O lente, lente currite noctis equi.
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned.
–Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593), The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
The tale was blown from the Far East.
It is said that one should be careful not to stray in mysterious paths on a starless, moonlit night.
You might end up with the Devil’s Child.
Luc has never been a superstitious man. To him, what you see is what you get. But for it he has another meaning: what he can see, he really gets. Especially if he could get away with it.
For a thief like Luc, proprietorship is all a matter of flexibility.
He works part-time in a construction site, and full-time in the local bar – as a resident alcoholic. He is certainly able to buy himself a bottle of cheap rum, but a carton of milk is too much to be expected from his meager wage, it matters not if it’s for his son.
“Don’t you go asking me for everything again, woman! I gave you money to buy rice. Cook it, and feed the broth to your child! Better pray I win that damn lottery, then you could drown in all the milk you want!” , to which his hungry, miserable wife would reply with greater vexation – the all too usual prelude to another neighbor-waking shouting match.
That night was like any other.
“Why I even shared my house with that woman is beyond me!” he muttered as he take a swig out of his rum. It seems like he would need to find yet another place to spend the night.
“Hmpft! Bah…is it too much for a man to ask for a peaceful night once in a while?”
The wind seemed to hear his call.
It blew in the northeastern direction, pushing dried leaves and small pebbles to a deserted, crooked little pathway the man didn’t notice before.
“Funny, I could swear I didn’t see this path earlier. But it looks just as peaceful as any man could hope. Crazy, crazy luck…”, as he gulped another mouthful from his bottle.
For an un-intoxicated mind, it would indeed be a CRAZY idea to walk that path, especially if you live in a town where people report sightings of a Lady in White and hearing the cries of a Tiyanak almost every month, or on nights when the Moon is old, weeping in a vast, starless sky.
But this man was under the influence of the spirits. And as the dying hour reached its last second, he took his first step down the path.
The hour that followed was what the old ones wisely call The Devil’s Hour.
“Close those eyes,
You would be wise,
To do no sort of sin,
The Moon shone bright,
Stars hide in fright,
The Devil’s Hour Begins!”
“HAHAHAHA! Sweet, sweet, luck! Lucky, lucky me! Who would have thought I could have a fortune like this without doing anything? Hahahahaha!”
Luc was beside himself with ecstasy. By the time he took the first gold coin he saw off the road, his bottle of rum, his paramour, was strewn aside and got not another notice from its lover as he examined the coin. It looked real enough. He even bit it as old wives would have done, or so he thought, to check for genuine gold. It’s as hard as granite.
“This is the real thing!”
While the moon lit his path, he could see more and more of the gold coins scattered as if they’re mere pebbles. With great lust, he gathered all of them, and when he could no longer hold any in both his fists, he lied on the ground bursting with ecstasy.
He was still singing the nonsensical song he made up about fortune, alcohol, and good luck when the piercing cry broke the night’s stillness. Even the wind stood still. The trees were silent. And the man’s voice was no longer alone in its revelry.
“Good heavens! Is that…is that a child’s cry?”
He lay silently and listened again. He thought the alcohol was already taking effect, and his mind is playing tricks on him.
But the cry started again. And this time it’s determined to not end until it gets what it wants.
When you are under a spell deeply enough, you would have no doubt in anything that you see. You start to think everything is logical enough and just as it should be.
Yet, you’re not really the wiser.
Luc stood up to locate the source of the cry. He thought it’s a bit too wild to be a human babe’s cry, but no animal he knew of could also do that sound. It seemed otherworldly, like a being stepping the borderline between man and animal. That much is certain – at least if you’re not under any spell.
“Looks like it came from that tree”, said Luc, who by that time is still filling his pockets with all the gold he could see even while making his way to the tree.
An old, dead tree.
The old ones would say that an old tree never dies on its own but for two reasons – either the tree spirits voluntarily leave the tree to find a new home, or they were driven out by another, much stronger being who claims residency.
For this particular tree, the latter would be more true.
He reached the tree twice the time he normally would, not because of fear but because of the fixation on filling his pockets, shoes, and any other nook that he could with all the gold he could manage. By the time he finally reached the tree, the cry was already so shrill it made him, a man not prone to superstition, shiver awkwardly.
Luc started circling the old, huge, dead tree, checking the roots and leafless branches as he did. Halfway, he noticed a hollow almost leveling his shoulder.
“Why, you wail too loud for a little thing, ugly one!”
Luc couldn’t help to smirk from amusement, for the Thing, if you are used with looking at human babies, is in fact extremely ugly.
He thought it really was a baby at first – it was the size of a three-month old baby. But its skin looks too dry to be a human’s. You could almost see little scales covering the body, which looks firm enough.
Except the face.
Its face is as wrinkled as the dead tree’s trunk, as any hundred-year old man’s, if not even more. Its tongue is unusually long and has the scarlet color of blood. But all these is nothing compared with its tip, because an inch before it ends, the tongue is unusually bifurcated. Forked.
And of course, it also talks.
“Feed me“, said a voice that sounded like the wind for its wheeziness, yet it’s also very homophonic to a tomcat’s growl.
The Thing was undeniably hideous, but it too closely resembled a human baby that Luc, with his humanity still intact, took the Thing carefully out of the hollow and only then did he notice its tail.
“Look, how am I even going to feed you? What food do you eat?”
“Gold. I eat the gold in your pocket.”
Luc put the Thing on the ground and sat beside it. Very slowly, it stood, held out his hand, and said with subtle menace, “Give me the gold in your pocket.”
The man Luc didn’t know what to do. He’s not certain if what he was seeing was even real. But it felt real enough. The fear was real enough.
And so was the gold in his pocket.
The money he earned all his life could not even sum up to one of those gold coins. It was fortune he never had, and probably would never again acquire. And if one thing was certain, it was his certainty to not give it up.
“You can’t be serious. What you must really mean is , is milk! I can get you milk.”
“I don’t eat food like you do. Do you think I even look like you, human? I eat gold. And of course, things much more precious.”
“But you can’t eat my gold!“, exclaimed Luc, who by then was just starting to feel the real strain of the situation.
“That is MY gold. You only found it. But I can eat other things“, the Thing said with a very subtle hint of malice, “Feed me that, and you can have my gold.”
“What things do you mean?” replied Luc, who was obviously too eager to do anything to keep his loot.
The Thing told him without even speaking.
“Are you willing to feed me that?” the baby-like demon whispered, which by then was a quarter-inch away from his ears.
Luc was not sure what the thing was asking, he thought he knew what it meant but what he thought was too absurd to consider. But of all the world’s absurdities and uncertainties, there were two of which Luc was certain of.
First, that he wants to get away as possible from the Thing.
And that he would NEVER give up his gold.
“I…I suppose so, yes. But the gold is mine! MINE!”
That was all the Thing needed to hear.
With a diabolical grin, he leaned closer, and closer, to the man who until then, we knew as Luc.
“Run, run, add wings to feet,
Go seek a place to hide,
Make noise in your head,
Go envy the deaf,
‘Tis time the Devil cried!
He’ll feed on one’s soul,
Leaves thee more like a hole,
Dreams, hope, fear, love, gone lost,
Aye, the kind of fate,
Even Death abdicate,
Here comes the Devil’s Child!“