I donned the nylon coveralls of brilliant silver and blue. The word “Thunderbird” was blazed across my chest. I placed the mask over my face and pulled the rubber band over my head. Turning off the bathroom light, I climbed upon the vanity so I could get a good look at the new me. In the gloom of the small space, lit only by the hallway lamp, I could see a magnificent bird-man looking back at me in the near dark mirror. No longer was I a small boy, but I was a powerful master of storm-filled sky. I could feel the power of lightning and thunder build within my small chest and radiate through my arms and up to my hands, ready to be discharged through my fingertips. I was sure all that saw me would marvel at my terrifying beaked face, and avert there gaze from my large raptor eyes of steel. Even adults would have to emit shouts of awe in the face of the sublime.
With new confidence, I moved to the living room, where my mother gave me an affirming smile, but I could sense her astonishment at my miraculous transformation. My sister and brother, a red-faced devil and the beautiful Cinderella soon joined me in the evening’s masquerade. My father supplied us with an enormous trick-or- treat bag; each adorned with a black cat and grimacing jack-o-lantern. After one last minute equipment check, we headed out into the night to raid the neighborhood of all its sweet riches.
As we departed the house, I could hear my toddler brother cry, realizing that he was being left behind. My heart was heavy for the lad, but the mean trick-or –treat streets were no place for a silken hair, chubby armed wobbly mortal.
The evening was cool and the wind blew leaves about the street. The fresh air eased the discomfort of my mildly suffocating plastic mask and I began to relax as we made our way through the enchanted night. Jack-o-lanterns glowed and flickered on porches and the street was full of all kinds of spooky creatures, but I had no fear, for I was the mighty Thunderbird. However, I must admit that I also took some comfort in the fact that my father was following three steps behind, taking care not to follow to close and “cramp our style.” Haunted house after haunted house surrendered their treasures to the creatures of the night. Popcorn balls, wax lips and mustaches, pixie sticks and atomic fireballs filled our treat bags. We moved down the ghost filled path with joy and excitement, our laugher floating up to the waning silver moon. Then with bags and pockets full, we ran home to take stock of our spoils. It was Halloween night, and all was right with the world, and as always I took one of my best pieces of candy and put it on my nightstand just in case Deadwood Jack came to my door.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I had heard many stories about Deadwood, and I believed them all despite the fact that I had never seen him. It was my Uncle who told tales of Deadwood to me and my siblings, and he swears that he once saw Jack moving threw a corn field on a storm filled Halloween night. My Uncle says that Deadwood once was a boy just like me, and like all boys, he spent his time in the woods and fields looking for adventure. However, unlike most boys, Jack was a singularly cruel boy and he loved to torment small creatures in the forest. So terrible were Jacks deeds, that a witch from the deepest part of the woods took notice of his dark activities. It was unfortunate for Jack that he entered the gaze of this witch, for as terrible as he was, she was more terrible. She had lived so long among the trees that she had become part of the woods and any attack on the forest was as an attack on her. So she protected her forest with the cunning of the fox and the power of the bear. One night she tied a pure white rabbit to the post of a corn field scarecrow, a prize she knew Jack could not resist. When Jack appeared to snatch the animal, he was swept up by a whirlwind and hurled at the scarecrow. Upon impact his body did not break, nor did he feel any pain, but he knew in an instant that something was terribly wrong. With the terror surpassing all terrors, he soon realized that he had become the scarecrow. It was then the witch of the deep woods appeared before him. Her beauty was stunning and the fairly like creature before him momentarily held him mesmerized. But soon his dark anger rose in his chest and he shouted a sinister threat. Shaking a wooded fist to the heavens, he swore to destroy all before him, to disintegrate the very fiber of the witch’s world. Her response was to approach Jack and look him in the eyes. Jack, still stuck fast upon the wooded pole, defiantly returned an icy stare.
No one knows what Jack saw in her eyes, but it is said that he became still and quiet and a line of tears rolled down his cheek, glistening like a small stream in the silver moonlight.
When his tears hit the earth, a small pool formed and softened the ground below him. Soon the pole that held him began to sink in the soft ground and Jack descended to the field. He touched the ground with the creak of bending wood and he balanced with ease upon his newfound feet. He looked about, the witch was gone, and he was alone. He sat down for the longest time and stared into the night. For the first time in his life, Jack began to see the beauty about him and he felt at peace in the night field. As the hours passed, he became increasingly comfortable with his new body, its lightweight limbs, its cat like night vision, and its gentle fragrance, like the cedar trees of the Great Lake's shore line. Jack walked lightly to a nearby stream, and gazed into the moonlit waters. He saw a Jack-o-lantern face peering back at him, its smiling face ablaze from a fire within. It was Halloween night, and he was Deadwood Jack, no longer apart from the natural world, but part of it. He felt as free as a bird and the memory of the wicked boy he once was quickly faded away, like snow on a spring day. So there he danced, under the moon and stars, his old life ending and his new life beginning.
So that is how the boy named Jack had become the legendary Deadwood Jack, but there is more to the story. You see, Jack eventually realized that the witch of the deep woods had given him a special gift, for she had given him a chance to save himself. By changing his form, she had also allowed him to change his heart. He knew that he must commit himself to right all the wrongs he had done. Deadwood decided that he would do this by visiting those in need upon Halloween night. It was at this time that he would go trick-or-treating for what he called “objects of sorrow”. A sickly child could drop her medicine into Deadwood’s bag and in the morning awake to a healthy new life, free from pills and potions. A man, enslaved by whiskey, could drop his bottle into Jack’s sack and wake sober and strong, no longer in need of the jug. I heard tale of a woodland hunter that had lost an eye in a hunting accident. This hunter dropped his glass eye into Deadwood’s bag and in the morning he opened a new eye to the rising sun, his perfect sight returned. Of course Jack wasn’t all business and he often stopped at the homes of children just for the fun of it. For the price of a small piece of candy, he would thrill his young audience with spooky songs and magic tricks, all the time his Jack-o-lantern eyes beaming brilliant golden light.
