The Devil's Tooth’, E. Steven Newby

Illustration © 2008 Arianna Ciula

 [ Frightened—© 2008 Arianna Ciula ] "Come to tell me I was wrong? That the depth of my sins was so great they cost my son his life and immortal soul? If you've come to my table to slap down an all-mighty 'told you so', then hold that thought one minute while I fetch the cleaver. But if you can keep that reproachin' tongue still, I'll tell you what really happened; and how, despite what our infinitely wise Father Johran says, my boy's alive and well.

"Do we have a deal?

"Then I'll make tea. You get comfortable...

"Sal was born different. Hell, anyone could tell that. Something in the eyes, even when he was a baby... Father Johran said I should have left Sal upon the cliffs so that God can have him back. Said the Laws of Geninteg demanded it. But Sal's father died in the mines only days before the boy was born—God had already taken too much from me. Besides, Father Johran ain't never had to leave a helpless child all exposed like that. What right's he got askin' a mother to do the same?

"Got a lot of grief, I did, for ignoring divine laws. But I wouldn't have none of it. Every man who tried to put me in my place got threatened with a neuterin' right on the spot. Carried my cleaver with me everywhere I went just to prove I wasn't foolin'. Soon folks got the message. Left us alone. Since Sal couldn't wrap his head around much schoolin', they put him in the mines at six, runnin' supplies. By eight he was swinin' a pick-ax. Grew up strong, and had a mean left hook for any boy who called him an abomination. God don't make abominations. He has a plan for everything and everyone.

"Now, my boy has an eye for patterns. Sees 'em in tree branches and leaves. The sound of rain fallin' on the metal roof. Even the way people talked, he said. Used to love to watch me dance. Yeah, I see that look in your face. Can't imagine these chubby thighs kickin' to a rhythm, right? Can you imagine these thighs kickin' your ass out that door? That's right. Drink your tea.

"As I was sayin', Sal used to love watchin' me dance. He'd clap his hands in time while I sang or hummed along. We'd have a high old time of it, sometimes he'd jump up n' dance too... Sometimes, when he was right happy, he'd look up from his pallet and say,

" 'Dance for me, Ma.'

"Good, good times. But it was that love for patterns that'd get him.

"Aldex done came and told me Sal was pokin' round that obelisk in the center of town. Cursed fang of black rock. We all know them stories about that jut of stone: plucked from Satan's jaw at the start of time, the Teeth were scattered across the land as a reminder to man of the mark of sin he was born with. Every town has one in its center, though I never could figure why everybody'd want to build their lives around such unholy remains...

"Don't know what drew Sal to it to begin with. Perhaps the designs carved into its black faces. Not a pattern there I'd recognize, but then like most people I try not to notice the Devil's Tooth. Try not to think about it. Maybe it was a one time thing. Sal'd lose interest. A mother can always hope. So I laid low, said nothin'.

"Soon folks started whisperin' that my sin of lettin' him live all them years ago drew the poor soul to the Devil's Tooth. Started carryin' my cleaver with me again. Few were keen to share their opinion with a fat woman wieldin' a big knife. Was at market when someone warned me that there was gonna be a secret meetin' that I wasn't supposed to know about. Never you mind who spilled the beans. But that night when Sal came home from the mines, I let him have it. I says to him, I says,

" 'Devil's Tooth is evil! Claimed the soul of a man from this town when my paw paw was a boy. Now don't go playin' near it again.'

" 'But the patterns, Ma,' he says, 'I see light between the lines.'

"Can't say I knew what that meant, but it scared me real bad. Just started tremblin' all over, as if the fire in that hearth over there'd gone out all of a sudden.

" 'Father Johran's got folks mighty scared of you messin' with that rock. Scared people are apt to do somethin' stupid. And your father used to have a sayin': stupid things get people killed.'

"We went round an' round. I sent him to bed without supper, just so he'd know I was serious as a winter's storm. Sal promised to stay away from it, and I thought—maybe I hoped more than anythin'—that the matter was done.

