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A Devil of a Job | Ep. 203

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Have you ever had to finish something by a certain date or time?

It’s what we call a “deadline.” And in today’s story, our main character is presented with a deadline so tight and seemingly impossible, he has a devil of a time meeting it!

Our story is called “A Devil of a Job.” Versions of this tale have been told in Ecuador, a country on the west coast of South America.

Voices in this episode include Evan Casey, James Konicek, Jefferson A. Russell, Chris Stinson, and Mel Rodriguez.

Mel Rodriguez has voiced characters in animated films like Onward and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, and has appeared in such T-V shows as Made For Love, The Afterparty, and CSI: Vegas. He’s also appeared on Circle Round! Mel was part of our first season of stories; you can hear him play a proud fishing-boat captain in “The Forbidden Knot.”

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

Coloring Page

(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes, click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

What’s something you’re working hard on right now?

Maybe you’re working hard to learn how to read – or ride a two-wheeled bike. Maybe you’re putting extra effort into keeping your room clean, or getting along with a sibling.

Whatever it is, if you start to feel down or discouraged, give yourself a pep talk, and remind yourself that you’re strong. You've got this. You can do it! And if someone else in your life is working hard on something, remind them that they can do it, too!

Musical Spotlight: Pipe Organ

The majestic pipe organ in Quito’s San Francisco Church overlooks the church’s ornate interior, which includes walls and ceilings colored with gold. (Courtesy of Diego Delso)
The majestic pipe organ in Quito’s San Francisco Church overlooks the church’s ornate interior, which includes walls and ceilings colored with gold. (Courtesy of Diego Delso)

The keyboard instrument known as the pipe organ makes sound by forcing air through – you guessed it – pipes! The composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart called it the "king of instruments," because while some pipe organs are as small as a short single keyboard, some are majestic and grand, with multiple keyboards and more than 10,000 pipes!

In the early 20th century, you could often hear a pipe organ accompanying silent films in movie theaters! To this day, pipe organs are still very common instruments in religious sites like churches.


NARRATOR: If you visit the oldest part of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, the narrow cobblestone streets may lead you to San Francisco Plaza: a lively public square with restaurants and cafes, street performers and vendors… plus a spectacular view of a mountainous volcano just outside the city.

One side of the Plaza is taken up by a huge church known as the San Francisco Church. And if you pass through the Church’s big wooden doors, you’ll find yourself in a spacious entryway known as the atrium.

Legend has it that once upon a time, this atrium was the site of an epic standoff between the man who designed it – its architect – and the devil himself.

The story goes that hundreds of years ago, an architect named Cantuña received a visit from some friars. Friars are like monks; they lead a simple life devoted to religion. And when the friars dropped by Cantuña’s office, they delivered some exciting news.

FRIAR 1: Cantuña! We are going to build a glorious church here in Quito!

FRIAR 2: The very first church in all of Ecuador!

FRIAR 3: And we want you to build its atrium!

NARRATOR: Cantuña was delighted – and humbled – to receive such an important assignment.

CANTUÑA: This is amazing! You really want me to build the atrium in Ecuador’s first church?

FRIAR 1: We do!

FRIAR 2: And because this atrium will be the first thing people see when they enter our church, we want it to be dramatic! 

FRIAR 3: …Majestic! 

FRIAR 1: Larger than life! 

FRIAR 2: You have quite the reputation as an architect, Cantuña.

FRIAR 3: Do you think you’re up to the job?

CANTUÑA: Yes! Of course! It would be my honor! I’ll need at least a few months to do the drawings – maybe even a year – and then we can start building! Of course, with a project this large, it’ll probably take at least a handful of years to finish the construction, so –

FRIAR 1: We’re so sorry, Cantuña! But spending “a few months” to do the drawings…?

FRIAR 2: …taking “a handful of years” to finish the construction…?

FRIAR 3: …We don’t have that kind of time!

CANTUÑA: We don’t? Then what “kind of time” do we have?

FRIAR 1: Well, the monks have decided that the entire atrium must be designed…

FRIAR 2: …and built….

FRIAR 3: …start to finish…


CANTUÑA: Six months?!? You do realize that’s only half of a year, right?

FRIAR 1: Of course! But if anyone can do it, Cantuña, it’s you!

FRIAR 2: Unless of course, you’re not up to the task…?

FRIAR 3: I mean you were our first choice, but we could always find someone else…

CANTUÑA: No, no! I’m totally up to the task. Six months to design and build an atrium that’s “dramatic,” “majestic,” and “larger than life”...? For the very first church in all of Ecuador? No problem! Out of curiosity, though… what would happen if I didn’t design and build the atrium within six months…?

FRIAR 1: Oh, that’s simple!

FRIAR 2: You won’t get paid for the job.

