The NaNoNess Continues…

“Raina, look at me. No, look at me. We’re going to be okay. I know we will.”

“How?” she asked him. “Just tell me how and I’ll believe it. I’ll throw myself on the fire to put it out myself if you can just tell me how it will be okay.”

“I can’t answer that yet, but I just know it. Can’t we hunt around here? Is there anything we can find to eat? C’mon, you’re the Find, remember?” She did smile a little at his remembering her job back in Refuge.

“I’m the Find,” she sighed. “We’ll hunt. Come on, I’ll need help bringing back whatever we kill.” She stood to go, grabbing up her slingshot rifle and pocketed some shards of glass out of a pouch on her pack. Xander made to go with her.

They walked a good ways from their makeshift camp to a thicker part of the woods, hoping animals might be more plentiful away from the path and where the trees would hide them. Raina crouched low suddenly, holding a hand back towards Xander to make him stop his walking. She squatted close to the ground and held both hands to her mouth, using their twisted shape to whistle a bird call. Xander whispered a scoff.

“The two of us are going to eat sparrows? Are you going to call the little woodland birdies to your hand like the princess in the story?” He managed to hold back his laugh, but only because they were hunting. Raina sighted something through the trees and immediately shouldered her slingshot and fired in one fluid motion, then darted off into the thick patch of brush and trees. Xander simply stared after her, afraid to follow her and risk making a noise that would scary off any potential dinner.

She returned only minutes later with a largish dog thrown over her shoulders, its neck dangling at a nauseating angle, blood seeping from where her glass shard had hit it directly through the eye. She tossed the dog over her head and off her shoulders, letting it land directly in front of Xander.

“No, we’re going to eat the coyote that thinks we’re birds. Now carry that back to the fire.” She turned her back on him and slung her slingshot up on one shoulder, walking with a cocky saunter. Xander couldn’t see her face with her back turned to him, but he knew she was smiling that annoyingly smug grin of hers. Again.

 

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NaNo Novel: Excerpt II

Xander made his way over to a rotting tree with a fallen log across it, half-dragging Raina as he went. He shoved her under the log and up into the cavernous tree then followed her in. He lowered himself to sitting and pulled his injured legs up around him, letting Raina climb into his lap and burrow her face into his shirt. He put his arms around her awkwardly, unsure how good manners would dictate comforting an unfamiliar little girl in the face of dozens of dead people swaying from trees, their arms and legs askew like so many wind chimes. Xander wished there were someone to cradle him in a comforting hug.

Raina eventually slept in his arms but Xander stayed awake for the next several hours, listening to the sounds around him. Every movement of the leaves or crunch of a twig outside the tree caused him to sit up straighter and prick his ears in that direction.

NaNo Novel : Excerpt One

The clicking of the guards’ heels on the pristine tile floors was the only noise as the trio made their way through twisting hallways under the glare of industrial lighting. Xander wanted to look back to make sure no one else had joined them. Obviously someone would have to be coming to stop them. This had all been too easy, or easier than he had been told to expect.

The last time he had walked a gleaming hallway like this between two armed guards in crisp uniforms, it hadn’t gone well at all. At least this time he wasn’t wearing handcuffs. Still, he couldn’t help clenching and unclenching his fists as if preparing to fight off the two soldiers flanking him.

“Aren’t there any guards from their side coming to meet us? Don’t I need to show my paperwork to someone over there?” Xander asked, trying to make small talk with the soldiers who had been strangely quiet ever since his approval for escort.

“They don’t have any guards, senor.”

“Antique”

The $420,000 price tag on the rusty bicycle fluttered wildly every time the air conditioner kicked on, swirling around in the display window of the old junk store. I couldn’t see the whole of the pitiful machine since much of it was washed out in the bright white reflection cast by the high-noon sunshine, but the cracked and flattened tires, punctuated through with dozens of sharp and gnarled spokes, begged for a mercy killing for the entire contraption.

The temperature inside the store calmed itself long enough for the fluttering tag to come to rest inside its noose, swinging like a convict from the rusted bell that still hugged the curved handle bar. I confirmed it. $420,000 for the bicycle.

