(This is the last in a series of guest posts from Jeffrey Marlin whose e-books, including this one, are available from Amazon.com. )
Rapunzel’s tale of woe and redemption begins many decades before her birth, with the story of her adoptive mother, that overly protective soul who locked her away in a lonely tower along with her fabled long hair. Although born to the lowest of families in an undistinguished place, Rapunzel’s unnatural mother displayed from early infancy a saintly inclination. Her kindness lit the darkness and elevated the town. But as often happens, her shimmering Goodness offended the unseen creatures who live to degrade us all. Unfortunately, such situations rarely turn out well, as the following formative episode demonstrates clearly:
Pity the miscreant entities! They could not escape her radiance no matter how they tried. They prayed to their devilish icons for reassignment. But this was not to be ‘til the end of time. Or so the demons were told. Here they were ordered to stay and make do, creating their mischief as best they could.
As we are children of Heaven, they are no more than slaves.
Yet even slaves may finally run out of patience.
So it was that one rainy night the unseen community gathered in the depths of a forest favored by the lowest of mortal creatures. Here they wailed a petition to the rulers of their kind, the ones who watch the world from its churning core. The sound of their grievance frightened spiders and foxes the size of lions. It chilled the earth and froze the eggs of owls in their nests. It made its way to the heart of town and caused a thousand nightmares.
And it must have impressed The Devil himself because here came an Ancient Deputy to offer them advice. These little creatures had been so long at work among human beings, pulling their tricks on the innocent, tugging beards and tickling wives, planting false recollections to sow confusion, they hardly remembered their origin under the surface, where all were born from a womb of boiling stone. They didn’t remember the faces of their rulers.
The great one’s appearance gave them a shock. Grossly disjointed features swam in a mass of fire. Was that lump of mysterious substance a kind of nose? That cavity a mouth? Were those oily pits of blackness supposed to be eyes? Those raggedy flaps two ears? Everything changed so fast they could not tell. The visitor swam in the air supported by leathery wings embellished by fur and blisters. Pustules covered his body. That was how the natural world portrayed him, assigning features devised of molecular structures. This was not his wish. But even the eldest and strongest of them cannot deny the rule of natural law, leastways not when they venture above the ground. And nature insists on painting them as She sees them.
The lesser demons haunting the town had long accepted their pointed heads, feet reminiscent of ducks and dragons, two or three navels, teeth like beavers, crocodile jaws, monstrous chins, protruding eyes and bellies. Some had beards on their noses and elbows and shoulders. Warts were widely distributed as were beaks. They could not cast reflections so they never saw themselves, relying on their fellows for description.
The ancient one would never achieve a durable earthly shape. He did not intend to stay for cakes and coffee. He wasn’t there to show himself off. Once his petitioners doused their fear, none of them cared a sniff what the Deputy looked like.
Without so much as an invitation, they vocalized their complaints.
The first to speak was a female imp who specialized in vanity. Her scraggly hair held the hues of a tropical parrot. Her narrow lips were red and blue. Her eyes were green and orange. She spoke with the nagging voice of a rusty gate.
“Great Father,” she called him, not knowing any better. “From the moment the child acquired wits I laid myself against her very eardrum. I rhapsodized on her beauty. ‘Come,’ I said, ‘Open your eyes and take a bite of pride. Behold the moon in the mirror. Demand extravagant favors. Spite any who refuse you.’”
This parody of the female gender continued: “What good did it do me? I ask you! Where I’m concerned she’s deaf as a stillborn lamb, and we have plenty of those. Father, I did not always sound this way. It happened from screaming incessantly in her ear.”
“In other words you failed,” said the fiery presence.
“I’m not the only one.”
The burning face said nothing more. It’s writhing features continued to twist. The Deputy twitched his crumbling wings, never moving a jot from his place in the air.
The demon that wore the face of lust spoke next from a higher branch of the selfsame tree. Suave and self-assured, it pretty much ruled the roost. Why not? Of all the disgraces encumbering human beings, which dread weakness spawns as much trouble as that which we share with goats of the field and monkeys that live in trees? When the tightened lip will not gossip, the fist refuses to clench, the urge to mayhem falls asleep, it’s lust that keeps the Devil’s agenda moving. It’s lust when all else fails.
And here was the certain master, a robust imp with swelling organs native to both persuasions, a mouth of teeth constructed of sugar, a voice like a humming cello. Not that some others didn’t attempt to manipulate sexual urges. But few of them had the knack.
Many were prone to embroidering, injecting flowery phrases no one wants to hear. Others rushed the progress, causing irritation. A few infected their victims with lack of nerve, reflecting their own confusion. Leading to what conclusion? Participants walked away from the assignation. Another sin was avoided, a lesson learned. Next time, behind the church or in the cornfield, there would be hesitation. Such failures delay humanity’s promised extinction. Demons who cook up defeats like this face the stinging disapproval of their kind.
It happens more often than you might think.
But not to our present speaker. This little expert boasted, “I hook one fish for every three lines cast. And you can be sure when I catch one, the fish stays good and caught. I love to watch them wriggle. I thrive on their dissipation.”
No exaggeration. This one imp accounted for half the misery experienced within the borders of the town for the past three hundred years, since it first got the hang of doing things just so. Proud? Perhaps. But we cannot deny the monster knew its business.
Self-pity rules the devil’s unseen creatures. The Imp of Lust put its own on full display. “Great Father,” it moaned, “I glut her brain with images of the most fantastic design. Night after night I flood her mind with adventures. The pleasures with which I assail her brain give normal girls a fever. This dreamer mistakes it for comedy, the height of all ridiculousness. She giggles in her sleep. This is a first for me.
“I also inspire the best looking boys to stare at her suggestively, with fire in their eyes. Sooner or later this kind of thing always works. But Flora confounds my efforts, taking those smoky glances for simple affection and leaving my helpless pawns to suffer the shame of swollen parts and inner abnegation. Holy men with long gray beards jump to the snap of my fingers. Most of them cannot wait. They prey on young and old. But this one drains my strength and scars my reputation. Maybe she is a juvenile witch gone bad.”
The little fiend subsided with another suggestive moan.
So it continued throughout the night, each of the unclean chorus adding a tale of woe and humiliation. A heavenly angel might well have wept at the sight their desolation. At last the ancient visitor thrust a burning finger downward, indicating the base of the blackened tree these spirits infested. He singled out the only member who had not spoken yet. This was a tiny specimen, all fidgets and twitches and gestures of nervousness, little more than a mass of wrinkles with seven spindly fingers on each of his shrunken hands. He shook with terror feeling the gaze upon him.
“Who is this?” came the great one’s voice.
“I am the Imp of Obsession,” was the barely whispered reply.
“How do you earn your living?”
“I busy myself with the holy men who waste their lives on scripture. I drive them to look for meaning where there is none. I also torment cows and goats by goading their masters to milk them when they are dry, often leading to ulceration, sometimes even infection. Thus, I do my humble best to bring about the end of the human epoch through damnation. I strive thereby for our own emancipation.”
“But have you tried your hand with little Flora?”
The Imp of Obsession steadied his head, fought to quell his stammer, spoke with the sound of a woodpecker striking wood: “Who am I to attempt to accomplish what lust and rage and vanity could not do? Who am I to apply my skills where pride and naked avarice bit the dust? The child is immune to envy, impervious to deceit. My wretched gifts do not compare. I lack the unholy presumption. In short, Great Father, my honest answer is no.”
Who can imagine the sound of Satanic laughter? Which of us wants to try? The reader must make that decision. But understand that whatever its sound, Satanic laughter bent the trees and the beasts that remained the forest departed in haste.