Demon of the Pines

April 28, 2009
One rule about going to the Pine Barrens: Never, ever, under any circumstances, should a man peer into the trees at night. Nor should he peer into anything else, for that matter. In fact, at night in the Pine Barrens, I would go as far as to say that a man is best left in bed, curled up in his blankets, his door locked and his windows secure.

And I can say all of this to a guest with utmost certainty, for I am fifty-six years-old, I have lived in the Pine Barrens all of my life, and I have never left it. So on that particular night, when I first meant the newcomer, I explained all of this to him quite confidently.

The visitor stood on my creaky front porch, his boots muddying my rotting welcome mat. I can’t exactly brag and say I’ve always been one to promote tolerance, so I guess I may be more than a bit biased when I state that this man was a sight sore to the eye.

His hair was a pale ivory shade, and tints of rusted red seemed to be smoothed into it. Strangely enough, I felt like his hair was a natural color. I must admit, though, that I had never seen someone with white and red hair. His eyes were a piercing yellow color, and when our gazes meant I felt forced to look at my feet. His stare was scrutinizing, and I felt suddenly self-conscious in my ratty evening house robe. My wife had hand made it, just a month before she died three years ago.

I didn’t know the visitor, but he told me he was a newcomer to the old Pinelands, and had come all the way up from Manhattan, New York to see his aunt, who apparently lived in the area. His story didn’t bother me a bit---not at all--- but what did bother me was the way he kept clenching his hand into a fist, like he was angry or something, as he was telling me his story. I felt like maybe it was me who was doing something to make him angry.

“It’s awfully cold tonight,” I commented. I was pretty sure this newcomer was hinting that he wanted me to give him a bed to sleep in for the night, being as he kept retelling the story about how he was all distressed and couldn’t find his aunt’s house anywhere. I didn’t want him to stay over. I had had a couple of kids knock on my door one time, about a few months back, and they asked for a place to stay for the night. I had let them in, only to discover half of my possessions gone by morning. “You should probably be going now, before to sun sets completely. It’ll be even colder then. And you remember what I said about never looking into the trees in the dark!” I shot him a smile.

He looked at me with an icy, still stare. “Cold?” he asked quietly. His voice was deep and smooth. “How cold could it possibly be?”

His question confused me. I didn’t know the answer. He was the one outside, shouldn’t he know? The newcomer’s lips twitched upwards, until finally he broke out into a full-fledged smile. He giggled. It was a deep, throaty giggle, rumbling straight from his throat.

“It shouldn’t be cold on the first day of spring,” he said.

“But it is,” I said. “It’s always so cold on this day…at least here, in the Pine Barrens. I think I know why, too.”

“Oh?” The newcomer’s head shot up, his smile gone, his interest piqued. “And why is it?”

“The Jersey Devil,” I whispered. I shot him a mean look, the look that fell upon my face whenever I whispered the name of the local demon. “The Jersey Devil comes to haunt this area every spring. His presence blocks out the sun, and brings up the ices from the lowest dungeons of the underworld.”

The newcomer cackled with laughter. “The Jersey Devil comes to haunt the Pine Barrens in the spring? Really? Shouldn’t he at least come when he’s invited, on Halloween or something?”

“You shut your mouth!” I shouted. I felt touchy to the subject. “My wife died on the first of spring, mind you, and the day has been like a wintry fortress ever since. The Jersey Devil took her away from me.”

“They say the Jersey Devil only takes what he deserves,” said the newcomer.

“He deserved my wife more than me, now did he?” I challenged.

The newcomer had no answer for that.

“Have a good day now, sir,” he said, his jaw clenched. He bowed his head and turned on his heels, walking away from me. Good riddings to him.

I watched him go down the dirt path, entering the trail in the woods. I knew one thing for sure: I was glad that it was he walking out there as the sun set. I wouldn’t set a foot in the woods if the sun wasn’t there to guide my feet and eyes.

Finally, he disappeared. I slammed my door shut and locked it for the night.
I woke up to the sound of a ringing bell. I rolled over, not wanting to get up. My old back always ached first thing in the morning; I usually loosened my muscles with hot water each day. I, like most of my neighbors, didn’t have running water. Instead I kept jugs of lukewarm water on my kitchen counter for when they were needed.
The bell continued on and on, and when I was conscious enough to comprehend things I began to wonder why my neighbors kept ringing it.
Then it dawned on me.

Disaster. The bell only rang during disaster. My neighbors were all supposed to meet up at the church. Last time that bell had rang, it had been for my wife. I hadn’t wanted others to catch her fever. I had told them not to go on my land until her fever had vanished. Tragically, her life had vanished right along with it.

Thinking of all of this, I flopped out of bed. I pulled on a pair of faded jeans and buttoned up my jacket, not bothering to put on a shirt. I ran as fast as an elderly man could, all the way to my Quaker church.

My church was built by the hand of men in the 1700s. It was built using the trees that had once stood where it stood now. The church had had to be rebuilt several times of course, but it was still the same humble log cabin. I entered through its doorway, bowing my head to the cross that hung on the entrance wall.

“Ronald!” Gary Seagull called out my name, running towards me. He was about ten years younger than me, with a wife and kids. “Come to the worship room quickly. There’s been a tragic death.”

