Chk chk. Chk chk chk! Chk chk. K-chk!

The noisy conversation of the squirrels brought Sylvie to consciousness. She slowly opened her eyes, blinking in the bright morning sun. For a moment, she didn't know where she was. Since when did squirrels sit on her rug and converse? Why was she so cold? She was quite sure she hadn't left her window open. Where were her blankets?

The young girl sat up, and the events of the past fortnight came rushing back. A wave of dizziness washed over her, and she fell sideways onto the grass again, stifling a soft moan. Hunger, thirst, and the exhaustion that came from the constant battle with her captor were making themselves known. Already the light of the sun was making her head hurt.

She closed her eyes with a quiet whimper as a shadow fell across her face, wincing as the soft voice of the devil rustled across her hearing.

"You're sick, Sylvie. Look at you - you can't even sit up! You're going to have to eat eventually." Sylvie squeezed her eyes tightly, trying to shut out his persuasive crooning. She coughed weakly before replying.

"The...Lord...will provide," she whispered hoarsely, but even as the words passed her lips, the shadow of a doubt crept into her mind. Two weeks she had been in the clutches of this monster, and still no relief came. She had barely eaten anything, refusing everything that Lucifer had offered her, instead choosing to look for nuts, berries, and edible flowers for herself. But it wasn't enough, and after a while, the devil had stopped allowing her to go foraging, determined to bring her under his power. Now he bent over her, a concerned air emanating from his dark being.

"But He hasn't, has He? Come, lass, you must eat." Sylvie cracked open her eyes, staring at the chunk of bread he was holding out to her. She knew she shouldn't, but oh! how hungry she was! However she had expected to die, it wasn't from starvation and dehydration, especially not when someone was offering her what she most needed. Wouldn't it be just as wrong to throw away her life - the beautiful life Jehovah had given her - as it would be to accept food from...him?

No. Sylvie tried to shake her head, but she was too tired, and only accomplished a feeble twitch. She knew she was trying to justify herself should she yield to temptation, but it didn't work that way. She couldn't take wrong and morph it into right. She couldn't take help from the prince of evil.

"Behold...the fowls of the air...they... do not sow, neither do...they reap..." Her voice died away, too tired to finish the verse. Lucifer held the bread under her nose.

"Don't be so difficult, Sylvie. You're not a bird, you're a girl. And you're killing yourself because you're too proud to accept help from me. What have I ever done to you, after all? It's your own fault you're starving, you know. Not a day has passed since we came together that I haven't tried to get you to eat something." The maiden opened her eyes, glaring at him faintly.

"You..kidnapped me," she pointed out. Her voice was weak, but a hint of galled irritation was evident behind her weariness. The devil snorted.

"Kidnapped you? You silly girl, I rescued you. I didn't kidnap you, your own father sold you to me. And he was treating you like a servant - I, on the other hand, have not asked you to do one single thing for me, have I?" He watched her, noting the uncertain flicker of her eyes. "Now, for your own sake, eat something!"

An inner struggle erupted inside her. 'You mustn't, you know you mustn't! Trust in the Lord!' a voice cried.
'But I'm so very hungry...' another voice moaned.
'You can endure hunger. Be patient! The Lord will deliver you out of evil. Think of Job!' the first one said.
'Job didn't deserve what he had to go through...And besides, maybe I'm supposed to take it,' the second one argued. 'Maybe this is God providing for me, and I'd be a fool to turn it down.'
'It's more likely a test of faith,' the first voice said pithily. 'A test you will fail.'
'Then I'll fail,' the second voice said stubbornly. 'God knows I have to eat, He made humans where they need sustenance.'
'Don't do this!' Sylvie pleaded with herself. 'You know it's wrong! Think of your Saviour! Think of His sacrifice! Think of what He endured for you!' But this was precisely what the weaker part of her did not want to think about, for she knew if she did, she would go without food for who knew how much longer. She silently struggled for a moment as an image of all the abuse her dear Jesus had taken, without complaint, popped into her mind.
'Yes yes!' she cried to herself. 'You can do it! Think! Think of Him!'

A gentle breeze ruffled her golden hair and brought the scent of the bread dancing under her nose. 'Go away,' the second part of her told the first. 'I'm not as strong as He is, and I can't bear this anymore. I'll just have to reap the consequences.'

"Will you take it?" her captor asked, his voice smooth as water. Sylvie didn't reply, but her fingers slowly uncurled, and the devil pressed the bread into her open hand. "Good girl," he said quietly, and his black eyes gleamed with triumph.

Johnny dragged the last of the burnable branches to his woodpile and straightened up, groaning as his back loudly complained at the change of position. The ancient hickory in front of his house was gone, with only a stump to mark the place where it once stood. As much as he disliked people, Johnny had to admit that, with the help of all the able-bodied men in the village, it had taken only a fraction of the time to conquer the stubborn old tree than if he'd done it himself. Even so, it was an all day battle, and when the helpers had gone home three hours ago, Jonathan had been sorely tempted to quit for the day and retire to a bath and bed as well. But he had forced himself to sort the branches, the usable form the unusable, chop the thicker parts of the tree into firewood, and haul it all to his woodpile.

Now, with twilight casting it's lavender light over the world, the work was finished. Johnny wearily retrieved a wooden pail from behind his door and ambled out to the pump, cranking the handle up and down, up and down. He longed to sit peacefully and play his fiddle, but his fingers were so tired and full of aches he doubted if he could even hold his bow, much less make the music he loved so much. He'd be lucky if he didn't fall asleep and drown in his bath.