The pricing error amused me for just a moment as I gawked at the hideous thing. Surely this was some joke, some ploy on the part of the store owner to engage passersby, enticing them inside his store in their haste to point out someone’s mistake. I took the bait and entered the store through the wooden chipped paint door with one small cracked window pane.

No bell announced my entrance, but the proprietor still greeted me with a loud hallo, his head popping up from between sideways stacks of moldy books and LP records in their sleeves. “Over this way,” he called.

I stepped around a horrifying carousel horse whose face and mane had been scorched in a fire, trying not to imagine a carousel full of children erupting in flames that lick at their tiny legs as the horses go around. “I came to ask about the bicycle,” I began.

“Well, get in line. It’s just not a week day without someone wanting to buy that ridiculous old bike,” he groused.

I was dumbstruck by the thought that prospective buyers are so plentiful as to annoy the owner. “Oh, I don’t know that I want to buy the bicycle, but I wondered if you are aware that the price tag reads almost half a million dollars.”

“I am,” he gruffed without stopping his compulsive dusting of a set of used dentures. I waited for him to elaborate, but nothing came.

“Not to be rude, but may I ask why the bicycle is so expensive?” I pressed.

“Read the sign,” he mumbled wearily, gesturing with his feather duster in a jerking motion towards a framed, hand-lettered sign propped against a dented tin percolater coffee pot next to an old brass cash register. He returned to flicking the years off of his relics while I was left to puzzle over the sign:

All Inquiries About The Bicycle Will Cost $5

I wasn’t certain that I wanted to know the history of the decrepit device badly enough to pay for the information, not now that I was sure it was just a gimmick to make people browse the stacks of useless junk. I shrugged to myself and turned towards the door, but couldn’t bring myself to be so close to the answer only to abandon the minor riddle over a few dollars. I fished in my wallet and came up with enough money, then placed it on the smudged glass countertop and waited.

The old man stopped his work, put down his feather duster with an exaggerated sigh, and came around behind the countertop to lean his elbows on it wearily.

“So? Which version do you want? The one where I tell you this bike was ridden in the first-ever Tour du France? Or how Teddy Roosevelt used to ride it on the White House lawn? Or maybe how Bonnie and Clyde stole it from a kid at gunpoint when their car broke down? What’s it gonna be?”

“Which version is the truth?” I demanded.

“Depends on who’s listening,” he muttered, turning towards his file cabinet to pitch some invoices into the mostly empty top drawer, slamming it shut with a bang and reaching for a cleaning rag.

“Well, I’m listening and I paid fairly for the privilege. Will you tell me the truth? Or am I going to hear some fantastic mumbo-jumbo about how the bicycle is possessed by the soul of your mother or some other nonsense?” I snapped, more angry at myself for walking into his dupe than at the man.

“Now don’t be ridiculous! That bicycle? Possessed by my mother? That’s just insulting! My mother’s been dead for fifty years!”

I mumbled my apologies and turned towards the door, but not before I heard him say to himself, “That’s my wife’s soul in that bike.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, that’s my wife’s soul in that bike. She loved that bike. She died several years ago and now she’s in the bike.” He continued the mindless singular cleaning and straightening while I stared, mouth open. To be taken in by a swindler was one thing, but to be cheated out of a few dollars by someone who was no longer in his right mind left a sour taste in my mouth. I turned to go.

“That’s right, hon,” he crooned lovingly as I quietly tiptoed past a teetering stack of moth-eaten ladies’ hats, “I won’t let you go for any old price.”

As the door shut behind me, I heard the shrill tinkle of a bell.

“Closure”

“How are you holding up, dear?” the old woman asked, linking a papery-thin wrinkled arm through mine as we crossed the uneven grass. It was less a gesture of camaraderie than it was an attempt on her part to make it to solid ground without going down with a sickening splat.

“Oh, fine, I guess. I think maybe I’m not over the shock, you know. I keep waiting for it to become real.” I stepped carefully on the balls of my feet to avoid plunging the heel of my pumps into the soft grass over someone’s grave.

“It happens that way for a lot of people. But the service was lovely and you’ll have that as your ‘goodbye’. I knew you two were inseparable in school but I didn’t realize you’d remained close all these years.”