As it turned out, there was no tragic death. Instead, there were many deaths. My good friend Roger, who I had known for over twenty years, had discovered that all six of his kids had stopped breathing in the middle of the night.

Our priest and the men of the church prayed for many hours. We all pressed our right hands on Roger’s back, and his wife’s too. The women mainly mourned. It was a day of grief and sadness.

The priest was reading scripture, his voice loud and booming, when something someone said made us all stop cold. Somebody whispered something, low and crisp, and somehow everyone heard it over the priest’s shouting tone.

“May I ask what’s going on here?” The newcomer, with his white hair slicked back and greasy, smiled mockingly at all of us. Roger and his wife were the only ones not gaping in his direction. The newcomer raised his eyebrows, and for the first time I noticed how pallid and cadaverous his face was. He had tight skin and a snide expression. I shivered in his presence for a second time.

“Well?” The newcomer held out his hands questioningly. “What do we have here? It’s rare you see a church so emotional these days. Maybe small-town Quaker folk are just different from the Catholics I know back up in the city?”

His voice was thick with mockery. The atmosphere of the church was tense as we all hurried to get this man out of here. Roger didn’t need this . . . Why had God sent this man here on such a disastrous day?

“I‘m going to have to ask you to leave,” Gary said in the defense of Roger and his wife. “We don’t need strangers here today.”

The newcomer’s eyes widened, and at first he looked taken aback. Quickly, though, his eyes settled and his unfeeling smile returned. “Fine. You think I am a stranger? So be it.”

He turned around, and a few seconds later we all heard the church door open and close. He was gone. The priest chose to act as if nothing had happened. He cleared his throat and continued reading scripture.

When I got home I was still devastated. I wanted to comfort Roger and his wife some more, but I felt like they just wanted to be alone. They weren’t crying much; they were probably still in shock. Losing six kids at once isn’t exactly a thing that one grapples immediately.

I entered my house and slipped out of my shoes, leaving them by the door. I walked through the living room and into the kitchen, and it wasn’t until I had poured myself a glass of that lukewarm water, gulped it all down, and sat at my kitchen table did I notice the man leaning against my fridge.

He had a grin that after only two days of looking at, I hated already. I stood up, wishing I hadn’t left my shotgun locked up in my bedroom closet.

“What are you doing?” I yelled. I substituted my gun with the volume of my voice.

“Shh,” the newcomer said. “I just wanted to pay a visit, that’s all.”

“I locked my door,” I said suspiciously. “How’d you get in?”

His yellow eyes zapped right into mine like lasers. He denied that my door had been locked in such a serious tone that I almost believed him. Almost.

“I just wanted to ask you what was going on at the Quaker church of yours,” the newcomer said. He laughed callously. “What, were you all crying over dead children or something?”

How did he know that? No one at the church had told him that. I pointed in the general direction of my front door. “Get. Out. Of. Here,” I said through grinded teeth.

The newcomer shook his head, placing his face into cupped hands. “No way,” he said, shaking his head some more. “That’s no way to treat your guest.”

“Listen,” I said. The guy was probably just lonely; I didn’t want to be too hard on him. “Listen, I don’t want to have to say this again. I’m not in the mood for talking, my friend’s kids were just found dead, and I want you gone. Now get out.”

“I will never leave from this land,” the newcomer said. “You can’t kick me off of my own land, Mister Ronald.”

He looked down at me with such a dogmatic smile. He wasn’t leaning against the fridge anymore, but was instead standing at his full height, towering over me. I felt almost scared.

“H-how do you know my name?” I asked.

The newcomer didn’t answer me, but instead stepped towards me, breathing deeply.

“You told me last night...." he said, his sentence ending before it was finished. His voice was so low I could scarcely hear him. “You told me you believed in the Jersey Devil. You said you believed he haunted to Pine Barrens in the spring.”

The newcomer was so close now. Too close . . . He was invading my personal space.

“Did you mean it?” he was whispering now. The whisper was a menace from the underworld.

“I did,” I said back. I glared at him.

“You said the Jersey Devil snatched your wife from you. Did you mean it?” His breath was hot and unpleasant on my skin.

“I did.” I nodded indignantly, trying not to show my fear.

“Hmm. . .” the newcomer said, tilting his pale head curiously. “What if I told you that was all true, Mister Ronald? What if I told you . . . I was the Jersey Devil?”

I glared at him. “Listen, sir, I don’t know what this is about, but you better be leaving right now-”

“If I told you that you were looking the very devil in the eyes right now, would you believe that?” he raised his voice over mine.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about-”

It was then that the newcomer snatched the hairs on my neck, pulling my head back.

“S-stop!” I cried. “What are you doing?”

I collapsed to the floor and screamed. And just like a vampire, his teeth went to my neck, piercing deep in the skin. He was strangling and shaking me, and I knew now who he was.

Not a newcomer. As I screamed a cry for help that no one would hear, I realized he was my oldest neighbor of all. Truly the Jersey Devil himself. Old Demon Leeds. The Haunter of the Pines.

The devil came for me that day. It was so often that I chose not to leave my house because I knew he was out there, in the woods, waiting for me.

I guess he got tired of waiting. Because he invited himself right in.

Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Wasda said...
Feb. 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm
that was a very good story. i did not see that the jersey devil was the stranger. very nice job
TheBermuda replied...
Feb. 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm
Thank you very much!
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