#SpookyShowcase: The Devil’s Men by Julie Palmer

Welcome to the 10th annual #SpookyShowcase, a Halloween artist and author showcase. A full schedule of submissions can be found here so you don’t miss a single entry for THESE DEADLY CURSES. Now, on to today’s submission!

THe Devil’s Men by Julie Palmer

When they come to town, they bring the rain. They bring the sullen, even the misery. When the caravan rolls in, people lock their doors and close the blinds. They keep their children close and their shotguns closer.

They are the people nightmares are based upon, The Devil’s Men.

They come but once a year, the slow moaning of their wagon wheels sending shivers down the spine of this small town. The click clacking of their horses hooves makes hearts palpitate and chests loose their breath.

They come for the offering, the coal that heats the depths of Hell.

And tonight is that night.

I awoke with the sun. The clocks red 5:43 am gleamed at me like the Devil’s own eyes. I have exactly fourteen hours and thirty-eight minutes to prepare until the sun sets. Exactly fourteen hours and thirty-eight minutes to sit and worry. All stores closed last night and would remain so until tomorrow morning. It was as if Santa was coming to town, but no joy or a fat man in a red suit will be arriving on this night, only fear. The anticipation was a thick fog that hung low to the chest, but climbed to encompass everything as time ticked on.

The baseball bats, kept in the closet, still dusty from last year, were placed in every corner of the house. My shot gun was laid on the ground at my feet, next to old Murph, my sheep dog. My husband’s field knife was strapped to my thigh and I had my gloves on, just in case things got messy.

The Devil’s Men had not taken a victim in over ten years but since a plague hit the town last
winter production was down. We couldn’t retrieve as much coal as we needed to keep the Devil happy.

The town only hoped the offering would be enough.

Enough to satiate the beast.

No one knows where the wagon will stop. The only inclination of its whereabouts are given by
the fiery trails its wheels leave behind, its horrid path of destruction.

It could be anywhere now, lurking just outside the town border, unable to come in until the sun
sets. The unspoken wall that keeps them out also keeping us in with the fear of what is to come.

I sauntered to the window and pushed the lacy white curtains to the side, the strong summer
heat beading perspiration on the sill. I dare not open the glass to let in the air, who knows what fumes the hellions will bring with them.

Eight hours now, Eight hours until sunset. By this time everyone will have boarded up, not a
soul walking the street.

Murph whines to go out. I keep him on a short leash and yank him back inside once his business
is done. He doesn’t know what today is, dumb dog just doesn’t understand.

Three hours now, three hours until sunset. I had a hearty meal in case I need the strength to fend
off God awful things, in case I need to do God awful things to protect kith and kin. Even if it is a
crumbling shack and a mangy mutt, I still have the right to protect it, it’s all I have left.

The dishes now done, I sit once again. My foot tapping in rhythm with the old chime clock
given to me by my mother as a wedding present, how I wish she was still here.

The town is usually asleep on this day, to stay up all night watching the perimeter of their land,
thinking of the worst. I can not rest knowing what is coming. They must be rising now, you can only
sleep so long knowing what waits on the horizon.

Sunset is merely minutes, merely minutes away. I walk to the hutch, kissing pictures of loved
ones now gone and stand watch in the windowsill. The dog, loyally at my feet, crouches beneath the

“It’s alright Murph, it will be over by sunrise. I bet they’ll stop up on the other side of town
anyhow.” I couldn’t help thinking I only spoke this in hopes my own ears would hear it and then my brain would believe it.

I bent down to smooth out the hair standing straight up on his back. His hips turned in
awkwardly as he showed his teeth to me, his fur was orange by the light coming in from outside. At
first I thought it was the sunset shining its last bit of safety on my face, but I was horribly wrong.

I was dead wrong.

It was the wagon. Its two paths of fire trailing behind it, showing the way from Hell.

I was frozen still for a moment. There it finally was, for the first time, after all these years, I
looked upon the thing that everyone fears. Three figures seeped out from inside the wagon’s cab to the road. Smoke lifted from their clothes and embers burned at the bottoms of their boots. They left little red specks wherever they walked. Their faces were covered in black soot and their hands were covered with scars.

The dog growled beside me, bringing me away from the window, away from the horror parked
right outside. I ran quickly to the phone calling “714”, the line to notify the sheriff when they had
arrived, but it was busy. Even in a small neighborhood there are many eyes upon the streets waiting to make the call.

