Okay, it's day number four of John Remy's Creativity Experiment over at Mind on Fire, and today's Tarot card is The Devil.
I don't know why it seemed so difficult to come up with something for today's card. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I was out of my regular weekday routine. Anyway, I finally did find inspiration and wrote the short story that follows.
I'll call it "The Devil Drives at Night".
It was one of those weird late-night conversations you can only find when you’re twenty and living in a dorm and it’s Friday night and there’s been too much drinking going on.
We all thought we were being so deep and philosophical and daring, talking about how we didn’t believe in God and how nothing really means anything, and what would it matter if it did, since we were all destined to be tiny little cogs in the capitalist machine.
I suppose we all meant it, although I was more agnostic than atheist even then, and I was beginning to come to the realization that even if there was no God, that didn’t necessarily mean that there was no meaning. I figured that I could make up my own and that would be as good as meaning being imposed on me.
Regular little rebel, I was.
As the night wore on and more wine and beer were consumed, we seemed to become more serious and more somber, and the talk turned from the cosmic to the personal. One talked about seeing another girl walk out in front of a car and get thrown fifty feet in traffic when they were both eight years old. Another said he’d been abused by his mother all his life until he was taken away from her when he was ten.
Yet another told about being stranded with his family in the snow in Oregon for several days when they’d taken a wrong turn and gotten stuck by the side of a road. His dad had tried to walk for help, but come back with frostbitten feet and hands. The searchers finally found them, only about an hour before the authorities were planning on calling off the search. If they’d been left out there for another night, they all probably would have died, and as it was, his father had lost both feet and several fingers.
The stories went on like this for most of an hour, getting more and more elaborate, before one girl, slight, shy, with long brown hair and a slight lisp made worse by the beers she‘d had, cleared her throat and said: “You all make me feel so guilty. I’ve never seen anyone die, I was never abused when I was a kid, and my family all gets along really well.
“And I know all of you said you don’t believe in God. Truth is, I don’t think I do, either. But I do believe in the Devil.”
A couple of the others started giggling at that, but others hushed them. I might have been because they wanted to let the girl have her say, but it also might have been because they were sure that she was going to give them something better than just that statement to laugh at.
“I’m sorry, I do,” she continued.
“And you have evidence of this?” That was Randall, who earlier had been explaining that he didn’t believe in anything he couldn’t see, touch, feel and smell.”
“Well…Kind of,” the girl, whose name no one could remember, stammered. “I saw him once.”
That brought another laugh, but it was a little more nervous than the first one had been.
“All that is,” Randall said, becoming louder as he saw a chance to humiliate the girl, “is anecdotal evidence. Unless, of course, you have a photo of him, with the negative, so that it can be tested for tinkering in the lab.”
The girl’s voice became a little louder as well, and the expression on her face shifted from timidity to determination.
“I know it’s anecdotal. I know I can’t prove to you that I saw him. But Shelley can’t prove she saw her friend get hit by the car, either, but none of you have questioned that.”
“It hardly the same thing,” Randall said. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We know people get hit by cars sometimes; it isn’t out of the question that,” he hesitated as he tried to recall the name. “That Shelley might have seen one of those instances. But when you claim that you saw the Devil, which is a fictional construct, you have to produce concrete evidence or no one is going to believe you.”
The girl said, “I don’t care if you believe me or not. I’m just saying, I saw the devil, and I believe he exists because of that experience.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Sarah said. Sarah winked at Randall as she said it. “How did you happen to see the Devil, and where were you, and what was he doing?”
The girl sighed and shook her head. She looked like she knew she was walking into a trap but couldn’t quite help herself or bring herself to backpedal from her statements.
“It was on my twelfth birthday,” she said. “My parents had taken me to San Diego to the zoo, and we were headed back home. It was late, probably close to midnight, and we were on the freeway, the 405, northbound in Sepulveda Pass. My sister, who was in the back seat with me, and my mom in the front seat, were both asleep. My dad was driving. I was still wide awake, watching the cars around us.
“Traffic was heavy even though it was so late because there had been a huge wreck on the transition to the Ventura Freeway. Cars were backed up for miles. One lane would be able to go ahead a little, then it would stop and another lane would progress.
“At one point, a car pulled up beside us, and the driver’s window was right next to mine…”
“Did he have horns and a pointy goatee?” someone said.
“No, he was clean-shaven,” the girl said. “But his eyes glowed red. His whole face had a red cast to it. He turned and looked at me and I felt like he could see right through me. And he didn’t have horns, exactly, but where you might expect them to be, there were little scars.”
“And you could see this in the dark?” Another skeptical voice.
“Well, it wasn’t dark in his car. The interior kind of glowed red, like it had neon lights on inside or something. He had this look on his face, too, like he was thinking at me that I knew who he was and that I should be afraid of him.”
“And so what happened?” Sarah said. “Were there flames and car wrecks all around and general destruction?”
The girl telling the story rolled her eyes. “The lane he was in started moving again and he got ahead of us.”
“That’s all?” Randall said. “You have to come up with a better story than that.”
The girl shrugged. “That’s what happened. You don’t believe me, and that’s okay. But that’s exactly what happened.”
The conversation continued. There were more stories told, some of them pretty horrific.
I noticed that the girl who had claimed to have seen the devil got up and started to wander off a little while after she had told her story. I got up and followed her up the stairs.
When I caught up with her, I asked her, “Why did you do that?”
“What?” she said. “Talk about seeing the Devil?
“I don’t know. Nobody ever believes me. But it happened. I could take you out there right now and show you exactly where on the freeway it happened. If I ever saw him again, I could point him out. And I really believe he was the Devil. But I don’t know why I ever bother to say anything. Even my dad didn’t believe me when I told him, that night after we got home.”
She stopped and thought for a minute. “Maybe I just hope that someday I’ll find someone else who has seen him.”
“Oh,” I said. “Maybe. Well, good luck with that.”
And I walked away, feeling kind of sorry for her. Because I was fairly sure she wouldn’t ever find anyone willing to believe her.
Or at least willing to admit to anyone, even to her, that they’d seen him, too.
How did I know?
I knew because I knew her for the rest of college. Became good friends with her, in fact. But I never, ever told her that I’d seen the same man, also late one night and also in the car with my parents. Only I had been six years old, and it had been on the Hollywood Freeway, just as we were passing the Capital Records Building.
I have never told anyone. Not even my dad, who was also driving the night I saw the Devil.