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All the Charms of Hell

(by DIMPLES OF ENTICING INNOCENCE accented her smile. He found it impossible not to look at her. Only with the greatest effort could he even hear his wife’s words. The angelic creature seated alone behind Sheila had captured and bound him, and he had not the capability to gaze elsewhere. Sheila would catch him staring, she would turn in her chair to find the object of his attention, and she would be hurt. So be it. He would gaze until then. But Sheila didn’t notice. Even when he failed to respond intelligently to the waiter’s query, Sheila didn’t suspect. Her belief in him dampened any inclination to doubt. If her countenance darkened at all, it was not from suspicion, but concern. “Lewis?” The gentle change in her tone took hold of his consciousness and pulled at him, dragging his eyes from the golden-haired vision seated not ten feet away. “I’m sorry, honey. I was just thinking about a problem the boss handed me today. Don’t let me spoil our Saturday night with talk of work.” He would have time later to hate himself for the lie. But for now, and as long as the angel allowed, he would stare. Her beauty simply demanded that he do so. Sheila pushed her chair back, effectively blocking his view. “I’ll be right back,” she said. “Can you order more wine?” Bliss interrupted. In those few seconds, Lewis scanned the restaurant and bar to see if the other men present were looking at the girl. In that way he might confirm that her charm was genuine, and thus he could to some extent excuse his unfaithfulness. They weren’t looking. Why the hell not? One gentleman, however, was staring at him. He sat at the bar, his face partially obscured by the heavy smoke of a slim cigar that dangled from the corner of his mouth. Let him stare. Sheila’s absence would be all too brief. He deliberately returned his attention to the girl. Again, she met his eyes and smiled. In doing so, the lips parted ever so slightly, and the dimples awoke, creating that contrast of innocence and beauty that quickened his heart. Emotional weakness gripped him. As she turned her head away, the smile faded, and the flowing yellow curls caught the light of the single candle at her table. The ringlets danced and flashed, like fairies frolicking in the moonlight. He imagined himself close enough to lay a hand into that soft magic. She wore white—an almost plain gown of cotton, adorned only with modest lace at the neck and cuffs. The simplicity of that was only fitting, he mused. No flourish or style of any kind could illumine her already perfect features. Sheila severed the trance by returning and seating herself. The minutes of her absence had seemed only microseconds of unbridled indulgence, and her shadow across him now was a fall from grace. “My goodness, service is slow,” she said. He saw her hand at the empty wineglass. “I’ll see about it,” he said, realizing she thought he had already ordered. He took the few steps to the bar. With unexplained relief, he saw that the man with the cigar had his back to him, his head encased in smoke. Lewis requested the chardonnay. Waiting for it, he looked for the girl. The disappointment at seeing her leaving struck him hard. As the restaurant door closed behind her, a sense of loss pervaded his being, like some special part of his life had suffered erosion. Truly, she had enchanted him. He would not forget her. Turning back to the bar, he felt the eyes of the cigar smoker upon him. Then the stranger’s smoke enveloped him and he was mildly angered. He couldn’t be certain if the distress came with the smoker’s rudeness, or was a direct result of the missed chance for another look at the girl. He jerked his eyes to the man, deliberately challenging him. Well dressed he was, and well postured. Slight of form, and perhaps handsome in spite of the pockmarked face that was not quite defined through the haze of smoke. He wore a suit of gray tweed, obviously tailor made. His hair lay flat against his skull, swept back and plastered down. It fell to the collar of his white shirt and beyond. The smoke cleared momentarily with the wind created by a passer-by, and in that moment Lewis stepped back, an involuntary reflex against what he saw. The man’s eyes were yellow! Perhaps from sickness, he rationalized. But why would one who was ill enough to have those eyes smoke so heavily? Only then did he realized that the cigar was no shorter than when he first saw it. It should have at least developed ashes. The ashtray on the bar was clean. Lewis moved away and returned to Sheila, without the wine. Tonight, he told himself, he had been in close proximity to an angel and a demon.
