Preface

Depression is a shadow many people live within, as I have all my life. As a creative and passionate person, I’ve somehow been able to manage my own highs and lows. But I truly understand that dark place you may find yourself in.

I know how hard it is, and I believe the real strength is being able to admit it. Depression is nothing you should be ashamed of. You are a person with a big heart. It may sound cliché’ but let someone know how you feel. Sometimes we cry and that’s okay. You may feel like you lost the fight but you haven’t lost the war.

I wrote this story a while ago and a friend told me how it has comforted her many times. And recently, I lost a friend to this condition and felt this story is too important not to share for the whole world to see even as I humbly admit I’ve struggled with depression myself. 

May I wish you with all the love I have to share, you will smile again no matter how dark it seems or how high that mountain is. I hope this story touches your heart and makes you laugh as I take on the devil.

With all my love and sincerity,

A Talk with the Devil

By Anthony Anthamatten (aka Tony Gray)

Another hour of silence passed in this living holy Hell. Setbacks so many times I’ve lost count and so tired I won’t even try. Staring at a mountain bigger than the last one I climbed. Why should I climb that, I ask another time? Because I’ll be okay, they say. Have faith and say a prayer. Yet every prayer I’ve said convinces me I have the wrong number. And my faith slipped away inch by inch because nothing got better, only worse.

I wasn’t always this cynical, very far from it. But when you get knocked down so many times and the hole only grew larger it is hard not to feel this way. I am not in the mood for one more train wreck or slow rolling disaster I cannot control. I have some thinking to do and it comes with very few options.

What is that, a knock on the door? Who could it be? Another false friend to stab me in the back? I know they enjoy seeing me fall down. Maybe it’s one of those religious types? They are always fun. They show up at my door and want to pray with me then check mark their list and walk away to the next door. I’ve never seen them again since they did their good deed. Maybe their prayer got lost in the mail or forgot my address? I know it is hard to remember them all when you are a door-to-door preacher. Yet here I sit in this white-hot mess melting away. No, I wasn’t this cynical, but I am at the end of my rope and I’ve got some thinking to do.

There goes that knock again. I scream, “Go away!” But it persists like some patient demon who knows I am here and what I am thinking. I don’t care whoever it is. They better be ready for a fight when this door flies open, I think. Only Hell can pay for this fury, anger, pain, and unanswered questions. It better be a fireman to put out my fire because no doctor, nurse, therapist, rabbi, or priest can help me now. I am taking this all the way to the head-in-charge, whoever it is at the top of this list. I have some thinking to do.

I throw open the door and ready to rumble with whoever is on the other side. “Say one word!”, I dare them to myself. I am ready to fly in the face of fury. Then I stop before another word escapes my flame-throwing mouth. It’s not what I expected, as I stare at the figure before me in a black hooded jacket, jeans, wearing biker boots.

He asks, “May I come in?”

“Look pal, this ain’t Halloween and I have no candy, but your costume is cool,” I reply.

“You are mistaken,” the figure says as he pushes past me and steps inside. “I’ve brought a gift for you.”

Who is this clown daring to enter my personal hell? Can’t he see my eyes and how furious I am?

“This better be good,” I mumble for something to say. “And unless you have big pockets with a miracle, you’ve got nothing I need.”

“I have something you’ve begged for all these years,” the hooded figure replies calmly to me.

“That list is long, but now you have gotten my attention,” Curiously I wonder and proceeded to say, “You may proceed.”

“May I sit down?” the hooded figure asks.

“You might as well, but take off the hood.” I insist. “I can’t see your face and you are kind creeping me out.”

When he does, I am in shock. I tell him to put it back on.

“Do I scare you with what you see?” he asks.

“The devil himself wouldn’t scare me with the mood I am in,” I say. “But you should see a plastic surgeon. Get a good one that can fix ugly.”

“What?! I am not ugly!” he insists. “I am the most handsome of all eternity. People love me!”

“They must live in Hell,” I say, “Because that is the only place you could win a beauty competition.”

“I must admit, you are hilarious. I’ve always liked that about you,” the devil says as he takes a seat.

