“…total destruction was left in his wake…”
“…estimated hundreds dead, with many more left wounded…”
“…cars blowing up, buildings bursting into flames, the ground splitting open…”
“Oh god, no.”
“…eyewitnesses report that it looked like the Devil…”
“It can’t be.”
“…and you saw?”
“Yeah, it looked like the Devil, all red ‘n’ stuff. I knew the end was soon, but I just dinnet think it was this close…”
“…the police have yet to stop it. Its current destination is unknown…”
The remote control slipped out of Steve’s moist hand, landing next to his foot with a dull thud. Sweat from every pore flowed freely down his skin, whereas he sat there motionlessly, eyes affixed to the images playing in front of him. Framed by scrolling words and accompanied by a narration that lacked the urgency the situation demanded, the figure walked deliberately down the street, leaving a path of destruction behind it.
The man paralyzed by fear had seen this figure before. Its seven-foot stature, large black wings, oddly red complexion, and large, muscular body were not foreign to Steve. While the monster might not be the Devil, it left a parade of death behind it, with cars and buildings blowing up as it walked by. Even the ground would crack and break away only seconds after a cloven hoof removed itself for another step. The monster was always moving forward to a destination that the news anchors deemed “unknown.”
But this creature’s destination wasn’t unknown to Steve, because Steve was the destination.
A sweaty hand tried to mop up an equally sweaty forehead, resulting in a sweaty mess. With all of the perspiration that spilled out of him, it was no wonder Steve’s mouth was dry. In the perfect imitation of a fish, his lips opened and shut, unable to find the right words to express his shock, let alone speak them.
As his nerves slowly thawed out, he started shifting uneasily, assessing the situation. The balding man knew that something needed to be done, or else he would end up dead, maybe even worse…but he didn’t want to venture into that. Leaving would be the only way to avoid its wrath. Soaking wet boxer shorts and black socks were not the proper attire for a quick getaway from a creature that looked like Satan. Changing would be a necessity, as would packing because he didn’t plan on seeing his tiny one-room apartment again.
He stole one last glance at the television screen only to see a still image of the creature’s face. Despite the four-inch fangs and perfectly coifed goatee, Steve could only focus on the eyes. The glowing-green irises kickstarted a memory the thirty-six-year-old man had tried desperately to repress, a memory with a lock that had cost him one agreeable stomach and a hefty portion of his youth.
Ten years younger and forty pounds lighter, Steve hiked through the Arizona mountains. Sun attacked his sun-blocked, white skin and a breeze swept through his full head of brown hair. He brimmed with confidence, not knowing it would be left in ruins in the hours to come.
It was on the second day of his week-long vacation that the young man decided to search some caves out in the desert. Years of reading adventure novels left grand illusions of treasures from ancient civilizations dancing in his head, much like sugar plums or any other equally cliché dancing item.
Not wanting to go in unprepared, he did some research in the nearby town to find out which caves were interesting and mostly unexplored. The people who would talk warned him of a pitch-black hole in a mountain named “Devil’s Cave.” Fear spread through the eyes of the stuttering elders as they spun tales of how Satan took up residence in the cave, and that death would quickly follow anyone who entered. Their caution went unheard as Steve imagined all the treasure that these townsfolk were trying to keep secret in the cave.
His mind made up, his backpack packed, and his canteen full, he started to the cave before the sun came up. Luckily, no snake bites or scorpion stings were inflicted despite quite a few occasions where he unknowingly stepped only a few feet from either creature. Oblivious to the dangers, he tramped through the sparse underbrush toward his goal.
As the sun painted the desert a vibrant red in the early morning light, Steve stood before the jagged entrance on the mountainside. Ugly, out-of-place, ashen rock outlined the gash in the Earth. Not deterred by the ominous look, the foolhardy man flicked on his flashlight and stepped into the gaping mouth, leaving all traces of sunlight behind him.
