All Hallows Eve
Usual disclaimers apply: I don't own 'Hogan's Heroes' and am only borrowing them for fun, not profit.
October 31, 1944
Luft Stalag 13
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Colonel Robert Hogan poured himself a cup of what passed for coffee, and took a seat at the table in Barracks 2. Even with supplementing the coffee ration from their Red Cross packages, the end of the month meant that there was a lot less coffee and a whole lot more roasted acorn flour in the pot.
Sergeants James Kinchloe and Andrew Carter were playing yet another round of gin, and it looked like the radioman was being taken to the cleaners by the demolition expert yet again. Corporal Louis LeBeau was peeling potatoes and turnips for dinner, and Corporal Peter Newkirk was helping.
Hogan yawned, rubbing his eyes. They'd all been putting in a lot of late nights recently, and this was actually the first time in almost a month that there weren't any downstairs guests. He watched the familiar scene, listening to the quiet banter between the card players as Carter won another hand. Hogan's eyes slid past Kinch and on to the end of the table where LeBeau was steadily adding diced potatoes to the pot. The same scene had played itself out many times since their arrival at Luft Stalag 13.
The colonel rubbed his eyes again as he watched Newkirk's hands steadily carving a turnip. Hogan picked up his cup, and almost took a sip when he realized what he was seeing. Newkirk was apparently helping prepare dinner... and LeBeau was letting him.
Curiosity got the best of the man known as Papa Bear. "Looks like you've taken on a sous chef, LeBeau. How'd that happen?"
Kinchloe and Carter looked up from their cards as LeBeau shook his head. "Do you really think I would allow an –Englishman- to help with my cooking?" Gallic pride and a touch of the ongoing rivalry between the French and the English could be clearly heard in his reply, though it was tempered by the real friendship between himself and Newkirk. LeBeau put a protective hand over the pot as he continued. "Any more comments like that, mon colonel, and it's no dinner for you. Sir."
Hogan grinned and held a hand up as if defending himself from the threat. "Easy, LeBeau. I didn't mean it. I'm sorry, ok?"
The Frenchman continued with his affronted look a few moments longer before nodding. "Oui, mon colonel. Apology accepted." LeBeau went back to his peeling, 'honor' satisfied, though both he and Hogan knew it really was an act. Mostly.
Meanwhile, the 'sous chef' kept carving his turnip with a single-mindedness that one didn't usually see when chopping vegetables for the pot. Hogan took another sip of his coffee, raising an eyebrow slightly as he realized that Newkirk was using his 'pencil sharpener' to carve the turnip. The English corporal seldom showed it to anyone, and very few people outside those seated at the table even knew about the extremely sharp stiletto that resided in a hidden sheath under Newkirk's sweater.
Curiosity once again got the best of Papa Bear. "Newkirk, if you're not helping with dinner... just exactly what –are- you doing with that turnip?"
"Now if I told you that, guv'nor, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?" Newkirk glanced up, favoring the colonel with a smug grin before turning his attention back to his work. "'Sides, I'll be done in a few shakes an' you can all 'ave a look at the same time."
"Aw, come on Newkirk, just give us a peek. I mean, what can a little peek hurt?" Carter drew a card and absently stuck it in his hand, at that moment paying more attention to what he was saying than to the cards he was playing. "Boy it's a good thing we're not cats, 'cause otherwise we'd all be dead of curiosity by now." He looked at his hand, blinked, then spread the cards on the table. "Looks like I won another hand, Kinch. I almost missed it there for a second, I wasn't watching –"
"Ok, ok. You won again. I get it already." Kinch broke in on the rambling, hoping to get it stopped before Carter got into full swing. He counted up his points, then noted the total of the winning hand on the score sheet before adding everything up. "I get it, and it looks like you got me. Again. I reckon that's two candy bars I owe you." Gathering the cards, Kinch turned to LeBeau with a touch of desperation in his voice. "When's dinner, Louis? A few more rounds like this and I'm gonna wind up owing this card sharp here all of next month's Red Cross package. Please say dinner's soon enough that we don't have time to start another hand."
