Mrs. Smith, Mrs Joan Smith (not her REAL name) tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the stairs of her perfect little house to the kitchen, touching her lips and pressing kisses to pictures of each of her three darling daughters as she passed. She did the same to her five grand-children’s photos. She then crossed her self in an embarrassed way as she rushed past the three dimensional (artists depiction) of Jesus, arms akimbo, smile equally akimbo, skin white as plaster, surrounded by equally Caucasian children in an ancient, middle-east scene. Almost jumping the last step, she entered the kitchen and spent twenty minutes fashioning a perfect breakfast for her perfect husband, placing such on pristine, clean yet not too expensive dinnerware. She set about making coffee and pouring two glasses of juice, one for her, one for John. She sat down at the table with her own modest breakfast and opened her day planner. She completely ignored the man with the razor sharp Van Dyke beard, ridiculous red three piece suit and cane who marched in, tipped his red hat in her direction, and stood leaning in the corner.
John Smith marched out of the bedroom full of vigour and purpose, danced down the stairs of their perfect little house to the kitchen, touching his lips and pressing kisses to pictures of each of his three wonderful daughters as he passed. She did the same to his five grandchildren’s photos. He then rolled his eyes as he always did as he passed the three dimensional (artists depiction) of Jesus with the creepily friendly smile, the ironically inaccurate white skin and equally incorrect Caucasian follower’s children clambering about his feet.
He kissed his wife on the forehead as she pretended to plan her day, apologized again that he could not golf with her and her uninteresting little hen-like friends as he had to go in to the office for a few hours of work. She was okay with it as her perfect man made a ridiculous amount of money as senior partner at his firm and she wanted him happy. She knew that golfing with the gang did not make him happy. She did not know that what did make him happy was heading into an empty office to meet up with one of a few admin assistance (he rotated the list). What made him happy was letting the admin assistants find constructive ways to keep their jobs in these “tough and trying times” usually involving a closed door and a few shots of gin.
He ate, they chatted, she ignored the man in the red suit and eventually John popped in the washroom to brush his teeth, kissed her on the lips, patted her bottom and away he went in his brand new shiny sport utility vehicle that was completely unneeded but made him feel bigger than he already did. Mrs. Joan Smith watched her perfect husband drive way, waving as he did through the window, waved back. She then turned on a dime as the man in the red suit sidled right up behind her, breathing on her hair. as he did, waving through the window at the man the could not see him.
Face to face with the man who reeked of sulphur, she slid aside and sat down at the table, sipping her juice with a shaking hand and pretending to look at her day planner.
“Oh my word Joan, has it been a whole year? You are looking ravishing as always, in fact, better than ever! You must be working out.”
“Get on with it please.”
“Now, now, that just isn’t polite. We must make small talk, its what I, ahem, live for.”
“Oh, I am sure there are other things.”
“Dear lord no! You misjudge me yet again. Once, long ago, I was like you, with friends and work and small talk and well, never golf, far too posh a sport for low-lives like me, but other shall we say distractions, sport. yes, sport. I miss my sport.”
Joan wondered as she sat listening to the man why he was dragging this out. Every year she had to put up with his visit, every year she had to pay the price. Every year he had to do what he had to do and every year it was closer and closer to the end. She knew it.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“What? The story of my life? Oh, I’m only letting you hear snippets. I mean, its only fair my dear.” he placed a hand, bare of hair, red of skin, nails like little teeth, shiny and well kept. A faint wisp of smoke sliding out from inside the cuff of her red sleeve and underlying red shirt as he did. “I know so much about you, your wonderful husband, your children and grand-kiddies. Its only fair you know a bit about yours truly, your, shall we say, business partner.”
Joan watched as he slowly scratched his nails into the wood of the table, four black marks being burnt into it, the smoke curling up into the air around them. His smile was ridiculously wide, it showed his terrible teeth, equally sharp as his fingernails. he sat back, the scratch marks in the table disappearing as he did. “Before we continue Joan, could I please have a cup of your most wonderful coffee. I have in fact bragged about it to my colleagues. It is, shall we say, unworldly. ” He adjusted his suit jacket, undoing the buttons and resuming a more normal, more human look on his face.
“I’m out of coffee. Make you g..”
“No, no, I implore you, please look in the cupboard. You will find some freshly ground Hawaiian Kona that I brought along. It is superb.”
Joan walked over to the cupboard and opened it to find a black, neatly folded bag containing as promised, warm, freshly ground beans. She sighed to herself and proceeded to boil water, measure out four tablespoons of the coffee into the French press. The man in red whistled to himself as she did so, filing his fingernails and for the briefest of moments, one of his teeth that upon previous inspection seemed a tad less sharp than he liked.
