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Matthew sat on the chair opposite me and took a long drag of his cigarette. He was a tall man, with reddish-brown hair and questioning brown eyes. He was never an elegant dresser and was content to the contrasting blue jean and silk shirt look.
His cigarettes were his life. As an early smoker—from age fourteen—he was never anywhere without camels in his pocket. His skin was slightly yellowed due to this, and he always had an exhausted look about him, as if every hour equaled a day.
“Let me get this straight,” he said, smoke billowing out of his nose. It seemed to fall in graying waves down his throat, capturing me for just a moment. “You had this dream that is scaring the shit out of you.”
It was true. I was scared. I sat across from him, a shaking shell of a man. My black curly hair had lost its sheen—my olive skin, its luster. I stared at my hands; the fingernails were dirtier than they had ever been. Matthew cleared his throat: my cue to answer.
“Yes,” I stammered. “It was absolutely terrifying.”
“And in this dream…you’re the Devil.”
“Yes.” I shivered once more. “I’m the Devil.”
“Would you mind telling me the dream?”
I stared at the clock behind his head. It was intricately carved, an exotic piece, perhaps from India. I recognized a goddess or two, and was immediately comforted. Surely if I were the Devil, my retinas would have been burned by such images.
I stared at Matthew for a moment—memorizing the chiseled structure of his chin, his cheeks; tracing every line that rounded his eyes; and finally resting my eyes on his chapped lips. He was licking them in utter expectancy; it was impossible for me not to notice. I felt myself drowned in his expectations. How could I possibly retell the dream that led me to believe I was the Devil himself? I gulped and looked away.
“Well,” I began, “it started with this smell. It started out as complete darkness, with only the smell. I thought it was pork burning at first. It was so raw and disgusting; I felt nauseous—I thought I was going to vomit in my sleep. Then came the screams.
“They were loud yet hoarse. Crazed desperation spewed throughout the blackness, mixed in with the smell. It was horrible, Matt—absolutely horrible. The sounds became louder and louder until they all blended together into a compact buzz. It appeared to have swallowed my very mind whole!
“And then I saw myself standing on a cliff in front of a stone castle as black as night itself. I was cloaked in ebony robes and was barefoot. I flexed my toes and felt the scrape of dirt against them. Peering over the edge of the cliff, I saw people.
“People.” I paused, and looked back at him. His face was skeptical; he probably felt I was crazy. He took another drag, and then extinguished the cigarette on his thigh. I winced, but he didn’t flinch.
“That dream doesn’t make you the Devil,” he said. “Maybe you smelled something burning in your sleep—you know, from the next apartment over or something—and you incorporated it into one of your…fantasies.”
“This wasn’t a fantasy, Matt. It was a nightmare. It was horrible. I hated it. Matt—what do I do? These people were burning! And I was watching them! And the worst part is…I think I was enjoying it. I think I liked that these people were suffering, screaming…burning. Matt,” my voice dropped to a whisper. “What do I do?”
“Go home.” His answer shot through my heart, deflating my hope in an instant. I wanted Matt to empathize, to wrap his arm around my back and tell sit with me for an intimate while. I wanted comfort, not shunning words.
“Why?” I whimpered. “Matt, I came to you for help. I—“
“I can’t help you with this,” he went on. “You dreamt this. Go home and go to sleep and let your dreams carry you back into wherever. You have to go back there if you’re going to figure out whether you really are the Devil or not. But let me ask you this: before this dream, did you have any idea about being Him?”
“Who? The Devil?”
“No, Santa Claus.” He sighed. “Yes, the Devil.”
“Well…no, actually. I’ve never thought about being the Devil before. I don’t tend to think of myself as an evil person.”
“Well, who would? You’d give every penny you had in order to help others. You’re the man who stops at the pet shop on his way home from work and plays with the puppies. Every day, you do that. It’s pathetic. It’s disgusting. It’s you.”
“I’m pathetic and disgusting?”
“Disgusting in a mushy way.”
“So I’m pathetic and mushy?”
“Yes. Which is why you’re not the Devil. The Devil is an evil aura, a despicable being; a being that lives for the sufferings of others. That is not you. That is anything but you. You love, He hates. If anything, you’d be an angel, not a devil.”
“Thank you, Matt, but I still don’t know.”
“Then figure it out.” He stood and motioned for me to stand with him. I rose, and he took hold of my sleeve. Slowly, he led me to the door and opened it.
“Good luck,” he said as he pushed me out into the hall. “And call me if they send you back to Hell.”