The demon was just under three feet tall, horned, and a luxurious shade of crimson. It was lean, but small straps of muscle cut across its back and arms, indicating a form well suited to labor. Its mane was thick and black with flecks of gray, woven into a broad rope braided down the beast’s back. It sat upon a sheet of newspaper, inside a water stained bamboo cage, gnawing at a toenail with tiny, pointy teeth. A black cover for the cage was folded neatly on top. Each bamboo pole was strapped to the others with thin, rusty wire.
“I don’t see the purpose.” said Charles Smith, “For the price you are asking, I could just hire a girl to do chores around the house for the next three years. No hiding her from sight, no locking her in a cage. Why would I want a demon wandering about my home?”
“A girl is so common.” said the shopkeeper, “This is something else, something much more exotic. Let me ask you this – have you ever even seen a denizen of Hades before?”
“No, of course not. But how do I know this isn’t some strange shaved ape, or mutant kid, or, hell, I don’t know.”
The imp looked up at Charles and whip cracked its tail three times in rapid succession. “Demon!” it said, “From Hell!” It pronounced Hell like an evangelist would – Hayallll.
“It talks?” Charles said, trying to hide his interest. The sum for the creature was absurd.
“Sometimes.” said the shopkeeper, “When it wants to. It is quite intelligent, quite a servant, quite dastardly. It’s straight from the seventh circle you know. Formerly a castle servant to Lucifer himself, so it told me once. The story made my skin crawl.”
Charles put a considering face on, trying to display uncertainty. Unfortunately Charles felt the battle was already won. A demon as a possession was an intriguing thought. “Sounds despicable. All this tasteless satanic nonsense. Shouldn’t a Christian such as myself avoid contact with beasts such as this? And how did it wind up here anyway?”
The shopkeeper laughed, “Christian, eh? Ah well, yes, I suppose I might have misjudged you, for which I deeply apologize. I would suspect that the possession of a mere imp would hardly tarnish the heart of a charitable man such as yourself, but who would want to gamble?”
Gamble was a trigger word in Charles’ mind. Charles liked to gamble, and always had. He frowned; this shopkeeper seemed to be reading him too well.
“And as for how it got here?” the shopkeeper continued, “It has been about the island for some time now. Rumor has it that a hundred years ago it was on a vessel from Haiti that wandered too close to our reef. A wrecker rescued the crew and confiscated the cargo as payment. The demon was aboard. It passed from family to family, I suppose, and eventually…”
“I’ll take it.” said Charles. His grandfather had made the family fortune as a wrecker. Maritime law allowed rescuers to keep the cargo of ships they salvaged back then. Some claimed that the wreckers would move the lighted buoys on dark windy nights, luring ships onto the reef, only to appear quickly as savior to the crew. Savior or pirate, the pay had been quite lucrative. Charles owned one of the largest, most beautiful homes in Key West, which had been handed down to him from his grandfather’s days. Charles was the modern day keeper of a great family legacy, and suddenly this imp appeared – bounty from a wrecker’s cleverness, a treasure in the tradition of the island. “I’ll pay the price. I want to take it home with me tonight.”
“Of course you do.” said the shopkeeper with a toothy smile. “I knew this was the gift for a discerning man such as yourself. You will be very pleased with…”
“I said I would take it.” Charles interrupted. He reached into his trouser pockets and pulled out a roll of hundred dollar bills as big as a baseball. He peeled them off one at a time and sat them on the counter in front of the shopkeeper.
“A man wit’ many ‘tings” said the demon quietly from its cage.
“Yes,” said the shopkeeper in agreement, watching the hundred dollar bills stack before him, “A man with many things.”
“What do I feed it? What care does it need?” Charles asked.
“No food, sir, is necessary. Neither does it need water nor air nor anything else that we commonly associate with living things. It is a creature of the underworld, and cannot be killed.”
Both men looked toward the cage at the imp within. It was standing now on its clawed feet, peering at them through the bars of the cage. A small gold ring shone from its right index finger. It licked its black lips with a forked tongue.
