When the Devil Drowned

When the Devil drowned

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Excerpt from: The Phantom of Llano Estacado

It seemed as though the sky had become loftier, and more distant. The few stars that were out seemed to be smaller than earlier. Where the sky appeared to rest on the rock in the south, a moon-sized, bright yellow, shiny disc suddenly appeared. Its circumference was sharply delineated at first. It moved, seemingly slow, not across the sky in an arc line, but appeared to be breaking out from the world of the stars, and approaching the valley in a straight line, with increasing speed.

The closer it moved, the larger it grew, and the more obvious it became that it was a full sphere, and not a flat disc.

Its outline lost its definition; lightning-like flashing rays flared away from it, and a tail formed, glowing much brighter and livelier than that of a comet.

The sphere itself was no longer just yellow. It seemed to consist of liquid fire with its writhing, sparkling glow, and sprayed all kinds of colours. It was evident that the ball rotated around its own axis, at least the whirling colours gave that impression. Its speed increased at a truly frightening rate. Then it seemed to stop mid-flight for just a few moments right above the middle of the valley. A detonation, as if made by several cannons at the same time, put a sudden end to it; the sphere burst into a spray of countless pieces that lost their light as they fell; the tail remained visible for a few more seconds; there was a splash in the small pond and its water sprayed up high, as if something heavy had been plunged into it from as high as a tower. The men were showered with water.

A few moments later, the firmament was as dark again as it had been before the spectacle; the stars were visible once more like miniscule little dots. A full, hefty sound, seemingly made up of several successive octaves playing in unison, roared over the heads of the stunned men.

Winnetou was the only one who had retained his customary poise; nothing was able to unnerve him.

“Ku-begay,”(the fireball) he said. “Great Manitou has thrown it from the Heavens and shattered it on the Earth.”

“A fire ball?” Blount asked. “It looked like a sphere. But did you see the tail? It was a dragon; it was the devil, an evil spirit who is at work around midnight.”

“Pshaw!” the Apache replied, and turned away from the superstitious man.

“Yes, that was the dragon!” Porter agreed with his companion. “I’ve never seen it before, but I heard others tell of it. My grandmother saw it fly down the chimney of the neighbour, who was possessed by the devil, and had sold his soul to him for money.”

“Don’t make me laugh at you, sir!” the bear hunter said. “We no longer live in the dark medieval times when people believed in dragons and spooks, or rather, when the stupid ones were taught to believe in such nonsense, so that the smart ones were able to reap the rewards in the process.”

“What existed back then, still exists now! Or do you want to be smarter than I am?” Porter curtly asked.

“Pah! I’m not vain about my intelligence. In the past, all inexplicable occurrences were ascribed to Devil’s work. But thank goodness science has advanced enough to do without Beelzebub and his famous grandmother.”

“Ah, so! Do you perhaps belong to the enlightened class, to the so-called academics?”

“I’m not an academic; but even I know that a fire ball is not the devil.”

“Well, what else is it supposed to be?”

“Nothing but a small, burning celestial body, called a meteorite; it came too close to the Earth on its path through the universe, and gravity pulled it down.”

“A celestial body? Therefore a star?”

“Yes.”

“What numbskull told you that?”

“Someone you wouldn’t dare to throw the word numbskull at, namely Old Shatterhand.”

“Him? Is that true?”

“Yes! When we sat by the campfire in the evenings, we often conversed about such seemingly inexplicable appearances and things, and he had a natural explanation for everything. If you want to be smarter than this man, then I have no objection. Didn’t you hear that something fell into the water here?”

“Heard, seen, and even felt. We all got wet.”

“Therefore, if your opinion were correct, the devil fell into this pond here, and since we forgot to pull him out, he definitely drowned.”

“Of course he doesn’t drown. He shot straight down into Hell.”

“In that case he can dry himself off at the fire, so that he doesn’t develop a cold from having become soaked up here. If we could drain the water, we would see a hole in the bottom that contains the aerolith, a piece of the meteorite, or rock, which was the fire ball.”

“A rock? Hm! That could have killed us!”

“Indeed. Lucky for us that it fell into the water.”

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