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23 March 2006

"The Wager," Part 4

(© 1998, 2006, Doug Tarnopol. All rights reserved.)

Dear Readers: It's been a while -- been busy! Here are links to the first three parts:

First
Second
Third
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The Lord snapped to attention. "Yes? What were we talking about?"

"The Annunciation? Remember that little incident?"

"Sure. What about it?"

Frustration was driving Mephistopheles close to tears. He struggled to compose himself.

"I was asking what Zeus would have done in Your place."

The Lord assumed a haughty tone.

"Zeus? I can imagine, but I won't soil myself by stating it aloud."

"Allow me. He would have assumed the form of a bull, busted right in there, and fucked the shit out of her! And she would have enjoyed it!" Mephistopheles was exaggerating -- at least the last part -- in order to further goad the Lord.

Mephistopheles paused and added, almost to himself, "Until Hera found out about it and forced Zeus to turn the poor woman into an antelope or something."

"Yeah, well Zeus was a pig!"

"That's true," Mephistopheles was forced to admit.

"And an adulterer!"

Mephistopheles smiled. "Have You forgotten about Joseph?"

The Lord turned red and sputtered with rage. "Enough of this crap! Don't try to sidetrack Me. I've had it with humans, with their jealousy, theft, mendacity, graft, cruelty, bigotry, hate, rape, war, and genocide. They're through. Period."

"Look, that's not fair. They have accomplished so much in so little time, and You insist on ignoring it. What about music? literature? science? The Declaration of the Rights of Man? Michelangelo? Too highbrow? How about, concrete? Sports? That's just off the top of my head; the list is endless."

"I don't think their accomplishments outweigh their crimes. They like to put people in ovens every so often. Or kill folks for wearing eyeglasses. They're destroying the rest of My planet, and show no signs of stopping."

"But if they could only learn to love each other they would create true happiness."

"I don't see the slightest possibility of that occurring."

Mephistopheles was quiet, thinking.

"All right, how about this? What if I could get Henry and Helen to fall in love with each other? Would you reconsider destroying humanity?"

This will be a piece of cake, Mephistopheles thought. A quick potion and the two of them would spend the rest of their lives drooling and staring into each other's eyes.

The Lord weighed this. He sat down at His desk. He crossed His legs. He furrowed His brow. He stroked His beard. He pursed His lips. Then He smiled. That's when Mephistopheles got nervous.

"Let Me see if I have this straight. If Henry and Helen fall in love, I save humanity. Right?"

"Uh, right."

The Lord's patronizing tone did not bode well. He had something up His sleeve. "And if not, I wipe them out."

"Yeah, that's about the gist of it. Not too complicated."

The Lord smiled broadly and walked toward Mephistopheles, hand outstretched. Mephistopheles rose to greet Him, a bit bewildered.

"Mephisto, My boy," the Lord said, putting His arm around the demon's shoulders and leading him to the door, "you have yourself a deal."

"I do?"

"Oh, absolutely."

The Lord stopped at the door to His office. His arm slid off of Mephistopheles' shoulder; His smile lost its bonhomie, becoming vulpine.

"On one condition, of course."

Mephistopheles heart sank. "Of course."

"You must convince them on their own terms. Human terms. No potions, no voices, no gifts, no smoke, no mirrors."

"What?"

"You heard Me. Either they fall in love of their own free will, or humanity is toast. You will simply be the catalyst. And you have to do it within twenty-four hours."

"Are You out of Your mind? No one falls in love in a day! You know that."

The Lord kept smiling maliciously.

"What about my appearance," Mephistopheles continued. "It might cause a bit of consternation, a fourteen-foot red satyr with bat wings and claws."

"I'll allow you a human disguise. I'll put my angels to work devising one for you."

"That hardly solves the whole problem. Your condition makes my task impossible."

"They love their free will so much, let it decide their fate. My angels will be ready in twenty-four hours. If you can get Henry and Helen to fall in love before then, humanity is saved. If not, kablooie. It's up to you."

