Emma shaded her eyes and watched the slow progression of the buckboard toward the station. Curiosity brought Lou to her side. "You expectin' someone, Emma?"
"Not that I recall…" Emma bent down to retrieve another shirt from the laundry basket and took the clothespin that Louise had plucked from the bag. "I don't know who it would be, especially when it looks like they're hardly moving."
Curiosity had the majority of the riders gathered around outside the bunkhouse by the time Teaspoon's rented buckboard ambled up into the yard. Emma peered into the back of the buckboard with a measure of worry. "I said I'd bake you a pumpkin pie, Mr. Spoon… but it looks like you're expectin' it to be bigger than Tompkins' store."
Cody had perked up at the word 'pie' but even he had to agree. "There's," he counted using both his fingers and his mouth, "eight pumpkins in there." He turned back to Emma a kind of worried awe on his face. "How many pumpkins go into a pie?"
With a soft motherly expression Emma touched his shoulder gently. "Just the one. I'd say Mr. Spoon has a few too many pumpkins unless there's something else he's plannin' to do with them."
"Well," Teaspoon's face lit up with boyish glee, "I was just about to explain. I saw this whole stack o' pumpkins in Tompkins store and he was so eager to get rid of 'em that I got me a good deal." He cleared his throat and adjusted the worn straps of his suspenders. "I think some of these pumpkins have real 'character.'"
Jimmy folded his arms over his chest and narrowed his eyes at the Station Master. "They don't need to have character, Teaspoon, they're pumpkins. They're for eatin'."
With the patience born of years of practice, Teaspoon took in a breath to calm his temper. They are, he reminded himself, so very young.
"That may be true, Jimmy." He straightened his posture, raising a hand in the air with his index finger slightly above the rest. "However, sometimes a thing can serve more than one purpose."
Ike caught Buck's attention with his hastily signed question.
Nodding, Buck agreed. "I think we're in for another one of Teaspoon's lessons."
Teaspoon slid a disapproving look toward the young half-Kiowa. "I'll pretend that you said that with reverence… and maybe a touch of anticipation."
Cody gave a not-so-convincing cough, dramatically covering his mouth with the back of his forearm. "Well, I think I'm comin' down with a 'touch' of somethin'… so maybe I better set this one out."
"You just hold up right there, Cody." Teaspoon's tone brooked no argument and he waited until Cody had settled in his stance, leaning against the buckboard before Teaspoon continued. "Now, what I was sayin' was that I met an Irishman once who told me this here story." The boys, well most of them, listened as Teaspoon revealed the story of 'Stingy Jack' and the way he'd tricked the devil… and then in turn how the devil had left the man wandering the Earth with a hot coal to light his way. "Some say he carved a turnip into a lantern and set the hot coal into its belly."
Cody sniffed at the thought. "Wouldn't he just get a burned turnip?"
Lou rolled her eyes at his words. "Trust you to think about it that way."
Ike's confusion was evident and before he finished what he was saying to Buck, Teaspoon had a grasp of the question. "Well, I'll tell you what that's got to do with these pumpkins, Ike."
The Station Master was rewarded with one of Ike's smiles.
"Throughout time, folks've been wardin' off Jack's wanderin' spirit by puttin' scary faces into turnips and potatoes. It was recently brought to my attention that pumpkins make a far superior lantern and give you more room to carve into."
"Brought to your attention?" Cody was leaning dramatically against the side of the buckboard. "What kind of conversation were you havin' where you were worried about what you'd use for a lantern if in case you only had roots and vegetables around?"
Pursing his lips together, Teaspoon struggled to take in a steadying breath. "As I was sayin'… the pumpkin makes a far better lantern than potatoes or the odd turnip and I've been thinkin' that you boys really need a bit of culture. Seein' as how we're a few miles outside of town I wanted to make sure you had enough to keep yourselves out of mischief."