*     *     * Lewis lay awake beside his wife of five years, the woman he loved more than life—and thought of the girl at the restaurant. One door away, his son Elliott slumbered in a dreamland leagues apart from any hint of an unfaithful father. And yet, when Lewis recalled the visage of the young goddess, his guilt died, leaving him to wonder how his life-long moral values could be so easily dismissed. Perhaps the girl’s departure from his world was the best thing. For the first time in his married life, he realized that he was capable of wanting another woman. It wasn’t lust. It was something indefinable, even ineffable. At dawn, in the comfortable low light of home, he gazed upon Sheila’s sleep-laden complexion, half covered now by the long waves of auburn hair he had believed, not one day ago, held the starlight of heaven. Now that same delicate face, although no different than before, paled in comparison to the fresh memory of the mysterious girl. Even though that memory had kept him in a state of mental adultery, depriving him of peace, he treasured it. Sheila stirred and opened her eyes to find him staring. Misinterpreting, she pulled him close, offering the affection he had lived for until last night.
*     *     * He dutifully attended church, following Sheila and leading his son to the pew situated four rows from the front, the place he was expected to be and the place that seemed out of place today. He seated himself at the aisle, as always. Sunlight pierced the stained glass windows and splattered across the walls and floor in patterns of broken color. The clear spring morning had enticed most of the flock to attend today, and the pews were filling rapidly with chattering women, reluctant children, and men wearing false smiles.  Lewis watched them as they passed and mingled, realizing for the first time in his thirty-three years that his life was as bland as theirs. Then the sanctuary was full and the ushers closed the doors. Voices were subsiding as the seconds tumbled forward to eleven o’clock. Just as the minister stood, she stopped at his side. He turned his face to find her there, the girl from the restaurant. The confused colors from the window lay upon the same cotton dress, seemingly darkened now against the beauty that a rainbow of colors could never hope to match. Lewis tried to comprehend, to make sense of what was happening. He could but gawk. Her eyes were toward the pulpit, as if expecting something. He stood, not hearing Sheila’s alarmed whisper.  “Miss, might I help you find a seat?” he asked.  He felt stupid, unworthy." Her eyes fell full upon his face then, and all else in the world vaporized to nothing. A blue-green, those eyes, darker and deeper than any earthly ocean. The depth and color flooded him, reaching every part, holding him fast, and drowning his ability to receive from any other source.  She leaned in toward him, stopping inches from his face. Surely, the ecstasy would prove too much and he would die. “He seeks my soul.” “The minister?” He ignored Sheila’s tugs at his coat. “His fire burns deep, but will never consume. He would take me there.” “What? I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Perhaps we should . . .” Sheila tugged harder. “Lewis, sit down. Who are you talking to?” He turned to his wife, to speak, but then turned back to the girl. She was headed for the door. Not this time, he told himself. To hell with the consequences. He walked rapidly after her, catching her sleeve just as she reached to open the door. “Excuse me, please. You needn’t leave. I’m afraid I didn’t understand what you said just now. Perhaps I can help you. What is it?” This time she didn’t look at him. She kept her hand at the door handle. “I cannot be here.” He lost her in the glare of the springtime sun that pushed its way in through the opening door. He would have followed, but for Sheila, who stood with him now searching his face for an answer. “What’s wrong with you?” That question from anyone else would have implied anger. He saw the genuine concern in eyes that studied his face.
 “Nothing. I just thought she needed help, that’s all.”
“Who?”
“The girl that just left. I thought she needed help.”
“There was no girl, Lewis.”
“Of course there was. The same girl that was in the restaurant last night. Didn’t you see her?” He heard a rustling of shifting bodies as the congregation turned to stare.
Sheila, her face reddening from embarrassment, beckoned Elliott with her eyes.  She pulled her husband outside. “Let’s go home.”
     *     *     *
Yellow-eyes sat in the rocking chair on their front porch, smoking. Sheila walked by him without a glance, and held the door open for Elliott. They entered without Lewis. The man in the chair wore the same clothes he had worn the night before. The suit looked as fresh as it had then. His hair had that same slicked-down, wet look. The cigar was no shorter.
“She’s due in Hell, boy. I’ve come to take her. Don’t interfere.” “Who are you? Who is she?
“Her name’s Inessa. She’s a spirit, nothing more. For her to stay in the world, a mortal must accept her. She has selected you. I mean to prevent it from occurring again.”
