Jack O’ Lantern - A Halloween Story
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =I’ve handled some long term cases before, but this one was the granddaddy of them all. Frank Reynolds handed most of his open cases down to me when he retired, but he kept this one back. He had been working on it for over fifty years, and hoped he could solve it before he died. He didn’t, so he left it to me.
It seems that some sort of serial kidnapper has been striking every ten years on Halloween in a small town in upstate New York. He is considered a kidnapper rather than a killer because no bodies have ever been found. In fact, most of the disappearances have been treated as runaways. But Old Frank knew they were not. Five times, he tried to tell the authorities what they were dealing with and five times they threw him out of their offices.
Maybe if he had just stuck to the cases he had personally investigated rather than dragging in old newspaper accounts going back to the early 1800's, they might have been a little more attentive to what he had to say. Kidnappings that were over 200 years old don’t exactly fall in the current cases file.
Frank passed away last year, and in his will, he bequeathed me all of his files on what he called “The Jack O’Lantern Kidnapper.” The only explanation was a note taped to the outside of the first box. It read, “W, I hope you can solve this. I never could.”
I wondered about the name Frank gave this case until I read the entire file. The victim from thirty years ago had a younger sister. The younger sister swore that twenty years ago– ten years after her big sister had disappeared– just as she was about to leave for a Halloween party, a ghostly apparition of her sister appeared to her and warned her to stay home... or at least to not attend that particular party. The apparition said very clearly, “Beware, Jack O’Lantern will strike tonight.”
One of the young women who attended that party was never seen again.
I went back and reread the sister’s deposition several times. Her words throughout the interview were very clear and concise, but when she recalled this particular portion of what her sister’s apparition had said, she stated that it was, “Beware, Jack O’Lantern,” not “Beware, The Jack O’Lantern.” Frank even asked her if those were the exact words spoken by the apparition, and she said, “Yes.”
“You missed it, Frank,” I said out loud as I went through the file a second time. “The ghost gave you the perp’s name. It’s Jack.”
Unlike the police and others in authority, I believed what Frank had to say. There was someone– or something– that had been kidnaping young girls on Halloween for over two hundred years.
I ignored the time between the kidnappings and treated it as any other serial crime case and tried to find what the twenty missing women had in common.
I discovered that there wasn’t any particular physical “type,” but they were all between eighteen and twenty-five. They were all beautiful. And they all had a reputation for being just a little on the wild side. That last bit isn’t in any of the reports, but if you read between the lines it is there. A mention that the parents first thought she might have run off or that she didn’t come home because she was out drinking with her friends says a lot about the young woman. One parent back in the Roaring Twenties said, “We didn’t think anything of it at first because you never knew what little Gloria was going to do.”
The other thing that I found as I read through some of the oldest cases was that all of the girls back then were Irish and every single one of them had attended a community Halloween party put on by the O’Lochrin family. I put the Irish connection down to the fact that back then no one but the Irish really celebrated Halloween. But I didn’t totally forget it.
I checked out the O’Lochrin family and discovered that they were old money– really old money– and had come over from Ireland forty years before the great potato famine forced so many to turn to the New World for their very survival. They were scions of the community and had always given back to the community in various ways, including a yearly Halloween party which they had sponsored in one form or another for twelve generations. More recently– for the past hundred years– it was two parties. The first, beginning early in the evening, was for families. The second, starting well past dark, was for adults– meaning young people with no children. The first party was held at the town civic center, which the O’Lochrin family had given the city. And the second was held at the O’Lochrin mansion itself.
The one odd thing about the family was that no men were ever mentioned. It was always two women. The elder one of the pair was always called Aunt something. The younger one, her niece, was always fresh from Ireland. Apparently when the older one passed on the younger took over the position of Aunt and another young niece was brought over from Ireland. I read through hours of microfiche of the local paper looking for obituaries or anything that would give information of what happened to the Aunt. Staring into an old-fashioned film reader for hours on end I found nothing except an intense desire to form a local committee to digitize these old records and get them on the internet so people– meaning me– wouldn’t have to read at least the headline of every damn article in two hundred years of small town papers.
