Hock is a scary story for kids about a strange light on a marsh called a Jack-Ma-Lantern. It is based on an old African-American folktale from Tales of the Congaree. A version of this story appeared in The Headless Haunt and Other African-American Ghost Stories under the title “The End of Hock”.
One night, a young man named Hock was walking down the road with his friend. As they were passing by a long stretch of marshy land, they saw a strange light in the distance.
“Who you reckon that is, walking out there on the marsh at this time of night?” asked Hock.
“I don’t see nothing,” said his friend.
“Can’t you see them?” asked Hock. “There’s a light bobbing up and down out there, like they’re looking for something…”
“Don’t look at it,” said his friend. “That ain’t no person. That’s a Jack-ma-lantern and you best leave it alone. You don’t know what kind of danger it will lead you into if you follow it.”
“What’s a Jack-ma-lantern?” asked Hock.
“Jack-ma-lanterns are spirits,” his friend replied. “They’re evil spirits… the ghosts of sinful people who are caught between life and death. They weren’t allowed into heaven and they can’t get into hell, so their punishment is to wander for all eternity. They wander in the bad places where no one ever goes and on the bad nights when nobody is out. They entice you to follow them and they lead you off the right road.”
Hock just laughed. “That’s no ghost,” he said. “There’s somebody out there walking on the marsh and I’m going to see who it is.”
If dey gits a holt on you and you follow ‘em, it don’t lead you to no good. When you starts to follow, one mind will tell you l’um ‘lone and turn back, and another mind will tell you follow ‘em, and you follow ‘em.,”
“Don’t be a fool!” said his friend. “If they get a hold of you, they’ll make you follow them and once you follow them you won’t be able to stop!”
“I’m not scared of any man,” Hock boasted. “I’m going out there and you can’t stop me.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” his friend shouted.
But it was no use. Hock was already making his way out onto the marsh.
That night, Hock didn’t come home. His friends were worried and when dawn broke, they went out to search for him. They found a trail of his footprints leading out onto the marsh. It looked like Hock had been walking in circles, falling into holes and scrambling through the briar.
They followed Hock’s footprints for miles and eventually, they found him. It was a terrible sight. He was standing in mud up to his waist with his head reared back and he was holding both hands out in front of him, as if he was trying to fend off something. His hair was white ad his eyes were wide open and there was a horrible grimace frozen on his face.
They called out to him but Hock didn’t seem to hear. When they reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder, he was icy cold and stiff and dead.