Jack of the Lantern

When the candles are lit on All Hallow’s Eve and sneering faces glow across the darkness, whose path do they light?  Whose darkness do they ignite?  Listen closely, and you’ll know the tale of Jack’s foolish deal with the Devil, and why his face lights our doorsteps the night when the spirits return.

Bim Peacock

When the candles are lit on All Hallow’s Eve and sneering faces glow across the darkness, whose path do they light? Whose darkness do they ignite? Listen closely, and you’ll know the tale of Jack’s foolish deal with the Devil, and why his face lights our doorsteps the night when the spirits return.

Bim Peacock, Photo Editor

Sticks and stones. Skulls and bones.  Of honor and bravery, no legends are told.

Sneers and Cackles. Wails and shackles.  Of blood and madness, birth stories of old.


Across a midnight forest dashed a pair of panicked feet. Faster. FASTER! thought their bearer, heart pounding like a maddened drummer.  A boy, hardly a man in the least, ripped the dark forest wide as he tore through the underbrush.  A duck beneath a tree limb, a leap over a boulder, a dance between a tight gap.  Nothing could possibly stop this mad marathon.

Almost nothing.

BOOM! roared the forest. To the ground he threw himself as a whistle split the bark of the tree above his head.  “You call that a shot?!” he hollered, “Who taught ye to hold a musket?  Yer mum?  Even she’s shot closer to me than that!”

“You’ve done it this time, Jack!” snarled a voice in pursuit. “I swear by the cross I’ll have yer head on a stake!”

“Ye’ll probably need to learn to shoot straight first,” replied the boy, ducking as another shot echoed through the forest. Back to his feet he sprung, darting deeper into the forest.

“I swear I’ll catch you, ye little devil! I worked hard and honestly for that money you stole, and by God I’ll pry it from your blood-stained fingers if I have to!”

“Oh, come now! Didn’t yer mum ever teach ya to be charitable?  Honestly, ye should thank me for helping yer wretched soul.”

“We’re all sick of yer jokes, boy! Every man and woman in Ireland would rather cram a musket down yer throat than hear that mouth open!  We’ll see who’s laughing when I’m finished with you!”

Another shot roared far too close, and Jack hardly ducked in time as the branch above his head shattered into thousands of pieces. He braced himself against a tree, the shock stunning him. Dear sweet Jesus… too close… just too close…

Heavy footsteps crackled across the forest floor. The boy dropped to the ground and peered through the low scrub between the trees, trying to make out details in the soft moonlight.  Suddenly, a figure burst through the brush, twisting this way and that and listening to the silent forest.  Even in the dark of night, Jack could catch the glint of the moon off his silver-bound musket, see the furious snarl spread across the farmer’s bearded face.  He’d always remember the way those molded teeth seemed to glow with anger.

“Where did you go, thief?!” yelled the farmer, “Don’t think you can hide from me! I’ll find ye, and when I do,” he whipped a worn hatchet from his belt and brandished it high, “I’ll hack that bloody smirk clean off yer face!”  He trotted past Jack’s refuge, and slowly his footsteps faded into the distance.

The boy waited in wary silence, then cautiously rose to his feet as he stared in the direction the farmer had disappeared. “Whew,” said he, relieved. “By God, that was a tad too close.”

A mad cackle erupted from the treetops. “Indeed, dear boy, but somehow I feel God’s grown tired of your little game.”

Whipping around, Jack raised his fists to the air ready to fight for his life. “Oh, don’t even bother, child,” said the voice.  “Struggle will do you little good.”

Finally, the boy caught sight of a sneer in the branches above, followed by a pale bleached face, then a stooped, emaciated figure. How thin he was!  The stranger’s dark leather clung to his bones like canvas to a frame.  His face itself seemed an echo of a skull beneath black locks, a thin goatee jutting out from his chin.  Ah, but his eyes showed no white, no color to speak of.  Pitch darkness ruled those dead waters.

Jack stood firm with his fists in the air. “Doesn’t take much struggle to snap a twig like yerself,” replied the boy, “but I suppose I’ll humor you.  Who do ye think ye are?”

Hardly in the blink of an eye, the figure dropped from the treetops to the earth with a silent thud. He rose to his full height, slowly standing until he towered over the boy.  A trickle of fear dripped quietly down Jack’s spine as he stared up at those black seas of the man’s eyes, wickedly twisted with the sneer curved across his bony cheeks.  “I think you of all people know me too well.”

His image seemed to flicker, black hair burning away, leather warping to crimson flesh, horns curving away from his scarlet cranium. A thin pointed tail twisted about his hoofed feet.  Just as quickly as the distortion came, it left once more.