When my call didn’t go through I rushed back to see them again, turning off all the lights as I
drew near. The darkness will hide the terror growing from my face, shining out through my eyes.
They just stood there, the three, searching for something. They took deep breaths of fresh air,
wiping the black soot from their eyes.

But soon they grew agitated waiting for the sheriff to arrive. The slender man paced back and
forth in front of the wagon like a dog in a cage, never going past it’s perimeter. His jet black hair would have sit just below his jaw if it wasn’t braided atop his head like my mother use to braid mine when I was a little girl. The woman, small and wild eyed sat on the front of the wagon wheel letting the flames encompass her legs. She didn’t scream in pain, she must not feel the fire. She took a top hat full of holes off her head to scratch at her burning scalp, clumps of her curly hair falling into her lap as she did so. The third, and last of them, was a monster of a man. Imposing and stiff, he was twice the size of the woman and a good foot taller then the slender man. His hair was blond, but blackened and dirty from the remnants of hell, and a large scar pulled the left side of his mouth down so that it drooped upon his face like melted wax.

Growing impatient the woman crawled to the roof of the wooden domed wagon and shrilly
screamed her frustration to the doors of the closely locked houses.

“No one to greet us?” Her voice filled the cul de sac , it echoed off the houses and reverberated
off the glass window I stood in front of. I took a step back as the glass shook too closely. Murph let out a growl then a whimper. He was trying so hard to stay brave but if he could fit under the couch I’m sure he would be there now.

The neighbors scurried from their windows, I’m sure grabbing their children and heading to the
basement. As if that would really save them.

If the Devil’s Men want you, they will have you.

The woman kept repeating her words over and over again. “No one to greet us? No one to greet
us?” Like a broken record. She jumped up and down on the wagon rocking it back and forth, like a
monkey at the zoo. She was crazy, almost tipping it over with her psychosis. The large man just stood there with his arms so bulging he could barely cross them. The smaller wiry one continued to pace back and forth, wearing out the souls of his already worn shoes.

Where is the sheriff? Sweat now running down my temples, stinging my eyes. My heart beat so
loud they could hear it outside for sure. They will not stay patient for much longer.

The woman’s voice grew to a decibel that paralyzed me. I sunk to the floor, clutching the dog as
I waited for the sheriff. But he did not come quick enough to spare this town from more tragedy.

They started with the closest house. The large one broke down the door, the woman broke everything inside and the manic one pulled out a man.

But he was not just any man. He was someone I knew, someone we all knew.

My neighbor, Paul Medina. He helps me shovel my driveway in the winter and now he was
going to die.

I never remember the full story of how this town was cursed. It was something about a coal fire
only being prevented from annihilating everyone by a deal with the Devil himself. I was too young to
know everything that went on then. It didn’t matter to me how it came to be, only how it would end. I would be dead from old age by the time the one hundred years debt was paid, that is, if I’m not killed tonight.

Paul’s wife screamed from inside the house but did not follow her husband and the three out.

Her heart slowly abandoning her husband for her small daughter inside. Mira, the blond hair, brown
eyed angel.

I would choose her too.

But the wife still screamed. She fell to her knees in the door frame, stretching out her arms for
her lover, grasping only the heat instead.

Paul did not fight, he knew he could not win. He stood with his chest puffed, as if that was
making a difference.

The monster of a man stood in front of Paul, towering over him with an imposing stance. His
voice, like a megaphone, boomed deep.

“Death or servitude?” Was all he said to Paul who immediately fell to his knees onto the
asphalt. His body crumbling because he knew this was his end. Either choice was torture.

His wife, wailing uncontrollably, shut herself behind the door, locking it tight. She could not
bare to watch, could not bare to see what he was willing to sacrifice for her.

But I could not pry my eyes away.

They were soulless shells of men, owned by the Devil. Their eyes only held the animals we
become once all good in us is gone.

The wild woman walked close to Paul with a very rusty knife, crusted with a burgundy that was
unmistakable, she must never wipe it off.

His eyes bulged from his head searching for someone, searching for the sheriff, searching for
help. They were panic stricken, darting back and forth for anything, for anyone. But all he saw was
darkened windows.

But I couldn’t let that happen.

