Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Black Pumpkin" by Dean Koontz

In the month of October, for R.I.P. XVI (Readers Imbibing Peril), I am planning to read several short stories from Halloween Horrors, an anthology of spine-tingling stories compiled by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish. For my first selection, I just dived into the first story in the anthology, which was by Dean Koontz. This is my first experience reading that author.



"The Black Pumpkin" by Dean Koontz

Tommy is a twelve-year-old who lives a miserable life. His parents and his older brother Frank mistreat him. And when he and Frank visit a pumpkin patch a day before Halloween, it looks like things are going to get worse. Frank buys a specially decorated pumpkin, painted black and with a disturbing design. The pumpkin carver will take any amount of money that Frank wants to give him, but warns him that "You get what you give." And Frank gives only a nickel.

The story was very scary, tense, and horrifying. And really not my kind of story. Just the way Tommy is treated by his family was horrifying. But... it was well-written and a good read, in the sense that once I started it I could not stop reading. And the ending was pretty good.


In the comments on my R.I.P. post, Todd Mason provided additional information on the Halloween Horrors anthology. It is a 2010 reprint of October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween, which was published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2000. The book has 22 short stories of Halloween fiction (some are new, some are classic reprints), plus a good number of short pieces by authors recalling their favorite memories of Halloween and essays on Halloween.

"The Black Pumpkin" first appeared in Twilight Zone Magazine in December 1986. In 1995 it was published in a collection of stories by Dean Koontz, Strange Highways.





35 comments:

Sam Sattler said...

It's been a few years since I've read anything by Dean Koontz, but I remember him as a good storyteller and stylist. The only reason I quit reading him, really, is that I kind of soured on the whole genre and haven't read much from it ever again.

TracyK said...

Sam, I have always avoided horror, although I now realize it isn't always that scary or horrific. I also guess that most of the stories in this book probably are not horror, although this one fits in my opinion.

CLM said...

I surprised myself by reading a handful of Dean Koontz books over last year and quite enjoyed them! They were suspense, rather than horror, however.

Love the creepy eyes on this cover!

pattinase (abbott) said...

You have to wonder how many writers were mistreated as children for the number of stories that use that theme. Or perhaps they were the bullies.
I read one Dean Koontz book years ago but never followed up with another. Not my kind of story.

George said...

Love the cover artwork! I have some scary books for my blog posts around Halloween.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

I love the cover, but horror is a genre I usually stay away from. I hope you have enjoyable reads for this challenge

col2910 said...

I loved Koontz back in the day (30-odd years ago). For a spell he was on fire, then I got bored with him. I felt like he was writing the same book over and over again. I still have a few of his on the pile. I wonder if some time and distance has me liking him again?

Margot Kinberg said...

I have to admit, Tracy, that this wouldn't be my kind of story, either. I think I'd find that sort of treatment very hard to read. Still, it does sound compelling, and I'm glad you found yourself drawn in.

TracyK said...

Constance, Maybe someday I will look into the various types of books that Koontz has written. After I work through a few of the authors that have been sitting on my shelves for a while. I always thought of him as exclusively writing horror stories.

Yes, those are great eyes in the illustration for the book cover.

TracyK said...

Patti, that is an interesting point about mistreated children. Those kind of stories make me uncomfortable, which I suppose is the point.

Dean Koontz may be like Stephen King. He writes well but usually not the types of stories I want to read.

TracyK said...

George, I look forward to your posts about scary books. I will have to see if they are too scary for me.

I might not have bought Halloween Horrors if the cover had not been so lovely. It is a huge, heavy book.

TracyK said...

Emma, I stay away from horror also, in general. I have been broadening my horizons in reading lately, but not in that direction.

TracyK said...

Col, it is quite possible that you might be more open to Koontz again at this point.

It is disappointing when an author writes the same book over and over, but that is what some readers are looking for.

TracyK said...

Margot, Since this was only a little over 20 pages long, it was not that hard to read. The topic was gruesome, but it did not get too graphic. Still, not everyday reading for me.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish are horror specialists, but the magazine they've worked together on, CEMETERY DANCE, makes a point of featuring both supernatural horror and naturalistic suspense fiction, and Chizmar's book publishing line reflects this as well.

It could well be that horror and suspense writers both (and to some extent writers generally) were bullied, since much of the psychological function of both modes for readers is to allow them to master their own fear. I certainly had a fair amount of traumatic experience as a very young child, from almost dying of a fever or two to surviving a major flood of my hometown of Fairbanks, AK, when I wasn't quite 3yo to dealing with bullies from an early age, and all of that might well've helped hone my taste for that kind of narrative...the true bullies of the world, I think, when literate at all, seem to prefer stories that cast bullying as heroism. That doesn't arise in horror all that much, but certainly we can see certain suspense "heroes", not least James Bond, in this mode at times. And certainly the appeal of fantasy and sf is strong to those who most acutely feel the injustices of things as they are in the world and in their lives.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Todd, I wondered about the editors. I had not heard of them.

