The Devil’s Quill
By Lisa Kessler
Lou sat at the bar and flipped the business card between his fingers. The corners were bent after weeks of being stuck in his worn leather wallet, stashed behind his well-used gas card.
Tonight was finally the night.
He heaved a sigh and slipped the card into his shirt pocket. Who was he fooling? He wasn’t really going to The Devil’s Quill tonight. His night wasn’t going to involve an exclusive club that only welcomed outsiders once a year on Halloween night.
His schedule was going to be filled with two wiggly kids squealing while their Mom picked gooey pumpkin seeds out of their hair.
He swirled the whiskey in his glass, knocked it back, and grimaced. What was wrong with him? He used to love Halloween night, carving jack-o-lanterns and lighting them up on their balcony for all the world to see.
Somewhere along the way, the distance grew. Even though he helped Rosie decorate the apartment, and shopped for Halloween costumes and candy, it seemed foreign – like he was a stranger in his own skin.
“One more, and make it a double.” He laid another bill on the bar, glancing up at the television mounted in the corner, trying his damnedest not to reach for the business card in his pocket.
He’d never forget the night the limousine bumped him as he walked in the crosswalk on 3rd Street. His last appointment had run late, and just as he headed for the subway, the gray clouds that lingered through the day sank closer to earth, blanketing the streets in a thick misty fog.
The moment the walk light blinked, he’d hustled across 3rd. But before he made it halfway across, he caught the grill of a black Town Car out of the corner of his eye. The limousine screeched to a halt, but not before clipping him hard enough to knock him over.
“What the Hell?” He’d scrambled to his feet, adrenaline coursing through his veins. He pointed at the darkened windows of the car. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, you blind bastard!”
But Lou couldn’t afford a lawyer. As a door-to-door Kirby salesman, he couldn’t even afford a goddamned car. And then his only suit was wet.
The back door of the limo had opened and a billow of smoke plumed out, mixing into the fog. A pair of patent leather Gucci loafers stepped out onto the rain-soaked pavement. Lou’s gaze ran up from the shoes, over the pin-striped fitted suit that made his own look like it came off the rack at a second-hand store.
When the sharply-dressed man straightened up, he clutched a cane that caught Lou’s eye. For a split second, the eyes on the gargoyle cane-topper appeared to glow crimson. Lou frowned and shook his head. Maybe he got hit harder than he realized.
The man came closer, his cane clicking on the pavement with every other step in an almost hypnotic rhythm. Lou caught the stale stench of smoke as the man approached.
“Forgive my driver. I trust you’re uninjured?” The tall stranger tipped his hat.
Silver eyes. Lou blinked, frozen for a moment, and although he had no logical explanation for it, the urge to run grew, impossible to ignore.
“Actually I’m fine. Sorry about what I said. I lost my temper.” He turned to go, anxious to flee, but the man popped his cane up across Lou’s chest, stopping him in his tracks.
“I can’t allow you to leave empty handed.” With his free hand, the man fished out a crisp bill and held it out toward Lou.
“Thank you.” He reached for the cash, his eyes narrowing as he stared at the money. “This is a thousand-dollar bill.” He looked up at the stranger. “Are these even in circulation anymore?”
The tall man grinned with teeth white enough to glow in the fog. “They are tonight.” He paused and glanced at the tinted windows before meeting Lou’s gaze again. “Can I offer you a ride?” He hesitated and quickly added, “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name…”
“Lou.” Panic shot through his body as he nearly slapped a hand over his own mouth. But it was too late.
The stranger’s eyes sparkled. “Pleasure to meet you, Lou.” He offered his free hand. “You can call me Quinn.”
Before Lou realized what was happening, Quinn guided him toward the door of the long black car.
“No, I don’t want to trouble you,” Lou backpedaled. “I’ll just grab the subway.”
“The subway? Absolutely not.” Quinn shook his head and gave him a nudge into the open door. “I insist.”
