Ask Satan Anything ~ A Short Story

Ask Satan Anything image 2
Ask Satan Anything
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

(This story was published in The Literary Hatchet.)

The year is 1933 and the time late summer. The sleepy town of Hartwell sits on the edge of the windblown prairie. For three nights out of the year, the town is touched by magic, excitement and mystery. The carnival is in town.

The beautiful lights of the Ferris wheel can be seen a mile away. The merry-go-round never stops—music, lights and dizzying motion, a magic all its own. A clown in pajamas of red polka dots, smile painted on, shoes a foot-and-a-half long, walks among the crowds selling balloons—only five cents apiece. In that tent over there you can have your fortune told by an old gypsy hag with missing teeth and a crystal ball. Feeling lucky tonight? Try your luck at one of the games of skill. After you’ve won all the prizes and amazed everybody with your dexterity and strength, step this way and have a delicious hot dog, a bag of peanuts, a Coca-Cola, or a cardboard wand covered with pink cotton candy. And the smells all mixed in together are wonderful. How can you be here and not feel happy to be alive?

The freak show is a popular attraction. People line up to buy tickets to see the thousand-pound woman, the eight-foot-tall man, the lobster girl, the octopus boy, the pin head, the Siamese twins, the human alligator, the walking skeleton, the cobra woman, the bird girl, the albino midgets, and the two-headed baby floating in a jar of formaldehyde.

This year a new attraction has been added to the freak show. Technically speaking, it isn’t a freak, but it is an oddity, something new and altogether different. For ten measly cents, you can meet Satan live and in person! And, not only that, you can ask him any question your heart desires. Haven’t you always wanted to talk to Satan, to ask him anything? Now’s your chance!

All the seats are taken. The show is about to begin. And let us say a word or two about the people in the audience. They are of all kinds: young and old, male and female, farmers in overalls and their wives in sack dresses, town ladies with painted faces and feathered hats, business men and their hatchet-faced wives, pimple-faced teenage boys ogling women as old as seventy, secretaries who work in stifling offices during the day and forfend the sexual advances of men old enough to be their grandfathers, mill workers who never learned to read but pretend otherwise, saints and sinners, whores and liars, extortionists and embezzlers, people who would sell their own grandmother to the highest bidder. They all have one thing in common: they all want to meet Satan.

Ellis Crumshaw sits on the aisle about halfway back. He has a child’s face in a man’s body. He is twenty but could pass for fifteen. He used to sleep nights and digest his food without any trouble, but now he is in a lot of trouble. He has asked God to help him but God seems not to be listening. He has nowhere left to turn. Satan might be the answer.

He has been seeing a country girl named Nonnie Lowbridge. She’s thirty if she’s a day and might be thirty-three. She says she’s going to have a baby and that Ellis Crumshaw is the father. He has been with her three times. It’s possible he’s the father but he doesn’t believe he is. He knows from hearing other people talk that she would invite any man into the barn and lift up her skirts for him, whether she knows the man or not.

Nonnie Lowbridge is insisting that Ellis Crumshaw marry her, and fast, before people can see the baby swelling in her stomach. If he doesn’t marry her, she says, she will not only get her brothers to beat the shit out of him, but she will go to the police and tell them he forced himself on her. For that, he will go to the penitentiary for the rest of his life for taking advantage of a poor country girl and leaving her with a bastard baby. The other prisoners will use him for a punching bag when they find out what he did and will probably kill him, not quick but slow.

Ellis doesn’t want to marry Nonnie Lowbridge, but he is certain he doesn’t want to go to prison, either. He has seen I Am a Prisoner from a Chain Gang and The Big House and he knows he’d probably last only a day or two behind bars. He has thought about pushing Nonnie Lowbridge off the bridge into the river, but he is certain somebody would see him and he would end up in prison for murder, which must be a lot worse than being in prison for forcing yourself on a girl and leaving her with a bastard baby. He has thought about killing himself but he doesn’t have the nerve. As the saying goes, he is between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The show, as we said, is about to begin. The people are quiet, waiting. If anybody speaks at all, it is in a low voice and only a word or two. The chairs face a little stage with a heavy curtain. A light at the bottom of the curtain shines upward and is the only illumination; all other lights have been dimmed. What is going on behind the curtain is anybody’s guess.

