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I wrote this short story about a year ago, just in time for Halloween. If this is your first time reading it, then I hope you enjoy it! If you’ve read it before, then I hope you enjoy it again!
Jack Síomón and the Devil’s Lantern
A Short Story by Kim Harris Thacker
The alms box is naught but inky shadow, stretched cat-like along the shelf behind the altar at St. Vincent’s. ‘Tis bad luck to cross paths with a black cat, but when you’ve drunk away all the coin you earned from your pumpkin harvest, ‘tis just as unlucky to cross paths with an alms box at Sunday meetin’. Especially if the parish priest was one who bought a fair few o’ your pumpkins the day before.
Though ‘tis night now, and hours have passed since Father Malloy called me out, his sermon still rings in me ears:
“Faithless Síomón Pedear! He sunk ‘neath the waves when the more believin’ would’ve trod ‘em like they was solid earth! When the cock crew, he was ashamed, for he’d thrice denied the master!” And all the while, Father Malloy’s eyes was fixed on me, Jack Síomón, who’d passed the alms box along to his shamefaced wife without dropping a coin into the jingle.
The wind blows the naked trees outside, and I curse under me breath, for the moonshine falls in reds, blues, and greens through the stained glass o’ the Annunciation and onto a lock at the front o’ the alms box. ‘Tis the size o’ Eden’s own bedeviled apple, that lock. I slam me fist onto the shelf, and the box jumps: a locked box that ain’t locked to anythin’.
A locked box what’s made o’ wood and will bust like a pumpkin, sure.
Into me arms, like a mewlin’ babe, and out we go! I hitch up me trousers, one-handed, and snatch at the doorknob. That’s when Father Malloy stumbles through a side door, mussy-headed and holdin’ a lantern aloft.
Down the box goes, onto the floor. A mighty crash, like the waves o’ the Red Sea breakin’ on Pharaoh’s head.
Aye, just like a pumpkin: The box busts, and coins skitter away in every direction—shinin’ beetley-bugs what some choirboy will pocket in the morn, thinkin’ to show his mam. I scramble and scoop, scramble and scoop.
“Stop! Thief!” Father Malloy bellows.
“What is it, Father?” And here’s the curate, come down from his cot in the room behind the choir loft.
I put me head down and bull to the main door with only a handful o’ jinglers in me pocket. Still, it’s enough to buy a dozen pints at the Fife and Drum.
“Ye’ll have the Devil to pay for your thievin’, whoever ye be!” Father Malloy shouts, and I congratulate meself for thinkin’ to nail a cross into the soles o’ me boots. ‘Twill draw off the scent–if I can get free in the first place, that is; for the curate, less the talkin’ sort and more the doin’, gives chase.
Bed-dressed though he be, he’s a swift one. We’re off through High Street and down Baker’s Lane, and it isn’t ‘til I’ve dodged down a good few alleys and have ended up in the one between the blacksmith’s and the cooper’s that I finally lose him.
Or do I?
A shuffle from a doorway, and then a tall, tall figure blocks me path.
“Jacky Síomón.” The voice is thunder in me bones and a hiss in me ears. “I’ve come for ye, Jacky.”
“What d’ye mean?” I step back. “Who are ye?”
The figure throws off the hood o’ his cloak, and though I’ve ne’er seen him before, I know he’s the devil, come for me soul.
“Come along, Jacky. We’ve a mile or two to walk this night.”
Me legs set to shakin’, but if I’ve learned aught in this world, ’tis this: Ne’er show your fear to them as would knock ye down. Besides, I’m not about to leave this world without spendin’ me new jinglers. I’ve a powerful hankerin’ for a pint.
I plug me hands into me pockets, casual-like. Me fear o’ the Devil’s puny compared to the chill what crawls up me spine and settles in me throat at the discovery that there’s naught but a hole in me pocket!
I force a smile, though, for Jack Síomón can act as well as any travelin’ player.
