Summary: A brief history of the origin of why we don't call it a Hogan'o'Lantern, though that would be much cooler.
Author's Notes: I have to acknowledge Linda for being a beautiful beta, especially as I sent this extremely last minute with a frantic note. Despite this, she delivered, but Ddue to the last-minute nature of the story (and to my own laziness), there are numerous mistakes that I have neglected to fix; these are entirely my fault and should be laid squarely at my cloven hooves—er, feet.
That said, I'm certainly not going to point them out to you.
Enjoy, have a wonderful Halloween, and kindly leave a treat for your author on the way out.
Once upon a time there was a man named Jack. Jack was a very clever man, frequently getting into trouble. He was notorious for being thrown out of taverns and pubs and stumbling home, singing loudly about his wild Irish rose the entire night, dodging the shoes and cans thrown at him through nighttime windows. He was also mischievous, playing tricks on people all the time. Despite this, Jack was well liked, and people liked listening to his witty comments and being around his fun nature.
Colonel Robert Hogan was an upstanding gentleman, intelligent, and a thoroughly honorable man. Friends and colleagues respected him and genuinely liked him. Rob Hogan, however, was quite a different matter. Rob Hogan was the very same who, in the small town of Cheshire, Connecticut, climbed trees and dropped eggs onto the people below. The notorious soaping of the town fountain was his invention and carried out under his direction. Perhaps his greatest feat was stealing out one night and rearranging every single sign in the town, until North was South and South was East and West was completely gone. By some method still unknown to the townspeople, he somehow removed the statue of local hero John Yarrow from the center square. It was gone three days before someone finally found it pointing at not the town hall as it had been, but at Rebecca Shore's house. Rob Hogan and his Hoganeers (as he persisted in trying to convince the others to call themselves) were infamous in Cheshire as being the local town pranksters. They were never caught for all their mischief, and Rob Hogan lives on.
So it was that when Kinch opened his locker and found himself facing a wall of shredded newspaper—and it must have taken months to collect so much, he thought—he sighed and realized that while he greatly respected Colonel Hogan, there were times he really hated Rob Hogan.
"London called on the radio. We have to get Hassler out by tomorrow night," Kinch said, striving to sound neutral. A few pieces of paper fluttered out and rested on the top of his shoe.
"That's doable, I think. Something the matter, Kinch?" Hogan asked innocently, hiding a grin behind his coffee mug. Kinch shot him a withering look that said he was not fooling anyone, and stuck his hands into the middle of the paper with the intention of pulling it out. Instead, he found his hands covered in a sticky substance that had the papers instantly bonding to his hands.
"Yuck," he said, pulling them out. The paper followed and trailed to the floor, connected by various strips to his hands. Looking, he saw a paint can suspended to the back of his locker by pieces of twine, leaning towards him.
"Better clean that off," Hogan said, laughing. "That stuff sets pretty fast."
Kinch knew better than to ask what the stuff was. He tried peeling the paper strips off, only to find them caught by his other hand in the same sticky trap.
Sometimes he really hated Rob Hogan.
One night, after being tossed out of yet another pub, a drunken Jack stumbled down the road. The night suddenly went quiet, and Jack saw a black figure leaning against a tree.
"Hello!" he shouted. "Who's there?"
The figure stepped forward, and Jack found himself looking at a handsome gentleman in a finely tailored suit and a neatly trimmed moustache.
"I'm the Devil, Jack," the man said. "It's your turn to die. I've come to collect your soul." He pulled out a fine gold watch and peered at the time disinterestedly. "Come along with me."
"Gestapo," LeBeau said to the group lounging outside the barracks. The sleeves of his customary red sweater were rolled up to his elbows and the rest of his arms were submerged in sudsy washing water, dousing a basketful of dirty socks and the like. His nose wrinkled in distaste as he swished them around.
"I wonder why our friendly neighborhood Hochstetter is visiting us," Hogan mused aloud.
Newkirk sighed. "Cleaning."
A glance at him to show Hogan, for once, was at a loss. "I doubt he's here to clean Klink's office."