FRIAR 3: And the Quito police will throw you in jail.

FRIAR 1: / FRIAR 2: / FRIAR 3: …For life.

CANTUÑA: Oh! I see! In that case, no worries! I’ll have the entire job done within six months. You can count on me!

NARRATOR: Everyone shook hands on the deal, then the friars went on their way. But the moment Cantuña was alone in his office…

CANTUÑA: Six months?!??

NARRATOR: … he began wringing his hands and pacing the floor.

CANTUÑA: They want me to design and build – from scratch – a ginormous church atrium??? In just six months?!?? And if I don’t succeed, I get no payment and life in prison!???

NARRATOR: Cantuña stopped pacing. He took a deep breath, then let it out.

CANTUÑA: Well obviously I have to make it happen now! After all, I’ve given my word that I’ll finish on time! And my word is my bond. Time to get to work!

NARRATOR: So, Cantuña rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

The first step was to create drawings – or “blueprints” – showing what the structure would look like inside and out. So Cantuña sat down at his table, he sharpened his pencil, then he grabbed a big pad of paper and began to draw.

CANTUÑA: Okay…we’ll put a doorway here… and some windows there… or should the doorway be there and the windows here…? Uch! Let me try this again!

NARRATOR: Cantuña drew…

CANTUÑA: Now how about… some columns!?

NARRATOR: …and drew…

CANTUÑA: Yes! Many, many, many columns!

NARRATOR: …and drew some more.

CANTUÑA: Uch. That’s too many columns.

NARRATOR: Day after day, night after night, Cantuña sat hunched over his table, his pencil clutched in his hand, as he went through endless sheets of paper…


NARRATOR: And endless cups of coffee…until at last, his blueprints were complete.

CANTUÑA: Oh yeah!

NARRATOR: There was just one problem.


NARRATOR: When Cantuña checked his calendar, he realized it had taken him five months to create the blueprints!

CANTUÑA: …And I only have six months to finish the entire atrium! Blueprints, construction, the whole kit and kaboodle! Which means I only have one month left to gather my materials, hire my workers, and do all the building! That’s basically four weeks! But no use complaining. After all, I’ve given my word that I’ll finish on time! And my word is my bond. Time to get to work!

NARRATOR: So again, Cantuña rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

He ordered wagons to haul big hunks of stone from the volcano outside the city.

CANTUÑA: Look at that volcanic rock! That’s the perfect color and texture!

NARRATOR: He brought on hundreds of the strongest and ablest workers.

CANTUÑA: Welcome, friends! We have roughly four weeks to complete our task. Prepare to work every single day, dawn until dusk! 

NARRATOR: And then, construction began. Under Cantuña’s supervision, the workers used sharp tools to chip and chisel the volcanic rock. They used hefty ropes to pull the stones into place. Then they dipped trowels into heavy buckets of mortar and glued the stones together.

They worked…

CANTUÑA: Three weeks left, friends!

NARRATOR: …and they worked.

CANTUÑA: Two weeks left, friends!

NARRATOR: And before they knew it…

CANTUÑA: One week left, friends! We’re nowhere near done, so we will no longer work from dawn until dusk. For the next seven days we will work around the clock! Twenty-four hours a day! Starting… now!

NARRATOR: At first, the workers worked even harder…

CANTUÑA: Six days left, friends!

NARRATOR: …and faster…

CANTUÑA: Five days left, friends!

NARRATOR: …but soon they grew wearier…

CANTUÑA: Four days left, friends!

NARRATOR: …and weaker…

CANTUÑA: Three days left, friends!

NARRATOR: …and fainter.

CANTUÑA: Two days left, friends!

NARRATOR: And the day before the big deadline…

CANTUÑA: One day left, friends!

NARRATOR: Cantuña came to a gut-wrenching realization.

CANTUÑA: We will never be finished in time!

NARRATOR: It was true. The atrium – this structure that was supposed to be so “dramatic,” “majestic,” and “larger than life” – was only halfway done.

Cantuña’s heart felt heavy as lead. But as he looked at his workers’ haggard faces and sweaty brows, he tried his best to smile.

CANTUÑA: Listen, friends! You’ve been toiling away for weeks now. You’ve given your blood, sweat, and tears to this construction project! And for that, I am forever grateful. Now, however… it’s time to stop. 

NARRATOR: The workers exchanged a glance. Sure, they were bone-tired, but they were nowhere near finished! Was Cantuña really sending them home now?

CANTUÑA: I’m sorry if this is disappointing news. You’ve given this project your all – your best! And in the end, our best is all that we can give. So go home now, and rest.

NARRATOR: The weary workers did as Cantuña said and made their way home. And as the rays of the setting sun disappeared behind the towering volcano, Cantuña was left alone, sitting in his half-finished atrium in the dark.

