Her name was Renata. A half-Italian half-British twenty-five-year-old who had somehow ended up in a little studio in the middle of Paris. There she used all her free time to paint, create works of art unlike any other, a unique expression of the storm whirling inside. With temperate earthy colours and a lot of red outbursts she exploded her passion onto the white canvas. Painting was her life, her soul, her everything. She gave up the boyfriend she had for it, him feeling like she didn’t pay enough attention to him and she frankly not caring. She ignored all phone calls, which often led to her having to write an apology email to both her parents at the end of each month. She never went out to parties, unless to the bar around the corner where she hung out with her other artistic friends, drinking cheap wine as they contemplated the pros and cons of capitalism and the self-destructive tendencies of humanity.
Her name was Renata. That much he knew. That and many other things, for he was the Devil. Satan, Lucifer, the Dark Prince, the Fallen One. He knew all there was to be about humans, their deepest desires and darkest wishes. He knew when they were going to die, how they were going to die, what their last thought was, their biggest regret, their worst fears. He knew it all. It was his job to know it all. And yet, this particular woman, Renata from Siena in Italy, he did not quite grasp.
She was like a dancing phoenix, racing towards her own end with the fury of a thousand suns, doing everything with passion, and if it didn’t interest her she didn’t even spare a single glance at it. She was extraordinary, a gorgeous temptress, made men (and quite a lot of women) stop and stare as she walked by. Renata with the hazel eyes and carmine locks, Renata with the freckled sun-kissed skin and fondness of long dresses with fell elegantly over her hips, Renata.
He had no idea why he kept watching her. Surely there were thousands of women just like her, living life to the fullest but therefor shortening it, artists and tortured souls, humans with fire in their heart and eyes. He had seen them come and go, some of them accepting of their death, others trying to outrun it but meeting a solid wall that drove them further into the flames nonetheless. Some attempts had made him laugh, others made him pity them. But none of them were like her.
Like right now, he perked up when he saw her jump from her chair. The expression that slid over her features was already far too familiar to him- she had been hit by a sudden burst of inspiration. And indeed, not a moment later she rolled up her sleeves, prepared a new canvas, applied the needed colours to her pallet and set to work. With angry swipes and delicate dots she began translating the image in her head into the waking world, using her hands, her elbows, sometimes even her tongue to get it just right, growling when she thought to have made a mistake. He loved watching her work, was transfixed on that focused glare and frown creasing her fine brow.
If he didn’t know any better, he would say he loved her. But that couldn’t be right. The devil didn’t know how to fall in love, simply how to lust after and desire, lose himself in the fire of passion.
Months turned to years. Renata lived her life to the fullest, dancing that odd tango to which only she knew the steps. One-night stands came and went, family members came to visit, she lost a friend to illness. He drowned in all of her expressions, ranging from the hottest of angers to melancholic smiles that stirred his being into existence. Never satisfied, never allowing herself to stop moving, marching on to the abyss.
He wanted to be there with her, let his roughened fingers spider across her bare beck, possess her but not claim her. An artist like her was a bird, withering when caged. Nobody could claim Renata. It would crush her. And then some day, someone did try. Instead of leaving the night after their rendezvous, he continued to court her in the most obstinate of ways. Not a day went by without a new bouquet of flowers showing up at her doorstep, the usual nights out doubled so he could take her to hidden wonders and adoring bistros and films neither of them understood.
He knew she only did it to humour her, of course he knew. Renata wasn’t the type to fall in love. His equal in that way. Yet he couldn’t help but seeing red every time that man showed up again. He was so focused on his own hatred that he forgot to see it coming.
The first time he hit her, all three of them were astonished. The Devil because he really should have known, actually knew but ignored the fact… What had blinded his vision? She for obvious reasons, because even though he wasn’t the first to have hit her he was the first she actually liked as more than a simple hook-up. He because it hadn’t been his intention, but he somehow lost control. She wouldn’t let herself be comforted at first, his pleading only adding to the hot tears she tried to bite back. The Devil wanted to go down and punish him, but it wasn’t up to him to take people before their time. True, he could make a deal with him, trick him into selling his soul and then make him bleed… But why on earth would he do that? What could he possibly hope to gain from that?
