He Demon

By Ellie Dauber (c) 2002

Here’s something for that Halloween Challenge that seems to be going on. Hope it isn’t too late.

* * * * *

Lemuel stuck a twig into the fire and used it to light his pipe. "Well," he said, leaning back in his chair, "it being right 'round Hallerween, I 'spect you'll wants t'hear a story 'bout spooks and spirits."

"Yeah," Rafe said, his 11-year old eyes was wide. "A scary story."

Little Sarah scootched up against me and shivered. "But not too scary."

"Not too scary, eh?" Lemuel said, taking a draw on his pipe. "Now there's the story -- naw, that's too scary. I wouldn't want to scare Sarah none." He scratched his chin for a moment and took another draw o'tobacco. "There's the story of the ghost whut haunted a river."

"A whole river?" Rafe asked. "Why'd he do that?"

"A-well, when he was livin', he done pulled the biggest fish anybody'd ever seen out that river. He was so proud, his ghost stayed along the river and went... BOO!" Lemuel looked right at Sarah when he said that.

She let out a yell and turned away. Then she turned back and began to giggle.

"Yep," Lemuel said. "He said 'boo!' t'anybody whut tried t'pull out a bigger fish than the one he got."

"What'd they do t'make him stop?" Rafe asked.

"They dug up that there ghost's grave and tossed in a fishin' pole. Then they fills the hole up again. Now that ol' ghost he can fish for hisself, and he keeps quiet so's he don't scare the fish away from his own hook."

"That's silly," Sarah said. She giggled, only it done turn into a yawn halfway through.

"Bedtime," I said.

"Don't wanna go t'bed." Sarah said.

"I don't recollect asking you," I said. "Gimme a kiss and get yourself upstairs."

"Please," Sarah said. "Just one more story."

Lemuel reached over and scritched Sarah's hair. "You go do like your Daddy said. I'll come back t'morrow and tell a story just for you."

"You promise?" Sarah said, looking him right in the eye.

"Cross m'heart and spit," Lemuel said. Then he done just that.

"You done promised me," Sarah said, "so's you gotta do it." She yawned again. "G'night Uncle Lemuel; g'night, Daddy, Rafe." She kissed me on the cheek. Rafe pulled back just in case she tried t'kiss him. She snorted at him like she'd rather eat worms 'n kiss her brother, and marched herself right up t'bed. Me, I just sat there and tried not to laugh at m'son.

'Specially not t'night. Not for what Lemuel was there t'do. I nodded for Lemuel t'start.

"Rafe, I can't rightly believe how fast you're growing," Lemuel says.

Rafe sat hisself up ramrod straight. "Pa says I get a size bigger every month."

"He surely do," I agreed. "I think he's even startin' to notice gals and how they's different from boys."

"Pa!" Rafe said, even in the dim light, I could see his face get all red, like."

"I think he's doing more than noticin' them," Lemuel said. "I reckon he's startin’ t'think about how nice them differences can be. Am I right, boy?"

"Maybe a little," Rafe said quietly. He got hisself a big ol' grin on his face.

"Then I knows just the story t'tell," Lemuel said. "Micah, you r'member Davie Harwell and what happened to him?"

"I do," I said. "But you know it better. You was there, so you get t'tell it."

"All right, then," Lemuel began. "It started... what? ‘bout seven... yeah, seven years ago over in Fulton. A gal, Polly Mae Burton, got herself beat up n'raped on her way home from the general store. The sheriff, he looked, looked high n'low, but there weren't no sign any place of who done it. All Polly knew was that somebody done jumped her from behind. He tore off her dress and her drawers, and he done had his way with her before she even got a chance t'scream."

"Didn't she see who it was?" Rafe asked. I'd just had me that talk with him about gals a few months before. He knew what Lemuel was talking about. I seen him looking at the gals all the time... at his school... at church... everyplace. Gals and what a man could do with them was all he seemed t'think about.

