by Josiah Cohen
“Hey soul sister, I don’t really wanna miss a single thing you do-oo—tonight” I hummed as I opened the door to my apartment, hot pizza box in hand. Humming some more, I proceeded into the kitchen, cheeks rosy with the cold of winter; January had just turned into February, and I wasn’t sure my coat would make it through the rest of the snowy season.
“Mmm, pizza” said my roommate Brian. He cast his puppy-dog eyes look, but knowing that he’d already scarfed a pizza down, I merely shook my head and started to unpack my stuff.
“Aww, c’mon,” he whined. “I’d sell my soul for a piece of pizza!”
“Take it up with Lucifer, bud,” I replied. “I bought this fair and square, not gonna give some of it up, even if you somehow manage to sell your soul. Surprised you even have one to sell,” I added on in that roommate-banter manner, immediately dodging the friendly punch that I knew would be on its way. Yet the punch never came. I cracked open an eye. Brian was standing there, hands on his hips, clearly deep in thought. Thinking being such a strange occurrence for him, I opened my mouth in concern, only to close it at a disarming gesture. Subtlety and diplomacy were not his strong suits. He frowned in concentration. Then he shrugged, and grabbed for the pizza. Normal Brian was back. Unfortunately for him and his stomach, so were my excellent reflexes. Crowing in triumph, I returned to my room.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. My dreams—nightmares, really—kept me awake: rollercoaster rides that ended “poorly,” if poorly means the track becoming a river of fire; hikes where my feet seemed attracted to crevasses; and, most of all, Brian actually getting that slice of pizza.
* * *
“Yes, my lord Lucifer?”
“There is a soul to be claimed, the goal is the mastication, consumption, digestion, and eventually excretion of a slice of Domino’s pizza.”
“My, have standards fallen from the days of Faust. What man once desired was knowledge, now it is a slice of pizza. I believe menfolk be closer to hell than we, lord.”
“Mephistopheles, I don’t pay you to be a philosopher, I pay you to get stuff done, come hell or high water. Go!”
* * *
I awoke the next morning still tired, my tongue lolling, my legs splayed with feet hanging over the side of the bed. I crawled out of bed and toward the kitchen, hoping Brian might have spared some bacon (this was highly unlikely) or even a piece of cheese (this was also highly unlikely, though slightly likelier than the first possibility). I heard—was it conversation? Weird. Neither Brian nor I liked having guests over before noon, assuming we were even up by then. Who could he be conversing with?
I entered the kitchen and saw a terrible sight. Brian was sitting there, cool, composed, and collected… and eating a very familiar slice of pizza. My jaw dropped. A man, sitting on the far side of the table, rose, dressed in a dapper grey suit.
“Mephistopheles, MDP, at your service.”
“MDP for Master of Disappearing Pizzas or MD as in doctor person?”
“I am merely contracted to make sure Mr. Brian Evergreen here masticates, consumes, digests, and excretes one piece of your pizza.”
I checked the calendar again. Yep, still winter, not April Fools.
“This sucks. It was my pizza, after all.”
“Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God and tasted the eternal joys of heaven, care for your claim of possession of the pizza?”
“That’s ironic, your selfishness, considering how you just dismissed my selfishness.”
The man grinned. With a twinkle in his eye, he said: “A philosopher, eh? Nice to meet another one. Pity you waste your time squabbling over pizza.”
“You never tried Domino’s?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brian narrow his eyes in disbelief. Domino’s was a lifestyle to him—it was inconceivable that someone would never have tried it. “It’s fantastic. I need that slice back, Meph. Can I call you Meph? Thanks.”
He sneered. “Call me what you want, just don’t call me late for dinner, I believe is your saying. I, who have dined from the plates of Popes and courted Helen of Troy, I need no sampling of your pizza. Hell needs no cheese-tomato-bread combo.”
“You don’t get out much, eh Meph.”