After a few bars of recorded violin music, the curtain opens. An old man sits on the stage in a rocking chair smoking a cigarette. His hair is sparse and white. He wears a black suit and an old-fashioned string tie. He regards the people in the audience with a smile and a slight nod, continuing to smoke the cigarette. There’s a snigger or two from the audience and somebody coughs. This is not what people have expected.

The old man continues to draw on his cigarette for a minute or two as if he has all night and then he addresses the audience.

“You are all familiar with me,” he says in a strong, clear voice. “I am Satan but through the ages I have been known as Beelzebub and by many other names. I am standing by your side when you tell a lie or when you call your neighbor a dirty swine or when you cheat on a test in school; when you’re fornicating with a person you’re not married to or when you steal your neighbor’s newspaper; when you see your wife’s fat ass and it makes you think of some other woman, maybe the preacher’s wife or your son’s second-grade teacher; when you wish your chattering mother-in-law would take the gas pipe; when you cause a deliberate dent in your brother’s Ford because you’re jealous that he has a new car and you don’t. I am everywhere. From the moment you open your eyes on this world, I am there to catch you when you fall.”

He pauses and draws the smoke from the cigarette down into his lungs.

“After those brief introductory remarks,” he says. “I will now take questions from the audience.”

His deep-set eyes scan from left to right and back again. He holds the cigarette up near his face and smiles. Anybody paying any attention sees that the cigarette doesn’t burn down the way a cigarette always does but stays the same as if it has just been freshly lighted.

“Any questions?” he asks again, to spur the audience along.

“Where’s your pitchfork?” someone asks.

“It’s in your eye or in your back or wherever I want it to be,” the old man says. “Always at the ready.”

“How old are you?” someone asks.

“I am older than the human race. I was the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to partake of the forbidden fruit. She fell readily and then she took Adam with her, thus resulting in the sorry state of the human race forever after. Be ever mindful of the role Eve plays in the Downfall of Man.

“I was Cain, who killed Able. I was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. I was the Emperor Nero who threw a party for friends by the light of burning Christians. I was Napoleon Bonaparte, who tore Europe asunder with his mad ambition and military adventuring. I was every despot since the beginning of man who trod on the backs of the masses. I am everywhere, in every age. If you have been told in your religious training that God is everywhere, you must know that I also am everywhere.”

“I don’t believe you’re really Satan,” someone says. “You just look like a tired old man to me.”

He stands up from the chair, takes two steps to the left, raises his arm and from the end of his finger discharges a red-and-yellow fireball into the air that flashes for an instant and then dissipates, leaving a sulfurous smell. Everybody in the audience jumps, screams, gasps, or does all three.

“Now that I have your attention,” the old man says as he reseats himself, “are there any other questions?”

“What does the future hold for us?” someone asks.

“The future for the human race will be a tableau of chaos and confusion, bloodshed and warfare, anarchy and wholesale death. Any other questions?”

“What did you say when God kicked you out of heaven?”

Goddamn it all to hell.”

“Why doesn’t God just kick the crap out of you once and for all and be done with it? After all, He’s God. He can do whatever he wants.”

The old man laughs. “He won’t do that. Then He wouldn’t have any more sport with me.”

“Could you ask Him to forgive you and take you back into heaven?”

“I am a reprobate. If you look that word up in your dictionary, you will see it means a person who is irredeemable and beyond God’s forgiveness.”

“What makes you so bad?”

“My badness feeds on itself. It grows and grows until one day it will consume the whole world.”

“What happens then?”

“The end. The Apocalypse. The earth will become a fiery hell, an everlasting burning hell.”

“And all the ‘saved’ go to heaven?”

“That’s not my department.”

Ellis Crumshaw can stand it no longer. Everything he has heard and seen convinces him beyond any doubt that this old man is Satan. He stands up and steps to the left out into the aisle and takes a few steps toward the stage.

