Relative Sin

“Hey doll, how’s about I buy you a drink?” spoke the man with the grease-combed hair and chiseled jaw to the brunette in the black v-mesh dress.

She looked up at him, raised an eyebrow. “Kay.” she said, before returning her gaze to the stage.

The man smirked and sauntered off to the bar. He returned moments later with something green and something dark. He handed her the green.

“What’s this?” the woman asked with hints of surprise in her voice.

“Appletini. Fitting for a gal like you I’d say.” He spoke with an out-of-date transatlantic accent.

“No thanks. I’ll trade you though.” she said as she grabbed his drink out of his hands and replaced it with hers. She took a sip, “Yum. I love me some scotch,” then proceeded to knock back the rest.

The man was bemused. “You ain’t what I expected, I’ll tell ya that.”

The woman eyed him up and down. He wore an American-cut pinstripe suit and charcoal tie, a fancy watch and a pair of shiny black shoes. She glanced back to the stage and made note of what the neo-psychedelic revival band was wearing. “And who were you expecting, exactly? Betty Boop?” She looked back to him once more. “Are you someone’s dad or something?”

The man forced a chuckle and his manufactured grin grew even larger, “Well aren’t you a riot. No, I’m not. I’m just looking for some company this evening.”

“Nice. So is that guy in the trench coat, and that one trying to start a mosh pit. Get in line. Buddy.”

He frowned, “Playing hard to get, huh? I got a few tricks up my sleeve, you know.”

“Yeah? And would any of them happen to be Rouphaline or Chloroform?” she shot him a disgusted look.

“What? Whaddya take me for? Some kind of freak?” he asked with indignation.

“Uh, yeah, I do.” She nodded sarcastically. “You’re a bit more persistent than the other weirdos, I’ll give you that.” She turned to watch the band once more.

“Jesus fucking Christ.” the man muttered.

There was a poof of smoke, and the woman smelled sulfur. She rolled her eyes and began to tell him off one last time, but was stopped before she could open her mouth. “Whoa.” she said, wide eyed. Sitting where the obnoxious, 50’s caricature had been was someone else. He had slicked back hair and red skin, and on his forehead were two pristine ivory horns. His suit had been replaced with a black tank top and black jeans. “What the fuck are you looking at?” He spat as he took a sip of her appletini. He grimaced.

“Are,” The girl stammered, “Are you…?

“That’s right. Ozzy Osbourne, in the flesh.”He said as he gestured towards himself. When he saw her eyes grow even wider, he added. “What do I look like? I’m a devil.”

“Whoa. So just now – were you  trying to take my soul?” she asked.

“What?” he frowned. “No, I was trying to get laid. Not that I’ve had any luck with either endeavor lately.”

The woman scrunched her face and moved her head back, “And you thought that act would work?”

“Yes, I thought that act would work.” he mocked. “ I’ve been away for a while. Banished in the void. Seventy years.” He wiggled his fingers in the air. “The last time I was here, that disguise worked all the time. But it seems times have changed. Humans are all a bunch of whack-jobs nowadays.” His eyes moved to her exposed cleavage. “I love those dresses, by the way.” he added.

The woman scanned the venue. They were sitting at a booth in the back, but still in plain sight. “Aren’t you worried someone’s going to see you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve made sure you’re the only one I’m visible to. I was hoping to at least get a scare out of you before calling it a night, but you continue to disappoint.”

“I’m sorry? I think not being frightened is a reflection of your failures, not mine.” The shock had worn off and the woman’s snarky attitude returned.

The devil rolled his eyes this time. “I don’t need this shit.” He began to stand up but the woman stopped him.

“Wait. Stay for a bit and watch the show. They’re a pretty good band.” she gestured towards his chair.

The devil looked skeptical, but sat anyway. “What’s with you, human? First you talk trash to a guy almost three times your size and now you’re inviting a devil to keep you company?”

The woman reached into her purse, pulled out a black canister and dangled it in the air, “One: pepper spray.” she put it back and pulled out a water bottle. “Two: holy water. I’ll be fine.”

The devil snorted. “That’s not holy water.”

She placed the water bottle in her lap and quickly performed the sign of the cross. “Holy water.”

He was going to call her an idiot but thought better of it and simply shook his head. “This music. I like it.”