“Of course not; Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d in one place; but where we are is hell, and where hell is, there must—”
“Yeah, yeah. Can you just get me back my pizza?”
His perfect smile widened even further. “Without a doubt. For a price.”
“What does my soul do for you?”
“I can trade it in for a baseball glove. No, you fool, it enlarges my kingdom.”
There was an Earth-shattering roar, and the floor beneath us cracked in half. Meph, Brian, and I were all sent heads over heels. When we finally crawled to our feet, we saw another man in a grey suit, looking very much like Mephistopheles, standing there.
“Oh, come on, Lucifer,” said Meph irritably. “Saying ‘my kingdom’ as opposed to ‘your kingdom’ only enhances the legend.”
“Who cares? But a baseball glove? Really? What use do we have for baseball down in hell? It’s freezing there! Go for a basketball or something, dear God, er, not-so-dear God.”
“Basketball is much better than baseball,” offered Brian, voicing one of his few opinions.
The new suit cast him an appreciative, appraising glance. “Agreed.” Turning back to Meph, his ire increased. “How about hockey equipment? That’s so damn expensive. And there’s even an NHL team named after us, whereas the baseball team that sorta kinda had our name removed it!”
“Hockey equipment is very expensive,” Brian added. I looked at him, amazed. This breadth of purchasing experience was quite unlike my roommate, even more so considering the fact that he had no soul.
“See, I like this guy!” Luke—was that his name? —was speaking to Meph. “Doing a better job than you, even without his MDP.”
“Master of Disappearing Pizzas is very fitting for Meph (Luke let out a snort of laughter). He took mine!”
“Not quite. MDP stands for Most Devilish Person. It’s the equivalent of a PhD in hell, or just getting any degree from Ohio State. Mephistopheles, er, Meph took your pizza?” Luke looked at me inquisitively. I hesitated, unsure whether to remind him that Brian had sold his soul. Meph just glared.
“Well… um, actually, Brian sold his soul for a piece of my pizza. Sorry bud.” Brian shrugged, stoic as ever. He reached for a chocolate bar.
“For a piece of pizza? Brilliant. Now that’s a fair trade, let me tell you. Much better than the old days, when stuffy theologians would sell their soul for knowledge and beauty. Ha!”
“Wow, foolish thing to do!” said Brian. If looks could kill, Meph would have chopped him up by now. I got the feeling that Meph was involved in that particular “stuffy theologian” case.
“I like this guy! But, you have sold your soul. Can’t get that back, I’m afraid. Or you could give me a slice, I’ll trade your soul back.”
Before Brian could leap to accept, I said quickly: “Nope, sorry man, pizza is pizza.” Brian shrugged, stoic as ever. He reached for a second chocolate bar.
“Fair enough. I respect a man’s right to eat pizza. I’ll make a compromise then. You get your pizza back. But Brian here comes with me down to hell and I’ll put him in the advanced MDP classes. Take it or—” here he was overcome by a fit of giggles—“I’ll take it! Ha! Get it? You take the deal or I’ll take his soul! Hahaha!”
I chuckled, if only to placate Luke. It was clear that he was in charge. I glanced over at Brian, only to be amazed yet again as I saw him laughing hysterically. He usually only laughed at toilet jokes.
“We’ll take it,” he said through his chortles. I looked at him in amazement. MDP classes? The thing was ludicrous! He shrugged, stoic as ever. He reached for a third chocolate bar.
Luke said, still giggling: “I’ll send up a man later to finalize the details. But now, Brian let’s go.” The two of them disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving Mephistopheles and me alone in the kitchen.
I sighed. He looked at his shoed. I checked my watch. He adjusted the cuffs of his suit.
“Well…” he said, seeming a bit sad that the whole episode was ever. I got the feeling that he didn’t really mind the Earth so much. I felt bad for him, which I guess explains what I did next.
“Hey Meph,” I said. “Want to go get some pizza?”