The Tramping Ground by Carol Gore

Satan was the first person I told when I got my period. We sat in the center of His tramping ground where every day He stomped the grass to death in a perfect circle while thinking up evil deeds. His long tail curled around the rotted log we shared, termites climbing up the scales. A cigarette hung from His mouth.

“Sorry about that,” He said.

I could tell Him anything because everything was His fault. He pulled another cigarette from the pack with dainty, long black nails and offered it to me.

“I don’t smoke.”

“You’re a woman now.”

“Try this.” I handed Him my Juul.

I showed Him how to push the button, to inhale the fruity vapor. When He did, His black eyes bulged. He coughed so hard the trees shook.

“I get a kick out of you kids,” He said, then patted me on the shoulder with His hot hand.

The kids at school didn’t believe I talked with Satan most afternoons. Xander Cotton posted my edited yearbook picture to Instagram. He blacked out my eyes, drew red horns on my head. The shaky lines of a black dick wedged between my smiling lips. That post got more likes than pictures of Xander’s abs. He didn’t even tag me.

One afternoon, while Satan was taking a leak behind a tree, I tried to snap a picture of Him.

“You don’t photograph,” I said, staring at the image of trees, leaves, dirt.

“You don’t know the trick.” He took my phone, tapped the screen with His talons, handed it back. “Now you’ll get a picture of the devil for sure.”

My face glared back at me, double chin, that zit between my eyebrows. Satan had flipped the camera so I was taking a selfie. He blew out His cheeks, holding in a laugh.

“That’s stupid,” I said.

He shrugged, sat on His log, lit a cigarette, rubbed His temples.

“Can you curse the kids at school? They suck.”

“Working on it.”

“You can have my soul. If you give me clear skin. Big boobs. A flat stomach. You need those things to be an Instagram influencer. You don’t get it. I’m not smart enough for STEM.”

“Listen—” The way He stomped His cigarette out beneath His hoof reminded me of my dad. “It gets better, it gets worse, better, worse, on and on, and then you die.” He slapped His thighs, said, “Well,” then went back to tramping around His circle, head down, hands clasped behind His back, kicking at rocks.

I puffed my Juul. “Well.”

Carol Gore received an MFA in writing from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Her short fiction has appeared in Dark Moon Digest and Fourteen Hills. Her horror novella, INFESTED, was recently released by Unnerving. Aside from writing, she’s a yoga enthusiast, a painting hobbyist, and a lifelong voracious reader. She lives in the rural south with her husband and two sons.