“It is your servant the moment you leave this store, sir, and as such it will obey your every command. It is a demon, though, and as such it is mischievous. Keep it safe and keep it out of trouble. The easiest way to do that is to either lock it up or keep it busy with tasks. So long as it is serving you, you will not be disappointed in it. But should it ever be left to its own devices, well, idle hands…”
“Are the Devil’s playground.” Charles completed. “Anything else?”
“Locked up or busy,” said the shopkeeper, “that will be enough. Should you have any problems, please come see me. I exist but to please.” Another flash of toothy smile, and the deal seemed fully arranged.
Charles grabbed the cage by a ring at its top, and then slid the black cover down to hide the cages contents. He walked from the store into the cool ocean evening, and strolled home.
The next morning Charles took the cage and sat it on his breakfast table, near a second story window of his million dollar home, in the light of the morning sun. He lifted the cover, and saw that the demon was cleaning itself by licking its palms and wiping them over its chest and arms. When it saw the ocean through the window, it let out a coo of delight.
“Alright Demon, I am your master.” Charles said with authority.
“Oh yes.” said the imp.
“And do you intend to obey me?” Charles asked. When the imp nodded its head Charles demanded, “That’s not good enough Demon. I want to hear you say it.”
“Oh yes, Master.” said the imp.
“And you won’t try to escape?”
“No, Master” the imp whispered.
“Alright then.” Charles said, and undid the clasp to the demon’s cage.
That day the demon scrubbed the floors and dusted the china. It polished the silver and made the beds. It did the dishes and folded the laundry, scrubbed garbage cans, and removed all the staples from some papers Charles was reviewing, then put them into binders. In the evening, it sat at Charles’ feet and watched television with him. It laughed gleefully at the news, which described the horrid slave trade in Asia.
“You are a terrible beast, aren’t you?” Charles asked in amazement. The imp curled its long pointy tail around his ankle.
The demon proved to be a wonderful companion. It performed all tasks flawlessly and tirelessly. Every morning, Charles recited to the demon a list of things that must be accomplished, while it listened closely to his every word. It never seemed to grow tired, and never needed any food or drink. When Charles had to go away on business for more than a day, he locked the imp in a cedar chest at the foot of his bed.
After becoming comfortable with the demons ways and patterns, Charles began to trust it to accomplish its tasks while he was not there. Only once did the demon get into any true mischief.
Charles had left the beast with a list of things to accomplish, and had then went to attend a meeting with the city planners. The meeting went longer than expected, and when Charles came home late he found the imp talking into the telephone, one hand cupped over its mouth to mask the words.
“Hey there!” Charles shouted, “What do you think you are doing?”
The imp leaped in surprise, then slammed down the phone. “Oh, nutting, nutting, I do nutting master. So sorry, sorry, master. I do nutting.” When Charles stepped forward it threw its arms over its head and shrieked, “No master! No pain, no pain! Don’t hurt!”
Charles scooped up the imp and locked it in its cage, scolding it to never touch the telephone again. The imp looked utterly dejected.
Not much later the phone rang, and when Charles answered it, a woman with an angry Cuban voice was at the other end.
“You horrible bastard!” She screeched, “I star sixty-nine’d you, and you can bet I am calling the police! You are a disgusting man and deserved to be locked up forever!” She sounded like she might be crying in her anger.
“Wait, please.” Charles interjected, “Look, I am so sorry. It wasn’t me who called you. I am watching a…nephew…a young boy who is not quite right in the head. He got to the phone while I wasn’t watching and made this call. I am really, truly, terribly sorry that he upset you.”
“A child!” the woman said in shock, “How could a boy say such terrible things.” Charles listened for a minute while the woman sobbed into the telephone. He did his best to console her, and to promise her that the nephew would be punished. She hung up still crying.
“What in the world did you say to her?” Charles asked the demon, but it refused to answer.
“Well,” Charles said to himself, “that’s why I must keep it busy.”
A year passed with no further incidents, because Charles was careful to never leave the imp idle again. It continued to perform its tasks with precision, which indeed made it a wonderful servant.
Periodically, though, it reminded Charles of its origins. It laughed devilishly at bad news on the television. Once, it surprised Charles by asking for a baby. When Charles showed his shock at the request, the imp went silent and refused to discuss the matter any further. Charles learned that it could be kept quiet and out of trouble for hours with pornographic video tapes, which the imp watched with rapt attention.