I ran to the door and flung it open before I knew what I was doing. And at the exact moment our
eyes met the dagger pierced straight into his heart, putting out the life in his eyes. He fell forward to the ground, his head hitting the street with an audible thud. He made the choice everyone chooses.

The three then turned on me. Their eyes flamed of fire themselves, smoke wafted from their
pours as they started to walk in my direction. I was too frightened to move.

“What have I done?” I whispered to myself as my hand flailed wildly for something to hold on
to. But there was nothing there. I could only hear the dog whimper behind me as I quickly shut the door to lock him safely inside the house.

I grabbed for my knife, quickly removing it from it’s sheath. I left every other weapon locked
inside the house like a unprepared fool.

“Don’t think I’m coming quietly.” My voice quivered.

It did not frighten them. My words only made them smile with amusement. They showed me
their yellowed broken teeth as they grew near.

“Do you dare break the agreement with your insubordination?” The man with the braided hair
spat at me. His face in the darkening dusk showing its horrible disfigurement.

“No, but I will defend myself if attacked.” I griped my knife so tightly in my hand I thought my fingers would never unclasp again. Its rigid handle indenting the pad of my hand until they were almost one.

“Attacked?” The woman laughed. Her greasy blond hair slicking to her face as a storm rolled
across the town. The frigid rain pelted my tin covered porch with a drumming misery.

“Taken, of course.” The wiry one said as he lunged towards me, grabbing my arm and pulling
me towards him, only stopping when he felt my knife press stiffly against his throat.

The large one stared at our stand off. One move and he could have broken me in half, but he did
not. He only spoke.

“Death or servitude?”

He had to give me that choice, that was the agreement.

My breath caught in my throat, just for a moment. Just long enough to see the red and blue
lights of the Sheriff’s car pull into the cul de sac.

The large one left my porch, the woman followed, the manic man whose feet were still lifting
up and down as if he was marching, as if he was always marching, only stared at me. His eyes were
fascinated with mine.

“Do it,” he said. “Put me out of my misery.” He whispered.

I lowered my knife to my side. “Maybe the misery you have is the misery you deserve.”

His face did not change, though his eyes showed only the slightest bit of humanity, of sadness. His body turned as he walked off my porch back to his band of brethren.

My legs failed under me as I fell onto the painted hardwood. I could not breathe, my heart was
beating so furiously my eyes went fuzzy. I sat there watching as the Sheriff ran to Paul’s limp body, as he sobbed knowing his tardiness was the cause of such an atrocity.

But what could he have done really?

No one knows where the wagon will appear. That is the Devil’s fun of it, his sick joy.

I can’t hear the conversation over Murph barking behind my front door and the sound of my
pulse in my ears. But I don’t dare open the door, his voice held an animal in it that I have never heard before. If I opened the door I could not prevent him from coming out and creating more chaos, no matter how much I wanted to feel his familiar fur and get licked by his loving tongue.

I have never seen what goes on on this day. Yes, I’ve heard the stories, the embellishments and
the lies, but nothing really prepared me for the sheer terror the Men would bring. How could death be the worse alternative to the constant fear of this day? Once it is over you are at peace for maybe a week, but hardly two. And after that the slow growing pit returns in your stomach each time the sun sets, bringing you closer to this horror.

The coal now arrives in a giant roll away canister, the rusty kind you rent to clean out you
relatives disgusting house when they pass away. It was not all the coal we had for them, but the lead truck for all other trucks to follow. One by one the canisters would be attached to each other, then fastened to the blacken wood of the wagon. The Devil’s horses, with their fire red hooves and their steaming noses would pull all of it’s contents back down to Hell.

A fierce ringing began in my ear, disorienting me and a sharp pain was left in my arm where the
I was grabbed so tightly. But the thought of that simple question still weighed more then anything on my already weak heart.

I was asked it, surely I must now answer it.

Death or servitude.

One by one the trucks filled the cul de sac, ran the length of the neighborhood and stretched
halfway across the town.

But the Devil’s Men did not look satisfied, as we all knew they would not be. Yet we hoped,
foolishly, we hoped that they would understand, that they would take our loss to heart.

But as sheep, we walked to the slaughterhouse door, and knocked to be let in.

What will the Sheriff do now as the door is locking behind him, behind the whole town? They
are standing there waiting, sharpening their knives and licking their lips.