Lou’s memory went hazy after that. It seemed like he’d been in the car for hours, but he couldn’t remember a thing they talked about. His next complete recollection was getting out of the limo in front of his apartment building.
Quinn had lowered the tinted window on the back door and handed him a business card. The same one burning a hole in Lou’s shirt pocket right now.
“This is the address to my club. We’re only open to the public one night a year. This year it’s Halloween.” Lou took the card as Quinn went on. “I hope you’ll stop by. You’ve got potential, and we’ve got clientele who can make dreams into reality.”
Lou opened his mouth to refuse the offer, but Quinn was already rolling up the window. “See you Halloween night, Lou. Before you can take the first step toward making your dreams come true, you’ve got to open the door.”
He winked and Lou found himself staring slack-jawed at his own reflection in the tinted glass. The car pulled out and in a moment was swallowed up by the fog.
Tonight, he needed to get to The Devil’s Quill.
Lou’s brow furrowed. Where had that come from? He needed to get home. That was where he needed to be.
Probably shouldn’t have had that last whiskey shot.
He paid his bill and walked out — in the opposite direction from his apartment building.
He owed it to his family to check the place out. Quinn had already given him a thousand dollars. If he had more rich friends willing to help a guy out, he’d be an imbecile not to at least look into the opportunity, right?
Besides, it would only take a few minutes. He’d stay for an hour. Tops. Rosie and the kids would understand. In fact, if he came home with a better job and more money, they’d be thrilled.
He’d be a hero for once.
Lou picked up his pace, not realizing he was grinning until he caught his reflection in one of the glass storefronts. He stopped, taking a closer look. How long had it been since he really smiled? And he seemed taller, like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. He straightened his tie.
Tonight he was going to take charge of his destiny. No more pushover, hard-luck Lou. He’d walk in the exclusive club and mingle and network himself into a better job. No more draining door-to-door appointments. No more working his ass off for barely enough money to cover the rent.
Rolling his shoulders back, he rounded the block and started glancing at addresses. The Devil’s Quill would have been impossible to find if he hadn’t had the card from Quinn. 666 ½ Thirteenth Street was actually down an alley with the front door around the back of the main building.
A hulking bodyguard stood beside the red door, muscled arms crossed over his broad chest. He glared down at Lou. “This is a private club.”
Lou nodded. “I know… I…” He fumbled to retrieve the card from his shirt pocket. “Quinn invited me. He said you were open tonight.”
The bodyguard raised a brow. “Wait here.”
He vanished into the club, leaving Lou to second-guess himself. Did he really think he’d fit in with a bunch of rich old men who probably had topless dancers inside their club? He must’ve been crazy to come here. His kids were waiting to carve pumpkins.
The door opened just as he turned to leave. Quinn’s voice boomed in the empty alley. “Lou. I’m glad you decided to take me up on my offer.”
Lou looked back over his shoulder. “Sorry. It’s later than I realized. I’ve really got to get home to the kids. They’re crazy about Halloween.”
“Rosie will understand.”
Lou faced him, frowning. “How did you know my wife’s name?”
“You told me her name in the limo when we drove you home,” Quinn answered without hesitation.
“Oh.” Lou wondered what else he might have told Quinn that night.
“So come inside and mingle. You may find opportunities others would die for…”
The bodyguard opened the door and they crossed the threshold. Cigar smoke hung heavy in the air. On the far side wall, scantily clad women slid around brass poles while one danced with huge feather fans. As they walked to the bar, Lou tried not to notice all the eyes watching him.
There was a little person at the other end of the bar, dressed up like an angry leprechaun, and a man sitting near the dancers tipped his head back laughing and exposed his perfectly fit vampire fangs.
He glanced at Quinn. “You didn’t tell me it was a costume party.”
Quinn’s silver eyes sparkled. “No one is wearing a costume.”
“But he’s a… a leprechaun. And over there,” he pointed. “That guy thinks he’s a vampire.” He gestured at the bartender. “And the bartender has a tail.”
“Stop pointing. There is a reason this club has been exclusive for so long. Please don’t embarrass me and yourself by gawking.”
