DO YOU LIKE STORIES? I do. Mostly I like made-up stories (not the kind of made-up story that gets people into trouble, oh no, the kind with aliens and dragons and spaceships and magic in them) but sometimes I like true stories as well (not the kind of true stories that get people into trouble, oh no, the kind with soldiers and explorers and scientists and famous folk in them). Sometimes I write stories too, usually made-up ones. But tonight I am going to write you a true story about the time I met the Devil in a scrapyard.
Now, writers know a little bit of magic, and I can tell by the way your eyes are moving over these words that you don’t believe me but I swear it’s true: I came face to face with Satan and lived to tell this tale.
Young was I then, strong of limb but spotty of chin, and my childhood was still close enough to give me comfort. The world was huge back then, stuffed to bursting with wonders and mysteries and futures galore. My hands were harder, my knees did not click and my back ached much less than it does today. My mind, however, was far more tumultuous than it is now. I was but an ordinary teenager and in no way did anyone think that Satan would come to visit me; although in truth folks would have found this more plausible than a visitation from God.
My Father (the greatest man who ever lived in my Universe) was a mechanic and so it was assumed that I would follow in his footsteps, which I did – though the shoes were exceeding uncomfy. Fate provided me with a job at a small mini-bus company where it would by my task to minister to the needs of ailing and tired vehicular machines. Some of those vehicular machines loved me and were exemplary patients, some were afraid of me and fought against their treatment and a few even died and were dispatched to that Great Scrapyard in the Sky, there to rust in peace for all eternity.
But the Great Scrapyard in the Sky was not where I met the Devil, even though one might assume that if one were going to meet the Devil in any scrapyard then this would be the one he would most likely frequent. And perhaps the Devil does frequent the Great Scrapyard in the Sky in search of second-hand spares for his Volvo, but I have never been there. Perhaps one day I will visit, just to see if he is there rummaging for a spare wheel under the watchful gaze of a scruffy, chain-smoking old man in a greasy cap and ripped wellies.
My young mind absorbed many things; how to repair bodywork and engines and electrical doo-hickeys and windows and upholstery and all the big, chunky bits underneath. I learned to bleed brake-systems, strip and rebuild engines and gearboxes, repair accident damage, write reports and make the tea. I was quite good at it, too. I know this to be true because my Father (the greatest man who ever lived in my Universe) told me so. I also learned to repair the rubber inner tubes they have inside tyres, which must be when the Devil first noticed me for it was this skill that drew me to that scrapyard on that fateful night.
In order to repair an inner tube of the type found inside the tyres of automotive machines, one must first remove the wheel and then the tyre itself. The removal of a tyre is accomplished by the utilisation of several ingenious levers and a great deal of unusual language. It is quite a graceful process to behold, but fairly simple to do. Once the inner tube has been removed from inside the tyre removed from the wheel of the automotive machine, it must be inflated (just a little) and immersed in a bath of water. Once the inner tube is immersed one can easily see where the air is falling out and this telltale sign unerringly leads to a hole. The hole, once located, can be patched with rubber discs and glue that makes you dizzy. The inner tube can then be placed back inside the tyre, which is then placed back onto the wheel which, in turn, is re-affixed to the automotive machine just in time for it to leap once again onto the roads.
When it was wintertime I hated repairing the inner tubes, for my bath of water was located outside in a windy alley under a dribbly gutter. Then one night there was a storm, perhaps the Devil sent it (who knows?), and a big piece of a tree fell onto my bath of water and rendered it ruptured and flat. My Boss – the man who tutored me in driving, mechanics, economics and singing (and because of whom, by dint of his scheming Machiavellianism, I learned never to trust another living organism for as long as I shall live) telephoned several scrapyards in search of a new bath. He spent a long time in his warm office that day, telephoning scrapyards for baths, whilst I tidied the yard in the coldly wind and bitterly rain. But I was young and said nothing and contented myself by muttering and grinding my teeth as if this would stop the coldly rain from dribbling down my collar.
So when the night fell again I found myself in a desolate scrapyard looking for an old enamel bath that a scruffy, chain-smoking old man in a greasy cap and ripped wellies assured me was there somewhere. And whilst he sat in front of his fire toasting teacakes, sipping double-malt and tut-tutting at the awful weather outside his comfy home, I contented myself by muttering and grinding my teeth as if this would stop the coldly rain from dribbling down my collar.
So now we are close to the end of this story – and it is a true story, but not the kind of true story that gets people into trouble, oh no – and the Devil is near. Can you feel him, waiting further on in the words? I can feel him and I have not even written the words yet, so I expect it is worse for you as the words are already there and he is trapped in them just a little further along. I shouldn’t think that he can escape from the words, so don’t worry. Watch him though, when you get to where he is. Keep an eye on him.
The wind blew hard as icicles and the rain stung like goblin arrows and the lightning flashed and thunder roared. It was bitter cold and dark, my boots had decided to leak and my nose glowed a soft blue in the darkness.
(Here I must apologise for a major untruth; there was, in fact, no lightning nor uproarious thunder. All the rest – save also for a glowy nose, perhaps – is pure unvarnished truth. The thunder and lightning are here as “poetic license” and because no self-respecting story about the Devil would be complete without it. You may call it a lie if you wish, but as it is the kind of lie that will not get anyone into trouble, I do not mind, oh no.)
I had located the bath, which transpired to be heavier than had been initially indicated, and was struggling to heave it along, muttering and grinding my teeth as if this would stop the coldly rain from dribbling down my collar, when suddenly there he was.
Revealed in a flash of poetically licensed lightning and a titanic peal of fictitious thunder stood Satan himself; Beelzebub, Lucifer Morningstar, The Fallen One, Lord of the Flies, Prince of Darkness, Giver of Lies, Old Nick, Louis Cipher, Darryl Van Horne, Old Pointy Tail, He of the Pitchfork. Except that he didn’t have his pitchfork with him, which I took as a Good Sign.
Seven feet tall he was, with eyes that shone an evil red in the pitiful beam of my ailing torch. He had two horns atop his mighty head and steam billowed from his nostrils as it billows from large mugs of hot coffee. I could see he had his arms folded behind his back and he shifted his weight slightly on his two hooves. I instantly ceased muttering and grinding my teeth as if this would stop the coldly rain from dribbling down my collar and turned my thoughts to damnation and questions as to what I had done to deserve this. We stared into each other’s eyes for one of those strange, long seconds you sometimes get when the Universe seems to take pity on you and give you a moment to catch up.
Then suddenly the whole world altered.
What I had thought was the Devil transpired to be a horse standing directly in front of me so that I could only see its front legs in the cold and windswept, rainy gloom. The horse seemed to realise what I was at the same instant that I realised what it was. (I have often wondered what the horse thought it saw, but I no longer do this, as along that path is the diversion to equine madness.)
So I put the replacement enamel bathtub in the back of my automotive machine and drove off into the dirty night laughing at my erroneous brush with Satan in a scrapyard. And that was that.
Or was it? Did I simply mistake a horse for the Devil or did I, for a split instant, see through Satan’s disguise? Did I startle him as he startled me, forcing him to change his shape? I don’t know. All I know is that, for a split instant back when I was strong of limb yet spotty of chin, I stood face-to-face with Satan in a scrapyard and locked my eyes with his whilst holding a heavy replacement enamel bathtub in the cold and windswept, rainy gloom and that it was Satan who went away first.
Nevermore did I mutter and grind my teeth as if this would stop the coldly rain from dribbling down my collar.