Devil’s Yellow Shirt [A Short Story]

Despite some misgivings over it, and especially over its ending, I will post this story here and let the grand populace decide. Or the grand ten or so who actually care. I hope you enjoy!

Devil woke up one morning and lay in bed for a few minutes, savoring the feeling of his good mood. Eventually he got out of bed and decided to wear his yellow button-down shirt to work today. He was, after all, in a good mood, so why not celebrate it with some color?

Devil walked through the small corridor of his apartment and entered his equally small and narrow kitchen. He put some toast in the toaster and turned it on. Then he waited patiently for the toast to pop up, put the toast on a plate, buttered it at the table, and went on to munch it. When he was done, he carefully put his plate in the sink. He then went to wash his hands, face and neck, and to put on a pair of pants- something he had forgotten to do before.

Devil started every morning with this blissfully human routine. Then, every morning, he walked to the bus stop, and took the bus to work. Not many people in his office did the work as well or as joyfully as Devil did. Devil prided himself on his good work, as well as his line of work, one that he felt was particularly devilish. What Devil did was this: he looked at a lot of files of sick people, and figured out how to not get them the current financing they needed for their current malady, whatever that happened to be. Devil figured he was probably contributing to Hell a lot more now than he did when he was actually IN Hell. By not giving many people the financial help they needed, a good percentage of them would die due to the lack of help, and after all, there were many more people in Hell than in Heaven, so a good percentage of the dead people would end up in Hell.

Another thing Devil prided himself on, apart from being exceedingly good at his job, was his physical appearance. He did not have horns. Nor did he have a pointy tail or cloven hooves. He wasn’t even very red most of the time, except when he ate Indian food of course. Devil actually chose time and again to be squat, balding, round and clean cut. This gave him the overall appearance of being utterly harmless, something that amused Devil greatly all through the centuries.

Devil had ruled Hell ever since it had been created by the human mind. He hadn’t done very much in Hell after a while, because eventually there were so many people there, that he got to delegate most of his responsibilities to some of the ones who had been there long enough to know how everything worked. Today though, Devil had no idea what Hell looked like, because he hadn’t set foot in the place for some 300 years or so. He assumed that, were he to go back today, it would look very much like a shopping mall. A very large and particularly infuriating shopping mall.

The reason Devil left Hell all those years ago was the very simple fact of his name. A boy, no older than 10 or 11, had ended up in Hell, and Devil, while doing his routine check that everything was getting done, happened to have a chat with the boy. First he learned that the boy had killed his dog when he was 4, and that he had been sure that he would end up in Hell, which in face, was what made him end up in Hell. Then the boy had pointed out to Devil that if he spelled his name backwards it would be Lived. Of course Devil just patted the boy on the head and sent him off to play, but then he thought about it for a while. Then he thought about it a bit more and realized just how ironic that was. Because of course Devil had never lived. He had existed for what felt like forever, but he had never LIVED. Not like all the people who came to Hell had.

So Devil, who considered himself somewhat the adventurous type, decided to live. He went into the world for the first time, and created himself as Robert Livingston. Then he became James Livingston and then, for a while, Charlotte Livingston. Then he decided he’d much rather stay male, and kept changing his name and whereabouts for centuries. That way, he never had to deal with the same people for too long, and he didn’t have the problem of needing to die at some point. About two hundred years ago he started a tradition, something to make his leaving and moving about a bit more interesting. On his last day in a place, he would tell the person he most got along with in that place that he was Devil really. He enjoyed the different responses people gave him and how they changed over time. He got a lot of Perhaps-You-Should-Talk-To-The-Preacher-About-This responses, and a lot of Oh-Lord-What-Do-You-Mean-By-That responses. Mostly though, he got Ha-Ha-Then-Where-Are-Your-Horns responses.

This particular day, the yellow shirt day, was Devil’s last day in his current town. He felt sad about it, because he would have to move far away and change profession and name, because people were so easily traceable these days what with Google and all. Still, his good mood would not be ruined, and he would give himself a good last day.

He got to work, sat at his desk, and ruined people’s lives for a while. At 12:35 he decided to take his lunch break, and he asked his best friend in the office, Mort, to join him.

