3rd March

Jack Fetches the Coal

Jack was passing an inn and fancied a pint of beer, but he’d no money. The innkeeper said, ‘If ye dae a wee job for me ye’ll get a pint for yer trouble. Away tae the cellar and fetch some coal for the fire.’

So Jack takes the coal scuttle and opens the trapdoor to the cellar and starts climbing down the ladder. After a while he thinks, This is an awfie deep cellar. And a while later he thinks, And awfie dark, tae. And some time after that he thinks, I’ll just away back up and forget aboot the pint.

But at that moment he reaches the foot of the ladder. He’s in a cave piled high with heaps of loose coal, and he can see this because there’s a red light glowing, round a corner. He keeks round the corner and sees a huge roaring furnace, being stoked by the Devil, and inside it are the shapes of people burning in eternal agony.

Jack thinks, I’m no hingin aboot, but I may as well take some coal since I’m here, so very quietly he fills the scuttle, then starts back up the ladder. It’s hard work with the full scuttle but he’s doing fine till a big lump of coal slips out and falls to the bottom with a terrible crash. So now he can hear the Devil coming after him. Jack climbs faster, he can feel the weight of the Devil on the ladder below, and now he’s catching at his heels, spitting and cursing, but Jack makes it into the inn, slams the trapdoor down and stag- gers up to the bar.

‘There’s yer coal,’ he says, peching and sweating.

‘And here’s yer pint,’ says the innkeeper. ‘I was wondering where ye’d got tae.’

What Jack’s wondering is if he’s just woken up from a nightmare. ‘That’s an awfie deep, dark cellar ye hae,’ he says.

‘Aye,’ says the innkeeper, ‘but I’ll tell ye something I never hae ony bother wi, and that’s damp,’ and he gives Jack a diabolical wink. And Jack knocks his pint back in a oner, and runs for the door, and never goes near that inn again.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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