Deal with the DevilbyThe_Technician©
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The payment for life is life, but will Estevan give his beloved as payment for his continued existence?
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Normally Estevan loved Halloween. It was his favorite holiday. He had watched it change through the centuries from a yearly cultic purification of hearth and fire as practiced by the Celts; to a harvest festival as practiced by the Romans when they took the festival back to the Mediterranean area; to a children's night of play intended to dispel our basic fear of evil magical creatures; to its current, modern-day excuse for raunchy costumes and alcohol-fueled parties.
As he thought about it, he could not help but compare the modern debauchery with the Roman fertility celebrations. The Romans combined the Celtic "dark night" rituals with their own "Feralia" practices, both of whom involved the spirits of the dead. By putting it on November first, however, the Romans removed the"public fasting" required by Feralia. The new date replaced the public fasting of those final, gray days of February with the "public celebration" of harvest time at the end of October. The result was basically a drunken orgy, and the Romans really knew how to throw an orgy - especially if you mixed in religious overtones that made alcohol and sex an acceptable part of the cultic fertility ritual.
"Just like old times," he said aloud as he remembered the wild parties he had attended last Halloween with Alicia. But then he glanced down at her picture in his hands and said softly and sadly, "Just like old times."
This year was to be a "Kalend of Kalends." Literally that meant a month of months, but it was used by the Romans to refer to a decade. Somewhere in the ancient past it may have originally meant thirty months or perhaps thirty years, but that was before Estevan's time.
Not a whole lot was before Estevan's time. Once at a dinner party, when someone had asked him how old he really was, he replied, "I wasn't around to sell the stones to Cheops for his pyramid, but my company poured the concrete for Flavius when he built the Coliseum." Everyone laughed - those who heard it because of how his outlandish answer avoided giving his true age, Estevan, because he was telling the absolute truth.
No, Estevan was not immortal. He was an ordinary, mortal man, who one Feralia - before they even called it that - just happened to have struck a deal with the keeper of the dead. Today most people call him The Devil, or Satan, but he truly has no name, just as he has no face, or for that matter just as he has no body. He can assume various forms, from bull to goat to human to god or goddess or strange combinations in between, but all such forms are just illusions.
"His promises are also illusions," thought Estevan. "Eternal life.... but at what cost?"
Then he spoke aloud to himself "Is it truly living when you know that once every ten years you must betray someone who loves you dearly to buy another ten years of life?"
How many had he betrayed over the centuries? How many had gone down into the realm of the keeper of the dead so that he could continue to walk the earth? Would this be the year that, on the festival of the dead, he would refuse, and would himself be embraced by the formless arms of the keeper of the dead?
Alicia was different. With his youthful charm and physically pleasing body, it had always been easy to get women to fall in love with him. He enjoyed their charms while it lasted, and they benefitted greatly from his extreme wealth and power. He had always justified things to himself by saying that if they had known what they were doing they would have gladly traded their lives for the ten years of absolute bliss which he bestowed upon them. Women - and men - gave up their lives for much less.
"What was it that made Alicia different?" He thought to himself. It wasn't just that she was rich - nowhere near as rich as Estevan, but wealthy enough to be rich even among the rich. And it wasn't just that she was beautiful. He remembered how her naked body had shone in the moonlight on the beach. And, when she paused and looked at Estevan, it was as if a statue from the Temple of Aphrodite had come to life.
It was not just her physical appearance that made her special. Her voice was almost musical; she knew her history and the intricacies of the arts and sciences; and she was fluent in as many languages as he was. At least, she could speak and understand all those languages which he currently used. He had never tried to speak with her in ancient Phoenician.
There had been others as beautiful. Carla had breasts that were the perfect size and shape, and her sex was perfectly formed, both for beauty and to caress and grip his cock as they thrust together. She had the perfect natural mixture of grip and lubrication so that it was like sliding through honey into that tight shaft.
There had been others as rich. Suzanne had been almost richer than he, coming as she did from royal blood in a time when royalty reigned supreme in Europe. She was born to extreme wealth, and had taught him subtleties of using your wealth to exert power over others that he would never have dreamed of on his own.
There had been others as intelligent. Veronica was the most intelligent of them all. She actually had surmised his secret, but her love for him kept her from fleeing. When her Kalendra came, she peacefully looked him in the eyes - without fear - and said "I wondered when this day would come. I knew it would. The payment for life is always life. Despite what you must do, I thank you for the nine years of your love that you have given me."
