The Why of Jack O’ Lanterns



The following is an excerpt from MOTHER OF RAIN, a novel:


“Tell me the story of Jack again,” I asked, pleading with Doc to tell me the story he told every Halloween.

“Oh, you don’t want to hear that old tale, again,” he said. “You’ve heard it half-a-dozen times.” Doc took out his pocketknife and cut a saucer-sized lid into a pumpkin.

“Pleeeassseeee,” I begged.

“Now, Maize, you know I can’t stand it when you beg,” Doc said.

“Pleeasseeee,” I pestered. Doc wasn’t related to Momma except by marriage, but sometimes it seemed to me that him and her were more blood kin than Leela-Ma and Momma. Doc spoilt me, jes like Momma used to.

“Aw, aw’right,” he said, giving in the way I knew he would.  “Jack was a trouble-maker, always getting himself into some mischief, embarrassing his family and hisself. One night as the Devil was passing under a hemlock, ol’ Jack tricked him up in the tree. Then Jack carved a cross into the tree’s trunk, trapping that ol’ devil, and making him mad as a hornet. Never a good idea,” Doc said, smiling and pulling out the pumpkin’s stringy guts.

“What happened next?”

“Ol’ Jack said he’d make a deal with the devil – that’s never a good idea either. Jack told the devil he’d let him out of the tree if he would promise to never tempt Jack again. You see, Jack was figuring all that tempting was to blame for putting him at crosshairs with his own family. The Devil agreed and Jack let him down. But after Jack died, he couldn’t get into heaven on account of all his foolish ways and that ol’ Devil wouldn’t let him into hell. The Devil did take some pity on Jack though. He give him one little flame to warm himself by. Jack put it inside a hallowed out pumpkin to protect it .”

“And that’s how come we have jack o’lanterns,” I said, chiming in.

“Well, that’s at least how the old folks ‘plain it,” Doc said.

When we finished with the carving, Doc and I sat our pumpkins out on the porch, three on each side of the steps. Leela got the seeds salted and baked and made a couple of pies to carry on over to the harvest party that evening.

Everybody and his brother wanted to take the hay ride, so there was a couple of trucks hauling people up and down the dirt roads. Shug Mosely drove one, Zeb and Poke Mosely drove the other. Shug hauled around the adults who wanted to go and Zeb and Poke hauled around the youth of the church. Wheedin and I stood in the back right corner of the truck, away from everyone else, that way we’d be the first to see any ghosts.

Wheedin was the only person I’d dare tell about the time when I heared some girl’s voice, and how I suspected it came from the doll Eudie’s brother carved me. I knew Wheedin wouldn’t think I was crazy, ‘cause I didn’t tell her about it till after the night she confessed her daddy would sometimes come sit on her bed and talk with her. Me and Wheedin believed in ghosts ‘cause we’d both been visited by ‘em.

We was standing in the corner whispering about those things, and breathing in the sweet scent of hay, when Kade Mashburn cozied up next to us. Wheedin had told me two weeks ago Sunday that she’d heared from Poke that Kade was sweet on me. Kade had pretty red hair and dancing eyes, but I wasn’t interested in nobody but Zeb and I didn’t need to tell Wheedin that; she’d known it since that day in Mrs Ida’s garden.

“You girls ain’t scared, are you?” Kade asked. “‘Cause if you are, don’t worry. I got tricks to scare away any haints.”

“I bet you do,” Wheedin said, nudging me in the ribs.

“Care to see one?” Kade leaned in so close we was practically nose-to-nose. I could feel his breath on my lips.

“No, thank you,” I said, turning my face from his. The light of the full moon cast shadows that made Kade look more devilish than was his nature. It sent shivers down my arms.

Somebody started singing “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones” and we all chimed in, laughing and carrying on, and I forgot about Kade Mashburn till we pulled up at Shug’s place and started piling out of the truck for the bonfire. Wheedin had gone over to help some of the younger kids off the truck, giving Kade a chance to press in beside me. He was much taller than me and had long arms. He reached out and grabbed me with ‘em as I tried to dodge my way past him. Then, without ary a word, Kade ducked down and kissed me right on the lips!

I was so mad I felt like slapping Kade upside the head and probably would’ve except I didn’t want to cause a scene. So I spit at Kade’s feet and wiped my lips with the back of my hand and pushed past him.

Zeb, who was standing at the edge of the truck bed helping folks climb down, seen what I done. “You need some help there, Maize?” he asked, offering me his hand. I grabbed ‘hold of it and jumped so hard from the truck, I nearly knocked the both of us over. Zeb caught me, held on to me till I got my bearings and whispered, “I hope when I go to kiss you, you don’t spit at me.”

I smiled and run off to find Wheedin.


Watch for the sequel to MOTHER OF RAIN coming in 2015: BURDY: White Witch of Christian Bend.


Karen Spears Zacharias is author of MOTHER OF RAIN, Weatherford Award for Best in Appalachian Fiction.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

No Comments

Leave a Comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that.
Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.