Same as any other boy his age.

"That there was the bad part," Lemuel continued. "She said that she did see his face, and she said it weren't human. It was some kind of an animal head, like a wolf's head, on the body of a man."

"A haunt," Rafe said. "A real haunt."

"Yep, and that weren't the last time it come around. It attacked two other gals. One had herself an old coon gun. She shot it, right in the heart she said. It just laughed. She throwed that rifle at it and ran. She got away, too, and when they found that there gun, the barrel was twisted t'all getout, something she could never o' done herself."

"What about that other gal?"

"There weren't no one around t'stop the haunt, and it done t'her just what it done t'the first." Lemuel paused for another draw from his pipe. "'Cept it done it on soft ground. After we found that gal and sent her t'see the doc, we found tracks."

"Tracks? Naw, a haunt don't leave no tracks." Rafe said it sure as he could.

"This one did," Lemuel said. "Ya see... well, I'll tell ya soon enough. We got ourselves dogs, good coon dogs, and we tracked it. We tracked it for two days. That haunt could hear them dogs, and it just kept on running, through the briars, down the side of a mountain, and through a swamp. We should've lost it, but a haunt, it don't smell like nothing else them dogs ever smelt. You couldn't 'a shaken them off the scent with dollars nor dynamite."

"We saw fresh tracks when we got ourselves out of that there swamp. We thought it was too easy -- that they wasn't the haunt. Them dogs knew. They started in barking and pulling at their leashes, so we men followed. We followed them tracks across open country for about a mile. Now we was on a farm, fences and a plowed field, but we weren't sure whose."

"And them tracks was getting downright odd. When we first seen 'em, them tracks looked like they belonged to a big ol' man, full growed and then some. But as we was getting closer to the farm, them tracks, they started on getting smaller. By the time we got to the farm cabin, them tracks looked more like it was a boy that made 'em."

"Luke Cromwell, the constable, he was leading us. He walked up to that cabin door and knocked on it like it were something he done every day."

"That door creaked open. We all raised up our own rifles, ready t'shoot the haunt. Only, it weren't no haunt. It was a boy, fifteen maybe, in a pair of overalls. He had sandy blonde hair and a face full a freckles. 'Can I help you, sir,' he says in a tone that'd melt butter on your plate."

"We all thought that them dogs done made a mistake. A couple of us put down their guns and said something real bad about them dogs. Not Luke. He done look down, but he looked at the boy's feet. Sure enough, he had work boots on, boots that looked just the right size to've made them tracks, and they was covered with mud."

"'Anybody in the house here with you, boy,' Luke says, and he points his rifle right at the boy."

"'No... no, sir,' that boy says."

"One of the other men says, 'What're you doing, Luke?'"

"Ol' Luke says, 'I'm catching me a haunt.' He pushes his rifle against that boy's chest and tells him t'get into the house."

"The boy, he backs up into the house. Luke walks in, and the rest of us follow."

"How come that ol' haunt didn't rush 'em?" Rafe interrupted. "You said rifles couldn't hurt it."

"Well, now, I don't know. Maybe it was tired, or maybe a rifle could hurt it when it turned itself into a boy. Maybe... hellfire! All I know is that it was afraid of Luke's rifle. Now, can I get on with this here story I'm telling?"

"So anyway, there weren't nobody else in that cabin. It looked... it looked just like any other one y'might see in these parts, 'cept they was a lot a pictures on the walls, pictures of women cut out from ol' Sears Roebuck 'Wish Book' catalogs and some of them pictures from France that men get with their chawing tobacco. The boy, he had a bunch of 'em tacked all over th'walls."

"'I think we best tie you t'something till we can figure this out.' Luke said."

"The boy just smiled. It must'a been the kind of smile a cat gets when it starts t'play with a mouse. 'That ain't gonna help you none, sir. I gets real strong again, and I can get free of anything. Them guns of your'n, they ain't gonna hurt me. But I'm sure gonna hurt all o’you.'"

