Robert Wallace Paolinelli
705 Vallejo St.
San Francisco, CA 94133
A DEVIL OF A STORY
ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI
I happened to walk down a small, quiet street one day, a beautiful early summer morning. Just meandering in an unfamiliar neighborhood. On the steps of one of the quaint houses on the quiet street, sat a man, an ordinary looking man, not particularly well–dressed, but not unclean or unkept. As I approached he said, "Excuse me, do you have any matches?" So saying, he pulled out a pipe and stuck it in his mouth and clamped his teeth on the stem.
"Yes, I do," I replied, and, reaching into my pocket, I fished out a small box of wooden matches and handed it to him. He took his time lighting his pipe as if I had all the time in the world and, frankly, I was growing impatient by the time he had used up three of my matches. "I can't seem to keep it lit," he said, apologetically, and that made me feel better about being waylaid.
"If you'll allow me to clean my pipe I think the next match will do the trick," he said, whereupon he took several pipe cleaners, put my matches on his right knee, pulled his pipe apart and with the bowl balanced on his left knee, he began swabbing out the mouthpiece. The once white pipe cleaners grew black with the accumulation of tar. "You ought to clean your pipe more often," I remarked, as he started on the third cleaner. "Yes, yes, quite right. I should; but I don't often smoke it and I often forget I even have it. You are most kind being so patient with me."
My impatience was over with his words, so without invitation, I sat next to him, and silently watched him clean his pipe. He took a fourth cleaner and began on the stem and it, too, proved to have been clogged as the mouthpiece. I waited. "Do you know what I am?" he asked me suddenly, as he continued to swab out his pipe stem. What an odd question, I mused, and was at a loss as to what to answer him; but he spared me a reply: "I'm a devil, sent on a most important mission by my exacting master, and I'm not sure what to do next."
Immediately I knew the man was mad: A devil, indeed. But having nothing else to do, I decided to humor him. "Well, if you are a devil, you must have a trick or two up your sleeve, and I don't think you need my matches any more."
"Quite the contrary, I do need your matches; and if you'll continue to be patient, I'll soon finish cleaning my pipe, and you can be on your way."
"I replied: "If you are so intent on having a smoke, take your time, I'm in no particular hurry."
"I know," he said.
"You know? Know what?"
"That you are in no particular hurry; for you see, I've been waiting for you."
"Waiting for me? What on earth for?"
"As I've said, I am on a mission for my master."
"And what business does your 'master,' as you call him, have with me? And anyway, who is your master?"
"You don't know?" he said, a bit surprised.
"No, I don't."
"But I thought every one knew him; but I must be too presumptuous. Are you sure you don't know him? He's been known for aeons––if not longer."
By now I was certain I had been waylaid by a lunatic––and possibly a dangerous one––and I made to go; but he put his hand out and stayed my going; and, oddly enough, I offered no resistance.
"As I've said, I've been sent on a mission by my master and I can't fail him. So be patient. You'll be glad you did. Ah, there now, I think the pipe is sufficiently cleaned." He put the mouthpiece into the stem, gave a couple of sucks on it and I could hear air pass through. He struck a match and puffed. Clouds of smoke issued forth and I could tell by the gleam in his eye that he was satisfied. He puffed in silence for a while and I sat silently, too, feeling suddenly very much at peace.
"Now down to business," he said, taking the pipe out of his mouth. "My master has expressed a great interest in your well–being and has asked me to offer you a proposition you would do well not to refuse––if you don't mind my saying so."
"And what if I refuse?"
"Refuse? How can you say such a thing? You've not heard me out."
"If you are who and what you say you are, and if you are from whom you say you are sent, then I can tell you, without hesitation: I am not interested in any offer put to me," I said, righteously.
"Come, come, sir, you refuse and nothing has yet been offered. Nevertheless, allow me to continue: My master has, in his great magnanimity, consented to give you whatever you might ask."
"Oh! And at what price: My soul or my shadow?"
The devil laughed, "Ho, ho, ha! you are amusing. He doesn't do that sort of thing any more. I must tell him, though, that people still believe those old stories––well they might have been true once––but no longer. Times have changed, and so has my master. So, to answer your question, no, not your soul and most certainly not your shadow. He has souls and shadows enough."
"Well I can't believe your master is so generous that he offers gifts without something in exchange."
"Nothing. He wants no collateral, no chattels, no liens on anything. He simply wishes to offer you this gift as an expression of his deep admiration for you."
"Admiration for me? What on earth for?"
"You don't know? Come, you are being too modest. He knows all about you."
"Keep the matches, enjoy your pipe and tell your master I don't care what he knows about me. And I couldn't care less for your master's admiration. Good day to you, sir." This time when he went to put his hand out to stop me, I pushed it away. "Don't try to stop me. I'll not be waylaid by you any longer."
"Why all this mistrust and anger? You certainly have a wrong impression of my master. Let's stroll a bit. I'm tired of sitting here, and as we walk, I can tell you a few things you might be interested in."
I agreed and knew I would wend our way to the main street and lose him in the crowd. As we walked he said:––
"My master has admired your books, has read every last one of them. He especially liked your latest novel where the pioneer family dies of starvation, but the son, who was the strongest, feasted on his parents' corpses and managed to survive. A brilliant story, he called it."
"I find that repugnant," I said, indignantly, for my novel had been based on a true story and the cannibalism episode was not the focal point of the story.
"And the novel before, where the insane professor kills his students in a cruel lab experiment."
"But that was also based on a true incident at the state university. I didn't make it up."
"Nonetheless, he thought it a delightful tale; and your short stories––I admit I'm not much of a reader myself––but the one where the distraught wife jumps off the cliff with her two small children because her husband's marital infidelities were more than her innocent soul could bear. I found it a remarkable tale. Did you know her and her family? You seemed to be so informed on the intimate details of their lives."
"Fiction––it was just a story––art for art's sake. Don't you know that?"
"I know nothing of the kind, but I know a good story when I read one. Now, what would you like––no strings attached: Immortality? Power? Riches? All three? You've but to chose and I shall bestow one or all upon you."
"First of all I think you are mad; and, secondly, I'm convinced you've escaped from some insane asylum and I want nothing to do with you," I said, angrily, and, as I made to leave, I felt such a sudden heaviness in my legs that I could not take a step; and then I knew I was in the power of a devil and I thought fast. What could I do to get away from him? In a flash I had it!
"Very well, but first you must release me and give me back my mobility. I give you my word I shan't try to run off."
"Agreed," he said.
"Now you've said your master will give me whatsoever I want––and no strings attached. Is that not so?"
"Yes; you have stated correctly."
"Very well, this is what I want: I want you to stop following me and to never come near me again and to disappear."
"If that, sir, is your wish, then, as per my instructions, I must obey," and right before my eyes, he vanished; and where he once stood was my box of matches. I bent down and picked up the box, and putting it in my pocket, I went on my way. When I reached the main street, I scanned the headline of the morning paper which read: BOY 15, SHOOTS GIRLFRIEND, THEN SELF, OVER CHEWING GUM.
What a marvelous basis for my next novel, I thought. But suddenly I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to vomit and scream out loud and weep that that youngster had done what he had done––and then I understood why the devil's master had loved my stories: They were exactly the kind he liked and I felt wretched. I gave up writing and became a street sweeper.
After storm with some times just a few hours of respite in between. We have plenty of uncut logs stacked out, Then I saw that we had only two cords of wood left, I told the boys we would take advantage of the break horse to the wagon, and go out to the abandoned coal mine about three miles away. It would be a lot of logs and split them. As soon as we have another break in the weather we can do that