Only reluctantly does the Devil agree to return to the couch. Her Assistant, however, seems delighted. “You can relax, Raj; it really doesn’t matter if you doubt our existence.”
With the Devil’s permission, Rajeev is busy taking notes.
“Belief, or lack of it,” Curtis continues, “has never been sufficient cause to negate a contract.”
It is as if everything Rajeev says amuses the Devil’s Assistant.
“You find it implausible that we use contracts?”
“It just seems … you know … primitive. You’d think, over the millennia, the Dark Prince might have found some other way…”
“The Dark Prince!” Curtis shoots his head forward, disturbingly reminiscent of a large lizard. “Now, isn’t that precious? From some screenplay you’ve written?”
“Mr. Subramanium,” Diane resumes, “the universe is fundamentally legalistic. It has always been.”
Curtis nods. “Sad, but true.”
“The Ten Commandments? What is that, if not a contact?” The Devil glares cold daggers. “Is not your god, the god of covenants?”
“Not my God.”
“Oh, I forgot. You’re not a believer.”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t a believer.”
“Then what are you, Raj?”
“I don’t know!”
“You don’t think it’s an important question?”
Helpless, Rajeev scrambles for words. “It’s just … all this religious business … it’s so…”
Curtis rubs his hands together. “Messy?”
The DEVIL helps herself to another cookie. CURTIS takes two.
“The messiness you refer to,” Diane remarks, softening her gaze, “that’s our doing.”
Rajeev grunts. “Thanks for that.”
The Devil finishes swallowing and wipes her lips, a small amount of red lipstick transferring to her fingers.
Curtis, mouth half full, wags a finger at Rajeev. “I know that look. You were hoping for forked tail and horns, weren’t you?”
“It might have helped.”
“Would you have believed then?”
Curtis laughs. “Highly doubtful. You, who are saturated in a world of CGI? We wouldn’t even try to compete with that.”
CURTIS takes a last bite, then noisily sucks the chocolate stains off his fingers.
“You want a convincing Devil? Speak to the Pixar people.”
Next — possibly it’s part of the pitch — the Devil nestles up to Rajeev. “Much better that I came in as Helen Fraser, wouldn’t you say?”
Rajeev has never mentioned Helen.
“I might just as easily have chosen Helen of Troy, but frankly, Rajeev, the 21st century aesthetic is quite different. I think this Helen was much more likely to get your juices going.”
The Devil pulls off her sweater. She loosens the two top buttons of her crimson blouse. “How high to do you set the thermostat anyway? You’re not concerned about global warming?”
Was that a joke? Helen never made jokes — not even bad ones.
Now the Devil combs her long blond hair; a palpable crackle of electricity accompanies her every stroke.
“So Raj, are we all finished with the preliminaries?” The Devil pulls out her smart phone and leans forward. “You see, Raj. We do keep up with the times. You can use the stylus to sign. We no longer require blood.”
Curtis slaps his thigh. He never seems to tire of his boss’s jokes. “Maybe you can use that one in your screenplay, Raj!”
“You know about my screenplay?”
“You could call it, Dr. Faustus and the Cheerleaders! I would pay to see such a film!”
A bead of sweat makes its way down to Rajeev’s left eyebrow. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to read through the document one last time.”
The Devil bites into her cookie, leaving a perfect crescent moon shape as it leaves her lips. “Your outlook has turned very legalistic all of a sudden. How charming.”
“There are no hidden clauses, Raj…”
Curtis inhales deeply. As if remembering the scent of frangipani. “One time we used to go in for that sort thing. But no more. It’s a matter of style, you see. Much sweeter to win a soul through outright volition. The coconut on the cake, if you like.”
Rajeev looks up. “And a devil’s word is to be trusted about such things?”
The Devil grins. “But that’s what you are, Raj, aren’t you? The trusting sort?” She turns, wide-eyed to her assistant. “Isn’t that how he strikes you, Curtis?”
“I could sell him a used car, no problem!”
The Devil reaches over and pats her client’s hand. “It’s just as we discussed, Raj: guaranteed immortality. And all the time in the world to finish your writing projects.”
“Immortality with good health?”
