Tale of a Persnickety English Fellow

A Supernatural Short Story by Willem Myra

Tale of a Persnickety English Fellow

by Willem Myra

 

Joseph’s life is nothing special. In fact, it’s downright depressing. But that all changes when one day the devil shows up to cut him a deal.

Contact info for Willem Myra
* Website – https://willemmyra.wordpress.com/
* Twitter – https://twitter.com/willemmyra

 

The first time it happens, he’s eighteen. His parents are out of town for a reason or another, so Joseph throws a party for himself and his old companion, Loneliness. He buys two slices of margherita from an Indian pizza place with the most affordable prices in the city, and a 2-liter bottle of cheap wine from the minimarket at the end of the street. They have dinner in the kitchen. Lights off, candles lit. The TV set to white noise. Neither says a word. So peaceful. Loneliness takes the form of a young girl — sulked eyes with curly hair, small nose, flat mouth; tee-shirt and jeans. She’s not very talkative, which is okay ‘cause he’s also not into words and all that chatty stuff. She’s a teetotaler, so Joseph sponges up every last fizzy drop of wine all by himself. But he’s alright. He doesn’t even feel it, the damned alcohol swimming alongside his blood. Afterwards, they watch the sunset from the balcony and Loneliness says that it’s such a beautiful mess. That orangey ceiling with sporadic sheep-shaped purple spots.

They play UNO for the rest of the evening, and at 10 pm Loneliness says she’s got to go.

You sure you don’t wanna stay for the night?” he asks.

She’s sure. “I have to see a man about a dog. Besides, you’ve got better stuff to do anyway,” Loneliness says.

Like what?” Joseph asks.

Like thinking about your miserable life.”

She’s right. So as soon as she clears off, like fog on a winter morning when the sunrays finally manage to hit the ground, Joseph goes to the bathroom and throws up into the bathtub. The puke is copper-colored and smells like bleach. Odd. He rinses the bathtub and washes his face with ex’s-heart-cold water. Standing in front of the toilet, his pants and boxers around his ankles, and his right hand on his junk, Joseph ponders about life.

Now that high school is coming to an end, his future seems bleaker than ever. His parents’ finances can’t send him through university and his brains aren’t enough to earn him a scholarship. Aesthetically he isn’t pleasing either — quite the opposite. He’s the abortion of Helena Bonham Carter and Joe Pesci. Worse. Of Buscemi and Michael Cera, if one of them went down the route of Schwarzenegger’s Junior. So once he’s done with school, Joseph’s destiny will probably tie up with that of some fast food or store or restaurant in need of someone to sweep the floors and clean the piss off the walls.

So why bother?” asks Loneliness, sighed into existence by Joseph himself. “There’s the window. Why don’t you take a leap?”

And Joseph is tempted, he really is. Then the wine hits the target. Intoxicated as he is, Joseph starts shouting gibberish at the walls of the flat and amidst all the nonsense his mouth is puking out, there it is, the cry, clear and to the point, for Satan to come and take his pathetic soul in exchange for a small, harmless request. But Satan doesn’t show up.

§

The second time it happens, he’s twenty-six. He’s a man now. For the past four years, Joseph’s been waiting tables for a family-owned Chinese restaurant at a 10-minute-walk from home. The pay is not as bad as it sounds and besides, they let him take home all the leftovers he wants. When he’s not working, Joseph runs. Ever since he moved on his own, he’s become obsessed with endurance sports. Long-distance running, marathons, cross country running, and, hell, sometimes even small-town amateurs-only road bicycle racing.

He even has a girlfriend cheering on him. Her name is Chiara and she’s a grad student. Biology is her passion. She’s shorter than 5-foot-2, always polite with everybody, and on Sunday mornings she bakes him apple pies and exotic cakes with slices of mango in them. It’s a lovely relationship the one they’re in.

But the family-owned Chinese restaurant has been avoiding tax for a couple years now. One morning the MH Revenue & Customs shows up with the bobbies. They close down the place, take away the paterfamilias in cuffs. Joseph’s unemployed again. Shit. Then there’s the running issue. His hometown is renowned for the marathons it organizes every other month. The winner gets to become the sovereign to one of those 300-inhabitant (that’s the maximum capacity at the moment) parallel universes CERN scientists are building on a weekly basis. So, of course, the marathons attract people from all around the world, with the consequence that Joseph never gets anywhere near the top three podium. Double shit. As if all this wasn’t enough, the things between him and Chiara get tricky. On his third week home, she asks him to take her out on a date. He’s penniless, he says. The money he’s saved will be needed to pay the rent. She throws a fit. “You’re always too busy doing this or that to take care of me,” she shouts clutching her fists. “Always too knackered. Too old inside.” She packs her stuff and leaves. Triple shit.

