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Gravel crunched under the wheels of the Ford Explorer as it pulled into the driveway. The headlights cut through the darkness and washed the house in dull light as it turned around the side of the house.
Richard sighed and turned the key in the ignition, turning off the vehicle. He sat in silence for a few long minutes, listening to the engine tick as it cooled off and rubbing the long, thick scar along his neck; he'd had a thyroid problem a few months ago, resulting in the removal of one alarmingly big tumor-studded thyroid. The wound was cemented shut and it had actually healed within a matter of days. The doctor was amazed, but Richard knew it was because he had a good healing factor. It ran in his family at least a few generations.
Sometimes when he was anxious, the scar would start to throb uncomfortably, like it was doing now, and he had to massage it gently to get it to stop. He sighed again, being careful not to crumple the note as he pulled it out of his pocket. Most of the paper was damp, but he recognized his wife's handwriting immediately. The words he could make out made the paper almost sticky with lust, something he hadn't even gotten a whisper of in the past three years.
He was confused at first, since the first two (or was it three?) years of their marriage had seemed like nothing but month-long sex marathons with only a few days of break time in between. Those breaks they used to love each other emotionally, providing support for one another by sending love notes and flowers. Lunch dates were frequent and often involved sneaking around town to find a quiet place to kiss. Sometimes, more than kissing was involved. She had been a wildcat, he had been the lion-tamer. Physically and emotionally they loved each other. Not equally, since love is never equally given from both sides, but it was enough to satisfy them.
However, like all good things...
It hadn't been abrupt either. In fact, it had been so gradual that he hadn't known what was going on until it was almost over. First it was headaches. His wife would complain about light headaches and Richard would shrug, okay with the fact that she would still cuddle him at night. Then the migraines came, blinding sit-in-the-dark-all-day migraines. They came so frequently that he pushed her to go see a doctor, which she did. Not surprisingly, the doctor always gave her a clean bill of health.
She finally put the point across that she was no longer interested in him when he came home from work with a bouquet of roses and tried to sweep her off of her feet. He had a night of romance planned, with a candle-lit dinner and a horse-drawn carriage afterward. She shut him down swiftly and harshly, stinging his heart with words like "old" and "obese," telling him that he wasn't the same young stallion he used to be, that he was too old and he smelled funny afterward. He stopped asking, stopped hinting at sex altogether. He didn't even get undressed around her anymore; after that night, he was too embarrassed to show any skin that wasn't above his shoulders.
It didn't stop there. Soon, she was skulking around the house, avoiding his presence as much as possible. When she couldn't, like at the dinner table, she didn't say much. Once he attempted to humor her with a recanting of his work day, but she glared at him and nearly blew a blood vessel screaming at him about how worthless his job was and only useless nobodies got positions like the one he had. He was an inspector for a large construction company. The position he had was rarely open, since people hired usually stayed on until retirement. It also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. He was lucky to get the job; other people had applied for it, but he was the only one with “detail-oriented skills” suitable for the job.
Soon, everything he did was worthy of verbal punishment. She didn't like the way he cooked his food. She didn't like the way he did his laundry (he had to do his own laundry, she only did her own). Day after day. If he wasn't screwing up the evening by watching sports, he was ruining her life by doing the dishes improperly, or making her sick by just existing.
Now he was sitting in his driveway after a long day of work, and as much as he dreaded going into the house, he had a job to do. He dropped his hand from his throat, grasped the door handle, and lurched out into the open air. Slamming the door shut, he shuffled to the back of the Explorer and popped the hatch open; a bucket of salt, some red paint, and a few yards of rope greeted him. He dragged the buckets out begrudgingly and looped the rope over his shoulder before heading towards the house. The lights were out, which had come to be a good thing; darkness meant she was already in bed. It also meant he wouldn't be seen carrying out his plan.
Richard was a good man. He worked an honest job, he gave to all the local charities, he volunteered at lots of places in town. He called his mother frequently, he made sure to send his brother money when he needed it, and he was a devoted husband.
Yes, even though she had hurt him in the deepest parts of his soul, she was still the apple of his eye. That was how marriage was supposed to work, he reasoned. You get married because you love each other. And, he reasoned further, she had loved him when they had tied the knot. He wasn't sure when or how it happened that she changed her mind, but he knew for certain they were both mutually in love when they became Mr. and Mrs.