"Us, cleaning," Newkirk clarified. "You always send us to clean whenever Hochstetter shows up,"
"Newkirk, Newkirk, Newkirk," Hogan said, shaking his head. "Would I do that to you?"
"Yes," came the immediate reply.
"No faith," Hogan said, pushing back from the barracks and stretching. "I think I'll just pop in and see for myself what he wants."
He wandered off in the general direction of Klink's office, smiling and waving at some of the prisoners who were milling around in the yard with nothing particular to do. A few of them invited him to join a game of football, but he politely declined and climbed the steps, disappearing into the office.
Newkirk frowned at his back. "That's odd. He always sends us."
LeBeau snorted. "He must have wanted to get away from the smell of your dirty socks," he said. He pulled out one of his arms to wave around one of said socks, only to find his forearms were dyed a tasteful shade of lime green.
Pointing and laughing, Carter collapsed against the side of the barracks, not even stopping when LeBeau waved one of the green socks at him threateningly.
"He got me this morning, too, LeBeau," Kinch said. "The man is a menace."
"Major Hochstetter, I really don't know what you expect—"
"From you, Klink, I expect nothing except failure," Hochstetter's voice cut through the door. Hogan winced in sympathy. "Which you continue to deliver!"
"Yes, of course, failure," Klink replied, and Hogan replaced his wince with a headshake and an eye roll. Good old Klink, always sticking up for himself and others. The man continued to amaze.
"We have information that Hassler will be moving through this area tomorrow night, probably aided by the Underground, or your prisoners, especially Hogan!"
"What could Hogan possibly do? They are prisoners, Major Hochstetter."
"That man is the most dangerous man in Germany. I will stay here the entire time to make sure nothing goes wrong, and I don't want to see his face anywhere near here, Klink."
Hogan took it as his cue, bursting through the door with an absent smile and his hands tucked into the front of his jacket.
"Good morning, Kommandant! A bit breezy out there, isn't it? Brisk, I guess you would say. German falls certainly are cold. Not as cold as Russian ones, though, I guess," he said, adding a laugh to the end. He carefully ignored Hochstetter turning a crimson shade beside him. "I just wanted to see about throwing a Halloween party. Nothing like a good old fashioned Halloween party to liven everyone's spirits, yessirree—"
"What is this man doing here?" Hochstetter shouted, pointing an accusing finger at Hogan.
Hogan's expression morphed into one of complete shock. "Why, Major Hochstetter. I didn't even see you hiding in the corner there--" He overrode Hochstetter's protests that he was not hiding, Gestapo never hide, and continued, "or else I would have invited you." He turned back to Klink. "Please, sir? The guys would love it. Bobbing for apples, caramel popcorn balls, maybe a few pumpkins. Nothing fancy."
"Hogan—" Klink began.
"Hogan!" Hochstetter yelled.
"Hogan," Hogan said blithely. "Now that we all know my name, how about it?"
"Get out of this office!" both of the German officers shouted, pointing to the door.
"Halloween party and the boys will volunteer for roadside duty all of next week," Hogan countered.
Klink had been bothering Hogan for weeks, urging him to convince the men to volunteer more often. He had appealed to their sense of responsibility, pride, and work ethic, none of which worked, and had fallen into bribing them. Hogan had been planning on holding out for three extra slices of bread and some extra blankets for the winter, but a plot was forming in his mind, as one usually was.
Klink visibly wavered, and Hogan sweetened the deal. "And I'll make sure the boys fix your car by next week."
"Done," Klink said immediately. Klink's car had been languishing under the tender care of Hogan's band of amateur mechanics for nearly two weeks. The only thing wrong with it, as far as Hogan knew, was the conspicuous lack of a steering wheel. Completely shot, according to head mechanic Newkirk, who delivered the news to Klink with a serious face. It had to be replaced. Hogan would just make sure it was replaced when he needed it to be.
"Klink! Who runs this camp, you or him?"
"Major Hochstetter, I couldn't help but overhearing that you were going to be staying. Why don't you join us for the party?"
"Gestapo does not go to parties," Hochstetter said with a sneer.
Hogan looked him up and down. "I can't imagine why not. You'd be a hit. I'll bring an orange hat and you'll look perfect for Halloween."