"Card sharp? Golly, Kinch, I really don't think I'm a card sharp." Dismayed, Carter turned to the others at the table as he went on. "I just got lucky today is all, honest."
"That you did, Andrew me boy, a bit of luck and more than a bit of teachin' by yours truly. Don't worry, though, Kinch, I'll take him down a peg or two after dinner for you. Have to keep him from getting' a swelled head now don't we?" Newkirk laid his knife down, and pulled a candle stub from his jacket pocket. He fussed with it and the turnip for a moment, others watching closely as he then lit the candle with his cigarette lighter and set his finished creation on the table. The Englishman flicked his lighter closed and leaned away from the table to stretch, both the lighter and the blade somehow disappearing in the process.
Newkirk looked around the table as the others looked at the turnip. The turnip looked back at the men, so to speak, with the steady glow of the candle flame shining through the wide-open features of the face carved into it. "Well, gents, 'ow do you like me Jack o'Lantern?"
Kinch picked up the turnip so he could take a closer look. "Hey, that's pretty good work, Newkirk, especially on something this small." He put it down so that it faced Hogan.
The colonel nodded, agreeing with Kinch. "Not bad at all." His face took on the sneaky little grin that usually meant he was up to something. "I wonder if they work on Krauts the way they're supposed to work on ghosts? You think you could make up a few dozen more, and we could put them around Klink's quarters and find out." Everyone laughed at that, and Hogan turned the glowing face toward Carter.
"Kinch is right, Newkirk." Carter held the turnip at eye level. "That is really good, why I haven't seen a Jack o'Lantern this good in years. Just one thing though, aren't they supposed to be done with pumpkins?" He set the turnip back on the table facing LeBeau and looked at Newkirk. "I mean, it's really, really good, but I've only ever seen them done with pumpkins."
Newkirk rolled his eyes and started to reply, but was cut off by LeBeau's "C'est que ce le 'Jack o'Lantern'?" All eyes turned to the Frenchman in amazement as he shrugged, then stood up to put the pot of diced potatoes and turnips on the stove. He dropped a small cheesecloth bundle into the pot, stirred it briefly and returned to his seat. "What is it for, and why did you put such a face on it?"
"Never 'eard of a Jack o'Lantern? Blimey, mate, you've got some catchin' up to do. Tell you what, I'll answer both you and Andrew at the same time, how's that?" Newkirk leaned forward, elbows on the table, and smiled. "First thing you got to remember is, we didn't have pumpkins in England until someone brought 'em back from the Colonies."
"The Colonies?" Carter asked, not getting the reference.
"He means America, Carter." Hogan answered, hoping to keep the conversation getting sidetracked.
"Oh, yeah, that's right. I guess you might call America the 'Colonies', since you're English and we did used to be English colonies and all." Carter smiled, glad to have his question answered.
"Very good, Andrew... and you still would be if not for your –". Newkirk cut himself off after catching Hogan's slight shake of his head. "Ah, right. We'll save that discussion for another time."
Hogan favored Newkirk with a small smile as he took a sip of coffee. "So where did Jack o'Lanterns come from anyway? I'd have to agree with Carter on this one. I've seen a lot of carved-up pumpkins, but never a turnip."
Before Newkirk could respond, the barracks door opened and Sergeant Richard Baker stepped in. After a quick nod to the men sitting around the table, the backup radioman turned to LeBeau with a smile. "Am I too late to chip in for dinner tonight?" He dug in his jacket pocket a moment, then held out an onion and a handful of carrots. "I know it's not much, but the produce bins over in the mess hall are pretty empty. This is all I could slip out with and not have it noticed by the Kraut supply sergeant."
LeBeau took the offering with a nod and a smile. "Oui, Baker. It is enough, and I needed an onion for the pot anyway. Merci." A few swift passes with a knife, and the newest additions were chopped and into the soup almost before Baker was able to pull a stool up to the table and join the others.
"What's this? A baby Jack o'Lantern?" Baker gestured toward the carved turnip with a grin. "It's kinda cute. Who made it?"