He stumbled on one of the stepping-stones that made up the walkway to the front door. A few salt crystals spilled into the grass next to the walkway, but he didn't notice. Richard caught his balance easily and sighed; if he went into the house, he wasn't sure if he could go through with the plan. He still loved his wife and that was his only, and strongest, weakness. Forcing himself onward, he mumbled the incantation under his breath so he would remember it more easily. Four steps forward and a key in the lock and he was inside the house. He looked around, reaching for the light switch hesitantly before deciding against it. She would know it was on, even from upstairs, and the howling would start before she even swung her feet out of bed.
It didn't matter; he knew his own house well enough and soon he was heading down the steps into the basement. He turned on the light and set down the buckets. Taking a moment to stretch his back, he looked around to make sure there were no open spaces that a draft could get through. The air in the basement was stale and musty, a good sign that there was no circulation at all. Richard open the bucket full of salt and looked at it uncertainly; he wasn't even sure his plan was going to work.
He had researched how to mend a broken marriage more times than he could count. He looked up the signs of a cheating spouse (there were at least seven, if you went by the articles he had read online in his spare time), and he even went so far as to post his problems on an anonymous website to see if anybody else would provide a different solution. Out of all of the comments that had rolled in (most of them being about letting his wife go since it was obvious she didn't love him anymore) there was one that stood out. Site user “lustdevil666” had suggested something… pretty awful.
Richard had read and reread their comment over and over again until he started justifying it to himself. Then he started researching something so far out of his comfort zone that he looked over his shoulder every time he even thought about considering what he was researching.
He shrugged off his jacket and, after unbuttoning his work shirt, slung them both over the back of the recliner he had relocated from the living room. He had also relocated his television to his old work table, and when his wife was feeling particularly shrewd, he found his way in front of it. Usually with a cold beer in hand. He pulled a small picture out of his pants pocket, steeled his mind, and got to work. The paint bucket hissed before popping open and Richard busied himself for the next hour and a half with painting a sigil on his basement floor. It wouldn't have taken him so long if it had been for anything else, but he felt that this particular sign required the utmost vigilance and, certainly, his widely admired attention to detail. If he painted it wrong and tried to carry on with his plan, it might have unfortunate consequences. He referenced his picture many times to make sure he was painting it correctly.
Two hours after the paint brush left the floor the final time, Richard was pouring salt around the sigil in a wide circle. He had read somewhere that salt kept evil spirits away. He made the salt ring nice and thick, setting the bucket to the side when he was finished. Now he stood still, swaying back and forth with excitement and terror. With shaky hands, he pulled a four-inch switchblade out of his back pocket and flicked it open. It made a sharp clicking sound that resonated in the quiet of the basement. He opened his free hand slowly and inhaled deeply to calm his nerves. The pain wasn't as bad as he thought it would be, but that probably had something to do with his adrenaline rushing through his body, he supposed. Richard watched his blood drip onto the floor. He held his hand out and squeezed his fist as hard as he could, making a crude five-pointed star on the perfectly done sigil.
The incantation he muttered to himself all the way home forced itself to the front of his mind. He licked his lips, hesitated, and licked them again. His mouth opened and for a second, he considered closing it, scraping the paint off of his floor, and letting all this silly business lay to rest. Instead, he steeled himself against what was about to happen and said the incantation in a firm strong voice.
“Richard Pike, son of Jason Pike, why have you summoned me?”
A beautiful woman of long red hair, fair freckled skin, and icy blue eyes stared at him intently. For a moment, all he could do was stare back. There was no puff of smoke, no wind, just nothing and then her. He dropped to one knee and sighed.
“Anael, demon of lust,” he said, “I would like to propose a trade.” The woman looked surprised.
“A trade?” she scoffed, “Your worldly possessions mean nothing to me.” Richard smiled despite himself and stood up.
“I don't want to trade worldly possessions,” he said, “I would like to trade souls.” Anael grinned, baring thin sharp fangs. She pushed her hair back away from her face and took a step forward. Richard flinched, but did not move away. He looked down and she followed his gaze to the salt ring.
“A salted sigil,” the demon said, “You're clever.”
“I pay attention to details, ma'am.”
“Oh, and you're polite too,” Anael remarked, “I bet your soul would be wonderful in my harem.” The man's heart froze; he forced himself to smile and shake his head.
“No, ma'am. I don't want to trade my own soul.”
“Whose then?” the demon asked curiously.
“My… My wife's.”
Anael looked at him in disbelief.
“You still love her,” she pointed out.
