Does what it says on the tin. Another short story from the vault.
Many thanks to IJ Benneyworth (@scribecorps) for his fantastic insight on an early draft!
[Note: Yes the wings aren’t that proportionate. Fortunately for me, this isn’t an art blog…]
AN ANGEL AND A DEMON WALK INTO A BAR
The Old Testament was always busy on Christmas Eve, and Michael preferred it that way. Drew less attention. He’d been there a while; ordered just one drink, as usual. But as the minutes ticked past into hours, his fingers tapping at the bar, his back in half, he gave in and got another whisky.
The bell jingled as the door opened, a slice of winter wind cutting through the room. Footsteps, light and delicate; a dancer’s, surely. The scrape of a stool across the floor. Warmth at his elbow.
“You’re late”. He said, without turning.
“Hello, Michael, darling.”
A voice, honey-sweet and oil-slick, so familiar, so achingly familiar that he couldn’t help but search for its source. He cast his eyes over the immaculate suit, the refined features, and the glowing red eyes.
“Lucifer. You’re looking well.”
The demon’s smile was straight out of the movies, and just as manufactured.
“It’s the Versace that’s looking well, Michael, believe me.”
The angel grinned, and passed a glass down the bar. “Work getting you down?”
Lucifer shrugged. “Can’t say I didn’t know what I getting into.”
“That’s not entirely true, Lucey.”
The demon gave a rare little smile, one that mixed pride with fragility. “Thanks, dear. God forbid anyone have an opinion up there.”
“Careful!” Michael whispered. “He might hear you…”
Lucifer’s eyes widened, and Michael could see white all around those red irises of his; they looked like twin drops of blood on snow.
“What more can he do to me? He’s already taken everything from me – my status, my honour, my-”
Lucifer faltered, and his hand drifted up to his shoulder, rubbing flesh through fabric to ease the phantom wound that hadn’t faded in millennia. His wings had been beautiful; twin works of art, twice his height and lusciously coated in golden feathers that shone in the light of their celestial home. Lucifer had always been rather fussy about his appearance, and back then he had a reason to be – he looked just like the pictures of angels that mortals painted, a vision of heavenly perfection.
And then, on that fateful day, when heaven itself was wrought in two with discord, Lucifer fell – and as he plummeted downwards, his wings were ripped from him as if from a dead insect. The pain of that tearing never left him; his back was burning as they spoke, though it wasn’t half as painful as seeing Michael sitting across from him, whose own sumptuous wings glimmered, invisible to mortal eyes, in the dim light of the pub.
Lucifer sighed deeply and signalled. “I have nothing left that would interest Him. I live now only to suffer, just as he always wanted.”
“Don’t say that-”
“What, the truth? You were always His favourite…”
Michael slammed his glass onto the bar and stared at the demon in disbelief. “What are you on about? You were His favourite!”
Lucifer still hadn’t met his eyes. Instead, he gazed intently at the mirrored wall behind the bar and downed his drink in one go.
“Sort of makes it worse, doesn’t it?” Lucifer said, finally.
“I don’t know how to break it to you, but… I’m not sure how it can get any worse.”
The demon was completely still for a second, and then he was laughing, head thrown back and eyes squeezed shut, and the angel couldn’t help but join in.
“You know what they say – better to reign in Hell than serve in-”
“You’re quoting yourself again?”
“Why not? I’ve had a few corkers over the years…”
“It’s a bit-”
“A bit what?” Lucifer snapped.
Michael shrugged. “You’re old hat now, dear. People aren’t as frightened of you as they used to be.”
Lucifer glared at him, crimson eyes inflamed. “What scares them, then, if not me?”
Michael thought for a moment, before pouring forth the trials and tribulations of modern humanity like spilled whisky; including, but not limited to, social interaction, insufficient retweets, and existential crises.
“Humans these days are so inane; in our day the only things you had to worry about were casual murder and whether your neighbour had more cattle than you. Simpler times.”
“Oh, and before I forget; vampires are sex symbols now.”
