Sarangerel Oktaybr crept thru halls as dark as a black hole, all light sucked out. She fretted ’bout many things, from running into a monster or e’en just a spider or losing her best friend Natmar Černý, who she ’course couldn’t see, or e’en just bumping into her & annoying her.
She was relieved when she heard Natmar’s familiar voice whisper from just ’head,
Saran, ¿you there?.
Yeah — I’m right here.
Tho Saran had tried to be as quiet as she could when whispering, Natmar whispered back with annoyance,
OK, but don’t be so loud, tho.
After a few mo’ minutes — tho it felt like an eternity — o’ wandering, she heard Natmar whisper,
There it is.
¿What is it?.
Shh, stand here.
Saran felt invisible hands clutch her & move her, which chilled her to her fringes, e’en when she kept telling herself ’twas just Natmar.
Now bend down so I can climb on your shoulders.
Saran nodded, tho she knew Natmar couldn’t see her, & then bent down as Natmar ordered.
She felt Natmar’s heavy weight press down on her back, which hurt quite a bit, tho Saran knew better than to complain.
All right, now stand up, whispered Natmar.
Saran put all o’ her strength into standing, which was hard with such heaviness pressing down on her shoulders like anvils. She wrapped her hands round the soft cotton o’ Natmar’s pajama pants round her ankles to keep her steady, since she could feel her legs shaking on her shoulders. Then she waited with her eyes closed & prayed for Natmar to hurry & finish before Saran’s bones collapsed under her weight.
Then she started as she heard & felt a heavy thump right next to her — so much that she would’ve dropped Natmar if she hadn’t realized she was still holding onto her & tightened her heels to the ground.
She felt Natmar climbing down, anyway. But before she could ask her what that noise was, Natmar pulled her round till her hand was on a diagonal block o’ wood.
Climb up, Natmar whispered in her ear.
Like always, Saran didn’t dare refuse, accepting whate’er death valley this ladder led to & whate’er enigmonsters roamed whate’er death valley. She climbed up, being careful not to slip & miss a step she couldn’t see or trip on her favorite Skippy Scorpion blanket she held round herself gainst the winter cold, only for Natmar to whisper,
¡Hurry!, right ’hind her. Saran hurried, only to, as she expected, stumble & bump her shin on a step.
Natmar whispered sharply into Saran’s ear,
Nothing. I’m fine, Saran said as she continued climbing, ignoring the ache on her shin.
Finally, she reached the last step, level floor. She looked round & saw darkness everywhere, ’cept for the window, which was blue, — a blue that seeped in thru the window a bit — with a gray sea o’ snow covering the streets & the moon floating next to a fir tree. Saran remembered from her science class that that was either a waning or waxing gibbous moon — “waning” being a high-level word for “shrinking”, “waxing” being a high-level word for “growing”, & “gibbous” being… augh. She would need to look that word up ’gain. A’least she was sure Natmar didn’t remember what —
She jumped as she saw a thin beam o’ light spread past her like an arm, only to shrink back in shame when she saw that it just came from a flashlight Natmar was holding.
God, you’re jumpy, Natmar said as she led Saran ’cross the attic toward the window. Saran forced herself to stifle the discomfort she always felt when she heard Natmar curse, specially when it involved God.
Natmar sat down next to the window & Saran sat next to her. Then Natmar turned off her flashlight, leaving Saran to stare @ nothing but empty darkness. Saran took a deep but silent breath, but said nothing. If Natmar could survive the darkness, so could she.
The only thing Saran could see up in that attic thru the faint moonlight was Natmar ’side her, sitting with her knees upraised in pajamas covered in cartoon trains, her light-brown bangs a mess all o’er her forehead, whereas Saran’s black hair was always neatly brushed round her ears.
Natmar raised her hands wide as she said,
I need the right background if I’m going to tell you a terrifying tale — & have I got a terrifying 1….
Here it came: the part that made all o’ Natmar’s bossiness worth it. Natmar always knew the spookiest stories to tell, which were better than any anyone else on the playground knew. Saran didn’t know where Natmar learned these tales. The 1 time she asked, Natmar had told her that she had sold her soul to the enigmonsters for a huge book full o’ legends meant only for the most enlightened. But when Saran asked to see this book, Natmar made up ’scuses for why she couldn’t show her it, which led Saran to doubt her. Still, she felt her mind raptured from her body & world every time she heard 1 o’ Natmar’s many yarnballs.