With that parting shot, he closed the door after him and skipped down the stairs two at a time, heading back to the barracks.
"It's set! We're having a Halloween party, boys," Hogan said as he walked in. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table, warming himself by the stove.
"A what?" Newkirk said, flipping a card onto the table. Hogan watched as he laid another one down on top of it.
"A Halloween party. I figured we'd do decorations tonight and put them up tomorrow. I've already talked Schultz into going into town for us and buying some supplies."
"Sir, may I ask a question?" Another card was flipped onto the table.
"Are you feeling ill?"
"I'm fine, Newkirk," Hogan said, taking another sip of his coffee. "In fact, I invited Hochstetter and Klink to our party."
A chorus of protests met this, and Hogan waved his coffee mug around for silence. Kinch had frequently expressed an open curiosity on how he did that without spilling a drop, but Hogan had yet to let him in on the secret.
"And while Hochstetter and Klink are otherwise occupied, our Herr Hassler will go up through the tunnels and through the woods, to Grandmother London's house."
"Sometimes, sir, you frighten me," Newkirk said, shuffling his cards together.
"I frighten myself sometimes," Hogan replied with a smile, watching as Newkirk's cards stubbornly refused to cooperate.
"What is this stuff?" Newkirk said, peeling two of the cards apart and staring in disgust at the brown sticky film on them.
"Let me guess: leftovers from this morning," Kinch said.
Hogan smiled. "Waste not, want not. If I were you, I'd get to work on decorations."
Jack was frightened, as he was young and did not want to die. He wept and pleaded, but the Devil remained unmoved.
But Jack was a terribly clever man, and he soon thought of a trick.
"Please," he begged the Devil, "One last apple for my last day of earth!"
"Then you'll come along willingly?" the Devil said.
"Oh, yes! Yes, indeed, I will," Jack promised.
"Very well. Go get one." The Devil waited impatiently as Jack found a nearby apple tree and tried to climb it, falling once, then twice, then a third time.
Now the Devil got tired pretty soon and snapped, "Let me!" and Jack stood aside to let the Devil climb the tree. As soon as he was up in the branches, Jack pulled out a pocketknife and carved a cross into the side of the tree.
The Devil realized he had been tricked and shook his fist at Jack.
Hogan took a step back and nodded his approval to the decorating committee. The recreation room had paper dyed orange and black strung up around the room. A continuous chain of little white paper ghosts were cut out—"Carter's idea," Newkirk said, rolling his eyes—and someone had collected several dust bunnies and spread them out to make fake cobwebs.
"Remind me to have the men sweep under the beds better," Hogan said.
"Disgusting," Malone muttered, walking past.
Kirke trailed after him, shrugging philosophically. "It's Halloween. It's supposed to be disgusting." He brightened suddenly. "Look, we even have real spiders!"
Hogan shook his head, walking over to where Kinch and Newkirk were setting up the turnip carving contest. The promise of spiced cake had Schultz drooling and eager to buy the biggest and best there were for them. Klink had protested over the carving knives until Hogan had pointed out that the German guards had guns.
In another corner was the punch bowl, filled with wassail from a recipe that had been passed down through generations of Schultz's wife's family.
"Actually," he had confided to Hogan while pouring it into the bowl, "she got it from a cookbook. But I pretend to not know."
Finally there was the barrel filled with fresh red apples bobbing invitingly in the water. Carter bragged all day about how he was the crowning champion of apple bobbing in his hometown. He was currently standing next to the barrel, ducking his head in an odd, repeated motion.
"Carter," Newkirk said exasperated, "what are you doing?"
"Practicing. It's been a while. I'm a bit rusty," Carter said.
Malone had been the victim of red paint on the inside of the handle on his coffee mug, Olsen found himself with a nest of mice in his sock pile, and Kirke had innocently leaned his hand against a loose board on a railing and found himself toppling onto the ground. Carter, however, had managed to elude every single trap Hogan had laid for him. Previously he had attributed this to dumb luck, but the sheer volume of escapes pointed to a more interesting possibility. Silently he had urged him closer to the tunnel bunk, only to have the young man misstep and let Baker go down and find himself sprawled in a puddle of water at the bottom. Later, he had gently guided the man towards an ingenious plot involving a balloon filled with left over paint, but Carter had narrowly dodged that one as well. It was as if he had a sixth sense about the pranks, and Hogan found himself scheming of more and more clever ways to get him. Leaving that aside for now, Hogan turned to the men.
