Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Rowena and the Devil

Category: Humor Winners, Issue 6

A muffled roar followed by rumbling, shook the ground under Rowena’s feet. She raised immaculately pencilled eyebrows and shifted her sea-green eyes in the direction of her friend. ‘Er, sorry about that,’ she said with a pained smile.

‘What the hell was it?’ Samantha said.

Rowena grimaced and then gave a shifty look. ‘Erm – it’s just some work I’m having done in the cellar,’ she muttered.

‘On a Sunday?’ Samantha directed her dark eyes towards the living room carpet.

‘The work was running behind schedule.’

‘Sounded like a train’s going through the house. Whatever are they doing?’

‘Something with the foundations – more coffee?’

Samantha shook her head. ‘No thanks I’d better go. Samantha picked up her bag and clopped across the polished wood floor.  ‘Before the place falls down,’ she added and threw an airy kiss in her friend’s direction

‘Oh, so soon?’

‘Things to do.’

Rowena closed the front door and heaved a sigh of relief.. She checked her short, auburn hair in the hall mirror and satisfied that it was tidy, made her way to the cellar.

‘Lou, are you down there, Lou?’ Her tone bristled with annoyance.

‘Yes. Whatcha want?’ a sullen voice replied.

‘I thought we had a deal? I’d let you stay down there as long as you were quiet.’

‘I was provoked.’

‘I don’t care. Any more noise and you’re out. That’s a promise, Lou,’ Rowena said, descending the stairs and making her way across the earthen floor.

A small swarthy man was perched on the edge of an old multi-colour sofa. He shrugged in an off-hand manner and pulled a red cloak tighter across his wide, naked shoulders. ‘I wish you’d stop calling me Lou – it’s so undignified for a man of my importance.’

Rowena folded her arms and glared down at him. ‘Really, well, you’re not that important to me.  I’m beginning to wish I’d never agreed to this arrangement – besides, Lucifer is too much of a mouthful.’

For a moment the small man’s eyes glowed red, then he dropped his gaze. ‘I’m pissed off, Row.’ He aimed a disconsolate kick in the direction of Rowena’s cat, Saffron who had followed her into the cellar.

Rowena scooped the cat into her arms. ‘Don’t you dare kick my cat! Whatever’s the matter with you?’

A tear hissed on the little mans cheek and evaporated in a puff of steam. ‘I’ve got to move,’ he said and his bottom lip trembled.

‘From here?’ Rowena said, with a hopefully gleam in her eye. She wasn’t sure now why she’d let him use her cellar in the first place. She could only suppose that being the Devil he had pretty strong powers of persuasion. 

‘No, from Hell. Here is where I’m moving to.’ Lucifer picked a stray piece of lint from his furry legs and gave an up and under look to see how she was taking the news.

‘But you can’t! We agreed you’d only come occasionally – like - going on holiday, once or twice a year. Besides, where would I put the coal?’

A sly smile crossed Lucifer’s face. ‘You needn’t worry about coal, not if I lived here.’

Rowena was silent for a moment. ‘That’d be nice,’ she mused. ‘A warm house, all the hot water I could use and no fuel bills.’ A smug expression settled on the little man’s face. Rowena shook herself. ‘No, Lou, that was tempting, but not tempting enough.’

The corners of his mouth drooped. ‘I could throw in a man as well,’ he offered. His tail gave a suggestive quiver.

‘Stop it! That’s positively obscene.’

The little man moved to a heap of coal piled tidily in a corner and touched it with his hoof. ‘Sorry – but it’s my job. You know, temptation and all that sort of thing. Are you sure?’ he said nodding at the pile of coal that had doubled in size.

Rowena ignored the coal and pulled a dilapidated wheel-back chair from under the dusty, open stairs. She wiped it with a tissue and lowered herself gingerly, knees drawn together and hands folded primly in her lap. ‘O.k. Lou, tell me the whole story. What’s wrong with Hell? After all, you are the big chief down there.’

A sob, that sounded more like a snarl, escaped from Lucifer’s throat and he flicked out a long, forked tongue to wipe his eyes. ‘Oh, Row - you care about me!’

‘Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Come on; let’s not go to pieces here. Tell me what’s wrong.’

‘It’s full up, Row.’

‘Full? Do you mean - it’s full up – with people?’ She stared at him aghast.

‘We’re standing shoulder to shoulder. With thousands more arriving every day.’

Composing herself with an effort, Rowena replied evenly.  ‘So? That’s good isn’t it? From your point of view, of course?’

‘No, it’s not good! It’s the noise, all the screaming and moaning - I keep getting a migraine.’ He sucked in his breath in a series of short, sharp sobs and shot a look in her direction to evaluate the effect.

‘Enough of the dramatics, I get the picture. Where are they all coming from?’