I don't consider that I had a happy childhood (too shy, too sensitive, etc) but my parents were saints (seriously) and no traumas that I remember so my childhood experiences are tame compared to many people. Your comment about James Bond is interesting too.

Rick Robinson said...

A-hem. Today is October 6th. Halloween and “scary stuff time” is WEEKS AWAY! It’s WAY, WAY too early for this horror stuff, not that I’m a fan of the genre anyway. I read Fredric Brown’s “The Father Thing” when I was in, what?, seventh grade and it scared the horror story likings right out of me. That said, I liked King’s Christine but, after all, it was about a cool car, so comeon.

Dean Koontz lived in Orange County when I did and I saw him in book stores occasionally, but since I didn’t read horror, I never tried his books.

Okay, now get back to appropriate Autumnal reading, like The Falling Leaves Mystery ot The Autumn Country House Murders. Well, maybe not those two, as I just made them up, but you get the idea.

…and now we return you to your regular programming…

Todd Mason said...

Interesting. A comment I put up seems to have vanished.

Philip K, Dick's "The Father-Thing"--probably the popular favorite among Dick's horror fiction (borderline sf), but my own favorite is "Upon the Dull Earth", which is more surreal and hard to consider anything but horror.

Dean Koontz began publishing mostly in sf, and moved over toward fantasy with the likes of THE CRIMSON WITCH and the science-fantasy of DEMON SEED (which was made into a film). He found sustained success writing horror and suspense fiction, mostly the latter, including the novel INTENSITY, which I haven't read, but which I did see the two-part tv movie adaptation of...it had a poor script, but excellent performances by Molly Parker and John C. McGinley. See it for them, if you choose to! Koontz would probably prefer you read the novel...

TracyK said...

Rick, I was hoping to find that the first story was not specifically horror, but I should have known that it was likely since it was Koontz. The story did have a happy ending, maybe that redeems it.

I am now reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, a mystery / gothic novel I think, not horror at all.

TracyK said...

Todd you are right, I checked under Blog comments and the other comment from you came in 15 minutes before the one above, and Blogger decided it was Spam. I haven't had any marked like that in a long time so had not been checking.

Thanks for more information about Koontz. He certainly has written a lot of novels.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks...Jeff Meyerson apparently had the same thing happen to him on Patti's blog a week or so ago. FWIW, you can always reverse Blogspot's decision if that happens again (I'm happy enough with my reconstruction of the comment above).

Todd Mason said...

Abd it gave me an error message when I posted the above!

Todd Mason said...

Probably part of the reason Koontz's novels can seem repetitive...Ed Gorman ghosted some for him.

Amusingly, gothics in the '60s/'70s sense were usually packaged to resemble horror. See,if you choose: https://socialistjazz.blogspot.com/2015/08/its-gothic-if-we-say-its-gothic.html

Lark said...

I've never read any of Koontz's short stories, but I have read several of his books, and I really like the way he writes.

TracyK said...

Todd, that is very interesting that Ed Gorman ghosted some of Koontz's novels.

And regarding books being pushed as gothic incorrectly, that seems like the kind of thing that happens when they say an author is the new "fill in the blank". Very sad way to market books.

TracyK said...

Lark, I liked the writing in this story, so I am sure any novels would be good reading too, as long as they were not too scary.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Hoping your husband's surgery went well.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Patti. The day of the surgery he was down in the dumps because his vision in the right eye was very blurry. The next day when he went to the post op appointment the doctor said that his cataract was very large, thus the eye would take more time to heal / adjust? It has improved some every day, so his mood is also improving.

Todd Mason said...

Excellent...as such things go...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Glad to hear that. It is not always the quick recovery expected. My first one was a miraculous change. The second I didn't notice much difference.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Patti and Todd. Glen is still concerned about how his vision will work with new glasses, which he won't get until over a month from now -- because the eye needs to heal more first. Right now when he tries to read he has double vision. We will have to wait and see how it all comes out.

Todd Mason said...

For me, it took a couple of days for each eye to "normalize"...

dfordoom said...

Dean Koontz began publishing mostly in sf, and moved over toward fantasy with the likes of THE CRIMSON WITCH and the science-fantasy of DEMON SEED (which was made into a film).

DEMON SEED is actually an underrated movie. It's the infamous woman-raped-by-a-computer movie but it's not crass and it has some interesting ideas. I've always meant to read Koontz's source novel, which I'm told bears no resemblance to the movie.

TracyK said...

Dfordoom, I always find it interesting when a book is adapted and the movie is very different. I know that there are reasons that a book cannot usually be filmed just as the book is written, but why move so far away from the story?

Under normal circumstances the premise of DEMON SEED (the film) would not interest me, but having seen more movies like that over time, it could be interesting. The book, however, sounds like it would be too scary for me. Although I like reading about artificial intelligence.