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The dinner guest



I came home with so much sweat pouring off my face that I must've
looked like some kind of victorian fountain. Work had been particularly
demanding that day, and in fact, had been particularly demanding all that
week. It's not that it was more difficult than usual, but I had officially
reached the point where I had worked the same job long enough to watch
people who used to work under me get promoted to upper management
positions and become my new bosses. Meanwhile, I did my job, and I was
damn good at it too, and seemed to be getting nowhere.


After what felt like an endless staircase, I finally made it to the
door that led into my apartment. I unlocked the deadbolt and then let
myself in, only to discover there was a man sitting at my table, looking
rather impatient, as if he had a lot to do and I had somehow kept him
waiting. Not sure what to do, I reached for my cell phone when the man
introduced himself.


"I'm terribly sorry to have startled you." He said. "My name is
Lucifer, but you'd probably know me more commonly as Satan." He walked
over and shook my hand.


"I've already pressed the nine and the first one!" I said, holding the
phone in my other hand, my thumb resting over the one. "Leave now and the
cops don't need to get involved."


He just looked at me, clearly amused. "Go ahead." He said. "Tell them
that the devil is in your apartment, see how quickly they respond to that
particular call." At that moment, he flashed the most disturbing smile I'd
ever seen, then the whites of his eyes went dark red, and at that moment,
the reality of what was happening finally sank in. I was staring evil in the
face.


As his eyes went back to normal and he adopted a less sinister
expression, it occurred to me just how much he didn't look a thing like
what I had expected he would. He wasn't red, he didn't have little horns or
a tail. No cape, no hooves, no little army of imps circling him. He just
looked like some guy. His teeth did seem unbelievably white, his hair was
short and slicked back, and he was wearing an Armani suit, with a
matching all leather briefcase.


He led me back into my own dining area and invited me to sit down.
As I did, a large Cuban cigar just appeared in his hand, which seemed to
just light itself as he stuck one end into his mouth. "So come on." He said,
after taking a long drag. "You're staring the prince of darkness in the face
right now. Don't act like you have nothing to say."


I thought about it for a moment and, no, there really wasn't anything
I wanted to tell the devil, certainly not anything that I would have thought
up ahead of time. "I guess," I stammered. "I wanted to say that I thought
nine-eleven was a real cheap shot. Completely below the belt."


"I'm flattered. I really am." He replied. "But I didn't actually have
anything to do with that."


"You're kidding." I said.


"Do I look like a fundamentalist to you?" He snapped, then took a
deep breath before continuing. "Quite frankly, as much as I still get a kick
out of senseless pain and carnage. The loss of the WTC has been a real pain
in my ass."


"So the terrorists..."


"They're not followers of mine." He said, before I could finnish my
thought. "And if they're not followers of mine, why should I lift a frickin'
finger to help them. I have my loyalty, but it ain't cheap."


He got up and walked over to my fridge, where he pulled out a couple
of beers, and tossed one my way with such mindblowing accuracy that it
landed on the table, and slid gently before stopping directly in front of me,
the label facing me dead on. He then opened his and took a drink. I followed
suit.


"So these guys hijack a couple airplanes and crash them into a
building, killing thousands in the process and setting in motion the events
that would lead to two major military campaigns, so far, and they're not
good enough to earn your loyalty." I took another drink. "So who is?"


"It's not the magnitude of the act, so much as the intention." He sat
back down. "Nowadays, most of my followers are executives, attorneys,
talent agents, tobacco lobbyists, even a couple of televangelists have
come my way. All people who were willing to sell their souls for material
wealth."


"So Bin Laden wasn't after Saudi oil?" I asked.


"Who knows, who cares?" He responded. "I'll admit, the guy's got ten
pound balls, but he abused the words of the Koran. Even I know better than
that." He took another drink. "Believe me, wherever Bin Laden is now, he'd
better hope America finds him before Allah does. Frankly, I don't give a
damn about him or his little gang of fanatics. There's always one group of
wings nuts or another out there who want the world to goose-step back
into the dark ages, it just so happens that these guys raised their profiles.
Either way, when the twin towers went down, they took out hundreds of
thousands of corporate documents. Legal papers, budgets, dept records,
fraudulent insurance claims, all designed specifically to keep the worlds
wealth in the hands of the corporations and away from the majority of the
population.


Everyday, billions of people are starving, living in squalid
conditions, dying of easily treated diseases and being taxed, marginalized
and pushed even further beneath the poverty line, all thanks to the greed
of my followers, whose business almost always ran through the world
trade centre in one form or another. Luckily, I managed to rebound after
coming up that line about how you should keep on consuming or the
terrorist have won.' Even if 90% of my business was disrupted, I could at
least count on Americans to keep on burning fossil fuels, eating
environmentally disastrous livestock and buying sweatshop clothes right
in the middle of a national crisis, and all in the name of having some
hackneyed historian refer to them as the winners."