“Yes. Anyway, it was really great of you to come all this way. I wasn’t sure you’d even remember him after twenty-two years. Whenever Marc and I talked about high school he always said the nicest things about you.”

Her rheumy eyes brightened. “Thank you for telling me that. I’m aware the majority of my students hated my class because I was demanding, but I always tried to treat all of my students with respect, even if I had to be harsh sometimes.”

“How did you even hear about the accident?” I wondered aloud.

“Oh, I keep up with all of my former students on Facebook, dear.”

The hunched woman shuffled her way to her monstrosity of an old-person car, pausing to reach in her purse for a very large boxy pair of sunglasses to fit over her usual bifocals, leaving me inwardly laughing over the image of this woman sitting in a trendy coffee place with free wi-fi chatting it up with Facebook friends.

I watched her start her car and slowly merge into the light traffic without even looking. I guess that’s what happens when you outlive everyone you know, you either develop a sense of entitlement or a death wish to join them. The outcome is usually the same.

As I turned back to the row of serene graves, cheerfully backlit by the afternoon sunlight, I watched quite a number of mourners staggering away to their vehicles, leaving Marc’s mother standing alone at the casket that was so overloaded with flowers it seemed to actually be vomiting peonies. A small part of me wanted to go to her, to slide an arm around her thin shoulders and just be there for her, but that was a luxury she didn’t deserve. This pain was all on her now.

Letting myself dream for just a moment about what it would be like when she finally left here and returned home to her jackass of a husband was the only happiness I’d felt in four days, but that feeling passed quickly.

Instead of speaking to her I turned down the gravel path towards my own car and slid inside the obscurity of the limousine-tint windows, arching my back spastically as the leather seats seared through my thin linen suit.

“You should have left the windows cracked, then your seat wouldn’t have gotten so hot,” chimed the man lounging in the passenger seat, checking his messages on a brightly colored phone.

“Why, thank you for the advice, Marc, but then everyone would have seen you!” I retorted bitingly.

“Well, it got really warm in here and I could have suffocated,” he whined.

“How suffocating do you think it is in that big shiny box over there? You know, the box you’re supposed to be in?” I asked sarcastically, pointing up the hill to the spot where his mother still stood with downcast eyes. Marc followed my gaze over the lenses of his sunglasses and seemed to soften for only a microsecond before pushing them up his nose and flopping back against the headrest.

“I can’t believe that bastard didn’t come to my funeral. When someone says, ‘You’re dead to me,’ you would think they would at least participate in celebrating the ‘dead’ part.”

“How many years have we merely believed that your dad is an ass? Were you really and truly surprised that he’s actually an ass? The man reads about your accident in the paper and calls me to ask if I have plans for your riding mower, for pete’s sake! Why are you surprised?”

“You know, you’re just irritated because you’re all hot. Let’s go to the house and change your clothes—very smart suit, by the way, and I adore your choice of footwear—fix us some drinks, and see what the made-for-TV movie rerun is. You’ll feel better.” He turned to look out his window, reading the names on the tombstones we passed to see if he knew anyone.

I had nothing to say to that. I had had a bad feeling about faking a death in the first place, but when you took into account Marc’s awesome list of reasons for doing this, it just got worse. The list really only had one reason written (seriously “written,” Marc writes down lists for everything): he was too chicken-shit to break up with his boyfriend.

I had adamantly tried to get Marc to just break up with him. It’s not like this was an abusive relationship and he actually feared for his life. It’s also not like Marc was a firmly sealed in-the-closet homosexual who couldn’t risk an angry former lover writing a tell-all book. In fact, it was actually the boyfriend who wasn’t yet letting his sexual preference be widely known (“that boy’s so far in the closet he can see Narnia,” Marc complained once) and Marc only wanted to dump him because he was tired of never going out in public together, which seemed like a perfectly logical reason to call off a relationship on my part.

“You’re not a gay man in Alabama, sweet cheeks,” he had told me. “It’s not like there’s tons of us around, and when you do find one who rocks your boat you dig your claws in and hang on for dear life. So if I go around humping-and-dumping every gay man within a ninety-mile radius, word will get out and I’ll never get a date again. It’s just easier this way.”

