In Joyce Carol Oates’ “Pumpkin-Head”, Hadley, reeling from her husband’s death, bumps into his Bosnian colleague, Anton Kruppe, at the grocery story. Kruppe then visits Hadley at her home on Halloween wearing a mask made from a jack-o-lantern.
As Hadley invites Kruppe into her home after he removes the mask, a nice little conversation begins. Over glasses of wine and broken English, Kruppe begins to endear himself to his hostess and to the reader. With subtlety, Oates masters Hadley’s innocence and nervousness as she attempts to begin a new relationship. A word to describe this interaction might almost be “delightful”.
Then, Oates flips a switch and the story spirals into what could be considered a slasher film (if this was a movie). What amazes me is that, caught up in the story, I didn’t even realize things had changed. At some point, I had to say to myself “Wait! We were just having wine – now this? When did this happen?”.
In most cases, I am fine with ambiguous endings; however, with this story I really wanted a tidy (or perhaps bloody) wrap-up. Something needed to happen to one character or the other. But the final line did nothing:
She called out, “Hello? Hello? Who is it?” Headlights on the roadway, where his vehicle was parked.
Oates includes this story in her collection Sourland. Anyone looking for fun and scary Halloween stories might find this one worth reading.