I never believed in hell. My mother did, my father did. My village did. I didn't. The Devil was used as a whipping boy, used to explain frightening occurrences. Like the one year when drought struck. No rain had come for weeks. This had happened before, but only for two weeks at most. Now, four weeks had passed without moisture. The people were growing frantic. I frowned when the farmers offered old excuses for grave matters, sheep being struck dead, crops shrivelling, healthy children turning sickly. It was the Devil, they said, with wide, frightened, eyes. Who else could it be? All His work! I knew better. I knew that hell, that the devil, that evil, played no part in that. They tried only to cover their lack of knowledge, to build a rickety bridge over the void of ignorance. Register to remove this ad Another week passed. The streams became dry, with only shallow puddles of undrinkable water remaining in the deeper holes. The village now depended on water hauled from miles away, and what mucky stuff they could bring up from the village well. Three more long days came and went. The minister, an old and fragile man, was hard at work, praying day and night. At last he declared that evil lurked nearby, that a creature of Satan was the one who had taken the rain. The people began to search, sure that only capturing and killing the creature would bring the rain. If people look for a thing, then they will usually find it, even if what they’re looking for doesn’t actually exist. The victim was a dog, unlucky enough to have been born with a pure black coat. Nobody claimed it, so the people assumed that the dog had been sent by the Devil to destroy them. More likely, I thought, was that the dog’s owner hadn’t wanted to claim it and be associated with evil. I felt sorry for the poor doomed thing, and attempted to argue its case. Why, I asked, would the Devil, who must have incredible power, send a dog? Surely he would send a demon, or at the very least a warrior. No, they said, you’re wrong. If, they said, the Devil were to send one of the minions that I had suggested, then the village would have known right away. But the village wouldn’t notice a dog as much. They didn’t get my reasoning, and I turned away in anger. They killed the dog. Burned, the only ‘sure’ way to dispose of evil. Poor thing. As I had prophesied, the rain didn’t come. Another dry week went by. In that time, I tried to save the lives of a few more innocent creatures. I told the people that what they looked for wasn’t there. I told them what I knew to be correct--that the Devil did not exist. To show them, I slept in a known ‘haunted’ and ‘cursed’ location. Nothing happened. I didn’t grow fur or horns, nor did I go insane. See? I told them. Nothing! Nothing had happened! They drew away, obviously confused by my escape from the ‘evil’ that ‘surrounded’ that place. One little weasel-like fellow came up to me, asking how some events had happened, if they hadn’t been carried out by Satan. How and why, he asked, did a few of the previously healthy village children fall ill? Tainted drinking water, I told him. At the beginning of the drought, people had still been drinking water from the drying streams. That water had been slightly brown, and sickness had taken some children because of it. What about the sheep dying, he asked? Lack of water. The sheep hadn’t been given any of the water that we had carried from afar, and were parched as a result. He couldn’t seem to think of any more questions after that, and scuttled back to the company of his friends. Only the next day, word went out that the old minister had died, collapsed right in front of the altar where he had been praying for the last week or so. The lack of sleep had put to great a strain on his old body. His successor was a much younger man, who announced to the people that the evil was still there, somewhere, and rain would never come until they had found and destroyed it. The search continued, now made up of frantic people willing to do anything for rain. More animals were killed, despite my efforts to save them. I told anybody who would listen to stop the search. The Devil didn’t exist! Stop killing! Stay home and conserve your energy! One day as I stepped out of my cottage, ready to continue my crusade, I was confronted by a mass of people, who yelled when they saw me. Some carried pitchforks, some rope. They grabbed me, some binding my wrists, some holding pitchforks to my chest and threatening to spear me if I moved. I was taken to the church, where the new minister declared me to be the evil, a servant of the Devil. I had tried to get them to stop searching, he said, because I had wished to keep doing the Devil’s work, to keep rain from the village and sicken the children. I was not allowed to speak, although I tried, and received a punch in the mouth for my trouble. Still I persisted. The minister decided to ‘still my evil tongue’. It hurt horribly, some holding me down while others sliced out my tongue out with a knife. Now I stand bound, my back tight against a knobby post. My hands are tied behind me. I cannot escape. The crowd of people around me include some with torches, and now these come forward. They light the edges of the pile of wood that surrounds me, the flames licking eagerly at the branches, ready for their feast. In another minute, the flames reach me. They burn my clothing. The flames consume me. I never believed in hell. I never will. My mind goes blank. -- A crow, attracted by the smell of burning flesh, flies toward the village. It quickly decides that the burning figure below cannot be eaten, as it will burn to a crisp before the crow can get to it. But wait, perhaps it will be suitable food! Rain is falling, heavy rain, dousing the roaring fire. The people down below are running, shouting. They run from the remains of the fire, uttering cries of joy. This is a good day for the crow, and it swoops down for an easy meal.