Title: The Upturned Stone, a.k.a. “The Haunted Pie”
Writer/Artist: Scott Hampton
Tagline: “Ghosts aren’t frightening, really.”
“What’s frightening is the thought of them.”
It’s like “Stand By Me” but with ghosts and sexual abuse.
I first discovered this tale a few years back when Comic Book Resources did a countdown of “Scariest Comics of All Time,” and being the sucker that I am for Halloween and pumpkin related horror tales, I immediately sought to hunt this book down and acquired one of the original print copies.
This story isn’t all plot, and while Halloween is what sets off the chain of events, the entire book doesn’t take place solely on the holiday itself. What starts off with a pumpkin growing on top of the grave of an unnamed child becomes a journey into adulthood and a quest for revenge.
Halloween, 1969, Churchill, NC
Peter Holloway, his friends Mark and George, and George’s visiting cousin Dave, have found themselves the mother of all pumpkins. Pete’s mother gave him two bucks to buy a pumpkin after school at the local market. Mrs. Holloway wanted “The big one by the cantaloupes,” but George felt it was a fucking rip off to waste two dollars on a lousy gourd. George promised he knew where they could find the biggest pumpkin in town for free, but Pete and Mark were skeptical as George is known to be rather hyperbolic. Turns out George wasn’t shitting around, because the pumpkin in question is as big as a washing machine.
One problem: It’s growing on top of the grave of the nameless boy.
Everyone in Churchill knows the story. Churchill’s that kind of town, where brutal, unsolved murders, rare as they are, aren’t easily forgotten, and permeate the conscious and unconscious membrane of the town’s spheres of public and private thinking.
One winter day about a decade back, the town’s only air conditioner repairman went hunting in the woods with his dog. Instead of game, the guy found the headless body of a young boy. The body was covered in cigarette burns and rope marks, alongside some… other damage. No one was able to identify the boy’s body, so he was buried without a name.
Pete, Mark, and Dave are shocked when George is set on taking the pumpkin. Dave suggests the pumpkin may be haunted, which George laughs off thinking of what a sick ass jack-o-lantern it will make.
After bringing the pumpkin back to Pete’s house, the boys depart to get ready for what may be their last Halloween. They’re getting older, you see, expected to grow up soon, so this is their final night of trick-or-treating. Pete’s sister helps put together a Dracula ensemble for him, and when he finishes dressing up he goes downstairs to view the jack-o-lantern his father has carved. Pete’s confused, because while the face on the pumpkin isn’t menacing, it’s got a visage of creepy, undefined fear, as if it’s terrified of something. His father claims it “Just came out that way.”
George and the others arrive a short while later. Mark is a mummy, George is Frankenstein’s monster, and Dave is the accompanying Igor. The Hammer Horrors set out for their last hurrah, collecting candy, daring each other to knock on Old Man Bremer’s front door, and getting scared fuckless in Mr. Waldon’s Haunted House Tour. Truly the end of an era, Pete feels. Pete, chill, I didn’t stop trick or treating til I was 17 and I wasn’t nearly as philosophical about it as you.
The boys return to Pete’s house to inspect their loot, and one of them’s all “I GOT FOUR ZAGNUTS!”
THAT IS NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF, YOUNG MAN.
Pete’s mom has a surprise for the boys, bringing in a freshly baked pumpkin pie for them to gorge on before their impending sugar rush. While Mrs. Holloway departs to fetch the milk, the boys stare at the pie in tense fear. George is the first to speak and tells the rest of them to stop being babies. There’s no such thing as a haunted pumpkin so how the fuck can there be a haunted pie?
The guys call George on his bullshit while he helps himself to the first piece of the pie. After remembering to breathe again, Pete, Mark, and Dave follow suit in that order. Remember that.
Mr. Holloway informs the guys “Shock Theatre” is showing “Curse of the Demon” (an actual horror flick) for its Halloween spooktacular.
