2011
09.05

Another story.  I wrote this one today based on an idea I have had for a few days.  Enjoy.
(Any similarities with real living people or devils is only in your own imagination.  This is a purely fictional story about fictitious people, just in case you are called Steve Richardson or know one.  This is not about you.)

***

Steve Richardson was a middle aged man who lived a comfortable life.  He had always lived a comfortable life.  He was not very rich, he was not very famous, but he had a comfortable house and he had a fairly attractive wife and he had good friends.
In short, Steve Richardson was a middle aged man who woke up one day and looked at himself in the mirror and realised that he would not be middle aged for very much longer, and he had a nagging suspicion that there should have been more to his life than this.  His life was not very good, it was just comfortable.  Nothing seemed to matter any more.  Nothing had ever really mattered.  He would die one day, and the world would not even wonder where he had gone off to.
As he stood there in front of the mirror, his face suddenly changed into that of a middle aged man who would not be middle aged for that much longer.  He gasped for breath and put his hands to his face and felt how his cheeks were soft and slightly loose; no longer the firm cheeks he could remember having felt against his hands only yesterday.  The stubble were just as sharp, and his eyebrows were as bushy as always, but his eyes were paler.  And there were wrinkles in his face, and as he watched them they seemed to grow into canyons in the landscape of his skin.
“Oh God,” he gasped.  “I look like a raisin!”
Just then his wife leaned in through the open door and looked at him.  She looked a bit stressed, already in her suit, holding her laptop bag in one hand and a half-eaten sandwich in the other.
“I’m off to work, darling,” she said and then looked at him, slightly puzzled.  “Are you all right?  You look as if you have seen a ghost.”
Suddenly he felt awkward, standing there in his underpants in front of her.  Awkward, ashamed and revolting.  How did he look to her, with his thinning, greying hair?  His body overweight in the way one tends to get when living a comfortable life.  He must be very far from the man he remember just having been, the man she fell in love with.  What was she still doing there?  Why did she stay?  Was she having an affair?  Why was she not saying anything, just looking at him like that?
“How do I look?” he asked, voice trembling.
She raised a brow at him and then shrugged.
“You look charming, darling,” she said.  “As always.  But you’d better put on some clothes now, or you’ll be late for work.  I’m not sure they’d appreciate your body as I do.”
She kissed him on the cheek, half-hugged him still holding on to her laptop bag and half-eaten sandwich and then she left.

He had just gotten his shirt and trousers on when the Devil appeared in his bedroom with a little dramatic puff of smoke.  He came complete with horns and tail and cloven hooves so that there would be no mistaking who he was.  He was either the Devil or an old Greek satyr, but the latter was supposed to be extinct.
Steve screamed.  It seemed to be the right thing to do.  The right way to react.  The Devil grinned, his grin that of a shark with two rows of extremely sharp teeth.
“Keith Richardson,” he said, “your time is up.”
The Devil pulled out a contract and held it up in front of him.  It was indeed signed by a Keith Richardson.  Steve screamed again, and then looked confused.
“Wait a moment,” he said.  “I’m Steve.  I don’t know any Keith.”
The Devil stopped grinning, turned the contract around to read it, and then he scratched his head between the horns.
“Oh, excuse me, sir,” he said.  “I must have made a mistake somewhere.  I am very sorry.  I will be on my way.”
“No, wait,” Steve said.  “Please stay for a moment.  Do you want a cup of coffee?”
The Devil rolled up the contract and put it behind his back where it disappeared in another puff of smoke.  The fire alarm finally got enough of the smoke and began beeping, and was immediately engulfed in flames.  The Devil held out a ten dollar bill to Steve who looked both startled and confused.
“I am sorry for that.  Here, let me repay you for your lost property.”
“Yeah, sure,” Steve said and took the bill, eying it suspiciously.  It looked real.  “Now, what about coffee?  I really need a cup of coffee.”
The Devil smiled again.  It was not the shark-like grin, but it was still double rows of extremely sharp teeth.
“I really like you humans and your delicious beverages,” he said.  “I would gladly accept.”

