The smell of smoke was
what woke him. At first, Daniel thought he was dreaming. He had topped off the
longest, busiest, most intense week of his life with drinks at O’Loughlin’s
Bar, and after finally stumbling into his apartment at one in the morning, had
fallen into a deep sleep as soon as his head had hit the pillow. But that sleep
was slowly leaving him as his senses began to stir. First, the smell of smoke
intensified in his nose. Then, his ears picked up the distinct sound of
crackling fire. Finally, his eyes opened in slow blinks. He turned his head to
squint at the bright red numbers of his alarm clock; it was three in the
morning. He raised himself onto an elbow and strained his ears, listening.
There was no sound of fire, no smell of smoke, and he could not see any unusual
light coming from the crack under his bedroom door. Shaking his head, he fell
back and rolled onto his side, hoping that sleep would once more claim him.
He had just settled into a comfortable position when, again, the smell of smoke filled his nose. He opened his eyes with a frown. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he rolled onto his back, thinking. He had been certain that he hadn’t actually smelled or heard anything a moment before; that it had just been his imagination—his tired, hungover brain playing tricks on him. But what if there is a fire? his brain now taunted him. Groaning, he sat up, and reached out an arm to his bedside table, fumbling to turn on the lamp. He had just flicked it on when a fire suddenly erupted out of the floor at the end of his bed.
“What the fuck!” Daniel exclaimed, shielding his eyes against the bright, hot flames.
“Now, is that any way to greet a guest?” a voice asked, amused.
“Holy shit!” Daniel shot out of his bed, banging his hip in the process, and grabbed the nearest thing he could find to use as a weapon: an umbrella. He brandished it in front of him like a sword, backing himself into a corner. The flames slowly abated, revealing a tall figure; a man. Everything about the man was dark; dark hair, dark eyes, dark clothes. The only thing about him that wasn’t dark was his skin; it was white as snow. The man started coughing as the smoke from the fire billowed around him.
“You know,” he chuckled, waving smoke away from his face, “as much as I hate the smoke, I do enjoy scaring the hell out of you people with my grand entrances.” He cleared his throat. “That’s one of my favourites, I have to say.”
Daniel gaped at the man. Was this really happening? Daniel closed his eyes tightly and then opened them, hoping not to see the man. Nope, he thought, still there. Pulling himself together, Daniel stabbed the umbrella towards the stranger. “Who the fuck are you? How the fuck did you just do that?”
The stranger smiled. “Which question would you like me to answer first, Daniel?”
“Ho – how do you know my name?” Daniel stuttered.
The figure rolled his eyes. “Please. I know everything about everyone.” He walked over to the dresser and peered into the mirror, inspecting his reflection closely, poking and prodding at his face. “Daniel Lindsay,” the man said, “Thirty-one-years-old, single, only child, bestselling author.”
Daniel sucked in a breath. The man was a stalker!
The man chuckled. “I stalk everyone.”
“Did you just,” Daniel swallowed the lump in his throat, “read my mind?”
“Yes.” He turned to face Daniel, a proud grin on his face. “Pretty cool, huh? It’s not my only trick.”
Daniel suddenly felt lightheaded.
The man eyed Daniel closely, his grin slipping from his face. “You’re not going to faint on me, are you?”
“Um,” Daniel thought out loud, “I’m not... sure.”
“Well, you’re not allowed to. This body isn’t going to last me long.”
“Yes, I’m borrowing it. The previous inhabitant died about three hours ago. I managed to sneak it out of the morgue.” He struck a pose. “What do you think? Not bad for a dead guy, huh?”
Daniel stared at the man, not quite believing what he was hearing.
“What?” the man asked, frowning. “No good?”
“Who are you?!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners? I,” the man bowed his head, “am Lucifer. But you may call me Lu, for short.”
Daniel blinked, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. “I, um, I – I think I’m...” the words were lost as he keeled over, his body hitting the hardwood floor with a thud, the umbrella rolling out of his grasp.
Lucifer looked down at Daniel’s prone form, sighing. “Humans.”
When Daniel came to, he was lying on his bed. He
mumbled nonsensically and then slowly opened his eyes. Pushing up onto his
elbows, his head began to spin and a sharp pain shot down his leg from his hip.
He groaned, putting a hand to his head to stop the throbbing. “What the hell
“Not much,” a voice called out from his bathroom. “You just fainted on me after I explicitly told you not to.” The owner of the voice strolled into the bedroom, smelling like Daniel’s aftershave.