“Just as you specified. Page Four. In fact — may I just check for a moment?” Rajeev hands back the phone. “Yes, there it is, clause 27B, immortality set at age thirty-six, your present age — we could alter that number if you like. Not backwards, I’m afraid, but we could let you age to say… forty-five?”
His voice as smooth as seven-year-old rum, Curtis takes up the sell. “Let those gray hairs come in. Give you that distinguished author look. You could look very hot. A brown-skinned Harrison Ford — I can see it!”
The Devil hands back the phone. “You decide, we—”
“Provide, yes… I know… Thirty-six is good.”
Again Curtis wags his finger. “Better than Jesus did, at any rate.”
Rajeev is puzzled.
“How old Jesus was when he died? Surely you know this?” Curtis turns to Diane, shaking his head sadly. “It’s just as you say, boss, the damnation business isn’t what it used to be.”
Rajeev inhales deeply. Calms himself. Reflects and evaluates. He lowers his head and speaks to himself in a whisper, “It’s all just material.”
Rajeev is witness to the most magnificent of deceptions. Layered and played with skill and conviction. Clearly this woman and this man are convinced they are devils from Hell. They are Stanislavski’s star pupils. What an extraordinary gift … and what a story he will have to tell Marjorie.
Rajeev sits up straight. “And the contract guarantees I have protection from accidental death?”
“Standard clause. Page seventeen at the back:
Protection from disease, violent crime, acts of war, geologic or meteorological catastrophe, genetic malfunction, and all manner of third party injury.”
“So, I should live forever?”
“So it seems.”
“But only me.”
“If you think Marjorie would be interested, she will have to sign her own contract. Would she be interested, do you think?”
“If the contract were real, you mean?” Sagely — at least this is the look Rajeev is aiming for — he nods his head. “Yes, I like to think she would. Till death do us part and all that…”
Curtis brings both hands to his heart. “Very romantic, Raj, but … think about it.” He drops both hands, sighs, and shakes his head. “To be married to the same woman for a hundred years? A thousand years? Ten thousand?”
Rajeev has no words.
“And you, a young virile man all this time. Think of the seventy-two virgins!”
Rajeev coughs, scrapes up what’s left of his sense of humor. “They’re not included in the contract?”
“Take heart, Raj, you will have all eternity to work with! No telling what an infinite number of monkeys could do!”
Rajeev picks up the stylus. He looks around the living room, thinking it will likely not exist in a hundred years but, if any of this is true, he will. He will outlive the city. The country. Be around to watch future continents collide. Endless, all-consuming material to write about.
“What about my cat?”
Curtis crosses and puts an arm around his client’s shoulder. “How hard is it to replace a cat?” Rajeev senses Curtis could crack a rib with a mere squeeze. “Or a wife, for that matter?”
“So … I just sign here?”
Gently, the Devil places her hand on top of Rajeev’s, ready to guide his fingers. “Sign here and initial there on page sixteen, then again on seventeen.”
It’s Rajeev’s turn to laugh; he bellows heartily and deep — yet a pale imitation of Curtis. “But none of this is true! So it’s doesn’t really matter if I sign!”
At this point, Helen would have popped her chewing gum bubble; the Devil has no such prop. “At worst you’ll gain material for your screenplay. At best, you’ll have all the time in the world to complete it, and a hundred more projects after: novels, poems, screenplays, media humanity has not yet even dreamed of.”
The Devil’s Assistant adds, “Shakespeare will have nothing on you!” He bangs the right arm of his chair for emphasis. “Tolstoy? A bagatelle!”
Rajeev touches the stylus to the screen.
“Your deepest desire, Raj, just at your fingertips.”
Curtis’s large left hand pats him on the back. “You decide. We provide!”
Raj the Submarine begins to form the “R.” Carefully. As if back in Mrs. Huntington’s Grade Three penmanship class. Then comes the “a” and the next three letters. It remains only for him to complete the loop on the “v.”
“Just my given name?”
Curtis smiles. “We know where you live.”
Diane returns the phone to her bag. “And, of course, you have a copy on your phone, so I think we’re finished here.” She and Curtis rise and head for the door. Peeking from around the kitchen corner, Rajeev’s cat glares and hisses.