Steve poured himself and the Devil each a cup of coffee and sat down at the table.  Steve waved vaguely at him.
“Nice touch with the horns,” he said, trying to make conversation.  “They are very realistic.”
“They are,” the Devil smiled.  “I can change, though.  I can look any way I like.  Is there any particular way you would like me to look?”
There was another puff of smoke, and the Devil had changed.  He now looked more like a young, human businessman.  The fire alarm in the kitchen panicked.
“Jesus Christ!” the Devil swore and produced another ten dollar bill as the second fire alarm was engulfed in flames.  “How many of those things do you have?!”
Steve took the new bill held out to him and put it with the first one.
“That was the last one.”
The Devil smiled and sipped his coffee.  He still had two rows of extremely sharp teeth.
“So, why did you want me to stay for coffee?  Normally people can’t wait to get rid of me.”
“Why don’t you take me instead of that Keith?” Steve asked.  He could not believe that he said it.  But he just had to ask.
“Oooh,” the Devil said.  “You care so much for your fellow man that you are prepared to go in his place!  Delicious!”
“No, not really,” Steve said and felt a bit awkward.  “I have no idea who this Keith is and I don’t really care about him at all, it’s just that I am really, really bored of my life, and I mean… look at me!”
The Devil did look at him and for a moment the Devil had the same puzzled look as Steve’s wife had had earlier that morning.
“You look… like an ordinary, middle aged man,” the Devil said.  “There is absolutely nothing special about you.  Nothing strange or odd or special about you in any way.”
Steve took a great gulp of coffee.  It was still terribly hot, but he forced himself to swallow it anyway since he was sure it would be rude of him to spit it back out into the cup, not to mention gross.  The Devil laughed silently and looked amused.
“Even your social awkwardness and your complete inoffensiveness is completely normal.”
“I know!” Steve yelled, although not very loudly, because yelling at the Devil seemed like a terribly stupid thing to do.  “There is absolutely nothing special about my life!  I have never made anything that will last!  I have never done anything worth remembering!  I’m nothing special!”
“There, there,” the Devil said soothingly and patted Steve’s arm.  “You have had a fairly good and comfortable life, haven’t you?  Isn’t that what everyone wants to have?”
“I don’t want it any more,” Steve said and began crying.  “I want you to take me with you. Please.”
“Listen, I can’t just go around and take people with me just because they ask me to take them or other people ask me to take them.  It doesn’t work like that.  I’m sorry.  Perhaps you should call in sick and go out and have a drink with some friends?”
“No, no, I don’t want to,” Steve sulked.  “Can’t we just gamble about it?  Don’t you like that sort of thing?  I’ll bet my soul, and if you win you can have it.”
“Well,” the Devil said thoughtfully.  “That is a classic.  And if you win, what do you want?”
“I don’t want to win,” Steve said.  “And you’re good at this, aren’t you?  I’m not going to win.”
“It doesn’t matter.  For it to be legal I have to offer you something if you win.  I’m the Devil.  Just ask for something.  Anything at all.”
“Well, a new car, then?  A red one, a fancy car with leather seats and all.  Like one of those young men ride to pick up attractive young women.  Right there on my driveway.”
“Is cards all right with you?” the Devil grinned.
“Yes, it’s fine,” Steve sighed.  “Let’s just get it over with.”
“It’s a deal,” the Devil said.  There was a small puff of smoke and then there was a deck of cards in his hand.  “I promise to play fair.  We’ll get five cards each, and the highest hand wins.”
He dealt out the cards and grinned wider, putting his cards down.
“Three queens, a king and an ace!” he said. “What do you have?”
Steve looked sad and put his hand down.
“Three aces and two kings,” he said.
The Devil looked at him, then down at the cards on the table, then back up at him.
“That was unexpected,” he said and snapped his fingers.  There was a great puff of smoke, startling a passing neighbour walking her dog, and then a new car stood on the driveway.  A keyring fell onto the table.  “Well, I guess that settles it.  You will just have to remain here.”
“No!” Steve said.  “No, please!  We can try again.  Please let us try again.  It was just bad luck.”
The Devil looked at him a moment.
“All right.  We can give it another try.  I guess your bet stands.  If you win, what do you want?”
“Ehm,” Steve hesitated.  “A new, fashionable, high-tech kitchen?”
“It’s a deal,” the Devil said and dealt out the cards.

