Prologue




“I really can’t see that it’s such a terribly hard job to do. I don’t see at all that I can’t do it infinitely better than you, you’ve gone far too soft these past few years. I’ve been here long enough by now, and poor Asmodeus really does need something constructive to do….”

Lilith paced the floor in front of my chair and thought out loud, but I had already tuned her out. Four thousand years of marriage will do that. As she kept talking and pacing, I simply sat back and watched her, watched that long, leggy stride eat up the rug in six steps, watched her turn as elegantly as any runway model, blonde hair swinging, and pace back again. She was flawless. Flawlessly beautiful in that twenty-first century porn-star way that left no room for imperfections or doubts, and if you ask me, flawless bored me rigid, not where it mattered. The woman herself had been doing it for millennia. Any woman who began every single sentence with ‘I’ was nothing but trouble. Take it from me.

“You don’t understand at all, do you?” I finally said. “All so simple, all so black-and-white, all so nicely categorized into neat little boxes that tell you it must be a cinch to do my job. Nothing is that simple, Lilith.”

“Four thousand years, and you still sound like a scratched vinyl LP, don’t you? ‘Nothing is that simple’, ” she taunted. “Bullshit. Just more male chauvinist pseudo-philosophical cant from someone who thinks he’s better than me simply for having a penis…”

Did I tell you that my lovely wife became a screaming lesbian just to spite me? She’s Queen of the Succubi. No coincidence.

The instant before I tuned her out again, my cellphone vibrated in my pocket. A text message from Saint Peter. “God’s study. All done. Wait for it!”

If she only knew what I was planning. I stood up to go.

“I won’t let you leave just yet! I haven’t finished!” Lilith screamed in mid-harangue, and I was about to set her off again, if I didn’t get out of here. It wasn’t worth the effort to say goodbye. That degree of civility was wasted on her.

I opened the door, closed it, and there was the closet staircase to God’s study, a lone lightbulb dangling from a cord to give a little light. Upstairs was a haven of sanity.

I had to breathe for a moment. My brother, God. My friend, Saint Peter. God’s wife, Sophia, my sister-in-law. These were the ones I trusted, the ones I came to when the day job dragged me down. When Lilith began making hostile takeover noises a few months ago, Saint Peter and I had cooked up an idea. He had been working on it ever since, and when Saint Peter got going, he was relentless. He learned it from the best. Me.

I’ve been called so many names, I can’t take half of them seriously anymore. Satan, The Devil, Lucifer, The Fallen One, Evil Incarnate, Mephistopheles, the Son of the Morning Star, Shaitan – oh, you humans have never lacked imagination. I don’t have cloven feet, do not, in fact, look or function at all different than you if I choose. Once, you needed to give the personification of evil an evil face, needed to dehumanize and externalize it to make it easier to identify. If your history has taught you anything, it’s that true unadulterated evil can wear any face at all, including your own.

Forget the lies you’ve been force-fed since childhood. Forget that I am supposed to be God’s adversary. Like all dogma and most religion, it’s nothing but a select few shining truths wrapped around a million incandescent lies. The truth of Heaven and Hell you could never guess in a million years, and I know – I’ve been here that long.

I’m getting ahead of myself. My own truth was – I had a wife I needed to destroy. I needed a little human help, because once upon a time, four thousand years ago, the Queen of the Succubi had been human, too, before she forced herself upon me and refused to let me go.

So Saint Peter had been given an assignment – to find a human who could do the job, who would be amenable to the benefits we could provide, who could handle the horrors that came with it. Over six billion humans on Earth, and we only needed one. A woman, of course. Nothing can destroy a woman like another.

Which explained why I was walking up the stairs to a dark-green study in a perfectly respectable Flatbush house on a perfectly ordinary November afternoon. There were bookshelves stuffed with books, a stereo, a fifty-inch plasma TV, a desk with a computer, God’s cellphone, a manila file with Saint Peter’s peculiar, left-handed handwriting on it. A leather Chesterfield with two matching armchairs and a coffee table stood up against the wall near the closet door under a tranquil Landseer painting of a handsome rowan horse.

