Drawing of a carved pumpkin with flames in the eyes, nose and mouth. Caption reads: "A pumpkin spice latte, please."

Halloween short story by Iris Carden

Every morning, Howard would go to his favourite coffee shop, to pick up a “to go” coffee to take to work.

On the morning of the thirty-first of October, he followed his routine. In the shop’s window, a carved pumpkin stared at him. He stopped and stared back a moment, mesmerised by the dancing flames in its eyes, nose, and mouth. It was a curious effect. He thought it seemed as if each orifice had its very own candle. The words “free-floating magic” floated through his mind. He shook his head. It was just a pumpkin.

Then he entered the coffee shop as he had hundreds of times before.

Inside, it looked different. Everything was rearranged. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn it was a completely different shop. It was larger, more people than usual were sitting at tables. They seemed to have time to sit and chat over coffee and light breakfast, not be in a rush. It was strange for a Friday morning.

He approached the counter. “A pumpkin spice latte, to go please,” he said to the woman behind the counter, who was definitely not his usual barista.

“Sorry?” she said.

“What?” he said.

“I mean I beg your pardon. I think I misheard your order.”

She had an accent, Australian, he thought. He’d heard Australian accents on tv.

He repeated himself. “I’d like a pumpkin spice latte to go, please, ” he said.

“That’s what I thought you said. I can give you a latte to take away, but I don’t know what pumpkin spice is. Do you mean pumpkin? Like the vegetable? I mean, it’s a vegetable, not a spice, and you wouldn’t put it in coffee, would you?”

“It’s a fairly standard drink in the fall, around halloween,” he said.

“Fall? You mean autumn? So why order it in spring? Halloween, I’ve heard of. I’ve seen it in American movies, apparently down south, kids have started going out during the evening asking people for lollies. We don’t have any of that here, though, but I guess it will probably come.”

“I come to this coffee shop every morning, and I’ve had pumpkin spice latte every day this month,” he said. “I don’t know what your problem is.”

“Mate, I own this coffee shop. I work here seven days a week and I’ve never seen you before. Do you want a coffee or what?”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “I don’t know what’s happening.”

“Have you been keeping hydrated?” she asked. “A lot of foreign tourists come here, and they don’t realise, they need to drink more fluids and have more sun protection here in the tropics.”

“Tropics? But this isn’t… I mean they’re talking about the snow starting early this year… I mean…” He looked around again, at all the people seated, taking their time, with no apparent rush. “What day is it?”

“Saturday. It’s the first of November.”

“And where are we?”

“Coffee Time, in Sand Street.”

“Sand Street? I don’t know Sand Street. What city?”

“Well, it’s hardly a city. This is Cairns, north Queensland. How do you not know where you are?”

“That’s in Australia, right?”

“Ah, yes.” She emphasised the “yes”, in a way that made it souand as if she thought it should have been obvious.

“But before I entered this store, I was in the USA.”

“Pretty sure that would’ve been quite a while before.”

“No. No. I was just looking at the pumpkin in the window, and then I came in, and everything was different, and you were here and not the usual server, and I don’t know what’s happening.”

“What pumpkin?”

“The one….” He turned and saw there was no pumpkin, just plate glass windows, through which he could see more patrons sitting at tables outside.

“Are you all right?”

“When did you get tables on the sidewalk?”

“We’ve had tables on the footpath as long as we’ve been open, so two years. You don’t look crash hot. Do you need help? Is there someone I can call for you?”

He walked outside. The city he knew so well was just gone. Instead he was at a beachside resort town, with the tropical sun beating down.

Howard turned around and re-entered the coffee shop. “Yes,” he said, “I think I do need help. Please call … someone.”

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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