|Sun, 24 Oct 1999
[Dreaming/Sandman] "The Great Pumpkinhead" 1/1
Well folks. It is officially a tradition. Here's my third annual Halloween themed Sandman/Dreaming story and this year it's starring everyone's favorite walking jack-o-lantern, Mervyn. I do hope you enjoy and please send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're interested in archiving, please make sure to ask me first.
CONTINUITY: This takes place before the most recent Dreaming arc, "Fox and Hounds." Just pretend it was Halloween before then and you'll be okay. :)
DISCLAIMER: Mevyn Pumpkinhead and the denizens of the Dreaming belong to DC/Vertigo comics. I don't own these characters and am making no money from them. This is just a treat folks, no tricks up my sleeves. And no, you don't have to smell my feet or give me something good to eat... though the latter might be nice. Oh, and the "Great Pumpkin" concept is borrowed from Charles Schultz's Halloween classic. But something tells me you already knew that.
The Great Pumpkinhead
"You can call me Merv. Me and my guys, we do the real work around here. I mean next time you have a dream, you give some thought to who painted the sky."
Mervyn Pumpkinhead from Vertigo Jam #1
Mervyn Pumpkinhead never dreamed. Not even the murky half-dreams that dreams dream. He was too busy, had too much to do to dream... always over-worked and under-appreciated. Besides what would the foreman of Dreams dream about? Who would paint his clouds or build his mountains? Boris? Tiny? Abudah? He didn't have the heart to make them work overtime, so it'd end up being more work for himself. And where was the fun in that? No, dreams were for people who slept, people with thoughts to spare and time on their hands. In short, dreams weren't for Mervyn.
Alone in a harvested corn field, the last imagined stalks and husks of the season dried and ready to be tilled under, Mervyn shook a dozen bats loose from a net. He had trapped them in one of the palace's towers only a week earlier and saved them for tonight to add to the festive ambiance. He wanted to add his own personal touch, something that made him feel a little more a part of things... a little less a tool and a little more an artist. He was always doing things like that, adding his own signature to the landscape the Lord of Dreams dictated. Mervyn guessed He didn't mind since He never complained. Or maybe it was just that He didn't care.
Drawing in a puff from the cigar dangling from his jack-o-lantern mouth, Mervyn turned his head up to look at the orange-hued sky, painted special for the evening. He couldn't help but grin to himself as he thought what a good job Tiny had done. He'd have to buy him a beer and tell him when the shift was over. Though tonight would be a long one. Always was the longest night of the year for the work crew of the Dreaming. Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain. Call it what you will, but for Mervyn it meant extra work, this night more than any other except maybe Christmas Eve.
"Durn kids and their imaginations," grumbled Mervyn as he got into his truck to deliver a dozen cauldrons of boiling oil to his right hand man, Abudah. "While the rest o' the dreams and nightmares are off havin' fun, me an' my men are bustin' our asses."
Coughing as the truck's fumes clouded into the cab, he waved them away with a gloved hand and then shifted the beat-up truck's gears into third as its wheels ground down a dirt road. "Not like I'd expect any different. And, Jeez, you'd think His Huffiness could at least whip us up some better equipment!"
Soon he turned at a fork in the utility road and spied Abudah standing outside the staged ruins of an Edgar Allen Poe inspired nightmare waiting for his delivery. As the truck choked to a stop and released a black cloud of noxious gas, Mervyn exited the cab and met the short but well-muscled dream at the back of the truck. He watched the pale-skinned man empty the payload in a matter of seconds. Abudah was created for strength and efficiency, the perfect balance for Mervyn's cunning and stubborn will. They were a good team and they both knew it. The simplicity of their working relationship was the one thing that Mervyn never doubted in the Dreaming.
"You doin' okay here, Abudah?"