“Brother.” God clasped my shoulders as I closed the door. “Bad day?” he asked with a grin.

I sat down on the Chesterfield with a sigh of sheer relief. “You can’t imagine.” I put my feet up on the coffee table and looked over at Saint Peter, who was fiddling with computer cables and the TV. When he looked up and grinned to see me, I suspected he had a few aces up his sleeve.

Once upon a time, four hundred years ago, Saint Peter had been human, just another over-educated Polish librarian with a passion for alchemy and an inquiring mind, before we were forced by circumstances to add him to our little clan. It was a decision we never regretted.

“So, OK,” began Saint Peter. “These are the ones I’ve found…” Once upon a time, Saint Peter had lectured at the University of Krakow. It showed.

An hour and four candidates later, I shifted in my seat. These ladies were all perfectly worthy, attractive, intelligent women who deserved all the good they could find. I was bored, and I hated boredom. That was the issue, right there. They bored me. If I had to put myself out there, if I had to tempt this creature with everything we had to offer, then at least give me someone who didn’t bore me half to death.

“Is that all you’ve got?” I asked Saint Peter. “Maybe we should just pack it in and call the whole thing off. If I can just find a way to kill myself first.” Whatever it took to get away from Lilith and that impermeable fog of negativity that followed her wherever she went.

God rolled his eyes. “That bad?”

“No…” drawled Saint Peter. “You have no idea. I’ve been saving the best one for last,” he clicked a button, and the plasma was filled with the image of a woman who looked nothing like the last four candidates.

“She’s Danish, or half-American, I should say, forty-six, single, childless, no family that I could find. Her only real tie is a platonic tie to an old school friend. Works as a reprographic artist for a large advertising agency in Copenhagen, but she actually has two degrees in archeology and art history.”

“Sweet face,” sighed God. I knew that sigh. He sounded smitten.

I looked again. She looked nothing like her age. It was a sweet face, but with an entire Las Vegas circus convention going on behind those eyes.

“What about the rest of her?” I asked. Saint Peter brought up another picture, this one from a party at what looked like a club. She was all in black, a lace low-cut top, a pair of jeans, laughing up into a man’s face. She was tiny, no more than maybe 5’2” if that much, and voluptuous if not precisely fat, wider in the shoulders than the hips, and the contents of that top had to be DDs. Juicy, that was the word. Nothing like porn-star stereotyped perfection, nothing like flawless, but oozing sex nonetheless. It was that circus convention in her eyes.

“Fess up!” laughed Saint Peter. “This one got you!”

“I’ll need a little more than that!” I motioned to the TV. “Show me. Blow my mind.”

He showed me an apartment overlooking a market square in downtown Copenhagen. A hallway that wrapped around the corner of the building, a series of hooks that held a few jackets and scarves, trainers and boots neatly stacked in a shoe rack. On one wall hung framed gouache replicas of famous Minoan frescoes, on the other a series of playbills for punk bands dating back to the early Eighties. Beyond, a tidy galley kitchen, and if those pots and pans hanging from a rod over the counter top were any indication, this woman knew how to cook. The living room overlooking the square below had a high ceiling, a huge brick-red sofa with a chaise and pillows in shades of red and purple, an old Forties armchair upholstered in crimson velvet and three walls of books, CDs and LPs, a flatscreen TV and DVD player, a stereo and an iPod dock, and a set of speakers that must have stood four feet tall. In the opposite corner, on a desk along the corner window, a laptop with a printer, and router, a series of cheap Chinese notebooks filled with words, and between the windows, a bulletin board filled with stubs from concerts and movies, quotes and images she had put up for inspiration, across from a dining table, covered with yesterday’s newspaper.