There was absolutely nothing I could say that would sway Marc from this very evil plan. Even though he had the financial means to accomplish this almost-legally, it still wasn’t going to be pretty. This man had even had the sheer audacity to actually call up the death certificate office, tell them what he wanted to do as well as why, and promise them that he wasn’t actually faking his death but rather that he was just staging his funeral and then throwing a big old barbeque party afterwards. Then he goes and invites them all to the event, including the probate judge, who then shows up, wearing all black. I was sure he only made an appearance to make sure that everything Marc had claimed turned out to be kosher, but in fact it was because his position is elected and Marc promised him a contribution come two years from November, as well as the fact that this man would go to Satan’s garden party if it were going to be catered by Regal Events (I’m just as guilty. I swear the head chef there could cook a cardboard box and I would eat it because it would turn out fantastic).

“So explain to me what you think is going to happen when your grieving former boyfriend figures out you aren’t actually dead?” I asked, bringing us to the dilemma at hand.

“He won’t know. He’s moving back home to Nebraska.”

“He’s from Iowa, first of all, and just how do you know his plans?” I asked, completely afraid that I had done all the work of putting on a funeral only to have the dead party member walking around town talking to people before we settled accounts with the person whose benefit this had all been for. That would be just like Marc.

“Sam’s been texting me all the details around town since I’ve been in hiding,” he explained, checking his phone for incoming messages out of habit. I swear he was worse with that stupid phone than a thirteen-year-old girl.

“Why are you texting people? You’re supposed to be dead!” I screamed, grabbing for the phone and very nearly dumping us off the road into a ditch.

“Oh, Sam knew the truth all this time,” he answered, sounding practically bored at having to explain that.

“Well if Sam knew about it, why the heck couldn’t Sam help me? I’ve been rushing around throwing a funeral together, then staying up all night finishing the work I should have been doing while I was actually ordering casket sprays for a person who didn’t have the decency to die before deciding that he should tell a lot of people that he’d died!” I knew better than to be taking all of this out on Marc; after all, I could have washed my hands of the whole thing when he told me about this scheme the first time, but as I recall he was so drunk on Aftershock at the time that I would have agreed to punching a nun just to get him off my couch before he threw up all over it.

“Sam can’t handle funerals. His therapist told him to avoid funeral homes until he gets a better grasp on closure,” Marc explained, his fingers clicking away at the miniscule keyboard in his hands.

“Did you know your tenth grade English teacher drove by herself all the way from her sister’s home in Greenville, South Carolina, for your funeral?”

“Yeah, I saw where she sent that out on Twitter.”

“And that doesn’t that make you feel bad at all?” I pressed.

“Of course it does! If she kills anyone with that giant car of hers on the way back, their blood will be on my hands,” he answered without even the pretense of remorse.

“When did you become this selfish?” I shrieked, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white.

“Oh, I’ve always been totally selfish, you were just so charmed by my wiles that you were unable to resist me,” he grinned.

“This isn’t a joke. I’ve sat on the sidelines of every one of your weird-ass plans since I was ten years old, but a fake funeral is sinking to a brand-new low,” I fumed.

“None of my plans has ever been even close to ‘weird-ass’, thank you very much,” he sniffed, “but I have to say, of all my previous schemes, this one is the least selfish thing I’ve ever done.” Marc turned back to the window, engrossed in the scenery again.

“Seriously? Were you watching the same funeral? All those people who came out to say goodbye to you and you duped them! You don’t even have the compassion to move away, you fully intend to get dressed tomorrow and go walking around, clapping people on the shoulder and saying, ‘Ha, ha, joke’s on you!’”

“Anyone who knows me will not be the least bit surprised, and anyone who read your very well-spoken obituary will think you were just slightly confused by the ‘exaggerated reports of my death’.”

“What about your parents? I fully support you in your hatred of your father, but what about your mother?” Marc had his hand up, palm extended towards me, before I had even finished the sentence.

“She made her choice. When he cut me out of his life, she was free to make her own decisions but she sided with him. Plenty of people in the world have a gay child and still manage to pretend that said child actually exists!” He flounced against the seat again, his arms crossed in front of him, and I knew I had pushed my argument too far; it’s easy to judge when you’re not the one whose parents had erased all traces of you. “What they don’t understand is that I actually did this for them.”

