Once upon a time, a man lived down in Georgia who was so mean, people always tried to stay away from him. That mean man was so smart that he worked out ways to make other people fight with one another. He did so many terrible things, it's hard to recount them all. He threw rocks at children and animals. He chased people with brooms. He poisoned food and water. He cheated. He lied. He boasted and bragged. He yelled at the top of his lungs. Nobody knew how to stop him from causing so much hurt.
Nobody liked him. Well, that's not completely true.
Indeed, the Devil loved the mean old man. The Devil watched him for years, measuring the mean old man's strengths. He admired his skills. He even stole some ideas from him. And then one day, the Devil decided it was time to meet that mean old man. After all, he was old.
One day, the mean old man was walking down the road, looking for someone to hurt, when he felt a presence nearby. He turned around, looking this way and that, but he didn't see a soul. Then suddenly, out of the mist, the long arm of the Devil stretched toward him and reached for the mean old man's lapels, ready to yank him into the netherworld.
The mean old man leaped away and cried, "Wait just one second! I'm not going anywhere. Is that you, Devil? If it is, you must know it's not my time!"
The Devil laughed. "You've been here a long time, old man. A long, long time."
That was true. The mean old man had been around for as long as anyone could remember. He'd made life miserable for everyone for longer than anyone knew, and when they tried to figure out how old he was, no one could.
"I've got a lot more meanness left in me!" the mean old man said to the Devil. "I've been here a long time, that's true. But, please. Let me stay a while little longer. I'm your best friend on Earth!"
The Devil thought about this. He knew that was so. The mean old man was doing a good job here on Earth, and the Devil was reluctant to stop him.
"All right," the Devil agreed, "I'll give you more time." He pulled his hand back into the mist, but the mean old man called after him.
"Listen, the next time you come for me, give me a sign that you're coming before you appear. Send me a message so you don't catch me by surprise!"
The Devil agreed, and the mean old man was happy that he had outsmarted the Devil. He was proud of himself for earning more time on Earth. Even though he moved slowly and every muscle ached, he knew he had a lot more meanness in him. His mind was always plotting mean things to do to people.
Time passed, and the mean old man continued robbing people of their money, destroying children's self-esteem, hurting people who were already hurt and cheating workers. Every time he found something he could take away from someone, he took it -- friends, houses, land, air, water, time. He loved to tell everyone how smart he was. He told them he was smarter than anyone else, for no one else knew how to be this mean!
"I'm the meanest man around!" he boasted.
Everyone agreed, of course.
The Devil had to keep his word, so when he decided it was time to come again, he had to send a sign. He sent a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder and a voice that boomed, "I'm coming now!"
But the mean old man didn't hear him because he was too busy making noise of his own.
The Devil was outsmarted and puzzled. "It will soon be time for the mean old man to die," he said.
A little later the Devil sent a howling wind and a wild storm to warn the mean old man he was coming, but he paid no attention.
Even the Devil knows a deal is a deal. If the mean old man didn't hear the Devil coming, he couldn't take him.
The mean old man headed to South Carolina, and then on to North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. He spread his meanness everywhere, and the Devil couldn't catch up with him.
The mean old man poisoned rivers, chopped down orchards and tore down dams. After a while, food wouldn't grow, and even the mean old man began to shrivel away.
But his white hair and beard kept growing. He grew tinier, but his hair grew longer, catching on bushes and branches.
Suddenly, one day the old man disappeared.
The people were overjoyed. They saw that he had left that long hair behind, and still it grew. They called it Spanish moss, but everyone knew it was really the mean old man's hair. People began to use that hair to build homes, make ropes and stuff mattresses. They were thankful the mean old man was gone, but at least his hair was useful.
Occasionally, mean little critters crawl out of that hair and bite people, reminding everyone of the mean old man who once walked this Earth. To this day, they continue to tell his story.
"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.