"That's near impossible with Cody around, Teaspoo-ow." Jimmy elbowed Cody back and smiled at the answered grunt. "You were sayin'?"
"So I brought back one of these bea-utiful pumpkins for each of ya. Even brought one back for Kid when he comes back from his run."
"And we're supposed to put a coal in it?" Jimmy knew the instant Teaspoon's eyes narrowed at him, that he'd said the wrong thing, again. "I don't understand."
"We," Teaspoon emphasized the word in Cody's direction, "are each going to carve a face into a pumpkin and set it up to keep ol' 'Stingy Jack's' spirit away… or at least have fun tryin'."
Cody stared at the stringy orange mass of pumpkin guts in his hands and wondered aloud, "So this is fun?"
Jimmy shook his hand forcefully once… twice… and then a third time, finally managing to dislodge some of the sticky mess from his leather glove. The stray dog that had taken to roaming about the station walked up to the mess and sniffed at it before turning tail and heading off to the barn.
Even the dog couldn't stand the mess. Jimmy sighed. "Right there with ya, pal."
Lou and Ike were having a ball. Between the two of them they had collected quite a mass of seeds and pulp on the table between them. Buck was the one with the least done with his pumpkin. He eyed the rest of the riders at the table with curiosity that bordered on disdain. Teaspoon looked up from his own scraping and gutting and smiled. "It's no different than scrapin' a hide to dry it, son."
There was a moment when Buck was about to answer back with something and changed his mind. The shadow passed from his face and a new lighter expression settled over his features. "Are you planning to wear yours, Teaspoon?"
Cody froze in mid-scoop to laugh at Teaspoon's shocked expression, the kind of laugh that starts and just can't seem to stop. It took all of two seconds for everyone at the table to wish that the blond rider would quiet down. Someone took matters into their own hands… or rather, their foot.
The expression on Cody's face went from gut-laughs to shock when he started to tip back on his stool. He tried to grab for the table but with the gooey mess on his fingers he couldn't get a hold of it and a moment later he was on his back, boots in the air and egg on his face.
He came up sputtering mad. "Jimmy!"
The gloved rider looked over at him with a smile. "I didn't do it."
"Then who-" Cody swung his gaze around to Teaspoon, who had picked up a knife.
"You got somethin' to say, Cody?"
The young man could only gape in response.
Teaspoon's eyebrows lifted giving him an exaggerated comical look as he plunged the knife into the pumpkin making a series of quick swipes and cuts. The riders watched as he discarded chunk after chuck of pumpkin on the table and finally turned his creation around for them to see it.
Jimmy tilted his head one way.
Cody tilted his head the other.
Lou's brows knitted together above her glasses and Ike scratched at his head in confusion.
Buck, on the other hand, was taking the whole mess in stride.
The 'face' staring back at them was… lopsided and… odd in ways that none of them could really fathom, but Teaspoon's expression was euphoric. "There… see? It's easy."
"Right." Lou looked down at her pumpkin and pressed her lips together. "A face."
Emma stepped up with a bowl and began to collect the seeds from the table. "That's a fine face, Mr. Spoon."
"Why thank you, Miss Emma." He beamed and stood up from his stool. "Let me help you with that." He began to scrape his seeds together with Cody's pile. "The boys have some work to do."
"Work," Jimmy grumped as he looked down at his pumpkin, "thought you said this was s'posed to be fun."
Buck looked down at the kitchen knife beside him on the table. Emma had brought out enough for all of them to use one but he seemed to think better of it. Reaching down, he withdrew his knife and went to work on his pumpkin with a look of grim satisfaction.
Ike nudged Lou and made a funny face when she turned.
Giggling she shook her head. "If you can put that on the pumpkin that'll be great, Ike."
He nodded and went to work. Lou picked up her knife and made a few tentative cuts into the solid flesh of the pumpkin. She had an idea, but wasn't quite sure how to make it take shape.
