The Devil’s Rosebush
(El rosal del diablo)
by Pedro Escamilla
– I –
If we are to credit old legends and local traditions, Germany is one of the countries the devil visits most.
This is not to attack the goodness of its inhabitants; the Spirit of Darkness no doubt has his preferences, which we need to respect.
Indeed, there’s hardly a German legend without the devil playing the protagonist. And it’s said that this is a country that holds to its traditions.
In some legends, he’s seen acting out a comedy with humble mountain people; at other times, an epic romance with the inhabitants of ancient castles.
The devil is everywhere.
The Convalescents’ Tea
(El té de las convalecientes)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán
They were still a bit frail, with a touch of haze in their dull eyes; but already they were eager to jump back in the ring and enjoy their youth. They had seen the terror of death up close, and it seemed miraculous to have escaped its clutches.
They were young ladies of the best society, with laughing and lively futures of unlimited promise, surprised in the middle of their lives of pleasant frivolities and hopes of love and happiness by the terrible epidemic, which chose its victims from those in the prime of life, as if it scorned the elderly, death’s sure and soon prey. Some had suffered bronchopneumonia, with its delirium and cruel suffocation; others had vomited blood by the mouthful; yet others began to show symptoms of meningitis….
And just as it seemed they were about to cross the black door and the mysterious river that sleeps between banks lined with asphodel and henbane, whose waters fall from the oar without any echo, the evil began to recede, normality was reappearing. The interesting little patients bloomed again, so to speak — not with all the vitality that one would want, but like those languid and drooping roses that slowly revive in a tall glass of water.
by Emilia Pardo Bazán
When his second son was born, puny and barely breathing, the father looked down at the child in fury, for he had dreamed of a lineage of sturdy sons. And when the boy’s mother exclaimed — optimistic, as all mothers are — “We must find him a godmother,” the father growled:
“Godmother! Godmother! Death will be his godmother… if he lives!”
Convinced the baby would not survive, the father allowed the baptism day to arrive without stopping his wife from bringing their son to the font. In such cases, it’s good luck to invite the first person who comes along to be the godparent. So that’s what they did, when at dusk of a December day they went to the parish church.
A Virtuoso’s Collection
by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1842)
The other day, having a leisure hour at my disposal, I stepped into a new museum, to which my notice was casually drawn by a small and unobtrusive sign: “To Be Seen Here, A Virtuoso’s Collection.” Such was the simple yet not altogether unpromising announcement that turned my steps aside for a little while from the sunny sidewalk of our principal thoroughfare. Mounting a sombre staircase, I pushed open a door at its summit, and found myself in the presence of a person, who mentioned the moderate sum that would entitle me to admittance.
“Three shillings, Massachusetts tenor,” said he. “No, I mean half a dollar, as you reckon in these days.”
While searching my pocket for the coin I glanced at the doorkeeper, the marked character and individuality of whose aspect encouraged me to expect something not quite in the ordinary way. He wore an old-fashioned great-coat, much faded, within which his meagre person was so completely enveloped that the rest of his attire was undistinguishable. But his visage was remarkably wind-flushed, sunburnt, and weather-worn, and had a most, unquiet, nervous, and apprehensive expression. It seemed as if this man had some all-important object in view, some point of deepest interest to be decided, some momentous question to ask, might he but hope for a reply. As it was evident, however, that I could have nothing to do with his private affairs, I passed through an open doorway, which admitted me into the extensive hall of the museum.
Excerpt from Philopseudes (Lover of Lies)
[Eucrates said] ‘When I was a young man, I passed some time in Egypt, my father having sent me to that country for my education. I took it into my head to sail up the Nile to Coptus, and thence pay a visit to the statue of Memnon, and hear the curious sound that proceeds from it at sunrise. In this respect, I was more fortunate than most people, who hear nothing but an indistinct voice: Memnon actually opened his lips, and delivered me an oracle in seven hexameters; it is foreign to my present purpose, or I would quote you the very lines.
‘Well now, one of my fellow passengers on the way up was a scribe of Memphis, an extraordinarily able man, versed in all the lore of the Egyptians. He was said to have passed twenty-three years of his life underground in the tombs, studying occult sciences under the instruction of Isis herself.’
The Story of Kritákrita
by Francis William Bain
Transcriber’s Note: Taken from Day 19 of F. W. Bain’s Arabian Nights-style story cycle, A Digit of the Moon (1898). I’ve removed the continuity passages and left just the standalone story. All footnotes are by Bain, except those marked [NZ], which are by me. I’ve also re-paragraphed the story, for legibility.
