Our pal Wikipedia says, “The Devil’s Footprints is a name given to a phenomenon that occurred in February 1855 around the Exe Estuary in East Devon and South Devon, England. After a heavy snowfall, trails of hoof-like marks appeared overnight in the snow covering a total distance of some 40 to 100 miles. The footprints were so called because some people believed that they were the tracks of Satan, as they were allegedly made by a cloven hoof. Many theories have been put forward to explain the incident, and some aspects of its veracity have also been called into question.”
Martin Forsythe detached the contraptions from his ankles, disassembling the leg braces attached to a rake from which jutted a pair of cloven metal hooves. The snowy march across Devon had brought with it the many pitfalls associated with traveling the English countryside–the gangs of beggars who asked for a pittance until their numbers were strong enough to overpower the in-transit bourgeoisie, the wolves stalking the moors with terrifying countenance that would only be captured a hundred or so years later by John Landis, and, worst of all from Martin’s perspective, the Welsh. The hoof prints he’d left went miles, over buildings and across pastures and through tunnels and, at one point, into a ladies’ privy. A pair of marks side-by-side, in accordance with what Martin imagined to be a reflection of his lord and master, Satan.
He paused at the inn. A bowl of whatever soup the innkeeper’s wife had assembled from the various wretched turnips and colicky chicken in the place’s garden would fortify him for the effort of his journey to London. He entered and took a seat in a back corner, hood obscuring his features. A drunk lay unconscious, head resting on a sleeping goat, but otherwise he was alone. A serving wench approached and cocked her hips, jiggling a small boil on her right side.
“What’ll it be, traveler?” she asked.
“A bowl,” he said, “And if it’s full of soup, all the better.”
She glanced by his feet to the leather sack from which peeked the hoof braces.
“Say, you wouldn’t happen to be the one responsible for all those prints in the snow? Farmer Digby’s wife Helene said Cobbler Grimes’s mistress Deluvia heard they’ve crossed bridge and buttress from here to Newquay.”
“My business is my own,” Martin grunted, and shut the sack. The wench gave him the morally indeterminate eye and returned to the kitchen. A moment later, a haggard old woman emerged from the swinging doors.
“Martin Forsythe,” she said as she slid onto the opposite seat, “You stink like hell.”
“I do not know you though you may know me, woman, now spare me the jests at my odor and give me my allotted soup so I may be on my way.” The old woman sighed.
“Sulfur, boy! You smell like the pit.”
“Calm yourself, you’re among the like-minded,” she said, and pulled up her sleeve to reveal the blistered skin of an old burn, “I have felt his touch, and suffered joyfully in return.”
Martin released his grip on the knife at his belt.
“You have seen him, the master of masters?”
“Seen and felt.”
“Then you know already what I seek.”
He explained that he’d cracked the ancient tomes and forged the ancient sigils and spoke the relatively recent spells, yet had been stymied at every turn. He sought to serve the Great Beast directly, and yet could not volunteer his soul. Then, the plan came to him. He’d leave tracks across the country, culminating in their end at the royal palace. Then, an anonymously submitted announcement to all the papers that the devil himself would appear in Piccadilly Circus by noon at the end of the week. The psychic energy and mass hysteria would pull Satan across the barriers of dimensions which separated the infernal planes from ours, and once manifested he would undoubtedly choose Martin to be his red right hand as he scorched the earth. The woman narrowed her eyes.
“No offense, but that is a terrible plan,” she said, “You seek to impose order on that which cannot be ordered, to deny freedom to he who is most free.”
“Also,” she said, “The devil only comes to Earth for two–he’s got a quibble with you, or he’s going to come to Earth.” Martin could not quite parse the sentence construction.
“Women, boy,” she said, “The devil likes mortal flesh. And unless you’re going to correct the mistake that Jehovah made when he shoved a rod and two bits down your trousers, he’s not interested.”
“But, the war against angels! The defeat of good! The destruction of those whose morality is intrinsically opposed to ours!”
“He’s not interested. Millennia in the abyss sort your priorities.”
“He doesn’t care.”
“Oh, he cares about the only two things worth caring about,” she said, cupping a wrinkled breast, “Sex and vengeance. And hey, sometimes they’re the same thing. Now would you like to stay for a blood orgy?”
Martin fumed. He launched into a screed that could not be described as a rant, as the ranting form had not yet been invented. But on he went, denigrating the old beliefs and the metaphysical entities that forced their views yet would not even tend to the flocks of their shitty children. And he resolved to continue his journey and his plan, and when Satan made his grand appearance, Martin would be the one to slap the beard off his face.
“He shaved the beard,” the old woman said, “Razor sharp it was, kept on bleeding too many thighs.”
Forsythe slammed the inn doors as he left. He pulled the braces from his satchel. A few steps away, he saw the trail. Hoof prints. Side-by-side, from the opposite direction of where he’d been traveling. Then he heard it.
“I heard you’re looking for me, Martin,” said a voice that rumbled as if waves crashing in great oceans of magma, “Something about an overdue slapping.”
Martin Forsythe never reached London.
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