CANTUÑA: And so it’s come to this! As of tomorrow, my six months are up and my atrium is nowhere near complete! I need time – much more time. Short of that, some sort of miracle. Or...magic! But without either one, I’m done for. Done!

NARRATOR: Well… little did he know, but even though Cantuña would not get more time, he would experience some magic.

And it would be much darker magic than he’d ever dreamed of!

What sort of “magic” is coming Cantuña’s way?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today our story is called “A Devil of a Job.”

Before the break, an architect named Cantuña had just six months to design and build a grand atrium for Ecuador’s first church. If he didn’t finish in time, he would be thrown in jail for life!

Cantuña and his workers toiled away. But the night before the big deadline, the atrium was only half-complete. So Cantuña told his workers to go home. Then he crouched down in the moonlight, buried his head in his hands, and began to cry. But then, all of a sudden...

DEVIL: Cantuña! 

NARRATOR: Cantuña rubbed his eyes and squinted through the darkness. In the shadows he could make out the silhouette of a tall man. 

CANTUÑA: Who are you? And how do you know my name?

NARRATOR: The tall man stepped forward. He was dressed all in black, save for a long red cape.

DEVIL: Good evening! I am a longtime admirer of yours, Cantuña. And I know your name because everyone knows your name! They say you’re the best architect in the business!

CANTUÑA: Pssh! Even if I was the best architect in the business, I’m certainly not anymore! I’ve been working my tail off – nonstop for nearly half a year – and yet my latest project is a failure! And tomorrow everyone will know that I am a failure. And I’ll spend the rest of my life in jail.

DEVIL: But that’s why I’ve come to see you, Cantuña: I can help! I know your distress. I know your fear, your anxiety, your anguish. And if you let me help you, I can make it all go away!

NARRATOR: Cantuña gave the man a long look. Then he shook his head and cracked a smile.

CANTUÑA: Okay, no offense friend, but that sounds way too good to be true!  You see that pile of stones over there? I have less than twenty-four hours to turn that heap of rock into a “dramatic,” “majestic,” “larger-than-life” atrium! For a church! So unless you’ve got some serious magic up those long black sleeves of yours, then I really don’t think that you could possibly – WOAH!

NARRATOR: Cantuña froze. Before his very eyes, one of the massive stones rose up from the pile… then floated in mid-air! It hovered for a moment, then glided over to one of the atrium’s unfinished walls, and nestled itself right into place.

CANTUÑA: Wait a minute!! How did that happen? What’s going on here?

DEVIL: It’s like I told you, Cantuña! I can help you! I can make magic! I will see to it that this entire atrium is finished before the first rooster crows in the morning. I just want one thing in return.

NARRATOR: Cantuña felt a shiver run down his spine.

CANTUÑA: And what is it you ‘want in return’…?

DEVIL: Oh! Nothing much! All I want is… your soul! For all of eternity!

NARRATOR: The man grinned, showing a mouth full of pointy white teeth. Cantuña, however, grimaced. Because all at once he realized who this man truly was.

CANTUÑA: You! You’re the devil! And you’re doing that thing the devil does in all those story books I’ve read. You make someone an offer so appealing, so enticing, that they can’t refuse! But in exchange, you ask for their soul!

DEVIL: Very good, Cantuña! In addition to being a very talented architect, you are clearly a very well-read man.

CANTUÑA: Well I refuse to be like those characters in the stories! I won’t do it. I won’t make a deal with the devil.


NARRATOR: The devil arched an eyebrow.

DEVIL: So… correct me if I’m wrong, Cantuña… but you’d rather – how did you put it? Let everyone know that you’re a failure…? And spend the rest of your life in jail…? After working your tail off for nearly half a year? That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?

NARRATOR: Cantuña gazed into the devil’s eyes. And as he watched them spark and smolder like two fires in the dark, he felt something in his mind click. Suddenly, the beginnings of a plan began to form – a plan for how he might outwit the devil himself!

CANTUÑA: You know… now that you say it, I guess it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me to say no to you – does it?

DEVIL: No sense whatsoever!

CANTUÑA: Very well then.

NARRATOR: Cantuña rose to his feet.

CANTUÑA: I’ll let you use your magic to finish the atrium before the first rooster crows.

DEVIL: Wonderful!

CANTUÑA: Then I’ll give you my soul.

DEVIL: Marvelous!

CANTUÑA: But – I’ll only do it on one condition.

DEVIL: And what would that ‘one condition’ be…?

CANTUÑA: Well… When the new day breaks, and the first rooster crows, the atrium must be one-hundred-percent complete! If a single stone is missing, I get to keep my soul. Is that clear?

NARRATOR: The devil grinned another pointy-toothed grin.

DEVIL: It’s very clear, Cantuña. Clear as a church bell, you might say! So… do we have a deal?