“Sir, I’m flattered ye’ve come for me,” I says. “A busy man like ye are…I wouldn’t think ye’d have the time for Jack Síomón, the pumpkin farmer. Would’ve thought ye’d send one o’ your servants to do the job.”
I’m must be half-devil meself, for I know exactly how this’ll make Old Scratch feel.
“I come for all and sundry,” he replies. “Ye needn’t think yourself above anyone else who enters me realm.”
“No, no. O’ course not. I just thought…since all grand folks have servants to do their biddin’…Ye have servants, don’t ye?”
“Oh. That’s real fine. I’m sure ye’d be up to your neck in work, without ‘em. Ye must find ‘em indispensible.”
“I need no one to assist me in accomplishin’ me work. Me power be more than sufficient.”
“But…ye do have servants?”
“Ye doubt me, do ye, Jacky?”
“Oh, no. Lord Connelly, up the manor—he’s got servants, and he’s a powerful sort.”
“Ye would compare me to a human? To an insignificant earl?”
Oh, but he’s proper proud, the Devil.
“Not insignificant,” I says. “Lord Connelly’s influential. I’m payin’ ye a compliment, Devil, sir. To be likened to Lord Connelly…well. That’s somethin’ to make a man stand up tall, that is.”
For a moment, I think I’ve overdone it. But then the Devil’s eyes go back to black, instead o’ red, and he glowers at me.
“Shall I prove me prowess to ye, Jacky?”
“Would ye? That’d be lovely, that would. And ye could have a bit o’ fun at the same time!”
The Devil quirks a sleek, black eyebrow.
“See, Devil sir, there’s a curate chasin’ me, on account o’ I stole the parish alms box.”
The Devil allows himself a small smile. “He’s nearby, followin’ your trail o’ coins.”
I pat me legs with me pocketed hands and put a look o’ surprise on me face. “I’ll be! If I haven’t lost ev’ry farthin’! Oh, well…’tis me luck. Still, this’ll make for a fine joke! If ye turn yourself into a coin, sir, the curate will pick ye up and take ye into the church, with the rest o’ the offerin’ money. He’ll bring ye in, which is better than bein’ invited. Think o’ the havoc ye could wreak, and upon a church!”
The Devil looks over me shoulder, surely imaginin’ himself causin’ all manner o’ destruction. Then he looks down at me. “And such an action—turning meself into a coin—will satisfy ye? Ye’ll recognize me great power by such a menial feat?”
“Lord Connelly can’t do naught o’ the sort, sir.”
The Devil shrinks afore me eyes and turns into a big, shinin’ coin. I step on him, right quick, with me iron-crossed heel. He’s mine. I’ve trapped him.
The wicked grin slips from me face, though, when I think that mayhap he’s trapped me. For the curate must be terrible close, by now, and if I step off the Devil, sure he’ll avenge himself upon me.
But Jacky Síomón’s a cunnin’ man as well as an actor and thief.
Me boot laces bear a knot what’s lasted three months, and I ain’t about to untie such a happy creation. It takes some doin’, but soon enough me foot’s free o’ me boot, and me boot’s still atop the Devil. With me cheek against the cold cobbles, I slide a shiv o’ tin what I pinched from the blacksmith’s rubbish barrel beneath the Devil and raise him and the boot up. I pitch the tin away and hold the Devil fast to the cross with me own hand.
A huffin’ and a puffin’ like to wake all creation approaches. The curate! Away I go, headed in a roundabout course to me patch.
Never thought I were a soft fellow, bein’ a farmer, but me stockin’ed foot aches somethin’ fierce! I’ve left the cobbles, but e’en these roads is pure murder on me trotters. I head o’er a stile, into O’Leary’s fallow field. Mud and muck to me ankles, but the squish is heaven.
