So this came about as a prompt I saw on the go-to ‘waste your time’ website we all know and love as Reddit. But I took it so far past what the prompt asked for that I didn’t post it on the prompt page. Also, I’m kind of scared of posting because all I’ve ever done is lurked and laughed at how clever other people are.
The prompt basically said to tell a story of someone who meets the devil and finds that they have more in common with the devil than they thought they would. Here’s what came out of that, and as you will see, only very roughly follows the prompt. It’s just the beginning, but I might want to make it into a short novel somewhere down the road.
And P.S, for some reason the indenting is being REALLY ANNOYING(!!!) so just ignore that for now because I spent like half an hour trying to get the thing to work.
I think that I work with the devil.
And no, this isn’t one of those times where an employee is complaining because of the perils that their boss puts them through, like 7 AM coffee runs through the harrowing, zombie like frontier of early New York City before they had their coffee. Or having to stay late to trudge through towers of papers until the gnashing of teeth begins, just because you forgot to compliment their new haircut. Or having them mention at the office party that you were the mascot at your college football games, that juicy little detail you put on your resume when you were desperate and eating a well rounded meal of ramen noodles four times a day, and forgot to remove. What’s so funny about a guy dancing around in an antelope costume, anyway?
No, this isn’t like that. I think I actually work with the devil.
Probably as a result of all the aforementioned instances and the general trajectory of my post-graduate life in an office job that I see going nowhere, every other day I go to the rooftop for a smoke. I go every other day because I’m trying to cut the habit, but with the recent barrage of commands to “go get me coffee now, my personal slave” or comments about if I actually meant to do my hair like this, it’s been a little difficult.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday. All on my own, on that tiny rooftop standing above my co workers as they slouch low in their cubicles, hoping their hair won’t be the next on the list to receive a friendly workplace teasing. The puffs of my cigarette balloon out into the hazy New York skyline, and for a moment I can imagine that I’m somewhere out there, making a difference, instead of on this tiny little rooftop for ten more minutes about to go back inside and wait it out as Anders and Jeff do an impression of an antelope’s mating call.
Needless to say, I liked my own little world on that roof, my little piece of heaven. Liked to take those few seconds to imagine that with my bachelor’s degree in public communication I could actually, you know, communicate with the public, work on cases that made people lead better lives instead of everything staying the same.
It was my little piece of heaven until my boss came and made it a little slice of hell.
And no, not because anything bad happened. Because I think my boss is the devil. As I’ve mentioned.
But there I was, humpday, ascending to the rooftop by climbing the sorry humps of metal that are our excuse for stairs. I was already feeling inside the pockets of my khakis for a cigarette in an effort to not waste a single moment of my free time. So my cigarette was already wedged between my fingers as I burst through the door to the roof, into the fading afternoon light and what I thought would be my fifteen minutes of freedom.
And there she was, all 5’2” and stiletto heels of her, leaning over the rail with her hands folded in front of her. The black knee length dress that hugged her curves in all the right – no, all the wrong – places. Cropped blonde hair and diamonds sparkling in her ears. Maybe it was the heels that gave it away – all black but red on the soles painted underneath.
But really, now that I think about it, it was probably her name. I mean, Lucy Fern, for God’s sake. She had all of eternity, right? Should think of a more clever name.
And there’s another thing. I’d never thought of the devil as a woman, but now that I did actually think about it, it kind of makes sense.
She flashed her teeth at me in a red-lipped smile like it was the most natural thing in the world for her to be standing there on this rooftop, occupying my little space in the world.
“Can I have a light?” she asked, her own cigarette poised gracefully between slender fingers.
I think that at the time the reason I had the urge to burst out laughing because my boss was standing on my rooftop casually asking her least-favorite underlying employee for a favor. Maybe just shock that she had materialized there in the first place, like something out of my dreams. But now I find it particularly amusing that the devil, you know, like the god of fire, was asking me for a light.
Let’s remember, though, at the time I was terrified for my mortal peril because I thought my boss was stalking me, going to fire me, tell me off, or some combination of all of the above.
So my boss asks me for a light, so like any normal person, I try to calmly comply and take out my rusty white liter with shaking fingers. I walk over to her like any normal, competent person and hold out the lighter to her. But unlike your average joe-schmo and more like the world’s clumsiest oaf, for some reason when her dark red nail polished, white fingers brush against my hand, I trip over my own two feet and the lighter flies from my hand and skitters across the rooftop. It lands at the edge of the rail, teetering precariously over New York City.
