There was a problem. The Old World Boy had been practicing taking bits and pieces of souls for years, and he’d become quite adept. He could slip his devilish hand in and out of a soul with the same ease as a child dipping their hands into a pond to ease a turtle from its chosen place of slumber. He had taken so many that he began to age less and less. At this rate, it would be a decade before he’d hit puberty. That, however, wasn’t the problem. The problem was with the owners of these souls. Regardless of whether it was a cat, frog, or fly, these creatures would always find the quickest and most efficient ways to commit self murder as soon as their souls were returned. The lengths that these creatures would go just to rid themselves of the lives that God had so graciously crafted for them was beyond reason. Frogs would climb to the tops of trees before leaping to their deaths. Cats would submerge their heads in water. Foxes would somersault into traffic with great haste. He’d once even witnessed an extremely dedicated squirrel fashion a noose out of muscadine vines before finding the closest spruce and hanging itself by the neck until dead.
It was not the boy’s intention to kill these creatures, not after taking something so important to them. He’d have to stop this. He was certainly doing enough damage as it was.
One evening, after the sun, but before the moon, he’d found himself in the presence of the most peculiar red raccoon, which appeared from behind an oil drum like an angel in a dream. It scanned the Old World Boy with shrewd, honest eyes, as if trying to think of the proper question that this answer coincided with, but its thoughts had betrayed it. The boy and raccoon had only locked eyes for a fraction of a second before the boy had descended upon the raccoon as quick and unforgiving as Oklahoma thunder, pinning the raccoon to the ground by its nose using one finger, and violating its soul with his right hand, using a motion as quick as a handshake between friends at Handee Hugo’s Convenience Store, which is quite quick and almost too convenient. The boy slipped the tiny glowing soul seed into the front pocket of his overalls, as the raccoon rolled back and forth in the dirt like a drunk in an attempt to regain itself. The boy then crouched, watching the raccoon, searching for any suicidal thoughts that may spring forth from its primitive mind. The red raccoon sat up on its bottom and looked into the boy’s eyes. Soon, it began analyzing its surroundings, looking left, then right, narrowing its eyes as it focused on a hawk, which circled above the clouds in it’s personal air space.
“Oh no you don’t!” the boy barked as the raccoon darted off between the boy’s legs and towards the hawk. The Boy from the Old World, determined to prevent this impressive display of self-annihilation, tore off after him as quick as a thought, yelling after the raccoon as if scolding a child. The raccoon, clearing the gas station parking lot and making it to the open field, screamed aloud like a furry, red damsel-in-distress, calling the hawk to do its duty and rid him of his wretched perversion of a life. The hawk heard and responded in kind by diving at the raccoon with the kind of precision that surgeons use to save lives, with the sole intent to eat this noisy, red coon who, at this very moment, was screaming across this Carolinian tobacco field like an ambulance.
Talons outstretched, beak opened wide, tongue flapping in the wind, the hawk seemed to be within a yard of the raccoon inside of three and a half seconds, and as the raccoon closed its eyes and prepared for the next life, it felt a small, sturdy hand grab it by the scruff of its neck and yank it back so hard that it thought its skin may come off all at once. At the very same time, the hawk, who’s mind was already focused on how he would prepare its latest meal (let’s be honest, he’d just eat it raw again), realized that its claws were digging, not into the back of a red raccoon, but into the arm of a little boy, whose right hand had found its way into the hawk’s chest, much to the dismay of the hawk, whose delicate sensibilities had caused it to promptly black out due to shock (and the removal of a piece of his soul).
If a local had seen the whole thing, they probably would’ve stared in disbelief at this boy who had seemingly sprinted (faster than anything I ever saw) into the fray, only to be tag teamed by a pair of ill-tempered woodland creatures, and wondered what the boy could’ve done to cause such a fiasco. The local, of course, would’ve been wrong, and upon further investigation, would’ve witnessed the boy sit on both the hawk and the raccoon and cross his arms in defiance. “Lil’ shits”, the Boy from the Old World would say, “Sit still, ain’t nobody dyin’ today.” And for the next 15 years, the boy would wander the land with these two sinister pets by his side, as well as a dozen other wayward creatures (including an incredibly sarcastic rabbit), until he, as we all do, came face to face with tragedy.