¿Have you heard o’ the legendary thief o’ Boskeopolis?.
Saran shook her head.
She has many names & many origins. Some call her the Red Devil, some the Ponytailed Devil. Some say she is the spawn o’ Satan himself, & some say she is Robin Hood reincarnated. Some say that after her mother was gruesomely killed by her debt-collectors, who boiled her in their chocolate pudding & devoured her, the Red Devil made a trade with Lucifer himself to turn her into a ghost, so she could haunt every debt-collector she could find & whisk ’way everything they own, 1 by 1, down to every drop o’ blood in their body, till they are left as just rusty skeletons.
& speaking o’ skeletons, some say she was able to enslave a skeleton wizard into using his magic for her breathbreaking deeds. Natmar glanced left & right as she continued in a husher tone,
& some say she’s Jezebel reincarnated & performs 1,001… sex rituals with her skeleton slave every evening as an offering to her vile god, the Lord o’ Cockroaches.
Saran looked all round herself, fearful that like ghosts themselves, Natmar’s parents — or e’en worse, her own — might appear @ any moment & spank them or take ’way their tablets — or e’en worse, God himself may throw a lightning bold down on them. Howe’er, @ the same time, she felt the thrill o’ such forbidden words coming out o’ Natmar’s mouth.
But Saran knew she had to prod Natmar into going deeper, so as she oft did, she said,
¿Where could you have heard o’ such a story?, hinting @ doubt, but not going so far as to say out loud that she doubted her, since she knew how moody Natmar could be & that Natmar may refuse to tell any mo’ tales till she was coaxed back into it.
She expected Natmar to bring up her book ’gain, but ’stead, Natmar said,
If you truly want to know, I heard it from both my older brother & my father. My father says e’en the mayor himself says so.
Saran had to admit, she felt an extra awe. She’d always half-doubted Natmar’s stories had much truth to them, — tho she still fretted o’er this enigmonster sucking out every brain cell or that poltertruck driving her into roadkill in her sleep — but this was different.
Yes, the mayor told everyone ’bout a true encounter he had with the Red Devil herself & how he barely managed to ’scape her vile clutches. She had discovered thru her crystal cauldron o’ knowledge — Natmar held her hands in front o’ her with her palms down, sliding them in circles like an oracle —
that the mayor was working toward finding her & casting her back into hell. So in the darkest pit o’ the night, while he was sleeping, she crept in like a spider — Natmar held her hands up with her fingers dangling downward with a look o’ menace on her face —
& captured him in a web o’ deceit & prepared to eat him piece by piece, only for him to trick her by distracting her & telling her where the goldest crown was hid, &, after she had crawled ’way to find it, he struggled himself free from her web & hid in the shadows o’ his bedroom.
There he waited with his golden knife, which is said to be the only weapon strong ’nough to cut thru the Red Devil’s hard, scaly hide. Natmar sat up with her knees bunched together, holding an invisible knife in her hands as she glanced side to side slyly.
Howe’er, she must’ve sensed that the mayor was ready to vanquish her once & for all, for she ne’er returned, but continues to lurk the world’s crevices.
Her voice rising in disbelief, Saran said,
¿Your father told you this?.
Uh huh. You can ask him yourself.
Saran’s eyes widened. Natmar would’ve ne’er asked her to ask her father herself if she didn’t mean it. She tightened her blanket round her & shivered @ the images o’ a giant spider crawling in from the ceiling & eating them after hearing them speak ’bout it as Natmar had.
But that is not the only story to tell ’bout the battles ’tween the mayor & the Red Devil, continued Natmar. She sat back with her knees stretched out, leaning back on her palms:
For the mayor had tracked her down to her home in Sherbet Slopes, where they had a battle so violent, it turned the white snow red with blood.
Saran’s eyes widened as she tried to imagine it. She asked,
¿Was most o’ it the Red Devil’s blood?.
