Just a Favour

*Wordcount: 2342 words.

Joseph sat in his penthouse, sipping expensive whisky and looking out at the city below him. An expensive silken dressing gown was the only thing saving him from nudity.
The setting sun cast long shadows through his room and across the city, and Joseph couldn’t help but feel like he owned it. Hell, it might only be a matter of time!
All of his wealth (his ever-growing wealth, mind you) was hard-earned. Well, earned.
He had had the initiative to set up the deal, and the guts to actually sell his soul, after all.

In his penthouse, the shadows lengthened and the light took on a stifled quality. Joseph didn’t notice, already finding himself slipping into a comfortable evening buzz. He did, however, hear the footsteps behind him. He got up from his seat, and turned to face the intruder… And felt his blood run cold.

“You… Why are you here?!” Joseph felt panic grip him.
“Now now, relax Joseph. I’m not here for anything nefarious, I swear.” Grinned the Devil.
“I’m healthy! I went in for a check-up just the other week, I’m in great shape! You can’t claim my soul, not yet!”
The Devil’s eyes narrowed, and the smile fell from his handsome face. “Joseph, shut up. You sold me your soul in a fair deal, and I’ll take it when I choose.”
Darkness fell, and shadows were all Joseph could see. A second later, the light rose and the Devil was gone.
“Not quite.” He was standing behind Joseph, holding a thin knife with a gleaming edge.
“Please, please no!” Joseph felt himself near tears, he still had so much to do!
“I’m not going to kill you Joseph, nor claim your soul. Not yet. In fact, I wanted to return it.”
“W-What? Return my soul?” Joseph was flabbergasted, and more than a little confused.
“Yes.”
“… Why?”
The Devil walked around Joseph, and took a seat in a comfortable leather chair.
“How ‘bout you pour me a stiff one; we have to talk.”

The Devil was a handsome man, with strong features, black hair, and piercing grey eyes. He was quick to smile, a sly uneven thing at that. He wore a black suit with a black shirt and black shoes, topped off with a black tie and, fashionably offending, a red top hat.
When Joseph had first seen him, he had been taken aback. He expected something more sinister, especially given the warnings he had received when he was hunting down the summoning methods.
“You’re the devil?”
That sly smile. “I don’t often get called these days, I’m impressed. What can I do for you… Joseph?”
“Well, um, how does this work?” Joseph was more than a little nervous, but he was determined to get through this.
“You tell me your desires,” the Devil leaned in close. “And I make them happen.”

The sun had set, and the penthouse would, logically, be in darkness (seeing as Joseph hadn’t turned on any lights yet), but was somehow still lit with a stunted, amber light.
“So I’m just doing you a favour?”
“Yes, I’ll return your soul to you for a brief while, and once the favour is done I’ll take it back.”
“And what about the deal? The talents you gave me, will they stay?”
The Devil shook his head lightly, “No. It wouldn’t be good business seeing as the payment would be reversed.”
Joseph chewed on that; he had become quite accustomed to what the deal had gained him.
“Afterwards, when you take my soul back?”
“Our deal will, once again, be fulfilled. Everything will return, as if it had never left you.”
“I take it I can’t refuse?”
The Devil smiled. “No, you can’t.”
Joseph looked at his feet, contemplating for a moment.
“What do I need to do?”

“So,” said the Devil. “What are your desires?”
“I want to be good at everything.”
The Devil cocked his head to the side. “Excuse me?”
“I want to have talent in everything. I want to be able to do anything I put my mind to.”
“You’re ambitious, aren’t you?” The Devil chuckled, he liked this one. “Tell you what. You get fifteen things, and you don’t have to choose them now.”
“O-Only fifteen?”
“It’s more than most people could ever dream of. Imagine, excelling with ease at fifteen tasks of your choosing. The greatest lover? You will be. The greatest fighter? You could be. Fifteen hell-given talents, allowing you to out-do anyone in anything you fancy.”
Joseph smiled wide, “That would work.”
“It will work, Joseph. Do we have a deal?”
Joseph smiled, and shook the Devil’s hand.

