The Devil, or should I say, a devil, needed a double-thirteen to win. I desperately needed him to miss. He tilted is head just so, pointing his left horn at his target; then let it fly. Right on the money. I went queasy. How could I have been foolish enough to accept the wager? It’s The Devil for Chrissakes. Sorry, a devil – a petty technicality at that moment. I was pretty sure there was no welching a bet with a devil, singular or plural.
About twenty minutes earlier, I had been siting at the end of the bar, minding my own business, nursing an IPA. Half watching a Warriors-Raptors game on the television, half watching Chloe, the bartender go about her lovely, lovely business. For a good minute or so I was only vaguely aware that someone had sat down at the stool next to mine. When I finally gave a sideways glance, I almost did a double-hopped spit-take. “Jesus Christ!” I pretty near shouted.
“Take it easy there, Chester,” my neighbor responded nonchalantly in a voice that made my kidneys vibrate. “You’re the only one who sees me like this. Everyone else thinks you just lost your shit over a paunchy-but-hip middle-aged guy rocking a soul patch.”
By “like this” he meant his crimson red skin, blue-black slicked back ducktail, a pointy goatee. All of which was overshadowed by the fucking huge horns. Like a bull. Serious, blacker-than-black bull horns. A quick glance told me that my ejaculation had, indeed drawn some concerned glances. Pointing at the TV, I stammered, “Goddam Warriors, play some defense for fuck’s sake!” My companion nodded in agreement. Worries assuaged, the others returned to their own business.
At such a close proximity, I could tell this was no make-up job. Add to that the slight hint of sulfur in the air and, “Are you The Devil?” I asked?
“Common misconception,” he rumbled in reply. My guts churned at the sound. “Sorry, I forgot to turn it down. That better?” Now he sounded like Tom Waits. I nodded. “There’s no such thing as THE Devil,” he continued. “There’s really a few dozen of us. There’s no Lucifer, but we are all Luci-something. I’m Lucifestus.”
“I’m – ”
“Yeah, I know who you are,” he interrupted. “But to keep this simple, I just call you all Chester. Unless you’re a chick. Then you’re Wilma.”
“So why am I the only one who can see you?”
“Well, like I said, I know who you are, and I think you might be interested in a little proposition I have for you.”
“What, like my soul in exchange for untold riches kind of thing?” I asked.
He chuckled, “Why does everybody assume I’m going straight for the grand prize?” He shook his head ever so slightly; still, the movement of his horns was terrifying. “We could do that if you really want, but that’s a much bigger deal than I came in expecting to make. It’s like this. Of course I need a certain number of souls per year just to keep me going. My meat and drink if you will. But I’m happy just to do what I need to in that department. Some of my fellow Lucis are obsessed with soul-gathering like it’s a competition. Conspicuous Consumption I call it. Soul collection is a pain in the ass. Souls make you feel bloated. They weigh you down. There’s paperwork like you wouldn’t believe. I’m just not interested beyond a necessary subsistence level. What I do love, though, is the opportunity to make mortal’s lives, and mine, more interesting. I want to put humans into uncomfortable, painful, degrading positions, for my amusement. But I’m not a complete asshole. I always give the mortal a fighting chance to turn the tables and win something of value to them. Besides, I find outright exchanges to be boring. I much prefer a wager where we each stand to win or lose.”
Beginning to understand, I said, “So you’re talking a “Devil Went Down to Georgia” style contest.”
“Indeed. That was Lucitanius by the way. And we’ve never let him live it down either. Not that we don’t all lose our fair share of these wagers, but to let it go public like that . . . .”
“What is your proposition then? I don’t play fiddle.” I said.
“First, we establish the wager. Then we agree on the contest. I can’t help but notice that you have a sweet spot for Wilma behind the bar there. How’s that working out for you?”
“Wil-? Oh, Chloe.” I sighed. “I think I’m one of her favorite customers, but beyond that, I can’t imagine she’s ever thought twice about me.”
“What if I could make her think twice?” he continued, “More than that, I could make it so she finds your charms irresistible. Not permanently, you understand; that would require stakes higher than I want to play for tonight. But I could make her yours for, say, 48 hours.”
I sat up a bit. This bore some consideration. “That sounds great and all, but here’s the thing. I don’t just want to fuck her. Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t turn that down. But she’s not just hot, she’s awesome in every way. She’s smart and funny. She likes cool music. She reads cool books. She likes going to baseball games. I want her to think twice about me so I can win her over. For real.”
For the first time, my devil companion turned full in his seat to look at me. “What you do with the 48 hours is up to you, Chester. I guaran-damn-tee you you’ll hit that if you win. But whether you abuse her like a stepchild for two days, or, alternately, take that time to show her you’re a stand-up guy worth knowing is entirely your call. I’m saying I’m giving you a chance.”
