From the Malafarina Files, and in time for Halloween, ‘Punkin’ Head Parker,’ a short story from horror author Thomas M. Malafarina

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By: Thomas M. Malafarina © 2016

Joel Parker sat staring into the fire burning in the hearth of his stone fireplace, enjoying the way the heat took the chill off the cold cabin this Halloween night. The place was completely isolated deep in the woods of northern Schuylkill County, accessible only by a single-lane dirt road that usually washed out during bad weather. The cabin was one his parents had left him in their will. He was surprised they had done that, since he had been such a disappointment to them in life. Then again, he was their only child.

He noted that this was the fifth annual event and could very well be his last because his work was almost done. He was sorry to see the end of such an enjoyable tradition but it made little sense to keep going. Although Joel had to admit a tiny voice inside him was suggesting that continuing, regardless of his original plan, might be a good idea after all.

He looked across the room to the large pumpkin sitting on the oak plank table. It was almost time for him to get busy and carve the face, as he had done faithfully for the past four years. It was all part of the tradition.

Sadly, Joel realized that whether he continued or not his nickname, Punk, would likely remain; there was little he could do about that other than to pick up and move across country where no one knew him. That wouldn’t work because his home was here. Besides, if he were being honest with himself, he had actually gotten used to the name over the years, and most people who still called him Punk either had no idea of its origin or had long since forgotten.

He was thinking back, as he often did at this special time of year, to the start of everything, back to the day when he was simply Joel Parker before he had gotten saddled with that horrible nickname “Punkin Head Parker”. Then his life had been much simpler. He was just a seven-year-old second-grade student in Schuylkill County, doing all he could to fit in with the other students. He had managed to survive kindergarten and first grade with no problems but that had been before his parents moved.  This meant he was introduced to a whole new crop of kids he had never met before.

Joel had quite a large, round head even as an adult. But as a young boy it was much more noticeable on his small frame. He started at his new school just a week or so before Halloween, which was unfortunate timing. On his first day of school, his teacher brought him to the front of the classroom and introduced him.

“Class. This is a new student transferred here from First Street School. His name is Joel Parker.”

“You mean Punkin Head Parker,” a voice said from somewhere out among the myriad of strange faces.

“Who said that?” the teacher demanded, but no one accepted credit for the slight. “Well, whoever said that you should be ashamed of yourself. That’s no way to welcome a new student to our class. And besides, you broadcast your ignorance as well by the mispronunciation of the word. It is pronounced Pumpkin not Punkin, so you are doubly wrong.”

But his teacher’s admonishment did little good. What was said could not be unsaid and like many terrible nicknames this one stuck. From that day forward, Joel Parker was known as Punkin’ Head Parker. At first, Joel spent many nights crying alone in his bedroom unable to deal with the unfortunate moniker. He often looked in the mirror at his large round Charlie Brown head and cursed his hideousness. To make matters worse, Ronald Walker and his toadies did everything they could not only to enforce the nickname but to intimidate and ridicule Joel, their new unfortunate favorite target.

Ronald’s four henchmen were Jimmy Yoder, Charlie Smith, Wally Benson, and Joey Ruddell. Each of them made Joel’s life miserable every chance they got all throughout the second, third, fourth, and fifth grades, although each year the taunts became less until eventually the gag lost its appeal and began to fade away.

But the nickname stuck. Then after a time, the name Punkin Head Parker was abbreviated to Punkin Parker and by the time Joel was entering junior high, he had been known simply as Punk. This actually proved to be an improvement because, with a nickname like Punk, may of the students who had not known Joel assumed he had gotten the name from being a tough kid, one of those sorts you didn’t mess with. Soon Joel allowed the nickname to define him and as such he became involved with a group of students who had embraced the new emerging “Punk Rock” music scene.

Eventually, like Punk, Joel got involved with drugs and alcohol and his grades began to suffer because of his new less than desirable lifestyle. By the time he was sixteen, he felt he had no choice be to drop out of school. Because of this, he was unable to get a good job and had to go from one menial source of employment to another. Then one day in frustration he sat down to re-evaluate his situation and try to determine who or what had been responsible for his downfall. He knew it wasn’t his own fault, but surely someone had to be responsible.

Then it hit him; the name. That stupid, ridiculous nickname, which still haunted him was the reason he had never been able to fit in anywhere except among the punkers. And where did that name come from? It came from Ronald Walker and his four toadies. It was then that he decided he would make them all pay for what they had done to him.

Now Joel stood up and approached the large pumpkin sitting on his table. Laid out in front of the pumpkin was a series of different carving knives, some long and thin, others short and wider. Each served a purpose and was necessary to transform the subject into the perfect Jack-O-Lantern. He had become quite skilled at carving over the years and was looking forward to this year’s project as he hoped it would be the best one yet.