The Crow sat in her tree with a short piece of blood-soaked straw in her mouth. Where the blood was from, she did not know; some corpse, which probably tasted just like every other corpse: the taste of failure. She was fond of this post-meal ritual, because it made her stand out. And why not? Why shouldn’t she stand out? She took a deep breath and nestled her head into her shiny, coal-black, feathers as if she were doing her best turtle impression. Ha! Turtle impression. She’d have to show the others later. They’d get a good cackle out of it. But they weren’t around at this moment. Something had wandered into the woods the day before, and all of her friends had become profoundly disturbed, all with grave looks on their faces and pebbles in their bellies, hopping to and fro, screaming in protest of it’s appearance. At first, she’d believed this disturbance to be the Woman, the Writer Woman, that Sweet Woman who seemed to be inextricably attached to the Old World Dog. They were all wary of this woman, because there was something in her that was old, too old, too foreign, too beautiful. But this was no reason to caw. Something else had appeared. Something had come here on purpose, looking for a fight. A strange thing. The strangest thing of all, appearing first to the Silent Corpse, but now, plotting, delicately walking, sharpening its knives, with nothing but hatred in its twisted amalgamated body for their Old World Dog, which would not be tolerated.
The Crows loved this Dog. They’d watched him grow from a tiny, scared thing into something worth cheering for. They’d fed him when he’d been starving. They’d called out to him when he didn’t know where to go and led the way. They’d broken into harems, homes, and hospitals for him, just like they had for his Beautiful Uncle. Just as they would for anyone in their family who embraced their true nature. The Crows are loyal. The Crows are always loyal.
She remembered the many conversations she’d had with the dog; the sad poems he’d recite for her, the whimpering in the dawn at the sins he’d committed, the way she’d hold him the best she could, though he was much larger than she, the way she’d say “There, there, young dog. We’re all devils here, we’ve no use for love”, even though she had no idea what it meant. He’d been alive for so long and was now in his prime, and would be for such a long time, if only this odd thing would leave him alone. She needed to see his life through. She needed to be there until the end.
Perhaps you don’t know about crows. They recognize faces, they memorize habits, and they follow you. There are no such things as guardian angels, however, if anyone wanted to look into the subject, crows would be the closest thing they’d find to such a wild and bizarre concept, because they don’t die until you do. You don’t pay attention, because they all look the same, but every crow that you’ve ever seen has been the same crow that you saw the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that. They grow with you, they get to know you, and when you fail, they’re there to cackle at you, and drop a piece of corn in the right direction. Every crow has a human, and if you see more than one crow around, then you’re not alone. The reason for this is too controversial to dive into, but just know that she, this beautiful black crow chewing her blood soaked straw, was his crow, and the rest tagged along because members of the Devil’s family were all closely watched by these strange and magnificent birds. Especially in such an old and dangerous wood.
She worried about her dog, but, for now, there was nothing she could do. So instead of cawing in hatred at new perversions in the forest, she watched, she listened, and she spied. Her Old World Dog wouldn’t lay down so easily, not after everything he’d been through. She would insure his dreams, because the Crows are loyal. The Crows are always loyal.
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The Silent Man stared at the Modern Woman as everyone drank and sang around the fire. She was beautiful. She reminded him of a song. Something that he used to…no…he never used to sing. The Loveless Woman did, though, and the Old World Man did, too. But the Silent Man had never sang a word.
