One day, Vincek went to the woods by the village to collect some mushrooms. Even though he was a man with a short attention span, whose mind spent most of its time contemplating random thoughts, he made a surprisingly good mushroom finder. That was also why, whenever guests from overseas came to the village and the locals wanted to show off how culturally rich and technologically advanced their homeland can be, the mayor approached him and said: ‘Vincek, we’re off!’ And off they went.
That happened maybe once a year. Not that the village made such an interesting political destination. Very simply, the local squirearch Zhabinec had relatives in the United States, who often came to visit him. The town council always wanted to welcome them with all the parade, and the only way of doing so they thought up was a mushroom feast. Apparently none of them have ever thought that mushrooms are known even in the United States, and that seeing them on a plate won’t evoke wonder in their guests. On the other hand, after four visits only, those other guests had acquired a strong impression that the locals feed on nothing but mushrooms.
But today was a day when Vincek went on his own, for unlike the other villagers, who barely ever saw a mushroom when they didn’t happen to have visitors from lands far away, he really did sustain himself on mushrooms almost exclusively. Unfortunately, today was Thursday. That wasn’t generally a bad day, but Vincek had never gone mushrooming on Thursday before. He did not avoid the day on purpose – it just happened by chance. Every Thursday, these parts of the woods were visited by the local gamekeeper Houfner, who worked with great rigour and regularity. It was for that reason Vicek rarely ever saw him, and for his wandering mind that he was always quick to forget about such rare encounters.
When he arrived at his usual spot, he found plenty of mushrooms there, as expected. But as soon as he reached for one of them, a deep voice boomed from behind:
‘Well, well, who am I seeing here? That’s got to be Vincek, the local mushroomer!’
Vincek turned his head and immediately jumped up, visibly startled. He tried to run, but stumbled on a root.
‘Why are you running, Vincek? I know well that you come here often; it’s not against the–’
‘Woe is me! The Devil has come! Someone save me!’ Vincek cried as he caught sight of the gamekeeper. ‘Please! Help me, please! I don’t wanna go to Hell!’
The gamekeeper paused for a moment and looked puzzled. Is that young man all right? His attempt to grab a handful of dirt and throw it the gamekeeper’s way, even though there was no chance for it to cross the distance, suggested that he might not be all right. But suddenly, an elderly voice could be heard:
‘There, there, Vincek, calm down for a bit.’ Both men looked towards the trees, from where two figures emerged: the mayor with his wife. ‘Remember: what did your mother always use to tell you about gamekeepers?’ He asked.
Vincek stopped his panic for a moment and tried to remember the often heard word of his mother. Suddenly they came back to him: ‘Vincek’, said the old woman’s caring voice, ‘when someone’s dressed like a gamekeeper, that doesn’t mean they are the Devil!’
Few seconds later, he finally grasped the meaning of her words and calmed down. ‘My apologies, I don’t know what happened to me. Something had to cloud my mind for me to freak out like that; hopefully that didn’t make you too upset!’
‘Don’t you worry, Vincek’, the gamekeeper assured him. ‘My sudden approach had to surprise you, after all. Don’t let it bug you too much.’
‘Truth be told’, the mayor’s wife added, ’with a moustache like that, I might mistake him for the Devil, too, if he came out of nowhere!’ All four people laughed at the thought.
‘Ha ha ha ha, true, he does look a bit like it’, the mayor replied.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha!’ The gamekeeper laughed.
‘So it wasn’t that foolish of a thought, after all! Ha ha ha ha!’ Vincek laughed in turn.
‘Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!’ The gamekeeper laughed.
‘Ha ha ha, bone! Well, what were you–’
‘HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!’
‘Houfner, are you all–’
Still laughing, the gamekeeper took his hat (a green one, complete with a feather) and threw it to the ground, which the hat hit with a loud noise, lifting a big cloud of smoke. Once everyone was done coughing, they saw that on the gamekeeper’s head, there are two little horns growing, and that there are mischievous sparkles dancing in his eyes.
‘Woe is us.’ The mayor lamented.
‘The Devil!’ His wife exclaimed.
‘In the flesh!’ Houfner proclaimed victoriously. ‘For decades I’ve been waiting for the day when you two would take a walk through the woods! Finally this day is upon us and your days on earth have been numbered!’ He called to them with a voice full of menace, pointing his finger at them.
‘Hell, I always knew something was wrong!’ The mayor grumbled.
‘Now when I think about it, I never saw the devil and the gamekeeper alone in one room!’ His wife recalled, completely shocked.
But there was no more time for recalling, as the Devil made one big jump over Vincek and landed right between the couple. Each of them tried to run in the opposite direction, but the demon’s hands grabbed each of them by the shoulder, before he took them under his cape (that he was suddenly wearing), and in another great cloud of smoke, the earth swallowed them all away.
Vincek sat there and watched the event unfold, unable to say a word. His mind was not at all ready to tackle this kind of an incident.
‘Vincek! Vincek!’ A woman’s voice called out from far, and soon footsteps could be heard approaching. ‘Vincek! Ah, there you are.’
From among the trees, his old mother stepped out, placed her hand on his shoulder and sat down next to him. ‘I think you shouldn’t be eating so many mushrooms, Vincek. They’re not good for your health.’ And so, from that day on, Vincek was no longer eating so many mushrooms.