Andy's Spooky Story
Hey, Danny. Heard you were gathering weird stories. This town has some strange yarns, but every town's got a dark side. You know? Just turn over the right dead leaf... Anyway, this is one my Nanna (my grandmother) used to tell me. She's part Irish, and maybe it's from the old country. I don't know. It's about pumpkins. I never liked carving pumpkins. The clammy, fibery insides feel like cold guts. Never liked the pumpkin flavored stuff that comes around this time of year, the coffees and desserts. Maybe I had a bad experience. I don't know.
"Some gourds got more reason to grin than others." That's what my Nanna would say. Why do pumpkins grin? Why do they glow? They're lanterns. "People should take more of a caution and a care when they light beacons in the dark," Nanna would say. "You never know what your guiding in."
A long time ago, far-far away -- you know how it goes -- there was a man called Stingy Jack. He was known far and wide as a deceiver, manipulator, and drinker. He was like the king of sinners, a total wicked dreg. One day, while walking down a cobblestone path, Stingy Jack found a grimacing corpse.
Jack bent down to go through the corpse's pockets, when the grimacing face looked up...and it was the devil.
The Devil jumped up to claim his due. Jack knew his life was over, and he was going to Hell. He asked for a final drink. The fiend saw no reason to deny his last request, and the two of them went to a pub. Jack drank his fill. When it came time to pay up, Jack whispered to the Devil, "Wouldn't it be funny if you turned into a coin and I used you to pay?" The Devil agreed and transformed into a coin. Well, Stingy Jack pocketed that coin, in the same pocket he kept a crucifix, and the Devil couldn't change shapes again on account of being in contact with the crucifix.
Stingy Jack forced the Devil to promise to wait ten years before taking his soul. The Devil agreed, and Jack released him. Ten years of sinning went by. The Devil returned. "No drinks for you, Jack!" he said. Jack nodded, accepting his fate. He asked if he might have one last apple to fill his stomach. The Devil agreed and climbed a tree to get an apple. Jack quickly placed crucifixes around the tree, trapping the Devil, forcing the Prince of Darkness to promise to never take his soul.
More years of sinning went by. Stingy Jack, pickled on debauchery, finally died.
He went to Heaven, but they wouldn't let him in on account of all that sinning. He went to Hell, but they wouldn't take him in on account of the Devil's promise. As a warning to others, the Devil gave Jack an ember that glowed with the ghost-fire, marking Jack as a denizen of the netherworlds. To this day, Stingy Jack is doomed to walk between worlds, between good and evil, with only that ember inside of a grinning pumpkin to light his way.
"That was in the long-long ago," Nanna would say, a wet knife in one hand, a dripping wad of orange guts in the other. "This next bit happened when I was just a girl." She wasn't Nanna then, of course. She was just Kate.
One October, a shady figure came to Kingsmouth, selling pumpkins on the outskirts of town. Parents warned their children not to approach this man. But you know kids. It was that year's double dog dare. Kate and a bunch of her friends went to the rickety stand and each bought a pumpkin. The shady man didn't want cash, just asked for a little blood. Just a tiny cut.
"You get what you give," he said.
Kate and everyone else were so intimidated that they paid, all except one boy. Roger. He took his pumpkin and gave nothing in return.
The shady man only nodded, saying, "You get what you give," over and over again.
Halloween night, all these friends decided to bring their newly carved Jack-o-Lanterns out to the forest and have a little party, with liquor Roger stole from his parents. Kate didn't go. The shady man and the purchase and the price had unnerved her. She threw away her pumpkin and stayed home that night.
Come morning, none of those children came back. Parents and police went out to search. They found the kids out in the woods, still in costume, traumatized with streaks of white in their hair.
No one could say exactly what happened. They found every child except one. Roger. They only found the white sheets of his ghost costume, with letters burnt into the cotton spelling: YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE.
Everyone decided this shady pumpkin seller needed to be arrested. But, try as they might, they all discovered that they could not remember what he looked like. He was only a shadow. They never found him. And they never found Roger.
"Shouldn't bring that many lanterns together in one place," Nanny would say. "You light enough of them, and Stingy Jack will find his way to this side of the divide. Like a lighthouse signaling in a plague ship."
So is there something to this story, or is it all bull? Was it something to scare a boy who doesn't like pumpkins? I don't know. But my Mom told me another story. She said that one Halloween, when I was very young, I was lost.
When she found me, I had a cut on the palm of my hand, my Frankenstein's monster mask sealed to my face with tears and snot, and no one could account for the pumpkin I carried with me. I don't know. I don't remember that.