"You son of a bitch."

In a flash, the Lord had Mephistopheles pinned to the door, two feet off the ground, His hand around the shocked demon's throat. He spoke very quietly, His eyes suddenly shark-black.

"Now, you listen to Me, boy. You will treat Me with respect, do you hear Me? Never forget: I created you. I can also destroy you."

He squeezed tighter, driving His thumb into Mephistopheles' neck, shutting his windpipe. Mephistopheles was struggling, tears running down his face, his claws scraping impotently against the Lord's adamantine flesh. Underneath his agony, he was utterly flabbergasted. Never had the Lord raised His hand to him. Violence among the immortals had been unheard of for millenia.

Then a terrible thought shot through Mephistopheles' agony: He's insane.

The Lord dropped him to the floor. Mephistopheles gasped for air. He stood over Mephistopheles as he struggled to his feet and wiped his eyes. The Lord opened the door. An angel ran up.

"Yes, Chief?"

The Lord smiled triumphantly at Mephistopheles as He spoke. "Will everything be ready by tomorrow?"

"I think we'll be able to swing it, Sir."

"Excellent. Thank you, that will be all."

"Well?" The Lord asked, still smiling. "Do you accept?"

Mephistopheles rubbed his neck and looked up at the Lord. What choice did he have? Besides, his shock was transforming into a deep anger. He wanted to humiliate the Lord by winning according to His impossible rules.

"Yes." Mephistopheles turned and strode out the door.

"Mephistopheles!"

He turned around again to face the Lord through the doorway.

"You had better stick to the terms of our agreement." The Lord walked up to Mephistopheles and looked down into his eyes, their noses almost touching. Mephistopheles shrank back in fear. The Lord's black eyes bored into Mephistopheles'. "Because if you cheat, boy, I'll know. I know I'm slipping, but I can still keep an eye on you."

The Lord released Mephistopheles from His gaze, walked back to His desk, and sat down. He was smiling again. "And I won't be the only one. I'm faxing the gist of this to Lucifer right after you leave. I plan to add the following: If I catch you doing anything supernatural down there, I will order a full-scale Audit of Hell."

This was a serious threat. There hadn't been a Soul Audit in centuries. All souls had to be accounted for and shown to be receiving their proper punishments. Given the present population density in Hell -- it had increased far more dramatically than Heaven's -- and the lax enforcements of punishments since Heaven's oversight had all but disappeared, if the Lord caught Mephistopheles using magic, there would be no way Lucifer and his demons could coax all the souls back to their proper chastisements in time -- especially since they would not go quietly. And then there would be Heaven to pay.

Mephistopheles finally saw what He was up to. If Mephistopheles failed, the Lord would destroy humanity. If he cheated, the Lord would use that excuse to establish His sovereignty over Hell. And Mephistopheles couldn't possibly succeed according to the Lord's rules.

But demons are good liars.

"So what?" Mephistopheles said breezily. "You know we go by the book down there."

The Lord smile grew. "I'm sure you do. But I wonder how popular you'd be in Hell if it became known that you were the cause of an Audit? How do you think Lucifer, to pick a name off the top of My head, would take it?"

Mephistopheles said nothing.

"That's what I thought. Don't try to bullshit a bullshitter. So -- we obviously understand each other."

The Lord began checking His e-mail. Without looking up, He said: "You have twenty-four hours. Get out."

***

(© 1998, 2006, Doug Tarnopol. All rights reserved.)

4 comments:

  1. ok, so I'm sitting on the edge of my seat.

    Great job D! :-)

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  2. Thanks, kyahgirl! There's a lot to come (the original is 120 pages), so I hope the edge of your seat is comfortable!

    Thanks for the nice words....

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  3. ...oh, and we're about 22 pages into the rewrite, as of this post...

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  4. Nice hook point in the story, suspense creates anticipation. I've been waiting for this!

    ReplyDelete