Uncle Teet & The Devil
Scathe meic Beorh
I had an uncle who never worked a day in his life. He hunted raccoons and possums and squirrels to eat, grew his own onions and tomatoes and cucumbers and cabbage in a little garden patch, drew his water from a well, and built his house on the Alabama/Florida line so he wouldn't have to pay State taxes on either side.
His name was Teet Calloway. He’d never married, and didn't have any children that he knew of. He liked a good cup o’ joe two or three times a day, hot and black—and every morning, come sunup, he had himself a big plate of fried eggs and a smoking pile of hominy grits with lots of butter and a couple shots of black pepper. Apparently he bartered a lot.
Teet kept chickens, and lots of them. They're not hard to keep really. You build them a good house, and they'll stay around you, even if you slaughter one every now and again to fry. They don't seem to mind losing a family member once a week or so. There's always more coming along. Oh sure. Some of the hens get a little mad when you steal their eggs out from under them, but a chicken ain’t like a water moccasin or something where they'll peck you to death or anything of that nature. No. Chickens are pretty docile creatures all in all, but they don't make good pets. So it's best not to think along those lines.
Well, one day Teet heard from his cousin Ed that in the town of Holt, Florida a man had for sale the finest roosters in the world. Well, he thought on it for a week or two, not being the kind to jump the gun and haul off half cocked on any idea. He remembered he had some hanging fire with his cousin Willard to deal with. Willard lived on the road to Holt. He also heard tell that his old sweetheart Mary Lou had not long before lost her husband to a fishing accident on the Blackwater River, and had been asking after him. She had a dairy farm. And besides all that, a little bird told him that the Devil himself had a new home just off the highway. So Teet put his boots on real early one morning, wrapped up a few biscuits and some bacon in a kitchen towel, and off he flew.
It was about noon when Teet came up on the Devil’s house, a fine white farmhouse with a wrap-around porch and a swing. He knew this was where the Devil lived because the smoke coming out of the chimney was red as a beet and curling up like the prettiest vine you ever saw. The Devil met him at the screen door with a pearly smile.
“Well, if it ain’t Teet Calloway! I’ll be a son of a gun! Come on in here and have a sit-down, son!”
“I thank you kindly,” said Teet as he stepped across the Devil’s threshold. “Good to see you again. Mmmm, something’s smellin’ mighty fine, Scratch. Mind if I get a taste?”
“Oh, sure! It’s a pot of my world-famous stew. Help yourself,” said the Devil as he led the way to the back where the kitchen was set up in a separate building connected to the main house by a wooden walkway. And there on a black iron wood-burning stove simmered a pot of the finest smelling stew Teet had ever laid his eyes on. He got a spoon out of the cupboard drawer and dipped him up some. He blew on it. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t too hot for his mouth. He blew on it again. Then he put the smoking stew in his mouth and let his teeth drag the meat off, still being real careful not to burn himself.
“Now…” he said.
“Yeah?” said the Devil, one eyebrow up. See, the Devil don’t like to be second-best at anything.
“Now that…” said Teet.
“Yeah?” asked the Devil again, a look of worry creeping up on his wrinkled face.
“Now…” said Teet. He dipped his spoon down in the simmering stew a second time while the Devil went all akimbo and started jerking his head forth and back like a old cock getting all uppity and ready to fly up in Teet’s face.
Teet blew on his stew again and closed his eyes and slid the spoon in, pulling on the meat with his teeth like he did before. He chewed slower this time. The Devil shifted from one foot to the other and dropped his head down and shot it back up again, impatient as all get out. He wanted to know if Teet liked his stew or not.
“Now…” said Teet.
“Yeah?” said the Devil, his face pink and flustered.
“Now this…” said Teet as he pulled his gold watch out of his pocket. “Hey! Will you look at the time?”
“You old cuss!” the Devil finally said as he stomped his cloven hoof on the wooden floor with a loud thud!
“I’ll be back around later tonight, Scratch, if you’ll have me.”
“If you’ll get off your high horse and tell me what you think about my stew, I’d be happy to have you back, Teet,” said the Devil as he wiped his sweaty brow with an embroidered handkerchief. “I’ll keep it hot on the stove for you.”
“That’s mighty neighborly of you, Scratch,” said Teet, and he was off down the road just a whistling.
Well, Teet got himself three of the finest roosters he’d ever took a gander at, and was so puffed up about it that he just had to go see Mary Lou. But on his way he dropped by to see his estranged cousin Willard and gave him one of the roosters by way of saying he was sorry for all the confusion. Willard cried and said how sorry he was for stealing Teet’s prized pig. Teet said he hoped Willard would have a good crop that year and that the rooster would be good to all his hens. Then off he went, whistling like he hadn’t a care in the world. And the truth was, he didn’t.
Mary Lou liked the rooster Teet brought her, and enjoyed his stay quite a bit. They had a fine meal of cornbread and fried chicken and turnips and rice and chicken gravy, so much so that Teet said he could hardly walk. But he did anyway, and said goodbye to Mary Lou with a promise to return directly, and off he went with his one remaining rooster back to the Devil’s house.
