Everyone likes to think evil comes, unannounced, with a voice rising like the darkest pit of hell. That it shows up in black cars with flaming wheels and license plate numbers marked “666”.
But that’s not the case.
Usually, it’s the opposite.
Evil doesn’t show up with horns and a tail.
Evil usually shows up with a smile.
If you didn’t look like a devil to me.
There’s a feeling you get right before you step on a snake. It’s this itch in the back of your heel. A feeling like you’re about to trip.
That’s what folks like to call it.
It’s the knowledge that something is about to happen.
Something is about to happen.
Your foot moves out.
The snake notices before you do.
Well, by then, you’ve been bit. Haven’t you?
It’s unfortunate, but I’ve been bit plenty. Plenty. More than enough for five lifetimes. More than enough.
There’s no way in hell I’ll get bit again.
Which is how I know.
There’s that feeling.
It creeps up the moment you smile.
There’s a snake under foot.
From across the way, you smile at me.
I move my foot in a different direction. Hovering, briefly, before stepping out of striking range.
It isn’t a retreat. It’s an avoidance strategy.
Lions don’t need to fight snakes.
They’re not worth it. The return for your trouble is too small. Far too small. I won’t make that mistake again. Besides.
I’ve got nothing I need to prove.
I start to walk away.
Internally, I say a few good choice words. String them together. Hang them like Christmas lights inside the threshold of my mind. The threshold of the conversation we’re about to have.
Once things are nice and festive, I turn.
You stop in your tracks, completely put off by my nonplussed attitude.
I’m sure you are.
Snakes are quite pretty. Especially the dangerous ones. All the cunning devils keep their looks up.
They were once angels, after all.
After you start digesting my reaction, you, yourself, react.
“I was wondering if you were coming tomorrow night. It’ll be tons of fun, and a lot of people are going.”
I don’t know what it is about what you’re saying, but there’s definitely something about it.
An undercurrent that boasts of something dangerous.
It’s not the tone. Your tone is normal. And it isn’t your words, those are normal too. Everything about what you’re saying seems okay. Seems normal. Seems safe. I mean, you’ve even pointed out others will be there. That it won’t be us alone. That I won’t be forced to hang with you, if I decide I don’t want to.
And maybe that’s what it is.
Do you need to assure people like that?
Do you need to assure them they won’t be alone with you?
You shouldn’t, should you?
But we both know what you are.
We both know.
And that’s why you’re trying to reassure me.
Is it a trap? I don’t know. Are you being honest? I don’t know. Usually, it would bother me to not-know. I’d try and figure it out. Piece the puzzle together. Go off adventurously, trying to figure it out.
But this is not the time to delve into the unknown.
To play in snake pits.
I smile politely at you.
“Thank you for the offer, but I already have plans for tomorrow.”
At that, you seem slightly deflated. A balloon that just realized the party is over. Or that there was no party to begin with.
I shrug at you.
“Thanks again,” I say, cutting you off before you try to persuade me.
Not that it’ll matter.
We both know you can’t.
When I escape to my car, I feel safe.
Isn’t that strange? That you make me feel unsafe? It’s not like you’ve ever done anything to hurt me. That you’ve ever done something strange or aggressive.
Can see the devil in your smile.
Can see the fire reflected in your eyes.
I don’t know much about you, but I can tell.
You like destroying things.
Making them fragile.
I mean, I guess I could be wrong.
But I’m not.
When it comes to things like this, I’m never wrong. I can feel the heat of the fire before I get burned. Know enough to listen to my own instincts.
Because mean doesn’t come packaged as nails.
Evil doesn’t look like snarls and blood.
Not at first.
Generally, evil starts off with a smile.
A smile that, if you’ve got good sense, reeks of something vile.
And this old dog’s nose is far from broken.
Keep trying kid.
I see right through your smile, that toothy smirk.
I see the snake in my path.
I see the devil in you.
You won’t get to me.
Author’s note: sometimes I get this feeling about people that I can’t really explain, but I never ignore the feeling because it’s usually right. I can smell a manipulator, a liar, a mile away. And I can sure as hell smell someone who’s got bad news up their sleeve. Don’t know why or how, but I can. And I’m never wrong.