The skinny boy meets the Devil in the elevator. Woolen jacket and corporate smile, deceit between his crow feet. He asks the skinny boy about his day. The skinny boy clears his throat, says he has been running errands for his boss. Outside, the day is cold like truth.
Back in his studio, the Devil’s voice sings in the skinny boy’s head. It tugs at a part of him: the desire, the adventure. “Pay attention to your food,” his mother says as she serves him dinner, her face ashen as ever since his dad left her.
Manhattan is a showgirl at this hour. In the Devil’s apartment, the skinny boy opens the Devil’s closet, runs his fingers on the black and gray suits, sees his face on the surface of the shoes. The Devil is on the phone, his eyes on the boy, his voice low, firm. That night, the skinny boy feels the thrust of a grown man. A burning takes root, but he likes the torture. In the middle of the night, he sees the Devil standing next to the window, his back scaled like a reptile. A pair of wings below his blades. As the Devil flies out of the window, the skinny boy closes his eyes, imagines what his mother might say: “Sing me a happy song.”
The Devil keeps a lock of the boy’s hair in his pocket. The boy leaves his low-level job, watches the Devil interacting with his Wall Street clients, closing deals, offering them women and booze. Exotic animals. The moans and the music. He fills their voids. They mistake it for living well, they were so unhappy before.
The boy is no longer skinny. The Devil swaddles him in a suit, buys AirPods. The boy visits his mother rarely. When he does, he tells her that her food tastes like shit. “I pray for you,” she says.
The Devil speaks in poetry, teaches the boy to stay awake for days. “No one will ever love you enough.” From the high-rise, the boy glances at the rush hour traffic, the pillars of the overpass glowing red in the sunset, holding the weight of the ungrateful world as it spins faster and faster.
The boy visits his mother that night. She doesn’t offer him food because she says he’s a picky eater now. When he’s about to leave, she warns him of the dangers ahead. “Do you still love me?” the boy wants to ask but his words loiter at the back of his throat, their tiny, sweaty feet fumbling. She gives him a stuffed toy from his childhood. “I forgive you,” she says and closes the door.
The Devil is waiting in the lobby when the boy arrives. The boy has always loved the aftershave smell on the Devil. They sit on the warm floor of the Devil’s bedroom. He places his lips on the boy’s mouth, feeds him his tongue, sucks out the remaining faith. He gets a blindfold, a scarf, and handcuffs, whispers the safe word in the boy’s ears. The sharp angles of the metal push against the boy’s wrists. The pain feels genuine and swift, carries him through the small hours of the night. The shove of violence.
When the boy wakes up, the window is open and Devil is gone, the apartment empty of furniture and belongings. From the corner of the room, the stuffed toy stares at him, mouths grief. The boy feels the darkness, the profundity of being dead inside him, his back stiff, blazing, the feathers sprouting and catching wind, the scales stretched like skin.
Tara Isabel Zambrano is the author of Death, Desire And Other Destinations, a full-length flash collection by OKAY Donkey Press. Her work has won the first prize in The Southampton Review Short Short Fiction Contest 2019, a second prize in Bath Flash Award 2020, been a Finalist in Bat City Review 2018 Short Prose Contest and Mid-American Review Fineline 2018 Contest. Her flash fiction has been published in The Best Small Fictions 2019, The Best Micro Fiction 2019, 2020 Anthology. She lives in Texas and is the Fiction Editor for Waxwing Literary Journal.