The eleventh day of this challenge delivered me a theme that I really enjoyed writing a short story for.
He wandered aimlessly through the dense forest. The chill in the air invigorated him, for he knew his season approached. Nervous eyes regarded him warily from a distance, animals ready to run. Leaves carpeted the ground in a riot of yellow and red and orange. The forest was his safe space, somewhere he came to clear his head. He ventured closer to the edge of the treeline ready for his moment.
The laughter of children broke him from his reverie. He hid his gangly frame behind a tree. It would not do for him to be spotted this early in the month. The joyous sound was impossible to ignore. He followed at a distance, the playful sound filling his heart with joy. They played and danced their way back towards the town, unaware of the mysterious figure hopping from tree to tree. Seeing them disappear into town filled him with an emptiness, sadness, and loneliness. He scrambled up into a tree, watching the town slow down as day eased into night.
His grimy red and black checked shirt hung loosely about his body. The tatty black trousers were riddled with holes and torn ragged at the cuffs. Tufts of straw poked out of his clothing wherever it could. He certainly looked every bit of his century of years. It would not do for him to change his look now, it may draw too much attention.
As night fell and the light in the windows were extinguished one by one, he slowly dropped down from his perch high in the lofty boughs of the tree. The darkness fuelled him. So quiet and peaceful. The moon, just a slither now hung high in the sky. But soon it would grow big, bright and fat, bathing the night in its glow. He slunk his way out to the farthest fields on the edge of town. And there, he found his spot, stood tall, arms spread wide, the biggest smile upon his large round face.
By morning, the fields were filled with townspeople preparing for the end of season harvest. Many puzzled over where the figure in the field came from, but were content with the belief one of their neighbours had placed it. Throughout the day he stood so still. Not even the slightest twitch. He watched over the fields, the wide brim of his battered and beaten straw hat pulled low over his eyes. He felt his energy returning. By the second night, he felt the light returning to him as his moment of purpose drew near.
Each night he skulked through the shadowed lanes, inching his way from field to field. By morning he was ever closer to the town square. He stretched his long, slender limbs, removing a day of stiffness. He walked, and jumped and bounced enjoying himself more and more. Each day he basked in the presence of the townsfolk and soaked up the sounds of joy coming from children at play. And by night he stared at the square, knowing that his moment was near, just as the square was now. One night, late in the month he looked up at the moon. For all the joy he was having, he had lost track of time. It was almost full. His time was here. Tomorrow night he would be himself again.
A feeling of excitement filled the town as it prepared for the harvest celebrations. A large fire was built in the square. Bunting made from tree leaves and pinecones filled the town with autumnal vibrance. Tables were laid out ready for a bountiful feast to be shared amongst the people. The fields were empty, the crops all taken in now for the year. Even the gangly figure was conspicuously absent.
As darkness fell, the fire was lit much to the delight of everyone. Though none were more thrilled than the stranger. This was the moment he waited all year for. He disposed of his hat. A flaming glow lit within his round, orange pumpkin head, the flames glowing through the holes where his eyes would be, and from his wide, joyous smile. He jumped out from behind the fire to cries, first of shock and then joy. And so he danced. He danced, and gambolled and frolicked long into the night. He entertained the children, breathing gouts of flame into the air. His soul sang, as he shone bright on his one night of the year. When the sun rose, Pumpkin Joe would melt away into the shadows, roaming the land alone for the year. But until then, he would dance and bask in the wondrous blanket of the night as the full moon smiled down upon him.