“You don’t know me,” I tell him.

“Oh, but I do, much more than you think. You’re the man from Memphis, Tennessee I have heard about.” he replies.

“You must have read my book or work for the DMV,” I respond. “But why would the DMV hire someone as ugly as you?”

“I am not ugly!” he shouts. “And those longs lines at the DMV, I could fix those.”

“I bet your line is shorter than the others, with looks like yours,” I say.

“Stop talking about my appearance. I am very handsome,” he replies, seeming a little perturbed.

“Whatever you say, but I would really try seeing a doctor,” I suggest.

“You are getting on my nerves, man from Tennessee!” he shouts back.

“Stop calling me that,” I demand.

“Then stop talking about my appearance. You are getting me off track of why I am here,” he reminds me. Then he pushes an apple toward me while I sit down.

“What is this? If you are a fruit salesman, I bet you don’t sell many with that messed up face,” I say.

“I am not a fruit salesman, you moron! I am giving you a gift,” he growls.

“Listen, if this apple tastes as bad as you look. And have you thought about dental work too? One of your teeth looks like a fang.”

“I have got a mouth full of fangs to scare you with,” he says to me.

“You should be scared you have a mouth disease. From what I can see is there is one tooth that is pointy and a few are missing,” I try to reason.

“My teeth are fine. You need glasses,” in defense he says.

“I am not getting anywhere near your mouth with breath like that,” I tell him. “I would hate to be your dentist.”

“Are you going to listen to me about why I am here?” he asks.

“Go ahead, because I sure can’t look at you. Will you put the hood back on?” I beg the stranger.

“No! Now listen to me. I am handsome, my teeth are fine, and my breath makes people want to kiss me,” he wants me to believe.

“Only if you live in Hell,” I mumble under my breath.

“What did you say?” He asks, then says, “Nevermind. You don’t know who I am?”

“No, I don’t know you are. What is your name?” I ask.

“You can call me Luke,” he replies.

“You look more like Lucifer to me,” I mumble under my breath again.

He laughs, “I knew you were smart, but didn’t realize how smart you are until now.”

“As you can plainly see where my intelligence has gotten me?” I flatly reply.

“Yeah, this is a pretty terrible place. You should be in a mansion by now, maybe 10 times. Have a private plane and be a millionaire.”

“I would settle for something better than this,” I say. “But I am telling you, this place looks better than your appearance.”

“I am handsome! And you are getting on my nerves!” He yells at me, “I’ve known you since birth. And you were correct when you said I am Lucifer. And I go by many other names.”

“Is Brunhilda one of them?” I ask.

“Would you get it through your thick head? I AM THE DEVIL!” He screams.

“Really, even the devil would look better than you,” I remind him. “But that is a cute tail on your costume.”

“Cute costume? You are not listening to me!” he roars again.

“I am listening, but I can’t get over how tiny your tail is. I have seen piglets with bigger tails.” I notice.

“MY TAIL IS ENORMOUS!” he screams.

“Whatever you say, Luke,” I casually reply. “But if you are who you say you are, where are your horns?”

He points to his head and stares at me with evil eyes.

“Oh, I thought that was acne. I was going to recommend another doctor,” I politely offer.

“Shut up and listen to me! I came to give you some answers.” Lucifer tells me.

“If you were a game show contestant, I bet you don’t know the answers.” I surmise.

“I am the devil and I know every answer on every game show. And I am handsome, my tail is great and my horns are not acne! They are massive where I come from.”

“They have a tiny Hell too?” I wonder.

“I want to strangle you, but I can’t do that.” Luke says.

“Why, do you have tiny hands too?” I ask. “Nevermind, what brings you to my living Hell, which is much bigger than yours.”

“Listen, we are out of room at my place. We need to expand. But I promise my Hell is way bigger than this place and you don’t want to see it.” He assures me.

“I don’t plan to. But it can’t be worse than this. Are there terrible hotels in Hell?” I ask.

“Our hotels are fine. Now, man from Memphis, I am here to tell you what brings me to your door today. I only planned 15 minutes for this visit, but you won’t shut up!”