“Oh my – Hell – Sorry I – Damn -” nonsense words spew from my mouth as I run to retrieve it. But once I’m there and bending down, reaching, she’s there, too. She plucks it from the ledge, then eases herself against the rail, sliding into a sitting position, her back to the sky and legs stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles. With deft hands she lights the cigarette then offers it back to me, blue eyes staring.
I’m posed there, half-crouching still, wondering idiotically whether to stand or sit, and for some reason the only thought that flits through my mind is “I really should clean the rust off my lighter.”
Probably because my thighs start to burn, I ultimately make the decision to sit down next her. My back feels vulnerable as the wind brushes against it between the slats in the rail.
A few seconds pass, and the pressure in my head starts to build like the sound volume at the beginning of a THX sound movie.
“So, what brings you up here?” I finally blurt out.
She puffs three perfect halos of smoke into the air. Her eyes slide over to me in a side glance. But she doesn’t reply.
Well, all the time I didn’t think she replied. In retrospect, she gave me a fairly clear answer: me. I was the one who brought her up there.
A few more seconds. My cigarette smoke started to blend in with hers, spiraling together in the darkening air.
“Nice weather, isn’t it?” I muster.
“Mr. Pilgrim, are you happy with your life?”
Ok. So much for smalltalk. I guess it wouldn’t have felt right to pull off a casual conversation sitting on a rooftop with my notoriously feared boss, our toes almost touching. We have to go for the really deep stuff.
I heard her the first time, I just couldn’t believe she was asking it.
“You heard me the first time.”
So I did. “Well, why do you ask?”
“You’re not a politician, Mr. Pilgrim. You have a bachelor’s in communication. So answer the question.”
“Uh, alright Ms. Fern -”
“Please, up here call me Lucy. When we’re down there, Ms. Fern will only be proper, of course, but Lucy will suit us just fine.”
Neither of us say anything and for a ridiculous moment I wonder if I will get in trouble for being over my time on my break, but then of course, I’m sitting here with my boss. And she’s asking me if I’m happy with my life.
A series of moments flash before my eyes.
Me with a gap-toothed grin in a toddler chair, spaghetti sauce smeared across my face as I laugh at my overturned Thomas the Tank Engine bowl of pasta. Turning the keys for the first time into my brother Hank’s hand-me-down minivan with the paint job so bad it could be roughly described as the color of rust. Me in my dorm room, surrounded by three half-empty Pringles cans at 2:30 AM writing a ten-page paper due in the morning. Me at my cubicle in my un-ironed white button up t-shirt and khaki pants answering phone calls about people’s taxes.
I’d never been asked if I’m happy with my life by anyone, not even my mother. I suppose if she asked, I would say yes, because I’m happy with at least some parts of my life, and she’s my mother. I’d tell Hank yes because he has twins and a nice two-story home and is a cop. I probably should have told my boss yes because she’s my boss and should be easier to pretend to than people who know me.
But what do I say?
Irritated telephone class and a tiny apartment and still driving a rust-bucket mini-van and wrinkled t-shirts and empty, single coffee cups.
“No, I am not happy with my life,” I repeat more loudly, and it feels strangely good to say.
She turns her head toward me and her hair smells like raspberries. I avoid her gaze and take another puff of my cigarette.
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes, Pilgrim,” she says.
I stare at a loose thread in my pants, confused. “What?”
“It’s an old adage by Ben Franklin. Surely you’ve heard it at some point during your studies at Suffolk.”
“No, I know what what it is, I just don’t -” I stop, unable to explain my bewilderment.
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“No, nothing, I already know -”
“Not the phrase. Your life.”
“What am I going to do about my life?”
“That seems to be what I’m asking.”
It’s like when she walked out onto this roof it suddenly became a fifty story swimming pool. I’m sinking and don’t know how to swim.
I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to her question. I’m stagnant and working with taxes and alone in the world’s most crowded city.
“Well, what if I don’t feel like answering?” I’m surprised at my own retort.
“Well, what if I could change it?”
“No, I’m pretty sure I don’t feel like answer-”
“Not your answer. Your life.”