"Now you all townsfolk worked yourselves tighter than Mrs. Accountint's butt crack. Don't look at me like you don't know what I'm talkin' about. I had to go to Father Johran an' tell him that I done talked to the boy and that no lynchin' was in order. 'Course he denied that any such thing was in the works, but after that people seemed to lighten up. Pulled the corks out, if you know what I mean.

"All was well and good for a year. He'd work his shift at the mines and come right home afterwards, never goin' near the Tooth. By now they was havin' him haul the carts out to the Collectors. Those shiny chariots'd come down from Heaven to gather up the metals those hard workin' men had dug up. Sal would come home and tell me that the way the Collectors move, it was like people, he'd say. Not Angels. I'd tell him never you mind, Angels move as Angels please, and God ain't about to change that.

"Told him that patterns wasn't divine, that God didn't work in ways that man could understand. Just 'cause Sal could see it didn't mean that it was real. Faith is more important than the illusions around us. 'These patterns,' I said, 'mark of the Devil. Test of faith.' I made him swear never to tell another soul about the way Collectors move.

"Then of an early spring day, for the same reason the chigger's got to bite in that one spot, he starts dinkerin' with that Tooth again. Morogan spotted him this time. Sal says the light between the lines shows him glimpses of another world. Devil's promises, that's what it was. Can't trust that Toothless Bastard. Again Sal promised he'd stay away, but any woman with half a brain ain't fooled twice by the same con.

"Kept a watch on him, I did. Morogan was an easy eye, what with his shop near the Square. Aldex, though not so near, was always a good source of 'telligence, if you know what I mean. Graham, the Barker Boys: had them all workin' for me too. If m'boy so much as farted in the direction of that black fang, I'd know.

"But it wasn't my spies that caught him. It was me. See, Sal'd grown cautious. Trait I'd never seen in him before. Became aware that folks'd been watchin' him. It was in early May when the fire's don't always need another log in the wee hours of morning, but sometimes they do, yeah. Well, I was fixin' to plunk another down when I noticed his pallet was empty.

"Bein' different, Sal was always shy on friends. Lacked the honeys for a midnight romp. Didn't take a mother much imagination to guess where he'd gone. I wrapped a layer or two over myself, and made my way to the Square. I was just steppin' round that damned mule cart Grevis always leaves parked in the middle of the street, when I saw him. Sal was standin' before the Devil's Tooth.

"To the horror of my soul, I could see the light between the lines! They was shinin' as if cracks had formed all over the Tooth, and at any moment it might explode, loosin' its unimaginable evil into our world once more. Sal made awkward movements, and spoke in strange, repetitious ways. Sometimes they wasn't words coming out of his mouth, just sounds like I never heard a human make. I was sure the Devil had driven him to madness. On and on he spoke, on and on he moved. The lights of the stone changed from white to green, red and purple. Any time that light changed color, he changed the way he spoke, moved. As if he understood the stone, and it done understood him.

"I meant to step forward, to reprimand him for such blasphemous foolery. But somethin' stayed my bones. I was sure the power of the Devil himself kept me from leapin' up and savin' my boy from absolute damnation. Thought to myself, They was right. This boy's gonna pay for my sins...

"Don't think it can get any worse? Maybe you should leave now then, 'cause what comes next'll make those last dregs of tea more bitter'n Copler's home brew. Sure you want to hear this? All right then, don't say I didn't warn you.

"The lights from that obelisk was shinin' all the colors of an evil rainbow when all of a sudden the whole stone took to glowin'. Set the Square alight as if it was mid-day. Couldn't look right at it, so bright it was. Then out of it all stepped one of them fallen Angels!

"It looked like a man with short gray hair and wrapped in a strange white suit. He looked human, he did, like one of us. But the Devil's Hand didn't trick me. Though I was scared to the bone and weepin', I prayed to God to save us from this monstrosity. But the All Mighty did nothin' to intercept, and that cursed bein' commenced to speakin'. Sal fell to one knee before this creature.

" 'Well met, young one,' says the Dark Angel. 'Long has it been since any from this region has cracked the primer.'

