When he came back from the wars in Iraq and specifically Afghanistan, Federico was not the same vivacious person that he was before. He had volunteered for Iraq believing everything he had been told the September 2011 incidents. When he returned from Iraq he was immediately shipped out to Afghanistan. He, like many others, served more tours of duty than any person had a responsibility to.

In the six months since he had been home, Federico never touched is wife Carmella. He hardly even spoke. As much as she attempted to draw him out he would not confide in her. The priests came away without the slightest success, and the docs at the VA, they were totally useless. They gave him drugs all the while denying his disability.

The winter solstice festivities were approaching. What should have been a joyous time, Federico's return, the holiday and family, was afflicting Carmella's normally upbeat attitude. Her husband was sinking deeper into that black ink of depression and she was at a loss what to do. She was afraid he was suicidal.

One morning over coffee at her mother's house she finally broke down. "Mommie, what can I do? He might as well be dead. I'm living with a ghost of a man. I'm about to give up and leave him." She hesitated, ashamed it might be her fault and then admitted, "He hasn't even touched me, and I've tried everything I know." She broke down sobbing. "I love him."

Her mom suspected as much. She got up and hugged her daughter and said, "Carmella I know you laughed at our stories about the old wise man. You need to see him. Only he can help you. I will give you a letter of introduction and his address. But you have to go there on your own. I cannot help you. This is yours to fix."

In the recent past, and as a child Carmella, had heard about a wizard from the gossip of her mothers' friends. However any time she entered the room the subject of conversation was quickly changed. She heard He was said to be able to raise the dead. She never believed these old wives tales. But today, today she was desperate.

Carmella parked in front of an old tenement that abutted the graveyards. She checked the address her mother had given her. This was the bad section of town. Across the street, in front of a tavern some drunks lay against the wall of the building and a few others were passed out in the gutter. She got out of the car, locked it and ran toward the tenement.

A few men were looking at her as she got out of her car. One was about to approach her. Carmella ignored the catcalls and obscene gestures.

"Hey chickie, you want to make some money?"
"Hey chickie."
"Yo, mama. I got somethn fo you," called another.

She entered the tenement. That seemed to stop them. She walked up five flights of stairs and knocked on the door marked number 3. No answer. She knocked again only harder.

The door opened a crack. She handed the letter to the outstretched hand on the other side. The door slammed shut. She stood there looking at the door. Carmella was beside herself. What's going on? What am I going to do? She started to sob. Then the door opened wide and an old woman pointed to a door further inside on the far side of the dark apartment. No words were spoken.

The old man listened to her story. When she finished, he was silent for some time. Then he spoke in a low voice that she could barely hear. "You must bring me two whiskers from the Jersey Devil. He is said to hide in the swamps of the Pine Barrens. I must have these to cure your husband's illness."

"How am I to do that? The Devil is a myth. And if he does exist he hates humans and worse," Carmella pleaded hands extended. She knew the legends.

The wizard declared, "He exists. I need his whiskers for the potion. Now go." He turned his back. The meeting was concluded.

Crying, Carmella withdrew. She did not remember driving home. When she got there she went in, packed some clothes, got back into the car and drove south. There was no point attempting to talk to Federico. He was in another world. He just took his meds. He didn't even acknowledge her. It was if she never existed.

She knew the Pine Barrens from childhood. When she was a teenager, it was a place they all used to drive to when they were in high school to make out, drink and party. There used to be a reservoir where they would skinny dip, and if the boy was lucky, have sex. Now it was a foul and mosquito infested bog. She headed to what used to be the reservoir. The gravel road was potholed and rutted so she drove slowly. "Thank god it's daylight. I don't need to be stranded out here in the middle of nowhere," she said aloud to herself. I'll take the truck next time, if there is a next time, she thought. Carmella knew people had disappeared back here.

She stopped at the edge of the old reservoir. Looking around she asked herself, "Where would I hide if I were going to live here?" She remembered the old dam. It housed three huge drainage conduits that used to be opened to reduce any flood water overflow from up river. The big river that fed the reservoir had been diverted for some reason she never knew. All she remembered was that the reservoir was never used any more and the little water that did seep in turned everything into a swamp. Carmella knew it would be a great place to hide.

She remembered she used to make out with her boyfriends in the conduits on low tide. It was more private than the woods near by since kids were always stumbling into the woods for all sorts of reason. The river below the reservoir had been an outlet to the Atlantic Ocean a few miles away and was subject to the affects of the tides. Carmella parked the car. She headed there and hid against an old concrete blockhouse above the spillway and waited. She waited for hours until dusk. Movement caught her eye.

There he was. He was huge. He was hairy. He looked about and sniffed the air. HE looked directly in her direction and stared.

Carmella's heart was racing. She stepped out from behind the house and stood there. She held her hands out to show she had no weapons and made no other move. She did this every day for five days. On day number six she brought a bit of food and left it. She spoke in low tones letting him know it was for him and not to be afraid. This she did for fourteen more days speaking softly, never once getting frustrated by the lack of positive response.

After two more weeks the devil now waited for her at a lesser distance each day. He approached and then stopped, still looking about for danger.

She knew he didn't understand a word she said but she spoke with kindness and with what could only be described as love. He seemed to respond to her voice. She made every effort not to appear dangerous or make sudden moves.

One evening, as she stood there, the devil walked around her, looking her over and over. He came closer but still out of reach. Carmella held out a meal that she had prepared and driven down with that very day. He reached for it and to her surprise sat down and ate it. When he finished he smiled. Then suddenly, just ran away.

Carmella did this for two more weeks running between her home and the bog. The Devil now let her sit next to him while he ate. One evening while he was eating, she took out a small pair of snips and cut off two of his whiskers.

The devil jumped, ran a short distance away, but saw that Carmella just sat there. He must have realized she was no danger and slowly came back.

As tears welled up in her eyes Carmella said, "I'm sorry. I need your whiskers. I have to go and bring them to the wizard and get him to make the potion to help cure my husband. Please understand, I won't be coming back," and started crying.

The devil seemed to understand and touched her hand.

She drove to the wizard's tenement like a women possessed. Ignoring any of the locals, Carmella ran up the stairs and banged on the door. Now she would get that potion and cure her husband.

The door opened and she was ushered in. She gathered herself trying to maintain calm. The old wizard nodded and held out his hand. She took the whiskers she had placed in a plastic bag and handed them to him. He removed them from the bag and smiled. He lit a match and burned them.

"What are you crazy," she screamed? "This is the key to the potion!"

He raised his hands and said, "Please, stop. Yes they are. But you are the real key. You approached this beast and got him to trust you. You spent a great amount of time just getting his trust. You showed compassion, and love. Can you now see you need to show the same love, compassion and effort to your husband as you did to this beast … just to get a few whiskers. Now go to Federico."

The wizard turned and left a determined Carmella standing alone in the room.

By Richard Tornello (2014)
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