“On what planet is it ever the right thing to do to tell an old couple that their only son was crushed to death by the garbage truck?” Why was I even dragging this out? I’d been this man’s best friend since fifth grade and had never once gotten him to see any reason but his own.

“Because they’re leaving,” he mumbled, looking down at his hands practically crushing his precious phone in his lap.

“What?”

“They’re moving. My sister told me. They’re too ashamed to live here anymore because people ‘know about me,’ as my sister said.” He leaned his forehead against the cool glass of the car window.

I was completely thunderstruck. This isn’t what I had intended when Marc came out. I had seen it all played out in my head from the moment Marc had first told them: his parents would take some time to get over the shock of his coming out (granted it had been almost two years since they had spoken to him, but I think of myself as a patient person), their anger would subside, they would crawl back and beg his forgiveness for all of the completely horrible, evil words they had flung at him, and things would be strained for a while but then their familial love would win out. I could even see the day years down the road when Marc had settled with a dashing, funny-yet-devoted partner and they would all celebrate Thanksgiving dinner together, their new “son-in-law” carving the turkey and calling them Mom and Dad. And now I had just been jolted awake from the pipedream.

“Marc, I’m so sorry! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I still didn’t care for the funeral plan, but at least there was something along the lines of “thinking of others” going on behind this one, unlike the time he left me waiting in the car so he could stay after the mall closed for a quickie with the assistant manager of the food court pizza place.

“I didn’t tell you because you would have marched up to their front door, slugged my dad, cussed out my mother like only a disgraced Phi Mu can, and it wouldn’t have done a bit of good. Not that I wouldn’t have been really grateful to you–assuming you didn’t spurt any of Dad’s blood on one of your impeccable sweater sets, of course–but it wouldn’t have done a bit of good in the long run. Now, thanks to me and my untimely demise, they can leave without having to look back and they’ll honestly believe they’re telling their new neighbors the truth when they say, ‘No, we don’t have a son,’.”

“Tell me what I can do, hun. I mean, besides waste thousands of your dollars and four days of my life pretending to stick you into a hole in the ground in the most classy of manners,” I joked, my earlier anger squashed flat by the news of his parents’ actions. His eyes lit up and he bounced back from the hurt like only Marc can.

“Whip this car right over there into Wendy’s and get me a Frosty. You know how I crave ice cream after a break-up.”

Satan Goes to Confession

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.  It has been 1200 years since my last Confession.”

“Wait, I know that voice.  Get out!  I’m not playing with you today.  Get out!”

“How can you say that to me?  I’m here to make a genuine confession.  You can’t kick someone out of a confessional booth.  It’s wrong on a lot of different levels.  I think you’re even obligated to hear me out.”

“Oh no, I’m not.  I have the right to send you on your way, so go.”  The priest’s gesturing outstretched hand could be seen even in the dark of the confessional.

“Aren’t you even the tiniest bit interested in what I have to say?  I’ve been horrible, a monster.  I really need to get some of this off my chest.”

“I don’t have to listen to the depravity of your confession,” the elderly priest replied through the ornate partition separating him from Satan.

“It’s not depravity, it’s just my nature.  I can’t help it, I was made this way.  I’m a victim here, if you remember.”

“A victim?  Of what?” the priest cried.  “I could use the word ‘victim,’ but it would be to describe the thousands—nay, millions– of innocent people that you have destroyed!”

“Now, that’s not fair.  I didn’t start this mess.  I had no say in the matter.  And this will all be over much faster if you would just let me have my say.”

“Fine,” huffed the old man, “say what you need to so I can get you out of here.  How did you even survive walking through the door, anyway?  This is holy ground.”

“Oh, that’s just an old story.  Surely a Catholic priest would know firsthand that I can come and go as I please anywhere around a church.”

“I don’t need to be reminded of your so-called ‘abilities.’  Do you know how many people you have hurt just in the name of the Church?  The Inquisition?  The Salem witch trials?  The beheadings?  The televangelists?  The child molestation scandals?  You have had plenty of reign here, I assure you,” the priest spat out angrily.

“Are you going to let me talk or not?” the Prince of Darkness whined.

“Oh, fine, have your say.  This should be fairly interesting.”

