The One Copyright Edward C. Maurer
nders—Anders!! Come sit with us today.” Karl called to the reclusive watchmaker walking to the lone bench he sat on everyday during his midday meal. “Anders…don’t you like us? Come on…just this once; we won’t bite.” Karl turned to his beloved, Marie, and whispered, “You know, he’s a nice enough fellow, but he’ll never have a sweetheart until he starts to take an interest in people. I just don’t know what it is about him. We’ve been friends for years, but he just won’t open up.” “No, I don’t think so today, Karl.” Anders answered, waving at the village cobbler. “Maybe some other time.” Anders sat down on the stone bench facing the fountain he occupied every day but the Sabbath, which, like his fellow villagers in this Carolina valley, he kept without exception. Karl waved back, shaking his head. “See, I told you he wouldn’t come,” he disappointedly murmured as he turned his attention back to his young companion. “He’s not getting any younger, Marie. His life will be a living hell if he never meets anyone.” Karl stood, wiping his mouth with a napkin, “I’m going to go talk with him. I’ll be right back.” “Oh, Karl, leave him alone. He’ll meet someone. Even you did, yes?” She said with a smirk as she took Karl’s hand in her own. “He’s too nice to go alone very long. His life won’t be hell, sweetheart. He’ll be fine, just stop worrying about him and pay more attention to me before you have to go back to your shop.” Karl sat down at her insistence. The young couple held each other close, but he couldn’t help but steal a glance at the lone figure who chose to spend his time by himself. Anders spread a small cloth on his lap before eating. It was often a fancy blue one he spent more money on than he felt he should, but today it was just a brown cloth, a little threadbare, stained, and tattered at the corners. From his satchel he removed a loaf of brown bread, a piece of cheese, and a small bottle of sweet, but weak elderberry wine he placed beside him on the bench. This was his daily, unwavering custom: To work not long after sunrise, a midday meal signaled by the twelve chimes of the church clock, back to his shop a half-hour later, and work until the sun left
the windows of his shop, making it difficult to continue the work repairing watches and clocks. He kept this strict routine to ensure he would never find idleness in his life or be tempted into the kind of foolishness that killed his father when Anders was but a boy of seven. It was the shock of seeing his father die and his mother struggle to keep a roof above their heads along the banks of the small, Smoky Mountain stream that kept Anders hard at work. He daily repeated to himself his minister’s remonstration that “idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” He swore to himself to never allow idleness to ruin his life as it had his father’s and his family’s. As Anders began to slice a piece of cheese with the small knife he carried at his waist, he noticed before him the skirts of a woman who seemed to appear from nowhere. As usual, he was not paying any mind to people around him; he was simply concentrating on his daily respite of eating his meal with little concern for the doings of others. Anders shifted his gaze upward to see who would be so bold to impose herself on a total stranger. She wore a dress that flowed from her waist like a black and red waterfall of fine wool. Her close-fitting jacket was red and accented in black. He saw her clothes were finely made and, since most of the women of this valley sewed their own clothes, he made a quick judgment of the maker as someone who took pride in her work. A craftsman himself, he respected able people, even if he wasn’t in the habit of liking everybody. Anders froze the moment they looked one another in the eyes. Never had he noticed her before, though she taught the local school children for more than a year now. Her auburn hair was tied back in the common style of young women; a shock fell loosely just above green eyes that twinkled when she spoke. She looked Anders straight in the eyes and began to speak, “I’m….” Anders, courteous as always, stood as she was speaking. He spilled his brown lunch cloth with its cheese, knife and bread to the ground at their feet. “Oh.” he exclaimed, realizing he was making a fool of himself in front of this amazing woman . “I, …” Anders quickly knelt to retrieve the lunch, as did she.