“Stop calling me that,” I say.

“Stop calling me ugly.” He replies.

“But I am from Memphis and you are ugly. So, call me Anthony and I will call you Fred from Hell.”

“Why Fred? And why can’t I call you Tony, like your friends?” he asks.

“Fred sounds better than Luke and you can’t call me Tony because you are not my friend,” I tell him.

“Whatever! Let’s move on,” he says.

“Before you begin, may I ask you a question?” I inquire.

“Ask as long it has nothing to do with my looks.” Fred says.

“Why only fifteen minutes? I thought you had an eternity.” I point out.

“I have an eternity and it feels like I have spent it all on you!” he says, slamming his fist on the table.

“You’ve only been here a few minutes,” looking at my watch.

“Believe me, I have been working on you all of your life,” he says.

“Yeah, but that’s nowhere near an eternity. Do you time travel?” I wonder.

“Shut up and let me get through this,” Fred pleads. “Okay, let’s assume I really am the devil and I know what I am about to tell you.”

I snicker. Fred ignores me.

“I have heard you many times say you feel like Job from the bible.”

“Oh yeah, many. Have you read that book?” I ask him.

“Dude, I am in the book!” he assures me.

“Yeah, but that first devil was a snake. Can you turn into a snake?” I ask, now curious.

“Listen, I can turn into anything! I am the devil!” he screams.

“Show me if you really are the devil.” I tell him.

“I did not come here to do magic tricks for you. I came to tell you why your prayers go answered,” he says.

“Now you have my attention. I would like to know that. But if you can turn into anything, why didn’t you do some magic on your tail?”

“Do you want the answers, or do you want me to leave? Because you are driving me crazy!” he says, clearly frustrated.

“You can stay. You have improved my day. While you aren’t very attractive, you are funny. Have you ever thought about doing comedy? And I can’t wait to tell people the devil is crazy with a tiny tail and acne.”

“Do you have any more stupid questions or silly remarks before I continue?” Fred asks me.

“I’ve got a book too. Your outfit looks like the character on the cover. But my guy is not as fat as you. Did you read my book?”

“I am not fat, and of course I read your book. It’s terrible.”

“Why didn’t you like my book?” I ask.

“Too many heroes like you in it and it makes people cry, laugh and have hope no matter what happens to them.” The devil says, “And before you ask another dumb question, I did not come here to do a book review.”

“Okay, I am listening,” I say.

“I’ve seen you cry many times,” he tells me.

“I will admit a few.” I confirm.

“More than that. Not tears from your eyes, but in your heart. Those are the ones I enjoy best. Like before I knocked on this door, I knew what you were thinking. You want to give up. You can’t do it anymore.”

“Yes, I have thought that many times. I don’t understand why bad things happen to me so often. I try to be a good person and do the right things. If you can see all you say, then you know I ask why do they get ahead and I have less every time I try. You’ve heard my prayers go unanswered.”

“Are you a betting man, Anthony?” he asks.

“Only on me and the things others can’t believe I can do.” I reply.

“You win most of those I have seen. But I am a gambler and took a bet on you.” The devil says. “The story of Job? You say feels like you.”

“Yeah” I respond.

“I took a bet that I could break you. Nobody can have faith or be as strong as Job.” He continues. “But you have been a tough spirit to break. All those times I made it worse than the others, you never gave up and always dug out.”

He continued, “The reason I am here is I know you are close to a decision. All it takes is one more false friend, or a disaster you did not create. I know you wonder if you have the will to continue. Will you give up or try again?”

“I admire you for the way you have fought,” he says. “You are tough, and I don’t want to see you suffer anymore. So, if you take one bite of this gift I brought for you, I can make it all go away.”

“You want a big house, a fancy car, or an airplane?” he asks. “I’ll make it happen for you, my friend. All the wealth you want. I can make you a star. Anything you dream. All you have to do is take one bite. That is all it takes.”

I stare at his apple and ask, “If I bite this apple, all the things you have put in my way will disappear? Like some genie, anything I wish you can give me?”

