Friday, February 24, 2017

Peaches-- Part 1

Her name is not known in our history. We only know her as Peaches because she sold peaches at a roadside stand. It was ere the great duke found her. According to legend she was extraordinary, at least not in beauty. She was fair and plump. Her eyes a bit too wide set and her mouth a bit too small. There were at least three other girls in town with better teeth and brighter eyes. But these girls were not left alone on the roadside selling peaches as the duke cantered past each day. And so he desired her, probably not for her great beauty but because she was there and demure and shy as a common girl, a common girl who sold peaches, and had his thrusting and grunting way with ther. When he had finished and jumped back on his stallion, he flipped a few coins on the ground for the pleasure, raised his hat to her, and trotted off.

So there is no surprise that one bright day he got off of his stallion, pulled her behind her cart of peaches, and had his thrusting and grunting way with her.  When he had finished and jumped back on his stallion, he flipped a few coins on the ground for the pleasure, raised his hat to her, and trotted off.

She was undone.  She felt sore and damp and there was such a hurting in her chest from tears that were now stuck there and fear that had dried inside of her instead of on her cheeks.  She looked at the coins and they worried her.  When she came back home with her unsold peaches and her father took accounting of the money and the peaches sold he would ask her, where did these coins come from, and she would have no answer because the truth would make her father angry with her.

And so, she counted out the money and counted out the peaches it would buy.  She carried those peaches in her apron, held like a cradle with five fuzzy little heads.  She dug a hole for each little peach all in a row by the road and into each hole she dropped a fruit.

That night her father counted the money and the peaches and all matched and was well and she sighed in relief that no one noticed the lump of tears that was now on her chest or the salty fear that was on her skin.

The next day she went to the roadside to sell her wares and the duke had his stallion saddled to go for a ride.  As he passed her on the road he tipped his hat to her for the pleasure and rode on.  But there was something odd.  Five little saplings, tall and thin, were by the side of the road, all in a row.  They weren’t there yesterday, but they were there today, and everyone knows that saplings don’t just appear, they grow.  But perhaps he just hadn’t noticed them before.

She dropped a curtsy as he rode past and dropped her eyes to the ground, unable to look at him.  She kept her eyes closed until she couldn’t hear the sound of his horse’s hooves anymore and then she opened her eyes and saw five little saplings standing where yesterday she had buried the peaches.  She saw them and understood, and so she got a bucket and went to the river and she watered and tended the trees, pulling grass and giving them room to grow.

The sun set and the sun rose and once again she went to the roadside with her fruits and once again the duke cantered past, but he did not tip his hat to the girl.  He didn’t even see her or her cart because the five little saplings were now five bright young trees with leaves so green they made his eyes hurt, and hard green fruits that hung, not ready to be picked yet, but promising later days that would be full of delicious flesh to bite and juice to suck.  But for the duke the promise of later fruit was not an attraction.  He was afraid of the young trees and their hard fruit and his horse slowed as he passed the trees, keeping quiet as if they were riding through a graveyard, trying not to wake the ghosts.  She saw his fright and understood and again she tended the trees and gave them water.

The next day it all happened again, the peaches, the roadside stand, the stallion and the saddle.  But this time he did not ride past her nor did he tip his hat.  Instead he stopped and stared at five full grown peach trees with ripened fruit hanging off of each branch, each peach large and a perfect shade of sunset gold.  And though the leaves were green, the same as any other tree, and the bark was brown, the same as any other tree, and the fruit was tempting, same as any other tree, the duke was afraid of the trees and could not ride past them.  He could not bring himself to spur his stallion forward, but turned him and galloped off, back to his castle, where he jumped out of the saddle before the horse had stopped and called for his man.

Cut the trees down! he ordered.  His man bowed and said he would gather some men to go out in the morning.  But the morning wasn’t soon enough for the duke.  The trees must be chopped down now.  The duke’s man bowed again and set off to collect men and axes.

