So I haven't written anything since the first post because I've been lazy and busy. Sue me. But, fortunately, I have a whole cache of old shit I've already written stored away for just such an occasion. This bit in particular was originally written as a project for a project in my senior English class in high school. We'd read The Inferno and were supposed to do something creative. I put it off until the morning it was due, and then managed to crap a bit of fool's gold which I polished into this. The one thing I always really liked about this piece is the opening line. I really wanted to write something that matched the effect of Neuromancer's famous opening line, and I legitimately approve of how it came out. Anywho, enjoy.
Introduction- The Bet
The sky was the color of rotten leaves, red with pollution and the setting sun. The evening rush of nine-to-fivers embarking on mass exodus from work was all but over, and the city’s bars were packed with the usual Friday night crowds. Leon was no exception, just one of a smaller group of nameless faces attempting to unwind after a long week of the usual pointless tedium.
His bar of choice, La Florentia, was a smaller, less crowded alternative to the nightclubs around it. He liked the place, not only for the more relaxed feel to it, but for the peace it afforded him. The constant low hum of hushed conversation mixed with the owner’s taste in old Italian opera drowned out his thoughts as he sat at the bar, slowly drinking just enough to able to drive himself legally, but dangerously, home. As had become customary, as he walked in, the bartender and owner of the place nodded and gestured towards a stool in front of him, adding in the usual greeting as Leon took his seat.
“Ah…how’s life, artista?”
Leon shrugged and gazed past the large Italian’s courtesy smile as a glass of his usual came to rest in front of him. This man, known to all simply as Giovanni, was a hideous mass of hair, fat, and muscle. Leon often wondered why, in an age where beauty could be bought on the cheap, someone would take care to maintain such an appearance. That, of course, didn’t prevent him from taking the man’s drink.
“That good, eh? Business getting to be too much for you?”
“The opposite. It’s so little for me I can’t stand it.”
“Not sure I follow artista. Weren’t you the one getting all the praise and love from your bosses just the other day?
“That was last month, Gio. Besides, they can be happy with my work all they want. The fact of the matter is that I’m not. I guess I just figured I be doing something more interesting by the time I was 35.”
The gruff bartender gave a deep chuckle, baring his yellowed and cracked teeth, before letting about a long sigh. ” You worry too much! You’re young, you’re good at what you do, making plenty of money; your only problem is up here,” He gave his balding skull a tap, “If you’re really craving excitement or something, go skydive or do something you young people do for fun. Stop sounding like an old man like me, right? Hey, you should listen to your elders, you know…”
But Leon had stopped listening entirely. He had noticed the presence of a new man in the bar, and just placed the face. He’d seen him on the train to work every morning for the last week, and every day, the man met eyes with him and flashed him a brief smile. The kind of unsettlingly perfect smile that could make a chill run down your spine. He saw it again, paired with an offered drink and stood up from the bar.
“Sorry, Gio, gotta take care of something.”
His name was Vergil Something-Or-Other; a woman cackling at the table next to theirs made the last name unintelligible. Leon still couldn’t shake the disquieting feeling just being around him gave him, but he figured the small talk and the alcohol would fix that.
“Sorry,” Leon mumbled through his glass,” You were saying?”
“I’m saying you look bored. You are, right?”
“I can tell. It’s my job, after all. I’m a therapist, so figuring out what makes miserable expressions like the one you’re wearing is what I do. And, like I said, I’m guessing you’re just bored. Looking for something interesting but having trouble finding it, in other words.”
“Hmph, sounds about right. So Mr. Therapist, how do you recommend I fix my boredom? Wait, let me guess, I should go skydiving or something…”
“No way. That’s not fixing the problem, that’s just pretending it isn’t there for awhile. Then, when you’re done skydiving, you come back and are worse off than before. No…you need something life changing, something enlightening.”
Leon set his drink down. Now he was interested.
“So what do you suggest?”
Another smile. “Easy. Were you raised any particular religion?”
“Catholic. Not that I’ve actually been Catholic since I was seventeen, though.”
