American Black Fiction

“Mouse! It’s your turn to check on Mama and Papa!” Mouse’s brother yelled as he chased their cousins' kids around the lake. “You know how Papa is!”

That, Mouse thought, was the understatement of the century.

Mouse Hasley left her family raising hell around the small lake on her great-grandparents' property. She gave up on keeping track of the horde in the first hour because…. As everyone who knew them always said….. The Hasley family had a bit of the devil in ‘em.

They were good people…. But man could they raise hell when they got together.

 It was a family tradition that at least a couple of weeks a year, every summer, everyone would migrate back to their great- grandparents' plot of land in the small town of Georgiana, Alabama. It was a small two gas station town full of dirt roads and houses nestled between the trees in the middle of the forest. It was a mostly black town full of easy going people and the Hasley family had lived in these parts for generations.

 So Mouse Hasley got up from her perch beneath a tree and meandered up the dirt path that led back to her great-grandparents home.

It was what they called the witching hour.  The twilight hour in which the fireflies were dancing about…. And the crickets were singing through the trees.

It was magical and it was Mouse’s favorite part of the day.

She strolled barefoot through the humid Alabama heat in shorts and a t-shirt. Her hair was already poofing up and becoming frizzy from the humidity as she spotted her great-grandparents home emerging from the trees.

They lived in a decent sized wooden home among the green acres of their small farm. They owned a good sized bit of land and one of Mouse’s aunts lived not even ten feet away in a mobile home. She could already smell the food that her aunt and uncle were frying up inside and it wouldn’t be long before everyone started migrating back to eat.

Mouse saw her great-grandparents sitting on the porch of their home in rocking chairs. They were sitting quietly in the evening as her great-grandmama shelled  peas that their family had helped her pick that very morning. 

Mouse’s great-grandpapa was staring off into the forest and humming to himself.

They were Mama and Papa.

The whole family called them Mama and Papa.

She supposed it had  something to do with the fact that every generation of their family were sort of raised here.  They were allowed to have fun, play, and be free here on this patch of land. 

“Hey Mama and Papa!” Mouse said as she walked up the wooden walkway to the porch of her great-grandparents home. 

“Hey Sugar…..” Mama said softly as she continued shelling peas into a huge empty plastic bowl. 

She didn’t look up from her work as she rocked slowly in her cotton dress. She was a quiet, dark skinned woman— but she had a twinkle in her eye that was often mischievous. Mouse sat beside her in another rocking chair and picked up another plastic bowl herself to help her Mama shell her basket of peas.

Papa just grinned at her from his own rocking chair.

He was a charming old man who told the best stories. He always wove the craziest tales and swore up and down they were true.

“Hey Mouse!” Papa said with a grin as he continued rocking in his chair.“ Ya’ll havin’ fun?”

Mouse rolled her eyes as she started shelling her own peas.

“ We’re havin’ too much fun, Papa….” Mouse mumbled. Mouse loved her family but goddammit…. The adults were gossiping, drinking, and gambling and the kids were running around like half feral animals.

“Ain’t no such thing!” Papa said with a grin and twinkling eyes.

There was such a thing but Mouse kept her thoughts to herself. She glanced up at Papa who was still grinning at her and then at Mama— who was quietly absorbed in her task.

They were such different people.

Mouse looked back down into her bowl.

“Papa? How’d you and Mama meet?” Mouse asked curiously. They were the Matriarch and Patriarch of the family.  They had simply always been there as far as Mouse was concerned. They helped raise each generation in a sort of distant hands off sort of way. That’s not to say that they weren’t loving. They just  weren’t the type to interfere in the lives and decisions of the family.

 They were simply there to offer comfort and encouragement when someone hit rock bottom– and then tell them to start climbing.

Mouse saw the twinkle in her Papa’s eye and knew she was in for a tale.

“Well…. I just so happened to meet your great-grandmama the same day that I met the devil!” Papa said with a laugh.

Mouse rolled her eyes and looked at Mama. She should’ve known Papa was going to start tellin’ stories.

“Mama, tell Papa to stop playing and tell me the truth.”  Mouse asked and demanded at the same time. She knew Mama was always the more reasonable of the two of them.

Mama just kept rocking  in her chair with a serene smile on her face.

“Listen to your Papa, Sugar….” She said sweetly with a twinkle in her eye. So Mouse resigned herself to whatever craziness that was gonna come out of her Papa’s mouth.