We all voted for him to be Sheriff. Christopher Goode, with a name like that how could we not
elect him? It didn’t matter that he was the only one who wanted the job, he made us feel secure. Even after all the deaths he still made us feel like we could do it, that everything would be alright. I can still see the way he would walk through town, proud, without a worry in the world.

My fingers start to tingle from holding my knife too tightly for far too long.

The bantering between the Sheriff and the monster seemed to make no progress. The Sheriff,
taking off his hat, pulling out a red handkerchief and wiping sweat from his forehead, had lost all his
swagger from so many years before. This day had always gone so smoothly, maybe his puffed chest
was just false bravery.

The large one, who the Sheriff called Damo, signaled to the other two who always found
themselves flanking him. With a nod of his massive head they scurried like rats into Paul Medina
house, breaking in the door Paul’s wife was still collapsed behind. They dragged her wet and dazed
body and her child, Mira, to the asphalt.

I could not stand to see what was about to happen, what we all knew would happen. But I would
not leave them alone in their last moments, not like Paul’s wife had done to him.

My ears stopped ringing long enough to hear the Sheriff beg for more time and for Paul’s wife
to beg for herself and her child. They were desperate, and desperate dogs to devious doings.
I can’t blame them really, for what they did. Who is to say if I wasn’t in their position that I
wouldn’t do the same? Though I know I wouldn’t.

The Sheriff, holding Paul’s wife as she crumbled, grasped for his rain soaked hat after a gust of
storm wind took it straight off his head. His hand, was as fast as a rattler, striking for it, but he did not catch it. It tumbled like a weed and rested at my feet.

“You!” He shouted at me. Paul’s wife’s face lifted quickly as the whipping wind pushed the tears
from her eyes and saw me as well. I saw the light, no matter how awful, turn on brightly behind her

I knew their plan then.

“You!” Paul’s’ wife shouted at me. Her light flowery dress billowed in the wind so fierce it dried
all the rain that had beaded upon the ground.

It was shocking to see any anger or even determination in her face. It was shocking to see that
she knew me at all. I knew her only of what Paul said of her. “My wife loves the new car I bought her.
My wife doesn’t like to work. My wife has a good life.” The only expression I’ve ever see on her face
was laughter, after a shopping trip, after bringing home take out, driving unknowingly by me on a street corner.

She opened her mouth wide and shouted just as a monstrous clap of thunder echoed off the
surrounding mountains. I didn’t hear what she said, but I saw it on her lips.

“Take her instead!” She shouted. Her manicured finger straight and rigid in my direction.

I gripped the broken rung on my little house and heaved myself to my feet, tearing out the wood
with my bodies momentum.

I could not speak. I was waiting on the Sheriff’s voice, he would seal my fate.

“Yes! Take her! She has nothing left to live for!” His voice was much quieter, but I heard it just
fine. The wind died to an eerie calm, the bullfrogs in the swamp across the street sung, my favorite
sound of summer.

Nothing left for me? Is that how they all see me after what happened? Is my own life not enough to live for?

I slowly limped down the front steps, making sure my foot planted squarely into the Sheriff’s hat as I walked towards the wagon. The heat scorching the shoelaces of my boots.

“This is the thanks I receive for the ten years in the mines, Christopher? After no one would go back in since the last victim and I showed them they way. After everyone tried to leave, but I always stayed. This is the thanks I get?” I said strongly, with my head held impossibly high.

The Men spit at his name, to them we were nothing more then workers and should be called as
such. I felt like doing the same.

“I have a family and who will take care of Mira if Paul’s wife dies? And you, well you have no-.”

I cut him off quickly with a dangerous spark in my eyes.

I know exactly what I do and do not have.

“Yes, and I have a child and a husband in the ground. So that makes me less worthy of living
am I right?” I punctuated my words short and concise.

He could not speak, he could not look at me. But Paul’s wife shot me looks of disgust.

That is why I am good at my job. I go down in the mines to get out of the sun. The sun that
reminds me of her eyes, the way my sweet daughter’s eyes would shine even in the darkness. The way my husband’s smile would brighten a room as soon as he entered it.

“If you are gutless enough to sentence me to death, Christopher, you should at least have the
courtesy to look me in the eye when you do it!” But he did not look. Only the Sheriff can decide on a
substitution, who gets asked the question, like I’m some kind of basketball player, easily interchangeable.

He has made his decision.

Could life really be this cruel? Just as I thought things were going to be alright, to be doable.
Murph and I had a nice thing going, now I have to bare this too.

