Fiction: 25 Christmas Eves, part 3

This is part three of '25 Christmas Eves'. If you missed parts 1 and 2, you'll want to give those a read before continuing.

By: Erin L. Snyder

PART 3
When they met a year later, Hector was renting an apartment with two friends, both of whom were fortuitously attending a Christmas Party Hector had feigned a stomach ache to avoid attending. Things were going well with Vanessa, and they’d started talking about moving in together. They hadn’t figured out next year yet - she was applying to colleges in the area, and he’d already dropped out of high school to work at a department store - but they were optimistic they’d figure it out.

The devil gave him a brief rundown of political developments in hell, of how various demons were vying for power and of how the economy there was tightening. “None of it really adds up to much. It gets repetitive after a while. Not so bad as in heaven, but close some days.” He sat down on Hector’s couch, taking care not to damage the upholstery with his tail. He’d leaned his pitchfork up against the coat rack.

“Hey, my mom sent some Christmas cookies,” Hector said, fetching a tin. “My roommates snatched most of them, but I hid these.” He offered the tin to the devil, who took one.

“Thank you,” he said, biting it in half. “So, is there anything on your Christmas list this year?”

“I was thinking,” Hector began, “Musing might be more accurate. I took up the guitar last spring. I’m getting pretty good, too.”

“And you want to know whether I can make you a rockstar?” the devil asked.

“Yeah. I thought it might be an avenue worth exploring,” Hector replied. “I know these things get complicated. But I know it’s... well... a lot of people say things about some of the guys they play on the radio, and your name comes up.”

“For good reason,” the devil admitted. “I’ve got more sway there than in any other industry, exempting politics. But you’re right - it does get complicated. If I could snap my fingers and make anyone a rockstar, the world would be overrun with them. I can improve ability, make connections, and push fate, but that’s all.”

“I figured,” Hector said. “Seemed worth a try, though.”

“Well, don’t give up too fast,” the devil said. “Let me hear you play, see what we have to work with.”

Hector ran to his bedroom and emerged with an acoustic guitar. He played a few Stones covers, along with some Zeppelin tunes. “So,” he said.

“Not bad,” the devil answered, thoughtfully. “But not great. I could make you better, so much so that you’d have a real chance of making it some day, provided you were willing to dedicate your life to music and work through a few hard years.”

“That doesn’t really sound like me, does it?” Hector laughed.

“I guess not.” The devil laughed as well, and Hector started playing a version of We Three Kings. It wasn’t a particularly good version of the song, and Hector didn’t really do it justice, but the devil sat back, helped himself to another Christmas cookie, and smiled.

The next year, the devil found Hector in a new apartment. It was much smaller, but it was a studio, so there were no roommates to worry about. At a glance, the devil could tell there was no one else to be concerned with, which explained the state Hector was in.

It was dark in the apartment. There was a table lamp in one corner but the light barely reached the other side of the room, where Hector was sitting on his bed.

“Hi,” the devil said.

“Hey,” Hector said softly. He looked up, his eyes bloodshot. “Vanessa broke up with me. She said there wasn’t anyone else, but... I don’t know. College, right? I guess that’s what happens.”

“I’m sorry,” the devil said.

“So,” Hector continued, “I’ve been thinking. Maybe I should sell my soul to get her back.” He laughed in an ambiguous way. Not even he could have said for sure whether he was being serious or not, but the devil seemed to take it that way.

“We run into some familiar paradoxes. We’d be negotiating for something I don’t own. Depending on the situations of her life, I’m not entirely certain I could manipulate her through direct means. And, if I did, there’s no telling she’d stay. For this reason, I’d have to insist my obligation only went so far as getting her to return to you.”

“And I’d just be back here next year, with no soul left to bargain away, is what you’re saying.”

“I don’t know,” the devil replied. “It’s possible it would work next time. There are addendums we could try to add, say making alterations to your personality, fixing elements of your situation, and that sort of thing. If you really think her enrollment in college was a factor, I’m sure I could find a way to terminate that arrangement.”

“You mean getting her thrown out,” Hector said, looking at his floor. “She probably deserves that. But... God, maybe I’m the one who deserves having their life screwed up. I shouldn’t even be considering this. I’m sorry. I thought this was the year, that maybe this was what I was waiting for. But this is petty.”

