Returning to our October story, Dealing with the Devil, we were onstage with Jonathan Menkhir and Satan as they delved deeper into Jonathan’s beloved wife Chloe’s history as he tried to win her freedom from Purgatory. Let’s see what happens next.
The devil never mentioned the box, nor did I. I could still feel its weight in my pocket as the curtain drew wide to reveal the bedroom set from Fiddler where we had enacted the nightmare scene together. The devil began to blather on about how this was the bedroom set we had picked out together, but it was not – I recognized it as the one from the stage production, and a lousy facsimile at that.
Everything about this setup felt less and less substantial as time wore on. Chloe began to look even flatter and further away, just a fading photograph of a memory depicted as one of those life-size cardboard cutouts. The scene that surrounded me was sloppily finished chipboard and nothing more, painted too quickly in a bad last minute attempt at deception. The more that I stared at it the less real it became, all just caricatures of my life. The chipboard began to erode away to cardboard, the corrugated surface subtly showing from behind the façade. The decadent velvet draperies were nothing more than flimsy sheets of paper. I pulled the ring box out of my pocket. The box itself was made of folded cardstock; the ring inside just a circle of wire with a pink sequin in place of the rose quartz. It was all an illusion, and the production value was terrible.
Satan continued pontificating on the bedroom set. He droned on like a sleazy car salesman, the kind that would sell you a lemon of a junker by trying to convince you it was first rate, who would move decals to a beater car in order to convince unsuspecting and naive buyers that the car was a genuine Rolls from back in the day. At any minute, I expected him to hold open his white silk suit jacket and try to sell me a fake luxury watch.
“Lies, all lies,” I called out. “Just what do you take me for?”
The devil stopped suddenly, fire rising in his amber eyes. “Aw, Johnny Boy, you have to believe. You cannot lose faith in your love for Chloe. She is waiting for you to make the right decision, and we’ve barely even started.”
“This has nothing to do with Chloe, leave her out of this,” I retorted as a sudden gust of wind knocked over the cardboard cutout standing in the middle of the stage. “I was right at the start – you never had a grip on her. This is not Purgatory or a game, it’s just a cheap knockoff to connive me into your clutches. I’m not buying in.”
The devil began fuming, heat and smoke rising from the collar of his ill-fitting white suit, which was starting to look like as if it were made of rice paper rather than silk and was now slightly smoldering. A shrill whine echoed forth from his yellow teeth, “Now, Now, Johnny Boy. You simply MUST believe. You can choose the outcome but you must choose wisely.”
I shook my head. “I don’t believe you. There are no choices here that hold any meaning: a cheap replica of our sweetheart ring or the prop setup from Fiddler? None of that matters now. What is done is done, Chloe is gone and I am alone and that is how it is. You have nothing to offer me.”
The wind that had knocked over the cardboard cutout pretending to be my beloved bride was picking up. The cardboard and crinkled paper stage eroded around us into nothing more than brittle dry chaff. What was left of the paper dream morphed into mere leaves as my yard again came into clarity, the piles I had been painstakingly raking now scattered again.
“So you’ve made your choice then, Johnny Boy. And to think, you two could have been so happy together,” Satan cackled, “my dear, Jonathan Menkhir, you have chosen… poorly.” Satan’s head rolled back on his neck as he erupted in a fit of laughter. As he cackled to himself, a grating squeal bellowed forth from the depths of the cavernous pit of his gaping maw. He seemed to turn inside out, doubling back and swallowing himself as he reverted to the form of a gaunt man picking up a pile of dog poop from where his Westmoreland Terrier had so fervently buried it. The dog turned towards me, smiled a wide yellow-toothed grin and winked before it trotted along with the dog-walker in tow.
I reached into my pocket and fingered a small box. As I took it out to examine it, I realized it was the exact box that the genuine sweetheart ring had been kept in before it had been lost. The burgundy velvet case was still intact and was the real deal, not a poor facsimile. Sure enough, when I opened it, the actual ring was there, gleaming at me as sunlight danced across the faceted rose quartz. The devil dog was nowhere to be found, but I could still hear him chuckling on the passing breeze.