She lit an old candle in the carved turnip, and placed it by the cracked window, causing shadows to dance across the log walls. She squinted through the glass. A cold wind was pushing dying red leaves across the stone path. It was getting late!

She’d heard whispers of a mandatory town meeting. Dressing in layers, she hoped to ward off the cold, and the gazes of her unfriendly neighbors. She knew what they would be discussing tonight…

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READER DISCRETION ADVISED! This story is gory. If you have a weak stomach, please exit this page

Insane, they called her. Second, never the best. Always second to Charley, the man who worked the turnip field himself. That cheater.

Nasty, mean, unkind, they called her.

Liars and thieves, each one of them. Yet, they were also the voters.

As good as she was, they never chose her first because who would choose a crabby old woman who never left her home except for the yearly turnip carving contest?

Caroline brushed the imperfections off her carving. No scrapes or dents. No, that wouldn’t do. They would notice, and she wanted them to see the masterful artistry in her work. They’d all bow to her and proclaim her champion. For once.

Even Charley, who had stolen her victories the last three years in a row, would marvel at her brilliance and volunteer the award to her.

He’d be sorry for destroying her entry in last year’s competition, which he’d done in front of everyone. And, they’d all laughed.

She removed the top of her carving and placed the candle inside.

This was her year. No one had the skill to compete. Finally, they’d see her for who she really was.

Shrouded by the dancing shadow of the candle, Caroline smiled wide. Outside, she heard the ruckus of townsfolk descending into the center square, each person visible out her window as a single tiny yellow light.

Caroline lifted her carving into her arms, facing inward, so that none of the greedy lookers saw before the reveal.

She crept out of her unlit house and descended the grassy knoll. The dewy grass tickled and cleaned between her toes.

The night was cold and dark with the moon hidden away on the other side of the world. Only on the darkest night did they hold the competition. Only then did their candles shine brightest.

By the time she made it to the center, the entire townsfolk had arrived. The Mayor was nearly through his traditional speech congratulating all the participants and thanking them for their hard work. The collective light of candles in the crowd below turned him into a shadow, with his silhouette flickering on the wall behind him.

“As usual, we save the previous winners for last in the order they won. Jerome McGill, if you will,” the Mayor said, pointing an open hand at the first presenter.

A wiry man with thinned hair and shaggy wool clothes placed a large oval turnip on the stage. It had straw for hair with the candle tucked in the middle, and red and black paint all around it in the shape of a caricatured portrait of himself.

The townsfolk clapped loud, some whistled. A few patted Jerome on the back as he walked away grinning sheepishly.

Caroline scowled at them all while standing under a wicker tree in the far back. They thought that was good? Filthy liars, they were, to consider such a thing as anywhere near good. Wait till they saw hers, she thought.

The Mayor called out more names, each coming forth to present their ‘hard work’ and ‘well-crafted’ turnips for full view on stage.

Vases with flowers and barely visible symmetrical colorful lines claimed half of them. Others included red splattered skulls, a few mugs, and one in the shape of four falling dominoes.

The next name he called was the woman Caroline had beaten last year. Judith Cree pulled a small white sheet off her carving as she set it on stage. It had a wide smiling mouth, like someone accepting a prize, one proud green eye and another closed in a devilish wink. Fine white teeth lightly bit down on a pointed pink tongue.

The townsfolk all hollered and clapped. Some prematurely proclaimed her champion, though not too loud for Charley’s earnest supporters to hear.

“Caroline,” the Mayor sighed. As he did, everyone sucked back their praise and quieted down.

Caroline crept forward, her arms and jacket stretched out to cover her turnip. As she filtered through the crowd, she heard a few voices whisper admonitions.

“Probably rotten.”

“Just wait for Charley.”

“Wait, where is he…”

“Just skip her.”

“Crazy old hag.”

Caroline reached the stage and used her body to block everyone’s view as she lifted and placed it down. She took a few steps back and smiled.

“What is…” someone started.

“I can’t see…” another whispered.

Feet shuffled forward, though none dared to brush up against Caroline.

The first scream came from the young one who had called her crazy. The rest followed shortly after, loud and unrestrained.

Finally! Caroline thought and started laughing. Finally, they cheer for me!

As she had dozens of times already, Caroline stared at her carving, pleased with her skill and for finally being recognized for it.

The candle within her turnip flickered inside Charley’s decaying, eyeless, and hollowed out head. His smile was nearly as bright as hers. It had taken days of retouching before it had frozen like that.

His hands, outstretched from the small amount of his torso she kept attached, presented to her the round black moon award he’d won last year, with the year of victory carved next to a hollowed hole where his name had been written. Bioluminescent yellow paint glowed within, revealing a second etching, the number of years won ‘in a row.’ Except the number ‘three’ was crossed out and the number ‘one’ was carved above.