There was once a Brahman named Kritákrita, who neglected the study of the Wédas, and walked in the black path, abandoning all his duties, and associating with gamblers, harlots, and outcasts. And he frequented the cemeteries at night, and became familiar with ghosts and vampires and dead bodies, and impure and unholy rites and incantations.
And one night, amid the flaming of funeral pyres and the reek of burning corpses, a certain Vampire of his acquaintance said to him: I am hungry: bring me fresh meat to devour, or I will tear you in pieces.
Die and You’ll See
(Muérete y verás)
by Pedro Escamilla
What in this world can be more terrible than doubt? What crueler torment could be invented to slowly destroy humanity?
I don’t know how the multitudes endorse so many facts in spite of the evidence that seems to destroy them.
This is about the testimony of a physician and a priest, of those who in such extreme and solemn circumstances should not—I will say more—cannot lie. This is about destroying an absurdity, a thing implausibly implausible, if you will allow me to use this phrase. This is, finally, about the most momentous event in the history of a mortal.
A man can live without virtue and without shoes, without a cloak in the winter and almost without a shirt.
But to live without life!
In what tolerably organized society do they admit a fact of nature so strange? What philosophical system admits the material existence of a dead person? Because now it’s not a question of the soul, of the spirit; it is no longer about the uncreated part, of the moral entity.
It’s a much more intricate and arduous question…Damn it!
For at the end of the day I can’t find words to express this absurdity.
Read on, and judge.
The Devil’s Catch
(La pesca del diablo)
by Pedro Escamilla
Gil was rightly considered one of the unluckiest fishermen on the entire Cantibrian coast. No one knew the cause of the misfortune that kept him imprisoned in its nets, since he was quite able to discern and appreciate the difference between an oyster and a turbot.
The silvery scales of the sardines, the speckled trout, the barbel and the slender elusive eels fled from his tasty bait and well constructed nets, only to break the nets of his companions with their weight. Gil gave himself over to all the devils known in the incantations of the Church, on seeing that while the novice fishermen were flush with money and enjoying themselves in the taverns of the port, he had hardly enough to buy the brown and bitter bread of the desperate, and to repair all the damage to his boat, which was always one of those that suffered the most in every storm.
It’s true that he had never once drowned, which perhaps would have been a blessing that would have saved him much sorrow.
This situation had a deplorable effect on his self-esteem: namely, that having reached the age of thirty there wasn’t a single young woman in the village who would accept his affection under such conditions, because then, as now, a fisherman was only worth as much as the fish that he caught.
by Pedro Escamilla
There was in the village of … a poor young man named Antero, who was about to wed Marcelina, one of the comeliest girls in the region.
The event–I speak of the marriage–was taking place against the wishes of Auntie Ursula, a sort of village witch; for until quite recently all remote villages and sparsely inhabited neighborhoods enjoyed the odd privilege of a resident witch.
Auntie Ursula didn’t tell fortunes, or predict the future, or even give the evil eye. Yet she was considered a witch; everyone in the village thought so, because (and this is serious) she couldn’t remain in the church “while the missal was open,” an ailment peculiar to those caught in the flagrant offense of witchcraft.
Why did Marcelina and Antero’s wedding displease the good old woman? Who knows?
“Look,” Auntie Ursula would say when speaking to anyone about the matter, “that marriage, which seems so auspicious, will bring unhappiness to both parties. Marcelina, who is blonde, has a mole with black hair on the upper part of her throat; this is a contradiction, for in general the color of a person’s mole tends to match their hair color. And besides, Antero was promised to Lucifer by his mother; I know for a fact that she made this desperate vow so she could have a son. A marriage that takes place under such strange circumstances can’t have anything but a disastrous end.”
The vow by Antero’s mother was hypothetical; nobody except Auntie Ursula knew a word about it. As for the mole, that was true, but until then no one had ever noticed that blondes with black moles were doomed to misfortune.
by Emilia Pardo Bazán
The philosopher heard the slow tolling, descending from the tall English clock crowned by bronze figurines: midnight of the last day of the year. After each peal, the dull, resonating clock case remained vibrating, as if shuddering in a mysterious terror.
The philosopher arose from his ancient leather armchair, burnished by the rubbing of his arms and shoulders over long periods of diligent and solitary study; and like one who adopts a definitive resolution, approached the burning hearth. Either now, or never, was the suitable time for the spell.