When the men reached the trees the sun was setting behind them and cast the men in a deep green light.  It was beautiful and the men wondered why the duke would want these trees cut down.  It seemed a shame to do it, seeing them filled with fruit and greenery.  But one did not defy the duke and so they lifted their axes and brought them down into those trees.  But it seemed a shame to let such perfect fruit go to waste.  And so the men left their axes to pick the ripe peaches, but not one of them took a bite.  Instead they took off their shirts and laid the peaches carefully bundled in the cloth, far from where the trees would come down, as if trying to keep each small load of peaches as safe and warm as a child. Only when each peach from the trees was safe and sound did they pick up their axes and begin to heave.  

As each tree shuddered under the blows the men cried tears they could not understand, some ashamed and hiding the grief and others openly weeping as one by one, each tree came down.  The men stood by and wept and wailed as if each had killed his own children.

Then, something extraordinary happened.  Out of each stump sprang a fat little child with cheeks as pink as peaches and tummies fat and round.  They giggled and clapped and raced around the weeping men singing:

Oh our father is the duke,
as anyone can see
Our mother she sells peaches
that grow off of a tree.
Our father met our mother
and though he did not know her name,
He led her behind the peaches cart
and plucked her all the same.
Now we are bright new peaches
But our father, for his shame,
Tried to chop us into firewood,
And take away our claim.
But we are smart young peaches
We hid among the roots
And now the duke our father
Must taste of his own fruits.

Then the children ran off before anyone could catch them, though in truth, not one of them tried they were so astounded.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Girl With the Tooth in Her Head

It sounds nearly like the name of a thriller novel. Gone Girl, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Girl With a Tooth in Her Head.  By which I mean she has a perfectly formed adult tooth, roots and all, right in the middle of her brain.  Like all of these sorts of magical creatures, you will meet her late at night and when you are alone.  She seems to prefer parking ramp elevators, especially if it is near a dentist's office.  Another reason to fear the dentist.

She is a little girl in a frilly dress and pigtails and she will open up the top of her head and show you the tooth.  If you react in horror she will jump on you and pull out all your teeth and eat them.  If you stay still she will pluck the tooth out and hand it to you.  Again, to recoil leads to forcible removal of teeth.  Whatever you do, don't freak out.

If you simply take the tooth she will snatch it back and all your teeth will rot and fall out of your head within 3 days.  What you need to do is offer her something in return.  Even if it is just the tiniest bit of yourself.  Then she will take the part of you and let you have the bloody tooth.  When you look for it in the morning it will have changed into a $50 bill.

I know all of this because I met her one night.  I gave her a bit of my skin peeled from a callus on my hand.  Though this seemed the best possible answer at the time, now that I think of it, a magical being now has my skin.  But I'm sure nothing will happen..... Right....?

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Demon and the Bookstore

Part 1, The Demon's Tales
Part 2, The First Sinner's Story
Part 3, The Second Sinner's Story Prologue
Part 4, The Second Sinner's Story
Part 5, The Last Sinner's Story

As much as she loved all of these stories, she was haunted by the lack of more stories in Hell.  Consumed by the reports of books and movies and plays on earth.  So many stories that one could spend a lifetime reading and watching and still not know them all.  The Demon had long ago exhausted all the stories in Hell and they only trickled in as fewer and fewer people read books.

Now, there are demons who stay in Hell to watch over the sinners, and those who leave Hell periodically to tempt people and create new sinners.  Or just to create havoc.  Depends on the demon’s personality.  One of these was a friend of our Demon— at least as much as demons have friends— which they don’t.  She begged him before his trips to bring back books.  Any books he could find.  After all, it’s not like demons pay for things.

Her friend never did.  Just as demons don’t have friends in our sense of the word, they don’t bring back gifts when they travel as we do.  Actually, they don’t give gifts at all since one of the things that makes a demon is supreme selfishness.  He thought the request was rather odd and a bit perverse.  So through the centuries, hearing more and more of the piles of stories on earth, (And then came movies!  And video games!!  Every day there were more and more stories.) she became more and more determined to escape Hell, reach earth, and read every book and watch every play and movie she could find.  To master video games.  To immerse herself in fiction of every sort and kind.

