“Blood, schmud,” said the Devil of Life. “Why ever would I need such a mess? What good is a fool with a contract, a quill, pricked tips and big scared eyes? That’s your game, your fearful play, not mine.”
“It’s true,” I said. “I’ve only bled my human share, no more, no less, but are you not the one who needs the theater, the show of sanguine scribble on blackened parchment? Do you not, with your talent for deception, purchase souls in exchange for worldly pleasures?”
“Needs?” he scoffed, “My needs are thrice fulfilled in your presumptive ways and interpretative texts. How hilarious you are to think me a used car salesman, snatching deals, claiming fleshbound victories — as if I would ever honor a contract… A soul? Even if I wanted one, for sport, for eternal torment — do you really think I’d bother to bargain for it? Why, with ease I’d take my pick of the lousy lot and if, with my forked tongue I tasted them and if they were not to my liking — I’d spit them ferociously through the gaps in my yellow teeth, and if I so chose, I’d stomp them out like the smoked stub of a black cigarette, with my cloven hoof. Look over your contract, what you don’t see — that’s me. The rest, all those “details” you attribute to my cleverness — that’s all you and your desire for justification.”
“So you need not my soul, yet you confine me to this box where I’m pounded and humiliated, year after year, my head between the bars now, sweating volumes as you watch me wriggle?”
“I play for the perfume,” said the Devil of Life. “For the ooze, the essence, that thing that seeps that can’t be helped, that unique expression. The tears of agony are the appetizer, the revolutions of frustration make for a hearty main entree, and of course, the suicidal tendencies, both latent and manifest are but a layered and luscious platter of pastries, alas, once devoured, digested and regurgitated — are that which no longer thrill.”
I looked the Devil of Life in the eye and asked, “What then is it that lasts, as there is nothing I know of that endures?”
“Well,” he said, lighting a fresh new charred cigarette. “Let’s work it through together, my dear. What ineffable traits could you possibly possess that allow me to find you interesting enough to torture, year after year?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, my head rattling between the tight iron bars. “My ability to survive?”
“Pshhaahh. Who cares about survival?” He looked at me and smiled a Mona Lisa smile, literally — his face, for one odd moment, became that of Da Vinci’s most famous work, and then in an instant, it reverted back to the old familiar shiny red. “You’re not even warm. Try again.”
“You sent me that rapist. I survived him.”
“Off track, but getting warmer. The rapist was an excellent prompt. And look what you crafted from the mess he made of your mind – a cult of deviants, I couldn’t have done better myself. You gave us theatrix, music, song!”
“You sent me that cancer.”
“And for ten years after, the poetry of your angst was as brilliant as a black diamond. How close you were to taking your own life — each and every time! Every word you wrote was worth it’s weight in blood.”
“It might have stayed just as brilliant had you not sent the liars.”
“Ah,” the Devil of Life smiled fondly. “The liars. They’re always good in a pinch.”
“Why did you have to send the liars?”
“Because the perfume of your art was getting stale. And besides, I was getting bored of poetry. Where was the prose, the graphite — where were the damned digital illustrations? Had you not a novel within that monkey suit of yours, waiting to be writ? Who brought that out, hmm? I made an executive decision on that one, when I sent in the liars.”
The Devil of Life put his cigarette out on his tongue, then swallowed it. “You were a good machine, but you needed oiling.” He coughed.
Recoiling over the memory of the liars, I asked, “What did you get out of that?”
“What did I get out of it? Ha! Just look at you. There, in that room — I’m so proud of you. You’ve mastered so many techniques, so many ways to produce for me. Everything you do screeches pain.” He looked at me slyly, and with what almost appeared to be tenderness in his eyes, he said, “You’re one of my favorites, you know.”
A black tear dribbled from the outer corner of his eye, turned into a small spider and crawled across his flaming red cheek in a zigzagged path, into his pointy black beard.
I clung tightly to the bars and begged of him. “Have you not had your fill of me? What more could I possibly give you? You’ve taken the dramatics, the music, the poetry, the art, the fiction — even the damned digital illustration…”
Approaching me with riding crop in hand, he lashed me so hard about the shoulders that I nearly tore my own head off trying to release myself from the stronghold of the bars.
“There’s always more that I can get from you, my dear,” he said, inhaling deeply of my scent. “Art is the only immortal soul of humanity. And besides, I like the musk.”