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The Devil’s Assistant
Another night, another retrieval, found Caleb at 66 Redberry Ave. Cold wind howled through the trees outside, but here the only sound was the soft peaceful sighs of the girl’s breath. He gazed down at the sleeping child. Her short brown hair fell neatly across the pink pillow and her soft skin seemed to shine in the moonlight striking through the window. She laid in a bed with pink princess sheets. She seemed so small, so innocent. The girl cradled a plush bear. Its black bead eyes stared accusingly at Caleb.
He hesitated, as he always did. Then he reached out, closed his eyes, and touched the sleeping girl lightly on the shoulder. Her breath shuddered to a stop. The room was silent.
Caleb burrowed his regrets and bent to lift the child. He held her whispery form gently in his arms. Turning, he stepped forward, and vanished.
The bear’s dark eyes stared sadly into the darkness from his place cradled in cold hands.
Caleb stood facing a door at the end of a dark hallway. The door before him was breathtaking. It was centuries old, but appeared to be freshly carved and finished. Detailed designs of vines wove over the door’s surface, without one mistake. The polish made the wood seem to glow, although there was no light in the hallway to reflect upon it.
Caleb stood a moment, regarding the door, then shifted the child’s airy weight to one arm so he could turn the golden doorknob with his free hand. The girl’s being was still relaxed, asleep. He liked it better this way. He didn’t like explaining.
He opened the door a crack, and fluorescent light poured out, making him squint. Caleb slipped inside, and closed the door lightly behind him. He was in an office. Paneled lighting on the ceiling brightened the small square room. Plastic chairs lined the wall behind him, three on each side of the door. Two were occupied. Caleb recognized the young woman and the old man as other workers, like him. Their shadowed eyes with hollow looks said it all. She wore a plain flowered dress, like those of colonial America. He wore a formal shirt with suspenders. The gold chain of a pocket watch clipped to his dress pants ran into his pocket and an optical rested on his left eye. Both of them stared forward, unmoving. They looked tired. Caleb wore an old t-shirt and jeans. He wondered if he looked tired.
He stepped forward, cloth shoes padding softly against the tiled floor, until he reached the ornate desk carved similar to the entrance door. He stood at a respectable distance. Rising his gaze, Caleb regarded the powerful man behind the desk, as he did every night. He saw dark hair greased back vainly, dark skin, tanned despite the lack of sun, and dark eyes, inhuman, staring back. The eyes looked emotionlessly from Caleb to the girl’s form in his arms. He picked up a black fountain pen from the desk, and scratched a note neatly into the open logbook, the only other object resting on the blank surface. Resting the pen beside the thick book, the man slowly rose from his chair, a comfortable desk chair of black leather. It was simple, but held the power of a throne. The man silently straightened the black suit he wore and adjusted his tie. Neither action was necessary.
Stiffly walking around his desk, the dark man stopped before Caleb. He held himself with such power, certainty, and dignity, that Caleb had to fight the urge to fall to the ground in helplessness, even after all these nights. The man held out his arms, and Caleb gently laid the girl’s form into them, again repressing his immense feelings of guilt.
The man turned, carrying the child lightly, and walked slowly around his desk to the door that resided formidably behind it. The door was painted black and intricately carved, but age had ripped it of all grandeur. Paint peeled off in grotesque curls, revealing rotted wood beneath. Centuries of opening, closing, opening, and closing over and over again had left dents and scratches where a fine polish had once been. The doorknob and hinges once shined gold, but now were discolored and worn.
Shifting the girl’s form’s weight to his left arm, the dark man opened the ghastly door with his right hand. Whispers poured into the silent office. Caleb cowered. The man slipped behind the ancient door with the young child, and shut it behind him, cutting off the murmurs. The silence rang in Caleb’s ears. He waited. Glancing nervously around the room, he noted every lack of warmth. Bare white walls felt constricting, plastic chairs offered no sense of comfort, silent workers sat unmoving, offering no sense of company. The carved wooden desk stood in front Caleb, and the grand desk chair behind that. Even empty, the chair’s power frightened him. He stared at the floor. He waited.
