The Lantern

By Peter Miller

Chain Border

Smell traces of smoke in the late autumn afternoon. Hear the strange sadness of the curlews somewhere across the lake. Feel the lightest of breezes that puffs through the ochre drifts of leaves. See Rind and Tendril looking for a candidate for their lantern out in the Big Patch.

"Can't be too big to carry," says Rind "or too small to carve. Can't be too green, can't be too ripe."

"How about this one?" says Tendril.

"Might be a bit too old and wrinkly, I think. Oh, here's a good one." They lift it out of the leaves and take a closer look.

"Yeah, this is the one," says Tendril.

They cut the large round pod bit loose and between the two of them manage to drag it back through the forest to the house. It's not easy going. They're just youngsters, and it's a good specimen, full and heavy, perfectly formed. An ideal carver.

Rind goes rummaging in the old shed for the carving knives and a spoon. The blades need sharpening so he sets to with the stone and pretty soon they're gleaming and ready.

"Now, what you do first is cut off the top, like this." He gets a purchase with the big knife and with a little bit of effort hacks out a kind of lid.

"You keep it angled a bit so that the lid doesn't just drop back in when you've hollowed it out" he says. "Then you get the spoon and scoop out all the mushy stuff from the inside, like this." Tendril watches fascinated.

"Yuck," he says "that's gross."

"It's just mush," says Rind, "it won't kill you. This is what you make soup out of, you know."

"I know. I like the soup, I just don't like it when it looks like mush with all those bits in it. When it's soup it's all smooth with no lumps." Rind has nearly finished cleaning out the inside.

"You have to make sure that the bottom is flat, because that's where you want to sit the candle." He scrapes determinedly with the spoon. "OK, now we can make the eyes," he says. He gets the small knife and pokes it through the front where there is a natural looking hollow. It's soft and gives easily. First one eye, and then the other.

"Wow, creepy," says Tendril.

"You wait till it has a candle in it," says Rind "it'll be real spooky." He finishes on the eye holes, cleaning out all the ragged bits. "Now for a nose," he says.

There's a knobbly bump on the front where the nose should be so he cuts it off with the big knife and gouges out a nice deep hollow. Then the mouth. He chops off some loose fleshy bits under the nose to make the most of the bony bits underneath that look so much like teeth. "I think it looks scariest if you jam the mouth open like this," he says. It makes a cracking sound as he forces the spoon in and down. But the effect is appropriately grotesque.

"Excellent!" says Tendril "that is the best ever."

Rind is pleased as well. He cleans off the knives and takes them back to the shed, returning with a candle. "It's nearly dark," he says "let's get it up on the porch."

They put the candle in and, struggling a bit, lift the lantern up the steps. "Light it, light it," says Tendril, and Rind is only too happy to oblige. "Oh wow, that's great," says Tendril "That's so creepy. I'm going to get Dad." He runs into the house, screaming with glee and mock horror.

Later, after the night has closed in, they sit out on the porch for a bit, the lantern grinning gruesomely out into the darkness. Fireflies flicker on and off among the grey shrouds of Spanish moss.

Dad sits in the rocking chair, smoking his pipe. Rind and Tendril stare out into the night imagining ghosts in every shadow.

"Tonight all the lost souls and the unforgiven dead are walking in the land of the living," says Dad. "They are looking for youngsters like you to take back with them before dawn comes."

Tendril shivers. "Is that really true, Dad, or is it just a story?"

"It's as true as can be," says Dad. "There are lots of things to be scared of out there, 'specially on a night like tonight. There are horrors like you never want to know. It's a good thing you made such a fine lantern to scare them all away."

"It's dinner time" says Mum from the kitchen. "Come and get it."

Tendril and Rind scamper inside. Dad rises reluctantly from his chair, knocks the bowl of his pipe out on the verandah post and follows them in.

The candle flickers and gutters inside the lantern. The hollow eye sockets cast ragged pools of orange light across the porch. Whippoorwills call from the dark trees.

Inside, Rind and Tendril and Mum and Dad sit down at the table piled high with food. Taste the smooth meatiness of the soup. No lumps.

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