"'We'll just see 'bout that,' Luke said. He made that boy lie down, spread eagle on a bed that was over in one corner of the room. Some of the men had rope, and they tied that boy; they tied him down good. They found some more rope -- and some good leather harness -- in a shed out back of th'cabin, and they used it, too."

"When they started tying the boy down, one of the men, Efram Sook, decided that this haunt was gonna take more'n rope t'deal with. Efram told Luke what he was doing, then he headed out -- running fast as he could -- for Pastor Jonas from the Gospel of Our Lord Church. Pastor Jonas, he was the smartest man in them hills, and he was educated, a man of G-d. He'd know what t'do."

"Efram and the Pastor came back in the Pastor's old buggy quick as they could. The Pastor had him a copy of the Good Book and a box of crosses blessed at some place called Lourdes and sent special delivery from there for only $5.85 per set of six. The Pastor had four sets with him."

"They come back just in time. That haunt was coming back. The boy's body was growing muscles like bottomland growed barley, and his face didn't look none too human no more. It was pulling at them ropes and saying all sorts of wicked things when he couldn't break 'em right off. That didn't stop it none. It kept right on pulling, and some of them ropes was starting to show the wear."

"The Pastor come in wearing his good frock coat and the big silver cross that he only wore on Sundays. 'All right, you thing from Hell,’ he says. ‘I come t'send you back thar in the name of Jesus.'"

"That thing hauled off and just spat at the Pastor, but that holy man was sprier than he looked, and he ducked. Good thing it missed him 'cause it burned the wood when it hit the floor of that cabin. That ol' haunt, he just laughed and laughed."

"By now, Efram had them boxes open. They was five men in the cabin besides Pastor Jonas, and they each had them a handful of them crosses. 'Tie one t'each set of them ropes,' the Pastor says. 'Efram, you put them four you got under the bed; make a cross out've them.' We was all brave men, and we done what the Pastor said. It took a few minutes, the way that thing kept pulling at them ropes, twisting 'em in our hands, but when we was done, that haunt stopped pulling the ropes. It just laid there and glared at the Pastor with big yellow teeth, like a mad dog."

"Pastor Jonas looked at that haunt, kinda sad like. 'Why you come here, haunt; why did you do this to that poor young boy?'"

"The haunt bared its teeth. 'He... Davie... wanted me... wanted me to come... wanted the power I bring... power over the females that he hates... that he wants... the females that won't love him as he loves them.' It howled right then, but that howl, it sounded more like the cry of a lonely man than the howl of an angry beast."

The Pastor got mad at that. 'You got no right 'come here, just like he had no right t'be calling you.' He picked up the Good Book, turned some pages and began to read. 'Each o’you men put on one of them crosses,' the Pastor said at one point. 'I don't want this devil jumping hisself into one of you.' He went back t'reading as soon as he saw we all got them crosses on. He read... I don't know... it may've been an hour; it may've been forty days and forty nights. We all stayed there, saying 'Amen' when we felt the need, keeping our rifles ready just in case."

"That haunt weren't laughing now. Its face weren't none too human, but it looked t'me like it was in pain. 'A deal,' it suddenly said."

"One man asked, 'What kind of a deal? The Pastor got you demon, you got nothing t'deal with.'"

"The haunt shook its head. 'I can save this boy pain. I was promised three females, and I have already had two. Give me the third, and I will leave the boy in peace. If not, you must force me out. You will win, but the boy... the boy will feel... pain, great pain.'"

"'The words in this book will protect the boy,' the Pastor said. 'And I ain't one t'deal in the bodies of young women.'"

"The haunt laughed, a pained laugh, but still a laugh. 'No, just in their souls, which can be worth so much more... or so much less.' It laughed again, coughing a little, like it was hurt bad inside."