"A –baby- Jack o'Lantern 'e says?" Newkirk glared at Baker for a moment, then shook his head and grinned as if taking pity on yet another poor uneducated American. "I'll 'ave you know it's not a 'baby', it's a right proper Jack o'Lantern if I do say so meself. Matter o' fact, I was about to explain to the rest of the class just exactly why it is a proper one when you came in. Now, if I can have your undivided attention please –"
The Englishman was cut off once again by the opening of the barracks door. This time, it was Sergeant Joe Wilson, the camp medic, who came in. "Hey guys, I'm not late am I, LeBeau? I got called to the German mess by Corporal Langenscheidt."
Leaning forward a bit, Hogan gave Wilson a questioning look. "There wasn't any trouble, was there?"
"Oh, no, colonel. One of the cooks sliced his hand open while chopping up some cabbage, and I put a few stitches in it for him. Wilson paused, laying on the table a cloth-wrapped bundle that he'd kept hidden in his medical bag. "In fact, the cook was so happy that I'd taken care of things so it didn't need to be reported that he gave me a whole loaf of bread." As he opened the bundle, he grinned and presented the dark brown loaf to LeBeau with a flourish worthy of a headwaiter. "It's pumpernickle, but at least it ain't sawdust."
Everyone grinned as the Frenchman took the loaf with a bow. It wasn't often they saw real bread, unless Colonel Hogan was able to bargain with the Kommandant for it. Wilson found a seat, and noticed the new table decoration right away. He picked it up and gave it a close examination, then looked around the table. "Whoever made this is real good with his hands... guess that's you, Newkirk?" At the Englishman's nod, Wilson continued. "I've always thought you should join my advanced medical classes, Peter. There's some real talent hidden in you somewhere, the trick is finding it."
Carter spoke up amid the laughter that broke out following Wilson's comment. "Gosh, this has the makings of a real party. Louis' cooking us something good, and we've got real bread and everything." He looked around the barracks, suddenly realizing that it was empty except for the group at the table. "Um, where's everybody else at? I mean, if we're havin' a party, are we gonna have any more guests?"
LeBeau looked up from slicing the bread and shook his head. "No, everyone's here that's supposed to be here tonight. A few of the guys are at the German language class in Barracks Twelve, and the rest are over at Eight. I believe they said something about a team meeting for your American football game on Saturday."
"So that means no more interruptions to my story then, unless of course ol'Schultzie decides to come waltzin' through the door about now." Seven pairs of eyes turned toward the door as Newkirk spoke, no one moving for a few moments until it seemed clear that the door would remain closed, at least for a while. "I think we're safe." The Englishman rapped his knuckles on the wooden tabletop, and grinned. "Just for luck, you know."
"What story is that, Peter?" Wilson gave Newkirk a curious look.
"Oh, I was just about to tell these gentlemen here about how Jack o'Lanterns came to be. I'd already covered the part about how they're made from turnips 'cause pumpkins aren't from England originally."
Baker had an 'I didn't know that' sort of expression on his face for a moment, and while Wilson grinned, he didn't say anything.
Newkirk took a final look around the table, then began. "A long, long time ago, there was this Irish fellow they called 'Shifty Jack'. Now, ol'Jack was a thief. He'd steal anything that wasn't nailed down, though if it were, he'd take it and the nail as well. He was also a mean sort of fellow, known for goin' around and breaking things if he couldn't steal them right off. You could say he did it just for spite, but he did it just because he liked doing it.
"So late one night, Jack was moving pretty quickly down a back country road. He was in a bit of a hurry because he'd just been spotted breaking into a church, and the good folks of the town were hot on his heels. He was payin' a bit more attention to th'road behind him than in front as he went, so he wound up running right into none other than the Devil himself!
"Well, after picking himself off the ground, Jack glares at Old Nick and makes like he's gonna go on his way without botherin' to speak." Newkirk shook his head. "Not bloody likely, seein' as how the Devil had been standing there in the road waiting for Jack to show up in the first place.
