THE DEVIL'S MATCH
THE DEVIL'S MATCH
Swirling flutters of ice cold heaven fell to the ground. More and more, they formed into a blanket of undulating brightness contrasting against the grey of a darkening sky.
Lingering in my hiding place, a dark, litter strewn shop doorway tucked away down a side street, I scanned the blinding whiteness for signs of others. There was no-one else around—just me and her.
Drawn to her in a way I had never experienced in thousands of years, I couldn’t leave her alone. Her laughter was been the first thing to catch my attention. I’d followed her for weeks, seen her miserable life, and had no understanding of what she found to laugh at. Faced with begging for money, or even scraps of food, her appearance repulsed those who passed. I noted the people who treated her with disgust. I’d leave them for Death—trapped souls in a world where there was no rest, no peace. At least Hell was a place you could live—your soul was still with you.
I spoke to her last night, breaking the rules—not caring. Her name was Annabel. She was eighteen. When I offered her a cigarette, it sealed her fate in more than one way. I knew she wouldn’t last much longer. She was at the end of her life, displaying the surreal grey pallor of a dying person, and the stench of internal rot that always accompanied those about to depart this world. I’d stayed on a snow covered earth for days, keeping a centurion watch on her and the dark doorway she lived in. She was so close to the moment when death would stretch his grisly hands and try to claim her as his, but it seemed both myself and the angels had other ideas. Death wouldn’t have a chance to claim her tonight.
I often heard people refer to me as the Devil, but they had little, or no understanding of what I did. It suited me, although I must admit, I preferred people to not call me by the name He gave me. There were only a few left who knew what happened to me, or cared enough to think of the events of that day. I growled quietly. Today was not the day to reminisce.
Pulling the collar of my coat higher around my neck, I sighed—bored. My warm breath clouded in front of me as I huffed at the weather. I’d have preferred rain. I adored rain. It affected their wings, made it harder for them to fly. I enjoyed seeing them struggle; their tiny bodies fluttering even more than the damn snowflakes still falling around me.
Digging my hand into my pocket, I retrieved a pack of smokes and a lighter. Cupping my bare hands around the cigarette, I lit the end, drawing in a deep lungful of nicotine-tainted poison. It was the perfect way to wait.
Narrowing my eyes, I took another long drag from the cigarette as I spied on her. Uncurling from the ball she had slept in for the last few hours, she shifted position. Her clothes were shabby and torn, the result of many months living on the streets. Even in this freezing weather her feet were bare. The only item providing her with any warmth was a tatty brown blanket thrown around her shoulders. I smirked, silently promising her she’d not be cold for much longer.
Slipping my hand into my inner coat pocket to retrieve my phone I tapped in a well-known number. I balanced my cigarette on the edge of my lips, waiting for Cerberus to answer. On the third ring his gravelly voice greeted me.
“Is everything prepared for my return?”
“Yes. You have been gone for too long this time.”
“With a good reason. You know that.”
He didn’t speak for a few seconds. I knew he hated my absence. “So, you intend to return when . . . tonight?”
“May I ask if she will be with you?”
“Yes. She is near, so very near.”
There was no response, and as I looked into the sky, I saw the distant flicker of wings. Damn them. “And everything is ready for her as well?”
“Yes, Master. Everything is prepared. We all know she is yours. We look forward to welcoming her.”
“Good. I shall not be long. I sense her final breaths. Check everything again. I need things to be right. Make no mistakes.” I growled at him.
“Of course, Master.”
I finished the call, and scowled at the snowflakes as they continued to fall. The delicate powder hid the multitude of wings descending from the sky, but I could see them. I snorted, hating their interference at the best of times.
Alert to Annabel’s every movement, I watched as she tried to settle in her usual doorway directly across the road from me. Surrounded by cardboard boxes already soaked through from the melting wetness of the snow, she continually shifted, like a cat padding down his bed, trying to get comfortable. The street was peaceful, deserted, but I waited. My timing needed to be perfect. Too early and the tiny flutterers would persuade her to go with them. Too late and they would snap her away from me. Although, tonight, I would put up a fight to have her with me. I was prepared to fight dirty. Damn angels wouldn’t win tonight.
It wasn’t often I got the chance to take a young female back with me. Their innocence and general good health meant they died in accidents, unexpected occurrences or unfortunate circumstances. The angels had inside knowledge about when a person’s life would end, and were always ready for them. I had no such information. I had to watch, wait, and try to be in the right place at the right time.
Timing was everything. Never mind the constant threat of the angels getting her first—there was Death. If I approached her too early she’d still have enough life left in her to be scared of me. Too late, and—well—I’d miss her departure. However much I hated the angels and their higher than thou attitude, I’d rather a person go to them than Death, or remain unclaimed. The unclaimed were the worst—the ones who wandered the earth as lonely spirits. Trapped between life and death, there was never any escape for them.