Lou picked up the whiskey that was placed in front of him and knocked it back in a single swallow. “So I’m supposed to network with vampires and leprechauns and demons?”
“Are you always so prejudiced against individuals who can make your dreams come true?” Quinn spun around, leaning back against the bar as he addressed the club members. “This is Lou. He is a door-to-door salesman looking to change his life.”
All conversation halted as the in-human eyes looked him over. Lou swallowed the big lump in his throat, sending up a silent prayer to make it out of The Devil’s Quill alive. To the right of the dancers, a man walked away from a roulette table and approached Lou.
Lou bit the inside of his cheek to keep from blurting out something stupid. The man’s pupils were messed up, like runny eggs — like a goat.
“What exactly are you looking to change?”
Lou cleared his throat. “I’d like to stop living paycheck to paycheck, and a car would be nice too.”
The goat-eyed man massaged his chin and finally answered, “I’d like to help you, but dreams don’t come cheap. It takes sacrifices to earn dreams.”
“Yes.” The goat-man started to smile. “What would you give for a corner office in my firm making a six-figure salary?”
Lou’s jaw dropped slightly as he visualized himself in a corner office of a big New York sky scraper. No more just-getting-by, he’d finally be getting ahead, making a future for his children.
He wet his lips. “I’d give anything.”
The goat-eyed man plucked a contract from his jacket pocket. “Welcome aboard, Lou. Sign here.”
He handed Lou a gold pen. Lou glanced over the contract, briefly wondering how the man had already printed his full name on the contract. Before he could ask, or allow doubt to force him to reconsider his decision, Lou noticed the salary of $150,000 per year with paid holidays and sick leave.
This was it. His big chance.
Lou signed his name on the dotted line while the dancers cranked up the music, gyrating for tips. The goat-eyed man shook his hand and slipped him his card. “I’ll send a car for you in the morning. Good to have you aboard.”
Lou left the club in a daze, anxious to share his good fortune with Rosie. He stood taller, smiled wider. Now he could take his wife and kids back to her family’s farm for the holidays. He’d buy a car.
He couldn’t get home fast enough.
His smile faded as he came around the corner onto his street. Red lights danced across the front of his building, and yellow crime scene tape blocked the entrance. Lou rushed through the mob of onlookers to find a cop.
“Sir, you need to step back.”
He shook his head. “I live here. My family is up there.”
“The building’s been evacuated.”
Lou’s heart pounded in his ears. “What happened?”
“We’re not sure yet. There was an explosion on the fifth floor a few minutes ago.”
Lou’s hands trembled. “I live on the fifth floor.”
“Come on, you can talk to the Fire Marshall.” The police officer lifted the yellow tape.
The Marshall confirmed what the sick feeling in Lou’s stomach already suspected.
His apartment had exploded. There were no survivors.
The officer helped him to sit down on the bumper of an ambulance, then vanished in search of coffee. With a shaky hand, Lou fished the contract from his pocket, replaying the conversation from The Devil’s Quill in his head.
You may find opportunities others would die for…
It takes sacrifices to earn dreams.
What would you give for a corner office in my firm making a six-figure salary?
I’d give anything.
Below his fresh signature, he noticed a line of fine print. Squinting, he read, “Sacrifice of wife and children in exchange for dream job, accepted.”
He crumbled up the paper and screamed.
Today’s contest / giveaway is for a $5 Amazon gift card from Lisa Kessler!
For a chance to win, follow Lisa on either her Facebook page, or her Amazon author page. After you follow, comment “done” here so we can be sure to include you in the random drawing. If you already follow her on both, comment “already following” for your entry.
Contest starts today. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced in our wrap up blog post on November 1st.
Check out the Kick-off post HERE to see the full list of authors participating in our 2022 Halloween Flash Fiction Blog Event. Links will be added to the main post each day when that author’s story goes live. Each post will include the inspiration image from a DeviantArt creator, the story, and the contest/giveaway info.