When I walked into my office break room, I’d been hoping that there’d still be a half-full pot of coffee sitting in the machine, maybe a couple extra donuts left over from the day’s lunch meeting. If I got unlucky, I figured that I might see Doris sitting at the flimsy Formica table on one of her many “breaks”, poring over the newspaper as if it contained more of the gossip that she loved sharing around the office.
What I wasn’t expecting to see, however, was a man in an elegant suit of pure blackness, sitting with his feet propped up on the table and a cell phone in his hand.
“Um, can I help you?” I asked, feeling strangely uncertain. Normally, I didn’t need to even try in order to project an aura of composure and competence – it just came naturally to me, I suppose. But in this moment, all of that ability seemed to desert me.
The man looked up at me, and grinned. “Ah, Alex. Good to see you.”
“Do… do I know you?” My voice seemed to stammer! I never stammered! I tried to remember where I might have met this cold and confident, clearly powerful man before, but I drew a blank.
He laughed, sitting up and dropping his leather shoes back down onto the ground. “Oh, don’t remember me? Come now, Alex, surely I must hold some space in your little mortal head. Or perhaps I’m just wearing the wrong face?”
“I- I-” I stammered, unable to pull my eyes away from his face. I couldn’t look away – as the man advanced towards me, the skin seemed to pull tight on his face, drawing back until it looked like paper stretched over a skull! His slicked-back hair darkened to black, and then spots of gray erupted at the temples. He loomed over me, two dark shadows radiating out from his shoulders.
“I- it’s you,” I finally managed to gasp out. “The devil.”
He grinned, taking a step back so he didn’t loom over me quite so much. “Got it in one, Alex. Clearly, this career is keeping you sharp.”
I stepped past him and dropped down into the chair that he’d vacated, looking up at him as my brain tried to frantically count up the number of years that had passed. “But it’s not time yet,” I said weakly. “You told me that I’d have two decades. It’s only been five years.”
“And such a good job you’re doing with those years!” Lucifer – for indeed, that was who stood before me – proclaimed. He held out his arms, turning in a slow circle. “Executive Vice-President, and likely to be CEO within the decade! A gorgeous wife, big house, fancy slick car – isn’t this all so grand?”
“Well, you know, it’s just hard work,” I said automatically, still slumped back. I felt like I might be heaving a heart attack. Was he doing this to me?
Lucifer laughed. “And trading your soul to me, too – that did help you out a little bit.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t tell the kids that when they come to the office,” I managed. I reached out and grabbed the sides of the table. “Seriously, just tell me – are you killing me? Am I dying right now?”
He frowned and leaned over, peering down into my face with his cold eyes. “Nope. Panic attack.” He slammed his hands together in a thunderously loud clap, and I jumped, my heart thumping back to panicked life.
“So then, what are you doing here?” I felt a little bit of my strength returning.
Here, I saw Lucifer’s mouth twist wryly, as if he was privy to some private joke. “Actually, I need to ask you for something.”
“Not my soul,” I repeated, just to be certain.
He glared at me with a bit of annoyance. “No, not your soul.”
What? I sat up a little straighter. “You need a favor,” I repeated. “From me.”
He nodded, wincing as though even admitting this was painful. “Unfortunately.”
“Can I get my soul back?” Might as well ask, right?
To my amazement, although it looked like he hated to even speak the words, Lucifer shrugged. “I’m not saying that it’s off the table.”
Well, that was enough to convince me! “Great! What do you need for me to do?”
“Oh, not much. Just go retrieve something for me.”
Well, sure, this didn’t sound too bad. “Something that you can’t get to?”
“Mortals only, I’m afraid.” He looked around, picked up the pot of coffee, and then put it back with irritation. “This is already taking too long. Are you in?”
I wasn’t about to miss this chance. I could afford to take a sick day. “I’m in,” I nodded.
“Great.” And with that, Lucifer stalked off towards the elevators.
It took me a moment before I realized that I needed to go after him, and dashed off to catch up.