Animation by @litguru
“It’s the light of dead spirits. The witches conjured them up in communion with the devil,” Will hazard a guess.
“You’re talking nonsense,” Nick told him.
“Shush, the both of ya,” said Tom as he looked through an old spyglass across the marshes, where a light flickered near the single apple tree that grew there.
“Come on, let’s go,” said Will standing up.
“I ain’t messing with no witches,” said Nick.
“I thought you said I was talking nonsense.”
“Nonsense or not, I ain’t going.”
“What about you, Tom? You coming?”
Tom looked at the ground and scratched behind his ears.
“You’re both yellow-belly chickens,” said Will. “Fine then. I’ll go myself. Maybe the witches will be doing carnal stuff.”
Not even the prospect of naked witches moved Nick and Tom, however, and so Will had to strike out on his own towards the glowing light in the apple tree.
As he approached, he saw the light was concentrated underneath the tree. He thought he could hear someone’s voice but could not make out what it said.
He skulked thorough the grasses and stopped to listen.
“Stop sneaking around like a moron and get over here!”
Was the voice talking to him?
“Yes, I’m talking to you. Come out of there now, you little rat.”
Will stood up and walked towards the light with hands in his pockets. He peered into the light and saw no one there. There was a single jack-o’-lantern nestled among the roots.
“Come closer, we don’t have all night.”
“You’re a talking jack-o’-lantern,” Will said.
“So is your mother. Of course, I’m not a talking jack-o’-lantern, you dumb kid. Come closer.”
Will wasn’t too sure it was a good idea to listen to a jack-o’-lantern, but he reckoned he had already come this far, so…
He approached the carved pumpkin and looked through its flickering eyes.
A single lump of burning coal rested inside.
“Ta-da!” the coal seemed to say. “What were you expecting? A fairy? Ha ha!”
Will took a step back, wondering if had gone bonkers. He didn’t like any of this at all. He would’ve much preferred to have seen witches than this talking lump of burning coal.
“Listen, kid. I got a favor to ask,” said the coal. “I know we just met each other, but it’s a full moon, so I’m kind of in a hurry.”
“I ain’t talking to no lump of coal,” Will said.
“The thing is, boy, you have no choice in the matter. Those dirty pictures you hide under your bed, and that pipe hidden in the attic? Would be a shame if your mother were to find out, wouldn’t it?”
Will stood frozen, mouth hanging open.
“What is it you want?” he finally said.
“Nothing too hard really,” said the lump of coal. “You see, I’m trying to get back home.”
“Are you from the volcano?”
“A bit further south.”
“Do you have a name?”
“Just call me, Jack, and stop asking so many darn questions. So as I was saying, this really bad guy trapped me inside this pumpkin and gave me to another really bad guy who doesn’t have a head of his own. They kind of don’t like each other, and I’m caught in the middle of this sordid affair. So, I escaped from the headless guy, and now I want to summon- eh I mean, I want to call the other guy who trapped me inside this lantern. Then I can get back home.”
“And what am I supposed to do?” Will said scratching his head.
“You see that hole in the tree? Go there and reach inside.”
Will got on his knees and looked at the hole.
“It’s awfully dark. What if there’s a tarantula in there?”
“Just stick your hand in there, son. Don’t be shy.”
Will stuck his arm inside the hole, and his fingers closed around a smooth object. When he extracted it, he saw that it was a wallet.
“It’s just an old leather wallet,” Will said.
“Open it,” Jack told him.
Upon closer scrutiny, Will saw a cross etched in the leather.
“Open it, for devil’s sake! We ain’t got much time, kid.”
Will opened the wallet and saw a single silver coin inside.
“I only see a coin,” he said.
“Beautiful!” said Jack with glee. “Now, here’s what I want you to do.”
Will went to the grocer in town and purchased an empty bottle, like Jack had told him to do. He didn’t think the grocer was going to take the odd silver coin, but as soon as Will showed it to him, the grocer’s eyes went kind of funny, and he accepted the coin as payment.