That night, Pete’s dreams aren’t about any horror movie, but they might as well be.
In his dream, he’s led down a corridor by an older man into a dark, musty parlor. The man offers Pete something to drink then brings him to another room. In this room is a four poster bed, surrounded by thousands of lit candles. The man locks the room behind them, and Pete can hear the man murmuring to himself. Even in the dim light from the candles, Pete can see the glint of the man’s slick, wet teeth in a hungry smile.
The dream always ends there, and repeats itself over the next few weeks. Pete’s not exactly sure what it’s supposed to mean, but that hasn’t stopped him from being freaked out every time he has it.
Two weeks after Halloween, Pete meets Mark and George at Mark’s house to prepare for an overnight camp out. In Mark’s room, Pete is amazed to discover Mark and George are exploring the inner sanctum of a copy of “Big Jugs” Mark swiped from his older brother’s room. Only they’ve got no clue what they’re looking at. This brings about fond memories of the “Fuck Joke” that got George in a lot of trouble.
Pete and Mark discovered George had NEVER heard the word “Fuck” before. And even though they didn’t know what the word meant themselves, they knew a prime opportunity when they saw it. They slyly told George it was another way to say “Eat.” Which, you know, is kinda right. 😀
And then the minute George got home he said to his mother:
“Hey mom, I’m dyin’! When are we gonna FUCK?!”
George, in a moment of anger, almost says to Mark “At least I’ve got a mom!” but stops himself before Mark notices. See, Mark’s mother ran out on the family when he was 2, and a couple of years ago his dad packed up and left him and his older brother Rob. Didn’t say where he was going or why. He sends the boys a check every month, but never from the same place. That’s about it.
In that time, Rob took over “Head of the House.” He’s the lead singer of a crappy band called “The Foragers,” and incredibly lax in the house rules, which is why Pete and the guys think Mark’s place is amazing. BUT. There were some lines Rob established, like the time Carl, one of his friends, tried to share a joint with Mark and Rob went ballistic on Carl’s ass. That helped Mark let go of their dad and accept he wasn’t coming back.
During the camp out, the guys tell ghost stories. George starts off with a local legend about some Christmas carolers trapped in a train car in a cave-in. Mark asks the guys if they’ve ever seen a ghost, and Pete says he has. One summer while his family was renting a beach house, every other night he’d wake up and there’d be a little girl standing at the foot of his bed. Mark and George ask if this is “Alice,” but no, he says this was a different ghost.
For those who don’t know, they’re referring to a real ghost:
Pete told his dad, and Mr. Holloway mentioned a young girl and her aunt used to live in the beach house, but one day the girl drowned in the ocean. Pete thinks she wanted him to go swimming with her. When George suggests this was a dream, Mark brings up a dream he’s been having the last couple of weeks.
He’s being tied up in a four poster bed by an old man, but Mark breaks free and the man hits his head on one of the bedposts. The house is like a maze, and it takes forever for Mark to find the front door but it’s locked, and then a hand comes over his face and he starts to feel groggy.
Mark mentions the dream started on Halloween, which is exactly when George’s dream began. His is the least scary.
In it, George is walking down the road on a middle night when a car pulls up beside him. He gets in, and the old man driving the car is talking about something, but George can’t see his face. They drive towards an old house, and the man opens the front door.
George says he recognizes the house is Old Man Bremer’s. Pete is understandably scared, and tells the guys about HIS dream.
Their next course of action is to borrow Rob’s car and drive to Dave’s house. They realize they’ve been dreaming parts of the same dream, going in the order of which they ate the pumpkin pie Mrs. Holloway baked. Baked using the pumpkin they took from a dead boy’s grave. Since Dave ate last, he’s been dreaming the last part of the sequence of how the nameless boy was murdered, and they want to know the end.
The boys get to Dave’s home and try to get his attention from outside his room, but when Dave doesn’t respond they sneak in. In his bed Dave is tossing back and forth, muttering “Please” in his sleep and sweating right through his clothes in fear. When Dave wakes up, he looks as if his life’s flashed before his bloodshot eyes.