But escaping Hell is no easy feat, even for a demon.  She had a job to do that she must report to everyday.  She had responsibilities.  Not to mention the many safeguards put in to keep people in.  Without which there would be thousands of escapes every day.  They’d learned that within the first few souls that had come to Hell and two of those were still missing to this day.

She was patient.  For 2 centuries she prepared.  She knew she would need things to take with her.  Music to soothe the murderous beast at the gate.  A coin for the ferryman to be taken across the river.  Other tolls and bribes to be paid in one sort or another.  For 2 centuries she did favors, took on extra shifts, did various dirty work, and collected items.  A flute, a violin, a lyre, none of which she could play, since there is no beautiful music in Hell.  A coin.  Various other troublesome gifts.  Until finally she had everything she needed and set out on her adventure to escape Hell.

It was some adventure and several times she nearly didn’t make it.  Her music, no matter the instrument, only served to rile the beast, not soothe it to sleep.  The ferryman declared her coin no good.  Another demon she had paid beforehand decided he should up the price.  And finally, alarms went off and she had to run for her life or risk getting caught and being punished.  Chained and tortured as one who sins against good.  She would risk becoming human.

At the last moment, near her escape, they did turn her human.  But against all odds she still escaped and being human went from curse to blessing.  As a demon they could track her.  As a human, they could not find her unless she sinned.  And being so familiar with what those infractions were, she lead a blameless life.

The next problem was learning to survive on earth.  She’d never eaten something before.  She’d never slept or dreamed.  At first dreaming frightened her.  She woke up in cold sweats, dreaming she was back in Hell and trying to escape.  She woke up and after calming down she realized what she’d done and started to laugh, which greatly disturbed the other inhabitants of the homeless shelter she was sleeping at.  But she was so delighted.  Her own mind had begun to create stories.  She never knew that could happen.  It was wonderful and she meant that in the original sense of the word, in that it filled her with wonder.  It seemed all creatures on earth spent some time asleep, and all of them created stories, down to the last lark and katydid, they dreamed.

Now on earth she understood how so many humans wound up in Hell.  There were the greedy, the selfish, the liars, and the hypocrites. Those who did not help their fellow humans.  Those who ignored the cries of the oppressed, or worse, were the oppressors.  She did not try to save them.  To attempt it would alert Hell to her.  It was dangerous to be either too bad or too good.  She simply lived quietly and did what she could to help others, even if it meant a little less reading time.

In the end she found a job in a small bookshop that sold both new and used books.  It was in a tourist town and during the summers they were busy and during the winters she had unlimited time to read.  She went to the movies every week or sometimes more.  She bought season passes to the local theaters.  She bought a computer and all the consoles and played through the story mode of video games.  She learned that it was true, there were more stories than any one human could read or watch or learn in a lifetime.  Lifetimes were also a new concept for her.  The idea that eventually she would die and the stories would go on without her.  It made her read and watch and play as much as she could.  Time was short.

I won’t tell you where she is.  It may put her in danger.  But I will tell you that there are a few signs by which you can recognize her if you look.  She is more hairy than you will be comfortable with.  Her eyes are a bit more black than you’ve ever seen in a real person before.  The irises a little larger than normal eyes, just enough to make you shiver, not enough for you to realize why.  You will fear her for no reason you can think of at all.  You don’t need to.  In truth she is better than you because she has been so much worse than you will ever be.  It’s a strange sort of logic.  She will not harm you.  She will not lead you astray.  She has only come for the world’s books.  She has no need for you.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Last Sinner's Story

Part 1, The Demon's Tales
Part 2, The First Sinner's Story
Part 3, The Second Sinner's Story Prologue
Part 4, The Second Sinner's Story

The Demon had a favorite story of all.  Like a child who wants the same book read to her over and over again, she loved this story and asked for it on her worst days—which there are a lot of in Hell.  It was told by an old man who had been there for 400 years.  Or was it 500?  Both the man and the demon had lost count.

He had lived during the height of the witch trials and had accused many people of being in league with the Devil.  (Oh, if only he’d known what that truly was when he had been alive!)  He had been to hangings and burnings.  He’d felt the glow of heat from the flames and heard the sobs and screams of the condemned and he’d felt righteous and good.  (Oh, if only he’d known what was good and evil!)

