The Birth of Pumpkin Man
It all started when the coyotes attacked.
Carl Tighe was a boy of twelve years old, living on a farm in rural southeast Michigan. Since he lived in the middle of nowhere, he did manual labor jobs on site instead of regular neighborhood chores over the years. Throwing grain bags, hauling wood, corralling animals and splitting logs weren’t outside his repertoire. One winter afternoon he was assigned to the task of chopping down some small trees that were encroaching onto one of the paths that wound through the forest in the backyard. Bringing a hatchet for chopping and one for a spare, he set to work. A few hours into his job, as it was getting dark, Carl heard the sound of a cat yowling in the distance. Realizing it was one of his outdoor cats, Missy, he charged off with two hatchets in hand, his orange snowsuit protecting him from the blowing snow. Seeing Missy up in a tree, his eyes dropped to find a group of coyotes barking up at her. Carl let out a bellow, knowing that any regular coyotes would freak and run. Unfortunately for him, though, the coyotes must have been rabid or something, because they turned, their eyes gleaming as they set their sights on bigger prey. As they lunged, Carl had no choice but to fight. As the fight raged on, two things surprised Carl. For one, he was actually surviving a vicious attack by three crazed coyotes. Secondly, though, the coyotes were actually surviving attacks by two hatchets. The steel blades might as well have been not sharpened at all. Every time Carl connected, the steel would knock them back, but otherwise it would slide off and leave no cut or scrape. Somehow, Carl managed to land solid hits to each of the coyotes’ heads, knocking them down and out. Mentally exhausted and weary, Carl got Missy down and hurried home before the coyotes came to, with the inkling of an idea starting in the back of his mind…
* * *
Four years later, a sixteen-year-old Carl sat on the couch, reading a book while his black cat, Poofle, sat in his lap, purring. For the past four years, Carl had been reflecting on that encounter in the woods, training his newfound skill with his hatchets. All those four years, he had been slicing up dummies, splitting logs, and cleaving targets with his thrown axes. All that time working had whipped him into fine physical shape, so he felt confident he could deal with a threat such as those seemingly indestructible coyotes. All those years he had been reading about the news of superheroes and supervillains, of how the world was less subtlety and more costumed grandeur, and he was ready with his own costumed identity. Soon, a new hero would make his mark--Pumpkin Man! With a name and color to fit his personality, Carl didn’t know that those coyotes would be back in some form or another, and that he would very soon need to don his costume to defend what he loved.
The next day, when Carl was home alone, he heard the sound of glass shattering coming from the other side of the house. Cautiously, he turned the corner to investigate, only to find a man dressed all in black tranquilize Poofle and stuff her into a sack. Before Carl could say anything or question why this man was stealing his cat, the surprised figure turned the gun on him, and shot a dart into Carl’s arm. Carl’s vision faded as he caught a glimpse of the clock: 3:32…
4:36. Carl had been out for an hour. He sat up, trying to recall why he was on the floor. In a rush, Carl remembered all that had happened. In a rage, he jumped up and glanced out the window. Fresh tracks in the snow led away from his house. Carl ran to his room, opened the door, and grabbed his suit. Thanks to his skill with the needle, Carl had constructed a bulletproof costume to protect him while fulfilling his heroic dreams. An orange Kevlar shirt and matching pants, complete with a jack-o-lantern face, protected his body from most harm. His poofy Kevlar pumpkin head, with a bulletproof glass front to see out of, made sure guns couldn’t penetrate his skull nor give him a concussion. He sheathed his dual hatchets and bolted out the back door, following the footprints out into the woods. The trail wound a half mile back into a ravine, only to stop in front of a tall tree. Pumpkin Man sat on a nearby rock, catching his breath. The brisk winter air had calmed his mind, so he tried to think about how the trail could have stopped so suddenly.
The tall trees dotting the landscape would make an air escape impractical. Besides, who would run a half of a mile into the woods when they could be extracted in the front lawn? The chances of them being seen either way were slim. If the guy had climbed the tree, then kudos to him. It had no branches until twenty yards up the trunk. Again, why bother? The only option left was that there was a secret entrance.
That was it. Pumpkin Man hacked at the trunk until he hit metal. Excitedly, he expertly shaved away until a secret door was revealed. It probably wasn’t supposed to work like that, but it got the job done. He opened the door, revealing a one-person elevator.
