Monday, 27 October 2014

Kenneth and the Devil by Penn Wallace

Penn Wallace joins the Halloweenish Mystery Thrill Ride with a haunting story.  If you know me and what I am afraid of then you will understand why this story frightens me.  Oh and my father's name is Kenneth (no relation)

Kenneth and the Devil
By Victoria Ayala Pantoja
As told to Penn Wallace

My uncle Kenneth died when I was nine years old. He was a paratrooper in World War II and Mama is convinced that his parachute jumps led to the failure of his kidneys.
            Mama told me the story of Kenneth and the Devil when I was little. I asked her to re-tell it to me for a book, so here is Mama speaking:

            When I was little we lived on Pamona Street in Costa Mesa on the hill that went down before it went up. In those days Costa Mesa was known as “Goat Hill” for all the goats the Mexican families raised. This was long before it became a bustling American community.
On the corner of Pamona and Seventeenth Street my father had a huge corn field that was over fifty acres. He grew “field corn,” the kind used for cattle feed. 
            In late summer the stalks grew high with lots of ears of corn and leaves. Soon the corn would
be harvested. It was dark and scary in the field, and we children made up stories of bad things that happened in there. Once the corn was grown, my mother warned us not to go in. This was during the Depression and sometimes hobos slept in the corn fields. If we went in there we might step in the poo-poo they left as their calling cards.
            We walked by the corn and tomato fields every day. As we walked by the corn field we dared each other to go in. “The devil lives there,” I told my siblings and we’d run home as fast as we could.
             “If you call three times, ‘Devil, come and get me. Devil, come and get me. Devil, come and get me,’ he will come and take your soul to Hell,” my mother warned us. The priests and old ladies always threatened us with Hell to make us behave.
            My brother, Kenneth, four years younger than me, was “muy macho,” even at that age. He wasn’t afraid of anything. One day that summer, as we passed the corn field he bragged about how brave he was. “I’m not afraid of anything,” he said and pounded his chest with his fists.
            “Oh, yeah,” I said. “I bet you’re afraid of the Devil.”
            “Are you kidding? I’d stomp him into the ground if I ever saw him.”
            We passed the field where the tallest corn grew. It was dark as night among the corn stalks. There were black birds, the Devil’s messengers, flying over, eating the corn tassels and making squawking noises. We knew that witches lived in there too, my mother told us so. She taught us to cross ourselves as we went by.
            “If you’re so brave," I told Kenneth, "I dare you to go in there, to the middle of the field and call the devil three times.” I knew that even Kenneth wouldn’t take that dare.
            Kenneth stood up tall, threw his chest out, pounded it with clenched fists and said “I’ll go.”
            He straightened up as tall as he could and marched into the corn field. The rest of us dropped to our knees and started praying. The Padre Nuestros and Ave Marias intermingled with the rush of corn stalks and the blackbirds’ calls.
            Kenneth stomped off into the field. At first he marched with purpose, but as he got further and further into the corn, his steps became more tentative. He stopped to listen to the sounds, the cawing of the birds, the movement of the wind through the corn. What was that? Did he hear someone moving through the corn towards him?
            But he was brave. True to his word, he crept silently towards the middle of the field. Finally, he’d gone far enough. The day turned to night inside the field. It became very still. The birds fell silent and the wind stopped its endless rustling. Kenneth’s heart stopped. Sweat broke out on his brow.
            “Devil,” he whispered, “come and get me. . .” Nothing happened. Heartened, he cried a little louder. “Devil, come and get me.” Still nothing. No Devil, no black birds, no sound in the world. “Devil,” he shouted at the top of his lungs, “come and get me.”
            Behind him he heard a stirring. He whirled and there he was. The Devil. His eyes like glowing coals; fire and smoke flared from his nostrils. Red, brown and white feathers covered his body. He had a fiery red cockscomb and a huge, round body. His beak opened and closed and his head bobbed up and down. The Devil looked like a giant chicken.
            “Bawaaak!” the Devil shouted at Kenneth.
            “Aiyeeee!” Kenneth yelled and stared running.

It seemed like he had been in the corn a long time, but probably was only there a few minutes. We heard a rush of leaves, Kenneth’s desperate cries. We stood as the sounds came closer and closer. Kenneth, white as a sheet, his hair standing up, running for his life, flew past us with the Devil chasing him. As he passed us, we saw his beautiful green eyes, big as cow’s eyes. We yelled at him to make the cross and pray but he just kept running, the devil still behind him. When we saw the devil emerge from the corn field, wings spread, fire blasting from its nostrils, we took off after Kenneth.  At home, my mother immediately started praying those special prayers she knew. She sent someone to get Doña Louisa, the curandera.
They put Kenneth to bed, where he lay babbling and shivering.
“He has susto,” Doña Louisa said. Susto means that you have had a fright. “Go gather some eucalyptus leaves.”
Doña Louisa and my mother worked together for days, saying prayers, performing ancient rituals, to rid Kenneth of the susto. They stripped him naked and rubbed his body with oils. They made the sign of the cross under his bed and on his blankets to protect him from evil spirits. Finally, after several days, Kenneth began to speak again. He began to eat and he got out of bed.

It took weeks before he started playing with the other boys again. We all gave him a lot of room, because we knew that he had seen the Devil. He was never the same. He was no longer the brash braggart that wasn’t afraid of anything. But he had met the Devil and lived to talk of it.

Penn Wallace is the author of several books.  His latest are 2 mystery series.
The Ted Higuera Series

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