"The Pastor looked triumphant. 'I am winning, hellspawn, and you will soon be gone back thar t'the pit.' He started reading again. I recognized some of the words from the Psalms."

"All of a sudden that ol' haunt let out a scream that chilled my blood. 'I am going, Pastor, but I will take my payment with me yet.' Then the haunt pulled against the ropes, arching its back like some trapped animal. It started in t'glow, red like an ember, and smoke like oil on a hotplate. The air smelled of what had to be brimstone. Then there was a pop, and it was gone."

"'Is it over?' the boy asked. He sounded kinda scared."

"We all looked at the bed. "'Not yet,' the Pastor said. The boy looked down at hisself. His body was still glowing."

"'I feel right strange,' the boy said. His voice sounded different from b'fore, higher n'softer. Now I seen a lot things in my days, but I never saw anything like whut happened next. The boy's hair was growing, growing fast. It came down over his ears and it didn't stop it it was a-hanging down 'round his shoulders. His face got a little bit thinner, so did his body, all his muscles just sorta went away. I looked at him close, and I could see he didn't have no adam's apple no more."

"Whut was happening to him?" Rafe asked.

"Whatever it was, it kept right on happinging. He got smaller, shorter. In fact the straps of them overalls started t'slip off his shoulders. That bib on them overalls hung down low on his chest. He didn't have no hair on his chest, but he had something thar... two somethings, and they was getting bigger. She saw whut they was doing, and she grabbed that bib and pulled it up almost to her neck."

"She," Rafe said. "What d'you mean, 'she'?"

Lemuel smiled. "I mean there wasn't no boy on that bed. It was a gal, a pretty little thing, with hair down past her shoulders. She still had them freckles, but they just made her look cute, 'specially with them big blue eyes she had. She had a gal's figure, too, I tell you. It was a good thing that she was wearing bib overalls t'cover up things that a man ain't supposed to see in public. Her face was flushed, and she was panting like she'd just done a full days work. It was kinds nice watching them... watching the top of her overaslls go up n'down like they done. "

"What happened to the boy?" Rafe said stubbornly, not quite understanding.

"Why, Rafe, that haunt said it wanted payment. It took payment. Davie called that ol' haunt 'cause of the way he was thinking 'bout gals and whut he wanted t'do with... do to them. So, it took that boy's manhood, changed him into a gal somehow before it got drove out by the Pastor."

I took a quick look over at Rafe. He looked like he was paying attention now, and that was why I asked Lemuel t'tell the tale. A boy his age should be thinkin' of gals, but his ma and me was afraid he was doing it a little too much for it t'be healthy.

"After we got her untied, she climbed off that bed and got a good look at herself. We almost got a good look. Them overalls was way too big for her now, and they almost fell off. The Pastor took off his frock coat and put it over her. He put a cross 'round her neck... just t'make sure. She done picked it up and kissed it."

"Didn't she mind getting turned into a gal like that?"

"No, Rafe. She said she got to hate what that haunt was making her do. She wasn't happy, but she said it was a punishment she deserved."

"'Amen,' the Pastor said, and we all joined in."

"The gal -- she decided to call herself 'Daisy' -- thanked us all for rescuing her. She was an orphan. Her daddy and momma had left her the farm, but she didn't want any part of it now. She rode back t'town with Efram and the Pastor. She sold that farm -- or most of it; gave some of the money t'each of the gals that ol' haunt had attacked."

"She stayed in the Pastor's house. His sister, Miss Hermione, taught her how t'act like a lady. Why I r'member the first time she came t'church on a Sunday. She wore a white dress that Miss Hermione had sewed for her, and she looked --"

"Hold on there a minute," Rafe said, he eyes suddenly very wide. "That haunt gal, is she still living at the Parson's house?"

Lemuel smiled and ran his fingers through Rafe's hair. "No, Rafe, she ain't. Your Aunt Daisy said for y'all to be sure to r'member t'come by her... our house this Sunday for dinner after church."

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