Devil and Mort got along splendidly ever since they realized that they both didn’t feel any guilt over what they were being paid to do. Devil had decided more than five years ago that Mort would be the one he would tell the truth to on the day of his departure. He knew that perhaps he should stop his silly game, most especially because of the rash promise he made to himself about a hundred years back. But Devil was addicted by now, he just HAD to see people’s reactions and then never see them again.

So Devil took Mort down to the cafeteria, and they both got strong coffees and big salads and even bigger bags of potato-chips. They sat down at a table and talked for a while about the weather, about politicians and about the crime rates. Once they’d both polished off their meals and burped and groaned for a while, Devil decided it was time.

‘Mort, buddy,’ Devil began. ‘Today’s my last day on the job.’

‘What? Why, what happened, Ned?’ Mort replied, taken off guard. He very much liked Devil, or Ned, and didn’t want to be the only guilt-free one in the office again.

‘My mother, she lives in Paris and she’s sick as a dog. I’ve got to go take care of her. Haven’t got a choice. My poor mother did everything for me,’ Devil spun his little stories completely at random each time he left. He enjoyed seeing what his human imagination would crop up with each time.

‘Ah, buddy, I’m sorry to hear that. Any idea when you’ll be back?’

‘Not a clue, old pal, not a clue. I can tell you one thing though,’ Devil paused and waited for Mort to say ‘What?’ which he obligingly did. ‘I can tell you something real weird. I’m Devil, Mort. No joke, old buddy, I’m really THE Devil. The one who supposedly tortures the damned and all that.’

Mort stared, and then he chortled, and then he said ‘Ha! If you’re the Devil, where are your horns, huh?’ and then he chortled some more.

Devil thought to himself, Damn, and then he regretted his promise. Devil was a man of his word, and even if the promise had been to himself, he had to follow it through.

‘Aw, Mort, why’d you have to go and say that? See, I made a little promise to myself. You know those ads online, the ones that blink all these colors so you notice them. The ones that say something like “You’re the millionth person to see this ad! That means YOU win a prize! Click the banner for more details!”?’

‘Yeah,’ Mort wasn’t quite following what was going on.

‘You know how whenever you see that you know for sure that it’s a lie and that you’re not the millionth on that site and you’ll only get a virus if you click on the banner?’ Devil pressed on.

‘Uh, yeah, but buddy, what has this got to do with-‘

‘Well, see,’ Devil interrupted the wary Mort. ‘You really are the millionth person who’s asked me that stupid question about the horns. And you know I’m a man of my word, Mort. And I made myself a little promise that on the day I’d hear the millionth person ask me that question, I’d give him a little prize. And the prize would be, I’d go back to Hell and I’d stop making that person a consort and friend of the Devil. So there you go, Mort. It’s too bad, I enjoyed being here. Goodbye.’

Devil then seemed to drift out of his yellow shirt, as if he turned into mist, and then the yellow shirt and his pants were just draped over the chair, and his shoes and socks lay on the floor.

Mort stared at the chair with the clothes on it. Then he looked around. Nobody else in the cafeteria seemed to have noticed what went on. That is, no one noticed that a person – the Devil? – seemed to have disappeared out of his clothing. Mort stood up and looked around again. Nobody took any notice of him still. He walked calmly up to his cubical in the office, sat down and thought for a moment.

He wondered what was better, the Devil being IN Hell or OUT of it. He decided that for him at least, it was good for the Devil to be IN Hell. When he got to Hell, he would at least have someone to play golf and have a nice chat with.

Mort thought for another minute, and then walked back to the cafeteria and took the yellow shirt from the chair Devil had been sitting in, which no one had touched yet. He thought to himself ‘At least I got a fine yellow shirt on this odd day’. That made him cheerful, and Mort whistled to himself about his free shirt all afternoon.

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2 thoughts on “Devil’s Yellow Shirt [A Short Story]

  1. At his feet were shells that he couldn’t recognise; like something from a prehistoric time on another planet; a planet deep in the endless mire of the cosmos. Ships moved, like illusions, on a horizon barely distinguishable from the silver sky; as they meet somewhere, far into an abstract distance.

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