“Right? Sixties vibes. Very droney.” She saw the look of confusion on his face. “Don’t tell me you missed the sixties! It’s okay, so did I. Just go to Coachella – it’s like the same thing.” They sat in silence for the bridge before she turned to him again. “You mentioned you haven’t had much luck being a devil lately – why’s that?”

The devil narrowed his eyes. “You really want to know?”

She shrugged back. “What human wouldn’t? I mean, it’s not every day I have a conversation with the supernatural.”

“I never would have guessed. Fine.” He leaned back and put his hands behind his head and yawned. “Well first-”

“What’s your name by the way?” she interrupted.

Dammit! Don’t interrupt me, girl!” Fire burst from his nose and his eyes glowed red.

“Calm down! I’m just curious!”

He took a deep breath and put a hand on his forehead. “My name is Mephistopheles. No relation to Faust.” He gave her a weary look. “And you?”

“Eve.”

“You’re joking.” he had a look of revulsion on his face.

“Of course I am, dummy.” She grinned in spite of the smoke coming out of his nostrils. “Continue, Mephistopheles.”

The demon let out a heavy sigh. “As I was saying, times have changed. Humans aren’t as corruptible as they used to be because you’re all so corrupt already.” Mephistopheles held out his fingers and began to count “Hedonism, vanity, greed-” he looked at her and sped up his listing, “gluttony, envy, laziness, passion – you all sin like it’s nobody’s business. I was browsing the uh…” he snapped his fingers at her.

“Internet?”

“Yeah. I was browsing the internet the other day and I read an article glorifying sloth. The author compared herself to a potato with pride.” He threw his hands in the air. “It’s all backwards.”

The woman made a face of disagreement. “Just because people act in ways that you consider sinful, doesn’t mean they are truly sinners. I mean, what is ‘sin,’ anyway? I always thought it was kind of arbitrary.”

Mephistopheles did not speak. He sat in silence, pondering her words. “You raise an interesting point.”

“Well yeah. Okay, how about we humor each other. This is going to get a bit socratic.” The devil furrowed his brow but let her continue, “Let’s break it down: if sin is simply violating religious text, then wouldn’t your job be to go around tricking Jews into eating pork, or getting holy men to wipe their asses with their right hands instead of the left? Those things are violations of holy scripture, yet you don’t seem too concerned with them and neither do ordinary people.”

He nodded and said, “True enough, but disobeying God does play a part. The reason original sin was such a big deal way back when was because God himself told Adam and Eve not to eat the apple. I don’t enforce scripture simply because of the fact that a human reading a rule is not the same as hearing it directly from God.”

She nodded in return. “Good to know. With that in mind, it seems that your primary goal is to corrupt, yes?” He agreed. “And does corrupting carry with it any particular moral connotations?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“And your problem is that most people nowadays are already, as you say, corrupted, i.e., immoral?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think immoral people are incapable of being corrupted?”

“Yes, of course. My job has already been done unto them.”

“Interesting. Okay, how about this: imagine a vicious criminal – a man who has killed several innocent people and overall hates humanity in general. Do you think this person is able to be corrupted?”

“No, because he is already evil.”

“I see, but what if you were to trick him into becoming the opposite? Make him good, corrupt him in other direction. Now, I am just a young moral relativist who knows little of the rules and machinations of hell, but it seems to me that the purpose of corruption is to trick a mortal into deviating from their own set of convictions. In my opinion, making an evil man good would be just as fun as the reverse.”

Mephistopheles pursed his lips. “I never thought of it that way. But what about social workers and others who seek to ‘reform’ such individuals? There are already humans who do what you are suggesting – ‘corrupting in reverse,’ what does that say of them? What would it say of me if I were to do what they all consider ‘good?”

“I am fairly certain that their goal is not to corrupt. They all seem to be concerned with the consequence of their intervention; ‘curing’ drug addicts, pacifying violent individuals, etcetera. I always assumed that demons such as yourself were more in it for the intent and the process – the act of corrupting sounds more important to you than the result, but again, what would I know of such things?” She smiled slyly at him.

“That…is correct. It certainly creates more chaos to corrupt people the…traditional way, but in this day and age who knows?” Mephistopheles sat in profound amazement.