“Now that’s a fine animal you got there, Teet,” said the Devil with a smile of envy as Teet walked up the long narrow lane to the front porch lit with two kerosene lamps. “I see you come back to tell me whether you like my stew or not. I kept it warm for you, son.”
“That I have,” said Teet. “I see you like my rooster.”
“I do indeed,” replied the Devil. “Where’d you get him?”
“Just down the road a piece. Last one they had.”
“Is that right?” asked the Devil, now bound and determined to have that rooster, come hell or high water. “I’ll make you a deal.”
“I’ll give you the recipe to my stew in exchange for that fine rooster you got there.”
“Oh, you gotta do better than that, Scratch. This here wonderful rooster for a stew recipe? You gotta sweeten the deal a little, old man.”
Now the Devil was getting hot and bothered by all this hem-hawing around, and you could see it in his eyes. They dimmed up and got all squinty and his complexion turned three shades darker than normal. The wheels were turning inside that horned head of his. The Devil won’t be bested, especially by a man who’s never worked a day in his life.
“Alright,” said the Devil. “Here’s the deal. For that rooster I’ll give you the recipe to my stew I’ve gone and kept warm all these hours for you. And I’ll throw in a bag of gold coins.”
Now gold was to Teet what caviar is to a debutante. Not exactly necessary for the party, but nice to have around. “Deal!… with one thing to consider afore we shake on it,” Teet said after he thought on it a second.
“What’s that?” replied the Devil. He began to sweat heavier than the Fat Lady at the fair.
“I have to like your stew first. Otherwise what’s the point of me losing my rooster over a bad recipe and worthless gold?”
Worthless gold? The Devil steeled his face against his real emotions. Teet was smarter than he had ever made him out to be. It was true. The U.S. Executive Order to confiscate all gold currency had gone into effect on April 5th… three days before. Now all the Devil had, again, was his stew if he was going to have that wild-eyed, thick-breasted king of all roosters. “Out to the kitchen again then?” the Devil asked Teet.
“Don’t mind if I do,” said Teet as he clutched the rooster under his arm and followed the Devil outside into what was now a fine Spring evening.
“So, how do you find my stew, Teet?” asked the Devil after Teet had pulled another thick chunk of tender meat off his spoon.
“Well…” said Teet.
It was then the Devil lost his composure and flew into an unholy rage, his face bubbling up like an overstuffed blackberry cobbler. “Give me that rooster or I’ll turn you into a bullfrog right this minute, son! You done pushed me to my limit now with your hem-hawing and taking your sweet old time! What’s the verdict, boy? Do you like my stew or don’t you? Tell me, or I’ll be having me some frog legs for breakfast!”
But Teet wasn’t shaking a bit. The very last thing he was scared of was the Devil. “I’d say…” said Teet. “I’d say it’s a pretty good pot o’ stew, Scratch. But what do you mean by threatening to turn me into a bullfrog? I believe I’ll take my rooster and be leavin’ now.”
“What makes you think my threat is idle, mister?” the Devil said as he waved his long fingernails at Teet’s face.
“Because I know you, Scratch. You can’t stand not to have a challenge, and so when somebody comes along like me, challenging anything and everything and never thinking a thing about it, you don’t usually turn them into dinner. Who would challenge you then? Life wouldn’t be any fun anymore.”
Steam shot out of the Devil’s pointed ears. “You’re right, Teet! You’re right, you’re right, you’re right! You’re always right, though. How are you always right about everything, hoh? Tell me. I can never get one over on you! Never! It’s the dadblastedest thing I’ve ever seen!”
“You really want to know, old man?”
“Yes, I really want to know. How do you do it? How do you always throw me into such a flummox that I don’t know whether I’m coming or going?”
“Alright, I’ll tell you.”
Teet stood there in that fine-smelling kitchen and studied the Devil up and down. Then he went over to the kitchen table and had himself a seat, still looking hard at Old Scratch like it was somebody he recognized but couldn’t quite place. Then he got back up and walked over to the stove to get himself a bowl of stew.
“Aww! Enough already!” said the Devil. “Tell me right now! Tell me what you think about my stew!”
“Could use a little more salt,” said Teet.
Scathe meic Beorh is an author and storyteller whose antecedents are piracy, storms, and joyous laughter. His literary influences are many and varied, and include William Blake, Arthur Machen, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and George Mackay Brown. First a writer of poetry, he has most recently worked in other forms. He is the author of the Dark Fantasy novel The Place Where Infinity Blooms (The Irish Lore Trilogy, Book One, Cogwheel Press) as well as a number of out-of-print books. His stories, poetry, and essays are often found in anthologies and magazines worldwide. He presently resides on the Atlantic Coast with his wife Ember, also a lover of graveyards, wide oceans, whispering leaves, warm hearths, espresso, and cobblestone lanes.