“Perfect! That’s just perfect! All your childhood, you had these rigid guidelines that you had to follow; so many things a book prevented you from doing. So, all you have to do to get out of your rut is do those things.”
“I’m supposed to commit every sin? Thanks, but I’ll pass. I want to be entertained, not in prison.”
“So don’t commit all of them. You’ve heard of the “Seven Deadly Sins,” right? Use those. Commit each one of those, and I guarantee you’ll see things in a different light.”
Leon tried to say no, but hesitated. Why not go for it? What was he afraid of? After all, he was smart; it wasn’t like he’d get caught doing anything stupid. It might even be fun having a challenge again.
“I’ll do it.”
“Excellent, you won’t regret it! But hey…why not make it more interesting? How about a bet? You commit all seven sins in seven days and I’ll buy you as many drinks as you like; hell, you’ll need them. But, if you lose, you owe me the same. Deal?”
Day 1- Envy
The sun scorched his eyes. It was morning, and the light shining into his room forced him to get up. He lazily threw on his work clothes and made his way to the kitchen, hands rubbing his eyes. Midway through the first cracked egg shell for his breakfast, his eyes light up.
Leon grinned, thinking. He was eager to get started but knew it’d be best to play it safe. “No sense in jumping in all the way before you test the waters, right?” he thought aloud,” Now the question is…which of the seven to take care of today?” He poured the thick mess of scrambled yellow into a pan and scratched his chin. He wasn’t feeling particularly lusty or wrathful this morning, so those two were out. Breakfast was little more than habit; he wasn’t actually all that hungry, eliminating gluttony. His latest paycheck was still in the envelope it came in by his bed, so going for greed so early might get him fired. Sloth was a definite maybe, as calling in sick and purposefully wasting a beautiful day sounded like a kick.
But what about envy? He collapsed onto his couch, eggs steaming on a plate in his hand, fork in his mouth. That one had to be the easiest, not to mention the safest. All he had to do was want something someone else had that he didn’t and act on it. Something even beyond his respectably large budget, but at the same time, something that he could take without it being missed.
Ron Carson. His grin grew even wider.
Leon and Mr. Carson had been neighbors until the lucky sap had received an obscene sum of money through an inheritance. Which made sense, because he was far too simple to make that kind of money, himself. He was the perfect target. Not only did he still own the house next door and keep it furnished, he also had a tendency to stash his impulse buys there. A missing item or two would never be caught, and he knew for a fact no one would be suspicious of him moving in since he’d been in the house often in the past. It was perfect.
His ratty tennis shoes crunched against the morning frost on the grass. The faked hoarse voice had his trusting employer almost too easily, and he’d taken care to dial the target house’s phone a few times to make sure no one would wake up to the sight of him walking in unannounced. “Don’t let me forget,” Leon remembered his old acquaintance mentioning, “My spare key is in the porch light, okay?” Thanks buddy, he thought, looking at the single brass key in his hand.
Inside the neglected house was a mess of useless, mostly tacky, certainly expensive garbage. Works of art that had no real relation to each other sat stacked next to MP3 players and plasma screen TVs. A solid gold chandelier laid, its crystals in disarray, on the house’s old, stained carpet. Mixed with the stench of dust and disuse, the sight almost made him sick.
Then he saw it. Knocked off a table to make room for a box filled with fuzzy dice, a glass figure of some goddess or another looked as if it was just waiting for him. It looked needlessly pricy, and its place of less-than-honor was proof that it wouldn’t be noticed gone for a safe amount of time. Casually, Leon picked it up and left, being sure to lock the door behind him.
The goddess now sat on his kitchen table, its sad-looking eyes locked with his. He had thought at first that he’d just take it and keep it in his closet, but this had started to strike him more as greed than envy. The dictionary he’d looked at for clarification said envy was more resentment of another’s success than wanting it for yourself. He knew he couldn’t keep it.
Ten minutes later, he was back on his couch, confident that he could scratch the first of seven sins off his list. The few shards of glass still sparkling in the soil behind his house were proof enough if Vergil needed it.