Estevan grimaced remembering those words. He had not loved her. She only thought he loved her because he had acted like he loved her. But it was, after all, an act. Love requires that you truly, faithfully and sincerely put the one you love above everything else in your life. As the old joke goes, "Once you can fake that, you have it made." Estevan could fake love very, very well.
That is why Alicia was different. This time it wasn't fake. After centuries upon the earth and after countless women chosen, used, and discarded, Estevan had finally, truly and completely fallen in love.
The deal with The Devil was that once every ten years on the festival of the dead, he had to betray someone who truly loved him and turn them over to the keeper of the dead. Could he do it this year?
Betraying someone who loved you is easy - as long as your love for them is a sham. But could he betray someone whom he truly loved? Could he send Alicia into the arms of the keeper of the dead?
The answer would come at midnight on the night of the dead. The exact day for that had varied through the centuries, but in today's world..., in this nation..., in this culture..., that would be at midnight on Halloween.
Alicia was rather quiet all day on Halloween. This year, the party would be at their estate. Perhaps she was preoccupied with the details of final planning for the festivities. They had decided on a Greek theme for the decorations. Alicia designed and had supervised the construction of a relatively accurate replica of the temple of Hestia, the Greek goddess of hearth and home.
The Romans borrowed many of the cultic practices of the Greeks, including the sacred flame of Hestia, which on the night of the dead was brought to full fire so that people could take glowing embers home to relight their hearths with "purified fire" - of course for a fee. There always had to be an offering of silver to the goddess in return for the sacred fire. Alicia's pseudo-temple was the perfect setting for a large bonfire for the party.
"Have all cultures always combined fire... and purity... and death?" thought Estevan when he saw the temple sitting in the garden. It wasn't exactly as he remembered it when he had walked between its pillars in Athens, but the differences were minor. Alicia's design looked almost more primitive... more ancient that the temple he remembered. "This will be perfect." he told Alicia. He then added silently to himself, "Now I don't have to come up with some way to create a bonfire."
The secret that Estevan had discovered so many Kalendra ago was that for everything sacred there was also the un-sacred. Perhaps both were sacred, but not on the same end of reality. There was "good" sacred and "bad" sacred. There was the "holy" fire and the "un-holy" fire. The gods came forth from the holy fire. The keeper of the dead came forth from the un-holy fire.
It was an accident when it happened.... well, not exactly an accident. Estevan was supposed to kindle the sacred fire for his household, but being a typically rebellious teenaged boy of any culture or century, he intentionally reversed the wording of the ritual. He was alone by the family sacred hearth when he began the task of building a new fire so he was free to mutilate the ritual words. Had his father or mother been there, such disrespect would have brought a severe beating, but he was alone, and so he showed his contempt for what he considered the useless and hollow words of a totally stupid ritual. He reversed all of the words as he labored to create the proper spark to ignite the dried grass and kindling that would begin the flame for the sacred fire.
But it wasn't a stupid ritual..., and they were not useless, hollow words. With his reversed ritual, he created an un-sacred fire and when the family gathered, the keeper of the dead came forth from the fire and consumed his father and his mother and all who were gathered around the fire... except Estevan. Then the keeper of the dead offered him eternal life. He could live forever, but that eternal life required a regular payment of life.
What would Estevan say when The Devil came forth from the fire this year. Would he say the proper words, "I give you life for life, love for love, that which is not mine for that which is not yours." Or would he say simply, "I withhold life for life and give you my life as your own."
There had never been any question about the choice of words in all the hundreds of years of his existence. Why now? Why this time? Why with Alicia?
The guests began arriving shortly after sundown. It was a dark night, and the extensive garden was dimly lit with the flickering flame of torches which surrounded the area and lined each of the paths. The torches had been intentionally placed so that there were large, grassy areas of total darkness where people could find privacy in the midst of the gathering. If the party had been inside, several of the bedrooms would have been available, but the dark areas would be almost as private.
The invitations had specifically said "Greco-Roman Theme," but had also indicated that "traditional Halloween costumes are also acceptable." So, as the evening began, there were toga and tunic clad men and women standing around drinking with witches, goblins, Star Wars characters, and of course, a plethora of naughty nurses, teachers, cops, robbers, and whatever.
By nine o'clock several of the togas and tunics had already been discarded and naked slaves walked among the revelers. Estevan smiled as he watched Dr. Harrison and a naked Nurse Buchanan slip into the darkness. It reminded him of actual naked slaves being led into the darkness at a party in a setting very similar to this a long, long time ago.
He wasn't drinking tonight. He wasn't sure if it was because he knew he couldn't get himself drunk enough to do what he had to do, or because he was afraid that if he was drunk enough he would be able to say the words and give Alicia over to the keeper of the dead. Alicia also was not drinking tonight, probably because, as hostess, she needed to keep her mind clear to supervise the party.