He slipped inside, readying himself. The elevator sped downwards, and then opened up into a cavernous laboratory. Pumpkin Man stepped out, scoping the area out. Too late, he noticed the same black-clad goon as before, but this time holding a real gun. This was for keeps. He fired the gun, and the bullet slammed into the side of Pumpkin Man’s armored head. The Kevlar stopped the bullet and the pillowish nature of the headgear slowed it, preventing him from getting a concussion. Still, Pumpkin Man collapsed, feigning death. The crony strode over, leaning down to look into Pumpkin Man’s face. When he let his guard down, Pumpkin Man sprang up, crashing the back of one of his hatchets into the underling’s head. He groaned, and then crumpled as Pumpkin Man got up. Pumpkin Man walked forward, straining his ears for any sign of Poofle. Out of nowhere, a huge padlocked cage fell and incarcerated him with an echoing crash. Moments later, a billowing curtain fell away, revealing a man with jet black hair in a lab coat as the lights clicked on. Behind him was a large machine with none other than Poofle unconscious in a glass cage.
“Well, Boy, I’d expected you’d come…but not dressed in that wonderful costume of yours,” the scientist guy snidely stated.
“Who the heck are you, and why did you steal my cat!?” Pumpkin Man yelled.
“Ha! One thing at a time, boy. Although my name is not important, I am a scientist down on his luck. At least I was, until I was provided this wonderful place to continue my research. I had a plan, see. I was going to make life itself better! I was going to relieve the fear of an early death. Imagine being impervious, impossible to wound!” he started to rant.
“Ah, yes. I believe you ran into my little pets that fateful night four years ago. Anyhow, I was a professor at a prestigious institute. I had ambitions! I was going to be famous. I had developed a way to reconstitute the molecular structure of a living being—to transform the weakest graphite into the strongest diamond! But they were all jealous. Jealous of my genius! They didn’t want to live in my shadow, so they cast me out. Cut my funding. Called my work ‘too dangerous.’ So here I am. Forced to live in the middle of nowhere, hiding like an exile, all to continue my research.”
“Who’s funding you? You can’t keep this running by yourself.”
“Clever, boy, but I’m not about to reveal my employer to a runt like you.”
“You still haven’t answered why you stole my freaking cat!” He was about to explode.
“Straight to the point, aren’t we? Well, if you remember, those coyotes you so splendidly fought off weren’t exactly… stable. They were incomplete. Their minds couldn’t take the process, and their conditions weren’t permanent. I have found that the ideal subject, oddly enough, is a typical black cat. You see, cats are more…flexible. Their bodies and minds can handle this sort of treatment. And for her black fur…I’m sure you learned in school that black absorbs light. Heat. Well, it works best for this sort of treatment, too. So, in theory, I will have made the perfect weapon to strike back at those who wronged me.”
“I thought you wanted to help the world.”
“Ha! I tried that once, and the world spat in my face. No, now it’s high time I got even. Now! Enough chatter. You have good timing, boy. Preparations are now complete. I can start the treatment.”
At that point, the mad scientist flipped a switch, and the machine hummed to life. He pressed a few buttons, turned a dial, and Poofle started writhing in her glass tank. Smoke fogged up the glass as purple lightning streaked across the tank and into Poofle.
“I will destroy you!” Pumpkin Man snapped, and swung his hatchet at the padlock, cleaving it in two. He kicked the door open, then charged across the room at the crazed man.
“Heh… I should have guessed that you’d break out. Well, have fun dealing with my other darling pets!”
At that moment, the scientist threw a switch, which opened up two doors on either side of the room. Instantly, a variety of crazed mammals charged towards Pumpkin Man. Coyotes, deer, even chipmunks and squirrels raced for the kill, all with teeth bared and eyes rolling like something out of a horror film. Pumpkin Man fell into a rhythm. All those years of slashing dummies, cleaving logs, and hitting targets had transformed him into a smooth, fighting machine. Although the blades could never pierce the skin, or even the fur, for that matter, the animals could still be knocked down and out by a solid blow to the head. A few minutes of intense brawling subsided, leaving a relatively unscathed Pumpkin Man surrounded by piles of unconscious animals. His path now more or less unimpeded, Pumpkin Man ran to the scientist and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.
“How do I stop it?!” he demanded.
“Stop it? Why, the procedure’s already done!”
With horror, Pumpkin Man looked up at the tank, only to see a steaming Poofle lying unconscious. In a flash, using his hatchets as climbing picks, he clambered up the machine to the glass tank on top. His blades made short work of the glass, and he gingerly scooped Poofle out and slid down.