Jimmy peered over at Cody, bent over his pumpkin and hacking away at it with great gusto. "What're you carvin', Cody?"
Looking back over his shoulder at Jimmy, he raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't 'you' like to know."
Rolling his eyes, Jimmy picked up his own knife and stared at the pumpkin. "Well," he addressed it as he brandished the knife, "better figure out what I'm gonna do with you."
"Yep," Cody's muffled voice rose up from behind his arm, "he's lost it all right. Talkin' to a pumpkin."
Lou caught the slight change in Jimmy's expression. "Careful, Cody."
The blond grinned at her. "Aw, Lou… he knows I'm just funnin'."
Ike looked up at Jimmy and then turned to Cody with his lips pressed together in a thin white line and shook his head. *careful*
Emma called out from the porch. "Rider comin'!"
Buck stood, quickly cleaning his knife on a napkin before slipping it back into the sheath on his boot. He made it to the hitching post and into the saddle as the rider appeared around the bend. Kid, riding low across Katy's neck, held out the mochilla.
Taking it in hand, Buck was off like a shot, leaving Kid to slow Katy down in the yard, trotting her about before sliding from her back. "What's everyone doing?"
Lou looked up with a smile. "Making pumpkin lanterns to scare away 'Stingy Jack.'"
"Stingy Jack?" Kid just nodded and turned toward the barn. "My mother's family used to carve lanterns like that when I was a boy. I'll come back and help."
Cody paused in his carving, sitting back on his stool with a satisfied grin on his face. "I think that about does it for me." He turned the pumpkin to Jimmy and grinned from ear to ear. "Whaddaya think, Hickok?"
The rider took one look at the exaggerated mouth and wide saucer-shaped eyes and half swallowed a laugh and a cough at the same time. "You don't want to know what I think, Cody."
Seeing the left-over strings on the table, Cody picked up a handful and threw them at Jimmy, narrowly missing him and hitting Kid as he stepped up to the table.
"Hey!" Kid picked the string up from the sleeve of his shirt and shook it off onto the ground. "Watch it." The two continued to horse around as Kid stopped to admire the pumpkin at the end of the table. "Who carved this one?"
Ike looked over and smiled at the deep angled gashes that formed the angry visage of a bear. *buck*
Kid nodded. "Nice… really, nice. That'll scare somethin' away." He moved on, looking at Ike's pumpkin and its odd facial features. It was strange and yet still seemed to fit the shape and 'feel' of the pumpkin face. Ike smiled at Kid before he continued with his work.
Moving down the table, Kid stopped behind Lou and watched as she used the knife to finish cutting a slanted gash above an eye. "Hmm," he wondered aloud, "is that an eyebrow?"
Lou popped the fleshy cast-off out of the pumpkin's wall and set it down on the table. "That's the idea."
"Huh." He stood there watching her carve out the other side.
When she placed the next piece of pumpkin down she turned slightly on the stool to ask him a question. "Huh, what?"
He paused, as though considering her question before he shook his head. "No, it's fine."
Lou turned back to the table and turned the pumpkin a few inches to the left and back. With the tip of her knife she made a few small cuts and then removed the triangular piece she'd just freed from the flesh of the pumpkin. Right as she sank the knife into the flesh on the mirror side of the pumpkin Kid spoke again. "You know…"
She froze and waited for him to finish the rest of his statement.
"It's not very scary, if that's what you were trying to do."
Her voice was softer, just a tad bit softer. "Teaspoon said to carve a face. So, I'm carving a face."
She made another cut. "You know-" Kid grinned when she turned to look at him over her shoulder, "if you slanted the nose a little it would make it look really mean."
Lou's eyes widened a little before she turned back to her pumpkin and pointed at the cuts she'd just made a minute ago. "That's the mouth."
"Ohhh…" Cody's voice nearly rose half an octave. "I'd stop now if I were you, Kid… looks like you've done put your foot in it."