The night be chill, though, and soon enough, I’m shiverin’. Worse, the fog’s come up. I were bound in the right direction before, but now I ain’t certain. All around, ‘tis gray as the smoke from a greenwood fire. Then a pinprick o’ light winks in front o’ me. I’m cold enough that e’en the curate would be a welcome sight.
“Halloo, there! Halloo!”
The light flees, but another bobs up, to me left. ‘Tis a bog spirit! A will-o-the-wisp, what would lead me to a gruesome drownin’! I take a step away from it, and me boot sticks in the peat. Down I go, onto me knees on the ground, and then through it, to me waist. The bog’s got me!
I keep the Devil and the boot high, and I sink. It don’t take much to work the Devil beneath one arm o’ the cross, so he’s pinned up tight against both boot and iron. Now that one o’ me hands is free, I stretch for the true ground, but the movin’ only makes me sink faster. When I’m up to me neck and the boot’s a foot higher than that, and all is more than bleak, I let out a howl.
“Devil! Ye hear me, well I know, though ye be powerless at the moment. ‘Tis a quick count to twenty, and I’m done for. Ye’ll be done then, too, as I’ve got ye fast against an iron cross. So’s I give ye a bargain! I’ll free ye, if ye’ll free me! Ye can’t answer, well I know it, so I give ye the benefit o’ the doubt. Ye be a gentleman, and a gentleman would agree to me terms. See ye keep your word, as I’ve no doubt ye be givin’ it to me right now!”
I pry the coin loose and fling it to the true ground. Me heavy boot slips from me hand and falls on me head, sendin’ me beneath the bog.
* * *
Lyin’ flat on me back, I spew out thick water what’s stronger in taste than spirits o’ the highest proof and not half as rejuvenatin’. The Devil leans o’er me, will-o-the-wisps wreathin’ his head like a crown for the accursed.
“Ye be a fool, Jacky Síomón, thinkin’ ye could walk on bog water. A dead fool.”
“I’m dead?” Sayin’ these words, I see it’s so.
“Aye. Ye said nothin’ about freein’ ye afore ye died, so I waited. Didn’t take long.”
“And now you want me soul.”
“Nay, Jacky.” The Devil looks disgusted at the idea. “I don’t want ye no more. And o’ course, ye ain’t good enough for heaven.”
“But…I’m dead! I have to go somewhere!”
The Devil smiles with fine, white teeth. “Aye, that ye do. So ye’ll wander forever in the blackness ye call Purgatory.”
“Ye’re no gentleman!”
The Devil’s smile grows cold. “ ‘Tis the last time I prove aught o’ meself to ye, Jack Síomón. I’ll show ye how much o’ the gentleman I be by leavin’ ye a light, so ye can see your way through the darkness.”
“A wisp?” I asks.
“Nay. Somethin’ befittin’ Jacky, the pumpkin farmer. Somethin’ recognizable, to warn me servants as well as the heavenly angels to stay well clear o’ Jack-with-the-lantern. Ah. I know the very thing. I’ll even throw in a cinder from hell’s fire. ‘Twill ne’er go out. How’s that for ye, Jacky?”
*This short story was inspired by a bare-bones tale that I discovered on Wikipedia, when I was studying up on the history of Jack-o-Lanterns. I hope you enjoyed it!
Here are a few more of my Harry Potter Christmas Tree ornaments!
Dumbledore’s (and later, Ron’s) Put-Outer (Deluminator) – I made this from salt-dough, which I then painted silver. I didn’t have a regular cigarette lighter on hand, but if I’d had a silver one or a black one, I’d have used it (after it was empty of lighter fluid, of course). I would have then created a label for the Put-Outer on my computer. However, I didn’t have a lighter to use as the body of my Put-Outer, so I made my own. :)
When the dough was still very flexible, I used the tip of a mechanical pencil (you can use anything small and sharp, like a pin) to stipple the words, “Put-Outer” on the handle. The thumb-piece is a separate piece of salt dough that I hot glued onto the handle once they had dried (and before I painted the Put-Outer). I screwed a screw eye into the thumb-piece while the dough was still pliable, and I let it remain there while the dough dried. Then, when it was dry, I unscrewed the screw eye for the painting process.