“Horny little devil, aren’t you?” Charles once teased.
“Bah!” said the imp, “Dis is da tame stuff. Da tings I have seen, now, make dis look like da church choir. People wit out skin all…”
“No need to tell me about it, Demon.” Charles interrupted, and the imp went back to its videos.
Charles met a woman named Sandy, and their relationship grew. Sandy had two children, a home in Miami, and a Lexus, all from a previous marriage. Her children were named Kimberly and Harold. Whenever any of them came over to Charles’ place he made sure to first lock the demon up in the cedar chest, with orders to remain quiet.
Sandy bought a condo in Key West so they could see more of each other. Charles took her children sailing, and spent many contented evenings sitting on the beach with them all, watching the sunsets that have made the Keys famous. The daughter, Kimberly, turned out to be a true sweetheart, always wanting to cuddle up to Charles and have him braid her hair. The boy, Harold, was a smart young man who took quick to boating, and loved tales of Charles’ ancestors, who made their fortunes gathering the treasures of the ocean.
Sandy was a kindred spirit. She had a keen understanding on when Charles wanted company, and when he was best left alone. She brought plants into his house, and ensured they survived. Long before Charles proposed, they were already entertaining fantasies of living their lives in a sailboat, dropping anchor in whatever tropical port the wind blew them to.
Eventually Charles little secret got out. One day the kids got out of school early and came to visit Charles house as the imp was cleaning windows. Kimberly let out a high pitched squeal of terror and bolted, and Charles had to run down United Street to catch her. Since the cat was now out of the bag, he brought the kids back to his home and introduced them to the imp.
“Where did he come from?” Harold asked.
“Haiti.” Charles replied, and that was at least partially the truth.
“Does it do tricks?” Kimberly asked.
“Well, sort of. But really it is my servant. It cooks and cleans and takes care of the house.”
“He looks mean.” Kimberly stated from the safety of Charles’ arms. The demon snapped its tail in the air and continued cleaning windows. “Momma won’t like it.”
“No.” Charles said, “I guess she won’t.”
Men who think too much often find the concept of marriage daunting. As the love between Charles and Sandy grew, Charles found himself checking off a list of her faults in his mind, and then cursing himself for his stupidity. She was not perfect, but neither was he, and their imperfections fit together perfectly. She opened a T-shirt shop on Duval Street and was turning a profit in the first year. On her birthday, she received a phone call from the Governor of Florida, who she chatted with for half an hour. She was smart, successful, sexy, and he found her positive outlook contagious. Charles had his grandmothers’ wedding ring cleaned and cut to Sandy’s size.
The night before he intended to ask her hand in marriage Charles grew excessively nervous. He called up some old chums and demanded they drop everything to go out drinking. He took the demon and sat it on his lap facing him.
“Now look Demon, I am asking Sandy to marry me tomorrow. I need this house as clean as it can possibly get. I want the floors swept and mopped and the stairs scrubbed. I need the windows spotless and every dish in the entire house, clean or not, wiped down. I want beds made and carpets beaten. Clean out the light fixtures. Polish the silver and brass. Clean the soot from the chimney. I want the bathroom spotless, the tub and the loo must shine! Fold all the towels and stack them neatly in the closet. Water the plants, but not too much now. I don’t want to take the blame for them dying. Rearrange the cupboards; I never liked the glasses where they are. I want them put in the cupboard over the sink, and the spices put over the stove where they belong. You can watch video tapes while you work if you want, but not too loudly, and stay away from the telephone!”
The demon took it all in with diligent attention. It nodded, accepting its orders and confirming its understanding. Charles sighed; he wondered how in the world he would ever live without it. It was his full intention to return the demon to the shop tomorrow.
When Charles met his buddies at Irish Kevin’s, they didn’t know what the motivators were, but they could tell that Charles was in the mood to party. They had a hell of a night. They got every woman on Duval Street drunk, including two strippers from Teasers. Bill Carmichael, who was a bastard when it came to zoning regulations and one of the most feared men in Key West, actually stripped to his underwear and danced on the bar. The bouncers were told to let them go - it was going to be one of those nights. They ended the night at Bill’s house, drinking scotch and smoking illegal Cuban cigars. The two strippers danced for them, and Stoney Walters declared himself sober enough to take them both on. The three of them retired into Bill’s master bedroom, leaving Bill and his wife to take the guest room. Charles puked in Bill’s backyard, leaning his shoulder against a coconut tree, and then passed out in Bill’s hammock.
