The Devil and Ruby Nell continued

"What you carrying there?"


"For great-grand-daddy?"

"Yes sir."

"What's he doing up in the cemetery at night?"

"I reckon he's up there night and day."

The Devil laughed. "I see. When did he pass?"

"Been thirteen years today."

"He won't have much use for presents, will he?"

"Don't matter to me."

"I can't argue with that," the Devil grinned.

They came to the end of the dirt road. The mountaintop was naked dirt except for a razorback of defiant trees corralled by a short iron fence. Pale headstones grinned out at them from the dark tree trunks. Ruby Nell frowned at the gleaming brass lock on the rusted gates.

"I can break that open for you."

"Don't bother." She reached up with one long, skinny arm and pulled herself over the fence. The Devil looked up her dress and admired her bare legs. She landed quietly on the other side and walked into the trees. "You coming?"

"Me?" The Devil was surprised at her invitation. "Sure." He jumped the fence and caught up with her.

They picked their way between overgrown rosebushes and Virginia creepers. The branches of old cedar trees clawed at the Devil's lamb's wool sport coat, but he sneered at them. They'd be splintered by the jaws of a backhoe soon enough.

The girl finally stopped at a crooked marble slab under the sagging arms of a senile apple tree. She sat down in the grass and unwrapped her bundle, pulling out a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon, two cigars, and a box of brown sugar.

"Hey, grand-daddy Jimmy," she knocked the rim of the bottle against the headstone, "I brought you some sugar." She lit both cigars, wedged one against the headstone and took a puff off the other before passing it to the Devil.

The Devil had an idea.

"You love your great-grand-daddy, don't you, Ruby Nell?"

"You could say so."

"What if you could have him back?"

"Don't talk nonsense." She fussed with the plastic encasing the brown sugar, finally tearing it open with her teeth.

"I'll make you a deal." The Devil blew on the end of the cigar until it glowed like his favorite fire pit. "You give yourself to me, and I'll bring your grand-daddy Jimmy up outta his hole."

"You're handsome and all," she commenced a fidgety jig, scattering the sweet brown crystals over her grandfather's grave, "but I ain't gonna lay with you."

"You got me all wrong, sugar." The Devil licked his lips, "well, maybe not all wrong. We might be able to talk about that when you get to know me better, but I mean you give your heart and soul to me."

She stopped short with one arm stretched over the headstone, the brown sugar still rained down. "Like gettin' married?"

"I suppose so."

She tossed the empty sugar box into the trees and ran her fingertips over the stained headstone. "How long would grand-daddy Jimmy have?"

"Long as you please."

"A hundred years?"

"Sure thing, darlin'."

"He comes back up here, and I give my heart and soul to you?"

"Couldn't put it better myself."

"It's a deal."

The Devil grinned and clapped his hands once. Lightning struck the headstone, shattering it to powder. The dirt under them heaved like a sick man in a fever. Ruby Nell jumped back from the smoking hole that opened between her and the Devil.  A twisted hand that looked like it was made of old saddle leather latched onto the edge of the hole. The girl chewed her lower lip and watched her dead grandfather haul his carcass from the grave.

The Devil sucked on the cigar and elbowed Ruby Nell, "should we give him a hand?"

She didn't move, just stared at the corpse flinging dirt and gravel out of its way. The Devil danced a smug two-step around the hole. Her grandfather finally crawled out and lay gasping on the grass. She leaned down so her face was close to the moldy old man's ear and whispered, "Great-grandpa?"

"What have you done, girl?" he croaked.

"Made myself a bargain," Ruby Nell giggled.

The Devil stopped dancing and looked from the girl to the stinking old man at his feet. "Son, you look awful familiar."

"You ought to recognize him," Ruby Nell cackled. "The old man had one foot in Hell when I was three years old. He took my soul to cheat his way out of eternity with you."

"You telling me you got no soul?"

"Not even a piece." She plucked the cigar from the Devil's lips. "This old coot still has it. White as snow, too." She blew a cloud of blue smoke into the old man's face.

"Wait a damned minute," the Devil snarled and stomped his foot. "I can't take your soul if you don't have it to give me."

"And you can't take great-grandpa for a hundred years. But I figure I've done you a favor. After a hundred years he'll manage to stain my soul pitch black, and you can collect him then."

The Devil rubbed his chin, and a smirk crept across his lips. "You're a smart girl, Ruby Nell."

"That may be." she popped the cork on the Wild Turkey. "So, why don't you tell me how I get to know you better, handsome."