Mervyn nodded. "I knew you could handle it. We're runnin' late all over and I needed my best guys workin' their hardest. I've got Boris workin' on the little kid stuff. Poor guy is up to his armpits in Teletubbies. I hate to do it to him, but you had yer hands full and well... between you and me I think he actually likes that crap."
Leaning against the rusty side of the truck, Mervyn ashed his cigar and said, "I know. Sick, ain't it? I just don't get kids these days. Teletubbies? Pokemon? On Halloween o' all days? That ain't scary! That's just wrong! But hey, what can a guy do? They want Peekaboo and Tinky-Stinky, the boss makes us build it for 'em."
"I wonder if kids even dream about witches and goblins nowadays? I mean you'll probably get more grown-ups visiting this haunted house o' yers than kids."
Abudah shared a solemn look with Mervyn as he shouldered the last of the cauldrons and returned to his work.
With a sigh, Mervyn climbed back into the cab of the truck and started the engine as he yelled over the rattling pistons, "So anyways, finish up here as soon as you can and meet me down at the pumpkin patch. We'll finish up there and I'll buy you a cold one."
As the truck chugged once again down the dirt access road, the real backbone of the Dreaming, Mervyn muttered to himself as he tossed the stub of his cigar out the window and lit another one. Getting the job done, a cold beer at quitting time and the commiseration of his fellow worker. That was what it was all about. Let the intellectuals in the palace fret about the why's and how's. Life in the trenches was the only true reality in a landscape of imaginings. The only thing remotely real.
Mervyn stopped the truck once again, strapped on his tool belt and shouldered his pack of supplies. As he shuffled along the narrow path to the pumpkin patch, he heard a fluttering of wings above his head... the sound of raven's wings to be exact.
As the bird settled on the gate post leading into the patch, Mervyn narrowed the slits that functioned as his eyes and said, "Whatcha want, Matthew?"
Matthew shifted on his scaly raven feet and said simply, "Who says I want anything, Merv. Maybe I'm just coming to say 'hi.'"
Shaking his pumpkinhead, Mervy said, "Well hey to you, too. Now buzz off. I've got work to do. Besides, you and I both know you're not comin' just to shoot the breeze."
"No need to get touchy, Merv. Just doin' my job."
Mervyn sighed as he said, "And so's I Matthew. Now what's on yer mind?"
"Boss wanted me to see when you'd be finished. Let you know you're running behind schedule."
"Well then the Boss shoulda given me more guys for tonight. Whipped up some muscle to do all the heavy work. But no... He goes and draws up last minute plans, forgettin' all about ole Merv and the boys, forgettin' that all we got to work with are our backs and our arms. Yessir. Forgettin' like He always does, leavin' me to all the details. And what's with this pumpkin patch? We haven't used this for the dreamers in ages! It's all fallen to Hell. He'd better be glad I'm a miracle worker."
Matthew looked up at Mervyn with his black raven eyes, eyes that were holding something back, eyes that were genuinely amused. He wanted to tell the Raven what to do with his amusement, that it wasn't right to laugh at the misery of others, but instead he remained silent, knowing that Matthew was the sort of fellow who would help out where he could and if he had arms to work with probably would have been out in the outer realms with the rest of the workers. As it was, he was just doing his best to help the newest Dream keep order. That in and of itself was a full time job.
"Let me just say this, Mervyn, and I'll leave you be. The Boss does appreciate what you do. He understands what a tough job you have. It may not look like it, but he does. He understands how important you are to the Dreaming."
Shaking his head and delving deep into the vines of the pumpkin patch, Mervyn grumbled, "I'll believe it when I see it, Matthew. I'll believe it when I see it."
As he heard Matthew take quietly to the sky, Mervyn finally dropped his heavy burden of stakes and twine as he accidentally sunk a boot into a rotted pumpkin. Looking down at his foot, he grumbled, "Now if that ain't irony I dunno what is."
