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Dancing with the Devil
The office was naturally bright, complimented by white painted walls, a high ceiling, and the sun’s rays coming through, filling the room with light. It was an ovular shape and had fine wooden floors stained dark brown with a minor coating of red to even out the colors. On the far left side of the room was one of those fountains where the water silently trickled down several levels before being sucked back up to the top over and over again. In the opposite corner lay a closed, dark cabinet with what appeared to be an old-fashioned padlock, forbidding the entry of unwanted eyes. A large, golden crucifix, twinkling in the sunlight, hung parallel to the cabinet on the right side. Towards the back and to the middle sat a desk, cluttered with papers. The chair at the desk was hand-made from black Egyptian leather and faced towards the door. The back of the chair stood well over a foot higher than the head of any one sitting in it. Dan Harold, the man occupying the desk, spun the chair around to greet the spectacular view of the city through the magnificent window wall. Dan was an older man who carried out a seemingly uneventful and lonely life. He had wrapped himself up in his work for so many years that he hadn’t found the time for a wife, let alone kids. Dan was short and tubby in appearance with a half-bald head, filled out on the sides and back with short, gray hair. An amiable face and wide grin had earned the trust of hundreds, only to be betrayed by his greed. Dan sat comfortably in the chair, mind racing a mile a minute, when the high pitched voice of the secretary interrupted his deep thoughts.
“I’m sending the next one in, sir,” announced the secretary through the intercom linked to the telephone in the interviewer’s office. Dan opened the bottom right drawer of the polished mahogany desk to retrieve the folder of the next interviewee, but the plastic filing container that held the previous folders was empty. He shuffled through the folders scattered on his desk in search of the missing one, but Dan recognized each of the eight names as interviews that had already been completed.
“Donna, are you sure there is anoth—,” uttered Dan in confusion, but was interrupted when he looked up towards the door and saw the knob turn slowly to the left. The door creaked open and revealed a tall, well-dressed man. So well-dressed, in fact that he looked as though he could have walked right out of a designer magazine. As he stepped through the doorway something filled the air—something intangible, but unmistakably present. Upon entering the room, the man turned and shut the door behind him and began to approach Dan. His leather dress shoes, polished until glistening like glass, reflected the sun shining in through the window with each step. Dan was at a loss for words. Despite an effort to try to spit something out to him, all he could do was watch as this man strolled towards him with more confidence than any other man he’d ever seen. The fluent motion of his arms swinging back and forth sent the sides of his dark, black coat along with them. Dan noticed a briefcase in his left hand, sleek and black, swinging evenly with the motion of his arm. The almost unnoticeable sway of his walk caused his silky blood-red tie to glide comfortably, side to side, against his shirt of the exact same hue. He slowly raised his free arm to readjust the identical red, starched linen, perfectly fashioned into a two-point handkerchief fold, in the upper left-hand pocket of his suit. In raising his arms, the bottom of his coat lifted just enough to make his belt visible. The smooth, black belt was fastened at the center by a silver, circular belt buckle with an engraving of a snake’s body twisting up the shaft of an unlit torch. Their eyes met for the first time when Dan examined his pale, sullen face. The man’s dark brown, almost black, eyes stared, unyielding, into Dan’s bright blue eyes, as though searching for something. The natural curve of his thin lips angled downwards giving the appearance of a slight frown. His hair was covered by a top hat, flat-crowned and broad-brimmed, and black as night. Upon arrival at the desk, the man removed his hat with his right hand, revealing black hair, slicked back slightly to the right. He placed it on the desk before him, and extended his hand towards Dan. Dan found himself on his feet, eyeing the thin, smooth hand outstretched towards him.
With a slow, deep voice, the man stated quietly, “Stephim, Stephim Pheleos.” Stephim’s face remained tranquil when he spoke, showing no emotion.
Dan, still staring at the hand like he had never seen one before, slowly moved his arm outwards to shake hands with Stephim. Upon contact, Dan felt the same feeling as when Stephim walked into his office pulse through his head. It was as though he was being studied. After what seemed to be minutes, but in reality was only seconds, he reluctantly met Stephim’s dark eyes.
“Hav—Have a seat,” stuttered Dan nervously, mainly as an excuse to break the handshake and to be able to sit down. He felt his legs wobbling beneath him. Stephim sat down slowly, with the briefcase still in hand. Once completely embedded into the chair, he leaned forward and placed the briefcase down by his feet. Stephim sat back in relaxation, yet with impeccable posture. He placed his arms comfortably on the armrests provided for him by the brown, leather chair, slightly smaller than the black chair on the opposite side of the desk. The two chairs were of the same style; they were the type that you might see in an old mob movie. As he crossed his right leg over the left, he snuck in a small, yet unmistakable grin directed at Dan. The back of the chair barely reached over his head, but Stephim did not seem to mind, for he had focused his attention on his interviewer.
“I do not believe I caught your name,” said Stephim.
“My name is—uh—Dan. Dan Harold. But Mr. Pheleos, I do not have you written in the schedule for interviews, nor do I have any information, not even a resume, to indicate who you are,” Dan replied hurriedly.
“Dan, or Mr. Harold, I should say,” began Stephim smoothly, “I am the best candidate in your search. When I am hired, you, along with every other board member, would see results like that,” and at “that” Stephim snapped his thumb and index finger casually. “Now, Mr. Harold,” began Stephim again, as he raised his right hand, placing the same two fingers with which he snapped to either side of his chin, “you are beginning to realize that I am the best one for the job. Not any of your other candidates have what it takes to run this company. None of them.” Snap. His eye contact was unyielding.