“You’ve got it.” The devil replies proudly.

“If I wish to have my faith, my hope, and caring for others be bigger than before, you can give me that? And if I ask for money, will you give me enough to use it for good things? And I wouldn’t want just one house, I would want many others to have shelter. You will give me that also? Since we are building a list of things you will provide, how about more kindness, empathy, and happiness for the world? What about it, Fred? Can you give me all of that?”

The devil squirmed in his chair and said, “Stop calling me Fred!”. 

Then he said, “It doesn’t work that way. To get what I am offering, I need you to lose a few things. Just be like the others. You see all they’ve got. Think about yourself more. Have greed and lust. Lose your compassion. When you see a homeless person, walk by and look away. That’s not your problem, you will have a big house. Cheat all you want. Where has honesty gotten you? In my world, you need to be a good liar. That will take you far. I can’t do everything for you to give you what I’ve got. And don’t feel bad when you harm someone and don’t have a care in the world. You will have a fine day.”

“So, things like inequality or racism I care about gotta go?” I ask.

“I am afraid so, my friend. But you will be rich. Why does it matter? It’s their sadness, not yours,” he replies.

“But I care about things like that. Those less fortunate than me,” I tell him.

“You don’t have a lot to show for caring like that. Look at this place you are in? One bite and it will all be better.” He stares at me with glaring eyes and waits for my answer.

I got his point. Things that have happened to me that put me here in this real-life hell hole and I knew it can get worse. Sleep in a car or in an alley like a character from my books? Oh yeah, it could be much worse. Then I twisted the stem of the apple as I thought about his offer until the stem twisted off. Just one bite he says, and this will end.

I stared at the twisted stem as I held it in my hand. On the other side of the table, the devil stared back at me. Then I thought of the stem that small, insignificant stem I held in my fingers and wondered, “who cares about the stem of an apple when they throw it away?”

The devil grew impatient staring at me with his eyes glowing ever more orange and red. “I am waiting,” he demanded. “And why are you staring at that silly stem? It’s not the tasty apple I brought you to bite.”

I ask the devil, “Did you ever think about the stem of an apple? One like this, as tiny as your tail?”

“Why would I? It’s the apple people want, not that tiny stem.” His impatience growing more furious. “And by the way, my tail is gorgeous, the biggest in the land. You are an idiot! I don’t see your tiny tail.” he taunts me.

“What holds that big apple of yours that people always want?” I asked him politefuly as he stared at me with his glaring evil eyes. And before he could answer searching for a response, I told him “Without this tiny stem, that is bigger than your curly tail…”

He interrupts, “My tail is straight and big and the baddest!” Steam rises from his head. “Now get to the point before I really blow my stack!”

“You would have no apple if not for this tiny stem, insignificant as me,” I say.

“But they want the apple, don’t you?” the devil asks. “I have made this hell on earth for you. Just eat the apple and forget the stem.”

The devil explains, “All people want is the apple. They don’t care about your tiny stem or the apple tree. My apple is the prize they want. Throw the stem away. Burn down the forest, for all they care. I will give them the flame”

“But where will you get more apples? You burned the forest,” I ask.

“Look, don’t get tricky with me.” I am the devil. It would surprise you the things I can do.

“But do you grow apples, or a forest?” I ask.

“I don’t grow apples, or those trees. That’s not my job.” The devil gets more intense. “I am the king of gluttony and greed. I make people jealous, to take advantage of people like you. With your talent and kind heart, they know they will never be like you. They take you out because you stand in their way of another apple. All I do is to sow the seeds of their soul with envy and they do the work.”

“But you, my so-called friend, you get in the way.” he continues, “You make my work difficult with your ideals, hope and good will,”

The devil tells me, “Now we can be friends if you bite that apple and get out of the way. But if you don’t, I warn you, I will be back again and again. If you don’t believe, I have more tricks up my sleeve? You are badly mistaken. So, bite that apple and let me be on my way.”

Looking at the stem, I made my decision, then place it in my pocket. The devil seems confused as he looks at me. I stare back and smile at his disfigured face. The devil wonders if I have gone mad when I push the apple towards him and say, “You make a good offer, but not today.”