“Oh Joan, dear, a piece of that apple crumble would be wonderful” as he looked at her, then at the breadbox beside the sink that as he suggested contained two remaining pieces of apple crumble. His phone rang to the tune of Onward Christian Soldiers, which he answered with a cartoonish “Hellooooo Chuck, how can I assist you today…”
As he spoke to the caller in hushed tones, she made the coffee, knowing he liked it black (no surprise) and strong. She casually reached to a small phial beside the breadbox and poured a good measure of a clear watery fluid into the coffee before she turned to the crumble. Returning the stopper to the phial and placing it in the cupboard, she pulled out a single plate and with aid of a pie lifter, placed a piece of the crumble upon it. Listening and looking briefly over her shoulder to be sure he was still occupied, she removed two forks from the drawer and a small packet from the shelf. Roughing up the surface of the crumble, she pulled three small circular wafers embossed with crosses from the packet, crushed them finely onto the surface of the pie and then using the same fork, made the surface look as neat as before. She placed the dirty fork into the sink and turned, coffee and plate in hand toward the man in red.
“Must go Chuck, snack time” the man said into the smallish yet a tad dated cell phone, snapped it shut and scootched his chair up to the table. “I look forward to this every year Joan, thank you.”
Joan did not say anything. She stood still with her back against the sink, the sun forming a halo around her head to the amusement and resulting smile of the man in red. He paused only for a moment, gave her a mysterious grin, then proceeded to eat the crumble in three huge forkfuls. He picked up he plate and from his mouth shot a long snakelike tongue. To Joan’s visible disgust, he licked the plate clean.
“Yum, yummy, yum. My WORD Joan you outdo yourself every single year. Interesting taste though, apple, cinnamon, allspice perhaps, and, hmm, can’t place it…” he sipped his coffee. Sipped it, then with yet another mysterious grin, slugged it all back slamming the cup down onto the table, smashing it into shards as his tongue made yet another appearance, licking coffee droplets from his tidy black beard. “Mom.. Christ-ish!”
He lifted than slapped his palms on the table as his face went black with rage. With a clap of thunderous noise, the table disappeared. He stood, kicking the chair backward with one hoofed foot. as he roared “Bitch bitch bitch! Holy water in my coffee, little Jesus crackers on my pie? You are laughably murderous after all I have done for you!” Fire smouldered behind his lidless eyes and his teeth regained prominence, Joan thought of running, Joan looked left and right and spied the very sharp set of never yet used German kitchen knives she picked up the other day on a whim. She moved toward them only an inch before the Man in Red waved a hand and the carved wooden holder vibrated briefly then spat out the twelve vary sharp knives of varying size. They turned in the air and headed toward Joan who screamed and ducked and covered her pretty face. In the air they hung, each moving around in a slow orbit their points seeking but never attacking the sobbing woman. After a few moments, they clattered to the floor.
The Man in Red resumed his seat after retrieving his chrome legged chair from its resting place partially embedded in the wall. The table was back and the man sipped his coffee, smiling absentmindedly as he did, looking at his nails and waiting patiently for Joan to regain some composure. When she did, when she gained some, but not much, he indicated that she should sit with a nod and a point. Joan did, careful to not step on the knives that even now, prone on the floor, followed her movements with their sharp, angry little points.
The Man in Red pulled a manila envelope from the air that had Joan’s real name written on the front in large gothic font. He undid the little string wrapped around the two red cardboard pieces at the back, opened the flap and laid a sheet of paper in front of him on the table, tossing the envelope behind him where it vanished in a silent puff of smoke.
“Twenty years Joan. Twenty years as of noon today and this is the first time you have tried…” he snickered “to kill me. My my my. I could construe that as a breach of contract but instead I will just refer to it as I regale my boss of the days work as a mere disagreement.”
Joan regained her composure more still, and took on a look of slight anger, annoyance, contempt.
“So, not to drag things out as I assume you likely have some sort of crucifix embossed club laying about that you will try to brain me with, let us proceed.” He removed a pair of reading glasses with octagonal glasses from his shirt pocket. He placed them on his face, down upon his nose. Joan looked at them with a mildly quizzical upward eyebrow. “Oh these?” he pointed at them. ” John Lennon’s. You wouldn’t BELIEVE the deal he made with one of my comrades. Dear imaginary lord it was a good one… Anyway, shall I read the wording or are you ready for my annual guess as to your word?”
“Guess already. I want to get on with my day or my life or death or whatever. Just guess you bastard.”
“Again, you slight me! Did you not make the deal? Did you not work the magic and ask the questions and say the words and make the gesticulations and did you not for the past nineteen years pay your annual carnal dues, dues I am quite eager to receive I may add.” He winked and adjusted his pants as Joan’s face turned as red as his. “Tsk tsk Joan. Tsk Tsk.” H rolled up the paper, tossed it to oblivion and stood.
“My dear, my guess is rhubarb.”
Joan fell to the floor after a moments realization of what she had heard.
“It took me a while, I think I guessed it back five years ago, but let it slide for a while knowing that there were many years of fun left and how much more satisfying the day would be if I dragged it out.”
Joan sobbed, and hammered the floor with her hands/
“Deary me, you had a good run, you both did. Look, you and he kept your youth, got to see your girls, your yummy tasty girls grow up…”
At this Joan screamed “shut up shut up shut up and end this!”
