A tale for All Hallow’s Eve

In Ireland, many, many years ago, there lived a man named Jack. Old Jack was a miser, a cunning soul, a trickster who played with the Devil.

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He found an apple tree, laden with the finest apples.

“Devil,” he cried, “I am old, I am weak, and yet I wager I could climb that tree and be down with an apple from the topmost branches far quicker than you could.”

“How so?” called a voice from top of the tree. There sat the Devil, grinning. “Foolish mortal, I need not climb, and I move more swiftly than you can imagine. Before you had even finished your boast I had reached the top, and here I will stay until I have had my fill of fruit.”

“Foolish Devil,” thought Jack to himself, as he began to carve a cross in the tree’s bark, trapping the Devil where he sat amongst the branches.

When the Devil realised the trick that had been played on him, he was enraged. His fury caused flames to rise from the tree, and black smoke to billow all around.

“I will free you from the tree on one condition,” called Jack. “You must promise that when I die you will not come to claim my soul.”

The Devil now clutching his belly and groaning from his greed, relented. Both went their separate ways.

Some years passed before they met again. Old Jack’s frail body withered and his pulse slowed. And when he eventually died, he was not permitted to enter heaven, on account of his meanness. The Devil returned to remind him of their bargain. “Then where I am to go?” cried Jack, “It’s cold, it’s dark, and I cannot find my way.”

The Devil plucked a glowing ember from Hell and threw it to Jack, before sending him away, the burning coal his only comfort.

Jack turned away across the wintery fields, the everlasting ember burning his hands. Below his feet, turnips rooted through soil and sand. Jack began to dig.

Strong fingers grasped a root and pulled it from the earth. Long fingernails dug and dug again at the hard flesh, hollowing slowly, painfully, a place for the coal.

And so Jack, a lost soul, wandered the earth with his lantern. And on dark nights its light can still be seen flickering across the peat bogs and moors.

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