The old man sees Ellis coming toward him hesitantly and frowns. He has been confronted before by hecklers or someone intent on doing him harm and must be wary.

“Yes, young man?” he says. “What’s the trouble?”

“Please, sir,” Ellis says. “I need your help.”

“Have you murdered somebody?”

“No. I want you to take me back to hell with you.”

Everybody turns in their seats to get a look at Ellis.

“You’re a strapping young fella,” the old man says with a smile. “You have many good days ahead of you. You don’t want to do a foolish thing you can’t undo.”

“No,” Ellis says. “You see, there’s a girl…”

“Ah! There’s always a girl, isn’t there?”

“No, there’s this girl. She’s older than me. Quite a bit older. She says she’s going to have a baby and that I’m the father. She says I have to marry her or she’s going to the police and tell them I raped her.”

“And did you rape her?”

“No, I didn’t. Her name is…”

“Don’t tell me her name. I don’t need to know her name. I see her plain as day when I look in your face. I know her. She’s one of ours. She’s going to have a baby all right, but the baby ain’t yours. She needs a husband, all right—and fast—before her maw and paw find out the father of her baby is her own brother. She wants desperately to marry somebody and she wants that somebody to be you because you’re young and good-looking and she wants to train you in her own ways.”

“What should I do?”

“You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to marry her. You don’t even have to see her again if you don’t want to. If she confronts you, tell her you know who the father of her baby is and it ain’t you. That should shut her up.”

“Thank you, sir!”

“And stay away from that sort of woman, you hear me? They’ll eat you alive.”

“Yes, sir!”

He sits backs down, embarrassed, wondering where he ever found the courage to approach Satan in front of all those people. He is sure his face is as red as it’s ever going to be.

When the show is over and Ellis is leaving the tent along with the others, someone takes hold of his arm.

“What is it?” he says with a start.

“He wants to see you,” the unknown someone says.

He doesn’t even need to ask who he is.

The old man has taken off his coat and tie. He has a towel around his neck as if he has just done battle with an opponent in the ring. He is sitting on an orange crate, drinking whiskey from a bottle. He smiles when he sees Ellis but doesn’t get up.

“Sit down, boy,” he says, pointing to another orange crate.

Ellis hikes his trousers and sits, feeling nervous to be this close to Satan.

“What’s your name?” the old man asks.

“Ellis Crumshaw.”

“Live around here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I thought it took a lot of nerve for you to do what you did tonight in front of all those people. How did you know I wouldn’t turn you into a pile of ash?”

“I didn’t even think about that.”

The old man laughs and takes a drink from the bottle. “How would you like a traveling job?” he asks.

“Doing what?”

“I need a bodyguard and a valet.”

“What’s a valet?”

“Somebody to brush the dust off my shoes, send my suit out for cleaning, bring me an egg sandwich whenever I want it, find the nearest liquor store.”

“I guess I could do those things,” Ellis says.

“Do you like traveling?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never traveled.”

“Never been anywhere, I’ll bet.”

“No, sir.”

“Wouldn’t you like to get out of this jerkwater town and see the world?”

“I guess so.”

“You’d get room and board and, while the job doesn’t pay much, you’d get a stipend.”

“What’s a stipend?”

“You’d always have a little money to call your own.”


“So, you want the job or not?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“We pull out early Thursday morning. If you want the job, be here at six-thirty sharp and I don’t mean quarter-to-seven, either.”

“Yes, sir.”

When Ellis gets home, his mother is already in bed. He is so excited about having a traveling job without even looking for one that he can’t sleep. He thinks about the exciting cities he’ll see and things he’ll do and people he’ll meet.

He has all the next day to pack a suitcase and prepare his mother for his departure. He doesn’t mention that he will be working for Satan because he is sure she will get the wrong idea and it will trouble her. He tells her he is going into the show business and will write her a letter whenever he can.

And, so, in this way Ellis Crumshaw becomes attached to a traveling show. He never gives Nonnie Lowbridge another thought but is mindful, always, of the part that Eve plays in the Downfall of Man.

Copyright © 2023 by Allen Kopp

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