Devil's Advocate (Part One of Three)
At the top of the world, most things look tiny although a diaphanous moon might look like a large silver coin to buck the trend. On this December night, as the lunar-lantern slipped behind clouds, a cold breeze seemed to be triggered by the dip in light. Frank Delaney made himself smaller, hunching shoulders for warmth inside his overcoat. The city-scape of office lights lit up the horizon, skyscrapers glittering; the Hudson River visible in the distance.
With the time approaching midnight, the observation deck of the Empire State Building was still busy. A middle-aged man wearing a fedora with a feather at the side had his right arm around a young boy’s shoulders, his left outstretched pointing out the sights of New York City. People milled about, weaving between each other like bees dancing.
Frank felt the contents of his pocket, the steel of a small handgun icy to the touch. At the corner of the platform, he could see a tall robed figure looking out across buildings and streets. He snaked through tourists and made his way over to the sinister character.
“So lovely to see you again, Mr Delaney. I am glad you could come.” The voice had a lilting, hissing drone with no discernible accent. It was loaded with quiet menace.
“I imagine it’s just the two of us. I mean, I assume nobody else can see you.” Frank stated rhetorically, words drifting on wind.
The hooded entity turned to face Frank. Inside the monkish apparel was a goat standing upright on its hind legs. Two horns protruded from its forehead, a thin wispy beard on its chin. The creature’s eyes burned a glowing red. Two cloven hooves wafted in the air, gesturing when it spoke; a forked tongue flicking in and out.
Frank noted the creature scanning the crowd and wondered if it was lining up its next victim.
“My apologies, dear Frank. So how have you enjoyed the fame, power and riches of the last seven years?” Their stares locked before the creature’s attention turned to people spilling out of a lift, bodies backlit in the gloom.
“That wasn’t our deal. You saved my wife, remember? She was in her last days on a cancer ward. You appeared to me one night in my front room. I had been drinking scotch. You waved the half-empty bottle in front of my face and asked me if I wanted to feel better. Of course, by the end of the conversation I had signed in blood to give you my soul in return for my wife’s life.”
The goat-creature looked up into the air, its eyes alight with recognition.
“Ah yes, I do recall. She lasted another few years, did she not? So many broker these Faustian arrangements. I forget.”
They both returned to peering out at the spectacular, night-time vista.
Frank breathed in and asked: “Would you mind if I ask you a philosophical question? Do you believe in fate?”
The devil’s face screwed in thought.
“Ummm……that is an interesting question. Nearly everyone else would be begging for an extension or trying to find an alternative to dying and forfeiting their soul at this point? Clearly, not you.”
Frank had a look of self-satisfaction on his face.
“Well…let’s see. Mankind or should I say, humankind, has been around for thousands of years. Collectively, it has the power of free will. So the right to self-determine a path of pleasure or pain. I can’t say that I have seen a lot of evidence for fatalism. You could be hoodwinked into thinking that His will may lead to heavy restrictions on your individual rights but there’s been ample occasions where Heavenly virtues have been ignored despite being uttered by the Godly.”
The goat’s mouth broke out in a smile, eyes blinking in thought. It continued.
“So the right to self-determination is innate; perhaps. We can never know for sure.” Its eyes appeared to hide a deception; the fallen angel was synonymous with falsehood and lies.
“Have we got time for a story? I promise I won’t be long.” Frank felt the gun again in his fingers.
“The sands of time are running out for want of a better metaphor. But I am interested in what you have to say. I sense you have an appropriate method ready to end things and fulfil the bargain?”
Frank nodded before starting his tale.
“A few weeks ago, I ventured to a travelling circus in town. A sign outside a carnival tent declared that the Great Mephisto could tell the future and to get your palm read today. I remember wandering through a flap and into a dimly lit sanctum where a man was sitting behind a small table. The light was low, the atmosphere eerie. He ushered me to a seat. He had a wonderful headdress that looked like a coloured turban. I crossed his palm with silver aka $50 and he dealt me three tarot cards. One after the other was the card of death but he assured me not to read too much into that. He asked me to close my eyes. I could hear him leaning forward, murmuring, as he stared hard into a crystal ball that sat between us. A few minutes later, he told me that my future was, indeed, written and that I would be present at the end of the world. He said he thought I would be fortunate enough to survive the devastation but that part of the premonition had clouded over before the end.”
As the story concluded, the beast leant a cloven hoof on its chin. This was all very interesting and not at all like the usual drama that unfolded at the repatriation of a soul. The moon had slipped out from behind clouds throwing a silver sheen over the gantry.
“An interesting tale for which I thank you. So many have been waiting a very long time for the return of Armageddon. It would make things so much more straight forward, don’t you think? With your soul safely ensconced in the Pit for all eternity, survival of sorts would be yours. After all: Free will carried many a soul to Hell but never a soul to Heaven. Charles Spurgeon, I believe.”
“I wouldn’t know, I tend to read Agatha Christie novels.” Frank gave a blank look.
I believe that does take us to the witching hour and the resolution of our pact. I would be grateful if you could conclude matters so that we can both on our way.” A hum from the crowd buzzed lightly oblivious to the scene playing out in an obscure corner of the viewing deck.
Time may actually have stood still at that moment. Both Frank and the goat-creature appeared frozen, neither moving as they anticipated the culmination of an arrangement made in Hell. What snapped them out of their brief malaise was a blinding flash of white light that lit up the Heavens. A mushroom cloud bloomed several miles away, sucking the air out of the atmosphere. It was as though the Earth itself had fractured with a booming blast reverberating from the site of the explosion. A roaring sound followed with winds rippling out from the epicentre leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The hooded figure at the top of the Empire State Building watched all of this with a fascination, completely absorbed by the unexpected arrival of the End Times.
Tower blocks, cars, streets, houses, men, women and children were obliterated as the fallout streaked towards central Manhattan. Remembering its purpose, the devil turned but only to see a man disappearing through lift doors. Watching them close, it smiled serenely. Frank Delaney may or may not make it to safety but they would be re-united again in one way or another. It was foretold.