It's The Great Pumpkin, Uncle Johnny!
For the first time in a while, Station 51's A-shift was going to be off on Halloween night. Several days before the long awaited night off, the men sat around discussing their plans.
The DeSoto's were having a get-together at their house and all of the men and their families/dates were invited. Roy had suggested that all the kids could trick-or-treat in his neighborhood and then afterwards they could play games or watch tv while the adults socialized.
Captain Hank Stanley thought it was a great idea. His girls were teenagers and already had plans with their friends, but he and his wife would be there. Chet, who was always up for a party, agreed to come since he didn't have any other plans. Marco said he'd stop by for a while, but then he had to go to his mother's house.
Mike liked the idea too. His kids were younger than Roy's, but it would be nice to have another adult to talk to while walking around with the youngsters. "Great! “I'll have Jo call around, she and the ladies can make the arrangements," said Roy with a grin. "Johnny? You'll be able to make it, right?"
"Sure. Wouldn't miss it for the world. Nikki has to work, so.... Hey! Maybe I can go around with you and the kids too."
"That'd be great!" Roy looked at Mike who nodded in agreement. Chet snickered and left the room.
"What's with him?" asked Gage.
Roy replied, "With Chet? Who knows?"
On the morning of the 31st the men were changing in the locker room. Roy reminded them all to be at his place around 3:30 that afternoon.
"Why so early?" asked Chet.
"According to the paper, trick-or-treat is at 4:30 this year," answered Roy.
"Okay, but why so early?" Chet asked again.
"It's safer for the kids to go while it's still light outside. Then we still have plenty of time to enjoy ourselves later."
The stocky-Irishman nodded and said, "Makes sense I guess."
"What do you mean, you guess? Of course it makes sense," replied Johnny.
Chet couldn't help getting a lick in at his favorite target. "Take it easy, Gage. It's not like you have any kids or...is there something you need to tell us? What's with the sudden interest in trick-or-treat?"
Gage glared at Chet. "Why don't you --"
"That's enough already. I for one am ready to get out of here. I'll see you all later." Shortly thereafter the six men parted ways.
At approximately 3:30, the members of A-shift began to assemble at the DeSoto house. The kids were excited about their upcoming adventure. When Jenny found out that 'Uncle' Johnny was going out with them she was bouncing off the walls. Seven-year old Chris was dressed as a pirate and five-year old Jenny was a fairy princess. When she wasn't paying attention, Chris snatched her wand and ran off laughing. Jenny followed, hot on his heels.
"Chris! Jenny! Stop running in the house!" shouted Roy at the rapidly disappearing pair of children.
Hank and Elizabeth Stanley, were the first to arrive, followed by Johnny. Next to arrive were Mike Stoker, his wife and their children. Marco Lopez arrived shortly after the Stokers. The last to arrive was Chet Kelly.
The Stoker children were already in costume. Katie, age 4, was also a princess and Ethan, age 2, was a clown. Kathy Stoker took the children into the kitchen in search of Joanne. The women made sure the kids ate an early supper knowing they would need the energy for all that walking.
A short time later, Chris came running through the living room with Jenny hot on his tail again. They accidentally bumped into Chet, nearly bowling him over. Roy grabbed a hold of both kids and threatened to not let them go out for Halloween. He apologized to Chet and made the kids do the same. They sat and sulked until 4:30.
Mike, John, and Roy gathered the children and took them house-to-house. By 6pm they were tired and the kids had quite a haul. Mike's kids were getting sleepy, so he and Kathy took them home. Mike said he'd be back soon.
When he returned, the kids were sorting out their loot. The candies they didn't like were placed in a large bowl for the grown-ups. They chattered non-stop about all the costumes and decorations they had seen.
Jenny suddenly jumped up and went to her parents. She asked them about going to the pumpkin patch to wait for the 'Great Pumpkin'. Joanne sighed tiredly and said, "No honey. I don't think so."
