Last time on Dealing with the Devil, the mourning Jonathan Menkhir was approached by Satan in the form of a dapper small dog while he was out raking leaves. Let us pick up where we left off, shall we…
“Wait, my input? What could you possibly need from me? Chloe never harmed anyone, she died trying to save the baby. She refused to give up.” My anger seethed forth in my voice as I spoke.
“Chloe died before she was supposed to because it was the baby’s time and she was too stubborn to let go. Now she is in what you mortals would call limbo. But in between states, she cannot act and so someone needs to engage on her behalf. You see it’s not nearly so simple as you might think. It’s like when someone goes to jail and needs someone else to represent in court so they don’t get convicted and sent to the chair. Oh, that’s a terrible analogy, but you get the drift, I suppose.” The devil dog winked again.
“What do you mean, go to jail?” I asked taking the bait, further losing my grip.
“Calm down, it’s not what you think,” the dog barked. “She’s not in jail, just in limbo. It’s more like that game show you mortals have been playing for decades, what is it? The one where you have to decide whether to hold or trade between what’s in the box and what lies behind door number one but without the pretense of costumes, that’s not required… Although you can dress up if you like,” the dog smirked.
The dog spun around the hunched over dog-walker’s legs and leapt in the air, leash vanishing. The devil stood before me, no longer a small dog being walked by a remarkably unmemorable gaunt silhouette but rather a fusion of the two. He was a menacingly impish man with amber eyes and a coif of frizzy white hair that hung in wispy clouds over his orange faux tan skin, wearing a white silk suit with red accents. In his outstretched hand, he still held the bag of dog poop and leaves he had collected, which he promptly swallowed in one gulp, his mouth opening wider than should be possible to reveal a cavernous maw of sharp jagged yellow teeth leading to a dark pit.
“Sorry, now where were we?” Satan smiled as he recalled the turn of events. “Ah, yes, you were about to embark with me to Purgatory to undertake the game on behalf of your dearly beloved Chloe.” He extended his hand towards me, now devoid of the bag and its unpleasant contents.
I was bewitched by his silken words and the flickering gleam in his eye and acted wholly on impulse outside of my own volition. Mesmerized and without hesitation, I took the devil’s extended hand, leaving the leaves to drift back into my yard to gather in their windswept ridges. We were instantly transported to a small staged room full of red velvet curtains and flashing lights. Chloe stood motionless in the center, rigid and frozen in space and time. She was dressed exactly as she had been for our wedding. Her eyes were open but unblinking and seemed to stare straight through everything as if she were not wholly there. The impish Satan smiled widely as he addressed an unseen audience from an overly loud gold microphone.
“Ladies and gentleman, angels and devils, tonight we bring you Jonathan Menkhir, who will be playing on behalf of his beloved wife Chloe. Chloe met with an untimely end due to complications carrying their firstborn child.” He motioned at the frozen woman front and center on the stage and then gestured widely to point directly at me. “So let’s give a warm welcome to Johnny here as we begin.”
The room was ghastly silent; crickets chirping would have been louder. Something about this wasn’t right. Of course, I was brought here by the devil, who had approached me as a Westmoreland Terrier and sweet talked and entranced me into going with him, so what did I expect? But the whole situation was amiss in a way that I couldn’t quite discern. Was it the grandiose gestures of announcer Satan as he addressed the nonexistent crowd? Or how Chloe just stood there unmoving? Or was there something more?
I was stationed behind a knee-high panel. It was all too short and seemed shoddily constructed, like a piece of bad chipboard stage scenery from a very amateur production. The lights all around us flickered as a spotlight panned the stage and myself before resting on the devil again. Everything appeared badly faked as though cobbled together from various backroom props and accessories. Even Chloe was not herself, just a picturesque image of her from our wedding photos, completely static and etched in place.
Satan spoke again, “Now, Johnny, let’s see what we have in store tonight. In order to save your beloved Chloe, you must choose wisely… I have in my hand a small box and token of your love. It’s your high school sweetheart ring!” He brought the box containing the ring over and handed it to me. It was just as I remembered it – a small gold band centered on a rose quartz gemstone. Chloe had worn this constantly until I was able to procure a true engagement ring in college. As we aged and put on a little extra padding, it grew too tight and found its way to the back of the jewelry box until it was lost in the move. Chloe had felt terrible about it at the time, but soon enough it was forgotten.
“Do you want to keep the box with your prize or see what lies behind curtain number 1?” Satan boomed, gesturing widely to the velvet drapery at his left.
“Where did you find this?” I asked. “It’s been missing for almost four years.”
“Never mind that,” the devil sidestepped. “Do you want to keep it or see what lies behind the curtain?”
I glanced again at the stage as things began to grow clearer. The knee-high pedestal had been from a middle school production of The Wizard of Oz, where I had played the Munchkin Mayor in my first real role. Chloe was standing beside a curtain that had served as a backdrop for the variety show in which we danced together; I had given her the sweetheart promise ring that night.
I discreetly slid the ring box into my pocket. “I guess I’ll take the curtain,” I said.