The Devil Sat in The Last Pew
by Laura Diaz de Arce
The Devil stood in the back of the United Korean Presbyterian Church as the congregation marched in. People greeted one another, and the choir lined up at the sides. She was noticeable, having taken the guise of a tall, thin, white woman with long blonde hair that fell in a single, loose cascade down her back. She wore a tight, white, peplum dress and stood stick straight as people politely smiled at her, then looked away just as quickly.
The Devil was visible, and yet, invisible.
“Why didn’t you just make us Korean?” said the demon next to her.
She looked over at Crib, short for Cribald, in his wrinkled suit. He was a lower-tier demon, expendable, but then again they all were. Crib, like all demons, had no issue talking back to authority. This was just as she preferred it. She didn’t demand unwavering loyalty and difference to authority, unlike some people.
“I can’t blend in no matter what I do. No reason to start doing that.”
“Well, you look like some up-tight, evangelical minister’s wife.” He shivered in disgust.
“Good,” she said, waving to a baby that peered over their father’s shoulders. “And you would look like a proper minister if you could stand up straight.”
Crib would not look that way, even if he tried. This was his first time in a human guise and unused to the costume. Still, he was clearly reveling in it. In the short time he had had the body on, he had already snuck into the bathroom to masturbate and stolen a cigarette outside. Demons rarely got this opportunity, and he was keen on enjoying himself however he could in his god’s presence.
He wanted to stoop, to walk on his knuckles as he was used to, but she had made it clear that such a thing wouldn’t be tolerated. That didn’t prevent his peach shirt, black tie, and red hair from becoming disheveled. The Devil tried to not let this annoy her. After all, he was doing her a favor by keeping her company in this excursion.
“So, uh, boss?” He scratched at his head, missing his small horns, “Just so I’m clear on the rules. How come we were able to come in here? Is it ‘cause of the bodies?”
At their approach, Crib had hesitated until the Devil had stepped across the threshold of the newly-built church. He had lingered as he stepped across the mat spelling out the name of the church in Hangul and a large cross.
“If consecrated ground could stop us, don’t you think they would have blessed the entire world?” She smiled, the shadow of fangs passing imperceptibly in the disguise. “We choose to avoid these places because they are usually dull. But tonight we aren’t going hunting, Crib.”
“Then why are we here? Gonna make a deal?” He rubbed his hands together, blue eyes with a touch of demonic red, scanning the crowd for any susceptible victims.
“No. We’re here to watch a show.” They sat down in the back, the last pew to the left, some distance away from the other congregation members. Rows of black and white clad congregation members hushed as the pastor took stage to give open services. The Christmas concert was the most packed and festive event for the United Korean Presbyterian Church in Orlando. Other Korean congregations would travel and perform from around the state, from other joint faiths. Methodists, Baptists, and Catholic choirs were in attendance, and they sang gospel in Korean, with programs in Hangul and English.
Next to her, Crib shifted in his sheet, clearly bored with the first choir's rendition of Silent Night. The Devil was rapt at attention, waiting for the performance she had left Hell for. In front of her, the congregants’ histories read in front of her in glowing clarity. There were a number she would be seeing in the future.
In the third row was a woman who had been stealing from her own mother’s accounts to pay her gambling debts. There was a serial adulterer in the center of the fifth pew—one of his mistresses was at the piano. One of the pastors had a taste for underage girls. Then, as the youth choir came to sing, one of the singers shifted in her short heels, trying not to irritate the bruise on her thigh. A bruise from her father, seated in the front row, when he found out she had been kissing a girl.
Hell was always crowded for good reason. They were not beyond redemption. But they would have to want to be redeemed. They would want to beg forgiveness from those they hurt, would have to change. Worst of all, they would have to admit their wrongs, something which humans were not apt to do.
“Can we go yet?” Crib scratched at his side, a sneer evident as the senior choir took the stand.
She flipped her hair over a shoulder and sat ram-rod shape. “No, the performance isn’t over yet.”
