The Devil and his Games (Revised)
By Wai Ho Liu
Copyright Wai Ho Liu 1998
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This story happened about 70 years ago. Ralph Walters was a 17-year old boy living with his family on the family farm. Ralph had spent most of his life there, helping his family run the farm. His father fought and died in the First World War and so, he did a lot of the work that needed to be done.
Ralph grew up in a community full of Christians and he would go to church every Sunday to worship the Lord. Ralph was a good boy and he knew that if he left the farm, there’d be no one to take care of his mother.
This was unlike his older brother Jack. Jack was an ambitious person. He planned to become rich and famous one day. Jack wanted to move to the city but he couldn’t because he had to take care of the farm. This made Jack hate his family who he believed, held him back from bigger and better things.
Jack decided to kill Ralph and his mother. He figured that he had to if he wanted to achieve his dreams. One day, he told them that he was going to ride to the neighbor’s house (which was many miles away) to borrow some tools and stay the night but his real plan was to come back that night and burn the house down.
Something woke Ralph up that night. As soon as he opened his eyes he knew something was wrong. There was the smell of smoke and it felt hot. As he looked around, he realized that there was smoke coming from under the door and the curtains were caught on fire.
Ralph could hardly breathe. He quickly got out of bed and crouched down near the floor. He looked for a way to escape. The door was obviously not a possibility as that was where the smoke was coming from and the burning curtains blocked the window.
He realized that there was no way out. He was going to die. And he didn’t want to die. He was too young to die. Maybe, it was the fumes from the smoke or the blank hopelessness of the situation but Ralph started crying. He just lay face up in the middle of the room and started crying.
Why does it have to be me? I have always been a good person he thought. Why am I in this situation and not someone else?
Everything was starting to turn blurry now. Ralph fought but he couldn’t fight the smoke. It was overpowering him. Every breath he took burned his lungs.
Suddenly, Ralph realized that there was someone else standing in the room. It was strange. The figure hadn’t just suddenly appeared. It was like he was standing there all along. Like the wallpaper had camouflaged him. It was like Ralph had seen him but had only realized then that he was there.
"Who are you?" he asked.
The figure came closer. Ralph could see that he was wearing a red cape. He looked strange, somewhat inhuman. Yet, Ralph could not figure what it was about him that was so different. The man spoke.
"I’m here to save your life," the man said.
"But how?" Ralph demanded. "We’re both going to die."
"It doesn’t matter how," the man replied, offering his hand. "But I can save you if you want me to."
Desperate, Ralph nodded and reached his hand to grab the man’s. But the man quickly pulled away. "But there is a catch," the man added.
"What’s the catch?" Ralph demanded. He was getting desperate.
"I’ll let you live," the man said. "But you will have to let me alter your fate."
Ralph didn’t know what this strange man was talking about. What was he even doing there? He was delirious and wasn’t thinking right.
"Okay, whatever," he replied. "Just save me."
"Very well," the man said.
"By the way, who are you?" Ralph asked the man.
"Just the devil," he replied, with a quiet grin. And with that, he grabbed Ralph’s hand.
"He’s awake," somebody said.
Ralph opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was a crowd of faces looking down at him. "Where am I?" Ralph muttered.
"You’re going to be okay," somebody said. "But your poor mother is dead."
Ralph suddenly remembered the fire. He stood up and for the first time since he’d awaken, looked around at where he was.
He saw the charred remains of what was left of his house. There was still smoke raising from the debris. He suddenly remembered the man who saved him.
"Who saved me?" Ralph demanded.
"We don’t know," somebody told him. "When we found you, you were lying out here unconscious."
"No, someone saved me," Ralph said. "He said he was the devil."
Everyone looked confused.
"He was in the house and he said he was going to save me," Ralph explained.
Everyone looked more confused. Finally someone spoke up.
"That’s scandalous," someone said. "Son, the devil is an evil and sinister being. He will not save you. Do not say things like that."
"But it’s true," Ralph protested.
"You must be in shock," somebody told Ralph. "After all, you’re lucky to be alive."
Since Jack was the oldest, he automatically inherited the family farm. Despite Ralph’s protest, Jack sold the farm and moved to the city. That gave Ralph no choice but to move to the city too.
Even though Jack was rich, he didn’t let Ralph live with him. Ralph had to get a job at a factory and could only afford to rent an apartment in an old run down building.
Ralph was getting increasingly bitter about Jack. After all, he was his brother and Ralph knew that if he had gotten the inheritance, he would have helped Jack.
One night, after a long hard day at work, Ralph saw the devil again. He was just getting ready for bed when he turned around and the devil was just sitting there in a chair in the corner of the room. Once again, it was like he had been there all along and Ralph had only just realized that he was there.
