Fiction: 25 Christmas Eves, part 2

The title story of 25 Christmas Eves continues. If you missed last night's installment, you'll want to start this story from the beginning, which you'll find here.

By: Erin L. Snyder

Turning fifteen brought a host of disappointments to Hector’s life, not the least of which being his failure to make the cut for his school’s baseball team. His more athletic classmates seemed to experience life far fuller than he, and he began to consider - quite seriously - whether this might be a direction worth pursuing. But trading one’s immortal soul, he reasoned, was not something to be undertaken lightly.

When the devil appeared, Hector was ready with elaborate checklists, notes, and charts. He began grilling his visitor right off the bat.

“What can I expect to be bench-pressing?”

“That depends how hard you work at it. I can guarantee more than triple your current maximum.”

Hector made a note. “What about throwing?”

“I can improve eye-hand coordination at least fifty-five percent.”

Another note. “And running?”

“Top in your school, off the back.”

“Will I be able to go pro?”

“That depends,” the devil began to explain, but was cut off by the door to Hector’s room opening.

“--thought I heard talking and wanted to make sure you weren’t listening to,” were the words Hector heard his mother say between her opening his bedroom door and actually looking in. As soon as her eyes fell upon the scene before her, she went silent. Quite pale, too.

Mrs. Steward had always had a powerful imagination, so if she’d ever pondered the various compromising activities she might one day catch her fifteen year-old son in the middle of, she no doubt could have assembled a robust list of possibilities. However, nowhere on that list would “negotiating a deal with the Prince of Darkness” have appeared.

Everyone was remarkably still for a moment. Hector and the devil looked at Mrs. Stewart. Mrs. Stewart stared back at the devil.

No one spoke. No one breathed.

Then, in barely a whisper, out of the corner of his mouth, the devil said to Hector, “Gotta go. We’ll pick this up next year,” and poof! A cloud of smoke and swirling mist.

Mrs. Stewart screamed louder than she ever had in the thirty-seven years she’d been alive.

“So,” the devil said almost exactly a year later. “How’d that go?”

Hector nodded. “Not great. I thought... I don’t really know what I thought. That she’d kill me or something. No. More like she’d get Dad to kill me. She really freaked out. But, when Dad got here, I just... I didn’t say anything, like I was in shock. He didn’t know what to do. I mean, you weren’t here, right? So... it’s just her yelling about finding the devil in her house. She dragged me to church and even got a priest to sit down with us and talk about it. But... I just kind of tried to act confused. The priest said she wasn’t making sense, that the devil is a spiritual construct, not a physical person. And if he was physical, he wouldn’t look like you look. Pretty soon, she even started to think she was crazy. She began going to talk to a psychologist. Then, last month, she told my dad she was leaving. She said it wasn’t because of me, but... it all started last year.”

The devil gently placed a clawed hand on the boy’s shoulder. “It’s really not your fault,” he said. “These things just happen sometimes.”

“I guess. I just... if I wanted to... could you make her come back?”

“Is that what you really want for your soul?” the devil asked.

“No. No, I guess not.”

“Good. To be honest, I’m not sure I could do it anyway. I can’t really make people do things. I have ways of pushing them. But I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Probably not,” Hector said.

“I don’t suppose you still want athletic ability?” the devil asked.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know what I want?” They talked for a few more minutes, and then the devil left, leaving Hector alone on that very cold Christmas Eve.

Hector may have been in the dark that year, but by the next the sixteen-year old was pretty certain he’d made up his mind. Even before the devil got there, there was a tension in the air. Satan felt it as soon as he arrived.

“Hi, Hector.”

“Oh. Hi. There’s something I want to ask you about. But it’s... it’s kind of difficult.”

“It’s okay,” the devil said. “I might have faults, but the one thing I can’t be accused of is being judgmental. Worse case, you ask for something I can’t deliver and we’re back to square one. I won’t hold anything against you.”

Hector nodded. Then he walked over to his bed and pulled a magazine out from between the mattresses. He brought it over to the devil.

“Wondered when we’d get to this,” the devil mused.

“I feel so stupid,” Hector said.

“This is normal,” the devil said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of people. Boy gets about your age... well, there are things you start thinking about. Let’s talk.”

Hector flipped through the pages. “Here she is. September. Her. I want her.”

“In what capacity?” the devil asked, already a little worried. He had dealt with a lot of people, and he knew all too well where the pitfalls in these bargains were placed.

“I think I love her,” Hector said. “I know how stupid that is, but I think it’s true. I’ve never even met her, but I love her. I just want her. You know what I mean.”

“I’m not so sure you know,” the devil replied, “and that’s the real problem. Our deal has to correspond with your understanding of your request, otherwise it’s impossible for me to fulfill my end of the bargain. And, I’m sorry for being so blunt, but you’re a virgin, Hector. You don’t know what you’re asking for.”

“But... isn’t that true with everything? I mean, you’ve offered me money, objects, and abilities before. I was too young to really understand what those meant, wasn’t I? How is this different?”

“Those were things I could give you. I can’t give you this woman...” the devil paused to check the name in the margin then continued, “I can’t literally give you Marsha - I actually don’t think that’s her real name - the way I could give you a car or a house. She couldn’t be yours to own for a number of reasons, not the least of which being contemporary mortal legal systems. Besides, even if I could, she’d be too valuable: a person’s life is worth more than a soul. I know that seems counterintuitive, but it’s simple economics.”

