except…what are you clutching?”
“Hmm,” Bambang asks, holding a coin up for inspection. “Oh, I don’t even know. As far as I can remember, the pumpkin gave it to me, maybe? I don’t know. I have a lot to think about it.”
“So much to think about,” Erbol shudders again, but finally speaking. “Like, are we…friends, now?”
“Maybe,” Mair says, staring intently at our feet. “It’s not like we were really angry about the prank, even if that was still in the top-ten list of important things to happen tonight. It was actually pretty funny,” she pokes Terryn in the ribs to provoke a laugh, “and I don’t know about anyone else, but tonight makes a good case that I can’t have too many friends.”
Everybody in the circle nods in agreement.
Halloween, 7:14 p.m.
“Is anybody out there? I can’t see,” Bambang worries, the smell of pumpkin saturating the sudden darkness. “Did we survive?”
“🎶 Six live, and six go free, but a point of order remains ‘twixt we. 🎶” That voice, again, though no longer confrontational. “🎶 Bambang gave of himself, beyond the pale, earning the right to pierce the dread veil. On your day of souls, this token take, offering of marigolds and foods you may make, to contact a soul you wish to awake… 🎶”
“I—I don’t know what to say.”
“🎶 Naught needs be said, yet pay proper respects to the dead. 🎶”
“Right. Yes, of course. And the others?”
“🎶 They shall thaw as I withdraw, but only you receive a reward. 🎶” Bambang considers this, but is distracted by the question of whether the rhyme is valid, until he hears a stirring.
“Oh,” Khadija’s voice sounds from under a mound of pumpkin flesh and candy, “what hit us…?”
Here’s some quick background on the story elements.
This story was inspired by discussing the interesting but not-quite-inspiring SCP Pumpkin Punchers story in the Free Culture Book Club, one year ago today, when I realized that the concept could plausibly be the seed of a Free Culture equivalent to the Great Pumpkin of Peanuts lore. Here, the “monster” is a former Native American man—probably of the Tohono O’odham tribe but definitely of the general Pima/Sonora region, where pumpkins seem to be native—who wanted to be a Trickster, but instead was duped in a Faustian bargain into taking on a role that’s somewhere between Santa Claus and Krampus, but themed for Halloween. The idea would be that he lures trick-or-treating children into pumpkin patches and subjects them to tests.
One of the tests is a loose adaptation of calavera literaria, faux-epitaph verse that (in this case) demands that the child express hidden emotions without getting caught up in them. The next is a kind of Danse Macabre, acknowledging mortality and breaking social class barriers, without falling prey to either. The last is a sort of live vanitas, choosing and arranging the proper reminders of death. The fire (and glass) and singing were meant to reference the Irish Áillen, though it probably doesn’t come across as that, seeming far more like a failed attempt to produce something eerie. I admittedly don’t generally go for scary, so not much of this provokes an immediate fight-or-flight response.
Children (and probably occasional adults) who completely fail the tests are devoured by the pumpkin patch or just hurt. Those who pass the tests are rewarded, these days with candy. Those in between—as is the case, here—are imprisoned with the “winners” given a chance to free them. Those who gain the Gevkahahal’s respect with their solutions to the puzzles, are granted a token that allows them an audience with the dead the following night, a nod to Día de Muertos.
The Gevkahahal’s name is a poor translation of “strong pumpkin” in the Tohono O’odham language. Fault me for any imperfection, there. I tried to get the translation right and then simplify it to represent corruption as generations forget that the beast is real, not to mention colonization and the resulting aggressive population shifts. The result is probably not worth the effort by any metric.
In other words, while I started with the intent of something at least vaguely culturally authentic, it’s more just vaguely inspired by a pan-Latin American and other traditions and might misappropriate more than I should be comfortable with.
Did I plan to have a massive fight scene as the kids struggle to save each other, realize that I hadn’t the foggiest idea how teenagers were going to fight a mythological monster, and decide to just skip that part with a lazy “everyone’s memory is fuzzy on the details” hand-wave? Yes. Yes, I did. On the one hand, I think that hand-waving actually does work for these specific characters. On the other hand, there’s already a story that’s primarily a fight in this context. On a third but equal hand, the story and blog post are released under a Free Culture license, so if anyone has a better vision for choreographing the scene, that can be just as official…
In any case, have a happy Halloween, or nearest culturally appropriate equivalent.
Credits: The header image is MONSTER PUMPKIN! by Brian Watson, released under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic license.
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