She picked up the bread and offered it to Anders, whose face was reddening. They were so close their faces were almost touching. “I’m Johana,” she said looking him in the eye and trying not to laugh. She raised it to her face to take in the aroma, closing her eyes as she did so. With a sigh of satisfaction she whispered, “This is very good bread, it would be a shame to leave it for the birds.” Anders took the bread without taking his eyes off hers. “Oh, I’……Anders,” he stammered as his face reddened to a warm crimson. Johana focused on his blue eyes and noticed he was quick to blush. How cute, she thought to herself, very unusual for a man these days. “I was wondering if I might share the bench with you, Anders.” Never had anyone who knew Anders asked to share the bench with him before. “The bench?” Anders hesitated, having never been asked the question. “Why, yes. Yes, you may Johana. It would be my…uh…pleasure.” He nervously turned and motioned for her to sit down. As she seated herself on the right side of the small bench, Anders stood for a moment not knowing what to do next, having never actually shared his bench before. She looked up at the craftsman in his simple, brown work clothes. “Well?” She patted the seat next to her. “Are you going to sit down? It is your bench, after all.” She felt a strange, heady feeling pass through her like the feeling she got when drinking wine. She knew something special had just happened, but she couldn’t put a finger on it. Could it be…No, it couldn’t be that. Though she believed in love at first sight, she had never actually felt it herself. Anders sat next to Johana, careful to not sit close enough to touch her. The bench allowed two people to sit far enough apart in the name of good manners, but not enough to ignore each other. In fact, lovers occupied the benches around the fountain in the courtyard each evening, but this is something Anders would not know, having never been in love…. Now that Anders had gotten over the initial shock of the moment, he returned to his usual self. He arranged his bread and cheese on the brown cloth he had laid back on his lap after spilling everything. As he wiped the blade of his knife on his apron, he noticed his hand was
trembling ever so slightly. Beginning to slice a piece of cheese, it occurred to him that he was being rude by not offering to share with this young woman he found so instantly amazing. As Anders turned to Johana to offer to share his lunch, he saw she was gazing at him. He opened his mouth to speak. Nothing happened. No thoughts came to his mind; no words to his lips. Johana realized Anders had actually intended to say something but had apparently gotten stuck. She smiled, “Yes? Did you want to say something?” Anders became aware she was speaking to him. “Yes.” He almost yelled with a start. “I, uh, would you like to share my lunch…with me?” He was nervously smiling trying to cover up his embarrassment of not being able to speak just a moment earlier. “I have bread and cheese and wine and I’d be very happy to share it with you.” He showed his teeth and his eyes got very wide as he nodded in a manner that might convince Johana to agree with him. Johana smiled, and giggled a little, curious about this nervous man and his strange way of talking with strangers. Of course, she thought to herself, if he’s as taken with me as he seems to be…. She let the thought drift. Stifling a second giggle she said, “I would love to share your lunch, Anders.” Anders never made it back to work that day, but spent the entire afternoon with his new friend. Over the many weeks that followed their first meeting, the young couple ate lunch together, shared dinner many times, went on long walks, and even sat together at worship. She would take him shopping and, more than once, he was embarrassed to be seen by the other fellows as he carried armloads of fabric she had bought from the tradesmen and weavers. As their relationship grew, Anders found in Johana the kind of warmth and security he had longed for since he was a child. His mother, having to support herself and her young son, spent most of her days working for other people in their homes ironing and cleaning, taking in laundry, or sewing and repaired clothing for others. After awhile, she lost the love she had for the boy and began to look upon him as the reason for her plight. Seeking to rid herself of him, she sent him away to apprentice with a watchmaker in a town in the next valley. At the age of 10, the boy was to live with strangers, only
to see his mother on the rarest of occasions when his master made trips to Anders’ village. By the time he was 12, Anders’ mother succumbed to the depression and unspoken guilt she bore for having failed as both a wife and a mother, and took her own life. Having now lost both parents, and being forced into servitude, the young boy assumed his own cloak of depression that would stay with him until the day he met Johana. Anders found himself absent mindedly carving Johana’s name in his workbench one morning, it was then he realized he was in love and had to tell her. He was unprepared to have these feelings, though he had longed for something—someone—to make him happy again. Unskilled at love, or even the basics of relationships with the opposite sex, Anders began to doubt Johana’s obvious fondness for him. He had to know. Though they spent so much time together, had so much fun together, and even kept the Sabbath together, Anders felt she wasn’t feeling for him the way he felt for her. He would ask, “Do you like me?” She would answer, “Yes, you know I do.” “Are you happy with me” “You know I am.” And then one day, while shopping with each other at the Saturday fair in the village courtyard, Anders asked, “Do you love me?” Johana only pursed her lips and gave no answer. He asked again, “Johana, do you love me?” Again, she didn’t answer. She only looked at him with pursed lips and didn’t seem to know how to answer, for the idea of falling in love had never occurred to her though, she had become very fond of him. She woke each morning looking forward to seeing him. She dressed in a manner she thought would please him and in the evening, when she went to bed she fell asleep thinking of Anders. Anders did not know what to do. When he wasn’t around Johana, every tick of the clock in the town square seemed to take an eternity. Every happy couple seemed to be laughing at him. They weren’t, of course, it just seemed they were. He was completely miserable. He spoke to his minister, the Reverend Mr. Schmidt, who told him to be patient, “All in God’s time,” he said. He spoke to Karl, his only friend, who helped him home one night after Anders drank too much at the tavern. Karl, in spite of having pushed Anders to meet someone
