An Old Polish Folktale Retold
by Dr. Paul Clement Czaja
Many years ago, but not so many that people have stopped telling the story, there lived in a small village of east Poland a beautiful young maiden. At the time my story begins, Anna, for that was her name, had reached the thirtieth year of life on this earth and she was not yet married. She lived alone in the family's modest cottage, tending a small vegetable garden, some chickens, and three goats. Both her parents had died of influenza one winter when she was but a little girl. Anna was loved by the villagers for her her good will and natural beauty. Talk of this beautiful virgin spread beyond her village, and she had many suitors. As yet, none had won her favor or hand in marriage. Some of her neighbors were growing concerned that Anna would end up a spinster. They could not understand why she never accepted proposals of marriage from so many handsome and fine gentlemen. How could they know? They never asked Anna, and the turned away suitors had nothing to say about their rejections. Now, learn the truth of the matter. Anna remembered the unconditional love of her parents for each other and for her. The deep joy of that conjugal and familial love ended when her parents were buried in the church cemetery so many years ago, but Anna woke up every day with the hope that she too would be gifted with such a love as she had witnessed-- a love so real and so constant between her parents while they lived. Her sadness was that every man who sought her attention and her affection would make the same mistake. One after another--such a long line of them--would inevitably say to her: "You are so beautiful! Marry me. I want to wake up every day of my life seeing your beautiful face before me."--or words to that effect. Hearing such mere flattery, Anna's heart would turn cold, and she would abruptly dismiss the man, saying: "I will not marry you, sir. I want to be loved for love's sake---not just for my face."
And so she remained unmarried. Now I don't know how it happened, but I am told that Satan learned of this remarkable woman---of her great beauty and of her principles. Out of curiosity--(angels and fallen angels seem to be eternally curious about us humans)-- Satan decided to go up to that humble Polish village and see this Anna up close and personal. Taking on the guise of an old peddler (rather than a cat or owl or spider) Satan knocked on her cottage door asking for charity. Anna had been trained by her mother never to open a door to a stranger no matter what, so she opened her shuttered window instead, and so handed down some bread and cheese with a sincere "God bless you, sir!" and then closed the shudder before Satan could get but a glimpse of her beautiful face. Miffed, Satan shuffled away and planned to encounter her next day at the market with more of a Tom Cruise look. The market day was sunny and filled with vendors, buyers, and laughing children, darting all over. Anna traded eggs for the basket full of goods she needed and, as she was about to take the country road home, she was met by the handsomest devil ever. "Here, allow me to carry your basket for you," smiled he. It was a familiar routine for Anna who hadn't carried her own basket back from the market since she had blossomed into her young adulthood. She was attracted to this man, however, though she couldn't tell why. That fact alone made her heart stir---this mysterious charm---some sort of charisma---she knew she had not met anyone as fascinating---what was it about this guy that made him so extraordinary?....She stopped talking to herself and began to listen to what he was saying to her as they walked up and down the hills toward her cottage. His prattle was actually intelligent, interesting and entertaining. She felt herself warming toward this fellow and as they approached her door, she considered inviting him in for some tea and cookies. But then Satan made the same mistake as all the others. He said in a resonant voice, "I have to confess, Anna.
