originally published October 31, 2012
For 304 days I have reported on the facts as they have popped up in Ms. Wiki’s stony gaze. Today, in honor of that most sacred of holidays in which gore-splotched zombies mingle with slutty nurses and mustachioed Marios all over the world, I thought I’d change the pace and tell a spooky story.
So settle into a candle-lit room, pour yourself a glass of something red and intoxicating (you may opt for wine, but I prefer Tahiti Treat & vodka), and prepare to be creeped out by the ominous tale of Stingy Jack.
For decoration, I’ll sprinkle some photos of weird pumpkin designs throughout the tale, because weird pumpkins are scaaaaarrrrryyyyy!
Stingy Jack was a legendary Irishman. As is the case with most legendary Irishmen, he was a drinker. But Jack was more than a drinker; he was a manipulative, dickish drinker. He wasn’t one of those lovable drunks who’ll throw their arm over your shoulder, tell you how much they love you before having the courtesy to turn their head and puke on someone else’s shoes before breaking into a rousing chorus of “Danny Boy.” No, Jack was deceitful and slovenly. He was the drunk who raised everyone’s spirits when he entered the bar, then milked those spirits for as many free drinks as he could get. He’d throw up on your shoes, tell you your wife is ugly, then probably start singing some horrible 80s song before a bouncer tossed him out on his ass.
I think you get the idea.
Anyhow, Jack was ambling through the countryside in a drunken stupor one cool autumn evening, when he came upon a body lying on the cobblestone path. Jack checked it out, and discovered it to be none other than the Devil himself.
You see, the Devil had heard about Jack. I’m not sure how – perhaps some of the recently-deceased were hanging out around whatever passes for a water cooler in hell (I’m guessing a cooler full of room-temperature Sanka?), swapping tales of how Jack could schmooze and smarm his way to free drinks at a number of area pubs. Not wanting to believe some mere mortal could be schmoozier and smarmier than himself, the Devil had needed to check Jack out in person.
Upon seeing the Devil, Jack shrugged his shoulders, figuring a lifetime of screwing people over, drinking their booze and then peeing on their sleeping pets had caught up with him. It was time to head downstairs to that eternal toolshed and take his licks.
Jack asked the Devil if he could have one last drink before his soul was claimed. The Devil, who wasn’t in a hurry that evening, agreed. They headed to the nearest pub and Jack got himself a tall pint of ale. He downed it, and downed a number of sequels. The guy must have had some entertaining stories to tell, because the Devil let him drink up. Then it came time to pay.
Jack, as usual, didn’t have the money to cover the tab. He slurred into the Devil’s ear that he (the Devil) should just metamorphose into a silver coin so that Jack could pay the bartender, after which he could change back and take Jack to the great beyond. The Devil liked the scam, and did his part. Instead of paying, Jack dropped the coin into his pocket.
Sitting in Jack’s pocket was a crucifix, which trapped the Devil in coin form. Rather than save the Earth from the Devil permanently, Jack opted to use his tactical advantage to extort ten more years of life out of the situation. The Devil had no choice but to grant this request; life as a coin is not as much fun as it sounds. The Devil was freed, and Jack went about his business. How he paid the bartender that night, the tale doesn’t say. I’d guess maybe some bathroom-stall favors or something, but that could really derail the story. Let’s move on.
Ten years later, Jack was moseying along another cobblestone path, either on his way to or from another pub. The Devil showed up to collect his debt. Jack nodded, accepting his fate. He asked the Devil for one request – he didn’t want to travel on an empty stomach. There’s nothing but Carl’s Jr.s on the road to hell, and Jack had standards about what he put in his belly. He asked the Devil for an apple to quell the grumbles in his gut.
The Devil, who is clearly the biggest idiot in the history of Irish lore, agreed.
He scampered up a nearby apple tree to retrieve a snack for his latest acquisition. Jack had been prepared for this day (or perhaps he was just really, really religious), and he quickly scattered a bunch of crucifixes around the base of the tree, trapping the Devil off the ground.
You know, for a guy who can be completely disabled by a lowercase letter T, the Devil in these tales makes for quite a beatable foe. I’m just saying, he’s no Lex Luthor. He’s barely even a Gargamel.
Jack made his demand: this time if the Devil wants to go free, he has to promise never to take Jack’s soul into hell. The Devil, who was clearly just as unable to jump past the circle of crucifixes as he was unable to figure out that Jack might try to screw him over again, had to give in. Jack gathered the crosses and the Devil was free.
Jack kept drinking until eventually his liver exploded in a blast of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers. He meandered up to claim his forty acres and a harp in heaven, but St. Peter stopped him at the gates.
“Stingy Jack,” St. Peter solemnly spoke, “you lied, cheated, stole, drank and debaucherized for all your adult life and a good deal of your childhood. Also, you had the devil trapped twice and pussied out when it came to finishing the job. If you think you’ve got a table reserved in this joint, you’re dumber than you look.”
Oh well, thought Jack. The drinks are probably better in hell anyway. But the Devil met him at the door (I assume hell has a door instead of gates) and refused him entry. He’d made a deal – he could never allow Jack into hell.
The Devil handed Jack an ember, which marked him as a new citizen of the netherworld. Jack was sentenced to wander between the planes of evil and good, carrying around an ember inside a hollowed turnip to light his way. For whatever reason, this led to the Irish / English tradition of carving faces and sticking candles into turnips, which was bumped up to pumpkins when the story was brought across the Atlantic.
The moral of the story is this: drink as much as you want; you’ll still be smarter than the Devil, and there’s a good chance you’ll become an annual tradition.
I love Irish morals