Strange Highways: The Black Pumpkin by Dean Koontz

October is such a great month, isn’t it? The brutal heat of summer is over and the crispness of autumn is upon us, we’re getting ready for the holiday season, and it all kicks off with the creepy fun of Halloween. Being a former Goth chick, I still have a fondness in my heart for all things dark and eerie, and that includes literature. Each October, I blog all month long books that fall easily into the horror/supernatural genre and we’re continuing that fine family tradition by starting this month’s blog posts off with an anthology of short stories by my second-favorite horror writer of all time, Dean Koontz. (Yes, Stephen King is my numero uno when it comes to authors who write horror and I’m sure that surprises no one.)

The thing about Dean Koontz is that he writes in such a lyrical way about both the beauty and horror of the world. His characterizations are always fascinating, though he does tend to have fairly black-and-white characters, something I’ve seen more of over the years even as his writing has evolved. I don’t mind that, and in fact, it can be refreshing to have those clearly delineated lines of good vs. evil sharply drawn out, though occasionally Koontz’s characters can come across as almost a parody of whichever side they’re on. This is definitely the case in the short story that’s the focus of today’s post.

The Black Pumpkin is the second short story in the collection titled Strange Highways. I actually considered blogging the eponymous first story of the collection, which is itself a strange, dreamlike story of second chances, the terror we sometimes find only within our families, and the left-hand path- and I highly recommend it because it’s genuinely creepy and tense – but I opted instead to go with The Black Pumpkin because it has such a darkly humorous ending and I can’t resist a little giggle of amusement to enhance the flavor of fear.

The tale is short, a mere 19 pages long, and tells the story of Tommy Sutzmann, a young boy trapped in a family of liars, bullies and asshats. He is the lone decent individual, contrasting with his nasty older brother Frank, and his two politician parents. Well, with politicians for parents, are you surprised? Anyway, the parents take the two boys to a pumpkin patch to pick pumpkins to decorate for an upcoming Halloween party. Tommy is drawn to a particularly gruesomely carved black pumpkin, and the very scary pumpkin carver lets him have it for whatever he thinks it’s worth. Tommy’s brother rudely gives the man a nickel for it when Tommy refuses to buy it, but then the scary old man warns that the black pumpkin always gives what is deserved to those who earn it. I’m sure you can guess the rest when the pumpkin comes to life on Halloween night. We’ve got mayhem, murder, and a hilarious final couple of lines when Tommy tells the black pumpkin, after he’s eaten Tommy’s parents and brother:

“You missed a bit,” and pointed to the floor beside his brother’s nightstand. The beast looked at Frank’s severed hand. “Ahhh,” said The Black Pumpkin, snatching up the hand and stuffing that grisly morsel into its mouth.

Yes, I was inspired to create a culinary treat by a gruesome tale of a murderous pumpkin coming to life and going on a killing spree. I know, I know, I’ve been told about this twisted side of myself many times over, and you know what? It’s not going away! 🙂 Pumpkin is, of course, the ultimate symbol of this time of year, representing as it does the changing of the season, the colors of autumn leaves, and is the precursor to jack-o-lanterns that dot our neighborhood houses on All Hallow’s Eve. So I was inspired to make this fall-themed savory pumpkin casserole. Yum!

INGREDIENTS
2 cups wild rice, cooked in chicken stock
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, poached or roasted
Large handful of fresh sage leaves
2 cups of pumpkin puree
2 generous tablespoons of garlic powder
1 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
1 cup goat cheese
Salt and pepper
1 cup Italian-style breadcrumbs

METHOD
Heat the oven to 375F. Cut the cooked chicken into chunks and season with salt and pepper.

Slice the sage into thin ribbons.

Add the pumpkin puree to the chicken, and mix in the garlic, the sage, the Parmesan and the goat cheese.

Mix well and taste for seasoning before adding any more salt and pepper.

Mix the wild rice with the chicken and pumpkin mixture, then put into a glass baking dish. Top with the bread crumbs and the few remaining bits of goat cheese, then bake for 45 minutes.

