MEPHISTO and PHELESby Voyen Koreis
A comedy on the Faustian theme, with some recorded music from Gounod’s opera Faust. Three Hell’s trouble-shooters use modern methods of marketing, including computers, mobile phones and Viagra. Mephisto really wants to be a poet, his immaculately born twin brother Pheles is a compulsive computer games player, while former prostitute Brigitte is a probationary she-devil. Trying to find the final solution to the ‘Faust problem’, they end up as asylum seekers in Heaven. Things never go quite the way they were intended to. Mephisto falls in love with Faust’s maidservant Siebel, an innocent virgin girl. Brigitte, who poses as Marguerite or Meg, pretends to be a lesbian, to frustrate Faust, who wants to seduce her. Faust, who also wants to be an immortal literary character, is having continuous problems, not only trying to bed the politically correct Meg, but also with the Viagra and mobile phone, both of which he had earned as a bonus for signing up his soul. There are three male and two female roles in the play.
Voyen Koreis, born 1943, lives in Brisbane.
Thus far he published:
The Fools' Pilgrimage
Golf Jokes and Anecdotes From Around the World
The Kabbalah - a timeless philosophy of life
Mephisto and Pheles – The Stage Play
An Introduction to the Study of the Tarot by P. F. Case (editor)
The Tales of Doggie and Moggie by Josef Čapek – Povídání o pejskovi a kočičce (translator, editor)
R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek (translator, editor)
The Robber by Karel Čapek - Loupežník (translator, editor)
Poutníci v čase
Kabala: nadčasová filosofie života
First published in this form in 2011
103 Grandview Road Pullenvale,
Brisbane, Queensland 4069
Telephone +617-3202 7547
Copyright © Voyen Koreis 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Author: Koreis, Voyen.
Title: Mephisto and Pheles: a novel of two devils
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: To be announced
1. Satirical Novel 2. Comedy 3. Humour 4. Humoristic Novel 5. Parody 6. Comic Story 7. Farcial 8. Absurd 9. Fantasy Fiction 10. Faust 11. Doctor Faust 12. Faustus 13. Faustian 14. Mephistopheles 15. The Devil 16. Historical Fantasy 17. Humor 18. Heaven and Hell 19. Asylum Seekers 20. Goethe’s Faust 21. Charles-François Gounod
Illustrations © Voyen Koreis
Cover Design by Voyen Koreis – on the motive by Henry Fuseli
Give those Immortals who’ve become swollen
With pride, the benefit of the doubt,
‘Twas through their doings that they have fallen,
This is what their sojourn was e’er about.
A desire to return to their own sphere,
Deeply within themselves they have carried,
Ad infinitum bound to interfere,
In human affairs becoming buried.
Tho’ longing for their abode o’er cloud nine,
Anacamptic sound of harps in their hearts,
They can’t evade it, but must lay supine,
Unable to outsmart the Cupid’s darts.
Knowing not what picking up this cherry
Entails, they moan: Enjoy life, be merry!
In which we meet
Mephisto and Pheles,
The two ingenious devils,
In their office on a quiet day
It was a quiet day in the office. So quiet that for a while Mephisto had even been seriously considering doing some work on the Monthly Report, which the Boss would no doubt want them to produce by and by. There was always one overdue, even though he may have delivered the latest into the hands of Cathy, his Inglorious Insignificance’s secretary, only yesterday, as it seemed to him. Not that Mephisto wouldn’t enjoy delivering reports to Cathy, because he would. He could do that every day and all day long, that’s how much he enjoyed it! She was a sweet thing, Cathy was. Always smiling, always in a good mood. He didn’t understand it how she could manage this, while working for that abominable, repulsive, vile creature that was their boss. But somehow…
Did I just say that it was a quiet day? Well, I have to correct myself. It would have been quiet, but for Pheles. For him and that blasted computer game of his. What a din!
His partner said that without taking his eyes off the screen. Total concentration. Only his hand holding the mouse moved subtly, with the forefinger doing the clicking, producing loud noises of detonating explosives and cracking gunshots coming from behind the screen.
“Could you turn that thing down a bit, please? I would like to be able to think, for a change.”
“Does it have to be now? Couldn’t your thinking wait a little?”
Still no movement other than that computer hand, now suddenly working like a bobbin gone mad. But Mephisto was not even worth a glance from his partner. Some partner it is, he said to himself!
“Can’t you at least come down a notch or two?”
Finally it looked that he might be getting through to Pheles. He hit a key. The noises ceased. He turned his head in Mephisto’s direction and said with no small load of crabbedness in his voice:
“I’d really like to finish this segment. I’m beta-testing it now and I want it to go out next week.”
Mephisto knew that he needed to keep his attention going once he managed to capture it, so he decided to feint interest.
“What is it about?”
“A planetary war. I’m playing here as Looney Homunculus, fighting Schizogladiators of Cyberspace, this unholy alliance of space-time travelling Cyborgs. I need to pinch their lapis mutus, to free with it the Robotic Golems from the clutches of the Torturers of Valhala.”
“What is lapis mutus?”
“Lapis is the Latin for stone, didn’t you know that?”
“Means changeable. Here it’s a stage that our stone finds itself in, while on its way to becoming the Philosopher’s Stone. Eventually.”
Pheles could surprise you from time to time with such a display of accumulated knowledge. Especially when it was in some way related to his favourite pastime, designing computer games.
“I see. But does manufacturing the Philosopher’s Stone have to be this noisy? Couldn’t you go about it a little more quietly, please?”
“I told you I’m beta-testing.”
Pheles turned the noise of fighting on again. He had to shout now, for his voice to be heard over the racket.
“And I’m not manufacturing the stone. I’m fighting to get it from the Thieving Cyborgs, I told you that. Fighting means noise. Or would you expect these creatures to fight to the sound of classical music? Mozart, perhaps? Or Vivaldi.”
Mephisto had to show his partner that he too had some knowledge. He shouted back to him.
“I could perhaps put up with Tchaikovski and the 1812 Overture. There’s some shooting in that too. The real cannons, you know? They get them…”
He didn’t finish the sentence. He could see the door handle moving and immediately he knew that they were going to get an unheralded visit. He had such flashes of extra sensory perception, and quite often. Especially when the door handles moved. Still, he thought he knew who was coming, and as it turned out he was not wrong. The Boss, naturally. He was just able in time to take his feet off the top of the desk and quickly bury his nose in the pocket book, which he hoped would make him look busy. Pheles wouldn’t have such luck though. Poor Pheles, this time he’s going to cop it, for sure!
Nevertheless, as it turned out, Mephisto’s ESP had betrayed him after all, at least partially. It was the Boss indeed, but with him also came his lovely secretary, Cathy.
‘Why could I not see that coming?’ went quickly through Mephisto’s head. ‘Why couldn’t I have had such revelation first thing in the morning? I would have used some extra cologne and put on something more seemly than this old suit. I’ve been wearing it to the office for the past month at least! Then again, the Boss might not like it if I dressed in any other way than conservatively, he’s a real sucker for that. My errant ESP probably knew what it was doing when it didn’t give me that advanced warning.’
While Mephisto was brooding over his suit and the missed opportunity to make him look flamboyant in front of Cathy’s eyes, Pheles finally noticed that something had gone awry, probably because his partner stopped talking so suddenly. He looked up from the screen, and saw the Boss already walking through the door, headed in his direction. Too late …
His Inglorious Insignificance had quickly surveyed the scene. As always, he was dressed immaculately, in a three-piece suit, burgundy red with very subtle pinstripes, underneath the jacket he wore the vest a shade of orange. A smart looking frog green tie, which was what he’d usually wear with the burgundy red and orange, completed his outfit. A little smile had begun to form itself on his face. Mephisto knew that smile all too well. Devilish smile. After all, the Boss, with his high rank, has had centuries to develop and nurture it. Typically it started near the left corner of his mouth and slowly spread over the rest of his face, like smallpox. With it usually came that restrained voice, upon hearing of which one couldn’t avoid the feeling that a great deal of energy is being saved here and stored under the bonnet, to be ready to burst out at the moment the fire-drake judges to be the right one. The suave voice crooned softly:
“I wonder if you could be so kind and turn that noise down a notch or two, Pheles?
“Yes, your Insignificance,” gibbered Mephisto’s partner, as he took the sound out altogether. The dragon acknowledged it with a slow nod of his head.
“Working on the monthly report, are we, Pheles?”
“I was about to, sir …”
“When is the report due, Cathy?” His gorgeous looking secretary consulted a notepad that she was holding in her hand.
‘Looks so damned attractive, even when discharging her secretarial duties’, Mephisto said to himself. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and especially of the two adorable hillocks, hiding gingerly behind the fabric of the blue blouse that she was wearing. He could leer to his heart’s content and without fearing that she might catch him, at least while she went on leafing through her notepad. Eventually she found what she was looking for and lifted her head up.
Mephisto quickly took his eyes of their lustful target and looked into his pocket book, pretending to have found something interesting there. A big mistake! The Boss took notice of his action and he immediately knew that somehow it was going to backfire on him. But not before the Boss makes short work of Pheles. He walked to Pheles’ desk and stood behind his back, so that he could see what was happening on the screen.
“I see that you were about to attack some monsters … what are they, Pheles?”
“Thieving Cyborgs, your Insignificance.”
“Yes, indeed. Those Light-Fingered Cyborgs. No doubt they pinched that missing monthly report, haven’t they? And probably also that spreadsheet, which was supposed to be attached to the Productivity Report you had so kindly sent me last week, only a month late? You better make sure you attack with a strong enough force, so that I can have it all on my table by tomorrow.”
“Yes, your Insignificance.”
Pheles’ voice sounded almost supplicatory.
“It will surely make for a nice reading, I can’t wait. While we’re on the subject of missing documents, there was something else I’d missed, what was it that we were missing, Cathy?”
Mephisto knew what was coming, even before the words passed through the girl’s lips, so beguilingly shaped like buds of red flowers that were designed for no other purpose but to drive crazy with desire the poetic souls, like his own.
“The Market Analyses, your Insignificance.”
“Yes, the Market Analyses. Where is it, Mephisto? Has it too vanished in the cyberspace?”
“No, Sir. It’s almost ready to go. I was just going to put some finishing touches to it.”
While saying this he was trying to unobtrusively hide behind his back the note book, but there was no way of deceiving the Boss, who had made a mental note of it already.
“Oh yes, that must be what you’ve been writing in that diary of yours, as I walked in. It was obviously making you feel very comfortable. Can I see it?”
There was nothing Mephisto could do but hand his pocket-sized diary over to the Boss. He went to the last used page and read aloud:
“My Catherine, when in a dream
I’m meeting with you by the stream
In night forest I redeem …
… this market analysis appears to lack accuracy. Looks more like a poem to me!”
“Yes sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
“And so you should be. Writing such amateurish poems! And during the working hours. Who’s Catherine, anyway? Not our Cathy here, or is she?”
This has gone the way the poor devil never wanted it to go. Not in front of her! And what did he say about it? Amateurish poem? Well, he knew he was not very good at this yet, but …
“What about you, Pheles? Are you sorry too about playing computer games, when you should be working? On writing self-assessment sheets, for instance. Yes, that’s another thing I’ve been missing, the self-assessment sheets, isn’t it so, Cathy?”
“Yes, sir. The self-assessment sheets are overdue too, sir.”
“How long by?”
“By nearly two weeks, your Insignificance.”
“So they too are overdue by two weeks, gentlemen, by two weeks! When you finally do find time to fill them, I surely want to see that you’ve given yourselves good marks for writing poems and playing games. Well, let’s not dwell too much on the negative. At least your sales figures for this galactic month don’t look too bad. How many politicians’ souls have they gathered, Cathy?”
A sudden turn in an unexpected direction! What had made him do this? Their sales figures have been good, Mephisto knew that, and the Boss must have known it too. But instead of continuing and dressing them up even more, he changed the topic like this. There must be a good reason behind this. Cathy would have noticed too, because she gave Mephisto a little smile, before she read from the summary. The fact that she had the figures handy (not even mentioning her handy figure) would have also suggested that this whole show must have been prearranged, in some way. Together with the fact that the Boss had made her come here with him…
“One hundred and ninety three, sir. That’s more than double the quota, your Insignificance.”
That quota was only ninety. They’ve done really well there. What helped them a great deal, was a widespread tendency towards getting close election results in several large countries, followed by the inevitable haggling over the shape of the future governments. Suddenly there were more politicians around who had previously found themselves on the fringes, but now with the chance to sell themselves to the parties that needed them. And before they sold themselves to them, many of them would have sold their souls, so that they had something to offer.
“Not bad, not bad at all. Impressive, in fact. What about the bankers, how many of those have they signed up?”
“Two hundred and eighty seven, sir.”
“Good, good. Signing up this president of the World Bank, together with her secretary, that was quite a coup. Well done, gentlemen! It’s a shame though that the figures on clergymen were so pitiful. Only sixty seven percent of the set target…”
He couldn’t go on praising them to infinity, that would be un-boss-like, and he must show his superiority somehow. Nevertheless, Mephisto had the audacity to remind him that these figures were grossly misleading.
“If you permit me, sir, these quotas were based on the levels that existed in the industry before the sexual abuse scandals in the church came through.”
“Yes, a high-risk occupation suddenly it has become, being a clergyman, I know. People are not exactly queuing up to enter the profession, are they? Still, we should be doing better in that area. But this is not why I’m here.”
Now they were finally going to find out what it was that has brought the Boss here. He wanted something, and wanted it badly, that much was clear. But when it came, it was still unexpected.
“I’m here about Faust.”
Mephisto threw a quick glance at Pheles, who looked just as much surprised.
“Yes, the one and only, the same Faust who had slipped through our fingers, how long ago was it Cathy?”
“Four hundred and fifty three years, eight months and twenty-four days, sir. Counted in the human terms. That’s approximately four galactic days, fifteen hours and thirty-six minutes.”
She came well prepared for this, the glamour girl did. One couldn’t take that away from her. Such brown-nosing though had already brought her a step or two down from the pedestal Mephisto had put her onto. But the Boss had moved now swiftly to one of his tirades. The unfortunate side of it was that one couldn’t just go daydreaming while he was at it, because one had to look attentive.
“Funny how pathetic four and a half human centuries look from another perspective, isn’t it? Pitiful as it might be, we still need to do something about it. This Faust fellow had tried to make a Homunculus and the Philosopher’s Stone. Couldn’t do it, of course, so he had signed up his soul. Then he outfoxed us and got away with it. And now he’s a celebrity. It may have only been four days of fame, but it’s done our image no good at all. There were poems and plays written about him, even an opera, or two. I have seen those, unfortunately.”
“Unfortunately, yes. Because I hate singing. Especially when they have women singing man’s parts. They do that, have you known?”
“Do they now, sir?”
“Oh yes. Just imagine Cathy here having man’s trousers put on her and made to sing some aria.”
Mephisto tried to imagine it, and found nothing much wrong with such an image. If she was made to wear some sort of leggings, black perhaps, like men did in the Middle Ages, they would look absolutely stunning on her! But then Cathy would still look gorgeous to him even in a beggar’s clothes. Especially if it had a few holes in it. The Boss went on.
“Perish the thought! By Lucifer, don’t I hate singing! Anyway, what I mean is, there’s hardly a week gone by without someone taking on this Faust theme and making it into something. Even a TV commercial lately, or so I’ve heard!”
Now this was getting serious. Did he know about what Mephisto had done? But if he knew, would he have praised their sales efforts the way he did? Mephisto didn’t think so. There must be something else hiding behind this.
“Now it’s gone so far that his Infernal Majesty has taken a new interest in the matter and told me to do something about it, quick and smart. So, you two drop everything, and come up with some ideas.”
This time, Pheles was quick of the mark, Mephisto had to give it to him:
“In view of this, sir, could we perhaps drop those self-assessment sheets too, sir? Otherwise that might hold us back a bit.”
“OK. And the Market Analyses too. Drop it for now, it can wait, but don’t think that you’d get away with not submitting it at all! Now I want you to put on your thinking caps, and come up with something really clever. You’ve done very well as trouble-shooters before, and I have confidence in you. I only hope that it won’t be misplaced. I have to go now. Cathy, could you fill them in on the fine details? Now, that’s a good girl!”
And with these words he left. Without patting her on the botty. Mephisto half-expected that, and the way her eyes followed him all the way walking out of the room, she must have had too. But if she was disappointed she was quick to hide it. He asked her.
“What was this all about, so suddenly?”
She gave him a rather coquettish smile, but he knew it did not really belong to him, rather to the departed Boss. Suddenly he knew; to her he was a non-entity.
“Don’t you know?”
He had no idea and he told her.
“It’s his wife.”
“What does Faust have to do with his wife? He wouldn’t be jealous of him, or would he?”
That was meant to jog her up a bit, of course. But she wouldn’t let him put her off.
“Getting slightly warmer, but still off the mark.”
“I’m giving up.”
“It’s to do with his wife’s love of opera.”
“I still can’t understand.”
“Didn’t you hear him say how much he hated singing? Well, his wife loves opera. She comes from a family of aristocrats, she’s even been rumoured to be related to Sataniel himself, somewhere down the line. So she was brought up in such a way, and going to opera is what she’s always been used to doing. He isn’t, but she still drags him to any first performance of note anywhere in the world. And can you guess what her favourite opera is?”
“Yes. By Gounod. There’s a new production in Paris being premiered tomorrow night. Vale said to me, privately mind you, that he wouldn’t mind if someone would take it upon himself to escort her. Any of you guys interested?”
‘Now it was ‘Vale’, short for Valefarius. Cathy must have made quite some progress, presumably offering a non-singing, sympathetic shoulder, to cry on. Was she wearing those leggings too, while doing it? Probably not. But there is an opportunity; he could earn himself some kudos if he took the Bosses’ wife to that Paris performance!
“I might be interested”, he said to Cathy. She looked surprised.
“Really? Do you like opera?”
“I don’t mind it. And seeing this one could help me to understand this case a bit better. Looks like to me that the Boss would want us to reopen it?”
“Yes, that’s what he wants. So should I tell him that you would be willing to go to Paris tomorrow?”
With the Boss’ wife safely in Paris and being taken care off, those two could now have a romp. But he was past caring. Meanwhile, Pheles, who expected much more of a drabbing than he got for playing the computer game, and had instead been let off the hook so unexpectedly, had sufficiently recovered from his surprise to get interested in their conversation. He decided to join in.
“Am I right in assuming that he wants us to change it in such a way, so that it shows us in a better light?”
“Yes”, Cathy said, “he thinks that if the root cause can be manipulated and changed, there won’t be a reason to make the hero of Faust. Consequently, there would be no opera. Nothing to compose one about, you see?”
Mephisto didn’t see it, and he didn’t think that Cathy had either. She most likely was just parroting something ‘Vale’ whispered into her pink little ear. The only person in the room who could understand was Pheles, who was about to take up charge over the matter. Mephisto would gladly let him do that. Pheles asked Cathy to give him the details of the Faust case, and she handed over a copy of folder containing all the files held in the archives, which she had ready on the hard disk. Before she left the two devils, she said rather stiffly:
“His Insignificance told me he expects that you keep him informed on the progress. As soon as you have something, contact me, so that an audience could be arranged.”
And she was gone. No ‘Vale’ this time, back to ‘his Insignificance.’ Mephisto wondered how far the Boss would have gotten with her. Or she with him? Only this morning he would have given anything, just for the privilege to be with her in the same room. Even with others present. Now he was quite happy that she was gone. That’s how quickly one could fall out of love. Well, if that’s so, perhaps we should call it just another case of infatuation.
Pheles looked into Mephisto’s eyes searchingly.
“What was that about the TV commercial? I saw you twitch when he said it. Tell uncle Pheles, will you?”
“Yeah, OK, that was close. For a moment, I thought that he might have found out about my moonlighting.”
“We’ve been moonlighting now, have we? And on a TV commercial, too. Are you going to relieve the burden that weights heavily on your dark soul and tell me how you came to be doing that? Were you suddenly seized by a desire for television fame? You haven’t been showing your face, or have you? That would be most unwise.”
“You know that I have never had any ambitions to perform. I’m a poet, not some belly-pinched actor!”
“A poet? Why, you haven’t sold any of your poems yet! Or is that how you poets get to start your career? By piecing together a few words to form an advertising slogan or two?”
“One has to start somewhere.”
“So are you going to tell me what you have shuffled up this time, or are you not?”
“OK. There’s an agency that’s bringing on a campaign with the series of ads featuring Faust, in which he signs up his soul to us with all the pomp, lives a life of debauchery, and when the time’s up he always manages to run away from our soul collectors.”
“And what’s the product that’s being advertised? Don’t tell me, let me guess… life of debauchery… has to be some extravagancy… the Ritz-Carlton chain, perhaps?”
“He runs away in a new red Ferrari. That’s what we’re trying to sell. All this is compressed in a yet to be determined number of episodes, each lasting about thirty seconds.”
“How will they decide the number of episodes?”
“That would depend on success or otherwise of the campaign.”
“So if it runs for a while, you could get rich and famous!”
“I’d rather like to avoid that.”
“I guess that you must have come up with some slogan that’s really catchy … What is it like?”
“You can run away from anything in this car. Even from your past.”
“Just like that? Simple and to the point.”
“Of course, there would be some subtle variants to this, later on in the series.”
“How did you get to do this? A client?”
“Yeah, I’d signed up a guy who used to be the best copywriter at this well-known agency. That was before his three divorces and several stays at the dry-up clinics. Now he’ll be the best again. It happened the other day, remember, when you were too busy playing The Fraternity of Cyberspace Prophets and chose not to come out with me?”
“Well, I reckoned I wasn’t needed. You were always going to bring that one home.”
“In the end it wasn’t all that easy. He was squirming like an eel. I had to give him something, to get his name in red on the parchment. You know that most of the time we can get away with giving them some cheap gadget, the newest technological miracle or something like that. This guy wasn’t going to fall for that sort of thing.”
“He just wanted ideas for new commercials?”
“Yes, and he’ll get them. He’s been at it for twenty years, and he’d completely ran out of every idea that might have been acceptable to their customers. He was desperate, because he’d lost nearly all his money to his exes, and now he was facing the axe from his agency. But he’ll have plenty of ideas now, probably a new wife or two, even that red Ferrari if he wishes so, and it would be a new model every year for the next thirty years.”
“And we’ll have plenty to do, repairing the damage that you’ve just done! The big boss obviously thinks that this Faust TV campaign could reflect badly on our establishment. And he’s got a thing about opera. Or about his wife? How about both of these?”
“Would you blame him?”
“No, I wouldn’t. Living with her must be Hell. She’s the sort of person who lights up the room by walking away. Are you sure you’ll be able to put up with her for the whole evening.”
“We’ll have the opera to watch and the singers to listen to.”
“Well, that husband of hers is right, you know. Opera would be a great thing, if only there were no singers in it. In my opinion, they should only play the overture, and then people should go home.”
“I agree that there could be some passages when it drags on awfully, but then come those beautiful moments that have been worth waiting for!”
“So now you have fallen in for music. Someone once said that Hell is full of musical amateurs.”
“George Bernard Shaw. He also said that music is the brandy of the damned.”
“That was very perceptive. There was a fellow who said many clever things. It almost looks as if he was one of ours.”
“But he wasn’t, otherwise he’d still be alive. By going to see that opera, I should be able to focus my mind on our Faust problems, don’t you realise that?”
“Yes, I appreciate that. We are going to need some ideas. You get them from going to the opera. But if you allow me, I’m going to look for my inspiration elsewhere.
“In playing one of those computer games of yours, no doubt.”
“Yes, I’m now going to finish that game his Insignificance had interrupted by his arrival. Or at least I’ll finish this segment. Then we’ll be able to talk. I wouldn’t be too long.”
Alone in their office again an hour or so later, the two now had to decide how they would deal with the problem of Doctor Faust.
“Finished already, Pheles, and ready for action? By the way, did you get that lapis mutus?”
“Yes, I did. Actually, no, I didn’t. I had it, but then the Intergalactic Ferro-vandals came and stole it away from me. I’ll now have to fight for it again and have to enter the Cursed Catacombs of Twisted Entities in the Realm of the Celestial Disappointments, and it’s going to take ages before I could gather all the resources that I’ll need. So I’d saved the game there, and here I am.”
“Yes, we have business on hand.”
“Does the big guy, I mean His Insignificance, actually expect us to fix it? And now? You’re supposed to be the man of ideas. I’m only the humble rationalist.”
“Who plays computer games, fighting space-time-travelling Thieving Cyborgs—”
Pheles wouldn’t let him finish the sentence.
“Wait a minute! Time-travelling. That’s an idea. We might be well advised to do some of that.”
When he said it, Mephisto suddenly had the idyllic, peaceful world of medieval times in front of his inner eye. He knew that he wouldn’t mind going there, despite all those traumatic events that he had lived through, on his last visit there. But he had some good memories too. It would have held special memories for Pheles too. But right now the self-declared rationalist wouldn’t let that interfere with his thoughts he was laying in front of verbally in front of his partner.
“Yes, if we could find the root of the Faust affair, we could change the course of events and turn them around, to make them work in our favour.”
Mephisto wasn’t entirely convinced.
“Well, how would you go about undoing what has already been done?”
“Simply. We’ll enter one of the parallel worlds, go back in time and start afresh. We need to act decisively, to make a really strong imprint on our chosen plane of reality.”
This was going to get complicated, Mephisto knew that. But Pheles liked it when things got complicated. It appeared to bring the best out of him.
“Yes, but what about the other planes of reality? Would they be affected in the way we want them to?”
“At first our action would cause only some ripples, but these would affect the other planes of reality situated nearby in the multi-dimensional space. That’s why we need to act with some determination. Let me put it in plain language: if we make a big deep furrow in one of the worlds, the other realities nearby would tend to fall into the groove. Eventually there should be a snowballing effect.”
Mephisto liked it when things got groovy. The groovier the better. But what should they do? As always, Pheles had the answer. He took Mephisto to his computer, told him to sit on the chair next to him. While explaining things to him, he nimbly kept typing something on the keyboard, with occasional clicks of his mouse.
“First we’ll need to do some research on Faust. Let’s have a look. As I said, if we could alter the causal side of events, the repercussions will be felt in other parallel worlds and, gradually, a different chain of events will form. Like in that adventure play the Grand Regency of Spheres, when Magnum Foxarm gets slightly drunk at The Flagon and Chant, and Slyrage Nightgreed steels his Time Barrier Torc, and Magnum has to chase him over several parallel worlds, until he nails him down in The Bar of the Sorcerers in the Realm of the Slated Portals, where after some difficult negotiations he exchanges the Torc for Bracelet of Time Balls that he had acquired on the planet Ohr—“
That sort of cyber war double Dutch was totally over Mephisto’s head, and he was quite naturally getting impatient.
“OK, OK, I know. And from that point on the plot thickens and everything gets complicated. Could you explain it to me in simpler terms, please?”
“Fine. I’d just googled Faust, that’s always a good start.”
Mephisto had heard of Google. Enough to want him to stay away from it as much as possible. This dawned on him when he found out about the principles this search engine was built around. The more people click on a subject, the computer nuts like to call it ‘keywords’, the higher its rating; consequently it attracts more and more people to click on it. Snowballing effect. Jumping on the bandwagon. The Devil’s dance, going round and round. No originality, nothing new, only more and more repeats of the same that’s already been known. Good enough for people, of course, but they were devils, and not supposed to be acting in the way ordinary suckers would do. Or were they?
Pheles stopped typing and studied the screen. He looked disappointed.
“I knew it! There are only about thirty six million entries on Faust. Then nearly as many again on Fuastus. OK, here is one ... Faust, Faustus, or Johann Faust, flourished early 16th century, learned German doctor who performed magic and died mysteriously. According to legend he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for youth, knowledge, and magical power. Literary treatments of the story include the Volksbuch of Johannes Spies, 1587, Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, 1593, Goethe's masterpiece Faust, 1808 and 1833—”
Mephisto interrupted him at this point. Goethe was a poet and no slouch, that much he knew. Some even say that he’s the best there ever was, certainly the best German poet. And he, Mephisto, was also a poet. Perhaps they could find some point of resonance here, occurred to him. He told Pheles to look up Goethe and his masterpiece Faust. Pheles’ fingers briskly went through another dancing number.
“Fine. Here … Wikipedia … Goethe’s Faust. The play is a closet drama, meaning that it is meant to be read rather than performed. It is Goethe's most famous work and considered by many to be one of the greatest works of German literature … et cetera … that’s not interesting … Here … Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe’s drama of dissatisfaction, seduction, and infanticide … that looks like some serious staff, doesn’t it? … the play is rooted in German legend, in the academic turmoil of his student days … now listen, student days, that could be a nice diversion for us, don’t you think so?”
“I don’t think so. As far as I know, there were no girl students in those days.”
“You could have a good party without girl students. I’ve been to a few such.”
But Mephisto’s mind was firmly set on the Faust business and on finding a solution to their problem.
“Does it say something about Faust having sold us his soul?”
About selling his soul? Wait a sec … It says here: In part two the focus is no longer on the soul of Faust, which has been sold to the devil, but rather on social phenomena such as psychology, history and politics—“
Mephisto stopped him again.
“That’s enough. I think I’ve got it now. We’re going to use psychology.”
“If you say so. But that’s your domain. I’ll listen.”
“It’s quite simple”, Mephisto said, “Faust obviously wants youth, all humans do, ha wants knowledge and presumably the magical power. He signs up and gets it all, right? All that must have happened sometime early in the 16th century, or so I gather. Some of the writers you mentioned, particularly Marlow, must have picked this Faust theme up within a few decades. But this Goethe’s play came out around eighteen hundred, that means almost three centuries after Faust’s adventure took place. It seems to me that first of all we have to find the original Faust. The guy who gave rise to the legend that inspired Goethe. This Faust wouldn’t know anything about Goethe, and that he, Faust, would be the one to inspire the famous poet. Now, we’re going to tell him about that.”
“What good is that going to do?”
“Can’t you see? Who wouldn’t want to be famous? People always do! That would be our main selling point. Shouldn’t be too hard, we already know that he’s eminently signable, don’t we? After all, we’ve signed him up before!”
“In another reality, you mustn’t forget that.”
“OK, in another reality. But it can’t be all that different, or can it?”
“No, it shouldn’t be.”
“We need to find out as much as we can about him. Is he an egotist? Is he vain, proud, arrogant? We hope that the answer would be ‘yes’ to all these questions, but we need to know this for certain. But we’ve signed the guy up before, so there should be some record of him, somewhere.”
“I don’t think that there are any, Mephisto. You’re too optimistic, I’m afraid. There probably were some records, but these would most likely have been lost in the upheavals during the period of interregnum.”
“Are you sure?”
“Almost certain. I had to look up Leonardo da Vinci for so0me reason recently. He was born in 1452. And I found out that all the records from about 1440 till the early fifteen hundreds were gone. Wiped out completely.”
“When was our Faust born?”
Pheles’ fingers danced again over the keyboard for a while. Again he studied the results on the screen.”
“That’s not quite certain. Some sources say 1480, others as early as 1466. That’s for the birth date of the one Johann Georg Faust, who presumably was the historical Faust.”
“But we are not certain even of that.”
“No, we’ll need to make some crosschecking. But I can tell you even now that it doesn’t look at all good. I’ll make doubly sure that those records were indeed wiped out, but it looks like some legwork will need to be done.”
“OK, let’s assume for now that you’ll find out one way or another that this is the Faust we want, and that he was born in 1480 or earlier. What next?”
“We’ll have to somehow find out about the time he was originally signed-up. I’ll have to do some research into that, leave this to me.”
Pheles loved doing researches; he loved anything to do with computers. Before the computers came along he was into other things, always somewhere near the cutting-edge of technology. But computers have now become his life. Mephisto didn’t know much about them, except that they were made from something called gigabytes, but he could do the simple things with them; read and send out e-mail, basic searches, that sort of tasks. So he wouldn’t be much of use here. But if they needed for some reason to hack the celestial computers, the ones St Peter and his crowd use, he’d back up Pheles as the devil to do it!
“After you’ve done your research, what would you suggest we should do?”
“I need to have the date of our original contract verified. When I know for certain that we have the right guy, we could make our first field trip, only a preliminary one, without making any contact. For that and the ones that would follow, we have go back a little in time, to make sure that this time we do our temptation bit well before it was done the last time, so that—“
“—so that we get him a virgin, so to speak. Then we start again, this time making sure that we don’t make the same mistakes that were done before and that we remain in full control of the situation. How do we go about seducing him?”
“I thought that we’ve agreed that we’ll play on his vanity. Presumably he has one. Most humans do. They usually look after it well, so they rarely lose it.”
“Yes, we’ll play on it, make appeal to his self-importance, we have agreed on that. But I mean, practically.”
Pheles thought about it for a few seconds. Then his face brightened, as an idea came to him.
“I think I’ve got it! We could start by planting a parchment somewhere in his papers, making it appear to be an ancient prophecy about his imminent rise to the realm of the immortals, how does that sound?”
“Why, that’s a wonderful idea! Let’s make him find something that would make him feel important. Let’s dangle the carrot of impending fame in front of our impoverished doctor. At least I presume that he would be impoverished.”
“Poor as a church mouse. That’s the impression I’m getting from this article.”
“Great! Then let him become bedazzled by the imminent glory, by splendour and celebrity that lies in store for him. Let him luxuriate in thoughts about the fellow human beings standing in awe in front of him, the famous superstar, dancing wild rounds around his pedestal, and worshipping him as the Golden Calf!”
“Now that’s the real poet in you talking! This is absolutely perfect. The mortals are always at their most vulnerable while indulging in their egotistic tendencies, in their pride, and in their greed. Now, throw in a bit of sex—“
“We’ll do that, for sure. External sources?”
“If the budget stretches that far…”
“I’m sure it would. If the Boss wants us to treat is as priority.”
