Author's Note: This is not an original piece by VL Sheridan. "Jack Tales" are Appalachian folklore, passed down in an oral tradition as oppossed to a written one. When I was in grade school a hundred year ago, the school librarian, Mrs. Martin, would read us this story every Halloween. It has a special place in my heart; hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Said one time Jack started out to hunt him a job of work. He pulled out and travelled on till he got to another settle-ment, ran across a feller told him there was a man there wanted to hire some work done. So he told Jack where the man's house was at, and Jack went over there; stopped by the gate and hollered, "Hello!"
The man came out, asked Jack what did he want. So Jack told him.
The man told Jack to come on in; asked him what his name was. Says, "Well, Jack, I've got a mill on a watercourse down the road a piece, but I've got no time to run it. I've hired several men to grind down there, but the very first night somethin' has always killed 'em. Looked like there was some kind of pizen. Now I thought I'd tell ye, Jack, so you'd know all about it 'fore ye took the job."
"Well," syas Jack, "if you don't care, we might walk down there and look that mill over."
So they went on down to the mill. Hil was a old log house with a fire place and ever'thing fixed for whoever tended the mill to cook and sleep down there. There were twleve little windows rather high-up on the walls, had no window lights in 'em.
Jack looked it over right good, sayd, "Bedad, I believe I might take the job."
The man says, "All right, Jack. I see you're no coward. Now I'll give ye half of what you make and give ye your rations too. I'll go back to the house and get ye some meat and meal for your supper. And you can start in grindin' soon as anybody comes."
Well, when word got out that the mill was opened again, lots of customers started comin' in and Jack had to grind right on till it was plumb dark.
Fin'ly got the last turn ground out and shut the mill down. He hadn't no more'n got the water turned out of the mill race when here came an old man on a sorry-lookin' mule, got off and walked in the mill with a little poke of corn on his shoulder. He had a long gray beard and he was one-eyed.
"Howdy do, Jack," he says. "How you gettin' on?"
"All right, I guess," says Jack. "I hope you're well."
"About like common," says the old man.
Then Jack looked at him, says, "I don't believe I ever say you before."
"No," the old man told him, "I'm a stranger."
"Well, how in the world did you know my name?" Jack asked him.
"Oh. I knowed ye time I saw ye," the old man says. "I've come a long way today, Jack, and I wonder could you grind my corn for me. I couldn't get here no sooner."
"Why, sure," says Jack. "You wait here for a minute and I'll go turn the water in again."
So Jack started the mill up and ground the stranger's corn for him; shut the mill down, and when he got back the old man says to him, says, "Jack, you're the first one ever done me right here at this mill and I'm goin' to give ye a present."
He reache in his big coar and took out a silver knife and handed it to Jack. Jack thanked him and the old man left. Then Jack built him up a fire in the fireplace and got out the skillet.
Now Jack didn't have no lamp, but the fire gave out right much light, and it happened the moon ws shinin' in all twelve of them windows. Made it pretty near bright as day.
So Jack wsa cuttin' up his meat with that silver knife when all at once hit got thick dark in there. Jack looked up and there in ever' one of them little windows sat a big black cat. They all were a-lookin' right at Jack, their eyes just a-shinin'.
Well, Jack wasn't scared, much. He went on and put his meat in the skillet, set it on the fire and stooped down to turn it with his knife; paid no attention to them cats. But just about the time his meat 'gun to fry, Jack heared one cat light down on the floor. He went on a cookin', and the next thing he knowed, there was a big balck cat a-settlin' right up in the fireplace with him.
Jack went to turn the meat over and that cat stuck out its paw toward the skillet, says, "Sop doll!"
Jack reached out right quick with his knife, says, "You better not sop your doll in my meat or I'll cut it off."
The old cat jerked its foot back and set there awhile. Them other cats stirred around a little; stayed on up in the windows.