"Pride" I muttered.


"They made it a deadly sin for a reason." He continued. "And that's
the long and short of my involvement with september eleventh. Now you
know, alright?"


"Okay, fine." I said, taking another drink. "So if you didn't come here
to talk politics, why are you here?"


He took one last drink from his half-finished beer and then threw the
bottle onto the floor, letting it smash into pieces and the remaining
contents spill out. "You haven't eaten dinner yet, have you?" I shook my
head. "Good, cause I know a great little place with the finest veal you'll
ever taste."


He waved his arm, and suddenly, I found myself sitting at the dining
table of the single most classy restaurant I've ever seen in my life. It was
spectacular, the decor was beautiful, and was being constantly maintained
by a staff of rather exhausted looking maids and janitors. Each table had a
magnificent centrepiece and the finest silverware imaginable. I looked
over at the other tables to see the food, all of it was absolutely
magnificent, and the portions were enormous. Although, after a second
glance, I noticed that none of the other guests seemed to be enjoying their
meals.


"So, what do you think?" asked Satan. "Is it amazing or what?"


Not entirely sure what to say, I just blurted out. "Everyone here
looks as if they don't want to eat, but they just keep choking it back, like
as if they're..." at that moment, it dawned on me where I was. "As if
they're being forced to keep eating." I finished.


"Anorexics mostly." He said nonchalantly.


"You mean..."


"Oh yeah, they starved themselves to death." His attention was
momentarily distracted as he summoned the waiter. "You body is a temple.
Remember that, don't ever abuse it in the name of vanity, unless you want
to end up like them."


I took another look around me. These people were in a state of
constant misery, and the form of punishment just seemed to add
unnecessary insult to the situation. "You sick fuck!" I shouted, no one
lifted their heads.


"See, now you might find that a bit sadistic, and... well... it is, but
that's the whole point of this place, you're punished in accordance with
the sins you committed during life. Take the waiter for example. He's
gonna spend the rest of eternity serving veal chops and sirloin stakes and
pheasants and racks of lamb to these poor miserable souls."


"Why?" I asked.


"Because he's a vegan." He answered.


"What, and that's a sin?" I replied.


"No, but he became very self righteous about it. You know, running
into fast food chains and telling the customers they were all murderers.
Protesting the conditions of livestock, committing acts of civil
disobedience, but where he got himself into real trouble was telling a
group of meat packers that they were gonna rot in Hell for what they were
doing, and he went to the grave believing it was the right thing to do."


"So?" I asked.


"What do you mean? He passed judgement on others! Only God gets to
decide whether or not you're punished for your sins, and it doesn't help
when you die refusing to admit you were wrong."


"Seems like a pretty steep punishment for being stubborn." I said.


"You don't know the half of it." he replied. "The cleaning staff are
here for being lazy, doing so little on the job that they risked other
people's health, now they spend the rest of eternity cleaning and
maintaining every square millimetre of this place, over and over again."


The waiter arrived with two plates containing veal chops, and looked
as though he was about to be sick as he placed them on the table, the wine
glasses seemed to just fill themselves at the same time. The devil made
sure to take a large bite out of his meat before the poor tortured soul of a
waiter had a chance to leave the table, then he continued talking. "But the
real piece de resistance' of this place," he said before swallowing his
food. "is the chef. He's here for gluttony.


His weight problem was entirely controllable, he just refused to
give up the junk food, and became a beast of burden for his entire family
and caused unnecessary grief for anyone who cared about him. Now, he
spends eternity preparing the most delicious delicacies of the mortal
world, and best of all, his mouth is sewn shut!" He tried to suppress his
laughter, but some of it still escaped, then insisted I try the food.


I looked down hesitantly at my plate, and slowly cut a sliver of meat
and jabbed my fork into it. "I know what you're thinking." he said, "but I
assure you, there's no strings attached."


"You still haven't told me why I'm here." I replied. "And I think it's a
pretty safe bet that you're not just being hospitable."


"I assure you, there's nothing wrong with the meat." He took a sip of
his wine. "Just try it, you have the devil's guarantee that it's the best
veal chop you've ever tasted in your entire life. Afterwards, I promise
we'll get down to business."