and fall in love, said to forget about her. There would be other women; he and Marie would help. But Anders knew better. Never again would he meet someone like Johana. “She’s the only woman I’ve ever loved, Karl.” Anders said one evening while the two young men repaired the shoemaker’s shop door. “She’s the one, I’ll never find another like her; she’s truly the one, Karl. Truly…The One.” Anders was sitting at his workbench, unable to do his work, unable to think about anything or anyone but Johana, when a tall man entered his workshop and stood silently until noticed. The distracted watchmaker seemed to feel the man’s presence before he saw or heard him. Turning to face the man, Anders saw he had a dark complexion with black eyes and an equally black beard. The man’s clothes were also black. Anders got a very strange, uncomfortable feeling. A chill ran down his spine. “Hello, Anders.” The man’s voice was low and had a smooth, rich tone like the sound of a large, brass horn. “Who are you, friend?” Anders asked, a little hesitantly. “How can I help you?” “I have many names, my friend.” The man stepped forward, offering his hand to Anders. Shaking hands with the man, Anders could feel not only an immense amount of strength, but also a warm feeling that made his hand feel numb, like it was strangely drunk. The man held Anders’ hand in his firm grasp. “I have come to help you, young man.” Anders withdrew his hand. “Help me?” He took a step back, though he wasn’t sure why; the stranger seemed friendly enough. “What can you help me with?” “I can help you with the one thing you cannot help yourself with. I can help where no one else has been able.” The man’s voice seemed to deepen a bit. “I can even answer the question the priest, Schmidt, could not.” Anders could feel the man’s power inside himself almost as though this strange man had reached inside Anders’ chest and grabbed his heart. “And,” the man continued, “I can solve your problem. All you have to do is ask.” With that, the man turned and strode out the shop door. Anders rushed out after him, but he was nowhere to be seen.
All that night, Anders lay awake in bed with thoughts of Johana keeping him awake. Images of the strange man also coursed through his mind, interrupting thoughts of his beloved. Each time he thought of her, the man’s face would appear silently mouthing, “I can answer the question…I can answer the question….” A cock crowed as the first rays of the morning sun poured yellow and orange beams of light through clouds building on the horizon. Anders watched as the fields east of the village came into focus in the new light. He listened to the sound realizing he couldn’t face another day not knowing if Johana loved him. His chest became tight as tears welled up in his eyes. “Help me, oh dear God, please help me,” he pleaded. That same day, Johana rose with the first light of day as she always did. Clothed only in a chemise, she sat at the small table next to the fireplace opposite her bed. She poured herself some tea and sat contemplating the cup as the cool liquid it held slowly stilled. A shimmer of morning light glinted off the tea’s smooth surface. As she stared into the cup, Johana realized the empty, but strangely full feeling she had in the pit of her stomach…her wakefulness…her wandering mind…were the unmistakable signs of love she had to face. “I need to tell him today.” She explained out loud to the cup. “Oh, I need him. I never knew it was like this.” Johana stood up from the table and walked over to the window that faced the morning and yelled for all to hear, “I love you, Anders. I love you. I love you. I love you!” Anders sat at his workbench much of the morning thinking about Johana, paying little attention to his work. Several hours into his morning a tall man wearing a dark cloak and wolf skin cap entered the shop. Anders watched him a few moments before saying anything. “Can I help you?” he said, hesitantly, not knowing if this was the same, strange man he met the previous day. The man turned to face the anxious craftsman, and extended a closed right hand. “Can you fix this?” He spoke in a stern voice with an accent unrecognizable to
Anders. The man opened his hand, “I’m told you’re the best watchmaker in the valley.” Anders could see the small timepiece was in need of repair. Its crystal was broken and the hour hand was twisted. “I’m just passing through and I need my watch. Well? Can you fix it?” The man seemed irritated that Anders only stared at the watch without answering. “Well? Can you answer my question?” “Yes.” Anders came back to reality, “Yes, I have the answer.” Furrowing his brow, the man gave Anders a serious look, wondering what the matter was with the craftsman. “I have the answer.” Anders became animated. “Can you come back tomorrow after dinner? I’ll have it for you then.” The man shook his head, “Yes, I can come then.” He looked Anders straight in the eye. “Are you sure you can repair it?” Anders assured the stranger he could and showed him to the door. Two more customers came during the morning to pick up watches Anders, the best watchmaker in the valley, had repaired. Johana was sitting in front of her mirror brushing her hair as the church clock struck eleven. “One hour and I can tell him I love him.” She said out loud to her reflection in the silvered mirror. “One hour.” On the bed to her side lay the black and red dress she wore the day she and Anders met. The midday chimes of the church clock alerted both Anders and Johana to the time of day they had met almost every day for the past months. Even many of the townspeople knew this was the time the couple could be found sitting together on the small bench. Some townsfolk even began asking others to vacate the bench as the noon hour approached so the two could be together undisturbed. Johana was in her doorway before the sixth chime rang. Her auburn hair shone in the noonday sun, her face glowed and her eyes twinkled with anticipation. Her bright, happy smile contrasted with the black and red dress she wore to commemorate the day she had first met “her” Anders. She had made up her mind it would be her wedding dress as well. She stepped lightly into the street and almost danced in the direction of the courtyard where she would soon finally declare herself to her beloved craftsman.