"Looks good. We have a band?"
"One homemade fiddle, check, some pots and pans, check, and," Harris pulled out a set of something that looked remarkably like bongo drums, "drums!"
"This," he said, dipping his hand to grab one of the apples floating in the water, "will be a night to remember."
In spite of the skimpy decorations and somewhat questionable harmony of the makeshift band, the prisoners seemed to be enjoying themselves. Some of the men were ribbing Carter about something called a Great Pumpkin, others were munching happily on caramel popcorn balls that could have doubled as baseballs, and still more tried their luck at bobbing for apples.
The turnip carving contest had gone better than planned. Olsen grabbed first prize with his rude caricature of Adolf Hitler and Newkirk took second place with an admirable attempt at the silhouette of a pretty girl.
"I try my best," he said modestly when presented with the candy bar. "It might help if I could but remember what they looked like."
"Keep trying," Kinch had replied dryly.
Halfway through the apple bobbing contest, Kinch came and stood next to Hogan, talking lowly out of the side of his mouth. "We have a problem."
"What's wrong? The guards?"
Kinch shook his head. "No, they're all distracted by the wassail we smuggled them. The tunnel is blocked by snow. We'd have to get outside to open it."
"Of course," Hogan said, staring into his drink. Kinch stood by him silently, waiting for instructions. "Okay. We'll just have to smuggle him out the old fashioned way: through the front gate."
"How do you plan to do that?"
With a twinkle in his eye that Kinch recognized, Hogan gave a sudden smile and looked at Kinch. "Just bring Hassler into here as soon as you can."
"Here, sir?" Kinch cast a disbelieving look at him. "You want him here? One of the guards will realize he's not one of us."
"Now Kinch," Hogan said reprovingly, "who's going to recognize a ghost?"
Kinch caught on, laughing as he dodged across the throngs of people to ask Schultz to let him retrieve something from the barracks. After a little convincing, Schultz escorted him out, and Hogan wandered over to where Hochstetter had planted himself. Hochstetter stood hunched protectively over a glass of wassail that delivered a kick like a mule. Klink seemed to be enjoying himself, watching the festivities with an eager smile on his face, as if he were just waiting to be invited to join.
"Enjoying yourselves, gentlemen?" Hogan said, sidling up between the men. "I love your costume, Major Hochstetter. A German major. What will they think of next?"
"Hogan," Hochstetter warned, most of the bite taken out of it by three glasses of wassail.
"Why don't you join us? We're about to do the best part."
"Ghost stories," Hogan beamed. He nodded to Kinch and the men gathered around, sitting in various places or stretching out on the floor. The lights turned off and the room turned dark, lit only by the flickering flames of a few candles. Newkirk's nimble fingers lifted a flashlight off one of the guard's belts and handed it to LeBeau.
"Here you go. Make it a good one!"
Kinch reappeared and Hogan caught his eye in the darkness, a nod indicating he was ready.
"Make it scary," Hogan shouted above the rest. The noise eventually quieted and LeBeau began telling a story about the ghost of a young boy in a small French village who wandered up and down the street, crying at nights. The villagers shut their windows and pretended not to hear the tearful cries of the young boy, but the children would play a game. They would open the shutters and watch the boy, who would float gradually closer and closer to the window, and then the children would shut the shutters and scream to each other at the narrow miss. One night, a girl kept the shutters open too long, and the boy touched her. Her face grew ice cold under his ghostly hand, and she felt her heart slow until it completely stopped in her chest. With a triumphant cry, the boy and the girl disappeared. The next night, the villagers watched as a ghostly little girl trailed up and down the street, crying.
