A long time ago in Ireland, there lived a man named Jack. Now thrift is a good thing. Careful spending with a loving heart brings happiness to the spender and the saver alike. Thrift keeps the cold away on long winter nights, ensures that food is plenty even in times of hunger, and provides for to those in need. But stinginess is another thing all together. A stingy heart is a selfish mean heart incapable of sharing, hoarding instead of giving, and never knowing the peace of a happy home. Jack had a stingy heart.
Jack was so stingy he wouldn’t give a penny to a pauper on the coldest day in winter. He was so selfish and mean that he made King Midas look benevolent.
One cool autumn day when the trees were clothed in red and orange, Jack went to the pub for a pint and some conversation. Because none of the townspeople liked Jack, he found himself quite alone at the bar sipping his pint slowly and wondering what he would do for the rest of the day. A stranger sidled up to him quietly. He was a strange-looking man with strange looking eyes that seemed to glow from within with a weird green light.
“Jack, my boy, what’s new in your life today?” the stranger asked Jack.
“Not much,” answered a startled Jack. “Who are you, and how do you know my name?”
“Word gets around as do I,” smiled the stranger slyly. “I’ve heard of your stinginess and surely admire it.”
“Really?” Jack was beginning to suspect that the stranger was more than just a stranger and took a hard look at him in the pub’s dimness. The stranger wore a long ragged coat that covered him up from neck to boot. His hat was pulled down below his ears, and he seemed to smell of smoke though there were no peat fires burning in the fireplace that day. And the wheels started churning in Jack’s stingy little brain.
“So, it seems as though you know a lot about me, yet you come from a distance by the look of you…your name then ….. it is?”
“Some call me Balor. Some call me Puca. Some call me Old Nick. Tis many names I have. What name do you think I should be called”
“Tis the Devil I shall call you today,” replied Jack who was not at all surprised about who the stranger really was. “Well then, since we’re at the pub, and I suppose there’s something on your mind, would you join me in a pint…and we can discuss the matter…in a friendly sort of way. I’ll treat.”
“Right you are, Jack me boy…a pint it is. There is much we two have in common. Greed being one, and your time to visit me…permanently.”
So the two of them stood at the bar enjoying their libations, and conversation went back and forth with easy familiarity even though Jack knew his time on earth was short.. When it was time to pay the bill, Jack reached in his pocket and pretended to be without a coin…even though his pocket was full of silver.
“Ah,” says Jack. “It appears as though I’m a bit short of cash this day…Would you be able to help me out…and I’ll pay you back shortly.”
The devil smiled. “Well, then Jack, I’m afraid I don’t carry coin with me either. It’s not something I need being immortal and all. For I can produce anything I want and become anything I want as long as it serves mischief.”
“Then perhaps you would consider turning yourself into a coin to pay the bill. When the bill is paid…you can turn yourself back and the pub will be short of cash at the end of the day…That’s mischief for you if nothing else.”
“Jack, I like the way you think. It will be a fine time in hell we’ll both have at the end of today.” In a wink of an eye, Himself changed into a coin to pay the bill.
In another wink of an eye, Jack pocketed the devil coin, and paid the bill himself. Now the pocket, Jack put the devil-coin in had rosary blessed by the local priest in it as well. And the devil, being so close to a blessed object, was trapped as coin and lost his power to return to his once former self.
“Let me out, Jack!” cried the Devil. “You play unfairly. You play as unfairly as meself! Tis not the way to work with me…I warn you!”
“Stop your blathering!” whispered Jack. “Do you want the entire town to hear your squealing? Warn me? Tis control I have now…And, if you must know…I learned my tricks from your constant whispering in my ear. Perhaps now I can have some peace.”
“Peace, is it? Now you want peace? Tis no peace you’ll get from me, Jack m’boy. Tis not the giver of peace I am. Tis the lord of mischief and Hell itself. And although tis proud of the work I’ve done with you, tis not right at all for you to keep me trapped beside this blessed object for long..it’s deep regret you’ll have for tricking me this way.”
“Well, then,” said Jack. “Perhaps we can strike a bargain and then I’ll let you out.”
“A bargain? What kind of a bargain?” asked the eternal trickster darkly.
“Since it’s peace I want, and my soul you’re after…I want one year. I’ll let you out for one year of peace and one year more on earth. No more whispering. No more opportunities for mischief. None of it. At the end of the year, I’ll come with you without a whimper provided I don’t die before the year is up. ”
“Done!” exclaimed the Devil. As Jack flipped the devil-coin out of his pocket, it disappeared into thin air.