The devil sat down beside Hector. “It’s your soul,” he said. “In the end, you’ve got to determine what it is you want most. I’m in no hurry - let’s pick this up next year.”

A year later, the devil found himself back in the same small apartment, face-to-face with Hector, now twenty years old. He’d grown a beard since they’d last met, though the devil had no difficulty recognizing him.

“How’s it going?” Hector asked.

“You know how it is,” the devil replied. “Rather dull, all things considered. The market for souls is good, I suppose, but that really just makes things more tedious, to tell the truth. How has life been treating you, Hector?”

He shrugged and motioned to the apartment, which had been less cluttered the previous year. At least now there was more light. “I’m working in a warehouse now,” Hector said. “I guess things are tedious for us both.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the devil responded. “Anything I can do?”

Hector grinned. “That’s the big question, isn’t it? Let’s see. Finances? New job? Better place?” He brushed a pile of clothes off a chair at his table and offered it to the devil, who thanked him and had a seat. Then he moved some magazines, revealing a notepad. They negotiated for the better part of an hour, but when the devil presented his final offer - guaranteed acceptance into a state college, a part-time job at a decent (but not overwhelming) hourly rate for the duration of his education, a full-size one-bedroom apartment at less than he was paying now, and (provided Hector managed to graduate on time) a managerial position with a growing company - he balked.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer. It’s just....”

“Don’t say another word,” the devil said. “I understand completely. Your soul’s worth a great deal and you’re not comfortable parting with it.”

“I guess,” Hector said. “I don’t know, it’s just... I feel like whatever I get should really move me. And, while this all this sounds good, it just isn’t making me excited.”

The devil nodded. “Next time, then?”

“Next time,” Hector replied.

The next year was a mixed one for Hector. His landlord increased his rent, so he had to give up the apartment and move in with an old friend of his from high school. He met Jennifer, but they spent most of their time together arguing; when she finally broke it off, all Hector felt was relief. Meanwhile, a friend of his father’s told him he might be able to offer him a job in his video store after the holidays. It took all of Hector’s willpower not to quit his job in the warehouse on the spot.

There were certainly things Hector wanted, but nothing so much to consider surrendering his immortal soul. The devil was about to head along when they heard a sound from the other side of Hector’s bedroom door.

“Oh, don’t mind that. It’s just Gerard.”

“Your roommate? Aren’t you worried he’ll hear us talking?”

“Nah. Gerry wouldn’t barge in without knocking, no matter how high he is. Besides, he’s experimenting with acid, so I’m not sure it would.... why are you looking at me like that?”

Indeed, the devil’s face had lit up. He smiled mischievously and whispered, “Hector, would you be kind enough to introduce us?”

Hector started to laugh. “No,” he said, but by that time he was almost doubled over. “No!” he repeated.

A minute later, the devil opened the door and stepped through. Hector followed behind at a distance, biting his tongue to keep a straight face. Gerard was sitting in a recliner, facing away. He was studying his hand with a disappointed look on his face when the devil stepped in front of him. Gerard’s mouth opened in shock.

“Oh, hello,” the devil said. “You must be Gerry. My name is Rick. Hector told me all about you. I work down at the warehouse, and I just stopped by to drop of his Christmas bonus. He said I should introduce myself before taking off.”

The devil extended a hand, which Gerard didn’t touch. To his credit, he did manage to blurt out, “It’s good to meet you. I have to get going. Last minute shopping.” He half jumped, half rolled out of the recliner, going over the handrest to avoid contacting the devil.

“Oh. Are you heading to the mall? I can give you a ride, if you’d like,” the devil offered.

“No. No, that’s... I wanted to walk. Bye.” He never took his eyes off of the devil, which worked out for Hector, who was having a hard time maintaining a straight face.

Gerard was out the door in a few seconds. Hector and the devil fell down laughing. “I can’t believe I let you mess with him.”

The devil nodded. “I know, it’s horrible, right? But you can’t tell me you didn’t love his expression.”

“Have you ever done that before?” Hector asked.

“Mess with someone while they’re tripping? Are you kidding? I’m the devil. Every damn chance I get!” They both started laughing again.

The Conclusion of 25 Christmas Eves can be read here.

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