This is longer than my usual teaser; it’s a short story I just found amongst my files of unpublished stories, so I decided to share.
“The Devil went down to Georgia…” Trying to steal a soul and all that.
Except I’m not “the Devil.” I admit I steal souls. That’s kind of my thing, as you humans would say. The souls don’t get stuffed in some firey pit or whatever, though.
I eat them. All of us demons do.
It’s still fun to talk a human into handing over their soul, no matter what we plan on doing with it. And all those stories about how people sell their souls for fame and fortune? Completely true. We’re demons. We can do magic. And if someone has a particularly tasty little soul, I don’t see a reason not to reward them for giving it to me. After all, whatever I give them will only be theirs for a little while.
All those cool techno things humans have come up with over the past century or so have made my job so much easier. Instead of having to wander around among you all, I can just hop online and find what I’m looking for. Believe me, the cyberworld is a whole lot more fun than the real one, even for a demon.
So here I sit, tapped into the human Internet, though I’m not on a computer. You guys think you’re so advanced, but you still need a device to be able to access all the information flooding around. All I have to do is stretch my brain and pop on in.
I’m in a game I’ve hung out in before. Animated chicks in scanty clothes and big, buff dudes in armor beating up monsters. And demons. Whoever created this game must have run into one of us in the past, because I swear I recognize some of my buddies among the bad guys here.
I’m the only real demon in here right now, though. I made sure of that. There are so many humans to go around, I have no need to poach someone else’s hunting grounds.
Some of the half-naked chicks and steroid dudes are beating up each other, too, which looks fun to me. It’s all artificial, of course, but every character in the game is controlled by a human somewhere out there in the real world. A human with a real soul. They don’t know it, but their souls shine through their avatars. None of them would be able to tell, but I can see every one of them.
Including a bright, shiny gold one straight ahead of me, glowing around one of the muscle men. The soul tells me the controller of the character is male too, and it’s a soul I would love to sink my teeth into.
He’s beating the crap out of three other characters, all of which are controlled by other humans somewhere out in the “real” world. They keep going at him, and he just keeps fighting so fast his movements are a blur.
One by one, he kills off the other three guys. Even though they’re fighting him at once. Even though they’re huger than he is. He wins.
He is a damn good player, and I have an idea. Instead of offering him fame and fortune, I’m going to give him a rare opportunity. I won’t ask him to just hand over his soul. I’m going to let him fight for it.
I’ll win, of course. He’s good, but no one is as good as me.
I wander on over. In the game, all conversation is via text, so I type, PVP?
Player vs. player. At least I think that’s what it stands for. That’s what I always mean when I use it, anyway. I probably should learn a lot more about these games if I’m going to use them, but why bother? Humans have a whole culture built around the things. I’m just looking for food.
Sure, the guy responds.
So he’s into the idea of killing other players in the game. In real life, judging from the soul I’m now studying more closely, he’s a nice kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly unless he was protecting someone else. In the game, he has a dark side.
And he’s arrogant. He’s done this before and has always won.
I like arrogance. It’s delicious served over a heaping helping of terror.
Name? I ask. I like to know who I’m devouring. And I don’t mean his character’s name, either. That’s floating above the cartoon’s head. Bob the Destroyer.
It’s better than all the random string of babble names I usually see. It either shows a sense of humor or a complete lack of imagination, I’m not sure which.
Bob, he says.
Really? I’m Sorcheth.
Not what this says. He made his guy point at my head, where the name “Loriatelas” is floating. Just because I make fun of the random string of babble names doesn’t mean I don’t use them when I drop into games. They help me fit in.
No kidding, I type.
For a moment he doesn’t say anything. I just wait. These kids today have it drilled into their heads that they shouldn’t give out personal information online. Not that it stops most of them. They think they’re indestructible. They do stupid stuff even when they’ve been told not to and can’t figure out why bad things happen to them.
Jonny, he says finally.
Cool. I don’t say anything else about the name, because I don’t want to creep him out. He doesn’t know if I’m another teenage punk or an adult pervert.
Or a very hungry millennia-old demon.
Want to make a bet? I ask.