He reached down with both hands and lifted the large, pre-hollowed pumpkin from the table. Its bottom had been removed as a necessary aspect of his carving. As the pumpkin rose higher, it revealed what was hidden underneath. A man’s head protruded from a hole cut in the center of the table. His body, bound with tightly tied bull rope, was below the surface of the tabletop.

The eyes blinked as they tried to focus on the meager light of the room after being in complete darkness for so long. In addition, the effects of the drugs Joel had injected in the man had not yet completely worn off.

“Good evening, Ronald,” Joel said in a jovial manner. “Welcome to my cabin in the woods on the fine Halloween night.

“Who the hell are you and what the hell have you done to me?” Ronald had grown into a large, muscular man and had never lost his bullying ways. He had most recently been employed as a supervisor at a local cement factory and was hated by all of his subordinates.

“Ronald, really. Don’t you recognize me?”

It was likely he didn’t because Joel no longer looked anything like the young boy Ronald had bullies. He was extremely tall and gaunt with dyed black hair, eye makeup, black fingernails, and was covered with body piercings and tattoos.

“Recognize you? No, I don’t recognize you! All I see is some skinny half-a-fag who’s going to get his ass kicked as soon as I get out of here.”

“Look closer, Ronald. Isn’t there anything familiar about me? Like maybe my head. Don’t you think it might be a little on the large side?”

“Head? What are you talking abo…” Then like a light going on in a dark room, a look of recognition suddenly appeared on Ronald’s face. “You? Punkin Head Parker? Is it you?”

“Yeah, Ronald, it’s me. And now I suppose you want to know why I brought you here.”

“I don’t give a rat’s rosy red ass why you brought me here, Parker. You just better untie me pronto. Maybe then I’ll let you off easy with just a few broken bones. But if you don’t, I’m gonna have to kill you.”

“No need for threats, Ronald. There’s no way you can get free unless I set you free and that’s not going to happen until after my annual Halloween Pumpkin carving.”

“What the hell are you talking about, you freak? Let me out of here, now!”

“Before I begin carving, I have to show you something special. Do you remember Jimmy Yoder, Charlie Smith, Wally Benson and Joey Ruddell?”

“Yeah. I remember them, but we’ve lost touch over the years, not that it’s any of your damned business, you mutant.”

“Do you ever wonder what became of them?”

“No, of course not. I have a job and bills to pay, sleazeball. I ain’t got time to worry about such things.”

“Well, Ronald. I know exactly what happened to each one of them. Aren’t you even a little curious?”

“No. Now get me the hell out of here and do it now.”

Without responding further, Joel turned and pulled the string of a curtain behind him, raising the cloth to reveal a glass display shelf, which held four separate square glass aquarium-style containers full of a light-yellow liquid. Inside each container was a severed head. He looked over at Ronald’s shocked face as he stared at the horrific tableau in unrestrained terror. Each of the heads had the eyes removed, leaving behind two black triangular holes similar to those of a Jack-O-Lantern. Likewise, in the place where the noses once had been were gaping holes, carved into similar triangular shapes. Large, jagged irregular semicircles like those of a carved to form the mouth of a pumpkin replace the victims’ mouths in the ravaged heads.

Joel was proud of the way the heads floated preserved in formaldehyde displayed in all their wretched glory. A series of lights under the glass shelve shone upward illuminating them in a gruesome manner, making something already horrible to behold even more heinous. Below the heads were four individual nametags at the bottom of each tank reading, James Yoder, Toady; Charles Smith, Toady; Walter Benson, Toady, and Joseph Ruddell, Toady.

The disgusting decapitated heads were all that remained of the four individuals who had once been Ronald’s cronies. The fifth tank was empty but displayed a label reading, “Ronald Walker, Bully in Charge”.

“You bastard!” Ronald shouted.

Joel revelled in the satisfaction of knowing that nothing Ronald could do or say would change the fate that awaited him and that he, Punkin Head Parker was going to be the one to bring that final judgment.

Joel picked up one of the thin sharp implements, placed his left hand firmly on the top of Ronald’s head, and began carving this year’s project. It took many hours for the screaming to stop and the Jack-O-Lantern to be complete. It was then that Joel looked down at his work with admiration.

“You know what I’ve been thinking, Ronald?” But of course, the corpse didn’t reply, “I been thinking you five guys weren’t the only ones who were responsible for all of my problems. Sure, you may have started things but there were others.”

He stood staring out into the gloom of his cabin and said, “Yes… I’m sure there were others… many others.”

So, as we enter the haunting season, we draw to the close of the Thomas M. Malafarina Horror Screenplay Contest.  We are still looking for submissions of screenplays based on Thomas’ short stories.  If you have one on which you have been working, remember October 31 is our final deadline.  There is much on the line.  So, hurry and get your screenplays to us.

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