“You talk a good game, Lucifestus, but how do I know you can even do this? I mean, do devils really have that kind of power?”
He looked at my empty glass and said, “Go ahead and order another beer. I’ll give you a little demonstration out of the goodness of my devil’s heart.”
I caught Chloe’s eye and held up my empty. She flashed a smile I’d never seen before. When she placed the fresh pint in front of me she told me it was on the house and winked. I’d never seen her wink. Not once in two years. She reached across the bar and squeezed my hand before heading back to other customers.
“I’m convinced,” I said. “What’s the wager? What if I lose?”
“Simple,” Lucifestus replied. “You will drink a glass of my piss. People talk about drinking the devil’s piss. I want to see someone really do it.”
“Jesus! Really? Not a pound of flesh or something conventional? Your piss is probably caustic as hell, no pun intended. It’s probably filled with sulfur and brimstone and shit. It’ll kill me right?.”
“It will be unpleasant to be sure,” he answered. “That’s the whole point of this little exercise. But no, it will not kill you. It will simply degrade you for my amusement.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re The Devil. A devil, sorry. Aren’t you guys the great deceivers? Don’t you just lie as a matter of course? How do I know you’ll do what you say if I win? How do I know your piss won’t kill me if I lose? You’re evil incarnate. I can’t believe anything you say. And . . . how much piss would I have to drink anyway?”
“Another common misconception.” Lucifestus sighed. “Devils, by and large, always tell the truth. We, especially I, do not lie or deceive. I make deals. And they are always square. I don’t put disclaimers in fine print or use double-speak. I do not misrepresent the stakes – what you stand to lose and what you stand to gain. And I don’t cheat either. Whether a game of skill or chance, I play the best I can and I’m pretty good at a lot of things. I will win often enough to make it worth my while.” After a pause for emphasis, he continued, “The irony, of course, is that it’s our Opposition who should be accused of such things. They are the ones who knowingly fill mortals with false hopes. It is The Opposition who tells humans that if they only submit, all will be well. It is The Opposition who are capricious in holding to their promises. Devils always keep their promises, and I promise, drinking my piss will disgust you, humiliate you, and probably burn a bit, all of which will amuse me. But it will cause you no permanent harm. I promise. Just, say, four ounces; you could shoot it.”
“What’s the game then?” I asked.
“What are you good at?
“I’d play you head’s up in poker, but we’d have to go somewhere else. I’d want a real dealer, real chips, real poker table,” I offered.
“Nah, I want to stay here. Looks to me like our options are the outcome of this basketball game, bar dice, the pool table, or the dartboard. I’m okay with any of those.”
I suck at pool. I never bothered to learn bar dice games. The basketball was on a knife’s edge in the third quarter. I don’t suck at darts though. “Darts it is.”
He stuck out his crimson hand with crow-black nails. “We have to shake on it. That makes it binding.”
He hit his double thirteen, and that was that.
“What happens if I back out,” I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
“You break the covenant of the handshake, I’m well within my rights to gore you to death.”
“Ah, well then, how do we do this?” I asked. “Do we have to go to the bathroom together? Devil or soul patch dude, I don’t want you whipping out your dick in the middle of my favorite bar.”
“No worries,” he answered. Then more animated, “Abra-fuckin-caDABra!” In his hand was a small glass with, true to his word, what looked like about four ounces of a hazy yellowish liquid. He held it out to me. “That’s my piss. Straight from my infernal bladder. I promise.”
There was nothing left to do but do it. I took the glass and knocked it back. “AAAARGHHHH!!!! I fell to the floor, eyes blurred with tears. “JESUS H. CHRIST IN A DEEP FRYER! UNGHHHH!” My esophagus burned like I’d swallowed a gallon of the devil’s own Sriracha sauce. “COCK-SUCKING MONKEY-FUCKING GRAHGHHH!!” My stomach cramped, nose overcome with the pungency of a thousand skunk asses. My body reflexively tried to curl up in a ball and flop like a fish at the same time. I think I did a little of both. Sulfur and brimstone overwhelming and . . . what . . . was . . . that …?
After gawking in genuine astonishment, Lucifestus collapsed into a chair, belly-laughing uncontrollably. “That’s AWESOME!” I squinted up at him and watched as he grabbed his horns and rocked back and forth with unadulterated delight, his hellish guffaw making my internal organs feel liquified. “Hooh! Boy! Man, I totally forgot! Really, I’m not shitting you. Honest mistake. I’m really sorry. Not really. Almost sorry. I totally forgot! HOOOO!”
“What?” I could barely choke out.
“I had asparagus for lunch!”
© 2014 Whiskey Leavins