The city glowed neon, the pulse of the weekend’s last breaths almost audible. Leon had things planned out well in advance now. The Sunday night bar scene was perfect for the second most inconspicuous sin on the list: Lust. Anyone who’d be out drinking late on a Sunday wouldn’t be that hard to pick up, or so he figured.
The nightclub he’d picked out was one he passed every morning on the way to the subway station. Unlike in the morning, however, now the club was a living thing. Through its metal façade skin, Leon could feel the steady heartbeat of bass vibrating through the whole area. Inside was no different; the movement of crowds of the young and jobless was drowned out by deafening music and hidden by strobe lights and smoke.
Leon took an empty seat at the bar and looked around. Feelings of regret about robbing Ron Carlson had begun to creep into the back of his mind. After all, he didn’t dislike the guy, and it’s not like he really deserved being robbed by someone he trusted. He started to think the whole thing was wrong. Maybe there was good reason he’d been taught not to do all these things. For better or worse, though, his doubt was temporarily put aside when he noticed the conversation going on next to him between a woman and her friend.
“…can’t even take it anymore, you know?”
“It’s like he just wanted me to be some kinda trophy for him, and like, hang around him and stuff.”
“He’s such a jerk!”
“I can’t believe I ever even dated him!”
“You’re so better than that.”
“I just need to move on, you know? Find someone new and get over that cheating loser.”
Leon’s teeth showed through his smile. If this was so wrong, would fate be making it so easy for him? He ordered a pair of drinks and slid one next to the scantily dressed girl. She accepted it and smiled, motioning not-so-covertly for her friend to leave. As soon as she’d obeyed, the girl turned to Leon and leaned in closer to him. The smell of alcohol was already thick on her.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I can’t help but sympathize. I just got out of a bad relationship myself.”
“Really? No way! My name’s Crystal…”
“Leon…nice to meet you.” He leaned in and kissed her hand. She blushed slightly, giggling. He listened to her rant about how her ex-boyfriend had cheated on her with one friend, who’d felt bad and told her all about it, and how now she was just trying to unwind after dealing with it all. When she asked about his bad break-up, he spun her a great yarn about a girl he’d been dating for two years. On his birthday this morning, he’d called her house, only to hear his best friend answer. When he went over to investigate, he saw her kiss him in more than friendly fashion as he left, and he broke up with her on the spot. Of course, it was all a lie, but the gullible girl bought every word of it, with the help of a continuous supply of alcohol.
Something about deluding the girl started to grow on Leon, and, by the time he was sure he’d won her over sufficiently, he was almost sad to be done with the ruse. But, midnight would come quick, so he knew he had to cut things short. As the two left, his arm around her shoulders as she giggled at nothing, he smirked. Just as he’d planned.
Day 3- Sloth
Leon sat up. The cloudy Monday sky didn’t produce enough light to wake him on time, so he felt groggy as he rolled out of bed. An acquaintance at work had sent him all the day’s work since he was still “sick,” leaving him with an entire day to think. It was a day perfect for sloth.
He moved slowly to his couch and turned on the TV. Some daytime soap opera was on, and he didn’t bother changing the channel. Nothing good would be on anyways. Quickly, he realized he hated what he was watching. Girl A hates Girl B and sleeps with her husband, Guy A. Guy A, in love with Girl A now, kills Girl B, but is seen disposing of the body by Guys B and C, who both loved her, etc. It was just the kind of plot less fantasy only bored, brainless housewives could enjoy.
He only realized he’d dozed off when the phone woke him up. Drowsily, he stretched out to answer it without having to get up.
“Hey, Leon, that you?”
“It’s Smith, buddy, you know? Johnny Smith from work?”
He knew the guy, but wished he didn’t. “Oh, hey, what do you need?”
“Yeeaaahhh, Rick told me he sent you those new reports to look over. I’m supposed to present those to the big wigs tomorrow so the sooner you could get those to me, the better, buddy. I mean, no hurry or anything since I know you’re under the weather, buddy, but, yeah, I need those as quick as you can. Okay?”
“Okay! Send ‘em to me when you get the chance and I’ll see you tomorrow, buddy!”