A year went by quickly. The seasons changed, and again Jack who had not yet died found himself confronted by the Advisory of all advisories.
“Well, Jack, your time is up. You had your peaceful year. You had one more year on earth. Now your soul belongs to me. Come. I’ve a special place for you down below,” said Himself darkly.
“Sure, and you are right,” sighed Jack wistfully as he looked round the colorful autumn fields, and the apples were hanging heavy on the trees waiting for harvest. “But before we go, would you grant me one more wish? I promise I won’t ask you to change yourself into a coin…or anything else for that matter.”
“ One more wish? What is it with you and your wishes? But I am curious…What is it?”
“Looking at the apples on that tree, I’ve a taste for one. It would be a great pleasure to have one last taste of my favorite fruit. Would it be asking too much, your lordship…Could you climb that tree and pick the juiciest apple on it so that I might have one last taste before we travel to your domain?”
“One last apple? One last taste? Is that all? Sure, and I can find you a good taste.” And up the devil went. Climbing the tree branch by branch searching for the best pick on the tree. While the Devil climbed, wily Jack pulled out his pocket knife and carved a cross on the base of the tree, trapping the devil once again with a holy symbol this time.
“Jack, you sneak! What have you done to me now? You know I can’t pass the holy cross without permission? I’m trapped up here! Let me down this minute!” screamed the Devil who was by this time totally frustrated.
“Sneaky, I am? Well, if that’s a fact, I had the greatest teacher in yourself – the Great Deceiver of all. Perhaps I will let you down…in time. Perhaps I won’t.”
“Perhaps you won’t? In time? Are you bargaining with me again? Don’t deal with the Devil, boyo. I always win with the tricksters in the end…And you might be a trickster now, but sooner or later your tricks will catch up with you!”
“Do you think that? Hmmm….well it’s time you need up there to have another think…I think.” And Jack sat down under the apple tree and began crunching on an apple he’d picked himself.
“Fine! Enough with you! What’s your price? What’s the bargain? I need to get on with my dark work.”
“I’ll let you down,” said Jack easily, “If you leave me alone for the next ten years. At the end of the ten years, if I’m not yet dead, I’ll go with you without a whimper – and with no bargains or tricks either.”
“Done!” And Jack freed the Devil once more.
Ten years came and ten years went. Jack was an old man. And on the eve of the last night before the ten years were over, Jack died.
Now, the dead travel to the pearly gates for judgement first. And Jack, being dead now, was no different than the rest. St. Peter saw him coming, and refused to open the gates for him.
“Jack, we’ve been watching you for a long time, and you’re not the kind of unsavory creature we want up here. Be gone! It’s the devil who owns you now!”
With that, Jack tumbled down to Hell and presented himself to the Devil. This time, the shoe was on the other hoof…so to speak.
“Well, Jack,” said the Devil. “Heaven rejected you and now you’re finally mine…and in my territory!”
“Tis true,” said Jack. “You have me now. It’s to the darkest reaches you’ll be sending me no doubt for all my shenanigans and greed.”
“But surely, you remember our agreement, Jack! I cannot claim your soul after all. You died before your ten years were up. If nothing else, I live up to my bargains. You don’t belong to me…Be off with you?”
“But where am I to go for all eternity?” cried Jack now realizing he’d been trapped by his own tricks.
“Tis not my problem,” retorted the Devil. “Tis yours. I suppose you’ll wander around the earth like the rest of the lost souls. Outside. In the cold. With nothing to comfort you. Be gone! Get out of my sight”
But Jack, being still the trickster struck one more bargain. “Surely you have a little pity on one of your greatest admirers. Surely, you must admire the fact that I’ve lived my life by your example?”
“One more bargain? Hmph…you have no bargaining power here, Jack. But I am interested in thoughts. Tell me…what do you have in mind?”
“Lost souls wander in the dark and cold…I’d like a bit of light to help me find my way. A bit of hellish fire would help.”
“Hellish fire? Why, Jack, you never cease to amaze me. What you are going to do with hellish fire will be interesting to watch. Done”
The Devil picked up a piece of burning coal, handed it to the lost soul, and booted him out into the dark of night.
Jack landed in a field of turnips, and pulled the biggest one out of the ground. Because the fires of hell burn hotter than any peat fire known to man, he quickly hollowed it out, carved his face on it as well, and plunged the coal into the hollowed-out turnip. Now for the rest of eternity Jack O’Lantern roams the earth with his hellish lantern lighting his way and warning us all that bargaining with evil is no bargain at all.