The sixth chime of that same noon hour was ringing when the dark stranger stepped through Anders’ doorway. He closed the door behind him and locked it shut. Anders was removing his apron when he heard the click of the lock’s bronze tumblers fall into place. He turned to find himself face-to-face with the man he had met the day before. “Oh.” Anders was surprised to see the curious stranger. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon.” “You didn’t?” the man’s eyes peered into Anders’ own. “You shouldn’t be so surprised, my friend. You called for help this very morning as the first cock of the day crowed; did you not?” He thrust the lifeless body of a large, red rooster at the craftsman, who stumbled backwards in horror. “See? This is the cock that started your life today Anders. Take it.” Anders was aghast. He stumbled backward until he was pinned against his workbench. Horrified at the site of the dead fowl he raised his hands before him preparing to ward off the stranger’s next surprise. “No…no…don’t,” he stammered. “Take it. Take the damned bird, Anders.” The man’s face darkened with rage as he shook the rooster in Anders’ face. “Take it,” he uttered in a cruel, guttural tone to the frightened craftsman. “Take it…take it now….consider it a…token…a token of your desire, Anders. A small sacrifice for what—love? That is what you want, isn’t it? So, what’s the life of a mere chicken compared to the love you whimpered for in your prayer this morning? Hmmm?” Instantly overcome and weakened by the man’s voice, Anders involuntarily reached out to take the bird from the imposing figure before him. His hand trembled as he took the bird by its feet. The bile rose in his throat. “I didn’t call you,” Anders forced the words, too much in fear for his own life to even consider disobeying. “I didn’t call you. I didn’t.” The man’s face calmed and a smile, almost a sneer, came to his lips as he lied to the frightened mortal. “You did, my friend. You did. I’m here to answer your prayer. You do remember your prayer, don’t you? Now, relax so we can talk.” With those words, Anders felt his fear leave him. He turned and calmly placed the body of the lifeless rooster on his workbench, smoothing its feathers as he did so. “So, how can I help you today?”
He spoke in the same calm voice he normally used with Johana. He was totally defenseless against the stranger’s advances. “I think it is you who needs help.” The being took Anders’ right hand in his own. “Tell me what you want and it shall be yours.” Anders looked into his new confidant’s face in an almost childlike manner. “I want Johana. I love her, but she doesn’t want me,” he responded. The craftsman smiled at the entity that stood there holding his hand like a father would his son’s. “I want her to love me the rest of my life. I want to marry her and make her happy the rest of my days.” “You do, do you?” it said , eyes lighting up at the prospect of a new deal to be made. “I may be able…no…my friend…I can help you.” “I’d do anything to repay you if you could.” Anders leaned closer. “I’d truly do anything for you if you could do this for me. I truly would. I would be the best husband. I would love her forever and make her happy if you could just do this. I would forever be in your debt.” “Forever? You mean that?” “Yes, forever. You have my word on it.” “Done,” said the being. “Then it is done, my friend.” “It is?” Anders had a look of surprise, the look of a child on Christmas day when he finds a present in his stocking. “Yes, I only need to ask you for a favor in return.” “I told you: anything. Just name it.” Anders grasped the entity’s right hand in both of his, “Name it my new friend, and it shall be yours. By the way, if we are to be friends, what do I call you?” “Well, people who know me around these parts just call me ‘Old Nick’ Anders, I’d like you to visit me for awhile, Anders.” “Old Nick…I’ve heard that name…forgive me, but it’s pretty common, and you don’t look that old, Nick. What’s your Christian name?” “Well, I wouldn’t say a “Christian” name is appropriate, Anders, let’s just leave it at ‘Old Nick,’ that seems to work for most folks, especially once they get to know me.” Anders scratched his chin, pondering the response for a moment. “And all you want is a visit? All you want me to do is visit you?” “Yes, a visit, a long term visit, Anders. You would be my personal
guest. You see, where I come from, we have a shortage of…souls. A soul like yours would mean so much to us.” The man peered deeply into Anders’ eyes, and into the very soul he desired for his…collection. “I want your soul, my friend. That’s all, I just want your soul.” “Done.” Anders naively exclaimed, shaking the stranger’s hand in his own. With the agreement sworn to, the being masquerading as man turned, walked slowly to the door and unlocked it. As it opened the door he turned to Anders. “It’s a deal. A pledge, Anders.” He turned back and stepped into the street. “Nick?” Anders yelled to the stranger as he disappeared into the lunchtime crowd, “When do you want my soul? Not for a while I hope. I’m getting married, you know!” The twelfth chime announcing the noon hour sounded as Anders hurried from his shop to meet the first truelove of his life. “Johana!” Anders yelled as he ran across the courtyard to her, indifferent about who saw or heard him. “Johana! Oh, my dear, I could not wait to see you today, I, I….” The girl held her hands out to her beaux, “Anders, I have