“Well, first, let’s see, I had this all plotted out chronologically, but you flustered me.  I guess I could go in order of importance instead of historical date.  Okay, in the last 1200 years, give or take, I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain.  And I mean, A LOT.  Pretty much on an hourly basis.  But you know, when you think about it, I had a lot of good reasons.  He has not been good to me.”

The priest gave an exasperated sigh on the other side of the screen.

“I can’t really remember how many times I’ve dishonored my parents…”

“That’s because you don’t have any parents!  If this is not a genuine confession then you are making a mockery of God!”

“Oh, thanks for reminding me, I’ve made a mockery of God 19,682,309 times.  I mean, ten times,” Satan countered.  “And I’ve overthrown 83 legitimate governments, corrupted 4,238,000 or so political leaders, both appointed and elected.  And I invented lawn jarts.”

“Lawn jarts?” the priest asked.

“Yeah, you know, those sharp pointy toys that kids were supposed to throw at each other?  I did that.”

“What would possess you to do such a terrible thing?” the man questioned in surprise.

“Well, it’s really easy to corrupt someone who has accidentally killed his younger sibling.  They’re putty in your hands just a few years down the road.”

“Pray, continue,” the father replied wearily.

“Okay, I also started 367 wars, both small and large scale.”

“Are you sure you’re not estimating a little low?”

“No, I kept meticulous records of the wars.  Those were fun.”

“You don’t sound very sorry about those.  You do realize that repentance is required for absolution.  If you’re not sorry about this, then your confession isn’t valid in the eyes of God.”

“I’m mostly sorry.  Does that count?” Satan asked.

“How can you be only mostly sorry for starting a war in which thousands of people have been killed and entire landscapes have been wiped out?”

“Well anything will sound bad if you put it that way.”

“Just continue, please.”

The Prince of Darkness cleared his throat.  “Um, this next part won’t be pretty, and I’m really not proud of any of it.”

“Oh, why start flowering it up now?”

“You know, I think sarcasm is a sin.  You’re going to have to go to confession now.  By the way, to whom do you confess, my dear saint?  Do you just look in a mirror and start talking?” Satan teased.

“Mind your business and get on with it!” the father replied.

“Well, like I said before, there’s a lot of sex stuff, and I swear I’m really sorry about all of it.  I mean, there was TONS of sex.  More sex than you can possibly imagine.  And I mean, like never-in-your-wildest-dreams-type crazy stuff.  Like this one time…”

“That will do.  Descriptions aren’t necessary, I assure you, our Heavenly Father knows the gory details.”

“I’m not sure even He could envision some of this stuff.  I’m the Devil, after all.  I mean, we’re talking animals, children, priceless statues, crack whores, foreign widows who really thought I was selling them green cards, you name it.”

“Move along, please.  Wait, did you say statues?  Never mind, I don’t want to know.”

“Really?  I don’t have to admit to any of it?”

“I think I’ll sleep better if you don’t.”

“Whew!  I thought that one was going to take until dinner time!” the devil smiled.  “Okay, where were we…can we just stick all the Lust under the sex category, or do I have to break it down?” Satan inquired.

“Oh no, I’m fairly certain lust and sex can go under the same heading, we’re good.  Pick a new topic, if you please.  I have a nauseating feeling there’s more,” he answered.

“Oh, tons.  I hope that chair in there is comfy.  You know, I’ve noticed there’s no chair on my side of this box.  Why is that?  All I’ve got is this little bench to kneel down on.”

“The Church has come to realize that the kneeler helps the penitents humble themselves before God.  That could be why its purpose is lost on you,” the priest sneered.

“I’m just saying I bet you’d get more people in here if it were a little more comfortable.  This is kind of intimidating.  I’m not sure I like it,” the devil sniffled.

“You’re not supposed to like it!  It’s Confession!  You’re supposed to feel rotten and horrible for all of the vile things you’ve done!” he barked.

“Why would I feel bad?  I’m Satan.  What would be the point in rotting in Hell for all time if I hated it?”

The monsignor rubbed his temples in small circles with both index fingers, finally at a loss for words.  He had never had a penitent to whom he couldn’t offer comfort and a reminder of the Father’s love, but Satan was trying his patience.  “Confession ends for the day at four, and I’m sure there are others waiting in the sanctuary.”