On her bookshelves, an eclectic collection of genres. History books and novels, archeology tomes, esoteric and occult books, topical books, bestsellers and Kierkegaard’s collected works, pulp fiction and chick lit and Schopenhauer and Goethe in German, Apollinaire, de Sade and Colette in French, art books and a large collection of graphic novels and comic books, Shakespeare and Milton, Chaucer and Graves, Henry Miller and Pauline Rèage. Musically, her tastes ran the gamut from Renaissance to Mozart, Black Sabbath to Sibelius, with a decided bias toward metal, hard rock and punk.

That Las Vegas circus convention was no accident. Blonde, but no bimbo. Now, I was intrigued.

“She’s got a secret,” Saint Peter said. “She’s a closet writer, a good one. It’s the one thing in her life that makes her truly happy. She writes three blogs; she’s also been writing a novel for the past seven years, and no one knows except that old school friend.”

God waved his hand. “Show us.” A blur of pages on the screen, but to us, it made perfect sense. Furious phrasing, erotically charged, intelligent writing with bestseller potential. Saint Peter was right. There was an interesting contrast between that tiny bombshell and the razor-sharp mind that had written those words. My curiosity was eating me by now.

“Let me see her bedroom,” I said. Show me a woman’s bedroom, and I can show you who she is. Beware the stuffed animals.

A dark teal cave of a room, where a four-poster bed took pride of place, with teal and purple hangings, a wardrobe, three dressers and another Forties armchair, this one in striped teal and purple silk. The bed was made, purple duvet smooth over the bed, pillows plumped up and standing to attention. Around one bedpost dangled a pair of fur-lined handcuffs, and beside the bed, a tall green glass vase held peacock and ostrich feathers, a riding crop, a long, purple silk scarf, a ping-pong bat and a deerskin flogger. The only stuffed animal I could see was tucked away in a corner, a purple toy bull. Behind the bed hung the classic poster of ‘Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman’ and an old enameled platform sign from Copenhagen’s Central Station, Platform Six.

That made me laugh. The words for ‘six’ and ‘sex’ sounded identical in Danish. She had a sense of humor, then. It got better and better. This woman was very smart, knew to laugh, knew to write and certainly knew how to have fun. The color scheme of her bedroom told me she was bold and sensual, audacious and strong, and what stories the colors didn’t tell me, the deerskin flogger did.

A hedonist, obviously. Good. A mind of her own. 

Saint Peter sat down at the other end of the Chesterfield. “Here’s what you don’t know about her,” he said. “She’s ferociously single. No relationships in the past eight years, just a number of one-night stands and weekend fuckbuddies, and once it’s over, that’s it.” He clicked, and a series of clips came up. “Her hunting ground is mostly this local metal club, owned by that old school buddy. She’s quite popular among the regulars, or at least the guys, until she does them in over a weekend and they can’t get a repeat. They don’t like that too much.” A few of those men were around her age, but many of them were younger. They ran to type, but then again, it was a metal club.

I sat for a few moments, staring at the screen, drumming the armrest of the Chesterfield as I thought. God gave me a look.

“Fess up! You’re intrigued!” laughed Saint Peter.

“Very. What is she doing now? It’s Friday night in Copenhagen.” I was dying to find out.

Saint Peter clicked the remote again, and the image changed to another apartment, showing all the signs of a bachelor who was rarely at home. There she was, curled up on a sofa laughing with yet another younger man, this one with close-cropped brown hair and a pair of very blue eyes. He seemed rather smitten, too. There was a bottle of Beaujolais on the table, half-full, two glasses. In the background, I heard a song I knew. ‘Absinthe with Faust.’ That choice of song held a certain irony I could appreciate.

“So.” I could hear her voice now. She leaned forward and grabbed him by his t-shirt. “You never did tell me what you liked.”

“Ah.” He laughed. “I like dirty.” That explained why she was speaking English. I heard his definite Galway lilt.

She leaned closer, inches away from his face. He was reacting, not that I blamed him. Those DDs would get me, too. “How dirty?” she breathed. One hand was snaking underneath his t-shirt.

The Irishman was absolutely still. “How dirty,” he whispered, “can you get?”

That hand slipped down his leg, slowly, so slowly. “How dirty,” she asked again, her voice silky and sultry, “do you want it?”

