09 June 2015

The Time I Saw the Devil's Horns, An Absolutely True Story

Not sure but I think I was about four or five years old when I saw the Devil. I was playing by myself  in the backyard. It was something to do with dirt and it might have included army men (which is what I called my toy soldiers) or digging or pretending to be a pirate or maybe I was building a house like my dad who was a carpenter. As a kid I loved the dirt and I grew to love mud and puddles. In my teen years my friends and I would play tackle football on the day after a good steady rain when the field would be muddy. As a soccer player I never felt I had played until my legs and uniform were smeared with dirt or mud. One of my coaches noted how I always found the puddles during soccer practice and received passes and took shots from them.  I didn’t need to be a soccer player to constantly have scrapes and bruises on my legs although playing the sport kept the tradition going for me into my 20s. I was in many respects a typical kid, especially when I was about five when this story takes place.

So anyway there I was a mere lad playing in, and perhaps with, the soil when I came face to face with the Great Satan. Or so I was convinced. What I found myself looking at was the two horns of Beelzebub sticking up out of the ground. They had to be his, they were red and it was common knowledge that the Devil was red from head to toe (as were my favorite college team's bitter rivals) I was already learned enough to know that the Devil resided in a place called Hell and its location was in the bowels of the Earth. So of course the embodiment of evil would have to rise through the ground to pay us humans a visit. My broad understanding of the netherworld and its denizens came from that perfect of all combinations for a youngster: Christian Sunday School and cartoons.

I quite clearly recall feeling two things: terror, because I was soon to be looking square in the eye of the Prince of Darkness, and dead certainty that all this was quite real. There was no denying what my eyes were seeing. I took the only course possible: I hightailed into the house to notify the family that Mephistopheles was in our backyard. For all I knew he was going to get into Mom’s garden, or Dad’s toolshed or big brother and my tree fort.

Much to my surprise and chagrin no one took my warning seriously. This was really frustrating. I was no clown, I was the messenger of incredible tidings that should either send panic through the household or, more likely, inspire someone to take action. I had but little doubt that my father could beat the snot out of the Devil. In my mind dad was invincible. He had, after all, fought in a war and survived being on a ship that was torpedoed and traveled all about the world, plus he was stronger than any man who lived and nicer than anyone else too.

Finally my father relented and came to investigate this invader from Hades. When we got to the sight of the Devil’s horns there was one missing. How could it be, I wondered, that the El Diablo had retracted a horn? And why? In any case I pointed out the one remaining horn to my father so he could prepare to slay it. But instead of taking an axe, or even a hoe, to Satan, my father pulled the horn out of the Earth and informed me that far from being a horn of the Devil, it was a worm. The worm wriggled in Dad’s hand as if to emphasize the point. I was overcome with the twin feelings of relief and disappointment. As a future journalist I already knew a big story when I saw one and having the Devil in your backyard is infinitely more interesting than a stupid worm. On the other hand my soul was safe for another day.

I believe my father returned to the house at this point and I resumed whatever game I was playing or just as likely started a new one. I did, however, reflect on the improbability of two worms appearing seemingly simultaneously just a few feet apart. It was as if they were a couple scoping out the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to me at the time, coincidences do occur in our world and the fact of them is far more real than most of the supernatural mumbo jumbo that a lot of people swallow whole.

All these decades later I still recall the feelings I had that day and marvel at the fact that two worms emerged from the ground together. Of course the event owes a lot to my vivid imagination which kept my mind occupied throughout my childhood (hell, who am I kidding, it still does). A wild imagination is a wonderful thing for a child or anyone else. Sure there are pitfalls. For much of my childhood I was convinced that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln lived in bedroom closet and so kept the door to it shut tight at bedtime. Today in our bedroom we have a walk-in closet (well, you could walk in if we didn’t have so much damn junk on the floor) and I still make a practice of shutting its doors before retiring in the evening. No, I don’t think Honest Abe’s ghosts live in it anymore than I think there is a Devil. Then again, why take chances?

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