Roy was confused and his wife explained about the cartoon their daughter had watched the night before. He shook his head and told her a definite "No."
Jenny left, pouting. She sat and sulked for a while before a brainstorm hit. 'If Daddy won't go, one of my uncles will!' Mustering up the courage to start asking, she proceeded to the deck. Jenny walked up to Hank first, since he was the captain. She stood silent for a minute before she spoke. "Uncle Cap?" Jennifer DeSoto asked nervously.
"Yes, dear?" the tall, lanky man replied.
"Will you take me to the pumpkin patch so I can wait for the Great Pumpkin to fly over with his bag of toys for all the good little children?"
Hank was momentarily stunned and then confused. "The great what?" he asked.
"The Great Pumpkin, Uncle Cap. Please?"
"I'm sorry honey. I can't tonight," he replied, still not sure of what he was just asked.
Sadly she moved on. "Uncle Marco, will you take me?"
"I'm sorry Jenny. I'd like to, but I have to be leaving in a few minutes to meet my family. My Mama is having all my nieces and nephews over tonight."
Disappointed, she made her way over to Chet. "Uncle Chet?"
"Yeah kiddo, what can I do ya for?"
She looked at him suspiciously, then asked. He burst out laughing which hurt her feelings. "What's so funny?" she asked dejectedly.
"Aaah, kid, that's just a story. It's not real and I'm not going to sit around in any silly old field at night. You shouldn't either. You'll catch a cold or something."
Jenny sniffled and turned to run. Her mother stopped her, noting the tears in her eyes. "What's the matter honey?"
"Uncle Chet said it was silly and it...it...wasn't true. He said the Great Pumpkin wasn't real," she sobbed while several large tears fell from her eyes.
"Oh he did, did he?" she fixed Chet with an icy stare. He quickly got up and went for another beer, thinking all the while that he was darn glad he wasn't married to her!
"Why'd he say that, Mommy?" she asked, still sniffling.
"I don't know. Maybe he's just tired." Joanne knew it was a feeble excuse, but what else could she say? She was glad that she only had to put up with the likes of Chet Kelly on rare occasions.
"He's mean," Jenny replied wiping her eyes on her sleeve.
Johnny noticed Jenny in tears and asked, "What's wrong, Jo?" He had just come out on the deck as Chet hurried past him to go inside.
"Oh, Chet made her cry."
"Why'd he do that?" he asked getting a bit angry that Jenny was upset and Chet Kelly was responsible.
A small voice made it's way to his ear, "Will you take me, Uncle Johnny?"
"Take you where sweetie?"
"To the pumpkin patch to wait for the Great Pumpkin."
"Oh. Well..." he really didn't want to, but he could see that it meant a lot to her. The quivering lip and tear-filled eyes were too much for him to resist.
"Nobody else will go take me," she sniffled again.
"I... Sure, Jen. I'll take you."
"Take her where?" asked Mike as he joined them on the deck.
Johnny hesitated to answer. Jenny piped up excitedly, "To the pumpkin patch to wait for the Great Pumpkin!"
"Can I come too?" he asked.
"Sure, Uncle Mike!" was Jenny's reply. She wiped the remains of her tears on her sleeve.
Johnny was both surprised and relieved. "That would be great!"
Jennifer went skipping into the house. Chet knew that only one thing could have made her so happy. He returned to the deck to find Gage and Stoker talking quietly. "Gage, you're a weenie."
"Shut up, Chet."
"You said you'd go, didn't you?" he laughed.
"Well...yeah. I did. What's it to you?"
"You just can't say no to that kid can you? Man you are so -- "
"Go ahead, Chet. Finish what you were going to say," Joanne's voice startled Chet.
"Uh, nothing," he answered.
Mike spoke up, "I'm going too. Sure you don't want to change your mind?"
"Positive! Stoker, I worry about you. I think you've been hanging around Gage too much," he replied and slinked back towards the house.
