“It feels good in my hands,” Mitchell says, holding Chance’s device.
“Of course she does, Mitchell,” Chance whispers.
It’s after midnight. Mitchell and Chance stand in the middle of a dirt crossroads in the Vermont wilderness, far north of Mitchell’s city home but near his childhood home. A full Moon glows silver. Four lances of dirt fire off like the points of a compass rose.
Chance stands at the dead center in its dark suit, waiting for closure. It breathes one deep breathe per minute. The creature stares at Mitchell with large, hungry red eyes and a sharp smile. The black-haired, charismatic body it wears like clothing belongs to a man of twenty-five. Heat waves shimmer around it.
And Mitchell, thirty-eight and with thinning brown hair, wears his good, worn grey work suit. He’s almost handsome in the desperate clothing he bought after Victoria (not Vicky) left him over a decade before. He changed his life wearing it, though not well: so Chance called. And now Mitchell feels ideal at last, fingers intoxicated by the warm, glowing gift. He feels like a good man, for the first time since his little sister Lilly died, two decades before.
He looks only down and never up, sighing at the device’s rainbow light and fiery moonstone glistening. Chance seems like only a mile marker on a midnight highway.
For some reason he thinks of Victoria, just after she asked him out in high school, when she felt good in his hands as well. She gave him a chance to matter, the way his cold law office job didn’t after she eviscerated him and vanished, after he built a shack of the pieces she’d broken him into. But before, in high school, she’d given him his chance to be like his parents, for whom he felt so much awe. And she gave him a chance to create something unaccountably redemptive and good, just like they did, with Lilly, and with the wakeful story her existence wrote in the great novel of the World. He clung to those chances Victoria offered, which she seemed to wear like articles of clothing. He struggled to live, through her, what his father told him about romance. And he tried to find her beautiful, the way others, and even he, knew she deserved.
But he couldn’t. He hit some dark wall. Hard.
Yet in memory, at the crossroads, Victoria seems beautiful at last. And he feels joy. The feeling is like justice.
“Yes,” he thinks. “This is good. Happiness.”
A crow’s cry grates the air. Chance takes his breath.
“How nice,” it says, “for a soul disappointed by where its path has led.”
“I couldn’t see far enough,” Mitchell whispers to the device.
“You remember what blind love feels like, Mitchell. Future be damned.”
“But for the first time I’m not blind,” Mitchell replies.
“Imagination pretends to be eyes, at times,” Chance says. “Now tell it what you wanted from life, before.”
Mitchell’s lip trembles. Ruby red light pulses up at him.
“Children,” he says, moved to tears. “Like… L-Lilly. To fix the future, and life.”
“Future be damned,” Mitchell answers, in love with the present. “I want you.”
“I love it,” Mitchell murmurs.
“Of course,” Chance echoes.
Chance stands atop the buried, carved container full of infernal summoning ingredients. Its arms hang at its side, fingers twitching and tipped with manicured talons that grow, and then retract.
A dark beetle lands on its arm, disintegrating in a flash of smoke. It regards the grey puff just as it regards Mitchell’s perfect, quick love of its gift.
A bat flies overhead, sounding for insects. Chance looks up, gesturing. And the bat eats easy.
“Liars call me the Master of Lies,” Chance says, “They tell a story about me.”
“I see,” Mitchell replies, not listening.
“Love and Death manipulate men,” Chance chides, wagging a finger.
“In the story liars tell,” Chance continues, pleased, “I am a titanic crimson monster of the underworld, with horns rending the clouds. In the story, I hold a human in my grip, fingers burning his flesh and crushing his bones. In the story, Humanity stands far below, shaking its head upward at he whom I destroy. Humanity hisses at my victim’s pathetic weakness.” Chance chuckles. “Yet I go unnoticed.”
Mitchell sighs, caressing the device. Hell seems a star’s distance away. And, found down only one of four roads, it has to be easy to avoid.
“Can I be of service to you, Mitchell?” Chance asks, scratching its ear with a talon.
“Don’t let this moment end,” Mitchell replies, shivering.
Mitchell recalls his coming.
Hours before, he tossed, turned and sweated under sheets. He sobbed about life and loss, in his old way.
But then Chance’s dream graced him, impregnating him with peace and a clear mission. Mitchell felt immaculate and thunderstruck. Jolting up, he felt alive, for the first time in years.
He left his apartment in a rush, leaping into his car and driving away. While driving for hurried hours, as the dream ordered, he collected ingredients for a spell: a photo of himself, graveyard dirt, and a black cat’s bone. Then, as ordered, he left his beat up red Buick a mile south of the meeting place. Walking to the crossroads, he gasped to find a small, carved cedar fighter jet waiting for him on the ground. Carved all out of proportion, with a huge cockpit and tiny wings, it rested on the road the way he always rested his favorite toy fighter jet in Creepy Fern’s potting dirt, as a child in his parents old house. He touched the cockpit, realizing it was a lid. Flipping it up, he found a compartment. Looking up, he realized the crossroads held a strange, bothersome, untraceable familiarity. Shaking it off, he put the ingredients inside, and his bother, inside. Then with scraping fingers he buried everything.
Then Chance appeared. It gave over the device with easy generosity, and bother suffocated to death.
Mitchell remembers all of that, grinning.
A cool midsummer breeze blows. He glances up and around for the first time in a long time, though avoiding Chance’s eyes. Deep forest fills three of the four crossroads corners, the central one backing Chance like a flowing cape. Only the corner behind Mitchell runs away with corn.
But then the view exhausts him. He looks down again, refreshed.
“So good,” he whispers.
The device is a thing of rare, infernal beauty, distracting him from reason with complicated curves, compartments and rainbow calm. He caresses its secret, warm and soulful power, over and over, as he caressed Victoria, years ago during the rare tiny hours after midnight. Though only the size of an orange or a beating heart, it weighs what a newborn baby might. Yet it seems always on the verge, with ancient edges, of cutting through the flesh of his hand, to white bone.
“You’ll just let me have it?” Mitchell asks Chance. “You’ll let me keep it?”
Chance laughs, shaking trees. Sleeping birds wake, screeching.
“Deal, Mitchell,” Chance replies.
“For real?” Mitchell asks.
“For soul,” Chance replies, more silken than his suit.
“Agreed. Anything. Anything!”
It’s as if he’s getting all of America, and for a mere string of beads.