"Now I can't say I know what a 'primer' is, but Sal seemed to. He goes on without so much as a blink: 'I saw the patterns,' says Sal. 'The patterns spoke to me. Said I needed to be careful, that others might be watchin'. They might hurt me, it says, 'cause they don't understand.'

" 'It is not their function to understand,' says the bein'. Then he says some many things I can't quite remember. Stuff about it bein' a puzzle how Sal had come to talk with the Tooth and all. Then the Hand of the Dark One called the jut of sin by a weird name, a title that meant nothin' to me. He called it a 'Mon'trin Stashun.' Said it was meant to keep an eye on this region, though why the Devil'd wanna do that's beyond me. The Fallen Angel then said somethin' that really boiled my noodle. He says, 'You will be recassied—no, that ain't the word he said. Reclassified, that's it. Reclassified to a level function—whatever that is—that was more fittin' to Sal's abilities than 'minin' raw materials.'

" 'It said I was going to leave soon,' says Sal, still on one knee. 'Are you going to take me away?'

"That unholy beast nodded. 'The Mon'trin Stashun was not meant to be sessed from this side.' He then jabbered on about how it would affect the integrity—that's the world he used—of the syssem. I don't know what a syssem is, but Sal seemed to understand.

" 'Can I say bye to my Ma?'

"The fallen Angel shook his head. 'She would not understand, and it'd pose too great an security risk.'

"After a moment, Sal stood tall, starin' the Dark Angel in the eye. I tried to jump forward, to warn him of the danger he was placing upon his immortal soul, but I could not move. Some spell of the Devil, some magic in the air, prevented me from so much as a twitch. Still as stone I watched as the Dark Angel reached forward. And Sal took his hand, sealin' the deal. Instantly the bright light of the Tooth went out. It looked just as dark and forebodin' as it always does. But Sal and the Dark Angel was gone.'

"I just stood there, leanin' against Grevis' cart, more mortified than any woman who's ever lost a child. At the funeral, she can always be right appeased in the knowin' that the young soul will find its place in Heaven, baskin' in the eternal love of God. But I didn't have no body for a funeral, and no comfort could be had in knowin' where my boy's soul was condemned to.

"Eventually I made it back home, though I swear I don't remember steppin' away from that cart. Honestly can't tell you if I'd've kept my mouth shut or run to Father Johran the next mornin', but the choice wasn't mine to make. Seems Morogan watched the unholy spectacle from his upstairs window.

"So that's what happened. That's how I lost my boy. But you know somethin'? I don't know how he managed, but Sal got himself away from that Devil. More than this, I know he's still alive. Think I've cracked, yeah? Well, you've heard me this far, a mite more'n most folks'd done, so I won't make no more threats on the matter. I'll just say what I know, and you can decide for yourself.

"A few weeks later, I was out buyin' some produce. Had to pass through the Square. Saw a flash of light comin' from the Devil's Tooth. Tried to ignore it, refused to look at it I did. Wasn't goin' to let it take me, too. But then I heard Sal's voice, plain as if he was standin' right next to me. He says,

" 'Don't you worry about me, Ma. I like my new life. I get to play in the patterns.'

"I wouldn't answer. No Devil's gonna use my boy against me. No Devil's gonna torment me like that. Started whisperin' to God, please please help me. Ain't a woman suffered enough?

"Then I hear Sal's voice again: 'Things are different here,' he says. 'There are tools that do more'n plowin' fields and chippin' rock. There are tools that think.'

"Well I started bawlin' right there like a mad woman. Didn't care who saw me or what they thought. I whispered back, 'You're dead, an' its all my fault!'

" 'Don't cry. Don't.' Then, for half a heart beat, it felt as if my boy was standin' right in front of me. I could almost see his smile. 'Dance for me, Ma,' he says. No unholy torment could squeeze such a pure sentiment of bliss from a captured soul. It don't work like that. Sal was tellin' me the truth.

" 'Dance for me, Ma.'

"Now what's a mother to do?

"I danced."

© 2008 E. Steven Newby

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