“Unfulfilled desire. That’s what evil thrives on. And we are an epitome of evil, aren’t we, Pheles?
“I suppose so. Though sometimes it makes me wonder. You’re such a good—”
“Yes, you too.”
in which we find out
what had happened when
Mephistopheles was sent out
on his first mission, to become
the haunting spirit of the
Goblin and the Goat Tavern
As you should have gathered by now, our hero’s name is Mephisto. It’s a well-known name, and you’ve probably heard it before, most likely in its longer version – Mephistopheles. That was indeed his name originally, but it is not so any more. What happened and why this change, I will tell you in due time. Furthermore, the educated ones amongst you readers, who would be aplenty, by now, would either have assumed, or at least strongly suspect, that Mephistopheles is a devil. Subsequent developments however would only confirm how inaccurate such stereotyping could be.
Piecing it together from available sources, Mephistopheles’ inglorious career with the Hell Inferior Services appears to have been unspectacular in the beginning. Like many young mischievous sprites he was a member of the crew that supplied fuel to the boilers. It seems that that he was a conscientious worker; always eager to please his immediate inferiors (the Hell’s nomenclature is somewhat different and tends to be the opposite to what you would be used to), so his first demotion came relatively soon, after less than six centuries. Mephistopheles became a stoker, which usually represents the nadir in a career of an average devil. Unlike many humans, the devils are not greatly ambitious creatures, vast majority of them being simply too lazy to even think of improving their lowly status, let alone embarking on a determined career drive. You might be excused for thinking that with majority of its labour force being slothful (and that’s putting it mildly), the Hell would be quite ineffective as the corrective institution that it purports to be. But the more I’m finding about this race and indeed about this particular member of it, the more I realise how perfect is the Creator’s plan!
Yes, the devils are the Creator’s adversaries; thus it might look strange to you when I praise His work as I just did. But when the history of this race is more closely examined, it becomes clearer why they are what they are. In the beginning, the devils were not created lazy; originally they were angels, and as such they played a part in the creative process, which was by no means insignificant. It was only after the so-called War in the Heaven and their subsequent fall, popularly known as The Fall of the Angels, when the devils became embroiled in the dense matter. From then on, and only gradually, they developed the characteristics of inferior creatures that they are now known as, with the main defining traits of a typical devilish personality being slothfulness, sluggishness, listlessness, and overall lack of motivation. If you think about it, as I’m now urging you to do, you will not find it so surprising. While the humans, despite all their faults that the devils are here to exploit, are evolving in the upward direction, so to say, towards the Eternal Light that is the Creator, the devils have been stuck with the roles that they were given after the Fall. Consequently they are moving in the opposite direction, following their unremarkable, dull, insignificant, incompetent, shabby leader, the Lord of the Darkness, ever on the march to where he is leading them, in his immense foolishness and endless ridiculousness.
Mephistopheles was not an ordinary devil, as will progressively become obvious as you are reading this book. It’s not that he would dislike his race, his fellow beings. But he was born a little different from the rest of them; he was born a poet. Well, to be quite honest, he was only a graphomaniac at first, but he was going to develop into a fully-fledged poet. And as a poet he would have the licence to say what he thought. That his fellow beings are a race of bummers, good for nothing, going nowhere… He would have told you even then that, generally speaking, it is only their deep-seated aversion to cold conditions that reliably gets them off their bums and working, if only in order to keep warm. Eternal sufferings and gnashing of the teeth, which helped to make the reputation of this re-educational establishment as one of the toughest around, are therefore only little more then a by-product of the devils' intense dislike of chill!
It could be safely said that Mephistopheles had always belonged to those five percent or so of the Hell’s inhabitants who aspired to something higher, well in their case it would perhaps be more appropriate to say lower. Hardly two millenniums had passed since his birth, and he had already found himself in a supervising position, and even before his three thousandth birthday arrived, most amazingly, he had managed to secure another demotion. This one was really significant, because it meant that he could forever say goodbye to the boilers, for which he wasn’t at all sorry. Mephistopheles then undertook a brief, three centuries long training course, at the end of which he was assigned to the Special Squad of Brigadier Grimonarehael Burncaster.
The spectrum of activities of this Special Squad is very wide indeed, however in the most general terms it is, and for ever and a day will be, directly or indirectly, concerned with disrupting, troublemaking, provoking, confusing, meddling and interfering with a variety of affairs of for the most part bewildered, befuddled and mystified, members of the human race. Our (anti)hero’s early assignments were all relatively simple cases. He was working for some time as a member of a larger team, and because he had acquitted himself well, partially because of his youthful fervour, but at least to some extend due to his being imaginative in his work, he was singled out for yet another demotion. It came in a blink of time, barely half a millennium. The word had reached the ear of the big boss himself, and Mephistopheles was summoned up to appear in front of the impuissant Brigadier.
The Brigadier inhabited a luxurious suite equipped with stylish furniture, including divans, well appointed and with the burning charcoal finish, which even at the first glance looked extremely comfortable. Mephistopheles wouldn’t have minded if the boss had invited him to sit in one of these, but apparently he was too small a fish to be afforded such a privilege. Instead, throughout the interview that followed he had to remain standing on the carpet of smouldering grizzle, in front of his Infernal Inferiority’s desk. The desk too was most impressive, made up of some kind of metal, which may have been precious. However, this was hard to tell because it was glowing red and emitting a strong heat. The old scratch looked over thoroughly the young devil, who stood kicked up his heels in front of him. Then for a while he occupied himself with picking his nose, which task had obviously required his full attention, leaving Mephistopheles standing in front of his desk erect and stiff, wondering what might come next.
Eventually, the nose clean to his satisfaction, the Brigadier’s piercing eyes turned back to Mephistopheles. His mouth had widened in what looked almost like a grin, but on the other hand it could well have only been only caused by indigestion. Then, as if to confirm the correctness of this latest observation, he gave out a loud belch. As they travelled over the heated desk, the gasses that formed it had ignited, resulting in quite a spectacular flare, which had only just missed his inferior’s shoulder on its way to the wall behind him. Only after this exhibition, Mephistopheles finally had the pleasure of hearing his boss’ raucous voice:
"I've received some deplorable reports concerning you, young devil! Quite lamentable, atrocious, horrid, really."
Mephistopheles had quite naturally blushed with pride and satisfaction over the old fart’s praise, though fortunately for him, effects of the heat in the room would have made such possibly damning evidence of effeminacy hard to detect.
"I'm only trying to do my worst, your Inferiority."
The old fiend drilled into his face with another long and penetrating look. He farted loudly, which for a split second gave him an extra tail of orange colour, but this time the grin that followed was unmistakably filled with satisfaction. He stood up from his chair for a few seconds, and Mephistopheles immediately jumped to it. But it turned out that Burnacaster only did this to allow himself to scratch his groin with more ease. He sat back again into his executive chair with a heavy grunt, and once again looked up searchingly into the young devil’s face.
"Would you feel ready for going onto a solo mission, Mephistopheles?"
"Your Inferiority is very kind. Yes, I am ready!"
"Unsanctified shit! That's the word of a true fallen spirit! I'm going to give you an important assignment. Now go to the Insignificant Commander Tzernobog Daramsuphael's office, he will brief you."
Mephistopheles bowed to Grimonarehael Burncaster and left, the feeling of joy filling the rock bottom of his worthless soul. He didn’t know it yet, but he was about to meet the devil that would play an important part in the development of his entire career. As it turned out, the Commander Tzernobog Daramsuphael was already expecting him. There was more austerity immediately apparent in the style with which this executive’s office was equipped. However, in contrast to this desponding sternness, Mephistopheles’ future Boss himself was rather a dashing figure. Though a little short in statue, everything about him was elegant, well mannered, courtly and graceful. His speech was that of a well-mannered and educated devil, which in Hell is quite a rarity. Erudite devils are generally self-taught, as the educational system is rudimentary and would mostly be a hindrance rather than help to those seeking true advancement of their personality. All this, at this stage at least, Mephistopheles would have known only intuitively, as the standard of his own education was only average, and was to remain so until the events that will be described later in this narration. Unlike the Brigadier, Commander Daramsuphael had offered the young devil a seat, before he spoke.
"Do you realize what you have scored, you lucky devil?"
"I think I do, your Insignificance."
"Then don't make a mincemeat out of it, that's all I'm asking of you. Under no circumstances leave your post, unless you are specifically instructed to do so, capisto?"
"Yes, your Insignificance. May I ask where I'm being sent?"
Rather than rebuking Mephistopheles for such impertinence, the Commander Daramsuphael appeared quite pleased with this show of active interest on part of his charge. He pulled out one of the drawers in his desk and rummaged in it for a while, until he found a map made of the human skin, which is the way much of printed matter found in Hell is being produced. He spread it out on the top of his desk.
"Come here, look at this map. See these two towns? They are called Chillingbluff and Freezingthorpe. The only connection between these two is this road, which rounds this large lake. It winds up and goes the long way around, because these mountains on the other shore are too steep for a proper road to be built there that would allow horse-driven vehicles to use it. There’s only a treacherous and dangerous trail, for the bravest to use. The distance between the two towns is such that no horse driven carriage could cover it in a day, meaning that the travellers need to make an overnight stop. For this purpose, a wayside tavern was built roughly in the middle, right here. It’s named The Goblin and the Goat Tavern.”
Mephistopheles had previously walked around the Commander’s table; now he looked over his shoulder at the map. The tavern indeed appeared to be quite distant from the two towns, and surrounded by the forest that, on the maps at least, looked rather dense. If that’s where they intend to send him, he was going to be rather lonely and isolated. He was under no illusion that he would be receiving a great deal of support. He has heard the stories some other guys told about their first pitch, and it was obvious that the devils on their first assignment were never handled with gloves. He could look forward to being thrown in, while expected to learn to swim on his own. Mephistopheles got back to his chair. The Boss probably read at least some of these thoughts from his face, because he said:
“Yes, you’ll have to learn to bear your own cross.”
With these words, to maintain the bon ton, Daramsuphael turned around and spat into the fire that burned under a medium sized boiler situated near the wall behind his back; the standard piece of furnishing in many administrators’ offices. One day I will surely have one of my own, the pleasurable thought quickly went through Mephistopheles’ head. The devil’s spittle caused the flames to angrily flare up. A protracted sound of wailing, followed by several loud and exceptionally imaginative profanities, could be heard faintly from the inside. It arose Mephistopheles’ curiosity, but Daramsuphael paid no attention to it and continued with the presentation.
“For the past century, speaking in the human terminology, the tavern has been run by a single family, and that's where our problem lies. The present owner, an accursed soul, his father before him, a rotten character, and even his grandfather, the king of all scoundrels, have all been loathsomely honest, depressingly virtuous and repellently pious people. That’s completely out of character. Normally, of course, we would expect a tavern such as this to be a seat of immorality, depravity, malfeasance and wickedness. Yet, over so many years, with this god-dammed lot around, we haven't had even one measly case of rigged card game or a single throw of loaded dice reported to us by our agents from this place. Simply unbelievable. No respectable confidence tricksters, not even any part-time prostitutes known to us, have ever worked on the premises. As soon as anyone even shows so much as an inkling towards any similarly delectable activity, the taverner immediately acts and kicks him or her out. Why, he even insists on always giving all his guests the perfect measure of beer! Isn't that downright disgusting?"
"Sickening, your Insignificance," Mephistopheles agreed hastily, though while understanding the essence of this speech, he had problems with many of the words Daramsuphael was using. He made a mental note of it that one day, when he had the opportunity, he would begin to seriously work on improving his still very basic vocabulary, to be more like this devil, in whom he was beginning to perceive a shining example of what a go-getting sprite should be like. It would help him with his writing, too. Daramsuphael smiled to himself a little, and for a second Mephistopheles felt certain that he must have been reading his thoughts. He continued in the same vein.
"It is burdensome, onerous and intolerable. We simply must rectify this quandary at once! This is where you come in, Mephistopheles. We must either do something with this taverner to get him moving along the correct path of depravity as he should, or we must get rid of him and his family once and for all! Now, do you have any suggestions as to what we should do, Mephistopheles?"
"I was thinking, why don't we try to tempt him to enter into a pact with us? Your Insignificance."
"We've already tried that, naturally. No chance, sadly, he and his family appear to be beyond any temptation."
"In that case I would try to persistently haunt the place until I chase them out, your Insignificance."
"Bravo! How would you go about this? Tell me."
"Well, for starters, by appearing to the taverner and his family in my natural form. That usually scares most people to the point of making them run away, Your Insignificance."
"Well, you are still a greenhorn, aren't you? I'm afraid, that this just wouldn't do. Our taverner’s not stupid, and because he's already had some approaches from us, he would know straight away what's going on. He'd most likely be immediately calling for an exorcist. Not that we do awfully mind a bit of exorcism thrown at us here and there, we all know that it works only on very rare occasions, but in this case it just might work at least to some extend, because of this fellow's accursed purity of soul. I spit on him and on his kin!"
Daramsuphael again turned around to ritually spit into the fire behind him. A similar array of swearwords followed. This time the devil laughed while pointing his finger at the boiler:
"Archie over there could indeed tell us some stories about exorcism, he surely would have conducted quite a few such rituals during his earthly sojourn, when he was a bishop. I've always been very fond of keeping former members of the clergy in this boiler!”
He laughed some more, and then turned serious again.
“But let's get back to our business. How good are you in changing appearances?”
"I can do a cat with fiery eyes, a black cockerel, a headless knight..."
"In other words, the kindergarten stuff. I can see that before I could let you out on such important mission, I'll have to send you through a crush course on image altering. Try to get as much as you can out of it, so that you can use it when you are out there. My secretary will fix that, and my adjutant will look after this case from here on. You can go now, and remember that I don't want to see your face again, until you come back to report to me that the tavern has a new and befitting taverner!"
It is time now to tell you about this Mephistopheles’ first single mission. Time-wise it belongs to approximately the same historical period as the Faust trip, which I will describe to you later. However, the exact time and point in space can no longer be verified, because the official records have been lost. Quite understandably Mephisto himself was a little vague about it; at the time he was still relatively uneducated, with little knowledge of human history. The mission turned out to be very important to his further development, and it was to change his life in a major way.
Immediately after the beginning of this new assignment it was obvious to Mephistopheles that it was not going to be an easy one. He had made some preliminary searches, all of them strictly in accordance to the rulebook that was handed to him at the end of the image-altering course, which he had to undertake before he was allowed to go. It didn’t take him long to realize that the taverner, which he was expected to prevail upon, was going to be an even harder nut to crack than Daramsuphael had painted him during the briefing session. Mephistopheles felt that his introduction to this tough character had to be as impressive as possible. After some deliberation he had decided that for the first haunting session he would appear in the guise his instructors had greatly favoured; that of the already mentioned three-headed rabies afflicted black mongrel. He practised this one, and several other disguises, every day during the course, and also in the evenings, when most of the other lads would go out with the young she-devils, to have some good time.
Mephistopheles was too shy to ask a girl-devil out, I suppose, so he hardly ever went out with any. When one or two had shown some interest in him, or so it seemed, they were of the kind that didn’t interest him much. Once, as he later told me, he took a girl he thought he might fancy for a walk in the Burnt Forest, which was the favourite place for rendezvous. But when he’d begun to recite a poem to her, a particularly good one, as he then thought, about his burning heart and such things, thinking that it might impress her, it didn’t work at all. Instead of hugging and kissing him before sinking submissively onto the carpet of smouldering cinders, as she would invariably do in his imagination, the object of his endeavours had kind of cooled down inexplicably. I have never had a chance to meet a frigid she-devil, and most of you probably never had such an opportunity either, but from what Mephisto told me it is not a pretty sight. So after this fiasco, and a few more botched attempts at starting a relationship, by the time he was going to depart on his mission, Mephistopheles was still a virgin. That bothered him greatly, but perhaps not quite so much as his perceived failings as a rhymester.
Rather than going to The Goblin and the Goat Tavern immediately after his arrival, Mephistopheles had made the final check of his appearance by looking at the reflections on the surface of the nearby water hole. It was well hidden from the sight by the trees, bushes and dense undergrowth, and because of this he had intended to establish here his temporary base for the forthcoming operations. He really liked what was staring back at him from the makeshift mirror. It was therefore rather disappointing when shortly afterwards it turned out that the taverner was nowhere nearly as impressed as he was. Mephistopheles’ supposedly ghastly appearance left the good man completely unfazed, to say the least. He just spat on the floor loudly and, with a poker that he happened to have in his hand, he chased the intruder all the way up to the attic. With nowhere else to run Mephistopheles was forced to pop out quickly in a puff of smoke, finding a refuge in the fourth dimension, where at least he could catch on his breath, while trying to rethink his obviously flawed tactics.
Subsequently he tried to assume several different shapes of various sizes, ranging from an enormous headless rat to an obese baby elephant with rotting tusks and runny nose, but only once he had achieved even a partial success, when he startled the taverner’s youngest daughter, an eighteen year old beauty, while posing as a naked man with excessive amount of bodily hair and prominence of some other parts of the anatomy, drowned in the bathtub that she was about to enter. When the daughter regained her speech and her mobility, she had ran out of the bathroom yelling for help from her father, who at the time happened to be in the kitchen. Precisely at that moment Mephistopheles thought it wise to withdraw quietly and with some dignity, and walked while dripping water all over the stairs, rather than providing the taverner with another opportunity for chasing him up to the attic, this time with the meat cleaver.
By now he was verging on despair. After several months of intense haunting at the tavern he had accomplished nothing. Even the youngest daughter would now only give out shrieks of laughter, when she saw him walking towards her as a horse’s head on a rooster’s legs, or as a giant caterpillar with the human hands holding a hangman’s noose. Eventually things got so bad that Mephistopheles would hardly ever enter the building, for fear of further humiliation. He already pieced it together that his former instructors were wrong in their overall assessment, and they sadly lacked imagination. He desperately needed to come up with some new ideas, if his mission was not to be a total failure. Just at this point of hopelessness, a chance happening helped him to evaluate his whole strategy. Immersed in the cloud of depressive thoughts, Mephistopheles was hovering above the roof of the tavern in the form of a winged goat, when a horse cart with a couple of travellers pulled up in front of the building. As soon as they saw him the men went pale, and when he turned around and began to descent slowly towards them, they fell into a state of uncontrollable panic. They jumped back into their hearse and drove away at speed, continuing to scream in horror even after the trees of the forest hid him from their sight.
This incident helped Mephistopheles to immediately gain new confidence. After all, he told himself, his principal task was to get rid of the taverner, and it was not really all that important how he would go about it. If in a similar manners he would manage to scare all, or at least most, potential guests away from the tavern, in the end the wretched publican would have to pack up his bags and take his family to some other place, where they would be able to make a living. Or, if their natural stubbornness prevailed, the whole family would gloriously starve to death. Once they were gone, the chances were that whoever might replace them would be less honest and more acceptable to Mephistopheles’ superiors. It was a brilliant plan, and he had begun to put it in practise immediately. He found himself an elevated position on a hill near the lake, from where he could observe the approaches to the tavern from either side. As soon as he spotted any potential guests coming, he would fly up and perform one or two of his tricks, even those that had previously left his antagonist completely unimpressed. The hapless travellers were far easier to prey upon. All Mephistopheles needed to do was appear above their heads, as a dragon, a giant fly, a headless horse rider, or his price creation, Tyrannosaurus Rex ridden by a headless knight.
The latter was probably far too good and wasted on the travelling public, for whom practically anything that had a whiff of the supernatural in it was enough. Upon seeing any of Mephistopheles’ creations, nearly every prospective guest had run, ridden or driven away, in one or the other direction, as fast as they could. The remaining few would run inside the tavern, to take refuge there. He could well imagine the taverner or his wife trying to sweet-talk them into not believing what they had seen, but he had more tricks he could show them. As soon as they had settled in their rented room and began to feel a little cosy, he would pay them another visit – as a half decayed corpse, a rattling skeleton or, if they looked prosperous, the Tax Inspector. The guests left hurriedly, nearly always without paying their bills, and who would have blamed them? Before long, the reputation of the Haunted Tavern had spread around sufficiently for people to avoid the place altogether, preferring camping by the side of the road to renting a room in the eerie place. Mephistopheles took great care of properly entertaining the few would-be adventurers who came to get some thrills in the place, which further enhanced its status as the number one haunted place in the county.
After all this he was really looking forward to seeing the previously well-to-do tavern holder leave the place a pauper, but the Forces of Goodness once again pulled an ace out of their endlessly deep sleeve. Before he could have suffered any serious losses, the news reached the taverner that some distant aunt of his had died, and that she had made him an heir to her not inconsiderable fortune. Well, rotten as he was in those days, for once Mephistopheles felt really happy for the man, as it meant that he could give up the haunting, the repetitiveness of which was beginning to make him feel quite tired. The taverner with his family had almost immediately left the tavern, abandoning it to its fate, and moving away to their new faraway estates where, as Mephistopheles was eventually to find out, he had established a home for the depraved youths and another for the elderly, both run in conjunction with several other similarly worthy projects. Before long the former taverner was well on his way towards gaining a new reputation as a great and revered philanthropist and, who knows, perhaps even a saint?
The main objective of Mephistopheles’ mission was thus reached – the taverner had departed, though the whole affair had left some lingering doubts in his mind as to whether he should take the full credit for his demise. The course of his duty however had not yet ended. You may remember that Daramsuphael said to Mephistopheles that he should not report back to him until the tavern had a new and fitting keeper. This now presented a major problem. Had the previous owner not received his inheritance, he would have probably sold the property, and even with the bad name it had gained recently, no doubt someone would have bought it for peanuts, giving our devil the chance to work on him and steer him in the desired direction. Then he would finally be in a position to go and report the successful end of his mission to his superior. But no new owner was coming, and thus there was nothing to report. There wasn’t anyone either to whom Mephistopheles would be able to tell about the lack of activity on the site since the departure of taverner and his family. Since his arrival on the site, no one came to check on him. It was beginning to look a little strange to our devil.
For some time he didn’t worry too much about this and simply enjoyed the holidays he had gained so unexpectedly. Still, no new owners were coming. No inspectors or any messengers from Hell came either, and by now Mephistopheles was really becoming worried. Without the permission to leave the site he was tied up to the tavern and to the immediate area, which he was not able to leave. He tried on a few occasions, but found out soon that some invisible forces were at work that prevented him from moving beyond a certain point in space and time.
Meanwhile, the former occupant still owned the house, but with his newly found wealth and other interests, obviously he was not much concerned about doing anything about the building, which was rapidly becoming to fall into the state of disrepair. No one appeared to be interested either in taking over as a manager of the tavern, which, on top of all this, had suddenly found itself in the middle of nowhere.
There was a new development. Some enterprising individual had been able to convince the elders of Chillingbluff about the great potential that lay behind building a new road on the other shore of the lake, leading over the previously impassable mountains. The road was built in surprisingly short time, which connected the two cities while shortening the trip from two days to only one day. As was to be expected, the new road had taken virtually all the traffic that existed between the two towns. As Mephistopheles was about to find out, the haunted tavern would soon become no more than the stuff of fairy tales.
While Mephistopheles was on his mission at the Goblin and the Goat Tavern, a great deal was happening in Hell that he had no idea about at all. Much of it, which is now part of history, he only found out about later. Soon after his departure there were some major upheavals that affected the entire Hell. For you to understand what had happened, I will have to explain to you, at least in rudimental form, the political system under which Hell, where the majority of forces of Evil are ensconced, operates. Because these forces are the opposite to the forces of Goodness, it all concerns you humans too. It so happens that the two conflicting forces have made of you, unsuspecting as you are, their major battlefield.
No matter how hard you may try, from your position as humans you are unable to fully comprehend how the world was originally created. For something to exist and continue in its existence, things have to not only happen, but also keep happening. This can only go on while there are the positive and the negative sides of things. In other words, there has to be some room left for Evil, if you want Goodness to shine through. Otherwise, how would you be able to see it for what it is? The abode of Evil, popularly known as Hell, thus has been in existence since the beginning of time. Some explain it this way: In the beginning there were the archangels created, together with hosts of angels. They were given the task of running the world, and because of this the Creator bestowed the gift of free will upon them. Some of these archangels, however, had rebelled against the rest of the angelic forces, because they became too arrogant and swollen with pride over their own importance. What happened next is uncertain, but some sort of a war broke out in Heaven, between the good angels and the bad angels. Some say that the good angels managed to throw the bad ones down by force; others disagree, insisting that the bad ones, lead by Satan, had left the Heaven by themselves. In any case, ever since there have been the two rivalling forces, always potentially at each others’ throats, one high above in Heaven, the other deep down in Hell.
Because our main hero, and whether this happened by accident or by design is irrelevant, belongs to the latter camp, habitually he would be siding with the forces of evil, because it comes to him naturally. But let’s not forget that he too would carry, buried somewhere deep, very deep inside him, a tiny spark of the original goodness, which is completely hidden under the alluvium of evil, wickedness, malevolence, immorality, and everything else that makes the devils what they are.
Such indeed is our Mephistopheles. Here, he finds himself in a situation, when for the first time his unquestionable loyalty to his side is going to be tested. Thus far, he had had the full confidence in the system that had put him where he is, but this system now failed him. He doesn’t know it yet, but he was abandoned and left stranded in the time warp. It might only turn out to be a temporary failing of the system, but the seed that is already there (why else would he want to be a poet?) will be met with some moisture that could, if the circumstances would allow it, make it grow in a different direction. The direction that the awakened free will would take it to…
Having digested the above information, it might not surprise you too much that the political system in Hell is based on the best method mankind thinks it has invented, namely the parliamentary democracy. There are two major parties, the Realistic Ecological Demonic Sadomasochists (REDS), and the Gorgeously Realistic Economic Enthusiasts of Netherworld (GREEN). The latter, lead by the Prime Minister, Luciferus, had been in power for a very long time, even if we take into consideration the difference in the time scales between the two dimensions. To put it into the terms perhaps more understandable to the reader, the last time the REDS had found themselves in power, with their leader Sataniel occupying the Prime-Ministerial chair, was towards the end of the Cretaceous period. Prior to this term in the office, the REDS also had to spend a long period on the Opposition benches; thus suddenly invigorated by their victory, they were eager to leave their marks on all aspects of the Government. The party was totally committed to introducing a series of radical changes to the system that existed for many millions of years, and numerous bills were being rushed through the Parliament during the three and a half million years that immediately followed.
The REDS were eventually kicked out of the office, after a disgruntled member of the Cabinet leaked reports on the looming environmental disaster. Overuse, bad maintenance, and indeed bad construction of the Hell’s atomic reactors, was the reason behind it. An investigative journalist, who had slept with one of the directors of the Energy Vital Industrial Laboratories (EVIL) found out from him in pillow talk that several of the main reactors were made of steel, which was originally meant to be used for manufacturing of chamber pots for night commodes. However, an unscrupulous salesman sold it to the construction company that had built the reactors. When the Union bosses of the Atomic Reactor Maintenance Services (ARMS) made the momentous decision to impose the work to rule on its members, there was a meltdown in one of the main reactors.
As this all happened right in the middle of the election campaign, the incumbent party practically overnight had found itself in deep troubles. The opinion polls predicted the Opposition victory, and on the Election Day, Satanus’ previously comfortable parliamentary majority was indeed wiped out. I will not dwell further on this rather short and therefore relatively insignificant episode in the Hell’s ancient history; suffice to say that it also contributed in a major way to wiping most species of the dinosaurs off the surface of the Earth. The period of the REDS government during the Cretaceous period is the key to this largely misunderstood and in the Earthly scientific circles still hotly debated event.
There were many similar blunders committed by the REDS during their infamous term in office, which had cost the dinosaur species so dearly. The legacy of these had subsequently kept them on the Opposition benches for the ensuing sixty five million years, with their leader earning the somewhat derogative nickname “The Fallen Angel”. Though the electors in Hell tend to have longer memories than their human counterparts; nevertheless, in the more recent times voices had begun to appear, saying that the REDS must have surely learned their lesson, that the GREENS have by now become thoroughly incompetent, corrupted and arrogant, that they should be voted out, and that the REDS should be given another chance of leading an economical reform. Eventually, a whole new movement had formed with a glaring political slogan: ‘The Climate has to change!’. Several successful rallies and marches in support of climate change ultimately sealed victory for the REDS in the next election.
The first decree of the new Government was raising the warmth of their seats by 1000°C. The next bill that was rushed through the Parliament declared all positions in the Public Service vacant. The REDS had immediately begun to fill them with their own supporters. Senior public servants and officers, like Burncaster or Daramsuphael, not only found themselves without a job, but many were under Hell's police investigation for fraudulent practices and similar misdemeanours. Before vacating their offices they had frantically been burning tons of documents. Inside the boiler in Daramsuphaels' office, the poor Archie must have had suffered greatly, as the fire underneath him was constantly being fed with more and more parchments. However, he did not know yet at the time that he was soon to be compensated, as the newly appointed Attorney General would reopen his case without much delay. The Supreme Court subsequently declared Archie innocent of any misdemeanours, and had not only fully rehabilitated, but also even compensated him, arranging for his speedy reincarnation on Earth, with the objective of his becoming a future Pope.
With the frantic and largely indiscriminate burning of the documents that went on, the file on Mephistopheles’ mission must have inevitably also ended up in the flames. There was nothing incriminating in it at all; on the contrary, it could have even served as proof of the outgoing administrator's diligence. Nevertheless, it was now burned, and with it all the evidence of his mission, and even of his very existence. His personal file, which was attached to the mission file, had also been destroyed. The few devils, which knew of the various missions that were currently on, had too many problems of their own to give a damn about what might have happened to any of the envoys that were presently on Earth, such as Mephistopheles.
Having had no contact with his superiors for such a long time, Mephistopheles was naturally unaware of all the political upheavals that went on in Hell. He expected some inspector to drop in, or at least a messenger to turn up with some additional instructions, but no one came. When nothing at all happened for several years, he gradually came to accept what was becoming painfully obvious, that for some reason they must have forgotten all about him and about his mission. He had no idea why, but from the past experience he knew that the Hell’s mills could sometimes grind in strange ways. Still he believed that somebody would eventually come to check up on him. With nothing and no one disturbing the tranquillity of the surrounding deep forest, Mephistopheles felt extremely lonely. To be at least near some habitat, albeit a human one, he had moved more or less permanently into the old tavern.
As time went by, the condition of the tavern, of both approach roads, and of everything connected with it, had been rapidly deteriorating. The once busy road, now empty of traffic, had turned into an overgrown trail, then a narrow footpath, while in places it almost disappeared altogether. Fundamentally being just a lazy devil, Mephistopheles would have been the last one to do anything about this. All he would do during the winter was periodically picking up some dry wood, to keep the fire in the tavern’s main room fireplace going, as he was used to similar chores since the days of his youth. True, compared to the hellish fires this one was not even like a burning candle, but at least it gave him, the poor exiled devil, some physical warmth, together with a sense of being at home. This became even more pronounced when he was able to bring in the proper logs. He had appropriated several axes and saws. They were left abandoned on the ground by a team of lumberjacks, who had somehow strayed into these parts of the forest. Mephistopheles had watched them at work for some time, trying to learn as much as he could of their craft, including sharpening the axes, etc. When he decided that he had seen enough, he visited them disguised as a green monster of the forest, of which he had overheard one of them telling the others ghostly stories. The workers all ran away screaming in horror, leaving their tools on the ground, exactly as he had anticipated. After this, chopping the wood became an integral part of his daily routine, and gradually he became quite fond of it. The thoughts of gloom and despair over being abandoned by his own folk seemed to disperse for a while, each time he took up the axe. Eventually he became so good with it that he could have easily made a living by woodcutting, but he had nowhere to sell the products of his labour.
You might think that the devils, being the creatures of supernatural origin, do not have any of the basic requirements, such as food, water, warmth, et cetera. Nothing is farther from the truth. The devils have similar needs to those you humans have, especially when they find themselves on a mission in the physical body, like our hero did. On the physical plane the basic laws of physics apply, therefore the body has to be nourished and kept suitably warm. In summer there is plenty of grub to be found about the forest, to feed and satisfy a devil, so long as he is not too fastidious. Mephistopheles certainly was not pernickety, at least not at the beginning. Frogs and especially toads became his staple diet, as they are tasty and relatively easy to catch. An occasional snake was a real delicacy, especially as his venom is completely harmless to their species, in fact when slowly sucked, it acts as a kind of tonic. There were also mice, rats, earthworms, grasshoppers, lizards and lots of other small creatures, with a real bon-bon amongst them the ever-present blowfly.
The task of finding food became much harder during the winter months, especially if there was a lot of snow, which happened on the first winter he was forced to spend around the abandoned tavern, and when he had only barely survived. Well, with reference to the licence that he possesses as a poet, we could sometimes exaggerate slightly, but let me assure you that even though devils aren’t mortal they could still starve badly. Mephistopheles was becoming desperate, when the bad lack that had plagued him thus far had suddenly left and things had turned around. He had discovered, quite accidentally, that his devilish belches, when properly aimed, could temporarily paralyse some small game, normally quite hard to catch, like hare or rabbit. Having gained some practice he was soon able to catch just enough of these creatures to keep him going. Initially he would eat them raw, but soon he had begun to roast his quarry on the logs in the fire place, at first quite understandably without even thinking of skinning it or removing the entrails. A little later on he even made himself some crude clothing from the skins, to better stand out the ravages of weather. As the time went by he slowly stopped thinking about the place he had come from, about his mission, and about everything connected with it. The Hell had abandoned him and therefore he felt little loyalty towards it; furthermore he was far too preoccupied with the mechanics of survival in the dilapidated tavern to have anything left for sentimentalities. He simply lived from one meal to the next meal, from one day to the next day, from one summer to the next summer...