Tossing aside the pumpkin carcass, Mervyn released a string of curses as he set to mending a collapsed section of fence. As if he wasn't ticked enough that he was stuck with a last minute project, he still couldn't believe it was with a bunch of pumpkins. Pumpkins! He'd heard from Lucien on many occasions that the new Dream had inherited the old Boss's twisted sense of humor, but this was carrying it a bit too far. Mervyn had objected to the assignment on sheer principle, but the Boss had insisted and when the Lord of Dreams insists, a fellow had better well follow through.
The fence mended as quickly and neatly as possible, Mervyn then turned his attention to the jumbled mass of pumpkins and vines growing untended in the patch. Throwing a few of the rotted gourds into the back of the truck, Mervyn couldn't help but wonder how the patch had gotten into the Dreaming to begin with. He never remembered planting it. For all he knew he could have been born from this patch, created by Morpheous long ago in this very spot. Visions of the black haired Shaper of Dreams wandering the patch looking for the heartiest and shapeliest specimen brought a smile to his face and a chuckle from his chest. The last Dream may have been many things but at least he had taste, something Mervyn had found sorely lacking in the Dreaming's newest ruler. Then again, so much had changed while it all stayed the same. It was a confusing time to live in the Dreaming and Mervyn wasn't the only resident who thought so. With the new Dream, Gilbert dead, Nuala gone and the House of Mysteries burned to the ground things were definitely odd in the realm. Shaking his head and planting a stake in the ground, Mervyn breathed a deep sigh and tried to push the unpleasant thoughts from his head and instead concentrate on the task in front of him, giving himself to the liberation of a job done right and done well.
As he started to stake out another row of pumpkins, he felt a gentle tug on his sleeve. If he had eyes to roll, he no doubt would have as he muttered, "I told you I'm workin' as fast as I can. If the Boss has a problem with it he can come down here in all his pasty glory and do it His dadgum self."
Concentrating once again on his work, he heard a quiet voice speak, "Excuse me, mister, but are you the Great Pumpkin?"
"The great who?"
As Mervyn looked up from his work, his mouth fell open in shock and his cigar tumbled to the damp ground in a sparkling shower of red cinders. In front of him were two children, one boy and one girl, dressed in white-sheeted ghost costumes with the masks removed and looking up at him in both fear and awe. From the scent of them, he knew they were dreamers, which meant he had missed his deadline. The Boss would have his orange hide over this one. He quickly packed up his tools and backed away from the children, hoping he could escape quickly and not interrupt their dream enough for the powers that be to notice. Maybe they'd forget about him and go on with their dream relatively unscathed.
Grabbing his sack of supplies with a dirty, gloved hand, Mervyn once again felt a tug on his sleeve. "My sister says you're not real. That Halloween's just a stupid holiday. That all it's about is getting candy and pulling pranks on the neighbors."
Releasing a sigh, he suddenly realized that retreat was not an option, that for better or worse he was stuck in this dream. Looking down at the boy, he asked, "Is that yer sister?"
The boy nodded, becoming more at ease with each word Mervyn spoke. "Well you tell her that Halloween's 'bout a lot more'n candy and pranks."
Narrowing her eyes at Mervyn, the girl finally spoke. "Then what's it about?"
Trying his best to remember the volumes of histories he had read on the subject during the numerous occasions where he watched the Library for Lucien, Mervyn said thoughtfully, "Well, it's about remembering there's things out there you don't understand. Things that go bump in the night. It's about harvest and a new year and well, a bunch o' stuff."
Sticking his tongue out at his sister, the boy said, "See. He is the Great Pumpkin. He's smart and stuff. I told you."
Folding her arms over her chest, the girl sneered and said, "Is not."
The boy pursed his lips and stomped his foot on the damp earth of the patch before he paused thoughtfully and asked Mervyn again, "Are you the Great Pumpkin?"
