Continued from Part 2
I stare at Sminthus the god of mice, and Qhuinn the coyote-cum-cocker spaniel, the beginnings of my rag-tag army seeking to overthrow the Gates of Hell.
Earnest: So, let me get this straight. You’re saying “all” I need to do is come up with a plan that is literally impossible for Satan to believe would work, because that unbelief is central to him being Satan?
Coyote: Not at all!
Earnest: Whew! You mean I completely misunderstood you, and there’s another way?
Sminthus: No, he means that’s not “all” you have to do. You also have to offer yourself as bait, like Jesus did with the cross.
Coyote: Is he always like this?
Sminthus: Don’t worry about it, he’s more resilient than he looks.
Earnest: Okay, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the time being. But I’d rather not gamble my life — or soul — on a theory. How can I be sure we know the essence of Satan’s unbelief?
Sminthus looks embarrassed, but Qhuinn grins.
Earnest: I’m not going to like this answer, am I?
Sminthus: [sighing] You know how you were wondering why we were heading South…
We are in the birthplace of humanity; though I can’t tell whether this is supposed to be the Fertile Crescent or the African Savannah. Despite my companions’ reassurance, I fear that listening to the advice of a snake will not end well.
C. To be fair, he’s not really a snake any more than I am dog.
E. That’s what I’m afraid of!
S. Relax, E. Nehushtan is not that snake. He just shares enough essence that he can bridge between that world and yours, like Qhuinn does for Coyote.
E. Also not helping! Coyote is a notorious trickster. How do I know this isn’t some elaborate prank?
C. Oh, don’t be silly. Of course this is a prank.
S. [glaring at Coyote] What he meant to say is that this is the rare “prank for good,” where we trick you into doing something you would never undertake willingly, but actually lands you in a much better place.
E. Wait, what?
As if someone pulled a lever on a trapdoor, I fall through the ground and end up in…
This… is nice! Maybe they really did land me in a “much better place.”
I am in the most beautiful, luxurious garden I could imagine. Wild, not planned, yet somehow harmonious rather than chaotic.
The air is alive with birds and gentle insects, but I see no mammals or reptiles. Other than… him.
Nehushtan: Hello, Earnest.
E. Um, hello?
The snake is crawling up a slender tree with only a few leafless branches, making him look much like his namesake. He reminds me of Kaa from the Jungle Book, which does nothing to reassure my nerves. I try to avoid looking him the eye.
N. Oh, don’t be silly. Even Coyote would never deliver you down here simply to be hypnotized and eaten. That’s just not his style.
Reluctantly, I turn to face him. Not so much because I believe him, as I don’t have any better ideas for what to do.
E. Ah, yes. Your speciality is seeing within the souls of creatures, to know what they most deeply want?
N. But of course. Why else would the Evil
One partake of my essence?
E. So, wait. Are you saying that the only way Satan can manifest a trait is by a direct relationship with the creature that naturally possesses it?
N. Certainly. While we are conceptual rather than material, Satan always requires a host to influence the world.
E. Wait, so you admit you willingly played host to Satan?
N. “Willingly” is perhaps too harsh a word. Did Eve “willingly” believe my variant’s deception? Still, it is true that I was compelled by my own nature to yield to him.
E. Why on earth would you do that? I thought every created thing was naturally submitted to God, or at least Adam?
N. That was the plan. But Adam was still coming into his kingship. Sure, he named me, but he didn’t fully understand me. Because he didn’t really know himself yet.
E. That doesn’t make any sense. He was perfect! Surely his innocence wasn’t a handicap?
N. Hmm, not the way you think I mean. Yes, with enough time and experience he could have learned to understand himself, even without sinning. But only after observing many cycles of birth and death. My way… was quicker.
E. Wait, you’re saying you deliberately tricked him? And you think that was somehow good for him?
N. Again, you’re reading too much intentionality into my story. I was created with a hunger to know my own soul, by knowing the souls of others. Adam could understand a dog or cat, because they reflect surface aspects of himself. But he couldn’t understand me…
E. Ah. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. You were created to serve someone, but they were incapable of seeing your value. That must have been painful, even in paradise.
N. Why… thank you. Yes, it was hard. Mind you, I did not wish him ill… or even her. I just felt a hunger, perhaps akin to what humans call jealousy. I wanted to understand what he saw in her. What he cherished, even when he could not understand. It wasn’t sin, of course. But it did leave me vulnerable.
E. Oh. Because you were the only one with a gift so deep that Adam wasn’t able to rule over it, so Satan could use it to rule over him.
N. Why, yes! I’m so glad you understand. My goodness, Coyote chose you extremely well…
E. Gosh, thanks…
N. You will make a very tasty morsel!
E. Wait, what? I thought you said he wouldn’t simply hand me over to you.
N. And I meant it. It was your own cleverness that elaborately handed you over to me. You have precisely the depth of understanding I need to feed my hunger. Now just hold still, and gaze into my eyes…
I look away, but I feel his coils sliding around me, rising up to grip my waist, my arms, my head. Soon I won’t be able to resist…
“Don’t look away,” I hear a familIar Voice whisper.
No. It couldn’t be. That has to be another trick.
“No, it is Me. He too, is a creature of Mine that needs to be redeemed. Don’t trust him. Don’t trust yourself. Trust Me. Trust that I AM truly Lord of all.”
I squeeze my eyes tight… I don’t want it to be Him.
But it is. I do know that Voice.
And it is precisely the sort of thing He would ask me to do.
With a sigh, I open my eyes… and stare into the Face of Death!
To be continued…