Uh huh — but not all o’ it. When the Red Devil saw the mayor come near its pale-white-stoned crypt, it lunged @ him & knocked him to the ground — Natmar sat up on her haunches & leaned forward in a sudden jerk, spreading her fingers out, —
& while holding him there, it began to shred pieces o’ his skin from his face with its verminous claws. Natmar began to brush her fingers down the side o’ her face from just below her eyes, stretching out the sacks under her eyes, only for them to contract back up after her fingers left her eyes, alternating pulling down & up her eye sacks, which caused Saran’s nerves to feel rusty. Natmar was oft doing that, — or a’least mo’ than Saran was comfortable with — cracking her knuckles or bending limbs in ways that Saran would ne’er dare do, as it looked painful. Howe’er, if Natmar did feel pain while doing so, she did a tremendous job o’ hiding it.
Howe’er, he was able to slip a hand into the pocket o’ his cloak — Natmar held a hand to her side —
& bring out his golden knife, which he jabbed up into the serpent’s belly. Natmar held a fist upward.
The serpent leapt up off the mayor with a sharp scream, sputtering blood from its stomach & mouth all o’er like rain. Natmar stood & threw her head back while throwing her arms out & in repeatedly.
Natmar fell back onto the floor on her palms. She slowly raised a palm onto its fingertips.
The mayor climbed up to his feet. But before he could move any mo’, the serpent lunged forward & wrapped its mouth round the mayor’s hand holding his knife — Natmar wrapped the other hand round the thumb o’ the hand she had raised earlier, —
& with 1 strong bite, bit his hand off — Natmar yanked back the hand from the other hand’s thumb while keeping it in a fist —
& spit it far off into the distance. Natmar opened her fist.
The mayor ran after it, knowing that ’twas his only chance to defeat the monster — Natmar began moving her other hand on her index & middle fingers as if ’twere walking, —
always looking ’hind him — Natmar craned her neck o’er her shoulder —
to see the Red Devil closing in on him. He stumbled & fell into the snow — Natmar fell down on her palms, —
yelling out as his bloody stump where was once his hand burned in the ice cold o’ the snow. Natmar hunched down lower as she raised a hand & opened her mouth. Then she rose a bit on her palms & fingertips & began pawing forward.
But he forced himself back onto his feet, going forward as much as he could, knowing that any delay could let the creature catch up & eat him whole.
But nowhere he looked could he find his knife — Natmar scrabbled her hands all ’long the hardwood floor, —
& no matter how much he pushed his aching muscles, the serpent was still catching up. Natmar moved both her hands ’cross the floor in the same direction on their index & middle fingers, 1 gradually catching up to the other.
He took a deep breath & then charged forward — Natmar stretched an arm out, grasping forward, —
only to trip o’er a stone hidden in the snow, & collapsed in the snow. Natmar turned her reached-out arm onto her knuckles. She slowly moved her other hand toward it.
Before he could get up, he felt 2 sharp spikes stab into his back — Natmar jabbed the index & middle finger o’ 1 hand into the palm o’ her other hand, —
filling him with a pain so strong it rang up to his forehead. Natmar grimaced.
The mayor wanted to just die right there & end his suffering, but knew there was no one else capable o’ defeating the Red Devil & that the world would be devoured by the Red Devil with nothing left if he were beaten. So he crushed his left hand into as thick a fist as he could & then began thrashing it gainst the leftmost fang in his back as hard as he could — Natmar lunged down till her face was near the floor & began throwing her left arm back & forth with such force that Saran backed up, fearful o’ getting whacked in the face herself —
till he cracked its fang open into shards. This caused the Red Devil to release the mayor as it threw its head back & shrieked in pain, giving the mayor a chance to get back onto his feet & continue trudging thru the snow. Tho his eyes were blurry from the pain & the blood that had smeared into his eyes, he forced himself to go on, knowing that ’twas not just life & death for him, but for the whole world, too, if he didn’t do everything he could to find that golden knife. He just moved his arms forward & forward, seeing nothing but red, with only the feel o’ his muscles moving reminding him that he was still ’live. Then, suddenly, he felt his arms fall onto something hard, but thin. He scabbled his hand round it & then felt the familiar grip o… ¡the golden knife!. Natmar raised her left hand as far as her arm would reach.