One thing I found was of interest... at least of enough interest to go through all the steps and processes to print something out of these old records, was newspaper photographs of the two women. Looking at the photos in which the two women appeared, I noticed that the younger woman always looked like the younger woman from twenty years before. And the aunt always looked like the aunt from twenty years before. It was almost like they switched places every ten years.
“Holy shit!” I yelled when I found a more modern image of the two women and compared it to one from one hundred and forty years ago. They were the same. These two women were doing something to renew themselves and they were doing it every ten years at Halloween.
A few moments later, my loud “Son of a bitch!” almost got me kicked out of the library. One of the librarians came over to hush me and inform me of library rules. “I’m sorry about the yell,” I said to her calmly, “but I just figured out who the Jack O’Lantern killers are. And it’s been ten years since the last girl disappeared.”
The librarian’s eyes got wide and she stared at me for a long while. Then she said softly, “God be with you,” She took my hand and added, “You will need it. You’re not the first to try to find these girls.”
“Frank Reynolds came in here, didn’t he?” I asked.
She nodded and then answered, “But he wasn’t the first. Some got closer than he did, but they died. I understand Frank died a natural death before he got too close.”
“Frank was my friend,” I said. “He left me his files and a written request to find out what happened to the girls.”
“Let the dead seek the dead,” she said softly.
“I promised,” I replied. “Besides, now that I know what is happening, I owe it to those girls to stop it.”
“Go to the party at the mansion,” the woman said, “and stay close to the stairs. If a girl goes up those stairs with someone, she will never come back down.”
She then grabbed my hand and said very slowly, “Do not fail, Mister W. If you do, the price for me giving you that information will be my death.”
She turned and walked back to the main desk. I stood there for several minutes looking at the stack of printed pages in my hand and then walked out to my car.
My next stop was a friend’s costume shop. I needed a costume that would allow me to blend in and mix with the crowd. He had other ideas, or at least I thought he did.
“What do you mean go as death?!” I sputtered. “I will look really non-conspicuous standing there in all black with a seven-foot scythe.”
“Calm down,” he said. “You will be wearing a full-length robe and your face will be covered with two layers of black gauze. No one can possibly recognize you.” He paused and then said, “And no one will know that you are older than anyone else there”– That got a glare from me.
He raised both hands as if he were pushing back something and said, “You don’t get it. Yes, you should stand out in this costume... but you are death. No one wants to look at death. Everyone will notice you, but they won’t remember you. They will all glance at you and then look away and erase you from their memory. It’s a terrible costume to wear to a party if you want to get laid, but if you want to be left alone...” He shrugged his shoulders and held up his hands out from his body. I bought the costume.
I was really hoping my friend was right as I walked up the broad steps to the O’Lochrin mansion using the huge scythe like a walking stick. From the voices inside everyone was having a really good time– and yes, everyone was younger than I am. I used very small steps as I glided as smoothly as I could into the huge party room so I would look even more like death, himself. In the old days it would have been called the Great Hall, but now I was just directed to the Party Room.
I have always wondered why Halloween brings out a woman’s inner slut. I’ve never complained, but it seems that the costume allows a young woman to be much more daring than she would have been if she were not in costume. Maybe the Naughty Nurse outfit allows her to play a character and set her real self aside for the evening. For whatever reason, the room had a good supply of slutty costumes revealing a tremendous amount of flesh.
When you add free alcohol to those slutty costumes things get even more interesting. Several of the costumes had been modified by the girls wearing them after they arrived– and probably after several free drinks. I could see one Naughty Policewoman who obviously should be wearing a pair of tight blue shorts. They were tied to her billy club as she danced with a male counterpart who was dressed in a much more realistic costume... or perhaps he really was a policeman.
There was no outright sex on the dance floor, but I could hear the sounds of passion coming from the shadows. At one point a very inebriated waif in a toga that revealed more than it hid wobbled up to me and said, “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to give death a blow job.”
Normally I wouldn’t have turned her down, but tonight I had to remain vigilant and watchful for any young lady trying to go upstairs. I raised my voice as high as I possibly could and said in a falsetto, “I’ve wondered that myself.”
I almost started laughing at the young woman’s surprised expression as she said, “Oh... well... no... in that case...” and backed slowly away from me.
At midnight, the O’Lochrin women made their appearance. They signaled for the music to stop and said loudly, “It is midnight, time to bring Jack O’Lantern to life.”