"Oh my God," Ralph exclaimed. "You’re back."
The devil nodded.
"I thought you were all part of a dream," Ralph said.
"No, I am real," the devil replied.
"You saved my life," Ralph said. "Thank you."
"That’s okay," the devil said. "But remember the catch."
Ralph looked confused. Then he remembered.
"You mean how you said you were going to alter my fate?" Ralph asked.
"Yes," the devil said. "You see, God had meant for you to die in that fire. That was your fate and your destiny."
"But you saved me," Ralph said.
"Yes, I did," the devil replied. "And in doing so, I had to changed your fate. You are not meant to be alive. You are one of mine now."
"Why did you help me?" Ralph asked.
"So you could take revenge on the one who have violated your trust," the devil said. "The one who killed your mother and tried to kill you too."
"Who was it?" Ralph demanded. "Who set the fire?"
"Your own brother."
"Jack?" Ralph demanded. "No, he would never do something like that."
"You humans," the devil said wearily. "Seeing is believing."
Suddenly, Ralph’s mind was filled with an image of Jack setting fire to a bundle of hay in the stable. He had a smile on his face and was whistling a song.
Ralph was shocked that his own brother would plot to kill him. He was also angry.
"I know it’s shocking but it’s the reality of the situation," the devil said.
"I don’t know what to think," he said in disbelief. "I don’t know what to do."
"How about revenge?" the devil said.
"No, no," Ralph said. "That would be wrong."
"So is befriending the devil," the devil said. "But that saved your life."
After that encounter, Ralph felt confused about his changed fate. He felt like his old self but he knew that apart of him had changed. Before, he was limited to do certain things because he had to think about others but now, he realized that he was not limited to anything and that he didn’t have to think about others, and could do the best for himself. It was all part of what the devil had taught him.
He also felt alone. Before, when he felt depressed, sad or unhappy, he would pray to the Lord and that would make him feel better. Now, when he prayed, he felt nothing because he knew that the Lord was not with him anymore. He was on the other side now.
Not that he was ashamed to believe in the devil.
Not at all. He realized now that all those stories he had been told about how sinister and evil the devil is, were all narrow mindedly na´ve. He realized that when he looked at it through the eyes of the devil, that there was a whole different perspective and that the devil was not as evil as he is portrayed to be.
However, Ralph wished for the simple life he once led. He had been exposed to things that complicated him. Once upon a time, he knew how to separate right and wrong. But now, he had no idea anymore. He thought the Lord was good, yet the Lord wanted him to die and he thought that the devil was evil, but the devil saved his life.
He wished that he had never met the devil and that life was simple again. He didn’t want to know all the things that he knew. It was funny that sometimes, you can hurt someone by just showing them the truth. Ralph didn’t want to know about the truth about the world. He just wanted everything to be simple. It was true that the truth hurts. Now he didn’t know what to think, what to do or who to trust anymore.
And that was why he felt alone.
On top of that, he blamed Jack for everything that had happened. In fact, he hated Jack. Ralph was always told in church to forgive but Ralph knew that he truly hated Jack. He hated him so much that he didn’t just want him to die.
No, that would be too simple. It would be too lenient to just kill him. Not after all the pain that he had directly or indirectly inflicted on him. He had a much better plan then to kill Jack. He planned to hurt him too.
He knew that his biggest weakness was his reputation.
The one thing Jack dreaded was being made a fool or a crook. He always had to prove to everyone that he was the best. He hated to be humiliated.
Ralph planned to ruin him. Ruin his name. Ruin his life.
Ralph invited Jack for dinner. Jack refused at first but then Ralph started boasting about how he had gotten a really top paying job and that he was very rich. Curious and forever concerned that his brother was making more money then him, Jack accepted the invitation.
The two brothers met at a restaurant. They chatted about what they were doing, the people they’d met and how different the life in the city was.
Even though Jack bragged a little bit, Ralph realized that the dinner seemed just like old times. He realized that he used to like his brother and that he missed him. He found himself actually enjoying himself. Yet, he knew that as much as he enjoyed old times, he realized that the times had changed and as much as he liked Jack, he hated him and could never forgive him for the things he had done.
After dessert, Jack excused himself to go the bathroom. This gave Ralph the perfect opportunity to look through his suitcase. He found a gold pen with Jack’s name engraved on it and put it in his pocket. When Jack came out, Ralph told him that he was getting up early the next day and had to leave. Ralph paid for the dinner and left.
When Ralph got home, the devil was waiting for him.
"Did you do what I told you?" the devil asked.
"Yes," Ralph replied. "I bought something that belonged to him." He handed the pen to the devil. The devil smiled.