Like a knife, the beam of light cut through the black, illuminating the most mundane cave he had ever seen. In all of his years searching caves for treasure (none of which held any), never had a tunnel in the ground been so devoid of interest. No stalactites clung to the roof, no crystals glinted in the passing light, and no bones were abandoned by a passing predator. He couldn’t even hear any ominous echoes of water dripping somewhere deep inside. No more than twenty yards in from the opening and he was ready to turn back. He was sure nothing valuable resided here.
Almost disgusted at the waste of time, the bored man started to turn back, but something caught his eye. Deep in the darkness, a red light flickered. Its seductive movements mesmerized him. Under little self-control, his feet started moving, closing the gap. As the light grew near, Steve could see it was a fire, but not like any fire he’d seen before. Instead of a palette of colors, it burned with a single hue: blood red. Absent sound, the flame danced partner-less to some unknown beat. Steve scratched his full head of hair, confused by the silence. He expected a crackle, a snap, or at least a pop. He inched forward, needing to know more about this pyrotechnic phenomenon.
Barely able to pry his eyes away, the man saw that the fire burned in front of a vast chasm that was deeper than the light could travel. Walking closer only made the abyss seem endless. He decided to deal with the abyss later. He came to see the fire, not the hole in the ground. Standing feet away from the flame, he saw why the fire produced no sound. Nothing fueled the flame. It just danced on top of a single, waist-high rock.
“Who made this fire?” Steve questioned, voicing his amazement.
“I DID.” The unearthly baritone voice echoed throughout the cave.
Instantly scared, Steve panicked, aiming his flashlight in every direction. He wouldn’t let the beam dwell long on a single spot. He hadn’t truly decided if he wanted to find the source of the voice or not.
“LOOKING FOR ME?”
Spinning around, Steve came face to chest with a gargantuan man. The same red man he would see on the television ten years later.
“Oh my god, the Devil!” Steve screeched, falling to the ground.
“I AM SO SICK OF HEARING THAT! I AM NOT THE DEVIL!”
For a few scary seconds, the perplexed man sat there, looking up in terror. This monster looked like the Devil. It definitely sounded like what Steve had imagined the Lord of Evil to sound like. This menacing thing’s claim astounded him.
“Then,” he croaked out, “who are you?”
“YOU WOULD BE UNABLE TO PRONOUNCE MY NAME, SO CALL ME CHRIS. IT’S A FAR STRETCH FROM MY REAL NAME, BUT I FIND IT’S EASIER FOR HUMANS TO SAY.”
“Alright, Chris,” he said with a nervous smile. “What are you doing here?”
“I SHOULD ASK YOU THAT. THIS IS MY HOME!”
“I was just exploring. I didn’t know this was your home, honestly. I’ll just leave now.”
“Alright, I guess I won’t leave,” Steve said, looking left and right, fearing the worst. “What should I do?”
“I SHOULD KILL YOU.”
“Oh no,” he uttered, fighting the urge to urinate. “Please don’t kill me.”
“I SAID I SHOULD. I DIDN’T SAY I WAS GOING TO. BUT I STILL MIGHT.”
Steve lost the battle. Chris went on, either not noticing it, or ignoring it.
“I WILL OFFER YOU THE SAME DEAL I’VE OFFERED EVERYONE ELSE. PLAY ME IN THE GAME OF CHESS.”
“If I win, do I get to leave?”
“YES, AS WELL AS THIS.”
From a pouch hanging on his belt, Chris pulled out the largest diamond Steve had ever seen. The crystal seemed to radiate light.
“And if I lose?”
“I WILL EAT YOU!”
Steve lost the battle again. He knew little of chess. Growing up, he had only ventured to play a handful of times, losing every time but once. The one time he won had been a pure fluke.
“How many people have beaten you?”
“OUT OF THE SIX HUNDRED AND FORTY-TWO PEOPLE I’VE PLAYED…NONE.”
If there were any liquid left in his bladder, it would have come out again.
“DO YOU ACCEPT, OR DO I JUST EAT YOU NOW?”
