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Stingy Jack, according to old Irish legends, was a clever man. Unfortunately, he used his cleverness to avoid work and to steal from others. He enjoyed finding ways to cheat others so he could have money for gambling and drink. No-one, not even his old mother, was safe from his schemin’ and trickery.
Not surprising, one day the devil himself came for Stingy Jack. Jack was at the pub, trying to figure out how to pay for his next drink when Old Nick sat down beside him. He recognized the devil immediately and figured out why he had come. “Just let me finish my ale, first,” Jack bargained, “then I’ll come with you.” The devil agreed easily enough. Then Jack continued. “I see you here with them horns on your head, your long tail, and smellin’ like sulfur. I would’ve thought you would come lookin’ like a regular guy, that you could change yourself into anything you wanted. Guess I was wrong, you don’t have that kinda power.”
The devil snorted. “I most certainly can turn myself into anyone.” With that he quickly transformed himself into a pretty barmaid.“Ha! Very good!” exclaimed Jack, “But that’s just another person. What about something that ain’t human - say a shilling to pay for this drink so I can go with you?” The devil was pretty proud of his changin’ skills and quick as a wink turned hisself into a shining coin. Jack was just as quick. He grabbed the coin off the bar, dropped it into his leather purse, and pulled the drawstring tight. Smiling to himself, he returned to his drink.
Now the devil was a mite surprised to suddenly find himself in the dirty leather bag. He drew in a deep breath and tried to change himself back into his old fire and brimstone self. But he couldn’t do it. No, sir, he couldn’t change himself one bit. There in the purse next to him was a silver cross that Stingy Jack had picked up a while back, hoping to trade it for something more to his liking. Snugged up against the cross, the old devil didn’t have any power at all. In fact, he was hurtin’ quite a bit where it was a touchin’ him.
“Jack! Let me out of here!” he hollered. But Jack just smiled and sipped his drink, and pretended not to notice the bag jumpin’ and wigglin’ on the counter next to him. Old Nick, he yelled and cussed and wiggled and bounced, but he couldn’t get free. “Jack,” he pleaded at last, “Let me out. I’ll give you what you want, just let me go.”
“If I let you out, you’re going to want to take me with you. I reckon I’m not quite ready to go with you. So let’s make a deal. You leave me be, and I’ll let you go,” Jack bargained.
“Deal!” exclaimed the devil, “you have my word. Now let me out of here.” So Jack opened the purse and shook out the shilling that was the devil. Once away from the silver cross, the devil was able to change back to his true form. He huffed hisself away to sulk and nurse his sores where the cross had touched him.
Now Stingy Jack knew that the devil’s word was only good for seven years, but he figured he had time to repent and become a good Christian before his time ran out. Time has a way of creeping up on us, and Jack never got around to changing his ways. When the devil appeared to Jack again one night seven years later, he was in his neighbor’s orchard, preparin’ to help himself to some apples.
“Jack,” he said, “I left you alone for seven years, but now it’s time for you to come with me. And don’t think I’m going to be tricked out of it like last time," he added.
Jack acted hurt. “Why I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said. “I would never take you to be such a fool. “ Jack wrapped his cloak a little tighter around him, cause the night was a bit frosty. As he turned to go with the devil, he looked back up at the tree a bit sadly. “It’s too bad about them apples, though.”
“What do you mean?” the devil asked, “What about the apples?”
“Why, old Billy’s got the best apples this side of…well, anyway, there ain’t any apples like his where we’re going. No sir, nothing quite as good as old Billy’s apples.”
“They’re really good, are they? Maybe I could wait a bit while you get some to bring along, “ the devil tempted.
“Oh, they’re the best. All crisp and juicy, and just the right amount of sweet and tart…but, never mind. I already tried and I can’t reach the good ones at the top. I can only get the little sour ones on the lower branches. Let’s go.” He turned away and started to walk off.
“Now just a minute,” says the devil, his mouth watering for some of those ‘specially good apples “We don’t have to go just yet. I could help you reach those apples.” With that, the devil blew hisself up tall, so he was near as big as the tree. “How’s that!”