Joseph felt emptier without his talents, he had spent five years and seven of his fifteen chances doing incredible things. He wrote bestselling self-help books, and gained wealth. He seduced with unearthly guile, and played the piano with devilish speed. He could mix any drink you could name, with perfection. He could cook like a pro, and he had borrowed the Devil’s suggestion for fighting skill. He learnt languages with fluent ease, and utilised them while globetrotting off his author money.
This would, however, be the first time he had ever killed.

The Devil had laid out the task simply, go to the address written down on the scrap of paper and kill a Mr. Gabriels. With the knife the Devil had given him, that was important. Joseph inspected the knife as he walked. It was a slender thing, and wickedly sharp. Something was etched into the blade itself, but Joseph couldn’t read it. The handle was wooden, carved into a grotesquery of a screaming bat, or something. In fact, he noticed that every time he looked at it it had changed somehow. Small features or the entire carving, and he never felt the change.
Holding it made him feel uneasy, and he slipped it into its sheath and then his pocket.
For now, he would focus on getting to the address.

He walked the whole way, not wanting any cab drivers or anyone at all knowing where he went and when. The last thing he wanted was to be caught for a crime he didn’t even want to commit.
It took him about an hour and a half to reach the house, and he took in the sight of his to-be murder. It was a nice house, if a little aged. Not that big, truth be told, but it looked like most of the other houses in this suburb. Was he going to kill a family man?
That wouldn’t sit well with him. Although none of this did.
He didn’t really have a choice either way.
He looked around at the empty streets while he gathered the nerve. Wait, not quite empty. There was a man standing below a streetlight a few houses down.
A man in a red top hat.

The Devil approached Joseph in silence.
“What are you doing here? You know I can’t chicken out.”
“Oh I know Joseph. You’re strong, you’ll do what you need to. I just came to add a detail I forgot to mention.”
“Yeah? What?”
“The Mr. Gabriels you’re here to kill is Daniel.”
“That’s all?”
The Devil smiled, and held his palms out towards Joseph. “Thought it’d help. I’ll leave you to it.”
Before Joseph could say anything in response, the Devil was gone.

Once on the property Joseph slipped from shadow to shadow with the unpractised clumsiness of an amateur. The front door was locked, unsurprisingly (it was about midnight at this point). The back door, however, popped open when Joseph pressed the handle.
This would be easier than he thought.

The kitchen he entered was dark, but as his eyes adjusted he made out more details. The shape of various appliances, and the doors leading to the rest of the house. Joseph commenced his quiet stumbling through the house, until he found a convenient torch. Then he stumbled quietly, but with light.
He inspected the rooms he entered and the things scattered around. It didn’t help his appetite for murder, as he found pictures of Daniel with what was clearly his wife, and pictures of a baby son. Daniel also seemed to have a knack for bartending, and there was a beaten piano sitting in the corner of their lounge.
Joseph could respect his tastes, at least.
Soon he realised there was little of interest here, and made his way upstairs.

Not long down the hallway, a baby started wailing. Joseph froze, startled stiff. He heard muffled talking from the room at the end of the hall, and felt panic starting to flare at the back of his mind.
He looked around wildly, and slipped into a cupboard that barely fit him. He switched off his torch, and held his breath.

It was the wife who got up to soothe the baby, and soon passed him to fetch something from downstairs. He was terrified she would see him, but the darkness and her sleep-addled vision seemed to save him.
He snuck from the cupboard, and made his way speedily down the hall.