Scrambling to his feet, knowing his death was near, Steve did the only thing he could do to put his demise off.
Two hours later, he was still somehow in the game. To his great pleasure, Chris was an extremely slow chess player. His turns lasted somewhere between fifteen to twenty minutes. Every few minutes, he would reach forward to move a piece, only to stop, chuckle to himself, and shake his massive head, sending locks of matted, black hair swinging back and forth. Obviously, he was working out a great strategy.
Steve, on the other hand, blindly moved his pieces, savoring what he thought were his last minutes on Earth. All the downtime afforded him a chance to think of a way out of this surely lost game. Cautiously, his eyes wandered from the gothic-looking chess board to the chasm that ripped open the ground only a few feet away. He knew his only chance was to get this creature to plummet down the hole. Of course, Chris had wings, which meant falling probably wouldn’t bother him much.
“What’s it like to fly?”
Angry eyes looked up from the board.
“I DON’T LIKE TO BE DISTURBED WHEN I’M THINKING.”
“Sorry,” Steve replied in a quiet voice.
He needed to know if he could get out of the cave before this Satan look-alike could fly out of the pit.
“Well, since it’s my turn,” he seized on the opportunity, “will you answer my question?”
“VERY WELL. I DON’T KNOW. I NEVER LEARNED TO FLY.”
Excitement crept through Steve. He had a chance, but not a great one. Chris was much, much bigger than he was, so getting him in the gorge would be tricky. Moving his piece, Steve put his hasty plan into action.
“Mind if I stand?”
The hulking beast only flicked his hand in approval, not looking up from the board. Pacing back and forth, Steve waited for his chance.
Ten minutes later, it came. Chris placed his piece on its destination and looked up.
“YOUR TURN. ARE YOU GOING TO SIT BACK DOWN?”
“In a second,” Steve said. “I was wondering, though.”
“There’s a light down that pit,” he said, positioning himself a few steps back.
“NO THERE’S NOT!”
“Then what’s that down there?” he asked, pointing.
With a huff, Chris stood up.
“I DON’T SEE ANYTHING.”
“You don’t see that?”
Slowly, the creature bent over, squinting through the blackness.
Another inch was all Steve needed. With all his might, he shoved the off-balanced monster into the pit. An ear-piercing scream echoed throughout the cave. Grinning, he turned and moved one last piece on the board.
“Your move!” Steve shouted down the pit before running for his life.
Packed and ready to go, Steve didn’t take any more time to double-check his bag. Running as fast as his out-of-shape body could, he crossed his apartment and opened the door, only to be greeted by Chris, who stood on the other side. Once again, Steve lost the battle.
“Chris,” he stuttered. “It’s been a long time.”
“YES, IT HAS. AND WE HAVE SOME BUSINESS TO SETTLE.”
Helpless and weak, Steve gave up.
“Alright, you can kill me,” he said as he bowed his balding head.
“I’M NOT GOING TO KILL YOU!”
“WELL, I MEAN, I WANTED TO.”
“Why aren’t you going to kill me?”
“AFTER TEN YEARS OF CLIMBING OUT OF THAT PIT, I WAS MORE THAN READY TO SUCK ON YOUR JUICY—AND FROM THE LOOKS OF IT, FATTY—BONES. BUT I HAVE TO SAY, I’M A CREATURE OF HABIT, SO IF IT’S MY TURN, I MUST PLAY. AFTER TWO DAYS I REALIZED THAT I WAS IN CHECKMATE. SO, I HAD TO FIND YOU TO CONGRATULATE YOU.”
“But all those people who died…”
“AND NOW YOU KNOW WHY I DON’T LEAVE THAT CAVE. I’VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO STOP THAT FROM HAPPENING. THINGS JUST BLOW UP WHEN I’M IN THE SUN. IT’S A SHAME. SOME OF THOSE PEOPLE LOOKED NICE. ANYWAY, THIS IS YOURS.”
Steve’s eyes fell on the diamond only seconds before he fell faint to the ground.