“Jesus Holy Christ and God’s all angels!” the Devil growled and snapped his fingers.  An elephant appeared out in the garden in another puff of smoke, looking confused and slightly disoriented.  Steve was crying again, sitting on a perfectly stuffed chair at his brand new teak dining table.  His pet alligator was stretched out lazily in the hallway.  Every telephone salesman who had ever called him and ruined his dinners laid decapitated in his back yard.  His house had changed and was now much bigger.  Outside he had his own helicopter, and he could remember every word from the piloting lessons he had suddenly taken earlier in his life.  His luxury yacht was visible through the window, moored to a pier in his own, private bay.
“I’m sorry!” Steve cried.  “I have no idea what is happening!”
The Devil fumed in anger, quite literally.
“I refuse to play again!” he growled.  “This is all coming out of my own account for miracles and mischief!  I have probably wasted half a year’s budget on you and trying to win your soul!  And I did not even want your soul to begin with!”
“Please!  Just another go!  Just one!  Please!?  We can each get five cards and I will throw away my highest cards and get new ones.  Please please please?”
The Devil glared at him suspiciously.
“All right, but it’s the last time.  The last time ever.  If we ever meet again I will refuse to do this again, or I might have to close down Hell.  What do you want this time?”
Steve looked around.  He had everything he had ever thought he wanted.  Everything he had imagined would make him happy.  But he still had had no fire alarms since the Devil incinerated the last one.
“Indestructible fire alarms,” he said.  It was a pure impulse.  “Powered by nothing, completely self-sufficient.  Never needing to have their batteries changed.”
“Deal!” the Devil snarled and dealt the cards.
Steve took his hand.  He had four aces.  He put them down, facing up and the Devil gave him four new cards.
“Now, what do you have?”
Steve looked optimistic and put his cards down.
“Pair in tens and fives.  That is a losing hand, isn’t it?”
The Devil stared at him.  The Devil snarled in anger and put his cards down.  Two pairs; nines and fours.  Fixing Steve with his glowing eyes he snapped his fingers and there was a series of small puffs of smoke as the fire alarms appeared and immediately began beeping all at once.
“Jesus Christ and Holy Mother Mary and all saints and good God!” the Devil yelled and glared at the fire alarm in the kitchen.  “Stop it!”
It looked like as if a lightning bolt struck the fire alarm, but nothing happened.
“Indestructible fire alarms,” Steve said sheepishly.
The Devil hid his head in his hands for a moment and began to cry.
“You must be blessed!” he growled angrily . “This whole house is blessed!  I will have nothing to do with you ever again!”
There was a bigger puff of smoke and then the Devil was gone.  The cards were still scattered across the table, and Steve piled them into a neat pile and shoved them into his pocket before he left the house to get away from the infernal beeping.  As he walked through the garden he realised that it was a beautiful summer afternoon, and in a moment his wife would be home to share it with him.  He walked past the bronze statue he had received as thanks for inventing the cure for HIV and cancer, past the copper statue he had received as thanks for finally having made world peace and kinship between all people of all faiths and tones of skin a reality.  He sat down on the pier and listened to the waves.

He had done something with his life after all.  All he had needed was enough desperation and a very convenient shortcut past any actual work.  Steve Richardson, the most loved and celebrated man on Earth.  The man who was unlucky enough to beat the Devil and in the course change all history to the better through his own greed.
He pulled the cards up from his pocket.  They felt burning hot in his hand.  One by one he dropped them into the water and watched them sizzle and dissolve.  When he was done with them there was nothing there to remind him that his success was an accident and that he had never really done anything to deserve it.  Nothing reminding him of how things had been.
He could pretend.  He could be happy and he could live his good life.  His perfect life.
A car on the driveway.  Light steps and light laugher.  He went to meet his perfect wife.

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