Joseph doesn’t even try to stop her. He lies down on the bed and lets Loneliness caress his hair. She’s getting all wrinkly and cynical too. “Go on,” she says. “Call out for the horned bloke. See if he can help ya.” Joseph gets up. Stares into the mirror. His voice low and his back hunched, he begs for a trade. The Guy Who Runs Hell doesn’t even bother to show up to tell him away.

§

The third time Joseph barely whispers it. He’s thirty-four. And he’s a dustman, which is a fancy way to say he cleans shit off the streets. Kids see him every morning on their way to school and they point at him and call him names. Joseph — he doesn’t flinch. “Whatever,” he says and keeps to his work. He’s given up on everything. Three springs back he went to a high school reunion, had some fun with a couple of old classmates and decided to keep in touch. A week later they had this nighttime soccer game against the neighboring city. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Joseph had the ball, ready to score their first goal when a chav from the opposite team came in too strong and broke his leg. Now Joseph doesn’t run anymore. “Your left ankle,” said the doctor, “cannot sustain the kind of effort required during a marathon like the ones this city organizes. Besides, you look like a pretty lame lad. You’d never win. Give up already, why won’t you?”

The exorbitant rent forced him to get a flatmate, an Irish bloke who barely acknowledges him. Joseph is alone. Ever since Chiara left him, onanism has become his philosophy of life. Even Loneliness stopped coming by.

Now, after a long day at work, Joseph jumps in the shower and hums some pop song trying to get himself in a good mood. A spit of sun-core-hot water hits him on a shoulder; he stumbles back, leans on the wrong leg — the wrong ankle — and the pain embraces him in no time. Joseph turns off the water. Sits on the floor. He curses himself. He curses everything — people, society, life. Then, whispering to the glass walls, the only ones still left to listen to him, Joseph says, “Bollocks.” Says, “I’ve spent my whole life craving things I cannot obtain on my own.” Says, “Things I will never obtain anyway. For there’s no-one. Not Above. Not Below. It’s all lies. It’s all lies…”

His little speech doesn’t end that already Joseph’s overwhelmed by a smell of barbeque. He lifts his head and eyes, screened by the shower fog, a humanoid shape. Short, pristine white horns. Maroon skin cracked like an arid terrain. Hairy legs coupled with equine genitalia. Unkempt fingernails, dry lips, wayward eyes.

Why now?”

Excuse me?” says Satan. His voice is polite and silk-soft. He should host a podcast, Joseph thinks.

I’ve been trying to summon you for donkey’s years. Why do you only show up now?”

Satan shrugs. “You were mad at the world, at first. Then disappointed with it. Now you’re just desperate, so it’s easier for me to trick you. Not that I need to. You know, whole Johnny and the fiddle-playing contest. Rings a bell? I done told you, you son of a bitch, I’m the best that’s ever been. No? Well, anyway. I was getting bored, the ISIS blokes are no fun, so here I am.”

They get out of the shower. Satan hands Joseph a towel to cover himself. Satan covers his genitals as well, with tighty whiteys appeared out of nowhere. The two of them, devil and man alike, sit at the table in the kitchen. Joseph’s flatmate is out doing some errands so they can talk undisturbed.

“Please, have a go at trying to trick me. See if you can do better than the billion fools who stood in that same chair before you and made the same know-it-all face.”

Joseph has had almost twenty years to think about it. He imagined all the low-blows, loopholes, and possible scams Satan could try to pull off. He needs to be cautious. To only speak what he really means.

I want a notebook. Sixty, seventy pages long. Black covers — no titles, no drawings, no nothing. I will be the only one able to open it, to write in it, hell, even to see it. And I’ll know, every second of every day, where the notebook is. I will have like a sort of map in my mind, with its location beeping up on it. Kinda like the dragon ball radar, you follow me?”

Yeah, I can do that.”

I’m not done. The notebook’s gonna be indestructible.”