They stayed together, she reluctantly accepting his apologies after a night of him sitting outside her bedroom door. He moved in with her, their weekly routine becoming daily. They had it good for a while. The second time he hit her was because she had been paying too little attention to him, concentrating on the paintings she had set aside to please him. By the third time, their spectator knew he could no longer look at this display. He was killing her. Not literally, but the fire in her eyes was extinguished to a burning slumber, she had become too tame. Something needed to be done.
And thus the first of her boyfriends killed himself without any explanation. Renata was heartbroken, the sudden death really getting to her. He wondered if he had made a mistake, getting rid of him so soon. But after the funeral, few weeks since his death, she began to paint with twice as much vigour. No longer the sad broken things she had painted while being with him, but huge monstrous lashes and outbursts, flaming birds and dancing nooses. She had found her passion once more, and he happily continued to be fascinated by her.
Jacques died of food-poisoning. Pierre got run-over by a bus. Louis slid his wrists. After each death the paintings got more grotesque, her fire burning brighter and brighter, all-consuming fury the only thing to keep driving her on and on and on… He should have seen the explosion coming as well.
It was when Henry tried to propose to her that she snapped. As if something inside her overflowed, broke or erupted. Henry was quickly cornered by a knife-wielding witch.
“Are you going to die too?!” she spat, words followed by maniacal laughter. Her eyes went unfocused, no longer recognizable. “Are you going to leave me just like everyone else?! Are you the next to torture me into inspiration?!”
“Nat, please, don’t do this-“ He gurgled up blood when the knife plummeted into his throat, one, two, eight times, before he sagged to the ground. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, but still wasn’t dead.
“Just die now! If you’re going to leave me anyway, just do it right now! That’s the only thing all of you want right?! TO SEE ME SURRENDER TO INSANITY?!” For a moment she held the knife to her own stomach, hands trembling as they lay on the handle. She let out a sound like that of an animal, something screaming the most intense agony on the background of an intense unexplainable pleasure. She didn’t do it, didn’t have to.
Her face was stained with tears when she looked up at the source of that voice. Henry was staring at her with a compassionate gaze, blood still leaking from his throat but no longer dying. Or perhaps he already had, and this was just a hallucination.
“I am sorry for everything I put you through. But it was all for the greater good.”
“How can any of this be for the greater good?!” she yelled back, not in the least surprised by his strange words. She had gone mad, she knew she had. Nothing would surprise her now, not even flying octopi or the actual existence of all creatures legends and fairy tales told about.
And then Henry stood up, supporting his neck with combined hands, legs a bit wobbly. “I have one final request from you before I will put you to rest. Before I… before I leave you at peace. I am a selfish creature, that everyone should know. I never thought myself capable of wanting something so bland.”
“Who are you?” she asked, voice sharp and shrill, but with understanding eyes, as if she already knew.
He simply smiled. “I want you to paint me.”
Not many people could say they had the Devil fall for them and lived to tell the tale. Neither could Renata. He had always known her fire was too consuming. She burnt herself alive after their encounter, finally finding what she looked for in those flames.
He had seen millions of souls pass through his gates. Some worse than others, some not belonging but going there either way. Once they reached their destination, he had no means of contacting them unless they came to him. It were the lower ranked demons who took care of the punishment. So the day Renata came to his home, he only had her painting to stare at as a reminder of his weakness.
She had drawn him, not the way she saw him, but the way her hatred towards him felt. It depicted two people, neither of them human, a dark shadow and a beastlike phoenix, dancing an odd tango at the edge of the abyss. His face was that of a madman, but for some reason she wore the same expression. As if she understood their kinship in her madness, as if they were alike despite coming from two different worlds.
The Devil didn’t fall in love. Certainly not with pitiable humans.
But that painting never left his side for the rest of eternity.
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