“May—Maybe you're…I mean what are a few pieces of paper, right?” said Dan, surprised that he was finally starting to calm down.
“We can forget about those papers, Stephim…but what are your qualifications?” said Dan, fully relaxed now.
“I am the right person for the job, Dan. I am the only one for the job,” stated Stephim casually, stealing a glance at the briefcase by his feet.
Noticing his wandering eyes, Dan asked, “Did you have something in the briefcase you would like to show m—?”
“No,” interrupted Stephim sharply.
“Stephim, Chief Editor of The Wall Street Journal is one of the most stressful jobs out there. We circulate over 2 million newspapers per day. That is twice The New York Times and over four times The Washington Post…I need to be absolutely sure that you have got what it takes to run this show, do you understand me?” murmured Dan very seriously, with a hint of caution so as to not offend Stephim. Stephim looked at Dan dead in the eyes; all traces of emotion vanished in a split second. As Stephim raised his hand from his chin out to the side of his face, his eyes flashed red for an instant. Snap. Stephim knew he had him in the palm of his hand, for good.
“Con—Congratul—Congratulations Stephim, I mean newly instated Chief Editor Pheleos, you’ve…uh…you’ve got the job,” stammered Dan as he extended his trembling hand out to Stephim. Stephim’s lips curved slightly upwards, forming what appeared to be a smile, but failed to display any type of emotion. When their hands met, Dan felt the same feeling he had felt twice before, but this time it surged through not only his head, but his mind as well.
Dan expected Stephim to show himself out when they broke the handshake, but Stephim returned to his previous position in the chair.
“So sorry to hear about the previous Chief Editor, you certainly have my condolences,” said Stephim, breaking the silence, with an unnoticeable smirk.
“Yes, John Faust was a very good man, and a damn good editor. Thank you for your concern.”
“Funny things he was involved in, weren’t they? Drugs found in his house, connections with several murders all over the city, not to mention his regular practice and belief in the dark arts, or so I heard. It is so sad when a seemingly good man is exposed, such a shame.” Dan jumped when Stephim raised his hand quickly to slick his hair back. “It was an odd way to die though, wasn’t it?”
“His cause of death was not released to the public, you must be mistaken.”
“How is it that one can be burnt from the inside out with no apparent damage, aside from the severe burns, that is?” said Stephim thoughtfully, disregarding Dan’s previous statement.
“How do you know that?!” snapped Dan. “No one knows the cause of death except his family and close friends!”
“How dare you raise your voice to me, huma—,” Stephim caught himself and paused briefly, but continued, “Don’t question me again.” He spoke in an oddly deeper voice that seemed to echo around the room. Snap. Dan froze up in fear and responded hesitantly.
“My—My apologies, sir…I won’t let it happen again,” staggered Dan.
The sunlight shining on Stephim's face began to fade so Dan, taking notice, rolled his chair around to look out the window in curiosity. He was astonished at the sight before his eyes; thick, angry rain clouds were beginning to form out of thin air. He quickly turned his chair back around and began to ask Stephim, “Are you seeing thi—,” but the chair was empty. Dan glanced around the room before turning his chair back around towards the window once again. Stephim’s body was facing the city below, but his head was turned slightly to the left, staring at Dan, who unwillingly stared back. A flash of lighting outside the window in the sky above tore Dan’s eyes away. Stephim turned his head slowly down to the city and interrupted the silent tap, tap, tap of the rain on the windowsill, “Beautiful view, isn’t it?” Dan felt paralyzed in confusion. He could not move his mouth to formulate words to respond. Stephim turned away from the window and slowly approached the desk where Dan still sat, frozen. He ran his fingers along the edge of his desk as he headed in the direction of his chair. Still standing, Stephim picked his hat up by the crown in his right hand, and while bending down to retrieve his briefcase, placed it atop his head. He turned and began to stroll towards the door, but the crucifix on the wall caught his eye.
“Do you believe in God, Mr. Harold?” muttered Stephim with his back to Dan.
“‘He is my Savior’,” recited Dan nervously, like he was back in Sunday school again.
Nearing the door, Stephim said, without looking back, “Where is your ‘Savior’ now, Mr. Harold?”
Dan’s chest started to feel warm, but there was no sun in sight. It quickly got hotter and hotter until Dan fell off the chair and onto his knees. He knelt over in the fetal position, curled up in pain, trying to think, but his mind was clouded with confusion. Every breath felt like hot lead was surging into his lungs. The burning pain traveled from his sternum down to his stomach, and up as far up as his eyes. It was as though he had swallowed a thousand lit matches and held a blow torch to his eyes; it was unbearable. Dan’s fears had been realized and despite the fire traveling up through his throat managed to yell, “Go to hell!”
Stephim turned his head for the first time, grinned slyly, and answered, “Come with me.” He twisted the knob, opened the door, and without looking back again stepped out into the hallway. Dan watched in agony as the door shut behind Stephim. As the door clicked shut, a loud, shattering noise erupted from the corner of the room. Dan painfully turned his head to figure out the noise. The cabinet was still in place, but something was missing. He dragged himself what felt like miles with his arms, pulling himself along the floor with his fingernails, while the intensity of the heat grew relentlessly. He stopped when his hand brushed the side of something on the floor. He grabbed it and held it close to his smoldering eyes, but could see nothing. He turned it over and over in his sweaty hands, but the heat had taken its toll. His body went limp and his head thumped down on the floor, lifeless. The motionless corpse lay beside the shattered remains of the golden, metal crucifix.