"This is good," the devil praised. "It’s even got his name on it."
"What do you want me to do now?" Ralph asked.
"Go to the house of one of Jack’s neighbors," the devil told Ralph. "Then kill them."
"What?" Ralph asked in disbelief. "You want me to kill someone?"
"Then you drop the pen near the bodies," the devil explained. "And then when the police search for clues, and find the pen, well, the rest of the story speaks for itself."
"It’s a good plan," Ralph admitted. "But I don’t want to kill the neighbors. I mean, they haven’t done anything wrong."
"Remember, that you did nothing wrong," the devil said. "And someone almost killed you. You have got to learn that there is no place in this world for the meek. You have got to be more selfish if you want to achieve your goals."
Ralph thought about it and he realized that the devil was right. All his life, he had thought about other people and not himself. Who cares about other people? He thought. As long as you’re well off, no one else matters.
So Ralph did as the devil said. He broke into one of the Jack’s neighbor’s house through an open window. When inside, he looked around and found a hammer and a towel. A family of four lived in that house. He walked upstairs to the parent’s bedroom first. He wanted this to be quick and quiet.
There was a man and a woman sleeping. He lay the towel over the man’s head and raised his hammer up in the air. He struck the man in the temple. The man uttered a grunt and Ralph quickly struck him again before he could say anymore.
He glanced at the woman and sighed with relief that she was still snoring. Without wasting anytime, he placed the towel on her head and struck her to death with the hammer. He explored the other rooms and found a little girl and a teenage boy and killed them too.
As Ralph was about to leave the house, he walked past a family portrait of the people he’d just killed. He couldn’t help having a look. He suddenly felt sad because in the picture, they looked so happy. Like they had not a worry in the world. Ralph suddenly felt guilty. He suddenly realized what he had done. He suddenly realized what he had destroyed.
He wondered what they were like when they were alive. What did they like doing? What were their hobbies and interests? What were their favorite foods? Favorite books? He realized that what he had done was just as bad as what Jack had done. All this time he was horrified at the things Jack had done, Ralph realized he had become exactly like him.
He took the pen out of his pocket and started thinking. Should he drop it? Did he still hate Jack? He realized he hated himself.
"Drop it," a voice behind him commanded. Ralph turned around and realized it was the devil. "Drop the pen, Ralph."
"Two wrongs don’t make a right," Ralph said to the devil.
"Drop the pen," the devil insisted. "Jack deserves this."
Ralph realized the devil was right. Even if he didn’t hate Jack, this was justice. It was what Jack deserved. He suddenly thought about his mother. Ralph suddenly missed her. She didn’t deserve to die. Not like that anyway.
He dropped the pen. Then he got the hammer and threw it in Jack’s backyard. Then he went home. On the way home, he kept thinking about going back for the pen. He didn’t know why. I mean, like the devil had said, this was what Jack deserved. Maybe it was because Ralph realized that it was what he deserved too. And that scared him.
So it was a few weeks later, someone had finally found the rotting bodies of the family of four. The police searched the house and found the pen. They also found the hammer in Jack’s backyard.
The police arrested Jack. He maintained his innocence but the evidence definitely pointed to his direction. There was a trial and Jack was found guilty. They sentenced him to be hanged. Ralph got to speak to Jack one more time before he died.
"Hello Jack," Ralph said as Jack sat down on the opposite side of a glass wall.
"They’re going to kill me," Jack cried. "I didn’t kill them. I swear."
"I know, I believe you," Ralph replied.
"I don’t deserve this," Jack said.
"Yes you do," Ralph said, solemnly.
"What?" Jack was shocked to hear Ralph say that.
"The reason I came here today," Ralph told Jack. "Was to tell you that I know it was you that burned down the old house."
"What? How did you know?" Jack demanded.
"It doesn’t matter," Ralph said. "I just know."
"It was an accident," Jack insisted.
"This will probably be the last time I’ll see you," Ralph said. "Let’s be honest."
Jack sighed. "Okay, I’m sorry. But you have got to believe me about something."
"About what?" Ralph asked.
"The devil told me to do it."
"What?" Now it was Ralph’s turn to be shocked.
"It’s true. I met the devil. He kept on telling me that you and Mother were slowing me down. Kept on telling me to be more selfish. Somehow, he convinced me to burn the place down and sell the land."
"The devil came to me too," Ralph told him. Ralph went on to explain to Jack everything that had happened.
They chatted for awhile. They both ended up forgiving each other for all the pain they had caused. They knew that although the devil had tricked them, it was still their own fault. That was the last time Ralph spoke to Jack.
The next day, Jack was executed.