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There was no answer.
“I’m not scared,” I followed.
Again, no answer. But then…
“You should be,” a low voice sounded back in a hiss from the darkness.
“Well, I’m not.”
I really wasn’t scared. And the voice didn’t concern me. I’ve never been scared of dark closets. I’ve never been fearful of dank and dimly lit basements. I’ve never been made uneasy by porcelain dolls with sinister grins sitting on shelves and appearing to change expression as the headlights from the cars outside washed shadows across them. I don’t know why. It’s just the way it is.
I’ve never been all that worried about the devil, either. And therefore, I figured it best if I go ahead and affirm it for him.
There was another passing moment of silence.
“You still, there?” I inquired, making sure he knew my disinterest.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” he answered back, this time sounding a bit defeated.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to figure out what to do next.”
“How about you just come out so that we can talk,” I suggested.
“But I’m pretty frightening to behold,” the Devil warned.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like,” I said. “I doubt it will scare me.”
He didn’t respond.
Trying to coax him out, “How about this? How about you choose the scariest form you’ve ever taken and try it on me?”
“And if I frighten you?” he whispered, sounding as though he’d regained some confidence.
I thought for a second.
“If you frighten me, then… I’ll vote a straight Democratic ticket in the next election,” I said. “But if I win…”
“Then you owe me a bottle of Scotch.”
“Agreed,” he panted deviantly.
“But not Scoresby,” I clarified. “Something good.”
“Fine,” he snickered. “The contest is set, then.”
A few moments passed. I became a little uneasy thinking that perhaps he’d reconsidered and ducked out without giving me a shot at winning.
“Hey!” I called. “You still there?!”
“Just wait a second,” he said sounding annoyed. “I’m trying to decide which of my forms has proven the most terrifying.”
I heard him mumbling, as though he were counting out a list of his most dreadful forms on his clawed fingers.
“Hey, man,” I said, “Could you hurry it up? I have a really long day tomorrow and I need to get to bed soon.”
“Alright, alright,” he growled. “I think I have it.”
In the next moment I heard the sounds of tearing flesh and cracking bones repositioning as the Devil shapeshifted.
He gave a grunt. “Okay, I’m ready,” he said in what was now a very different and yet somewhat familiar voice.
“I am, too. Let’ do this.”
The closet door opened in a slow and creaking crawl as the Devil stepped forward, still a shadow in the darkness. I reached over to twist the switch on the lamp beside my bed, and turned back. I was surprised when I saw him.
It was Al Gore.
“Really?” I asked. “This is your scariest form?”
“You’re not scared?” he volleyed.
“No,” I said. “Although, I can see why you’d choose Al Gore. He is a little unnerving.”
The Devil turned back toward the closet, downcast and once again mumbling to himself, “Most folks freak out when they encounter me this way.”
“Hey!” I shouted and hopped from my bed. “Where’re you going?”
“Chill out, Thoma,” he said shooing me back to my bed. “I’m getting your Scotch.”
He pulled an oversized satchel from the closet. It looked to have been sewn together from human flesh and was covered in various stickers, some very old and others fairly new, all touting his world travels.
Digging through the bag’s contents, the Devil tossed aside his collection of hellish things – a Nazi helmet, an empty Starbucks cup, a few bones, a half-consumed bottle of Scoresby, an iPad, a copy the day’s New York Times, a bottle of Tums, the keys to his Prius, and an autographed photo of George Clooney.
“Thank you very much,” I said taking the bottle from his hand with a smile.
The next few moments were a bit uncomfortable as we stared at one another. I expected him to leave, and yet he seemed to be waiting for me to invite him to stay.
“So,” he said cupping and clapping his hands, rocking toe to heel and eyeing the Bowmore, “any chance I might get a sip?”
“Not a chance,” I said unmoved. “I have this rule that I don’t share whiskies with fallen angels who read the New York Times. I’ve made that mistake before – although I didn’t know it, of course. One of your demons took the form of a member in my church, and well, it was a waste of some good Scotch and the exorcism was an ugly event.”
“But…” he began to say.
“You can show yourself out,” I said pointing to the closet.
“You know…” he started again but I was quick to interrupt.
“How about this…” I said and started to sing, “Y’all just c’mon back if you ever wanna try again, cuz I done told you once you son of a… Well, you know how the song ends.”
“Nice. You had to bring Charlie Daniels into this.”
“It certainly seemed fitting, although I much prefer my winnings to a golden fiddle.”
“I will be back, you know,” he said with a toothy grin.
“I know you will, Mr. Gore,” I replied as he lifted from the floor and hovered into the closet’s darkest corner, fading into nothing. “You’re like a bad penny that just keeps turning up.”
No sooner than he was gone did I pop the cork and pour myself a dram from my spoils.
The nose of this Bowmore, if anything, is a nip of what dwells at the heart of mortal temptation. There’s an irresistibly thick fruitiness – red raspberries – sheathed in wisps of smoke that caress the senses.
The palate affirms the Devil as the father of lies and the bottle’s label as his child. This whiskey does not originate in hell, but comes straight from the malt rooms kept by Saint Peter. There’s creamy cheesecake and warm cherry muffins partnering with salty chocolates and little bit of ash from the Saint’s favorite cigar.
The finish is a medium consolidation of both the nose and palate, except the salty chocolates have all been consumed.
I know the Devil will be back. He always comes back. Folks may think I’m kidding, but as a pastor, I bump into him fairly regularly as I go about my day, although for the most part, he tries to keep his distance – just watching. Tonight was a little different. I decided to call him out. And while Bowmore isn’t necessarily my favorite distillery, nor is it a good idea to play games with the “old evil foe” as we Lutherans like to call him, the Devil’s Casks III edition is a pretty good bottle of whisky. I’m hoping that if and when he shows up again, whatever the test, he’ll at least have a bottle of The Balvenie in his pack. But if not, the Devil’s Casks III will certainly suffice.