He rolled onto his back with his hand holding his knife hid to his side while he waited for the serpent to try 1 mo’ bite gainst him. All he could see was thick red, all he could feel was a thick numbness, all he could hear was soft wind. Then he saw the red darken, then he heard roar grow till ’twas right next to his ears, then he felt the wind round him die & damp drops o’ sticky liquid fall on him, & after that the sticky, wet bulk o’ a tongue licking it, & then the feel o’ leaving the earth & entering the sky. He reached his knife-holding arm out & slashed out, cutting anything he could reach. Natmar reached her arm out & began making slicing motions in the dark air.
He felt it hit thick bulks, & then he heard loud shrieking right inside his ears, & then he felt cold blood splash him & splash him. He dug deeper with his knife, & then began to feel the wind ’gain. Natmar began jabbing 1 o’ her hand’s fingers into the other hand’s palm.
He continued to drill into whate’er he was drilling into, till he felt the weight ’neath him disappear & felt himself falling. Natmar poked her finger thru a slit ’tween 2 fingers, & then pushed her hand thru that slit as the fingers round it spread. She then began to slowly lower her hand.
Within a second, this feeling was replaced by the sharp cold o’ thick snow covering his whole face & body. Natmar held her other hand under the hand she was lowering, & then smacked them together.
The mayor woke up — how much time after, he had no idea. He scrambled back to his feet, gravely ’fraid the Red Devil would strike him in his stupor @ any moment. But he didn’t hear any movement round him @ all, only the shushing wind. Tho ’twas painful, he wiped the blood from his eyes & strained his eyes in desperation to see. Natmar began rubbing her own eyes.
When he could finally see ’gain, he saw lakes o’ blood covering the snow, but nothing else. The Red Devil was nowhere for kilometers.
Natmar was quiet. She turned to stare @ Saran — the 1st time she showed that she knew Saran was e’en there in a while. Saran knew Natmar was expecting her to tell her how wonderful her story was — e’en tho she just said she heard it from her dad, so ’twasn’t truly her story, anyway. But Saran knew pointing out mistakes like that would only make Natmar moody & not want to tell any mo’ stories, so Natmar didn’t point them out, but kept them to herself in her own head for herself to enjoy. But Saran wouldn’t make it easy for Natmar & just tell her the story was great, but said ’stead,
Wow… ¿Does that mean the Red Devil was vanquished?.
No, don’t be silly. It obviously ’scaped.
O… ¿So he didn’t cut it ’nough with his knife?.
Nope. One must pierce the Red Devil’s heart, deep in its belly, in order to vanquish it for good, which he wasn’t able to do, so the Red Devil still lurks the places where no eyes lie. The mayor stayed in Sherbet Slopes for weeks, but ne’er found the Red Devil ’gain, no matter where he explored. But when he ventured into her tomb, what he found was mo’ horrifying than he e’er could’ve expected: all ’long the dusty ground were cracked-open eggshells.
Saran’s eyes ballooned.
Natmar nodded, her solemn frown half-colored-in by the moonlight.
Not only had the Red Devil not been vanquished… but there are mo’ lurking ’bout — & someday, they may multiply, & their kids may multiply, till the world is o’errun by Red Devils — till there is 1 for every human & they gobble all humans into extinction.
Saran tightened her blanket round her & closed her eyes. She tried to dash the voice from her mind telling her, ¡The mayor himself said so!, but couldn’t. She would ne’er live to adulthood & get to become the world’s greatest veterinarian. She would ne’er e’en get to live to next year & get that wicked mansion set with all the tiny chairs & knickknacks on the li’l shelves she’d hoped to get next Marxmas.
Saran said, almost shouting,
¿Why doesn’t anyone do anything to stop them?.
¡Shh! ¡Shh! ¿Do you want to wake everyone up?, Natmar whispered to Saran with a finger pressed to her lips, her olive-colored glaring eyes gleaming in the moonlight like a cat’s.
Calm down… The Red Devils aren’t going to multiply that much for a long time. The mayor will find & destroy them all before then.
Saran replied, voice cracking,
But he couldn’t defeat the original Red Devil & lost his hand trying, & almost lost his whole life. ¿How could he possibly beat many mo’ Red Devils?. Saran sniffed. Her eyes began to burn & tickle with newborn tears.
He’s still got 1 mo’ hand, Natmar insisted.
& he’s learned a lot mo’ ’bout the Red Devil since then, so he’s much mo’ better — he’ll be much mo’ better @ fighting them. He’s the mayor after all. They wouldn’t make him the mayor if he couldn’t do anything.