 “Again?” “She died in the seventeenth century. She’s had six mortals since then. As each died, she took the next. They were all weak, like you.” “I don’t believe you.” The statement came out watery.
“You will. Why do you think you can see her for only minutes at a time? She can’t maintain mortal form for long periods. Neither can I. She and I, we’re the same in that regard. Our difference is that she was born a mortal; I, in Hell.” “So, you’re Satan?”  Lewis attempted to laugh.
“Don’t be stupid. I belong to him. I have no identity you can comprehend. I tell you my purpose so you’ll know to keep clear. When Inessa fails to attach herself, she’ll be mine."
“Not if I can help it.” The fear that had begun to settle in upon him was vanquished, replaced with anger. Never would he allow this yellow-eyed devil to come close to her, much less possess her. “Get away from my house. Go back to Hell, if that’s where you’re from.”
“I see she’s already made some progress with you. It’s her looks, right? That was her downfall in life, too. She had no self-control over men’s advances. She died the queen of sluts. The six she enslaved after she died found their way to Hell, eventually. They were sinful men who abandoned responsibilities to partake of her charms. You’re next, apparently.” He took the cigar from his mouth. “She belongs in Hell, boy. Her contract with you will be sealed if you accept it verbally. Stay clear. I’m telling you I’ll do what’s necessary.”
The only trace of him now was the lingering smoke that refused to rise in the warm air. It  sank instead, then crawled like snakes along the porch floor to the edge, and disappeared over the side.
*     *     *
They fought that evening, Lewis and Sheila. Their first fight. In his confusion and frustration, he lashed out with harmful words spat at her in hateful tones. He hinted at her lack of beauty and her imperfect shape. He told her plainly he didn’t want her so close, that he needed space. The phrases were daggers, driving deep, killing affection. Her words were kinder, but convicting. She shoved the truth at him, not backing away until she had it all out. All the indicators were there, she said. It had to be another woman.
He left the house, his fury swirling in his head as he stepped across the back porch into the twilight. Inessa was there, a warm, healing glow, waiting for him. She had her hand out to him, and she beckoned with her eyes. He looked back toward the screen door he had just slammed. Sheila still stood in the light of the kitchen, wiping at the tears. His guilt and shame were taken from him by Inessa’s allure. He went to her, and took the proffered hand. The softness of her skin was warm, and mortal. The demon wanted her, certainly, but not because she was evil. That simply could not be. She stepped in close, bringing her sweetness and the scent of lilac. A barely detectable smile parted the naturally red lips, creating the dimples, seducing him, until he knew he must kiss her or perish from desire.  The sensation of the kiss inebriated him; the ambrosial sweetness of her mouth stole his strength. She pulled back then, slightly, to give him another glimpse into those turquoise pools of angelic light.
“Lewis, will you care for me? Will you stay with me?” An explosion behind him violently severed the moment. He turned to see flames darting from the kitchen door. Sheila! He ran.
Inessa called to him. “Lewis, no, no, no! It’s a trick! Give me your answer, quickly!"
He jumped into the fire, taking the burns, searching for Sheila. The demon stood in the kitchen amidst the fire, smiling behind the cigar and holding a gasoline can. On through to the front of the house he ran, his speed fanning the flames that consumed his clothing. Just as he entered the front room, he saw her. Sheila had Elliott in a blanket, and she was headed for the front door. Lewis cried out, but the heated smoke had so damaged his lungs that no sound escaped him. When Sheila opened the door, the draft brought a rush of fire that tore into him suddenly, taking him down to the hot floor where it lapped at his flesh. *     *     *
The yellow-eyed demon sat cross-legged on a smoldering stool. He held a huge record book on his lap, open to the last page. He was engaged in making an entry. Beside him stood a female corpse in a white cotton gown. Inessa? She glared at Lewis with eyes not dark with color now, but with bile and contempt. The demon spoke, his voice somewhere between a growl and a hiss. “Inessa, look who’s here. It’s your good friend, Lewis. Lewis, my boy, glad you could make it.” “Damn your sarcasm. Where in hell am I?”
“Northeast sector, Lewis. But don’t worry about that. You’ll have plenty of time to find your way around. Plenty of time.”  
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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