Children Fiction posted October 27, 2015


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Beware of the ghost of Jack-O'-Lantern!

The Ghost Pumpkin Fire Brigade

by Sis Cat


The last candy had been passed out, the last trick-or-treater had turned in his hood and fangs, the town clock tower had struck midnight. Halloween ended. Día de los Muertosthe Day of the Deadbegan.

A boy of twelve named Jonathan awoke from his sleep. Outside, men shouted and horses snorted. An orange glow flickered in his window.
 
Jonathan threw off his blankets and rushed to the window. Firefighters stood in his yard. They wore wide-brimmed helmets, slickers, and galoshes. They formed a bucket brigade from the backyard swimming pool, passing pumpkin-carved water buckets to douse a porch fire. Tangerine horses rustled, hitched to water pump carriages with pumpkin-shaped brass tanks and old-time fire engines. The firefighters. The fire engines. The horses. Jonathan saw through them. He shivered.
 
The fire captain in charge of the operation turned to the window from which Jonathan peeked. The captain called, “Hey, you! We need a bucket-boy.”
 
Jonathan ran from the window and hid under his covers. The ghost appeared in his room and, with a gloved hand, gently pulled back the covers from the boy’s frightened face. The ghost spoke in a soft, urgent voice, “Jonathan, we need you. People’s lives are in danger.”
 
The ghost fire captain offered his hand. The moment the boy grabbed it, the two disappeared from his bedroom and reappeared on his lawn. The fire captain put a helmet and a slicker on Jonathan, and then sent him to carry the emptied buckets to the pool for refilling. With the boy's help, the ghost firefighters extinguished the fire.
 
“That was good work you did back there, Jonathan,” said the ghost fire captain. “You may call me Captain Saint George of the Ghost Pumpkin Fire Brigade. It’s been a bad night for the Jack-O’-Lantern. This is the twelfth fire it’s set in a three-hundred mile radius, and we still have five hours until dawn. We’re short of ghost firemen tonight. We’ll need a little human assistance.”

"I . . . I don't understand," said Jonathan. "Jack-O'-Lantern?"

Captain Saint George tipped back the wide brim of his fireman's helmet. The leather badge in front read:

 
CAPTAIN
5
G.P.F.B.

 
His translucent body appeared like overlapping sheets of tissue paper used in arts and crafts collages, but his eyes sparkled with the stars that shined in the night sky behind his head. He whispered, "Jack-O’-Lantern is the ghost of a man named Stingy Jack. He tricked Satan into promising never to claim his soul. Because Stingy Jack couldn't get into Heaven either on account of being so stingy, Jack’s spirit wandered the earth, carrying inside a turnip carved with his face a coal from Hell’s furnace."

Goosebumps rose on Jonathan's skin. "Is that where we got the idea of carving faces in pumpkins on Halloween?"

 "Yes, and that is how he got his name, Jack of the Lantern, or Jack-O’-Lantern for short. Neither Jack-O’-Lantern’s ghost nor turnip can be seen, but the pale, bluish flame of its lantern can. It is this flame that causes fires wherever it goes on Halloween. That is why the Ghost Pumpkin Fire Brigade hunts and haunts this spectral arsonist. You ever heard of the saying 'Fight fire with fire?'"

The boy nodded. "Yes."

"Well, we fight ghosts with ghosts, but we could sure use your help tonight."

"Okay."

Captain Saint George lifted Jonathan onto the horse-drawn fire engine. Before the boy could ask, "How can a ghost lift me?" or "Why don't I fall through this fire engine?" the captain shouted, “Heigh-ho!”
 
The Ghost Pumpkin Fire Brigade rode down the street. Horses’ hooves sparked the pavement. Jonathan rang the bell. Ghost firefighters clung to their fire engines and sang to the tune of “The William Tell Overture”, “To the pump, to the pump, to the pump, pump, pump!” They sailed up into the moonlit, Halloween sky to chase the blue flame of Jack-O’-Lantern.
 
They cornered it in a great forest. Captain Saint George instructed his men to carve faces into their pumpkin pails and put flares in them. The one thing Jack-O’-Lantern hates is another jack-o’-lantern.
 
“Jack can’t hurt us,” Captain Saint George told Jonathan, “we’re already dead, but if it gets too close to you, lay flat on the ground and hold your breath until it goes away.”
 
Like knights battling dragons, the spirits of firefighters who died in the line of duty made a large circle around the forest with their jack-o’-lanterns and slowly closed in.
 
Jonathan saw Jack-O’-Lantern’s blue flame in the treetops and ran deep into the forest, accidentally dropping his pumpkin lantern. “There it is!” he cried and climbed a tree where the bluish flame hovered overhead. As he reached the top, he noticed his pumpkin lantern missing and the ground thirty feet below. The bluish flame turned into a blue cloud and descended upon him.
 
The Brigade reached the scene too late! Jonathan’s pumpkin lay smashed on the ground, smoldering. The blue cloud carrying him away faded fast in the distance.
 
Everyone got in their old-time fire engines and carriages and sailed through the sky after him. Captain Saint George ordered the aerial ladder extended to the fast-fleeing cloud. Climbing to the end, he reached out a gloved hand to the boy. “Grab hold of my hand!”
 
Jonathan tried and tried.
 
The Captain’s hand reached within an inch of Jonathan’s when the sun peeked above the horizon. Jack-O’-Lantern’s blue cloud disappeared. One by one, the fire engines, the horses, the firemen, and finally Captain Saint George vanished. Jonathan fell and fell until . . .
 
. . . he awoke in bed.
 
Throwing back his blankets, he saw he wore pajamas and not a fireman’s helmet and slicker. He ran to his window and looked out at dawn. Smoke had not blackened the porch from fire. A burnt jack-o’-lantern lay collapsed on the doorstep and smelled of pumpkin pie. He looked for signs of the Ghost Pumpkin Fire Brigade. Boot prints, carriage tracks, or droppings had not marred and scarred the lawn. “I’ve been dreaming,” Jonathan concluded, disappointed. “I must have eaten too much candy.”
 
Reluctantly, he decided to have one last piece of candy before he washed up for breakfast. Reaching into his trick-or-treat bag, he felt the tinkling of something metal and pulled it out. There in Jonathan’s hand lay a pumpkin-shaped firemen’s badge emblazoned with the letters “G.P.F.B. Co. No. 5.” On the back, writing inscribed:
 
“Never underestimate the value of a life safety net.
—Capt. St. George.
P.S.—Happy Halloween.”


There's No Such Things as Ghosts writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
Write a story where a skeptic in the supernatural becomes a believer through a terrifying encounter with a ghost.

Recognized


The Irish folktale of Stingy Jack and his turnip lantern, Clement Moore's poem "T'was the Night Before Christmas," the films "The Wizard of Oz" and "Ghostbusters," Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol," Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Halloween Tree," the Book of Judges where Gideon led into battle 300 chosen men armed with torches hidden in pitchers, the cartoon "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," and the comic strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland" are among many inspirations for this ghost story. A firefighters' magazine in 1986 published this anonymous author's first story.

The seed of the idea of ghost firefighters came from an incident in the author's childhood when bigots set the author's house on fire on Halloween night in an attempt to scare the black family from a white neighborhood. The author heard the perpetrators run along the side of the house and saw the orange glow in his window facing the burning porch. Other neighbors extinguished the fire using water from a backyard swimming pool.

This story is dedicated to all firefighters who gave their lives to protect us.

Please practice safety and common sense with jack-o'-lanterns this Halloween.

Photo of a carved turnip jack-o'-lantern is courtesy of Google Images.
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