On a bleak Tuesday, the Devil offered me a deal. It was around seven in the morning and I had just woken up to the blaring music from my alarm. I groggily rolled over to smash the snooze button and there he was, fiery and dark and horrifying at my bedside. He was all the lore in one, horns and hooves and pure, utter darkness and dread one moment, and then in another he was a politician smiling so wide that it was uncomfortable, another second he was a woman dripping in crimson, and yet another passed when he was engulfed in light, swan's wings spreading outward from his back. But no matter what form he took, I knew who he was. He was the Devil.
Too scared to speak I shivered, feeling so vulnerable, so naked even though I was clothed in pajamas. He spoke to me in my head, in a language I can't remember now but understood then as if it were my native tongue. He offered me the deal.
This is what he said:
"On the night before the next new moon, you will bring me the head of your one true love on a pike and I will grant you eternity, the universe, and any wish you desire."
He left then, leaving no time for me to stutter a response. When I finally breathed again, the air felt thin and old and cold. The sunlight returned to my window, dust particles wafting in the sunbeams that shot through the cracks in the blinds. I would say it was as if the Devil was never there but I would have been lying. His presence remained in every shadow and I dare not look behind me then; through the corner of my eye something was moving and shifting.
Once I found my resolve I got out of bed, out from the safety of my covers, and I took my shower and I went to work. I tried to pretend my meeting with the Devil had never happened.
But it had. On the night before the eve of the new moon, he returned. This time I was eating dinner alone in my apartment, spaghetti topped with something resembling meatballs. He made me lose my appetite.
He repeated, his voice both a deep rumble and a screech, "Tomorrow night you will bring me the head of your one true love and I will grant you eternity, the universe, and any wish you desire."
This time I found the courage to speak. I said with my voice scratching out of my throat, "I have no true love. I can't bring you something I don't have."
He laughed then, and it shook everything that I was. I fell, tumbling out of my chair when it tipped and crashed to the floor. I couldn't move and I couldn't look away and I couldn't stop shaking.
The Devil's laugh was the most horrifying noise I had ever heard. It was a witch's cackle and a child's scream and the sound of an avalanche racing toward me. It encompassed everything I had ever feared: the monsters I imagined in my closet and under my bed as a child, the sensation of falling from a crashing plane, the suffocating depths of deep water so dark and cold, that desperate, panicked feeling of being lost and alone, and what I had felt as my mother's casket was lowered into the ground when I was twelve. All of it so close and encroaching, all of it so threatening; that laughter is something I will never forget no matter how hard I try. It lingered on the air as the Devil disappeared, reverberating in my mind like drumbeats. It never stopped. Somehow then I knew, beyond all doubt, that it would never leave me. It would whirl and skid across the edges of my mind forever, for eternity, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it.
Just then, a thought struck me. Evil as the Devil was, he did promise me a wish. He had also promised me eternity and the universe (whatever that meant) but I wasn't thinking of those things. I sat on the floor and listened to the laughter echoing in my mind and I thought deeply about what I must give him as my spaghetti grew cold and soggy. Try as I might, I couldn't think of anyone who was my true love, but I knew my wish. It was the wish of someone in utter desperation. I wanted that laughter gone.
It came to me then, in a flash. She was someone I hadn't seen in at least fifteen years, but I knew, in the same abstract way I had come to know everything lately, that it was her head the Devil wanted on that pike. Frantic, I dug through my bookshelf, throwing books, CDs and DVDs aside until I found my collection of yearbooks. I found her number perfectly handwritten in bright blue ink on the inside cover of the yearbook I had bought Junior year, along with a smiley face and a message telling me to have a great summer. The laughter in my head grew louder, shriller.
I couldn't help myself. I phoned her. Turned out, her latest boyfriend was abusive and she'd been thinking about me a lot lately. We were each other's first loves. The promise to catch-up on each other's lives alongside a homemade dinner made it easy to get her to visit. It was even easier to get her to spend the night. As I lay with her naked and asleep in my arms, I began regretting my whole plan. But it was already too late, and the laughter returned in a migraine of whimpers and clawing and fear. I couldn't turn back. I had already purchased the pike, already poisoned her wine. I cried as her breathing slowed, as finally she exhaled one last time and nevermore.
At seven my alarm sang. I hadn't slept; my true love was dead and the laughter had yet to cease. I briefly remember thinking that poison was the best way for her to go, a kind way, peacefully while she slept. No fuss. I banished that thought from my mind and crawled under the bed for the pike and the machete as Beethoven crackled from the alarm clock speakers. The laughter had faded in the night, but only slightly. It had slowed to match her dying heartbeat.
I took one last look at her lips, her breasts, her brunette curls. I thought of how beautiful the sunlight made her look as it glimmered through the three-inch opening on the far side of the blinds.
I wanted to take back everything. At one time, I had wanted to spend my life with her.
Then the laughter nearly split my head open. My eyes swelled with tears. I had to make it stop; I told myself I would be happy again if only the laughter would stop. I knew it was a lie, but nonetheless I raised the machete and took a breath of thinning, burning air. Then I brought the blade down on her neck.
In the movies they make beheadings look so easy and clean. I learned then that they aren't. Once you reach the spine there's sawing and oozing and scraping and stench. It took all of my energy to get her head off her body, so much that I nearly forgot about the laughter edging me on, but I could never forget about that completely. That's why I kept going, the laughter became a soundtrack to my deed and I sawed and sawed and sawed. Finally, I tossed the machete aside and pulled her head from the rest of her, just as Beethoven's Symphony fizzled to its end. The last shred of her skin made a ripping sound that would have made me puke before I met the Devil, but by now it was mere noise to me. Regaining my balance, I took the pike and shoved it up behind her chin and I waited and waited and waited. The laughter grew ever louder and she lay headless and bloody behind me, staining my sheets deep crimson. There were moments when I thought the Devil wouldn't come, and those were the worst moments of my life.
The air thickened as the night came and the Devil returned. He smelled of decay and rancid water and he greeted me with an emotionless grin. I stuck out my true-love's-head-on-a-pike and he claimed his prize with a chuckle, admiring my handiwork as though it were a painting or a sculpture. Amused, he asked me what I was going to wish for.
And when I told him, he laughed.