"Hey, Jen! No running in the house. Remember?" Roy called out to his young daughter.
"Just where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"Uncle Johnny's taking me to the pumpkin patch. I'm gonna tell Chris."
"NO running!" he reminded her and went off in such of his partner. He found him on the deck staring out at the stars. "Johnny, please tell me you didn't let her talk you into going to sit in a pumpkin patch."
"Well, not entirely."
"If you could have seen her face, Roy - "
"Not to mention the fact that she has you wrapped around her little fingers," he laughed.
Johnny blushed, "Yeah. That too! Want to come with us?"
"No. I really don't. My idea of a fun-filled evening does not include freezing my rear off in a field full of pumpkins with my youngest and eldest children!"
"Very funny partner. By the way, Stoker's coming too."
"Nope. Sure you won't change your mind?"
"Yeah I'm sure." He paused a minute longer, "You and Stoker?"
"Well, have fun. Just don't stay out too long, okay?"
Chet couldn't help telling everyone else that Gage was going to go looking for the Great Pumpkin with Roy's little girl. He was laughing and making jokes about it. Mike overheard and approached the shorter man. "Chet."
"Why do you have to get on Johnny so much?"
"He's an easy mark. This little event proves it."
"Chet, that's enough. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
"Hey Stoker, I'm not one of your kids. Why don't you just keep quiet? It's..."
"What's going on?" asked Joanne, who did not look pleased.
"Nothin," Kelly was quick to reply.
"He's making fun of Johnny again," replied Mike.
Chet shot Mike a murderous glare and tried to escape. Joanne stood in his way. "Chet Kelly, I cannot believe you. Isn't it bad enough you hurt Jennifer's feelings and made her cry? Do you have to be so rotten to Johnny too?"
"Me? I'm not being rotten...am I guys?"
"Well," said Marco. "As a matter of fact, you are." Chet stared at Lopez in shock. He could not believe his buddy turned on him like that. Marco continued, "Joanne, I think I'll be heading out. I have to pick Juanita up from work before I go to my mothers. Thanks for another great evening."
"You're quite welcome Marco. We're glad you could make it. Be careful driving home."
It was now dark and everyone else was preparing to leave. Johnny disappeared for a brief time, during which Cap and his wife said their goodnights. Johnny returned from the den looking very happy.
"What's got you so happy, Junior?"
"I just talked to my neighbor, Ben Edwards."
"He's the one with the huge farm, right?" asked Roy.
"Yeah and he has a pumpkin patch this year. He said it was alright to take Jennifer there."
"That's awful nice of him."
"He's a great guy and he loves kids. He was very understanding," Johnny smiled.
Johnny went to find his 'niece' and make sure she was ready to go. She was still wearing her princess costume. "Hey princess, don't you think you better change before we leave?"
"Uncle Johnny!" she squealed. "Don't be silly. I want the Great Pumpkin to see my costume. Are we leaving now?"
"Soon. Uncle Mike is talking to Aunt Kathy and when he's done, we'll be ready to go. You need to get a jacket or sweater so you don't catch a cold."
“I don't need one."
"Yes, you do."
"No, I don't."
"Then we're not going."
"You sound just like Daddy. Oh, all right, if I have to," she pouted.
"Jennifer Anne DeSoto! You don't talk to adults like that!"
She jumped at the sound of her father's voice and tears welled up in her eyes. "Daddy!"
"You better apologize right now young lady!"
"I'm sorry, Uncle Johnny," she sniffed.
"I have a mind to not let you go."
"No, Daddy, please let me go. I won't sass no more, honest."
John and Roy exchanged glances. "Uh huh. You've said that before."
"Honest, Daddy. Please????"
"Johnny, what do you think?"
"Well, I don't know - "
"Please?" she begged both men standing in front of her.
Meanwhile, Mike was helping Joanne clean up. "Thanks, Mike."
