The ancient story about Jack, who wanders between the worlds of hell and earth.
At times there are dark people born onto this world. Black fruit which swells from the suffering of others and there dark days leaves a mark that echoes sadness. History tells tales of these people, often after their bones rot.
Demons can smell the stench of a hard heart. Jack was more of their likeness than even they wanted. A demon can never take a soul; it has to be won in a deal.
The grey moonlit sky was broken only by the jagged lines of dark clouds. The mournful coo of a howl and the snapping of shattered limbs drew jacks attention to an old oak tree. Its winter branches reaching through the night air like gnarled fingers. On a wide limb sat a man. His face seemed old in the reflected moon light, but his body was small like that of a boy’s.
As he turned to walk further down the trail made soft by winter snow and rotting leaves, the man seemed to slowly come into focus out of the night air in front of him; his face inches away.
“Jack, will you be looking to make a deal this evening,” the old man said. Jack looked at the old man and smiled wide. His smile was an uneasy one that came from disfigured teeth and lips on an otherwise smooth face. Jack saved his smile for those who wanted to deal.
“I think I would like to know who you are and what you are doing popping out of thin air first,” Jack said. The old man smile at this and in a cheery voice said “Why I am Lucifer, the Demon king.”
Jack paused for a moment considering the creature in front of him. “And what be the cost of this deal, my soul?” Jack said. Lucifer laughed holding his sides. “If you lose than after your days, you work for me in my house.” Jack looked into the creatures eyes and smelled sour deals. “So that is your cost, now what be the prize,” said Jack smiling even wider.
Lucifer reached into the pocket of his dirty frayed trousers and pulled out two small golden balls on a chain. He handed them to Jack who held them in his dirty hands. They looked like small golden eyes and held an unnatural sheen that made them look alive, like gold skin. Jack -laughed and handed the prize back to the devil. “I can get trinkets in the card games at the Silver Stein,” said Jack. Lucifer’s eyes glinted red in the soft light and his smiled turned savage. “Wear it until tomorrow night and meet me under this oak tree,” he said. “If you don’t want my gift you don’t have to keep it.”
Jack took the eyes from Lucifer who slowly dissolved into the night air.
Around his neck the eyes made jack feel odd, as if he was just out touch with the world in front of him and on the edge of another.
The air smelled like stale beer, sheep manure, and old tobacco in the Silver Stein. Jack felt different. When he looked, he could see all the possibilities that lay before everything. When he talked he could see these possibilities dance until he lined them up in his favor. He was king that night. He won every dart game, card game, and argument. When he looked out the pub window, he saw a world that could be his, and he knew how to pluck it bare like a hen in spring. He would keep the eyes and his soul. With his new gift he made sour deals.
He looked at a woman with his new eyes. She was married with children from a husband that owned the tavern and had been major of the town. He could see that she wanted more. He could see her husband was a gambler that tried not to, but would bet his entire world to satisfy a buried appetite.
“Would you like to play a little game Stanford,” Jack said, his crooked smile was wide. Stanford looked at Jack. He saw a battered little man with yellowed crooked teeth and a life of bad luck and sloth. “And what kind of game would be playing, and what would a man like you have to wager,” Stanford said as he laughed and looked down on Jack from behind the bar. Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a ragged deck of cards. “We can play a bit of cards, and I’ll wager the coins I won from my last little bet,” said Jack.
They played, and Jack won every hand. Jack won the Silver Stein and everything that Stanford had. The game was played in the open, and the whole town knew what Stanford had lost and what he bet. The town watched him bet his Mary and watched the hand that took her. Disgraced utterly, Stanford let quietly in the night.
An autumn storm rolled in through the night plucking anything loose engulfing it in the darkness. Trees swayed and limbs cracked sending splintered shards of wood whipping about like flies. Jack stumbled along the path to meet his demon. The air around the ancient oak tree stood still while lesser trees split around it.
“Are you looking for a deal now,” said Lucifer. Jack watched him slowly appear out of the night air, leaning against the large tree’s trunk. Jack smiled wide and stuck his hands in his pockets feeling the small round fruit that would bring his fortune.
Jack smiled wide at the devil, showing his crooked lips and teeth. “Lovely trinkets you have.” “What is your game,” Jack said. Lucifer smiled and pointed to the tree. “It is just a simple race,” said Lucifer. “Whoever can climb to the top of this tree and back down to its roots, will keep the whole pot.”
At the start the demon had a clear lead. His hands clawed into the tree limbs and he raced forward like a squirrel. Jack struggled to drag himself up as he felt small branches pull against his ankles. He met the devil who was laughing as he climbed back down. When Jack reached to top branch, he looked up and could see the night air swirling above him. Pushing off the branch he was sitting on, he leapt out of tree and into the thin night air. The fall to the ground twisted his leg and he could hear the bones crack. The devil was still climbing down the tree when Jack took the turnip out of his pocket. He drug himself over to the tree as his leg twisted with pain. Lighting a candle, he placed the turnip over it. Light from the candle flickered through a symbol carved into the turnip and across the tree trunk.
The devil reached the light and found that he could not get down. The symbol was one that bound him where he was when touched the light. He let out a deep howl that rumbled and shook everything around him. Wind began spiraling around the tree launching branches and rocks into the sky. Jack held on and waited. Lucifer’s eyes were dark crimson as he shook on the tree trunk.
“You won Jack, you have your eyes, now let me go.” Jack smiled wide.
“It is true that I won the race, so the eyes are mine, but what will you give me for letting you go,” said Jack. The devil’s face twisted in rage, as he felt his limbs sink into the trees wide trunk. “This little trick will make you part of my oak, if I let it,” said Jack. The devil felt his body sink into the trunk, until only his face could be seen. “Jack, what do you want,” the devil said. Jack did not have to think of an answer. He had already known what would happen. “Meet me under this tree every Samhein, and we will play this fun game again,” said Jack.
Jack limped home, dragging his broken leg. Rain beat into the small shed that was his home. The wind rattled it’s way through the walls taking the wet cold with it. Jack lay in his bed, his leg throbbing with pain. He knew that she would come. Her heart would soften and she would bring food and set his leg.
Jack’s greed and malice grew with his power. Every Hallows Eve, he played a game with the devil. The devil always missed collecting his soul, but had to do Jacks wish. Jack’s world became so dark that he lost sight of all those who were in it. He became a slave to his own lust for power.
The day came that Jack died and he died alone on All Hallows Eve. Before he breathed in his last breath, he lit a candle in a turnip carved with a magic rune. He knew the light would guide him back to the world of the living and to his magic.
The Devil, knew this day would come. In a final act of revenge, he sent his demons among the people to light candles in turnips. The lights confused Jack and he was unable to find his magic rune.
Every Halloween, when the line between the spirit world and the living becomes stretched thin, he looks for a way back. In America we place lights in pumpkins and carve a face like his broken smile.