It’s that time of year again. Author Eric Douglas has invited other writers to do some short fiction for Halloween. In years past he’s put a 100-word requirement (not a limit, a requirement) on the stories, but this year he didn’t put any shackles. You can read my entries from the past two years here and here. I set out to write something about 1000 words.
Enjoy – “The Invited Guest”
“How could this happen?” Sarah Jane said, head in hands. She was sitting in a high backed chair next to the fire. Across from her, on the love seat, was the Devil.
He looked like a man of nondescript middle age, with a perfectly tailored black suit. Only his tie contained the faintest hint of red. She knew something was up because of his walking stick, black with an ever shifting pattern of flames. Then he removed his hat, a black fedora. The small horns were a dead giveaway.
Sarah Jane slumped back in her chair. “Why? How?”
“Could have something to do with that,” the Devil said, pointing to the crumpled paper bag next to Sarah Jane’s chair.
“My sandwich?” She’d just finished a supreme club sub from Tony’s down the street.
He nodded, eyes twinkling. “Did you, by chance, toss a portion of it in the fire?”
“Yeah, just the heel,” she said, then paused. “Wait a second.”
The Devil’s eyebrows rose.
She dug through her memories, deep into her youth. “My grandmother.”
“Was she was from the ‘old country’?” The Devil made air quotes.
Sarah Jane nodded. “When I was really young she would always hand out this crazy advice. ‘It’s bad luck if you spill salt and then don’t throw it over your shoulder. You’ll have good luck if you eat grapes after midnight.’ That kind of thing.” She thought some more, then started nodding. “And she said something about throwing bread into the fire.”
The Devil clapped his hands together. “There you have it.”
“But I didn’t want to summon you.”
“Makes no difference,” the Devil said. “I did not make the rules, believe it or not.”
“Well, I’m sorry to have wasted your time. You can go now.”
A slow, slippery grin stretched across the Devil’s face. “That is not how this works.”
A sudden chill ran from Sarah Jane’s feet to her head and back again.
“You see, once I have been summoned, there is only one way to make me leave.”
“Which is?” she asked, slowly enunciating each word.
“We need to come to an arrangement,” the Devil said, sounding very reasonable.
“Yes.” He flicked some dust of his hat with his fingers. “Typically when someone summons me they want something big, bold, possibly dangerous. For that they are willing to trade their soul.”
“Whoa, back up, Scratch,” she said, hands raised. “I like my life as it is. I certainly don’t want something so much as to trade you my soul for it.”
The Devil raised a hand, palm open. “Like I said, I did not make the rules. I have to get something from you.”
“But I don’t want anything.”
“Yes you do.” The Devil sat back in his chair and examined his nails.
Sarah Jane chose her words carefully, “I need to pay you to go away?”
The Devil nodded.
“That’s insane! You can’t just show up in someone’s home and then not leave until they give you something!”
He raised a finger. “I did not just show up, woman. I was summoned. That it was without intent is irrelevant. If you want me to leave, you will pay.”
Sarah Jane wracked her brain. “But it shouldn’t cost me much, right?”
“What?” The Devil was caught by surprise.
“I mean, all I want is you gone and, let’s face it, you’re going to need to be somewhere else sooner or later.”
“I suppose that’s right, but . . .” he started.
Sarah Jane ignored him and kept going. “So it’s not really fair to take my entire soul just to get you to do something you’re going to do anyway.”
The Devil sat, mouth open for a moment. “I can play this game longer than you. You’ve got a boyfriend? What will you do if he comes over?”
She shrugged, not concerned that the Devil knew that. “I think Phil would enjoy this. He’s seen all the almost every movie about you, even Crossroads.”
The Devil rolled his eyes, then leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Look, you’ve got to give me something. A part of your soul, just a small bit.”
“Like what?” Sarah Jane asked. “Ten minutes ago if somebody had told me I had a soul I’d have said they were full of shit, but I’d have said the same thing about you, too. No offense.”
“None taken.” He leaned back and looked at the ceiling, deep in thought for a few seconds. Finally, he said, “do you like movies as much as Phil?”
“Sure,” she said, lying just a bit. This was the Devil, after all. “I’m more of a book girl, but I like movies.”
“Very well,” the Devil said. He rose and suddenly was twice as tall, glowering down at her. “I take from your soul the ability to react emotionally to motion pictures,” his voice deepened, “for the rest of your life!” The last phrase boomed around the room.
“Does that mean you’ll go away?” she asked.
The Devil shrank back to regular size. “I keep my bargains.”
“All right, then,” she said, standing and shooing him away with her hands. “Off with you, then.”
The Devil turned and began walking back into the next room. “You think this is a joke. It’s not,” he said over his shoulder.
“Whatever,” she said as she watched him disappear into the darkness.
They walked out into the chill evening. The marquee above them glowed in slow, shallow pulses.
Phil was sniffling. “How can you not be crying? It’s so sad! The way their village was destroyed? How the twins got separated, but only the girl found her mother in the end?”
“It’s just a movie,” Sarah Jane said. She cursed the Devil in her mind.”
“Just a movie,” Phil said, looking at her through bleary eyes. “What are you, some kind of soulless monster?”
“Something like that,” she said, looking up the block. “Let’s go get a sub.”
And remember, any invited guest is better than the other kind:
Be sure to check out Eric’s website for links to all the other stories.