12th August

The Minister and the Devil

Last night I went again to the manse, to continue my talk with the minister. I rang the bell and waited, and for a long time nothing happened. I was not altogether surprised. I lit a cigarette and stood in the outer lobby, puffing smoke at the insects flying about in the twilight. Twice more I pressed the bell, to assure him that I was there and not minded to go away. Through the frosted panes of the inner door I thought I glimpsed movement – like the stirrings of a genie seen through the cloudy glass of his bottle – but he did not come. I tried the door but it was locked. Then I walked around the whole house, peering in at the windows, but saw no sign of life. The man was either asleep, hiding, drunk or dead.

After the third cigarette I decided to defer doing further damage to my lungs, and went away. The condition of my soul did not concern me. As for the condition of the minister’s soul, well, that was why I was keen to resume our conversation.

I strolled down to the beach. A thin rain was falling, so I put up my umbrella. Nobody was about save one solitary figure on the sand. I thought it might be the minister, but on coming closer I realised that it was a stranger. He was turning slowly round and round on the one spot, and I saw that he, or someone, had drawn a circle in the sand and that he was inside it.

‘Help me,’ he said. ‘Make the tide turn back or I will drown.’ The sea was some thirty yards away.

‘Impossible,’ I said. Then I folded my umbrella and with its point began to draw a line from his circle towards the top of the beach.

‘Thank you!’ he called as I went away from him. ‘Tie it securely!’

I gave up with the line when the rain came on more heavily and I was obliged to open the umbrella again. When I looked back he was still standing in his circle. I realised that I had been mistaken. It was the minister after all.

Reader: Charlie West
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music