CANTUÑA: We do have a deal. I give you my word. And my word is my bond.

DEVIL: How very noble. And how very foolhardy! Ha ha! Time to get to work!

NARRATOR: The devil swished his red cape, and a cloud of smoke filled the air. When the smoke cleared, Cantuña’s ears picked up the sound of voices – seemingly all around him. Yet he couldn’t see anyone.

The voices grew louder… and louder… and then suddenly the construction site sprang to life!

Cantuña watched in amazement as tools zipped through the air, all of them chipping and chiseling the uncut rock. Then one by one, stones floated up from the pile, glided to the unfinished atrium and gently landed in place. From there, trowels of mortar zoomed out of the buckets and covered the cracks with glue.

DEVIL: You see, Cantuña? It’s amazing what a little magic can do!

CANTUÑA: I’ll say! It’s like thousands of invisible workers have taken over!

DEVIL: That’s because they have! Some call them demons, some call them spirits, but I call them my little helpers. And now, they’re helping you too!

NARRATOR: The devil swished his red cape again, and his unseen helpers picked up their speed. Tools flew, stones whizzed, and trowels danced as the invisible spirits worked…

DEVIL: Four hours left, friends!

NARRATOR: …and worked…

DEVIL: Three hours left, friends!

NARRATOR: …and worked.

DEVIL: Two hours left, friends!

NARRATOR: And hour by hour, stone by stone, Cantuña’s “dramatic,” “majestic,” “larger-than-life” vision for the atrium became closer to reality.

DEVIL: One hour left, friends!

NARRATOR: Cantuña had been awake for days. But even though his body was exhausted, his mind was alert. He kept a watchful eye on the construction. And just before daybreak, he tiptoed to a wall that was all finished, though the mortar had not yet dried.

CANTUÑA: Okay, let’s see… which one of these stones will work best…?

NARRATOR: Cantuña stuck out a hand and reached for one of the wall’s smaller stones. He took hold of it and gently pried it loose. To his relief, the wall remained standing; the missing stone didn’t affect a thing.

Cantuña smiled as he gripped the stone in his fingers. Then, just as he placed it down on the ground…the first rooster let out its morning crow… and the hustle and bustle of the devil’s little helpers…came to a halt.

DEVIL: Well, Cantuña? I am proud to present… your atrium!

NARRATOR: Cantuña felt his heart flutter. Lit by the clear light of the rising sun, the atrium was beautiful. Every door, every window, every column seemed to sparkle.

DEVIL: As you can see, Cantuña… I have made good on my part of our deal! I have given you your atrium… so now I get your soul!

NARRATOR: The devil smiled a wicked smile. But Cantuña smiled right back!

CANTUÑA: Actually, Devil, not so fast. You see, you don’t get my soul. Because you didn’t make good on your part of the deal.

DEVIL: That’s not true! Look at this atrium, Cantuña! It’s everything you wished for! It’s “dramatic”...! “Majestic”...! “Larger than life!...” And what’s more, it is one-hundred-percent complete! Lest you think I failed to remember your one condition… not a single stone is missing!

CANTUÑA: Hmmmm…are you sure about that?

NARRATOR: Cantuña pointed toward the ground.

CANTUÑA: Because I’m pretty sure I see a missing stone right there!

NARRATOR: The devil looked down. When he saw the stone, his eyes opened wide.

DEVIL: But, but this is impossible! My little helpers would never leave a stone behind! Never!

CANTUÑA: Really?

NARRATOR: Cantuña pointed toward the wall.

CANTUÑA: Then how do you explain this hole in the wall? See it here? This little gap? This is where the missing stone belongs! Therefore, the atrium is short one stone. Therefore, it is not “one-hundred-percent complete.” Therefore, you do not get my soul.

DEVIL: But…!!!!

CANTUÑA: No buts! I gave you my word, and my word is my bond. But if you can’t come through on your part of the bargain, then our deal is off.

NARRATOR: The devil was too furious to speak. Now that he had been bested by a mere mortal, he clenched his fists.

DEVIL: Why, you little!

NARRATOR: He gritted his pointy white teeth.

DEVIL: I should… I could…

NARRATOR: He stomped his foot.

DEVIL: You’re gonna… I’m gonna…

NARRATOR: He let out a groan.


NARRATOR: And then, with a great flourish, he swished his red cape and disappeared…in a dark puff of smoke.

As for Cantuña… the architect went on to receive great acclaim for his atrium, with his reputation – and soul – intact. And since then, countless visitors have come to the San Francisco Church and searched for the missing stone.

No one has found it… yet. But if you’re ever in Quito, and you walk inside Cantuña’s dramatic, majestic, larger-than-life atrium, keep your eyes peeled. And perhaps you will be the first!

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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