Home > My Favorites > Day Forty-four: The Devil Went Down to Friday’s

Day Forty-four: The Devil Went Down to Friday’s

Lou was well into his third beer when The Devil sat down on the barstool next to him and ordered a gin and tonic.

He was The Devil. Had to be. His skin was pinker than you’d normally see. He had a long nose and full, fleshy lips, all set off by a pointy black goatee. He was dressed way too nice for a bar like this, where guys got off their desk jobs for the day, had a few drinks to become people again before trudging home to face the wife and kids.

And then there were the horns.

The bartender brought him a drink as though there was nothing weird at all going on. The Devil thanked him and left a nice tip. When he noticed Lou staring, he nodded, that kind of silent “Hey” that marked the most basic level of Guy Cordiality.

Lou tried to go back to his beer, but kept sliding his gaze over to get a look at the man. The Devil wasn’t doing anything, really. Not offering deals or trying to corrupt the souls of everyone in here – as if that were still possible. He was just sipping at his drink and watching ESPN on the TVs hanging above the bar.

This went on for ten minutes. Lou finished his beer and ordered another, trying to get drunk enough to make a move and say something. Not often you get a celebrity in here, he thought, and that made him giggle a little. The Devil glanced over, and then ordered another drink of his own.

When the bartender brought it over, and The Devil reached for his wallet, Lou found himself saying, “I got this one,” not fully in control of what his mouth was doing. He handed over a ten and told the bartender to keep the change. A horrible feeling curled up in the pit of his stomach as The Devil took the drink and finally turned around to face him.

“Thanks for the drink,” he said. His voice was pleasant. Smooth, midwestern – the voice of a late-night radio talk show host. He took a sip off the gin and tonic and smacked his lips. “Good stuff,” he said. “Not great, mind you. But good.” He took another sip and let out a long, relaxing sigh. “So. Louis P. Hoban. Cerbecorp engineer, husband, father of two and burgeoning alcoholic.” He tipped an invisible hat. “What can I do for you?”

Lou blinked. “You know my name?”

The Devil raised an eyebrow. “You know who I am, Lou. You know who I am.”

The feeling of dread grew in Lou’s stomach. The Devil, he thought, knows my name. He felt the blood run out of his face and a cold sweat pop out on his upper lip. The Devil’s eyes were a dull orange, the orange of a coal that didn’t seem so hot until you picked it up. The orange of an iron left in the fire. They glowed and shimmered as The Devil stared at him, his eyes seeming to grow and pulse and burn, and Lou started to stammer words that had no meaning.

The Devil erupted in laughter that filled the room, and slapped Lou on the shoulder. “Oh, Lou, you poor, sad man. Oh, that was great.” His laughter started to trail off and he wiped a tear from his eye. “Oh, that was nice. I haven’t done that in way too long…” He giggled a little and then tapped Lou’s glass with his own. “Thanks, Lou. I appreciate that.” He took a drink, put it down again and said, “Seriously, Lou. What’s up?”

For a moment, Lou couldn’t think of anything to say. What do you say when The Devil is sitting next to you, sipping a gin and tonic and making jokes at your expense?

“I know what you’re thinking,” The Devil said. “You’re wondering why I’m here. You’re wondering what I’m planning to do to you.” He raised an eyebrow. “Barter your soul? Send you straight to Hell? Tempt you with all kinds of forbidden pleasures?” He chuckled. “Would you like that, Lou?” he asked.

Lou shook his head.

“I could do that. Easy.” He took a sip of his drink. “Look behind you.” He gestured over Lou’s shoulder. “Go on, look.”

Lou turned, slowly, carefully, to look behind him. There was a boy there, maybe fourteen years old, dripping wet and wearing only a pair of swim trunks. He was shockingly blonde, and had a brilliant smile that glowed against his tan. He stood on the balls of his feet, ready to run off and do something amazing, and his bright blue eyes were calling for Lou to come with him. He was gorgeous, he was wonderful, and memories that Lou had buried for thirty years slammed back into his head. He cried out once, and turned back to The Devil, tears already spilling out of his eyes.

The Devil was smiling. “Evan MacPherson.” He shook his head. “Those two weeks of summer camp were probably the only time in your life you were ever truly happy, Lou.” He snapped. Lou spun around and cried out. The boy was gone. Just a small puddle of water on the floor by the bar. “Pity it didn’t work out. I’m sure your wife and kids are grateful, though.”

He turned to The Devil again, took a few deep breaths and asked, “How?”

The Devil reached up and flicked one of his horns. It made a dull thumping noise. Lou nodded, and settled back into his barstool. He took his beer, finished it in one gulp, and gestured for the bartender for one more. They sat in silence until the next drink came, and this time The Devil paid for it.

“You know, Lou,” he said, “I want to thank you for that. It’s so seldom I find someone who has a hurt that big that they haven’t admitted to anyone. Or put up on YouTube. Or publicly crowed about on a TV talk show.” He sighed. “It used to be all like that, you know? Personalized service – one poor, miserable bastard at a time.” The Devil shook his head. “Now…” He shrugged.

