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Speak of the Devil

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The kid spoke of the devil and was killed.

No, I didn't see it happen. I woke when grisly old Firman was screaming for the guards. The warden came with the doctor and they found the kid dead. His neck was broken.

Why? I told you, he spoke of the devil. The kid said the devil was a circus freak who could escape any prison. The kid said the devil could squeeze himself right on through those iron bars. And the kid said he knew the devil's true name, and he'd tell it if the devil didn't help him. That's why he was killed. That very night.

The warden shouted, "Who done it?"

Not me. I was locked in my own cell on the end, next to Firman. It had to be Firman himself or Bobby Bannister who done it. They were on either side of the kid's cell. They could have reached through the bars and grabbed him.

Firman said, "Big Bob done it, Warden. Cracked his neck like a pretzel."

Bannister swore to kill Firman for telling such a dirty lie. The warden laughed because we were all gonna hang anyway. The only way out was through the graveyard. And you know what they did back then when a prisoner died in his cell on death row? They'd put him in a pine box and a shallow grave behind the prison and not say nothing. But this time the warden said leave the body where it was.

"See how you all like that," he said. "See you in the morning."

And they locked us down again and put out the light.

That's when the devil took Bannister. Greasy old Firman put a hand on the bottom of the lock on his cell door, and he just stood there a moment looking at me, and then he smiled. A grisly, greasy devilish smile. And the door swung wide. Firman walked out. He went toward Bannister's cell. I could hear Bannister swearing at him again.

"Yeah, c'mon, liar!"

And then they were struggling in the dark. I couldn't see much but I could tell Bannister's arms were through the cell bars and his hands were around Firman's throat. Then skinny old Firman seemed to grow bigger and stronger. Suddenly Bannister went up and his neck cracked and he fell backwards onto the floor of his cell.

And then the devil came for me. I waited. I watched. Out of the darkness the devil's form seemed to shrink and shrivel as he came closer. But he didn't take me straightaway. He went inside his own cell next to mine, and the door swung shut behind him. He just smiled at me again, that same greasy Firman smile. And he spoke kind of low and raspy.

"I'm getting out of here tonight," he said. "Why don't you come with me? Come closer. I'll show you how."

I backed away. The devil's eyes grew big and he hissed, "Then you will die now!"

He grabbed the iron bars high up between our cells and he climbed and he pulled, and he was squeezing himself through above the crossbar. He strained and he stretched and he sweated until ploosh!, his head was through. His shoulders were tight against the bars then. He twisted and he angled and he strained. He was coming for me! I started to yell.

"Guards! Help me! Help!"

That's when the devil fell. His body jerked back and slid down sudden and his neck caught the crossbar, and he bounced and he twitched and he went still. He just dangled there, toes on the floor. The guards rushed in again. They called for the warden and the doctor again. They found me trembling on my cot, pointing at the devil.

There were three bodies now, each in its own locked cell. Bannister's neck was broke just like the kid's, the doctor said. So was Firman's.

"He's the devil himself," someone shouted, pointing at me.

Me! I got out of my cell and I killed them, that's what they thought. The warden said, "Strip him down." They stripped me naked and they checked the lock on my cell door and they searched my mattress and all my clothes looking for a tool. But they found nothing to pick a lock, because it wasn't me. That's what I was trying to say, but they didn't believe it.

"Take the bodies to the deadhouse," the warden said. "Move him to another cell."

So they put me in a different cell. They put me in Firman's cell!

They left a guard to watch and I pretended to sleep. I kept thinking, maybe the devil is only a man. Maybe he didn't ever get big, and maybe I was just crazy like they always said. If Firman was just a man then he had to have help. Someone must've fixed the lock on his cell so he could open it. But that wouldn't get him past the guards and the prison walls. So maybe there'd be a diversion that night. Maybe someone was gonna set a fire, and maybe a bomb would blast a hole.

Later another guard came, and they looked at me lying still. And then they left and I was alone. I got up and I curled my pillow and blanket and all my clothes with Firman's so it looked like someone was there, and I checked the lock on the cell door. Yeah, there was a hole cut in the bottom just like I figured.

I pushed and the lock opened up. I went out to the cellblock entrance. It was quiet and nobody was around. I could see across the yard. The door to the deadhouse was open below the gallows. I ran to the deadhouse and went inside. It was dark but I could see the form of two covered bodies lying there, and I saw tools and wood where the guards had been making pine boxes. They were on a break, I guessed. And one pine box was already built.

That's when it hit me. The only way out was through the graveyard! Sure! If I hid myself in that pine box they'd take me on out past the walls. The lid wasn't nailed shut. Inside was Firman's body. I climbed in on top and I pulled the lid over and I tried to squeeze in tight so the lid would lie flat. Then I felt it. Something moved! He was breathing! I felt hot breath as the devil hissed, "You will die now!" I threw off the lid and I started to scream. I screamed and I screamed and the devil just lay there beneath me. Then I heard guards running and shouting and I remember nothing more. They said I was screaming "It's alive! It's alive!" when they dragged me away and put me in chains.

That was all there was to it. They buried Firman and the others in shallow graves beyond the wall. But they buried Firman alive. And you already know what happened to me. I was tried again, this time for the murders done by the devil, and I was declared insane. That's better than a hanging, don't you think?

But one witness was missing from my trial. The prison doctor was never seen or heard from again. I could have told them where to look, if I'd wanted to. I could have told them, but I didn't. Why should I? I would hang if they knew I wasn't crazy. I would hang if they knew the doctor worshiped the devil and dug him up from his grave and set him free.

The doctor's own neck was broken then, I figure, just like the kid's, and he was buried by the devil in that same pine box. I know this because, you see, the devil never left a breathing witness. He'll come for me next, sure as hell. And now that you know, he'll come for you, too.

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