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January 30th, in Short Fiction


By: Julia Lannik

Estimated reading time: 13 minutes, 5 seconds. Contains 2618 words

Mikey Anderson woke up in his bed, in his tiny little rental apartment overlooking the park. The sound of the birds in the park trees was fighting for dominance against the drone of city traffic, but Mikey’s windows, shut tight as they were, managed to cut out most of that noise on this Sunday morning. Mikey stretched out his legs past the edge of his blanket--his toes feeling the coolness of the room—-and in one swift motion pulled them back into comfort. His head was pounding, a dull, faraway drum of a massive hangover.

His twenty eight year old body could handle a lot of liquor, but his head was a different story. The pounding was getting stronger and somehow closer as well. Mikey reached his temples with his fingertips, and massaged them as he always did—-momentarily dulling the pain, but it inevitably came back in full force. He thought about going back to sleep, but his bladder was waking up as well and Mikey knew that sleep would not come unless he braved the chilly room and took care of business.

Mikey opened his eyes and stared at the dirty popcorn ceiling that he always called “the landlord special”. It was part of the whole package that went along with layers of wall paint which forever entombed loose hairs and stray pieces of dust—-a fresco of past tenants, as well as a shaggy carpet which may have been beige at some point in time, but was now unidentifiable in color. Mikey’s eyes slowly shifted towards the window, squinted against the brightness of the incoming light, and finally came to rest on a chair that usually held a pile of laundry. This morning the chair was occupied, but not by a pile of t-shirts and loose underwear. It was occupied by what can only be described as a half man-half goat.

Mikey’s eyes opened wide as the following things happened simultaneously and in the span of a moment: his body jerked up in bed, his blood drained from his face, his heart raced, his bladder shrunk back and the pounding in his head came to a complete halt. He wanted to close his eyes to make sure what he was seeing was actually there, but he could not. His eyelids refused to do anything but blink. Mikey observed the creature in the chair. The man-goat (or was it goat-man?) was looking back at him. He was small—-perhaps three feet in height, and he was wearing what looked like a tweed jacket with a wrinkly t-shirt underneath.

His bottom half was covered in coarse black hair and was completely unclad. His hoofs dangled from the edge of the chair and were crossed at the ankles. He was leaning to the right with his elbow resting on the chair arm—-his hand supporting a disproportionately large head. That head housed a set of beady dark eyes, a thin-lipped mouth framed by a goatee, and was crowned by a pair of small black horns nestled within a mop of messy black curls. The goat-man was silently looking straight at Mikey as Mikey was silently glaring back at him.

The goat-man spoke first. When he did, Mikey’s body jerked out of its stupor and his bladder and his head came back knocking with gusto. He felt a warm sensation between his legs spreading underneath him, and realized that he just peed the bed for the first time since he was five.

“Finally, you’re awake”, said the goat-man.

A voice that sounded surprisingly ordinary coming from such a body, he had no discernible accent. Mikey remained silent.

The goat-man continued, “I’ve been here for quite some time now, you know.”

He made a show of looking over the room.

“You should really clean up this place.”

Mikey opened his mouth to speak, but he felt like he swallowed a spoonful of sand. It felt like the first words out of his mouth would hurt like the devil.

The goat-man laughed. “You want to know who I am?”

It sounded more like a statement than a question, but Mikey nodded his head. He felt relief that he wouldn’t need to speak—-just yet.

“I’m the Devil, Mikey.”

With that, he shifted his body in the chair, assuming a new position of reclining back with his arms crossed. The silence resumed after what, to Mikey, seemed like an eternity.

“As much as I’m enjoying this pregnant pause, and you will learn the irony of this in a minute, you should really say something. At the very least I’m a guest in this, what you sadly call ‘home’.”

“I don’t believe in the Devil”, Mikey finally croaked.

Mikey cleared his throat hoping it would be followed by some saliva production. Not only did Mikey not believe in the Devil, he didn’t believe in God either. Rather, he didn’t know or care one way or the other. Mikey’s agnosticism, much like his Republicanism, was firmly rooted in ambivalence rather than conviction.

At that the Devil laughed.

“Your belief, Mikey, has little to do with my existence. I’m sure in the future you will tell yourself this was all a dream, or better yet, an alcohol-fueled nightmare. A delusion, if you will. But for the time being, seeing how I’ve come all this way to see you, I’d like you to at least suspend your disbelief and take me at my word.”