Mephistopheles had no idea for how long he had been leading this hermit-like existence in the abandoned building. Over the years that went by he had learned that the winter does indeed ask you what you have laid by in summer, so each coming winter had found him a little better prepared. He discovered how to trap the larger animals, such as the deer, abundant in the forest. After a time he took to smoking their meat in the chimney, and had even begun to collect and dry in the attic some kinds of berries, which in the early years of his exile he would not have even considered edible. He had also found out that he could really enjoy eating vegetarian food, some of which he even preferred to the frogs, mice and snakes, only with one notable exception, the viper. When properly prepared and hung about three quarter way up the chimney, a smoked viper is much tastier than the smoked eel, mainly because it does not taste so much of fish oil.
Then a winter came along that turned out to be far more severe than any that had preceded it, while living in the ruins of the old tavern. It was the time of the year when the snow would normally have long been gone, but this time plenty of it was still lying on the ground and more snowflakes were still falling. There was no smoked meat left in the chimney, no dried berries in the cupboard, nothing to eat in the whole tavern. It was an early evening, and Mephistopheles was lying in front of the fireplace, huddled up, because it helped to keep his empty stomach from making rumbling noises. Suddenly he heard something from the outside; it sounded like neighing of a horse. It had sounded once, then for the second time, and louder, more desperate. For a while, nothing happened. Then he heard a series of different sounds, like a noise of stomping feet. Quite obviously, someone was shaking the snow off his boots on the porch. Instinctively Mephistopheles had made himself invisible, and in this state he floated to the windowsill, from which point he intended to observe the visitor who dared to disturb his solitude. At this stage he no longer expected any callers from the nether regions, having long given up on his fellow tribesmen. That suspicion was soon confirmed as the steps sounded nearer the door. Even before the visitor would open it, the devil could smell a human. Still, he was not quite prepared for what he was about to see.
Ever since she was a young girl, Brigitte was hearing stories about the haunted tavern at the other end of the lake. Now she was about to find out if any of this might be true. She very much doubted that, still, who knew? She was on the run from Chillingbluff via the old road, and she had the choice of either staying in this place overnight and giving the horse a chance to recover from the daylong sojourn, or risk going on, all the way to Freezingthorpe. As she was approaching the tavern in her horse driven sled, the old building looked very much run down, almost a ruin. But it still had a roof above and, Brigitte couldn’t believe her eyes, there was some smoke rising up from the chimney! ‘Someone must be living there’, she said to herself. That was a good, if unexpected news. Whoever the occupier might be, he or she, or perhaps they (?), hopefully would not send her away and refuse to let her stay overnight. She would explain to them that it would only be for one night, and she’d be on her way again first thing in the morning.
Brigitte could feel through the reins she held in her hands that the horse was slowly becoming more and more hesitant, as they were nearing the dilapidated building. Finally he stopped in his tracks, while they were still some distance away. Brigitte tried to coerce him into continuing, at first quite gently, but he still refused to go, telling her so loudly, in the way only horses know how. She must have gotten a little too impatient, jerking the leading rein too abruptly, which caused the animal to suddenly turn around violently. His sweeping movement tipped the sled to its side, and Brigitte tumbled ingloriously into the snow. As she was picking herself up from the bank of snow she fell into, she could hear more neighing of the desperate stallion, now well on his way back to where they both came from, pulling the lolloping sled behind. Brigitte watched the spectacle in some disbelief, until the horse with the sled, now devoid of the weight of her body as well as the burden of the two knapsacks that held all of her worldly possessions, in the fading light disappeared behind the pine and birch trees.
Dragging the two pieces of luggage in the snow behind her, Brigitte slowly reached the porch of the house. The snow around looked undisturbed, but because of the smoke that came from the chimney she knew that someone had to be inside. She deliberately made as much noise as possible while getting rid of the snow on her boots and the fur coat she had worn, hoping that somebody might come to the door to greet her. Nobody came. With a deep sigh, she turned the handle and pushed the door in. It opened with a squeak, but relatively easily.
“Is anyone home?” she yelled inside. She did that one more time, after a few seconds. Then once again. No response. It was strange. Maybe whoever was in the house previously had gone out, perhaps through some back door. Brigitte walked around the house, looking for the back door and found it, closed, even locked up, quite apparently not having been used in a long time.
Well, for the time at least, she had the whole lounge of the former tavern to herself, including the fireplace with smouldering logs. She gave out another shout, just in case anyone might hear her. The fireplace was inviting, so she pulled one of the heavy oak benches nearer it and sat down, taking off the mittens, trying to warm up her frozen hands. After a while she stood up and took off even her fur coat, as it was too heavy to sit in comfortably. She even unwound the scarf around her neck, and let down her hair, which was now all wet from the thawing snow. That’s when she heard the noise.
“Is anyone there?” she repeated, not really expecting any response now. The tales about the haunted tavern might yet turn out to be true. Brigitte turned around, away from the fire, looking at the several tables and a number of chairs scattered about, some in an advanced state of disrepair. One of them toppled over right in front of her eyes, quite suddenly and without an apparent cause. It was nerve lacerating, but she wasn’t in a position to let such things disturb her too obviously. Whoever it might be playing such games with her, isn’t going to get the satisfaction of seeing her break down. She was quite determined to stave her ground. Maybe she could somehow last through the night, and then in the daylight, perhaps with some lack, find the runaway horse, and be on her way.
More clatter, again from behind her. Brigitte turned around, facing the fireplace. One of the broken chairs had landed in the firing space, sending out a flury of sparks, again on its own, and without anyone handling it visibly. She was going to have to be brave, even though she felt the fear creeping over her back. She said aloud, while trying to sound as cool as possible:
“Thank you, whoever you are. I could use more of the warmth!”
Nothing happened for a while, contrary to Brigitte’s expectations. As she was about to sit down again in front of the fire, she heard a loud thump, which made her turn abruptly, facing the room once again. In the middle, where one time probably was a small dancing floor, lay something. It looked like a human leg. It must have fallen from somewhere above, but the ceiling seemed undisturbed. It was quite disgusting, but if that Somebody, a ghost or whatever, thought that it would now make her run away screaming, he was wrong. She just mumbled:
Again, there was a pause. Then another leg fell down, emerging from the space somewhere near the ceiling. This time it was accompanied by an even louder noise, and when Brigitte looked more carefully, she could see why. Instead of a foot it had a hoof at its end, which was what must have had met the wooden floor with such loud, dull, thumping noise. This was becoming quite a spectacle, and the joker who did this must quite obviously be a devil. The hoof seemed to carry that kind of message. The show was now well on the way, and all she could do was continue as a spectator. Both legs stood upright, then together they began to walk around the room, eventually breaking into a run. It looked rather silly, but also blood chilling at the same time.
More noise came with another falling object. This time it turned out to be the trunk of a body with arms attached; it looked human. It had rolled on the floor, pushing itself around with the arms. Finally it landed on top of the running legs, and became integrated with them. The headless body proceeded to walk around the room, this time more slowly. Though it was quite repulsive, Brigitte nevertheless forced herself to applaud the joker loudly.
“Bravo! What a fantastic trick!”
“It’s not a trick. I’m the Devil!”
The voice sounded from behind her, and it had born a tone of stubborn defiance. She turned back towards the fireplace, and there was an ugly horned head sitting on the mantelpiece that must have uttered the words.
“Of course, you are, my dear”, Brigitte said to it, trying to sound indifferent. "I'm not blind and I can see your horns. And the hoof, too."
"Aren't you at all scared of me?" asked the head, rolling its eyes and sticking out its tongue.
"Well, you aren't exactly my type, that I have to admit, but no, I'm not scared of you."
Brigitte was indeed regaining some of her confidence. Fine, so there is a devil. She hasn’t been to church very often; in her profession it was not exactly the thing to do, being a regular churchgoer. But she knew some priests of the church, and they never stopped talking about the devil, the temptation and so on. Therefore she believed there probably must be something to it. Now she had it confirmed. The head continued:
“How come, what?”
“That you’re not scared of me?”
"I've seen a lot. And I've been prepared for something like this. This place is said to be haunted, didn’t you know? Look, if we're going to have a conversation, why don't you appear to me in one piece? This must be uncomfortable for you."
The head in front of her looked hesitant, then it closed its eyes as a sign of sealing the agreement. That didn’t surprise Brigitte much. From what she heard the devils might have lost their souls, but presumably they wouldn’t mind talking to people. In the end, they were after the souls of the humans, and how could you convince a human to give up his or her soul, without doing some talking. Most likely, a great deal of talking. While Brigitte contemplated this, the body had walked from behind her towards the mantelpiece. Its hands lifted up the horned head and put it in its proper place. The devil stood in front of her in his entirety. Somehow, he appeared quite vulnerable to her. Shy, even. He reminded her of some of her clients, namely those very young ones, those who came to her for the first time, sometimes even after being prompted and given the money by their fathers, who also happened to be her clients. Could it be that this devil is a virgin..?
“Come here, sit down. Don’t be so shy.”
The devil Brigitte was about to get acquainted with, uneasily found himself a place at the far end of the bench.
“I’m Brigitte, what’s your name?”
“Don’t tell me those horns even make you bleat like a goat! Do you really have to wear them?”
He did something, Brigitte wasn’t quite sure what, maybe just jerked his head a little. But the horns were suddenly gone! Without them, he was much better looking. Except for the tail that hung over the back of the bench, touching the floor with its tasselled end. She pointed her finger at the appendix.
“Can’t you get rid of that too?”
“N-no. I c-can’t.”
“I’d h-have to r-reach a certain r-r-rank, to b-be able to d-d-do that. I have to w-wear either the h-horns, or the t-t-tail. Which d-do you want me to w-wear?”
“OK. Keep the tail. I won’t be looking that way.”
He was wearing some kind of trousers made of animal skins, or so it seemed, with a slit from which the tail was sticking out. Brigitte must have forced her eyes away from the tale-telling bulge that was so prominent at the other end.
“What did you say your name was?”
“That’s way too long. Can’t you shorten it?”
“N-no, I c-can’t.”
”Why not? Would it make your tail fall off, or something?”
But Brigitte knew already that she wasn’t going to press the issue. Not at the moment, anyway. He looked a kind of forsaken, almost pathetic, not at all what a devil should look like, or so she thought. Such a big and smelly goat. She’d have to find a way to make him take a bath. Here she stopped the train of her thoughts suddenly and abruptly.
‘What made me think of that? Shouldn’t I be on my way first thing in the morning? After forcing myself to spend the night in company of this strange creature, belonging to the species that I doubted even existed, only a few short minutes ago?’
But Brigitte had found herself in rather a mess, she realised that. For all she knew, her horse might have ran all the way back to Chillingbluff, and she couldn’t go back there, that was impossible! Without the horse and the sled she couldn’t get anywhere. Maybe she was stuck here for a while. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing! Did she have to go to any other place? She only couldn’t go back to where she came from. Would anyone be looking for her here? Brigitte didn’t think so. After all, who would suspect that she might be hiding in a haunted old tavern? And if she were going to stay, for a while at least, she would have to find some modus vivendi with this fellow. Mephistopheles. Brigitte gave him a smile.
"Aren't you going to act like a proper host and offer me something to eat? I'm starved!"
"I- I- I d-d-don't..."
"Are you about to inform me that I have to first sign up on a parchment with my own blood, or something like that, before you serve me some tucker?"
"N- n- no, I d-d-did not m-m-mean that at all... It's j-just t-that I d-d-don't have anything h-h-here."
"With all these powers you have, won’t you be able to conjure up something?"
Mephistopheles would have wished that very much, but unfortunately it wasn’t so easy. Devils of the lower ranks, such as himself at this time, certainly have many powers at their disposal, such as an ordinary mortal could only dream about, but there is a catch. These powers are only invested in them for the sole purpose and only for the duration of their mission. He was sent to Earth to primarily haunt this tavern, which meant that he could perform a variety of tricks and be able to metamorphose into almost anything, so long as it was in keeping with the main objective of haunting the place and scaring people away. To do more than that he would have had to gain permission from his superiors, which would normally be done through the Central Agency. He had not been able to contact them for some time, and while he knew that something must have gone wrong somewhere, there was little he could do about it.
To make things worse, there were no provisions made for the sustenance of the physical body, access to which he was allowed to have for the duration of the mission. He was not expected to be using it for long stretches of time. Nevertheless, the longer his mission went on the more he was getting used to life in the body of flesh, simply because is was much more fun using it while catching the snakes, rats or rabbits, if only in order to feed the thing. The alternative was staying in the adjacent fourth dimension, which was sleepy and dull. While stationed there, he wouldn’t feel cold, and he wouldn’t be hungry or thirsty. But if he chose the fourth dimension as his abode, which is adjacent to the physical, he wouldn’t still be able to leave the place, and he would be missing on all the earthly pleasures life in the body can offer. Later on he would perhaps be able to explain all this to Brigitte, but momentarily he was too overwhelmed and completely lost for words.
Brigitte gave Mephistopheles a long searching look. It must have been her feminine instinct that told her almost immediately there was something amiss, so far as this devil was concerned. To her, he looked pretty much run down. Not that she would have seen devils, perked-up or run-down, in her professional life, but she came across quite a few men who were in the doldrums. This one indeed did look a kind of dejected, and he was not very good at hiding it either. She said:
“You poor devil, you look so forsaken and pathetic, what have they done to you? Have they abandoned you here, or something?”
Mephistopheles only managed to nod his head, sadly.
“I tell you something. What you need first of all is a good soak and a scrub in the bathtub. You smell something awful, like an old billy goat. But to get you in there, I guess I’m going to need quite a bit of extra physical strength, because a gentle persuasion surely would not do. And I won’t have that without having something to eat. Are you hungry too?”
The creature at the other end of the bench had managed another nod.
“And all this in a pub! Don’t tell me that there is nothing left here to eat. There must be some staff, pickled herrings or something like that, stored here somewhere. That stays good for years! Let’s go and have a look in the cellar.”
“Pickled herrings? What’s that?”
"You are a naïve one, aren’t you? Never heard of pickled herrings? Don’t you have any in Hell?”
“N-no. But some-sometimes we b-bake potatoes.”
“Potatoes? What’s that?”
“A kind of r-root, shaped l-like a b-bulb.”
“And that’s edible? You must be kidding me! Let’s have a look around, shall we? Do you know how to get into the cellar?”
They found the stairway leading into the cellar. The devil had never ventured this far; he didn’t think that anything interesting could be found there. He was wrong, as was to come out soon. Brigitte first had sent Mephistopheles back upstairs to get some light, and he came back with the burning leg of a broken chair. In the flickering light of the makeshift torch they could see lots of things stored there, including barrels and boxes of various sizes and shapes pilled up over one another.
“This looks good”, said Brigitte. “I especially like the look of those barrels.”
“My guess is that at least some must contain edibles that have withstood the ravages of time and that we can safely consume. By the way, what do you normally eat?”
“Eat? In-insects, frogs, w-worms, mice, things l-like that.”
“Things like that, my foot! But then, that means you could consume anything.”
“I eat some berries, too. S-sometimes I catch r-rabbits.”
”Rabbits? That sounds much better. Give me the torch. See that barrel there? The one nearest to us. Go and take off the lid, if you can do that.”
The devil did as told. Brigitte then ordered him to reach inside and feel what wonders the barrel might hold for them. Mephistopheles returned to her, holding a pickled herring in his hand. Brigitte looked pleased, immediately telling him to eat it, and he obeyed, swallowing the fish only slightly reluctantly and in one piece. Even in the faint light of the torch, Brigitte saw his face brighten up.
“V-very good. Salty, but nice.”
“That was the pickled herring, by the way. Now go and bring us some more. Then try the next barrel.”
Mephistopheles came back with a few more herrings, then with a handful of what looked like sauerkraut. It turned out to be just that, with a very mature but not unpleasant taste. Yet another barrel, this time a much smaller one, yielded something sticky and very sweet, when he tasted it with his tongue. Honey. Brigitte told him to take that cask up to the top of the stairs. Meanwhile, she was very pleased when she found herself a couple of barrels that had pegs fitted to holes on the side. She ordered the devil to roll them closest to the door.
“What’s in it?” he asked.
“If I’m correct, these barrels would hold something that could make this evening a memorable one for both of us. Let’s go upstairs and find ourselves a couple of plates and also some vessels!”
A little later on they were back in front of the fire, with their stomachs filled, and each holding a jug full of delicious mead. It was indeed promising to be an evening that they both would fondly remember.
Brigitte was a harlot, as the perceptive reader would have guessed by now. How did a prostitute find herself in the haunted tavern in the middle of nowhere? She was forced to leave Chillingbluff rather suddenly, and was also compelled to avoid the frequented new road, where she could have easily been intercepted. So she chose the now abandoned old road as her escape route. Why did she have to run away? The answer is simple.
Brigitte was not just an average whore; she found herself in a slightly higher class. To those who only just met her she would have looked like the picture of a rapt saint, lost in heavenly musing. Those who knew her better had other ideas. We could perhaps even call her a courtesan, except that the town she worked in would have been be a tad too small to afford anything of the sort. Had she been born in Paris, for instance, she would have gone a long way, with her natural talents. Perhaps even to the royal palace. Her clientele in Chillingbluff therefore was not numerous, and it tended to be selective. Among them were some of the city elders, including the current Lord Mayor. Most of the other aldermen either had dealings with Brigitte’s opposition (there were two other ladies of the night in the town who aspired to being of the same class as Brigitte), or were a bit too old for such things. So long as all the dignitaries who met on the uppermost floor of the City Hall were more or less guilty of the same moral trespasses, or at least retained fond memories of their own misdemeanours, everything went fine. But a sudden rise of a new local politician had put an end to such cosy arrangement. The new alderman was relatively new to the town, and he was fiercely ambitious. When a vacancy occurred on the council after the death of one of the old-timers, he decided to run, and chose morality as the backbone of his election campaign. He swept the field of candidates like a monsoon. Even then it was obvious that his presence in the council would cause problems to the establishment, but try as they might the Lord Mayor's people could not find any blemish on him. The squeaky clean candidate got in and, naturally, soon after taking his seat he found out about the 'Brigitte connection', which he threatened to fully expose. By then he had already found enough followers within the council, who wanted to use him in order to advance their own careers.
The night prior to Brigitte's arrival to the tavern, she had received a late visitor. He turned out to be an attorney in the employ of the Lord Mayor. The lawyer came with an offer backed by a substantial sum of money, and with an urgent plea from her rich client. The message was simple: Get away as quickly as you can! The advocate explained to her that she was going to be called as a witness in an impending court case, which was designed to incriminate the Lord Mayor. Her client’s legal adviser also told her, that in all probability the opposing side would try to pursue her, as soon as they discovered that she was missing from the town. Brigitte acted quickly on the advice, and she hastily fled the town before dawn in a horse driven sled. She was wise enough to realise that her days in Chillingbluff were numbered. Her night visitor arranged for a horse-pulled sled to be available to her immediately, and she had left the town before daybreak. To make sure that she was not caught and forced to go back by possible pursuants, she chose the obscure road leading to the tavern. The snow that was falling throughout the night would have completely covered the tracks her sled had made, so now she felt almost certain that no one would ever think of looking for her in this place.
The progress was slow. The trees along what once would have called itself a road have grown, to turn it into what now was barely a truck, and in places only a trail. The horse often had problems squeezing through between the tree branches. By the late afternoon they were getting nearer the old tavern, and the woods around were a little thinner, so they were able to move somewhat faster. Like everyone else in the region, Brigitte had heard about the hauntings that were rumoured to have taken place here, but this was supposed to have been happening many years ago, and anyway, who would take such old wives tales seriously? Now, when she was having a dinner with the devil himself, she was forced to admit that they were not only true, but even seriously understated. As she looked into her messmate’s face, she suddenly felt that the two of them must have a great deal in common; obviously they were both outlaws, in their own individual ways…
The devil and the harlot were sitting in the lounge of the tavern, after a night of fairly hard drinking, both now quite sober. He had spent the night as usual, huddled in front of the fireplace, while the good time girl had managed to stumble upstairs, where already in the light of dawning day she picked one of the bedrooms. The linen felt dusty and musty, but Brigitte took little notice of that, as she fell into slumber immediately. Now it was mid afternoon, and she had made herself a cup of hot water with honey.
“What did you say your name was again?”
“Now, could you say it without stuttering”
“That’s better, but still too long. I’ll call you Meph, all right? Tell me, Meph, why do you haunt this place?”
“I... I have my orders.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Must have been a few years.”
“Has anyone ever checked on you?”
“So, they must have forgotten all about you.”
“T-they probably did.”
“Why don't you go back, then?”
“I know, you have your orders. To hell with orders, if they abandoned you here, why should you worry about some orders? Don’t you want to return to that place?”
“Not r-really. I'm used to being h-here and I like it.”
“I wonder, could you change into something more comfortable? I mean, assume a more seemly appearance.”
“Such as w-what?”
“OK, you already got rid of those horns. That stutter’s almost gone now, too. You say you can’t take away that tail, I don’t know why. But what about that hoof? It makes such disgusting noise when you walk up those cellar stairs. I don't mind your shagginess so much, though. In fact, I’ve always rather fancied men with hairy chests. Are there many hairy-chested devils in Hell?”
“Come to t-t-think of it, yes there are. As for the h-hoofs, I could change into a dra-dragon. Dragons d-don’t have hoofs, they have ta-talons. But they don’t have h-hairy chests.”
“No good. Look, I’d rather want you as you are, minus the horns, but without that hoof, if possible.”
“And with the h-hairy chest?”
“Yes, please, with the hairy chest, definitely. And while you’re at it, it would be great if you could do something with that ruddy complexion of yours. Looking a little bit more aristocratic, not with this weather-beaten peasant face. Could you do that for me?”
Meph's metamorphic dexterity had not lately been put to many tests, and he botched his first few attempts, to great amusement of Brigitte, first by going frog green, then the alpine forget-me-not shade of blue. But he continued unabashed with his protean experimentation, and when eventually he was able to come up with something closer to Brigitte’s standards, she called out:
“Stop, this could be it! Let me have a look at you.”
The main thing was that the hoof was now gone. Meph now had two feet, both shod in crudely made boots of some animal’s hide. There were other improvements too. The previously wind-beaten skin on his face now had the complexion of a well suntanned sea resort permanently based lazy-bones. While Meph's face still gave the impression of being a wee bit goatish, with the tops of his ears a little pointy, and the eyes slightly slanted, overall he now appeared almost human, even handsome. There was not much hair left on him either, except in the appropriate places. 'Not bad at all', said Brigitte quietly to herself. Aloud she said to Meph:
“Could you turn around, please? Oh, my God!”
“What d-d-did you say?!”
“Oh, I'm sorry, I should be more careful with the choice of words I use in your presence. But you still have that tail left there, and it looks so horrid! Couldn’t you do something about that?”
For the next minute or so Meph's face showed signs of profound concentration. He wriggled his hips together with the tail a few times, then he made several tiny hops, but all he could do was to make that offending appendage that ended in an unseemly fork shrink very little, perhaps by an inch. He appeared to be not a little frustrated and embarrassed by this failure.
"Sorry, but t-that's all I can d-do."
"Well, maybe we'll think of some way of getting rid of it later. But we will have to do that. How else could we get you into the proper trousers?"
"Trousers. Do I have to wear any?"
"Of course. Now without much of that hair, your appearance would be far too revealing."
Like most girls in her profession, Brigitte had learnt to put aside all of the prudery, but she had also discovered one of the great truths about life; that the way we dress up points out to what we really are. And even though she did not know it yet, deep down she had already made up her mind about what she was going to do with Meph. She was going to turn him into the man of the house. So now she had to keep beating the rod while it was still hot!
"Come out with me!"
They went outside. The air was warmer and the snow around the tavern was beginning to thaw. Brigitte aimed for the outbuildings, of which there were several, namely a hay-barn, latrine, tool-shed and stable. Suddenly, a loud neighing sounded from behind the stable. She headed in that direction, followed by Meph, and there, standing by the only tuft of grass sticking out of the snow, she found her horse. He must have somehow rid himself of the sled; only a few leather stripes were left on him that previously held it. Meph joined Brigitte, and looked in wonder at the creature, which was seemingly only interested in trying to make the most of the meagre bit of grass.
“Soon he’ll have new grass everywhere to graze on”, said Brigitte, “meanwhile, somehow he’ll survive, I hope.”
The horse lifted his head and pricked his ears. Both the woman and the devil followed his gaze in the direction of the approach road, where some noises were coming from. Now Brigitte could even make up that they were those of galloping horses, still some distance away from the tavern, and several of them, no doubt. But judging from how the sound of their hoofs increased in intensity, they were getting nearer! Those who were after her must have found out about in which direction she had travelled, after all! But she must keep her cool, despite the looming danger. And she no longer was alone and vulnerable. She had a potential champion, who happened to be standing next to her!
“Quick, Meph! Right now, could you change into that dragon you talked about?! And chase them away! People on horses. Quick! They mustn’t see me!”
He nodded wordlessly, and Brigitte had run inside the stable, just in time before several riders appeared on the trail, from behind the trees. Their progress was halted suddenly though, as an enormous fiery dragon had risen from the ground, right in front of them. A great panic broke out immediately, with yelling, fright and horror, followed by more hoof beats, gradually subsiding and disappearing behind the trees. Without a doubt, a fabulous new legend concerning the old tavern was about to be born.
Brigitte made certain that the last of the noise had gone, before she emerged from the stables.
By then, the dragon was gone too; instead of it Mephistopheles stood in its place, thankfully back to exactly the same form that he was in before. He was grinning widely. She was grateful to him, but instead of thanking him she only said:
“There is a lot of old hay in there. Stacks and stacks of it. I wonder, could the horse eat that?”
“Let’s t-take him there, we’ll find out,” said Meph.
The horse didn’t fancy the hay that was years old, as they should have known. But he managed to find himself another tuft of grass to chew on.
“He’ll survive”, Brigitte said. “What’s in that shed over there?”
“Some tools and things.”
“I’d like to have a look there.”
They walked to the shed. Brigitte immediately saw in there what she was secretly hoping for: one of the axes that Meph once stole from the team of lumberjacks, sharp as a shaving razor, leaning against a large and wide chopping block. She pointed to the block:
Meph obeyed, though he must have already suspected that something sinister might be foremost on Brigitte ‘s mind. As she expected, the tail she disliked so much on this man hung over the edge of the block, with the thickest part of it reposing on its surface. Rightly or wrongly, she was indeed beginning to think of Meph as a human being, or at least something akin to it. She acted swiftly and decisively. Grabbing the tail by one hand and the sharp axe by the other, she took one emphatic swing, and chopped off the offending part of the devil's anatomy. She expected some blood and she had a handkerchief ready almost immediately to quickly dress up the wound. But it was not needed, as there was no blood to speak of. Instead there was a little flash of light, and a puff of smoke. The large part of the tail fell onto the floor, where it was squirming like a snake for a short minute, before it laid still. At the same time, the stump on Meph's lower back had begun shrinking rapidly before Brigitte's eyes, until there was nothing left of it, except a little bump that was also on a point of disappearing. All that remained after the successful operation, performed by this amateur surgeon, was a strong smell of sulphur filling the inside of the shed.
"Oh, dear! Look what we’ve done! What do you think, would they find out about this in that place of yours?"
"Meh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh..." said Meph.
"What is it?"
"M-m-m-maybe they wouldn't. B-b-but I think that t-they p-probably would."
Meph was obviously still affected by the enormity of what had happened to him, and consequently not quite coherent. Quite understandably so, as to a devil having his tail abruptly removed, and in such brutal manner, would certainly amount to a lot more then having one's tonsils taken out. Brigitte realized this instinctively, and she looked at Meph with some concern.
"You are alright, aren't you? Does it hurt?"
"N-n-no, it d-d-doesn't."
"You sure? You must have felt something!"
"No, I'm quite alright, I f-feel better, in fact."
Now, what to do with the snake-like fork-ended piece of tail that was left on the floor? Brigitte thought that she should not let Meph, who still remained seated on the chopping block, quite obviously stunned by what had just happened to him, see it. She seized upon it, ran out of the shed with it in hand, thinking frantically what to do, how to get rid of that thing as quickly as possible. Bury it, perhaps? No, that would take too much time, especially with the ground frozen as it was! Then she had a great idea, or so she thought. The fire in the lounge was going, and it just had some fuel in form of a pair of legs that came from a heavy old wooden bench added to it, before they left the lounge, only a few minutes ago. A lot had happened in this short time! But the fire should now be just about at its hottest, ready to consume anything, even the offending object she held in her hand. She’ll throw it in! With some lack, it would have burned off before Meph could even see it. Brigitte ran into the lounge, where the fireplace was fully ablaze. She threw the woefully looking, in her fingers limply hanging thing into the flames, then she rushed out and back into the shed. She was half way there when she nearly collided with Meph, already on his feet, but still in a state of shock, wandering aimlessly in the yard. She felt so culpable. He looked so lost, so vulnerable! On a sudden impulse she took the poor creature in her arms, embracing him tightly. She was aware of his arms getting hold of the back of her shoulders, while his chin had found its resting place on her neck. They stayed like this for a time, before Brigitte moved her head back slowly, so that his lips could find her lips. She was afraid that he might hate her, after what she had done to him, but obviously it was not so. He was not a great kisser, but that could be put right, she thought, as she could detect a great deal of room for improvement in her new man.
Eventually, they drew away from each other. Brigitte was not sure if the flames would have destroyed “that thing” in the fireplace quite yet, so she made her new lover walk with her around the place for some time. He appeared unaffected by the “operation” physically, and when she asked him if he felt any pain, he denied this emphatically. Obviously, the pain barrier with these creatures must be different than it is with humans, she told herself. When she tried to apologize for what she has done to him, Meph only waved his hand, and without further ado took her into his arms again. This was his answer, and with it he was quite insistent. When Brigitte thought that sufficient length of time had passed, she made Meph come back with her to the lounge of the old tavern. It was time to do something about their next meal, anyway.
As they walked in through the front door, Brigitte threw a quick glance towards the fireplace. What she saw made her stand as if her shoes had suddenly become glued to the floor. The fire was now reduced to glowing cinders, but in the middle of the firing space there was something roughly of a pyramidal shape, no, it was a human-like, baby-sized figure! It was sitting in what a Buddhist would call the lotus position, with the eyes closed and with the legs crossed underneath, while its arms and hands with the open palms rested on the knees. Meph saw it too, for he stopped, then hesitantly walked closer to the fireplace, obviously surprised.
The figure in the fireplace seemed to be growing in front of their eyes. Brigitte had the feeling that the still baby-like face of the figure was evolving slowly, looking more and more like Meph’s face. Then she reminded herself of what she had thrown into the fire, and knew that there must be a connection. Something happened and here, right before them, an artificial man, having some relationship to Meph, was growing up. Scarred, she only whispered:
“I don’t know.”
“He’s beginning to look much like you!”
“Do you think so? Now, what have you done with that tail, Brigitte?” he asked, but without a trace of bitterness or accusation in his voice. And he said it without stuttering; previously he wouldn’t be able to pronounce this many words without a stutter, she noted in a corner of her mind.
“Yes, I’d thrown it in there. I didn’t know what else to do with it. I’m so sorry, Meph...!”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Could you undo it, somehow? With your powers?”
“No, I can’t. And I don’t think I would want to either, even if I could. This is interesting.”
“What happened, do you know?”
“Not exactly. But I think that it has something to do with that tail having been thrown into the fire, and with us devils being immortal. I’ve never seen anything like this happen, but I do remember somebody once joking about not leaving detached parts of one’s body in fire for any extended period of time. He must have meant small bits, like fingernail cuttings and such. Now I know why. Obviously, things could happen. Only, with something bigger, like a tail, things could happen in a big way.”
“You’ve lost your stutter, did you know that?”
“Have I? No, I haven’t noticed.”
”Must have something to do with this, too.”
“Is he going to grow into your double, your ringer or something?”
“Looks like it, doesn’t it?”
“He’s still growing. Soon he won’t fit into that fire space anymore. Would he come out, what do you think, Meph?
Meph got closer to the fireplace, stretched his hand, and touched the hand of the figure inside. It opened its eyes. And it smiled. Somehow, Brigitte was no longer scared of it. It looked like a newly born baby, hugsome and with pink skin. Only, it was much bigger, now almost as big as Meph, and still growing. And it had a pair of horns on head, which was also growing rather fast. She said:
“We’ll have to get him out somehow. Those horns are now reaching all the way to the mantelpiece!”
The man-devil in the fireplace smiled again, and changed the position of his body, so that he had more room for his horned head. Obviously, something wanted him to stay in the fireplace a little longer, maybe it was needed to complete the growing process. Meph must have made a similar observation.
“He’ll come out, when he’s ready. Don’t worry about that. I think that he still needs to stay in a little bit longer. There isn’t much fire left anyway, those coals have almost stopped glowing.”
“Shouldn’t then we add some wood?”
“No, I have a feeling that he’s almost ready to come out.”
Meph was right. The figure in the fireplace had begun to move again, leaned forward, rested on its knees for a short while, then slowly crawled out on all fours. It rolled over, and lay outstretched on its back. The eyes remained open now, and watched both of them in turn, before focusing on Meph’s face. Meph stretched both his hands to his twin, for they now indeed looked like a pair of twins, and seized him by the hands. With a steady pull he assisted him in standing up. The miracle of birth was now fully accomplished!
Pretending that I know everything about the nature of this strange partnership, fellowship, fraternity, or whatever it might be called; there are no precedents hence no available expressions, would be foolish. The plain truth is that nobody knows. As far as I can see it from where I am now, and as far as the Hell’s experts could tell at the time, the case of Mephisto and Pheles was quite unique. Thus far, nobody had tried to duplicate it experimentally either; this has been prevented by devils’ general disinclination towards scientific experimentation, which requires a certain level of discipline, something they generally lack. There are also ethical reasons. You may well ask: could ethical reasons even be considered where devils are concerned? The doubters should try to understand that the devils too are unique beings, endowed with the gift of individuality, just as are we, the humans. When it comes to cloning or similar practices, such issues would always be standing on or near the borderline, if not outrightly condemned. Moreover, to a devil his or her tail is important, even sacred, just as some parts of their bodies are to humans.