“That’s right!” Papa said gleefully, “ Listen to your Papa! ….Now as I was saying! I met your grand-mama  the same day I met the devil! I had just turned eighteen years old and as far as my family was concerned…. I was now a Man! So my daddy gave me a whoppin’ five hundred dollars and told me to make my own way in the world! Now five hundred dollars back then…. Was a whole LOTTA  money. I could do anything I wanted! I could buy a house and a farm! I could travel the states! So, guess what I did?”

Mouse didn’t look up from her task.

“You bought the farm?” She answered. curiously  After all, that’s where they were now.

“Nope!” Papa said cheerfully, “ I went gambling! I traveled and gambled with nearly everyone who would play me! And I always won! Guess how I won?”

“You were lucky?” 

“Nope! I cheated!” Papa laughed and Mouse sighed. “ And man was I a good cheater. I cheated so good that I QUADRUPLED MY MONEY!”

“Papa…” Mouse said with a laugh, “ Stop playin!”

“ I’m not a playin’ girl! If I’m lyin’ , I’m dyin’!” He replied with a grin.

“So anyway” Papa continued, “ I was travelin’ back home to see my folks. I was actually almost  home and it was starting to get dark. That’s when I saw this big, black, bastard  sittin’ on the side of the road. He was black as night and he was smoking’ a cigar. When I got close to him— he asked me if I wanted to play a game of Bones! That’s what we called dice back then.”

Mice already knew that. She’d left her uncles playing a game of bones back by the lake.

“That’s when he told me that if I won the game–He’d give me another five hundred dollars! So we started gambling! We gambled all night long! Guess who won?” Papa asked cheekily.

“You did?” Mouse answered.

“Nope!” Papa laughed, “ I LOST! I lost ALL My money.  I was so upset because I couldn’t go home to my folks and tell em’ that I lost all the money they gave me gambling! So I begged the man for another game! I told him that I would do anything for another game! So he agreed to play me one more game. On one condition… guess what it was?”

“What Papa?” Mouse replied indulgently.

“He told me he'd play me one more game. However, if I lost…. I had to give him my soul.” Papa said in a serious tone.

Mouse looked up from shelling her peas and saw Papa staring pensively off into the forest.

“That’s when I really looked at the man.” Papa continued, “I finally looked at the man and saw that he had red eyes that burned like fire. I looked around and realized we were at crossroads. I pulled out my watch and realized time had stopped… It was the witching hour. That’s when I realized I was playing the devil. Now, I had enough sense to realize that gambling with the devil for my soul was a bad idea…. And this is why they say pride is a sin. But my pride told me that I could do it. That I couldn’t go back to my parents penniless…. And losin’ my soul was only a big deal if I lost. So I played the devil one more time…… and I lost my soul.”

The world around them had gone quiet. The crickets had even gone silent.

Mouse looked up at her Papa as he continued rocking slowly in his chair.

“The devil reached right into my chest and ripped out my soul. It was the most painful thing I ever felt. It felt like I was on fire. Then the devil smiled, tipped his hat at me, and disappeared. I don’t know how long I lay there crying at the crossroads. All I know is that eventually I looked up and the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen was standing there.

 She kneeled beside me and said, 

“My daddy took your soul.”

Papa looked over at Mama then with a smile on his face.

“That beautiful woman told me,’ I’ll make you a deal. If I get your soul back–You’ll have to marry me.’...... and you know how I answered?”


“I asked her if she could get my money back too!” Papa said with a laugh, “And that beautiful woman looked at me like I was the stupidest man in the world! So I grinned at her and told her that if she got my soul back… I’ll happily marry a beautiful woman like her. It was no skin off my back.  She told me to lay my head in her lap and go to sleep. I fell asleep with my head in that woman’s lap as she stroked my hair—-And when I woke up…. I had my soul back. She also got my money back too! So I married the devil’s daughter and was damn happy about it too. So that’s how your Mama and I met? Ain’t it romantic?”

Mouse threw her hands up in the air in exasperation. She should’ve known she wasn’t gonna get the truth out of Papa.  She turned to her great-grandmama who was still rocking serenely in her rocking chair and shelling peas.

She looked at Mouse with a small smile on her face.

“Mama…” Mouse whined to her like a baby but she didn’t care. She even pouted and Mama laughed at her, " Tell me the real story about you guys met!"

Mama laughed again.

“Listen to your Papa, sugar…” Mama said with a sly smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

Then she winked at Mouse….

And her eyes flashed crimson.

The End.

August 19, 2023 00:38

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