They say that the devil is in the details.
Once I thought that this was just a nice turn of phrase. An old wives tale that was meant to warn us to take care of the small things.
The following tale however, will put this phrase into its proper context. I’m not religious by any means, however now things are different. How could they be the same after coming face to face with the ultimate adversary?
I get ahead of myself though. As they say in the classics, ‘Once upon a time…’
The spring weather was completely at odds with my own inner turmoil. For months I had been struggling with deciphering a long lost language. It’s what I do. I’m a linguistic expert. Someone who takes a bunch of nonsense that’s been dug up by an archaeologist and tries to decipher some meaning out of it. We’re the crazies who bring sense and meaning to things like hieroglyphics from the pyramids and the scratching’s on the Dead Sea scrolls.
The papyrus in front of me was older, much older than anything as yet discovered. A mixture of drawings like hieroglyphics, words and symbols. Unravelling this mystery would be years in the making, that’s for sure. It would also be a true turning point for our knowledge of history.
Every test that had been done on the veracity of these scrolls placed them at around 100,000 years old. Up to this point it was believed that as humans we had only been recording things for the last 5000 years or so. Deciphering these would be like an archaeologist unearthing the remains of a 747 jumbo jet alongside the remains of a T-Rex with its short stunted arms holding a MacBook. It would set the world on fire.
That however, was years into the future, if it ever was to be.
For now, on that Saturday morning, I felt nothing less than dread. This task was haunting my every moment in life. It was becoming an obsession. No longer was I able to find solace and escape, not even in my dreams.
The imagery seemed to be burnt into my subconscious and people swear that I was uttering what seemed to be nonsense to myself. If only it was that simple. Lunacy and incarceration in a mental asylum would have been preferable to the things that occurred that day. To the things that I felt compelled to do, things that would ultimately lead me to locking horns, so to speak, with the Prince of Darkness himself. Scared yet? I sure as Hell was, just not at that point.
I was at my desk, lazily glancing at the images before me, doodling away on a notepad.
It always helped me clear my head. Without warning, the air darkened and thickened. There’s no other words to describe it. It was like I was trying to breathe in solid water.
Hot, solid water as the temperature in my office seemed to rise and rise. All of a sudden a flash of pure white light almost blinded me. Smoking remains wafted through the hot still air and settled itself into a form. A form that was uniquely human.
The Devil has been described by many others in the past as anything from a monstrously horned, goat-legged supernatural being to a tiny little red-skinned imp holding a pitch fork and sitting on your shoulder. Maybe that’s what those people expected to see when they came across the Devil or maybe they just made it up. To me, he showed himself as just another human. I use the term ‘just’ very loosely here. There was nothing ‘just’ about the Devil. An utterly gorgeous sample of what the human body should aspire to be, is how he showed himself. Adonis personified in a perfectly crafted human body. Closely cropped, dark hair shining like a halo around a perfectly moulded face. Shoulders that seemed to have the capacity to carry the entire Earth without breaking a sweat.
Fur, claws and red skin? Not in the slightest.
More mocha coloured skin than red. A tight white t-shirt clung to his frame accentuating every single muscle in his body, tapering down to his waist where a pair of Genius Jeans by Gucci were held up by a platinum and diamond encrusted Gucci belt. All topped off with what undoubtedly looked like a pair of custom crafted cowboy boots. I doubt you would ever see such a description in any religious book! The Devil doesn’t wear Prada apparently, he prefers Gucci.
The smoke hung lazily around his shoulders, wafting up into the air, like a steaming cup of coffee. Piercing blue eyes that were literally shining, stared straight through me, like he knew everything about me with just one glance. All my thoughts, desires and faults.
If the Bible was anything to go by, this was the Big Guys’ former right hand man. His go-to Angel when all else failed. A powerful supernatural being beyond almost every other. Not just a collector but the original Collector of Souls.
He was also smiling. At me. Like a cat that is playing with a mouse for entertainment.
Everyone seems to agree that God doesn’t play dice with the Universe, the same rules however, do not seem to apply to the Devil. Not only does he roll the dice on each soul that he collects but he also seems to do so with a pair of loaded dice, figuratively speaking, and this is where I found myself on that Saturday morning. In a literal joust with the Devil. The prize? None other than my eternal soul.
“Thank you for the invitation “, he began in a voice that was smooth as silk “it’s been a long time since I’ve had one.”
“Invitation?” I uttered. “What invitation?” I definitely couldn’t recall having made any mention of asking the Devil to come for a chat and a cup of tea!
“Why, the invitation that you just read aloud of course. The one that is accompanied by tracing the symbols that you just did. It’s clearly written in front of you.”
I stared down at the papyrus scroll in front of me. An invitation to the Devil? Was this what I had been working so hard to decipher? “I had no idea that’s what this is.” I began
“Surely you can see that I’m trying to translate it. To understand it. I never meant to issue any sort of invitation, that’s for sure!”
“Ah, I see.” he answered. “You uttered the words and traced the symbols of invitation without knowing what they were. Well, we seem to have a bit of a problem in front of us then.”
“Problem? What problem?”
“Well “, he began “the invitation ritual that you just performed is actually a binding contract. In simple terms it states that you invite me before you so to I may grant you one wish. The terms and acceptance of the contract form part of the very structure of the incantation. Three questions are you given to be answered by me. Truthfully of course. If you win, I grant you any wish you desire.”
Wow, I thought. Historical and biblical literature had it all wrong. The Devil was nothing but a genie who was here to grant me a wish! Modern culture had genies offering you three wishes when you rub a certain lamp in a certain way, at a certain time. The Devil however, will grant you only one and there is definitely a catch involved. He will generously however, allow you to ask 3 questions prior.
“One wish for you or I get your Soul. That’s the deal. You get to ask me three questions, any questions that you want to and I have to answer them truthfully, omitting nothing in the answer. At the end of the 3 questions you will get one hour to contemplate the answers and then either ask me a question for which I have no answer to or send me on a task that I cannot perform successfully. Ask or Command. If you win, you get your wish. If not, I collect your soul.”
“Wait. You’re saying that I get a wish granted if I can either ask you a question that you cannot answer or ask you to perform a task that you cannot complete?”
“Correct. The contract has begun and neither one of us are in a position to withdraw. As they say, ignorance of the law is no excuse. And before you get into a tirade about me being the Devil and not trustworthy,” the Devil continued “let me assure you now, that the deal is actually winnable by either party and that no lies shall pass my lips in any way.”
So three questions to be asked in total. No more, no less. Followed by either asking the Devil a question that he would not be able to answer or giving him a task that he would not be able to perform successfully. What possible question could even the brightest minds on Earth ask of a supernatural being who has been around since a couple of days into the whole creation of everything, ask that he would not have the answer to? What task could you possibly send him on that he would not be able to complete within the blink of any eye? This was a being that had gone toe-to-toe with the Big Man himself and lived to tell the tale.
Conundrum? This was the very definition of it.