Make the offer, close the deal. That’s how we work. It isn’t quite as easy in a game, because I’m not standing right in front of the real person holding out real money or whatever. But the ones who think they can take me are almost always willing to make a wager.
Sure, he says again. What do you want? Weapons? Skills? A rare pet?
Your soul. No reason I can’t come right out and say it.
Soul? Really? So I guess your toon isn’t just a fun costume.
I chose the avatar in the game that most closely resembles the “demons” players are supposed to destroy. Like I said, some of them look a lot like some of my buddies, which means I look like a demon. Or a devil, for those who think that way.
Hiding in plain sight. Always fun.
No, it isn’t. I know he won’t believe a word of it. The whole point of the game is to be someone or something else for a while. So what do you say?
If you win, you get my soul. Ha ha. He hesitates. That’s a one-sided bet. What if I win?
I’ll give you the biggest, fastest, most advanced gaming system there is. Gaming was such a ginormous part of some humans’ lives that they’d created computer systems especially for the pastime. Personally I didn’t see the point, but then again, I don’t see the point in a lot of things humans do. Nor do I particularly care.
Which would mean you finding out where I live, because how else would you deliver it? I’m not an idiot.
I laugh out loud, not that he can hear it. This kid is cocky as hell. I like it. It’ll give a nice spice to his soul when I devour it after I beat the crap out of his toon.
You have to win first. Then we’ll figure out how you get your system. As I say it, I realize he’s taking this seriously. If he thought I was just making a bet within the game, he wouldn’t be talking about me finding out where he lives.
Maybe he’s run into my kind before, or maybe he’s just one of those humans who sees across the lines between what they believe to be real and what actually is real.
Cool. That will make him even more fun.
Okay, he says after a couple of minutes. So PK. I win, I get the system somehow or other. You win, you get my soul.
Ha ha. Betting my soul with the devil, huh? It might be a sin, but I’ll take your bet. I am the best ever at this game.
Arrogant and he knows what he’s talking about. Maybe he really has encountered one of my buddies. No matter. Obviously he thinks he can defeat me, and I’m more than happy to prove him wrong. We’ll see. I win, I take your soul right away. You win, you’ll have your system.
I don’t need his address. I can just make the thing appear in his house.
Sounds good. Ready when you are. His avatar strikes a pose.
So do I, and so it begins. I have all the skills, weapons, and powers that my type of character has in this game plus a few of my own, but to be fair, I stick to what’s available in the game. If I’m going to beat Mr. Cocky-pants, I’m going to do it on his terms. That will make victory—and his soul—taste so much sweeter.
But he’s a damn good fighter. For every blow I land, he lands three. I’m bleeding, broken, and still fighting but barely. Heck, I’m even out of breath.
If I don’t get my act together, he’s going to win.
I land another blow and he reels back. Animated blood flies. I get in a few more hits, but then the damn kid rallies and strikes me in the head. Right through the helmet. Magic sword or something.
And then everything goes black. Life force gone. Whatever the heck they call it in the game.
The son of a bitch killed me.
This has never happened before. I never lose. I’m a freaking demon, for crying out loud. And this little human thing has defeated me.
I see red. Like a firey haze. I want to kill the little bugger. How dare he beat me? He will pay for this. Mark me, he will pay.
I made the bet and lost in a fair fight, though. And yeah, demons do play fair. We might obscure and mislead, but we don’t lie and we don’t renege on our bargains.
Which sucks, because it means I have to go crawling back to Jonny and give him his damn gaming system.
I get another life and go back to Jonny, who’s sitting on a rock beside our fighting ground. Good fight, he says.
Not good enough. I make a little gesture with my hand, sending his gaming system off through the dimensions to wherever he lives. There you go. I’ll be back for a rematch someday.
Wow! He must be seeing the system. Thanks. Rematch anytime. I told you once, I’m the best.
We’ll see. Enjoy your system.
I’m not about to stick around the location of my defeat. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a human does get the better of one of us. This is one of those times. I swallow my pride and slink away. He won fair and square, and I’ll grant him that he is a damn good player.
But there will be a rematch someday. He can’t always win. Next time, I will gain his soul, and I will show Mr. Jonny that you don’t mouth off to a demon.