The Bet by Nicole Dragonbeck

For Maria Keramari. Thank you for the wonderful story starter!

It’s a wonderful world indeed…the Devil smiled with delight, her beautiful face lighting up like a spring flower. The sun was shining, pretty, golden-haired children were laughing as they ate laughed and ate ice cream, and a sickening goodness leaked out of the pores of the world. A perfect place to spread a little wickedness.

“What are you thinking?” a voice came from behind her.

The Devil turned. A sorry-looking young man stood there in a tattered coat. His face was criss-crossed with scars, and he had a gangly awkwardness which either made one want to slap some confidence into him, or hug him. The Devil sniffed.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

The angel smiled. “Probably something like what you’re doing here.”

“Highly doubtful,” the Devil said. “Why don’t you fly away and go bug someone else?”

“But you’re so much fun to annoy,” the angel replied.

“They don’t like you, you know,” the Devil said. “You scare them.”

“There’s more to being likable than a pretty face,” the angel said.

“I’ll make you a bet,” the Devil said. “If I can get one of those delightful brats to come with me over you, then you have to leave me alone.”

“And if I can convince the child to come with me?” the angel asked in a mild voice.

“Well, then…then…you know…” the Devil waved his hand.

“You have to say it out loud,” the angel said. “It doesn’t work otherwise.”

“Then I’ll bugger off,” the Devil grumbled. “Happy?”

“Very,” the angel said. He seated himself on the grass, pulled out a notebook and began to draw. He glanced up at the Devil. “I believe you have the pick of the…what did you call them?…delightful brats.”

The Devil turned, eyes roaming, and picked out a likely candidate. The child was chubby, and wearing designer clothes. His face was unimpressed, his mouth turned down in a pout. The Devil pointed. If the angel was disappointed, he didn’t show it.

“Very well.”

The Devil sauntered over, and knelt down so she was eye to eye with the petulant child. “What’s your name, little boy?”

“Bobby,” the child said suspiciously. “Who’re you?”

“A friend,” the Devil said, holding out her hand. “Would you like to see something fantastic?”

“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” Bobby said.

“Well, we’ve met now, so we’re not strangers anymore,” the Devil said with a winning smile. “I’ve got a pony over there, with saddlebags full of candy. Wouldn’t you like a ride?”

The boy looked to where she pointed. A little distance away, a piebald pony munched on the grass, swishing a white tail. A golden saddle sat on his back, and chocolates and fruit-flavored candy spilled out of the golden bags on either side.

“I’ve never ridden a pony,” Bobby looked excited and scared.

“Well, come on then!” the Devil said with a bright smile.

Bobby smiled back at her, and took her hand. She led him straight past the angel. The angel said nothing. He did not even look up from his drawing. A calm aura exuded from him, and his smile was enchanting. As the Devil attempted to pull Bobby faster, the child slowed, looking at the ragged man with a curious expression.

“Who’s that?” he asked.

“Nobody, just a dirty old bum,” the Devil sniffed. “We don’t talk to people like that.”

At that moment, the angel looked up at Bobby. His eyes were kind. “Hello there.”

“Hi,” Bobby said.

The angel continued drawing, his hand moving idly.

“What are you doing?” Bobby asked, beginning to pull from the Devil’s hand. The Devil tightened her grip, blood-red nails digging into his skin. Bobby gave a startled yelp. Her smile was pained as she looked down at him.

“Don’t you want to ride the pony?” she asked.

“Well, yes,” Bobby said.

“Then come on,” the Devil wheedled, tugging at his arm.

Bobby shrugged and started walking. As he passed the angel, he glanced down at the notebook. His eyes brightened with wonder, and he wriggled free from the Devil’s grip. Bobby seated himself beside the angel, watching his fingers move the pencil across the paper.

“What is that?” the little boy asked.

“It’s a story I’m working on,” the angel said. He tilted the notebook so the child could see better. “This is Charlie. He had a friend named Billy…”

The angel continued the story about Charlie and Billy and their adventures, illustrating as he spoke. The little boy was enraptured.

“That’s not even a real thing!” the Devil shrieked when the angel began to tell of Charlie’s quest for the Crown of Friendship to rescue his friend Billy who had been trapped on the Island of Loneliness.

“Shhh!” Bobby scolded. “I want to hear what happens.”

“What about the pony?!” the Devil said, tearing at her hair so little tufts began to come out, leaving bald patches of her scalp showing.

“Later,” Bobby promised absently, staring at the pictures on the page. “Tell me what happened to Charlie.”

The angel smiled and continued his telling, while the Devil fumed behind him. After a while, a woman came up with a frantic expression on her face.

“Robert Daniel Johnson!” she gasped when she saw him. “What have I told you about talking to strangers?”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” the angel said with a warm smile. “I didn’t mean any harm. Bobby was just helping me with the children’s story I’m writing.”

“Oh,” Bobby’s mother didn’t know what else to say. “Well, it’s time for dinner now. Bobby, come along!”

Bobby got up. “I really want to know what happens to Charlie and Billy.”

“Why, they remain friends and teach each other what it means to be a good person,” the angel said.

Bobby smiled, then walked away looking over his shoulder at the angel. The Devil glared at the angel, a black cloud hanging over her head.

“I think you lost,” the angel commented. “Again.”

“One of these days,” she spat at him. “I’ll win and pluck you like the overgrown chicken you are.”

“Perhaps,” the angel said. He held out the notebook. “Would you like to read the ending?”

The Devil scowled, and disappeared in a puff of red smoke. The angel smiled and lay back on the grass. It truly was a wonderful world indeed.

 

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