something to say, please just hold me,” she said as she flung her arms around him. “Anders, I love you! I knew it just this morning! I love you and will always be with you my Anders! Anders held her tightly in his slightly quivering arms, “I knew you would my Johana, I knew you would.” “Knew I would? Would, not do?” Anders held her face in his hands and gently kissed her lips. “I prayed for it just this very day my love. Then a man came to me just a short while ago, I know he was an angel, and told me you would love me. He told me and I couldn’t wait to see you!” “An angel, Anders? An angel told you I would love you? Maybe he heard me this morning when I was yelling it all over the valley!” “Yes, that’s it, he must have heard. Isn’t it wonderful? I am the most happy man on Earth right now. And when the time comes, when I have breathed my last my sweet dear, he promised me my soul would be his. We will be together for all time, I know that now. You are truly the one and always, always will be now.” The two lovers stood holding each other, eyes closed, oblivious
of the sudden, cold breeze that blew down the valley…. A fortnight later, Anders and Johana were married by the fountain and in front of the bench were they had met so many months before. The entire town turned out for the wedding of the once reclusive young man and the woman who was so obviously in love with him. Karl was Anders’ best man and his own love, Marie, was Johana’s bridesmaid. The two were inseparable and a perfect match. By the time Anders had risen each morning, Johana had his breakfast waiting. He went to work each day with her on his mind. (Some even say they noticed him at his workbench, staring off into space with a smile and starry eyes.) At lunch Johana would meet Anders and together they would stroll arm-in-arm to “their” bench by the fountain. There they would sit so close barely a hint of sunlight could be seen between the young couple. As always, they would share a piece of cheese, a loaf of dark bread and a bottle, (sometimes two bottles) of elderberry wine. Of course, they ate upon the fancy blue cloth he had spent so much money on; the tattered brown one he dropped the first day they met having been relegated to a special place in their home. In the evening there would be a fine dinner waiting for Anders when he returned home from making watches that were said to be even better than he had made before meeting Johana. About half a year after Anders and Johana had married, she awoke one morning sick to her stomach. Worried, Anders stayed with her while she was ill, which only lasted for a few hours, but happened several days in a row. After a few days later, Johana realized she was with child. She told Anders at lunch, while they sat on their bench by the fountain so closely no sunlight could be seen between them. Anders was so happy, he cried. The village clock was just beginning to ring the first of its midnight chimes when Anders woke to find the stranger he had met a year before standing beside his bed. “Anders, Anders my friend, we need to talk. Come with me, if you please.” Anders dutifully rose, gathered his nightshirt around him and followed the stranger, whom he believed to be an angel, into the main room of their home. “My
young friend,” Old Nick held both of Anders’ hands in his own, “it is now time for you to come…visit. I’ve come to collect your soul, my friend.” “What?” Anders struggled to free his hands, but to no avail. He was trapped. “Take my soul? What do you mean, Nick?” He tried to make sense of what he was hearing. “Take my soul? How? I mean, it’s only been…oh my God. It’s been a year. Only a year since we got married. This is our anniversary! Oh, God. No. Oh….But Nick, you’re an angel! How can this be? Am I not supposed to be with my Johana for decades to come?” “Anders,” Nick looked him deep in the eyes, “I’m not that kind of angel,” he said with a sneer, his lip rolling up at the corner to expose a long, brown canine tooth. “You made your pledge and God won’t help you now. He rejected your plea for help the first time. It was your greed that made you cry out to Him, your greed to have that woman when all you had to do was give it time, but, no, you were impatient and would not wait, so what you got was me.” The creature caressed Anders’ face with the back of his fingers as one would a child…or a favorite dog. “What makes you think He’ll help now? Stop being such a damned fool. This is your doing. Yours and yours alone. You’ll just have to settle for being damned.” Anders panicked; he couldn’t free himself from Nick’s grasp. He madly thrashed about like a mouse trapped by a cat. He yelled out for the love of his life who carried their child, “Johana. Johana. Help Me. Oh, my God Johana, he’s killing me!” Johana slept soundly, unable to hear his pleas, for no sound left the void into which Anders’ soul had already departed. Their unborn child turned away from its dying father. “Johana. Oh, my God, Johana…Johana….” Anders was buried in the churchyard the next day, the first anniversary of his wedding. The village physician could find no cause for his death. Anders’ face was calm, he bore no wounds, there was no sign of his struggle with the Master of Darkness. That afternoon, the Reverend Mr. Schmidt, who married the two lovers a year earlier, and consecrated Anders’ body to the ground, died writhing in pain on the floor of his rectory as he was writing his next sermon. Old Nick laughed and a cold wind blew down the valley giving