Saran sniffed. Her tears had already dried into sticky remnants.
¿How did he learn mo’ ’bout the Red Devil since then?.
I would tell you if you’d quit interrupting me, snapped Natmar.
Saran shrunk back.
Anyway… e’en after the horrible revelation that there were mo’ Red Devils out there now, the mayor still didn’t lose hope, but headed off immediately to learn mo’ ’bout them & figure out how to destroy them once & for all.
Saran twisted her brows. She raised a hand but a few centimeters as if trying to hide her signal from its intended audience & began to say,
¿Do you want me to tell the story or not?, snapped Natmar.
I can just go do something else if you want….
Saran shrunk back. She knew she was taking a risk, but had to know…
I’m sorry, Natmar. I swear this will be the last time. I just wanted to know — I’m sorry, I forgot — ¿the mayor investigated the crypt or tomb right after he woke up?.
Yes. You would know that if you were listening.
I’m sorry. That will be the last time, pinky pledge.
Howe’er, in the back o’ Saran’s mind, she was thinking ’bout how Natmar’s story didn’t make sense: she remembered Natmar said the mayor was there for weeks; ¿but @ the same time, he went to the tomb right after waking up & then left right after? That would only be possible if he stood gaping @ the broken eggshells for weeks. ¿& how did the mayor eat or drink in those weeks? The way Natmar described him getting stabbed in the back, he couldn’t have taken a backpack with him, — & if he had, his food & drink would’ve been too ruined to eat or drink — & there was no way he could fit ’nough water to live off for a week in his pockets.
Saran realized with dread that she was missing parts o’ Natmar’s story & that Natmar might notice & that that would be the last thread & that Natmar would stop telling stories anymo’. She dropped her thoughts & focused on Natmar.
— every book that has e’er existed can be found. He explored this library, which was as big as Russia, for weeks till he finally found the Ultimate Book o’ Boskeopoleon Monsters, a book as big as you that weighted 20 kilos & had mo’ than 10,000 pages. He flipped thru this book, page by page, for days till he finally found chapter 512, which spoke all that any human mind knew ’bout the Red Devil. Tho ’twas in an ancient language nobody remembered anymo’, luckily the mayor had studied this very language, as well as all other languages known to humans, & with concentration was able to read it.
There he had read ’bout where the Red Devil had come from, which can be roughly translated into English like this: “After the serpent, who is Lucifer himself, was cast out o’ the Garden o’ Eden & forced to walk on his belly fore’er — for that is what it said in Genesis: ‘& God said to the serpent, «For your treachery in leading Eve to eat from the apple o’ sin, I shall cast you out o’ the Garden o’ Eden, & you shall crawl on your belly fore’er, & be hated by humanity, who shall rule the earth, for eternity»’, — the serpent who is Lucifer wandered the earth on his belly — ’long with, uh… Cain, who — the brother who was sent off to wander the world for killing his own brother.
“On the day that Noah packed his ark with 2 o’ each animal, the serpent, who was not invited onto the ark, but who had a miraculously good nose, smelled signs in the sky o’ coming rain that would drown the earth & all living creatures on it, & so he wandered the earth in search o’ a hiding place, till he found the largest volcano in the world, Mt. Olympus, & hid deep inside its molten core, for in addition to having a miraculously good nose, the serpent who is Lucifer also had a hide as tough as Jupiter & could swim in lava as easily as we swim in water. There is where the devil himself made his new home for the rest o’ time that we now know as hell.
“But the serpent, who had no faith in God, but only in their own actions & wiles to keep them ’live, like all soulless animals, did not want to leave anything to chance, so he laid eggs deep in the lava, in case the flood reached e’en inside his volcano & drowned him, knowing that the eggshell would protect his child from the water.
“Though the water reached inside the volcano, as it had reached every crevice in the earth, the heat o’ the volcano’s lava was so strong that it blocked the water, evaporating it into thick steam right on touch. To this day, millions o’ years after, that steam still fills Mt. Olympus’s opening, so thick that all one could see ’pon looking inside is a white wall, & any creature misfortunate ’nough to fall inside would choke to death from the wall o’ fumes before it e’en felt the heat o’ the lava far below.