Charles woke the next morning to his cell phone ringing and the morning sun shining into his eyes. It was barely seven in the morning.
“Good morning.” said Sandy from the other end of the cell phone, “I have been briefed by some girl friends about your partying last night, you bad boy you.”
“Oh, Sandy,” Charles groaned, “you’re going to have to be extra patient with me today.”
“I’m patient with you every day, Lover. I just don’t let you sleep in.” She replied.
“But I think we are both going to want this day to be as perfect as possible.” Charles said, and the phone went quiet. That was the only hint he planned on giving her, but he knew that it would be enough. She would be her most beautiful when he met her in the evening.
“I love you, Charles.” Sandy said.
“Then let me sleep.” Charles said laughing, and hung up on her. That was a mischievous thing to do, but he knew she would take it well. That’s why he loved her; she took things so very well.
There was no more sleep in Charles. He felt grimy from sleeping outdoors and his mouth tasted awful. His stomach was giving warning signs, but altogether he was nowhere near the condition he deserved. He wondered how much they had all spent on drinks last night. Thank God for good friends and booze.
Charles car was still parked off Duval Street, so he decided to just walk home. He stopped off at Dennis Pharmacy for a cup of coffee, and by the time he made it to his front walk it was almost noon.
Something was cooking.
Charles smelled the unmistakable aroma of wood smoke and sizzling meat. He opened his front door and found his house as spotless as he wanted it to be, except, of course, for the body of a young girl in the kitchen. It was Kimberly. She had been bound at the ankles and wrists with an extension cord. Her face was barely visible in silhouette through the white garbage bag that had been put over her head and taped around her neck.
Charles screamed. Not a peep or a whimper or a sharp intake of air, but a full bodied, from the diaphragm, bellow of fear. He ran around the body on the floor, heading for the back yard, but slipped on part of Kimberly’s dress and cracked his forehead against a corner of the stove. Blood immediately began to ooze from the cut and drip onto the tile. He got up, holding his aching head with a grimace, and ran to the back door.
As soon as the door opened he saw it all. There was the imp, turning an improvised spit. Harold was skewered through the mouth and anus on a galvanized steel fence post, bound at intervals along its length with sisal rope from Charles’ garage. He looked just about done, with skin crisped to the same shade of red as the imps.
Charles howled with terror and grabbed for a nearby push broom. He broke the broom against the imp’s back. The imp squealed and accepted three more hits, hard ones, before running into the house bawling, and hiding itself beneath a sofa. Charles lost all reason. He grabbed for the fence post and partially lifted it, then dropped it when the heat burned through to his frenzied brain. His hands were instantly blistered, and he wound up dropping the end of the pole off its sawhorse. Harold’s body, still skewered, crashed into the wood fire in a shower of sparks. Charles realized he had to get the boy out of the fire, then realized he didn’t want to touch the body, then realized he had to. He ran into the house in total confusion and revulsion, and fell onto the cool floor of the dining room, gasping for air.
After laying there for some time, questions began to form in his mind. What would he do? Should he kill the demon? Could he kill the demon? What would he tell the police? What would he tell Sandy? Could he hide the bodies? Should he confess the truth? Should he make up a lie? Had his neighbors heard his yelling, or peeked over the fence to see a young boy cooking?
“Demon,” Charles said, “go get Harold’s body and bring it inside here. Do it right goddamned now!” The demon leapt out the door to comply. It came back into the house seconds later, dragging at one end of the spit, quite unconcerned about the heat. It eyed Charles cautiously.
“Get him off that pole, you rat fuck of a bastard!” Charles screamed, and the imp leaped in fright, then planted its clawed little feet against the boy and pulled at the fence post. It came out of the boys wide open mouth with the predictable sounds of teeth and gristle reverberating through the hollow, galvanized steel. Harold now looked burned on one side.
“I do as you say, Boss.” said the demon, and grinned nervously at Charles, as if hoping for praise.