Still unsure, but without many options, I cautiously put the piece of
meat to my mouth. It was incredible! It was, without a doubt, the single
most flavourful, succulent, tender, juicy and otherwise perfect morsel of
food that had ever come in contact with my tastebuds. Within seconds, all
apprehension about where it came from was gone, and I proceeded to cut
myself another, larger piece. Lucifer then suggested that I try the wine.
Without hesitation, I picked up the glass and took a swig. It was
wonderful.


"Savour every bite." He said. "This is the only time you'll ever get to
eat a meal this perfect."


"I though you said we were gonna get down to business." I said
between bites. "I still don't know why you brought me here."


Lucifer pushed his plate aside and casually placed his elbows on the
table, then caused another lit cigar to mysteriously appear in his hands. "I
brought you here to make a proposition." He said.


"If you want my soul," I replied. "you can just forget it."


"See, you're headstrong and independent, that's why I chose you for
this." He said. "But before you go jumping to conclusions, just hear me
out." He pushed his chair back very slightly and leaned back even more
slightly. "Just this week, you've come to a turning point in your life.
You've reached that point there you can actually see the gap between the
life you have and the one you actually deserve. Now, what would you say if
I said there was a way I could get you everything you're entitled to, and
then some."


"I'd say that there's probably some catch that you're not gonna tell
me about until after I've already agreed." I said, taking another sip of
wine.


"Oh no!" He replied. "You've been totally mislead about me. I'll tell
you straight up. First of all, yes, I'll need your soul, but just as an
insurance, you know, to make sure you don't turn around and become a born
again christian on me, and I assure you, you won't end up like these people
after you die. Like I said before, my loyalty ain't cheap, but I always take
care of my followers.


Second of all. I can make you successful, but that success will come
at the expense of others. All you need to do is enjoy all the benefits I have
to offer, and you will indirectly cause misery and suffering elsewhere in
the world, but rest assured, we're talking about people you've never met
and never will. It'll be as if those people don't even exist."


"What? And just because I won't actually have to deal with the
consequences of my actions, that's supposed to make them right?" I
interrupted, pushing my plate aside. I'd suddenly lost my appetite.


"Open your freaking eyes, pal! That's how the world works.
Everything you have comes at the expense of others. Do you really think
sharks feel guilty about the smaller fish that they eat to survive? It's the
natural order of things! If you want to be on the top of the food chain, you
have to prey on those beneath you. You're one of the best executive merger
attorneys I've ever seen, you shouldn't be just another suit at the bottom
of the corporate ladder, you should be in charge. You've worked harder than
anyone else in your department, and yet you're the only one not getting
promoted. You deserve your own firm. All I want to do is give you the
means of obtaining what is rightfully yours."


"Sure, so long as I agree to cause misery and suffering elsewhere in
the world." I slid my chair back and got up. "Well, I'm sorry to have
wasted your time, but if that's your best argument, just take me home
now."


"Those people will suffer whether or not you accept my offer." He
said, not getting up. At that moment, two rather depressed looking ushers
appeared behind me. They placed their hands on my shoulders and gently
pushed me back into a sitting position. Lucifer continued talking. "It's like
I said, it's the natural order of things. There's only so much wealth to go
around. Ten percent of the population currently possess over eighty
percent of the world's resources, and whatever's left over get's
distributed to everyone else.


You can make a stand right here, right now, but it won't change their
fates. On the other hand, you can accept my offer and become one of the
ten percent, life out the rest of your life like a king, and then spend your
afterlife waited on hand and foot by the poor souls who didn't make it into
heaven."


"Well, whether it's a meaningless victory or not, there are better
reasons to make a stand." I answered, still surrounded by the devil's sad
little cronies.


Lucifer took a long drag on his cigar. "Oh, what? Because it's the
right thing to do? Because you're a good person, and good people always
make a stand on these things? Is that it?" He made a point of dramatically
gesturing for me to look around. "You see these people here? Look at them!
Look at what I'm forced to do to these poor souls for the rest of eternity!
They're not vile sinners, or heathens or serial killers, they're honest,
decent people just like yourself. All they did was disobey some arbitrary
rule of conduct, and for that they receive eternal damnation."


He took another drag off his cigar then tossed it on the floor.
Janirors immeadiately appeared at the scene to pick it up and scrub the
floor in the spots where the ashes landed. "I see people like you all the
time in my line of work." He continued. "Otherwise good people, with
otherwise good strong moral values, and an otherwise decent
understanding of how your actions affect others. Oh, we've got a lot of
people like you down here. You go your whole life trying to be a good
person, then you reach the pearly gates only to find out that because of
some ridiculous technicality, they won't let you in.


I've had people come down here because they cut one too many people
off on the freeway, because they read books that endorsed other religions,
I've even seen people sent to Hell solely on account of not feeling
adequately guilty when they masturbate!"


