I met the devil when I was ten. His name was Dobbs, and he was my uncle.
Mama and I moved in with my grandfather after daddy went “away,” which I found out later meant daddy was in prison. Dobbs lived there too, ever since he got out of the army. “Dishonorably discharged,” Old Man Tillman said when he didn’t know I was around.
Mama hadn’t spoken to her father in years, mainly because he didn’t approve of my daddy. And when Grandpa opened the door and saw me and mama standing there with our suitcases in hand, he said, “I told you that man wasn’t no good.”
“Please, daddy, not in front of Moses,” Mama pleaded.
The devil stood just behind grandpa, lurking, waiting. He pushed past the old man, hugged his sister, then set his sights on me. “Hi, Moses.” He smiled. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Mama gently nudged me with her elbow. “Go say hello to your Uncle Dobbs, honey.”
“Hello,” I said, but I made no move towards him.
He came closer, shook my one hand with both of his. “Wow, that’s some handshake,” the devil said, then he held my hand in his giant mitts for just a little longer than was comfortable.
Grandpa had forty acres of beautiful, pristine farmland. At first, I tried to help out with chores, hoping he’d learn to accept me. But he only ever saw me as my father’s son and rejected me outright.
“I don’t need your help, boy. Just stay out of my way,” he said finally. I was ten but I knew he would never love me.
I wonder how different my life would’ve been if grandpa had taken an interest in helping to raise me. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so easy for the devil to strike.
So I used to explore the property either alone, or with my cousins when they came over. Sometimes the devil would be there, watching us play.
My favorite place though was the old barn that sat about a mile east of the house. It was one of the original outbuildings constructed by my great-great grandfather, but it had long outlived its usefulness. I went there to be alone and get away from my grandfather’s hateful eyes.
One day the devil was there, sitting in my spot, waiting for me when I arrived.
“Hi, Moses,” he said with that phony smile. He had candy and comic books, and against my better judgment, I took his gifts. For weeks he showed up at my spot with treats, talking to me like I mattered. And he was real nice until … well, until he wasn’t.
“No one’ll hear you scream way out here, Moses,” he said.
When he was doing things, I’d close my eyes to escape, but he’d make me open them. “Oh no, Moses,” he’d say, “I want all of you here.”
Each time Dobbs did his thing, he’d say, “If you tell anyone, they’ll take you away from your mama, and put you in a boys home.”
Of course, it was all lies, but at that age, I didn’t know any better. So I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t think anyone would’ve believed me even if I had said something. The devil had me just where he wanted, helpless and alone.
The nightmares started soon after.
“If you don’t stop that boy from screamin,’ Nora, and keepin’ me up at all hours, I’ll throw ya both out!” Grandpa said.
“He can’t help it, daddy, it ain’t his fault!”
“I don’t care whose fault it is! I didn’t want him here anyway; he’s as worthless as his daddy. Probably the devil himself hauntin’ his dreams cause a who his daddy is.”
Grandpa had no idea just how right he was.
Mama did her best to help, but the dreams came almost every night, and I had no control over the screams that accompanied them.
Things only got worse when the devil started coming into my room late at night. I tried pretending I was asleep, praying he’d just go away. But he’d sit on my bed, his big hands shoving me around until he was done.
It went on like that until other kids began telling their folks about Uncle Dobbs. Then the devil skipped town after grandpa warned him that some men were coming for him.
Mama knew what Dobbs had done to me — I could see it in her eyes. Instead of dealing with what happened, she bought me toys and candy to ease her guilt, then she rationalized his behavior.
“Dobbs don’t mean no harm,” she said. “He can’t help himself. Daddy said he was just born that way.”
Then I knew the devil hurt mama too, and I forgave her for knowing and not doing anything to stop him.
She was as much a victim as I was.
Besides, Dobbs was gone, and we were free of him — for a little while anyway.
Grandpa died the year after Dobbs left. Surprisingly, he left the farm to mama. To his dying day, he blamed me for Dobbs leaving.
I was seventeen when the devil paid us another visit.
I came home from school and found mama sitting in the living room, pulling on her hair the way she did when she was nervous.
“Hey Moses, your Uncle Dobbs is here,” she said, trying to smile. I could see bruises on her arms, and his fingers were digging into her shoulders as she spoke.
Mama couldn’t look at me, and I understood why. Dobbs had already hurt her while I was at school, and she knew there wasn’t a damn thing she could do to stop him from hurting me.
He smiled. It was a smile that showed all his teeth, the one he wore just before he …
I realized then that I had to do something, or Dobbs would use us up until there was nothing left.
It was Mama’s Bunco night, she didn’t want to leave me alone with Dobbs, but I insisted. “No, mama, you go on and have some fun,” I told her.
She wore an anxious smile, and her eyes darted nervously back and forth between me and Dobbs.
Once she was gone, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the devil came for me. He couldn’t help himself, even after all these years.
I sat in the den, in grandpa’s old, worn leather chair, staring out the window, the devil hovered in the doorway behind me.
“Hello Moses,” he said, “You’ve grown so much since the last time I saw you.” His voice was eager, the way it was back then. It sickened me.
For an instant I was that kid again, terrified and alone, just praying someone would help me. No one did then, and no one would now either — now I had to help myself.
“Look at me, Moses,” Dobbs demanded.
I looked down at the knife blade gleaming in my hand, and then I turned to face the devil one last time.