the villagers a chill down their spines. Johana lost her unborn child before sunrise. In the days following the loss of her baby and beloved Anders, the first man she had ever loved, Johana fell into a deep sadness from which she could not recover. Reverend Schmidt was in turn buried by the village elders. With no one to minister to Johana, the older women of the village did the best they could to help her through the loss of her beloved husband and child. But, having no other recourse, the villagers sold Anders’ and Johana’s belongings and sent her to a sanitarium where she lived out her days in melancholy solitude, forever grieving her loss. When Anders arrived in his final place, he again came face-toface with the stranger, Old Nick. He now knew exactly whom he was dealing with, the name was an old one only whispered by the mountain folk who blessed themselves when it slipped out of an unguarded mouth. He thought it was familiar when the stranger first came to him, but in his innocence had failed to recognize it for the threat it was. He now knew. “Anders, my young friend. Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.” Old Nick seemed very pleased with himself. He was; it wasn’t very often he could entice a soul as pure as Anders’ to enter this place. “Welcome my friend. I have a very special…residence…for you.” He beckoned for the new arrival to follow. He led Anders to a greasy, black cauldron the size of a whiskey barrel. The craftsman could sense the unmistakable, acrid odor of hot brimstone. A visible pall, the stench of an outhouse on a hot summer day, hung in the air—the remains of the doomed detritus of humanity. A din of uncountable voices could be heard throughout the place. Agonized screams and painful moans permeated the stagnant, foul atmosphere. It was the way the writer Dante described it…maybe worse. “Anders, I’ve been saving this for you.” Anders stood before the cauldron. “Well, what are you waiting for? Get in. You’re home.” The Master, Anders’ new master, let loose a hearty, hollow laugh as the doomed craftsman dutifully climbed into the blackened vessel. “My friend, this is where you will spend your eternity. You did it for love.” The entity leaned forward and placed its hands on the rim of the cauldron. “So, is it worth it?”
Anders gazed into the vacant, black eyes of his new landlord. “Yes, I think it is.” With that, Old Nick spat in his face and the cauldron burst into flames that engulfed Anders in a heat greater than he had ever experienced. “How about now, lover? How about now?” He sneered as the flames burned the craftsman’s skin until it began to boil and char. “Was a year with your precious Johana worth it? Was it?” Anders had never experienced, no—suffered—such agonizing pain. His skin bubbled, charred, and healed again, only to begin incinerating over and over. “Yes, yes it was,” he screamed in agony…. “Oh, Johana…Johana!” “What? I can’t hear you. Speak up, damn you. Oh. Too late, you already are…damned, that is.” With a cackle, he turned and strolled away, leaving Anders to burn in the cauldron for all eternity. Eons passed with Anders burning in the cauldron of fire. Over and over again he turned molten, and charred, only to heal again and repeat the process of incineration. With each healing, the cock that had been sacrificed as a token of Anders’ love for Johana would peck at the watchmaker’s seared flesh. All because of the pledge he made to a stranger. More and more countless souls entered this place to receive their punishment for lives mis-spent or for deals mis-made. The cries of his fellow, damned souls became part of Anders’. But in spite of the agonizing tortures, he never forgot his beloved Johana. After so many eons his village was forgotten and his valley was absorbed into nations he could have never imagined, Anders was once again approached by Old Nick. “So, how’s it going?” The Master quelled the flames as he was speaking to the old hand, Anders. “Any recriminations?” Smoke rolled from Anders’ skin as it began to heal yet again. “About what?” he asked his terminal host. “About love, about that, that, woman,” he said, spitting out the last word as though it were a piece of rotting flesh. “About Johana?” Anders knew exactly what the question was about. “No, you son of a bitch, I’ve done nothing but think of her all this time. You may have me in this hell and you may burn me and have that damned bird feed on me with every healing, but no, damn you, you’ll not make me forget about her. No, I know that not letting
me forget is part of your torture, but it’s the part that you can’t take from me. Make me forget and you only lessen my agony, and that won’t be enough for you, will it, Nick? No, your own greed only gives me the strength I need, you son of a bitch. “God, you’re stupid,” the host tauntingly placed his hand over his own mouth, stifling a laugh. “Sorry, I almost forgot. It was God you asked for help, wasn’t? And you got me.” Old Nick began laughing so hard tears would have come from his eyes had he been capable of shedding them. He sneered. Flames leapt up around Anders once again. “I’ll be back you fool, I’ll be back. Think about your Johana, maybe you’ll come to blame her for this and not me…maybe you will….” He left to have words with other unfortunates. Anders knew he himself was to blame, not Johana. The thought of her as the cause of his interminable grief and suffering was