Later on, when the strange case of Mephisto and Pheles had already been thoroughly examined by the Hell’s experts in some detail, the general consensus amongst them was that it happened to be a ‘one-off” sort of thing, and that it would almost certainly be impossible to reduplicate. The circumstances were unique, and so was the decisive part having been played by the human being, albeit by one who has now been naturalised by the Special Act of the Hell’s Parliament.
When the Mephisto-Pheles case became more widely known in the Hell’s scientific circles (and indeed to the general populace, through the efforts of The Fifth Estate), a special colloquium was called to evaluate the case. The experts, as could have been expected, were not unanimous in their opinions and their explanations of the phenomenon. The psychologists who had examined the twins (and this term is being used here only for lack of any other more suitable one) have come up with some interesting discoveries. The main one was the evident difference between the two, so far as the functioning of their brains was concerned. Mephisto showed a distinct inclination towards using the right side of his brain, making him the more creative, artistic type. Pheles, on the other hand, presented himself mainly as the left-brain type, which made him a more practical, technically orientated person. On the basis of this, the experts in their final recommendation stressed that the twins should be given such positions of employment that would enable them to work together as a team, rather than separating them. That way they should nicely compliment each other. Otherwise either of them could find himself in a situation, which would call for those aspects of the personality that were missing. Mephisto and Pheles should in other words be considered being one person in two separate bodies, and treated by their future employers as such.
A great deal of discussion went on when the mechanics of this unique transformation were being considered. Finally, the greatest contemporary psychologist Rararbotrusiel Hameltesipinion was invited to address the assembly and to give his opinion on what had actually happened in the process of transformation, which followed the alleged amputation of Mephistopheles’ tail by Brigitte Annemarie Hiltraud (now known as Brigittanela Traudhilanela). In a short lecture, Hameltesipinion stated that the serpent power Cundalahini was the main force behind the transformation. Its existence is currently only recognised by those experts who find themselves on the outside of mainstream science, which still tends to view Cundalahini with some suspicion. The Hell’s general population is not aware of it at all. Cundalahini is normally dormant and remains coiled like a serpent at the base of the devil’s spine. Only when aroused by some stimulation, often of a sexual nature, it would move into his tail. In this particular case however, while some sexual desire must have been present, the tail having been suddenly amputated, it was no longer available to receive the Cundalahini serpent power. The latent force therefore had only one direction in which it could have moved – it rushed up along the spinal column, reaching the brain of the devil now known as Mephisto.
“But how would the tail become Pheles, the other half of the original devil entity?” asked one of the lesser experts Rararbotrusiel Hameltesipinion.
“Through the process known to us as ‘homunculisation’, of course.”
”How does that transpire?”
“It is essentially the same as the process known as cloning, with which humanity is soon about to become quite obsessed. The human researchers into the occult have been trying to manufacture a Homunculus since the time immemorial. Only one German alchemist, named Wagner, had apparently succeeded, naturally with the help of our experts. However, the humans, without actually suspecting it, have always had the recipe available. Mind you, it is only put in the most general terms. It can be found in that book of theirs called the Bible. It is in that section where there is a talk about that fellow they all worship, well most of them, anyway, about him making the first man from the lump of clay.”
“Yes sir, I’m aware of the existence of this legend, but if my memory serves me right, the resultant clay figure then had to be revived, and it was done by that fellow blowing into its nostrils”, another expert said.
“That is correct, indeed. And that’s exactly the bit the humans can’t do, and that’s when they need us to help them. There have been several cases known when the more clever ones of their race slapped some bits of clay together and managed to get the thing moving with the help of some incantations. But the things they had “created” were without an exception always completely mindless. Such a creature then is called the Golem. But the creators of Golems, and there were a few, had never managed to keep the monsters they manufactured under their control, so it could only end up in disaster. Only we can do such a thing, at least theoretically, because the Homunculus effect is built-in within the cells of our bodies, so to speak. Therefore, it is always possible that it might occur, even spontaneously, under certain circumstances.”
“Which is the presence of heat, our natural element, in the first place. However, I would need to examine this particular case in fine detail, to be able to tell you more. No doubt, an exact temperature had to be reached and sustained for a period of time; this I can say even now. The amputated tail therefore had to be deposited into the fireplace within seconds after separation from the rest of the body; otherwise the transformation would not have occurred. The vitality still left in the amputated limb would have gone away. There are no doubts that other factors would need to be considered, some quite obvious, others more esoteric. These might include such factors as presence of a human, which undoubtedly must have played an important part. Also, we can’t bypass even the history of the place where this phenomenon happened which, as I understand, has seen many other transformations that were part of the hauntings, etcetera. We have all agreed that this case is a unique one, all small details had to have fallen into places, if it were to happen at all. But happen it did, we know this. Perhaps the Hell’s science would advance sufficiently in the near future, to be able to give us more accurate answers to these questions, gentledevils.”
The gathering of the experts that I had just described happened in the future, if we view time the way we humans while we are based on the Earth level are used to, i.e. linearly. I had moved it forward in order to give you some perspective on the whole story behind the Mephisto and Pheles phenomenon. Let’s now catch-up with them again in the middle of nowhere, which has the Goblin and the Goat Tavern become.
Our trio had been doing relatively well since the arrival of Pheles. Because in him the practical side always prevailed, he tended to be predominantly useful around the household, and capable of doing many tasks, including even cooking. Someone had to do it after all, and Brigitte was too much of a lady to even consider taking on such a menial task. While they had made several more discoveries in the tavern’s cellar of various ingredients, they were less and less reliant on the preserved foodstuff, particularly when the nature around them had finally begun to wake up with the long delayed spring. Suddenly it was all around them and they could make the hunting trips, in which again Pheles particularly excelled. Mephisto didn’t mind at all when his partner (because that’s what they now truly were) was more successful. Brigitte had enough sense to show her admiration and, indeed her love, to both of them. She could also do it in such a way that prevented even an inkling of rivalry, all this due to her wast experience in handling things associated with the world of the males and their needs, psychological or physical.
Both Mephisto and Pheles were flourishing under the human status, and they took to regularly wearing trousers, several pairs of which Brigitte found for them in the attic. As they found it hard after all to live entirely off the land, both devils now completely human in their appearance, had turned to burning charcoal, of which there was a steady demand in the town of Freezingthorpe, and which Brigitte, who was not known there and therefore could afford to show her face at the market place, had carted with the horse that originally brought her to the tavern. She too was happy in her new surroundings, and even though she had to work hard, she would never have even considered going back to her former profession. After all, she now had the attention of two would-be-men, who after some practical lessons, had both turned out to be very capable lovers. Meanwhile, the local election in Chillingbluff was resolved one way or the other (she didn’t care, which way), and there was no reason any more for her to remain in hiding, and she could even venture there occasionally. No one would recognize the former courtesan in the middle-aged market seller, anyway.
One day, while on a search for the wood suitable to be turned into charcoal, Mephisto with Pheles in tow, ventured into a part of the forest that they had never visited before. Mephisto’s attention had turned to an old and almost completely dried out tree that looked somewhat different than those surrounding it. He decided that the tree was just what he wanted and he was about to take the first swing at it with his axe, when he heard a strong commandeering voice:
"Stop! What are you doing?"
Mephisto laid the axe onto the ground and looked up. From way above, a face was looking down on him, a devilish face that appeared to be vaguely familiar. The devil in the tree also looked slightly puzzled, obviously trying to remember something. Then he said:
"I've got it! You are Mephistopheles. What the angel are you doing here?!"
Now Mephisto had also remembered. Why, it was his former boss Daramsuphael! Only his face looked crusty, as if trying to match the tree bark from which it protruded. For a second Mephisto almost froze, because he expected the mighty devil would come down on him like a ton of bricks, but nothing happened. Daramsuphael's triangular face looked just as animated as the lid to a coffin, and it had begun to dawn upon Mephisto that he must somehow be stuck inside the hollow of the tree. He decided that under the circumstances he could afford to be a little bolder then he would ever have dared to before, particularly as the bonds of their former relationship no longer applied. He asked with a streak of irony in his voice:
"Is it really you, your Insignificance? And may I humbly ask what you are doing up there?"
"Look, Mephistopheles, I don't at all like the tone of your voice! I would squash you like a toad..."
"If at all you could, I know."
It was quite obvious that Daramsuphael could do little to him from his present position, and that Mephisto had nothing to worry about, at least not at the moment. The devil in the tree continued rambling.
"You didn't answer my question, what are you doing here? I asked you first!"
"I was about to fell this tree."
"Don't you dare!”
"Why shouldn't I? Wouldn't you like me to help you get out of this situation?"
Of course that Mephisto now had no intention of doing anything like that, but he thought that he should find out how did Daramsuphael get to be imprisoned in the tree.
"I don't need anyone's help, you twerp! I'm quite comfortable here. If anyone needs help, then it must be you. Your brain must have shrunk while you were here and it needs a bit of a sizzle. Where are your horns? And since when do devils wear trousers?"
"Don't you like them?"
Mephisto turned around like a manikin. Daramsuphael roared:
"What have you done to your tail?"
"It's gone. I'm human-like now, can't you see? And you can do nothing to change this, is that what bothers you? You have no power over me at all now. I stand corrected. Over us."
Mephisto had added this because Pheles had emerged from the forest and was about to reach them. Daramsuphael viewed the new arrival in some amazement.
“He’s Pheles, The other half of me.”
“The other half of you? I don’t understand.”
“OK, he’s that tail I used to have and that’s gone missing.”
“No, I can’t believe this!”
Daramsuphael had looked Pheles over, then he examined Mephisto again. It was impossible to deny that these two were related, and closely so. They were not quite like identical twins though, each had a slightly different facial features, a little softer in case of Mephisto, a tad sharper with Pheles. The latter, though theoretically much younger, looked slightly older, however this impression may have been caused by the beard he had lately taken to wearing. When they spoke, there was a difference in their respective voices, as well as in the intonation, as Mephistopheles’ former boss was also to find out. Nevertheless, right now he was not impressed; in fact he was quite enraged. His underling was far too impertinent, on top of all this. And how did he have his tail turn into his clone, a doppelganger, or whatever he was, that was a mystery! He might be elf-struck and tied with this tree for the time being, but he was still the Boss, as he was about to show that to Mephistopheles!
“This is insubordination, and I’m going to have you charged. I’ll squash you like a pair of toads! I’m going to …”
Daramsuphael halted and swallowed what he was about to blurt out. He realised that he couldn’t have two devils charged with insubordination, where previously he had only one subordinate. This was obviously more complicated and he better be careful with what he says! Maybe they could be useful to each other, after all. Maybe he should explain his situation a listen to Mephistopheles’ story too. Meanwhile, Mephisto still appeared determined to give his boss a piece of his mind.
“Daramsuphael, can you see this axe I'm holding? Right now I’m making a living as a lumberjack, and I happen to like that tree of yours. Tell me, who's to stop me if I decided to fell it?"
"Look, Mephisto, don't do that, please!"
"I don't want it."
"You want to stay there forever?"
"I have to stay. Not forever, though."
"I see. Have you been banished for something you've done? Tell me everything, and then I might consider leaving your tree standing."
"Alright. I'm a political prisoner."
"Really? I didn't know there was such a thing in Hell."
"There is now."
"I must have missed a lot, while you guys were too busy forgetting all about me."
"If you knew of all the turbulence, you wouldn't blame us for forgetting about you. Anyway, it happened, and I'm sorry."
"You don't have to be, sorry I'm happier as I am now!"
In the course of ensuing conversation, which was getting progressively more amicable, Mephisto and Pheles had learnt what transpired since Mephistopheles left for his mission. We already know of the purge on many officers of the Special squad, let's add to it that Daramsuphael also had to face a court.
"They tried to hang the charges of high treason on me, but in the end I was only convicted on the lesser charges of negligence. I got off very lightly considering, only twenty-five years in this tree. That's nothing, one fellow I know got five hundred, and they have locked him up in an ice cave in the Antarctic!"
"How long have you left to serve?"
"Only about three years. That’s nothing. I’ve learned how to be patient from all those trees around me."
This was why Daramsuphael did not want his tree to be felled or even damaged. With so little time to serve he would not run the risk of being accused of making an attempt to escape and perhaps have his term of incarceration increased. Mephisto sensed that his former superior had told them the truth; he also knew that they had him entirely under their power, at least for the next three years. After that: who knows?
"Look, Mephisto, and you too, Pheles, let's make a deal, shall we? You leave my tree alone here for the next three years and I promise you that I won't tell anything about you and your loss of tail and near conversion to humanity, when I return to Hell. And I can do even more then that. You don't look as if you are exactly rolling in money, otherwise you wouldn't be chopping down trees for a living. I can make you rich, if you wish!"
"Thank you, we’re quite happy as we are."
"Sure, sure, Mephisto. What about your twin, Pheles? Is he happy too with this situation? Why don’t the two you just have a little talk about it, think of my offer, there's no rush.”
“There are three of us, in fact.”
“You are full of surprises, aren’t you? How come?”
Mephisto explained the situation, and the circumstances under which Pheles was born. The old devil had never heard anything like this, and it took some time convincing him. But the facts were there right in front of his eyes: on the one hand the missing tail and on the other two almost identical devils, where he himself had only sent one out for the mission. He asked:
“And you both live with this Brigitte, you say?”
“Well, my offer stands. I could make you rich, in human standards anyway. Talk to her. In my experience no human female would turn down such an offer, anyway.”
“Thanks. We’ll tell her and we’ll think about it ourselves.”
Mephisto and Pheles took leave of Daramsuphael and returned to the tavern. When they told Brigitte about their encounter with the senior devil and former boss of Mephistopheles, she immediately asked them:
“Did he really say that he could make you rich?”
Mephisto looked at Pheles, who appeared non-committal. After all, he was new to such things as riches. So it was up to Mephisto to answer Brigitte. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Yes, but what's the point in being rich? Even if he could deliver, which I doubt, what would we do with the money? Aren't we happy as we are?"
"A bit of money wouldn't hurt at all. It never does. Doesn’t have to be a lot. You guys wouldn't have to work so hard with your axes and saws, I could buy some new dresses, just look at me, everything I have is falling apart. And with the money we could all afford to have a real wild night on the town, from time to time, wouldn’t that be great, you guys? I miss that, sometimes."
"Are you sure that this is what you would want? It could be risky, I know what devils are like, I happen to be one, or used to be anyway, don’t you remember?" said Mephisto.
"Then why don't you go back and ask this whatshisname, exactly what it is that he could do for us?"
It is hard arguing with a woman, especially one that had already made up her mind about something. And Brigitte knew how to handle the males who were fortunate, or unfortunate enough, as the case might have been, to find themselves within her orbit. So Mephisto and Pheles went back to Daramsuphael.
"Ah, here you are!” the old devil greeted them. “I was beginning to think that you have not only lost your tails, but that you must be growing wings now, and well on your way to turning into angels! So, what have you decided, do you want to be rich or not?"
"We don't. But Brigitte does."
"Ah, that’s the one who’d cut off you tail to make you look more like a human! But she’s quite right about this. You’re not in the position to give her all she wants; you’ll just have to face the facts. You might still have some powers left, but they’re not of the kind that would fully satisfy her. You could keep a woman satisfied for some time with what you’ve got, especially when there’s two of you to do the job, but it’s not going to last for ever. So tell me, boys, exactly what is it that she wants of you?”
“It’s simple. She wants some money,” said Pheles.
“Yes, money,” said Mephisto. “We talked about it on our way here, and we both agreed that we don’t really need or want anything. But we both like Brigitte, and would like to keep her, make her stay in the tavern with us. But she says that she wants some money. She wants to have a good time, occasionally.”
“Money? A good time? Is that all? If you hung around for a while, I should be in the position then to give you practically anything, a villa, in place of that old tavern, why, I could give you a mansion, even a castle! I could make you a baron, count, prince, even the king! But I respect your wishes to stay where you are, so what I’ll do is give you the chance to make a lot more money than you are making now, and to do it honestly. You could work and earn some extra wealth, and there’d be no reason for you to feel guilty about accepting such a repulsive thing as money from the dirty hands of such old scoundrel like myself. How does that sound to you?"
"How would you do this, sir?"
"Oh, just keep calling me ‘sir’ and I will tell you. First, I’ll have to let you into a little secret. Sending you here on your mission, Mephisto, was only part of a master plan that would eventually have lead to turning this whole region into one of the prime places of sin, wickedness and peccadillo.”
“Is this true, sir?”
“As true as the word of Lucifer! Why would I lie to you? First we needed to get rid of that accursed taverner. At the next stage, according to the script I had written, gold would have been discovered in the area. That would have allowed all sorts of amiable activities to flourish. Rascals and villains of all colours and shapes would pour into the area, as they always do with any new gold rush. More taverns, inns and whorehouses would crop up in no time, as soon as the gold diggers, with all kinds of racketeers in tow, would move in, all of them as crooked as wild wine. The stage has been set for this for quite some time now. The hub of it was going to be an exceptionally rich vein of gold, it’s right next to the tavern; it starts just hundred and twenty paces off the back door. Since all the documents about the mission had been lost, nobody knows about it, except me, and now the two of you. So it’s up to you. You can go and start digging tomorrow! Just make sure that no one finds out about your dig."
“What would you want for return, sir?”
“Nice of you to ask, Mephisto. You are far too good to be a devil; I’ve always held that suspicion. But since you have asked, I’m going to tell you. I have about three years to go, before the spell that binds me to this tree runs out and I’d be free once again. These three years, and especially the last few months of it, are going to drag on ever slower and slower; I can see that. It will be as boring as stoking the boilers. You’ve done that too, haven’t you, Mephisto?”
“Nearly all of us have, early on. Except this lucky fellow, who was born of your tail. Do you know what stoking boilers is like, Pheles?”
“Not really, sir. But something tells me that it would be as dull as singing in an angelic choir.”
“That’s a good one. I thought Mephisto was supposed to be the poet!
“I got it from him, sir.”
“So, to kill off that boring time, do come here and talk to me as often as you can, both of you, or at least one of you. I might have a thing or two to teach you too.”
Mephisto and Pheles promised that they come often to talk to the old devil. They went home; where they found themselves a pick and a shovel and immediately started digging in the spot Daramsuphael told them about. It did not take them long to find the first few pieces of gold. Brigitte was as happy as a dog with two tails when they brought their find to her, and she hugged and kissed them in turn, like never before.
Now they could afford almost anything. The old devil had sent Mephistopheles on his mission, and therefore he had also cast the spell that tied him to the tavern and the near area. He was thus able to annul the spell, even though his own freedom was so much restricted. They could now repair the old hearse that was in one of the sheds, and with Brigitte’s horse drive it to one of the towns, whenever they felt like doing so.
The local jewellers in either of the towns bought the gold of them, and with the money they could all go on a shopping spree. They bought many new dresses for Brigitte and new suits for themselves. She even forced them to take dancing lessons, which after an initial period of reluctance and clumsiness they had both begun to thoroughly enjoy. For speedy journeys in and out of town, they also bought themselves a fashionable chariot with a pair of fast horses. Their old horse was sent to a well-earned retirement. All this completed their new image, as mysterious and wealthy visitors from some country estate.
The two devils had kept their word, and they began to make frequent visits to Daramsuphael’s tree. At first, only one of them, usually Mephisto, would drop in for an hour or two and a friendly chat. But soon both of them would come at the same time, and often stay longer. Eventually, even Brigitte, who felt a little lonely in the tavern, was joining them, at the explicit invitation by the old devil. The two younger devils had made a comfortable settee from logs and fir branches, which they placed right in front of the tree that was the old devil’s prison.
Mephisto remembered the first meeting with Tzernobog Daramsuphael and how much he admired on that occasion the devil’s smooth manners, his rich vocabulary, and pre-eminence, even though it was only a short mission briefing. Now he had his chance to learn something from him, and he took it with both hands. So indeed did the other two.
There was a great deal to learn. Daramsuphael immediately recognised the potential that was in the pair, and realised that for them to be successful on whichever path they might decide to follow, they need to stay together as a team, as they are now. He also resolved that as soon as he became free of his present burden, he was going to help them to find the right way.
Daramsuphael now knew that his return to Hell was not going to be a quiet one, that of an outcast, released prisoner. In the recent times suddenly visits by the devils who used to be his subordinates in the same department, and who have for various reasons avoided the persecution, have become quite frequent. One or two of his former superiors also came to see him. The reason for such clandestine visits of prisoner who was officially banned would soon become clear. They were sucking up to him, because they knew he was soon going to be in a position of power once again. The news that such brown nosers were bringing him was invariably good, and it was getting better day-by-day. The government that had sent Daramsuphael into exile was now on the verge of collapse. This did not mean that his release, which would require a complicated process of un-casting the spells that bound him to the tree, would be imminent. It was probably better for him to stay put, making no hasty moves to free himself, and await further developments with patience. After all, he was quite comfortable in his tree…
Daramsupheael’s three enthusiastic listeners were the main beneficiaries of the stalemate that he had found himself in. Soon they were spending more time in the small woodland opening dominated by the devil’s tree than anywhere else. Their mentor embarked upon a series of lectures designed to improve their education. Soon he also recognised a great potential for scheming and intrigues in Brigitte, something that was always very much valued in Hell. One day he really surprised her however, by offering to sponsor her, if she decided to convert and become a fully-fledged she-devil. He promised her that he would use the influence that he expected to soon regain. Such conversions, though relatively rare, did happen from time to time. Brigitte jumped at the chance. Of course that she would have to spend some time in the realm of the newly converted, a kind of boot camp, where the basics of devilship were being taught. But how would a century or two spent in a training camp compare to the eternal life, which would be conferred upon her?!
* * * *
I want to get to the root of the main story about the mission, which became so important to its two protagonists. So I will now only briefly describe what happened next, so that we can return to it as soon as possible. Much of this is known, as it became part of the history, and it can be found in the textbooks, in Hell and in Heaven. Understandably, different versions exist; depending on which side you are on.
Daramsuphael was released from the tree on the day his term of imprisonment had officially ended, and he immediately returned to Hell. There he walked into his old office on the next day. Everything was more or less the same as it was when he left it, except the private boiler. It was there, but instead of good old Archie and his sophisticated invectives inside was some former stand-up comedian, who had greeted him with a salvo of offensive language. Nothing wrong with that as far as the devil was concerned, except that this fellow’s style was vulgar and meretricious. He could not bring Archie back either, because that blessed soul was reincarnated on Earth once again, and well on the way through the ranks of clergy. Daramsuphael was in two minds. Should he do something to check Archie’s career before he could become the Pope, or should he allow this to happen, being a malignant spirit such as he was. At the time of this being written, the matter is still unresolved…
All this was brought about by the already expected collapse of the REDS government, which happened even quicker than expected. It was speeded up by an affair of the recently appointed Treasurer Temesakaela Haltersoraela. She had found herself in cold water of a different kind than her predecessor, who was forced to resign from his office after embezzling a great deal of money, which was meant to be used for installing the badly needed new generation of boilers. The opposition had dug deep into her past, and it came out that she once was a member of a gang that had become known as the ‘Heaven’s Angels’. Here I quote in part from the Hell’s main daily:
“‘They secretly committed many deplorable criminal acts of charity among the underprivileged human population. Besides these activities, they used to conduct the so-called “white mass”, which is a clandestine form of the usual Black Mass, traditionally held in Hell to honour the great Lord Lucifer. In course of the white mass, which consists of ceremonies apparently mainly designed to evoke the archangel, she had acted as the low priestess … She was remanded in custody, while the Hell’s Crime Prevention Squad searched her home. The damning evidence that was uncovered during the search and later used by the Prosecution when her case came to the trial, included a “samizdat” copy of the book that the humans use during their worship, which they conduct in the type of buildings that usually have spires conspicuously attached, and which are not to be named in this document.”
The above might have happened a long time ago, but the revelation had devastating consequences for the Government. Immediately after this exposition, many backbenchers of the Parliament had moved in abhorrence from the Government side of the Parliament to the Opposition benches. As a result, the Opposition had won the no confidence vote, and therefore took over the power.
These events came only shortly before Daramsuphael was to be released from his bondage, so that he returned to Hell just in time to be offered and accept an important position in the Civil Service that was hastily being revamped. The old devil fulfilled the promises he gave to the three who used to regularly attend the lectures he delivered from the treetop. Mephisto and Pheles received a thorough training as Public Relations Representatives, at the conclusion of which they had been sent to the relevant department, headed by Pubersiphael Valefarius. At the time our story had begun, as we know already, they were well established as an experienced team of field workers.
Brigitte, who not unlike Daramsuphael, had played more or less a cameo role of a catalyst in this narration, in due time was indeed offered the coveted Hell’s citizenship, on the basis of Daramsuphael’s sponsorship. She had taken to life in the new surroundings like the proverbial firefly to fire.
in which Mephisto and Pheles
visit Doctor Faust
in his house at Heidelberg,
to offer him a contract
As he had promised Mephisto, Pheles immediately immersed himself in searches. They needed facts, particularly about the proceedings leading up to the Hell’s representatives signing the original contract with Faust. Then, if they could alter the causal side of events, repercussions would be felt in other parallel worlds. Gradually, a different chain of events would form.
At this point, the most important thing to Pheles was that he had to make sure of having the right person, which was vital to them before making decisive any moves. Initially he had encountered quite a few problems. The place of Faust’s birth was just as uncertain as the date, for instance. He had to choose between Knittlingen, Heidelberg, Helmstadt and Roda. Finally he settled on Helmstadt as the most likely birthplace. The year of Faust’s birth was also disputable; any time between 1460 and 1480, depending on whom you believed. The latter mattered even more than the former, because on it depended the timing of their visit. They had to come in shortly before their last encounter, but not too early. Ideally, they wanted to catch Faust at the time he would be approaching his old age, when he would be full of nostalgia over the lost youth, of resentment over the opportunities that had passed him by, and so on. Like it happens with many elderly persons. Then if they could hit the right chord, it should be easy to motivate him sufficiently to put his name in blood on the parchment they would offer him.
Pheles checked and rechecked the references, but they all looked rather chaotic. He had to be certain. In the end he used the only avenue he had left, that of breaking into the celestial computers. He knew that they would have it right. He didn’t do these things very often, because it was rather risky, and the chances that the Heavenly Intelligence Services might get on his trail were fairly high. But not high enough, he decided, because he believed himself to be one of the best hackers around. The hacking went without an incident. From the database of the department headed by St Peter and named simply Admissions, Pheles found out that Faust, born in 1466 in Helmstadt, had turned up at the Pearl Gate on the 15th March 1555, but was not directly admitted. Instead he was sent to the Purgatory, for a period of time that was yet to be determined. That must have happened just after he managed to slip through the Hell’s fingers, by repenting his numerous sins, at the end of the period specified in the contract. This was normally thirty years.
Thus Pheles now knew that Faust was born in Helmstadt in 1466, also that he was a student at the famous Heidelberg University between 1483 and 1487, when he gained his Master of Arts degree. It appeared that he studied theology, but also medicine, astrology and some other related subjects, all connected with what was then known as the magical arts. He eventually became a lecturer at the same University where he had gained his degree. After this the trail became cold; he may have taught at some other schools, he may have travelled around Germany and some neighbouring countries. Eventually he appeared to have returned to Heidelberg around 1520. There was no need to bother about finding more concerning the missing years; at this stage they only looked for the basic facts relevant to the case. Five years later he was still in Heidelberg, where he owned a house he inherited from some relatives. That was in 1525, he would then have been 59 years old, which was considered old in the 16th century. To this add the obligatory thirty years that he would have gained after the contract with the Hell’s representative was signed and sealed. This would have taken him to March 1555. After more crosschecking Pheles was pretty sure that he had his man.
Pheles called Mephisto and told him about his findings.
“You’re sure?” he asked.
“Positive”, was the answer, “We’ll move in before March 1525.”
“Before we do that, could you perhaps make some in-field surveillance, so that we would come well prepared.”
“Yes, and we will need the carrot.”
“What do you mean by carrot?”
“The parchment that we want to plant in his papers, containing the prophecy about his rise to fame.”
“Oh, that. When can you do that?”
“There is no time such as the present.”
“Yes, especially when you’re about to go time travelling.”
That part done, Pheles thought that they might be ready to go, but things are never this easy. It turned out that before they could visit the 16th century they had to gain a permanent access to the relevant time period, for which they had to ask Valefarius. The 16th century happened to be outside the range that the devils of their rank could time-travel freely; therefore a password was required. To get it through their boss first they had to contact his secretary, and Pheles gleefully offered Mephisto that he can handle the task, knowing that he rather fancied Cathy. To his surprise, Mephisto declined. Has he fallen out of love so quickly? Devil knows. In the end Pheles went there himself, and came back with the forms to be submitted in triplicate, to gain the necessary password. There is a Whitehall in Hell too, in case you didn’t know…
Both partners agreed that two months before the critical time around the 15th March should be safe enough margin, so they settled on mid January as the time of their impending visit. Having successfully gotten over the red tape (no need to bore you with details, suffice to say that it took them almost a full day of concentrated effort to secure the permit), they decided to make a reconnaissance trip first, so that they could familiarise themselves with the venue and the conditions. Naturally, they planned to go to the town centre, visiting some of its famous inns, disguised as students. The Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg happens to be the oldest one in Germany; it was founded in 1386. Thus in time of their visit it was nearly a century and a half old, and well established. It also meant that the peaceful citizens of the city had a problem. Carousing students apparently caused many complaints to the city elders, who eventually were forced to act. They passed a law that enabled the catchpolls they employed to arrest those particularly raucous amongst the academic crowd, and take them to a place called Studentenkarzer, which means the Student Prison. The student miscreants were then kept off the streets, usually for three days, but in especially serious cases they may have been held up to four weeks at a time. Meeting with some of these characters, who became legendary in the medieval Europe, was going to be one of the highlights of the journey, and both devils were really looking forward to it.
At this point I wish to tell you a little more about the system under which the Hell operates. From my own studies I have concluded that this institution is primarily concerned with the humans, or at least so was the section of the Services that Mephisto and Pheles belonged to at the time. There are other fields of infernal activities that fall under different categories, but ultimately everything is geared towards interfering with the human affairs as much as possible. Therefore, the technology the devils are using tends to be roughly of the same level as it had reached on the Earth plane at any given time, or perhaps slightly above it. This is so arranged to always give them a narrow edge over the humans, while at the same time making them aware of what is going on at the human level, keeping them up to date, so to speak. Their aim is to blend with the environment inhabited by humans, and not to stand out. Thus you, the humans, would never even suspect that you have met with or are having some dealings with a devil, unless of course he or she would wish to make themselves known to you. However, they would not do that without a good reason. This they usually have when the stage is reached just before signing up a human. Because when they want someone to sign up in their own blood, and this is the unchangeable rule that was once and for all chiselled into stone, and that can under no circumstances be bypassed, they have to tell their prospective client who they actually are, and what they could do for them. They simply have to lay their cards on the table. As happened many times already, and as will keep on happening, until the end of times. As happened too with Doctor Johann Faust.
The first thing that had hit the two time travellers in Heidelberg was a bitter cold. It was 14th January, and Germany was in the grip of a cold snap. The Heidelberg inns with their legendary rowdy students thus had to wait, at least for a few days. It was far too cold for any partying, and the snow-covered streets everywhere looked empty. The frosty weather must have stopped even the worst behaved of revellers from hitting the town, let alone of painting it red in their customary manner. The two devils had to take refuge in the fourth dimension, where the weather was much better and thus, invisible to humans, they had set out to search for the house of Doctor Faust. It was not terribly difficult. As it turned out, Herr Doctor inhabited a largish (for the time) one-story house, which was surrounded by a fairly extensive and fully fenced garden. It stood in the northern part of the town, slightly apart from the rest of the town buildings.
‘This looks good’, they said to each other. At least they shouldn’t have too many unwanted witnesses and gape-seeds, in case things got a little out of hand. Not that they would have expected any major problems. They were an experienced pair of pedlars, with exceptional ability to understand and complement each other, due to the special relationship they had enjoyed.
Mephisto and Pheles had decided to first look around the house, before they would go in. The house stood near the city wall, but a small, solidly built gate, lead outside, onto a meadow with scattered fruit trees and smaller bushes, which stretched up into the hills and the nearby forest. It too was now covered by snow. The gate was unattended and it looked as though it would only be closed and guarded in cases of emergency. That too was good, as it gave them more room for activities, whatever they might be. Immediately behind the house was a small woodshed with some firewood and a cutting block, which looked like it was being used quite often. Small wonder, in such cold weather. A proper gardener must have once regularly tended the fenced garden, but even now in the middle of winter it looked somewhat neglected. It was easy to imagine though that this would be the perfect place for a religious philosopher, such as Faust, to relax and meditate. Pheles asked:
“How shall we introduce ourselves to Faust? We haven’t decided on that yet.”
“Goethe in his play has a poodle follow Faust home, who later turns out to be, guess who?”
“That sounds fine to me. Which one of us would make a better black poodle, what do you think?”
“In my entire career I’ve never done a poodle yet, black or any other colour. The nearest to it would have been the three-headed rabies afflicted black dog with a fiery tail and bloodied paws. It was a kind of a mongrel, that’s why I was never entered for any shows.”
“Three heads, that would be a bit of an overkill, even if they had you well groomed.”
“So poodle it is. At least that would be more seemly. So who’ll play the canine?”
“Let’s toss up!”
