Tap. Tap. Tap, clip. Tap
Rustle. The charcoal suit flicks his paper in disdain. Late. So late. Tap. Tap. His shoes clack on concrete paving, they mark seconds off the clock. A flickering light overhead hums to itself. Tap. Tap. Hum. His featureless face bunches up in annoyance as he completes his bakers’ dozenth circuit of the platform.
Glacially the hour hand approaches midnight. On the opposite side another suit, mirrored in his own impatient physiognomy, buries her nose into a book. Cough. Tap.
The slithering of the rails precurses the oncoming train. It is the other platform. It stops. A delicate arrangement for footstep and briefcase is played, followed by rapturous applause from the train as it departs the station. The conductor takes a bow before retiring back to his office, preparing for the next symphony.
The suit glances at his watch. Midnight. His journey has been delayed by 66 minutes and he isn’t convinced that anyone’s apologetic for the inconvenience caused. Cold crystals coat his breath as he exhales yesterday’s air.
Tap. Clip, clap. Unworn nails glance blows on worn out paving. Tap. Tap.
Snap. The suit glances to his right, spots the cat in the soft cap. It’s leaning against a pillar, arms folded, medallion suspended from its neck. Opposable thumbs fiddle a thumb-sized fiddle. It flicks a coin, snaps its fingers, catches the Queen. Flip. Snap. Catch.
The feline detaches itself from the wall with visible effort and a sorry sigh. It saunters closer, still flipping the coin like a spoof of Scarface. Somewhere a big band is performing 30s tunes. Unfortunately it cannot be heard here.
Clip. Clip. Flip. Snap. Catch. Hum. The light makes its final performance and goes out with a bang.
A deep voice, a Southern drawl. “Hey you! Your paper please.” The cat in the cap snaps its claws.
Speechlessly the suit hands it over. His hand is shaking.
“You, uh, seen the cover story? Gotta say, the photo ain’t too, uh, favourable on, uh, your part. Here, let me read ‘Train runs 66 minutes and 36 seconds late. Passenger, 34, enraged…’ Hey, you ok there? You’re looking a little peaky.”
Indeed the suit’s suit had turned a vivid white and his face a paler green.
“You don’t mind if I have a smoke do you? You won’t tell, will you?” The cat doesn’t wait for an answer – instead it pulls out a tacky, gold cigarette case (from where?) and withdraws a single black roll. With a further click of its fingers fire springs from its palm and lights the herb. The stench of tobacco fills the station immediately. The cat in the soft cap blows the smoke out of its ears.
“So. You’re a little scared… I get it. First time and all – losing that infernal virginity never was easy. I’m, however, a little surprised that this is the hour of your cherry. I mean, come on man, you’re a banker for fuck’s sake – dealing with devil is just what you gotta do.” A snigger fills the air followed by a smoker’s cough.
A syllable of objection escapes the poor man’s mouth, although it is unclear which particular syllable was invoked.
“Come, let’s, uh, cut to the bone of the situation so to say,” the cat pulls out a parchment. “I promise you the world for just a little part of you – you probably won’t even notice it’s gone, what with the whole being a banker thing and all. Just sign here.”
I hunger for that sweet incorporeal that taunts and teas-es my emaciated void. The times are lean as me, and tell me how am I, the cat, to dress my bones in fat? For men have grown less true and gained less trust. A travesty!
Indubitably such a truth absurd becomes a mark upon my heart. We creatures foul are prone to take advan-tage – we possess no shame when only souls will satisfy. It is our fault no man will sign no more. I steal. I harm.
I lie: “So would you like to sign the dotted stroke? I shan’t relay some smaller details. You can read the fine-print once your soul is in the balance: I’ll assure you there is nothing toward. Just formalities. Sign this line:
The undersigned agrees to sell his soul, upon the twen-ty fourth annum of Koholeth’s employ. Please take this pen.”
The suit is enraptured by this display of honey-tongued eloquence. He reaches over, takes the pen and parchment, gulps: “Do I have to sign in blood?”
A reply is returned haughtily: “No. Ink will do just fine.”
The pen approaches the paper, the cat lights up in glee. Its smile reveals a row of jagged teeth. Then the pen stops and the smile inverts.
“Yes, yes. You can do it. It ain’t that hard. A single blotch will do.”
“No it’s just… How much of the world can you promise me? If I’m going to sign away this… uhm… what does it say here… ah… here… Yes, if I’m going to sign away my ‘soul’ then I want the entire world.”
“Yes, yes. No problem at all Jimbo. Just sign the dotted line.” Impatience presses down on the feline features.
The pen continues once more on its paperbound path, the glee is regained.
The poor man’s eyes betray his fear but his sneer betrays their lie. The pen touches the parchment but only after it has become a tuna – which in its distressed state (having just been displaced from its South Pacific home [with a view of the ocean]) slaps the cat with the soft cap and sweeps it clean off its feet. The tuna proceeds to flop about upon the platform until it falls to the rails where it is electrocuted and proceeds to gives off a wonderful fried fish scent.
The suit transmutes back to its charcoal disposition and stands three feet taller than before. A manic grin is sprayed across his chin; three rows of marble tombstones are behind red lips. Red eyes gleam, lighting the station.
The bulb springs back to life to catch the finale.
Tap. Tap. Hum. Snap.
“Might I possibly alter some of the smaller details here? I’m not sure I like the terms of your contract all that well… Also you presume too much, you’ll find in me a lawyer’s mind – there’s no banker’s spirit here,” he growls a deep, throaty chuckle. The pen strikes through a few terms on the parchment as the cat, having risen from its prone position, looks on. Then the pen pauses, reaches a different conclusion. “Actually I have here a contract of my own I’d like to see you sign – if you’d be so kind.”
He puts the pen in his pocket and, with a dramatic flourish, presents the cat with a scroll of his own.
“You will have to use blood for this one I’m afraid.”
The cat with the cap was taken aback that it had failed to spot that this suit was not just another dreary lawyer. In its confusion its cool was lost and its accent dropped and it took on a belligerence most peculiar.
“Who the fuck are you?” were the words that first poured like filth from the mouth that should have really been mewing. The reply was not vocal but came in the form of a card with Lucifer’s email.
“Quite simply, my dear, you picked the wrong soul,” Lucifer giggled with glee.
“What do you want? With a demon like me? You have no need of my power.”
Lucifer laughed a hollow snortle, “I bid you read the conditions my poor Koholeth.”
In panicked tones the cat read out “The undersigned here agrees to seek permission from the undersigned for thinking any thought at all.”
“A most Devilish contract if I do say so myself.”
Chuckle. Gulp. The cat tried to run but Lucifer was quicker and held the cat in place with a word. Then with another the cat drew its claw, drew blood and drew its signature.
The train rattled in on iron tracks. Clack. The suit boarded the car but the cat, stuck in its cyclical logic, just sat.
Oh woe to my looped thoughts. To stone I’ll turn while waiting for the Devil’s train’s return.
The cat still sits.