Turning, Curtis calls out, “Thank you for the scrumptious biscuits!”
“Remind me again what you get in exchange?”
Curtis holds out the coat for his boss who inserts her left arm into the sleeve as she speaks. “We have been over this … your soul — the usual … if you have one, of course … which you seem to think you do not.” The Devil smiles as she places her right arm into the right sleeve. “Clearly, one of us is mistaken.”
Curtis chuckles. “But who?”
“But how could you get my soul if I live forever?”
Diane begins to pull on her left glove. She steals a quick look at the gale outside; she seems unconcerned. “That could be problematic.”
One more time, Rajeev forces a laugh. “Then you have drawn up a fool’s contract, for I can’t die, so how can you hope to have my soul?”
The Devil’s right glove needs only a final tug. “That’s not quite true, Raj. Did you not read page thirteen carefully?”
Rajeev pulls out his phone.
“The clause is there for your own protection.” Glaring, the Devil reads aloud:
“The signatory may, of his own volition at any time, without prior notification, void his contract by voluntarily ending his own life in whatever manner he chooses. The soul of the signatory thereupon reverts to the owner as specified on page six of said contract.”
The Devil throws a scarf around her neck. “The owner: that’s me.”
“Why would I ever want to kill myself? When, as you say, I can fill my life with harems and bestsellers?”
Slowly, the Devil scans her surroundings. “I don’t know, Raj,” she says, placing her red felt hat atop her fine and desolate blond hair. “Perhaps one day you’ll simply grow bored.”
“Bored to death!” her Assistant adds. “It happens!”
Now they’re out the door, and Rajeev follows them as far as the threshold. “It won’t happen to me!”
The DEVIL and her ASSISTANT turn left on the sidewalk, into the wind.
“Bored? With the life I’m leading? Twenty lifetimes wouldn’t be enough! A hundred!”
A gust of glacial air roars down the street.
“I love my life!”
Small pellets of ice strike Rajeev’s cheek, making him gasp. “You’re both crazy, you know! I was only messing with you!” The supernatural beings are now only two blips moving slowly beneath the bare branches of lacerated elms. A few brave cars crunch over the snow-covered pavement. The occasional pedestrian races to his vehicle. Rajeev sees one lone streetcar. It clangs its bell in antique anger at a foolish young man on a bicycle. After the streetcar passes, the street falls into the full silent grip of winter, but for one figure emerging across the street, limping. It’s a man, but smallish, bundled up in a bomber’s jacket, its leather cracked by the cold. Over his bald head, he wears a Cossack hat, ear flaps down but not fastened. He pauses, reaches into his pocket for a pipe which somehow he manages to light. He puffs. The smoke instantly whisks off horizontally with the gale.
Rajeev is startled as the man looks up. It’s as if his eyes look clear through him and pull at the hairs of his startled chest. Why is he smiling? Why is he looking directly at him?
RAJEEV’s face pales with the realization he has just seen his first bona fide ELF. A mound of snow interferes as RAJEEV, whimpering, desperately tries to close the front door.
FADE OUT TO WHITE with a howling wind.
Brian D’Eon is a writer who lives in Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. In 1999 his radio drama 407 Arachne, won the Mark Time Award which is given annually to the best work of science fiction in audio drama. Three other audio scripts of Brian’s can be found in MRTW/NAFT script books.
In recent years, Brian has focused his attention more and more on writing fiction, mostly of the speculative variety. His short stories and poetry can be found in a variety of publications (Winners’ Circle 8 & 9, Open Window IV, Oval Victory, Horsefly, and the New Orphic Review).
Brian’s story Sun Dancer won the 2009 Okanagan short story contest. In 2011, his story “Badlands” won the fiction prize in the Kootenay Literary Competition.
Brian’s novella, Eta Carinae, was published by Vagabondage Press in 2013.
Brian currently has two novels, Lunatics and Big Ledge, making the rounds among publishers and has begun work on a third — his most ambitious foray into speculative fiction yet. Its working title is The Draper Catalogue.
To learn about Brian’s recent chapbook, Sweet Melancholy, and more, please check his website: www.briandeon.com