“Do you see where I’m going with this? If you are specifically meant to turn people evil, then that implies the existence of objective moral qualities and I will be forced to admit that I am wrong. But you don’t strike me as someone who considers himself inherently evil, and unless Satan or Lucifer, or whoever you report to gave you a criteria for what constitutes immoral behavior, then I think we’ve just discovered a whole slew of career opportunities for you to explore.”

He nodded. “All I was told was to use my own judgment based on scripture, but like I said, that doesn’t carry as much weight until God enters the picture.” He leaned back in his chair.  “Astounding. I underestimated you human. Thank you.”

“My pleasure. See Mephy? No need to beat yourself up. It’s time to turn over a new leaf!”

Mephistopheles frowned and his eyes grew large. “Mephy – what? How did you-?” His whole head burst into flames this time as he yelled,  “MILDRED YOU-!”

The woman cackled and burst into cloud of smoke. When the air cleared, her skin had become red and small black horns protruded from her forehead. She wore the same black dress as before. “I’m a little disappointed, Mephy. You almost believed that a mere human was worthy of praise.” She displayed a fake pout before grinning even wider.

“What are you doing? How did you know I would be here tonight? Is this a performance review?” Mephistopheles’s eyes darted all around the venue in paranoia.

“Relax. I swapped placed with the girl after she rejected you. Her mind is off floating in the abyss somewhere and she won’t remember a thing in the morning.” Seeing the lack of satisfaction in his face, she added, “And no, you’re not being evaluated. Everyone knows you’ve been banished, you’re not expected to make up all that time.” She saw slight relief in his eyes. “I’m just here to welcome back an old friend.” She reached out and rubbed his shoulder affectionately.

“So all that stuff just now, were you playing a joke on me?”

“Oh come on – logic is not dependent on the form I take. Everything I said is a brief summary of the lessons I’ve learned over the decades. You’re right Mephy, times have changed, but that doesn’t bode ill for our line of work.”

Mephistopheles seemed at ease again. “Hmph. As clever as always, Mildred.”

She clasped her hands together over her chest. “Why thank you! You know just the other week I seduced a homosexual. Back in the day that would have been considered saving him.” She threw her head back and guffawed.

He could not help but chuckle as well. “I offered a woman on the street an apple the other day, just for kicks, and do you know what she said to me?” Mildred raised her eyebrows expectantly. “She asked me if it was non-GMO.”

The two of them were caught in raucous laughter. When they finally calmed down, Mildred looked at Mephistopheles. “That’s what I’m talking about. People may seem ‘immoral’ nowadays, but a lot of them are even more wrapped up in constrictions than ever before. Have you heard the term ‘political correctness?’ Learn it – it’s the best thing that ever happened to demonkind.”

“So…if the goal is to get people to do things that they consider wrong, then….” he smirked and met Mildred’s gaze. “I saw a flyer advertising an Atheist convention coming up.” Mildred began to smile. “How’s about we go and spread the good word of the Lord to those poor, lost souls?”

“You catch on quick, Mephy – that sounds absolutely wonderful. Hey, do you want to get out of here? I’m staying with an adorable little stripper on 12th street who wouldn’t mind you crashing for the night. He’s got Cards Against Humanity too, which I’m sure you’ll like.”

“Yeah, sounds good to me. Let us be off, Mildred my dear. Greener pastures lay on the horizon!” The two vanished, leaving the smell of fire and brimstone heavy in the air and setting off the fire sprinklers in the venue.

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Looming

Death is following me.
He shows up everywhere, I cannot flee.

Sometimes I slip, and his blade cuts me,
On my wrists, my thighs, and even my knee.

He leaves poison bottles for me to see,
And he hung up a noose out by the tree.

I’ve told my friends, but they don’t agree.
They say it is not true, despite my plea.

It does not matter, I’ll soon be free.
Death is following me.

Nightmare 1

Recently accepted for publication into The O’Words Anthology:

I had a dream in bed last night,
Deep, down, beneath the sea.
Devoid of light, in the abyss,
The Kraken spoke to me.

Its voice unheard, its speech unknown,
It told me of the Dark.
In abstract form and empty void,
I saw the curséd mark.

The ancient thing told me of,
A place where black stars shine,
The city where twisted visions,
And wicked plots align.

Lost Carcosa and lake Hali,
Where deathly sirens sing,
And sinners can at last, be free,
Thanks to the Yellow King.