A loud hacking cough sounded from across the road, and I cocked my head. Raising a perfect black brow at the noise, I took a long drag from my cigarette. It was time.
Crossing the street, I looked up to the sky again. The glow of the street lights caught the wings of the angels as they continued to descend in swirling clouds of glitter. Hearing their distant high pitched singing I lengthened my steps, quickening my pace to get to her first. The little critters moved quickly when they wanted to.
“Happy New Year’s Eve,” I said, standing in front of her.
Her darkened eyes looked at me. I was sure I saw a hint of recognition in her gaze.
“I spoke to you last night,” I offered, trying to jog her memory.
She nodded slowly.
“C . . . c . . . cold. So c . . . cold.” Her stuttered words were forced through blue tinted lips.
“You want a smoke?” I asked, removing the white stick from my mouth, already knowing her answer.
Dirty fingers reached for the cigarette. Like a coal in a red hot fire, the tip glowed bright red as she held it to her quivering lips.
Crouching down, I took her free hand, warming her freezing skin between my hot hands.
“You’re so warm.” Her words were a whisper.
“I don’t feel the cold,” I explained.
“That must be . . . nice.”
Removing my coat, I placed it around her bony cloaked shoulders.
I smiled at her before realising she wasn’t looking at me. Her eyes had closed.
The humming of wings was close, very close, and I swatted at a few of the angels who arrived before the main throng of their party. One of them hit the wall, wings broken, before sliding down to the wet, oily ground. She didn’t glitter any more. Her little angelic life left her, just as life was leaving the girl I was crouched next to.
“Annabel?” I said, wanting her attention.
She opened her eyes, the effort so hard, before a loud rasping cough escaped her. Her whole body shook as she coughed and she curled up, wrapping her arms around herself.
“Do you like the warmth, Annabel? Do you never want to feel cold ever again?”
Unwilling to turn my attention away from her, I blocked out the sound of the many singing voices currently filling my ears.
“Would you be willing to come with me? I promise I’ll look after you and you’ll never be cold again.”
“P . . . p . . . please.” Her hand grasped at mine, showing remarkable strength for someone who was dying. “It . . . hurts. So . . . so much.”
“I can make it go away. I promise I can. Do you want me to make that happen?”
Her eyes met mine and I was stunned by the depth within them, the fire was already there.
“Please . . . I know you can make it stop. You can help me. You must.”
Leaning closer to her, I sheltered her body with my own large frame.
“I don’t like the noise.” She shivered. “I keep hearing them. It scares me.”
“You can hear them?” Could she really hear their annoying relentless singing?
Her other hand reached for mine and she seemed to gain some strength from our connection as she spoke clearly and succinctly—no chattering of teeth, no stuttering of words.
“They’ve tried to take me before, but I didn’t want to go with them. I hate the noise, the brightness, the speed at which they fly. They make me dizzy.” Tears began to crawl down her dirt covered cheeks. Their path left a clear track across her face.
“But you would willingly come with me?”
“I dreamt of you last night when you’d gone. I saw you in my dream. I felt safe with you. You kept them away. I was with you. It was warm.”
Another angel fluttered past my face, and Annabel pulled herself even closer to me.
I flicked the angel away—she joined her friend on the wet ground.
“Annoying, aren’t they?” I asked.
“They frighten me.”
“And I don’t?”
Caressing her cheek, I wiped the tears away.
“No more crying,” I told her. “It’s not necessary any more.”
Placing a kiss on her lips, I sealed her fate. Seconds later, life left her as her eyes shut. Her breathing stopped. She was mine.
Carefully wrapping my arms around her weak and fragile body, I cradled her against my chest. Her head rested against my shoulder as I stood up, ready to face the angels.
A shrill male voice spoke up. “She is ours!”
“Not this one,” I replied as three bright white lights danced before me. “I have already sealed her fate. You are too late to take her with you!”
“We are never too late. You cannot win this one, Lucifer.”
I hissed as he used my old name. “You have no hold over me any longer. None of you do!”
“We cannot let you take her. We will do everything in our power to stop you.”
I felt the skin on my back tighten. I was cornered, surrounded by their pounding wings and their high pitched singing.
“You say you are angels, and yet you cause pain to those you take. They are stuck with you, saving others. You are unable to form relationships with anyone. It is frowned upon by Him. You live only to serve Him. What kind of life is that? At least I have a life, I’m free to love who I like, lust after what I want—take whatever I need. My life has meaning, unlike yours!”
“You left us.”
“Left you?” Stupid, misinformed angel. “I had no choice. I was thrown out; left to survive as best I could. My wings were taken from me. I was left to rot. It’s taken thousands of years for me to be able to stand against all of you.”
