I don’t think the devil is in the details. I think he’s somewhere else entirely.
When I was a little girl my grandmother loved to talk about the trees. “When the leaves turn white, it means rain is coming.” And I saw it, with innocent and easy eyes. I saw the leaves turn white. Of course, rising winds had simply flipped the leaves so that their light underbellies were on display. They didn’t actually turn white, but they did look pale and ghostly, like they’d been shocked by the storm they’d found themselves caught up in. They would flap and twist around, blanching under the darkening clouds, and it would rain. So, she wasn’t wrong—white leaves meant rain was coming.
Dew drops collecting on the tops of leaves meant good fortune—they looked like cups filled with silver and gold.
Bright fall leaves meant a particularly blustery winter. And acorns pooling by the base of a tree would soon be replaced by snow.
They were all cute little tidbits of folklore; wholesome anecdotes to make a child giggle. My grandmother would sit in an old wicker chair on the back porch and watch with reverence as the seasons changed.
“Watch out,” she said to me one day. It was winter, wet snow blanketed the ground and I had just gotten home from school. “Don’t go out there, Milly.” I asked her why, pouting as I tugged at my gloves. “Just don’t. Stay inside with me.”
“But why?” I whined. I wanted to run through the unspoiled snow and claim it as my own.
“Just not today.” It wasn’t good enough, and I edged towards the door, gloved fingers wrapping around the smooth, brass knob. I stuck out my lower lip pathetically. “No,” she said firmly. “Get back here.”
I threw my hat at the coat rack and whipped my gloves down at the floor. “Why won’t you let me have any fun?” I asked as though she were a tyrant attempting to steal all my joy. She patted the spot beside her on the couch. I dragged myself over, bright purple coat still zipped all the way up, and slid sulkily onto the cushion.
She put her hand on my back and held it there. “Look out the window,” she said. I could see into the overgrown and pearly white backyard from where we sat. It looked like a veritable winter wonderland! “Yeah, it’s beautiful,” I groused.
She nodded, eyes never leaving the big window that looked out onto her property. The land spread over acres, most of it uninterrupted forest. Wilderness sat just beyond the garden. It threatened to spill over, but it was so lovely, so wild, it seemed like an inconsequential threat. “Look past the bushes.”
I did, but all I saw was more snow. It glittered in the afternoon sunlight. It sat like powdered sugar atop the leaves of the trees at the edge of the clearing.
“What do you see?” she asked me, her voice thick with meaning.
“Snow, snow, and more snow, Grandma.”
“Past the bushes, sweetie. What do you see?”
“Snowy trees and snowy leaves,” I answered, frustrated. But I saw it then, what she had been watching all along.
Under the cover of the big, thick oak, wrapped around it’s trunk like a snake, I could see its eyes. They shone like the reflectors screwed to my bike. I gasped.
“Ah, there he is,” my grandmother mewed, patting my back lovingly. “You see him now, don’t you? And now you can’t unsee him, huh?”
I didn’t answer, but she was right, I couldn’t blink the image away. It was pure black, black like space. So black that it threatened to pull color from everything around it. Except its eyes, those were different. They remained unblinking, gazing out at nothing, yet somehow right through the big bay window. Right at us. No, those weren’t black at all.
They were like mirrors.
“What is that?” I asked with gummy lips.
“Oh, that’s not a what. That’s a who. That’s the devil, little girl.”
I sat, mouth agape, my cheeks beet red. The heat had become trapped inside my coat and it felt like I was being squeezed like a grape. I remember thinking the devil had come to drink my blood like wine. I started to cry.
“He can’t get you in here, don’t fret too much. He’s just out there lurking. Waiting.”
“For what?” I asked between gulps of air.
“Who knows what the devil does and why he does it.” She stroked my hair, still staring outside, past the alabaster garden, past the wintery bushes, and down to the little copse of trees, thin leaves coated in snow.
I closed my eyes, tears coursing down my cheeks, but when I opened them, the bad dream was still there. He reached out a hand. It stretched out long, towards the house. He pointed a finger, it stuck out just past the furthest snowy limb. If you looked quick, it could almost be mistaken for a branch itself. But we knew it wasn’t. It was the devil looking for something. Waiting for someone. Standing under a big, old oak with snow covered leaves.
I vomited my lunch all over my grandmother’s cream-colored couch. She wasn’t mad. She pulled off my coat, wiped my forehead with a cool, damp cloth, and sprayed something caustic smelling all over the cushions.
When we looked again, he was gone. She knew he would be though, and she wasn’t afraid. She grabbed my hands and told me to be careful. The devil had hiding places, right in plain sight, right where no one would ever think to look. “In the snow,” she cooed. “Under the greedy trees that keep their leaves past the fall. He likes the greedy trees because he’s greedy, too. Look out for summer’s leaves in the winter, little girl.”
And I’ll tell you the same thing my grandmother told me. When the leaves turn white, come inside and miss the rain. And when you see a tree with all its leaves standing proudly in the snow, watch out. The devil isn’t in the details, he’s hiding beneath its boughs.
Christine Makepeace is a weird fiction writer living in the Pacific Northwest. www.christinemakepeace.com