"'Here now', says the Devil to Jack, 'you've done so many wicked things all your life that I decided to come get you in person, so let's go.' Jack figures he's in a real mess now, but he hasn't lived his life of crime without coming up with a few tricks now and again. So he turns to Old Nick and says, 'Ok, I'll come with you, but I'm surprised that you're giving up the chance to bedevil those lads that are chasing after me.' The Devil gets a puzzled look and wants to know what Jack means by that.
"'It's pretty simple really. Those fellows are after me because I stole money from the church, and when they catch me they're gonna want it back.' Jack held out a small leather pouch, shaking it so that the coins in it clinked together. 'So what we do is this; you turn yourself into a coin and I put you in the pouch. When they catch up, I throw the pouch at them and run off.' 'What will that accomplish?' asks the Devil, 'I'll be in the pouch and you'll be gone.' 'Simple' says Jack, 'let them count the coins, then you vanish. Later when they get back to the church, they'll count them again, and one'll be missing of course. Each will think the other stole it, which will set them to fighting between themselves, and in a church no less.'
"Well, mates, that kind of plan really appealed to Old Nick, so he turned himself into a coin, and Jack stuck him into the pouch. That, however, is where things went horribly wrong... at least from the Devil's point of view. Jack tossed the pouch all right, but he promptly sat down on it so the Devil couldn't accidentally get out."
"But Newkirk, all the Devil had to do was change back, so how could just sitting on the pouch keep him trapped like that?" Carter grinned as he spoke, clearly pleased with himself that he'd found, and solved, a hole in the Englishman's story.
"True, Carter, but you see, there was a small cross in the pouch from where Jack had robbed the church, and it was pressed right up against the coin the Devil had become. No matter that it had been stolen, it was still a holy object and could keep Old Nick from usin' his powers. About the only thing he could do was to start cursin' at Jack, and seeing how the Devil's pretty good at cursing things, it took a -very- long time before he finally wound down and got quiet.
"Finally he asked Jack what it would take to get himself free. Jack's reply was that the Devil had to promise to leave him alone. Seeing as how that cross was hurtin' him pretty badly by now, he agreed. Jack turned him loose and Ol'Nick vanished in a puff of sulfur-smoke.
"Sounds a bit like the end of the tale, don't it? And it might well have been, except for one very important thing that Jack forgot about."
Newkirk paused for a swallow of coffee, and Carter took the opportunity to chime in with "What did he forget? It seems to me that he pretty much had it in the bag. You know, what with having had the Devil trapped in his money pouch and all."
"Quite right you are, Andrew." Everyone chuckled as Newkirk reached over and gave Carter a mock punch to the shoulder. "I think my boy Carter here's almost ready to take on Old Nick himself."
"Gosh, no!" Carter's eyes widened in surprise at the comment. "I don't think that I -"
Newkirk cut in with "Relax, mate. Nobody's suggesting that you go charging into Hades with a bucket of water, you know." Newkirk grinned when he said it, though he was thinking that if anyone would give it a try, it would be Carter. He also knew that he'd be right behind his friend, bringing the mop along to finish cleaning up after Andrew J. had sorted Old Nick out.
"Anyway, what Shifty Jack forgot was that the Devil is the toff when it comes to being clever. He had made a promise, and was bound to keep any promise he made for no less than seven years. It seems there's some rules even he couldn't get around, and that was one of them. There's always a catch, though, and there wasn't anyone better at finding catches than the Devil himself.
"Jack had never said how -long- Old Nick had to leave him alone, so after the seven years was up, he was what you might call 'fair game'. Well, seven years to the night, while Jack was standing in a farmer's garden havin' himself a bit of a feast, the Devil sort of stretched out his hand so to speak, and Jack dropped dead on the spot.
"As you might imagine, that came as a bit of a surprise for Jack. One minute standing there having a bite of supper, the next, stone cold dead. After gettin' his wits about him, he made his way up to the Pearly Gates. Unfortunately for him, St. Peter saw him comin' a mile off and closed the gates in a hurry. At that, Jack sighed, and headed for the -other- place.