He’d spent the first 2 centuries in Hell arguing that he should not be there.  He’d been good.  He’d been rightous.  He had only done what he thought was right in God’s eyes. He had rid the world of Satan’s workers.  He had carefully kept himself from sin.  He was a servant of the church!  He did not belong in Hell.  But he’d long ago accepted his fate as fair and just.
The story he told was one he’d heard in life.  It was told from town to town and place to place about a witch hunter who, unlike him, had repented and been saved from the fires of Hell because of the work of a demon.

It had happened in Europe in a town that had nearly killed every woman and were still condemning more.  The smell of woodsmoke and charred flesh was so thick in remained in the town square even after the fires had burnt out and the coals had gone cold.  It happened at one particular burning as the innocent woman had stopped screaming and succumbed to death, that out of her body stepped a demon.  The crowd gasped in horror and fear and pleasure that there was now such proof that the woman had indeed been possessed and deserved to die.  After all, a demon had come out of her dying body.  And it was clear it was a demon.

It had glowing eyes like the coals.  Cloven hooves instead of feet.  It had curling horns on the side of its head.  It’s skin was charred and cracked and in the cracks they could see the glowing coals of hell, as if it was itself a piece of wood burned and nearly turned to charcoal.  They would have thought it was the Devil himself except that it was so obviously a woman.

It had no clothing on and its breasts were large and swayed as she moved, stepping carefully among the coals and wood as she climbed down the pyre and came into the crowd.  They all stepped back, fearful of being near her, but also too curious to run.  This demon could do nothing to them.  They were the righteous.  And none was more righteous than the man of God, chief torturer and accuser of the devil.  He stepped in to banish the demon, raising his cross and demanding the demon return to Hell whence it came.

The demon did not return to Hell.  She didn’t hiss or recoil at the sight of the cross.  What she did was laugh.  She laughed and continued to walk towards the man.  Again he shouted, “In the name of God, I demand you go back to the fires of Hell!  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord I demand you begone you servant of Satan!  Begone and bother these good folk no more!”

But this had no more effect than it had before.  She spoke and her voice was beautiful and smooth, almost the voice of an angel, it seemed perverse for such a voice to come from such a creature.  But then again, Lucifer had been beautiful once.

He held his ground as she neared him.  As she reached out her hand and took the crucifix from him.  She tossed it into the fire.  “I am a servant of Satan, it is true.  But I could not do so good a work for him as you.”

The man of God had no brave words for her now.  He froze in fear as she lifted his chin with one sharp, black fingernail.  “You send so many to Hell.”

And through his overwhelming fear at the nearness of the demon his heart soared.  It was proof he was righteous.  It was proof he was doing God’s work when he did it so well the demons came themselves to stop him.  “I do God’s work,” he spat out at her.  “The proof is that you are here, demon.”  His courage bolstered he again shouted, louder than before, “Back, demon!  Leave these people and this place and go back to Hell!  In the name of Jesus Christ I command you!”

The demon did remove her talon from under his chin and took a step back.  She cocked her head in curiosity.  “I had left these people.  They were under the Lord’s protection until you came.  You led them astray.”

And with those words the man faltered for the first time.  “I cleansed the wicked from this town.”

“You killed the innocent,” she said.  “How many innocent in this town alone?  How many in the last one?  You’ve murdered hundreds.  You caused good people to turn against their neighbors.”  She turned to the crowd and pointed at the richest and most respected man in town.  “You knew G____ was not in league with the Devil.  You wanted his land.”

She pointed to another respectable woman and her teenage daughter.  “You never saw a witches’ sabbath.  You wanted attention.”

She pointed to a child and knelt down beside him.  She spoke quietly, gently, as if she were instead an angel offering forgiveness rather than a demon condemning him.  She held out her hand, palm up and said, “Give me the button.  The button you stole that condemned Mistress V____.”  The child hiccuped a sob and dug in his pocket.  He gently laid a gold button in the demon’s hand.  It seemed to glow in her charred hand, lit by the red coals under her skin so the simple button looked as if it had been forged in Hell.  She closed her fingers around it and held the fist to her mouth, as if she had just received a treasured item.  Then she laid her other hand on the boy’s shoulder and quietly said, “Thank you.”