Mikey didn’t respond.

“Not that I have to prove anything to you,” the Devil now sounded annoyed, “but I know things about you Mikey. Things most people would not. Now, I could have easily found out that your name is Michael Anderson. That you’ve been called nothing but Mikey since the day you were born to a Marcia Anderson, a waitress at the Starlight Diner in Wichita, Kansas. Mommy raised you to be a decent boy, which was hard, going at it alone. She put you through college and sent you off to your first big job in a big city, plugging people’s salary numbers into accounting software.”

He paused and leaned forward.

“As an aside, you can really do better, Mikey.”

“So you know some stuff about me,” Mikey finally responded, “nothing Google couldn’t dig up.”

Mikey was grasping at straws and trying to rationalize the fact that not only was there a half man, half goat sitting in his bedroom, but that this creature was not lying.

The Devil audibly exhaled and leaned back again.

“I also know about your secret Playboy stash under your bed, the one you kept hidden from your mother until you moved out”.

At that, Mikey flinched and his face finally warmed to a rosy hue.

“I know about you playing doctor with your cousin Debbie behind the barn. About your cheating on your civics final, and more pertinently to our current encounter, about your late night escapades with Suzy Brown last night.”

Mikey felt like he was hit in the face. He felt a warming sensation again and was brought back to reality that he was sitting in bed in a puddle of urine that was quickly soaking into the mattress.

“Who is Suzy Brown?”

He asked so quietly no one could possibly hear it. But the Devil did.

“She’s the girl who went home with you from the bar last night. She told you her name was Allison, but given the circumstances, I thought it was only fair that you knew her real name.”

Mikey started to remember moments of last night. Jason’s going away party at the Red Dog Pub, a bunch of guys from work celebrating the man of the hour’s big move to the West Coast. Mikey vaguely remembered shots of tequila going around the room, losing more and more of his mind, and memory to the sweet warmth of alcohol. He remembered a pretty brunette at the end of the bar, her gaggle of friends laughing it up by the jukebox. He remembered buying her a drink and then he remembered nothing else. It was the middle of the night when he woke up in her bed.

They were both nude underneath a thin gauzy throw, their clothes strewn on the floor. Still intoxicated, Mikey put on his clothes, sans one sock he couldn’t quite locate, and made his way out into the street. The girl didn't stir. He vaguely remembered getting home in an Uber and collapsing onto his bed. His bed, the one he was currently sitting in, enveloped by a piss-stained blanket, looking at what appeared to be the Devil.

Recalling the nature of the chair the Devil was presently occupying, Mikey asked what he knew was nonsensical, but would give him time to formulate a better, more pertinent question which as present time was eluding him.

“Where are my clothes?” Mikey asked.

The Devil smiled and nodded towards the dresser.

“You put away my clothes?” Mikey asked, confused.

“Contrary to popular belief, Mikey, I abhor chaos and disorder, but don’t you fret. Once I’m gone your things will once again pile themselves onto this chair in perfect harmony with your inner being.”

Mikey didn’t know how to respond to this, but he finally came up with something worthwhile asking.

“Why are you here?” He said.

“Aha!” Replied the Devil.

The Devil became a lot more animated, as if he waited for this exact question to come out of Mikey’s mouth.

“Before I disclose my ultimate intentions here, let me ask you this, do you believe in free will?”

He said the words “free will” with a satisfied look on his face of a person just taking a sip of a ridiculously expensive fine wine.

Mikey nodded.

“I’m a big fan of free will,” the Devil continued.

“One of my finest accomplishments, one might say.”

He gave this statement the weight it required with a long pause.

“Now, free will as we know it has long been hindered by all of your rules, and laws, and religious edicts. As a ‘free-will purist’, if you will, I always try to remove as much ambiguity and as many constraints as possible so people like you Mikey, can exercise their free will in the way in which it was intended.”

He stopped here and shifted his body again.

“Now, to bring me to the matter at hand, I will disclose some information to you to which no one else is privy. Information that may change your life forever--or it may not.”

The Devil shrugged his shoulders at that and uncrossed his ankles.

“At this exact moment, my dear Mikey, one of your tiny little DNA carriers has made its way to the ultimate prize residing safely inside one Suzy Brown, of whom you made such a sudden, and dare I say, productive acquaintance.”

