here for part 1. I might write an epilogue, as this is quite long.
Charity Fairchild did not feel the cold autumn air, did not care about her undignified clothing. All she could think of were the lanterns and the perpetrators, whoever they were. If only she could strike the children who had done it the same way she would strike the pumpkins. It must have been someone from the school. And she would find them easily. Her instinct and the Lord's help would allow her to find the culprits as easily as if she had seen them committing their vile act herself. And then she would extoll punishment Of course, not
hitting their stupid heads with a shovel (although she would have loved to do so), but spank them hard with the
cane she used for such duties. She would have to find an excuse for it,
some other misbehavior, as she had no intention to admit the school had
been vandalized like this. She had to destroy every evidence of the
crime, then see in the eyes of the pupils who were disappointed by the appearance of the place. Then find some other misbehavior they were guilty of, that would be easy enough, they were always guilty of something, sinners from the womb, ready to grow in depravity. And then, then hit them hard with the cane. Nobody would know but the guilty pupils, herself and the Lord.
Once in the playground, she put the bin down and held the heavy shovel with both hands. So many of these atrocities. Who did this, who desecrated her school like this, and why? She held the shovel high in the air, ready to strike one who seemed to be smiling at her stupidly. She was about to strike when she heard a mocking voice ahead of her.
"Oh Charity, I suggest you forget about breaking my fellow lanterns, it would be a long work and you don't have much time."
She rose her head, dumbstruck. The voice was the one of an adult man, not a child, not a teenage boy. It was strangely hollow, as if coming from a cave or the bottom of a well and had something of an Irish accent. Which would explain a lot, thought the headmistress. Nasty Papists and drunkards, all of them, savages who first developed this Satanist holiday. She looked where the voice was coming from. Sitting on the branches of a rowan three, she saw the man. He was tall and lanky, clad in old green clothes from another time, he had a very large and round head... And then Charity Fairchild saw that it was not his head, but a large pumpkin resting on the man's neck and shoulders, as if it was a helmet or a large mask. A pumpkin just like the other lanterns, with a mocking smile and wicked eyes. Looking at the trespasser, there was something strange that unnerved her: there was light coming off the pumpkin mask, the same orange tainted light that was coming from the lanterns, making the pumpkin shine like burning hot coal. The stranger jumped down the tree as easily as if had been a cat and walked to her.
"You, you did this!" said the headmistress with as much venom as she could spit.
"You have been tormenting these children long enough, I thought I would torment you a bit before you go to the grave."
He was Irish, most definitely she thought. She could hear the accent very distinctly now. And he was an adult, so there was no proscription about hurting him. She was merely defending herself and the school's property. She let him walk closer, trying to forget the glow coming from the pumpkin the stranger used as a mask.
"Shame on you!" she said. "For doing this abomination, you agent of Satan!"
"You should get educated. If you knew my story, you would know Old Nick and I are not on speaking term. Neither am I with the Old Man upstairs, mind you, so I am on nobody's side."
This was more than the headmistress could hear. Making some trivial comments about Christianity's revealed truths, making fun of hell and talking of the Lord in such blasphemous terms overwhelmed her with fury. She rose the shovel and plunge its sharp edge where the stranger's head was. Nothing happened. She felt the shovel hitting the lantern hard, then deflecting, as if it had ricocheted, to hit the ground. Or maybe it had simply gone through the stranger. She was not sure, she could not be sure of what she had seen and felt. But the shovel was there, stuck on the moist soil like a javelin. The stranger laughed.
"Your senses are not betraying you, stupid old bat! No human weapon has an effect on me. I think you should have guessed who I am now."
"You, you are a devil."
"I told you, Old Nick and I are not even friends. Acquaintances, yes, but we don't like each other. He tricked me a few centuries ago to give him my soul, I tricked him back and again so I would not go to Hell. As the Old Man upstairs considered me unworthy of Heaven, I was condemned to walk the earth until Kingdom Come."
The stranger stepped forward, so fast Charity Fairchild did not have time to walk away. She could see the pumpkin head well now. It was hollow, there was head in it, only a piece of burning brand producing a bright flame. The headmistress gasped.
"I am Jack O'Lantern," continued the spectre. "I have been walking this earth as a shadow of what I was, unable to enjoy food and drink as I used to, unable to get drunk as I loved to, yet remembering every bit of my wicked life, feeling the same thirst I ever had, which makes my suffering all the more bitter. This is the part of my curse which is mine alone, but I carry the seed of a curse with me, a curse which I give to those I meet on Halloween night. The same fateful night I tricked Old Nick. I bring death and ruin to those who see me."
"But you cannot hurt me, I am an humble servant of God!"
"Servant, yes, humble no. You think the Old Man cares about you, about what will happen with you now? We would not have met if he did. Tonight is your last night on Earth. You will not live to see November."
"You cannot punish me, I did nothing wrong, I was always a righteous Christian!"
"And you hurt and deprived those you considered not to be. I was what you call a sinner, enjoying life fully, not I cannot. Those children still can, and you are taking their pleasure and happiness away from them. I will give them freedom. This is my treat to them. This is my night. My rules. Old Nick gave it to me. The Old Man agreed with it. And now the trick is on you, Charity. A taste of hellfire."
Charity Fairchild saw that the cord of her bathrobe was now inside one of the lanterns, as if it had bit it. It was suddenly ablaze, running from the cord to her robe. She had a short cry of of horror, muted as she saw the dark ochre flames engulfing her clothes and herself. She felt the heat gnawing her skin swallowing her whole. In spite of the overwhelming pain, she started running, running to her house which she could barely see through the fire of the living torch she had become. She felt her slippers turn to ashes as she was running, her feet now bare of skin, only muscles and bones, every hair of her body being swallowed by the flames. When she reached her doorstep, leaning on it, all she could see before the heat boiled her eyes and made them burst from her sockets were her fingers withered into small black twigs. They broke hitting the door as what was left of Charity Fairchild turned into ashes on the porch, victim of the curse of Jack O'Lantern and the day she had always hated.
Burrata Salad with Foccacia
30 minutes ago