He reflected on his day and the strange visit. Nobody else had been there, except for the Silent Man, who had been chewing a piece of jerky when the chorus of crows cried out words of anguish and disgust, howling like great black dogs from the trees. Crows eat carrion. What could they possibly find disgusting? The Silent Man peered upward, searching the trees for the cause, but only seeing the languid dance of the tree tops, which swayed back and forth as if they were trying to uproot themselves and clear the area. Then, upon lowering his head back to eye level, he saw it. The Silent Man was the very first one to see the Kind Man enter the camp. But perhaps “enter” was the wrong word, for the Kind Man seemingly appeared out of nowhere. He stood a few yards away from the Silent Man, dressed in all white (which, after this first encounter, would never again be his color scheme). The first thing the Silent Man noticed was his face, such a strange face. It appeared too feminine to be male, beautifully so, but still emitted a masculine aura. Several times, he’d sworn that he’d seen a slight shift in gender, making him appear more masculine or feminine as if trying to adapt properly to the circumstance.
The Silent Man hadn’t had enough time to gather his thoughts before this strange thing began to advance towards him walking ever so delicately like a chameleon or a finch on a wire. Then, lowering its head to the Silent Man’s level, it stared into his eyes, a long pitiful stare, as if it were about to cry. It even reached out to touch the Silent Man, but decided against it. It decided against the Silent Man altogether, shaking its head, turning and walking off into the woods the same way young maidens used to when they were going to meet with the devil.
Where was he now, the strange thing that would soon come to be known as the Kind Man? The crows were now calm and silent, relaxing in the nighttime air. The Old World Man was drunk and happy, The Modern Woman smiled with delight at his jokes, The Man in the Hat stared off in to the woods, suspicious of woodland creatures, and the Loveless Woman..,what was that look? She must have been plotting something, and that Kind Man was somewhere else. Somewhere far away from here in these old, dark woods.
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The Woman from the Modern Era was a rare breed of human being. More rare than the Tasmanian tiger or the passenger pigeon (both believed to be extinct, but neither are; they’ve just taken to the smart habit of diving behind trees and under logs whenever humans tread nearby). She, however, was never aware of this. She, like most of us, had always assumed that her heritage and ability were as average as average could be. However, she, like most of us, was wrong. She found it odd that the Old World Man had become so interested in her past. He and the Kind Man from some other place had appeared to be absorbing all of the information about her that they could. Of course, the Kind Man seemed to be teaching her more about her past than the Old World Man, who was simply curious. Both, obviously, would be disappointed. Her past was as vast and entertaining as a flattened cardboard box.
She had been raised by both parents in a lovely town in New Hampshire. Her family consisted of herself and three boys, and they all loved each other as a family should. Her childhood was closer to a clipping from a 1950’s Life Magazine than that of a normal person. She had gone to college for English and had become a moderately well-known writer. She was currently in these woods on a self-imposed writer’s retreat, which had been funded by a grant she’d received. Nothing in her life had provoked the kind of interest in her that these two had been showing; the Old World Man with his grumbling inquiries, which droned like a locomotive from his bearded lips and strange, penetrating eyes. The way he’d stare at her when she spoke, as if every word that fluttered from her lips was a dark secret. The way that, like a dog, he’d angle his head when he appeared confused. She was inexplicably drawn to him and would never be able to part from him. The Kind Man, however, was always on the opposite side of the Old World Man. Always offering clarity, always eager to help, always wanting to listen. His delicate features, so strong, yet so fragile, as if they were made to be rearranged. Something odd was in this Kind Man. Something she trusted with her life, but certainly not with anyone else’s; especially the Old World Man, whom the Kind Man seemed to have a deep, abiding, primal aversion towards. She was the Kind Man’s primary interest; her past and future, her loves, needs, wants, and thoughts, and she trusted it… Even though nobody else did.
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The boy’s first victim had been a mouse.
“You don’t kill ’em,” Uncle Devil had warned, “just take somethin’. The bigger the better.”
“Like what?” The boy’s head leaned the left.
“Like what? Well, you could take something easy like a finger or an eye, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll really get the good stuff like sight, speech, kindness, or love.” He grinned like a fox. The boys eyes turned to wet stone.
“Why would you ever want to take love away!?” His voice, a crying accusation.
“I’m sorry, boy. I’m sorry that a delicate thing like you was born to my family line. We’re all devils here, we’ve no use for love.”
The boy was no more able to wrap his head around this, than he could the concept of relativity. “But you’ve loved before… haven’t you?”