"No problem," he answered.
"Are you sure you really want to go sit in a pumpkin patch?"
"Why? I'd really like to know, if you don't mind."
"Not at all. I have always loved Halloween but Dad wasn't into it at all. My sister and I weren't allowed to go trick-or-treating. We weren't allowed to have much fun period. I'm having more fun now than I ever did. I caught the review of the special in the paper and Kathy let Katie watch it. Katie told me every detail!
Every kid needs something to believe in and this seems so important to Jenny. I think Johnny was great for agreeing to take her. It really made her happy. Kids need to be kids and that means they should be happy. I vowed my kids would never have to go through what we did as kids. I think Johnny feels the same way. He's confided a few things to me and he really didn't have much of a childhood either. Besides, this way Chet can't harass him too much; he'll have to deal with me too. He can be such a jerk sometimes."
"He sure proved that tonight. I don't think Jen will ever forgive him."
"Kids are a lot more forgiving than we give them credit for."
Joanne looked up and Stoker had a faraway look in his eyes. "Mike?"
"Sorry," he apologized to his hostess. "Just lost in thought."
Joanne had a feeling there was a lot more to it than that. It seemed kind of odd that Mike and Johnny were so willing to go with Jennifer and that she should be happy. These two mystery men of A-shift were constantly surprising her. She couldn't believe that Mike Stoker had said so much! She had never heard him say more than a few words. She shrugged it off as an after-effect of Halloween and went to hurry her daughter along.
Jennifer sat pouting on her bed. "What's going on?" Jo asked the two men standing beside her.
"Jennifer got smart with Johnny."
"Actually it was just a difference of opinion," Johnny interjected.
"Don't defend her. She knows better than to talk back to adults."
"Jennifer, what do you have to say about all of this?" she asked her distressed daughter.
She sniffled a bit for effect and replied, "Mommy, I did sass Uncle Johnny. I don't wanta wear a sweater. How will the Great Pumpkin see my princess costume? And I did say I was sorry."
"After I reminded you," said Roy.
"Are you two ready to go? Mike's waiting in the kitchen," Joanne stated.
"Well, Roy? You gonna let her go or not?" asked Johnny.
"Please, Daddy? Please??"
Roy debated for a few more minutes. "Alright, but on one condition."
Jennifer looked up at her father, "Okay."
"No TV tomorrow."
Johnny thought the punishment was a bit harsh but kept his mouth shut, because he was afraid that Roy might try and ground him as well! He looked at Jenny and asked, "Ready to go?"
She jumped up and grabbed her 'uncle's' hand. "Uh huh."
"Sweater," he reminded her.
"Not too late," Roy spoke up.
"I promise," Johnny replied, then to Jenny he said, "Let's go kiddo."
They met Mike in the kitchen and left in Johnny's Rover. The ride to the farm was long and quiet. "You still awake, Jenny?" asked Stoker.
"Uh huh," she said. She liked going outside at night. The stars were bright and she wasn't afraid to be out in the dark with her 'Uncle' Johnny and 'Uncle' Mike.
"Well, here we are," Johnny said, parking the Rover by the side of the road.
Jenny fidgeted when she got out of the vehicle. "Uncle Johnny? Are you sure this pumpkin patch is sin...sin..." she stumbled over the word, "sincere?"
He assured her that it was indeed sincere and then he grabbed a couple of flashlights from the Rover. He made sure she had her sweater on and then they slowly picked their way across the pumpkin patch. They sat in the field for an hour before Jenny started to yawn. The conversation had slowed to a crawl and it was starting to get chilly.
Jenny snuggled up between her two favorite uncles and sighed. "I hope he comes soon," she whispered.
"Be patient, Jenny. He has a lot of pumpkin patches to check out tonight," assured Mike.