"What's your point?" I interrupted, still more or less trapped in my
seat.


"My point is that they got you for something up there, no matter how
much of a good, ethical person you might think you are, God has probably
already found something he can use to keep you out of heaven, and he ain't
afraid to use it. Believe me, the only people who ever get in are cronies."


"So?" I said again.


In reaction to that particular remark, Lucifer looked more confused
than upset. I guessed he must've given this speech several times before,
usually evoking more of a reaction out of people than what he was getting
from me.


"What do mean so?" He snapped. "I'm offering you a chance to lead a
better life, the kind of life most people only dream about. I'm offering to
take care of you both in life and in the afterlife, all at the expense of
someone else's misery, someone you'll never meet, see or know in any
way. Now you can sit there and be the moral figure you think you are, but
rest assured, if you decline my offer, someone else will accept it, and all
the evil you think you're averting will go on either way, the only
difference is that someone else will reap the benefits. And if you think
that making a stand will earn you points towards getting into heaven,
you're going to be sorely mistaken, and I'll have no choice but to punish
you, the way I'm punishing all these people right now!"


He got out of his chair. "Is that what you want?" he shouted, walking
towards the waiter who was carrying a rack of lamb over to one of the
other tables. "Do you want to be like him? Just another of Hell's many
servants." He shoved the waiter onto the floor, causing the rack of lamb to
fall off the tray and splatter, leaving a trail of sauce as it rolled towards
one of the tables. There was another janitorial crew there within seconds
to clean up the mess, though no one to helped the dishevelled waiter get
back on his feet. "Or maybe you'd like to be one of them, cleaning other
people's messes for eternity." He began pacing around the room, his face
taking on a vicious and horrifying tone.


"Or better yet," He growled, "why don't I show you some of the other
rooms here in Hell, huh? There's one room where souls who were deemed
overly proud and self absorbed spend the rest of time horridly disfigured,
and forced to parade their disfigurements in the most humiliating way we
can think of! There's another room where we strip people naked and leave
them to fend for themselves in a big tank with a bunch of other souls,
forced to live like animals. The same way that their greed forced people in
third worlds to live. Then there's the lust room, I'll be you're just dying to
see what goes on in there!"


"Alright!" I shouted. "You've made your point! Just give me a second
to think." I didn't really need a second to think, I was just hoping that I
could stop him before he did anything rash. Of course, he probably knew
that, but he let up anyway and sat down. Once I had a moment to collect all
the information I had just received, I had to admit, he made a compelling
argument, but I wasn't totally convinced. "How do I know you're even
telling the truth about all this?" I asked.


"What possible motive could I have for trying to trick you?" He
asked. "Like I don't have bigger fish to fry. Like I have all the free time in
the world to just sit here and weave some elaborate web exclusively to
catch little old you?"


"That's not what I mean." I stammered.


"No? Well then what do you mean?" He asked.


"Well... It's just..." I had nothing. Up to this point he'd been pretty
forthcoming about everything, and I was running out of arguments. I knew
it was wrong to accept his offer, but it was getting harder and harder to
come up with a solid reason why. "It just seems like there should be some
kind of, uhh, some kind of horrid strings attached, you know? Will I be the
same person without my soul?"


"Oh that." He said, and took a moment to think about his response.
"Well, let's put it this way, your soul is kind of like the spiritual
equivalent of the appendix, it's good that it's there, but you can remove it
without too many consequences. Most people I ask say that after it's gone,
they feel somewhat less empathetic, like the pain and suffering of others
doesn't seem to bother them that much, which works in your favour in the
long run. Some people wind up becoming sociopaths, but it's rare."


It was a rather intriguing piece of information, and for a moment, I
caught myself thinking about how being soulless would be an advantage. I
shook my head, clearly this whole conversation, from the meal to the
tortured souls, even the small tantrum that Lucifer had tossed moments
earlier, it had all been engineered to lower my resistance and make it
easier for him to convince me. I had to resist.


"Actually, this is kind of interesting, well I think so anyways." he
continued, suddenly appearing and sounding very casual. "When I first
started this campaign back in the eighties, I let the people keep their
souls as part of the deal, but it was a total disaster. You see, selling your
soul makes it a lot easier to become a success, because everybody you now
know will change once you become rich. I had a bunch of followers back
then who couldn't take losing touch with everyone they used to care about,
they just sank into this depression and usually self destructed pretty
quickly. Ever wonder why blow was so big back then? Now they just
wander the halls of Hell, moping about and getting everyone else down."


"I know what you're doing." I said, as defiantly as I could. "You're
trying get me to rationalize this situation."


