Gone… all gone.
Years, he’d waited years to prove himself by taking his father’s place, and if his truck hadn’t broken down, he would have made it. Shoulder to shoulder with others like him, he’d have stood with the best of the best.
Clouds covered the full moon casting ghostly shadows across the barren patch of land. His chest heaved up and down, lungs burned with each labored breath of air. He’d run for over three miles dragging the cart behind him. But there was nothing left.
Still wheezing, trying to catch his breath, he climbed the highest peak and looked across the flat land. The glow of light from the building, easily another two miles away, teased him. They’d all be there, working their magic, preparing to be judged. Another year, he’d have to wait another whole year. It was his turn to carry on the family tradition, but he stood gazing forlornly across the patch. His father’s words echoed in his mind, drenching him in sadness.
“We’re better than the best, we’re better than the rest.”
A scurrying sound to his right drew his thoughts back to the present. Still grasping the handle of the heavy cart, he turned, moving slowly down the hill, back to his truck to stow his cart. It would be damn near a fifteen mile trek home. Home to give father the bad news.
Stopping dead in his tracks, he cupped his ear. Nothing. He was hearing things.
He’d distinctly heard the word this time. Following the direction it came from, he headed back up the embankment. Dragging the cart behind him, he went to the right side of the hill and peered over the edge. Air hitched in his throat at the sight before him.
One, there was one left. And it was perfect.
But he’d run out of time. No way could he drag his monstrous find to the judging place and complete his task before midnight. Again, his father’s words rang in his mind.
“We’re better than the best, we’re better than the rest.” A sharp gust of wind moved the clouds and bathed the hilltop in moonlight. Enough light for him to work his magic. Loosening his backpack, he pulled out all his tools. His knives were sharp, his chisels ready for the hard work ahead. Maybe he wouldn’t make the judging but if it killed him, he take his finished prize to the building anyway.
Digging, cutting, shaping he performed his magic, did what came naturally to him.
A sense of calm washed over him as he finished fashioning his piece. It weighed close to two hundred pounds but with strength and agility he’d never felt before, he hoisted his prize onto the cart and eased it down the hill. Years and years of this very same competition had left a well worn, but rutted, path to the building he needed to reach before midnight. Glancing up at the moon, seeing its position in the sky, he knew there was little time left. Running as fast as he could without toppling the cart, he began the trip along the winding path.
His lungs were on fire, air wheezed through his lips, but he didn’t let up.
Turning the final corner, light blazed through the open barn doors, voices filled with awe seeped out, into the night. There must be great works there to cause such adulation. Would his measure up? Was he truly part of these people and did he have what his father had, and his father before him? At least he wouldn’t have to wait another year to find out. Tonight he would know if he could carry his ancestor’s last name.
The clock tolled midnight as he wheeled his heavy load through the doors and dropped to his knees in exhaustion. A hush fell across the room. Standing, he hauled his cart to the circle and removed his prize, placing it in the one spot left. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out candles and began lighting those he would need. Careful not to blow them out, he put each one in place. He stepped back, out of breath and unable to speak. He was last to be judged.
Elders, men who had earned their name long ago, walked around his work, peeking through the tiny windows he’d so lovingly carved. They touched the orange pointed spires and whispered to each other.
“We’ve never seen a cathedral carved so intricately and so perfect.” The head judged looked at him hard, then smiled. “Welcome Mr. Carver.”
Jack had earned his name and it could never be taken from him.
He was a true pumpkin carver.