“She does not love me,” Richard said. Saying the words aloud to another person, or creature, made it seem so final. It stopped him for a few moments and he stood there collecting his thoughts. “She doesn't love me,” he repeated, “She hasn't loved me for a good long while. However, I believe she would enjoy your company far more than she could ever enjoy mine.” Anael shivered and bit her lip.
“You're the first person to give me goosebumps,” she said, almost in awe. “A man willingly turning over the woman he loves of his own free will. That's so… wicked.” She licked her lips and took another step forward, her hands traveling down her body. “Are you sure you don't want to give yourself to me?” She pouted, “I could satisfy you like no woman could.”
“You are beautiful,” Richard admitted, “but I must decline. I have no interest in leaving this world yet.” Anael shrugged.
“As you wish. What about the doctor?”
“The one in your wife's bed at this very moment,” Anael replied. Then, with a secretive smile, “The one who likes little girls more than he likes grown women.”
Richard paled; he hadn't thought about the other man at all. He didn't think he could do anything about the other man. Now he was presented with the opportunity. He seized it.
“Take his soul as well.” Anael squealed happily and clapped her hands.
“Forgive me!” she exclaimed, “I haven't been this excited since that virgin girl Marilyn came to my harem a few months ago.”
“What did she do to deserve that?” Richard asked.
The demon smirked. “Nothing at all,” she said, “You humans, you think everything is so black and white, always about the rules. There are mix-ups sometimes, not all saints go to heaven. Sometimes, they get sent in the wrong direction.”
“I'll trade you for her,” he said immediately, “Two lust-filled sinners for one virgin girl.” Anael regarded him carefully. Her eyes turned black and she breathed deeply.
“Deal.” The demon put her hand out. Richard shook it cautiously and bowed his head respectfully. “I'll even erase her memory of the harem so she won't keep you up with her nightmares,” Anael added. Then, in the same matter she came, she was gone.
Richard stood still for a few seconds, looking dumbly into open air where the demon had just been. He realized how tired he was, but when he looked at the clock he was astonished to see that only five minutes had passed since he spoke the incantation. Then came the true test; going upstairs to see if his wife and her lover were really, truly gone. He mounted the stairs quickly, filled with new energy. Turning on lights wherever he went, he finally ended up at his bedroom door where he hesitated. What if she was still in there? What if HE was still in there? His hand closed around the doorknob and turned slowly. The door opened soundlessly and he stepped into the room, turning on the light.
“Mmmm… Hey, Richard, I'm trying to sleep,” somebody mumbled from under the blankets. They squirmed, trying to find their way out from under the covers while he stood there dumbfounded. “Help me get these off.” He reached out and grabbed one end of the blanket, pulling slowly until he saw skin the color of coffee with cream in it. Long curly hair flowed down over her shoulders and, even though she was squinting against the light, her gray eyes looked confused. She was completely naked. She lay there squinting at him, holding the blanket to her breasts to cover them.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” she demanded, pulling the covers closer to herself.
“You… you can't be more than 25,” he said hoarsely.
“Yeah well you're not so young yourself, being 29 and all,” she retorted.
“29?” Richard spun around and looked in the mirror; his hairline was completely in tact, his eyes were free of the bags they had underneath when he walked in three hours ago. His body felt lighter, and when he looked down he gasped; his belly was flat again, his muscles firm and taut like they used to be.
“What's wrong with you?” the woman demanded, “You're scaring me.” Richard turned back around and realized she looked frightened. “Do I need to take you to a hospital?”
“No,” he said firmly, walking over to the bed. He sat down on the edge and kicked off his shoes, pulling his socks off neatly and putting them next to the bed. He crawled up next to her and studied her closely. Her nose was small and rounded, her gray eyes big and wet. Her lips were full and looked like they would taste wonderful. He kissed her gently. To his surprise, she kissed him back. “I'm sorry I scared you,” he said softly.
“It's okay, just come on and get in bed,” Marilyn replied. Richard lifted the covers and started to get under, but she stopped him.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, “You never get into bed with your clothes on like that.”
“I'm sorry, I'm just tired.” He sat up and pulled his clothes off slowly, worried about what she would say about his body. He laid down next to her, putting his arms around her soft, curvaceous body. She pressed herself against him and kissed him deeply.
“I'm glad you came home safely,” she said, smiling at him. She buried her face in his neck and soon, she was breathing softly again, sleeping in comfort and safety. Richard knew he should be horrified at what he had done, but he also knew a good thing when he had it, so he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
While they slept, all the lights he had turned on went off by themselves and Anael smiled as she tortured her two new souls.