There are a number of fascinating Halloween legends out there, and I knew I wanted to write a story about this one. I found the opportunity when, a couple of weeks ago, my sister, inspired by Tim Burton’s sketches from Sweeney Todd, sketched a spooky image of her own. I loved it immediately, and I knew the woman in the picture had a story to tell. This is it.
JACK AND JILL
Jill hadn’t been in Ireland very long. Thus, when she saw the strange man holding what looked like a turnip walking down the road, her only consideration was that she was looking rather gaunt and feeling rather hungry. She needed the money, and if a turnip-loving man had it to offer, then she would happily provide whatever services he requested.
The villagers here didn’t like her, and she couldn’t honestly blame them. The women hated her because their men loved her, and the men hated her because they couldn’t help loving her. Needless to say, she was far from popular. She didn’t let it bother her, though. Whatever troubles she faced here, though, they were far easier to bear than what she’d left behind in England. Her hand instinctively brushed her stomach, and she felt the lump rising in her throat. She’d lost much.
Immediately, she sniffed and straightened herself up. She looked out the window again. Yes, the odd but thankfully handsome man was definitely heading this way. She pulled down her dress and pushed up her breasts, and then she opened the door before he could knock. She batted her long-lashed eyes at him, and he smiled back at her. Her eyes flitted to the turnip. Now she could see it was hollowed out, and inside it glowed an ember, brighter than any she’d seen in the admittedly pathetic fires she’d built in her decrepit hut.
“Would you like to come in?” she asked, in a tone somewhere between playful and husky, having not yet figured out what sort of fantasy suited the man’s fancy.
“Indeed, I would, if you’re offering,” he replied, grinning in such a way that Jill couldn’t help but be a little charmed.
She moved aside, just enough for him to enter, but not without brushing her skin as he passed. “I see the fog cleared,” she remarked.
The man swung around. “Finally. And on Halloween night, no less.” His smile only got wider, as if he’d stumbled upon a pot of gold.
“What’s your name, stranger?” she asked, settling on husky.
“The name, my unfortunate beauty, is Jack.” He spotted a kettle on the dwindling fire and motioned to it before she could reply. “May I?”
“Of course,” she said, still a little unsettled by being called unfortunate. She shook it off, though. She had a job to do. “But please. Let me.”
She walked to the kettle, grabbed a mug from a nearby shelf, and poured him a cup of cider.
“It’s almost a shame,” the man mused, more to himself than to Jill.
He turned to face her, and she handed him the mug. He took a sip. “You’re not from here, I take it.”
“Is it that obvious?” she asked, giggling as she once again batting her eyelashes. Perhaps playful was his preference after all.
“Unfortunately so,” he replied.
Again with that word. She felt her brow furrow just for a second, and then she simply smiled at him, wide-eyed. He set down the mug, but not the turnip, and moved toward her. His hand found her neck, and his fingers found her hair, and then, his lips found hers. They were cold, and he tasted like smoke. She pulled away, demurely, just as he began to pull her closer.
“Now, Jack,” she purred, stroking the exposed skin at his collar. “If that’s your business tonight, then we should talk about… compensation.”
Jack moved away, his grin even wider than she would have believed possible. “My dear,” he said. “My poor, unfortunate soul. My business here is utterly finished.”
She stared at him, perplexed. He grabbed the mug of cider and then backed out the door, taking it with him. Jill followed him outside the house without thinking. She peered into the darkness, but the fog had returned. There was no sight of him. It was then that she noticed it: in her hand was the turnip, and the ember inside it was glowing brighter than ever.
“Jack?” she called into the night. But there was no answer. She turned to go back inside only to find the door closed. She tried the handle, but the door had latched, and it would not give. She sighed. As much as she hated the idea, she would have to ask for a neighbor’s help. She walked down the road toward the next home, cursing the man Jack, who had stolen a kiss and been too stingy to pay for it.
When she came to the path leading to her neighbor’s door, she could not force her feet onto it, no matter how hard she tried. She told herself it was fate, or God, or destiny, forcing her onward to the next house. But when she came to it, she could not approach it either. And so she walked on, and on, and on. After a number of hours, or days, or weeks, or perhaps even years, she could no longer remember why she walked. All that remained was a hope that the fog would lift.
© 2009 Elizabeth Ditty