“So Lucifer survived, & in his pleasure he forgot ’bout his child, — for ’mong Lucifer’s uncountable evil deeds was neglect o’ his own children — who hatched & wandered outside o’ the volcano as an orphan baby turtle wanders the beach. But this child did not need to be raised by the devil to inherit his evil in her genes, as well as a hatred o’ humanity — for she had inherited the knowledge o’ those 1st humans, Adam & Eve’s, roles in making her trapped crawling on her belly for eternity. So while Lucifer waited in his comfy hell, resting in preparation for his rise ’gain during the apocalypse, his daughter scoured the world, attacking humans where’er & whene’er it could, growing in skills & evil as it went.
“’Cause this newborn serpent was hatched in the stomach o’ lava, its skin had been stained with a permanent fire red. Thus, this spawn o’ Satan has fore’er gone by the name, ‘The Red Devil’”.
After that, he read the key to defeating the Red Devil once & for all. The book said, “The only way to vanquish the Red Devil is to stab its fire-filled heart with a blade made o’ pure gold. The way to accomplish this feat is to let the Red Devil eat you, without struggling to ’scape while still in the serpent’s jaws, but have faith in God & allow the serpent to swallow you whole, &, ’pon reaching the serpent’s stomach, you will find the path to the Red Devil’s fire-filled heart, & thus the way to defeat the Red Devil once & for all”.
Natmar paused her story & looked @ Saran, which made Saran worry that maybe Natmar thought Saran wasn’t paying attention. Saran looked straight back @ Natmar with full attention.
¿Well? ¿Any questions? ¿Was I going too quickly for you?.
Saran shook her head.
No, I heard everything.
Natmar looked only half mollified. She said,
Well, I think that’s all the stories I have for now. She yawned, patting the air in front o’ her wide-open mouth.
It’s getting late & I’m getting tired. My folks’ll start suspecting stuff if I’m all tired all day tomorrow.
Saran felt that familiar disappointment she felt whene’er Natmar stopped her stories; but she knew that Natmar was right, & was thankful she a’least got mo’ than a half-hour’s share o’ stories this night — usually ’twas far fewer.
But, seeing that Natmar’s stories were already o’er ( & that Natmar would forget any o’ her transgressions by tomorrow night ), Saran felt no hesitation to blurt out,
¿But did the mayor e’er use his newfound knowledge for how to beat the Red Devil to defeat her once & for all yet?.
Natmar yawned ’gain. With a voice jarbled by the remnants o’ her yawn, she said,
¿Didn’t you hear me? No: the Red Devil is still lurking out there, ready to strike anyone @ any moment, & the mayor is still on the lookout for her — during his breaks from his boring, ordinary mayor work, like passing laws gainst doing gross stuff like putting gum under other people’s desks. Natmar had told Saran ’bout some unknown “gum nut” having left a piece o’ chewing gum under her desk multiple times, which had rankled Natmar a lot.
Natmar rose. But Saran still didn’t feel like the story was o’er yet.
¿How long will it take for the mayor to find & defeat the Red Devil?, she asked.
Still looking forward, ’way from Saran, Natmar replied,
¿What do I look like? ¿A fortune teller? It’ll happen when it happens. You might as well ask me when they’ll come out with season 6 to Skippy Scorpion. Now, let’s hurry back to bed before my parents realize we’re not in bed & I’m in bloody murder.
Saran nodded & followed Natmar back to the door, striving to drive the Red Devil out o’ her mind & focus on her closer problems o’ not getting caught for now. Natmar carefully lowered the attic door down & peered round with her flashlight, &, seeing that nothing was round, she crept down the steps. Saran tried to follow as quickly, cringing every time she misaimed a foot & created a loud bump as her foot smacked a step. As expected, Natmar whispered admonitions for her noisiness once she reached the bottom.
As Natmar climbed onto Saran’s shoulders ’gain to lift the attic door back up, Saran stared into the full darkness with a greater recognition for what evils lay hidden within it. She felt Natmar’s legs shake on her shoulders, which ached them quite a bit. She could feel an extra weight push down on them & realized it must be the attic door. She wondered how Natmar could be so strong to lift such a heavy thing. ¿Was she born that way or is there some secret way she got it somewhere that she’s ne’er told Saran ’bout?
Natmar climbed back down & then whispered,
All right, let’s hurry back, & then led Saran back down the dark hall.
