Since October is the month of Halloween and things that go bump in the night, I thought I’d kick things off with a haunting little story about a woman’s decent into madness.
“The Devil Hath Charms” was originally published in The World of Myth Anthology II in 2011.
I lose things. My keys, my glasses, my job, my spouse, my child.
That’s not the right order, of course. I started losing my mind somewhere between my glasses and my job. My husband escaped with my son not long after that. I don’t blame him for going. In fact, I’m glad he did it. They’re safe now. At least I hope they are.
Not that I’d ever hurt them. I love them with all my heart, which is why I’m not angry at Jim. He had to keep Billy safe. It’s not me I’m worried about. It’s the devil.
I know what you’re thinking. She really is crazy. I think so too. I mean, no one in their right mind believes the devil is real. They believe there’s evil in the world, but the guy with the red tail and horns, who instigates it and barters for souls, well, that’s just fairy tale stuff, right? What they tell you when you’re little to scare you into being good.
That’s what I thought too, until I started to see him.
The first time I was walking in the woods behind our house. We have a big piece of property; the house and backyard sit on one acre, but there are ten acres of woodland behind that, with a small stream running along the far side where the property ends. I’ve always loved walking there. It’s so peaceful and pretty. Spring and fall are my favorite times because of the colors, but summer and winter are lovely too. I taught Billy how to catch frogs and salamanders down by the stream.
But that first time I was alone. It wasn’t quite spring; the trees hadn’t even begun to bud. The air felt like it might rain, but I’d just had a big blow-out with Jim over finances and I wanted to be by myself for a while. I was pretty deep into the woods when I noticed a column of sunshine drifting between the trees, the way it always looks in the movies, almost like you’d expect to hear a choir of angels or the voice of God.
I remember wishing I had a camera with me, because it really was beautiful. Since I didn’t, I decided to take a closer look. I thought I might stand in that stream of light and let it wash over me like a shower, maybe it would clean my cluttered mind.
When I reached the place where the column of light touched the ground, I saw the most incredible thing. The section of earth where the light fell, a circle about ten feet in diameter, was covered with daffodils. It was the damnedest thing. Impossible, but there it was. I stood staring at the flowers for I don’t know how long, but I turned when I saw movement, out of the corner of my eye.
A man stood leaning against one of the big oaks. He was tall, dressed in jeans and a green cable knit sweater that matched his eyes, and made them sparkle like emeralds. His dark hair fell over his collar, and when he smiled I thought my heart would stop. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
“Hello,” he said, in a voice so soft and sexy it was a caress. I couldn’t speak. I just stood there like an idiot.
He slowly stepped away from the tree, and came toward me. I wasn’t afraid, but I couldn’t seem to move. It was like I’d taken root.
He stopped in the middle of the daffodils, spreading his arms wide. “Aren’t they lovely?”
I nodded. When I finally found my voice I started tossing questions at him like I was a reporter for USA Today.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? Where did you come from? How did these flowers get here?”
He laughed, a warm and inviting laugh that melted my insides.
“I’m Michael. I was walking in the woods. When I came upon this place, I decided to have my lunch.” He pointed to a backpack he’d left by the tree. “Care to join me?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” I turned to look back in the direction I’d come from. “I’ve got to get back to the house. My husband’s going to wonder where I am.”
He looked disappointed. “Are you sure? I’ve got more than enough for two… and it’s such a beautiful place for a picnic, don’t you think?”
“It is,” I agreed. God help me, but I wanted to stay.
He opened the pack and pulled out a bottle of red wine, along with two glasses. He smiled like a magician preparing to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and produced a container filled with cubed pieces of cheese and slices of fruit. He reached in again, and brought out a loaf of bread.
“You see? Too much for just me. Won’t you please…?”
I should have left right then. I should have told him he was on private property and he needed pack up his belongings and vacate the premises. I did neither of those things.
His eyes and his smile beckoned. I thought this was all so impossible; I must be dreaming, so why shouldn’t I indulge in the fantasy a while longer.
We spent the rest of the afternoon picnicking in the woods, surrounded by daffodils. We talked for hours and it was all so innocent; he never even touched me. The column of sunlight began to fade.
“Wait till I tell Jim about this,” I said. “He’s never going to believe it. I mean, who would? The crocuses haven’t even sprouted near the house, so how the devil could these daffodils be in bloom? But there they are.”
“Don’t tell him,” he whispered. Let it be our little secret.”
I giggled. That’s when I knew I’d had too much of that wine, and if I told Jim he’d not only wouldn’t believe me, but he’d think I’d been doing something else with Michael all afternoon.
“All right,” I said. “It’ll be our little secret.”
We parted and went our separate ways.