Tales of Jack’s miracles grew year after year, until all that had an open mind came to believe and marvel at his deeds. But the most powerful tale was that of a man from the city who had moved deep into the woods where Jack resided. He was a rich and stingy soul who never was much for helping anyone but himself. He came to the woods to hide from those he had robbed. He laughed at those who told him the tales of Deadwood Jack, and exclaimed that anyone believing in such nonsense was as "Ignorant as the day was long". But rich old man Raker was in for a surprise, because come Halloween night he was to have a midnight visitor.
That night he built a fire in his fireplace and then sat in the warm light drinking brandy and reviewing his bank account statements, marveling at the wealth he had accumulated.
A storm was building outside, making the cabin creek like an old clipper ship being tossed about by November gales. He heard the clock strike twelve and soon his drunken mind drifted to thoughts of Deadwood Jack. "Living scarecrow, what a bunch of rubbish", he said to himself.
It was then that he heard the first tap on his large wooden door, and his heart skipped a beat. He listened intently as the wind shook the mighty oaks that surrounded the cabin. Then there was another tap, followed by a faint scratching sound, like tree branches scraping on wooden planks.
“It’s those damn kids”, he thought. They’re trying to play a trick on me. Well, they can’t fool me, and with that thought he grabbed an iron from the fire. “I’ll make them wish they’d never come to Raker’s cabin”. He made his way to the front door. A sweet smell of cedar wood and wild flowers wafted up from the small crack below the heavy door. Raker opened the door with a jerk; the iron raised high above his head. What he saw outside his door made him let out a gasp and he dropped the iron from his hand. He stood mesmerized by the creature standing before him. “This is no cheep Halloween costume”, Raker thought, and the fear began to grow in his belly. The thing at his door was of unlike anything he had seen before.
Its limbs were clearly made of dead cedar branches, but they move with a flexibility and grace beyond that of humanity. His clothes were tattered, exposing a body made of a tangle of moss, vines, and other vegetation. Atop all this was a pumpkin head, its smooth segments shinning in the moonlight. But it was the face that captured and held old man Raker’s gaze, for inside the Jack-o-lantern burned a light to rival the sun. Golden beams of fire radiated from the eyes, nose, and smiling mouth of the gourd head, illuminating the cabin entrance with an eerie glow. Raker knew who stood before him, it really was Deadwood Jack. He stood steadfast and studied the creature with wonder. After a time, Deadwood moved closer and bowed before the stunned man.
Jack then began to sing, he sang a haunting song that was at once beautiful, and yet full of sorrow. Old man Raker was moved by Jack’s melody and he relaxed his tensed muscles and leaned against the doorframe, still gazing into Jacks burring eyes. He was spellbound, the song reminding him of the happy time of his youth and the simple pleasures of life he once enjoyed. He imagined that he was swimming in cool blue-green waters on a hot summer day and then walking lightly on a leaf covered path with the smell of autumn in the air.
In his dream he began to hear a soft voice, the voice of a young boy. The voice said, “All these things, free to all, shared with all, free to all.” Raker soon realized that the voice was that of Deadwood Jack, and he listened intently as Jack continued, “Abandon your sorrow, drop your burden into my treat bag and awake to a new tomorrow.” Deadwood raised his sack up high, so high it nearly touched Raker's nose. The old man turned and walked back inside the cabin and in a short time returned with bundles of money. He was about to drop it into the bag when he suddenly jumped back and shouted, “No, never!
This is my money and no one, not even a demon like you, is going to get it from me. You think you can steel my fortune with a hypnotic song and your devils trick? Go haunt some other doorstep; I will have no more to do with you. I have a gun that will surely split branch as well as bone, so take flight before I show you some fire of my own.”
That being said, old man Raker slammed the door in Deadwood’s face. He bolted the door and returned to his fire, his bottle, and his money.
He drank deeply from his bottle and laughed at his shaking hands. His head filling with liquid-pride, he boasted to himself, thinking that he must be the first man to stand up to that little monster.
He began to shout to the empty room, “No one beats Jack Raker, not even those from the other side of the River Styx. Come back and I’ll show you what I’m made of!" As he shouted he shook his fist in the air and then swung them wildly, as if boxing with some invisible foe. It was during this display of his fighting prowess that he noticed something strange. Something was wrong with his hands. Upon further inspection, he found, to his horror that his hands were made of wood. With a sensation of dread he felt his arms, his legs, and his feet. All were made of wood. He turned and faced the mirror on the wall and then let out a shrill scream when he found a Jack-o-lantern face staring back at him. From outside he heard the laughter of a young boy and he ran to the door to see the source of the joyous sound. He flung the door open and gazed into the night. He saw a young boy, skipping down the moonlit road, turning cartwheels as he moved, and whistling a hauntingly familiar tune. He listened to the boy’s fading melody and once again the music reached deep into the lost corners of old man Raker’s heart. Once again his thoughts returned to the happy memories of his childhood, moments of simple pleasure before his addiction to wealth.
After the longest time, Raker emerged from his daydream. He looked down and found the old cloth treat bag on the ground before him. He knew what he had to do. He picked up the bag and headed down the road to make his first visit of the night, his first visit as Deadwood Jack.
So now you know the story of Deadwood Jack. I think that in time you may come to believe as I do. But even if you’re not sure, take my advice and always remember put aside a treat on Halloween night, for…
When the Halloween moon is in the sky
When the pumpkin patch is knee bone high
When a midnight tap gives a heart attack
Deadwood Jack is Back