I am falling absolutely in love with your face. I could spend eternity happy to just see that face every day with me...." Before he could go on, Anna took her basket from him and without saying more than a quick--"Thank you. Good bye." she stepped into her home and closed the door with a sharp bang. Now you don't slam the door in Satan's face and get away with it. The powerful leader of all fallen angels stomped away with steam coming out of his ears, and the demons all about that land heard Satan shout in a mind language you and I would never hear: "Tonight, I shall appear to her as I really am! And then we shall see what happens!" That night, after Anna had done the supper dishes, read some, said her evening prayers, and was lying in her darkened bedroom at peace in that wonderful place between being awake and almost asleep---POW! a flash of bright green fire and yellow sulfurous smoke---Satan appears at the foot of her bed! Anna screams, bolting up in her bed, holding her covers to her chin, eyes wide open, her mouth agape. "Don't be afraid, Anna," says Satan, "It is I." To her horror, Satan looks uglier than any human artist ever imagined. A frightening twisted superabundantly evil face stuck on top of a scaly green torso with wiry black hairs growing out everywhere, bony arms reaching out with long sharp nailed fingers, and most grotesque, Satan is absolutely sexless---no genitals---a nightmarish alien too bizarre to actually exist yet THERE looking, leering at her with bulging firedrake eyes. "Anna, Anna. Come with me to hell!" she hears Satan say without ever opening those vile clenched teeth. "No!" she screams, "No! You can't take me to hell against my will. My mother taught me that nobody, not even the devil, can make me do something against my will. And I will not go with you!" Satan smiled a demon smile and repied, "Your mother taught you well. But Anna think on this: if you come with me now you will be the most beautiful woman in all of hell---I guarantee it! Come." "I don't need to go to hell to be the most beautiful woman around," Anna snapped back. "I already am the most beautiful woman in my village, and I don't have to go anywhere with anyone to be that! God made me so." "Ah, you are as clever as you are beautiful," said Satan with raised eyebrows. "But look here, Anna---" Satan continued and floated to her night table. Anna cringed away pressing her back against the wall behind her bed. Satan picked up the hand mirror lying there and held it before Anna's face. "Look at your beautiful face, Anna. Such shining eyes. Such rosy cheeks. Look at those full beautifully bowed lips. And such glorious hair---like the finest silk. Look, Anna, look. In but twenty short years all this beauty will fade away. Those eyes will become red, watery, bleary.
Your skin will turn to wrinkled dry leather. Your lips will shrivel into thin cracked lines. And this hair will turn dirty grey and fall out in clumps. Before you know it, you will be an old crone! But come with me now, Anna, and you will be eternally young, eternally fresh, and eternally beautiful. Come with me now, to hell, and I guarantee you shall be like an eternal rose that never fade or wilts." Satan's words reached deep into Anna's heart. The truth was that Anna was always filled with horror whenever she saw the bent and aged women of her village. A time had come, years ago, when she began averting her eyes from seeing them---those so ugly ancient ones. Without thinking, Anna's right hand reached out toward Satan's outstretched taloned claw which held the promise of endless youth. Just before their fingers touched, a question rose from Anna's heart without bidding, without thinking---it just came up and out surprising them both. She softly asked, "Is there love in hell?" "Love in hell?" screeched Satan, pulling back that black and hairy paw. "Of course not! How utterly ridiculous! Love in hell? Haah! There is no love in hell, my pretty! Never ever any complications like love!" Anna had already pulled back her hand when she shouted back at Satan, "Then I will not go with you! Love---true love---is all I have ever wanted in my life. Love is what I hope for. Love is what I wait for. If there is no love in hell, I will not go there with you or with anyone!" Satan reeled back, knowing the seduction had failed utterly and POW! in a microburst of green and yellow sulfurous clouds the archdemon instantly fell back to hell. There in that abyss of everlasting selfishness, Satan steamed with hatred of Anna---changing color from bilious green to bright red---as would a hapless lobster dropped into a boiling pot! "I may not be able to have you here in hell against your will," Satan's seething soul sputtered. "But I can curse you, bitch! I can curse you so badly that you will turn into an old boot before two years turn over! AND I WILL CURSE YOU NOW! NOW! NOW!