Pheles flicked a coin on the spot. Mephisto called ‘head’ and he won the right to playing the black poodle. He seemed pleased. They went into the house through the wall. This time it didn’t matter, as they were invisible and intended to remain so for the duration of this visit. They could also talk freely to each other, without being heard by the human inhabitants of the house. There appeared to be two of the species present, an elderly man, who obviously must have been the intended target, and a young girl. Could she be his daughter? In his searches Pheles had not come across any evidence that Faust would have been married. The girl was pretty, despite being dressed rather shabbily. She was slim but very nicely shaped, with a head of dark hair that tended to curl naturally. She had eyes that seemed to have gathered all the innocence the world had seen since she came into it, while somehow one knew that they were just waiting to gift it to the deserving. Pheles looked at Mephisto, but he didn’t return his glance, as he was fully taken in by the sight of her. He couldn’t blame him at all; she indeed was easy on the eye.
‘Here comes trouble,’ Pheles said quietly to himself. He’s seen Mephisto fall into love a few times, and nothing but problems ever came out of it, both to his friend and to the pair of them. For some reason, the love that oozed out of this poetic soul in barrels and bushels was never reciprocated. He must have been choosing the wrong targets for his amorous desires. Thus far he had always managed to pick himself up after a few days or even weeks of brooding over yet another cruel rejection, but each time this happened, inevitably it must have left some psychological scars on his mate, Pheles was sure of that. On the other hand, he was telling himself, Mephisto is a poet, or wants to be one, anyway. Maybe that being a jilted lover, everlastingly and ingloriously, was the very stuff the poets are made of. How could a rational thinker like himself possibly be able to tell? Pheles looked at the girl again. She was busying herself in the kitchen, rolling some dough on the table, flour on her hands and some of it even on her cheeks and forehead, where she must have brushed the delicate pinkish skin with her fingers. That suited her, as it made her red lips (that colour must be natural, surely they had no lipstick in the 16th century Germany, he told himself), dark eyes, and raven-like black hair, stand out even more prominently. A rare find, this one… ‘Please, let it work for him this time!’ Pheles said mutely to no one in particular. He would have even said a prayer, if he knew one, and if there was anyone to direct it to. Sometimes it’s a drag, being a devil!
He let Mephisto gawk to his heart’s content, and turned his attention to the main room of the house, where their target was seated. A study with the library, that’s the best description for it. The library was not a very large one, amassing perhaps three hundred volumes… Pheles immediately gave himself an imaginary kick in the backside. Let’s not forget that here we are barely three quarters of a century after the invention of printing! This realisation had instantly turned it into a rather significant library, for its time certainly, and for an individual scholar particularly. Apart from the books, all bound in leather, there were also some parchment rolls, paper scrolls and a few piles of manuscripts. These were to be found scattered all over the shelves, on the large oak wood table, many even lying loose on the chairs. An active scholar’s library and study.
The active scholar himself was sitting on the only chair that had not held any stationery, and appeared to be fully immersed in reading some manuscript. An astrological chart of some sort was hanging on the wall, to which he threw and occasional glance. Apart from the books, everything Pheles could see in the room looked a kind of cheap and threadbare, so that he gained the immediate impression that in this household relatively little was being spent on furniture or on items of general comfort, because most of the money Faust had earned, rather a lot, he guessed, would have gone into buying those tomes and other reading material. Whatever it was that he read now didn’t make him look happy, though. Overall, he looked quite visibly depressed, like a man down on his luck. And old, much older than his 59 years, which Pheles knew to be his true age. Indeed, people aged much faster during the Middle Ages! Pheles went back to the kitchen, to see if he could move Mephisto and get him focused onto something other, than his libidinous interests.
“Any idea who this little beauty might be?” he asked him, pointing to the girl, who was now forming little blobs of dough with her delicate little fingers, turning them into some sort of bagels, ready to be put into the oven. He had to jerk him out of his stupor somehow. Mephisto finally focused his eyes on his partner.
“His daughter? Or more likely, the granddaughter.”
“Can’t be. He was not married, we would have surely found out about it if he had.”
“But are you absolutely certain of it?”
“Absolutely certain! No records of any marriage involving Faust anywhere in Germany, or in the neighbouring countries.”
“Fine, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any by-blows, don’t you think so?”
“Well … possibly he could have. It’s equally possible though that she might simply be a housekeeper, hasn’t this occurred to you? A man of his standing would certainly be expected to employ one. Maybe even more than one.”
“I don’t think that he would be able to afford more than one servant, judging from the state of furniture and other things I can see in this house. It’s full of books, but apart from that there is nothing of value in the entire house. I’d say that she must be a housekeeper. And a cook, all in one person. She’s very young; he wouldn’t have to pay her much. We’ll find out later, anyway. Now, about that transfer point, let’s go and look for it.”
They went together to see the rest of the house. Besides the library and the kitchen, there was another room downstairs, and two bedrooms, one lager, and the other smaller, upstairs. Both were obviously being used, so the girl must have lived in the house, too. That discovery had made Mephisto look a bit nervous. The study-library-living room was the hub of the household; this was evident. They went back there, and picked up a spot, which they would make the focus of their multi-dimensional transfers. It was near the front door, next to a large hallstand that held a heavy winter-coat and a couple of hats.
There was nothing else they needed to arrange at this point, other than sowing the seed of pestilence. Pheles had slipped it amongst the papers on the scholar’s table when he wasn’t looking, so that Faust would find it in due time. Then both had left the house and the 16th century. The next time they would come, they would be carrying live ammunition.
It was very, very cold! Faust couldn’t remember the last time they had such a cold winter. It’d been like this since before Christmas and it didn’t look like ever letting go. They would have run out of firewood a long time ago, and suffered even more than they did, but for Siebel. He had to give it to her, at least that’s one thing she’s useful for. Though he wasn’t sure whether she didn’t do this only because she wouldn’t want to freeze to death herself. Yes, that’s what makes her go into the forest nearly every day, to gather some wood for fuel, it’s the self-preservation instinct, he had now decided. And she even splits the firewood; she seems to like doing this. Just as well, because he couldn’t do it himself, not with his crooked back. It would be out of question for him anyway, a distinguished man with academic titles, to engage in such menial tasks.
Other than being the main supplier of their fuel, of course, Siebel was useless. He must have had wool over his eyes when he picked her up in that orphanage! Come to think of it, he even talked the people in charge there into allowing him to take her into his wardship! They were only happy to have gotten rid of her, but Faust still had to convince them that he had a valid claim. In the end they believed him, even though he had completely invented the story of her being the illegitimate daughter of one of his students. The one who went on to make the Homunculus, Wagner was his name. They wanted some proof, so he brought them a totally faked astrological chart and told them that this was how he had discovered her true origins. He urged them to keep it confidential. Of course, they could not question that kind of evidence, no one in their sound mind can. Faust was a world-renown expert; everybody knew that, so they had not argued. Still, it was a lot of trouble he went into, and all that only to get himself a live-in housekeeper! But, of course, this way he didn’t have to pay her, since officially she was his ward. So it was worth the effort, after all. If only she was a better cook…
As for the girl’s family name, that should have been be Wagner, but only if Faust’s story was true. Only Faust knew that it was not true. He wouldn’t have wanted to call her that anyway, it would have reminded him of too much his pupil who went one better than himself, and who had apparently managed to create a Homunculus. This made Faust feel jealous. In the orphanage the girl was registered as Katherine Siebel, so that’s what he kept calling her even now. Siebel might not be the brightest of stars, he thought, but at least she came cheap and, he had to admit that, she could cook, at least a bit. He can’t complain, really. Basically, he has her here looking after him for the cost of food, and maybe some second-hand clothes, now and then. Yes, but could he afford more? On that small pension he is getting from the office of the Elector for having taught all those students so diligently for so many years? In his heyday, who would have thought that one day Doctor Faust would be reduced to this?! To have to look for a charwoman who wouldn’t have to be paid. And this after having studied Philosophy, and Jurisprudence, and Medicine, and even, alas! Theology.
Where did this all get me, that’s the question, Faust was thinking. All this knowledge I have gathered over the years, as a student at the University, the foremost one in Germany and, indeed in the world! I’m Magister, I’m Doctor! He knew very well that he was far cleverer than those fops of Doctors, Magisters, Scribes and Preachers, who moved in the academic circles in this town. They knew it too, without acknowledging it, of course! Nobody likes to admit that there is someone around who is better than they are. There was nothing he had to prove to himself, either. But the worldly fortunes have been avoiding him, somehow. At least he owned the house he lived in, but of course he inherited that. All those studies, the years of teaching other students and of making astrological charts for the fortunate, who hoped thus to attract more fortunes to themselves, of healing the sick with potions, some of which he found out about through reading his books, others having invented himself, all this, and he had nothing of substance to show for it!
If an ordinary man from the street came into this house, what would he see? Would there be anything he could admire, perhaps to the point of attempting to steal it? Perhaps those few pieces of pitiful old furniture, which incidentally came with the house? Or the books on shelves? Why, he wouldn’t know what they were! On a cold day like this such a man might even say to himself: ‘Ha, there’s something we could fire the stove with!’
Faust knew that he would never allow such a thing to happen. But if it went like this, he might be forced to sell some of those tomes; he was gradually getting resigned to that. But how much would he get for selling them? A fraction of their true value, no doubt. He went to the bookcase, took out one of the volumes.
‘Gutenberg’s Bible’, he said to himself. ‘How much? The blighter had the audacity to have a hundred and eighty of these printed, or so I heard, just fancy that; with this many copies around, could this one really have any value?’
He opened the book, made a grimace.
‘When on top of this, that idiot Martin Luther scribbled it all over in the margins! He had even put his name there, and quite prominently too!’
Faust remembered how the preacher came here to Heidelberg and to the University seven years earlier, in 1518, to defend this thing he had written, and which he had so famously nailed to the church door in Wittenberg. The 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, he called it. Faust had lent him this Bible, because he wanted to help him, make things easier for him. And what did he get for this act of kindness? Luther’s defaced the book and made it valueless, with all that scribbling of his! On top of this, now he’s getting popular. They’ve even began celebrating Lutheran Protestant services instead of the Roman Catholic ones in some churches, or so Faust has heard. Maybe Martin would now get rich from not selling indulgencies, well, good luck to him! Perhaps when it happens, Faust could ask him to lend him some money.
He shivered: ‘Phooey, it’s cold! Where is Siebel, to get that fireplace going? I will really need to sell something, and urgently, just to keep us from freezing to death. Why, it’s been such a cold wintry weather this year, and I don’t even own a half decent winter coat! I say, where is my winter coat? It was hanging over there on the stand only last night! Now it’s gone! Those darned Gypsies, it must have been them for sure; yesterday they stole a chicken from my backyard … I bet they’ve been here again and this time they must have even gotten inside the house! Who knows what else they have stolen?’
Faust heard some noise coming from outside the front door. Creaking of the hinges that haven’t been oiled for quite some time followed it.
“Is that you, Siebel?”
“Yes, it’s me, I’m coming. Can’t wait to get in, Doc, it’s so cold out there!”
With these words Siebel walked in, wearing Faust’s winter coat. The expression ‘wearing it’ could only be used here approximately, because a substantial portion of the coat she trailed behind her on the ground.
“So, that’s where that coat was! It had walked away. I thought that it must have walked out of door on some Gypsy, but it was on you all the time.”
“Herr Doctor! Herr Doctor — and how many times do I have to tell you how the servant girl in a respectable German household should properly address her employer and benefactor, who also happens to be her warden?!”
“Employer? When was it that I was last paid? Let me think … was it next February, or March 1545?
“Don’t be such a shrew, Siebel. You know fully well that you get your full board here, and your own room, which is a lot more than you ever had when you were living in that orphanage, or don’t you remember any more? And this is how you repay me for rescuing you from that awful place full of vermin and lecherous clergymen? By stealing things. Like you just stole that coat.”
“I only borrowed it, so that I could go out to the market and buy another chicken in place of the one that was stolen from our yard yesterday, to cook you a proper dinner tonight.”
“Yes, but you borrowed it without asking me.”
“How could I ask you? You were still in bed!”
“That’s only because I was so cold. Now stop being vixenish, go and make us some fire.”
“I’ll have to chop some blocks first. We went through all we had last night. Fortunately, I found some dry wood in the forest the other day and managed to get it in yesterday. One young man who happened to be nearby with his horse and wagon, offered to load it up and pull it in here for me.”
“That’s the sort of thing I’d have to pay for. He didn’t ask you to go out with him, by any chance, did he?”
“As a matter of fact, he did.”
“And you turned him down, naturally.”
“I told him it was too cold and that I had to saw and cut that wood, so that we don’t freeze to death.”
“And he offered to do that for you too, no doubt.”
“He’d sawn the wood into blocks, ready for cutting. I thanked him and told him he could come next week again, that by then I’d have more wood to bring in.”
“Why didn’t you allow him chop it too, while he was already at it, and so keen and hot?”
“Why should I? I love chopping wood!”
“Is that why you’re always singing when you do it? Don’t I hate it when people sing!”
The old scholar was forced to stay at home for several days due to the cold weather. He felt that he needed to clear his head because of that and also after some heavy reading sessions he had been through lately, while trying to put together the formula that would allow him to evoke the Angel of God. After many fruitless attempts he now thought he had it finally worked out, and intended to try soon if it’s going to work. But not before he could be properly relaxed, with his mind open and all senses fully receptive. A walk through the town should help him achieve it. Though still a very much wintry weather outside, it was not quite so cold as it was even a couple of days ago. He put on his coat together with a fur hat, and left through the front door.
Such a walk inevitably had to end in one of the town’s many taverns. In his advanced age he still liked to visit from time to time those places that had been his favourite in the student days. In the watering holes, such as The Foul Harpy's Tavern, The Swindler's Wineskin or The Troll and Hobgoblin, he would drink beer, and together with the drinks he consumed, he would also be absorbing the vibrating vital energy that had gathered under the vaulted ceilings. The young students who frequented these places had vigour aplenty, just as he once had, and they didn’t object to passing on some of it to this old man who happened to be a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge. Especially when they had no idea that the funny old man, their companion for the evening, was feeding on what was oozing out of their youthful bodies. Before long after Faust’s arrival, he would regularly find himself in the centre of a clump of students, together with one or two older citizens of the town, who usually didn’t mind buying a round of drinks for the whole table, if only to demonstrate their affluence.
This night it was no different. The Leaky Pitcher, where he had finally decided to drop the anchor, was full of students and as noisy as he would ever remember it. The beer was as good as every other night. So was the company he had. He held an especially lengthy talk with a couple of young men, who looked perhaps a little bit too well dressed up to be students. Though when he asked them directly about where they came from and what they were actually doing in town, he didn’t get a straight answer from either of them. But blurry was the whole night, so in the end it didn’t matter much. He didn’t tell them everything about himself either when they asked questions of him, so what?
Eventually Faust had decided that he had enough and that it was high time for him to go home. He said goodbye to his two companions for the evening, gave a salute to the rest of the noisemakers at the table, and walked out, slightly unsteadily. It was much colder than inside the tavern, which was warmed by the fire as well as the body heat of many of its patrons. But it was bearable. In any case, he would be home in a few minutes, and Siebel would certainly have the fire going.
He sensed that somebody was following him; behind he heard little noises that sounded like steps, but silent, and not entirely human-like. People walking late at night on their own through the streets of Hiedelberg, like himself, did get mugged from time to time, and Faust knew that he certainly would be vulnerable, so he felt quite relieved when looking back he realised that he was only being followed by a large black poodle.
“Go away!”, he tried to discourage it. The dog had no intention to obey, and it kept following him.
“Why don’t you go home to your owner?”
But the dog still followed him, walking two or three paces behind Faust, all the way to the front door of his house. When he reached it he hit the heavy brass doorknocker several times. He knew that Siebel would have bolted the door from the inside and would have to come to open it for him. When she finally did come to open the door, the dog had suddenly charged inside the house through the opening, almost knocking both of them down.
“What’s that?!” Siebel exclaimed in a surprise.
“Just a dog. A poodle, I think. He’s been following me all the way from The Leaky Pitcher. He’s a stubborn fellow; several times I tried to send him home, wherever that might be, but he wouldn’t go, he just kept following me.”
“Well, looks like he’s decided that this is his home now.”
“We can’t possibly have a dog here!”
“Why not, Doc?”
“We just can’t. Maybe I could get used to the idea of having a cat, but never a dog. Especially a poodle!”
“What’s wrong with poodles?”
But the old man just kept shaking his head; she’d have to devise a new tactic. They went inside. The black poodle was now lying on the floor near the fireplace, as if he belonged to the place and the place to him. Siebel walked to the dog and patted him over the head. The dog licked her hand, at first only gently, then with more and more vigour. She begged her employer:
“I’ve always wanted a dog, Herr Doctor. Please! Let him stay here, Herr Doctor. Pretty please! Just look at him! He’s such a darling! I’ll be looking after him, Herr Doctor, I will! I promise you, sir, I promise you I will. Please, sir!”
Faust was too tired and he had far too much to drink on the night to oppose her now. All he could do at the moment was think longingly of the bed upstairs.
‘Let’s postpone resolving the matter of the dog to the morning’, he said to himself. Then he said the same thing aloud to Siebel. After that he went to bed.
In the morning, the dog was still sleeping in front of the fireplace. Siebel had tried to feed him some bits she found in the kitchen, but he didn’t appear to be hungry.
‘That’s strange’, she thought, ‘he doesn’t behave like a dog at all.’
But the dog looked healthy enough and, above all, he seemed to like her. When Faust eventually got up with quite a respectable hangover, he had some breakfast in the kitchen, and then he went into his study. He looked at the dog, comfortably stretched on the floor, and his thoughts went back to the previous night. He’ll talk with Siebel about this matter, when there is a chance. He recalled that she had called him ‘Herr Doctor’, and not only once, when last night she was pleading with him for the dog to be allowed to stay. Maybe this is the way to teach her some manners, he said to himself. The basic things first, such as knocking on the door before entering his study and, of course, addressing him properly. Perhaps this and even more, could be traded for allowing this fellow to stay in the house. He cast a look around the room, particularly to the table covered with books, some of them open, some closed, piles of paper, parchment roles, etc. If Siebel could only understand how much sweat went into all this learning, only to earn him the privilege of calling himself Herr Doctor! But this young generation…
Faust only waved his hand over it, pulled up a chair and sat down at the table. For a while he kept his head buried in the papers, then suddenly he lifted one up to examine it more thoroughly. He turned it over, once, twice, looked again, said to himself:
‘This is interesting. I don’t remember seeing this manuscript before. It looks like some old prophecy. There is some talk about prophetic gift … pity, the paper’s old and has some damage there, so the rest is illegible … No, that can’t be! … There is something that appears to be about me. Here: Doctor Johann Faust, that’s me, surely, through Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, will become a figure of classical literature … that’s interesting … flattering, really. That’s what it says though, that’s what’s written here. I have no idea where this paper came from; it must have been buried in this pile for some time and somehow it found its way near the top. I don’t even remember where and when I got these papers from, must have had it here for ages… Pity it’s incomplete, there is quite a bit missing … but my name, Faust, is here, and there can’t be too many Fausts around, especially such as would deserve to figure in the world literature! Through some Goethe … who’s Goethe, anyway? … Who’s knocking on that door? Could it be he, this Goethe? That would be a bit qick, but who knows, if he’s to facilitate my entry into the world literature, maybe there’s no time to waste …’
“Please, do come in!”
Siebel walked in with an armful of stove length pieces of chopped wood.
“It’s only me doc. But you told me to knock…”
“Herr Doctor. Herr Doctor. Haven’t we been through this before? And so many times. Well, at least you got it half right, you didn’t forget to knock on the door. One thing at the time, may be we’ll get there, eventually. If you want this dog to stay here, that’s the sort of manners I’d expect you to maintain.”
“Yes, Herr Doctor. Could he really stay? Oh, thank you, so much, sir!”
The girl made a move as if to kiss his hand, but she realised that she had a load of wood in her arms, and she went to unload it by the fireplace first. By then Faust had moved behind the table and out of her reach. Instead she capped the dog’s head in her hands and began to pet him vigorously.
“You can stay, you can stay with us! Did you hear it? Her Doctor’s allowed it. Yes, you’ll like it here, won’t you? I’m going to love you, you hear me, I’ll love you, you beautiful creature! I’ll have to think of a nice name for you, too.”
All that time she was also holding in her hand a scrap of paper, which she had brought with the wood from the outside. When she stood up, Faust noticed it.
“What is it you have in hand?”
“Just a scrap of paper. It must have flown into the yard with that cold wind. I was going to use it to light up the fire …”
“I wouldn’t have. It seemed to want to talk to me.”
“That’s because it might be important. Any piece of paper that you find around this house could hold something important. That’s why you should never burn any papers in this house! If you need to light up the fire, use the dry moss. There is plenty of it stored in the shed, just for this purpose. Do you understand?”
“Doctor. Or sir.
“Do you want me to keep this paper, then, doctor or sir?”
“Give it to me.”
Faust took the paper from Siebel’s hand and began to unfold and smooth it. His eyes had suddenly widened.
“Heavens! It looks like this might well be the missing part of that prophecy!
He read, while Sievel put on a good act of a curious maidservant, moving around the room with the feather duster she had picked up from somewhere, all of which gave her an excuse to occasionally steal a look over her employer’s shoulder. However, Faust was so taken in by the contents that he had to share it with someone, even if it were to be merely his maidservant. He read aloud to her:
“... in 1509 a Johann Faust from Helmstadt receives the A.B. at Heidelberg – see, that definitely must be about me … having studied theology he turns to magic and medicine … yes, that’s me alright! … Faust's successes as astrologer and soothsayer … yes, yes … here it comes – and the same Faust later becomes a major figure in world literature, namely in the morality play, largely compiled from sixteenth-century books of travel description, magic, demonology, theological discussion, religious-moral edification, proverb lore, and humorous anecdote. Its central action, more concentrated on a single protagonist (and a single antagonist) than earlier magus stories, has dramatic possibilities that Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Christopher Marlowe and others immediately recognise and exploit. The problem that Faust has … however … is—
Faust stopped reading and bore his eyes into the paper even more intently, shrivelling his forehead and tapping his other hand impatiently over the top of the table.
“… oh damn it! It becomes completely illegible from here on. It says … the problem that Faust has … and that’s it. I can’t read it from there on, and the rest of the paper was torn off anyway. Now, I’m supposed to have a problem, and I don’t know what it is. Or even where to look for it…”
Siebel certainly was not the one to hold the tongue behind her teeth for long.
“Oh, come on, Herr Doctor, you don’t need to go far … there are problems everywhere. Look here … if I can get this up …
While talking Siebel had proceeded to pull up the hem of her skirt and whatever she wore underneath, revealing first the knee, then a substantial part of the thigh. While doing this she looked entirely natural and acted a completely innocent virgin whom, we have no reason to doubt, she was. Faust watched her doings, which were hard to ignore, with some interest, and for as long as modesty of a 16th century part-time theologian would have allowed him, but when the hem of her skirt moved past the knee, he was compelled to interfere.
“Look, Siebel, I'm not interested in the problems you might have with your petticoat or whatever you’re trying to show me, and didn't I ask you to refer to me as doctor or sir? Your problems are of no consequence, and of no use to me, and certainly not to the classical literature. They would make me look uninspired, if not downright moronic. Or liquorish, and that would be even worse. What I need here obviously must be a problem of world magnitude ... a genuine literary problem, something poetic but challenging, something people would really love to listen to—”
But the fair maiden, though in the meantime she had let her garments fall to their normal position, was not finished yet, as her eagerness to help her guardian was not to be dampened by problems of world magnitude. So far as she was concerned, such things could always be found closer to home.
“Hey, doc, Herr Doctor, there is this minstrel who comes to the markets every two weeks or so, and don’t people just love listening to him! His songs are forever full of problems. A young knight falls in love with a dame …”
“Stop. And don’t you dare start singing; I’m allergic to singing. The old fashioned problems that anyone could pick up at the markets for a pfennig are of no use to me either. This calls for something quite extraordinary!”
“You’ve got a problem, doc.”
“Doctor. Or sir. I know I have. If only I knew … wait a minute, there is this Goethe mentioned in that prophecy. Is he supposed to come? If he does, he might know!”
“Who is Goethe?”
“I don’t know. But I’ll be waiting for him, here. He might not come this evening, but surely tomorrow …
“What if he doesn’t come?”
“He’ll come, don’t you worry about that. He must come, otherwise, why would it say here that he would write about me? Look, Siebel, about this Goethe. When this Goethe ... Mr. Goethe ... when Herr Doctor von Goethe comes and I happen not to be here, you just greet him nicely and then you must detain him.”
“Do you mean, Herr Doctor, that I should enter into conservation with this Herr Doctor von Goethe?”
“Conversation. I wonder ... perhaps it might be better if you don't talk to him at all.”
“Could I sing to him? You won’t be here to hear it. Perhaps some madrigal, that’s the latest craze …”
“No! Talk to him. Tell him that I had to go somewhere and that I’ll be back soon to see him, or you could tell him that I have an influenza, just think of something, anything, only you must detain him somehow, so that I can find out about that problem and then: Lo! We'll go into the literature!”
Really? We'll go into the literature? And what should I wear?”
“Nothing, Siebel, you nothing.”
“Should I go naked, you mean?”
“Don't be silly, girl, just don't be silly. You and literature! When you are a bit older, I might let you read some pages from Boccaccio or Chaucer, as a timely warning about the dangers that lurk on its shadowy grounds, waiting to pounce on an innocent young girl … I wonder, this von Goethe, would he write some juicy bits about me too? To help to sell the book—”
"When is this mister, Herr Doctor Vongoethe supposed to come, doc?”
"Doctor. You had it right for a while, now you’re wavering again. Well, when he’s coming, I don’t know, the devil knows, in an hour, perhaps, maybe tonight, in the morning, next year … We just have to wait and be patient.”
"I only wanted to know when, so that I could make sure of making up the bed.”
"She’s thinking about making up the bed! And this now, when the literature is calling us, those responsive amongst us, that is. Yet, she has made up her bed already, her bed of roses. A poor orphan she was, abandoned, in an orphanage. I have adopted her. I have looked after her, I have protected her. I have taught her to read and write. Alas! What do I get? She calls me doc! She's my…”
“Problem ... Yes, the problem, I must see about that now, to be ready for this Goethe. Herr Doctor von Goethe. I’ve got it! The Angel from Heaven would help me finding the proper problem! The time hath come! Quick, where is my formula?”
Faust rummaged agitatedly through the papers on his table, could not find what he was looking for, got increasingly desperate, turning red in the face.
“Siebel, have you seen my formula? And don't tell me that you've thrown it out with the rubbish! Or used it to light up the fire.”
The girl ran away, but came back almost immediately, with a roll of paper in hand.
“Is this it? I was about to use it, but something just told me that it might be important.”
“Oh, God! My formula! The fruit of many years of toil! And you were about to burn it. Oh, my God, oh Heavens!!”
He rolled up his eyes and made the praying gesture towards the heavens. He unrolled the paper containing the formula and, obviously being well used to conducting such ceremonies, he automatically assumed the kind of stance used for delivering magical invocations. At the same time something unexpected had happened.
Mephisto, up to that point quite comfortable in the body of black poodle, while waiting for the right moment to make his appearance, could not allow such incantations go on unchecked. Upon hearing Faust calling to the Heavens previously, Mephisto thought that this should be just about the perfect timing. Still partially in the body of the poodle and within the realm of the fourth dimension, he therefore made his earthly vehicle, the poodle’s body, stand up. Within a few seconds, instead of the dog there was now the devil, though not yet fully visible to the humans.
In a load voice, which gained a special quality as it rolled like a thunder over the boundary between the world of formation and the world of matter that he was about to enter, he exclaimed.
“I have arrived!”
The peremptory sound of Mephisto’s voice, which had rolled through the room, made Faust stand as if he had become frozen to the ground. Siebel was visibly frightened too, but still she managed to whisper:
“It’s him. Whoever that might be. Could it be this Hervongoethe who’s arrived, Herr Doctor?”
These words acted as a tonic on Faust, who began to move quickly about the study, though without a real aim.
“It has to be him! Siebel, now, just don't panic, please, look, I'm not home, so you go, you go there, open up, tell him that you are not here, that you have a flu, no that I have it, no, that I am not here, no, I'm off …”
For a while it looked like he might want to crawl under the table, but changed his mind about that, running towards the door to the next room instead, again changing his mind and making a move towards the back door. Meanwhile, Mephisto had successfully completed the transfer from the higher dimension to the lower, and from the lower dog-form to the higher human-form, in process of which he somehow found himself in the space under Faust’s winter coat hanging on the hallstand. Siebel nearly fainted when she saw the coat that almost touched the ground shake quite violently, as the devil underneath it was trying to find his way from the entanglement. Not waiting to see what would come out, in terror the girl had ran away and to the next room. Mephisto, who’d finally managed to get out of his containment, emerged hoping that his less than imposing entrance would not spoil the effect. He was wearing a smart looking black coat over a white shirt trimmed with gold and covered with red vest. The outfit was completed with an imposing wide black hat on top of his head. A longish pointed beard completed the overall impression, which was something of an early 19th century romantic poet crossed with stage conjuror. He though long and hard about what to wear for the occasion, he had consulted Pheles as well. Together they decided that something stylish but at the same time futuristic at least to some extent, might make the best impression on Faust, whom they judged as basically conservative, with a strong streak of snobbery present.
Mephisto caught a glimpse of Siebel’s departure from the room, and viewed her movements enthusiastically, before turning his attention to the main subject of their mission. Holding the hat in his hand he bowed gracefully in front of Faust, who by then had given up trying to run away or getting under the table, and now only pretended that he was straightening the loose papers on top of it.
“Greetings, Herr Doctor Faust. How could I be of service to you?
“Ah! Herr von Goethe, I presume. I had to … How did you get in? … Never mind … welcome, welcome sir, to my humble household.”
“Sorry, but you are mistaken. Herr von Goethe I am not.”
“Mr Marlow, perhaps?”
“I’m afraid not. Neither am I Friedrich Müller, Christian Grabbe, Alexander Pushkin, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Mikhail Bulgakov, Terry Pratchett, or any of the thousands of other wordmongers that will ever write about Doctor Faust.
“All these people will write about me, you say? That’s great to know. But who are you?”
Faust sniffed the air, obviously beginning to suspect something untoward about his visitor. He had not yet noticed the absence of the black poodle however, which would have firmed his suspicions.
“Is something burning? Siebel, are you lighting that fire?”
“Sorry. An occupational hazard. Mephisto is my name.”
Faust had thus received conformation for his qualms; nevertheless he decided to prolong the preliminaries to the main game, of which he now knew that it would have to come. So he asked Mephisto feignedly innocently:
“What sort of business are you in?”
“Our business is in fire.”
“Are you selling firecrackers or something?”
“You misunderstand me, Her Doctor. It’s an eternal fire.”
“And you don’t get burned?”
“Me? Never! Look, Herr Doctor. This is Asbestos! 80% asbestos. One of the best inventions that has ever come out off our laboratories. In your future it will have become even more useful through polluting the Earth, causing cancer, and all sorts of other jolly things. For the time being it makes all of us totally fire-resistant.”
“Heavens! Oh, by the way, I was about to make contact with the Heavens, when you came. But you are not the Heavens, it appears, or are you?”
“No, not at all, Herr Doctor, though I must admit that basically we are in the same line of business. But at the opposite poles, so to say. Still, in a way, we complement each other.”
Perhaps the time has come to do some bargaining, Faust thought. Like many aspiring magicians he had contemplated making a pact with the devil before but, naturally, he had not thought that an opportunity to do so would present itself so suddenly. Now he was going to milk as much as he could out of it.
“But I was trying to call the Heavens!”
“How would you have done that?”
“Why, with this formula, naturally.”
“Could you show it to me, please?”
Faust handed Mephisto the parchment he held in his hand. He might as well, he thought; even yesterday he was full of optimism about its expediency, but today he woke up in the morning full of doubts that this particular formula would work. Never mind. With some luck he might get something much better from this fellow!
Mephisto sensed that Faust was going to do some bargaining; they all did, once they realised what the whole thing was about. But their greed always wins, in the end.
Mephisto pretended that he read what was written on the parchment, and handed it back to Faust, with a shrug of his shoulders. The sales talk proper was about to begin.
“Just as I suspected. It's outdated, sir. It’s inferior, in fact. That's why His Inferiority has appropriated it, to put it in use on some of our sectors. Somewhere down the line it must have reached you.”
“My formula is inferior, you say?”
“Unfortunately, yes, sir. It certainly won’t lead you to the destination you desired. But you have nothing to regret, sir. Our company is better. It’s more progressive, more reliable. We only ever use guaranteed scientific methods and scrupulously modern equipment. Our chief aims are miracles too, but principally they happen in the field of economy. We can provide the best references; we guarantee absolute discretion without any obligation. We serve a clear wine to all our customers. Such as this.”
This had to be done in style, and Mephisto came well prepared. He conjured up a bottle of wine together with a pair of ornamental goblets. Faust looked surprised. Of course, Mephisto thought, he’s not used to seeing wine in a bottle. He would mainly be drinking beer or perhaps mead in a tavern, where all liquids to be consumed by the starboarders are being stored in barrels. He nearly forgot that in Faust’s time hardly anyone would have heard of bottled wine! Well, all the more impressive this would look! He had several more surprises in store for him. Faust was still eying the bottle Mephisto was holding in his hand.
“What is this?”
“That’s a bottle, Herr Doctor. It’s made of glass. It can hold liquids, such as fine old wine.”
“Old wine? Wouldn’t that turn into vinegar?”
“Not at all if properly treated. It gets better and better, with age. And this one is first class. Just try it!”
Mephisto opened the bottle, filled the goblets, offered one to Faust, who still viewed it with some suspicion. He used the tip of his tongue at first to tentatively taste the offering, then sipped some more, drank, turned the goblet bottom up.
“It’s heavenly!” He handed Mephisto the empty goblet for refill.
“Hardly. But it’s clear, non-corruptible. Distilled from the corrupt politicians. And inside traders. And bankers. And judges. And captains of industry …”
“Don’t worry. They drank only the best available, while they still could, I can assure you. And not only this; nearly all of them had spouses who were much younger. Or at least had plenty of facelifts and boobs jobs. All that makes this wondrous liquid act as an elixir.”