She stood again and turned to the witchfinder.  “You condemned innocents to die and condemned villages to burn for all eternity.”  She stomped her foot with the word, you, moving closer to him.  “You spread your evil even down to the children.”  Again she emphasized the word ‘you’ with a stomp that seemed to shake the ground beneath them.  From her foot the very land cracked and the fires of hell glowed through them.  The screams of the sinners echoed quietly as if from far away.

She walked over to the witchfinder and with every step more glowing cracks opened at her feet. “They bore false witness, coveted their neighbor’s goods, stole, and finally cheered and murdered right there with you.  You persecuted others for righteousness sake and gave a few the kingdom of heaven, even as you condemned entire towns to Hell.  You know nothing of the God you claim to follow.  You are my greatest servant.”  And though she whispered her last words in his ear, it could be heard by the entire crowd.

The man trembled, finally convinced.  He knew it was true.  Every bit of it was true.  He fell to his knees and grabbed at the demon’s legs like a begging child refusing to let go of his mother.  “Forgive me!  Forgive me!”

The demon laid her hand on his head, as gentle as a mother comforting a child.  As gentle as an angel bestowing grace.  “It’s not me who matters,” she said.  “Do not ask this of me.  You must ask this of God.”

And with those words she seemed to slowly fade until he was left holding onto nothing.
For the next few days he had to run for his life as the angry townspeople chased him.  He escaped and in the next few week wandered aimlessly, alternately crying and praying for forgiveness.  Within a few years he had left the church and settled in a city using a different name.  Under his own name he published tracts and treatises proclaiming the uselessness and folly of the witchhunts.  His words were joined with the words of others and put an end to the terror and madness almost entirely.

In the final 30 years of his life he committed himself to justice and peace, offering solace to the criminals and fighting for mercy and release.  He protected innocents and preached forgiveness for the guilty.  He did not attend a church, but instead prayed every day for forgiveness.

At the end of those 30 years the former witchhunter died.  As he drew his last breath he prayed his last prayer and closed his eyes.  His spirit left his body and he saw a face.  A face he recognized.  It was the face of the demon, though it was no longer charred or cut through with glowing fissures.  Instead it seemed to glow with a fabulous light.  Her skin was whole and clear and she had six pairs of softly feathered wings.

In spite of this change he knew her for who she was.  The demon who had come to him that night with the smell of burning wood and flesh.  The demon who had told him his entire purpose in life was a lie.  And in spite of all his repentance and prayer, she was here for him.  It had not been enough.  He was not surprised.  He had always felt there was not enough prayer in a lifetime to forgive the sins he had done.  The lives he had taken.  The souls he had condemned, however righteous he had felt at the time.  Ever since that night he had always known he was condemned to hell.

In resignation he took her hand and accepted his fate.  He bowed his head and closed his eyes.

When he opened his eyes again he found himself walking on the softest of clouds in front of a shining gate.  He could hear angels singing and smell the fresh air of an eternal spring day.
“I don’t understand,” he said.

The shining demon smiled at him and caressed his cheek with her soft hand.  “My child, if I’d come to you as the angel I am and told you what you were doing was evil, you would have believed I was a demon sent to trick you.  But I knew you would believe in a demon and never suspect I was an angel come to trick you.  Now go.  You are loved by God.  You are forgiven.”

This is where the story ended.  The man who told it would always cry as he told the end which pleased the demon.  She didn’t even need to torture him with spikes and pain.  Telling the story was torture enough and so as he told it to her again and again she gave her arms and voice a rest from whipping and beatings and yellings.  She could stop to just listen.  She did not cry at the end as the man did but sighed happily and with a lighter heart, pleased in the knowledge that however bad it was in Hell, it must be worse in Heaven when even the angels want to be demons.

Part 6, The Demon and the Bookstore