Back | Next
He sat on plush leather in the finest, most opulent office in town, surveying a desk on which even a careless pilot could have landed a helicopter. Flicking an entirely imaginary speck of lint from the lapel of his newest four-hundred-dollar suit, he yawned for perhaps the twentieth time since his secretaries had gone home for the day, and stifled the yawn with an exquisitely manicured hand. His countenance was that of a man with perfect health, job security, much money, and considerable prestigewith a paradoxical frown overlaid.
"Hell," he said succinctly and most uncharacteristically.
"Yeah?" said the demon which appeared flaming beyond the desk.
The temprature in the room rose sharply, but the seated man did not (as a matter of fact, could not) sweat. He squainted at the blazing horned creature and automatically moved his Moroccan leather cigar box away from it. "You want to tone that down a bit?" he said, scowling.
"Listen," it told him, "with the price of a watt these days, you should turn out the lights and put a mirror behind me." But its fiery brilliance moderated to a cheery glow, and the carpet stopped smelling bad. It sat down on thin air, tail coiled, and blew a perfect smoke ring. "Now, what's on your mind?"
He hesitated; took the plunge. "I'm not satisfied."
The demon sneered. "A beef, huh? You guys gimme a pain. You want the Moon for a soul like yours?"
"Now wait a minute," he said indignantly, with just a touch of fear. "We've got a contract."
"Yeah, yeah," it sighed. "And you want to talk fine print. You guys read too many stories. All right, let's haul out the contract and get this over with."
A large piece of foolscap appeared between them on the desk, smouldering around the edges. It was covered with minuscule type, and one of the signatures glistened red.
"Standard issue contract, with bonus provisions contingent on your promise to deliver a large consignment of souls other than your own, as described in appended schedule A-2 . . ." The appendix materialized beside the contract, and the demon looked it over. "Seems to be in order. What's the beef?"
"I'm not satisfied," he repeated, and glared uncomfortably at the demon.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud," it burst out, "what do you want from my life? You got everything you asked for. I honor my service contracts, I supplied everything requested, and I mean everything. I worked for you, baby."
"I don't care," he said petulantly. "I'm not happy. It's right there in the appendix, the Lifetime Approval Option. I've got to enjoy all that you give me. And I don't."
"Look," the demon said angrily, "I did my best for you palyou've got all I can give you. Unbelievable riches, total health, raw power, the job you always wanted and complete autonomy. You can say any dumb thing that comes into your headand believe me, you've said some lulusand people agree with you. You can make the wildest bonehead decisions and they work out okay. You couldn't louse up if you tried, and believe you me it's taken some doing. So what's not to enjoy?"
He glared at it, his jowls quivering. "I'm bored, dammit. There's nothing left to achieve."
"It's your own fault," said the demon. "You insisted on having everything right away, and so you ran out of dreams too fast." It sneered at him. "Greedy."
"I don't care," he snapped. "You made a deal and I want satisfaction. Literally."
The demon stood and began pacing the floor, trailing wisps of blue smoke. "Look," it said irritably, "there's nothing more I can do. You've got the whole works."
"It's not enough. I'm bored."
The demon looked harassed, then thoughtful. "Maybe there's a way," it said slowly.
"Yes," he prodded eagerly.
"It's a way-out idea, but it just might work. The only thing you haven't tried. I"ll turn you into a woman, and . . ."
"No," he said firmly.
It grimaced. "Worth a try. Well, I guess there's only one possibility, then."
"Well, come on, come on. Out with it."
"I'll turn you into a masochist, and let the whole job come down around your ears." The demon smiled. "Take a big bite out of my work load."
"Are you out of your mind?" he exploded.
"Think about it," it said reasonably. "There's nowhere to go from here but back downhill, and you could enjoy that as much as the ride up. Don't you understand? You'd be a masochist. You'll lose everything I've ever given you with just as much joy as you experienced in receiving it, only this time you'll be doing it all yourself, through your own natural ineptitude. All I'll do is help you appreciate it."
He started to say that it was the craziest thing he'd ever heard, and paused. He was silent for a long time, rubbing his five o'clock shadow, and the demon waited. At last he cleared his throat.
"Do you really think it's feasible?" he asked.
"Thought so," said the demon with sly satisfaction. "You've been kidding yourself all these years; this is what you really wanted all along." He began an angry retort, but paused. All at once he experienced a flash of nostalgia for his ulcer. It might be nice to whimper again . . .
"All right," he said suddenly. "Do it."
The demon disappeared, leaving behind it the traditional smell of brimstone (with added petroleum derivatives) and a scorched carpet.
He discovered that his feet hurt, and realized with what was now the closest thing to glee that he could experience that he was sweating profusely. The demon was rightthis was what he had really craved all along, this was what he had been born for. The fall would be more spectacular than the rise. His head began to ache dully.
Picking up the special phone, he made two calls, then dialed his unlisted home number. "Hello, Pat? Dick. Sorry I'm late, dear. I'll be sleeping here tonight. I have to meet early tomorrow with Ron and Gordon about some plumbers. Yes, I'll see you tomorrow night. What? No, dear, nothing's wrong. Everything is fine. Everything is just fine. Good night, dear."
He hung up and looked across the room at the presidential seal over the door. He began to laugh, and then he cried, and continued to cry for months thereafter.
Back | Next