Lou licked his lips. “Now… what?” he asked.

“Honestly, Lou, I don’t really have all that much to do anymore. I’ve pretty much put myself out of a job. Occasionally I run into someone like you, and I treasure that, I really do.”

“Why?” It came out as a whisper.

The Devil sat in silence for a moment. “You gave me a secret, Lou,” he said. “I’ll let you in on one in return. Okay?” Lou nodded, and there was another long silence.

“The fact that you can be hurt so deeply, Lou, means that you’re still alive in there. Somewhere.” He poked Lou’s belly, bigger, softer than that summer when he was fourteen. “You people are so much better at hurting each other than I am. And so much more open to being hurt. Honestly, I find it a little bit shocking.”

He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one, and it smelled like a campfire at night in the middle of August. There was a law against it, but the bartender didn’t say anything. “When I found you people, you were animals. Barely able to bang rocks together. And against Someone’s better judgement,” he said, glancing upwards, “I gave you… let’s call it a ‘boost.’ Intelligence. Empathy. Morality. The whole package.”

He exhaled, and the smoke drifted across the bar in a lazy spiral. “The knowledge of Good and Evil.” He tapped the ash out into a cut-glass ashtray that couldn’t have been there before.

“Problem is, you were still monkeys underneath. Still are, really. Knowing the difference between good and evil doesn’t mean you’ll actually do good and avoid evil.” He looked up at the TV and blinked. The picture changed to a news feed. A murder had been done. Protests against a military funeral. Scenes from a war. Trial of a child molester. A man being executed. He blinked, and the horrors of mankind flickered across the screen. Lou stared into the TV and saw them all – the bullies, the liars and the cheaters. The powerful who stepped on the necks of the powerless, who turned around and stood on the necks of those lower than they.

“I gave you the knowledge of good and evil, the intelligence with which to use it, and put it on top of a screaming, hateful primate brain.” He shrugged, and stubbed out the cigarette. “Entertaining, sure. But in the long term, not the best idea.”

He waved, and the TVs went black. The lights went out all through the bar. The Devil lit another cigarette, and the flame was all Lou could see. Around him, people were yelling – afraid at first, then angry. Then crazy. The sound of breaking glass and breaking furniture was all around him in the darkness, but he couldn’t see any of it. In the light of The Devil’s cigarette, there was just the two of them.

“You people know how to hurt each other so much better than I do,” he said. “You know your weaknesses inside and out. You know what you’re willing to do and where you’ll draw the line, and then one of you crazy bastards goes on and oversteps that line.” He smiled, and Lou felt sick. There was a scream and a wet snap from somewhere behind him. “It’s admirable, in its own way.”

Lou could hear someone breathing behind him, feel the breath on his neck. The Devil’s eyes never moved, didn’t flicker up to see who it was. They stayed on Lou, and he didn’t look around. There was something wet dripping on his skin, something warm and slick running down the back of his shirt and the breathing was beginning to sound like words that he could almost understand.

“You people live in a world of perpetual terror, greed and pain,” The Devil said. Something rough and cold touched Lou’s neck, and dragged itself up towards his ear. “You live in a world that’s already trying to kill you in a million different ways and you spend so much of your time making it just that much worse.” Something heavy rested itself on Lou’s shoulders and his head, and it started bending his head back. He kept his eyes on The Devil’s, but it was becoming harder and harder to do, and sooner or later he’d see the thing behind him.

“You’ve put me out of a job, Lou,” The Devil said. He stubbed out the cigarette and the world went black. There were fingers on Lou’s face – rough-skinned and sharp, and he could feel the nails come to rest right under his eyes. They smelled like autumn leaves and dogshit and Lou tried to scream.

The lights came on. The bartender came over with another beer for Lou. “On the house,” he said.

Lou’s heart was racing. His neck hurt and he could still feel something running down his neck. He spun around to look at the bar – everything was normal. There was an office party going on, some couples enjoying their dinner, a few guys in suits at the bar. The TVs were showing football, but no one was watching.

The Devil was gone.

Where he had been sitting there was a folded piece of paper with Lou’s name on it.

His hand shaking, Lou picked it up and unfolded it once. It read, “You’re a good listener, Lou. Thanks.” There was a symbol drawn underneath – a happy face with horns and a goatee. Lou exhaled sharply, something between a laugh and a cry.

He unfolded the paper the rest of the way. In the middle of the page, in simple block letters, was written the name of Evan MacPherson, and a phone number. Local.

Lou crumpled the paper in his hands, and this time he did cry. Quietly, manfully, but he cried.

The bartender came over, draping a dishtowel over his shoulder. “You okay?” he asked. “Need to call someone to pick you up?”

Lou took a few deep breaths and wiped his eyes. He flattened out the piece of paper on his leg. “Yeah,” he said. “Give me the phone.”

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