Devil Inside

Devil Inside

The soft whup whup whup of the weed whip was soothing - hypnotic - and Viggo swung it back and forth, back and forth, letting the heat of the sun and the steady movement take him over - calm him.  He did this when he was working on his sermons, or when he needed to think.  Today, he was thinking.  Thinking about Jimmy.

When he'd been Jimmy's age, he'd just finished doing six months in-country in Vietnam.  Was on one of the last transports out, watching the little, black-haired woman and children swarm under them, as frantic as ants when you've taken a stick to their hill.  Watching them scream and cry - offer up their children.  Watching the NVA troops surge in behind them like water from a broken dam. 

He'd done his share of killing; just because they were pulling out didn't mean there wasn't death to deal, and he'd done it as happily as he'd done most things, then.  Lied about his age and off to see the world.  The Army had been good for Viggo in a lot of ways - taught him a little about life, gave him some direction - some appreciation.  But mostly, it'd given him some control over the Devil inside.  He learned when to let it out - and when to lock it up tight.

But after the Army - after the war, when everything was so confusing, so different - he'd lost that.  Lost what little control he'd learned.  He'd always had the Devil inside - ever since he was five years old and had tried to set Grandpap's corn-crib on fire.  Grandpap was sure the Devil could be driven out - he never spared the rod, on Viggo's back or any other - but Viggo knew differently.  The Devil was there to stay, you just had to learn how to lock him down - make him behave. 

So out of the Army and lost, really.  Grandpap dead, his own mama dead, his daddy in the VA nursing home, suffering from gout and congestive heart failure, looking at his son with a twist of the lip that meant he saw the Devil still.  Viggo hadn't ever gone back.

The next eight years he'd let the Devil have full rein, and those years were wild and lawless; full of drugs, full of hate and violence, full of loneliness.  He'd met some hippie-types in Cleveland and traveled with them for a while, then joined some ex-Green Berets and stuff out in the woods in Oregon.  Shootin' at tin cans and settin' up booby-traps and generally acting like the gooks were just over the next hill and that made Viggo so nervous and jumpy that he'd snapped one night and beat the shit out of this one motherfucker, Tate.  Him with arms like tree-trunks and shoulders like a bear and brain like a god-damned pea.  After that the Greenies didn't want him around and he'd struck out for home - for familiar places.  For the South - for all the things he missed.

He missed the achingly-hot summers and the winters when the air was crisp and mild and full of the good smell of baking apples and woodsmoke.  He missed the cheerful gossip of the old ladies at the market, and the soft, slurring accents of the people.  He missed the slow talk and the slow walk.  Everything up North was just to brittle - too fast - too loud - and Viggo wanted to get back some of that peace he'd known, years ago, when he'd sat in church with mama on one side and Aunty Elma on the other, breathing in the scents of bleach and lavender and Florida water.  The Devil had been quite in him, then, and he ached for that, as well.

So he'd gone back, and got a job at the Meeks lumber, and started living the life he'd dreamed of, over in the cramped alleys of Saigon.  But the Devil - kept coming out. 

Viggo had never been one to call a person a kike or a wetback or a nigger - those designations were pointless, to him.  He didn't understand people like Grandpap who'd been in the Ku Klux.  Hating somebody for being born in Mexico was like hating a tree for being made out of wood.  No, Viggo's views were much more black and white.   Some people had the Devil in them, and some didn't.  And the Devil called out to itself, and then Viggo would find himself taking a baseball bat or a bottle or a fuckin' rock and trying to kill somebody for puttin' the wrong song on the jukebox.  And he hated that part of himself.

But then he'd met Jenny, and everything had changed.  Jenny was a blue-eyed blonde girl from the next county over, and she was at the tent Revival one midsummer night, singing with a voice like an angels.  Viggo had fallen in love with her over the second chorus of 'Are you Washed in the Blood' and never looked back.

Three months later they were married, and ten months later, in the fall of 1986, Jimmy was born.  By the time the boy was two Viggo was preaching himself, and had a small following, and the Devil - was all but gone. 

