This is also cross-posted over at my tumblr; I've decided that it might be easier to keep track of everything here, though, because I'm lazy and hate adding parts to the old updates.
You can find this (and my other, non-chaptered fics) at kittens-everywhere () tumblr () com!
Quick Disclaimer: Hetalia isn't mine.
In the Beginning:
(They say the Devil was born when old Mrs. Leeds cursed the child she was expecting. She hadn't meant anything by it, certainly. She was frustrated; she'd mothered twelve other children, and her husband was a drunkard. The Leeds were a poor family and could hardly afford to feed another mouth. So maybe it was understandable that she cried, "Let this one be the devil!" when she found that she was to bear another child; her words were born out of despair. But one does well to remember to take care with words: no one could have expected what happened that stormy night after the child—a lively boy—was born.
The birth had been difficult, but Mrs. Leeds made it through in the end. All seemed well, until the midwife placed the babe into Mrs. Leeds' arms, whereupon its body started shifting and mutating. The women watched in horror as the baby's hands grew long, sharp claws and its feet transformed into dark cloven hooves. Its head lengthened and morphed, until Mrs. Leeds was staring into the glowing, red eyes of a fanged, horned horse. She couldn't help it, then, she flung the child away from her breast as hard as she could and screamed as the monster grew and grew. It stretched new, leathery wings and whipped a spiked tail against the room's shutters.
The women's cries attracted the rest of the family into the birthing room, and they watched in terror as the beast leapt for the midwife and tore into her. Dropping her, the monster turned to the rest of the family. With a shriek, it caught old Mr. Leeds—he didn't stand a chance. By then, the eldest Leeds boy had found a poker from the fireplace and brandished it at the demon, which scrambled off of its father with a roar. It looked around, snarling, and with one last growl and a flash of red flung itself out the window and into the night.
And thus was born the Devil that haunts the Pinelands.)
It takes almost an hour for the last of the city to fall away, but when it does, Alfred sighs in relief. He's still on the highway, but past Trenton, the area grows rural, and the air is clear so he rolls down the window and lets his hand catch the breeze. It's summertime, but New Jersey hasn't gotten oppressively humid yet, so Alfred doesn't mind the heat.
There's a doe, grazing with her speckled fawn at the edge of the woods beside the road. Alfred grins and watches the sun glint off of her back. New Jersey always surprises people, and he likes that about it. He likes the looks of astonishment on people's faces when they leave the Parkway and the Turnpike and the state's densely populated Northeastern corner only to find themselves surrounded by nothing but forest or, depending on where you are, the shore.
He's heading to Chatsworth, in Woodland Township, so he's got a little longer to go—
"Thank god it's the middle of the week," he mutters, "or else I'd be stuck in shore traffic forever."
—but he enjoys watching the state turn to countryside as he heads into the Pine Barrens, so he doesn't mind the drive so much.
Chatsworth's a tiny little thing, an unincorporated village that's known to some as "the capital of the Pine Barrens." He's got an old home there, right on the lake and a little ways away from the cranberry bogs that are the town's claim to fame. Its cranberry festival, the largest of any kind in the whole of the Pine Barrens, attracts people from all over every October.
It's maybe another hour of driving before he's close to Chatsworth, but he's very much in the middle of the Pinelands now. The whole area's protected—the Cohansey Aquifer is right underneath it, and it's got enough water for everyone in New York City and Philadelphia, and it's arguably one of New Jersey's most important resources. The state will never have to worry about freshwater if it looks after the aquifer, so the woods stay vast and wild and undeveloped.
The Pine Barrens themselves stretch for miles across the southern half of the state; it's over a million acres and takes up 22 percent of New Jersey's total land area—surprising, for his most densely populated state. But the forest is thick; it's hard to penetrate, and you never know what's lurking in the bushes. A man could get lost in those woods and be gone forever.
But Alfred's not afraid of the Pinelands, no matter what creatures may lurk between the trees. He is America, and those woods are as much a part of him as any other in the country. He could wander for days and never lose his way.