Jack sighed. “No good,” he explained. Now you’re too big. You can’t fit in between the branches to reach the best apples. You have to be smaller and climb up the tree like a child. I’m too big and old, or I would’ve done it myself.”
The devil shrunk himself down to child sized and looked up at the tree again. “You’ll have to lift me up to the first branch, “ he said, “I can’t reach it when I’m this size.”
“No problem,” says Jack, and gives the devil a boost up into the tree. The devil climbs up and looks around, but he doesn’t see the apples he wants. “A little higher,” says Jack.
The devil climbs up way to the top and spies the biggest, reddest apples he’s ever seen, just a shinin’ in the moonlight. “Here they are!”
“Good!” calls Jack as he busied himself at the base of the tree. “You toss them down, and I’ll pack them in my cloak.”
So the devil sits in the top of the tree, picking the very best fruits and tosses them down to Jack. After he picked all the good ones, the devil climbs back down the tree. But he can’t make it. It seems while he was a picking them juicy apples, Jack was cuttin’ a cross in the bark of the tree. Old Nick was powerless to get out of that tree. He started up yellin’ and cussin’ but Jack just smiled and waited. Pretty soon the devil gave a big sigh and said, “Jack, looks like you win another round. What do you want this time?”
I want my apples, and I want my soul,” says Jack. “I want you to swear you won’t be takin’ me into hell with you.”
“Done,” the devil said wearily. “Now help me get out of this tree.” So Jack released the devil, picked up his apples, and went on his way, free for another seven years.
When the seven years were up, Jack was raiding his neighbor’s turnip patch. Out of time on this earth, he dropped over dead, turnip in hand. But the devil didn’t show up to claim his soul. Somewhat surprised, Jack headed to the Pearly Gates. He thought perhaps Pastor Jim must have made a dent in his character after all. But when he arrived, Saint Peter shook his head. “You can’t come in here,” he said. You are a full-fledged sinner, who has never done a selfless act in your life. Heaven has no place for you. Begone!”
So, with turnip still in hand, Jack headed the other way. He knocked at the gates of Hell, but they didn’t open. He knocked again. “It’s me, Jack,” he called to the devil, “Let me in!” The devil appeared at the gate and shook his head. “No way, Jack, “ he protested. “I’ve had enough of your trickery. You aren’t welcome here.”
“But, but…”Jack stammered, “Where am I to go? ”
The Devil shrugged. “That’s your problem. But I won’t have you here.” He started to close the gates.
“Wait!” Jack wailed. “I can’t go back to my old body, and it’s cold and dark out here! What am I to do?”
The devil reached behind him and grabbed up a coal from Hell’s pits. He flung the burning ember out to Jack. “Here’s a light for you. May you never forget where it came from!” He slammed the gates.
Jack was alone in the dark with just his turnip and the glowing ember. Sighing, he took out his knife and hollowed out the turnip. He scooped the hot coal inside and cut a couple of holes for the light to shine out. A broken old man, he took his turnip lantern and set off for the world of the living, vainly hoping to find a body to occupy or a place to rest. So it was that Stingy Jack became known as Jack of the Lantern.
It is well known in Ireland that on the night of October 31st, the eve of all Hallow’s day, the gates between the world of the living and the spirit world are open. Irishmen even today hollow out turnips, carve faces in them and light them with candles. The ghoulish faces are placed around the houses and at entranceways to ward off Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. During the potato famine, immigrating Irishmen brought their traditions with them to America. They found the pumpkin, a native of the new world, made a better lantern than a turnip. The carved pumpkin became the Jack o’Lantern enjoyed by children today.
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Reader Count & Comments
10 Nov 2015
Oh I really enjoyed this. I know it's a retelling of a legend or fairy tale, but I think you did a nice job of making it your own. The only thing I noticed was a tiny POV shift when you crept into the devil's mind. I found myself hanging on to every word. I know I must have heard it before, but you made it fresh and drew me in.
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