Lucifer buried his face in his hands. “The world has gone to hell, and nobody invited me. I’m insulted.”
“Luckily, we’re in the place where moral indignation come to die.” Michael replied, and with a wave of his hand a dozen shot glasses were placed in front of them. “The mortal remedy for all ills…”
“Mikey – my wings, yeah? They were lush once, weren’t they?”
Lucifer downed another glass and slammed it with a shaking hand onto the counter. “If you think about it, I’m still sort of an angel… cos ‘demon’ is ‘angel’ spelled backwards, innit?”
Michael frowned. “I don’t think so.”
“It is when you’re drinking vodka.” Lucifer chuckled.
“You do realise we can’t actually get drunk, don’t you?”
“Don’t tread on my dreams, Mike; not tonight – not after you stole my job and all…”
“The position was vacant – it’s not my fault you went all ‘rebel without a cause’.”
Lucifer grinned wickedly. “Speaking of rebels, do the others know where you are tonight? Don’t they wonder where you are every year on this particular night?”
“That was really low, Luce. I know you don’t care what happens to you, but I still happen to have relative job security and I risk it every single time we meet. I don’t have to do it, and I don’t have to continue risking my wings just whenever you’re feeling lonely.”
Lucifer gripped his glass in his talon-tipped hand. “You wouldn’t think living with demons would be boring, but it is. Dreadful conversationalists. And those holier-than-thou idiots in the clouds don’t want to know, of course – present company excluded.”
“Truth is, Mikey,” the demon continued with a sigh, “you’re the only person in the world who’ll give me the time of day. I try and wander over to the torture pits for a light-hearted chin-wag with the damned but they don’t seem have the time, or the tongues. The other demons, meanwhile – they just see me as their dark lord and keep bowing all over the place – they literally run after me trying to pay homage, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a demon try to sprint and curtsey at the same time, but after the first couple hundred occasions the novelty fades.
“And the humans who sell their souls – that greedy bunch of swindlers – they’d murder their own mother for a recording contract and once they’ve signed along the dotted line they don’t want to bother with me anymore! Frankly, Michael, I feel used. Making a deal with the devil just doesn’t have the same pizzazz as it used to. Trying to trip mortals up with knotted legal language used to be the highlight of my day – now they’re either too stupid or impatient to read the fine print, and it takes all the fun out of it. And now it seems that all those who used to worship, fear or desire me have now moved onto sparkling vampires and vegan zombies. Has it all come to this?”
Michael patted his shoulder reassuringly. “You sound like you scripted this entire conversation before you came out tonight. Is that why you were so late?”
“How dare you.” He said, without much enthusiasm. “Anyway, I’d best be off now.”
“Yes, if you’d stayed any longer you might have accidentally heard about what’s going on in my life, God forbid.”
Lucifer gasped. “You just blasphemed!”
Michael shrugged. “If I ever get chucked out of heaven, you’ll be the first to know.”
“I’d say your career prospects are pretty secure; you’re the only vaguely competent one of the whole lot.”
The angel snorted. “How I’d cope without your generous care and support, I’ll never know.”
Lucifer slipped inside a fancy coat that had belonged to another master a few hours previously (though he’d cleaned all the blood off of it since then) and placed an unethically-acquired fedora at a jaunty angle upon his head.
“One question: He did promote you pretty quick, didn’t He? After my rather sudden and, dare I say, stylish departure?”
“Oh, for sure. I’m not half as qualified now as you were then. But you should take it as a compliment, Lucey: he never found anyone who could replace you.”
The Prince of the Underworld looked suddenly shy, caught off guard. “Thanks, love.”
“Same time, same place, next year, yeah?”
Lucifer considered this for moment. “I suppose I’ve got nothing better to do… and no-one I’d rather be with.”
He made it half-way to the exit before coming suddenly to a halt, silhouetted in the doorway.
“Oh, one last thing; I was thinking of taking over the world. You in?”
Michael downed his final whiskey and smashed the glass under his boot. “I thought you’d never ask…”