Leon sighed. He hated that guy too. John Smith was a name that suited him perfectly. He had no distinguishing physical characteristics, and the only thing that stood out about his personality was how annoying it was. If nothing else, the fact that he called people “buddy” when he doesn’t even really know them was irritating enough.
So, when he dozed off again and neglected to send Johnny Smith anything, he didn’t feel too bad about it. Besides, for Leon, it was just part of another sin to check off the list
Day 4- Greed
All the fourth sin took was an answered phone call.
He yawned. It was his boss. “Yes?”
“Is something wrong as of late? I only ask because your work has really been slipping lately, and you haven’t been in for 3 days now. Also, I hear that Mr. Smith was looking for some reports from you that you never delivered. So, again, I have to ask, is something dreadfully wrong with you?”
Leon paused. Was there? “No, sir, I don’t think so.”
“Are you sure? Choose your answer carefully Mr. Winters; you’re brilliant at what you do, but that doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you please.”
Another pause. “I’m brilliant at what I do, huh? And what exactly do I do for you?”
“Please don’t waste my time. Your position is in Data Management. Now as I was saying, your work has—“
“Data Management? Come on, that’s an inflated term, isn’t it? You and I both know what I really do for you, don’t we?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
“Then allow me to spell it out for you: I manipulate facts for you. I change statistics about your products. I create the information the company publicists use to make it look like what your company isn’t as terrible as you and I know it is. I modify safety test results so everyone has the chance to die because of what you make. Like, for example, that family last month…”
“Enough! I won’t have you talking to me like this! You’re—“
He couldn’t help but start smiling. “Choose your answer carefully, sir. Might I remind you that my position has ensured that I know all your dirty little secrets? And what if, say, I had a flash drive somewhere in my possession that had records of all those little secrets? How might that affect your choice of words?”
“…What do you want?”
He bought the bluff; there was no flash drive. “Ah! There are the business skills that got you to where you are! My demands are simple: All you have to do is keep sending me my same paycheck every two weeks. Of course, I won’t be doing any real work for you anymore, but you’ll still be in business. I’d say that’s more than a fair deal, wouldn’t you?”
“…Fine.” The answer came slowly, painfully, like thorns dragged out his throat.
“Wonderful. Good day…sin.”
Day 5- Gluttony
He’d ordered everything on the menu. It was his favorite restaurant, after all, and since he no longer had to worry about working for his money, he could waste his entire paycheck without thinking twice about dipping into his savings later. Somehow, he thought, this bet is turning out alright. More free time, no annoying coworkers, no work that would lead to the deaths of innocent people, no burden on his mind. All he had to do now was whatever he wanted to. And the first thing on the list was winning his wager.
The mustachioed waiter strode back and forth between the kitchen again and again, each time with another platter of food in hand. By the time everything had been prepared and brought out, two additional tables had been pushed together with his to fit all the food. In front of him was meat from nearly every animal he cared to eat, the finest fruits and vegetables, pastas of all shapes and sizes, cakes, pies, 3 flavors of gelato, and a bottle of the restaurant’s finest wine
Leon devoured bite after bite, filling himself far beyond what he knew was healthy. Before long, other diners and even some of the waiters had started watching the man’s feast. Awestruck, the onlookers watched as fork, spoon, and knife rent every sort of food imaginable and sent it into his stomach.
It wasn’t long, however, before Leon learned that gluttony was a sin that punished itself, and one that did so quickly at that. His stomach in terrible pain, he stood to try to make a hasty exit, as the check had been paid in advance (on the owner’s request). His body, unable to cope with the punishment it had taken, collapsed just outside of the restaurant, and he vomited into the street. He picked himself up, still racked with pain and nausea and called a cab.
Day 6- Pride
Pain woke him the next morning. A headache from very mild insulin shock mixed with the worst stomach ache of his life kept Leon groggy. He would’ve stayed in bed if he didn’t feel so driven. He had to win the bet now. He’d come way too far, risked and changed far too many things to fail now.