"Well, they saw him coming down there too, and the Devil ordered that -his- gates be closed too. Seeing this, Jack stood and banged on the gates until Old Nick finally came out to see what all the fuss was about. Jack's a bit irate by this time, and he gets right to the point. 'You've got me fair and square, so open up and be quick about it!'
"'I'll not open the gates for you now or ever, Jack.' The Devil stood behind his closed gates, watching Jack from behind the bars. 'I'll not have you and your tricks loose down here to be bothering me for eternity. Now be on your way!'
"Jack's getting a bit desperate by now. Neither Heaven nor Hades is gonna let him in, so what's he gonna do now? "' You can't just be sendin' me off to wander all alone in the dark forever!' cried Jack as the Devil started to walk away.
"'Oh very well, if that's what it's gonna take to get you to go away!' Old Nick reached down, scooped a glowing chunk of brimstone off the ground and flung it at Jack. 'Here, take this and be off with you!'
"It seems that the Devil threw that coal so hard, it knocked Jack all the way back to his body that was still laying there in the garden where he'd left it. Funny thing, though, the brimstone had landed inside a hollowed-out bit of turnip that Jack had been eating when he'd keeled over. Jack picked it up, figuring he had to have some way to carry the burnin' stone. He carved a few holes in the turnip to let the light out a bit better and started walking. Some say he's still walking today.
"Well, when folks saw that glowing light being carried by a ghost, they made sure to keep as far away as possible. After all, you don't want to be messin' about with a spiteful ghost, seein' as how you never know what sort of mean tricks they might play on you if you do. So folks got the idea that if they carried around a lantern like Shifty Jack's, it might confuse him and the other ghosts into thinking that they were ghosts as well, and so they'd be left alone.'
Newkirk grinned and looked around the table. "And that, mates, is how Jack o'Lanterns came to be, and why everyone puts one out on the front step on All Hallows Eve, since that's said to be the night that all the restless spirits are out walkin' around."
"Great story, Newkirk." "That was a good story, I'd never heard it before." "Wow. Neat story, Newkirk. I really liked the part about getting the Devil to turn into a coin. That takes guts, trying to make a deal with him like that." The Englishman leaned back, eyes half closed as he listened to the comments about the story. A performer at heart, he was happiest when he was entertaining people, and the fact that these were his closest friends made it even better.
The clatter of tin broke into his reverie when LeBeau started dishing up the soup. Newkirk went to the stove, and as LeBeau handed him a plate, the Frenchman smiled up at him, saying "Merci, Pierre. That was tres bien, a very good story, and it's a very nice Jack o'Lantern that you made."
"Thanks, Louie, glad you liked it." Newkirk held his plate up, taking a sniff of the soup before looking at the chef. "Smells lovely, mate." Dropping his voice to a whisper, he continued. "Confidentially, you make a much better potato soup than even me ol'mum, and that's sayin' something 'cause she's a great cook." With a wink and a grin, he went back to the table, leaving the French corporal temporarily speechless at the rare complement from the Englishman.
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November 22, 1945
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Newkirk sat next to the fireplace in his flat, a pint on the table as he opened an envelope postmarked 'Bull Frog, ND, USA'. As he unfolded the letter, something fell from it to the floor. He leaned down, and picked up what he discovered was a photograph. On the back was written 'Oct. 31, 1945 - Happy Halloween, Peter - Your friend, Andrew J. Carter'. He turned it over to find that it was a picture of Carter grinning like a fool as he held up a Jack o'Lantern carved from a turnip.
Laughing as he stood and went to the mantle, Newkirk gazed fondly at the picture before carefully setting it in place beside five other nearly identical photographs he'd gotten from America and France. He picked up the pint, raising it in a silent toast to old and dear friends as he sat down to read his letter.
Author's Note: Newkirk's tale of Shifty Jack and his turnip is one of the many versions of how the 'Jack o'Lantern' came to be, but it's my personal favorite.
I also found it interesting that France really didn't start celebrating Halloween until the early 1980's. This is the reason LeBeau asks "C'est que ce le 'Jack o'Lantern'?" or 'What is a Jack o'Lantern?'
Text and original characters copyright 2004 by Nancy Ware
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.