“You fool!” the scientist roared. “Do you see what you’ve done?! Your insufferable climbing has severely damaged the inner circuitry! The machine’s overloading!”
“Well, have fun, Jerk! Pumpkin Man is outta here!” He turned and ran toward the elevator, and didn’t notice the goon finally waking up. He picked up his gun and fired it straight at Pumpkin Man’s chest… where a limp Poofle lay innocently. Timed slowed down. Pumpkin Man saw Poofle’s fur buckle as the bullet made contact. With a tortured scream, he swung his hatchet as he ran, and the blade connected with the guy’s neck. Pumpkin Man didn’t stop to check, but the guy had to be dead. With tears in his eyes, he stumbled into the elevator, catching a glimpse of an enraged scientist while the doors slid shut. As the elevator raced upwards, Pumpkin Man reached to staunch the blood… that wasn’t there. Amazed, Pumpkin Man took a look at Poofle’s fur. Where a gaping hole should have been, the fur ran smoothly over her skin, completely without injury. Pumpkin Man had little time to be amazed, for the doors slid open and he sprinted away from the unstable laboratory before his knees buckled and he collapsed onto the ground.
Pumpkin Man just stayed there in the snow for a moment, trying to absorb what had just happened. Suddenly he felt sick. Rolling over onto his knees and ripping his pumpkin head off, he barfed. It didn’t matter if he had done it in self-defense or not; he had killed a man with his own two hands. Pumpkin Man could have left him, but he let his anger get the better of him. He got up, wiping his mouth and taking a deep breath.
He turned to face the elevator, wondering what he would do if the door slid open to reveal a very angry scientist. Almost as if in answer, the ground in front of him exploded. Covering his eyes, he was temporarily blinded by a huge display of purple lightning, similar to the stuff in Poofle’s tank, blast upwards, while most of the ground collapsed. A stray bit of metal flew through the air and sliced Pumpkin Man’s head, and spurt of blood splattered onto the snow, reddening the otherwise untouched snow.
See, Carl? This is why we keep the pumpkin on our head. Chiding himself, he wiped away the blood, put his head back on straight, and got up.
Geez… What’s going to happen with Poofle? Will she be okay? Will she ever be the same again? How well will this supernatural event blend with his normal life? I gotta get home…
Turning, he trudged back, his arms full and his mind fuller.
When Pumpkin Man got home, laid Poofle on the couch, and took off his suit, he got a pair of heavy duty kitchen scissors. Walking over to a stirring Poofle, he sat next to her and, taking a lock of her hair, tried to cut it. As expected, no matter how hard Carl squeezed, it wouldn’t cut. The scientist had succeeded.
With a start, Poofle woke up. Carl backed off, expecting to be attacked. But oddly, Poofle just walked over to Carl, and rubbed up against him as usual. It seemed the scientist was successful in his death. Poofle had been the perfect subject.
In the next few months, Carl went on with his life. He refrained from telling his family all that had happened; he thought that it would just worry them even if they believed it. Besides, superheroes needed to keep their secret identities secret. As for Poofle, she was the same as always, even though her fur and skin were indestructible. Instead of going rabid, her intelligence seemed to go the other way. She and Carl could more or less communicate and understand each other. And as for the giant pit in the ravine, no one noticed the disturbance in the rarely-travelled region. By the time the snow melted and it was discovered, it just looked like a natural cave-in. Carl lived on with his normal life, at least until the time came for him to don his suit again..
* * *
An hour after the collapse of the lab, something stirred at the bottom of the rubble. A charred, dirty, but otherwise unharmed hand popped out of the mess. The mad scientist hauled himself out, an insane gleam in his eye.
“You got lucky this time, ‘Pumpkin Man,’ but now you shall know that I am truly superior now! From now on, I shall be known as the Pumpkin Master…yes…I like it! A fitting name for one that is better than you! Watch your back, Pumpkin Man… for I will return! Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… but I will make you regret this day!” The new supervillain clambered out of the pit, climbing past the remains of his lab until he reached fresh snow, a deranged smile splitting his face as he found the perfect way to exact his revenge, sitting in a splotch of red on a white background.
Half a mile away, Carl sat+ in his chair, petting Poofle, unaware of the fate this day has thrust upon him. For when good rises up to combat evil, evil has no choice but to rise up, also…or fall by the wayside!