As they went, Saran kept telling herself, The Red Devil isn’t hiding in this hallway, the Red Devil isn’t hiding in this hallway….
That evening Saran had a nightmare ’bout the Red Devil. She was in that dark hallway, which kept going & going. Thinking ’bout it as she lay there in bed, the morn still dark, the sun taking its time to get up in the cold winter like many people, she figured it must’ve been hours she wandered thru that hall, but like all dreams, it felt like only minutes — & yet, @ the same time, it felt incessant, incessant. As she walked down the hall, red & poison-pink shapes flickered past her sight… but ’twas all vague. She felt herself falling fast, & she saw Natmar shoving her off her older brother’s top bunk on the bunk bed they shared years ago, when they were very young. & tho she felt the threat o’ the floor as strong as e’er, the fall seemed to last a long time.
She s’pose that was when she woke up. She forced herself to sit up & strove to drive the dream from her memory.
Back @ her own home, after her parents picked her up, Saran was stirring the scrambled eggs she was having for brunch while her eyes gazed off into the ether.
Natmar just made the story up. ’Twas inconsistent, ¿remember?.
But her father told her it…. She had made sure that morn to ask Natmar’s father if “this Red Devil” she had “heard on the playground” was real, & he said with a stern expression that tho many people didn’t believe the mayor, he did, & that he was thankful that they had a tough mayor for once who was working to keep Boskeopoleons safe — while also quickly adding that she shouldn’t worry ’bout it & that ’twas an “adult problem” & that, in particular, she shouldn’t bring it up to her parents ’less they bring it up with her.
Maybe Natmar just fudged the story. Just ’cause her father told her ’bout the Red Devil didn’t mean he told her everything ’bout her. Maybe she misheard him.
Angel, ¿is everything all right?.
Saran looked up to see her father looking @ her with concern.
Uh… Yeah…, Saran said, looking ’way. She ne’er felt comfortable lying from her father. She inkled that he would find out, anyway, that he could see thru the cracks in her lies thru her eyes, as if he could see straight into her mind.
You don’t look OK. You haven’t touched your eggs. You look like you just saw a ghost.
Saran looked down @ her eggs & picked up a piece with her fork.
I was just thinking….
¿What have you been thinking o’, moonlight?.
Still stirring her eggs, Saran said,
Father, ¿have you heard o’ a creature called… the “Red Devil”?.
Her father frowned, which caused Saran to cringe back. In that instance she was already sorry she’d brought up the subject.
Her father took the chair next to her & sat down, which always meant something serious. Then he asked,
¿Where did you hear ’bout that, darling?.
Trying to keep her voice as calm as possible, Saran said,
To Saran’s shock, she next saw her father chuckle, & then say in a light voice,
You don’t need to worry ’bout it too much, moonlight. It’s just a scary fable kids make up to make them feel tough & make others feel weak. They’ll grow out o’ it. I’m sure round 3 years from now we’ll all forget ’bout it.
Saran’s eyes widened.
¿So it’s not real?.
Her father put a hand on her shoulder & began to brush the sides o’ her hair falling o’er her ears with his fingers, as he oft did to make her feel better when she was upset.
No mo’ real than the troll under the bridge.
But this didn’t make Saran feel mo’ assured, ’cause that meant… what Natmar’s father said couldn’t be true, ’cause he said he believed the Red Devil was real — but then, he admitted that many didn’t believe in it. This apparently included her own father. So then… ¿was Natmar’s father wrong?
But this only dripped down into the next possibility: perhaps her own father was wrong… No, she refused such a thing.
Her father said,
How ’bout we take your mind off this grisly fable & I read you something much mo’ positive.
Saran smiled & said,
OK, & followed her father into the living room to her usual comfy chair while he sat in his usual chair & picked up his Bible with its lovingly-worn brown leather cover, its pages soft & delicate as flower petals only making its words feel stronger. She hoped that this would also maybe make up for last night, as she felt like some o’ the storytelling Natmar had done might’ve been blasphemous, the way she talked ’bout hell & the devil. Mo’ than once Natmar had been upbraided for speaking too coarsely in church — tho thankfully nothing worse than that. Tho she enjoyed the excitement o’ Natmar’s antics, — &, ’course, her stories — & tho Natmar always assured her that she worried too much & that God didn’t worry that much ’bout what people said any mo’ than he worried ’bout whether people eat pork anymo’, so long as you were a good person, since anything people said just disappeared into the wind, anyway, just like how everything you ate just gets pooped out the same way ( which Natmar insisted Jesus said himself, tho Saran was sure Natmar was fibbing ), Saran still oft worried ’bout Natmar & her getting in trouble.