Inside, Daniel lay snoring. The bedroom was cosy and warm, thanks to a small heater in the corner. A baby monitor blinked on a bedside table, casting a dull red light over Daniel.
Joseph walked up to him, and pulled out the knife. It seemed to vibrate with bloodlust, or was that just Joseph’s nerves? No matter, no time.
He sunk the blade into Daniel’s neck.
Daniel’s eyes shot open, and he grabbed at his rapidly bleeding wound. A terrible rasping, gurgling sound filled the room.
He shuddered after a moment, and went still.
Joseph felt sick.
As he made to leave the room, his head spinning, he heard the baby monitor flare up. The wife was there, consoling him.
“Shh, shh Daniel. I brought you some formula, drink up.”
Oh god no.

Joseph felt dizzy, he didn’t know what to do. He’d just killed a man, the wrong man, when his target was a damned baby! Could he kill a baby?
No, it didn’t matter. He had to. He didn’t have a choice.
What about the mother?
He thought on it for a moment, and reached a decision he hated himself for.
In for a penny, in for a pound.

The mother slumped to the ground, her head bleeding, as Joseph stood over her holding a shattered glass. He stepped over her, and drove the knife into her chest.
The baby cried in his crib. Daniel.
Joseph looked down at him, a few specks of blood clinging to his desperate face.

When he was done, he felt like he was going to be ill. The way the baby had watched him, tears in his eyes, his grasping, pudgy fingers, the bright red hue of his blood…
Joseph almost fell down the stairs; his legs could barely hold him up.
Somehow, he made it outside.
Then, he was on the street, walking away. Running.
He ran into the Devil.

“Hey, slow down there. You might hurt someone, holding that knife like that.”
Joseph didn’t realise he was still holding it. He handed it over, wordlessly.
“A little shaken, eh? Man up, live with your choices.” The Devil’s face hardened.  “There’s nothing worse than an entitled brat realising that his choices have consequences for the first time. You made the deal, you killed the baby, you brought this on yourself.”
Joseph stared at the Devil, tears welling in his eyes. He opened his mouth, and closed it again.
“Speaking of consequences,” the Devil looked him in the eyes. “I didn’t ask you to kill the family. Just Daniel. You fucked up.”
Joseph took a step back. “I… I had to…”
“No, you overreacted. Brash and stupid, and not what I asked you to do. You can keep your soul.”
Joseph’s eyes opened wide, and he grabbed the Devil’s lapels. “No! I did all this to preserve our deal! You can’t back out!”
The Devil’s face was a barely concealed mask of fury. “I asked you to do a favour, and you made a mess of it. You didn’t go the extra mile; you didn’t do what you had to do. For all I know, you did what you wanted to do. Perhaps you’re just a sick murderer?” The Devil broke into a chuckle. “You’d have to be, considering!”
“No! I-”
“I’m not finished. Joseph, do you know what happens to sick murderers? According to the bible, they go to hell. According to the law, they go to jail. You’re going to hell regardless now, I don’t need your soul.” The Devil smiled his sly smile, “and you left fingerprints all over the house, you sloppy fool. Not to mention the murder weapon.” Here, he held up the bloody knife. “When they find this, you’ll be sentenced to life without a doubt.”
Joseph stood back reservedly. “You… planned this, didn’t you?”
“Joseph, please. I am the Devil. I hope you find peace with your kith in prison, I hear they don’t take kindly to baby-killers.”
When Joseph looked up, the Devil was gone.

They found the murder weapon on the scene, and Joseph was quickly arrested. He went without a fight, and denied a lawyer. He pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison. With the certainty of his incarceration looming ahead, he found a thought harden in his mind. He would live as long as he could within his confines, and do whatever it takes to survive.
He had lost, but he would keep his soul out of his hands for as long as he could.

“So that was it, just a handshake?”
“Of course not, I’ll need some blood. Just a prick though, it won’t hurt.”
“Ow!”
“The cost of business, eh?”
“So that’s it?”
“Yes.”
“How will it work? Picking the talents, I mean.”
“You’ll figure it out, don’t worry. If you have any trouble, you know how to call me.”
“Thanks. Pleasure doing business with you!”
“Believe me, Joseph, the pleasure’s all mine.”

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