Delicious! Rich yet delicate, with the sharpness of the cheese contrasting beautifully with the mellow sage, the savory chicken and the sweet pumpkin. A perfect Halloween meal, with hopes that The Black Pumpkin doesn’t come knocking on your door tonight!

22 thoughts on “Strange Highways: The Black Pumpkin by Dean Koontz

  1. ….burp. But… that may be a sort of terribly true thingy, banal it may seem. Complete removal, necessary, from a sort of entrapping tonic, (family, partner, ecc.,) Only read one book, I think, by Koontz (no, not my.. genre,) and there, to…) But that could spill into something longer and rich. For the pumpkin and flesh… could try something similar (if enough pumpkin is left after the usual risotto to be made later this week. Which, of course, will also be made with a flesh-y broth….)
    ….. I wish, effectively, I’d have had such a pumpkin black….

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    1. Dean Koontz is not for everybody. Like I said, he can be terribly black-and-white when it comes to good versus evil and I agree that it has a certain level of banality that you have to be in the mood for, but this tale tickles me to no end so I had to share it.

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      1. ….maybe that black and white… isn’t so, at all, incorrect. In context. After all… direction or spin and location of maybe the smallest thing that can be… detected are also a case of black and white (it is an ‘and’, not an ‘or’, for the thing itself. Which is sort of the point. If any thing – in that story lovely-comic done as a politician parents and a psychopathic older brother – can only express itself, the best thing is removal or complete change of context. Yes, much like an aggressive tumor…)

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      2. What’s nice about the story is that the pumpkin also tells the main character that if he ends up being a jerk like his brother and his parents later in life, the pumpkin will find him and do the same thing. So a little bit of a moral tale there. I suppose in this context, the black-and-white concept works.

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      3. ..caught me here just as i was about to add… your rec prompted an idea: not quite hands but ‘apostles fingers’ stuffed with ricotta, almonds and pumpkin. Will do at halloween. Koontz seems like a nice guy, dog freindly to (the novel i read last year, ‘the darkest night of the year,) but in our culture of late… yeah, monstrs eat monsters – they really do. It’s rather amazing but… still the evil they do, to borrow a roman phrase, remains after they’re gone, while the good, if any, disappears…..

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      4. Those apostle fingers sound absolutely divine. And I think he is a huge dog lover. In fact that’s one of the reasons I enjoy a lot of his books is because he always makes dogs such an integral part of the story.

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      5. … I was vetoed, alas, mostly of my own fault – because I mentioned ‘floating islands’ in the menu suggestion and, well, that was that. Must be the name, in effect: ‘Iles flottantes’ vs, to italian ears, ‘rolled, flacid, egg-white crepes (apostle fingers)’. Sigh. (Ah, the first plate is to be a taglarin’ pasta, which means a ton of yolks, hence the Venessa inspired sweet pumpkin stuffed white crespelle. But it’s still, well… risotto or tortelli here, basically. With pumkin, that is.)

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      6. Your descriptions of food always make my mouth water. I wish you lived closer. I would insist that you cook a meal for me. I actually made Iles Flottantes for a blog post awhile back but I added chocolate so they may not technically be considered true Iles Flottantes.

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      7. (ps… I didn’t mention the obvious for even after… geez, almost 2 decades, I still cry from time to time for Polo, ‘my’ border collie, even though the tears have become sweet.)

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  2. Love Dean Koontz! I’m not a fan of October, though – we don’t get brutal heat here in Wales, in fact we don’t get much heat at all, and when summer’s over it’s just GLOOOOOMY!
    Your pumpkin casserole looks delicious. Sadly I don’t eat meat or cheese. And I can’t really cook, either..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you don’t get the summer heat. But I’ll bet Wales is very atmospheric and probably perfect for the seasonal time of year. And the nice thing about this dish is that it can be made without chicken and without cheese. If you’re going to do that I would suggest toasting some pecans and adding them to the mix.

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