Jack met William on the top floor of Countess Borsala's residence. The room the boy had slept in nights before had been set aside as a private place for him to haunt, and the others knew that they could find him here at times.
“Hello, wee spirit,” the old man said. His lower lip was heavily scarred, and several of his teeth were missing, but the wound packing and handkerchief were gone.
The boy didn't respond. He was staring out the window toward town.
“Have ye been. . . getting up to things?” Jack asked.
The boy looked at him quizzically but still did not respond.
“I like to talk, as ye know, but I'm not so good at a conversation. What are ye doing up here alone?”
“I'm missing the cake my grandma used to make every fall. Since she's dead, and I'm dead, I was wondering. . .”
“She'd be too far gone now. Ye leave the world o' the livin', then you leave the land o' the dead, and ye go beyond.”
“To heaven or hell?”
“You don't know?”
“We know as little of the worlds beyond as the living do of the land of the dead.”
William turned away from the window at last. “But you know there's a hell, because you got away from there.”
“What ye call hell, wee one. . . it's a prison. It's a black abyss to hold lost souls Old Scratch finds wandering. He takes them down there for company, and for light. He burns the souls like a candle.”
“Do bad people go there?”
“Bad people are known to find their way straight in, aye, and they burn, but they only make smoke. Old Scratch wants the souls of the innocent, because they burn so bright. Some say that's the worst, because when they light up the abyss, all the prisoners can see what's around them, and the abyss is the one place seeing is worse than fearing.”
“So that's what he came up here for?”
“Aye, the old man's come up with his pitchfork, workin' on his own harvest. But I can protect ye, boy, for a price.”
William feared where this was going. He had never heard of Jack making a deal with anyone that worked out for the best. “What's the price?”
“Come with me.”
“Everywhere! On me travels. I tour the world, wee lad. I seen everything a tenth time already. With you, I could see it again, but through young eyes, and I won't. . .” he trailed off.
“Won't be so lonely. I'm not like ye scarecrow. No one looks forward to me comin' back to town each year. They all just me co-workers.”
The boy turned back to the window. “You can't buy a friend, Mr. Jack. You're alone because you lie, and you make bad deals with people.”
“This be a good deal, boy. Ye see the world, ye be safe with me. What are ye going to do around here after the harvest? Walk up and down the streets by yeself? Ye think yer friend the scarecrow will still be around? He shan't be back for a full year.”
“I guess I'll move on like the other spirits. Maybe I'll find my grandma.”
Before he even finished the sentence, Jack o' the Lantern was chuckling. “Ye think it'll be so nice? Just up and move on? Did ye have a good time dyin' before?”
William thought of the boiling pot.
“It'll be worse for ye. Worse than what she did. The old witch is kind in her way. She's only human. She only knows the limits of human suffering. There's worse beyond, ye know. Worse than ye've seen.”
“You say that because you're afraid.” The boy turned and pointed at the old man before him. “Afraid! That's why you stayed the same so long, and why you're all alone now.”
“It's good to be afraid, young one. It's kept me alive, strong, wealthy. It'll keep ye out of the pit, if you're smart. It's in yer best interest to consider my deal. Scratch don't make deals, and I come up with a way to stop him.”
William sighed. “First, can you tell me why we did what we did?”
“What are ye talking about?”
“At the asylum. When we let that man out.”
Jack smiled. “'Twas a good night. I knew ye were one of us, the way ye handled yourself. We were setting free one of our fellows, that's all.”
“But why? You and scarecrow put a lot of work into it.”
“'E's a friend.”
“You already told me you don't have friends. Stop lying to me, or I'm not even going to think about your stupid deal.”
“Okay, boy.” Jack came closer and knelt down on the floor. “Okay. That man in there, he don't know his own name, but it might as well be Kill. Ye give him a knife, and he goes to work. If he don't have a knife, he'll make do with whatever. An he's a man. All of us, when the harvest comes on Halloween night, even when we're most powerful, we cannot enter the living's abode. They close the shutters and pull the blinds, an' we can't do a thing. He can go wherever he wants. He's one o' them. He can march right in their house and send the harvest to us.”
“A killer,” the boy said. “So he's out there right now. He's out there killing people right now.”
“He's a hard worker,” Jack confirmed, “and loyal to his cause.”
And suddenly the boy was gone. He had faded from the room before Jack had time to dissuade him.
“Ye'll be back,” Jack said to no one, laughing. “When ye see Old Scratch, ye'll be back.”