Shrugging, Kid shuffled his feet a bit as he gave Lou a sheepish grin. "I just wanted to help you. You know, point out what you could do to make it better."
"Well, I think it's pretty good the way it is." Lou looked over at Ike for confirmation and the silent rider nodded his head in an affirmation. "If this is what I wanted to carve then that's what I'm going to carve."
"But, Lou, I was just trying to explain-"
"Oh!" Lou stood up from the table, knocking her stool against Kid's legs. She pointed to the buckboard. "You see that wagon, Kid? There's a pumpkin on it just for you. Teaspoon got one for all of us, so why don't you do all of us a favor and show us all how it should be done, huh?"
Ike couldn't help but watch the exchange. It was one of those things were you knew you should look away, but you just couldn't. It wasn't possible. So there he was sitting there watching as Kid's expression turned from shock to an indulgent smile. He couldn't help but wonder if he should take the knife from Lou's hand.
"Sure, Lou. I'll get started on it as soon as I get cleaned up."
She showed remarkable restraint. Only a single handful of pumpkin guts hit him on the side of his face, sliding slowly down into his collar. "By the time you get back, I'll be done with my face, the way I want to carve it."
He used his palm to swipe the left over guts from his face before he walked off toward the shower, his lips set into a straight line.
Cody looked over at Jimmy, who hadn't really made any progress on his carving. "Maybe you should ask the Kid for help, Jimmy. You ain't got nothin' done on yours."
Jimmy stared at Cody over the top of his pumpkin. "I'll figure somethin' out when I get around to it."
The blond eyed him suspiciously. "When? Next week?"
Lou raised her gaze over the top of her own pumpkin and rolled her eyes. "Just leave him alone, Cody."
Ike sighed, drawing Lou's attention. *this isn't what teaspoon had in mind*
"I know," she sighed and popped out another piece of pumpkin, "but some people can't leave well enough alone."
"Really, Hickok," Cody goaded him, "just put a couple of eyes and a mouth in it and you'll be done. What's so hard about-"
Cody stopped cold when Jimmy stood up, his eyes narrowed, his feet braced apart. "One of these days, Cody… you're gonna let your mouth run you into the ground." He reached over and picked up his pumpkin, tucking it under his arm. "For now I'll settle for you keepin' it shut." He nodded, a short curt gesture that punctuated his statement, before he turned and headed out behind the barn.
It took Cody less than a heartbeat to recover his swagger and smile. "Well, if Hickok's got any sense he'll put that pumpkin out of its misery and-"
A fury of gunfire echoed through the station and for a moment everyone froze in place as the riders struggled to pinpoint the source of the sounds. Emma's front door banged open against the wall and Teaspoon was on the porch in a heartbeat, his revolver in his hand. "What the hell is goin' on out-"
Jimmy reappeared, striding around the corner of the barn with a wide grin on his face.
Emma, her hand over her heart, stopped short at the porch rail. "Jimmy, goodness! Was that you makin' all that racket?"
"Yes, ma'am, that was me."
Teaspoon jammed his weapon back into its holster. "Son, you've got some explainin' to do." He nodded at the pumpkin in Jimmy's hands. "What've you got there?"
"Y'all were wastin' time carvin' faces into these things," Jimmy began and lifted the pumpkin into the late afternoon sun, "I put two faces in it and it only took me a few seconds."
Lou hung her head as Ike leaned against her, shoulders shaking in silent laughter. The six gunshots they'd heard had been Jimmy's 'artistic' endeavor. He'd shot two eyes and a mouth in the pumpkin, making identical 'faces' on both sides of the orange 'head.'
He nudged Cody out of the way with a well placed elbow and set the pumpkin on the table with a resounding THUD. He looked up at Emma with a wink and smiled. "So, how long 'til the pie's ready? I think I'm finally gettin' in the spirit of things."
Author's Note: Dedicated to Dee VA and Tracy, who were there in the car with me when this idea popped up. (a YEAR ago)