That really got my attention.
The older of the two women was holding a huge turnip with the root still attached. The body of the turnip had been carved into a grotesque face with a small mouth and eyes that reminded me of the hollow sockets of a skull. The younger woman went over to the fireplace and returned holding a glowing ember in a pair of small tongs. She placed it in the hollowed-out turnip and suddenly the eyes glowed orangish-red. When the older woman placed the top back on the turnip, I could see small wisps of smoke coming from vents in the lid. She held the old-style Jack O’Lantern high above her head and said loudly, “Halloween has officially begun.”
The carved turnip is actually a very good design. The heat of the ember creates a draft like a miniature fireplace and air is drawn in through the mouth and rises out of the top. The ember, which had been nearly out, now glowed brightly as the two women walked among the partygoers. Frank’s notes had said that the women would sometimes wander through the town with a Jack O’Lantern and walk through all of the parties before returning to the mansion. I had pictured a pumpkin in my mind, but the turnip, with its grotesquely carved face, was truer to the original Irish origins of Halloween.
I tried to keep my eyes on the women, but they soon got lost in the crowd. I returned to keeping watch on the stairs and a few minutes later I saw it. A young woman in a very tight Wonder Woman outfit was starting up the stairs with the O’Lochrin women. I wasn’t sure that was what I should be watching for, but then I remembered the words of one victim’s mother from sixty or so years back. She had said, “She wouldn’t have willingly gone somewhere with a man. I’m not even sure she liked men.”
Maybe all the victims were lesbian... or at least bi-curious. Maybe the kidnapper was a Jill, not a Jack. In any case, I glided over to the steps and followed the three women upstairs.
Either they didn’t notice I was following them or they were unconcerned about my presence. That second option really worried me. They walked down the hallway to a smaller set of stairs that led to the upper floors of the mansion. I followed them to the top floor, which I had been told was empty and unused.
The top floor had perhaps originally been intended as a smaller ballroom. Now it looked like it was a Halloween museum. There were mannequins dressed in costumes from the early 1800's up to the current time. The most recent was a nurse’s outfit that may have been naughty in its day, but would be considered almost conservative today.
The one thing out of place in the museum was a large, four-poster bed in the middle of the display. The two women led Wonder Woman to the bed. The older woman placed the carved turnip in a special stand that seemed to be a part of the bed. Then they removed their clothes.
The younger woman appeared to be a very fit forty or so. She had a very nice body. The older woman looked at least eighty. Her body was not a pleasing sight. After they were both naked, they began undressing Wonder Woman. I thought it strange that she didn’t resist, but decided to wait a little longer to see exactly what was happening.
The older woman lay with Wonder Woman on the bed while the younger one stood alongside and stroked Wonder Woman’s legs. Soon the older woman was between Wonder Woman’s legs licking and nuzzling.
This was definitely weird, but there was still nothing I could go to the police about. I didn’t know for sure that Wonder Woman was not a willing participant as she lay there panting and moaning.
Then all of a sudden she raised her upper body and looked over at me. “Help me,” she gasped. “She’s a succubus. She is killing me.”
I reached for my revolver, but the younger O’Lochrin turned and stepped between me and the bed. “Your weapon is useless, Mr W,” she said haughtily. “Even the silver bullets with a wooden center cannot harm us.” She laughed and said, “Stronger men than you have tried to stop us.” After a pause and a smirking smile, she added, “They are dead.” She laughed again. “You, however,” she said, still laughing, “will become part of our museum.”
I was about to test whether the silver thirty-eight slugs with a wooden “stake” in the center of them would have any effect on a succubus when Wonder Woman lifted herself up again and stared straight at me. “Kill Jack,” she gasped. “Jack gives them their power.”
Six shots through the front of my costume tore the hell out of the fabric, but they did more than that to Jack and the O’Lochrin women. My first shot went straight through the turnip, exploding it like a watermelon. I then double-tapped each of the O’Lochrins. I wasn’t sure it would do any good, but I wasn’t going to go down with a full weapon. I used my final chamber to blow what was left of the Jack O’Lantern out of its holder on the bed.