Satan screamed this curse so vehemently that more damned souls took notice than when Lucifer tried to do Job in with hellish torments. Remember Job? Remember Job covered with oozing sores, sitting there on that fly ridden dung heap? Well, all the damned in hell remembered poor old Job when they heard Satan's vehement howling. "Poor Anna," they sneared sardonically as they twisted and squirmed in their own agony. This would be worse---far worse than what happened to Job. For reasons more perverse than you or I could ever understand, these damned souls took a modicom of pleasure in their hope of witnessing Anna's coming crucifixion. That very night as the villagers of that small Polish village slept in peace, Anna's sweet dream turned to a nightmare. She woke up racked with a burning fever, her every joint aching. It was only the beginning. For days and days the fever burned on. Anna's flesh became so hot she thought she was on fire. Her hair not only dried out but began to fall. She would find clumps of it in her sweat soiled sheets. Her skin began to burst with sores first on her back and then on her legs and arms---last of all, the pussy red sores disfigured her face. Neighbors came early on to give succour, but as Anna never bettered in the slightest for all their ministering, they soon stopped coming. Talk was that Anna had contracted a venereal disease from one of her many suitors. After the first year of such ravaging passed without no respite, even the village priest ceased coming to visit. He with his congregation had prayed for Anna at every Sunday Mass for so long, but to no avail. After they had stopped visiting Anna---the stench was terrible---they quickly forgot her. They just inadvertently turned their hearts to other more promising concerns.
Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Satan never forgets. And Satan is at heart a wicked voyeur who gets off by secretly watching us suffer. Satan is not interested in our sex lives as the extragalactic aliens supposedly are---perhaps because more often than not there is some real love involved in human "lovemaking." Now bestiality, that is another matter. Satan watches that with great interest. But I am digressing. In the timelessness of hell, Satan remembered Anna and decided to return to her village again just to see how she was getting along. The arch-fiend wanted to see her ugly. She might die soon and then it would be too late. So one bright Polish spring morning when the grass was just turning green and forest song birds were making happy music, Beelzebub flew to Anna's cottage window in the clever disguise of a fly. Sticking six hairy feet to the outside of her kitchen window, this black, noisome, pesty, peeping Tom with two superabundantly complex eyes looked in. There sitting at a simple oak table was Anna. No one but Satan would have recognized her as Anna. She had become a hag. Satan buzzed in glee. Lovely Anna, the most beautiful girl who had ever graced her village, looked like an old, broken, discarded boot. But Satan then saw something that was a puzzle. Sitting across from Anna was a man---a broad shouldered and square-jawed farmer----not at all handsome, but there he was bigger than life. And he was smiling. He was the only neighbor that had not given up on the Christian responsibility of corporal mercy. His faithful kindness not only had comforted Anna's heart but had won it, too.
A year ago, standing before the crucifix by the crossroads near Anna's cottage, they exchanged vows and so married themselves. Satan then saw that the two of them were looking down at something on the wooden floor there near the table. It was a rustic cradle---the very one Anna had slept in when she was a baby so many years ago. Now it held a newborn baby. It was their baby! Just five weeks old and already a cute fellow with rosy cheeks and straw-blond hair and big, big grey eyes. He was reaching up for them with his pudgy arms and tiny hands. Anna's eyes brightened to see such a gift. She saw him on mornings like this with the sunlight sprinkling all over his sweet face as if he were the first child ever on earth. She would think in her heart's heart that God Himself had come on earth. Then Satan felt it. It came right through the glass window.... Love. There was this love pouring out from mother to father to child and around and around in what songsters have called, "a circle of love." As your storyteller, I say some of this pure human unconditonal love came radiating out of that kitchen in Poland and struck that demonic black fly with its divine energy so hard that Satan's soul was knocked for a loop right off the window and onto the dirt of the yard. A hungry hen snapped it up with one brutishly sharp peck of its beak! She cackled at the taste of it. As Satan's eternal soul fell once again to hell, the damned ones waiting, waiting, waiting for their master's return heard this horrible scream: "I SHALL NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES ON UP THERE! AAAAHH! I SHALL NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES ON UP THERE! I SHALL NEVER NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES ON UP THERE UP THERE UP THERE!" And, dear friends, just as our blue planet turns away from the sun so far without fail, so do we now turn away from this story which has been told countless times before---and will be still told in tomorrow's tomorrow until the day breaks when men and women learn all there is to learn about true love.