STORY

THE RIVER INA
from Poland

     Up there, in Western Pomerania, on the banks of the river Ina, there once lived happy people. So joyful, so full of life. With love in their hearts and a song on their lips.

     Down there, Beelzebub—a trusted bureaucrat and the right hand of Lucifer—wandered through sleepless nights and corridors of the inferno.

     Then, one morning, to end his eternal insomnia, he ordered all the devils to gather in the conference hall.

     “Devils,” he said, “come here. Don’t be shy. Closer, closer. As you’ve noticed, there’s shameful happiness and intolerable goodness up there. It worries me. Somebody needs to climb to the surface and restore the order: hatred, disagreement, bad language. So, I need a volunteer who—”

     The devils rushed to the exit, then started to push and pull, to elbow and wrestle.

     “Come back. I’m not done yet!” Beelzebub shouted, brandishing his fork. The devils popped back and glued one to another. And then some chuckle and cackle hit Beelzebub’s ears.

     “Hey, you. Why are you giggling? What’s so funny? You’ll go,” he said.

     “Me?”

     “Yeah, you. What’s your name?”

     “Devil,” said the devil.

     “Then, Devil, go up there and upset people. Make their lives miserable. Deepen the river. They won’t cross it, will start cursing, quarreling, hating their life, and I’ll get some peace and sleep.”

     “Can’t manage alone. Too much work for one devil, your highness … lowness … I mean … devilishness.”

     “Right,” Beelzebub said. “Two wretched witches will help you. We won’t miss them down here. They drive us crazy: don’t respect infernal officials, talk back, never listen.”

     The devil grinned at the witches and rolled up his sleeves.

     “Ladies, up-up-up. Fast. You’ve heard the boss.”

     “No way,” said the witches.

     The devil frowned; the witches stuck their tongues out at him. Beelzebub poked all of them with his fork, so they jump-jump-jumped up, right to the surface.

     “Enough,” he said and tossed a giant iron plow after them.

     “Ouch!” the devil said. “Oh, we can use this thing.”

     Then he asked the witches, nicely, to buckle down and fix the river.

     “No way!” they shouted.

     “I’ll call Beelzebub—”

     “So call him.”

     “Get busy!” Beelzebub’s mighty voice shook the Earth.

     Dig-jab-stab-zigzag, they began to work. One witch pushed the plow, the other pulled it. One dragged it deeper into the water, the other tugged it up.

     “Here, here, please. That’s the way. No-no-no! Work together.” The devil ran around, offering useful tips.

     They made such a rattle-clatter-bang that Beelzebub burst to the surface. He looked at the red-with-anger witches, at the trembling-out-of-fear devil, and at the topsy-turvy river.

     “You’ve twisted it. And it’s not deep. Not at all. What have you done, you … you good-for-nothing … you fools! You’ll stay right here until you make the river look like a river,” he said, then stepped down and shut the infernal gate behind him.

     The devil started to organize the work again. He explained to the witches the concept of cooperation, took some measurements, drew a chart and a timetable.

     “We’ll be back. Promise,” the witches said and dashed off to the nearby forest.

     “Splendid,” the devil said and planted himself on the grass. “Will wait for you, ladies. Take your time.”

*

     And there it is—the river Ina, all in curls and loops and hoops and bends and turns and bows and coils and twists. So shallow in some places that people can easily walk through, to the other bank. It meanders around like a dancer, slide-slide-slide forward, hop-hop aside, and a turn.

     And the devil sits by the riverside, in the shadow, waiting for the witches to come back. They’ve promised him.

The end


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