When I was a kid, I decided to conjure up the devil. Which may sound strange, but was actually pretty standard for the way my mind works, even as a child. Exactly why I wanted to see the Devil, I can’t say. It’s not as though I had any pressing questions I wanted to ask. Nor did I have any intentions of selling my immortal soul. At that age, the only thing I really wanted was for this cute little girl named Billie Jo to notice me; but even her attentions weren’t worth the cost of a soul. Besides, I was a rather bookish little boy and knew all too well how deals with Old Scratch turned out. There was always some loophole that tricky little bastard would find, some way of royally fucking you over without ever really reneging on the initial agreement. And I wanted no part of that.
I spent the better part of a week laying the groundwork for my little experiment. One of the key components to the setup was the mirror in which Satan’s face was supposed to appear. Easy enough. Between my mom and my older sister, there were several mirrors laying around and I chose one that was kept in a basket beneath the bathroom sink. It was about the size of a paperback, had a plastic frame of undetermined color (I am partially color blind) and fit nicely beneath the mattress of my captain’s bed. Red, however, is a color that I can almost always distinguish, so procuring a candle in that color wasn’t very difficult either. I grew up in a very rural area and it wasn’t unusual for storms to knock the power out, which meant there was always a supply of emergency candles and matches in one of the kitchen drawers. The problem was the taper I’d selected was quite a bit taller than the mirror. The instructions were pretty specific in stating that the flame of the red candle had to be reflected in the mirror. In a rare display of practicality, I took my trusty pocket knife and sawed approximately half of the candle away, which was then buried at the very bottom of the trash can in hopes that it would never be found.
The last piece of equipment I needed was sand. I’d initially considered going into the backyard and just taking some dirt from one of my mother’s flower beds. But dirt isn’t the same as sand, I reasoned, and I knew when it came to something like conjuring the devil cutting corners was the last thing you wanted to do. So I ended up filching a sandwich bag from the kitchen and taking a walk one afternoon along the bumpy, winding road of Falling Rock Hollow (pronounced in the local dialect as Holler). The road parallels an unnamed tributary of the Elk River and, if followed long enough, eventually comes to a nice little swimming hole, complete with a large boulder that the older kids used as a makeshift diving platform. The bank of the swimming hole was a steep incline where the roots of trees poked through hard-packed earth and the bed of the swimming hole was covered with algae slick stones and sharp little rocks that poked and scraped at bare feet. Separating these two environments however was a long, narrow strip of white sand.
After collecting a bag of the sand, I hightailed it back home. I’d simply told my mom that I was going for a walk, which was not exactly a lie. However, my self preservation instinct told me I’d be in a world of trouble if she discovered I’d walked all the way to the swimming hole by myself so I practically ran the entire way. It’s funny, in retrospect, how the threat of being in trouble was more scary to me than the prospect of conjuring up the Prince of Darkness. But I digress.
With all the key elements in place, my plan was set in motion. That night I laid in bed, pretending to sleep but actually listening to the sounds of the house. I could hear the muffled sounds of my parent’s television from their bedroom, the creaking and popping of settling wood, and my own pulse, beating rabbit quick. I had one of those flimsy, plastic wristwatches you use to be able to get from gumball machines. On the side of the face were these little nubs and if you squeezed both at the same time a very dim light would shine, enabling you to see the LCD. This allowed me to keep track of the furiously slow moving time.
Eventually, my parents went to sleep and the display crept closer and closer to the appointed hour. Around a quarter till midnight, I slipped out of my bedroom window with the collected supplies in my backpack and scurried through the darkness. Those who’ve never spent any amount of time in the country probably don’t realize exactly how dark it can get. With only scattered porch lights and a sky brimming with stars to light the way, the darkness completely envelopes you. And here I was, this little boy, crossing the swinging bridge that spanned the river and following railroad tracks that had ceased being useful when the oil refinery went out of business.
I ended up beneath an old train trestle, huddled in the shadows while I propped the mirror against a mound of cinders I’d scooped up from the tracks. Next was the mound of sand piled directly in front of the mirror, the red candle planted in the center. Eyeing my watch, counting down the minutes as midnight grew closer; I held my breath with the match pinched between fingertips, ready to strike at just… the right… moment.
The night was as quiet as the country really gets. Tree frogs chirped from the darkened woods that surrounded everything. Hidden insects whirred their wings and a howl hooted in the distance, so sad and forlorn that it could have very well been the last of its species. The Elk River gurgled and babbled over rocky shoals and all else was cemetery silent.
Idyllic Rural Town vs. The Fallen Angel.
At precisely midnight I scratched the Light-Anywhere, blue tipped kitchen match against a rock and touched flame to wick. There was a soft yellow glow surrounding the candle and its aura reflected in the mirror like a fiery halo. At that very moment, wind started howling through the trees and from the other side of the river hound dogs brayed and barked as if suddenly startled.
I kid you not.
Needless to say, this kind of freaked little me out. I scurried out from under that trestle, scrambled up the embankment, and ran until stitches of pain pierced my sides and my lungs felt as though they were on fire. The entire time I felt like something was just behind me, something dark and fast, viscously ruthless, and wanting nothing more than to swallow me whole. To stop running would be to die. Of this, I was sure.
Familiar landmarks took on sinister new meanings in the darkness; when I came to the foot of the bridge, there was this little oasis of light cast from the lamps overhead. For one fleeting second I felt safe, like nothing bad could ever touch me; and then that little sanctuary of light was gone and my attention was riveted on the next street lamp, the next floodlight mounted to the side of Bridge Elementary. Moving through the night like a skipping stone through pools of light and shadow, I ran until my thighs felt as though their ligaments were being stretched on a rack, unntil I was half dizzy with hyperventilation and my stumbling feet wanted to betray me.
I hit the fence separating the school’s playground from my yard like a pouncing mountain lion. With fingers hooked through the chain links, my toes knew the way. They’d been over this fence thousands of times before and knew exactly where the next foothold was, where the supports were weaker and the fence tended to sag. Vaulting over the metal pipe at the top, I landed beside a dogwood tree planted within an old car tire and scraped my knee on a half buried rock.
I then squirmed between the sill and my partially opened window, spun around, and closed the window as quickly (yet still as quietly) as I could. Leaping into bed, I pulled my Star Wars blankets up to the tip of my nose and laid there, watching the shadows of trees dance on my walls.
Too scared for crying, struggling to catch my breath, I laid there. I trembled. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut. But I couldn’t sleep. For my young mind told me that I’d left a portal open. I’d left the candle burning in front of the mirror with its wax dripping like blood onto the sand below. I’d opened a door and ran away without closing it. Letting who knows what in. And that is exactly how I spent the rest of that long night.