Charles leapt at the imp, grabbing it around the waist before it could get away. He punched it several times, as hard as he could, on its head and round red belly. It whined and cried, and no matter how much hatred Charles had inside him, he could not get it out of his mind that it felt like he was beating up a child. He carried it by the neck to its cage, threw it in, and clasped the door shut. He put the black cover over the cage and carried it, running, out his front door.
Charles ran down United Street carrying the cage, right past one of his neighbors. Mr. Crandal was wearing a faded, old Hawaiian shirt and palm frond hat. “That pig you’re roasting smells almost done.” He yelled at Charles as Charles ran by. “Nancy and I have smelled it all night. Smells damned good too. You know it takes a long time to get them done in the middle. I remember…” But Charles was already gone.
Several tourists stopped and stared as Charles darted past, a wild eyed man with blood dripping from his forehead, carrying some small animal in a cage. By accident, Charles ran right over a young woman in a string bikini. Her boyfriend yelled viciously at him, but by the time he got done checking to make sure she was alright, Charles was already a block away, and not slowing at all. He arrived at the shop in the very brightest part of a Key West summer day.
“I need help!” Charles screamed. It was dark in the shop, and it seemed there was nobody there but the shopkeeper, still bolted to his position behind the counter.
“Something wrong, sir?” the shopkeeper asked.
“The demon, this, this thing - I don’t want it. I am in trouble. What do I do if it has done something wrong?”
“Wrong, sir?” asked the shopkeeper.
“Terribly wrong.” Charles confirmed.
“Ah. Idle hands then, I suppose. What can I possibly do? It isn’t a washing machine, you know. I can’t just contact the manufacturer and tell them that it has spit suds all over your carpet.” The shopkeeper shrugged. “There is nothing that can be done.”
A sudden cool calmness came over Charles. If he had any sense left, he might have been shocked at the next thing he said. “You call someone. You call the right someone. I am holding a demon in a cage and the two children of the woman I love are dead in my house because of it. You call the right someone right now or the cops will find you cut up in the freezer.”
“Well,” said the shopkeeper, seemingly nonplussed, “perhaps I can contact the manufacturer after all. You go home now, sir, and take the demon with you. By the time you get there, some…one…will be arriving to help you resolve this issue.”
Charles left the shop. He vowed that if the shopkeeper called the police, Charles’ last act would be to follow through on his promise to put the shopkeeper in the freezer, in individually wrapped pieces.
The sun was very bright, and Charles had never been as physically, emotionally, and mentally wrecked as he was at that moment. He stumbled down the street with a dazed expression that made people get out of his way. The imp was restless inside its cage. He could feel it stirring around nervously.
Charles wound up passing the young man whose girlfriend he ran over earlier. The man, who was walking around shirtless to expose his impressive chest and abdomen, grabbed Charles by the nape of the neck.
“I’m gonna break your fucking face.” The young man said. He cocked back a fist that looked, indeed, capable of shattering bone.
Charles lifted up a part of the cover and showed the young man the demon in its cage.
“Wha...what’s that?” The young man asked, stepping backward. Charles continued heading home.
By the time he got there, not much later, the Bargainer was already waiting.
He looked to be a vampire, dressed all in black, skin unnaturally pale, eyes washed out gray. The Bargainer was examining the corpse of the girl. He had already ripped through the garbage bag over her face, and was looking at her teeth. She had died screaming, it seemed.
“Quite a mess you have here.” The Bargainer said. On the sound of his voice, the imp went wild in its cage, thrashing from side to side and making wild monkey sounds. It began to speak in a rapid fire tongue which Charles could not quite understand.
“Ah, I see it remembers me.” The Bargainer smiled and took long, graceful strides to stop in front of Charles. It was at least eight feet tall. “You have been gone long, my dove.” The Bargainer pulled up the cover. The imp was crouched in its cage, as far away from the Bargainer’s hands as it could get.
“Now then, what can I do to help?” The Bargainer asked Charles. It clasped its hands together and looked down at him with feigned paternal interest.
“You can help?” Charles asked stupidly. “I mean, I mean…how?”
“Well, let’s see here.” The Bargainer said, looking professional. “It seems we are a perfect pair. The problem you have on your hands, and, presumably, want to get rid of, is exactly what I would like to have. I will take the Orobas from you, and return it to its home.” The imp whimpered.