Jack just stared at him blankly. “Not a bell to be rung.  Ah, but wait,” said he, raising a hand to his chin in thought.  He snapped his fingers.  “That’s it!  Me ex-lassie!  That’s who ye remind me of.”

The man’s pale flesh ignited with furious flames, his demonized form returning with a snarl curled around its beard. “No, fool!  I am Lucifer!  Satan!  The Devil!  The Snake of the Garden!  Any name that the petty mortals associate with the vile, the wicked!”

“Yep, sounds ‘bout like her,” retorted Jack, throwing back his head with a laugh.

The devil’s leer would be enough to melt any man, but he quickly wiped it away to a sneer once more. “The farmer was right, Jack.  Heaven and Earth have tired of your annoying little games.  The farmer will return for you tonight, and when he does, I’ll be there to drag you to Hell.”

“Oh ye will, eh? Dear me, oh dear me…” replied the boy with a smirk, his hand rising to his chin once more in thought.  Ay, they all think themselves ever so smart don’t they? I know your kind, Satan.  Even in absolute victory, ye be ever so easy to trick.

Ah, there it is. An idea so simple, so bold, and oh so sweet.  How sweet to play the Devil for fool.

“Tell ye what, Sir Goat of the Flames. What is it you love most?”

“Collecting the souls of the damned, dear boy,” replied the Devil with a broadened grin.

“Ay, and who wouldn’t, indeed?” came Jack’s reply, so casual, so modest, “But alas, if any of the stories be true, ‘tis the Deals with the Devil that cause the most anguish in mortal men.”

“Don’t play me for fool, boy. Your soul is already mine!”

“Ah, but what if I could promise you twice the price for my simple child’s soul?” In those black waters of the Devil’s eyes, the boy saw a spark of craving.  Jack smiled. Who be foolish now, Satan? “Here’s me story: ‘twas by chance I happened upon some, ah, loose change when me pocket was light.  The fine whiskey stole it from me ‘fore I even knew ‘twas the farmer’s.  In other words, I seem to be slightly in debt to the fine man seeking me this night.  Now, say ye happen to make yerself shaped as a few coins I owe.  I pay the farmer back, no hard feelings, and he goes on his merry way.  Now, where do all men go with a few spare coins?  The pub, o’ course!  Now when the tender asks for his coin, can ye guess what happens?” asked Jack, motioning broadly to the Devil’s searching face, “He finds the money gone without a trace!  With a mind blind with the whiskey, the farmer’ll fight his way past the tender for the door!  They both fight to the death swinging over a few mysteriously missing coins, and you yerself feast upon twice the souls ye ever would’ve had by me!”

The Devil silently contemplated, then threw back his crimson skull and cackled. “My, oh my, my dear boy.  No wonder they call you Stingy Jack.  Very well, for the chaos you cause and the souls you will bestow upon me, I will spare your wretched soul… for now, at least.”

With a snap of his fingers, the Devil blazed into a cloud of ash and fell to the ground. In the center of the pile lay ten gold pieces bright.  Hardly concealing his smirk, Jack reached to the ground and pocketed the coins, smiling mischievously to the night sky.

Meanwhile, the Devil in his new form wet his mouth as he thought of the coming despair that night. Oh, those poor wretches will never see it com… wait, what is this?! Suddenly he felt all his energy drain to nothing.  A helplessness washed over him the likes he had hardly felt before. What have you done, boy?! Reaching out with his senses, he felt something cool and silver pressed against him within the pocket.

Fury boiled through every inch of his being. “Curse, you Jack!  How dare you trap me with a cross!  I’ll burn your bones to ashes.  I’ll melt your eyes to soup!  I’ll tear your—”

“Enough,” said Jack, sneering down to the trapped Devil. “Seeing as you seem to be trapped by me cross, I believe ‘tis I who calls the shots now.”

“What do you want, mortal? Money? Power?” the Devil spat.

“Promise never to take me’ soul. Promise never to drag me to Hell.  Simple as that, lad, and I’ll let ye go.”

Silence reigned the forest as the Devil sat and debated with quiet fury. Finally, his chuckle split the night.  “Very well then, Jack.  You may have your freedom.  I promise never to take your wicked soul.”

The boy hesitated briefly. Something’s not right. Warily, he shifted his hand into his pocket and dropped the coins to the earth with a light plop, plop, plop. Fire blazed upward, and once more, the Devil stood before him.  But oh, if his sneer had struck terror before, then it gave the soul frostbite as of now.  Near all the way about the Devil’s face wound those pointed teeth, smirking from below eyes no longer black, but blazing with malice.

