Know the Devil by His Name ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
It was a long time ago. I was walking along a deserted country road through hills and farm country. I didn’t know where I was going or why I was going there. I didn’t know where I had been or what I had seen or known. My feet ached and my throat was dry, but I wasn’t bothered by those things. I believed that all I had to do was to keep moving forward and everything would come right with me.
Birds twittered over my head in the trees. A small brown fox came out from behind a tree and watched me pass. I heard a dog barking faintly, a long way off, but I never did see a dog or any living soul the dog might have been attached to.
Until I heard the sound of a wagon coming along behind me on the road. I heard it long before I saw it. When I finally turned around and looked over my shoulder, I saw a man in a devil costume driving a small, neat wagon pulled by one handsome brown horse. I stopped and turned toward him and he pulled up beside me.
“Where you headed?” he asked as though we were old friends.
Not knowing what to say, I just pointed in the direction in which I had been walking.
“You don’t know where you’re going, do you?” he said.
“Is that common in these parts?” I asked.
“I could use some company and I believe you could use a sit-down,” he said. “Why don’t you hop up here and ride with me, at least for a short distance, anyway?”
“Do you have any water?” I asked.
He reached behind him and produced a canteen, which he tossed at me. Liking him already, I smiled and got up beside him on the seat; he jiggled the reins to make the horse start moving again.
I drank and then drank again. “That is the best water I ever tasted,” I said.
He nodded his head and inclined his right horn toward me, which was above his right eye about three-and-a-half inches.
“Are you on your way to a costume party?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“I didn’t think you were, because it isn’t anywhere near the time of the year for Halloween, is it?”
“Time of the year don’t matter to me,” he said.
“Are you the devil?” I asked.
“I’m not the devil. I’m a devil. There are lots of us. I’ve never even seen the devil, the one we call Beelzebub. I’m not important enough.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“There are angels who do the work of the Lord. Don’t you agree?”
“I suppose so,” I said.
“Well, if there are angels doing the work of the Lord, there’s also the reverse side of the coin. There are devils doing the work of Beelzebub.”
“I think I should probably have you stop the wagon and let me out right here,” I said.
“Why?” he asked.
“Anytime I find myself in the company of a devil, it’s probably not a good thing.”
“You could do worse,” the devil said.
“I don’t know how! What’s worse than a devil?”
“You’d better hope you never find out.”
“No, if you’ll stop right here,” I said. “I think I’ll get out and walk the rest of the way.”
“If you do that, you won’t fulfill your destiny,” the devil said.
“And what is my destiny?”
“Just stay with me a little longer. I guarantee you won’t be sorry you did. If we stay on this road, we’ll come to the big city. You’ll love it. There’s everything you want in the city.”
“I don’t want to go to any city, especially with you! It’s nothing personal, but you are the devil.”
“I’m not the devil, I told you. I’m a devil.”
“It’s all the same to me.”
“There’s just one problem about the two of us going to the city,” the devil said. “We’re going to need some money to be able to have a good time there. We’ll need to buy some clothes and get a room in a fine hotel and order lavish meals from room service.”
“I don’t need money to have a good time in the city because I’m not going there!” I said.
Ignoring me, the devil pulled up in a front of a little house set back from the road prettily in a grove of trees.
“What are we stopping here for?” I asked.
“There’s an old lady that lives here,” the devil said. “She always keeps lots of money on hand. All you have to do is hit her in the head and knock her out and take her money. I’ll wait right here.”
“That is the most outrageous thing I ever heard!” I said. “I’m not knocking anybody in the head and taking their money!”
“You don’t have to kill her. Just stun her.”
“I’m not doing any such thing!”
“The devil commands you!”
“You’ll have to find somebody else to command. I won’t do it.”
“If you don’t do it, somebody else will.”
“I suppose I ought to go warn her, then,” I said.
I jumped to the ground and went up to the house and knocked on the door. In a moment a little old lady in lavender and lace came to the door. When she saw me, she smiled and beckoned me to enter.
“It’s that devil again, isn’t it?” she said with a cluck of the tongue.
“He told me to knock you in the head and take your money. I have no intention of doing it, but I wanted to warn you that if I don’t do it somebody else will.”
She surprised me by putting her hand over her mouth and giggling like a schoolgirl. I had the feeling she was laughing at me for believing what a devil would say. She picked up a canvas bag from a desk and opened it; took out a handful of fake stage money and handed it to me.
“Tell the devil that’s all the money he’ll get from me,” she said, “and a fat lot of good it’ll do him!”
“He’s not the devil,” I said. “He’s a devil. Apparently there’s a difference.”
When I went back to the wagon, the devil was examining the backs of his hands in the sunlight as if he had forgotten me. I climbed back up beside him and handed him the fake stage money.
“Humph!” he said. “I see she’s up to her old tricks.”
“You know her?” I asked.
“She’s just another old devil,” he said. “She’s been at it a lot longer than I have.”
“She certainly didn’t look like a devil,” I said. “She looked like somebody’s grandmother.”
“Another lesson learned,” he said. “You can’t always go on the way a person looks. A good-looking person can be a devil and a horrible-looking guttersnipe can be an angel.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Things are not supposed to be too easy for us,” he said. “We’re supposed to figure things out for ourselves. With me it’s different, though. I wear this devil costume so people know as soon as they look at me that I’m a devil but not the devil.”
“Well, I’m glad I didn’t have to hit her in the head, anyway,” I said, “even if she is a devil. I guess if I had had to hit her in the head, knowing she was a devil would have made it easier.”
The devil gave me a look as if he was getting tired of me already. “Inescapable logic,” he said.
He looked at the fake stage money in his hand again and tossed it into the back of the wagon.
“Well, I believe I’ll be getting out just about here,” I said. “If you’ll stop the wagon there by that little bridge.”
The devil seemed not to hear me. “We’ll have to put our two heads together and figure out somewheres else to get some money,” he said thoughtfully.
Copyright 2014 by Allen Kopp