‘All over, I don’t even have to try these days, I haven’t had to buy a soul since – I think it was 1981. I may be obsolete.’ He polished a horn with the end of his cloak. ‘Look at this,’ he said, pointing to the other horn. ‘I’m run down, it’s all dry and dull.’

‘I’ll bring you down some moisturizer if you like.’

‘Will that help?’

‘It helps my skin, I’m not sure what it’ll do for your horn, though.’

Lucifer gave a snigger and rolled his eyes suggestively. ‘I’d just love you to rub cream into my horn – shall we try it now?’

‘Stop that! Let’s get back to business,’ Rowena said and pushed her hair back from her burning face. ‘You can’t stay down here forever, that’s a sure thing.’

‘Ohwwww Roooow!’ he whined.

‘Don’t give me that, oh Row, again, I heard it before and fell for it. Apart from nearly giving me a heart attack when you first arrived, what else have you done for me?’

Lucifer drew a large book from under his cloak and riffled though the pages. With a nervous look in Rowena’s direction he ran a curved, yellow nail across the page. ‘Er – Um, your name doesn’t seem to be in my favours list.’


‘Right then,’ he said and extracted a long scorched pencil from his left ear, licked the end and held it poised above the book.

‘Love your pencil case,’ Rowena said dryly.

‘Thank you, now, what do you want?’

‘I want you to go. Why can’t you live someplace else. Surely you could whiz up a house of your own? ’

‘Of course I could, but not one like this.’

Rowena took a deep breath. She was bored with the conversation and the coal dust was tickling her nose. ’This had better be good. Why?’

‘Because my dear Rowena, your cellar is over the gateway to hell.’

‘Right, now pull the other leg, it’s got bells on it!’

‘I assure you it is true. I can show you if you wish.’

Before Rowena could reply, Lucifer stamped a hoof and a hole emerged in the floor. A shaft of yellow flame spewed upwards into the cellar. The temperature shot up several degrees and the room filled with dissonant sound. Screams for help and tortured groans reverberated off the grey concrete walls. Rowena’s cat leapt from his place at her feet and with a blood-curdling yowl, disappeared under the stairs.

Lucifer straddled the hole. His body shimmered in the heat as fire leapt from between his hoofs and encased him. He grew until his horns reached the ceiling and he bent double to accommodate his immense size. All sign of a whinging little man was gone. For one moment Rowena saw him as the great and legendary devil, but now she was too angry to care. She looked up at him crouched above her, his eyes spitting flames and breath smoking the air with bitter, rotten egg, smells of sulphur.

Without further thought, she kicked him hard in the leg. ‘Now look what you’ve done, you scared my cat. Close that hole immediately!’

‘Ohwwww that hurt!’ Lucifer whined. The hellhole closed and he shrank back to his original size. 

Rowena fished another tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the sweat running down her neck. ‘Whew,’ she gasped, ‘It’s too hot to talk down here, you’d better come upstairs.’ She waggled a forefinger up and down, indicating his body. ‘I suppose you can do something that - about how you look?’

‘Of course I can.’ Lucifer said and changed into Brad Pitt before she could reply.

‘Don’t be daft, you’re just as conspicuous as a film star, as you are as the devil.’ Rowena shook her head ‘No wonder you’re in trouble, you do everything on the spur of the moment. You’ll have to learn to think things through.’

Lucifer gave her a Brad Pittish smile and slid into a new guise. A fresh-faced young man with appealing, long lashed, blue eyes, stood before her. His upper-half was naked, the lower half clad in tight leather trousers. Black patent dancing pumps covered his slim, elegant feet.

‘Ahem - I think you have forgotten something.’ Rowena pointed to the long tail peeking out of the back of his pants and still attached to his spine.

‘Whoops, sorry.’ The tail snaked down into Lucifer’s trousers and re-emerged in the front in a slightly different form.

Rowena clapped her hands over her eyes. ‘Less is more, Lou!’

‘You sure?  I’ve not had any complaints.’

‘Trust me,’ Rowena said, parting her fingers in time to see the offending ‘tail’ disappear out of view and form a discreet bulge beneath the soft leather of his trouser front. ‘That’s better!’

He raised his eyebrows and replied in a faintly mocking tone. ‘If you say so.’

Lucifer paced the living room. Tested the softness of the sofa, flicked switches, peeked out through the curtains and generally made himself at home. ‘I like it,’ he said and settled his lean body into a roomy leather chair.

Rowena folded her arms. ‘Don’t get comfortable you’re not staying.’ The Devil gave her a dazzling smile and she felt her heart lurch. She ignored it and continued speaking. ‘I was thinking of something you said earlier, about you being obsolete. Suppose you gave up the job?’ Rowena was aware of the strange weakness in her legs when she looked at the new style Lucifer.

