He looks uncomfortable, sitting in the chair across from me; and that’s the only description I can really apply to him.
Is it a him? Her, perhaps?
I can’t say for sure. His features are flowing and indistinct, the hair color and length seems to shift from moment to moment. Even the clothes…,
“Can you stop that?” I ask, a little more sharply than I intend. I’m wondering now, if I’m not the one who is ill at ease and projecting my own discomfort onto him.
—heh, right you are. and that’s the point innit?
—‘projecting’ you thought. that’s me then, a projection.
“I thought you were supposed to be the Devil.”
—ain’t we all? (said with a smile)
A pause then.
—ahhh, i see it now, you’re not a believer. strange that, no atheist ever gave me so much as the time of day…,
“Oh, I’m a believer,” I reply, “just not in you.”
—oh what then, you buddhist or something? one of them ‘new-agey’ types, maybe?
“Let’s just say I follow the gods of my ancestors.”
—oh them, (waves one hand dismissively) we don’t really walk in the same circles. (another pause) don’t get me wrong, they had it pretty good, the ‘old ones’ did, but then they let it all slip through their fingers. they never really capitalized on their influence, see? never made you lot need them.
“And we need you?”
—like you wouldn’t believe.
“Do explain, please.”
—so the world’s a shit-hole, right? pollution and wars, murder and slavery, but who made it that way? not me, brother. i’m just a name in a book you barely remember how to read.
—oh, but you can’t blame yourselves, ‘cause then you might have to take some responsibility. you might have to actually try to make things better, put a little effort into it for once. heh, easier to blame me for your troubles. ‘the devil made us do it’, yeah?
—so for a couple thousand years you put all that blame on me. you imagine me corrupting you and whispering into your ears with every nasty thought that comes into your minds. maybe you want to fight, or catch a quick fuck, or just help yourself to whatever’s lying around? well there i am, taking the blame for tempting you. because maybe you could have resisted your own impulses but how can you ever hope to resist the bloody prince of darkness?
“So,” I ask, “you’re acting as some kind of scapegoat for humanity?”
—no, no, (laughing) you’ve got it all wrong. that old bit went out of fashion in the long ago. the old hebrew priests liked to chase their ‘scapegoat’ out into the desert. they didn’t want the mangy thing hanging around, not after they loaded it up with all their wrongs, their ‘sin’. no, they drove it out into the wastes, to die, alone. thought it was important to clean their slates, so they’d have room to ‘sin’ again, and again. another year, another goat.
—but do you see the faithful trying to drive me anywhere? no sir, if anything they’re calling to me! they hold me close and give me a warmth and a life i never would have had without ‘em. just look at the words they use to describe themselves. the most devout among them believe in nothing more than that they are all, every one of them, tainted with ‘sin’.
—‘fallen’ is the word they like to use, and every time they say it, when they think it, when they believe it about themselves, they give themselves to me. the more righteous they are, the more deeply they feel their imagined transgressions, the more they puff me up, make me important, give me power and make me REAL!
And for a moment, he seems very real indeed, sitting there in front of me, gaze lifted slightly upward, an expression, almost of rapture, suddenly solidified on his face.
And then the moment passes.
He fades until he is no more than an insubstantial bogeyman, fidgeting in his chair, unaccustomed perhaps, to such direct observation.
—yeah, i do better when i keep to the shadows. (sly smirk) if you see a thing for what it is, you can name it, control it, even banish it – if you had the will.
“And you don’t want to be seen, controlled, banished.”
He sits upright, suddenly serious.
—no, i don’t, and neither do they.
“Who are ‘they’?”
—the ones who made me, feed me and frighten their children with me, who blame me for every stubbed toe and tidal-wave. without me the lot of ‘em would have to fend for themselves. without me they would have to take responsibility for their actions on the one hand, and accept that the earth doesn’t revolve around ‘em on the other.
He begins to fade from my sight then, and I get the sense that our brief interview is over.
“Wait,” I say, “before you go, tell me about the ‘other’.”
“You know who I mean,” I reply in exasperation, “the ‘One God’ of the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims. The all-mighty creator of heaven and earth…,”
—heh, ever meet him?
—and you won’t, but damned if he’s not useful.
“So, are you saying that he exists, or that he doesn’t.”
—i love that question, ask it again! go on, then! (huge cheshire grin) no? eh, don’t matter, really. if you’re not gonna ask, someone else will. someone always does. and be sure someone else has an answer. and there will be disagreement and bloodshed and war that covers the land. you just watch, yeah? them as believe one way will point at the others and say that ‘i’ deceived them, that theirs is the true and only way. an’ they keep doing their thing, in ‘his’ name, and i grow more powerful still. i’m just an empty mask, a projection of their fears, but fear is the one thing they truly share among themselves. try and take that away from them and i promise, they’ll tie you to the nearest bit ‘o kindling.
—listen friend, as for your gods, that lot never did much for me, but that other one, the ‘one’ that came with me out of the desert, the one in whom they place their faith, with his son and his prophets, and his holy texts, so vague and contradictory and…, and bloodthirsty…,
The chair is empty now (wasn’t it always) and there is only the voice, fading, as if from a great distance…,
—you know that i’m not real, except through the will of those who believe in me, who fear me and mark me as the enemy of all; but let me tell you a secret: the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that god exists.