On the way back to the campsite Dave tells the guys about his dream, which they think they’re prepared for, but they aren’t. They bring the car back to Mark’s house and return to their camp. George was supposed to stay up to make sure Dave didn’t fall asleep again, but conked out some time later. Mark is pissed off the next afternoon that George overslept, but Dave is okay and eating some of the hot dogs the guys brought with them. He says it’s been a while since he kept solid food down.
Now the guys must figure out where to go from here. It turns into an argument about whether any of their parents would believe what’s happened to them or how they know the truth about Old Man Bremer, until Dave finally says they have to kill Bremer. The only way the dreams will stop, the only reason they’ve had the dreams at all, is because the boy needs Bremer to pay for what he did so he can rest.
Mark says yes. Then all eyes are on Pete.
George asks how they’ll do it, and Dave doesn’t so much suggest as he explains they’ll burn Bremer’s house down that night. George offers to supply the gas can. Pete, George, and Mark leave to get their supplies while Dave stays at the camp to get some rest, for whatever good that will bring.
The following evening, midnight, a part of Pete wants to watch Bremer burn after hearing Dave’s portion of the dreams. The other part is completely out of his depth and thinking shit like this doesn’t happen to kids. Pete meets up with the others and they make their way to back of Bremer’s house. Pete doesn’t know what he expected as they all eagerly race to the home of a child murderer to commit arson, but once they get there, it’s George who is the first to voice his concerns. It turns into an argument of whether or not they’re totally sure Bremer murdered the boy, but Dave, who has been reliving this nightmare for weeks, is not listening. My descriptions can’t do this justice, so here’s the page.
Dave’s outburst is cut short by the arrival of their friend.
It’s fitting his doesn’t have a face, I believe. They only know him as “Unknown” so I think revealing his name might’ve cheapened it a little.
The boy’s arrival makes the choice easier for the boys, because now it’s no longer up to them. Pete stops narrating, and all of their eyes are glowing white, indicating their friend has taken control of the evening.
The next few pages, as Pete and the others go into Bremer’s basement (ripping the cellar door open with their bare hands), is spliced with the boy’s memories of that night. And in case you wanted further proof that Old Man Bremer did it, there’s a shelf in his basement full of jars with HUMAN HEADS. The boys don’t hear Bremer as he creeps down the stairs behind them, an ax in his hands. But when Bremer prepares to swing, George grabs one of the jars and throws it at the old man’s head.
Bremer slowly starts to stir when something splashes his face. He’s been tied to his bed as the boys douse him and the heads from the basement with gasoline. There’s no words or dialog as Bremer silently thrashes and screams, while Dave has the honor of lighting the match…
And off they march into the night as Bremer’s house is lit up by flames.
The next morning the three boys wake up in their beds, Dave back at the camp, with no memory of the previous night. Once they learn Bremer’s home burned down they put two and two together. Dave makes it back to his house by claiming he was sleepwalking and got lost in the woods. His panicked mother buys that. The boys scrambled to cover their tracks like the missing gas can and the siphoned fuel from Rob’s car, but no one suspects they had anything to do with the fire.
A few days later, they bring the dead jack-o-lantern to the boy’s grave and bury it. There’s nothing they say, nothing they feel they CAN say, to this boy, who had somehow given them the directions beyond childhood, that would be enough.
When I first typed this recap I had this entire rant put down pertaining to something that happened to me in grade school. Two somethings, actually. But I’ll be discussing that in my recap for “Are You In The House Alone?”
I’m totally in awe of Scott Hampton’s gorgeous, dark artwork and how it was a perfect fit for his storytelling. I love this book’s atmosphere and how he took the effort to flesh out the characters to make them likable, or at the very least understandable.
I’m glad the fucker burned, though.
I’m glad he was awake to feel it.