So Saran curled up gainst the arm o’ her chair as her father continued where he’d left off last, the beginning o’ a book called “Acts”, which reminded her o’ the parts o’ a play or the levels in a Sonic game. This book didn’t have Jesus in it, unlike all the previous books in the New Testament, since it took place after he was killed, but ’stead told the story o’ Peter, 1 o’ the apostles — which her father had told her was Greek for “messenger”, since they were the messengers for Jesus — going round telling people ’bout Jesus.
Howe’er, partway in her father’s reading, Saran was struck by a sudden realization. This time, e’en mo’ than e’er with Natmar, she didn’t dare stop her father to bring it up with him. Her father, unlike Natmar, ne’er lost patience with her or threatened to stop reading no matter how much she interrupted him to ask him questions. Howe’er this question was different & felt too close, too dangerous. She didn’t want to drag her poor father into it. She didn’t e’en think she wanted to know the answer to it.
So she sat & listened in silence while her mind ran loudly in her head, unable to help itself from inspecting every word o’ every sentence.
Then her father stopped & said,
Saran looked up @ him attentively.
¿Did that story make you feel better?.
Mmm hmm. Thank you, father.
No problem, darling. ¿Did it take your mind off that “Red Devil” nonsense?.
With a smile, Saran said,
¿What “Red Devil”?.
Her father chuckled & then walked o’er to her & rubbed his hand o’er her head & said,
You’re such a clever li’l girl, before going down the hall to his office room.
Now ’lone in the quiet, Saran stared off into the emptiness o’ the still living room, a half-dim, half-light blue from the gray winter afternoon light coming in.
¿Did he… did he make a mistake while reading?.
She turned to look @ the Bible, still sitting on the li’l table next to her father’s chair. ¿Would she be able to dig thru that huge thing & find the passages? ¿& would she be able to recognize them if she found them? She was good @ reading books like Scary Stories for Li’l Sasquaches; but this book was not only much bigger, but had far fancier words, like “extolling”, which sounded like it meant “praising” or something nice like that, but she wasn’t sure.
She looked back & forth, as if ’fraid her father might come in & punish her for daring to read his Bible without him there, & then crept o’er to his chair & opened the Bible from his fancy bookmark with medieval-looking letters on it, some medieval looking woman in a headdress that looks kinda like the queen on playing cards, & a soft, velvetty thread dangling from the end. She flipped back till she found the title page o’ “Acts” & then scanned from there, page-by-page, looking for the name “Judas”. To her surprise, it didn’t take long to find it, right there near the end o’ the 1st chapter:
As you know, he bought a field with the money he was paid for his crime. He fell headlong and burst open, and all his entrails poured out.
Nope, it’s exactly as he read it.
Remembering her father had just read ’bout Judas betraying Jesus last time he read to her, she flipped back before “Acts” & into the end o’ “John”, till she found Judas’s name ’gain. But tho she found the passage ’bout Judas leading the “Pharisees” to Jesus, she couldn’t find the passage she remembered before o’ Judas hanging himself that she swore she heard her father read to her, leading her to believe she must’ve just misremembered. She started to feel horrible ’bout doubting such an important book, fearful that God would consider what she was doing, what she was thinking, a thousand times worse than the worst rudeness Natmar had done.
But then she remembered that she 1st heard ’bout this on the 1st telling, since the 1st few books all retold the story o’ Jesus, & her curiosity forced her to check.
God will forgive me — he’s forgiven far worse.
So she flipped to the beginning o’ the New Testament, where she found the book o’ Matthew, & then flipped to the end o’ that book & flipped back till she found Judas’s name ’gain; & here was where she found the passage she thought she remembered:
And flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off and hanged himself;
Saran closed the Bible & set it back on the table, & then froze with a long gaze out the window @ the sky, so white & empty, like outerspace “inverted” in that paint program, but without the stars — ’less the stars were still white & hiding. In fact, Saran didn’t know what what she was looking @ looked like.