“Oh no, I sent them packing.  I knew I’d be here a while.  Are we ready for the greed list?”

“I suppose, at least this one won’t turn my stomach the way some of your other exploits have.”

“Don’t be too sure, padre.  I’ve embezzled money from orphans’ charities!” Satan laughed with a satisfied grin.  “Remember Enron?  All those employees who lost their retirement savings?  Junk bonds?  That movie Wall Street?  I coined the phrase, ‘Greed is good.’  But that stuff is boring.  Let’s talk murder!”

“Goody.”

“Let’s see, I’ve killed…um, let me think, forty-three, carry the six…well, a lot of people.”

“Why don’t you just give me the highlights, you know, lump sum mass murders.  That might keep it all organized for you,” the monsignor suggested.

“Again with the sarcasm!  Jesus Christ!”

“If you don’t mind!” the older man roared indignantly.

“Sorry…can we just add that one to the list or will I need to come back?” Satan asked sheepishly.

“Hurry up!”

 “All right!  Well, there’s the obvious ones, the six million Jews during the Holocaust, millions of ethnic cleansing casualties, hundreds at a time in plane crashes, the children who die from malaria…”

“Let’s not forget all the victims of AIDS, now,” the priest offered with mock helpfulness.

“I was getting there, hold your horses!”

“You were going to gloss over that one, thinking the celibate man wouldn’t care too much about a sexually-transmitted disease, weren’t you?”

“Even you have to admit, that one was a stroke of genius.  A disease which attacks the immune system and mutates so quickly that a cure is practically impossible?  C’mon!  Who could have thought of that?”

“You are mentally ill,” the priest fumed.

“No, it’s truly well thought-out.  A virus whose primary means of transmission is things that are already sins!  I can make you get the disease without doing anything!  You just have to be an average, sinful human!  The best part of it was all the fanatics who’ve been telling people that God is doing it to the bad people…that was just icing on the cake.”

“I’m surprised, I would have thought your ego would be wounded at someone else getting the credit for your work.”

“No, that’s only a problem for people with no imagination.  I’m always thinking up new ways to be evil, I don’t have time to look back and rest on my laurels.”

“Yes, you’re a veritable think tank.”

“I mean it, that sarcasm isn’t becoming to a man of the cloth,” Satan hinted.

“Do you have any more items on your self-indulgent agenda?  I don’t have all day and you haven’t even touched on the damage you’ve done to the environment.”

“Wait, just a minute there holy man!  You’re not pinning that one on me!  I didn’t do anything to this shoddy rock!” the devil retorted defensively.

“Oh?”

“Nope!  I had nothing to do with that one.  Turns out it really is just a human thing.  I wish I could take credit for the combustion engine alone, but it’s not my doing.”

“I find that incredibly difficult to believe.  It’s right up your alley.  Make people so greedy and self-centered that they will poison their own habitats?  They will give themselves cancer with the chemicals they put all over their homes, gardens, food, bodies?  That one has your name written all over it.”

“Well, you can believe me or not.”

“I don’t know…”

“Look, Father, I’ve copped to the murders, the sex, the invention of crystal meth, why would I deny one that I wish I could take credit for?”

“You never said anything about the drugs!”

“Oops.  We’ll get to that one.  I actually had Drugs on a separate list, since there’s a whole bunch of stuff that goes along with it.  You know, stealing, murder, corrupt politicians, cop killers, I figured we’d get to drugs somewhere after addressing the Klan.”

“I have decided not to hear the rest of your gleeful saga.  I told you already that you must be truly sorry in order to receive absolution, and you’re far too eager to brag about your antics of the last millennium.  I don’t believe you’re at all sorry, and you’d be hard pressed to convince God as well.”

“So are you telling me you won’t forgive me?”

“I don’t forgive you in the least.  Luckily for you, it’s not my forgiveness you came for, and God has assured us he will forgive anyone who is truly sorry.”

“But I am sorry!  Really!”

“Then, fortunately, my work here is done.  This is now between you and God.  Why did you come here anyway?  What did you hope to accomplish?”

“Hmmm…you’re cheaper than therapy?”

“Get out.”