Pumpkin Pasty – made by my eight-year-old daughter out of salt-dough (which I then painted). Didn’t she do a great job? She’s so creative. It’s about 3″ in diameter. She made it in two pieces: First, the crust, and then, the filling. She pressed the two pieces together when the dough was still sticky, so I didn’t need to hot glue them together.
The Goblet of Fire – I’m not entirely satisfied with this one, so you may get an update sometime in the future. I like that the goblet is wooden, because that makes it light, which will be nice for a Christmas tree ornament. I may end up painting it, however. Also, I don’t love the flames. AND I want to figure out a way to make it look like the parchment is floating. The one thing that I do like about this ornament is the burnt parchment pieces (Don’t burn the edges of the parchments slips yourselves, kids! Let your parents burn them for you!). Each parchment piece contains one of the names of the four wizards who competed in the Tri-Wizard Tournament: Cedric Diggory, Fleur Delacour, Viktor Krum (written in Bulgarian!), and Harry Potter. It was fun to decide how their handwriting might look (with the exception of Harry’s handwriting–since he didn’t write his own name).
Lightning Bolts – I’ll bet Harry’s glad his lightning bolt scar isn’t golden! I made these from Cardboard, which I spray painted gold and then glittered gold. The glitter didn’t stick to the wet spray paint, so I’ll be mod-podging it on.
Felix Felicis – Liquid Luck, given to Harry Potter by Professor Slughorn. I made this potion using a tiny glass bottle that I purchased at Hobby Lobby. It came with a cork. The hanger is a screw eye. The potion itself is a bunch of golden seed beads. I bought a big pack (maybe a cup’s worth) of beads, and it was enough to fill six of these tiny bottles. I experimented with the label, making it horizontal and then vertical, and I ended up liking the vertical version best. It’s something I made on my computer. Here’s a file you can download:
Remembrall – Sent to Neville Longbottom by his grandmother. I made lots of these using tiny clear Christmas balls, which I found at Hobby Lobby. I then poked a square of red netting (like for tutus) inside each one. The squares were about 3″ x 3″–it doesn’t take much. Then I hot glued some gold ribbon around each Remembrall and replaced the silver hangers. The gold ribbon is a bit stretchy, almost like it’s made of plastic and not fabric. I like this, because it forms to the Remembrall and doesn’t stick out in places like a flat, stiff ribbon would.
And there you have it! My latest Harry Potter goodies.
Emily H.! Congratulations, Emily! Can you please email me your contact information?
Thank you, everyone, for entering this giveaway. I hope that even though the rest of you didn’t win a copy of NOT IN THE SCRIPT, you will still seek it out. It’s such a worthwhile, fun, intelligent read!
The leaves are still summer-green and it’s still a million degrees during the day here in northern Florida…but the light has that autumnal slant to it, which makes me very happy. I love autumn and all that goes with it, especially Halloween!
My favorite part of Halloween is gearing up for it by reading lots of spooky stories. But nothing too spooky, please. Mostly, I like highly atmospheric stories with a bit of a thrilling edge to them (in other words, kids’ books). Some of my recent favorite “scary” books include:
- Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (This one really is scary, I think)
- Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book
- Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice series
- Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. Book 1: The Screaming Staircase
- Claire Legrand’s The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls
I also really like to write slightly-spooky flash fiction and short stories. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to write fresh stuff, lately, so I thought I’d share something from a couple of years ago–hopefully to get you all in a Halloween mood! I have revised it, though, and I think it’s stronger, now. It’s a piece of flash fiction, told solely through dialogue. I hope you enjoy it!