The next day, after Jim left for work and I’d put Billy on the school bus, I decided to go back into the woods to find the patch of daffodils. I wanted to know if the meeting with Michael actually happened or if it really had been nothing more than a vivid dream.
After walking for what seemed like forever, I spotted a hint of yellow poking out of the shadows and headed for it. The flowers were there. So was Michael.
“Did you camp out?” I asked, a half dozen emotions skittering through me at once. Surprise. Excitement. Elation. Not to mention foreboding, worry, and a hint of fear.
Michael just smiled. “I was hoping you’d come back. I have more food.” He jiggled his backpack, the way you might wiggle a bone at a dog, trying to tempt me. It seemed odd, yet compulsively seductive at the same time. I stayed with him until I had to leave to get Billy off the bus.
Everyday for the next week was the same. Once I was alone, I’d walk to the woods to meet Michael, always devilishly handsome, and always waiting for me with his pack filled with culinary delicacies.
The following Saturday, Billy went to a birthday party, which left Jim and me on our own. I don’t know what came over me, but I wanted to tell him about the daffodils blooming in the wood. It was just too amazing a thing not to share. I didn’t think what might happen if Michael was there, but I suppose some part of me thought the miracle of the flowers would be enough of a distraction.
It took some convincing, but I managed to get Jim to come with me. By this time, I could find the place without hunting for it, and was tugging Jim’s arm to hurry him along. When the yellow of the daffodils came into view, I ran ahead until I stood in their center, and with my face lifted joyfully toward the sky, began spinning like a top.
“What the hell are you doing, Eva?”
Jim’s voice sounded so irritated, I stopped immediately and looked at him. His lips puckered like he’d eaten a lemon, and there were deep creases in his forehead. For a moment I thought Michael might have been there and that was why Jim looked so pissy, but there was no one there except us.
“I’m dancing in the flowers, of course. Aren’t they just amazing?”
“What flowers? You’re standing in a patch of dead leaves.”
It was my turn to look irritated.
“Dead leaves?” I picked a daffodil and waved it under his nose. “Does this look like a dead leaf to you?”
“That’s exactly what it looks like–because that’s what it is .”
I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t like Jim to be contrary for no reason, so why was he acting like this.
“Eva, honey, are you all right?” His voice went all solicitous and he was looking at me as if I’d gone crazy.
“I’m fine,” I shouted. “Just fine. Let’s forget the whole thing.” Then I turned and stomped off ahead of him toward the house.
Jim wanted to talk when we got home, but let him know I wasn’t speaking to him, so he skulked off to the den to watch TV. We didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the weekend.
On Monday, I went back to the place in the woods. Michael was waiting for me.
“I brought Jim to see the flowers,” I said, without preamble.
“He denied they were there. Told me I was seeing things!”
“I told you not to tell him,” Michael said.
I hated hearing I-told-you-so from him, so I went on the offensive. “If you’d been here, you could’ve backed me up.”
He shrugged. “Perhaps.” An odd expression came over his face, a cross between impatience and seduction. “Maybe we shouldn’t meet here anymore.” He leaned close, his green eyes mesmerizing, as he slowly ran a finger along my cheek and over my bottom lip.
“You are so pretty,” he said. “So very, very pretty.”
Then he kissed me. Instantly, we were swallowed up in the heat of it. If I’d ever been kissed like that before, I swear I don’t remember it. It was white-hot and I burned everywhere he touched me. It was incredible. I still don’t know how I got home afterward. I walked around in a dream.
I met Michael in the woods everyday. I couldn’t help myself. We made love in the flowers for hours. I should’ve realized something was wrong when the flowers always seemed to spring back to life, but I didn’t. An army could’ve marched across the stream and I wouldn’t have noticed. Michael held all my attention.
One evening after dinner, Jim said we had to talk. He sent Billy to spend the night at his friend’s house so we’d be alone. That’s when he told me he thought I needed to see a doctor.
When I asked him why, he said he was worried about me. My boss had called him that morning to say he was sorry I was sick, but he needed to hire someone to take my place. Jim didn’t know I hadn’t been to work in three weeks, but said nothing to my boss.
He decided to come home early and find out what was going on. When I wasn’t in the house, he headed back to the woods.
“I saw you, Eva. You were naked in the leaves, rolling around and thrusting like you where having sex with somebody who wasn’t there. You scared the shit out of me. I didn’t know what to do, so I left you there and came home.”
I didn’t know what to say. Jim wasn’t lying; I could see that in his face. He hadn’t seen the flowers and he hadn’t seen Michael.
But I had. Every one of the five senses had been at work while I was with Michael. I had no explanation for what was happening.
So that’s why I’m in this locked room. Michael still visits me everyday and brings flowers. We wait until they turn out the lights to make love. They still can’t see him, but I can. His green eyes glow in the dark.