The leather chair squeaked as the young man jerked upright. ‘I can’t do that! Who would spread evil if I retired?’

‘You said yourself, all that sort of thing has been going on nicely without your help.’

‘But – I’m the Devil, I haven’t been trained for anything else.’

‘Weren’t you an angel at one time?’

‘Well – yes. A long time ago God and me were mates. Then He got all creative and did his six-day thing. After that He turned po- faced and started laying down rules and stuff. No other gods but him – I ask you, the cheek of it! Who put him in the driver’s seat?’

‘Someone had to be in charge, Lou,’ Rowena said and laid a soothing hand on his shoulder.

‘I didn’t see any vote going round. ‘Here are the Ten Commandments,’ He said, and that was it. -  The seven deadly sins are a joke. Gluttony – Lust, what’s better than stuffing your face and then stuffing your neighbour’s wi …’


The chair gave a soft pop, as Lucifer slumped back. ‘Not that I ever did,’ he said with a wistful sigh. ‘Once He had slung me out, I was too busy being the Devil, to have any fun of my own anymore.’

‘Come on, let’s have a cup of tea,’ Rowena said and pulled him unceremoniously into the kitchen.

‘I don’t suppose you have a drop of whiskey to go with that?’

‘No I haven’t.’

‘Thought not.’ He cupped his chin in his hands and watched as Rowena laid the table. ‘You’re very pretty, did you know that? Sort of like that Angelina Jolie.’

The milk jug wobbled and Rowena clutched it to her chest.

Lucifer eyed her surprised face with interest. ‘What?’

‘Do you realize, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say anything nice that didn’t include you in it somewhere.’

Sweat, like a slick of light oil, glistened on Lucifer’s flushed features. ‘Er – wait, um, - you didn’t let me finish. I was going to say, - do you fancy a …’

‘No, you weren’t! You’d finished.’

‘Oh, Row I think I’m losing it. I’d better go where I belong, even though I’m useless down there as well. Goodbye forever, Row.’ Tears, the size of grapes slid down his cheeks and soaked his chest. He wiped his eyes and looked at her mournfully as he clicked between Devil and young man like a slow, frame-by-frame movie. ‘Now I’m even having trouble changing back!’

‘No, don’t, Lou.’ Rowena made an attempt to wipe the young man’s tears, but was hampered by Lucifer’s hairy face coming and going. In frustration, she sent the box of tissues hurtling across the room. ‘Stop it! – If I let you stay here, I never –ever- want to see that hairy horned head again. Do you hear me, Lou?’

The young man scanned her face. ‘What? You mean I can stay?’

‘Only if you behave yourself. No more fire and brimstone, no evil deeds and definitely no hanky panky.’

‘No hanky panky? I thought if I stayed, we’d be living in sin?’

‘No way. I may marry you later we’ll have to see how it goes.’

A green tinge marred Lucifer’s handsome face and an ominous rumble crept up from the depths of his lean belly. ‘I don’t know about marriage, that’s a bit final isn’t it?’

‘Uh-ha, but that’s how it works up here. Look on it as part of your retraining programme.’

Blue eyes slid down Rowena’s body and back up to her face. The wide, sensual mouth spread into a slow grin. ‘Ummm, I guess it might be a pretty good deal, one way or another. I get the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in two thousand years and I also get the last laugh on Him.’

‘How do you work that out? Getting the last laugh, I mean?’

‘Who’s He going to blame for all the bad stuff, if I’m not there to take the flak?’


Rowena put the last of her wedding anniversary cards on the shelf. She smiled to herself, twenty-five years it didn’t seem possible.

The doorbell rang and she hurried to answer it.  Samantha stood on the step clutching a card. Rowena kissed her cheek and drew her inside. ‘Come in, I’ll put the kettle on.’

‘It seems an age since we had a good gossip.’ Samantha said with a rueful smile. She put her bag down and removed her coat. ‘I just popped by with a card. I can hardly believe it’s been twenty-five years since you married Lou.’

‘Yep, it’s flown by.’ Rowena laid a cloth and put out the best blue china.

Samantha helped herself to a biscuit and tapped at her round stomach. ‘I shouldn’t really, but it is a special occasion - that’s my excuse. Where’s Lou?’

‘In the park with the kids, He’ll be back soon.’

‘How are the grandchildren?’

‘Just as you’d expect with kids, Gabriella is an angel. Lucien is a little devil, but Lou keeps him under control most of the time.’

‘Lou’s one in a million. You don’t know how lucky you are.’

‘Sure I do - he’s one of a kind,’ Rowena said.

An envious look passed over Samantha’s face ‘And you both look so young too. Neither of you have changed since the day you were married. How do you manage it, Row?’

Rowena looked at her friend and grinned. ‘It’s not been easy - in fact it’s been the Devil of a job.’