impossible. Knowing his torture was because of the brief time they had together and their love for one another only strengthened him and his resolve to survive. Infinitely more time passed before his host once again stopped to speak with Anders. “My friend,” he quelled the flames that tortured Anders for so many lifetimes. “I’ve been thinking about our deal.” Anders looked at him pensively. “Oh, what now,” he thought to himself. “I heard that, my friend.” Old Nick continued, “I’ve thought about our deal and have decided to give you another chance, just to see how you do another time around.” “What?” Anders was caught completely off guard. “What do you mean?” “Well, I gave you a raw deal the last time, and I’d like to give you another chance to have a long, full life.” “How? How can you do that? How can I do that? I mean, I’ve been gone so long…what will I come back as? A dog? What?” Anders was rightly apprehensive at the offer, keeping mind who was making it. “What I’ll do is,” Old Nick placed an insidious, fatherly hand upon Anders’ shoulder. “I’ll return you to your own time. To the day you met…what was her name? Oh, yeah, Johana.” “You will?” Anders almost leapt out of the cauldron in excite-
ment. “The very day?” “Yeah, I’ll do that for you. I’ll even let you meet her again, and let you two get a chance to know one another…all over again.” And, Anders, you’ll even be aware of what happened the last time. You won’t be able to influence anything, but you will know what happened before. It’ll give you something to look forward to. And. to make up for, how shall we say—lost time—Johana will make up her mind about you even sooner than she did before. You won’t have to wait so long and go through that grief all over again. Well, Anders, my friend, is it a deal? “Yes.” Anders cried, “Yes. I’ll do it, I’ll….” Anders spread a small cloth on his lap before eating. It was often a fancy blue one he spent more money on than he felt he should, but today it was just a brown cloth, a little threadbare, stained, and tattered at the corners. From his satchel he removed a loaf of brown bread, a hand of cheese, and a small bottle of elderberry wine he placed beside him on the bench. As he began to slice a piece of cheese with the small knife he kept at his waist, he noticed the skirts of a woman who seemed to appear from nowhere. He stared at the hem of the seemingly familiar, and noticeably well-made, black and red skirt. He felt compelled to see whom this was standing before him. As he looked up into her eyes, he felt a pang of intimacy that seemed all too familiar. Memories of who this is and what she meant to him at one time, what she still meant to him, came rushing back. “Excuse me, I’m…,” Johana began. Anders jumped to his feet, clumsily spilling his bread and cheese at her feet once again. She quickly stepped back to avoid the calamity the man was making. Embarrassed at the scene she had unwittingly become part of, “Why, I never. I, I….” she sneered as she continued to back away lest this mere tradesman actually touch her. “Such, such…pandemonium over meeting someone!” Johana exclaimed, holding her hands closed tightly against her breast. “Is this how you act? Now I see why people talk about you as being lonely. Who could bear such rudeness!” Old Nick snickered as he watched the scene unfold. The craftsman’s chaos was…exquisite. “Pandemonium, how I’ve loved the sound of that word. Leave it to a teacher to use Milton’s word in
such a way. The boy doesn’t stand a chance in…. Yeah, his paradise will soon be lost, too” He closed his eyes and shook his head side to side in glee. Anders gathered his lunch into the cloth and placed it on the bench. “This isn’t right,” he thought to himself. “She didn’t act like that the last time,” but he spoke the last thought out loud, loud enough for her to hear. “Last time? What last time?” She stood before him, hands on her hips. “What are you talking about?” “Oh, nothing, nothing,” he said, “I, uh, I’m sorry, Miss. How can I help you?” “I understand you are a good watchmaker. But I don’t see how anyone so clumsy can repair a watch, let alone make one.” “Well, many people bring their watches to me, Miss. Is there something you need?” She stepped forward and offered a watch to him. “Here, it’s my watch, it’s broken. I need it fixed. Can you do it?” “Yes, I can fix it, will you come by my shop tomorrow to pick it up? Say, around lunch time?” He took the timepiece from her. It was small and finely made with a gold body and flowers painted on the face. “Maybe you can join me for lunch and I can give it to you then?” “Lunch? With you? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I’ll send a girl to fetch it from you. Good day.” She turned and strode away in a haughty manner he had never seen her assume before. Anders watched her until she disappeared around a corner, then placed his uneaten lunch back in his satchel and, dejected, returned to his workshop. Anders lay awake all that night confused about Johana’s reaction to him. “This is not how it happened last time. This is not how it happened.” He shouted to no one as he sat up in his bed, clenching his fists as the realization of what might be happening made itself clear to him. “No. No. Oh, God no.” he screamed. A cock crowed as the first rays of the morning sun turned the eastern horizon a light salmon color. “No…no…no….” could be heard in the street as far away as the stone bench near the fountain in the town square.