“And the bodies?” Charles asked. He was numb.
“Oh,” said the Bargainer, looking at Charles with interest, “oh yes, the bodies. Just let me take a look here.” It went to stand straddle over Harold’s red body, and ran its hands over the charred flesh, muttering to itself in a language that Charles, again, could not understand. “Oh certainly, certainly yes. I can find a use for these indeed.” It turned back to look at Charles. “Dispose of them, I mean, of course.” It said.
Charles mind wasn’t working right, but he did his best to think the situation out. Everything was wrong. He knew that, but there was nothing that he could do. The children were dead, and would certainly be missing. The police would know where to look. Evidence was certainly all over. Liquid fat had pooled under Harold’s body. A bonfire was still smoldering in his backyard. At some point he knew that Sandy would come to the horrible conclusion that he had been involved in the death of her children. So much for the perfect day.
The Bargainer examined each child with satisfaction, paying closest attention to their teeth and palms and soles of their feet. It caressed the young girls’ locks of hair. “Perfect.” It muttered, “Just so very perfect.” It scooped both children up, one in each arm, and looked at them adoringly. “Give me the Orobas.” It said.
“Wait.” Charles said, and the Bargainer looked at him with disappointed malice. “Just wait. Just wait and…and let me think.”
“There is no reason to wait, Mr. Smith. I have given you quite a wonderful deal. We have agreed.”
“Yes, but the children. Can’t you, possibly…” Charles gulped, “bring them back?”
“Bring them back?” The Bargainer guffawed. “Bring them back from the dead, you mean? Oh no, no, no, Mr. Smith. Such a thing, it, well, it reduces my profits now, doesn’t it?” The Bargainer looked at Charles with a wide smile.
“You can have me.” Charles said, and a great sense of doom, the depths of which he could not comprehend, overcame him.
“Whatever do you mean?” The Bargainer asked.
“You can have me. I will be yours. I will do as you say, forever.” Charles sighed. “But you have to bring the children back.”
The Bargainer seemed puzzled, then momentarily shocked. “You mean now? Right now? I can take you when you are still…alive?” It set the children’s bodies on the floor and looked at Charles with interest.
A live soul. Such things were very rare, the Bargainer thought, so very, very precious. The Tempter himself had scant access to them all, and they were an extreme amusement to him. The Bargainer considered the rewards of bringing a live soul to the Master, the terrible, bloody rewards of a pleased king of Hell.
But raising a person from the dead, now, that was no small thing. Permission should be obtained, through some very hard administrators. That took time. Failure to obtain permission could land him in the arms of the Incubus as punishment. But then again, if the Master discovered that there had been a chance at getting a live soul, and that opportunity had been squandered? Hell hath fury indeed.
“You drive a hard bargain.” The Bargainer said, tapping its fingernails together in nervous thought. “I see it runs in your bloodline. I accept your offer. I do. I accept.”
“Then let’s do this, before I try to run.” Charles said, but he doubted he had the strength to move.
“Oh Boss.” The imp said from its cage. “Oh, da ‘ting you do now. It be black. It be black indeed.” The imp looked almost sorrowful.
“He knows that. Or, he soon will.” said the Bargainer as he untied the children. It lidded its dead eyes in concentration, summoned forth all it was worth in terms of black magic, and fulfilled the deal.
Flesh knit together and smoothed. Twisted limbs straightened. Chests heaved in breath. The children sat up, rubbing their eyes in bewilderment. They looked at each other for a long moment, and by the time they looked away at the room around them, the others were already off to Hell, suffering an arguably deserved fate.
When the children returned home, their mother was glowing with a serene happiness. Sandy barely seemed to notice the unusual look in their eyes.
“Hello my darlings.” She called from the bedroom. She was trying on dresses. “How was the sleepover?”
The children went to the kitchen, opened a drawer, and each took a large knife in their tiny hands.
“Today is going to be a perfect day.” Sandy called out, partially to them, partially to herself in the mirror. She let out a contented sigh, and looked toward the doorway, where her little angels stood hand in hand.
When they showed her the knives, she barely knew what to make of the looks in their eyes.