On a dank evening, while walking a desolate street, I came upon a figure standing in the shadows.
“Why are you standing there?” I asked.
“I stand here because I am hiding.”
Though I did not see him well I could tell the man was trembling.
“Hiding from what? There is nothing here but me.”
“Ah, but it is you I hide from, for you are the devil.”
I looked on incredulously. “Me, the devil? Nonsense. As you can see I am no devil. I have the skin of a human, the hair of a human, the eyes of a human. I feel pain like a human. If you cut me, I bleed like a human.”
I drew a small knife from my pocket and ran the blade along my arm, wincing as the skin cut with upmost ease. The liquid was warm and ran fresh.
“See. The devil does not bleed, yet I do.”
“You do not fool me,” snorted the man. “What you have shown is nothing more than an illusion.”
“If you think what you see is an illusion then I offer my hand. Touch it. You will find it is as real as the ground upon which we stand.”
I raised my arm towards the man, plunging it into the darkness. For awhile I felt nothing. Then a shaking hand met mine, never lingering for more than a few seconds before it was gone again.
“What did you feel?” I asked.
“A hand,” he said.
“And if I were the devil, wouldn’t you agree my skin would be hotter than anything you could ever imagine? Speak true.”
“Yes. I suppose you’re right.”
“Tell me, what did it feel like?”
“Then I can’t possibly be the devil, can I. I am but just a man. Please, come now, let me take you home.”
I put my arm once again into the shadow and this time felt the man’s hand firmly grasp mine. As he emerged I could see he was very of thin frame. His clothes were veiled in layers of dirt and dust and his head had but one small patch of hair. In the garish light I saw him for what he was. This was no man. He was a skeleton in skin.
“How long have you been here in the shadow?” I caught myself asking.
“Centuries,” he exhaled. “Time has no meaning in the dark.”
Softly, I whispered, “It’s okay. You’re safe now.”
I pulled hard, drawing the man close. He was weak, but eventually pushed away. As he stumbled back he saw the ruby stain that had formed around his heart. Tired, grey eyes gazed long into mine before finally closing, the body hitting the stoney ground with a thud. Blood trickled from the wound, finding its way deep into the stone cracks. I took the knife and wiped the blade clean, letting gravity do the rest. By the time the knife hit the ground the man’s body was gone, vanished, except for his clothes.
I stripped naked, the night air causing my body to shiver. The stone was cold and rough under my bare feet. I bent down to pick up the man’s clothes and, without realizing, put them on. They felt heavy, like an anchor sucking me down, far into the ocean depths. Suddenly the shadow—that pit of emptiness—began calling to me. I couldn’t resist. I stepped in.
And the street was once again empty.