Midnight was fast approaching. Estevan and Alicia were the only two people there who were not seriously drunk and disheveled. They were also among the few who were still totally clothed. Shortly before midnight, Estevan began maneuvering Alicia to the "dark side" of the fire. At his suggestion, there were no torches on this side of the fire so that just a few feet from the flames, you were in relative darkness. It was the perfect setting to meet the keeper of the dead for the once-a-decade betrayal ritual.
And then it was time. Estevan and Alicia were standing in the perfect place. Others could not see them over the flames of fire, and from the sides they were just at the edge of being able to be seen in the fire's glow. At exactly midnight, Estevan faced the fire and watched as a well-dressed man stepped out of the flames and into the soft light of the fire lit the area. He had expected Alicia to be startled, but she stood serenely next to him.
The Devil was dressed like a riverboat gambler from the American west. He even had on one of those black, flat-topped western hats preferred by such ne'er-do-wells. He was continually flipping and catching what appeared to be an old-fashioned silver dollar. "I have come for my Kalendra tribute," he said with a smooth, deep voice.
Estevan stepped slightly forward. As he spoke the silver dollar spun past The Devil's hand and slowly - very, very slowly - dropped toward the ground.
Estevan stepped closer to him and said clearly, "I withhold life for life and give you my life as your own." He was actually surprised to hear himself say those words. He was even more surprised to hear Alicia speak the very same words as she stood alongside him.
He quickly turned to look at her. Her eyes were wide with shock, as probably were his own. The keeper of the dead began to laugh. When Estevan turned back to look at him, the silver coin was sitting on the ground at his feet... upright.
The Devil continued to laugh. "If you flip a coin often enough, for long enough, eventually it will land on edge."
Alicia and Estevan continued to stare at him, and at the coin. He continued. "I never renege on my deals - ever!! But I don't always give out all the details of every deal. Only I know ALL the details of the deal. For this particular deal - which was the same for both of you - each time I come, you have a choice, heads or tails... give me your life or the life of someone who loves you."
"Those whom you have given over to my keeping are dead, but they are only dead. I take them to the place of the dead, like all others whom I escort from this realm. But on the day that you give me yourself, you come with me to the depths of what you like to call 'Hell.'"
He smiled a very cruel and evil smile. "You return to my home with me, because by willingly giving yourself to me, you have become my eternal slave and plaything."
"I make my deals very carefully knowing that eventually, you will fall in love. Eventually, you will find someone whom you cannot betray. And when that happens, you will give your life for theirs and you are mine. It's just a matter of time and the odds as I keep flipping the coin of choice. Sooner or later it comes up tails."
He laughed once again. This time it was the sound of true laughter. "But there is always that infinitesimal possibility that the coin will not be heads or tails. Impossible as it seems, a coin can land on edge... and stay there. The chances of that are very, very, very small, but the impossible will happen occasionally when you flip coins through all eternity. Tonight the coin has landed on edge. You have each given your lives for the one whom you love."
Looking at both of them, he smiled and continued, "Estevan, because you have given your life for Alicia, I cannot take her. Alicia, because you have given your life for Estevan, I cannot take him. That means that you are now both free from your agreements. The deal is off."
He shook his head and smiled a wry smile. His voice took on an unusually soft tone. "You will now age like normal people, and the day will eventually arrive when I will once again come to collect you to the land of the dead, but that is where you will go. You will not accompany me back to Hell... because the coin of choice has laded on edge."
He picked up the silver dollar from the ground and tossed it to Estevan. "Keep this as a remembrance that one Halloween, one couple very much in love with each other beat the Devil at his own game."
He laughed again and said, "That doesn't happen very often... about as often as a coin landing on edge and staying there." Turning back toward the fire he concluded. "Now I must leave. Even I can suspend time for only a short while and I have many other appointments for tonight. I have deals to make, lives to collect, and maybe even a soul or two to take back with me to the deepest depths."
As he disappeared into the fire Alicia turned to Estevan, kissed him and said, "It looks like we have a lot to catch up on about each other's lives." She blushed slightly and added, "I hope you don't mind that I am a little bit older than you."
When Estevan looked puzzled, she added, "I didn't sell stones to Cheops either, but I did occasionally watch from beneath a silk canopy as the slaves sweated to push them into place."
Estevan took her hand and led her slowly into the darkness away from the temple. Within their clasped hands, still warm to the touch from coming through the fire, they held the coin of choice which this night had determined their fate.
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END OF STORY
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