“I don’t know what you mean by facelifts or boob jobs, but did you mean the elixir of youth?”
“You’ve said it.”
“Does this mean then that now I’m going to regain my youth, after having drunk this wine?”
“Unquestionably, but only if you fulfil certain other conditions.”
“Forgive me if I’m too inquisitive, but what is a facelift? Sounds interesting. Could I have one too?”
“You won’t need one, sir. It’s mostly the females of the species who have them. Well, some males do too occasionally, mainly the actors in Hollywood.”
“Hollywood, what’s that?”
“That’s a place in America, where they will be shooting motion pictures. If you ask me, they should be shooting some actors too, especially those with the facelifts.”
“You mean, shooting them with arquebuses? And would they be killing the singers too?”
“No, the motion pictures are being shot with cameras. And no one gets killed, except an odd critic or two. You see, motion pictures are all make-belief, similar to the theatre, but instead of being on stage the actors and everything else is seen on a canvas.”
”And all this will be happening in America? The place these Spaniards have recently discovered?”
“Yes, this and a lot more would be happening there. I might be able to show you some of it, but only if we could come to a certain agreement. That’s why we should now get straight to the point, Herr Doctor. You need a problem, an exemplary problem.”
“How did you know that?”
“We make it our business to know about such things.”
“And could you provide the problem?”
“We can most certainly provide the problem, Her Doctor. Under conditions.”
“Aha, here it comes. I knew it had to come, sooner or later. You want my soul. To hell with you!”
“Your soul ... ha, ha, ha. You, Herr Doctor, such an educated man, with several degrees. And you still believe that you humans have souls? Now, don’t tell me that you even believe in transmigration of souls?”
“Well, yes, maybe … I'm not really sure, no, perhaps I don't ... but .. still ... to lose a soul, just like this, wouldn’t that be careless?”
“What's in a soul, Her Doctor, if you don't even believe that you have one?”
Mephisto produced a parchment specially designed for such occasions. He pointed to it.
“Just sign here that you agree with the placement of your personality, we'll photocopy it, file it on our computer …
“Marked: destined to rot in Hell, I know.”
“The destination of our personalities is of no concern to us. Distillation, perhaps. Certainly, no rotting. Look, Herr Doctor, if you are going to be distilled … I mean destined, to become famous, immoral … I mean immortal, surely all else is only of secondary …
He got a little bogged in this place; that wouldn’t happen too him often. Maybe he should have left this one to Pheles after all? But he liked the girl, right from the beginning and very much, and this was the main reason why he insisted on playing the lead role. To his surprise, here she was now, just in time to rescue him from this attack of stage fright. She walked into the room with some determination, obviously fully recovered from the initial shock.
“Good evening, Mr Vongoethe, good evening … I have an influenza …”
“Immunisation! And make it compulsory. That’s what this community needs. And fluoridation of water too!”
That came out of his mouth quite involuntarily. He really mustn’t let the 21st century Big Brother phrases slip past his guards so easily. This girl must be a bad influence on him. Bad, or good, he was getting confused. Fortunately, Faust stepped in. Obviously, he did not want the girl around while they were bargaining. And there was more haggling to be done yet! Faust hissed at her:
“I just thought that I should ... what was it you've told me, doc, that I should tell him …”
“Why don’t you take the dog out for a walk?”
“The dog. Where is it?”
“I don’t know. Go and look for it.”
She turned around somewhat misdemeanouredly and walked out of the room without a word, like a scowling super model on a catwalk, not being aware at all of thus giving Mephisto another opportunity to leer quite shamelessly. Faust watched her too, then he turned back to Mephisto.
“That's just like her. I'm sure she’s been listening at the door and now she's telling some fibs about having influenza. There is a real sinner for you! Yes, what a wonderful idea, you can have Siebel, in exchange for the problem.”
Could it be? Mephisto had witnessed one conversion already, that of Brigitte. However, this would be even welcomer—
“Really? Is she a sinner? To have her in Hell, this might be an interesting proposition. Well, let's have a look at her.”
He called in a loud voice:
“Pheles, you can come out now!”
Pheles emerged from underneath the hanging coat. Somehow the energy rays must have slipped to become permanently focused on that particular spot; it was not the time now to speculate about such things. Mephisto’s partner was dressed in the way they had previously agreed upon: as a top-notch 21st century businessman, well dressed and elegant, carrying the ubiquitous laptop computer. Together they had decided that flaunting the modern technology might be the best way of making impression on the wannabe magician. Faust quite understandably viewed the new arrival with a great deal of suspicion. Mephisto ignored him for the moment and turned to his partner.
“Here you are. We’re now going to need your laptop computer, Pheles.”
Pheles had put the laptop onto the only available spot on the table, moved a pile of books from one chair onto another chair, pulled the now empty chair to the table, sat down and opened the laptop, making sure that the screen was well hidden from Faust’s view. He smiled at Faust, who nevertheless made no moves to help him with rearranging the furniture, while slowly nodding his head in acknowledgment. Faust continued to frown on Pheles. He turned to Mephisto.
“How did he get here?”
“Through the time warp, just like myself”, Mephisto answered straightforwardly for his partner.
“Time warp? What’s that?”
This time it was Pheles who responded to Faust’s question. Not that his answer would be likely to make the doctor any wiser.
“According to the Einstein's theory, time and space form a continuum, which can bend, fold or warp, that is from the observer's point of view. Naturally this is all relative to many other factors, such as movement or gravitation—”
“What is he blabbing about?” Faust interrupted Pheles. “And who is he, anyway?”
“Oh, sorry”, said Mephisto. “Please forgive me my bad manners. I forgot to introduce you. This is Pheles, my partner and a computer whiz.”
“You mean a wizard?”
“I wouldn’t quite call him that. He’s a rationalist and computer expert.”
“Computer ... What’s that?”
Pheles pointed to his laptop.
“Technically speaking, computer is a programmable machine. Generally it includes the motherboard, central processing unit, also known as CPU, memory, also known as RAM, hard drive, and video card. Plus a host of accessories.”
“But what does it do?”
“It’s used mainly for calculating and storage of data.”
“Something like an abacus?”
“Well, yes, only much more advanced.”
Faust quite naturally continued to look confused, and he turned to Mephisto. Perhaps he trusted him more for having known him a little longer.
“But what does he do with this … what do you call it? …
“Computer. Not much, really. Most of the time he just plays games.”
“Games? What sort of games?”
“Computer games”, Pheles said sanctimoniously. Mephisto hastened to add:
“That’s another of our jolly inventions. It's taken, or rather it will take, the world by a storm.”
“Like the card games that our magistrate had to outlaw recently, after those blasted Gypsies brought these playing cards with them here from god-knows-where? Some people just wouldn’t know when to stop playing. When the church service attendances dropped alarmingly and the priests started to complain about the measly collections, the chief magistrate himself decided to step in.”
“Yes, introduction of the playing cards through the migrating Romanies most certainly was one of our better executed schemes. In fact it was a major success at the time. Well, playing games on a computer could be a bit like playing card games. Only, ha, ha, it’s even more addictive!
Mephisto was still laughing when Faust, who by now had stopped frowning on Pheles, asked him:
“When he plays, does he play with you?”
“Oh, no, he plays with his computer.”
“Has it got another devil hiding in it?”
“No. Just the modern equivalent. Microsoft. Pheles, could you show Herr Doctor, what else your computer can do, besides those games? Look up Siebel.
Pheles’ fingers swiftly ran over the keyboard, with Faust watching him intently. Pheles threw a quick glance on the screen, and he frowned.
“Did you say Siebel? Spelled S-I-E-B-E-L? That’s no good, I’m afraid.”
“Nothing much. Only that there are about twelve million entries on Siebel here.”
“Yes. There is some software company, and a fashion label too, it appears—“
Faust apparently was quite fascinated by Pheles’ laptop and wanted to make some contribution.
“She’s a woman.”
“Thank you”, said Pheles politely. “That’s very helpful. This eliminates half the population. We should now be down to perhaps six million. OK, let’s limit the searches to Germany … hmm … still over a two million Siebels. It must be a common name here.”
“You can reduce it to Heidelberg, Germany, and further to the 16th century.”
“Thanks Mephisto, that’s much better. Now we’ve got only one thousand three hundred and sixty left. We could work with that … Siebel … A … Alice. Oh, nice!”
“Not Alice”, Faust said.
“Not Alice? Pity. That one looked promising. Siebel … Barbara. Oh, that’s even better … a part-time prostitute …”
“This one’s a full-time housekeeper. Live-in.”
Faust was now totally absorbed in the search process and ever more eager to help.
“Fine, now let’s have a look what Google has to say about housekeepers. Siebel … Siebel! Cordelia. A housekeeper and part-time prostitute.”
“Cordelia Siebel is moonlighting as a prostitute? I know her and I didn’t know that! Would you believe it that I considered her for this position, before I got Siebel?”
“Yes, she’s entered here as a housekeeper, but she also has a record as prostitute. She steels, on top of it.”
“They all do. Siebel steals too, of course, but I don’t think that she would be a prostitute. I would have found out, by now. Just put plain Siebel in there.”
“Sorry. Can’t help you. There are no records. She is completely clean.”
Mephisto repeated Pheles’ finding in a sombre voice, as if announcing some calamitous event in an official capacity:
“I regret to have to inform you, Her Doctor, that there's nothing joyful we could tell you about your Siebel. We cannot accept her, I’m afraid. She has no record.”
Faust looked dejected, discouraged, disappointed and not in the last place even abashed. He must have thought that by ‘selling’ his young guard to the devil he might achieve his aims, without having to sign up his soul. But in the ring he was with two formidable opponents; moreover the plan they had prepared was cunning beyond his imagination. Still, Faust was not going to give in easily.
“And I'm afraid, Mr Mephisto, that you must be wrong. Compared to other girls, Siebel—”
Mephisto would not allow him to finish the sentence.
“Splendid! Now we’re getting somewhere. Compared to other girls, you've just said it.”
Pheles was determined not to let it go unnoticed that they were a two-man act:
“How about comparing your Siebel with a girl of the 21st century?”
“First of all, let’s not use the word ‘girl’. It is far too sexist and politically incorrect, I’m afraid. So let’s politically correct in using the gender-neutral expression ‘female person’. A problematic female person, I must add. And you have your problem.”
“I don’t understand a word of what you saying. Could you tell me, please, in plain German, what you mean?”
Pheles conspicuously winked at Mephisto, pulled out a parchment from his breast pocket and offered it to Faust.
“Political correctness cannot be explained. It has to be not only personally experienced, but also fully digested. But I can assure you that it does represent a significant problem. If you just sign here, Her Doctor, then we could—”
“I'm not signing anything.”
“So be it”, Mephisto shrugged his shoulders. “If you don't sign, dozen others will. The world will not hear about Doctor Faust, instead it will have another idol to look up to and worship. Someone like Michael Jackson. Or Madonna. Or Edison Rusty Stephenson.”
“Who’s Edison Rusty Stephenson?” asked Pheles.
“No one. I’ve just invented him. You’re free to use this character when you design your next game, Pheles. He’s a Nobody, all he has to do is sign-up, that’s all it takes. Then he’ll have something that Herr Doctor here won’t ever have.”
“What is it that I won’t have?” Faust was anxious to know.
“Immortality. It’s been established once and for all that Doctor Faust cannot become an immortal character, without a vastly complex and far-reaching problem of a literary magnitude. Such problems are not easy to find. You have to satisfy your future sophisticated audience, Herr Doctor. And what it will demand of you, this I can easily arrange. After all … I am the Devil!”
While saying the last words, Mephisto bombastically raised his voice and opened up his arms. At the same moment, the sound of rolling thunder filled up the room. Faust looked relatively unimpressed. Perhaps he was expecting something of the kind. Or he was just playing a hard to impress. He only injected the remark:
“Shhh! Have some consideration. I don’t want you to wake up the whole neighbourhood.”
But the curiosity won in the end, and he asked:
“How did you do that?”
Pheles was not to be left out.
“Ha! Our marvellous sound technicians in Hell can do anything, Herr Doctor!”
He had put his hands to his mouth, forming a speaking-trumpet. Like a proper ham actor he pretended to aim it down towards the infernal regions, exclaiming:
“Hey, you fellows down there, put on some heavy metal, for the good doctor’s enjoyment!”
The latest hit of the popular heavy metal rock group No-One-Had-Heard-Of-Yesterday, came on. The whole house was shaking and vibrating in its foundations. Faust immediately covered his ears with his hands. Siebel, looking extremely alarmed, had run in through the door, but finding the noise even stronger in the room, she turned around and ran back immediately, taken in by uncontrollable terror. Mephisto leered. Faust yelled:
“Please, please, stop that! It’s tearing my ears apart! This is dreadful! Now it’s surely going to wake up the whole neighbourhood!”
Pheles clapped his hands and the noise stopped. Mephisto comforted Faust:
“Our advisors from the treasury department, together with our health experts, have recommended increasing our spending as well as the volume of sound in the area of popular entertainment. It’s called the Noise Subvention Scheme, or NSS. They’re convinced that they’re onto a good thing here, so everything’s going to get even louder and soon everybody will be wearing hearing aid. To let them develop epilepsy too, there are plans to adding the laser displays and some flares—
“Go to hell with your flares! This was torturous enough!”
Mephisto was quick in handing Faust the parchment; this time he also had a writing biro ready. Now he played a comforter:
“To hell, Herr Doctor, to hell. Your signature here and the Hell will be at your service!”
The doctor looked at the biro in disbelief.
“What is it for?”
“It’s for writing. Your name, for instance.”
“Are you being serious? How could I write with this? Don’t you devils even have pen feathers?”
Pheles laughed aloud.
“Oh, this is much better than pen feather. Just try it out. You can do so by putting down your name on this insignificant piece of paper. Then you’ll see that it could never be smudged, which is what pen feathers are prone to doing.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“We wouldn't dare, Herr Doctor, to subject you to any practical jokes. After all, you are Somebody. Or will be, if you sign. The whole world will lie at your feet.”
“Really?! But where is the inkpot?”
Pheles winked in Mephisto’s direction. Their prospective client was finally beginning to make the right noises.
“No need for any. It has a refill, supplied by the blood bank.”
It looked for a moment that Faust might indeed be ready to sign, but suddenly he changed his mind.
“No, I'm not signing. Someone might see this, there'd be a gossip … like that time when I was accused of debauchery of my students at Kreuznach—“
Mephisto, by this time, would have had every right to be exasperated; still he would not let it show. He was too much of a professional for that.
“Well, if you don't need our assistance … Never mind, the next time I'll see Herr von Goethe I’ll recommend somebody else to him. Edison Rusty Stephenson, maybe. The Sorrows of Young Stephenson, Die Leiden des Jungen Stephenson … wouldn’t that be a great title, Pheles?”
“A grand title, very impressive! It would have all the erudite young men in the whole world on their knees, contemplating suicide, that’s for certain!”
“Wait!” Faust interjected. An absolute discretion?”
“Is totally guaranteed. Remember, you can’t smudge it.”
“I am the one who’d be smudged instead. It would be the ultimate sacrifice on my part. If I do it, I’ll only be doing it for my fellow human beings!”
Mephisto and Pheles exchanged quick glances. Now was the right time for bringing on the heavy artillery. Out of his pocket Mephisto took a mobile phone, which he handed over ceremoniously to Faust.
“If you sign up today, Herr Doctor, this is what you’ll get as a bonus.”
“What is this now? Doesn’t look much…”
This time it was Pheles ready with the answer.
“As my colleague just said, this is the bonus that you will get for signing up with us today before midnight. It’s known as the mobile telephone. Our publicity department has recently upgraded the ones we give to our newest clients – now it is the so-called Smartphone, with a unique touch screen and cutting-edge multimedia capabilities. Unlimited subscription is included, with an option to upgrade at no extra cost to a mini tablet, as soon as the new generation of tablet devices comes on the market. Naturally, for operating them you would need to acquire the necessary skills.”
“Yes, that’s all very nice, but please tell me what does this thing actually do?”
Mephisto felt that they might have gone a little too far and that things should be put to Faust in such a way that the old mage would find more digestible.
“It has replaced all the old fashioned formulae.”
“Oh, now I understand, I think. Do you mean that one can actually contact the Hell with this?”
Mephisto was right. The doctor once again appeared interested, looking at the slender gadget in his hand, turning it over, examining it closely. Pheles decided it was time to beat the hammer while the iron was still hot. He took the mobile from Faust’s hand, so that he could demonstrate.
“Precisely. If you have anything you wish to communicate to us, if you have any wishes you would want us to fulfil, all you need to do is hold this thing up, like this, and punch the devil’s number 666 on these buttons here, like this. You then wait a few seconds, until one of our receptionists, who are always there awaiting our clients’ calls, appears on this little screen. You then press this larger button here, and start talking.”
He handed the mobile phone back to Faust. The doctor must have spotted something that to him looked indescribably alluring on the screen, because suddenly his eyes were bulbed and alight.
“Oh! There’s a miniature portrait of a woman there!”
“Yes, that’s one of our receptionists. This one’s Belinda, if I’m not mistaken.”
“But she’s alive! She’s moving! And it looks like she wants to talk to me. She’s so beautiful!”
“Just wait till you see our Marguerite.”
“Marguerite? That’s a nice name.”
“And a nice wench to go with it. Well, she’s the one we’d suggested could provide you with the problem. Would you want to see her too?
“Now? And with this fantastic little thing? Of course that I want to see her, if it’s possible!”
“It is possible, certainly. Excuse me for a second, I’ll arrange it straight away.”
Pheles took the phone out of Faust’s hands and pressed one of the buttons. He spoke:
“Hi Belinda. Sorry to trouble you, but it’s for the benefit of Herr Doctor here. Could you please put on that promo video Meg van Dyke has done for us? She’s the one … oh you do know her? …
Really? … I see … thanks!”
Pheles rolled up his eyes, then he turned again to Faust, handing him back the mobile.
“She’s ready for you to look at her, Herr Doctor. Just push in this button when you want to watch.”
While Faust was watching the video, utterly speechlessly and breathlessly, Pheles took Mephisto aside.
“He’ll sign, now.”
“He sure will. Just look at him, that jaw of his is about to fall to the floor!”
Mephisto made sure that Faust was still watching, fully engrossed in what he was seeing on the small screen of the mobile, before turning back to his partner.
“Meg van Dyke, who’s she? I don’t think that I’d met her yet.”
“No, you probably didn’t. She’s one of our human escorts presently working on a contract. We used to have our own full-time girls for such jobs, but apparently an order for cutting down the costs came right from down under, so the current policy is to have these positions outsourced, mostly to India or China, I believe. But we need a white escort girl here, and Meg has had some good results lately. Meg van Dyke is an American of a Russian heritage; her real name is Margarita Valerievna Dimitrova. If she does well in this job the boss might even offer her a permanent position.”
“Does she know that she’s being sent to the 16th century?”
“Not at this point. We want her to act spontaneously, and if she knew too much beforehand, that might reflect negatively on her performance.”
“But how do we know that she’ll be the right sort of a teaser for our Faust?”
“That’s simple. She’s … you know, the right sort of—“
“The right sort of what?”
“She’s a lesbian, you silly.”
“Yeah. OK. Now I get it. Often you can’t tell with them, or can you?”
“No, you can’t. Couldn’t tell of Belinda either.”
“Belinda too, that receptionist there! Are you kidding? And I was going to ask her out!”
“I’m sure she would go out with you. But she wouldn’t let you in, Mephisto.”
Meanwhile, Faust finished watching the promotional video clip, and wandered back towards them, putting the mobile into his pocket, with a lecherous smile on his face. But it was obvious to both devils that this time he had made a resolution.
“Where do I sign?”
Mephisto pulled out the parchment he had previously put away. Only temporarily, he was confident of that.
“Here, Herr Doctor. Thank you.”
Wincing at Pheles, he handed Faust the parchment and the biro once again. Faust resolutely signed the parchment, handed it back to Mephisto. He examined the biro again, grinned almost imperceptibly, and put it into his pocket too.
“Fine. Here is your contract. Now, the problem, please!”
Pheles gave him the information.
“Yes, the problem. Previously there was a talk about comparing your Siebel with a female person of the twenty-first century …”
“But this was the female person in question that I just saw on that moving picture, wasn’t it? Couldn’t see any problems …”
“On the contrary, Herr Doctor. The twenty-first century female person could be a problem, and a very significant one, as you'll no doubt find out in case of our Marguerite. Of course, we could have provided you with any woman, and Herr von Goethe might yet do it too, for instance he could bring into play Helen of Troy. We could have even provided you with the demonic Lilith, Adam’s first wife. But on balance, these females are all straight and relatively uncomplicated. And we know that you do need something more challenging!”
“ When shall I meet her?”
“Shortly”, said Mephisto. “Pheles, why don’t you go and get things under way?”
“Why not? Should I go with a bang?”
“Just a little one. We want to be easy on Herr Doctor’s ears, and we don’t want to wake up the whole neighbourhood either.”
Pheles walked back to the hanging coat and disappeared, accompanied by a tiny little thunder.
With the deal finally closed, Mephisto had every right to feel satisfied, but Faust would not give him much chance for quiet reflection. He was going to be a demanding client, and the after-sale service was not going to be too easy, this much was becoming obvious. Presently, the doctor walked to the back wall of his study and examined carefully the reflexion his face made in the mirror that was hanging there. He was not happy with what he saw, and was not going to be secretive about it in front of Mephisto either.
“I hate to have to remind you of this, sir, but what about my youth? You promised me that I was going to regain it, and surely I must have now fulfilled the necessary conditions!
“Yes, thank you for reminding me. We’ll do something about it right away, sir.”
Mephisto took out of his pocket a small vial, which he offered to his client.
“Take one of these.”
“What is it? Looks like some pills. Blue. I’d always expected the Elixir of Youth to be some kind of a liquid with gloriously vivid colours …”
“ This is Viagra.”
At a recent convention for the sales and public relations personnel, of which he could not wriggle out, Mephisto was required to take part in the workshop that was being held for those associated with the promotion and propagation of the sex industry. It was as boring as it sounds; yet many of the slogans they have collectively designed on that occasion had stuck in his mind, and they now came handy. He began to recite some of them, noting that with each word that passed his lips Faust was getting more and more excited.
“The blue pill keeps the real men from being extinct!”
“Grab one little blue pill and prepare yourself for the night full of adventures!”
“If you have only a small bulge, the world around you seems small as well. But with Viagra you will be able to fill your bed partner's brain with the excitement and satisfaction!”
“With the ability to make out for days you'll be the best candidate for girls to spend night with!”
“Blow her mind with this amazing supplement!”
And the last and the best one:
“The vigour in your pants will be unbreakable!”
After he calmed down to some extent, Faust shook out of the vial one of the blue coloured pills and examined it carefully.
“All this sounds promising, but I don’t know if I can trust this thing. Would you take one as well?”
“And, you mean that if I swallow one of these pills, then all that you just said would …”
“Yes. Those advertising slogans don’t exaggerate. Not much, anyway. And it’s safe. Look.”
He too shook one of the pills out and swallowed it. Faust hesitated a little, and then he did the same. Mephisto said:
“The truly big things in our lives are really quite simple. Well, Her Doctor, your Marguerite will be here soon. Give her the best time of her life. Have a great time yourself.”
Siebel once again hesitantly looked in through the door, and eventually decided to venture in, though she remained standing near the entrance. When Mephisto acknowledged her presence by giving her a nod, followed by a good long look, she smiled at him, faintly. He turned back to Faust:
“If you need anything, sir, then use the phone. Remember, it’s 666. I won’t be needed now, so I too shall perform my disappearing act. I’ll do it quietly. Adieu, Herr Doctor. Good-bye, fair Siebel! I’ll see myself out.”
He walked to the coat hanger, turned around, threw another randy look towards Siebel, continued walking. Stopped for a second or two, with the eyes wandering to his groin area, he shook his head almost imperceptibly. Finally he moved under the winter coat. Faust exclaimed:
“He disappeared! Did you see it, Siebel? He vanished into the thin air.”
“Just like that dog. I can’t find him anywhere. And I had such a nice name ready for him! I was going to call him Rupert.”
“I think that you’ve just seen your Rupert. Only, he had a different name.”
“You mean..? No, it can’t be!”
“Yes. Disappeared under that coat. First he followed me here as the black poodle, made himself at home here, but when Mephisto appeared so suddenly, the dog was gone. That can’t be a coincidence, it just had to be him, disguised as that dog!”
“Yes, Her Doctor, if you say so… What is it that you hold there, Herr Doctor? Did he give it to you? Oh! And what’s happened to your beard, Herr Doctor? It used to be all grey, and now it has brownish streaks in it!”
“Are you sure? That has to be—”
Faust walked to the mirror, examined the reflection of his face, and contentedly ran fingers through his beard.
“That’s better. But never mind, Siebel, never mind. There are other things too, and they are even more important … Anyway, and did you make up the bed? We are going to have a visitor.”
“You’ve heard, surely, from behind the door. A female person, as I understand.”
“Where does she come from?”
“Apparently she comes from the twenty-first century.”
“Really? What does she want here?”
“I want her here. She's going to be my problem. You already are my problem, unfortunately, too small a problem to secure my place in literature. All my problems were too small. But now that I'm going to have a bigger bulge … I mean, now I’ll add the big problem to the small problem of you, and my problem of not having a problem should no longer be a problem.”
Siebel looked at her boss with some suspicion.
“What does it all have to do with the bed?”
“Never mind. Just shut your face, stop being nosy, and tidy up the place.”
Siebel walked to the hallstand, examined it, and looked under the hanging coat.
“Why did he crawl under that coat here?”
“He said something about there being a … I forgot what he said. It had something to do with time, anyway.”
“Is he really a devil?”
“Of course he is, but don’t tell anybody.”
“He looked real smart in that black overcoat and with that tall hat! So much better dressed than I’ve ever seen you. You only have this one coat and it’s getting old …
She opened her eyes wide, moved away from the coat hanger.
“Look, it’s moving! There must be someone underneath it!! It’s a woman!”
“A woman? That must be her! My problem.”
Meg emerged from underneath the coat, looking a little dazed. Apparently in her mid to late twenties, and with a figure like top class model, she would have passed as an extremely fine-looking woman in any historical era, but to describe her as a classical Greek beauty would probably best express it. If she had put on an evening gown designed by any of the clients that our pair had recently signed up, she would have been just stunningly beautiful. But something like that probably would not have worked in the sixteenth century, and the Hell’s beauticians had been very much aware of this. Surreptitiously they had gone instead for the effect of cloaked innocence. Her dark brown hair was mostly hidden under a large round hat with a veil, and she wore no visible makeup, which under the circumstances would be bound to only arouse curiosity. The Hell’s costume specialists had done a very good job here. Margarita was dressed appropriately for the 16th century, though not spectacularly. Somehow, her outfit projected the idea of an experienced time-traveller, expecting to have a good time in the time-travel version of surprise destination flights, such as are being offered by some airlines.
“Hello”, she said.
Meg looked not a little disorientated as she had every right to be. Pheles, standing by the funnel at other end of the time warp, had pushed her in and through the tunnel rather expeditiously, though not really too roughly. He wanted her to act natural, like a somewhat vulnerable young female, in a need of protection. This was designed to particularly make impression on Faust. As it happened, it nonetheless did not impress Siebel at all. She first got a load of the new arrival, and then she said to her guardian:
“There must be some devil-hole in there, under that coat. This time it’s sent us here some kind of a witch. Go away, you...!”
“Siebel! Stop this nonsense and be nice to the young lady, will you? This is Marguerite.”
“Yes, I’m Marguerite, or Margarita, but please better just call me Meg. How come you know my name, though?”
“I just do have some ways.”
Faust was obviously trying to sound mysterious, so that he would impress this young lady. She looked around the room, still very much confused.
“Could you then explain to me what’s happened? Where is it they’ve sent me to this time? Why, look at the furniture, is this some heritage property? And who are you?”
Faust hastened to assure her:
“Don’t worry Margarita … Meg … you are with friends here. Doctor Johannes Faust is my name.”
“Doctor Faust? Oh! THE Doctor Faust? No kidding? I can’t believe it!”
“Oh, so you must have heard of me already!”
“Who wouldn’t? Even as a young girl. You were in all the schoolbooks.”
“Really? That’s great! And exactly what did these books say about me, my dear?”
Siebel, who still looked at Meg with a great deal of suspicion, was not impressed by her employer calling this lady ‘my dear’, and it must have shown in her face. Meg, who had eyes for her rather than for Faust, noticed it.
“I think sir, that this gall here doesn’t like it either, when you treat someone of our gender with undue familiarity. I would like to make it quite clear that I’m opposed to such things. Now, please tell me what’s going on. Why did they send me here?”
Faust looked and acted hurt.
“I have just signed my soul to the devil to get you here; can't I at least call you ‘my dear’?
“Oh, have you done that, doc? And for this girl … female person?” asked Siebel.
Meg looked thoughtful.
“Now, this sounds a bit crazy, but apparently there was a doctor Faust, and as far as I know, he was supposed to have sold his soul to the devil. But that would have been a long time ago, the fifteenth or sixteenth century, I think.”
“Well, I am this doctor Faust, and this indeed is the sixteenth century.”
Siebel was still unsympathetic and determined to come with her penny’s worth too.
“And female persons that appear from underneath the mantles and out of nowhere, in our times are called ‘witches’, and as such they are burnt at the stake.
“I’ve heard about that, but is this true?”
Meg turned to Faust. He was not going to conceal the truth, by any means. He reckoned that the more frightened this very smart looking young female would become, the more in need of protection she would become. And he would offer that in loads, without costing him anything!
“About burning the witches? Yes, it is true, mostly.”
“And about this being the sixteenth century?”
“Yes, of course. This indeed is the year of the Lord of one thousand five hundred and twenty five. I’ve been told that you’re coming from the twenty first century, so you would certainly feel not a little out of place. But you have nothing to worry about, Meg, I'm going to protect you.”
And in conformation to his words, Faust tried to put his arm around Meg’s shoulders. The female person in her, naturally, would have nothing to do with this.
“Take that hand away from me, sir! You may have signed a pact with the devil, but that certainly doesn’t now give you the right to patronise me!”
Faust could see now that this wench was going to play a hard to get, to say the least. ‘Well, they’re all like that, aren’t they’, he thought. ‘First she probably would want me to sweet-talk her about love, promise her marriage… If only I wasn’t getting a hard … But that has to wait…’
Meg too was thinking. ‘I'm sure that this old billy goat is going to sweet-talk me about love and such things, each time he would get an opportunity. So let’s not give it to him. On the other hand, they probably expect me to put up with at least with some of this moron's advances. No one told me exactly what I was supposed to do, just ‘to play it naturally’. And I need this job! What should I do? On top of all this I’m now stuck here in this stupid sixteenth century, where they burn witches. These two here seem to know that there was something supernatural about the way I got here, at least this Faust fellow does. The girl looks a bit confused. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if other people in this world would think that I might be a witch…’ She said aloud:
“About this business of burning the witches…”
Siebel, a good soul that she was, could see that Meg was a bit uncertain about her situation. I occurred to her that if indeed this girl came from such distant future, she must have been finding almost everything here confusing. She tried, but couldn’t imagine at all, what life in five hundred years time from now might be like. However, it went without question that they too must have their share of troublesome witches, which they would need to rid the world of. But would they burn them at the stake? Maybe they would do away with them in a more humanly way, perhaps hanged them or beheaded them…
“Sorry, I must have scared you!” said Siebel to Meg. “I didn’t mean to frighten you this much, when I’d mentioned the burning of witches.”
“So it doesn’t happen?”
“Oh, it does, but it’s not so simple. First, of course, someone would have to denounce you, so that they could come here and arrest you. Then you would have to be put to the trial and tested with the water. You’d be put into an iron cage and dipped into water for five minutes. If you die you’d be declared innocent and buried with all the Christian honour. If you don’t die that would prove that you are a witch, so they’d maybe put you on the rack, and after burning you a bit with the hot iron or a torch, they would probably use a Spanish boot on you. Or maybe whatever latest equipment they might have installed in the torture chamber. In any case, they would use it on you, until you’ve confessed, and only then, after you’ve made the full confession, that’s when they’d put you to the stake.”
“But that’s horrible!”
“Don’t worry, I haven’t finished quite yet. Even then you might get lucky. I happen to know someone who knows the town executioner, so they could put a word in for you, and he might strangle you first before you burn. They’re willing to do this sometimes, especially when it’s a woman who’s to be burned.”
Meg did not look impressed.
“No equality of sexes, eh? No, I wouldn’t expect that. Well, at least in this case a person gains some advantage.”
“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t denounce you, and I’m sure that the doc here wouldn’t do it either.”
Faust only said quietly to himself:
“What happened to Herr Doctor?”
Meg said to herself, ‘This girl looks OK. A bit talkative, but she’s young and pretty, much too young, for this jerk. I should find out more about her.’ So she said to Siebel:
“You know what? You’re a nice person. You two, the doctor and you, are you married?”
“What gave you that idea?”
“Then you must be living in a de-facto relationship.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Like a married couple, but without actually being married.”
“God forbid, no! That would be sinful, wouldn’t it? I’m just keeping the house for the doc.”
Meg understood immediately. ‘Aha, just as I thought, he’s exactly what I thought he might be, a regular sugar daddy.’ She whispered to Siebel:
“Does he give you any money?”
“Sure, when I’m to buy groceries.”
“But he doesn’t pay you for what you do.”
“No. Why? I have everything I need here.”
“In other words, you’re being exploited.”
“Taken advantage of. I think that this calls for some explanation and a bit of education. It’s all about how one should positively apply one’s energies. Tell me, where would the two of us be able to have a nice little chat?”
“I don’t know. In the kitchen, perhaps?”