The Devil pondered this…
After Uncle Devil’s story, the Boy from the Old World went out behind his family’s barn and caught a mouse using a bit of string, some chicken wire and an acorn covered in peanut butter. He slowly wrapped his fingers around the struggling rodent, who, for some odd reason, seemed to recognize him. As he pinned the small mouse against the concrete earth, it began to bite him, gnawing at his index finger. The boy stared as his deep, black cherry life blood soaked into the mouse’s soft grey fur. The pain was excruciating, but the boy accepted it as punishment for the crime he was sure to commit. Then, just as the Beautiful Man had instructed him, he slipped his fingers into the mouse’s chest as if there were no bones or skin at all. Suddenly, the mouse’s eyes turned as deep as onyx, it’s body paralyzed, limbs splayed out like an oak in winter. The boy felt around inside of the mouse until he found a small, warm, marble like piece in the rodent’s chest.
“What’s this part?” He mumbled to himself as he pulled out the tiny piece and held it to the light for further inspection. The crows in the distance ignited into a chorus of ominous praise as the boy stared at the shining piece of the mouse’s spirit, which could only be compared in appearance to the night sky reflecting off of a wind rippled pond.
“It’s sense of humor?” The boy was confused. “Didn’t even know that mice had those.” He let go of the mouse, who seemed to resurrect itself before limping back under the barn to kill itself.
“In the morning”, the devil had instructed, “You will be different. Leave whatever you take from them on your bedside table the night before. When you wake up and change, take the piece of spirit out into the woods and bury it somewhere safe for when you’ll need it.”
The following morning, a slender, young, hound puppy emerged from the boy’s house and slowly walked across the fields to the outer woods. Nobody witnessed this, because, for some reason, they’d all slept in that day. After finding a satisfactory tree, which was positioned next to an unsatisfactory tree, the hound buried the glowing piece of life into the dirt and silently turned sideways, lifting its leg to pee on the mound of dirt. The crows cackled like old witches.
As the hot stream soaked the tiny spirit’s burial ground, the puppy thought of his beautiful uncle’s words.
“Well, yes”, his Uncle Devil started, “I was in love once. A long, long time ago. And the world hasn’t been the same since.”
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He had, in fact, met The Devil long before he was a man, at a peach pie stand in Concord. The locals in the area who had seen The Devil had given him the nickname “The Beautiful Man” due to the fact that he was abnormally attractive for a backwoods yokel. He smoked a beautiful pipe and when he looked at anything, it was with a penetrating stare that made dogs lie down and children tug at their mother’s skirts. Somewhere in the back of his throat, there was always a song brewing, which would start as a grunt, slide into a hum, and, eventually, find itself out in the open in the form of a full, throaty, galloping burst of wind and melody. His voice was like the progression of plant growth or the song of the humming bird, neither of which are audible to human ears, but are regularly enjoyed by dogs and transient beings who float far off in space, dreaming of us in the forever night time that engulfs our universe.
The Man from the Old World’s father had come over the introduce him as his only living relative; a great uncle of sorts.
“My uncle?” the boy inquired.
“That’s right,” The Beautiful Man smiled with eyes gleaming like light hitting the sugar on top of an apple pie. The Devil continued, “We’re related, you and I, and when you die, you’ll come and live with me in my house.”
“In Hell?” The Boy from the Old World gasped with a dull throbbing sense of horror.
“That’s right. Unfortunately, there’s no room in Heaven for our family tree.”
The boy cried over this for 40 days and 40 nights. Long rivers of silent tears marked his face at all times, salting his food, soaking his scarf, ruining his disposition, until one morning, upon seeing his uncle, The Beautiful Man, standing with his pipe in the middle of a tobacco field, the boy ran to him with an inquiry.
“What if I don’t want to go to hell?” the boys voice quivered.
“Mm,” The Devil thought for a moment. “Well, you’ll just have to not die”.
“But how? How could somebody live forever?”
“It’s simple” The Devil smiled a beautiful smile.
“but you’ll have to hurt a lot of people”.
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