The devil burst into flames right before my eyes. The heat was cold as it flashed scenes of painful events in my past. Faces of people laughing who had hurt me. So many times, I was on my knees looking at the sky. This silent movie with titles that read my prayers. “Dear God, why did you forsake me? What have I done? I have tried my best. I have cared. Why do they get ahead and I don’t? Do you hear me? Is anybody out there? I am really hurt and only you can save me.”

The flames went away and there sat the devil. “Now do you, see? They will never care about you. You’re your prayers go unanswered. Nothing out for you, except me. I am the best offer you’ve got.”

“I see it clearly now,” I speak calmly. “Thanks for the answers. Now I know why I shall go on another day.”

“Why is that?” he asks in disgust.

“To tell a few more stories, maybe even one, about how ugly you are and your tiny tail,” I say.

“They won’t believe you. They don’t believe I exist,” the devil says.

“They probably won’t,” I continue. “But since I am so insignificant and tiny, why would you care?”

“I don’t!” he lied poorly for a devil. “I had some time on my eternal calendar and saw you were home. Thought I would come by and scare you to death, I mean share an apple with you. You are the worst guy I’ve ever talked to and I don’t care about you,” he tries to convince me.

“Look at your watch,” I ask him. “It’s been a while since we started talking. Maybe some good things happened while you were away. See, all of my prayers weren’t about me. I prayed for others, too. I prayed for people suffering or hungry. I prayed for those who were lonely or sick. I prayed for those who lost hope. The only thing I prayed for me was the strength to go another day. I prayed for answers. Then you showed up and maybe as we sat here you did not prevent my prayers for others to come true. And thanks for answering mine.”

“I am the devil!” he roared. “I don’t answer prayers!”

“Then tell me this, why did you get so upset when I returned your gift?” I asked, “I know it wasn’t because you gave me strength to go another day. Thanks for that,” I say.

The devil grew more uncomfortable. Then he said, “What about your others, about why things happening to you?”

“Because you confirmed something I suspected.” I told him, “There will always be things I can’t control. I have to accept that. If one prayer of mine goes to someone else, that will be nice.”

“Listen, Mr. Good-Hearted Man from Memphis, Tennessee. You have wasted my time. But I will be back, I guarantee. And nobody likes your dumb jokes or books. And who taunts the devil? I am big, bad, evil and scary!” he says as he rises and returns his hood.

I snicker. Then he asks, “Why are you laughing at me?”

“You bet on me is why,” I smile and say.

“I haven’t lost this bet, my no-longer-friend,” is his reply.

“But you haven’t won,” I remind him. “And I am not the only one laughing.”

“Who else could be as dumb as you to laugh at the devil?” he wonders.

“I think you know who. It’s in the book you are in.” The devil looks toward the sky and shakes his head.

“You disgust me, you insignificant speck of a man.” Then he glares at me with his red glow.

“Thanks,” I say. “Coming from you it is a compliment.”

He growls as I walk him outside and gets on his bike. Then the devil asks, “How do you like my ride?”

“It’s okay. I’ve seen better,” I remark.

“No way! I have the baddest, coolest, most spectacular ride in the universe!” the devil insists.

“If you say so,” as I laugh again.

“Go away! You annoy me with your bravery, heart and your silly smiles.” He tries to crank his bike but it won’t start.

I wave goodbye to him and shut the door. I pick up the gun that was once an apple and put it in a drawer. I hear the devil grow frustrated outside trying to crank his bike, again and again.

I sigh and say to myself, “That was close.” I feel a rumble and know he reads the note taped to his ride. It read, “This is a gift from a man with a sense of humor. Here is a list of numbers: doctors, therapist, a gym trainer and bike mechanic. One more thing, here’s a coupon for deodorant. Use it next time you stop by because you stink!”

I laugh at the roar he makes as he curses the sky and walks away. Now I better get ready, because he will be back some day. But I will live another day and taunt his ass again.

This story is copyright 2021 by Anthony Anthamatten. You may contact him if you would like to republish it.