“Bye Father.  See you next time!” the devil promised with an ugly smirk.

“Fortunately, at the rate that you seem determined to confess, I will be long gone.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean I’d see you here!”  Satan let the door to the confessional slam shut on its rusty hinges and headed back out onto the street.

Confession

“Confession”

          Diane looked out the window to the sagging swing set, soft brown patches wilting beneath each limp swing where small feet had torn the grass away one blade at a time during happy arcs of pendulum rhythm.  Her attention snapped back to the man sitting across the cozy table.

          “I don’t really think I have anything to say,” she told the handsome man seated across from her.

          “Nothing at all? I confessed something that has weighed on my heart for a long time and you have nothing to say?” her husband questioned unsurely, almost pleading with her to react in some way.

          Diane had nothing to say because she had already known Jerry’s secret.  She only suspected at first when the odd, secretive behaviors had started, when his excuses and explanations didn’t always line up.  Finally, the Day of the Phone Call came, the day only a month ago when something inside of her had driven her to pick up the extension and listen, not breathing.  The voice on the other end of the phone confirmed it.  The only surprise had been that Jerry’s secret affair had been with a man.

          “I need to know what you plan to do,” Jerry hinted timidly.

          “Do?  There’s nothing to do,” she replied.  “I’ve spent fifteen years building this life and I’m not going to let something as insignificant as a little fun on the side derail that.”

          “Diane, I thought you understood me.  I’m in love with Michael.  I’m so sorry, more than can you possibly know, but I have to be with him,” Jerry begged her to understand.

          “I do understand what it means to want someone you apparently cannot have,” she retorted calmly, her icy glare the only sign of the anger roiling inside her.

          Jerry, ashamed, could not meet her gaze.

          “For fifteen years,” Diane continued coolly, “you’ve called the shots.  You decided where we would live, where the children would go to school, which church we would attend.  I’ve never spoken up because it was almost a relief to sit back and let someone else be responsible for the hard decisions.  Now I’m making the rules.”  She leaned back in her chair imperiously.

          “First,” she announced, “this new interest of yours will not affect our children in any way.  You will carry yourself in such a way that it never comes back on them.  They will have happy childhood memories.”

          Jerry leaned forward to take Diane’s hand, which she pulled back slowly and placed serenely in her lap.

          “Michael may live here, but no one is to ever know about your relationship, not the children, not the neighbors, not even the man who delivers the newspaper.”

          “But, sweetest,” Jerry interrupted, “how do you plan to explain an extra man moving into our house without people becoming suspicious?”

          “I would not have him move into the house.  He may live in the pool house.”

          “Honey, we don’t have a pool house.  We don’t even have a pool,” he argued.

          “No, but we will,” Diane smiled.

          “And we should just expect people to believe that we’re nice enough to just let some strange man move into our pool house?”

          “Not a total stranger, darling, he answered the ad you placed in the paper for a lawn and pool man,” she answered without hesitation.

          “I didn’t place and ad in the paper,” Jerry said, confused.

          “No, but you will,” Diane smiled again.

          “Your scheme won’t work.  People love a good scandal and they’re bound to talk.  They certainly would never think that I’m having an affair with Michael, so they will gossip that you are!”

          “That’s true.  Therefore, Michael’s boyfriend can move in with him.  People will think we’re very fashionable, having a gay couple rent our pool house,” Diane explained patiently.

          “Michael doesn’t have a boyfriend!  I’m his boyfriend!  That’s the whole point of this charade!”  Jerry raked his fingers through his hair in frustration/

          “I’m painfully aware of that,” Diane replied through gritted teeth.  “I didn’t mean his actual boyfriend, I meant someone whom people would assume is his boyfriend.  In fact, my boyfriend can fill that role nicely, and then I, too, can have my heart’s desire living right in my own backyard.”

          She sat back against the suede cushion of the oversized upholstered chair, surveying the house that had once come to symbolize her absolute success as a wife and mother, pleased with how her plan was coming together.

          “What??  Your boyfriend?  And just how long has your little dalliance been going on?  Do you have the nerve to sit there judging me while the whole time you’re the one who’s been cheating on me?” her fickle husband raged.

          “No, but I will.”  Diane smiled her happiest smile of all.