“That sounds good. You know what? Why don’t you make us a cup of coffee—“
“Coffee … what is it?”
“Ah, I forgot you wouldn’t know about coffee in your time. That would have been brought from America much later.
“America? What’s that?”
This time it was Faust who answered her, applying his newly gained knowledge.
”That’s a place behind the sea, where they do face lifts and boob jobs, and where they shoot people.”
“What’s a boob job?” wanted to know Siebel.
“I’m not exactly sure, but I’m have a feeling that you might be a bit too young for this sort of thing, Siebel.”
Meg said quickly:
“I might explain it to you later in the kitchen. I guess you don’t know anything about tea either?”
“No, I don’t.”
“And you wouldn’t, for another century or two, I suppose. Well, that’s going to make it a bit hard on the old grey matter.”
“Never mind. We’ll have to find something that’s chronologically appropriate and drinkable at the same time. And preferably brain stimulating too. What sort of beverages do you guys consume, when you have a bit of a social gathering and aspire to having an intelligent and productive discussion?”
“I beg your pardon—“
“What do you people drink when you talk?”
“Drink? I see, you must be thirsty and also tired, after such a long journey. Come, I’ll warm you some goat milk.”
They left in the direction of the kitchen, arm in arm, as the best of friends, leaving Faust standing in the middle of the room, looking completely perplexed.
in which Doctor Faust
makes a call on his mobile
and receives the message:
“You have reached
the Hell Incorporated,
Unfortunately, all our
personnel are busy
at the present time...”
Sitting on a bench in the garden attached to the back of the house was the slightly bow-backed, forward tilted figure of Faust, in an obviously contemplative state of mind. He had visibly aged again, though he still did not look quite as old as he did before Mephisto’s intervention. Things were certainly not looking good for him. The world around him seemed as small as that bulge before the pill got working. He had expected Meg to land smoothly in his bed, so that he would be able to ‘fill his bed partner's brain with the excitement and satisfaction’, and could ‘blow her mind with the amazing supplement’ that Mephisto gave him. But sadly, the ‘vigour in his pants’ to date remained unsated. Her brain showed no signs of the promised excitement either. The two women in his house just kept talking and talking. The first night they had stayed in the kitchen until way past midnight. When they finally stopped talking, Siebel had put up Meg, who said she was dog-tired, into her own bed, and she herself went to sleep god knows where. As if that were not enough, in the morning there’d been a lot more chitchat in the kitchen again between these two. Faust was quite certain that they were talking about him. It went on more or less like this, for the past three days.
‘To hell with them!’ he was saying to himself. ‘Oh, that reminds me, the Hell. Meg won’t talk to me, it seems, but I can talk to them, and they should be able to make her talk to me. Or I wouldn’t really mind that much if she stayed silent, so long as she … In any case, they told me they would provide me with the problem, and if this is it, they should at least give me some hints how to go on about solving it. That would only be fair, wouldn’t it? Mephisto gave me this thing, what did he call it … a mobile phone? Let's see.’
He pulled the mobile phone out of his pocket. He recalled the demonstration that Pheles gave him and knew that he was supposed to punch the devil’s number. From his occult practice he also knew that number to be 666. One can’t go wrong with this, he said to himself. He fumbled about with the gadget for a while, until he managed to open the lid and expose the keyboard with the small screen, which had lit up as he exposed it. He found the number six and pressed it three times. The numbers came up on the screen, and he had pressed the large button, as Pheles had told him to do. Then he had put the mobile to his ear, the way he saw Pheles do it. For a little while he heard nothing, then a mechanically sounding female voice came through:
“You have reached the Hell Incorporated, Customers Service. Unfortunately, all our personnel are busy at the present time. The first one available will take your call. Do not hang up.”
‘Hang up’, what does that mean, Faust wondered. Then some music came on. It was quite unlike the music he was used to hearing, on the rare occasions, when the lute players played at the University, or sometimes even in the taverns. It sounded strange, but not altogether unpleasant. Still, after a minute or so of waiting and listening, Faust was getting impatient. Then he heard the same voice come back again:
“All our lines are still busy at the present time. Please, be assured that your call is important to us, and that we do appreciate your patience.”
More music. Another minute. More patient waiting. Still more music. Then:
“Thank you for your patience. Please, listen to the following options: If you are calling about our services, press number one. If you wish to leave a message, press number two, and leave your details after the beep. If you wish to speak to the next available representative, please hold on, until one becomes available.”
And still more music. But Faust had decided to grimly hold on. He didn’t know what a ‘beep’ might be, anyway. But he suddenly remembered the name of the girl that was on the screen the other day. Belinda. Maybe he could speed things up, she should remember him. He said into the receiver with some urgency in his voice:
“Hallo! Hallo! Is this Belinda? I wish to speak to Belinda!”
No response coming from the thing in his hand, only more music. If you could call it music. Now it sounded more like a cat being pulled by its tail, he thought. Well, at least there is no singing… Finally, he heard a click, something was happening at the other end. He repeated:
“Hallo! Belinda, is this Belinda?”
“This is Amanda, sir. What can I do for you?”
“Thank God! Sorry, what am I saying? I hope I haven’t lost you because of that! You must excuse me, but I know next to nothing about these things.”
The voice said:
”Do you wish to speak to a specific person, sir?”
“A specific person? Yes, I do. My name is Faust, Doctor Johannes Faust. Could I please speak to Mister Mephisto? Mephisto, as in … yes…. thank you so much.”
He appeared behind Faust, while the doctor was still struggling with the device.
“Yes, Herr Doctor.”
Faust kept talking into the phone, not realizing that Mephisto was standing behind him.
“Ah, Mister Mephisto, is that you, sir?”
“At your service, Herr Doctor.”
“It’s about that problem, Mister Mephisto.”
“Is there a problem with the problem, Herr Doctor?”
By now, the devil was standing right next to him, so Faust had finally realised that there was no need for him to keep shouting into the phone.
“Oh, you are here! How did you manage to hop from there, wherever that is, to here, and so quickly?”
“We always keep happily hopping to the tunes of our ever-satisfied customers, sir.”
“Would you now satisfy me?”
“I will certainly try my best, Herr Doctor.”
“This isn't going to be easy. It's a question of satisfaction. And of moral responsibility. You've sent me Meg and …
“She's causing problems.”
“Well, Siebel is, really. That’s the main problem. She appears to distract Meg, can’t imagine why …
“But that's the part and parcel of the whole deal, Herr Doctor. Some women do get easily distracted by other women. It happened on the Greek islands in antiquity, as well as in the twenty first century Germany. Or indeed, even in the sixteenth century. Only, in your times it tends to be not quite so obvious. It happens with the men too. You needed a problem, here is one.”
“Not this kind of a problem. If I remember it well, you have promised it to be a literary sort of problem.”
“Anything at all can make it into literature, Her Doctor. It only depends on the author, his or her knowledge—“
“Her knowledge? What do you mean? Don’t tell me that there would be women writing books!”
“Oh yes, sir. Probably more women write books than men, I dare say.”
“More women than man? I don’t believe you!”
“In some literary genres there would only be women authors exclusively. Well, maybe an odd man or two as well, but they usually would be writing under a woman’s name.”
“This is ridiculous! Now, don’t tell me that those women writers would have academic titles too!”
“They most certainly would. Lots of them would have university degrees, probably even more women would have them than men. Our Meg too, has a degree.”
“Meg has a university degree?”
“Yes, she actually has two degrees. One in social studies and another in gender and sexuality.”
“Meg studied sexuality? At a university?”
”So I believe.”
“I think I understand now what the problem might be. It has to be one of a Sapphic nature. I’ll need your help.”
“What can we do for you, Herr Doctor?”
“Could you send her to Hell?”
“Meg? She’s only just—”
“No, I mean Siebel. I think I can straighten up Meg.”
“The daring Doctor Faust! But I can't take Siebel away with me. I wish I could. But we’ve established already that she doesn’t qualify, that she has no valid record.”
“No record? Then just go and make it up! It can't be too difficult for a pair of devils. She's immoral and she masks it by pretending morality. Like … stealing my coat, or … singing those madrigals. You hear her and what would you say to yourself?”
“I'd say to myself: Hark! Siebel is singing a madrigal.”
“And what else would you say?”
“I'd say: Let's listen to her.”
“That's all. I’d listen.”
“That's just like you, the devils. When I hear Siebel singing, it's worse than if she were swearing!”
“That's it. When I would say … that is … when others would use some … you know … perhaps even utter a profanity, she just wouldn't. She'd provocatively start singing.”
“Unbelievable. But there is nothing wrong with singing, and even swearing is not a punishable offence any more. Neither is cursing, using expletives, dirty words, cussing, and blasphemy, not mentioning irreverent, foul, obscene or indecent language. Any of this wouldn’t even earn you a week of re-education in Purgatory. Provided of course, that you stick to the gender-neutral terms—“
“What about those iniquitous four letter words?”
“As for the four letter words, sir, they have become not only acceptable, but downright desirable.”
“In literature too?”
“The literature is full of them, to the point of bursting. All people use them, so naturally, they had found their way into literature.”
“That can’t be! You say all people use them. You mean, even the ladies use them?”
“Especially the ladies.”
“And the gentlemen?”
“If you didn't use them, you'd look like a wimp.”
“No shit? All right. Back to Siebel. So you say that you’re not going to take her to Hell?”
“No. It's impossible, we have no legal rights to do it, and if we are to maintain our integrity—”
“Legal rights. Integrity. Phew!”
“Listen, Herr Doctor. There just might be a way around this. Perhaps we could create conditions for acquiring such rights. But I have to stress: we create the conditions. This means that the subject has to show some initiative on her part too.”
“Now you're talking! Go on, do it … and while we are on the subject of creating conditions …”
“Well, perhaps when Siebel is finally gone and Meg is not getting distracted by her, it could be so arranged that I and Meg, that we find ourselves in a nice and cosy boudoir … you know, you could have some soft cushions prepared for us there … and those technicians of yours could turn the lights off just at the right moment, they could do that couldn’t they?”
“They’re all highly qualified, and have been trained to do things like this, and much more.”
“So they could put on some pleasant music too … you know what I mean? But not the kind that you have on this … what you call it … mobile. And no singing, please, I’m allergic to singing. And then, at the right moment, I could softly breathe a four letter word or two into her cute little ear, to make a suitable impression on her, and … you understand—”
“I fully understand what you mean, sir. We could do all that, we could prepare the ground, so the speak, but you would have to bring Meg in yourself. Meg is your problem, you must understand that. That was the deal.
“All right, all right. It’s just that this pill that you gave me is … but about Siebel, we have an agreement, haven't we?
“Yes Herr Doctor, we have. I’ll invite Pheles and together we should be able to design some diabolical scheme. Whether she responds to it, that’s another matter.”
After Faust’s departure, Mephisto had remained on the same spot in space, only moving into the fourth dimension. There he was able to think more clearly and without danger of having his contemplations interrupted. By now he realised that when he took the Viagra pill, he probably made a big mistake. It had a different effect on him than it had on an ordinary mortal, such as doctor Faust. These pills were designed for humans, to increase the ability of their organism to perform certain functions, in this particular case to assist the male sexual organ, perhaps getting feeble with age, to achieve erection. However, devils don’t need such assistance. They don’t age to start with; all their organs function at or near a hundred percent of their capacity, year in, year out. This is particularly true of the lower organs, such as the penis. A devil is always ready for sexual intercourse, regardless of time, place, and other circumstances. Therefore he doesn’t need to take the Viagra pill. If he takes one regardless, as Mephisto had done, it would affect him in the areas other than his lower physical organs. To put it bluntly: It would go straight into his brain!
Perhaps you still remember what the renowned psychologist Rararbotrusiel Hameltesipion had said in his lecture about the serpent-like force Cundalahini. According to him, this force is normally dormant while it remains coiled at the base of the devil’s spine. Only when it is aroused by stimulation, typically of a sexual nature, it would move into the devil’s tail. Because Mephisto no longer had any tail, the Cundalahini force that was stirred up by the pill’s effect had only one direction in which it could move – it had rushed up along the spinal column, reaching the brain. Being essentially of a sexual nature, it took over the section that has particularly to do with love and reproduction. However, having suddenly found itself in the area that normally is not directly associated with the desires of the lowest nature, it had begun to act in a more refined manner. In front of his colleagues at some scientific convention, which incidentally are being held in Hell frequently, Rararbotrusiel Hameltesipion would no doubt be able to explain the problem more scientifically and precisely, but perhaps having it explained in the layman’s terms would give us mortals a better insight.
In a nutshell, when an average human “falls in love”, it is indeed a fall, because the fine creative energy, thus far finding itself high in the strata of the brain, on its own volition comes down from this elevated position, invading the lower parts of the organism, causing them to stiffen up or become lubricated, as the case might be. However, in Mephisto’s case, what took place instead was “rising” rather than falling, the inevitable result of which was the subject becoming more romantic, idealistic, dreamy, well, we might indeed say naïve. Precisely the way a young virgin, male or female, would be, before they “fall into love”, or virtually allow their finest thoughts to drop down and become dissolved in whirlwind of aroused passions and appetency. The poet, who in this case was hitherto hopelessly arrested in the devil’s body, had suddenly received a boost, which was to transform his personality and his ways of thinking.
All this, naturally, could not have happened immediately. But the seed was sown for the new developments to take place. For the moment our devil’s brain was still occupied by the thoughts of a more prosaic nature, namely how to be seemingly of service to his client, while arranging things in such a way as being in the best of interest of his own side. Mephisto knew that to resolve the problem, he needed the help of Pheles, now more than ever before.
Unlike Faust, Mephisto did not need the mobile phone to reach his partner; all he had to do was to think of him and send over an image of urgency. Pheles was surprisingly quick to react. Perhaps he had already sensed that his help might be needed straight away.
The speediness of his partner’s arrival had indeed taken Mephisto by surprise.
“How did you manage to get here so quick? I thought those Wandering Stingdreamers would fully occupy your mind.”
“They did, for a while, but I don’t think that they would give me much trouble from now on. I’m going to use the Toxic Rippers Of Alpha Eridani Theta to subdue them, and then I’ll banish them to the planet Torehio Kappa …
“Who are those Toxic Ripers of ... what did you call it?”
“Alpha Eridani Theta. They are an advanced race of philosophers with very tightly organised military.
“And those Stingdreamers?”
“A massive, armored race, though biologically they should really be inclined to be traders. They are the unfortunate result of interbreeding within the races of Necroscavengers and Schizoid Microtitans of Antares…”
In order not to get distracted too much by the warring extraterrestrials that have little to do with our story, we’ll do now what the librettist of the opera Faust by Gounod would have done in this situation. At this point we’ll put on the scene Siebel, however, tempting as it might be, we won’t have her dressed as an adolescent male and singing the Flower Song, or Faites-lui mes aveux, portez me voeux!
While the two were talking, Mephisto’s sight unerringly wandered back to the three-dimensional world and to the rear porch of Faust’s house, where the scholar’s young guard, with a broom in her hands, was busying herself by sweeping the floor. Pheles looked in the same direction, forgot for the moment all about the cataclysmic events in the Cyberspace, as a smile of understanding invaded his face.
“What’s going on here, what is it that I see? More girl trouble coming up, is that so?”
“I shouldn’t have taken that Viagra pill. But Faust didn’t trust it and it seemed the only way to get him take it. It shouldn’t affect me, or should it, Pheles?”
“Not normally, my friend. But the way I understand it, it’s to do with the brain and the way you’re using it. Put in too many human-like emotions … and … you have to suffer. Sorry, but I can’t help you with this particular problem. Maybe she could.”
Pheles nodded his head in Siebel’s direction, who has by now moved on to sweeping the garden footpath. Even over his devilish ruddiness, Mephisto had gone pink. He tried to get over the embarrassment by quickly explaining:
“Well, there’s something we need to do with her. Faust wants us to get Siebel out of the picture, so that she wouldn’t distract Meg and he could tackle her. He has the snowflake’s chance in Hell of getting anywhere with Meg, as we both know, but we have to at lest pretend that we are doing something. The trouble is, we can’t take Siebel with us without a good reason, and she’s squeaky clean.”
“Can’t Faust just sack her?”
“Not so simple. He is her guardian; also that might further antagonise Meg, if he got rid of her like this.”
“And you would dearly love to have her with us, wouldn’t you?”
“I told Faust that we’d try something about taking her away.”
“Yes. Mephisto’s Folly, that’s how the future generations will know it as. Because that would be hard to achieve. She looks innocent to me, even from this far away and even with that broom in hand.”
“Broom’s a witches’ instrument, don’t forget that.”
“To fly on and fornicate with the devil? Hint, hint. But, still, somehow she’s …”
“Yes, innocent. You can say it aloud. And just listen to her, humming that song. I don’t know what is the matter with Faust if he can’t stand Siebel’s vocalising.”
“Yes musically, I may be as deaf as a musical bars’ separator, but even I can appreciate it. Here she is, sweeping the footpath and singing about the flowers, like a nightingale.”
“What do you suggest that we should do now?”
“Well, in my rich experience, most people would succumb to materialistic temptations rather fast. A few glittering coins, strategically placed on the ground, looking derelict and abandoned, in the offing to be illegally appropriated, that should see her teeter on the very edge of abyss, wouldn’t you think so?”
From where they were situated in the next dimension, it was easy for Pheles to arrange a few silver coins in such a way that the girl would reach them with her broom. She had bent down and picked them up, talking to herself.
“Oh, look here is some money! The doc ... Herr Doctor must have lost it here. I will give it back to him.”
She looked so genuine and convincing about this being her true intentions that it caused Pheles pull a face. Mephisto told him:
“It doesn’t look as though we are getting very far, does it?”
“This wench is going to be a hard nut to crack, I can see that. Well, I’m afraid that my rationalistic tendencies severely limit my field of competence. I think that in this situation you, the lyric, should take over. You must use all of your imagination and turn on the full charm of your otherwise menacing self! Go ahead, and seduce her! Make it possible for her to commit the sin of fornicating with the devil!”
“I could easily let you talk me into doing that. See, how gorgeous she is! How lithe, smooth and elegant, just look at the grace of the movements of her broom! Observe how she is holding on to it, how she is caressing it!
“That’s the right attitude, my friend. Go on, seduce our pretty, little, innocent broom handler. Good luck!
“You should never say this to any performing artist!
“Sorry about that. Break a leg!”
Pheles made himself scarce, swiftly moving into different echelons of the fourth dimension, leaving Mephisto alone, no closer to solving the problem of Siebel.
The girl was about to complete her task of sweeping the footpath, and he would have to act fast, and accost her before she would go back into the house, presumably to give the silver pieces she had found to her guardian.
Mephisto had emerged from the forth dimension.
Because of all those frustrating experiences and setbacks while trying to seduce girls, even now Mephisto could not think of anything more intelligent to say to Siebel than:
“Ehm ... ehm!”
She startled, but quickly regained her composure.
“Uhh! Who's that?”
“ It’s me, Mephisto.”
“The poodle? I know you are the devil now! And I’d left that bottle with the holy water in the kitchen! How silly of me. Well, a simple prayer will have to do now:
Pater Noster, qui es in caelis,
adveniat Regnum Tuum,
fiat volúntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra.
While Siebel went on mumbling the Lord’s prayer, Mephisto could not let his eyes off her. ‘Oh, she’s so angelically beautiful, even when she’s praying!’ Aloud he said:
“I’m afraid that this won’t work on me, Siebel. Our laboratory technicians have developed a prayer-proof spray that we all have in our first aid kit, which we always carry with us whenever we go out on any fieldtrips. We apply it preventatively, if we have even the slightest suspicion that people we would come in contact with might in any way be contaminated with religious fervour.”
“What should I do, then? Go to the police?”
“That would be of no use either. At the ministerial and high commissioner level at least, we’ve had a full amalgamation for quite some time now. That applies even to the 16th century Germany.
“I don’t understand at all what you are saying, but I know now what I will do. I’ll call on the priest. With a big bad cross!”
To demonstrate her determination, she had put her arm across the broom handle, to form a rudimentary cross and waved it in front of Mephisto’s face. The devil was unmoved. In the course of his basic training he had been put through similar situations many times, so that he knew to cope with them. In the really tight situation he could always fall back to what the instructors taught him at the self-defence course, which included some special cross-evasive moves. But he was confident that no such thing would be needed here.
“You know, Siebel, one of my former bosses had in his office a small private boiler. In it he kept the souls of mortals who’d taken his fancy. Often they were those of entertainers and similar, but he’s always been especially fond of keeping members of the clergy in that boiler. At one time he even had there the rotten soul of one of the minor Popes, the 8th century or thereabout, or so the rumour had it, but the blighter turned out to be quite a disappointment to him, dull and not at all amusing. Ever complaining about having been sent to Hell by mistake, that he should have been sent to the other place, and so on. In the end the boss had him moved back to the common boiler and replaced him with Archie. Archie was only an archbishop when he croaked, but he would never let the boss down. When the boss spat into the fire it flared up, and Archie would immediately let out some exceptionally imaginative profanities. If you, Siebel, could hear him and his choice words, you’d very likely faint. When Archie put up an extraordinarily good and creative performance, he got a reward. The boss would let him look at the drop of water, which he had sealed in glass, and which was distilled from the etheric bodies of the selected group of cardinals who were prominent in his church. The lucky soul was allowed to look at that drop for up to full twenty minutes—“
The girl had interrupted him at this point.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Only to demonstrate to you what you are up against.”
“Maybe, because I like you and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Siebel had blushed like a schoolgirl, but it was hard to tell whether her cheek got its rosy colour through natural coyness, or if the cold winter air had something to do with it. It may have been the weather after all, because she said:
“Let’s go inside, it’s too cold out here. We may just as well talk in the kitchen, and it’s warmer there. You liked it there too, when you were the poodle…”
Mephisto followed her into the house. Neither Faust nor Meg was anywhere to be seen. He asked Siebel.
“Where is Meg?”
“She said she was going to town, to have a look at the University. She asked me if there were any female students, and when I told her that so far as I knew there were none, she looked disappointed. She said that something should be done about that, and that she was going to be the one to do it.”
“Is the Doctor home?”
“He’s gone out too, I’ve no idea where.”
Now on her own territory, Siebel appeared more self-assured. She looked Faust squarely into face.
“Was it you who’d dropped that money over there?”
“No, that was Pheles.”
“I thought it might have been one of you two. But why did you have to do it?”
“Simple, it was meant to be there to tempt you.”
“To see if I would want to keep it?”
“That’s our primary function, I’m afraid. Our raison d’etre, so to say. To tempt people.”
“Is Pheles quite like you?”
“We’re both devils.”
“Yes, but I watched you through the keyhole when you both talked to the doctor, and the two of you seemed so much alike, yet different, somehow.”
“Did we? We are different. He is the rationalist. I’m the poet.”
“Are you a poet, really? And do you actually write poems?”
“That’s what poets do. Sometimes I do it too.”
“Would you write me one? Please. One that would only be written for me and no one else!”
“I’ve already done that.”
“Have you really? Can I see it? Please!”
“Not now, I’m afraid. It still needs to have some work to be done on it. They always do. In fact, I never quite know for sure when I’ve finished a poem.”
“Doc forever keeps writing things in his study, in German and I think also in Hebrew, and he keeps drawing those pentagrams and things like that, but I don’t think that he’s ever written a poem. But maybe it’s better if it stays that way. Meg’s been warning me about such things coming from male persons.”
“Oh, yes, Meg would say just that. Perhaps she would like to write you a poem herself? Hasn’t she offered it to you yet?”
“Meg? To write me a poem? Why?”
“OK. Let’s forget about Meg and forget about writing poems, just for now. Forget about the cold winter; forget about us being in the kitchen, too. Imagine that we are both walking through a beautiful garden. Countless birds nestle in the tree tops and add their songs to the buzz of busy insects; together they sound an overture to the most joyful of seasons, when the virginal Nature turns on all her charms, while her warm breath seems to gently caress us on our faces. I wish I could take your hand into mine and press it, and press it hard, so that you would sigh – Oh, Mephisto, why do you have to press my lonely heart with such ferociousness?!”
“Yeah, you can really talk, can’t you? Do you say things like this to every girl you meet?”
“I’m saying it to you now. We walk on, and everything around us is in a state of excitement, of anxious expectation. The air is full of spring, with a mixture of fragrances from the flowering trees and plants all around us. Just breathe in, Siebel. Can you smell it?”
“Not at the moment, I have a bit of a head cold, I’m afraid. I must have caught it when I went to the markets yesterday morning. It was so chilly! Those things you said about the birds and the spring, you’ve just been inventing them, haven’t you?”
“It was meant metaphorically.”
“Never mind. Like in a poem.”
“Just pretend for now that it is true, that the spring has arrived. Can you feel it? Here? Now, give me your hand, can you feel the heart pounding? This is SPRING, Siebel! You are walking through the garden and, suddenly ... in front of you ... stands HE!”
“HE, with the capital ‘H’.”
“Please, forget about the doctor. Just HE. The man of your dreams. What do you feel, here, in your heart?”
Mephisto tried to touch her in that general area, though rather clumsily. Siebel brushed him off, but gently.
“What are you doing with that hand?”
She had run out from the kitchen; naturally, Mephisto followed her into the Doctor Faust’s study. It looked more like a place for romantic scene he intended to stage than the kitchen, anyway. He decided however that making such moves might be premature and that it could be more advantageous for him to stay with the poetry, at least for the time being. It seemed to him that thus far, anyway, he got the best response from her while taking it from that angle. She was now standing in front of the fireplace; he stepped nearer and put his hand very lightly onto her shoulder. She had let it stay there for a few seconds, and then she took three or four small steps away from him. The poet’s soul took over once again:
“Timid little hind, you must be feeling something, and that’s what’s making you run away from me. But you are feeling it, aren’t you?! Even though you may not admit it—“
“I don't know—“
Mephisto was presently getting carried away.
“Now, why not throw away all your inhibitions and thrust yourself into the open arms of opportunity? Drink from the spring that Lady Nature has offered you, drink, and allow yourself become intoxicated...!”
Such a thing had never happened to him. This girl was IT! And he was in love with her. He now knew that for certain. He was standing in Faust’s study, overseeing the piles of impressively looking books on all kinds of occult subjects, which the good doctor had accumulated over a number of years, and felt that it was all in vain, that none of these tomes, over which some great brains have no doubt been boiling for years and years, amounted to anything like a single line in a poem. If one could get that right… Mephisto was so absorbed in such thoughts that he did not hear what Siebel was saying to him.
“Oh, God, are you all right? You look pale! I must go and get you that water!”
He didn’t know that she had left for the kitchen, as he stood there totally enraptured, head covered with his hand. The time had come at last for him to spill over the contents of his heart!
“Yes, yes, it is you, my beloved Siebel! Let's go and run away from all this! Let’s run from all these books and from this pompous ass, this doctor Faust, who wants to have everything in life, and when he is denied it he’s prepared to sign his soul up to me, who’s been forced to play the role of the tempter! Reluctantly, unenthusiastically I play it, that much I can tell you. Because, in the heart of my heart I am a poet, and I only thirst ... I only thirst—“
Siebel, a little out of breath, had run into the room carrying a flask with the holy water, which she must have accidentally picked up in the kitchen, instead of water that was meant for drinking. Or was it an accident? That will forever remain hidden in the creases of her feminine mind and we will thus never know…
“Here, have some water.”
Mephisto took a few gulps from the flask and handed it back to Siebel without looking on it.
“Ah, that was good, thank you! But what I really thirst for is the freedom!”
“Really? The freedom? But freedom is free … well, it’s free, anyone can have it!”
“Freedom is what you have! And yes, to you it is free. You indeed have the freedom to walk away from it all, even from me! Alas, I don’t have such freedom! It is my lot to go on tempting people, and make them do bad things. Not only that, I have to keep doing this throughout eternity, even though I know that what I do is bad, know that I am a bad rogue, rabid rascal, and rancid rotter! And since I’m so rotten, and since I can’t help it, I now wish I could go and take my revenge on doctor Faust!”
“A revenge on the doc? But tell me why? What has he done to you?”
“Because he’s always had the freedom that I can’t have, and because he’d chosen to sign it away. Because it is he, who’s the real scoundrel!”
“Who's the scoundrel? Doctor Faust? Never mind, just don't be spiteful. It's not at all nice. It's sinful, in fact.”
“Sinful! Ha - ha - ha! Now you are telling me! I’m committing a sin! Ha - ha - ha!”
“But people should love each other. They should always forgive each other.”
“Ha - ha - ha! But I’m not people, because I’m the Devil! And as such, I can do anything! Except that I can’t have freedom!”
“It's only a temptation that's befallen you!”
“He - he - he. Temptation. Who is the tempter? I’m the tempter! He – he – he!”
“Sometimes it comes to me too, the temptation I mean. When it happens, I poor cold water on my head and I say a prayer. If that doesn’t help, I go and chop some wood. The temptation goes away after a while and in the woodshed we are left with plenty of firewood. Why don't you try something like that?”
“I can't. I'm not as perfect as you are.”
“You must chase away those evil thoughts! You must overcome them. You must stand up and face the devil that's in you!”
“Oh, you can perceive the devil in me! Could it be that you might also find a tiny dark nook somewhere in the corner of your big, warm, wonderful heart, to accommodate this poor, hapless creature?! I'm so confused! All this is turning me upside down!”
In a state of near madness, Mephisto made a somewhat clumsy attempt at a headstand. Siebel watched him with a mixture of surprise and amusement.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m all right”, he managed to whish through his teeth.
“So why are you trying to stand on your head? If that’s what you’re doing?”
Mephisto abandoned his hopeless attempts at making a headstand, stood up in front of Siebel.
“I have to fight it, reverse it all, my dispositions towards evil, malice, hatred and vengeance! But tell me, you must have another name beside Siebel.”
“Why? No one’s ever asked me about that. No one at all has ever said it aloud.”
“Not even doctor Faust?”
“He’s ever only called me Siebel. I don’t think he even knows my first name. Nobody knows my first name!”
“If you don’t tell me I could find out, you know? Pheles and I have the means. You might as well tell me now. I really want to know it. So, what’s your real name?”
“Catherine! What a lovely name. Catherine. Cathy. If I managed to get rid of all that’s bad in me, would I be acceptable to you, Catherine?”
“I don’t know… Perhaps..?”
“Still, be careful, Catherine, do be careful … It’s a risky business. Don’t let the Devil serenade you!”
He attempted, and surprisingly quite successfully, to sing the aria from Gounod’s Faust:
Vous qui faites l'endormie,
Ô Catherine, ma mie
He was singing in a wonderful basso voice, conducting an invisible orchestra, and generally playing the bad devil, just like he saw it done on the stage in Paris Opera House, and how it had become stuck in his photographic memory. Siebel was watching him in amazement and admiration. When he finished the aria with the devilish laughter, he collapsed to the ground. Siebel walked to him, gently putting her hand onto his shoulder.
“I don’t know what that was. It was strange, but beautiful. Still, the main thing is, has it helped you?”
“That was the devil’s aria from the opera Faust, by Gounod.”
“What is an opera?”
“It’s a kind of theatre, but with lots of music and musicians, dancers, and with some beautiful singing on the stage.”
“And why has this one have the doc’s name? Is it about Herr Doctor Faust?”
“A kind of. You must remember that it will only be composed in more than three hundred years’ time.”
“Really? Pity that I would not be able to see it.”
“Well, perhaps this could be arranged in some way.”
“And people sing there, like you just did?”
“Yes they do. And act, too. Only, they do it all much better than I can. Most of them, most of the time, anyway.”
“Doc hates singing, did you know that?”
“All the better!”
“Do you still hate him?”
“You’re asking me if I still feel as malevolent as before? The answer is, yes I do!
He was now kneeling on the floor in front of Siebel. She bent down to him and whispered into his ear:
“Let’s try this.”
From the flask she had been holding in her hand she poured some holy water over Mephisto’s head. We might assume that by now she realised what was in the flask, and that she knew what she was doing, because her lips were moving in a silent prayer. After a while she quietly asked the devil, who looked surprised:
“Has this helped?”
He rose up from the floor, took a few steps, almost as if he were trying on a new pair of shoes.
“I don’t know. Maybe it did, a little bit. But I’m afraid that inside I might still be the same crafty, evil-minded, sly and malicious spirit. Now tell me … where is it!?”
With the last words he began to take off his coat.
“Where is what?”
“The axe, the wood, and that chopping block of yours!”
“In the woodshed. I'll show you.”
Siebel had told Faust too that Meg had walked to the University. He had no idea what she might want to do there, but he still went out to see if he could find her. It would have never occurred to him that she might have wanted to agitate for the women’s rights, equality of sexes, and such issues, but that was the case. She expected that she might gain access to the Chancellor, starting right from the top by convincing the venerable man and head of this educational institution to immediately begin accepting female students. What she did not expect was that she would not even get past the front gate guards, where she was flatly refused entry.
She made a couple more of equally unsuccessful approaches, but now she was on her way back to Faust’s house. She knew that her duties on this mission were to stay near him, though no one instructed her exactly on how she was expected to handle him. All Pheles had told her was that she should ‘act naturally’. And he implied that she was hired mainly because of her reputation of being able to successfully play the role of a teaser. Well, if they wanted her to do that, she will comply. But she was not thrilled by this assignment.
Meg was rounding a street corner near the house, when she saw the doctor walking towards her. Time to play the teaser!
“Oh, here you are, Marguerite!”
She had said that coquettishly, to whet the doctor’s appetite. But his next question had hit the spot that was till sore.
“Where did you go, Meg?”
“I went to the University.”
“And what did you do there?”
“I was going to see the Chancellor”
“And did you see him?”
“I wouldn’t have thought so. Ladies are not allowed access.”
“So I found out. I’m going back to the house.”
“I will walk with you.”
They walked side by side, without saying a word. As they neared the entrance, Faust interrupted the silence.
“I’d like to tell you something.”