“Aargh!” Daniel scrambled backward on his bed until his shoulders bumped into the wall. “You – you – you’re...” he stammered, his memory quickly coming back to him.
“Still here? Yep. Look, this will go much faster if you don’t faint on me, okay? I have other people I need to see before the night’s over.”
“I didn’t faint!”
“Oh. Right. Sorry. Pass out in a manly fashion.” Lucifer rolled his eyes.
“No,” Daniel argued. “I didn’t faint because in order to faint, I would have had to have been awake, and clearly, since you are not real, I was not awake. I’m still not awake. I’m dreaming or hallucinating. Or just... incredibly hungover,” he finished, pressing his palm against the side of his head.
“You’re not dreaming or hallucinating, but you are pretty hungover. And, I am real.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No,” Daniel said, drawing the word out, “you’re not.”
“Yes,” Lucifer mimicked, “I am.”
“You’re not real!”
“Look, do you want me to prove it to you? Fine. Let’s see...” Lucifer cocked his head to the side and thought. “Okay, here’s one. In the fourth grade, Emily Young gave you five dollars to show her your penis.”
Daniel sputtered. “What – wh – How did you – ”
“I told you,” Lucifer interrupted, “I know everything about everyone.”
Daniel pulled himself up, leaning against the wall for support. “Oh, this isn’t happening. This is not happening,” he muttered, his hands pulling at his hair. “I’ve finally cracked it. I always knew I would go crazy, but this... I didn’t expect it to happen like this.”
Lucifer rolled his eyes. “Dramatic, much? Look, you’re not going crazy, and frankly, I don’t have the time to stay here and convince you of that. I’m on a tight schedule.”
Daniel stopped pulling at his hair and looked up. Okay, Daniel, think, he ordered his brain. On the one hand, the man—Lucifer, apparently—had appeared out of thin air. Well, thin, flame-y air. And the fire that he had... arrived in hadn’t harmed him in any way. Daniel didn’t know of any human who could stand in the middle of a fire and live to tell the tale. And it would make sense that he would arrive in a big ball of fire, since Hell was all fire and brimstone and Hell is where Lucifer resided. On the other hand, he was claiming to be Lucifer. Lucifer. The Prince of Darkness. Satan. The freaking Antichrist!
“There’s no need for name calling, you know.”
“Okay,” Daniel said slowly, his brain still in the process of waking up. “Okay. Okay. So, assuming you’re real – ”
“I am real.”
“– what are you doing here?”
“I have a request.” Lucifer settled himself on the edge of the bed and crossed his legs. “I want you to write a new series of novels that paint me in a better light.”
Daniel opened and closed his mouth several times before finally spitting out, “I don’t understand.”
“Believe it or not, Daniel, I am not actually a bad guy. However, everyone believes that I am. I would like to change that.”
“Yeah, okay,” Daniel nodded his head. “But,” he added after a moment’s pause, “I still don’t understand.”
“Christ Almighty,” Lucifer muttered in exasperation.
“Are you allowed to say that?” Daniel inquired. “Won’t God strike you down or something?” he added sarcastically.
Lucifer glowered at him, his eyes flashing momentarily. “What’s he going to do, send me to Hell?”
“Okay. Point taken,” Daniel conceded.
Lucifer stood and began to pace. “I want to be painted in a better light. All I ever am is the bad guy. But let me tell you—God is the real bad guy. I mean did we all just forget about the flood? God creates mankind, gives them free will, and then is shocked and appalled when they squander it. I mean, how dumb do you have to be, right? And what does he do to correct his mistake? He unleashes a flood that kills them all.” He looked at Daniel. “And I’m the bad guy.”
“You possess people,” Daniel stated. His most recent novel, while fiction, was about demon possession. He had done extensive research into the area in order to make it believable and realistic. Some of the stories he’d heard and read about had sent chills down his spine.
“Yeah.” Lucifer stopped pacing. “But I’ve never killed anyone.”
Daniel raised his eyebrows. “There are who knows how many reports of people being possessed by an evil spirit—you, I’m assuming—and then dying.”
Lucifer pulled a face. “So not the same thing. It’s never my intention for the humans I possess to die. It’s just an unfortunate side-effect a lot of the time.”
Daniel closed his eyes and massaged his forehead. He was getting a headache. He also very much wanted to wake up from this bizarre dream.