"And there she is!" LeBeau suddenly shouted, pointing to the back of the room. A white figure stood, wrapped in a pale sheet, arms outstretched. As if choreographed, which of course it was, Hogan and two other of the men doused the candle wicks and shoved a few people onto the ground to drum up the confusion. Hochstetter's voice cut above the rest, Klink caught between trying to answer the major's demands and simultaneously trying to get the guards to turn on the lights. Finally the lights flicked on, Hogan leaning nonchalantly against the wall and smiling.
"Sorry about that, Kommandant," he said casually.
"Hogan!" Klink shook his finger at him. "What was that about?"
He shrugged. "I just thought it'd spook some people. Just some good natured fun, Colonel."
Hochstetter marched up to Hogan, glaring at him. "Where is the man who played the ghost? I want to see him immediately!"
"Right here," Kinch said, pulling a sheet off. "Did I scare you?"
"What is going on here?"
"It was just a joke," Hogan said reproachfully. "All in the good Halloween spirit, sir. I admit, I should have told you, but that would have ruined the fun."
Hochstetter turned red again, trembling with anger. "Something is going on here, I know it! And I know that you," he jabbed a finger at Hogan, "are in the middle of it. You always are."
"Just a harmless prank, Major," Hogan said. "I don't know why you're so upset."
Hochstetter stared at him, shaking his fist, before finally giving in and turning to face Klink. "I am leaving, Klink, and all of this will be in my report!" With a dramatic flourish that Hogan silently admired, Hochstetter disappeared in a huff, driving off in a car that had about one hundred and ninety pounds more in the trunk than it had when entering the camp. Hogan hid a smile at the thought of Hassler escaping via the transportation of those who were chasing him.
Carter jumped in suddenly, brandishing the flashlight in everyone's faces.
"Who goes next?"
"I'll go, thank you," Olsen said, snatching the flashlight away and gesturing to Hogan to turn out the lights. "Once, there was a very pretty girl, who always wore a green ribbon around her throat…"
In the middle of bending down to pick up the sheet lying discarded on the floor, Hogan leaned in close to Kinch. "Did it go off without a hitch?"
"Smooth as butter. He's in the trunk of our pet Gestapo agent's car as we speak."
"Sir, what were you planning on doing if someone had turned on the lights and seen us running out?" Kinch asked, not really certain he wanted to know the answer.
Hogan folded the sheet in half. "I told you this would be a night to remember, didn't I?"
The Devil, fuming, asked Jack what he wanted.
"Never take my soul," he said.
The Devil agreed, and Jack carved the cross off of the tree. The Devil, furious from being tricked by a human, left Jack alone on the road.
But the story doesn't end there, dear reader, for the very next All Hallows Eve, Jack was thrown out of the same old pub and stumbled home drunk. This time he did not make it home and he fell down on the side of the road, stone dead. Jack found himself at the gates of heaven and pleaded to go inside, but St. Peter refused, sending Jack away. Jack found himself at the gates of hell and pleaded to come inside, but the Devil refused, reminding Jack of his promise never to take his soul. Mockingly, the Devil tossed a smoldering ember outside of the gates to Jack.
"This will light your way as you wander," he said.
Jack felt the ember dying in his hand. He picked up a turnip and carved a hollow into it, placing the ember inside and holding it aloft like a lantern.
And so he wanders, searching for a place to call home.
Hogan and the men sat around the table, congratulating themselves on a job well done and sipping on hot cocoa that LeBeau made to celebrate. If anyone had noticed Hogan's sleight of hand in dumping half a cup of salt into Carter's mug, it was not remarked upon.
"A toast," Hogan said loudly, lifting his little tin cup in salute. "To Hassler, and Halloween!"
"Hear, hear," the men cheered.
Hogan took a giant swallow of his, promptly spitting it out across the table.
"How in the world—" he began, bewildered. He cut off and stared at Carter in equal parts frustration and admiration. Carter sat with a small, please smile on his face, sipping his cocoa blissfully.
"I wasn't just the crowning apple bobber, sir," he replied smoothly.
Olsen let out a congratulatory whoop, and the others slapped him on the back.
"Carter," Hogan said, rinsing out his cup and pouring a new one, "there are unplumbed depths in you."