Some clouds covered the moon and the wind rustled through the leaves. The soft howling of a distant animal was interrupted by a strange sound a lot closer. A shadowy figure rose up from the pumpkin patch and moved across the field, slowly picking up speed. Jenny shrieked and buried her face in Johnny's chest. Both men exchanged puzzled glances. It stopped moving, glowed briefly and then disappeared.
"Jenny? Do you think that was him? The Great Pumpkin?" asked Johnny.
Mike suggested they get a closer look and the three slowly crossed the pumpkin patch to where they had seen the apparition. Lo and behold, there on the ground was a gift addressed to Jennifer.
Jenny giggled happily and began rambling about being sincere and how her brother was going to be jealous.
Mike and Johnny once again exchanged glances and shrugged. "Johnny, how did you - "
"It wasn't me, Mike, honest."
"I have no idea."
Another gust of wind and they headed back to the warmth of the Rover. Jennifer was still happily clutching her gift from the Great Pumpkin. Before getting in, she hollered, "Thank you, Great Pumpkin!"
Once home, she continued to chatter non-stop about her adventure and her gift. Roy, Mike and Johnny went into the living room and sat down. "So Johnny, how'd you manage to pull it off?" asked Roy.
"Pull what off?" he asked in return.
"This great pumpkin thing."
"I didn't do it, Roy."
"I have an idea. Can I borrow your phone?"
"Sure," Roy answered.
Johnny called his neighbor's house and asked some questions. When he was done he hung up the phone and laughed.
"Well?" asked Roy.
"It was Ben! He said he's done it the last couple of years for his grandkids. They love that Charlie whatever special and he claims that's why he grows pumpkins every year. Says he and his wife always have a couple of extra toys on hand this time of year, just in case one of the kids brings a friend. So, they just wrapped one and put Jenny's name on it."
"How'd he know her name?"
Mike burst out laughing while Johnny stammered. "Because he brags about your kids to his neighbor!"
"Johnny? Is that true?" Laughed Roy.
Johnny blushed and said, "Okay, so you caught me. He tells me all about his grandkids, and I tell him all about your two."
"That really was awfully nice of him to do that for Jen," he said, still snickering.
"What can I say? He really loves kids. I'll thank him again tomorrow. By the way, Mike, thanks for the company. I'm glad I have a witness for all this!"
Mike laughed again, "Yeah. That would be hard to explain, especially to Chet."
"He's gonna ride me about this for months."
"You know something I don't, Mike?"
"Could be," replied the normally quiet man. "I think it's about time to hit the road."
"Yeah thanks for a great evening, Roy," said Johnny.
"That goes double for me," remarked Stoker.
Jo came in to say goodnight and take a very sleepy little 'princess' to bed. "G'night and thank you," she mumbled as she hugged her uncles.
Roy thanked the two men again for what they did for Jenny. "You know, Junior, she's going to want to go again next year."
"I know. Next time I'll be better prepared!"
"Your neighbor's a great guy."
"I know. I really owe him one."
"No, Johnny. I owe you and Mike for doing this. Maybe next year I'll join you."
"That would be great," said Johnny.
"Maybe next year, Katie will go too," replied Mike.
The two men said their farewells and headed for their respective homes.
The next time the men were together was in the locker room prior to the start of their next shift. Gage opened his locker and dozens of small plastic pumpkins fell out at his feet and then a paper 'ghost' drifted out with a note that read:
"Greetings from the Great Pumpkin"
Stoker received the same surprise. Johnny burst out laughing and a very nervous Chet Kelly headed for the exit. He gave Roy a worried look as he reached the door.
Mike approached Gage's locker and suggested they get even. Roy groaned, while Johnny and Mike left together to plot their revenge on the 'Phantom'.
Author's note: This story was partially in response to Amanda's challenge on the AllE!FanFic list and partly from a sudden burst of inspiration. As always, I don't own the boys. I just like to take them out and play with them, then I put them back. The spouses/girlfriends names are of my own creation, no infringement on any other author is intended.