If the six shots hadn’t brought people up from the party, the long, loud, shrill screams from the O’Lochrin women surely would have. In just a few minutes I could hear pounding feet on the stairs. Two off-duty police officers who had been acting as security for the party burst into the room with their weapons drawn. I had already placed my weapon on the floor, removed the covering from my face, and was standing there with my arms out from my body and my hands clearly visible.
“You shot them!” one of the policemen shouted.
“Yes,” I said calmly, “but before you make any arrests, I think you need to examine the bodies.”
One officer kept his weapon leveled on me while the other quickly went to the bodies. “They’re mummies!” he exclaimed. “These bodies have been dead for months... if not years.”
“They were succubi,” I said slowly, “but that might be a bit difficult to explain in your reports.” I nodded toward the open room on the other side of the bed and added, “but nowhere near as difficult as that.”
The officer didn’t seem to understand, so I pointed to the museum display and the mannequins who were beginning to move. One of them looked at the policeman and asked, “Where am I?”
“When are you is a better question,” I said. The costumed women were now gathering together and speaking softly to each other.
I turned back to the policeman and said, “It would be much better if I didn’t figure at all in this. You heard screams and came up to this floor to find the O’Lochrin women mummified and you rescued twenty-five women who had gone missing on Halloween.”
I gave him a grim smile, “The hard part is going to be explaining that one of the missing women went missing on Halloween two hundred and fifty years ago.”
His eyes opened very wide. Then he said, “I think I need to get my supervisor down here.”
I walked over, crushed the pieces of the Jack O’Lantern with my boot and said, “I think it’s time for death to leave the scene.” He just stared at me as I picked up my revolver and walked out of the room.
I stayed in town for a week in case the police wanted to talk to me, but no one came around. The story in the news was that twenty-five young women had been kept captive by the O’Lochrin sisters. The rescued women were judged to be suffering from severe PTSD and were being kept out of the public eye at a local treatment center.
It was late in the day and I was about ready to check out of my motel when there was a soft knock at the door. When I opened it, a petite, young, blonde stood there in a conservative business-style suit. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place where I had seen her face.
“You were at the party,” she said as she stepped into the room. “You were death, weren’t you?”
I didn’t answer, and she continued, “I thought you might be the kidnapper,” she said, “but after you brushed me off I went back to trolling the crowd.”
“You were the toga lady,” I said softly.
“And a private detective,” she said with a smile. “I grew up in this town and I knew that those girls didn’t run away.”
“But you were looking for a man,” I said.
She said nothing, but her face told me everything. “So was I,” I said. “I was looking for someone who called themselves Jack O’Lantern. But when the women took that weird turnip upstairs, I followed them.”
“So was I,” she said haltingly, “... looking for Jack O’Lantern.” She smiled at me and said, “But I speak Gaelic... learned it from my grandmother.”
“And? ...” I said.
“And the Gaelic word for lamp is lóchrann,” she said, “so the Jack O’Lantern kidnapper was Jack O’Lochrin. I figured he was a cousin or weird uncle or something who only came out when he could be disguised, like at Halloween.”
“But you didn’t know the kidnappings had been going on for two hundred years,” I said.
She shrugged her shoulders indicating I was right. Then, after a long pause she asked softly, “Did you kill them?”
“I killed Jack,” I answered. “Without him, they shriveled up.” She shuddered slightly. “They were some form of succubi,” I said, “but they depended on the power held in that turnip.”
She looked confused. “You were there,” I said. “You heard them say they were going to bring Jack O’Lantern– Jack O’Lochrin by your reckoning– to life. The power in that turnip, whatever it was, somehow got much greater on Halloween... and evidently even greater when they put a fiery ember in it. Its power probably helped them seduce– or whatever– a young girl. She would go willingly with them back to their bedroom museum. That’s where they did their succubus thing and sucked the life out of them.”
“So it’s over,” she said softly.
“It’s over,” I said. “The O’Lochrin sisters or whatever their names might have been are dead. The turnip is smashed and broken. It’s all over.”
“Not quite ALL over,” she said unbuttoning her jacket. She again smiled at me and said, “I believe I offered you a blow job.” As she slid her skirt down to the floor, she added. “And I think you are up to much more than that before morning.”
I called the motel office and extended my stay.
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END OF STORY
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