A Flash Fiction Story by Kim Harris Thacker
My brother’s deaths are a mighty inconvenience to me. It ain’t that I don’t miss him when he’s gone, but the pigs need slopping and the weeds need pulling, and he slops and pulls right well when he ain’t laid out, gray as ash. But you’ll miss him even more than me, I expect–since you’ll be his wife tomorrow.
It ain’t my aim to put fear in your heart—you and me always been like pups from the same litter—but it’ll be worse when you got babes to feed. There’ll be plenty, too, what with your ma bearing eight and ours a full dozen. You can’t bet on the Bitter Man striking, neither. Folks say it ain’t but once a century he spreads his cloak as wide as he done five years ago, when he flung it over your kin and ours and all them others in these parts.
There’ll be gobs to fill, mark me.
No, there ain’t no warning. First time, he done dropped headfirst from the south corner crabapple. But he were dead before he hit the ground, plain as muslin. Ain’t nobody but them as the Bitter Man’s kissed what look so hollowed-out.
Were only him and me living, until that first time. Then it were just me.
I washed him like you do that butter of yours, what you sell up the market—until the water run off him clear—and then I dressed him in his wake shift, what Ma sewed for him before she died. She saw her young dropping like flies and thought she better get to it, I guess. Too bad she didn’t sew one for herself. Mine fit her well enough, and I’ll get around to sewing a new one for myself sooner or later–though ain’t nobody to lay me out. I expect you’ll do it, if you ain’t already gone.
Right there. Right there, on that burnt patch of quilt, he done come lively all at once, like lightning striking a tree and sending it into a blaze of alive, instead of a char of dead. Hotter than pig cracklings, he was, and hungry. Had a pot of cold stew sitting on the table, here, and weren’t that fortunate! Never you mind your babes when he gets up, for his body got to be full of something until his soul fills all the cracks again, else you’ll run, scared, and running ain’t never a good idea. Bread and potatoes—salt pork, if you got it—them things is what he’s after, not you. Mightn’t look that way, but you just got to trust me.
Maybe get a meal ready right after his breath leaves him, just to be certain.
Oh, my friends. I am so excited. My little family gets to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in a month!
If you know me, and you know how much I love all things Potter, then you will know that this is a Big Deal. I cry just thinking about it! And then I laugh and run around the room waving my arms like a maniac. ‘Scuse me, whilst I run and wave…
Okay, I’m back.
Because we’ll be at the WW of HP near Thanksgiving, and because we always start our Christmas preparations right after Thanksgiving, it seems natural that we should carry our Harry Potter Happiness into the month of December. So, the Thacker Family is having a Harry Potter Christmas, too! Normally, during the month of December, we study another country somewhere in the world and incorporate their Christmas traditions into ours. This year (and don’t you dare laugh), we’re studying the Wizard World. Instead of making gingerbread houses, we’ll be making a gingerbread version of the Weasley home (The Burrow). Instead of leaving out cookies and milk for Santa, we’ll leave out pumpkin pasties and butterbeer for Santa and mismatched socks for his elves. We’ll also have a Harry Potter-themed Christmas tree!
Which brings me to the whole purpose of this blog post, which is to show you the two ornaments I’ve already made for the tree:
This is the Grim found in Harry Potter’s tea leaves in Professor Trelawney’s Divination class (made using a fine-tip Sharpie marker and a cup and saucer I already owned and glued together using E6000 glue).
This is Gilderoy Lockhart’s autograph, laminated and hung with pink ribbon “by Hermione Granger.” It reads, “Please allow Miss Granger to check out any library book from the Restricted Section. Always, Gilderoy Lockhart” (with a little magic wand that’s spewing sparkles).
I’ll share all my ornaments with you as I make them! My goal is to use materials that I already have or to spend very little money buying materials. Before we moved here, to Florida, we sold many of our possessions, including most of our Christmas ornaments. So I knew we’d have to buy some when we got here. So I’m going to stick with my ornament budget! I think my biggest challenge will be creating a Sorting Hat tree topper. Maybe out of paper mache? We’ll see how it goes!