The Devil paused and watched in satisfaction as Mikey’s face drained of blood once again.

The Devil continued, “After an initial period of some soul searching, nine months hence our Suzy will deliver into this world a bouncing baby boy. If it weren’t for me being here right now you never would have learned of this development. I find it highly unfortunate that your free will of doing what you would naturally want to do with this information would so nonchalantly be circumvented.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Mikey asked, “To tell me that I’m going to be a father?”

“On the contrary, my boy, I’m here to tell you that you have fathered a child. Whether or not you’ll be a father, is entirely up to you.”

With that, the Devil leaned back and crossed his arms again.

“How do you know that she will keep the baby?” Mikey asked, “Can you see the future?”

“Yes and no,” the Devil replied.

“Remember free will? It tends to make a muddy mess of the future. I can tell you’re going to go to work tomorrow. I can tell what you will have for lunch because quite frankly, you’re a creature of habit. I can tell that Suzy will keep the baby because I know who she is and what she wants, but I can’t tell much beyond that because the further you get from now, the more factors can come into play and send the future in many different directions. So, Mikey, you can go on your merry way and live your life the way you have, not burdening yourself with a child you didn’t plan for. Or, you can make a different choice, the one your own father didn’t make.”

At that moment Mikey felt a stab in his heart.

“I’m here to give you all the information Mickey—-what you do with it is entirely up to you. I knew you’d never find an Allison again, but you can find a Suzy Brown.”

Mikey tried to wrap his head around this newfound wisdom, but the pounding intensified.

“What should I do?” Mikey asked.

The Devil shrugged his shoulders.

“I have no skin in this game Mikey”, he finally responded, “I’m just the Devil, doing what a devil does, meddling in human affairs. On the one hand, you can have a pretty comfortable life with a lovely future wife, who is now, as we sit here together, graduating from medical school. With a house in the suburbs, two kids and a dog, it’s a life anyone would envy Mikey. On the other hand, you can venture into the unknown with a woman you barely know and may not even like, just so you can see your son grow up and take him to his baseball games. Of course,” he paused, “one path precludes the other.”

He looked up at Mikey as if he expected a response. Mikey pulled the blanket around his shoulders.

“Then what’s in it for you?” Mikey asked.

The Devil scratched the top of his horned head.

“You know, Christianity did a real number on me and my image. I’m not evil. I’m not a sadist. I’m a humanist. I don’t sit on some ivory throne judging the world. I’m here, down in the trenches with all of you. I'm Prometheus, bringing you fire. I released you from the entrapment of the menagerie that was the Garden of Eden. I gave you the tools and the wisdom to finally gain your full potential. On a more personal level Mikey, I am here to give you the knowledge you need to become who you want to be, and I’m not even asking for my pound of flesh.”

“You live among us?” Mikey whispered.

Mikey’s gaze fell to the bottom half of Devil’s body. At that, the Devil smiled.

“Oh Mikey, I don’t really look like this. In fact, I don’t really look like anything. My corporeal form is whatever people expect me to be. My personal favorite is a fire-breathing dragon, but those don’t happen too often anymore.”

Mikey opened his mouth to ask more questions, but the Devil held up his hand in a stopping motion.

“I did what I came here to do, Mikey, I really must get going now, before your mind completely dissociates from all reality.”

The Devil jumped off the chair, swiftly landing on the floor, and made his way to the door. Somehow Mikey knew that as soon as his visitor opened the door and disappeared behind it, he would never see him again.

“Hey!” Mikey finally found the voice enough to shout, “If you exist, does that mean that he exists?”

The Devil paused at the door and turned around to look at Mikey one last time.

“Who's to say we’re not one and the same?”

With that, he opened the door and walked out of the room.

Mikey remained in his bed for a while after. The sun’s rays moved across the room, falling onto his dresser, his bed, and the chair the Devil occupied hours before. He would have sat for hours more if his bladder hadn’t made itself known again. This time, Mikey got out of bed and made his way to the bathroom. As he stood in front of the toilet letting it all flow, he made a plan to get some coffee, pop a few Aspirins, and throw his bedding in the wash.

Julia Lannik

About the Author:

Julia Lannik is an MBA student at Louisiana State University and is passionate about storytelling and the art of reading and writing fiction. She draws her inspiration from works of magical realism--her favorite author being Haruki Murakami.