“He don’t have the answers/And if he did, he’d lie
The devil is a joker/And he don’t want you alive…” *
The devil cursed, He had almost been successful in seducing Betsy. Then, that stranger appeared and ruined his fun. Better luck next time, he thought.
But the stranger had been strong in the truth. He had seen through the illusions. The lies. He had stopped him in his tracks.
Most of all, he had been a real preacher. But he had not heard the stranger’s name uttered once. He had no clue who had just beaten him. And not knowing angered him. Heaven had brought in an unexpected warrior. One who knew how to defeat him.
Still angry, he tried to shrug it of. He knew he would see the priest again. It was a matter of time. And next time…next time he would be ready. Or so he thought.
Now at a safe distance from the church, he sat down on a stump to think. He thought he had taken care of everything. He’d seen to the “deaths” of two who had posed a threat to him. He had even scattered the rest of his quarry’s family.
As he sat thinking, he went through the last seventeen years, David had been relatively easy. He had just been a child. His disappearance from the cliff made all assume his death. Yet, he was no more dead than Harkiss.
Harkiss was a little harder. The teen had been onto him from the start. Ever vigilant, the teenaged moonshiner had kept track of every stranger. He had even confronted the devil more than once and won. But the devil never played fair and had his minions lay their hands upon the teen, imprisoning him with his brother near The Devil’s Gate.
But no one would find them. No one would ever know they were still alive. Let them rot in their prison. Their sister belonged to him. He would not be foiled.
Sara and Michael, he had sent into exile. Thomas had gone to war and never returned. Their ma and pa were dead. And Philip and James wandered these hills. He had made sure the family could never unite against him to save their sister. He smiled despite his simmering rage. There was no way to stop him…or so he thought.
Harkiss looked at David. For almost seventeen years, he’d believed that his older brother had died on that cliff. Always climbing. Exploring. Then he had plummeted from view. For those years, they had mourned him…even without a body.
But, for the past couple of years, the two had caught up on old times. Harkiss had broken the bad news of Ma’s death to David. The elder son took it hard. Beyond that, they had discussed it all. And they had exercised their abilities.
And, for the past two weeks, they had watched it pour endlessly. The devil sure had some plan, hiding behind this deluge. Even worse, they knew he was out to deceive. He’d taken on the illusion of being a priest. He’d even mocked them when he revealed the first part of his plan. But they both knew that was not his real purpose.
The shattering of the gate that held them prisoner brought them out of their thoughts.
“Come Forth, Oh Brothers, from your prison,” a voice from beyond commanded, “your time has come.”
Harkiss and David cautiously approached the entrance of their prison, expecting a gate to rematerialize. When it didn’t, and they stood outside, they rejoiced. Looking around, they saw an angel on each side.
“What happened to our captors?” David asked, simply.
“Vanquished, child,” came the answer as each angel stretched out their hands, “take our hands. The time has come. The scions are being gathered.”
Skinner Little had witnessed the opening of the Devil’s Gate. He had seen the devil’s first excursions into the human realm. He had even witnessed the taking of David and Harkiss. He had even tried to prevent both, but had not been strong enough.
He had not held Philip accountable for what had happened. It had not been Philip’s fault. He, too, had tried to prevent the gate from being opened. And he had failed.
Skinner’s brother, Dom, had been the one killed when Harkiss’ still exploded–not Harkiss. Harkiss had already been imprisoned. Dom stupidly thought he could keep the still going in Harkiss’ absence. He had been wrong.
Skinner had never forgiven the devil for the treachery that had caused the explosion. But the devil needed “proof” of Harkiss’ faked death and Dom was closest to Harkiss in hair color. And bone structure. But the explosion had left none of Dom intact. the pieces had been scattered as far as the valley.
In his anger and grief, Skinner hunted down the ones responsible for opening the gate. The kindly, but misguided, Father Paul had been led there. Promised riches that were rumored to be hidden there, and corrupted enough by greed to believe that the gate had been erroneously named, he allowed them to lure-and the words of Looter and Coop McAllen-him into doing the unthinkable.
It had doomed the Reverend Father. Indeed, it was his likeness the devil had taken as his own…erasing the memory of the priest altogether. The McAllens had been rewarded as well, but with empty promises and illusions. Sure, they had found gold, but it was not real. Nor were the gems. Or the relics. Or their promised immortality.
He saw the fear in his eyes once they realized they had been lied to. As they lay bleeding from wounds that would not seal instantly, they begged for mercy. They begged for forgiveness. But it had been more merciful to kill them. He only hoped that God would forgive him.
“You boys were sold a pack of lies,” he had told them, “you ain’t rich and you ain’t immortal. You released hell on earth and lost your souls in the bargain.”
With that, he shot them both in the head. Afterward, he clumsily splashed holy water on them both and prayed for their souls. dousing the bodies, interior of the cabin, and the wood he’d stacked outside with gasoline, he stuffed an oily rag in the mouth of the gas can. He lit the oily rag and tossed the can back into the interior of the cabin.
Everything from that point on seemed to happen in slow motion. He lowered himself behind an embankment seconds before the cabin exploded. Just before the explosion, there came the sound as if a cannon ball or shell had slammed into it, then the shock wave threw Skinner to the ground. It had been unnatural. He had not used that much gasoline. Nor should a small can, like the one he’d used, make that big of an explosion. Looking over the embankment, he noticed that-even though no structure now stood-flames raged.They shot ever skyward, but never left where the cabin had been.Yes, they shot forth from a great crater…almost as if the story of Sodom and Gomorrah had come to life.
That had been two years ago. Skinner had been searching for the devil ever since. Yet, his quarry had remained several steps ahead of him.Now, the wind seemed to whisper a return. And even the rain seemed to confirm.
“Skinner Little,” a voice said from behind him, “your chance has come. It is now time for you to face the devil. But you will not be alone. You complete the circle.”
He twirled around to find an angel standing behind him. He almost brought his musket up to shoot, but dropped it.
“Forgive me, Lord,” he uttered, reaching down to pick it up again.
“I am not the Lord,” the angel replied, “nor will your weapon be of any use in this battle.”
David was the first to appear where his siblings waited, then Harkiss. At first, the other three were apprehensive. Then they realized that all had been an illusion. But there was no time for reunions as Skinner joined the group.
“The circle is now complete.” One of the angels stated. “You have no time to be divided on this. Become one. Your sister and friend’s soul depends on it. Moreover, the fate of the world depends on it.”
*”The Devil”, verse 2 b, By Hoyt Axton. Used with permission.