"Huh, forget that. I'll be lucky if I can manage to heat the water and fill my tub," he muttered to himself as he trudged inside with the full bucket.

In spite of his pessimistic outlook, he made it through his bath alive, and stretched out on his bed that night with a contended grunt. His sore muscles ceased their grumbling as he settled onto the mattress, reveling in the sensation of relaxation. It had been a long and trying day, and he was ready for a good night's sleep.

He breathed deeply and closed his eyes - and instantly, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Snapping his eyes open, he sat up, peering around the dark room. Everything seemed to be in place. The trees rustled softly in the wind outside, the crickets chirped their cacophonous nocturnal song, and an air of peace pervaded the small cottage. But Johnny couldn't shake off the uneasy feeling he had.

A feeling that something was going to happen soon. Very soon.

Sylvie chewed the piece of meat her captor had given her, feeling wretched. After she had given in and taken the bread that first time, it got harder and harder to resist the devil's food, until eventually, she had given up, and just started taking it without a word. There was no denying the fact that she felt better than she had before. The dizziness and headaches didn't plague her anymore, and she could sleep better at nights when her stomach wasn't aching with hunger.

But there was also no denying the fact that the devil held more sway over her than he had before. Next time I'll refuse, she always thought - but when the next time came, she took whatever he gave her. Sylvie knew, since she caved one time, she'd keep doing so, and she hated herself. She hated how weak she was, unable to endure a little tribulation for the sake of the One who died for her. She hated how far from God she was feeling, and how much farther she got every time she pushed Him out of her thoughts to avoid the overwhelming guilt that consumed her. She hated that she had stopped talking to Him because she felt too ashamed to, hated that she would falter so badly she'd feel ashamed to even think of Him.

Utterly miserable, she hunched over, letting the strip of dried meat fall from her fingers, unable to swallow past the lump in her throat. Lucifer looked at her across the fire.

"Are you alright, Sylvie?" he asked, worry filling his voice. "You're not eating." The maiden flicked a listless glance at him, but didn't respond. "Come now, what's the matter? You've been doing so much better recently." She flinched at his deceptively soothing tone. "Why are you so unhappy, lass? Haven't I been good to you? I haven't ordered you around, I have beaten you, I haven't done anything your father did to you. I've given you food, protection, even offered you power. It was very ungrateful of you to turn it down, my dear" he added, his voice taking on a sterner note. "I would happily have given you whatever you asked. You would have been even greater than your father is with what he got."

Suddenly, something inside Sylvie snapped. "My father is not great at all," she spat. "He's deplorably wicked and despicably weak, and if I don't stop myself, I'll go the same way he's gone. You are not good to me, you're not good to anyone. And I'm not your dear, I'm not anything of yours. I told you that weeks ago." Anger burned in her eyes for perhaps the first time, and the devil laughed, a cold, wicked sound that rang with malice.

"Proud words for someone who's already under my thumb," he sneered. "I've got you just where I want you, girl. Once you yielded to me the first time, I knew you would keep on. Now you can't even bear to think of you precious Saviour, because you know what He must be thinking of you right now. You might as well accept all that I would give you; there's no point in trying to resist me. You can't fix your mistakes now." His voice changed to a gentle purr. "Call me Lord, and you can have everything your heart desires. Give me your worship, and I'll never abandon you like He has done."

Sylvie snatched up the meager meal he had provided for her and threw it in his face. "That's all you'll get from me," she answered venomously. "Take it, and rot with it. It's my own fault I can't talk to Jehovah; He will forgive me the minute I repent and ask Him to. What you offer me is nothing, nothing, to what He's already given." She clenched her muscles, but still wasn't prepared for the ferocity of the blow when it came. Stars exploded on her vision, and a high-pitched whine filled her ears for a deafening moment before fading, and as the world shifted back into focus, she found herself lying on the ground.

Without a word, the devil stalked back to his place and sank down on the other side of the fire, glaring at her in silent fury. Sylvie curled into a ball, closing her eyes. Her words, spoken in the heat of anger, seem to hang in the air. Once they would have brought her strength and filled her with hope and assurance. Now, they echoed emptily in her head. They seemed to have lost their meaning.

She swallowed a sob, squeezing her eyes tightly. She knew what she had said was true, but she wasn't ready to admit her weakness to the Lord. She knew, also, that procrastination was a dangerous thing - there was no guarantee that she would make it through the night alive, or even the next hour. Any minute, she could die, for any reason, leaving her confession unspoken, and His forgiveness unasked. It bothered her to think about it, and so, like she had been doing for so long, she pushed it out of her mind, not noticing the hot tears that slipped down her pale cheeks.

Her captor's voice, harboring the hint of a growl, jogged her back to reality. "You'd better try to sleep while you can, girl. We've got a very long trip to undertake tomorrow, and I'm not stopping till we've made it where we're going." Sylvie bit her lip. Anxious curiosity welled up in her, but she refused to even ask him a question. Lucifer answered her unspoken query of his own accord.

"We're going to see an old friend of mine," he said, a slight sneer lingering in the words. "Down in Georgia."

Dunh dunh dunh! Johnny's in for it now. XD

I just realized that I have two views on this already, from somebody in China. Thank you so much! :D You have the honor of being my first viewer, and I have the honor of having my story read. So we're all happy, right? ^_^