The Man in Red laughed uproariously. “Yes my dear, as soon as we finalize the years proceedings. Then you come with me, John reverts to his normal age and likely dies of a heart attack if he keeps up screwing the help like he does. Your girls move on in time and maybe, just maybe, I cut a deal with one of them. Your youngest does seem to like that gothy lifestyle and maybe you don’t know, but when you went all RC she scooped up all your old black magic books from the waste bin. She’s been experimenting you know. Sad little girl”
All the while Joan sobbed and screamed and thumped and by the end she was standing. With an other animal scream she rushed toward The Man In Red pulling, as he had almost surmised, a large crucifix from inside her shirt raising it into the air and thrusting it down upon his chest. Upon impact, he reached up, grabbed the metal and wood icon from her hand, breaking it into two and tossing the pieces toward the sink.
“It is my turn to say enough Joan.” he pointed toward her and with yet another wave of his red hand, throw her into one of the chrome legged table chairs. The knives swung toward her as he did and bent in the air around her calves and arms, holding her fast to the legs of the chair with her hands behind her back.
“Leave my daughter alone! Leave John alone. He is a good man.”
The Man in Red made himself another coffee as he spoke, pausing to look out the window toward the garden. “It was a good secret word Joan. Rhubarb. Very good. Very, unassuming. Not typical. But after serving me pie every year for the past nineteen and even though you have a garden FULL of the stuff, never making rhubarb pie until I was around for my guess and poke session… didn’t take a genius to put two and two together… ”
Joan cried, quietly to herself. Looking up, watching him sip coffee in the sunlight, for the briefest of moments she saw a man that was not a demon. A regular, every day man, well kept, dapper and bearded. Then he turned to look at her with his shiny amber eyes and the real man was gone. “John is a good man, he had nothing to do with this. ”
“Oh, I know, I cannot punish him, that’s the nature of the deal my little sexpot. However I can take away his stolen youth, and I shall. I mean seriously, he gets more poontang than the average college boy while you were off shopping and baking and golfing. He’s had a better than good run. Good show John boy! huzzah!” he toasted the sunlight and returned to sip, sip sip as Joan sat confused and fuming, the sharp knives biting into her with every movement. Blood was pooling on the linoleum and slowly, she was becoming a little light-headed.
“You lie. That’s what you do. You lie. I don’t believe it.”
“Oh Joan, what do you think he was doing when he worked late. When he went on business trips.” he made air quotes which under other circumstances would have been humorous given his general redness and demoness. “When he didn’t go golfing with you? Shopping? When you had the girls over? Good imaginary lord woman, he is sixty by age and wisdom and has the fit body of a forty year old. He can talk any secretary into bed with promises and gifts. In fact, he has been retired for five years. He doesn’t even go to work anymore.”
She spit at him, screamed and writhed, releasing more blood, becoming more light headed. “Lies! Bastard.”
“Oh dearie me look at little miss nineteen fifties housewife. Stern and solid in her trust and adoration of her all powerful and protective man,” He guffawed as tears welled up in her rapidly fading eyes. “Don’t lie Joan, I know you have suspected this for ages. Seriously, you have. Phone calls to his cell late at night. Inexplicable purchases? He’s a man. Come, come my dear. Grow up.”
Joan wavered in and out of consciousness, and slowly as she began to fade, she nodded acquiescence. The man in red leapt up, his hoofed feet clattering on the slippery floor, his hands clapping in front of his face like a gleeful little girl. “Excellent. So, lets cut shall we say, another deal Joan. I think you are at least deserving of a better deal than the one you agreed to at first.” The knives dropped to the floor and the blood sucked back up into the wounds which closed as the last drops slithered inside. Joan sat, angry, saddened, resigned and rapt.
Many black away John, dapper, slicked back hair, smooth shaven and smiling from ear to ear knocked briefly on a door looking briefly from side to side, partly to makes sure nobody was watching and secretly in the hopes that someone was in fact witnessing his actions. A young girl, half his age and then some less opened the door clad in shorts, polo and a visor cap. A wicked smile across her blemish free, squeaky clean face erupted as she reached forward and dramatically pulled him inside. “Maggie I thought we were going golfing?”
“Tee off isn’t for an hour Mister Smith. We have time for…” then silence.
Then a thud, a crash.
Then screams. Many, many screams.
The Woman in Red stood in the shadows watching the crying woman, watching her former husband, her former human husband writhe on the marble tiled vestibule floor. Watched him turn old, wrinkled, grey. She watched the young woman back away in fear as her sugar daddy crumpled to the floor clutching his chest as his heart tried in vain to keep up with a body aging far too rapidly, arteries clogging, lung capacity shrinking, brain withering from years of alcohol and drugs. She watched him die in the house he bought on her life-loan. She watched the young woman panic, run away toward the kitchen in her sock feet and with a wave of her hand watched the woman slip, full speed, and fly ass over teakettle landing head first against the corner of a very pricey and thankfully vary hard and sharply cornered Edwardian side table. The woman in red then smiled and made her way outside, unseen.
She had work to do.
She had deals to make.