“Death or servitude?” Damo asked, but I already had my answer waiting. It came to me then in
a flash, like lightening, detrimental and exact.

“Servitude,” I shouted, so I know the Sheriff would hear.

“Servitude?” Christopher frantically looked at me, his face turning green with sickness. “Death,
everyone chooses death! You’ll become one of them, the Devil’s Man. You will be burned and

My heart grew black as he continued to speak, continued to whine.

“Yes, Christopher, and every year I will come so you can see what you chose for me. Every year
you will see my face, the face you condemned.” I spit.

I could feel the Devil’s poison leach into me now, or maybe it was just that I have had too much
suffering my body was spent.

The wild woman and the manic man each placed a firing hand on my shoulder, burning my skin
with their finger prints as they led me to the caravan.

“Wait.” I planted my feet. My mouth already tasted of ash, my skin warmed to an uncomfortable heat. I reached into the pocket of my jeans and took out my house keys. With Murph barking off in the distance I walked slowly to Mira, bending down next to the angel, my heart’s edges
began to feel red and alive again.

“Sorry what they done to ya.” Her small voice was not sad, just truthful.

I handed her the keys to my house and kissed her cheek as I whispered “Take good care of
Murph.” and walked back to the caravan.

I climbed inside the wagon, with the three of them waiting, looking more sullen than before.
Their close smoldered, coughing up ash.

“So what happens now?” I asked out into the darkness as the horses started to gallop their way
back to hell. I didn’t dare look back at my home. It was over for me now.

“Servitude.” Is all Damo could say.

“For how long? One Hundred years? Until the agreement is over?” I pondered, not fully realizing what I had truly chosen. It had started to sink in, the hotter it got, the closer to Hell. I let my
betrayal cloud my judgment.

I wanted death. I want my very miserable life to be very much over.

“Until death.” The woman said, her voice calm and more sad now.

“Alright, so lets say fifty years then? In the grand scheme of things it could be worse I guess.” I
folded my arms around my waist. At least there will be an end. That small notion gave me comfort.

“Once you pass through the gates of Hell you will not die, you will live forever, and for ever be
in his servitude. That is the price you pay for an immortal life.” I don’t know who spoke it, only that is
was said.

My head fell lightly against the steaming slats of the Devil’s carriage. Out the door I only saw
the lights of my once small town fade off into the distance. The canisters of coal snaking behind us so far I could not see their ending, though the end was near.

I gripped my knife tight and pressed it to my thigh knowing there was a large artery there that
would bleed out in a matter of moments. All it would take was one push of the blade through my skin.

But I could not do it. If I was anything, I was a woman of my word. I chose servitude.

Oh how life is so cruel to the ones who try to live right, to the ones who keep going forward even with everything pulling them back, to the ones who walk the straight and narrow even from inside
the Devil’s wagon.

“We are almost there now, won’t be much longer.” The manic one, who was much slower now,
patted me on the knee cap to comfort me, singeing my jeans instead.

I clutched my heart, its rhythm unnatural.

Was this the Devil’s work? Or was it something else entirely?

A wicked laugh grew in from the deepest depths of my belly, maybe life wasn’t so cruel after

“She is cracking up!” The woman rolled her eyes.

“She’ll fit right in.”

“They always do this once they feel the heat.” The three of them talked around me like I wasn’t
even there.

“No.” I felt for my chest. “I’m not cracking up. I’m dying.” I giggled, reflecting back on these
last few moments. The dizziness, the pain in my arm, the loud thump of my heart. I just didn’t realize it until now.

I was having a heart attack.

“Make the horses go faster!” Damo shouted, but it was too late. They would never make it on
time to push me through the gate.

My laugh grew to a loud cackle as they ripped my shirt from my chest and started compression. They were trying to save me by keeping my heart beating just long enough. They frantically shouted
worried sentiments of the Devil’s wrath, they have too small of an offering, and now no servant to make up the difference. They pulled at their own hair and screamed in fear.

And as the smile grew engorged and more devious on my face, and the shouting floated away
until I could no longer hear it, I thought of the ones I love. So soon it will be until I will see them again.

Because my life was bad, but my death will be much better.

About the Author

Julie is a videographer in upstate New York. Her love for writing started early and never left. At 37, she is still submitting to anyone who will read the words so near and dear to her heart in hope to one day be published.

Twitter: @evoljulep

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