Tales from the Gallery : The First Image : Ventricle

‘Ahh! Customers!’ it exclaimed.

‘Customers?’ I asked, baffled.

‘You are a customer, are you not?’ it enquired, cringing back the black lips, revealing a gold crown and sharp rear incisors.

I didn’t know, of course, what on earth the little fiend was going on about, but I found the whole thing very intriguing and decided to play along.

‘It’s possible’ I said, doing my best hard-to-get act, ‘If it’s worth it.’

‘And what would be worth your while?’ it asked, leaning forward, tail whisking from side to side in anticipation.

‘Depends on what you have to offer and on the recompense.’

‘Ahh! A tough customer! We don’t get them too often’ it chuckled, then added persuasively: ‘But I’m sure that we can reach an arrangement that agrees with all concerned parties. What kind of stomach do you have and what would satisfy it?’ It could barely pronounce the last for laughter and collapsed into a hissing fit.

I studied the little creature’s efforts to regain composure, wondering whether it perhaps was dangerous to continue – or cease for that fact. I could not help but find the devil’s lame humour a little menacing, not to mention its two companions, of which one was now sitting in the opposite corner of the eye, belly bursting and its chest caked with blood, playing a frenzied jig on a strip of dental floss, and the other still leisurely paddling in the tear sea with its mouth – disproportionately large for a creature that small – directly beneath the blood stream which issued from the wounded eye.

The devil had re-acquired its composure:

‘Now tell me in what direction your taste lies’ it said slyly.

I did not like this turn of events; the devil could have spun another joke out of this line, but it hadn’t. Before had just been an act. I had really put my foot in it this time.

‘My taste …’ I said coolly ‘My taste I will reveal to you in due course …’ I paused again, buying time whilst contemplating my options. ‘But first … first I’d like some information about whom I’m dealing with’ I stated in a dry tone and then added, honey-tongued: ‘Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?’

The devil positively beamed. With aplomb it dramatically swung out its arms, bowed, in a manner that would have made a 18th century French courtier go pea-green with envy, and commenced the epic of itself. Not one blush, not the merest shred of modesty, but I suppose that was to be expected.

It accounted for its long and successful career serving the Beast. There had been ups and downs, it admitted, but aided by its remarkable acuity and prolific sense of wickedness it had met with every challenge that had presented itself and dealt with each obstacle, unyielding in determination. It became quite carried away in its narrative of its many feats, tricks and transactions. I was compelled to hear a full and detailed curriculum vitae from toddler to devil of third degree. The devil had, as far as I could determine, and as far as the devil was concerned, made a brilliant career for itself. From its humble beginnings in the trade as trickster; turning the milk sour, causing stampedes and cot death, and generally discrediting the Little People – the usual routine, as it remarked nonchalantly – it had exerted unusual dedication and asserted morals below and talent beyond expectations and steadily moved up in rank until it had reached its present appointment of “Transactor” at an age of a mere three-hundred-and-twenty-eight years. “Transactor”, I understood, is the title of one who is responsible for the exchange of promises between humans and representatives of the Beast; that is to say, one who incites and furthers vices and induces people to unwholesome bargains.

‘Virtues are very tasty’ the devil confided to me ‘but nicest are bitter hearts!’ it added, running its tongue sensually along its black lips. ‘We prefer souls, naturally – but best is it if we can obtain allegiance; it is on all account the best arrangement for all parties concerned. The most faithful are of course posthumously installed in nefarious office in appreciation of services rendered. Rich or poor, black or white – we take on any and all clients. We do not indulge in petty prejudices in our part of the world, only the big ones; in Hell all are valued as are and receive as deserved. We have also a most profitable pension fund – would you care to examine the brochure now?’

‘We rarely have to remind our clientele to keep up their half of the bargain’ it asserted with authority, ‘but if they waver, we do have a little something up our sleeve’ he chuckled. ‘The Furies, poor dears, lost their position when that twat Orestes was absolved, but they soon found their place with us. Not as dependable as one would like them, I must say, but they are most efficient.’

‘You wouldn’t believe how many religious rejects have sought our stables! I mean where else are they to go, if not to fade completely into oblivion? We all have our need to be seen and heard, and most are ready to go to great lengths to fulfil it.’ He tut-tutted and shook his head. ‘We have sibyls and prophets, seers and sorcerers, titans and monsters, moping around in dark corners over their tumble-down oracles and temples, their lost congregations and world orders – well, nothing lasts forever.’

‘Hel – you know, the Scandinavian goddess? – she has found her little nook with us as well. Such a good sport! Such a looker! Best hostess this side of the Styx. Night and her kiddies; Strife, Damnation, … – well I’m sure you are acquainted with them. You are a clever person, informed, I can tell. I am, by all accounts, a good judge of character’ he said and winked conspiratorially at me.

‘Of course humankind has found their replacements. Christ, – bloody Buddha!’ It rolled its eyes. ‘They will join us too, eventually’ he said with a twinkle. ‘It’s never enough, is it? Human beings seem resolved to be discontent and push the envelope for what is possible whilst being afraid of it. That’s where we come in. Uncertainty breeds isolation and prejudice and lack of direction. These are grand tools for kindling despair and the disintegration of character and courage’ it nodded knowingly. ‘The human mind is such a fragile fabric, really. Such contradictory beings …’ the devil mused, and for a moment it seemed almost that it pitied the human race, but the moment amounted to no more than a split second: ‘Why the majority that come to us aren’t even sure of what they want – or whether they really need it! And the most hilarious thing is that they don’t!’ it cackled, clutching its belly and rolling about in hilarity, almost toppling over the rim of the afflicted eye.

I stared at the beastly little rogue; repulsed, shocked and ashamed all at once. Anger seized me. I decided to destroy them all.

© 1994, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2010, 2019 Kirstin Sørensen

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