Did I ever tell you about the time I met the Devil on the road? It’s true. I did! Well-dressed chap on the side of the road. Small goatee, suspiciously cloven feet, faint smell of campfire… Anyway, I was tired so I sad down next to him. “Ho, Old Scratch!” says I, to show him I’m on to him and not interested in any of his tricks.
He nods to me and moves aside to make room on the log on which he was sitting. Well, not being ignorant I’m ready to make the sign of the cross or quote a scripture at him at the first sign of trouble. But he just sits there, as if I’m nothing more than any other traveler. Finally he looks at me and says, “Well? Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?”
This has me at a loss, as it would you I’m sure. That’s the one thing I couldn’t have expected him to say. “You mean you don’t already know? I asked.
“What? You famous?” He asked.
“No,” I said, “I just thought you knew these sorts of things. In all the old stories you-“
“Bah, stories,” he dismissed them like he was waving away a bothersome fly. “Stories are troublesome things, can’t trust ‘em.”
“Huh.” I thought about all the stories I’d heard of an evening and realized that more often than not they were more than just exaggerated.
“Stories. I suppose in the stories I’m out to get your soul and trick you out of it right?”
“Hmph. That would be the ones that get around. As if no one ever went though a time when they were a bit of a jerk.”
I had sympathy for him at that point, for I remembered a time when I myself had been the subject of scurrilous rumors. Then I imagined what it must have been like these last 5000 years the priests tell us the world has been around. I told him my name and asked him his.
“Lucifer,” he said, “Not that anyone asks any more. They just call me Satan or Deceiver or any number of other insults and eventually my temper gets the better of me.”
“Must be awful,” I said.
He nodded. “You’re the first person that hasn’t tried to ward me off with the sign of the cross or quoted scripture at me.”
“Yeah, that would be rude.”
“It’s always ‘begone deceiver’ this and ’get thee behind me that’. I mean, if someone has a nice posterior or flattering jeans I don’t mind, but it gets so old.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I asked.
“Go ahead,” he replied.
“What do you do with them?”
“With the souls. What do you do with them? The ones people sell you I mean.”
He looked tired. “You too? What the hell would I do with souls? I have no use for them. Besides you can’t be separated from yours. Not until death! Can’t happen.”
“But what about…”
“Can’t happen. That Faust thing is just a load of fiction. Hell, I can’t even get back into Hell because I can’t find the keys.”
“Hell has keys?”
“Of course it does. You think I want to go letting it open with all the murderers and demons and bad guys running around there?”
“Huh, I never thought of it that way.” I said
“Ugh and the smoke. I can’t get it out of my clothes no matter how much I wash.” I remembered my grandpa’s sweaters and how even after he quit smoking they always smelled like cigarettes.
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“So you don’t buy souls?”
“No. Course not. I was just sore at my dad for taking me off the angel choir to babysit a bunch of delinquent humans for all eternity. You have no idea how terrible the company was for awhile. Out of boredom I started trying to attract people I’d want to spend time with. You ever wonder why there are so many musicians in Hell?”
“Because they sold you their soul?”
“No… because the music filled them to the point where there was nothing left. No room for anything else. They resonated with the divine music of the spheres and as reward, Dad sends them to me. All the greats are there. Even some of the really good gospel musicians.”
“Even the gospel ones? How come?”
“Because they loved music more than they loved what their music was about. Dad hates that. He thinks everything has to be about him. All the time.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.” I said.
“Of course it’s fair” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “Dad said it, so by definition it’s fair.”
“This is very illuminating.” I said.
He actually laughed at that point. “Well it ought to be.” He said.
“What?” I asked.
“My name is lucifer. Means morning star. Or Light bringer. Illuminating. Get it?”
“Oh!” I said, comprehension dawning.
“That’s actually my job.”
“It is?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said.
“My job is to show people the light. Teach them things. Things they might miss otherwise.”
“What about all the punishments in hell?”
“Teaching too. Dad was really old-school about it. Wanted fire and brimstone. I asked, ‘why not have some rehabilitation classes and reincarnate until they get it right?’ He just said it wouldn’t work and that it was better to start with something pure and clean.”
“His ways are mysterious” I said.
“He’s impatient and hates admitting improvements could be made. That’s why he tried to keep a lid on evolution for so long. Everyone brings up the bad stuff, but I ask, what about the good stuff?”
“Yeah! Good stuff. Like giving Eve the apple.”
“Good? That got them kicked out of paradise.”s
“Nah, they knew what would happen. I told them.”
“Yeah, but how could they know what it would be like? I mean, he said ‘don’t eat’ and I said, hey. You eat this, you’ll know right from wrong and be able to make your own decisions. I helped them to find free will.”
“But we have to work now.” I countered.
“Instead of what? Being two birds in gilded cages, they became to adults. Free and able to choose your destiny and do more than just sit in a garden eating and lounging about?”
“Okay,” I said, “What about Job?”
“What about him?”
“What about the fact that you tortured that poor man.”
“Hey I get it. I say in passing that he wouldn’t be so loyal if he wasn’t being protected from harm. Right?”
“That’s not what I said. What I said was, Job probably wouldn’t be so cheery if you treated him like you treat me. I was griping and next thing you know God is ordering me to kill Job’s wife.”
“Really. Look none of that really matters, you know? All that matters is this. Every soul is for sale. You will sell it. But not to me.”
“What?” I asked. “Who wants to buy then?”
“You do. You buy it with every action of every day. It’s the energy you have to spend becoming who you are. The only question you have to ask is this? Would you rather sell your soul at a high price to get something you want, or sell it at a low price to get something you don’t want?”
I thought about this for a minute. “Are you talking about not wasting my time?”
“Well, no time is wasted really- otherwise you’d have some left over at the end. I’m talking about spending time on something worth the value of your soul.”
“You mean like practicing an instrument to become a musician?”
“Right, but it’s only compared with the relative cost of another way to spend time that the value can be measured.
“So, watching television for 30 minutes compared with practicing an instrument.”
“Exactly. It’s like buying something with cash versus buying it with-“
“Credit. Oh I see. So, you’re saying I should only spend time on things that will get me what I want?”
“No, no, no. You’ll have to spend time on other things too, after all you need to eat. But that extra time. The time you have to find your passions. That’s the time that usually gets sucked up with trashy novels, re listening to crappy pop music you have memorized and tv-reruns you’ve seen a thousand times. All of that is low effort, instant-low calorie return. Just bad economics.”
“You know prince of darkness as guidance counsellor isn’t what I expected.”
“You and me both,” he said with a sigh. “You have a lot more opportunity than I did. You can literally go to the moon if you put in the effort and sell your soul to physics. Me? I had to choose between Prince of Darkness, lord of hell and tempter of souls, or leader of the angel choir” at this, he folded his hands mockingly. “Trust me, with all its problems, this world is still better than it ever has been and you have more choice than ever.”
“Well, Mr. Morningstar, this has been enlightening. Thank you for lighting my path and giving me a rest.” I said.
“I feel like I could go out and take over the world!” I said with enthusiasm.
“You can if that’s what you want to sell your soul for,” he said with a wink. “Just promise me you won’t sell it at a price less than it’s worth.” And he extended his hand.
“It’s a deal.” I said and shook his hand in good humor. Then, I walked down the road feeling strangely lighter than I had before heading off to make my mark on the world.
(To hear what happened when I ran into the prince of darkness at a later date, click here)