Mervyn thought for a minute and then said with a smile, "Now great ain't something folks usually call me..." He looked to the boy's sister as an expression of victory began to immerge on her face and Mervyn quickly back-pedaled, doing his best to assume a regal air as he puffed out his chest and said, "But I am the Pumpkin King 'round these parts. You can call me King Mervyn."
The boy clapped delightly and squealed to his sister, "See! See I told you!"
Mervyn smiled, having fun with his new role. "And what is yer name little boy?"
Smiling up at him, the boy responded, "I'm Josh and this is my sister Catherine."
"Well hey there Josh and Catherine!"
Even with his change in demeanor and the excellent show he was staging, Catherine was still unimpressed. A scowl on her face, she said bluntly, "Toys. You said the Great Pumpkin would give us toys."
Mervyn panicked, mind reeling at where he was going to come up with toys on such short notice. The weed whacker in the truck was hardly appropriate and there was no way he was giving cigars to a pair of children. Just as he was about to come up with an excuse, he looked down to his sack of supplies as a gleam of light leaked from the top, appearing and disappearing in a fraction of a second. He leaned down to examine the bag and as he opened it, saw that it was full to brimming with an assortment of toys. Mervyn could scarcely believe the sight and if he had eyes, no doubt they would have been as large as saucers.
Smiling at the children with a wry pumpkin grin, he said, "As a matter of fact, I've got a whole bag of toys!"
Josh actually jumped up and down with glee and Catherine stood on Tip-toe to examine the bag at Mervyn's feet. "See I told you Cathy! I told you!"
Mervyn knelt down and opened the bag wide, scarcely believing that the new Boss of the Dreaming was giving this dream his personal attention. "Each o' you can pick one, if you promise to be good and always remember the true meaning o' Halloween."
As they both approached the satchel, Josh rummaged gleefully through the contents, selecting a plastic racecar and holding it close to his chest. Catherine looked up at Mervyn and asked, her demeanor a little more trusting, "And what's the meaning of Halloween?"
Winking at her and offering her a toy stethoscope, which she gladly accepted and hung around her neck, Mervyn whispered, "It's different for everybody, Catherine. But yer case I think it means you need to be a little nicer to yer brother."
Mervyn got to his feet and shouldered the bag as Josh beamed, "Thank you King Mervyn!"
Next to him, Catherine placed a hand on her little brother's shoulder and said a little less enthusiastically but just as sincerely, "Thank you Great Pumpkin."
A wry grin crossed Mervyn's carved mouth and he said as he tipped the lid or crown of his head to them, "Naw. Thank you."
He stood a moment and looked down to the children who were already fading from the dreamscape, ready to enter another skerry of dreams, another cycle of sleep. As they finally twinkled out of their dream existence, Mervyn drew a deep breath and turned to exit the patch. As he maneuvered though the narrow path that lead toward the truck, he saw Matthew and Abudah both waiting for him. He lowered his head as he dropped the bag in the back of the truck and a few stakes and balls of twine spilled out. With a sigh, he raised his head once again, finally looking into the faces of his friends. Narrowing the slits in his pumpkinhead that passed as eyes, he said to Matthew, "Not a word, Matthew. Not unless you wanna be plucked and roasted."
Matthew just looked at him with the same expressionless face he always wore and blinked once before he took to the sky. Abudah then released a deep sigh as he climbed into the cab of the truck. Mervyn wiped his dirty hands on the bib of his overalls and said as he sat in the driver's seat. "And not a peep outta you either."
Mervyn grumbled as he started the engine. "I said not a word."
As he shifted the truck into reverse and eased them back onto the service road, Mervyn sighed as he looked over to his pale friend. "So how's about we find Tiny and Boris and get that beer? I could really use one."
Abudah turned his head and smiled. "Ayuh."
He glanced up at the dimming sky above the horizon of dreams and drew a deep breath, drawing in the scent of burning leaves and candy apples as he let a smile linger on his face. "Dreams. Who needs 'em?"
"Yeah. I couldn't agree more."