"And why would I do that?" He asked, leaning forward.


"Because," I answered, leaning forward in a similar fashion. "You
know the only way to get me on board is through pure statistics. I mean,
you said yourself, right? I'm an otherwise good person, with otherwise
strong moral values. You have to get those moral values out of the way
before anything you say will get through to me." I lied, but I was doing a
pretty good job convincing myself that I was right.


"Is it working?" He asked.


"Well, no! No it isn't." I replied, leaning back. "In fact, it all sounds
even more wrong to me now than it did earlier."


"Before you go any further," He interrupted, "I'd like to point out
that I'm only gonna make this offer once. I can send you back to your
normal life right now, but it'll be too late to change your mind, and
whether it's right or wrong, you know just as well as I do that sometime
in the very near future, you'll regret turning me down."


"You're probably right about that." I said. "But..."


"Look." He said, waving his index and middle fingers towards my
face. "I really don't have the time to sit here and debate this all week, I'm
extremely busy. If you don't want to be a success, that's fine, but this is
your last chance to decide. So what I want you to do is think it over, and I
mean really think it over, just once more, and I promise to respect
whatever decision you make."


Under the previous circumstances, it was pretty easy to decline his
offer, but now faced with the very real possibillity of never getting a
second chance to decide, I suddenly found myself unable to act quite so
decisively. I sat back into my chair and let my thoughts wash over me. "So
this is it," I thought, "this is the point in my life that will determine my
fate. How well can I trust what he's saying? All the numbers do seem to
add up, and it would be nice to know that I'd be protected in my afterlife.
Alright, what this really comes down to is how badly do I want to succeed.
It would be nice to have a little extra money in my pocket, be my own
boss, earn the respect of other people in the community. Maybe I could
even use my money for good, to offset the evil I'd be committing. I could
still do that without a soul, right? Well, no, I suppose I'd stop caring
about whether or not other people suffer, wouldn't I?


Alright, no. All that this really comes down to is what price am I
willing to pay in order to become successful? Have I become so self
righteous as to assume that I know what's right and wrong? Those people
would suffer either way, who'd know the difference? Well, I'd know, and
I'd have to live with myself knowing that I deliberately chose to ignore
the pain and suffering of others for my own self gain. Well, if this is all
about my conscience being a problem, getting rid of my soul would
probably help with that.


No, this is wrong. I shouldn't even be debating any of this. I should
just graciously decline his offer, head down to the nearest pub, drink
myself stupid, forget this whole incident ever happened and then go back
to my normal life. But how normal is my life gonna be now that I know all
this? It's gonna be nearly impossible to look my boss in the eye knowing
that I could've had his job and turned it down. In fact, I'd resent everybody
at work. Hey, if they weren't holding me back all these years, none of this
would have to happen. If anybody suffers, it's their fault, not mine.


What am I thinking? Of course it would be my fault. I see what's
going on here. He brought me here to tempt we with his offer, and it's
starting to work, and now I'm even coming up with excuses. I can't do this.
It's just plain wrong. I know the difference between right and wrong. Sure,
but when you think about it, it's wrong to eat meat, it's wrong to buy
clothes that were made in sweatshops, it's wrong to drive sport utility
vehicles, it's wrong to consume electricity on such wasteful, frivolous
things as text messengers, and yet we all do it, this would just be one
more wrong on top of a large pile of wrongdoings.


Alright, so if he takes my soul away, I'll feel no guilt for accepting.
So I could easily live with myself if I accept. I guess what it comes down
to is, could I live with myself if I decline?"


"Alright." I said aloud. "I've made my decision."


The devil turned to me and looked slightly impatient. "Well, go ahead
take your time telling me what that decision is. I'm not already late as it
is or anything."


I looked him square in the eye, trying as best as I could to put on a
brave face. He simply looked back with the air of a nagging housewife
waiting for her deadbeat husband to explain why he's five hours late for
dinner and reeking of cheap draught. He began tapping his foot. I began
taking deep breaths. The tension felt as though it was going to crush every
bone in my body. I gave one last thought to my decision. I had to do what
was right. Finally, I took one last deep breath, calmly folded my arms and
said, "so where do I sign up?"

The End


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Comments

The following comments are for "The Dinner Guest"
by eleventeen

Mental Exercise
I was sure he was going to turn it down. This was very entertaining. I enjoyed thinking through the various aspects of the story, our current events and how an active evil spirit may intervene.

You need to proof this again though, you've got some spelling errors and you've used some words that I don't think you meant to here and there. In more general terms, you may also think about tightening. It may read sharper if you did some cutting.

Philo

( Posted by: Philo [Member] On: October 11, 2004 )





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