With Jack dangling from a branch, Will made his way down a desolate alley.
“Where are we going now?” Will said.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jack. “I’ll tell you when we get there.”
A couple of hours later, multiple fires had broken out in town on account of rumors that had spread of a magical coin that granted you any wish. Suspicion and anger were roused in the townsfolk, and soon all sorts of mayhem ensued, including the burning fires.
“Beautiful!” said Jack.
Will ran across the marsh with the jack-o’-lantern dangling from a branch. In his other hand, he held the bottle, which was now filled with holy water they had stolen from the church. Will was pretty sure that stealing was a sin, and he might go to hell for it. But he figured he’d rather take his chances with the devil than with ma' when she found out about the dirty stuff under his bed, and the pipe in the attic.
When they arrived back at the apple tree, Jack told Will to climb up.
Having come this far, the boy didn’t question the lump of coal, so he just clambered up the tree.
“Look for a cross carved in one of the branches. When you find it, pour the holy water over it.”
Will found a cross carved in one of the branches, and did as Jack told him. He climbed back down and join Jack a few feet away from the tree.
“What’s supposed to happen?” he asked Jack.
The tree suddenly burst into flames.
“Who dares touch my silver,” said a deep voice from the tree. The flames flared up and a fiery serpent uncoiled itself from the branches.
“Quick! Throw me!” said Jack.
“Throw you where?”
“Into the fire!”
The serpent regarded them with shimmering emerald eyes.
Will grabbed the jack-o’-lantern and hurled it towards the burning serpent. The carved pumpkin sailed across the air, the fire from the coal flickering through its hollow eyes.
The force of the throw had been just right, and the trajectory rather accurate. But just as the jack-o’-lantern was about to strike the serpent, a headless horseman appeared out of the mist.
He rode at full gallop and snatched the lit pumpkin from the air.
Will heard Jack’s cry as the headless horseman disappeared across the marshes with the jack-o'-lantern in his hand.
The boy remained frozen in place, staring at the serpent.
“Find that coin that is tearing your town apart,” said the creature. “Put it back in the wallet, and stash it where you found it. You must do it before midnight or else you shall be cursed to wander this earth forever, just like those two.”
Will didn’t have to be told twice. He turned around with heart thumping and raced down the road that led into town, where he could see the flames burning against the sky.
Thank you for reading my story! It was based on several stories and myths regarding the jack-o’-lantern. I decided to tell it from the perspective of the lump of burning coal from hell that appears in one of these tales.
This passage in the Jack-o’-lantern page is particularly relevant to the story
The story of the jack-o'-lantern comes in many forms and is similar to the story of Will-o'-the-wisp retold in different forms across Western Europe, including, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden. In Switzerland, children will leave bowls of milk or cream out for mythical house spirits called Jack o' the bowl. An old Irish folk tale from the mid-18th century tells of Stingy Jack, a lazy yet shrewd blacksmith who uses a cross to trap Satan. One story says that Jack tricked Satan into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there, Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that Satan couldn't get down.
Another version of the story says that Jack was getting chased by some villagers from whom he had stolen. He then met Satan, who claimed it was time for him to die. However, the thief stalled his death by tempting Satan with a chance to bedevil the church-going villagers chasing him. Jack told Satan to turn into a coin with which he would pay for the stolen goods (Satan could take on any shape he wanted); later, when the coin (Satan) disappeared, the Christian villagers would fight over who had stolen it. The Devil agreed to this plan. He turned himself into a silver coin and jumped into Jack's wallet, only to find himself next to a cross Jack had also picked up in the village. Jack closed the wallet tight, and the cross stripped the Devil of his powers; and so he was trapped.
In both folktales, Jack lets Satan go only after he agrees to never take his soul. Many years later, the thief died, as all living things do. Of course, Jack's life had been too sinful for him to go to Heaven; however, Satan had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from Hell as well. Jack now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and Satan mockingly tossed him a burning coal, to light his way. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which were his favorite food), put the coal inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern", or jack o'lantern.