A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Without a doubt, it was the finest Halloween jack-o-lantern I had ever seen.

A gift from an art major from Texas whom I had been dating, it was clear it had been created with special care. It was traditional and yet innovative, comical and yet frightening, beautiful and yet ghoulish, festive and yet strangely intimate. It was a work of art, and I was proud to display it in my otherwise Spartan dorm room.

At least, until it was jacknaped.

When it came right down to it, I wasn’t all that surprised when my artistic jack-o-lantern disappeared. Dozens of dorm-mates had dropped by to "ooohhh" and "aaahhh" over its devilishly delicate carvings and fiendish frescos. Some had been audacious enough to ask if they could buy it from me – as if you would sell a David, a Mona Lisa, a Whistler’s Mother or a Dogs Playing Poker if it came into your possession.

So when I walked into my room after class one day about four days after I received the gift, I noticed that my jack-o-lantern was gone. In its place on my desk was a note, typed in the distinctive type of a new Corolla Selectric.

Hey, I was a journalism major. I knew about stuff like that.

The note read: "Here’s our trick, now it’s your turn to treat. Bring a large pepperoni pizza to the cafeteria at 6 p.m. Leave the pizza on the back table and leave immediately and your pumpkin will be returned to you. If not, you’ll never see your pumpkin in one piece again."

At first, I thought it was pretty funny. A jacknaping, complete with ransom note. But the more I thought about it, the more it aggravated me. Someone had come into my room and taken something of value to me, and now they wanted me to pay the price of a large pizza in order to get it back? That just wasn’t right – Halloween or no Halloween.

So I flicked on my own Selectric and typed a reply: "No tricks, no treats. Bring back my pumpkin or I’ll make your face look like a pepperoni pizza."

Actually, I wasn’t prone toward violence. But I assumed I was dealing with an underclassman, and I had to speak a language he understood.

I put the note on the designated table and waited to see who would appear to read it. Nobody showed, so I returned to my room fully expecting to see my jack-o-lantern back in place. Instead, there was another note, in the same familiar typeface: "You were warned!"

Suddenly I heard the soft plinking of pebbles against my window on the five-floor dormitory’s second floor. I opened the curtains and peered into the darkness just as a flash of orange hurtled past my window in its rapid decent to the sidewalk below. A sickening splat made my stomach churn and my blood run cold. I looked down. Pieces of what was once my beautiful jack-o-lantern littered the sidewalk, fresh evidence that veggiecide had been committed.

Although I never found out who turned my jack-o-Rembrandt into a Pumpkin Picasso (the way I see it there had to be at least three jacknapers – one above, one below and one on the grassy knoll), I did learn a few lessons from this experience. I learned to lock my door. I learned to take ransom notes from jacknapers seriously. And I learned not to become too attached to Halloween decorations.

Art or not.

# # #

--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through