H The Devil’s Footprints

Editor’s Foreword

I remember reading many years ago about the incident upon which this story is based. As illustrated in this tale, the footprints led to a 12-foot wall and continued on the other side as though whatever left the prints had simply walked right through the wall!

It was strange but true! That on one dark frosty night in the month of February during the reign of the Good Queen Victoria when Master James Brent, the right honourable mayor of the town of Dawlish, had a terrible vision that changed his life forever. He then spread the word of his revelation to the good citizens of his town.

It happened during the late hours of that night when his honour was unable to sleep due to the fierce noise of a rising snowstorm. He lifted his wool-wrapped pudgy body from the warmth of his bed and paced the boards of his room on slippered feet.

Suddenly the elder official heard loud but wierd sounds pattering through the streets which indicated a mysterious creature or a band of intruders that were entering his town. When he looked with his spectacled eyes through the lead-lined window of his room he saw wispy forms in the near distance. “What in the saint’s name could be wandering through the storm?” he mused. “Could it be whirlwinds of snow flurries that I see? Or could it be something strange beyond one’s imagination? I wonder!?” as he rubbed his wispy gray hair.

He peered deeper though the window on his second story bedroom and he saw as far as his eyes could see. He witnessed that through his county of Devon and beyond to the southeast realm of good Queen Victoria’s southeast realm that all areas were signed with the signs of an unknown intruder or together with a band of nefarious creatures. “God have mercy, could it be.... No! it couldn’t be! Yet I fear that the day has arrived when the devil and his horde has come to us?!” he whispered fearfully as his mind was filled with thoughts of damnation..

When the snow storm continued further into that night there was a thought in his mind of hail being mixed in the blow when the sound of heavy rappings were heard on the roofs and walls on the dwelling. The imagined thoughts in his superstitious mind turned the rap tap sounds to the tread of the devil and his myriad of acolytes. Upon that thought in him mind he dropped to his knees and prayed to most high for salavation.

When the easterly winds were blowing with the snow storm, shrill and fierce, with the going down of the setting sun. When it was so dark, as it was just so gloomy under a cloudy night that things were not distinguished, but wholly imagined. When the curtain of night everywhere released the shadows that now closed in deeply and gathered like mustering ghostly images, the mayor’s mind was filled with a dreaded fear of retribution for his sins.

The night hours were clouded heavily in the sky bringing a heavy snowfall. Throughout the town the windows of the dwelling were closed up tight and closed to the stormy winds. Then the sound of the devil’s heavy tread was heard by the good man thumping above the blow of the windows.

The footsteps of Satan himself seemed to have been heard by other good citizens approaching the paths to several houses as lights were seen in many windows. Then without reason the evil ones retreated from the direction of the stone pavings.

Master James Brent began to imagine he saw wild faces as they looked through his frozen panes. The dim shadows brought into his mind other thoughts, and showed him different images. It brought in his eyes a likeness of form from the grave, from the deep, deep gulf of the underworld of things that might of been seen and probably imagined in their frightened thoughts. Could it be only imagination by the him that the devil, an unknown creature was heard and seen wandering with his minions through the gale at the nightly hours?

His neighbors did not need any warning as they also heard the sounds that had arisen with the storm that seemed to crawl up the walls of houses and tread along the roofs. When the wind was rumbling on the ouside they heard crooning sometimes howling as the hands of the devil shook and beat the standing elms and oaks.

Throughout the long night the townfolk and landsmen on the nearby farmsteads heard, at intervals, windows trembling at their dwellings from the might of the devil’s hands. There were heavy knocking sounded on the oaken doors, but no one dared to answer the call. Only at the sound of the crowing of the cocks the good people dared to step on the outside.

The last snow flakes were thought to have fallen around midnight and the entire town of Dawlish and beyond was covered in a blanket of white, but the devil or some unearthly creatures left a myriad of tracks in the pure snow. The signs of the strange footprints stretched for four miles or so and was enclosed by two rivers that flowed near and by the town, the Exe and the Dart.

At the coming of dawn, a goodly number of the townspeople were prepared to see a cover of smooth white snow on the town and the nearby fields; but only the strange sighting met their eyes. The worthy souls were quite speechless when they saw the satanic signs of small hoof like prints marked in the snow.

The early risers were the first to find them. The strange hoof-shaped prints coursed in straight lines through gardens and fields, passing over rooftops and even going through stone walls. Other villagers, shaken by the news of the strange sighting, joined them and gaped in astonishment. They were surprised by the signs of a mysterious creature or a myriad of devilish demons with the marks of them that seemed to be everywhere at the same time.

But Master James Brent was not surprised when he saw the signs of the devil. He had known of the devil’s presence along with his demon followers through the rapping on his roof during the stormy night.

“I saw and heard the spirit of the devil and his demons coming to the town,” cried out his honour the mayor when he joined the gathering of his electorate. Then with the waving of his upright hands going this way and that, he told them with a trembling voice of what he had seen and heard during the late hours of the past night. Upon his terrifying phrases men gasped in wonder and one or two women swooned in terror.

“The marks of Satan; the devil is upon us searching for sinners,” cried the vicar of the local church as he entered the melee and he sided with the remarks of his honour. He claimed that the tracks were the work of Satan and his demon servants. It was due, in his words, that this event was a warning to the waning morals of the local peoples. “Change your ways and heed the signs of coming days when the devil shall reap his harvest of sinners,” the vicar called out. “Look for yourselves and you will see they are the devil’s footprints.”

Feared congregants and those that rejected the superstitious idea of fantastical creatures gazed at the prints on the white of the snow. The footprints appeared to their sight to be of a fair sized two-footed creature and not of an animal. Here and there it appeared to be cloven, quite clear and branded in the white covering. The fear of the devil’s visit at the past nightly hours became widespread and ardent believers of the town joined with their vicar in prayer for deliverance.

