The Night the Devil - Or Possibly a Kangaroo - Walked
Tracy S. Morris is the author of the award-winning Tranquility series of Southern paranormal humor mysteries.
Morris's story Fish Story will appear in the Baen anthology Strip Mauled
Her new novel Bride of Tranquility Is available now from Yard Dog Press.
Her website is http://www.tracysmorris.com/
February 7, 1855 was a cold night in Devon, England, cold enough for a heavy snowfall that kept many would-be travelers inside-- all except one, according to some reports. And that one may have been the Devil himself.
Our story begins on the morning of February 8th, when the citizens of Devon awoke to find a set of strange tracks lying on the ground.
The prints were u-shaped, as if made by a cloven hoof. They were approximately four inches long and eight inches apart and the impression was that of a bipedal animal as opposed to a quadruped such as a cow or a goat.
They seemed all the more prominent due to the fresh blanket of snow that lay on the ground. And while many people thought they were odd, they had mouths to feed and work to do. Many of them dismissed the prints and went about their business.
At least at first.
Before long, someone noticed that the trail seemed to stretch on for quite some way and their neighbors from Topsham to Dawlish were talking about the same prints. In fact, the strange trail seemed to meander over a 100 miles before coming to a dead stop in Totnes.
Along the way, the tracks exhibited supernatural traits. In some cases, they would stop on one side of a wall and reappear on the other side as if the being who made them had passed through the wall. In one case, the tracks ended on one side of a river and appeared on the other side as if the maker had swum or walked across the river.
Occasionally the prints would go right up to a door, back track and then continue on.
As word spread, the story grew, the question that weighed heavily on everyone's mind at the time and since was: What made the strange prints?
Immediate theories included a hot air balloon trailing a set of handcuffs, a kangaroo on the lam from a menagerie, a strange migration of badgers, or an elaborate hoax.
By the time that local newspapers were reporting the phenomena, the story had taken on a life of its own. Some accounts say that the prints stretched up drainpipes, the sides of houses and across rooftops. Others say that dogs refused to follow the tracks.
With rumors spreading like a bad e-mail forward, it wasn't long before someone suggested that maybe the devil did it.
Folk who believed that there was something sinister afoot quickly formed mobs, and armed with clubs and rakes, set out to find – and kill - the creature that made the tracks.
The London Times remarked on the mass hysteria that followed in the wake of that rumor when it wrote: The superstitious go so far as to believe that they are the marks of Satan himself; and that great excitement has been produced among all classes may be judged from the fact that the subject has been descanted on from the pulpit...and many superstitious people in the above towns are actually afraid to go outside their doors at night."
As mysteriously as the prints came, their origin is even more mysterious. The phenomenon did not occur again and the prints vanished with the snow melt.
Today, only the mystery remains.
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