“You betrayed us!”
“I fell in love.”
“You felt lust!”
I sniggered. “And for feeling such a strong and powerful emotion I was thrown out. Well, little ones, I have news for you. I still feel lust, and love, and I wouldn’t return to Him if you asked me to.” Looking at their ghostly white faces, I couldn’t stop myself from winding them up even more. “Besides, red’s more my colour these days, not white.”
The itching on my back increased significantly. Was it happening? After all these years, was it finally happening?
The angels buzzed around me like annoying bees. Unable to knock any of them away, I sheltered Annabel from their attack. They dived and swooped at me, some aiming for my face, others trying to connect themselves to Annabel. My anger began to surface as their strong attachment tightened and I felt Annabel lift slightly from my arms.
“No!” I snarled at them.
My back burnt intensely, and I quelled the scream trying to force itself from me. Was this His way of punishing me? Could He still reach me after all this time?
Standing still, defiant as ever, I felt the back of my top split open. The pain was incredible, practically unbearable as it mingled with the vision of Annabel slowly drifting away from me.
I roared into the quiet evening, as I realised what was happening.
My old wings began to grow and uncurl.
The angels stopped what they were doing and released their hold on Annabel, dropping her back into my open arms. Fluttering further away from me they stared, hypnotised by my transformation.
I hadn’t had wings since I was cast out of Heaven. But as I stood there, protecting Annabel, my wings continued to pump out to their full glory. I flapped them once, experimenting with the forgotten weight, as they continued to grow. They soon extended well beyond my body. Each glorious wing was at least six feet long. They weren’t white or golden feathers though, instead they burnt like the fires I lived amongst. The flames of my wings licked into the winter air around me.
Fire—the one thing the angels couldn’t fight. Too afraid they would get singed they kept a significant distance away. Their high pitched singing stopped, only their wings hummed as they hovered in the air.
Smirking at the formation of my wings, something I had long forgotten about, I tipped the end of one of them forwards, pointing at the angel who had spoken to me. I glowered at him giving him my message.
“Go and tell Him I have found what he told me I would never find. My wings have grown back because of the strength of feelings I have for this girl. Tell him I will be able to fight you properly now—with wings of my own. You will have a true battle on your hands every time we both want the same person. I will not only take the bad, Death can have them. From now on, we are equal!”
“You can never be equal to us!”
I raised my brow, stretching my wing out to the angel. As soon as the tip of my fiery wing touched him, he burst into flames. I laughed.
“Anyone else?” I asked, looking at their silly, scared faces.
They didn’t move.
“Go, leave me alone, or I will toast each and every one of you!”
Within seconds they dispersed, heading back into the white flakes of the falling snow. I glanced at Annabel. She looked like she was sleeping. She’d think she was. Her final breath had been taken when I silently promised her she would be mine. My kiss sealed her fate. Even if the angels had taken her, I knew she would have been cast out in years to come. She didn’t belong with them. I saw the fire in her eyes when she looked at me. It matched my own. If I hadn’t already developed such strength of feelings for her before, I certainly would have done when I spotted the fire. I’d never seen fire in someone’s eyes before they died.
Carefully wrapping my wings around my body, I enveloped both of us. Walking steadily into the empty building behind us, I encouraged the flames to spread. Heat radiated around the large open space I stood in. Metal warped as the temperature rose, wood burned as everything ignited.
My own fiery angel had requested warmth, and I promised her she would have it. Held in my arms, protected from the flames, she stirred, awakening from her sleep. Gone were the dark shadows under her eyes, her skin was no longer deathly grey, but colourful and bright. Her eyes locked on mine.
“I knew you’d come for me, eventually.” She smiled. “I fought the angels off every night because you were taking too long to claim me.”
“You waited for me?”
Joy spread throughout my whole body. She had waited for me.
“Are you ready to leave this world?” I stared into her eyes that reflected the dancing flames around us.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Then it is time.”
As the beams of the building crashed to the ground, I beat my wings, hearing the loud thump of the air displaced by them. The curse thrown at me when I was cast out of Heaven and hurled to Hell was lifted. All because of this girl.
Fire fuelled my desire, and as I looked at the girl in my arms, seeing her own fiery wings start to grow, I knew I had chosen well. My newly returned wings meant I could fly with the little blips of light who regularly descended to earth. And now I had someone else to help me torment the bright annoying do-gooders.
My life in Hell, damned to a never endless world of hate, greed and envy, had hardly been bearable. It was an existence, nothing more. But, I managed to find the one thing He could not control. The one thing He never thought I’d find.
Hell wasn’t such a bad place to be, not when there was someone you loved to share it with.