— Robert Frost
It was a blockbuster movie, so you had to wait in line for tickets and then wait in another line to be admitted to the theatre. The handsome man bought two, then wended his way toward the end of the ticket-holder line, where his date held their place. On his way back, he noticed a young, rather portly young man wearing a stained t-shirt, shorts and sandals, holding a tablet computer and talking eagerly to the ticket holders, one at a time, and working his way toward the end of the line.
His date asked, “Did you get the tickets?”
He pulled them from his pocket and handed one to her. He said, “They were almost sold out, so we might be sitting near the front.”
She smiled. “I don’t mind, as long as we get in.”
By now the portly young guy had reached them. “Excuse me,” he said, “but do you know about the threat to the world’s coral reefs?”
The handsome man replied, “Uh, I’ve heard–“
“Well, it’s really, really important that we save those reefs,” the portly guy interrupted. “And we’d appreciate it if you could contribute a few dollars to our campaign.”
The handsome man looked at his date. She shrugged. He turned to the fat guy. “Not this time, but thanks.”
The fat guy, not to be dissuaded, asked, “Why wouldn’t you want to help the reefs? They’re important to world ecology, to fisheries, to tourism, and most of all to the health of the planet.”
“I didn’t say I was against the reefs. I just don’t have cash that I want to spend on it. But good luck in your campaign.”
The line soon would move into the theatre, so the fat guy was running out of time, and evidently he hadn’t been too successful this evening. He sighed. “You know, I’d have better luck if well-off people like you would loosen that tight hold on your money and really help others for once. This is an important issue! You need to see that.” His tone hinted at mild contempt.
The handsome man studied him a moment. “But what about global warming? What about the ozone layer? What about poverty, and injustice, and crypto-Nazis, and discrimination against women, and cruelty to animals, and police brutality, and mercury poisoning, and over-development, and the water crisis, and intolerance? Shouldn’t I fork over for every one of those issues, too? Shouldn’t I spend my every waking hour and all my resources fighting against all those evils?”
“I’d be exhausted. I’d be a hero, but my life would be humorless and arid. I’d be trapped forever, soldiering for other people’s causes.”
The fat guy looked exasperated. “You gotta at least do something! And it might as well be right here with coral reefs.”
The handsome man asked, “What makes you think I don’t contribute? How can you be so sure I’m a selfish bastard?”
“Well, you look rich, and rich people never–”
“I look rich? And rich people, what? Never contribute because they’re greedy and arrogant?”
The fat guy shrugged. “Hey, you said it, not me.”
The handsome man’s eyes narrowed. He nodded, as if to himself. “Okay,” he said, “You got me. I am a selfish bastard. And since I am, you’re wasting your time trying to convert me. But you didn’t exactly get me right. Actually, I’m a minion of Satan, and I’m here on Earth to steal souls for Him.”
The fat guy snorted. “Yeah, well, that’s funny.”
“And I’m drawn to weak souls like yours.”
“What do you mean, weak?”
The handsome man started counting on his fingers. “First off, you’re arrogant, which is the Sin of Pride. Second, you’re fat, which is the Sin of Gluttony. Third, you’re sloppy — you left half your last meal on your shirt — and that’s the Sin of Sloth. Fourth, you’re easily angered, which is the Sin of Wrath. Fifth, you’re filled with resentment toward the rich, which is the Sin of Envy. Sixth, you push really hard to get money from likely marks such as me, and God knows where that money really goes — to save the coral reefs? I wonder — so you’re guilty of the Sin of Greed. Seventh, you’re a lecher, judging by how hard you worked on that pretty lady up ahead, who finally gave you her phone number on a piece of paper. That’s the Sin of Lust. I bet your wife wouldn’t be too happy.”
“My wife? What are you talking about?”
“You’re married, aren’t you? There’s a pale mark on your ring finger where a wedding band should go. I suppose you remove it when you’re out here working, in case a little cutie decides to take you up on your flirtations.”
The fat guy was angry. “Right. Nice. Thanks for being nasty. I gotta go.”
“Wait! You need to know what’s in store for you. Since you’re actively committing every one of the Seven Deadly Sins, your soul is almost as weak as a soul can get. You are prime pickings for me. Heaven would tell me, “Go ahead, take his soul. We can’t do anything with it.” I could get you to sign in blood in a matter of seconds on the promise of unlimited wealth for you, not to mention coral reef protection. But I don’t need to do that, since your soul is so fragile it’s ready to crumble in my hands. All I have to do is lean forward like this–” the handsome man bent toward him– “and inhale.” He took a deep breath. His eyes closed for a moment. “Ahh! There it is. My, that feels good.”
The fat guy took a step back. “Dude, you’re a jerk. Go blow yourself.” He turned to leave.
The handsome man grabbed the fat guy’s arm and stared intently into his eyes. “Be respectful! After you die, you’ll be strapped naked to a flaming cliff … and I’ll wield a pitchfork.”
The fat guy’s eyes got wide, and for a moment terror flickered across his face. He pulled himself from the handsome man’s grip and scurried away.
The man’s date asked, “What was that all about?”
He turned to her. “Sorry. He was annoying. I just had to give it back to him. Plus I was bored.”
“Bored? What, of me?”
“No, no! Not you. Him! I’m really glad you and I got to go out. I’ve been looking forward to getting to know you better.” He smiled at her.
God, he was handsome! she thought. A bit weird around strangers, but nice enough, and really handsome. Her insides tingled. She smiled back.
Perhaps it was a trick of the evening light, but for a moment she thought she saw in his eyes a strange, reddish glow, flickering as if from a reflected bonfire.
She shivered, blinked, and shook her head. The glow was gone. Must have been an optical illusion. His story to the fat guy had sounded creepy, and she’d felt drawn into the fearful thrill of it, and obviously she had projected that idea into his eyes. Funny, how suggestible we can be, she thought.
“You okay?” He asked.
“Yes, I … It’s nothing.”
The line began to move. He grinned. “Here we go!” She looked up at him again. He sure was handsome! And so charming. And kind of thrilling. Instinctively she took his hand.
It was ice cold.