“For the last time,” Lucifer stated, enunciating his words slowly, “you’re not dreaming!”
“Okay, so you want me to write a series of novels that will make you appear... what? Nicer?” He couldn’t help but laugh. This whole thing was preposterous.
“I have my flaws, naturally. I did get kicked out of heaven, and with good reason, I’ll admit. However, I am not wholly evil. I do not spend my time inflicting pain and death on the world. Actually,” Lucifer added, “a lot of the time that’s God’s doing.”
“Inflicting pain and death on the world?”
Lucifer nodded. “Most humans believe that I do it for one of two reasons: one, I’m evil and get kicks out of seeing humans suffer and die—not true, by the way—or two, I’m testing them. I’m... seeing if they’re worthy or whatever.”
“But that’s not the case?”
“No! God is the one who likes to test humans. A lot of what’s happening in the world today is his doing. But,” he added, “try telling that to you people.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, deciding to humour the guy, “so, why are you asking me to do this?”
“A, I am not asking only you; your writing is not that good. However, and point B, you are a current bestseller, so people already know who you are, and your previous novels have all been in the top ten. Ergo, you are the ideal choice.”
“And if I don’t want to do this?”
Lucifer smiled. “Oh, you will. Not only can I guarantee that doing so will make you rich—if you don’t, I’ll just have to make this here visit of mine a more regular occurrence.”
“So, pretty much, you’re threatening me?”
“Yeah,” Lucifer nodded, “pretty much.” He looked at the watch on his left wrist and tapped it. “Well, now that that’s out of the way, I’d better be going. More people to threaten, and all that good stuff.” He walked over to Daniel and stood over him. “I’m going to touch you now and you’re going to fall to sleep. And no, you won’t forget anything when you wake up in the morning.”
“But, wait – ” Daniel raised a hand to hold him off, but it was no good; Lucifer laid an icy cold hand on the top of Daniel’s head, and with one final look at the pale face before him—a pale face with bright red eyes, he noted—Daniel’s eyes closed and his head fell forward, his chin coming to rest against his chest.
The familiar tone of “You’re so Vain” woke him a
few hours later. Daniel groaned into his mattress. It was the ringtone he had
assigned his agent, Barry. Without looking, Daniel extended his arm, banging
it against the wall. “Damn it!” he swore, opening his eyes. “What in the – ” he
trailed off, his eyes widening. He was lying across the width of his bed, his
legs hanging off of the side. Sitting up, he fumbled for his phone.
“How much did I drink last night?” he said into the mouthpiece.
“Good morning to you, too,” Barry said. “Are you awake? Please tell me you’re awake.”
“How much did I drink last night?” Daniel repeated.
“I don’t know. A lot.”
Daniel looked around his bed. How the hell had he ended up at the very top of it?
“Are you okay?” Barry asked. “You didn’t wake up next to someone you shouldn’t have, did you?” Daniel could hear the cringe in his voice.
“What? No. I just...” he thought back to the dream he’d had. “I had the weirdest dream last night, and somehow ended up lying across the top of my bed.” Daniel shook his head, chuckling to himself as he thought about it. Lucifer paying him a visit in the middle of the night? Yeah. Right.
“Hmm, that’s nice, dear,” Barry said, uninterested, “but what I really want to know is, are you awake? Because I am going to be knocking on your door in exactly twenty-four minutes, and you had better be ready.”
“Yes, mother,” Daniel replied. “Love you, too.”
“I’m serious, Daniel.”
“I mean it, Daniel. You are scheduled to be – ”
Daniel ended the call. As much as he liked Barry and appreciated everything he had done over the years, the guy worried too much. Daniel put his phone on silent, knowing that Barry would call again to bitch about hanging up on him, and then crawled out of bed. He was sore from head to toe, and it took a little while to get his muscles working. He also had a bruise on his hip, though he had no recollection of hurting himself the night before. “I’m never drinking again,” he declared.
When he could finally move, he padded his way out of his bedroom, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. What he desperately needed was a big cup of coffee; even more than a shower, which he also needed since he smelled like booze and... smoke? He frowned. Where did the smoke come – “Oh my God,” he whispered, realisation dawning on him.
Turning around, he hobbled back to his bedroom, his hip groaning in protest with every step. There, on his hardwood floors at the end of his bed, was a burnt patch, the words, “I stalk everyone” written across it.
Daniel took one look at it and then promptly... passed out in a manly fashion.