“If you’re lost on Halloween night, never follow the mysterious lights thinking you’ll find shelter. The lights are the damned spirits of the Jack-O-Lanterns looking to steer travelers into danger, imprisoning their souls forever on this earth.”
My grandmother shared this story with me many Halloweens ago. At the time, I was a child but still past the age in which one gives unfaltering merit to such tales. Furthermore, I was logical beyond my years, so while I didn’t tell my grandmother that I questioned the nature of the story, I knew that pumpkins, Jack-O-Lantern or no, couldn’t possibly have spirits.
Years had passed, and my grandmother’s yarn had faded into the recesses of my forgotten memories. It wasn’t until tonight that I’d even revisit this past conversation.
This thirty-first day of October began much like any other; I was going on my annual overnight hike. I prefer to hike on Halloween because the many superstitious types fear spending the night in the woods during this holiday. Since a belief in ghosts and goblins is too fictional for my tastes, I have no problem with a Halloween hike on a secluded path. This is my relaxation time; the less people, the better.
After several uneventful hours of hiking, the sun began to set, so I found a clearing in which I’d set up camp. It didn’t take much time; and before I knew it, the tent was up, leaving just enough light to illuminate my hunt for firewood.
I’d nearly gathered the last bit of kindling when I heard the cries. At first, they seemed mere whispers; I could barely distinguish them from the wind whistling through the trees. Still, I paused and held silent hoping to discover their origin. I’d almost given up when a woman’s voice came through loud and clear. “Please, somebody help me! I’m hurt!”
Without hesitation, I dropped the twigs and rushed into the thick forest following the voice. Every time she’d call out, I’d holler back, “I’m on my way. Don’t move!” but she didn’t seem to hear me. She kept repeating similar shouts for help, as if no one had responded at all.
Soon darkness enveloped my surroundings, so I pulled out my flashlight for the remainder of the search. The voice led me to a dry riverbed where the unsteady rocks made it difficult to maintain my balance, slowing me significantly. Still, I moved as quickly as possible knowing I was getting closer.
From behind a large boulder, I saw a piece of white fabric fluttering in the breeze. I shouted “Hello, Miss? Are you there? I think I see your blanket” and her voice, seemingly sheltered by the rock, cried, “Help please! I’m hurt!”
I hurried to the boulder, expecting to find an injured woman lying behind it. When I got there, however, there was nothing but an old piece of white fabric stained with dirt and grime. I lifted the cloth to examine it, but an irritated water snake slithered out from underneath, causing me to drop the material.
I could have sworn…
Maybe my ears had deceived me, and I went the wrong way. I called out to her again, but there was no answer. Her cries had ceased entirely.
After a few puzzled moments of trying to decipher a logical explanation for what happened, I headed back to my campsite. Or at least I made an effort to return to the site, but in my hurry to find the injured woman, I’d forgotten how to get back. To make matters worse, the flashlight was dimming. There was no telling how much longer it would be until the batteries failed.
I climbed out of the river bed onto higher ground. While my plan had been to sit put until morning, I was relieved to discover what looked like Halloween decorations ahead in the distance. Several bright, flickering orange lights were visible from where I stood. I must have been at the very edge of the state park, because this surely was a house! I hastily decided to follow the lights.
Before long, I was at the front of a home surrounded by many expertly carved Jack-O-Lanterns, all lit with tiny candles. I knocked, and a woman opened the door. Her description escapes me now, but I recall a sense of security; I felt I could trust her.
I explained the situation, and she seemed sympathetic. Quickly, she poured me a drink and retreated into the bedroom to telephone for help. Everything from here on is blurry; a dream-like mix of horrifying memories.
I remember extreme pain in my eyes, nose and mouth, along with a sense of stiffness in my entire head. The rest of my body had become numb, and while I could still move, my head felt like an entity all its own; it no longer had an attachment to my torso.
The pain built intensely, I recall, as I looked around for anything to stop it. Soon I found a carving knife, probably the one the woman had used to shape her pumpkins.
The knife pierced the skin around my eyes with ease. There no longer appeared to be bone, blood, or muscle as I cut a triangular shape around both eye sockets. Though I was blinded, the pain has ceased, so I went about hacking the rest of my face; a triangle to remove my nose; and a long grin-like cut to dig out my mouth. I’d just finished when the woman reentered the room.
“You look marvelous!” She exclaimed. “All I have to do now is scoop the seeds from your head, cut away that neck, put your light on the inside, and place you on the porch with the others to illuminate the night, luring lost travelers in with false hopes of salvation. I hope that sounds fun because that will be your job for all eternity, Jack.”
I then remembered my grandmother’s warning, but it was too late.