A Tale for Halloween

Jack-o’-Lantern

Once, in a village in Ireland, there lived a young man called Jack who had a reputation for cleverness, and a reputation for laziness.  He applied his intelligence to getting out of any work that was asked of him for he preferred to lie under an oak, doing nothing more demanding than whittling.  If he ran short of coin, he used his cleverness in the art of gambling, a past-time he excelled at.

One All Hallow’s Eve, it happened that the time had come for Jack to die.  The Devil arrived to take his soul, but Jack asked if the Devil would mind if he finished his ale first.  The Devil agreed, but all the while Jack was using his prodigious intelligence to try and fathom a way to trick the Devil.  “If you have real power,” said Jack to the Devil, “you would have no trouble changing yourself into a shilling.”

The Devil snorted and instantly changed himself into a shilling.  Jack grabbed the coin and held it tight in his hand, the palm of which bore a cross-shaped scar.  The power of the cross kept the Devil imprisoned there, and he, in a fit of rage, ordered Jack to release him. 

“I will,” says Jack, “but only if you grant me another year of life.” He thought that would be plenty enough time to repent.

The Devil agreed, and left Jack in peace.

The months passed, but Jack never got around to repenting, and then it was All Hallow’s Eve again.  As expected, the Devil appeared and demanded that Jack accompany him.  Yet again, Jack relied on his cleverness, this time challenging the Devil to a game of dice.  This was a game the Devil could never resist.  But, being a master gambler, it was a game Jack was particularly good at.  The Devil threw snake eyes – two ones – and was about to haul him off, but Jack then used a pair of dice he himself had whittled.  When they landed as two threes, they formed the T-shape of the cross.  Trapped once again, the Devil howled to be released.  Once again, Jack bargained for more time, and, once again, the Devil agreed.

With each passing day, Jack kept thinking he’d get around to repenting, but each day would end with him behaving the same as before.  When the agreed-upon day arrived, death claimed Jack, much to his surprise, for there had been no sign of the Devil.  Jack found himself in front of the gates of Heaven, but he wasn’t allowed in because, in his whole life, Jack had never performed a single, selfless act. 

Turned away, Jack then went down to the gates of hell.  But the Devil was still angry at Jack for tricking him, and refused to allow him in.

Trapped in the dark of limbo, Jack cried, “Where can I go?  I cannot see in the dark!”

Full of scorn, yet the Devil tossed him a piece of burning coal.  Jack put it into a hollow pumpkin, and had no choice but to wander far and wide until the end of days. 

On All Hallow’s Eve, it you look, you can still see Jack’s flame burning dimly as he searches for a home.