“I don’t... I don’t want to own her. Not like that,” Hector said, somewhat shocked by the turn the conversation had taken. “I just....”

“Are you asking for her? For how long? One night? For the rest of your lives? I can’t promise either. I could get someone who looked like her to be with you for a night. I could get you someone even better looking. But I don’t think I could get her, even for that time. And, even if I could, I’m not sure she’d do... what you want her to do. I could try to persuade her, but I can’t make her.”

“I... wouldn’t want that, anyway,” Hector admitted. “I guess... I didn’t think this through. Not really. I don’t want someone who doesn’t want to be with me. But... I also don’t want just anyone.”

The devil smiled warmly. “You’re young. Maybe this wasn’t the year for us to close our deal. Would you like another year to think things over?”

“Yeah. Thank you,” Hector said.

The tenth year Hector met the Devil on Christmas Eve was something of a milestone. Along with a myriad changes in Hector’s life, there was quite a change in scenery. For the first time since the Devil had appeared to bargain for the boy’s soul, they didn’t meet in Hector’s room. In fact, when the devil appeared to Hector, he found himself standing on a dirt road about five miles away from the nearest house. There was a thin coat of snow on the ground left over from a snowstorm three days earlier. The sky was clear, and the air was brisk.

Hector was lying on the hood of his car, an aging blue Ford Falcon. He was staring up at the stars when the devil appeared, pitchfork in hand.

“Hey,” Hector said, sitting up. “I was worried you wouldn’t be able to find me. I wasn’t sure how it works, you know? I left you note in my room. Did you get it?”

“No. I can find people when I want to.”

“Yeah. I kind of figured it was something like that, but we’d never really talked about it. Oh, there’s an extra coat in the car, in case you’re cold.”

“Thank you, but no. I’m perfectly content as it is,” the devil chuckled. “Regardless of what you’ve heard, there are places in hell a lot colder than this.”

Hector shuffled over, and the devil sat beside him on the hood. “This is new,” he mused.

“Yeah. Dad got it for me for my birthday. Said a man should have a car. Guess that means I’m a man now. Dad’s gotten... I don’t know... kind of weird. Since mom left. But he’s seeing someone now. She’s a waitress, got two kids of her own. They’re cool and all, but I guess I felt like a third wheel. Besides, those kids are always sticking their noses around, barging in without knocking. I thought it might be better if we met somewhere else.”

“I don’t mind,” the devil said. “It’s a lovely night. I don’t get to see the stars much these days.”

“I guess I should say this right off the bat. There’s really nothing I’m looking for right now. I’m pretty happy with how things are. It doesn’t seem fair to keep that from you. I know you probably have a lot to do.”

“My schedule’s pretty busy,” the devil confessed, “but I’ve got some time free. There are worse ways to spend a few minutes on a pleasant evening than kicking back on the hood of a Ford, so unless you’re eager to get rid of me, I’d just as soon stick around.”

“No hurry. I was going to try and get together with Vanessa later, but her dad found out and put an end to those plans pretty fast.”

“Vanessa?” the devil asked, intrigued.

“She’s... she’s this girl I’m seeing. Real sweetheart. It’s getting pretty serious, too.”

“Glad to hear it,” the devil said. “Are you at least going to meet up tomorrow?”

“Yeah, but during the day, when her folks are around. Not really the same thing.”

“No, I’d wager not,” the devil said laughing. “Still, you don’t want to spend Christmas apart.”

“I guess not,” Hector said. “I’m surprised you think so.”

“Why’s that?” the devil asked.

“Well... I mean, Christmas. Isn’t it kind of as far from your thing as possible?”

“Christmas actually means a lot to me.”

“Really? But isn’t it, you know, for the birth of your enemy?”

The devil laughed again. “I’ve never thought of him as my enemy. Actually, that’s not true. I did once, but that was long, long ago. Before I realized what he’d done for me and my kind. Before Jesus, everyone - saint and sinner alike - came to us. I thought that was the way I liked it. I thought it was my victory over heaven. But how can there be victory without struggle? The souls of mankind were given to me by God; it was all part of His will manifest. And it was so boring. I never realized it at the time, but it really was. There was nothing to do, nothing to strive for. Not until the Son showed up. Like I said, I didn’t think about it that way then. At the time, I just thought he was God’s spoiled kid, busting into hell to steal half my souls. I fought him something fierce, but he prevailed, took the benevolent souls with him, and left me the rest. After that, it was never the same: there was a way into heaven. We had to work to get spirits. But... it gave us something to work for. He gave us something we’d never really had: an opportunity to thwart his Father’s will, even if the victories were small. I honestly don’t know if Jesus intended any of that or even if he’d thought it through. I don’t know what he thinks of us. But, whether he meant to or not, he saved us before we even realized we needed saving.”

Hector just sat silently while the devil spoke. Once he’d finished, Hector said, “Wow. All Christmas ever meant to me was presents.”

The devil almost fell back laughing. “Nothing wrong with that, either,” he said once he’d stopped. “Nothing wrong with that at all.”