The Damned’s Dilemma

By Stirling Edgewood

Copyright 2020

With meticulous caution he poured the yellowed salt distilled from the Dead Sea into the shape of a pentagram. Then he lit candles of wax boiled down from the flesh of vile murderers. He chanted the terrible words written in letters of human blood, scrawled on pages of human intestines, and bound in human skin.

A low howling of wind rose up, and the candles flickered under its baleful influence. Within the pentagram, a small dot of impenetrable darkness appeared, slowly swelling until in filled the entire space inside the pentagram from floor to ceiling. Then, with a rapid flash, the darkness disappeared, and a small child, barely more than a baby, stood in its place. Its cherubic features, glossy golden curls, and snowy white skin were breathtakingly beautiful. But its eyes held nothing like innocence. They were the eyes of someone old, wise, a full of the chilling knowledge of good and evil.

“Will you play with me?” it asked.

“I have summoned you to serve me,” he replied.

“I would much rather play,” the cherub pouted, as it spoke in a musical voice that contained the sound of joyful trumpets, euphoric bells, lusty pipes, and terrible drums.

“You have the knowledge of all things, science, art, literature, music, history, the thoughts of all men that have ever lived, and everything in this mortal world, do you not?” He demanded.

“Doesn’t everybody?” the cherub replied innocently.

“I have drunk deeply from the cups of wisdom from every field of progress of all mankind. I have studied every work, great and small. Nothing is left for me to learn, yet I still thirst for more. Share with me the knowledge of all things.” He commanded. “I will not release you until you do.”

“O.K.” The cherub replied simply. Then it paused and looked thoughtful. “My daddy says I should share, but…” It trailed off.

“Yes?” he asked.

“But he says not to share with selfish people. When I share, someone should share with me too.”

“I will grant you your freedom. I will release you from the pentagram.” He informed the cherub.

“That’s not sharing,” the cherub replied. “You’re just a kidnapper. No sharing for kidnapping.”

“Very well then,” he replied. “What would you like? A piece of candy? A new toy?”

The Cherub considered for a moment. “I like candy…and toys,” it confessed. “But I like souls better.”

“I thought it likely you would ask for my soul in exchange, and after long consideration, I confess I am prepared to surrender it to you. If you provide me what I have requested.”

“O.K.” The cherub agreed.

The Cherub and the man stared at each other for a few moments.

“When will you give me the knowledge?” the man asked impatiently.

“When you let me go,” the cherub replied.

“But how can I trust you will keep your part of the bargain?” the man asked distrustfully.

“Can’t do sharing in jail. Don’t work. Gotta be free.” The cherub explained.

“But if I set you free, I still have no assurance you will honor your word.”

“Maybe write it down?” the cherub suggested. “Daddy says writing is magic.”

“Ah, a contract, that’s just the thing.”

The man turned to a nearby desk, and took up a pen and some paper. As he was about to put pen to paper he heard the cherub call out.

“Gotta be blood. Ink’s not strong enough.” It instructed him. “You also gotta renounce God,” it added.

“Very well then,” he replied, taking up a letter opener, and slicing open his palm. He dipped the letter opener into the welling blood, and wrote out the basic trade of his soul for the knowledge of all. He added a renunciation of God. Then he added numerous other conditions, riches, fame, eternal life, filling the page, then flipping it over, adding more.

“C’mon, I’m bored.” He heard the cherub say.

He scrawled one final condition, signed his name at the bottom, then said, “Here it is. Now you must sign.”

Suddenly a black dot appeared below his signature. It smoked and stank of sulfur. The dot moved slowly across the page, leaving behind a thin trail of letters. Although it was painful to look at, curiosity got the better of him, and he squinted at the signature.

R-O-C-C-O

“You can let me go now.” Suggested the cherub.

The man turned to his book of spells, and spoke a few words. The candles went out, the pentagram dissolved, and the cherub was enveloped in the horrible darkness for a moment. Then the darkness dissolved, revealing a gruesome, horrifying, reptilian form.

It opened its mouth, let out an evil hiss, and then, in a ghastly voice reeking of something incomprehensibly foul, it said, “Very well then, off we go to eternal damnation.”

“But…but…what about the contract? What about the knowledge of all?”

The lizard laughed with the sound of a thousand thunder claps. “Idiot,” he sneered. “A contract is worthless without an enforcement mechanism. If those in breach are not punished by a higher power, it becomes chaos, might makes right. And right now, you’re looking pretty puny. Nothing will stop me from taking your soul now.”

“What about God?”

“God?” He bellowed mockingly. “What the hell-“ here he chuckled a bit, “pardon the expression, but what the hell does he care? You just renounced him.”

The man moaned in despair.

“Wait,” he implored. “Let me live out my days, and I will be your slave, toiling inexhaustibly to work your evil upon the world.”

“Nah,” the lizard declined. “Slaves are such a bother. Always complaining, always looking for a way to escape, and always doing shoddy work. No real motivation. So it’s off to endless suffering with you.”

As they both slowly disappeared, the lizard mused “Now, as a question of etiquette, which torment should I put you through first? Dip you in the decomposing bodies of your loved ones, or boiling lava? Ass or crotch? It’s the only real eternal question…”

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