At the sixth chime of the twelve that announced the noon hour, a man dressed in black stepped into Anders’ shop. He turned and locked the door behind him. Anders was waiting for him. Before he could say anything, the craftsman boldly approached him. “What happened. What happened yesterday you son of a bitch?” Anders angrily shouted, knowing that he had already experienced the worst his former host could dish out. “What happened?” “Now, calm down,” Old Nick offered his right hand to Anders. “I did exactly what I said I would do, my old friend.” The humor of the situation showed on Nick’s dark face. He smiled, exposing yellowbrown teeth and a slight odor of death. Anders recoiled from the controlling gesture. “We had a deal. You said everything would be like it was before. Just like it was before.” “Well, that’s not what I said, exactly, Anders.” Old Nick furrowed his eyebrows and peered in the furious man’s eyes. “I never said she’d love you. I never said that.” “But you said…” “I said you would return here as though nothing had happened. I said you would know her. And you do now, don’t you? Did I say anything about her loving you? No, I did not. You’re not any smarter than the last time you were here, are you? I knew you for a fool when I saw you. A top shelf fool. Such as easy mark, too, actually. But, you’ve been fun, Anders.” he said, snickering to himself. Like a cat with a mouse, Old Nick continued the game he had begun so long ago. “No, you didn’t say she would love me again. But…” Anders turned away, knowing he had fallen prey to empty promises yet again. “you never intended for her to love me, did you? “I had nothing to do with her falling in love the first time, Anders. She was on her way to tell you when you made your deal with me. Kind of…poetic, don’t you think? So, it is I who has kept his word, isn’t it? And, you?” “What?” Anders screamed as he leapt at Old Nick, who swatted him aside, sending him skidding across the shop floor. Coming to rest against his workbench, Anders pointed an accusing finger at his adversary. A trickle of blood ran down his chin. He spat a bloody glob at the being standing before him. “You mean to tell me she loved me
before we spoke? She was going to tell me that very day?” Anders realized his pledge had doomed not only himself, but Johana and their unborn child. He knew nothing of the Reverend Mr. Schmidt’s quick death following his own. “Son of a bitch…what have I done? What have I done….” You want to go back on your pledge? After all I’ve done for you? And you met her yesterday, again thanks to me, right? And didn’t I tell you she would know her feelings much sooner than last time and save you all that grief? Didn’t I? Didn’t she?” “Yes…but you said nothing about…and you said you’d save me all that grief, and you didn’t!” “It’s all about you, isn’t it? That’s common, I guess. Maybe that’s why it’s so crowded down ‘there.’ Oh, well, this time it’s a different kind of grief, isn’t it?” Old Nick looked the watchmaker in the eyes, again peering into the soul that once again was at his mercy. “I offered you a chance to have her love the first time. Okay, that wasn’t my doing, but it’s the thought that counts.” Again he snickered, enjoying the game he played with this mere, all too fallible mortal. “Now this time, I’ve given your life back to you, to do as you please. And that’s not enough? I’ve got a million souls like yours, souls of people who….” Old Nick, shook his head and allowed the words to drift off unfinished. “Is this the way it’s going to be? I’ll have my life, but not her? Not my Johana?” Tears came to Anders’ eyes as he realized he had everything, but at the same time, nothing. Not the one thing, not the love of that one person who would make his life worth living. “I want to go back. Take me back.” “Me, my, I. You still haven’t changed after all this time, have you? Back? Do you know what you’re asking? It’s back to the cauldron, back to the fires.” “I know,” Anders’ lips barely moved with his words. “If I can’t have her, if I can’t have her love, then all of this is, is worth nothing to me. Life is not worth living without her.” “Unchanged…oh, well, I tried…. It’s the cauldron, you know.” “I know. And I know I’d rather burn again in your hell for all eternity if I can’t have her love.”
As the midday chimes sounded, Johana peered through Anders’ shop window. During the night she sensed she felt something for the strange, bumbling watchmaker. And for some inexplicable reason, she knew she couldn’t live without him. She had to see him once again to understand why he affected her so. She tried the shop door, but it was locked, though she knew he had to be there. She almost felt his presence within the shop. Johana put her hands to the glass and pressed her face to the window. But all she could see through the window was the craftsman’s body lying on the floor. In his lifeless hand was a newly repaired, gold watch whose minute hand ticked to twelve…of the noon hour.