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Beware the Halloween ballad of Stingy Jack

A Halloween legend:

Hundreds of years ago, there lived upon the Emerald Isle, a right dodgy fellow known as Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack stole turnips and potatoes from his neighbors' gardens. He played terrible tricks on his family. He made ghastly faces at children.

Whenever someone asked, "Why do ye act the maggot, Stingy Jack," he shrugged his shoulders and groused, "The devil made me do it."

Bad to drink, Stingy Jack spent many an evening in the local pub, drowning himself in whiskey and slapping the supple hindquarters of weary barmaids. There, he finally met up with the devil himself, who enjoyed keeping company with drunkards. The two nasty fellows sipped crappers together well into the wee hours.

When it came time to close shop, Stingy Jack wouldn't pay the tab. To settle the bill, he talked the devil into turning into a silver piece; but as soon as the devil did, Jack slipped the coin into his pocket, alongside a cross, trapping the villainous old gobshite.

Eventually, Stingy Jack grew weary of hearing the devil complain and threaten; so, in exchange for release, he made the langered fiend promise not to take his soul for the next 10 years.

Time passed, while Jack got meaner and more irritable with every change of season. He grew old, shriveled and lonely. At the turn of the decade, as Stingy Jack traveled a desolate bogway, the devil returned to claim Jack's miserable soul.

"Ahh," said Jack, "a hundred thousand welcomes. I see ye have returned for me soul. Before ye take it, could ye climb that tree yonder and shake down an apple for a poor old man."

Well, the devil, always happy to serve dark hearts, never minded thieving anything for anybody. He climbed the tree.

Jack, set straight to hammering crosses in the ground. "It seems I've trapped you again there Satan," he laughed, hacking a sick, wet gurgle.

Believing he had the goat by the horns now, he bargained, "I tell you what Beelzebub, promise to never take my soul and I will let you down."

The devil briefly considered his options and smiled a yellow, worm infested grin. Again, he agreed to Stingy Jack's terms.

A few days later, Stingy Jack, without anyone who cared whether mean, jarred Jack staggered on through the world or disappeared in a peat bog, passed away with one last, thick cough.

Still in a stupor, he made his way toward the pearly gates. But, alas, St. Peter took one look at him and commanded, "Gerrup da yard!" Dejected and surprised, but half-pleased to go visit his old friend Lucifer, Jack crossed the River Styx.

Jovially, he rang out, "How's she cuttin'," as he approached the pits of Hell.

Remembering Stingy Jack's trickery, however, and true to his word, the devil would have none of Jack, either. "Do ye take me for a blasted eejit, man?"

"Where shall I go," slurred Jack.

"Back the way ye came," decreed the devil, tossing an ember from Hell's fire to light the way for a lost soul.

In death, as in life, Jack, grumbling that the devil made him do it, stole a turnip and carved it into a lantern to hold the ember. To this day, Jack of the Lantern restlessly wanders the countryside, seeking a place to settle. (Insert evil cackle.)

(This, my version of a very old Irish folktale, will surely stir many a wandering sprite. Therefore, heed this Halloween warning: Vigilantly keep your Jack-o-lantern lit and your candy bowl full to ward off the likes of Stingy Jack.)

Web posted on Thursday, October 26, 2006

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