Yet, those not of superstitous belief immediately gathered in a body to set out to find out whether the prints are the work of a group of tricksters or of some strange creatures. Master James Brent, despite his misgivings, decided to lead the trackers.

Bravery was etched on their features as the toted clubs, rakes, hoes, and other weapons and set off to in search to the origins of the strange footprints. Baying dogs on leashes accompanied the hunters in the exploration and they tried to pick up an unknown scent.

The tracks seemed to take no certain course. At on instance they led right up to a twelve foot wall, ended abruptly, and continued on the other side! The snow at the top of the wall was not disturbed and a small gate leading to the wall was locked and secure.

The trackers were puzzled by the direction of the footprints as they crisscrossed the town with no apparent direction. The tracks went through the popular town squares, in peoples’ gardens, over snow covered wagons, even to the door of the vicarage.

Suddenly the tracks directed the hunters through the town cemetery, circling the tombs of the mighty and simple graves alike. Then it led beyond to the to fields and along the banks of the nearby rivers; the footprints seen was judged to the idea that the tricksters by some means had given the impression of some creature walking on the water as the footprints ran to the river at one point and then re-entered the land at another spot.

That disturbing fact of the walking on water by an unknown creature frightened a few of the trackers to the thought that they were following the tracks of some terrible mystical creature. They did not accept the idea it was the work of tricksters but they though it might be the doings of the devil himself.

Their fears increased in their deep thoughts and they shouldered their weapons immediately and swiftly headed back to the town. Even Master James Brent, forgot his bravery and the superstitious thought regained in his beliefs; then he scurried ahead of the mob rushing to the town.

The few that remained followed the trail of footprints till the dimming light of the late afternoon. They trekked for a mile or so till they came to a well-worn track in the snow of many curved hoof marks through a wooded area.

The trackers followed the path, which was a foot wide and coursed a small hillock. After a short trek they came to a large clearing indented at its base; in the center was a rocky circular ring about forty feet in diameter. Within the center of the circle was a rocky cairn crafted into a strange altar with the signs of a burnt offering on the flatness of stone. The circle was lush with grass and beyond the small path that coursed around it.

When the trackers neared this stranged phenonemon sighted on the ground, their dogs shied and tugged at their leashes. Then the animals, with tails tucked between their legs, began to pull at their bounds and tried to slink away. No matter how hard their handlers pulled the leather the more the dogs howled in fear and refused to go near the spot. They had no choice but to release them, watching the terror-stricken animals running swiftly back to the town.

Though none of the pursuers ever saw the devil stalking there, but it was believed amongst them,that it to be the haunt of the Foul Fiend. Their thoughts were of the cursed Satan that came with his demon acolytes from this cursed ground and left their plaguey marks on the snow through the town of Dawlish.

Suddenly the trackers saw shadowy forms going around the circular path time and time again till the stopped to a command of an eerie cry that was heard in the gathering winds. The momentum of the winds increased and mutterings of incantions was thought to be heard.

    “May the evil spirits, the shadow spirit,
    And the demons, both male and female,
    Rise, in the name of Abraxas.”

The sight and sound caused fright to shiver in the bones of the hunters; and their beliefs were changed. They feared to be at this haunted place a moment longer and immediately turned their feet and hurried back to Dawlish town.

There the news of the sighting was gossiped through the town when the trackers returned at evening dusk. It reached the ears of Master James Brent and he related the ghastly news into the deep suspicious minds of the villagers; that at this place in the center of the forest at the dark of the night, Satan planned his evil schemes to undo mankind, ”Then at the fall of the dark curtain of night the devil was gone together with his troop of evil demons, winging their way like bats across the world to carry out Satan’s nefarious schemes.”

And from that day onwards the satanic trail through the forest was never taken by the good folk of the town for the fear of encountering the Devil himself. The soil around that circle at the base of that mount was then judged to be cursed and infertile. The nocturnal retreat of the hellish Prince of Darkness was shunned and avoided for years to come.

Yet so scorching were the words of Master Brent that his fiery phrases proved to the villagers that the Devil’s footprints were indeed on the snowy ground. They believed him that the evil one had carried out his fiendish schemes upon the town that stormy night. Any untold demise of a good soul from a plaguey death or the trials of stillbirth, which came afterwards would be blamed on Satan’s visitation and his retribution for sinning ways.

Those who thought to be marked by the hand of Satan for their sinning trembled in their superstitious fears. They were afraid to go outside their doors when the last glimmering of daylight died upon the setting of the sun; and when the trees arching overhead were sullen and shadowy in form they cowered in the dim recesses of their homes.

Those righteous souls, who believed the word of the honourable mayor, Mayor James Brent, were reminded that the signs on that night had created a warning against sin upon the villagers; that they should go on the righteous path and follow the the ways of the Good Book.

They watched at the coming days, even months, if the strange footprints would return bringing the Devil’s damnable curse for their so-called sinning.

And even at the present day when there is winter storm in the area, the good folk still search out for the cloven hooves...

 

About the Author

Norman A. Rubin, of Afula, Israel is a former correspondent (Israel) for the Continental News Service, USA. and has been a free-lance writer for the past sixteen years writing articles on subjects that include Near East culture and crafts, archaeology, history and politics; religious history and rites, etc.. His articles have been featured in publications world wide: the Jerusalem Post, Israel; Coin News, Minerva, Oriental Arts, etc., England; Ararat, Letter Arts Review, Archaeology, etc. USA; Spotlight, Japan; International B, Hong Kong. Now retired, he writes informative articles and short stories, which have appeared in WritersHood.com, storymania.com, Good All Days magazine, etc.

 

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