His head flung back with a mad cackle that rattled the sleeping forest wide awake, sent creatures, spirits and shadows alike cowering for mercy. Even Jack, the boy who would laugh at death itself, felt his knees go weak at the wicked, twisted sound.

“I never said I’d let you live, either, boy!” snarled he between cackles. “And so forever may you be an example for those wishing to make a fool of Satan!”

In a burst of flame disappeared the Devil, and with his leaving, a hand caught Jack in a death grip by his collar. The hand dragged him high into the air and turned him to a bearded face glowing with anger.  Half-rotted teeth gnashed together with insane glee.

“I’ve got you now, you little scoundrel!” cried the farmer, eyes blazing with madness, hand brandishing his worn hatchet high in the air once more. “Pray Satan have mercy on ye!”

As Jack watched that shining moonlit blade swing closer and closer to his bare throat, he seemed to see the crimson blood already painted across its merciless unfeeling steel. Or perhaps it was the reflection of the Devil himself, cackling with glee one last time as he watched the boy’s fate unfold.  No matter where the scarlet flash found its birth, his heart felt fear unlike any other from one simple final thought.

The Devil is a man of his word…


Darkness was all that was. All that ever was.  All that ever would be.  Darkness was all Jack felt in death.  Not a light of mercy.  Not a flame of agony.  Just never-ending, merciless darkness.

Except… the grass beneath his feet. Grass? Ye…yes, he thought, reaching to the ground with his hands.  A field, an Irish pasture.  Such a cool feel of the grass… no, just cold.  Not even the pleasant coolness of soft moist earth.  Just pale, numb, cold.

A hoof kicked him from the side, and he sprawled to the ground in pain. No, not pain.  Almost an echo of pain, but there was no feeling to it.  Just a bitter emptiness.

“Welcome to where the soulless wander free,” cackled the Devil’s voice. “Why do you feel about as if you cannot see?  Lost your head?”  He howled maniacally at his cruel joke.  “Well, what are you standing about for, boy?  You obviously can’t fall to hell, as my word binds me to, and the haughty angels up top would never take the likes of you. Looks like it’s back to Earth with you, until you find yourself a place to die!”

“And how do ye suppose I’m to do that, you murderer?” replied Jack helplessly. “How can I see any path without me head?!”

“I suppose it is a mindlessly cruel punishment,” laughed the Devil back.  A spark ignited the darkness, and the ember fell to the feet of the boy.  Its light hardly brightened five feet away, but at least it was a beacon in this endless night.  “Here.  I suppose I need some way to keep you entertaining.”  And with a final mad laugh, the Devil’s voice disappeared into the darkness.

Clutching the ember as a mother would a newborn child, Jack stood and gazed at its pitiful light. Slowly he started forward into the shadows, but as all dramatic moments seemed to progress for him, his foot caught something large and he tripped straight into the grass.  He cursed and felt about the object, lighting it by his ember.  As the one sign from God he’d ever had, it didn’t seem to be much.

A pumpkin. Grand, orange, smooth, and utterly beautiful in the eternal midnight.

He stared at it for a moment, with his eyes that didn’t exist, then drew a pocket knife from his belt. One stab, two stabs, three stabs, four.  Over and over again he attacked that plant, carving eyes, a nose, a mouth, a mock face in whole.  He stood back, surveyed its angular hollows, and finally crammed the ember within.

And so Jack stood, donning his false glowing skull where none now remained, and gazed off into the darkness. With nowhere to go back to, nowhere to go forwards to, no refuge or haven or place to possibly call home in that wretched, forever dark world, he simply set off.  Set off into the night with the light of his lantern igniting his path.

Friends, when All Hallow’s Eve approaches, light your lanterns for the souls still roaming this Earth, for ‘tis a dark world out there. Pity not the dead, for it is they who feel the mercy of sweet agony or angel.  Pity not the living, for they have yet a chance to change their path.  Pity those who cannot be pitied.  Who lie in the shadows none can see.  Who search on and on for the stone at the head of their grave.  For the Devil is a man of his word, even now, and if one thing can be certain, any light to guide their way is all the pity they ever shall feel.  For ‘tis the numb cold Jack shall feel from now to eternity.  ‘Tis the everlasting night he shall see.  Forever will he search for the final grave, and as his light shines, so follow the others lost in the dark.  Forever returns the slight flicker in the woods of the night.  Forever shines the ghostly light on the high.  Forever walks the earth, Jack of the Lantern.