Oh, he knows they're dangerous—no one is really entirely sure what, exactly, lives in them. If that tiger that had gotten loose in Jackson a couple of years back had made it into the forest, well, they'd never find it again. Perhaps more important than the animals, though, are the trees themselves. The Pine Barrens are made up mainly of pitch pines: trees that depend on fire to reproduce. One stray spark and the whole woods could go up in smoke.
He knows the legends, too, of monsters that lurk in the woods just waiting for the opportunity to grab a person. The Devil will steal your soul, they say, so don't go wandering. They're just stories though, tales told by people to explain the unknown—and in the Pine Barrens, there is a lot that's unknown—and Alfred is not afraid of stories.
No, the forest doesn't scare him, but he knows that you've got to be careful, or else it'll eat you alive. He's got a healthy amount of respect for the woods, so he treads lightly, but it does not control him.
Ah, he thinks as he comes upon the exit, here's my turn.
It's getting kind of dark when Alfred pulls into the driveway of his old house—the night doesn't fall this time of year till almost nine at night, but the sun's setting, and the trees make long shadows on the gravel driveway. He can hear it crunching underneath his tires as he pulls up to the garage and thinks that he rather likes the sound. It reminds him of days before paved roads and of horse hooves clopping. He grins to himself at the memory as he climbs out of the car and slams the door shut and makes his way to the trunk where his suitcases and cooler are.
The house is cool when he unlocks the door and steps inside and Alfred's grin widens. "Good old Clair," he says to the front hallway as he drops his bags beside the door. He can always count on his old neighbor to tend to the house if she hears he's coming down for a few days. Clair proves that she's well-worth the money he pays to keep house for him when he opens the fridge and finds lasagna sitting on the shelf underneath fresh milk and some eggs from his chickens. There's a note taped to the tinfoil covering, and Alfred plucks it off with a fond laugh
Heat it up in the oven at 340! Don't nuke it!
I saw to the chickens—old Mrs. Weatherby down the road has been on a baking spree and has bought most of them. The money's in the jar behind the coffeemaker.
I also took the liberty of planting some peppers in that garden of yours. I know you like the heat of them.
Alfred shakes his head with a grin, and leaves the note on the counter while he goes to microwave a slice of lasagna.
After dinner, Alfred drags his bags up to the master bedroom. The stairs creek a little as he makes his way—he can hear the old house settling beneath his feet, can hear the rattle of the breeze against the shutters, and feels welcome.
Alfred is fond of old houses. He likes the way the wood feels weathered, and he likes the smell of a house that's been well-loved. This particular house dates back to the early nineteenth century, although he's had to replace bits of it lost to fire. (That, of course, is the danger of the Pine Barrens. A wooden house cannot withstand flames.) The outside is white, with dark green trim and grey stones that make up the chimney. The paint's looking a little weathered—he noticed it as he was pulling up—but it's not shabby, and it can last a few years more without a new coat.
It was built in the style of the Victorians, although it lacks the bright colors that make the Victorians in, say, Cape May, stand out. But he loves the wrap-around porch and the big old garden in the backyard, and he has only a three minute walk before his toes touch lake water.
It's a good place, he thinks, deeply satisfied, as he opens the window in his bedroom wide to let the night air in. He can hear the crickets and the rustle of the trees in the breeze and as he stands at the window, leaning against the frame, he can feel all the tension from the last few months draining out of his shoulders. He needs this.
It's not too late out, but he settles into bed anyway, feeling comfortable and content. This, he thinks as he drifts, will be a nice vacation.
He's wrong, though. In the forest, something flashes red.
Most of my information on the Pinelands came from the Pinelands Alliance (pinelandsalliance () org), where you can see information about all of the animals and plants that live there, in addition to what's being done to protect the Pine Barrens. I've also used The Nature Conservancy's entry on the Pine Barrens. You can find it at nature () org.
There are a lot of variations of the legend of the Jersey Devil itself, so I've played around a little bit with it, but you can find out more at The Devil Hunters' website, njdevilhunters () com.