I look at her tiny frame poised there against the rail, calm but full of electricitym and fr some reason, I believe her. But I have no idea what she means.
“I’m…not certain what you mean.”
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes, Pilgrim, and I deal with both.”
I have a fleeting moment of insanity where I want to make a joke about scary bosses, but it was at this point that I started to get the feeling that there was something even a little more sinister to my boss than the regular type of scary.
“I’ve been doing some soul searching,” she continues. For a second I’m worried this is going to turn into a very bizarre episode of Dr. Phil. “And I’ve happened upon yours.”
So much for Dr. Phil.
“Well, if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to get what I’m looking for.”
“And you’re looking for?”
“Well, I’ve found it. I’ve told you. Your soul.”
I laugh. I can’t help it. But at the same time, I still knew she was serious.
I lean in a little closer and try to ignore the way her hair smells. “Say you’re not just yanking my chain here and are going to go downstairs and tell Anders and Jeff and the gang that I’m a total idiot. What’s so special about my soul?”
I’ve never really been anything special. I got decent grades throughout school. I played baseball well enough, when I wasn’t sitting on the bench. I’ve dated a few girls, none of which had any additional phalanges or visible deformities. I once owned a parakeet who could sing the alphabet. Maybe she’d be better off searching for him.
But she just fixes me with her blue eyes. “If I told you what was special, then the ball would be in your court, now wouldn’t it?”
“I didn’t know it wasn’t.”
“Of course. I’m offering to change your life just for the small trade of your soul.”
“The small trade? I think the ball’s in my court. I have what you want, and you’re trying to get it.”
Somewhere in the back of my head I realized it was my soul we were talking about here. Supposedly the thing that gives me life and make me a person. Or whatever it does. Truthfully, if I was to define the function of a soul, the best I could do was say that it’s important. But here we were talking about it like it was a particularly rare trading card.
“And I am going to get it.”
“Oh yeah? And how do you propose to do that?”
I was leaning really close now. In fact, from the experiences I’ve had with the aforementioned deformity-free girls, I think I was flirting with her. With my boss. Who claimed to want my soul and basically is probably the devil. So I was flirting with death.
And call me an idiot, but I liked it.
“All you have to do is just say yes.”
She flicked the ash off her cigarette, and it landed on my khaki pants looking like a spray of pepper, just above the knee. I reached my hand down to brush it away but hers was already there, rubbing it off. Our fingers brush, and she doesn’t pull away as quickly as she should. Yet my fingertips felt like they were singed with fire.
“Sorry,” she says. But she doesn’t look sorry.
“So what were you saying about getting me to say yes?”
“That I’m going to.”
“Yeah, what way?”
“Oh, I can think of a few ways.”
I’ve already said to call me an idiot, but now you could just call me a lonely guy living in New York with no other real prospects, an apartment with a stoner roommate and the memories of a dead bird who has more marketable skill than I do.
I didn’t really know what was happening, but I wasn’t going to say no. So when she threw her hands around the back of my neck and started to kiss me, what was I supposed to do? Well, I have no idea what I was supposed to do, but what I did do was wrap one hand around the small of her back to push her close to me and wind the other one through her perfect blond raspberry hair while my vision swam before my eyes.
“So what do you say?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, then leaned in to kiss her again. For a few moments, I don’t even remember where I am, and it doesn’t matter because she is pressed up against me and we’re intertwined and not on a rooftop but somewhere in the stars. Then everything goes black.
I think that was three days ago. I could be wrong.
But I just woke up, and asked my stoner roommate Harry what day it is. Because that’s the first question you ask when you just made out with the devil, right?
“Saturday, dude,” he says as he eats a cold slice of pizza and watches Judge Judy on TV.
The last memories I had were of Wednesday, on the roof. Conducting the previously mentioned activities.
“Have I been here the whole time, Harry?” I ask, realizing I’m sitting on the couch with a blanket strewn over me. I’m wearing my khaki pants.
“Yo, how should I know? I just got her and you were on the couch ever since I started watching the JJ.”
I’m staring at Harry eating his pizza and Judge Judy talking on the screen and the open window with the cars passing on the street like usual but I’m taking it in with my eyes and not my brain, because only one thought can run through my head.
I think I just sold my soul to the devil.
And I feel fine.
To be continued – hopefully!