“You have beautiful eyes.”
“Thank you. That’s nice to know. Anything else?”
“The rest of you. It’s something to behold, too.”
She gave him the kind of a look that could pluck the feathers off a peacock.
“If there is more you want to say, please, hurry-up. I was on my way to see Siebel.”
“What is it that you two talk about all this time?”
“Not that I would expect you to understand, but we are covering the various feminist issues, particularly those regarding sexism, the cycle of which has persisted for thousands of years and is particularly rampant in this historical period, as I’m finding out. I’d principally like her to better understand the need for breaking the passive female stereotype.”
“Sexism, feminist issues, what does all that mean?”
Of course that he wouldn’t understand, but she might as well tell him. Here he was standing in front of her, certainly an intelligent man, yet totally impercipient, incapable and averse to the issues so close to her heart! What was she doing here? She was past it trying to do the right thing by her employers and forcing herself into being a plaything to this dork! It was not worth it, and especially not so for the pittance she would no doubt be getting. He wasn’t worth another minute of her time, yet she had to cast this into his face:
“It’s about women’s rights, Doctor Faust, legal and civil, it’s about their bodily integrity and autonomy, rights for contraception and abortion, protection from domestic violence, sexual harassment, and lots of other things. It’s about women, so often expected to only be submissive, eager-to-please, and supportive. It’s about equal opportunities. It’s about inequality, and social suffering, it’s about power structures, and about oppression. Most of this you, being the privileged man, would not understand anyway. Siebel would, eventually. Ta, ta, I’ve got to run now!”
Meg went into the house, and into the kitchen, where she expected to find Siebel. The girl was not there. Meg therefore went into her room, where she had spent the previous nights. Still no Siebel. She suddenly felt tired, downtrodden. She lied on the made-up bed, only taking off her shoes. The 16th century was no fun, she knew that, after only spending a few days there. In a way, she expected that, but not this bad, certainly.
Meg had only fairly recently began working for the Hell Escort Agency as a part-timer. She had completed her Feminist Studies, majoring in identity issues. She also took up the subjects of reproductive rights, and gender issues. After a torrid lesbian affair with a fellow student, which had ended in a bitter disappointment, after she had found her lover was cheating on her with their male lecturer, she entered into a series of short-term, promiscuous affairs, most of them lesbian. However, then she had one of a heterosexual nature with somebody, who turned out to be an expert recruiter for the Agency. She was offered a part-time position, which she had accepted. The pay was reasonably good and variety of assignments she was getting appealed to her too. This was to be her first big assignment. She was no longer sure, however, if she had made the right decision when she agreed to be working on the side of evil. Perhaps she should think it over, again. Maybe, there is still time…
Meg had drifted into sleep.
Puzzling to Faust was this 21st century girl and her attitudes. There were quite a few women in his life, and not all of them were easy to conquer. On several occasions he was forced to make a significant effort to get where he wanted to be with them. A few times he didn’t even get anywhere, but there was always a reason for such failures, which he could fathom. So far, he was being tender and courteous to her, but maybe a different approach was called for in this case. He was telling himself:
‘Yes, she’s right, I don’t understand her. Things like the women’s rights, legal and civil, their bodily integrity and autonomy, what was she talking about? In the end she got quite aggressive in her attitude towards me. Maybe I too should be more aggressive in my approach to her. Use profanities. Swear words. Dirty words. Strong language. Obscene language. Four letter words … But I’ve tried it all, in front of the mirror. And I know one thing: I don’t look good doing it! It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t sound right, coming from me. That must be why Meg doesn’t seem to respond to me. I may have a young fresh face now but, basically, I'm still an old man with the old-fashioned values. So, let's not try to change that. Let’s act naturally. How would an old fashioned gentleman impress a lady of his desire? Why, by giving her some jewellery, naturally! Could I afford to buy any jewellery? I couldn’t, not on my salary. What do I do? Ring number 666, of course!’
Faust took the mobile out of his pocket, deliberated again for a little while, then he punched a button three times, prepared himself to wait. This time though, to his pleasant surprise, he got through without a delay, as another pleasant female voice came through almost immediately:
“The Hell Incorporated, Customers Service, Lucinda speaking, how may I help you?”
“Hallo, hallo, Lucinda … this is Doctor Faust speaking … yes, Doctor Faust … could I speak to Mister Mephisto, please? …
“I’m transferring your call, sir.”
“What? You are transferring the call? What does that mean? … Who’s this—?“
“Pheles? … I see, you’re the other fellow. Mister Pheles, could you please be so kind and—“
Pheles immediately appeared, standing right in front of Faust, facing him with a smile of an obedient servant.
“Yes, Her Doctor.”
“You guys do have ways of turning up in a flash, don’t you? But where is Mr Mephisto?”
“I'm standing in for Mephisto, sir, unfortunately he's been unavoidably detained.
“Detained by what?”
“By chopping wood, as I understand.”
“By chopping wood? What nonsense! Never mind, you will do, I’m sure. Could you get me some jewellery? Something tasty, exquisite, ethereally beautiful, please. And a lot of it!”
Pheles, as if only waiting for just such an opportunity, bowed to Faust, while instantly assumed the tone and the manners of a top class English butler.
“Certainly, Herr Doctor. What is it that you would wish to have, sir, sapphires, rubies, diamonds?”
“Diamonds for sure, though sapphires and rubies would not go astray either.”
“As you wish, sir. Would you prefer those precious stones to be set in rings, bracelets, tiaras, or perhaps necklaces?
“What would you recommend, Pheles?”
Faust had fallen naturally into his role of a spoiled aristocrat, who calls his butler only by his family name. Pheles too was immensely enjoying playing this character that was new to him. The English butlers have always fascinated him!
“I would certainly recommend necklaces, sir. Necklace makes a wonderfully sensuous gift, especially when the lady of your heart favours you by allowing you to place it on her neck, thus giving you the opportunity to closely observe the gem finding its nesting place in her cleavage, caressed by her—“
“Fine, fine, that will do, Pheles. There really is no need to go to any further details. Make it, let’s say, half a dozen necklaces. What about rings?”
“Highly suitable, I must say, sir, particularly the diamond variety, any lady would—“
“Yes, yes, half a dozen diamond rings, no make it a full dozen, and let’s get moving. Could you also get me some bracelets, a couple of tiaras with diamonds and perhaps some emeralds, and we mustn’t overlook earrings, must we, at least a dozen pairs, better make it two dozen, all in purest gold.”
“At once, sir. Please sir, allow me to express my admiration of your impeccable style.”
“Thank you, Pheles. I say, if I’m to be a privileged man, as the lady of my heart had just called me, why shouldn’t I let it show properly?”
“Exactly, sir. Why not show it to the lady? Anything else I can do for you, sir.”
“Oh yes, before I forget, could you also get me some really nice jewellery casket to go with all these precious ornaments? A silver one, perhaps, oh, no, no, that would be far too ordinary, I think it should be a platinum one, with the inset emeralds, rubies and, of course, more diamonds.”
“Yes, sir. At your service, sir.”
“Now, please tell me Pheles, how long is it going to take for you to assemble all these gems and get it all prepared? Do you have to have it—?”
Before finishing the sentence, Faust could see that the jewellery casket was already in Pheles’ hands. The would-be butler handed it to his Lord, with the proper show of obeisance.
“Here is your platinum jewellery casket with the inset gems; inside it you’ll find all that you have wished for, sir.”
Faust took the casket from Pheles, tried to hold it in one hand; his arm dropped down; it was almost too heavy for him. He opened up the lid, rummaged through.
“This is wonderful! It’s all there! Thank you, Pheles. That’s what I call service.”
“Is there anything else, sir that I could help you with?”
“Now, advice me, please. How would you go about casually offering these jewels to a lady?”
“I would make it appear accidental, sir. Through a means of subtle persuasion that are at our disposal, I would make sure that the lady of your heart comes to the place that we designate. I would suggest the garden behind the house. The weather has warmed up sufficiently for that, I believe. Meanwhile I would make myself invisible to her and scatter some pieces of jewellery on the path in front of her, while you, sir, would be hiding nearby. When she had found the jewellery and while she’s admiring the precious stones, which she no doubt would do, you could come up and offer her this jewellery casket, thus nonchalantly revealing your identity as the donor.”
“Great. Let’s do it now!”
Having woken up after a short sleep on Siebel’s bed, Meg went downstairs into the kitchen, but still could not find the girl. Suddenly she felt like putting on her overcoat and going outside through the back door, into the garden. The weather had finally got a little warmer; she decided to walk down the garden path. Something attracted her attention; something glittering that was lying on the footpath. She bent down and picked it up. It turned out to be a golden earring with a large diamond set in. Meg was admiring it, thinking ‘what a pity there is only one and not the pair’, when she saw what looked like a twin to the one she held in hand. It was indeed the matching earring, as she knew immediately after picking it up.
‘What should I do with these earrings’, she asked herself. ‘Who could have lost them here? Surely not Siebel; this is a rich lady’s jewellery, it can’t belong to a servant girl’. But it would look nice on her, regardless…’
There was more to be found on the footpath. A few more steps, and Meg had encountered a marvellously rich looking tiara, with inset gems all over, dominated by a wonderful green emerald! She almost felt like bursting into a song! After examining it thoroughly, she had put it into the pocket of her coat. A couple of golden bracelets would be her next find, followed by a splendid diamond ring. By now she knew that this had to be some set-up, only she wasn’t sure who was setting her up and why. Faust? It had to be! He certainly didn’t look as though he could afford all these fantastic pieces of jewellery, but hadn’t he made up a pact with the devil? With her present employers, she had to remind herself.
‘It may not be real, some kind of fool’s gold’, went quickly through Meg’s head. ‘But what if it is real? And if Faust got it somehow and now wants to give it to me, albeit in such a strange fashion, wouldn’t I then be the rightful owner of this jewellery?’
And there seemed to be no end to the riches Meg was finding on the footpath. A few more rings, another tiara, several sets of earrings, bracelets, necklaces, all worth a lot more than just bending down… ‘Fabulous jewellery!’ Meg was saying to herself. ‘It’s so astoundingly beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like this! Where is Siebel? I wanted to talk to her about feminism, but first things first. Now I want to see how this would look on her. But we would have to get her properly dressed for that. I’m sure that Faust could arrange for a new wardrobe, with his connections… And where is Faust?’
There! He walked towards Meg, as if casually, nonchalantly holding a casket in hand, handing it over to her. It contained still more jewellery. Millions of dollars worth, all this, for sure! The man surely was as boring as her professor of English literature, but this wealth, found so suddenly, made him rise in Meg’s eyes by several notches. Naturally, he would have ulterior motives, just like that professor had, and it wasn’t hard for Meg to imagine what they might be like. Now he was talking to her:
“Aren’t you going to try these trinkets on yourself? They were meant for you. Here is a casket that comes with them.”
She acted as if surprised.
“Oh, so it was you. You shouldn’t have.”
“I only wished to properly express my admiration of you. A beautiful lady like you should have plenty of beautiful jewellery to wear. Do you like them? Please, do me the favour of allowing me to place this necklace on your neck!”
“I’d prefer to do that myself. But thank you, all the same. Is all this really mine? To keep?”
Faust looked disappointed.
“ Thank you.”
“Is that all you have to say to me?”
“Thank you very, very much!”
He looked even more disappointed, but before he could say anything, Siebel had run into the garden.
Meg found the distraction agreeable.
“Oh, here she is!”
Faust was not at all impressed.
“Siebel, what are you doing here! I thought you were … Where is Mephisto?”
“Meph’s in the woodshed, chopping the blocks. You should both see him! He’s taken off his coat and his shirt and he looks so manly, so masculine, with those muscles bulging up, and with the sweat running down his—“
Now it was Meg who was looking unimpressed.
“Just don’t let him bamboozle you. Taking off the shirt, showing those biceps pumped-up with the steroids, running sweat, that’s all a typical male plot.”
Faust too was unenthusiastic about Mephisto’s new image and his maidservant’s admiration of the fiend.
“Chopping wood, that’s always been Siebel’s job. A devil of his standing should not stoop down this low, and allow himself to do such menial task. But I certainly won’t be stopping him; we can always use more firewood. What made him do this, anyway?”
“He was swearing vengeance and things like that, but I talked him out of it and showed him how to positively—“
She stopped, because she had obviously forgotten the rest of the phrase that she had only recently been taught, so she was now looking at Meg, expecting some help from her. Meg didn’t let her down.
“positively employ the … the—“
“negative energies. Yes! How to positively employ the negative energies.”
Looking properly satisfied with her effort, Siebel turned back to her employer.
“He wanted to take revenge on you.”
“Revenge? And on me? Why?”
“I don’t know exactly why, but I think that perhaps he might be jealous of you.”
“See, Siebel, this too is so characteristic of males. Humans or devils, that doesn’t matter. They’ll tell you anything they think you might wish to hear, they’ll do anything to impress you, like showing their muscles, or if there isn’t enough to show then at least the contents of their wallets, but they’re really only doing it because they want to possess you. They’re selfish, self-interested, and bad—“
“No, Meg!” Siebel was emphatic. “Meph is not bad. I can sense this. Meph is only confused. He’s a fallen angel, but I’m sure that he could be saved. Just come with me and have a look at him, it’s a sight to behold.”
“I’ll come with you, because I’m sure that he would be a fun to watch. Like any brainless buckstick trying to impress all those who are stupid enough to want to look, without realising he’s only making an idiot of himself. I’ll come because you might need some protection, mainly against yourself. If I were you I wouldn’t believe everything I see. Or hear, for that matter.”
Meg and Siebel walked in the direction of the woodshed, while Faust, still smarting from the apparent rejection by Meg, lingered behind them. Before he reached the door to the woodshed, he bent down and picked up the coat that Mephisto had obviously shed there when he rushed inside to do the axe work. He said to himself:
‘Aha, that must be his coat; he’s dropped it here. What a chance! I might have a quick look if I could find that parchment with the contract in the pocket. Let’s see …’
He felt inside the pockets, pulled out a piece of paper with some writing on it. He looked pleased.
‘This must be it! Great! Fantastic! Now I can have the better of the two worlds, direct access to the Hell’s Customer Service, with no worries about losing my soul! I mustn’t forget to ask them to—‘
Before this thought had run completely through his head, Meg walked out of the shed and Faust could not drop Mephisto’s coat fast enough for her not to see him holding it.
“Doctor Faust, would you please … Oh! … What is it that you have there, doctor?”
Faust managed to quickly pocket the paper he took out, but he did not have time to have a good look at it.
“Oh, that’s nothing, it looks like Mephisto has left his coat here. I thought you were watching the fallen angel making show of his positive energy, and the brute force of his muscles. Women like to see that sort of thing, isn’t it so?
“Some might do, but I usually tire of it rather quickly, thank you very much.”
“He wasn’t swearing or using vulgar language by any chance, while cutting the wood, or was he? Ah! Even if he were, you are more ladylike, and thus appreciative of subtler approach, aren’t you? But you haven’t told me yet; we didn’t have time for that … Did you like the jewellery?”
“Oh yes, who wouldn’t?”
“Would you like more?”
“What’s the condition?”
“Simple. Be friendlier to me, that’s all.”
“But I am your friend.”
“Not the way I mean it.”
“And how do you mean it?”
“So that you and I would get closer.”
“Is your offer restricted to jewellery? That’s what I actually came back to ask you about.”
“Oh, no. I can get anything I want.”
“But can you get me anything I want?”
“Surely. What would you want?”
“A trifle. Anything else.”
“You have it already. This jewellery is worth a fortune. But I could still get you more, if you wish that.”
“I’m sure even that too could be organised.”
“I also want power.”
“But you do have power. Over me, to start with.”
“And if, for instance, I wanted to be the most powerful person in the world?
“Then, I think, I could arrange that too.”
“How would you be able to arrange it?”
“Simply, with this mobile phone here. All I have to do is call number 666.
At that moment, Siebel ran out of the shed and stopped, seeing Faust showing Meg the mobile phone.
“Hey, doc, is this the thing that you’ve—?”
“What are you doing here again? I thought you were in the shed with Mephisto, watching him chop wood and admiring his well-developed muscles.”
“I was, but Meph’s ran out of blocks. He’s so strong that he’s used them all up in no time. But at least he looks quite calm now, so I came here to get his coat. I don’t want him to catch cold before they could bring in more blocks for him to chop. But is that little thing you’re holding what you’ve sold your soul for?”
“I haven’t sold my soul at all.”
“But I saw you signing some paper, when I looked through the keyhole, and then I saw them giving you something. It looked very much like this thing.”
“Siebel, then you must have been mistaken.”
Meg decided to get onto Siebel’s side.
“But you have told me the same thing when we first met. You said then that you were the same Doctor Faust, who had sold his soul to the devil.”
“Well, I may have said something like that at the time, but it’s no longer true. If you don’t believe me, go both of you and ask Mephisto to produce the contract. You’ll find that he hasn’t got it. That’s because I have it!”
Mephisto joined them just in time to hear Faust’s last words. He shook his head vigorously.
“No, you don’t!”
“Finished with your wood chopping? Yes, I do. Look into the pocket of your coat, and see if you can find it there.”
“I don’t have to, Herr Doctor. After you’d signed the contract Pheles had it scanned, and a copy has already been lodged electronically with the Hell’s Registry of Souls. That’s the usual procedure and it’s all perfectly legal.”
He was bluffing, of course. He had too many other things on his mind, so he couldn’t remember exactly where he had put the original contract, but he was certain that it was not anywhere in this world, and therefore Faust couldn’t have gotten hold of it. Faust pulled out the piece of paper he had previously pocketed.
“And what is this?”
He read from the paper, with his face getting progressively longer and longer.
“Sweet Catherine, you’re a breath of fresh air
You’re a deep well of pure water
You’re a fire that consumes my soul
Only to you my love I declare...
... it’s a poem!”
Meg in her time had taken a course in Creative Writing, as well as one on Neo-classical, Romantic, and post-Romantic poets, so she had regarded herself to be an expert, and qualified to pass on a critical judgment.
“As poems go, this one won’t win any awards, I’m certain of that. It’s rather clumsy, if you ask me.”
If her remark was meant to put things into perspective for Siebel, it had missed the mark entirely. The girl did not hear it, because she only had her eyes and ears for Mephisto. She breathed out:
“How romantic’, said Meg, this time a little more loudly. “The boy gets the girl.”
“Give it to me, doc”, said Siebel, taking the paper out of Faust’s hand. Still a little stunned, he offered no resistance. She had stars in her eyes, which she now buried in the manuscript. “Oh, look at this, it covers the whole page, and all the way there is a talk about Catherine – it’s so sweet of you, Meph!”
Faust was not at all happy. He had lost his soul, and now it looked as though he might lose his housekeeper as well. And both to this hulky creature from netherworld! He said stiffly:
“I know what I’ll do now. I’ll ring the Hell’s Customers Service and complain about the misconduct of one of their field workers, who’s neglecting his duties while only chasing females!”
Meg had this time put herself onto the doctor’s side.
“Yes, you’re right, you should do just that, Herr Doctor, because this is a clear-cut case of sexual harassment … and, how old are you, Siebel?”
“Seventeen and a half.”
“And even worse, of paedophilia! You must ring them straight away, Her Doctor!”
He fiddled with the telephone, obviously still unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the thing, he turned it around a couple of times, eventually finding a button and punching it three times.
“Six, six, six, there” … He listened.
Faust looked up from the mobile phone, obviously perplexed by what he had heard.
“What could this mean? … There is a man there, and he says … He says, it’s the Heaven’s Emergency Service! … Hallo!”
His voice was now gaining on urgency:
“Hallo! … Where the hell is the Hell?!”
Meg moved closer to Faust, looking at the phone he was holding to his ear.
“Are you sure you had dialled 666, Doctor?”
“Yes, look here, 666.”
“That’s what you think, but you are holding it upside down. You must have rung 999! And obviously, that would be the Heaven’s Emergency Service. Give it to me!”
She snatched the mobile from Faust’s hand. The situation called for some quick thinking on Meg’s part, and she did just that. She had already decided that this was a dog of a job. The Hell can go to Hell, as far as she was concerned! But if she now played her cards right, and used up this opportunity, she might not only get out of this stupid sixteenth century, which she was beginning to hate intensely, but come out of it a rich woman on top of that! Holding the casket with the precious jewellery tight to her chest with one hand, and the mobile phone in the other hand, she spoke resolutely:
“Hallo … Whom am I speaking to? … You are the Emergency Service, are you? The Heavens? … Yes, this is definitely an emergency. I need help! Could you get me out of here? I am Marguerite van Dyke, a 21st century person, who’s accidentally become stranded in the sixteenth century.”
She listened intently for a while to what the person at the other end of the line had to say.
“Yes, I certainly can. How about my driver’s licence, would that do? … I can show it to you, I have it on me … My precise location? I don’t know exactly, it’s a town somewhere in Germany, it has a University—“
“Heidelberg”, Faust prompted her.
“Doctor Faust here says it’s called Heidelberg … yes … that’s the Doctor Faust, that’s one who … ah … you know him? … You know of him … yes, I’m in his house, in the garden … what do you mean, do I have any luggage? Why are you asking that? … I see. Custom regulations … no, no … all I have here is what I have on me, plus just one teeny-weeny little box.”
‘Let’s hope that the sixteenth century jewellery would not attract high taxes’, she said to herself. There were a few moments of silence, then the voice on the line came back. While it was talking, Meg’s face kept brightening up.
“Really? … You are dispatching the angelic troops? … right now?! … that’s wonderful! … thank you. Thank you so much!!”
While this went on, Mephisto was just quietly laughing to himself. He remembered again that famous opera by Gounod the Boss was so desperate to avoid going to. He had offered his services as an escort for his wife to the premiere in Paris, hoping to earn himself some kudos. But the trip had given him a lot more than that. Mephisto found out that he liked the music. Hi liked it so much so that some of those melodies became stuck in his mind and kept coming back. At this exact moment in his inner ear he could just hear that famous Soldiers’ March and chorus ‘Gloire immortelle de nos aieux’, which would have just fitted perfectly this situation! But, what is it that Siebel’s doing now? He watched the girl walk to Meg, and point to the mobile phone she still held in her hand. Meg offered it to her, reluctantly. But there was nothing hesitant in what Siebel did now. In a firm voice she said into the phone:
“Hallo! … No, I’m not … I’m someone else … I’m Catherine ... Catherine Siebel …”
Mephisto looked at her, and forgot all about the Soldiers’ March. He called to her:
“Catherine! What are you up to?”
She waved her hand, made some gestures towards him the meaning of which he could not understand. At the same time she spoke into the phone:
“Could I come too? Please?”
Mephisto looked devastated. She wanted to come too? And what about him? Is he going to lose her, now that he had found her?!
Siebel smiled and kept smiling, looking at Mephisto, while she kept taking and listening to the mobile, making more calming gestures towards him at times, even mouthing what might have been the word ‘freedom’ to him.
“No, no … I was born here ... yes, yes … in 1507 … in Simmern, that’s in Germany … is my life in danger? What do you mean? … is my freedom? … not mine, but my fiancée’s … you see, there’s two of us … could we come together?”
She listened for a little while.
“Yes, yes … he was baptised … you say you might consider offering us a place at the refugee camp? … only under certain conditions? … could you explain, please?”
She listened again, she had sent what looked like a victorious smile to Mephisto, said something again, seemed to agree with the caller. Then she rang off, and handed the mobile to Faust.
A distant brass band sounded, moving closer and closer, playing ‘Gloire immortelle de nos aieux’. The Heavenly Troops were on their way to them.
where the case of Mephisto and Siebel
is being heard before the Heavenly
Commission for Equal Opportunities,
which hopefully will have it resolved
before the Day of Judgement arrives...
We are rapidly moving towards a conclusion of this story. However, there are still some loose ends, which need to be tied up.
The Heavenly Troops had indeed marched in, to hoist Marguerite back into the 21st century. She had blown her chances of ever getting a full-time job with the Hell Escort Agencies, but she didn’t mind much. The trip to the 16th century Heidelberg yielded her a box full of exquisite jewellery, worth millions of dollars.
As far as the case of Mephisto and Siebel is concerned, things were not so easy. The authorities that administer the Heavens have one simple rule regarding acceptance of souls. Everybody gets a hearing; everybody gets the chance to state his or her case. When Siebel pleaded for Mephisto to be admitted, it was naturally an unusual, if perhaps not totally unprecedented, request. Mephisto’s true identity was discovered very quickly, and from that moment on it looked as though his chances were virtually zero. Regardless, Siebel, who was a fast learner and had picked up a fair bit about political correctness from Meg in the few days they had together, went on pleading their case. Gradually, higher and higher authorities were being brought in until, finally, thanks to her gritty determination, the case was presented to the Commission for Equal Opportunities (CEO), presided by the Chief Executive Officer, St Peter himself (STP). The commission had been meeting on a daily basis for more than a month, and finally it published its momentous decision in the resolution, which would enter the annals of the Heaven’s Litigating Lawyer’s League (HELL). The Chairperson himself delivered the full text of the resolution, followed by an expanded analysis of the case, and it was broadcast by the Channel 3 of the Heavenly Community Radio (HCR). That was a true martyrdom, because it took over four hours to read from the 122 pages of typewritten material, even though St Peter remained in the upright position throughout the ordeal. With due regard for my readers I’m not reprinting it here, though a copy is available to those who might be interested. I was a member of the Commission when the case was being heard, and this is why I had taken such keen interest in the whole affair. To cut it down to one sentence, the resolution, which incidentally was passed unanimously, basically states that anybody, even a devil, should be given a chance.
In the case of Mephisto, there was an additional finding – because a prayer was said and then the holy water was poured over his head while he remained in a kneeling position, he was deemed to have been baptised. This also helped him enormously in eventually getting over the finishing line.
The immediate result of the Commission’s decision was that Mephisto and Siebel were offered a place in the refugee camp, which is situated offshore, in the higher spheres of the Purgatory. One of the conditions for Mephisto’s acceptance was that he had to officially renounce his Hell citizenship and ask for the political asylum. He did that gladly and promptly. After this his application went through a lengthy bureaucratic process, but eventually he was granted a refugee status, with the condition that he would take-up residence in the halfway house in Purgatory, for as yet unspecified period of time.
This is where he presently resides, living in a de-facto relationship with Catherine Siebel, who would have received the permission of conditional entry immediately, had she applied straight after her arrival to the Pearl Gate. Such permissions are given out more or less automatically to all newly arrived souls. Nevertheless, Siebel refused to take advantage of it, deciding to stay in the Purgatory with Mephisto. They plan to marry soon, and not only to improve their chances of being admitted to Heaven, where the authorities tend to frown on couples who have not yet legalised their mutual commitments.
Meanwhile, Mephisto has written a large number of poems, with Siebel as his acknowledged muse. The poems are getting better and better, and soon they will be ripe for publishing. I can attest to that too, being a publisher by profession, one of the few who have made it here to Heaven without complications. We are in contact through Mephisto’s agent. His name is Pheles.
Mephisto and Siebel were having a quiet afternoon sit down in the garden (there indeed are gardens in Purgatory, though not quite so nice as those to be found in Heaven). A tallish figure, clad in a long coat, walked towards them along the garden path. Mephisto recognised that walk immediately, and he waited with the open arms even before the new arrival would reach them.
“Pheles! What a surprise! What are you doing here?”
“What did you think, that I would abandon my partner? I’m now staying here, in the refugee camp. I got the refugee status.”
“When did all that—“
“A few days ago, but I couldn’t find the time to get away and come to see you until today.”
“And you plan on—“
“Yes, I’m going to stay, if they’ll have me.”
“Good old Pheles … It’s great to have you here!”
They embraced, with Siebel joining them. She said:
“I always felt that you two should be together.”
“So that’s the three of us here now”, said Mephisto. “I can’t help wondering what happened to those other two who were with us in Heidelberg? Have you heard anything about Faust?”
“Faust? That was quite predictable, don’t you think so? He made a number of complaints to the Hell Customers Service, about irregularities in our conduct and non-compliance with the contract—”
“Which went generally unheeded, you don’t have to tell me that. I wrote some poems on the reverse side of the original contract, so it would not be a valid legal document now anyway.”
“Well, that puts a new angle on things. But he would have gotten away with his soul intact in any case.”
“The powers that be were not keen on having to review the case, especially as one of the soul signing officers was no longer available to testify. A half decent lawyer would have had him acquitted at any time. But, of course, Faust did not know this.”
“So he went on complaining—“
“Yes, but only until the battery in his mobile had run out.”
Siebel laughed aloud:
“Which in the sixteenth century he found hard to recharge.”
Pheles laughed with her.
“You are catching up with the technology, aren’t you Siebel?”
“Yes. I’ve even started a computer course for the beginners. They offer them free here. So the dead battery brought up the end of Herr Doctor’s campaign against you two?”
“Of course. Still, there is a rumour that Faust’s been working on some new formula, of which he expects to make the mobile functional again, and help him re-establish the connection.”
“Well, good luck to him. Until someone invents a battery charger that would work in the 16th century, he’ll have a problem. A problem! Do you think Faust would get away with signing his soul to get the problem, for the third time?”
“Not our problem any more, is it?”
“What about Meg, do you know anything about her, Pheles?”
“Naturally, the boss was mad with Meg for quitting that job so suddenly and opportunistically, but he had a lot of other things on his plate at the time, so he just waved his hand over it. And Daramsuphael said that eventually she’d end up in that boiler of his anyway.”
“Much more likely she’d be in the common boiler”, said Mephisto. “With that political correctness of hers he’d bore even an immortal soul, such as Daramsuphael, to death in no time. She wouldn’t be able to keep her place in that private boiler for very long. It’s a privilege, afforded only to a few!”
“I’m sure you realise that we two would end up in the common boiler as well, if Daramsuphael could get his hands on our souls!”
“Yes, we had let him down rather sadly, haven’t we?”
“But he it was, who always went on stressing to us that one has to act in accordance to one’s own principles!”
“Well, Meg too has her principles, mostly to do with feminism and political correctness. She tried to pass them on to Cathy, and they fell onto fertile land. Only, it yielded an entirely different and unexpected kind of harvest, and as a result we find ourselves here. So it is Meg that Cathy and I should be grateful to, don’t you agree?”
“Absolutely. But she’s had her reward. The jewellery I gave Faust, which he gave her.”
“Did she then manage to get it all through the Customs?”
“Well, she was a special case, the way the Heavenly authorities viewed it, so they never searched her and she sailed through the Customs with her jewellery box intact.”
“Was it all real, then?” asked Siebel.
“Oh yes! We wouldn’t give away any fool’s gold.”
“Any idea what she did with all that wealth?”
“From what I heard, she had bought herself a luxury yacht and some fantastic villa on one of the Greek islands.”
“Let me guess”, said Mephisto. “Lesbos?”
“Not at all. She married some Greek, who called himself an environmentalist and a socialist. He managed to run through much of her money in no time. They are now divorced and both the yacht and the villa are up for sale. That’s the latest I heard.”
“I bet that the boss was even madder with me than with Meg, for quitting the way I did.”
“The names he called you I wouldn’t even reiterate, certainly not in front of this pious young lady. But then he decided that you must have either been seduced in a most refined manner, or downright bought out by the Heaven Intelligence Service, and that you would now be collaborating with their agents.
“The only kind of an agent I’d wish to talk to would be literary agent.”
“I had no doubts about that, I know you too well. I think that I could perhaps fill in that role.”
“Oh, would you? It’s a deal! But we’ll talk about that later. Now tell us, how did you manage to get here? That’s what we both would really like to know, don’t we, Cathy?”
Siebel disappeared into their unit for a little while, where she made a cup of coffee for all three of them. She preferred that much to goat milk, once she tasted it. They got comfortable at the garden table, while Pheles told them his story.
“You were gone, and as far as the boss was concerned you had found yourself in the clutches of the enemy. Of course that I did nothing to diffuse such assumptions, though I knew what I knew. At that point the boss had decided that the best possible way to deal with this imaginary situation would be trying to turn the tables on the enemy and talk you into becoming a double agent.”
“And he’d sent you to do the dirty work.”
“He’d sent me all right, but I’ve already failed in my mission. I’m staying here. Would you believe that I’ve been offered a job? Its about alpha-testing a computer game about the Angelic troops at war with the forces of Evil.”
“Congratulations. Your computer expertise, is that why they granted you the refugee status so quickly? You’re lucky, I had to sweat over it for a long time!”
“My expertise too, but there was something even more important. I’d brought them a gift.”
“Fine. A gift. Now, let me think. You look … well … different … there is something about you … or rather, something’s missing … now I’ve got it! It’s your laptop computer. You two were practically inseparable. Where is it? Somehow I doubt that you would have left it in Hell.”
“Of course not. Naturally, I took it with me. There are gigabytes of files there on the various cases we’ve been on together, a lot concerning the Hell’s personnel, and all sorts of other things that they find extremely interesting. I always knew there was a kind of Cold War going on between Heaven and Hell, but I’d never realised precisely how much industrial spying was going on as well. Anyway, they’ve already so much as hinted that this should open up the passage for all of us to the heavenly heights.”
“I won’t be so confident about that. Weren’t there some sizeable files on us too? Once they’ve seen those we could kiss Heavens goodbye forever … Well, this place isn’t so bad, really.”
“Do you think me stupid, or something? The first thing I’d done was deleting all those files that could have in any way incriminated us.”
Siebel looked at Mephisto, than back at Pheles. A tiny little smile of understanding was beginning to hatch behind those pouting red lips of hers. She said:
“I was told by our instructor that the secret behind working with the computers is just using one’s common sense. So I’m trying to use it, as much as I can. And it tells me that you’ve deleted all the sins of the past, and for both of you guys!”
Pheles was beaming.
“By a single click, you forgot to say.”
Mephisto looked pensive.
“The really big things are always simple...”
He stood up; so did the other two. He put his arms around their shoulders.
“Heavens, here we come!!!”