But he’d hit a snag; he had no idea how to commit a sin of pride. After all, he could define pride. He could recognize it in people when he saw it. But when did it become a sin? Was pride itself a sin, or was there an action that needed to come from it? And what was so wrong with being proud of one’s actions, anyway?
Suddenly, he became aware of a gradual change in his way of thinking. Whether it was a sin or not, he had grown proud of what he was doing. It was almost like teaching foolish people a lesson. Ron Carson might someday realize that something of his had been stolen, and he hadn’t even noticed. Maybe that’d make him think twice about buying so much useless junk in the future. It might help make him a more responsible person.
More likely sooner than later, Crystal would realize that what she’d done with him was a mistake. He’d just used her like her previous boyfriend, and probably like any others before him had too. This realization would give her the opportunity to realize that she needs to be more discerning when it comes to giving herself away. Maybe this was just what she needed to start looking for someone that’d actually treat her right instead of just the same old jerks.
What he was doing, this bet he’d made on a whim, had grown into something else, something divine. It felt as if there was no more bet. From now on, this would be the person he was. The world, after all, was rotting, infested with foolish people. He would be the cure the best way he could see how. He would bring suffering to force people to change their ways for the better.
Leon looked out his bedroom window. The stone grey world outside was now his canvas. For the first time, he felt like he mattered. What he was doing could actually change things. He laughed hard and uncontrollably, filled with an almost childlike glee. He’d all but won now. Pride not only emanated from him now, but became a black inspiration deep inside him. The bet had fulfilled its purpose; he was a different person now.
Day 7- Wrath
Blood. Who knew there could be so much of it from such a simple wound?
Vergil had changed somehow. He still had the same eerily perfect looks, but now there was something else to it, something Leon couldn’t place. It was something about his smile that made him feel like he was taunting him. He couldn’t stand it.
That’s why he stabbed him.
Leon had gone back to La Florentia, just like the plan had been all along, on the last day of the bet. Vergil was waiting there for him, but, strangely enough, he was alone. The usual small crowd of nameless faces was nowhere to be seen, and even Giovanni was missing. If he hadn’t been so focused on his victory, Leon would probably have been more suspicious.
As he walked in, he was greeted with that dark smile, but this time, he flashed one of his one.
“Glad you could make it.”
“Yeah. Been a busy week.”
“I know. I’ve been keeping track of you, whether you realized it or not. You’ve done a lot in such a short time. I was impressed.”
Leon’s smiled faded quickly. “You’ve been watching me?”
“Of course. I can’t pass up an opportunity to watch someone self destruct. And your particular destruction was beautiful, really. It only took you one week to ruin your entire life. I must say, I’m proud of you. I just wonder how things to collapse around you now. Will it be arrest for blackmail? Or how about for date rape? Or maybe theft?”
“You...” His fists were clenched now, the realization that his newfound happiness and pride were never real,” You knew all this was going to happen?”
“Obviously. But, don’t worry, you’ve got the reward you were promised right here! I even bought this rundown bar just to have this talk with you, and I brought you a nice dinner, though I doubt you’ll be hungry again for awhile.”
Leon was in shock. He’d ruined his own life for someone’s amusement. His mind started to go blank, his thoughts red with rage. Rage towards himself for being such a fool. But more than that, he felt rage towards the smiling man across the table. That’s when he noticed the knife next to his dinner plate.
Before he could comprehend what he was doing, his body flew forward, knocking the table out of the way. The knife buried into Vergil’s chest, blood spilling down his knuckles. Then, slowly at first, he started to feel something inside his own chest. It grew into a terrible pain, like hooks tearing into his shoulders. His legs buckled, and he fell to the floor and gripped his chest, screaming.
“Just like a moth to the flame. Looks like I win.”
Leon looked up to see the smile return to Vergil’s face, blood trickling out of his mouth. His mouth fell open in shock and terror.
“Your morals are so easily bent when in distress. You humans are so weak. Now, away with you; one of my kinsmen will take your soul’s place on this earth. You no longer deserve it.”
The last sight Leon enjoyed was the dying smile of a hideous man as his soul was torn from his body, thrown down deep into the icy pits of hell.