I can do that as well.”

And it will have one peculiar quirk. It shall turn words into reality. Whatever I write on it — poof! — it’s going to become real, tangible. Truth from ink.”

Satan seems to think it over.

I can’t do that. I mean, I can but I won’t. How about I give one single page?”

A3-sized.”

A5.”

Super small squares though.”

Rules. Twenty for each side.”

Deal.”

“Fifteen for each side.”

“Hey, I said deal.”

“You were too slow.” Satan shows him his cowish night-blue tongue.

“Fine, fifteen. We have a deal, now?”

“We have a deal,” says Satan and presents Joseph his swine hand.

Joseph doesn’t shake it. “I’m not done.”

“Oh, so it’s your turn to act childish. I see. Well, go ahead. What else does your rotten heart desire?”

I want to see it black-on-white.”

Satan claps, once, and a contract appears on the table in front of Joseph. Joseph reads it in one go, looking for hidden clauses.

Happy now?”

Not yet. I also want insurance. I want it on record that any clause, loophole, and anything else hidden on or in the paper that I am not consciously consenting to, will terminate our agreement without ifs or buts. Also, if you try to trick me, again the agreement will go tits up and as a compensation I will keep both my soul and the piece of paper agreed upon.”

Anything else?” barks Satan.

Neither you nor your pawns or goons or slaves or whatever you call them, nor anybody else — living being or damned soul — influenced directly or indirectly by your power, should be able to come after me. I shall not be hurt, intimidated, or killed before my long-before-birth-decided fate will be fulfilled.”

Long-before-birth-decided fate,” says Satan, allowing himself a short giggle. “Nice one.”

I’m serious.”

So am I.”

Joseph keeps staring mutely and eventually, Satan gives in. Smoke comes out of his bull nostrils. He claps once more and Joseph’s new requests are added to the contract, the ink still fresh.

Good?”

Good,” Joseph says.

Then let’s shake.”

Not so fast. Come back tomorrow. I want the night to think about it. I’d rather not screw myself for the rest of the eternity.”

Satan sighs. He folds himself like an origami and disappears into thin air.

§

Twenty-four hours later, there he is, on that same chair on that same side of the table.

Good morning,” says Joseph smiling.

Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

I am ready to sign this contract,” Joseph points at it, “and this contract alone.”

As long as you piss off.”

So they sign, and everything’s cool. Satan takes the contract and goes back to Hell with the promise that he will get Joseph’s soul once he dies, while Joseph is left behind with his new magic piece of paper. Joseph’s future literally rests in the palm of his hands.

At last,” he comments aloud.

§

Having been an unpleasable perfectionist since adolescence, Joseph has had enough time to decide on what to write on the paper. Here’s what his pondering has boiled down to:

He will make himself ten years younger and will lose at least twice as many pounds. He will be hairless from the neck down. His body will look like that of a guy who hits the gym at least three times a week — no need exaggerating, he doesn’t want to be Dwayne Johnson big. His penis will be straight, not curved, and will gain one inch in length, half in girth — again, no need exaggerating. His immune system will be always vigil so he won’t catch any virus, won’t develop any disease, won’t be affected by any mental or behavioral disorder. He will obtain perfect eyesight, hearing, and reflexes. He will never lose hair, which will never grow past a certain point and will be constantly well-groomed, be it head or facial hair. Same with his nails. His jawline will be more defined and muscular and masculine. His nose slightly smaller. He won’t sweat or stink. His teeth will be perfectly healthy and aligned, they will shine a blinding white and will never ache for the rest of his life. He will grow taller that 6-feet-2 in one night’s course. He will be able to fluently speak any human language ever invented, discovered, or merely thought of.

He will–

He will–

But Joseph doesn’t manage to write down one single word, for black clouds gather around his room and before he can notice it, lightning pierces his body, head to toe. Joseph falls to the ground unconscious. His flatmate will find him half an hour from now. By then, he will already be on his way to Hell.

§

Elsewhere.

Around the same time.

Two man-resembling beings sit on a boat floating at the center of a pond. They are fishing for blackbody-devouring beasts. One of them is relatively young, the other objectively old. One of them has blond hair, the other a salt-and-pepper beard.

Would you believe it, Gabriele?” says God. “To secure a deal like that and not pay me any thought whatsoever? Mankind — such naivety.”

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