A Table for Two
Hell has frozen over. Apparently it’s got something to do with the Omnipotent’s concern for the overuse of fossil fuels and some mysterious phenomenon called global warming but that’s all a bit complicated for me and, personally, I think He’s just letting His strange compassion for humanity get the better of Him.
The upside of course is that purgatory isn’t half as bad as it used to be back in the ‘good-old-bad-old-days’. The downside is that us demons are now at a bit at a loss for what to do with our time. Eternity, as they say, goes on for…, well…, a long time.
Let’s face it, it’s okay for the human souls – lost or otherwise. They can just mosey about and do their normal stuff. They don’t have enormous fangs punching downward out of leering mouths, or red skin, or yellow eyes, or cloven hooves, or claws for finger nails. As a demon I found I was really disadvantaged until I found myself a lifeline: internet dating.
You see, PictureApp Pro (Hades-User Edition) did a great job of magically smoothing over even my most deeply pitted scars, and I managed to carry off with aplomb the requisite flirtatious keyboard conversations, so my circle of ‘acquaintances’ grew by the day and, if I’m honest, it started making me feel a little excited in places I’d nearly forgotten I had. But then, disaster…
Humans it appears – dead or otherwise – have a special day set aside for romance. Where, for some unfathomable reason, it is mandatory for the ongoing sustenance of any relationship for some ‘effort’ to be made. Much can be placated by gifts – apparently – but preference is for some form of eating ritual. My longest standing on-line ‘acquaintance’ had been dropping sledgehammer hints about it for weeks and my nether regions had been enthusiastically ruminating about what might happen in the future if things went well and I, like the rot-infested idiot that I am, went and set up a date… Probably not my wisest hour.
“So, do you like it here?” I ask across the silverware encrusted, candlelit dining table in an attempt to dislodge my eating partner’s delicate human lips from the frozen ‘o’ shape that they seem to have been stuck in for the last five minutes. I’m also fairly sure she’s a good shade or two paler than when she first arrived.
“Mmmm…” she manages, though there is still the hint of a tremor, even in this small utterance. Perhaps the sight of my muscular chest, a slab of glistening vermillion still dampened by the lingering memories of aeons spent stoking the Master’s cauldrons, is proving too much for her and, come to think of it, I’m getting strange glances from all around this opulent chandelier and cut-glass festooned restaurant? Unfortunately, however, I suspect it might be my more general ugliness that’s at the root of her obvious disappointment and I have to admit that my ‘nethers’, despite an eternity of under-exercise, have never felt more downhearted and withdrawn as at that moment when she first caught sight of me, and screamed out loud.
Got to admire her though! She’s got a lot of nerve and I think that’s one of the reasons I liked chatting to her on-line. Barely ten minutes of slight hyperventilation and two sizable brandies have proven enough for her to muster sufficient courage to join me at this cosy corner table and, right now, I can barely see her shaking. Perhaps there’s hope yet?
Two slender crystal flutes filled with gently simmering champagne sit between us, flickering hypnotically with reflected spark-light from the taper candles. Perhaps a toast might be in order? Some quiet words of friendship might help to put her more at ease? As it is, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be having a moment of cultured and attractive company – my usual social partners being the dankest dregs of the abyss, literally.
I reach out to take hold of one of the glasses and she flinches backwards from me. “Please don’t be afraid,” I rumble as pleasantly as I can given my usual vocal capacity for eardrum rupturing roars and try to move my hand away in a placating and unthreatening gesture. Sadly, I’m paying insufficient attention to the surrounding tableware and one of my claws catches the candlestick and knocks it into what looks, from my suddenly adrenalin soaked perspective, like a slow motion rotation.
Horrified, I watch as the errant silverware spins like the startup phase of some ancient propellor engine. Now would probably be a good time for prayer, mutters my mind but sadly, as you know, I’m not of that disposition and instead I thrust my arm forwards with the full intention of athletically recapturing the object’s status quo.
But claws aren’t particularly well suited to catching metal.
I know this now.
The candlestick jumps out of my grip and lands heavily into the sizable pile of tissues that my Valentine has been using to mop up voluminous quantities of tears whilst we wait nervously for our Hors D’oeuvres. Unfortunately it would seem that there isn’t as much moisture in them as I need because they burst into flame which quickly spreads toward the fine lace table cloth.
Flames. Demon. It must be in the genes because I‘m transfixed and sit there for a few seconds like an awestruck child who’s just been thrust headfirst into the world’s biggest sweet shop.
Fortunately my Valentine has better reactions and leaps up, sending her chair clattering behind her as she rises. Leaning forwards she quickly grabs the glasses of champagne and, with a view to douse the rising conflagration, thrusts her fully loaded hands in front of her like a cowboy gunfighter drawing his six-guns. Well, as it happens, she throws the liquid more toward me than the fire and, if I hadn’t already been feeling so uncomfortable with the way the evening was playing out and not now been sitting there with two full glasses of fine French wine trickling down my face, I would probably be amused at the look of abject horror which has suddenly plastered itself over her otherwise beautiful face.
Fortunately her misdirected actions have broken my reverie and I quickly lean forward and tamp out the flames with the flat of one hand. That’s probably the only advantage I can think of for being who I am: I’m very heat tolerant.
“This is a disaster,” I mutter sadly to myself, staring at the blackened singe-marks in front of me. “I’m very sorry…”
“I think it’s best if I go,” says my Valentine quietly and I nod disconsolately feeling my shoulders slump under the heavy weight of disappointment. “But let’s chat some more,” she adds. “On line… Where it’s safer.”
I pick my head up to look at her, not certain that I’ve heard her properly and she leans forwards and kisses me once, briefly, somewhere on the vast escarpment that’s my forehead. Then she turns and walks away.
I have to say. Despite my background, that’s the warmest touch I’ve ever felt in my life.
This was my second submission to The Mistress of the Dark Path‘s monthly short story competitions. Initially I wasn’t sure I could be motivated to try my hand at a Valentine’s tale but after reading the Mistress’ compulsory elements (each story has to contain a certain number of fixed events) my imagination kind of got away from me… The compulsory elements I selected were: fire breaks out, someone has a drink thrown over them, a kiss (mandatory for all submissions that particular month) and ‘Hell has frozen over’… I think you can probably sense which one of these triggered this little demon-ditty into being.
I was very proud when it made the final three and was absolutely blown away when it won the public vote…!
(c) Anthony Bellaleigh (Original post: 9th February 2012. This edition: 25th February 2012).
Image: © Michael Price | Dreamstime.com