For a brief instant, it was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop onto the carpet in God’s study. Saint Peter jumped up. “Call me a prude,” he growled, “but that’s enough, I think.” The plasma went blank.

God pulled at his collar. “Awfully hot in here, isn’t it?” We all burst out laughing. It dispelled some of the tension in the room.

They both turned to me, the expectation plain on their faces. “So?”

“OK. This one, I like. I really do.” Just not for the reasons they thought, but they’d find out soon enough. “But I don’t know…what’s her ignition point? What turns her on? What does she believe in? What approach do we use? She wants to be a writer. Good, that’s the hook. But something tells me she’s not that easily manipulated.” What I didn’t tell them was a hunch, a certain twinge in a sensitive location, something that told me she would be trouble. Big trouble.

The grin that spread across Saint Peter’s face like newly melted butter was as evil as any I ever had.

“Told you to wait for it! Now, we’re getting to the good stuff. Well, so far as I can tell, she believes in one thing alone, and that’s music. Rock’n’roll. That’s it, her religion, her epiphany, her liturgy, if you will.” He gave me a sideways look.

He was evading my question. “I asked…” I turned around to see him better, “what’s her ignition point? Who turns her on? How do we do it? This woman’s a livewire. We’ll have to handle her with care.”

“I was getting to that. Rock’n’roll. Since you ask…” Saint Peter waved a hand at the TV, and three faces came on the screen. He pointed to the one on the left. “That guy in particular. He’s one of her…what does she call ‘em, Primeval Forces. You don't want to know what goes on in that mind of hers, trust me. Why him, I have no idea.”

That guy. I knew him very well indeed. He knew me too, or should I say, he liked to pretend he did to suit his purposes, and they had served him well his entire career.

She was gaining form and facets now and depth now, depth the other women didn’t have. I had a feeling she wasn’t afraid.

“So, that’s what we’ll do?” asked God. “Rock’n’roll avatars?” He laughed, but it was a happy laugh. His was the easy part. Saint Peter and I would have it much harder.

I sat back, eyed those faces in the screen. This could be fun. Devil chords and rock’n’roll. What wasn’t to love?


God looked thoughtful. “Trouble,” he muttered under his breath.

My middle name.

Saint Peter turned to me. “I’ll bet you anything,” he said with a wicked grin on his face, “You can get her, easy. Look like that one, she’ll be a pushover.”
 

“Twenty bucks?” I asked. “Nah. She’ll freak. They usually do.”

He held out his hand. “Don’t think so. This one is special. Deal. Twenty bucks. Shake."

“I’m a witness,” stated God. He had gone very quiet in the past few minutes.

“Deal.” We shook.

The door opened, and in came Sophia, her expectation plain on her face. “So.” She sat down on the sofa, pushed me softly with her fist. “Have you made your decision yet?”

I thought of that face, that circus convention in those eyes. Blonde. Rock chick. DDs, probably. I wasn’t complaining. Trouble, definitely.

Fuck, yeah.
_______________________________________________________

Original image: F.W. Murnau, 'Faust' (1925)

6 comments:

  1. This does a good job explaining the whys behind the story. I'd say it's a very good tease. The other perspective is a good counterpoint.

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  2. The trick is - not to explain - too much. And it's supposed to tease!

    I had the wild-haired idea, not so long ago, to do the prologue and the epilogue from the Devil's perspective. I still don't know whether I should use them or not, but at least it irons out a few wrinkles in my head.

    A few. There's plenty left over! ;-)

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  3. I love it!

    It opens a window to so many possibilities and answers a few questions without giving anything away...teasing us to want more!

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  4. Which is the whole idea, right?

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  5. You are a woman after my own heart---thank you for sharing this! I can't wait to read more...

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  6. Well, go ahead and knock yourself out, Dee! Just please do remember that most of what you're reading is a first draft, although I post rewrites as I complete them, so far up to the chapter called "Heat and Cold". And thank you - for making MY day!

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