Jenny had done that.  Jenny made the Devil lie right down like a sick dog - Jenny made the twisting hate and the sick joy that came from the blood and the pain go far, far away.  Jenny made him smile, and Jenny...made him feel holy - made him feel like a man, finally, and not some stupid boy.  Not some waste.  Made him feel like a Man of God.

When Jimmy was six, Jenny died.  Died so suddenly that they were left spinning, dazed.  Alone, and so scared.  And the Devil surged back to life.

And then one day Jimmy beat up some boy at school - said he'd mouthed off about his momma, but that wasn't the real reason.  Jimmy had the Devil in him, and Viggo could see it, plain as day.  And it called to the Devil in Viggo, just like it always had - like to like.  And he had to save himself from that, and he had to save Jimmy from that, as well.

Viggo only knew one way to get the Devil out, and he wore out his good right arm, trying to drive it from Jimmy.  Trying to make the boy better - trying to make him understand.  But the Devil had wormed its way into the hole Jenny's death had left in the boy and was stuck as tight as beggar's lice.   Viggo watched the Devil take Jimmy over and despaired, but he never let on.  Never let the Devil know he was wining.

He knew he drank too much for a preacher - knew he wasn't what Jenny had so gently and sweetly made him.  Knew he'd let the Devil back in too easily.  But it hurt too much to fight when she wasn't there, and he was determined that Jimmy wouldn't fail like he had...  But Jimmy seemed to have other plans.

He knew what people said about his boy - that he was crazy, hair-triggered - scary.  He knew nobody messed with Jimmy, and he knew that he could still make Jimmy cry, after all these years.  And he never stopped trying to get the Devil out of the boy.

But he'd seen something, and that was why he was here, in the long grass behind the church, sweating through his t-shirt and making his arm sore, swinging the weed whip over and over and over.  Thinking, and praying, and wondering what to do.

He'd gone by the swimming hole the other day - just out for a drive after going over to Crazy Alex's and doing a little home ministering.  The man had wild ideas about monsters and demons and vampires, but he always had a twenty for Viggo if he'd come over and bless a couple five-gallon bottles of Culligan water, make it holy enough to kill the demons. 

It'd been a hot day, and he'd thought he might just go sit on the rickety dock - put his feet down in the water.  So he'd driven over and parked on the verge, and walked silently down through the grass and the kudzu and the blackberry canes.  And stood in the green, gold-dappled shadows and watched Jimmy and that Vinnie - Vincent.  Watched them sit and share a smoke, cheap fishing rods stuck out over the water.  Watched Jimmy take off his shirt and lean back, face tilted up to the sun and oh, he looks just like Jenny, just like... 

Taken in the scars on Jimmy's back that's he'd put there with a switch of good maple, but by his stripes you shall know him, and the Devil only understood pain.  Watched as that Vinnie boy had gotten a beer from a net bag hanging in the water and opened it - taken a sip.  Watched Jimmy reach over and take it from him, saying something that made Vinnie laugh.  Watched Jimmy lean over, his blue hawks-eyes as mild and cool as the lake-water, his mouth curled in a sweet smile that Viggo hadn't seen in ten years or more.  Watched him kiss Vinnie, slow and sweet and gentle, and watched Vinnie's hand twist into Jimmy's waistband - watched him look up at Jimmy with something like love and something like worship.

And the Devil - hadn't stirred.  The Devil in Jimmy's eyes had been gone - utterly gone, and Viggo had walked silently back to his car, stunned and reeling and lost.  He'd gone home and got drunk, and now here he was, sweating all that Old Crow out with every whup whup whup, thinking on what he'd seen.

Jimmy still had the Devil in him, but this boy - this Vinnie...  Maybe he was like Jenny, and maybe he could do what Viggo hadn't been able to for over a decade.  Maybe he could make the Devil lie down and die, and maybe he could save Jimmy from the yawning pit of hell that gaped at Viggo's feet every morning and every night.

Maybe he could be for Jimmy what Jenny had been for Viggo.  He decided, as he watched the whip slice through the grass; blade after blade after blade, that he would wait and see.