Finally, the woman walked out as the seniors finished shuffling off the stage. She wore a hanbok in bright, earthy green and white. A red brooch depicting a cross adorned a corner, perhaps to make it more Christmas-like. She sat at a gayageum and began to play “Little Clay Jar”. Her elegant fingers plucked at the instrument, reverberating the sound through the church. There was talent in the performer’s execution. Each melodic sound reaching out, soothing the audience.
The Devil closed her eyes, letting the music be the center of her attention. Next to her, Crib continued to fidget, but there were moments when even he stilled.
The performer finished all too soon, bowing to her applause and making room for the final ensemble to enter. The largest choir sang a medley of Christmas favorites and paused before their last song.
The lead pastor stood at the pulpit in order to give the blessings and benedictions. “Let us all rejoice,” he said in Korean and then in English, “that Jesus is loving and forgiving!”
The Devil lifted her hands, a smile on her lips, the perfect imitation of the devoted. That boy was an insufferable brat, she thought. “Amen,” she said.
They finished on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” before adjourning. People packed up their things and headed for the reception area for light refreshments and engagement. The Devil made Crib pause. Next to her was a young couple with a new baby, which began to cry as soon as he was moved. His mother rocked him, trying to sooth him.
The Devil looked the mother in the eyes. “May I?”
Whatever the mother was thinking, it certainly was a form of “no”. She did not want to hand her baby over to a stranger, let alone some odd white woman. But the Devil’s smile was beguiling, her straight white teeth and pink lips. She nodded and handed her baby over.
The Devil’s long fingers gripped the baby’s torso and she tucked him at her shoulder. Crib licked his lips, thinking this would be some fun, but no one seemed to notice. For as quickly as his cries had started, they stopped as the Devil rocked back and forth and hummed “Silent Night.” He was peaceful as he was handed back to his surprised and grateful mother. Crib could not hide his disappointment.
The duo skipped the reception.
“Where to now boss?” Crib said, his tie fully dragged off and his gait starting to resemble a lizard.
“Home?” He screeched, kicking the rain-soaked pavement. “But we didn’t do anything fun! We didn’t make any deals! We didn’t cause a ruckus! What in Heaven’s name was the freaking point?”
The Devil stopped her stride and turned to look at her companion. She breathed in, the air was wet, earthen and with the lingering aroma of gasoline. The drenched asphalt reflected the street lights and nearby stoplight. They were bathed in yellow at the moment, soon to be red.
When she looked at him, she saw beneath the costume the small, scaled, fanged minion he was. A miserable creature—but all her creatures were miserable by design. Miserable, but hideous enough to be remarkable and beautiful to her.
“Years ago, on one of my excursions, I came across a girl sitting in front of a gayageum, trying to play, but she had no teachers and her fingers bled from the exercise. She was desperate enough to destroy her delicate hands to make music.”
Crib scratched his stomach with his hand shaped into a claw-like position. “Did you offer her a deal?”
“Her passion came from love. She simply loved music. I gave her the gift. I asked nothing in return. That woman who played tonight is her descendant. They have given the gift, fading as it is, generation to generation.”
“You asked nothing?” Crib didn’t even try to hide his disgust.
The light changed again.
“You know, that’s my secret. Sometimes I calm a baby because I can. Sometimes I just want to hear music. Sometimes I want to be among them, and see love and see passion. Sometimes all I want is a song. The largest secret I keep, is that sometimes, for no reason at all, I’m nice.”
“Why tell me?” Crib shook with anger.
“Because Cribald, you’ll never tell anyone.”
The Devil took a manicured nail and pressed it directly to his chest. From it, fire and ash bled outward, engulfing the demon in human form. He was too shocked, the effect too quick, for him to scream. The only thing left was a pile of street-soaked ashes, becoming mud in the asphalt, and a belt buckle.
The light changed, and the Devil walked out into the night, whistling “Little Clay Jar.”