Finally, the man returned a few minutes later. The ancient door creaked open, releasing a mass of whispers. The dark man slipped into the office, and shut the door behind him. He was empty-handed. All was silent. The man regarded Caleb for a moment, just a moment with those dark eyes, and Caleb’s heart cringed. The man blinked, adjusted his suit once again, and took a seat in his throne of an office chair. He gazed down at the open logbook, running his finger along the lines as he read silently. His nail was yellowed and splintered sharp, the only suggestion of the monster inside. The finger stopped on a line towards the bottom of the second page. The man looked up at Caleb.
“Forty-three Raybury Road, Encinitas, California. Tomorrow night. A thirty-eight year old cancer patient. I expect him by midnight,” he spoke with direct purpose, his deep voice emitting dominance over everything.
Caleb wrung his hands and shuffled his feet, “Sir, I- I’m finished, sir,” Caleb said, eyes shifting between the floor and the man’s emotionless face. The man only folded his hands and rested his elbows on the desk. His fist rested against his pursed lips. His snake-like eyes stared, silently condemning. Caleb cleared his throat, but the attempt at mustering bravery seemed weak.
“Two hundred souls, sir. I’ve brought every one,” Caleb glanced at the man, hoping some sort of realization would cross his face. None did. He remained seated, unmoving from his condescending stare.
“You said two hundred souls, fifty for each of us. Please sir, please, I’ve brought every one. I brought them all, I did. I brought them, like you said,” Caleb wrung his hands faster, then realizing his nervous habit, dropped his hands to his sides.
The man sighed, as if Caleb was a pestering child exhausting his patience. He unfolded his hands and laid them on the desk, “A few more. Bring me a few more.”
Caleb’s eyes shifted frantically, staring at the man’s face with disbelief. His mouth hung open, but no words came out. His hands began to wrestle again. He licked his lips, and his eyes searched the floor for some sort of argument.
“You said we could be free,” he whispered softly. His hands were still. He raised his gaze to the man’s unmoving stare, “You said we could live again. Two hundred souls. Fifty for each of us. That’s what you said, sir. That’s what you said. Two hundred souls. Fifty for each of us.” Repetition would bring reasoning. His voice was becoming urgent. Repetition must bring reasoning, “Two hundred souls. Two hundred. I brought them all, sir. I brought them. I did. Two hundred souls. Fifty for each of us.”
The man adjusted the pen beside the logbook, “Forty-three Raybury Road, Encinitas, California. Tomorrow night,” he said gently. He folded his hands and placed them on the desk in an act of finality.
Caleb’s eyes were wide, like a mouse with nowhere to run. He licked his lips again. He wrung his hands.
“B-but sir, two hundred souls, sir. I brought them,” he let out a nervous laugh, near hysteria, speaking quickly, “P-p-please, sir. You said we could live again. Sir, please. Celia, the kids. You said we could live again. It’s my fault. It’s my fault they’re behind that door!” he shouted, throwing up his arm and pointing a desperate finger at the ancient, grotesque door behind the man’s desk. Caleb choked back a sob. He let his arm drop to his side. His shoulders slumped in defeat, “The accident. It’s my fault,” he stared at the floor, eyes tearing in memory.
“Forty-three Raybury Road, Encinitas, California. Tomorrow night,” the man said, unaffected. Repetition would bring reasoning.
Caleb stood, wavering, “You said we could live again. Two hundred souls. Fifty for each of us. I brought them. You said we could live again,” he looked into the black eyes, and said with quiet defeat, “It’s not fair.”
The man didn’t move. Caleb sighed, turned slowly, and moved silently to the plastic chairs beside the entrance door. He sat beside the two other statue-like workers. He stared ahead. He looked tired.
The dark man adjusted his suit and sat straight in his desk chair. He stared at Caleb, “Life isn’t fair. Who said death was?”